Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Domestic Annals of Scotland
Reign of George II: 1727 - 1748 Part D

1736, June 24
Considering how important have been the proceedings under the act of the ninth parliament of Queen Mary Anentis Witchcrafts, it seems proper that we advert to the fact of its being from this day repealed in the parliament of Great Britain, along with the similar English act of the first year of King James I. It became from that time incompetent to institute any suit for ‘witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration,’ and only a crime to pretend to exercise such arts, liable to be punished by a year’s imprison¬ment, with the pillory. There seems to be little known regarding the movement for abolishing these laws. We only learn that it was viewed with disapprobation by the more zealously pious people in Scotland, one of whom, Mr Erskine of Grange, member for Clackmannanshire, spoke pointedly against it in the House of Commons. Seeing how clearly the offence is described in scripture, and how direct is the order for its punishment, it seemed to these men a symptom of latitudinarianism that the old statute should be withdrawn. When the body of dissenters, calling themselves the Associate Synod in 1742, framed their Testimony against the errors of the established church and of the times generally, one of the specific things condemned was the repeal of the acts against witchcraft, which was declared to be ‘contrary to the express letter of the law of God, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”’

Nov 8
Amongst the gay and ingenious, who patronised and defended theatricals, Allan Ramsay stood conspicuous. He entertained a kind of enthusiasm on the subject, was keenly controversial in behalf of the stage, and willing to incur some risk in the hope of seeing his ideal of a sound drama in Scotland realised. We have seen traces of his taking an immediate and personal interest in the performances carried on for a few years by the ‘Edinburgh Company of Comedians’ in the Tailors’ Hall. He was now induced to enter upon the design of rearing, in Edinburgh, a building expressly adapted as a theatre; and we find him going on with the work in the summer of this year, and announcing that ‘the New Theatre in Carrubber’s Close’ would be opened on the 1st of November. The poet at the same time called upon gentle­men and ladies who were inclined to take annual tickets, of which there were to be forty at 30s. each, to come forward and subscribe before a particular day, after which the price would be raised to two guineas.

Honest Allan knew he would have to encounter the frowns of the clergy, and be reckoned as a rash speculator by many of his friends; but he never expected that any legislative enactment would interfere to crush his hopes. So it was, however. The theatre in Carrubber’s Close was opened on the 8th of November, and found to be, in the esteem of all judges, ‘as complete and finished with as good a taste as any of its size in the three kingdoms.’ 1 A prologue was spoken by Mr Bridges, setting forth the moral powers of the drama, and attacking its enemies— those who

‘From their gloomy thoughts and want of sense,
Think what diverts the mind gives Heaven offence.’

The Muse, it was said, after a long career of glory in ancient times, had reached the shores of England, where Shakspeare taught her to soar:

‘At last, transported by your tender care,
She hopes to keep her seat of empire here.
For your protection, then, ye fair and great,
This fabric to her use we consecrate;
On you it will depend to raise her name,
And in Edina fix her lasting fame.’

Alas! all these hopes of a poet were soon clouded. Before the Carrubber’s Close playhouse had seen out its first season, an act was passed (10 Geo. II. chap. 28) explaining one of Queen Anne regarding rogues and vagabonds, the whole object in reality being to prevent any persons from acting plays for hire, without authority or licence by letters-patent from the king or his Lord Chamberlain. This put a complete barrier to the poet’s design, threw the new playhouse useless upon his hands, and had nearly shipwrecked his fortunes. He addressed a poetical account of his disappointment to the new Lord President of the Court of Session, Duncan Forbes, a man who united a taste for elegant literature with the highest Christian graces. He recites the project of the theatre:

‘Last year, my lord, nae farther gane,
A costly wark was undertane
By me, wha had not the least dread
An act would knock it on the head:
A playhouse new, at vast expense,
To be a large, yet bien defence,
In winter nights, ‘gainst wind and weet,
To ward frae cauld the lasses sweet;
While they with bonny smiles attended,
To have their little failings mended.’ 

He asks if he who has written with the approbation of the entire country, shall be confounded with rogues and rascals, be twined of his hopes, and

‘Be made a loser, and engage
With troubles in declining age,
While wights to whom my credit stands
For sums, make sour and thrawn demands ?'
Shall a good public object be defeated?

‘When ice and maw o’ercleads the isle,
Wha now will think it worth their while
To leave their gousty country bowers,
For the ance blythesome Edinburgh’s towers,
Where there’s no glee to give delight,
And ward frae spleen the langsorne night ?'

He pleads with the Session for at least a limited licence. 

…. I humbly pray
Our lads may be allowed to play,
At least till new-house debts he paid off,
The cause that I’m the maist afraid of;
Which lade lies on my single back,
And I maun pay it ilka plack.’

Else let the legislature relieve him of the burden of his house,

By ordering frae the public fund
A sum to pay for what I’m bound;
Syne, for amends for what I’ve lost,
Edge me into some canny post.’

