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Glimpses of Church and Social Life in the Highlands in Olden Times and Other Papers
Chapter IV. The Faous Black Officer - The Gaick Catastrophe of 1800

“Iolach na seilge cha’n eisd e,
Guth aoibhinn na maidne cha cliluinn e:
Cha ghluais e le gaoir a chatha,
Na leabaidh gun latha gun reulta.”

18. Flatstone.

“Sacred to the memory of Captain John Macpherson, Balechroan, late of the 82d Regiment, who died 2d January 1800, aged 76 years.”

THIS is the famous Captain John Macpherson, so well known in the vernacular as Otliaichear Dubh Bail-a’-Chrodhain, whose death by a lamentable accident while on a hunting expedition in the Forest of Gaick during the winter of 1800 forms an epoch in Highland chronology.

The fact that Captain Macpherson had been employed in the unpopular duty of recruiting, and that he perished in such a manner, gave rise to the wildest and most improbable fictions. He has been made the hero of one of the ‘Legends of the Black Watch,’ although in point of fact he never served in that regiment at all! “At times on the returning Eve of Yule,” so the legend concludes, “those who have been belated in the forest suddenly find themselves in the midst of an invisible company of roisterers, whose laughter, shouts, imprecations, and impious songs fill the poor loiterers with affright; for though the voices seem close to the ear, no one is visible, and these unearthly bacchanalians are supposed to be the spirits of the doomed captain and his companions. On other occasions screams, yells, and entreaties for mercy—wild and thrilling and heart-rending—with the hoarse deep baying of infernal dogs, are swept over the waste on the wind. But since that terrible catastrophe on Yule Eve 1800, none pass willingly through the Forest of Gaick alone.” “Whether or not,” says the Rev. Dr M‘Adam Muir of Morningside Church, Edinburgh, in a recent very graphic and interesting sketch of Kingussie, “this superstitious dread exists, or ever existed, I have not met with any of its victims. But undoubtedly Gaick is a place calculated to impress the imaginative mind.”

“O solemn hill-tops ’gainst a summer sky!”

it is thus a recent visitor, the authoress of ‘Aldersyde,’ has expressed the thoughts which the scene awoke in her:—

“O purple glory of the heather-bells!
O mystic gleams where light and shadow play
On verdant slope and on the yawning gorge,
Where in wild mood the mountain cataract
Hath leaped and eddied in its rocky bed!

O mountain loch! set like a lonely gem,
Thy breast a mirror of the majesty
Which hems thee in. How changeful is thy mood!
Now gleaming placid like a silver sea,

Now fretting with thy waves the pebbly shore,
As some rude winds caress them!
Ye give to me A deep, strange, fearful joy.
Ye make me raise
To heaven a heart full fraught with silent praise.”

To noplace in the Highlands, I believe, does the eloquent description by the late Dr Carruthers of a day among the mountains apply more appropriately than to Gaick:—

“A day among the mountains—far in the hills—is a passage in a man’s life more touching and memorable than a day in the woods. In the latter we scarcely ever lose sight of the cheerful haunts of men or their occupations. Our sensations are unmixed with terror. The animals and objects around us excite the genial sympathies and impulses of our frame; our emotions are not forced into one channel, or overpowered by one master feeling or passion. Alone among the mountains, we are reduced to utter insignificance; our sympathies are choked; the soul is thrown back on itself. The scene is strong with the original primeval impress of nature, untouched by man or his works. We seem to stand directly in the presence of the Almighty, stripped of all flatteries and disguises; the bold outlines and peaks of the hills, cleaving the silent motionless air, appear as His handwriting, legible in their majestic character, and appalling in their sternness and solitude. Such as we now see them, they were beheld by the ‘world’s grey fathers,’ bond and free, in the earliest periods of creation. The eagle still builds his nest among the cliffs; the torrent still flashes down the ravine ; the birch-tree or the pine waves over the precipice; and the lake, visited by the red-deer and the solitary water-fowl, still beats its banks, reflecting the grey rock and the cloud—all utterly careless and unconscious of man, who seems an alien and encumbrance to the scene. The conquerors of the world subdued nations; but the mountains, like the banners of heaven, were impregnable. Woods are perishable and evanescent, they flourish and fade, they

‘Fall successive, and successive rise.’

are cut down or reproduced in their deciduous beauty and leafy splendour; the mountains remain unchanged amidst the mutations of time. Many an eye, now dim, has gazed on them in silent wonder and admiration; many a prayer from hearts smote with reverence or fear or penitence, the ‘late remorse of love,’ or of humble adoration, has been breathed at their base! They remain, from age to age, types of the Everlasting, fulfilling their high destiny of awakening, purifying, and exalting the human mind. Nothing but the sea—the vast illimitable ocean— can compare in sublimity with wild mountain scenery.”

