Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (C) Donald Chisholm
Gobha is Gaelic for Poet
Jolene Chisholm gave me the
following information when she wrote to me(1998):
" Donald Chisholm (Gobha)
was born in Knockfin, in Strathglass, in 1735. His father`s name was John
and he was commonly known as Iain Gobha. Donald`s Siblings were John,
William, Finlay, Ann, Elizabeth.
Donald was commonly known
as Domhnall Gobha, which means "Donald the Blacksmith". He was a Gaelic
poet and was much respected in his native Strathglass before he emigrated
to Canada in 1803. According to tradition, he was tenth in lineal descent
from John Farquharson of Braemar, a blacksmith, who had settled in
Strathglass and was the forefather of the Chisholm s.
Donald (Gobha) had been a
sheep farmer for over 20 years at A`Chioch in Upper Glen Affric. In
addition to his farm at Knockfin, he rented a part of this mountain, which
to his great regret and for reasons unstated, he lost to the Fraser s
after many years.
Strathglass tenants were in
a precarious situation at the turn of the 19th century. Donald was then an
old man and could no longer turn his hand to any occupation as he had done
when he was young. He saw the ruin of his compatriots at the mercy of
their unscrupulous chief, and he recognized that the only alternative was
In his youth, Donald had
never contemplated leaving Strathglass; now his friends and his son, who
had recently returned from America, urged him to do so. Donald eventually
left Scotland in 1803 with his son John. In his song, "Bha mi og ann an
Strathghlais" (I Was Young in Strathglass), Donald sets down in detail his
reflections on the eve of his departure.
Donald`s friends were happy
to have him on board the emigrant ship to enliven the dreary ocean voyage
with songs and merriment. Evidently their expectations were fulfilled; at
least one song was composed at sea. Although it is most likely that he and
fellow emigrants sailed on the "Aurora", the poem he wrote is addressed to
the "Flori". The title in Gaelic is " `N Uair Theid Flori `Na H-Eideadh
(When The Flori is Rigged).
According to a local
tradition in eastern Nova Scotia, Donald (Gobha) settled on a farm at
Lower South River, in Antigonish County. He died there in 1810.
Donald (Gobha) was married
to Margaret, daughter of Donald Chisholm of Cnocan-Daimh. They had six
sons: Alexander, John, William, Archibald, Donald, and Finlay. Margaret
died before her husband emigrated to Canada."
In John Prebble "The
Highland Clearances" he write the following on page 129:
"Of all Highland chiefs
none dispersed their people more thoroughly than the MacDonell s of
Glengarry or The Chisholm of Strathglass. Non clung to so much of their
By the end of the
eighteenth century, and since the days when their Norman ancestors had
come up from the Border, twenty-three chiefs of Clan Chisholm had held
land in the black and green valley of Strathglass to the north east of
Loch Ness. It was their odd boast that The Chisholm shared with The Pope
and The King the exclusive right to a definite article in his title (a
small distinction which several others were ready to dispute). Alexander
the Twenty-third chief, known as 'An Siosal Ban', The Fair-haired
Chisholm, was the last to have any genuine feelings for his people. 'To
his honour as a chief and a generous landlord it was written of him.( by
James Logan, author of The Scottish Gael, in a manuscript note quoted by
Alexander MacKenzie in his History of the Chisholm s.) 'he did not suffer
himself to be infected with the mania of sheep-farming which has proved so
lamentable a sourge to a deserving and unobtrusive race ...... . The
southland shepherds could not tempt him with their golden offers.'
But the temptation was
strong, and the Fair-haired One would have weakened like other chiefs had
it not been for his people. Or such was the story they told. Thomas
Gillespie, the Lowland grazier, made the golden offer. He was in the
Highlands with three partners, prospecting the land of bankrupt chiefs,
and he came to Strathglass with a hearty recommendation from Grant of
Corriemony, who, having leased most of his land to Gillispie, did not see
why his neighbour, The Chisholm, should not have the opportunity of doing
The sheep-farmers stayed
the night at Comar House as The Chisholm`s guests. They had ridden the
length of Strathglass on their way from Corriemony, and they offered the
old man a fortune if they would get rid of his people and let in their
sheep. When the offer was made , the chief`s daughter, Mary, his only
child of his Lowland wife, angrily protested and was sent from the room.
the Chisholm listened to the graziers for most of the night but in the
morning a thousand men of the clan gathered outside the house. They called
upon him to protect them, and said that sheep man were worse than any
enemy who had once come to Strathglass with a broadsword in his hand.
Gillispie and his partners did not wait for the old man`s decision, but
mounted their horses and rode away. At the ridge of Maol Bhuidhe, between
Strathglass and Corriemony they paused and looked back. The Chisholm was
being carried on the shoulders of his clansman, and his Piper was playing
a rant of triumph.
The Fair-haired One died in
1793, and his title and most of his land passed to his half brother,
William, a man with no burdensome feelings of responsibility to anyone but
his wife and his banker. In his will Alexander had offered his widow the
choice between an annuity and the rents of a few townships which , upon
her death, would return to the chief, She choose the townships, and for
the rest of life she and her spirited daughter stood between The Chisholm
and the eviction of the people there.
With William, The
Twenty-fourth Chisholm, there began the total dispersal of the clan. It
was to be continued and finished by the sons who succeeded him. He was a
sickly man, glad to leave the management of his estates to his energetic
wife, Elizabeth. In her youth she had received excellent instruction in
this business of eviction and clearance. Her mother, wife to a Glengarry
chief, had evicted five hundred people from her husband`s estate at
Glenquoich and leased it to one southland sheep-farmer. As if she wished
to improve upon this maternal example. Elizabeth Chisholm invited Thomas
Gillespie back to Strathglass. He came with his pot of gold. The Chisholm
clansman, having no illusions about their wife-ridden chief, wasted no
time in lobbying Comar House again. Some of the young men went off to join
the army, but most of the people waited with dull resignation.