All this was of course but vain prattle. The piece appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine (August 1737), and no doubt awoke some sympathy; but the poet had to bear single-handed the burden of a heavy loss, as a reward for his spirited attempt to enliven the beau monde of Edinburgh.

Nov 28
Amongst other symptoms of a tendency to social enjoyments at this time, we cannot overlook a marked progress of free-masonry throughout the country. This day, the festival of the tutelar saint of Scotland, the Masters and Wardens of forty regular lodges met in St Mary’s Chapel, in Edinburgh, and unanimously elected as their Grand Master, William Sinclair, of Roslin, Esq., representative of an ancient though reduced family, which had been in past ages much connected with free-masonry.

On St John’s Day, 27th December, this act was celebrated by the free-masons of Inverness, with a procession to the cross in white gloves and aprons, and with the proper badges, the solemnity being concluded with ‘a splendid ball to the ladies.’

1737, June 30
The Edinburgh officials who had been taken to London for examination regarding the Porteous Riot, being now at liberty to return, there was a general wish in the city to give them a cordial reception. The citizens rode out in a great troop to meet them, and the road for miles was lined with enthusiastic pedes­trians. The Lord Provost, Alexander Wilson, from modesty, eluded the reception designed for him; but the rest came through the city, forming a procession of imposing length, while bells rang and bonfires blazed, and the gates of the Netherbow, which had been removed since the 7th of September last, were put up again amidst the shouts of the multitude.

A month later, one Baillie, who had given evidence before the Lords’ Committee tending to criminate the magistrates, returned in a vessel from London, and had no sooner set his foot on shore than he found himself beset by a mighty multitude bent on marking their sense of his conduct. To collect the people, some seized and rang a ship’s bell; others ran through the streets ringing small bells. ‘ Bloody Baillie is come ! ‘ passed from mouth to mouth. The poor man, finding that thousands were gathered for his honour, flung himself into the stage-coach for Edinburgh, and was solely indebted to a fellow-passenger of the other sex for the safety in which he reached his home.

Captain Lind, of the Town-guard, having given similar evidence, was discharged by the town-council; but the government imme­diately after appointed him ‘lieutenant in Tyrawley’s regiment of South British Fusiliers at Gibraltar.’

1738, Feb 3
It was still customary to keep recruits in prison till an oppor­tunity was obtained of shipping them off for service. A hundred young men, who had been engaged for the Dutch republic in Scotland, had been for some time confined in the Canongate Tolbooth, where probably their treatment was none of the best. Disappointed in several attempts at escape, they turned at length mutinous, and it was necessary to carry four of the most danger­ous to a dungeon in the lower part of the prison. By this the rest were so exasperated, ‘that they seized one of their officers and the turnkey, whom they clapped in close custody, and, barricading the prison-door, bade defiance to all authority. At the same time they intimated that, if their four comrades were not instantly delivered up to them, they would send the officer and turnkey to where the d——— sent his mother; so that their demand was of necessity complied with.’

During all the next day (Saturday) they remained in their fortress without any communication either by persons coming in or by persons going out. The authorities revolved the idea of a forcible attempt to reduce them to obedience; but it seemed better to starve them into a surrender. On the Sunday evening, their provisions being exhausted, they beat a chamade and hung out a white flag; whereupon some of their officers and a few officers of General Whitham’s regiment entered into a capitula­tion with them; and, a general amnesty being granted, they delivered up their stronghold. ‘It is said they threatened, in case of non-compliance with their articles, to fall instantly about eating the turnkey.’

1738, Aug
Isabel Walker, under sentence of death at Dumfries for child-murder, obtained a reprieve through unexpected means. According to a letter dated Edinburgh, August 10, 1738, 'This unhappy creature was destitute of friends, and had none to apply for her but an only sister, a girl of a fine soul, that overlooked the irnprob­ability of success, and helpless and alone, went to London to address the great; and solicited so well, that she got for her, first, a reprieve, and now a remission. Such another instance of onerous friendship can scarce be shewn; it well deserved the attention of the greatest, who could not but admire the virtue, and on that account engage in her cause.’

Helen Walker, who acted this heroic part, was the daughter of a small farmer in the parish of Irongray. Her sister, who had been under her care, having concealed her pregnancy, it came to be offered to Helen as a painful privilege, that she could save the accused if she could say, on the trial, that she had received any communication from Isabel regarding her condition. She declared it to be impossible that she should declare a falsehood even to save a sister’s life; and condemnation accordingly took place. Helen then made a journey on foot to London, in the hope of being able to plead for her sister’s life; and, having almost by accident gained the ear and interest of the Duke of Argyle, she succeeded in an object which most persons would have said beforehand was next to unattainable.