As distinguished from the Othaichear Dubh or Black Captain of popular tradition, let me give the following sketch of his life compiled from reliable sources:—

Born at Glentruim in Badenoch in 1724, Captain Macpherson was the second son of Alexander Macpherson, of the ancient house of Phoness, the oldest cadet of Sliochd Ghilliosa, whose reputed chieftains were the Macphersons of Invereshie, now represented in the person of Sir George Macpherson Grant, Bart. His mother was a daughter of the well-known house of Aberarder, representing the famous Sliochd Iain Dnibh Macdonalds of Lochaber. Sprung from these houses, it may be said of him, in Highland fashion, and with perfect truth, that the best blood of Badenoch and Lochaber ran in his veins. Both houses furnished the British army with many distinguished officers, and, inheriting all their martial ardour, Iain-dubh-Mac-Alastair, as he was then called, in course of time, though then well up in years, also obtained a commission. His military exploits have not come down to us, nor have we heard that he saw much service abroad; but be this as it may, certain it is that he attained to the rank of captain, and was employed for several years in his native district on recruiting service. This duty—oftentimes a disagreeable, always an unpopular one—Captain Macpherson discharged with so much judgment and success, that of the number of his recruits from the superabundant population, no fewer than seventy are said to have become commissioned officers. He had the less difficulty, no doubt, in the matter of selection, from the fact mentioned by a contemporary writer, “that the genius of the people”—i.e., of Badenoch—“is more inclined to martial enterprise than to assiduous industry and diligent labour requisite to carry on the arts of civil life.” But fond mothers always will lament pet sons, albeit otherwise useless, who, willingly or unwillingly, don the “red coat”; and the Othaichear Dubh—the first recruiting officer they had seen other than the chief—reaped more than the usual measure of opprobrium. He has been accused of atrocities in this respect that are as incredible as they are unvouched, a good example of which is the anonymous clerical forced recruit otherwise so microscopically described in the following passages of a romance which appeared in a Highland magazine some years ago :—

“On one occasion going to church in his native strath on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, the captain found himself, within a few hundred yards of the place of worship, walking immediately behind the reverend gentleman who was to preach there that day. He was a young man of prepossessing appearance, and in the handsome black suit in which he was attired, was the very model of a real Highlander—five feet ten inches in height, proportionally stout, erect stature, well-defined limbs, and square shoulders, above which was a finely-shaped head, with glossy, dark, and curly hair. ‘You are too fine a figure,’ muttered the captain to himself, ‘to be dressed in black clothes. A red coat would set you off to greater advantage, and I shall be much disappointed unless you have a red one on your back before long.’ The captain went to church, but derived little benefit from the earnest and impressive discourse delivered by the young preacher; for his mind was wholly absorbed with a different theme, and every time the preacher turned his massive chest in the direction of the captain, his determination to enlist him at whatever cost increased.”

The writer of the romance from which the preceding quotation is made, with the view, apparently, of heaping more contumely upon Captain Macpherson’s memory, would have us believe that the parson was “the only son of a poor widow,” and that notwithstanding her piteous tears and entreaties the captain never rested until he attained his object by throwing “a shilling into the minister’s bosom.” “The young minister,” it is added, “was then marched off to Edinburgh, where the depot of the 42d Highlanders”—a regiment, be it remembered, with which the captain never had any connection—“ was then stationed. Being honest, pleasant, obliging, and, with all his other good qualities, an excellent scholar, the minister soon rose to the rank of lieutenant, and he was thus enabled, though a soldier, to keep his mother in easy circumstances all her days.”

