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Glimpses of Church and Social Life in the Highlands in Olden Times and Other Papers
Chapter III. Transcripts of Inscriptions in the Churchyard, with Descriptive Notes

“O lay me, ye that see the light, near some rock of my hills! Let the thick hazels be around, let the rustling oak he near. Green be the place of my rest; let the sound of the distant torrent be heard.”—Ossian.

IN course of the improvements recently effected in the churchyard, a number of tombstones were found sunk in some cases two or three feet beneath the surface of the ground. The probability is that many others have, in the changes and flight of ages, sunk or been covered over to such an extent that there is now little prospect of getting these brought to light. Remarkably enough, not a single Gaelic inscription has been found in the churchyard. In giving transcripts (with bits of descriptive notes) of all the inscriptions I have been able to trace, I begin with the graves to the east:—


1. Headstone.

“Memento Mori.

Here lies the body of Dugal Campbell McPherson, aged 14 years, who departed this life the 8th day of August 1774; and his brother, Lieut. Robert Campbell McPherson, aged 27 years. Died the 2d April 1789. Sons of Lieut. McPherson of Billidmor.

Their lives were short,
The longer is their rest;
God taketh soonest
Whom He loveth best.”

These appropriate lines remind one of the oft-quoted saying, “Whom the gods love die young.”

2. Flatstone.

“Here lies the body of Lieut. Alexr: McPherson of Billidmore, who departed this life 27th July 1790, aged 69 years.

Epitaph composed by a disconsolate Widow.

He was just in thought,
In every word sincere;
He knew no wish
But what the world might hear;
The Pattern of an unaffected mind,

A lover of peace, and Friend to human kind.”

This Lieut. Macpherson was long popularly known in the district as An t-Oidhchear Ban (the fair-haired officer), and it is to two of his sons the previous inscription refers.

3. Headstone.

“Erected to the memory of Lieutenant-Colonel Angus Macpherson, H.E.I.C.S., who died at Edinburgh, 21st April 1856.”

This is the Colonel Angus Macpherson, long so well known in Badenoch, who, although rising to high distinction abroad in the service of the Honourable East India Company, never—like a true Highlander— forgot his native hills. By deed of trust executed by him in 1853, on the narrative “that it is a duty incumbent on all to aid and assist the poor in a proper and judicious manner so far as circumstances will allow, and feeling desirous,” as he states, “to relieve the wants and in some degree add to the comforts of the most deserving and industrious poor of my native parish of Kingussie and its immediate vicinity, and being aware that many poor and honest parents residing within the said parish and boundary are often unable to give their children such education as may be necessary to qualify them for useful pursuits and purposes of life,” bequeathed a sum of in all fifteen thousand rupees to the trustees therein named and directed—

1. That under certain conditions two-thirds of the free yearly interest on the bequest should be applied for behoof of the most deserving poor persons as his trustees should select, whether male or female, preference being given to those of the name of Macpherson and Shaw if otherwise deserving.

2. That the remaining third of such free yearly interest should be applied towards the education of ten or twelve poor children between five and eight years of age, boys and girls in equal numbers to be selected by the said trustees, and whose parents must be of good moral character, and residing within the said parish and boundary, preference being given, as before, to those of the name of Macpherson and Shaw if unexceptionable in point of merit and fitness.

“Colonel Angus” expresses in the deed of trust his sincere “hope that no cause for putting an end to this trust will arise, but that my intention and design will be advantageously and happily conducted in all time coming, and that the said children, taking true religion and morality for their guidance, may be a credit to their friends, and become useful members of society.” The worthy man adds—what is very unusual in such deeds—his blessing in the following terms: “And begging my trustees to accept my blessing, I humbly hope and pray that Almighty God may bless their endeavours and my earnest desire to effect some good.” The original trustees named by “Colonel Angus” were “Ewen Macpherson of Cluny, Chief of the Clan; Colonel Alexander Macpherson of Kerrow; Major Duncan Macpherson, formerly Collector of Customs, Inverness; James Macpherson, Etteridge” (a nephew of the testator); “and Malcolm Macpherson, Killiehuntly.”