Isabel afterwards married her lover, and lived at Whitehaven for many years. Helen survived till 1791, a poor peasant woman, living by the sale of eggs and other small articles, or doing country work, but always distinguished by a quiet self-respect, which prevented any one from ever talking to her of this singular adventure of her early days. Many years after she had been laid in Irongray kirkyard, a lady who had seen and felt an interest in her com­municated her story to Sir Walter Scott, who expanded it into a tale (The Heart of Mid-Lothian) of which the chief charm lies in the character and actings of the self-devoted heroine. It was one of the last, and not amongst the least worthy, acts of the great fictionist to raise a monument over her grave, with the following inscription:

‘This stone was erected by the Author of Waverley to the memory of HELEN WALKER, who died in the year of God 1791. This humble individual practised in real life the virtues with which fiction has invested the imaginary character of JEANIE DEANS; refusing the slightest departure from veracity, even to save the life of a sister, she nevertheless shewed her hardiness and fortitude in rescuing her from the severity of the law, at the expense of personal exertions which the time rendered as difficult as the motive was laudable. Respect the grave of poverty when combined with love of truth and dear affection.’

1739, Jan
This month was commenced in Edinburgh a monthly miscellany and chronicle, which long continued to fill a useful place in the world under the name of the Scots Magazine. It was framed on the model of the Gentleman’s Magazine, which had commenced in London eight years before, and the price of each number was the modest one of sixpence. Being strictly a magazine or store, into which were collected all the important newspaper matters of the past month, it could not be considered as a literary effort of much pretension, though its value to us as a picture of the times referred to is all the greater. Living persons connected with periodical literature will hear with a smile that this respectable miscellany was, about 1763 and 1764, conducted by a young man, a corrector of the press in the printing-office which produced it, and whose entire salary for this and other duties was sixteen shillings a week.’

Jan 14
A hurricane from the west-south-west, commencing at one in the morning, and accompanied by lightning, swept across the south of Scotland, and seems to have been beyond parallel for destructiveness in the same district before or since. The blowing down of chimneys, the strewing of the streets with tiles and slates, were among the lightest of its performances. It tore sheet-lead from churches and houses, and made it fly through the air like paper. In the country, houses were thrown down, trees uprooted by hundreds, and corn-stacks scattered. A vast number of houses took fire. At least one church, that of Kilearn, was prostrated. Both on the west and east coast, many ships at sea and in harbour were damaged or destroyed. ‘At Loch Leven, in Fife, great shoals of perches and pikes were driven a great way into the fields; so that the country people got horse-loads of them, and sold them at one penny per hundred.’ The number of casualties to life and limb seems, after all, to have been small.’

James, second Earl of Rosebery, was one who carried the vices and follies of his age to such extravagance as to excite a charitable belief that he was scarcely an accountable person. In his father’s lifetime, he had been several times in the Old Tolbooth for small debts. In 1726, after he had succeeded to the family title, he was again incarcerated there for not answering the summons of the Court of Justiciary ‘for deforcement, riot, and spulyie.’ A few years later, his estates are found in the hands of trustees.

At this date, he excited the merriment of the thoughtless, and the sadness of all other persons, by advertising the elopement of a girl named Polly Rich, who had been engaged for a year as his servant; describing her as a London girl, or ‘what is called a Cockney,’ about eighteen, ‘fine-shaped and blue-eyed,’ having all her linen marked with his cornet and initials. Two guineas reward were offered to whoever should restore her to her ‘right owner,’ either at John’s Coffee-house, or ‘the Earl of Roseberry, at Denham’s Land, Bristow, and no questions will be asked.’ 1

The potato—introduced from its native South American ground by Raleigh into Ireland, and so extensively cultivated there in the time of the civil wars, as to be a succour to the poor when all cereal crops had been destroyed by the soldiery—transplanted thence to England, but so little cultivated there towards the end of the seventeenth century, as to be sold in 1694 at sixpence or eightpence a pound ‘—is first heard of in Scotland in 1701, when the Duchess of Buccleuch’s household-book mentions a peck of the esculent as brought from Edinburgh, and costing 2s. 6d.’ We hear of it in 1733, as used occasionally at supper in the house of the Earl of Eglintoun, in Ayrshire.4 About this time, it was beginning to be cultivated in gardens, but still with a hesitation about its moral character, for no reader of Shakspeare requires to be told that some of the more uncontrollable passions of human nature were supposed to be favoured by its use.’

At the date here noted, a gentleman, styled Robert Graham of Tamrawer, factor on the forfeited estate of Kilsyth, ventured on the heretofore unknown step of planting a field of potatoes. His experiment was conducted on a half-acre of ground ‘on the croft of Neilstone, to the north of the town of Kilsyth.’ It appears that the root was now, and for a good while after, cultivated only on lazy beds. Many persons - amongst whom was the Earl of Perth, who joined in the insurrection of 1745—came from great distances to witness so extraordinary a novelty, and inquire into the mode of culture.

The field-culture of the potato was introduced about 1746 into the county of Edinburgh by a man named Henry Prentice, who had made a little money as a travelling-merchant, and was now engaged in market-gardening. His example was soon extensively followed, and before 1760 the root was very generally reared in fields, as it is at present.