The result in the long-run of the alleged forcible enlistment of the handsome and well-proportioned parson did not, it will be noticed, turn out so very unfortunate for himself and his mother after all. But the whole narrative given by the writer referred to is simply one of the most recent specimens of the utterly absurd and fantastic stories manufactured and put in circulation regarding the Life and Death of the famous Black Captain, which, in point of exaggeration and travesty of the truth, throw completely into the shade even Colman’s well-known story of the “Three Black Crows.” Captain Macpherson, had he been able or inclined to set aside all laws, divine or human, was still under the observation of and amenable to the opinion of his fellow-countrymen, among whom there were then many gentlemen—in the truest and every sense of the word—the very souls of honour, who would not have brooked injustice to the meanest of their clansmen; but there is not a single instance known of his ever having forfeited the good opinion of any one of their number. On the contrary, as we shall presently show, many of them have, fortunately, left written testimonies of an entirely different character.

In 1777 Captain Macpherson married a lady belonging to one of the oldest and best families in the district of his own clan, by whom he had a son (afterwards Colonel Gillios Macpherson) and two daughters, all of whom are still fondly remembered in Badenoch, and spoken of with the greatest admiration and respect. The amiable and accomplished Mrs Grant of Laggan, in one of her letters, incidentally mentioning one of those daughters, characterises her as “elegance, vivacity, and truth personified”—a graceful and truthful compliment, equally applicable to the other daughter, who died not very many years ago. The following inscription on a tablet erected in the parish church of Kingussie in memory of Captain George Gordon M‘Barnet, a son of one of these daughters, and a grandson of Captain Macpherson, speaks also for itself:—

“Sacred to the memory of Captain George Gordon McBarnet, 55th Regiment Bengal Native Infantry, who being attached to the 1st Bengal European Regiment ‘Fusiliers,’ fell at the assault of Delhi on the 14th September 1857, aged 33 years. Few among the many heroes slain on the soil of Delhi will live longer in memory; young, gallant, and gifted with the noblest qualities— mental and personal—he fell when he could least be spared. Could soldier ask a more glorious death ? In token of the love they bore their comrade this Tablet is erected by his Brother-Officers.”

Eventually retiring from the army, Captain Macpherson betook himself to agricultural pursuits; and so successful were his improvements on the primitive modes of tillage then prevalent, that the more unsophisticated of the aborigines attributed the surprising results to nothing less than supernatural agency. Hence the foundation of the more modern story of the supposed contract with the Prince of Darkness. Spreading sand on an adhesive and unproductive soil, and so reaping an abundant crop, was looked upon as a feat worthy of Michael Scott himself, so often in their mouths. More congenial, however, was the pursuit of the chase, a recreation in which the captain frequently indulged through the liberality and courtesy of the princely Gordons, and in which he had no rival, excepting perhaps his cousin Iain Dubh of Aberarder, equally famous as a hunter of the deer. In his old age his passion for it cost him his life; and this brings us down to 1800, the date of its occurrence—an epoch, as already mentioned, in Highland chronology.

The story of Call Ghaig, or the Gaick Catastrophe, has been often told by divers persons of divers conditions, imbibing a particular hue or colour from each particular reciter. The version now submitted is that given by a contemporary resident in the district at the time, well acquainted with the parties who perished, and who many times received from those by whom their bodies were found a relation of the circumstances, which he personally confirmed by visiting in the ensuing summer the scene of the destruction :—

“The glen which forms the principal feature of the range of hills in the Forest of Gaick lies about a dozen miles south of the Spey at Kingussie. Its hills are smooth, steep, and bare, and such sheer declivities that the glen in great snowstorms is subject to terrific avalanches, by which the deer sometimes suffer; and upon one occasion a herd of ten stags and hinds were suddenly overwhelmed in sight of a celebrated deer-hunter and gentleman of the strath, who was stalking them at the moment when the rolling volumes of snow descended the mountain and buried them in its bosom. Some years afterwards, by an awful catastrophe of the same kind, when on a hunting expedition in the same glen, he himself, the party by whom he was attended, several fine deer-hounds, and the house in which they lodged, were swept away on the night of a tremendous hurricane, in the first week of January 1800. The persons who thus perished were the leader, Captain John Macpherson of Ballachroan, and four attendants, Donald MacGillivray, John Macpherson, Duncan Macfarlane, and another man named [James] Grant. Several other persons had been appointed by Ballachroan to accompany him, but they had been prevented by various causes; and upon the morning preceding the disaster, the rest had set out for the forest without them, and intending to remain for some days, had taken up their lodging in a stone-built hut used as a forest lodge, and which stood immediately under one of the long bare slopes above described.