These trustees are now all dead. The present trustees are Brigadier-General Macpherson of Cluny (the present Chief of the Clan), the two ministers of Kingussie, and the two Bank agents. Under the charitable portion of the trust still subsisting nine or ten poor persons each receive about 3 Per annum. But alas for “Colonel Angus’s” design—so far as the educational portion is concerned—that the trust should subsist in all time coming! On the alleged ground of “extending the usefulness” of the bequest, that autocratic body, the Educational Endowments Commission, recently laid their sacrilegious hands on the educational portion of the mortification, and transferred the same to the equally autocratic School Board of Kingussie. Unfortunately only two descendants of the old Parson of Kingussie happened to be members of that board at the time, and, notwithstanding their protest, the transference has been effected under conditions which altogether ignore the express injunctions of “Colonel Angus,” that a preference should be given to girls and boys of his own clan.

4. Headstone.

“Evn. McPherson of Lynwilg, also Mary McPherson. Died 1830.”

I have not been able to trace to what family this Evan Macpherson belonged. He may possibly have been one of the Macphersons of Ballourie or of Pitourie—said to have been, in their day, the handsomest men of the clan. There is a Lament for one of them given in the Duanaire, by the late Donald Macpherson of the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh.

5. Headstone.

“To the memory of James McPherson, late Tacksman of Crubenbeg, who died 28th April 1804, aged 76.”

A son of this James Macpherson was the late Captain Lachlan Macpherson, Biallid—long popularly called “Old Biallid”—so widely known and honoured far beyond the limits of Badenoch. Another son (Andrew) also held a commission in the army, and latterly acted for many years as factor for the Duke of Richmond at Huntly, where some of his descendants still reside. One of his grandsons is a partner of the well-known firm of Cochran & Macpherson, Advocates, Aberdeen. “Old Biallid’s” remains are interred in the new churchyard.

6. Headstone.

“Here lie the remains of Duncan McPherson, who died at Crubenbeg 25 April 1817, aged 38.”

7. Headstone.

“Here lie the remains of Jas. McPherson, son to Jno. McPherson in Crubenbeg, who died 23rd May 1818, aged 18.”

The Duncan mentioned in No. 6 and the John mentioned in No. 7 were also sons of James Macpherson, Crubenbeg, and brothers of “Old Biallid.”

8. Flatstone.

“Sacred to the memory of Finlay McPherson, Glenbanchor. Died 1825.”

A representative of the old Macphersons of Biallid, strictly so called.

9. Headstone.

“To the memory of James McPherson, late in Dalannach, who departed this life 28th July 1830, aged 59 years. This last tribute is erected here by their Sons Alexander, Malcolm, Hugh, and James.”

On the back of the stone there are the words—

“Arise, ye Dead, and come to judgement.”

The James Macpherson mentioned in this inscription as having died in 1830, was married to an aunt of Mr Duncan Macpherson, the venerable “old Banker,” who died at Kingussie on 18th February 1890, in the ninety-first year of his age. Although he had attained that advanced age, the “old Banker’s” memory remained unimpaired down to the end of his life. Only a short time before his death he related to me incidents and events occurring from fifty to eighty years ago, connected with the lives of many who sleep their “last sleep” in the old churchyard, as vividly as if these had happened the previous day.

10. Headstone.

“Erected to the memory of Lieu1- John McPherson, of the 78th Regiment, who died at Blaragie, Laggan, on the 19th Septr. 1815, aged 88 years. Also his Relict, Jane McPherson, Daughter of John McPherson of Invernahaven, who died 17th August 1828, aged 75.”