1740, Jan
A frost, which began on the 26th of the previous month, lasted during the whole of this, and was long remembered for its severity, and the many remarkable circumstances attending it. We nowhere get a scientific statement of the temperature at any period of its duration; but the facts related are sufficient to prove that this was far below any point ordinarily attained in this country. The principal rivers of Scotland were frozen over, and there was such a general stoppage of water-mills, that the knocking-stones usually employed in those simple days for husking grain in small quan­tities, and of which there was one at nearly every cottage-door, were used on this occasion as means of grinding it. Such mills as had a flow of water, were worked on Sundays as well as ordinary days. In some harbours, the ships were frozen up. Food rose to famine prices, and large contributions were required from the rich to keep the poor alive.

The frost was severe all over the northern portion of Europe. The Thames at London being thickly frozen over, a fair was held upon it, with a multitude of shows and popular amusements. At Newcastle, men digging coal in the pits were obliged to have fires kindled to keep them warm; and one mine was through this cause ignited permanently. In the metropolis, coal became so scarce as to reach 70s. per chaldron; and there also much misery resulted among the poor. People perished of cold in the fields, and even in the streets, and there was a prodigious mortality amongst birds and other wild animals.

In consequence of the failure of the crop of this year, Scotland was now undergoing the distresses attendant upon the scarcity and high price of provisions. The populace of Edinburgh attacked the mills, certain granaries in Leith, and sundry meal-shops, and possessed themselves of several hundred bolls of grain, the military forces being too limited in number to prevent them. Several of the rioters being captured, a mob attempted their rescue, and thus led to a fusillade from the soldiery, by which three persons were wounded, one of them mortally. Great efforts were made by the magistracy to obtain corn at moderate prices for the people, by putting in force the laws against reservation of grain from market, and the dealing in it with a view to profit; also by the more rational method of subscriptions among the rich for the sale of meal at comparatively low rates to the poor. The magistrates of Edinburgh also invited importations of foreign grain (December 19), proclaiming that, in case of any being seized by mobs, the community should make good the loss.’

1741, July
George Whitfield, whose preachings had been stirring up a great commotion in England for some years past, came to Scot­land, and for a time held forth at various places in the open air, particularly on the spot where the Edinburgh Theatre after­wards stood. ‘This gentleman,’ says a contemporary chronicler, ‘recommends the essentials of religion, and decries the distinguish­ing punctilos of parties; exclaims against the moral preachers of the age; preaches the doctrine of free grace according to the predestinarian scheme; mentions often the circumstance of his own regeneration, and what success he has had in his ministerial labours.’ 1 Having heard of the late secession from the Church of Scotland by a set of clergymen reputed to be unusually sanctimonious, he was eager to fraternise with them, and lost no time in preaching to the congregation of Mr Ralph Erskine at Dunfermline. But here he met unexpected difficulties. The Scottish seceders could not hold out the right hand of fellowship to one who did not unite with them in their testimony against defective churches. He was a man of too broad sympathies to suit them; so they parted; and Whitfield from that time fraternised solely with the established clergy.

1742, Feb
About this time began a series of religious demonstrations, chiefly centering at Cambuslang on the Clyde, and long after recognised accordingly as the Camb’slanq Wark. Mr Whitfield, in his visit of some mouths last year, had stirred up a new zeal in the Established Church. Mr M’Culloch, minister of Cambuslang, was particularly inflamed by his eloquence, and he had all winter been addressing his flock in an unusually exciting manner. The local fervour waxing stronger and stronger, a shoemaker and a weaver at length lent their assistance to it, and now it was breaking out in those transports of terror of hell-fire, prostrate penitence, and rejoicing re-assurance, which mark what is called a revival. The meetings chiefly took place in a natural amphitheatre or holm, on the river’s side, and were externally very picturesque. There seldom was wanting a row of patients in front of the minister, with their heads tied up, and pitchers of water ready to recover those who fainted. Early in the summer, Mr Whitfield returned to Scotland, and immediately came to lend his assistance to the work, both at Cambuslang, and in the Barony parish of Glasgow. ‘From that time the multitudes who assembled were more numerous than they had ever been, or perhaps than any congregation which had ever before been collected in Scotland; the religious impressions made on the people were apparently much greater and more general; and the visible convulsive agita­tions which accompanied them, exceeded everything of the kind which had yet been observed.’ The clergy of the establishment were pleased with what was going on, as it served to shew that their lamp was not gone out, thereby enabling them to hold up their heads against the taunts of the Secession as to growing lukewarmness and defection. And they pointed with pathetic earnestness to the many sinners converted from evil ways, as a proof that real good was done. On the other hand, the seceders loudly deplored ‘the present awful symptom of the Lord’s anger with the church and land, in sending them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie,’ and ordained a day to be observed as a fast, in order to avert the evils they apprehended in consequence.1 A fierce controversy raged for some time between the two bodies, as to whether the Camb’slang Wark was of God or of the Devil, each person being generally swayed in his decision by his love for, or aversion to, the Established Church. A modern divine just quoted (Erskine), disclaims for them a miraculous character, but asserts, as matter of historic verity, that fully four hundred persons at Cambuslang underwent a permanent religious change, independent of those who were converted in like manner at Kilsyth. It is understood that the proceedings of the Associate Synod on the occasion have since been much deplored by their successors.