“The night upon which the event happened was terrifically stormy, even beyond anything of the kind remembered in that high and mountainous district; yet as the forest hut was substantially built, and the party well supplied with provisions, their friends felt no anxiety for their safety until the third day after the tempest. When, however, they did not then return, alarm was excited in the strath, and four or five of their friends set out in search of them. Upon reaching the glen, they discovered that the house had disappeared, and upon approaching its site a vast volume of snow at the foot sufficiently explained their fate. Early in the next day all the active men in the country assembled and proceeded to Gaick, and upon digging into the snow where the house had stood, the dead bodies of four of the party were found in the following positions: Ballachroan lying in bed upon his face; Grant and John Macpherson, also in bed, with their arms stretched out over each other; and MacGillivray in a sitting posture, with one of his hands at his foot, as if in the act of putting on or taking off his shoes. The body of Macfarlane was not found until after the disappearance of the snow, when he was discovered a considerable distance from the house. This was accounted for by the supposition that he was standing when the avalanche came down, and thus presented to the rolling volume, had been carried away in the general wreck of the building, of which nothing was left above the foundation-stones; while the beds of the rest having been only heath spread upon the floor, were protected from removal by the base-line of the wall. With the lost body, the course of the devastation was found strewed along the foot of the hill; the stones of the house were carried to the distance of three or four hundred yards, and a part of the roof and thatch for nearly a mile; the guns were bent, broken, and twisted in every possible shape, and by some their extraordinary contortions were attributed to electricity; but the cause was sufficiently explained by their having been mixed with the stones and timber of the house when in rapid motion, for the building was constructed in a substantial manner, the walls having been of stone four feet high, and the area divided in the centre by a strong partition; such a weighty mass of materials rolled down with so much violence, and for such a distance, would satisfactorily account for the state of the guns intermingled amidst the ruins. The destruction of the forest hut was not the only catastrophe of that terrible night; part of an adjacent sheep-fank, and of a poind-fold at Loch-an-t-Seilich, about two miles distant, were also swept away; and from the south side of Loch Erricht an immense body of earth and trees was carried across the ice to the north shore, where it is still to be seen, at least a quarter of a mile distant from the place from whence it was torn.”

Here was matter for speculation, and now it was that the captain received his fame. Gaick, wild and remote,

“Gkig dhubh na’m feadan fiar,”

had an evil reputation of old as demon-haunted; for was it not here, at Leum na Fehine, that the wild and profligate Walter Comyn centuries before was torn limb from limb by two infuriated witches in the shape of eagles ? here that the deluded hunter, sheltering in his bothy when mist and darkness encompassed the hills, met a similar fate at the hands of his unearthly paramour ? and here, coming down to more recent times, that the more familiar Muireach Mac-lain (another noted Macpherson hunter, who married Phoness’s daughter) first met the famous “Witch of Laggan,” a single hair of whose head could shear the strongest beam of oaken timber asunder like cheese ? Need we therefore wonder that at a place in the people’d minds always so associated the startling occurrence above narrated should have been ascribed to more than natural causes, and that, discussed in every hamlet and at every fireside in Lochaber, Strathdearn, Strathspey, and Badenoch (all sharers in the disaster), the story in every possible form of exaggeration should have become extensively diffused ? A judgment! yea, a judgment! was now the cry of the bereaved mothers and sweethearts of the captain’s least fortunate recruits, who found a willing exponent of their views in the person of a rhymester of the name of Mackay, whose verses on the occasion have consequently obtained extensive circulation and the honour of being frequently reprinted. In- the words of the writer above quoted, “The awful character of the destruction in Gaick immediately excited superstitious imagination, and in a short time it was exaggerated into a supernatural romance. By some the house was said to have been torn to pieces in a vortex of thunder and lightning, launched by the vengeance of heaven against sinners; by others it was attributed to a whirlwind raised by the devil, for the same chastisement; while the detention of those who were prevented from accompanying the lost party was ascribed to dreams, warnings, and other supernatural interpositions to save them from the wrath to come.” Fertile imaginations, a natural love of the marvellous, and lapse of time have accomplished the rest, until now with the multitude there is no greater bogle in the Central Highlands than Othaichear dubh Bail-a'-Chrodhain.