This Lieutenant Macpherson was orderly sergeant to General Wolfe, and received him in his arms when that famous general fell at Quebec. A nephew of Lieutenant Macpherson was Seorsa Mor Dail-fheannaich (big George of Dalannach), so well known to the boys of Kingussie thirty or forty years ago. Of a good family, and usually—giant as he was—one of the quietest and gentlest of men, George, when he met any of his old acquaintances at Feill Clialum-Cliille (St Columba’s Fair), or at any other public gatherings, was prone to indulge—like many other worthy Highlanders—in more than was good for him. As true-hearted a Macpherson as ever trod the heather, George could not, in his elevated moments, brook the imputation on the courage of the clan contained in the canard, originated by some wag of the time, to the effect that on their way to Culloden in the ’45 they had tarried so long at Corrybrough taking brochan (Anglice, gruel) as to be too late to take part in the battle. The Kingussie imps of the time soon came to know George’s weakness in this respect, and took great delight, when they considered themselves at a safe distance, in rousing his ire by shouting in their native vernacular, “Claim Mhuirich a’ Bhrochain I Claim Mhuirich a' Bhrochain!” (“Macphersons of the Brochan! Macphersons of the Brochan ! ”) Woe betide any of these imps on whom George, while his indignation was at fevers heat, could lay his hands! When he cooled down a bit and his wrath became somewhat appeased, he would pathetically exclaim, “Mo thruaighe, mo thruaighe mise, gu’ n deach brochan a’ dheanamh riamh!” (“ Pity, pity me, that brochan was ever made!”) Poor old George now quietly sleeps here with his fathers. Peace be to his ashes!

11. Flatstone (Opposite No. 10).


The Macphersons of Invernahaven were one of the oldest families in the district. Invernahaven was once the seat of the Davidsons, a branch of the Clan Chattan. According to Shaw the historian, the founder of this branch was David Dow, a grandson of Gillecattan Mor, whose descendants became so numerous and powerful that in the fourteenth century they contended for precedency with the Macphersons, or principal branch of the Clan Chattan, which led to the celebrated conflict on the North Inch of Perth in 1396.

12. Headstone.

“Here lyeth John McPherson, son to John McPherson of Knappach, Barrack-master at Ruthven, and Ann Macpherson his spouse, who departed this life June 1746, in the 5th year of his age.”

13. Flatstone.

“Here lyeth Iean McPherson, daughter to John McPherson of Knappach, Barrackmaster at Ruthven, and Ann McPherson his spouse, who departed this life March 1745, in the 15th year of her age.”

The John Macpherson of Knappach mentioned in Nos. 12 and 13 was of the Macphersons of Invereshie (now represented by Sir George Macpherson Grant, Bart.), and was for some years the ruling elder of the church of Kingussie, of which the Rev. Mr Blair was at the time minister. This John Macpherson died 17th January 1754.

14. Flatstone.

“Here lyeth the body of Donald McPherson of Culenlean, who departed this life the 26th day of Septr. 1742, aged 56 years.

This Donald Macpherson was of the house of Nuide, and was also one of Mr Blair’s elders. In the old session records of Kingussie I find his name frequently mentioned. On one occasion a complaint was brought before the session by an alien settler at Ruthven against his Highland Janet, on the alleged ground that she had failed—probably from incompatibility of temper—“to do him ye duties of a married wife,” and it was remitted to Mr Blair and “Culenlean” to do what they could in the way of pouring oil upon the troubled waters. Here is the minute of the kirk-session on the subject, of date 25th September 1726:—

“This day, Donald Rotson, in Ruthven, compeared before the session, and gave in a complaint before the session against Janet Grant, his married wife, showing yl ye said Janet hath deserted him sometime ago, and that he cannot prevail with her to return to him, or to do him ye duties of a married wife, and entreats the session would summond her before them, and prevail with her to be reconciled to him, or els give a reason why she will not. The session considering yt ye course that said Janet has taken is a manifest perjury and breach of her marriage vows, and yrfor is ground of scandal and offence, do appoint her to be summond to next session; meantime, that the minister and Donald McPherson of Culenlean converse with her yr anent and make report.”

It is subsequently recorded that the rebellious Janet was ultimately persuaded by the minister and “Culenlean” to return to her disconsolate Donald. Alas, however, for the vanity of Donald’s wishes! Nearly six years later the long-suffering mortal appeared before the session, and gave in a petition showing that the faithless Janet had “deserted him these five years past, not knowing qr she is.” Poor Donald’s patience had apparently become quite exhausted, and he beseeches the session “that he might have liberty to marry anoyr.” The session considered the case of such an intricate nature that we are told they referred the matter to the Presbytery of the bounds, but I have been unable to trace whether Donald subsequently obtained the “liberty” he so ardently desired.