Oct 10
Public attention was strongly roused by an accident of an uncommon kind which happened in the lowlands of Ross-shire. The church of Fearn parish was an old Gothic structure covered with a heavy roof of flagstone. This day, being Sunday, while the parishioners were assembled at worship, the roof and part of the side-wall gave way, under the pressure of a load of prematurely fallen snow; and the bulk of the people present were buried under the ruins. The fortunate arrangement of the seats of the gentry in the side recesses saved most of that class from injury; and the minister, Mr Donald Ross, was protected by the sounding-board of his pulpit. There chanced to be present Mr James Robertson, the minister of Lochbroom, a man of uncommon personal strength and great dexterity and courage. He, planting his shoulder under a falling lintel, sustained it till a number of the people escaped. Forty poor people were dug out dead, and in such a state of mutilation that it was found necessary to huddle them all into one grave.

The period of the extinction of wild and dangerous animals in a country is of some importance, as an indication of its advance in Civilisation, and of the appropriation of its soil for purely economic purposes. One learns with a start how lately the wolf inhabited the Highlands of Scotland. It is usually said that the species was extirpated about 1680 by the famous Sir Ewen Cameron of Locheil; but the tradition to that effect appears to be only true of Sir Ewen’s own district of Western Inverness­shire, and there is reason to believe that the year at which this chronicle has arrived is the date of the death of the last wolf in the entire kingdom. The slayer of the animal is represented as being a notable Highland deer-stalker of great stature and strength, named Macqueen of Pall-a’-chrocain, and the Forest of Tarnaway in Morayland is assigned as the scene of the incident. The popular Highland narration on the subject is as follows:

‘One winter’s day, about the year before mentioned, Macqueen received a message from the Laird of Macintosh that a large “black beast,” supposed to be a wolf, had appeared in the glens, and the day before killed two children, who, with their mother, were crossing the hills from Calder; in consequence of which a “Tainchel,” or gathering to drive the country, was called to meet at a tryst above Fi-Ginthas, where Macqueen was invited to attend with his dogs. Pall-a’-chrocain informed himself of the place where the children had been killed, the last tracks of the wolf, and the conjectures of his haunts, and promised his assistance.

‘In the morning the “Tainchel” had long assembled, and Macintosh waited with impatience, but Macqueen did not arrive; his dogs and himself were, however, auxiliaries too important to be left behind, and they continued to wait until the best of a hunter’s morning was gone, when at last he appeared, and Macintosh received him with an irritable expression of disappointment.

“Ciod e a’ chabhag ? “—“What was the hurry?” said Pall-a’­chrocain.

‘Macintosh gave an indignant retort, and all present made some impatient reply.

‘Macqueen lifted his plaid, and drew the black bloody head of the wolf from under his arm—” Sin e dhuibh" - There it is for you!” said he, and tossed it on the grass in the midst of the surprised circle.

‘Macintosh expressed great joy and admiration, and gave him the land called Sean-achan for meat to his dogs.’

1743, May
Owing to a severe spring, a malady called ‘fever and cold’ prevailed in Edinburgh, and was spreading all over the country. On Sunday, the 8th May, fifty sick people were prayed for in the city churches, and in the preceding week there had been seventy burials in the Greyfriars, being three times the usual number.

For a number of years, the six independent companies of armed Highlanders, commonly called the Reicudan Dhu, or Black Watch, had been effective in keeping down that system of cattle-lifting which ancient prejudice had taught the Highlanders generally to regard as only a kind of clan warfare. But in 1739, the govern­ment was induced to form these companies into a regular regiment for service in the foreign war then entered upon; and in March of this year, they were actually sent into England, leaving the Highlands without adequate protection. The consequence was an immediate revival of old practices.

In July of this year, it was reported to the Edinburgh newspapers that the highlands of Nairnshire were absolutely infested with depredators, who came by day as well as night, and drove off the cattle, not scrupling to kill the inhabitants when they were resisted. The proprietors were trying to form a watch or guard for the country; but these people often fell into complicity with the spoilers, or entered on a similar career themselves. The greatest confusion and difficulty prevailed, and other districts were soon after involved in the same calamitous grievance.

One day in October, a party of nine cearnochs or caterans, well armed, came from Rannoch into Badenoch, and laid a large part of the district under contribution, ‘forcing the people to capitulate for their lives at the expense of all they possessed,’ and carrying off a great quantity of sheep. The gentlemen of the district hastily assembled with some of their people, but felt greatly at a loss on account of their want of arms. Nevertheless, with a few old weapons, they resolved to attack the depredators. A smoke seen on a distant hillside led them to the place where the robbers were halting. Their firearms were by this time useless with wet; yet they fell on with great courage, and obtained a victory, at the expense of a wound to one of their party. Four of the offenders were secured, and carried to the prison at Ruthven.’ It was hoped that the fate of this party would deter others; but the hope was not rea1ised.