Having recapitulated and discussed the captain’s reputed misdeeds, we shall now draw on more reliable sources of information than the so-called “popular traditions” for materials whereby we may be enabled to form a juster estimate of his character.

The famous manse of Laggan, in which for so many years lived the celebrated Mrs Grant, was only a few miles distant from Ballachroan, and the respective families were on friendly and intimate terms. This lady, writing to a friend a few months after the occurrence at Gaick, says, — “I will not distress you with particulars of the death of your acquaintance. It was a wonderful occurrence, and shall be explained hereafter. He took a romantic fancy of going to hunt deer in the desert hills for a Christmas feast which he had projected. He and three or four attendants, sheltering in a hut, were surprised at night by something like a whirlwind or avalanche; in short, they were buried in the ruins of the hut. You can have no idea what a gloom has overspread us. Mr Grant was always partial to him.” Mr Grant’s pronounced partiality for Captain Macpherson would lose half its value without the following delightful glimpse the gifted and devoted wife has given us of the character of that husband. She says of him: “With a kind of mild disdain and philosophic tranquillity he kept aloof from a world for which the delicacy of his feelings, the purity of his integrity, and the intuitive discernment with which he saw into character, in a manner disqualified him—that is, from enjoying it; for who can enjoy the world deceiving or being deceived? Judge, then, if this good parson, this refined and cultivated gentleman, living in his close neighbourhood, and on terms of the greatest intimacy with him for a quarter of a century, could have been always partial to Captain Macpherson had he been the wicked person he is, in popular tradition, said to have been.

Of the captain’s contemporaries and associates was also “Ossian” Macpherson, for whom he negotiated the purchase of several lairdships in the parish, amongst them the ancient patrimony of his (the captain’s) own family, beautiful Phoness, an oasis in the surrounding desert. Amongst persons of a humbler condition of life who had opportunities of knowing the captain, there was no one of his time who knew him better, or who for so long a period of time came into more familiar contact with him, than the bard Malcolm Macintyre, less known in Gaelic poetry than many who had not a tithe of his genius. In the captain, whom he had often attended in the chase, poor Callu'm, in his many troubles, lost a warm and constant friend; and he nobly repaid his obligations in an elegy unsurpassed in the Gaelic language—a loving tribute, which came, unmistakably, warm and welling from the very depths of the grateful poet’s heart. This lament (fifteen stanzas of which will be found in the ‘ Duan-aire ’) is too long to be given here entire, but the tender prelude to this song of sorrow will give some idea of the strains that succeed. He commences—

“’S beag ioghnadh mi ’bhi dubhach,
Air feasgar, ’s a’ ghrian le bruthach :—
Bheir mulad air suilean sruthadh,
’Si ’n Nolluig so thionndaidh chairt-dubh orm,
Cha b’i ’n diric an hit an udhair,
Ged a bhithinn gu brhth ri cumha,
’S nach tig thu ’chaoidh slan le d’bhuidhinn,
A dh’imich do Ghhig nan aighean.”

So, soothing his sorrow with his own sad song, the bard presently and suddenly recalls the captain’s deeds done in the body, and so vividly are they present to him, that he actually seems to be addressing his living benefactor. Strengthened and inspired by the visions of his rapt fancy, the hitherto languid and melting strains of his harp are exchanged for the bold and exultant rush of—

“Cha’ n f haca mi bhrr aig duin’ ort,
’Dhireadh nan chrn’s nam mullach,
’Mharbhadh nam fiadh’s a’ mhonadh,
Tharraing nan lann, ’s bu ghuinich
Bhualadh nan dorn’s a’ chunnart;
Labhairt aig mod’s tu b’urrainn;
Dh’ aindeoin no dhdoin bu leaf buidhinn
Anns gach citis am biodh mbrachd ’us urram.”

Anon, o’ermastering Grief again resumes her sway, and the trembling fingers respond to the touching pathos of—

“Oid’agus athair an fheumaich,
’Choibhreadh air aircich’s air eignich!
Na’m b’urrainn mi dheanainn leigh dhuit;
Ghleidhinn cuach-iocshlaint na Fdinn’ duit,
’Thug Fionn Mac-Cumhail & h-Eirinn ;—
Thogainn a rithist o’n eug thu.
Bhiodh Bail-a’-Chrodhain fo dibhneas,
’S do mhaithean ag ol do dheoch-reite.”