In the spring of 1887 the Culenlean grave was opened to receive all that was mortal of another Donald Macpherson—long so well known in the district by the cognomen of An Gobhainn Caitir, whose father, Am Fidhleir Ban (the fair-haired fiddler), was a son of the Donald of Culenlean who figured in the ’45. At the time of his death our friend, the last Donald, had attained the advanced age of eighty-four years. Many of us will long vividly remember his familiar figure (wrapped in his Highland plaid) sitting so patiently Sabbath after Sabbath on the pulpit-stair, down to within a short time of his death, and listening with such rapt attention to the Gospel message.

Donald was somewhat of a character in his way. While living at Ralia the Rev. Mr Barclay of St Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh (now of Montreal), who officiated with so much acceptance in the parish church of Kingussie for two or three successive summers, was greatly interested in Donald and his quaint remarks. On one occasion Mr Barclay expressed his deep regret that he could not go among the people and talk to them like Donald in their native tongue. “Indeed it’s a great pity, Mr Barclay,” Donald naively replied, “that you cannot do so; but, you see, God has not gifted you and me alike.” Donald had rather a checkered history; and industrious as he had been in his prime, he was obliged, from the force of circumstances in his declining years—much to his regret—to accept from others the wherewithal to meet his modest wants. And yet, dependent as he latterly was upon such relief for the barest necessaries of life, he made a point of saving a mite week after week for the missionary work of the Church. Shortly before his death Donald sent me for this purpose the sum of 2s. 2d. carefully wrapped up in paper. I had great hesitation in taking the money from him, but he insisted. I then asked him why he had made his contribution such an odd sum as 2s. 2d. “Well, you see,” he replied, “I just counted up what a halfpenny for every Sabbath of the year would come to, saved one from week to week, and there’s the money!” In this respect, at least, may it not be said of poor old Donald that—like the widow we read of in Holy Writ —he “cast into the treasury” all that he had? Not to go beyond the parish of Kingussie, I wonder if of any one among us it can be truly said that, in proportion to our several ability, we have in our Christian giving ever done as much as he who now so peacefully sleeps with his fathers in the old churchyard? Happy all they, rich or poor, among us respecting whose loving Christian gifts and deeds Christ Himself at His second coming shall bear witness—“They have done what they could.”

15. Headstone.

“Sacred to the memory of Lachlan Macpherson, Esq. of Ralia; long a Magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant of Inverness-shire. He was a man who feared God and honoured the King, and, like a true Highlander, was devoted to his Chief. Distinguished for honesty in all his transactions, and beloved by the Poor and distressed as their sympathising and generous friend. He died June 10th, 1813, at the age of 87, revered by his family and respected by all who knew him. Also to the memory of his Spouse Grace, Eldest daughter of Andrew Macpherson, Esq. of Banchor, who died May 5th, 1793; their son John, who died in infancy; their daughter Harriet, who died March 12th, 1825, aged 34 years. This Stone is erected by Major Duncan Macpherson, Falls of Truim, the last surviving son of the family.”

Of this Lachlan Macpherson it is said that on one occasion, when paying a casual visit to his neighbours, the Macphersons of Banchor, a child was lying in the cradle. The attention of the goodwife of Banchor having in course of “Ralia’s” Ceilidh been taken up with some other household duties, she exclaimed, “Fulaisg a’ chreadhail, a Lachluinn; theagamh gu'm bi a’ chaileag bhcag sin ’11a bean agad fhathast.” (“Rock the cradle for me, Lachlan; that little girlie may yet be your wife.”) “‘Fulaisgidh mi a' chreadhail gu dcarbh,’’arsa fear an Raleith, ‘ ach tha cagal orm gu bhcil mi tuillcadh a’s scan, ma phosas mi am fcasd, gu feitheamh cho fada air son mnathad ” (“‘I’ll certainly rock the cradle for you,’ replied ‘Ralia,’ ‘but I fear I am already too old—if I ever get married at all—to wait so long for a wife.’”) But moved probably by the bewitching smile with which the sweet little “Grace” no doubt rewarded his “rocking” labours when she awoke out of her refreshing sleep, wait for her he actually did. When the marriage took place, “Ralia” had entered his fifty-third year, while “Grace” had then attained only the age of sixteen.

