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Antiquarian Notes, Historical, Genealogical and Social
(Second Series) Inverness-Shire, Parish by Parish
Chapter XXVIII. Kincardine and Abernethy


This interesting parish, now given up almost entirely to sport, was once the centre of poetry, song, and activity.

I have note of a very early charter, without date, but from the names of the witnesses, circa 1296-1307. It is a conveyance, in very loose description, of lands which appear to read "Corncarn." The original was communicated on the 11th of August, 1815, to the well-known antiquarian collector, General Hutton, by "Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon, Inverness-shire," no doubt of Invertromie, and as it is included among Inverness-shire charters, I have concluded that it applies to the ancient barony of Kincairn or Kincardine, and was part of the Gordon muniments.

It is right to say that I have noticed a farm to let a century ago called "Corncairne," in the county of Banff; but being merely a farm, I do not suppose it is identical with the lands in this ancient charter. It is granted by Sir William de Soulis to Sir William of Abernethy of all and whole his lands of Corncairn, also his other land which he held in exchange from Sir Thomas de Colville, videlicet, the lands some time held by Sir Walter de Umphraville of and under two Kings of Scotland," and are not further described, by parish or county. The witnesses are Robert, Bishop of Glasgow, Sir John, Abbot of Jedburgh, Sir Alexander de Ballo, Sir Thomas de Colville, and Hugh de Scoresby.

Kincardine was afterwards possessed by the Wolf of Badenoch, and descended to one of his illegitimate sons. The Stuarts of Kincardine were Free Barons, and ruled in Abernethy for about 300 years, when, according to Shaw, a weak proprietor sold it, or rather was cozened into selling it to the first Duke of Gordon.

As the names of the various owners are given in Stuart's genealogies, I merely note the names of such as I have myself observed.

In 1520 there is notice of Donald, Baron of Kincardine; in 1544 John is served heir to his father Donald, and is living in 1561. To this John succeeded Walter; and in 1602 John of Kincardine, eldest son of Walter, appears. In 1642 Duncan, son of John is found; his brother Patrick is served heir to his brother Duncan in 1657, and I rather think that it was this Patrick, styled "of Kincardine" in 1661, who parted with the estate.

A branch of the Stuarts settled at Inverness, and was represented in 1745 by Bailie John Stuart, a noted Jacobite, frequently referred to in the Jacobite histories. The Bailie's grandson, I understand, was Lieutenant-General Sir John Stuart, Count of Maida; a most distinguished officer, regarding whom the following notice appeared in the London Gazette -

"Whitehall, May 14, 1813.

His Royal Highness the Prince Regent has been pleased, in the name and on the behalf of His Majesty, to grant unto Lieutenant-General Sir John Stuart, Count of Maida, Knight Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, His Majesty's royal license and permission, that, in compliance with the desire of His Majesty Ferdinand the Fourth, King of the two Sicilies, he may accept, and that he and his descendants may bear the following honourable armorial augmentation, viz., in chief of his and their arms the Royal Scilian Eagle, with the royal cypher, ensigned with the Crown of his Sicilian Majesty on the breast thereof; and as a crest the same Eagle charged as aforesaid ' ; the said distinction having been granted by His Sicilian Majesty to the said Sir John Stuart, as a signal mark of his royal favour and esteem, and in order to perpetuate in his family and to posterity the remembrance of the great, important, and highly distinguished services rendered by him to the Crown of Sicily on divers occasions whilst commanding the British Army, serving in defence of his dominions, and particularly in the year 1810, (an era to be ever memorable in the annals of Sicily) when a most formidable attempt upon that Kingdom, by a powerful enemy, was repelled by the valour and firmness of the British forces in co-operation with the faithful and zealous exertions of His Sicilian Majesty's own brave and loyal subjects ; the said armorial distinctions being first duly exemplified according to the laws of arms, and recorded in the Herald's Office."

Though long disconnected with Kincardine it is understood that there are several representatives of the family in existence, including the gallant Sir Donald Stuart, and it is hoped that Mr William Mackay, who has had the matter before him, will find time to write a full and suitable account of this ancient family. So much has been written about Colonel John Roy Stuart that there is not much new to say ; but though somewhat lengthy, relating as they do to the 'Forty-five, events of never-dying interest to Highlanders, I give certain extracts from the collections of the late Mr John Anderson, W.S., made from personal researches and observations, written down about seventy years ago—