(Which in cold-blooded English would, baldly and literally, run somewhat as follows:—

“Fosterer and father of the needy!
Succourer of the hungry and distressed!
Thy leech, if I could, I’d make me:
I’d find thee the healing cup of the Feinne
That mighty Fingal brought from Eirinn
From death I’d then reclaim thee.
In Ballachroan gladness should reign then,
Thy peers drinking thy welcome-cup.”)

Again, how beautiful in expression, how utterly unlike the praise of a venal bard, the two concluding lines of another stanza, in which, as if standing on the captain’s grave, and taking a last sad leave of him, he sums up all that he had previously uttered, exclaiming in accents to which further speech is denied—

“Ite chorra sgeith do chinnidh
Nach d’ rinn riamh de n t’saoghal cillein !”

Elsewhere he speaks of death as cutting down

“Am flur’s an grkinne mullaich ” (of his clan).

And so he goes on, until the wail dies away in a solemn supplication to the Most High, for the sake of the blood that had been shed, to have mercy on the souls of the departed.

We cannot more fittingly or becomingly conclude this imperfect sketch of Captain Macpherson than by quoting another eloquent tribute to his memory, from the pen of his clansman and countryman, the late Captain Lachlan Macpherson, Biallid, whose name is ever mentioned with pride by every native of Badenoch. “ Old Biallid” speaks of the captain from personal knowledge; he was intimately conversant with all and every detail, current opinions, traditions, and actual occurrences, in which that unfortunate and much misrepresented gentleman figured; and this is what he, so well entitled to a respectful hearing, says of the Othaichear Dubh of popular tradition as given in the ‘Lays of the Deer Forest’ by the Sobieski Stuarts, published by Messrs Blackwood in 1848:—

“The memory of the ‘Caiptein Dubh’ is still retained among his clan with deep regret and regard. By the few yet living intimates of his friendship he is esteemed as a man who, in mental and bodily qualities, had few equals, and no superior in the Highlands; kind, generous, brave, and charitable, full of noble patriotism for his clan, and, if a formidable opponent, none ever sought his aid, or conciliated his enmity, without receiving prompt assistance and immediate reconciliation. His purse, as well as his talents, was ever at the service of the poor, the oppressed, and all who stood in need of assistance; and often he suffered considerable losses in supporting the rights of those who were unable to maintain their own. Active, intelligent, and superior in all things, he was a dangerous enemy, but an unshaken ally; and the most bitter foe had only to seek his amity, and he immediately became his friend. His mind was full of generosity, kindness, and sensibility; and if he had faults, they were the errors of his age, and not of his own heart. In his latter days, his liberality in assisting others embarrassed his own affairs; but in every trial his conduct was distinguished by honour and integrity. Amidst his misfortunes he was deprived of his wife, after which he went little into society, but in his old age spent many of his days, like the ancient hunters, alone in the hills of Gaick or the corries of Ben Alder, with no other companion than his ‘ Cuilbheir ’ and his grey dogs! Such was one of the last true deer-stalkers of the old race of gentlemen—a man who, if we lived a hundred years, we should not see his like again.”

“The shout of the chase he heeds not,
The glad voice of morning he hears not,
In his sunless and starless bed
Never more shall the battle-cry rouse him.”

Beneath the flatstone covering the dust of the famous Black Officer, there lies also the dust of a noted Malcolm Macpherson of Sliochd Ghilliosa, or Phoness branch of the clan—a near relative of that officer. This Malcolm Macpherson was a devoted adherent of Prince Charlie, and one of the strongest men of his day in Badenoch. Like many other Highlanders of his time, Macpherson had imbibed no small share of the Jacobite indignation against the French, to which Mr William Hamilton of Bangour—the “ volunteer laureate ” of Prince Charlie and his followers —gave such forcible expression in his imitation of the Scottish version of the 137th Psalm. Hamilton’s name, says Chambers in his History of “The Forty-Five,” “can never be altogether forgotten while that of Wordsworth exists, for it was in consequence of a ballad of Bangour’s that the great Bard of the Lakes wrote his various poems on Yarrow.” Escaping to France after the battle of Culloden, Hamilton subsequently composed the following lines—“a composition of much more than his usual energy, and concluding with an almost prophetic malediction:”—

“On Gallia’s shore we sat and wept When Scotland we thought on,
Robbed of her bravest sons, and all Her ancient spirit gone.
‘Revenge,’ the sons of Gallia said,
‘Revenge your native land!