In 1801 The Chisholm`s
factor cut a broad swathe down the glen, evicting almost half the clan.
During that year, and the two following, five thousand emigrants left Fort
William for Antigonish in Nova Scotia and for Upper Canada, and almost a
thousand of them , perhaps, were Chisholms from Strathglass. Fifty-three
people died of fever aboard one of the ships before it made landfall.
Donald Chisholm - Donald the Blacksmith from Glen Affric - was one of
those driven out in this clearance, and since he was also a poet custom
demanded that he record the event in verse. He was old and frail, and he
had no wish to die in Canada, but he tried to encourage his companions
with a hopeful picture of the life awaiting them there. More convincing
was his bitter disavowal of The Chisholm. 'Our chief is losing his kin! He
prefers sheep in his glens, and his young men away in the camp of the
**** Donald Chisholm is my
fourth great grandfather****
I got the following out of
the Nova Scotia Public Archives (call Number Pb 1684, M135 Title: The
Emigrant Experience on Nov 22/99 but pages 64 & 65 were missing when they
sent me the info)
Donald Chisholm, commonly
known as Domhnall Gobha (Donald the Blacksmith), was a good poet and much
respected in his native Strathglass before he emigrated to Nova Scotia in
1803. For over twenty years he had been mountain ranger at A'Chioch (the
Pap) in upper Glen Affric. In addition to his farm at Knockfinn, he rented
a part of this mountain, to his great regret and for reasons unstated, he
lost to the Frasers after many years. It was as if his nursemaid had
abandoned him. A more painful separation was yet to come.
As already noted,
Strathglass tenants were in a precarious situation at the turn of the
nineteenth century. Donald the Blacksmith was then an old man. He could no
longer turn his hand to any occupation as he had done when he was young
and strong. But he saw the ruin of his compatriots at the mercy of their
unscrupulous chief, and he recognized that the only alternative was
emigration. In his youth he had never contemplated leaving Strathglass;
now his friends and his son, who had recently returned from America, urged
him to do so. In his song, "Bha mi og ann an Strathghlais (I was young in
Strathglass)", Donald sets down in detail his reflections on the eve of
His friends were happy to
have him on board the emigrant vessel to enliven the dreary ocean voyage
with songs and merriment. Evidently their expectations were fulfilled; the
barb composed at least one song at sea. Although it is most likely that he
and his fellow sailors sailed on the Aurora, the song is addressed to the
According to a local
tradition in eastern Nova Scotia, the barb settled on a farm at Lower
South River, Antigonish County. His son John was one of the first citizens
of nearby Heatherton; presumably he emigrated with his father. Another son
was a member of the Jesuit order and was already in the United States at
that time. Two other sons settled in Cape Breton. Little is known about
Donald the Blacksmith`s life in the New World. Additional information and
some of his songs may yet be brought to light if some of the family
records have been preserved.
Chuir mo bhanaltrum cul
Chaill mi `n cupan bha fallain
Fhuair na Frisealaich coir ort,
`S chaid mis` fhogar le m`aindeoin
My nursemaid rejected me;
I lost the nourishing cup.
The Frasers obtained a right to you (the mountain)
and I was cast out against my will
BHA MI OG ANN A`
Bha mi og ann a Strathglass,
`S bha mi `n duil nach rachainn as,
Ach bho`n chaidh na suinn fo lic
Nis gabhaidh mi `n ratreuta,
Tha mo cheann-sa niste
`N deidh na chunnacas leam riamh
`S ged is eiginn dhomh bhith traill,
A shiorrachd, `s beag mo speis dha.
Ged a tha mo choiseachd trom
Togaidh mi m`aigneadh le fonn;
`S `n uair a theid mi air an long,
Co chuireas rium geall-reise?
N tacharan seo th air ar
Sigiot e dhaoine s tha iad gann;
S fhearr leis caoraich chuir am fang
No fir an camp fo fheileadh.
Comunn cairdeil chan eil
Chan eil eisdeachd aig fear fann;
Mur cuir thu caoraich ri gleann
Bidh tu air cheann na deirce.
N uair a bha mi laidir, og,
Dheanainn cosnadh air gach doigh;
Ach an nis bho n dh fhalbh mo threoir,
Tha mi air storas feumach.
Gheibh sinn acraichean bho n
Tighearnan gu n dean e dhinn;
Cha bi ionnan s a bhith mar bha n linn
Bha paidheadh cis do Cheusar.
Na biodh eagal oirbh mu n
Faicibh mar sgoilt a Mhuir Ruadh.
Tha cumhachdan an Ti tha shuas
An diugh cho buan s an ceud la.
I WAS YOUNG IN STRATHGLASS
(When) I was young in
I had no thought of leaving there;
now that the gallant men have gone
I, too, shall leave
My hair is now grey
after all I have seen;
although I must set forth,
I have little zest for doing so.
Though my step is heavy
I will stir my spirit with song.
When I embark on the ship,
who will challenge me?
The coward who now rules us
evicted his own, few remain;
he prefers sheep in the hills
to a kilted retinue.
There is no cordial
no hearing for the poor man;
if one does not raise sheep in the glens
he brings himself to penury.
When I was young and strong
I could earn my living in many ways;
now that my vigour is spent
I am in want.
We shall get grants from the
he will make us proprietors.
We shall not be like the generations
who paid tribute to Caesar.
Do not fear the sea;
mind how the Red Sea was divided.
The powers of God above
are as strong today as on the very first day.
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