"On the morning of the battle of Culloden, John Roy was exceedingly anxious that the army should take up a position at Dalmagarrie, several miles to the south of the River Nairn, and beyond a pass where cavalry and artillery of the enemy would be useless. Lord Elcho, who commanded a party of Life Guards, even went to the Prince to solicit that the command on that day be conceded to John Roy Stuart, and that his plans should guide them. The Prince's answer was to this purport—' He had given his word that he would fight where he was, and it could not be violated; moreover, he had promised Lord George Murray that he should lead the battle, and he had too many men, besides ten pieces of cannon, to cause him to be slighted. Stuart himself asked that nobleman what was to be the upshot of opposing the English to such disadvantage. His words were—'You'll soon see Stuart, we'll make short work of it,' a reply which subsequent events led the Highlanders, and especially John Roy, to believe smacked of treachery. Lord Elcho afterwards found the Prince in a cabin beside the river Nairn, surrounded by Irishmen, and deaf to his entreaties to rally the fugitives and again to make head. Hence the muster at Ruthven on the 18th and 19th of 9000 Highlanders came to nought. John Roy Stuart took refuge in a wild cave near Rothiemurchus. A natural son of his, by name Charles Stuart (afterwards an officer in the English army) brought him his victuals daily to the cave, in front of which ran a mountain stream. Coming on one occasion early in the morning on his usual errand, he met a party of soldiers, headed by a Lieutenant, making for his father's p1-ice of concealmeat. With instinctive sagacity he at once guessed their purpose, and picking up acquaintance with a little drummer, who could hardly drag his weary limbs along under the weight of his drum, he offered the boy some of the food which, he said, he was carrying to the hills for his own breakfast whilst he tended his master's cattle if he would tell him what sort of an instrument that was he carried. The poor lad, glad to relieve his hunger at so cheap a rate, twisted round his drum and beat two or three flourishes on it. This was all young Stuart wanted. The officer in command in a hasty tone chid the little musician, and said he had spoiled their labour, for the game was scared! And so it was : on the first stroke John Roy leapt at one bound out of the cave to the opposite side of the burn; there crouching under a tree whilst he firmly grasped his broadsword he awaited the soldiers' approach. But they had turned back, rightly conjecturing that the cave was empty. Stuart dislocated his ankle in the leap, but with great personal strength and acute pain reset it tearing off his shirt to make a bandage. Then crawling through the water he ascended to his erie. It was whilst lying under a tree, his wounded foot dangling in the water, that he composed the prayer in Gaelic, so much admired in the Highlands in the last age, which goes by his name."

Other localities, it is right to say, claim the spot of John Roy's concealment. I follow Mr Anderson, who was a careful observer with trained intellect, who wrote at a comparatively recent date and free from bias, whether as regarded peoples or localities. Another recent Collector says "Upon another occasion word was brought to this gallant soldier that his mother had died in Rannoch. Bent on personally beholding the last rites paid to her remains, he assumed the long gown and the limping gait of one of the privileged Bedesmen who then roamed from place to place. As he came through the forest of Drimochter he encountered two English officers. With a feigned tale of distress he demanded charity of them, the better to keep up his assumed character. One of them cursed him for a Highland rascal and passed on ; but the other gave him a trifle, which he was in the act of pocketing when his gown, raised too high, disclosed part of his broadsword. 'We have got a rebel here,' shouted the officer to his companion in advance, 'let us take the villan.' 'That you never shall,' retorted Stuart, as drawing a pistol from his belt he shot the speaker dead. His friend hastened to revenge him, but he met more than his match and called for mercy, which Roy granted on condition that he reported to the Duke of Cumberland he owed his life to him."

"John Roy was a famous poet and composer of music, much of both being repeated and sung at the time, and the reel 'John Roy Stuart' is one of the finest reels which is now played. He added much to the music of Strathspey, and gave it such a character that it will now stand for ages." (Farr .MS. collections, 1834.)


The Parish of Abernethy was latterly possessed by two proprietors. Kincardine began to suffer from the moment it became the property of the Gordons. Wood grew there naturally to magnificent proportions, and the desire to convert it into money brought about the settlement of hard and unsympathetic Southrons, who deemed it much to their advantage to get rid of the inhabitants. Further, the people were Roman Catholics and, with the zeal of converts or perverts, the Gordons having changed themselves, persecuted the people by the conditions in their leases against papists! Then followed considerable depopulation by large sheep farmers, culminating in the Barony being ultimately converted into a deer forest. The Valuation Roll for 1896-97 gives a total rent of £1678 195 6d from 18 subjects, whereof not less than £1310 is for forest rent alone.

The Grants have treated their part of Abernethy in no better spirit First, the area for timber growing has been much increased at the cost of the agricultural occupants, while, worst of all, the occupants have in many cases, such as Tulloch and Garten, been removed to make room for a deer forest. By favour one may drive up from Nethy-Bridge towards the northern slopes of the Grampians and cross over into the Glenmore or Kincardine forest, coming out at Rothiemurchus. A finer drive cannot be imagined, nor can grander pines be seen in Strathspey; but alas, along this beautiful line of road the traveller passes much arable land of considerable extent, going back yearly to sour pasture, with the ruins of houses, I might say townships, standing out gaunt and bleak, guilty memorials of the destroyer.

These ruined localities, given up to sport of an isolated and selfish character, were once the abode of a cheerful and happy people, imbued with the romance of their magnificent surroundings, breaking out into song and poetic feeling, as may be evidenced by the mere name, which I preserve from extinction, of one little streamlet of water, "Ruith bhrist cridhe"—The run of the broken heart.

The life and prosperity in and about Nethy-Bridge testify most strongly as to what could be done if the whole district were permitted to be opened up. Is it to be, and by whom?

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