In March 1744, a general meeting of the gentlemen of the district of Badenoch took into consideration the sad state of their Country. It was represented that, owing to the frequent thefts committed, the tenants were on the brink of utter ruin: some who paid not above fifteen pounds of. rent, had suffered losses to the extent of a hundred. Evan Macpherson of Cluny, the leading man of the district, and a person of activity and intelligence, had been repeatedly entreated to undertake the formation and management of an armed watch, to be supported from such small contributions as could be raised; but he regarded the country as too poor to support such an establishment as would be necessary. Yet he now told them that, unless the king could protect them, he could suggest no other course than the putting of their own and the neighbouring districts under persons who could guard the country by their own armed retainers, and guarantee the restitution of lost goods to all such as would contribute to the necessary funds.

On the entreaty of his neighbours, Cluny, in May, did muster a number of his people, of honest character, whom he planted at the several passes through which predatory incursions were made, ‘giving them most strict orders that these passes should be punctually travelled and watched night and day, for keeping off, intercepting, seizing, and imprisoning the villains, as occasion offered, and as strictly forbidding and discharging them to act less or more in the ordinary way of other undertakers (leviers of black-mail), who, instead of suppressing theft, do greatly support it, by currying the favour of the thieves,, and gratifying them for their diverting of the weight of theft from such parts of the countries as pay the undertaker for their protection, to such parts as do not pay them.’

Cluny is allowed to have tolerably well effected his purpose. The thieves, being hemmed in by him, and reduced to great straits, offered to keep his own lands skaithiess if he would cease to guard those of his neighbours, a proposal to which, as might be expected, he gave no heed. They tried to evade his vigilance by taking a sprectth of cattle from Strathnairn by boats across Loch Ness, instead of by the ordinary route; but he then set guards on the ferries of Loch Ness, albeit at a great additional expense. The lands of gentlemen who declined to contribute were as safe as those in the opposite circumstances He was even able to restore some cattle taken from distant places, as Banffshire, Strathallan, and the Colquhoun’s grounds near Dumbarton.’

The Rev. Mr Lapslie, writing in 1795 the statistical account of his parish of Campsie, remarks with a feeling of wonder the fact that, so recently as 1744, his father ‘paid black-mail to Macgregor of Glengyle, in order to prevent depredations being made upon his property; Macgregor engaging, upon his part, to secure him from suffering any hardship (hership, that is, despoliation), as it was termed; and he faithfully fulfilled the contract; engaging to pay for all sheep which were carried away, if above the number of seven, which he styled a lifting; if below seven, he only considered it a piking; and for the honour of this warden of the Highland march, Mr John Lapalie having got fifteen sheep lifted in the commencement of the year 1745, Mr Macgregor actually had taken measures to have their value restored, when the rebellion broke out, and put an end to any further payment of black-mail, and likewise to Mr Macgregor’s self-created wardenship of the Highland borders.’ 1

We have seen that an abortive attempt was made in 1678 to set up a stage-coach between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Nothing more is heard of such a scheme till the present date, when John Walker, merchant in Edinburgh, proposed to the town council of Glasgow the setting up of a stage-coach between the two towns, for six persons, twice a week, for twenty weeks in summer, and once a week during the rest of the year, receiving ten shillings per passenger, provided that he should have the sale of two hundred tickets per annum guaranteed.3 This effort was likewise abortive.

It was not till 1758, when the population of Glasgow had risen to about thirty-five thousand, that a regular conveyance for passengers was established between the two cities. It was drawn by four horses, and the journey of forty-two miles was performed in twelve hours, the passengers stopping to dine on the way. Such was the only stage-coach on that important road for thirty years, nor during that time did any acceleration take place. A young lady of Glasgow, of distinguished beauty, having to travel to Edinburgh about 1780, a lover towards whom she was not very favourably disposed, took all the remaining tickets, was of course her sole companion on the journey, entertained her at dinner, and otherwise found such means of pressing his suit, that she soon after became his wife. This was, so far as it goes, a very pretty piece of stage-coach romance; but, unluckily, the lover was unworthy of his good-fortune, and the lady, in a state of worse than widow­hood, was, a few years after, the subject of the celebrated Clarinda correspondence of Burns.

