Rob Roy Macgregor died on the farm of Inverloch-larabeg,
among the braes of Balquhidder, in 1735. When confined to bed, nearly
worn out by the laborious vicissitudes of a long and restless life, and
approaching dissolution stealing fast upon him, there occurred a scene
which was singularly characteristic of the man A person with whom he had
had a quarrel called to see him; and on being made aware of this, Rob
called to his attendants, “Raise me up; dress me in my best clothes; tie
on my arms; place me in the great chair! That fellow shall never see me
on a death-bed.” His attendants instantly complied, and he received his
visitor with cold civility. Before they parted the .priest arrived, and
conjured Rob, as he expected forgiveness from God, to bring his mind in
his last moments to forgive all his enemies. Rob at first demurred to
this expostulation; and the priest, to enforce it, quoted part of the
Lord’s prayer. On hearing this, Rob said, “Ay, now, ye ha’e gi’en me
baith law and gospel for’t. It’s a hard law; but I ken it’s gospel.”
Then, turning to Rob Oig (young Rob), his son, he addressed him thus—“My
sword and dirk lie there. Never draw them without reason, nor put them
up without honour. I forgive my enemies; but see you to them, or may”
and he expired. Rob Roy lies in the church-yard of Bal-quhidder, beneath
a plain stone, on the top of which is carved the outline of a sword, an
appropriate emblem of the man and the times—
“Clan Alpine’s omen, and her aid.”
In surveying the character of Rob Roy Macgregor, many
excellent traits appear, from which we cannot withhold our admiration.
There are no doubt some incidents in his extraordinary career which
deserve reprehension; but when we consider the time in which he lived—a
time when the whole northern parts of the kingdom were torn by civil
discord, and distracted by politics—the Government having neither
strength nor wisdom to arrest the evils that flowed from feudal
chieftainship, we cease to wonder at the deeds he performed, or the
liberties he took. Rob Roy was among the last of the true Highland
chiefs of the old stock, who gloried in supporting the ancient dignity
and independence of his race. For a long series of years his clan had
been subjected to the most fearful and cruel persecution at the hands of
Government and the more powerful neighbouring chiefs; and it seemed as
if Rob had been raised up by Providence to retrieve the fallen fortunes
of his clan, and to arrest the bloodshed of his kindred. Rob Roy had
five sons, viz., Coll, James, Ronald, Duncan, and Robert. Of Coll there
is very little known; he is, however, said to have been of a quiet and
gentlemanly demeanour, and, according to the rev. editor of the “History
of Stirlingshire,” to have possessed “every manly virtue.” James is said
to have been of great stature, and generally known as “James Mor” or
“Big Jamie.” He possessed largely the fiery dash of the original
Highlander; inherited, to a very considerable extent, the military
ardour of his father; and was a stanch supporter of the ill-fated house
of Stuart. In 1745, James, along with his cousin, Macgregor of Glengyle,
and twelve of his men, took the fort of In-versnaid, and made
eighty-nine of the soldiers prisoners. He held the rank of Major under
Prince Charles, and commanded six companies of Macgregors at the battle
of Prestonpans, where he had the misfortune to get his thigh bone
broken. On account of this accident, he was unable to follow his Prince
in his ill-fated march into England; but, on his return, he took an
active part in the concluding battle of Culloden, where he again
commanded several companies of Macgregors. In the year 1752, James was
confined a prisoner in the Castle of Edinburgh, for the part he took,
along with his brother Robert, in the abduction of Jean Keay; but
effected his escape in the following extraordinary manner:—His daughter,
who had come to Edinburgh, conceived a most admirable plan for his
escape. Having previously arranged her designs, she, on the evening of
the 16th November, 1752, dressed herself in the habit and character of a
cobbler, and, with a pair of old shoes in her hand, she went to his
prison. Her father instantly put on the disguise, and then commenced an
angry dispute with the supposed cobbler about an overcharge of the
price, and loud enough to be heard by the sentinels. Watching his
opportunity, he hurriedly left the room, and, under cover of the
darkness of night, managed to make his escape. Being afraid to return to
the Highlands, he took the road to England, and, after severe and
fatiguing travel, on the evening of the fourth day after his escape, he
found himself benighted on a wild and lonely moor in Cumberland.