Already your insulting foes Crowd the Batavian strand.’
How shall the sons of freedom e’er For foreign conquest fight?
For power how wield the sword, unsheath’d For liberty and right?
If thee, O Scotland, I forget,

Even with my latest breath,
May foul dishonour stain my name,
And bring a coward’s death!
May sad remorse of fancied guilt
My future days employ,

If all thy sacred rights are not
Above my chiefest joy.
Remember England’s children, Lord,
Who on Drummossie1 day,

Deaf to the voice of kindred love,
‘Rase, rase it quite!’ did say.
And thou, proud Gallia, faithless friend,
Whose ruin is not far,

Just Heaven on thy devoted head
Pour all the woes of war.
When thou thy slaughtered little ones
And ravished dames shalt see,
Such help, such pity, mayst thou have
As Scotland had from thee!”

Macpherson, it is related, was so much exasperated against the French, on account of their faithless conduct towards Prince Charlie, that, although he was then well advanced in life, he joined the 78th Highlanders (of which a brother of Cluny of the ’45 had become captain) and took part in the siege of Quebec in 1759. Rushing with the impetuosity of a Highlander, and in utter disregard of his own life, into the thickest of the fight, he performed deeds of extraordinary daring and bravery. Wielding his powerful sword with deadly effect, he succeeded in hewing down so many Frenchmen that his conduct ultimately attracted the notice of General Townshend, who commanded the brigade. Observing Macpherson, when hostilities had ceased, regarding his handiwork with grim satisfaction, the General, after complimenting him upon his bravery, and congratulating him upon his marvellous escape, uninjured, remarked that the killing of so many Frenchmen appeared to afford him no little amount of pleasure. Regardless of the fact that he was addressing a Hanoverian general, “I wish,” Macpherson replied, “I could have cut down in the same way every one of the traitors. If the French had kept their promises to Prince Charlie, the Highlanders would never have lost Culloden!”

On the return of the regiment from foreign service, Macpherson, as one of its heroes, was presented by General Townshend to George III. The king graciously extended his hand to the brave soldier for the usual salute. Being unversed in Court etiquette, and taking it for granted that by way of cementing their friendship his Majesty wanted a “sneeshan,” the worthy Highlander, in placing his mull or snuff-box in the king’s hand, shook the royal palm with both hands with such ardour and emotion that the king was fain to cry out for quarter. Realising that anything but disrespect was meant, the king at once partook of a pinch from Macpherson’s Badenoch mull, and was so much pleased with his chivalrous conduct and manly bearing that a handsome pension was there and then bestowed upon him, accompanied by a gracious intimation that he might either continue in the army or return to Badenoch and enjoy the pension during the remainder of his life. Having, as he considered, accomplished in some measure the object he had in view in joining the forces of King George, Macpherson decided to return to the bosom of his family. While he remained in London he became so well known that when passing along the streets he was frequently pointed to with the remark, “There goes the brave old Highlander with his famous sword.”

The tradition in the family runs, that after Macpherson returned home he never retired to rest without placing under his pillow the sword with which he had slain the heap of Frenchmen, and that at his express desire it was buried with him in the old churchyard. The brave old hero cherished such a grateful recollection of the kindness and consideration he had experienced at the hands of General Townshend that, as shown in the account of the Phoness family given in Douglas’s ‘Baronage,’ &c., published in 1798, he got one of his granddaughters named Townshend Macpherson!

19. Headstone.

“Here lie interred the remains of Angus Macpherson, who died at Kingussie,

3rd March 1848, aged 43, and of Eliza Macfarlane, his wife, who died in Edinburgh, 4th September 1876, aged 68.”

20. Flatstone.

“EWN and Don M'P. from Laggon their sepulchar. 1798.”

21. Flatstone.

“John Macpherson, died January 2nd, 1800.”