In a touching Gaelic elegy by his sister, Miss Barbara Macpherson— a blithe-hearted genial old lady, who composed numerous songs, mournful, humorous, and satirical—the interesting event in “Ralia’s” life is thus alluded to:—

"’S ioma ceum a bha d’astar Eadar Sasunn is Albainn;
Ach cha d’riaraich thu d’aigne
Gus ’na thachair sibh ’m Beannachar.”
Which, freely translated, may be rendered thus :—

“Many were the footsteps of your journey Between Scotland and England, But you satisfied not your affection Till you two met at Banchor.”

Unlike the similar union of youth and age in the case of the Lochaber hunter, the marriage of “Ralia,” although it endured only for the short period of fourteen years, appears to have proved a very happy one. “Ralia” survived his wife for about twenty years, but both now sleep peacefully here together in the one grave “until the day break, and the shadows flee away.”

Mrs Grant of Laggan, in a letter to a friend in 1793, shortly after the death of Mrs Macpherson of Ralia, writes as follows: “Your arrival will, I am sure, greatly revive Charlotte, who has mourned immoderately for the great loss we have all sustained in Mrs Macpherson of Ralia.”

In a footnote in Mrs Grant’s ‘Letters from the Mountains,’ the first edition of which was published in 1806, it is stated regarding Mrs Macpherson that “this lady was married to a near relation and intimate friend of the minister of Laggan. She was distinguished for beauty and understanding, and died about her thirtieth year, on the birth of her youngest son, leaving eleven children to lament her irreparable loss.” Two of the daughters (Charlotte and Jane), who were greatly respected in Badenoch, sadly perished about twenty-five years ago in the accidental burning, during the dead of night, of their house at the Falls of Truim, to the universal regret of all classes throughout the district. Only two of the eleven children got married—namely, Major Duncan Macpherson of the 42d Regiment (latterly Collector of Customs in Inverness), to Miss Sheriff of Inverness; and Major Evan Macpherson of the 42d Madras Native Infantry (latterly of Glentruim), to Miss Birrell, a niece of Sir James Ramsay of Balmain. The present proprietor of the estate of Glentruim (Colonel Lachlan Macpherson) is a son of the above-named Major Evan Macpherson, and a grandson of Lachlan Macpherson of Ralia.

16. Flatstone.

‘ Here lyes ye body of Alexr. McPherson in Pitmean, Sone to ye Deceast Malcolm McPherson in Glengoynack, vho • vas • sone • to Malcolm McPherson of Ardbrylach, vho • depr- • this • life • ye • 15th • day • of • APRYL • 1720 • AND • YE • 56th • YEAR • OF • AGE.”

A Malcolm Macpherson of Ardbrylach was in 1725 one of Mr Blair’s elders. The fact that one of the Malcolms mentioned in the inscription is designed as “in Glengoynack” would appear to indicate that the numerous houses at the top of the glen, of which the ruins still exist, were inhabited in his lifetime, and probably for a number of years later. No dwelling-houses of any kind apparently existed or were built on the present site of Kingussie until the sixth or seventh decade of last century.


17. Headstone.

“Sacred to the memory of James McPherson, Spirit Merchant, Edinburgh, who died in Kingussie, 23d July 1824, aged 31 years. He was esteemed by all who knew him—beloved and regretted by those to whom he was bound by the ties of blood or connexion. This stone is erected by his Widow, Ann McPherson.”

The father of this James M‘Pherson—Farquhar M‘Pherson—was one of the last residenters at Breacair, in Glengoynack, within a distance of about two miles from Kingussie. This Farquhar, who was well known and highly respected, acted for many years as one of the elders of the parish, and died at a very advanced age at Ardbrylach about the year 1840. It is from the never-failing fuaranan, or wells, of the good old people of Breacair, now so long gone to their rest—of whose primitive dwellings no traces now remain but the stones—that Kingussie, through the energy and enterprise of its inhabitants, now enjoys such an abundant supply of the purest spring water.

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