Travelling on through the darkness, he at length left the moor and
entered a large wood. Being unable to proceed farther, he sat down at
the foot of a tree, and bemoaned his condition. Alone, far from home and
all that were dear to him, weary and hungry, he knew not what to do. The
thought of his wife and little ones at home almost broke his heart; and
the recollection of his own early and happy days, spent among the green
braes of his native Craigroystan, and the sunny banks of Loch-Lomond,
harrowed his soul. Happy would he have been, if, on the death of his
father, instead of fighting for “ Prince Charlie,” he had
“Hung his weapons in the hall.”
Now, hunted by the most gross persecution, and punished
for imaginary crimes to satisfy a weak but cruel and ill-advised
Government, his goods had become the prey of envious and devouring
neighbours. James had been but a short time in the wood when he was
suddenly aroused by a wild halloo that echoed far through the dark
forest, followed by the sound of several voices. Taking this for his
pursuers, he started to his feet, clutched his dagger, cocked the
pistols his faithful daughter had folded in the cobbler’s apron, and
swore to himself that he would die rather than be taken. Listening for a
little, the voices began to grow faint, and he saw at a short distance
the glimmering of a light. Anxious to know who these night marauders
were, and what might be their errand, he crept cautiously up to the
light, and beheld an old woman holding a torch to three men, who were
loading panniers on their horses’ backs. Fancy his surprise to hear one
of the, men speak in the broken accents of his own native Loch-Katrine!
and, standing beside the old woman with the torch, he imagined he saw
the form of old Billy Marshall, the tinker, whom he often had befriended
in Glengyle! After the horsemen had ridden off, Macgregor stepped up to
the hut, and, tapping at the door, it was opened by Marshall himself.
Although in the poor disguise of a cobbler, he instantly recognised
James, and gave him hearty welcome. Marshall hoped James would at
present excuse the poverty of his abode, as it was only temporary, until
some ill-will he had gotten to himself in Galloway, for burning a
stack-yard, would blow over. James was kindly entertained by the tinker
for two days; and on the third he and his host set out on horseback for
Whitehaven, where he got a fisherman’s boat for the Isle of Man. From
thence he went to Ireland, where he sailed for France. James died in
France, poverty-stricken and broken-hearted, in October 1754; and with
him passed away one of his clan’s most able and enthusiastic supporters.
We might follow the chequered career of the sons of Rob
Roy through a long list of varied adventures and trials, but as none of
these are closely connected with the locality, we shall confine
ourselves to a few of the daring exploits of “Young Rob,” as he was
called, as they are of strong local interest, and eventually cost him
his life. Young Rob was the youngest son of Rob Roy, and said to be only
seventeen years of age at his father’s death. Scarcely had his father
been dead than he began his adventures by shooting his cousin, and ended
his days on the scaffold. Young Rob is said to have been tall, but of
slender build, and he inherited to a considerable degree his father’s
dexterity at the sword. He appears to have been reckless and easily
advised—the tool of his more cautious brothers, and, if taunted, would
face a multitude single-handed; but was altogether sadly wanting in the
great moral sagacity that distinguished his father, and that took him
out of so many difficulties. That the sons of Rob Roy were sadly
persecuted, there remains not a shadow of a doubt; that they committed
excesses there can be no denial; but the fate of James and Robert was
peculiarly severe. After the alleged murder of his cousin, Robert fled
to France, and was present at the battle of Fontenoy, in Flanders, on
nth May 1745; and after his return he never was brought to trial for the
supposed crime, and it was only for his part in the abduction of Jean
Keay that he was brought to the scaffold. The evidence in that case
being of the most conflicting kind, the rev. editor of the “ History of
Stirlingshire” says, Rob was executed “ostensibly on that score.” As a
proof of the manner in which these men were treated, I have only to
mention one instance. James and Ronald were tried at Perth for their
share in the murder of their cousin, but were declared “ not guilty” by
the jury; the judge, however, bound them over to keep the peace for
seven years, under a penalty of two hundred pounds.
CHAPTER IN THE LIFE OF YOUNG ROB ROY.
It was one evening in the month of June of the year 1750;
the sun had sunk to rest behind the giant form of Ben-Lomond, and its
golden rays had ceased to be visible on the neighbouring hill-tops; the
mist lay close on the marsh; the shallop lay at anchor; the moorcock
nestled deep among the heather; and the last echoes of the cuckoo had
ceased to linger in the glens; while on the hills, the sheep lay close
on the faulds, and the lambs were huddled together on the bracken knowes;
the peasant had retired to sweet repose, and the "wag on the wa’” of the
lone Highland cottage on the banks of the lake, had just tolled the dark
hour of twelve; there was no breeze on the hill, and the loch lay
unruffled; the mountain rill gurgled down the glen of Portend, while the
souch of the waterfall in the pool of Glenny, mingled with the cry of
the night jar, only disturbed the quietude of the scene; the innkeeper
at the Port— little, old, and grey—had just turned the old key in the
rusty lock, drawn the big bar across the door, and resigned himself to
sleep, when the tramping of feet and the sound of voices were heard.