This John Macpherson {Iain ’Og Mac-Phearsain), who resided at Phoness, was a brother of Donald Macpherson, Lynmore (Domlmull Alastair), and was one of the party who accompanied Captain Macpherson of Ballachroan on his memorable hunting expedition, and perished in the Gaick catastrophe of 1800. As the beautiful Gaelic elegy composed on the occasion by the Badenoch bard, Malcolm Macintyre, has it—

“Nan tigeadh e slkn, an caiptean,
Am Bi&gh ’dach, ’s Iain og Mac-Phear-sain
An Granndach, ’s Mac-Phkrlain (cha b’fha-sa)
Cha bu diubhail gin de’n tachdar,
Ged nach tigeadh na feidhich ghlasa—
Ged a bhiodh na miolchoin tachdta;
Nan tigeadh tu’s d’ oganaich dhachaidh,
’S an tAog a bhi’m priosan fo ghlasan.
Nam bu mhise maor a’ phriosain
Cha’ n fhkgainn a chionta gun innse :
Mo chomhdach air phkipeirean sgriobhte—
Air bialaobh luchd-breith agus binne.
’S cinnteach mur rachadh a dhiteadh,
Gu’ n cuirt’ e gu grad as an rioghachd
’An ceangal air slabhruidhean iaruinn
’S a chumail a staigh leth-chiad bliathna!”

“Had he returned safe—the captain, Macgillivray and young John Macpherson, Grant, and Macfarlane—no easier woe— The loss of the game would not matter: Though the grey deer should not come— Though the hounds should be choked with snow, Had you and your men homewards come, And death been laid in prison bonds.

Were I the keeper of that prison,
I should not leave his guilt untold,
With my accusation on paper written
Before judge and jury.

Of a certainty if death should not be condemned, he would at once be banished the kingdom, Bound with chains of iron, And confined for half a hundred years.”

22. Headstone.

“To the memory of John Macpherson, late Feuar in Kingussie, who died 14th February 1805, aged — years; and James his son, 17th October 1817, aged 25 years.”

This John Macpherson for some years kept the wayside inn at Chapel-park (about two miles from Kingussie), then called Tullisowe— a corruption of the appropriate Gaelic sign-board phrase of the time, Tadhail an so (i.e., call here). He was in consequence afterwards familiarly known by the cognomen of Tulli. His son James, mentioned in the inscription, was drowned in a pool in the Spey, at the west end of the Dell, while fishing for char, and the pool was subsequently distinguished by the natives of the district as Poll an Tulli. Two other sons, John and Duncan, were long known and much respected in Kingussie as Seoc an Tulli and Don-nach an Tulli. Duncan, who was for some time a road-contractor in the district, afterwards emigrated to Australia, and was accidentally killed there by a fall from his horse. Another son, Alexander, was drowned at Greenock on his way to America.

23. Flatstone.

“Here lys the corp of I. C., 1749.”

24. Headstone.

“Sacred to the memory of Donald Kennedy, late Tacksman of Kerrowmianach, who died there on the 12th August 1833, aged 52 years.

‘If moral worth and modest mien
Were able to avert the stroke of death,
The Tenant in the narrow House beneath
Should now be living and inhaling breath.

All those who knew him
Mourn his early exit and his brief career,
And, stranger, had you known him,
You would pay his memory the tribute of a tear.’

Also in memory of James Kennedy, who died at Kingussie, 14th August 1888, aged 86; and of his wife, Janet Dawson, who died there 1st July 1883, aged 77; and of their sons: Donald died at Delhi, 21st December 1868, aged 35; Paul died at Kingussie, 4th July 1880, aged 44; James died at Suez, 23rd December 1871, aged 32; George died at Glasgow, 29th May 1886, aged 39.”

The Donald Kennedy mentioned in the foregoing inscription died, it is said, of cholera contracted in Inverness—the only case of the kind, it is believed, ever known or heard of in Badenoch.

25. Flatstone.

“Here lys the Corps of A. C., 1747.”


26. Flatstone.
“ Du MCI.
A. M. P.

27. Flatstone.
“F. Mcl.
E. Mcl.

The two last-mentioned stones commemorate a family of M'Intyres, long meal-millers, first at Invertromie and afterwards at Brae Ruthven.

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