Mr Palmer, the manager of the Bath Theatre, having succeeded in introducing his smart stage-coaches, one was established, in July 1788, between London and Glasgow, performing the distance (405 miles) in sixty-five hours. This seems to have led to an improvement in the conveyances between Edinburgh and the western city. Colin M’Farlane, of the Buck’s Head Inn of Glasgow, announced, in the ensuing October, his having com­menced a four-seated coach between the two cities every lawful day at eleven o’clock, thus permitting mercantile men to transact business at the banks and public offices before starting. ‘In most of the coaches running at present,’ says he, ‘six are admitted, and three into a chaise, which proves very disagreeable for passengers to be so situated for a whole day. The inconveni­ence is entirely removed by the above plan       Owing to the lightness of the carriage, and frequent change of horses, she arrives at Glasgow and Edinburgh as soon as the carriages that set off early in the morning.’ ‘Price of the tickets from both towns, 9s. 6d.’ 1 Notwithstanding this provocative to emulation, ‘the Diligence’ for Edinburgh was announced in 1789 as starting from the Saracen’s Head each morning at nine, ‘or at any other hour the two first passengers might agree on.’2 It was not till 1799 that the time occupied by a stage-coach journey between these two cities was reduced so low as even six hours, being still an hour and a half beyond the time ultimately attained before the opening of the railway in 1842.

For some years the use of tea had been creeping in amongst nearly all ranks of the people. It was thought by many reflecting persons, amongst whom was the enlightened Lord President Forbes, to be in many respects an improper diet, expensive, wasteful of time, and calculated to render the population weakly and effeminate. During the course of this year, there was a vigorous movement all over Scotland for getting the use of tea abated. Towns, parishes, and counties passed resolutions condemnatory of the Chinese leaf and pointing strongly to the manlier attractions of beer. The tenants of William Fullarton of Fullarton, in Ayrshire, in a bond they entered into on the occasion, thus delivered themselves: ‘We, being all farmers by profession, think it needless to restrain ourselves formally from indulging in that foreign and consumptive luxury called tea; for when we consider the slender constitutions of many of higher rank, amongst whom it is used, we conclude that it would be but an improper diet to qualify us for the more robust and manly parts of our business; and therefore we shall only give our testimony against it, and leave the enjoyment of it altogether to those who can afford to be weak, indolent, and useless.’

1745, Oct
Lord Lovat, writing to the Lord President Forbes on the 20th of this month, adverts to the effect of the civil broils in giving encouragement to men of prey in the Highlands. He says:

‘This last fortnight, my cousin William (Fraser), Struie’s uncle, that is married to Kilbockie’s daughter, and who is a very honest man, and she a good woman, had twenty fine cows stolen from him. The country (that is, the country people) went upon the track, and went into Lochaber and to Rannoch, and came up with the thieves in my Lord Breadalbane’s forest of Glenurchy. The thieves, upon seeing the party that pursued them, abandoned the cattle, and ran off; and William brought home his cattle, but had almost died, and all that was with him, of fatigue, cold, and hunger; but, indeed, it is the best-followed track that ever I heard of in any country. You see how loose the whole country is, when four villains durst come a hundred miles, and take up the best cattle they could find in this couutry; for they think there is no law, and that makes them so insolent.’

The practice of stealing cattle in the Highlands has already been several times alluded to, as well as the system of compromise called black-mail, by which honest people were enabled in some degree to secure themselves against such losses. Down to 1745, there does not appear to have been any very sensible abatement of this state of things, notwithstanding the keeping up of the armed companies, professedly for the maintenance of law and order. Perhaps the black-mail caused there being less robbery than would otherwise have been the case, and also the occasional restoration of property which had been taken away; but it was of course necessary for the exactors of the mail to allow at least as much despoliation as kept up the occasion for the tax.

Mr Graham of Gartmore, writing on this subject immediately after the close of the rebellion, enters into a calculation of the entire losses to the Highlands through robbery and its consequences.

‘It may be safely affirmed,’ he says, ‘that the horses, cows, sheep, and goats yearly stolen in that country are in value equal to £5000, and that the expenses lost in the fruitless endeavours to recover them, will not be less than £2000; that the extra­ordinary expenses of keeping (neat-) herds and servants to look more narrowly after cattle on account of stealing, otherwise not necessary, is £10,000. There is paid in black-mail or watch-money, openly or privately, £5000; and there is a yearly loss, by understocking the grounds, by reason of thefts, of at least £15,000; which is altogether a loss to landlords and farmers in the Highlands of £37,000 a year.

‘. . . . The person chosen to command this watch, as it is called, is commonly one deeply concerned in the thefts himself, or at least that hath been in correspondence with the thieves, and frequently who hath occasioned thefts in order to make this watch, by which he gains considerably, necessary. The people employed travel through the country armed, night and day, under pretence of inquiring after stolen cattle, and by this means know the situation and circumstances of the whole country. And as the people thus employed are the very rogues that do these mischiefs, so one half of them are continued in their former businesses of stealing, that the business of the other half. may be necessary in recovering       Whoever considers the shameful way these watches were managed, particularly by Barrisdale and the Macgregors, in the west ends of Perth and Stirling shires, will easily see into the spirit, nature, and consequences of them.’

Pennant informs us that many of the lifters of black-mail ‘were wont to insert an article by which they were to be released from their agreement, in case of any civil commotion; thus, at the breaking out of the last rebellion, a Macgregor (who assumed the name of Graham), who had with the strictest honour till that event preserved his friends’ cattle, immediately sent them word that from that time they were out of his protection, and must now take care of themselves.’