“What is this?” muttered the old man to himself; “the cavalry back
again!” and, starting to his feet, he hurried to the window, and was
surprised to see a company of Highlandrnen standing in front of the
house, the hilts of their swords glittering in the pale moonlight. “Ah!
the Macgregors on some black-mail excursion, I guess,” thought the
innkeeper; and presently he beheld the leader of the gang, a tall
handsome young Highlander, approach the door and demand admittance. The
summons was instantly obeyed; and recognising the speaker, the innkeeper
exclaimed, “O! Bob Oig* Macgregor!” “Well, Ure, how goes it ?| exclaimed
Rob, as he pushed past the old man into the house, followed by his gang.
“Just keep quiet, Highlandmen,” replied Ure; and, re-barring the door,
he whispered into Rob’s ear, “Have you seen the cavalry?” Rob looked
serious and answered, “No, we have not; have they been here of late?”
“They have been here all day,” replied the innkeeper. “I suppose they
are still stationed at Cardross?” inquired Macgregor. “They are,”
answered Ure; “but they have gone on to the Endrick for a day or two,
and are to be stationed at Balakinrain.” “At Bala-kinrain!” repeated
Rob; and he gazed at his men, while their eyes rolled back on the
speaker. “Curses on their Sassenach heads!” said Rob; “if I had them on
the heath they should not annoy me so,” and the angry clansman stamped
on the floor and adjusted his kilt.
“But,” addressing Ure, “bring us something to eat and
drink; it’s a stiff hill that of yours.” “It is,” replied Ure; “but many
a good horse and cow your father has driven o’er Glenny.” “Yes,”
continued Macgregor; “and I expect his son will ride another one o’er
the Tyeperst before the sun rise.” “I’ll tak a groat on that,” replied
the inn-keeper, as he laid down the bread and cheese; and, turning to
Rob, whispered in his ear, “ There’s no as much of the Macgregor in ye.”
Rob swore, and quaffed a horn of whisky, while the old man laughed. “I
guess the lads on the Endrick will know we are Macgregors before this
time to-morrow,” answered Rob, his cheek beginning to colour. “Ah, I
see,” cried the innkeeper; “you’re for off with Napier’s hunter.” “I
am,” cried Rob exultingly. “Then,” continued the innkeeper, “tak a
friend’s advice, and stay on the north side of Forth; there’s a trifle
of your sort below the heather on Balgair Moor already.”* “Curse the
fellow!” roared Rob; and springing to his feet, he clutched his sword
“Am I afraid to scour the glen,
Or yet to meet Strath-Endrick men?
I’m ready now to strike that band;
I’ll go and fetch her single-hand.
That sword shall never see its sheath
Until I house her in Monteith.
I swear it now, and have it sworn—
You’ll see her at the Port the morn.
To-morrow shall that vow fulfil,
I’ll land her safe beyond that hill!
Macgregor ne’er shall foul his name,
Nor cowardice e’er stain his fame—
To-morrow I shall have the prize,
Or Macgregor in Strath-Endrick lies.”
“Ha, ha! man, Rob!” cried the taunting host,
“We mind not for such empty boast;
But gie’s a pinch, send round the horn!
Ye’ll maybe no come back the morn.”
Rob quick the rustic horn did pass,
And helped himself to flowing glass.
But quick as they did quaff their wine,
As fast did roll unheeded time:
Hour after hour did onward flee,
Until the rustic clock struck three.
Macgregor started from his seat,
And soon the band were on their feet.
His favourite sword did catch his eye,
Before him, as’t did naked lie;
He’d ne’er forgot what passed before,
But now did mind the oath he swore.
He seemed as if in solemn mood—
His kinsmen round in silence stood,
And well each single eye could trace
The cloud upon the chieftain’s face.
The brow upon that manly form
Lower’d like the cloud in coming storm,
Which told his mind, and showed his will—
Fierce as the blast that sweeps yon hill.
His heaving breast told but in part
What wild emotions filled his heart.
The former taunts had still their pang;
Deep through his soul their echoes rang—
Rung at his nerves, till hope and pride
Dashed, like a thought, them all aside.
The crowing cock, out in the lawn,
Told Rob that early day did dawn;
The chirping bird, amid the thorn,
With joy did hail the approaching mom;
Ben-Lomond, still though in a cloud,
Did fast throw off the nightly shroud;
The rising mist from off the hill
Showed the curling smoke from smuggler’s still;
The smiling lake, like silver grey—
The shallop on its bosom lay;
The tawny owl no more did roam,
But sought her nest in Inchmahome;
The herons screeched amid the brake;
Sea-gulls flaunted o’er the lake;
The scared duck, or wild drake’s quack,
Was heard at distant Arnmauk;
The cunning fox, that out had stole,
Was seen returning to its hole;
Each drooping flower anew was born,—
The rising sun pronounced the morn!
Along the shore Rob fast did glide,
With stately step and manly stride;
He never tired, nor stopped to rest,
His fate still struggling in his breast.
He mused hard on his mad crusade,
But he trusted in his arm and blade;
He’d pledged his word, likewise his name—
He’d rather die than stain his fame.
Before the clock had counted ten,
Rob was seen at Balakinrain.
There, in a field before his gaze,
The coveted steed at large did graze.
He seized her soon, and o’er her strode—
Like falcon’s swoop, he’s on the road.
The soldiers to their horses flew,
And after him, with wild halloo.
Quick sped the flight—on went the race—
More glorious far than hunters’ chase!
Like drifting cloud before the gale,
The chieftain sweeps along the vale.
Quick in his course he on did dash,
And cross’d the moor like lightning’s flash.
When he Buchlyvie village near,
They full a mile are in the rear;
On he swept through fair Garden,
And faster still he headed them.
The noise re-echoed up the glen,
As they sped on through field and fen.
The traveller paused, and mused in wonder—
The trampling seemed like distant thunder;
The peasant ceased awhile his toil,
And wondered at the great turmoil;
The startled hare did flee her den;
The frighted roe took ’cross the plain;
The heron started from the fern;
The cunning fox kept close his cairn—
Retiring, ’mid the thicket fast,
He viewed the storm go sweeping past.
Rob soon did reach the river Forth,
Which bounds the south lands from the north;
He reached it, and, with a stride,
He landed on the distant side.
They, too, did reach the Forth, I ween;
But man and horse plunged in the stream.
Down they sank beneath the surge;
But soon again were on the verge—
Some weaponless, and some half-drowned,—
Exhausted horse lay on the ground.
They were all safe, but thanks to Heaven
That none to death, or worse, were driven!
Their leader cried, “Why will ye halt?
Ho! horsemen, in your saddles vault!
The robber’s gone across the heath,
And to the hills of wild Monteith!”
Fast as thought they were astride,
And onward dashed the madd’ning ride.
Cardross fields they had swept through,
When Glenny hill burst on their view;
But deeming that he could not pass
Yon rugged hill which guards the pass.
Still on he goes at lightning speed:
No slacking seeks the noble steed:
Dykes and ditches, too, he meets—
O’er all the gallant courser sweeps.
He soon did reach the mountain base,
And for a moment stopped to gaze;
Around he for a second glanced,
And viewed them as they onward pranced.
Rob now began, for safety’s sake,
To think what’s best the course to take.
He fain would go to Aberfoyle,
But the panting steed can’t face such toil;
Her trembling limbs full well he feels,
And death comes thundering at his heels.
Longer there he cannot bide;
Destruction waits on every side:
Before him towers the rugged steep,
Behind, the lake lies dark and deep,
Onward, pursuers press him throng,
As raging torrents dash along;
More desperate they than yet they seem—
Bright in the sun their lances gleam.
The chieftain at the steep they view,
Each horseman feels his strength renew;
And hope begins to fire each vein,
That they would yet the steed regain.
But Rob ere this matured his plan,
And with a glance the hill did scan;
He firmly then the reins did clasp,
And seized the mane with giant grasp;
He quickly then his rowels plied,
And plunged them in the horse’s side.
Like arrow shot from out the bow,
The daring horseman on did go—
Like dust before the western breeze,
Quick he vanished ’mong the trees,—
Like wild roe, far from hunter’s ken,
Up dashed Macgregor through the glen,
And safely there his prize did hide
On rugged Glenny’s northern side.