The same author justly remarks the peculiar code of morality which circumstances, partly political, had brought into existence in the Highlands, whereby cattle-stealing came to be considered rather as a gallant military enterprise than as theft. He says the young men regarded a proficiency in it as a recommendation to their mistresses. Here, however, it must be admitted, we only find the disastrous results of a general civil disorder arising from political disaffection and antagonisms.

Both Gartmore and Mr Pennant speak of ‘Barrisdale’ as a person who at this time stood in great notoriety as a levier of black-mail, or, as Barrisdale himself might have called it, a protector of the country. Descended from a branch of the Glengarry family, his father had obtained from the contemporary Glengarry, on wadset, permission to occupy a considerable tract of ground named Barrisdale, on the south side of Loch Hourn, and from this he had hereditarily derived the appellative by which he was most generally known, while his real name was Coll MacDonell, and his actual residence was at Inverie, on Loch Nevis. Although the government had kept up a barrack and garrison at Glenelg since 1723, Barrisdale carried on his practice as a cattle-protector undisturbed for a course of years, drawing a revenue of about five hundred a year from a large district, in which there were many persons that might have been expected to give him opposition. According to Pennant, ‘he behaved with genuine honour in restoring, on proper con­sideration, the stolen cattle of his friends        He was indefatigable in bringing to justice any rogues that interfered with his own. He was a man of a polished behaviour, fine address, and fine person. He considered himself in a very high light, as a benefactor to the public, and preserver of general tranquillity, for on the silver plates, the ornaments of his bbaldric, he thus addresses his broadsword:

“Hae tibi sunt artes, pacis componere mores;
Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.” ‘

At the breaking out of the rebellion, Barrisdale and his son acted as partisans of the Stuart cause, the latter in an open manner, the consequence of which was his being named in the act of attainder. During the frightful time of vengeance that followed upon Culloden, the father made some sort of submission to the government troops, which raised a rumour that he had undertaken to assist in securing and delivering up the fugitive prince. What truth or falsehood there might be in the allegation, no one could now undertake to certify; but certain it is, that, when a party of the Camerons were preparing, in September 1746, to leave the country with Prince Charles in a French vessel, they seized the Barrisdales, father and son, as culprits, and carried them to France, where they underwent imprisonment, first at St Malo, and afterwards at Saumur, for about a year. It was at the same time reported to London that the troops had found, in Barrisdale’s house, ‘a hellish engine for extorting confession, and punishing such thieves as were not in his service. It is all made of iron, and stands upright; the criminal’s neck, hands, and feet are put into it, by which he ‘s in a sloping posture, and can neither sit, lie, nor stand.’ This report must also remain in some degree a matter of doubt.

The younger Barrisdale, making his escape from the French prison, returned to the wilds of Inverness-shire, and was there allowed for a time to remain in peace. The father, liberated when Prince Charles was expelled from France, also returned to Scotland; but he had not been more than two days at his house in Knoydart, when a party from Glenelg apprehended him. Being placed as a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle, he died there in June 1750, after a confinement of fourteen months. The son was in like manner seized in July 1753, in a wood on Loch-Hourn-side, along with four or five other gentlemen in the same circumstances, and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. He was condemned upon the act of attainder to die in the Grassmarket on the 22d of May 1754, and while he lay under sentence, his wife, who attended him, brought a daughter into the world.2 He was, however, reprieved from time to time, and ultimately, after nine years’ confinement, received a pardon in March 1762, took the oath of allegiance to George III., and was made a captain in Colonel Graeme’s regiment, being the same which was afterwards so noted under the name of the Forty-second. When Mr John Knox made his tour of the West Highlands in 1786, to propagate the faith in herring-curing and other modern arts of peace, he found ‘Barris­dale ‘—that name so associated with an ancient and ruder state of things—residing at the place from which he was named. ‘He lives,’ says the traveller, ‘in silent retirement upon a slender income, and seems by his appearance, conversation, and deport­ment, to have merited a better fate. He is about six feet high, proportionably made, and was reckoned one of the handsomest men of the age. He is still a prisoner, in a more enlarged sense, and has no society excepting his own family, and that of Mr Macleod of Arnisdale. Living on opposite sides of the loch, their communications are not frequent.’’

It seems not inappropriate that this record of the old life of Scotland should end with an article in which we find the associa­tions of the lawless times of the Highlands inosculating with the industrial proceedings of a happier age. A further extension of our domestic annals would shew how the good movements of the last fifteen years were now accelerated, and how our northern soil became, in the course of little more than a lifetime, one of the fairest scenes of European civilisation. Fully to describe this period—its magnificent industries, its rapid growth of intelligence, of taste, of luxury, the glories it achieved in literature, science, and art—would form a noble task; but it is one which would need to be worked out on a plan different from the present work, and which I should gladly see undertaken by some son of Caledonia who may have more power than I to do her story justice, though he cannot love or respect her more.

Return to Book Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus