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AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JOURNAL Of JOHN MACDONALD
Part 1


I was born in the parish of Craignish, in the shire of Argyle, North Britain. My predecessors for some years back were gardeners to a very ancient family of the names of Campbell, whose seat gave name to the parish, viz., the Castle of Craignish. My father had ten children and of whom I was the youngest.

When I was about seven years of age my eldest brother married, and he being bred a gardener, my father willingly dispensed with his place to see him well settled, and took a small farm where he cultivated a garden, by which and by the farm he lived pretty comfortably. He lived only four years on this spot of ground when, being very well recommended, he was taken into the Duke of Argyle’s garden, where he continued for the most part of the remainder of his life. My father was never very rich, but had an excellent spirit, and abhorred anything that was mean; he gave all his surviving children as much education as was necessary to qualify them for business. At the age of fourteen years I was hired by a man of the name of Livingstone in the island of Scarba to teach his children to read and write. In this island I stayed a year, and then I agreed with a set of honest farmers in a farm called Killian, three miles west of Inveraray, the capital of Argyle. But that farm, whereon sixteen families lived very comfortable, was taken by one Captain Campbell, who kept a great many cattle, so the people were dispersed, and my school broke up the May following. I then was hired to teach a more extensive school in the adjoining parish, in a place called Lochowside, where I continued to teach with great success for three years, during which time I had the curiosity to learn to play on the bagpipes, an instrument very much used in that part of the country. I was then recommended by the minister of that parish and several others to a charity school in the parish of Strathlachlan, where I continued to teach four years; the managers of the charity school then thought proper to remove the school to Strachur, the adjoining parish, and there I remained for two years more, which I may safely say was the most agreeable part of my life, being placed among a set of free and hearty gentlemen, who took a great deal of notice of me and encouraged me very much.

But in the midst of my felicity I received a letter from Mr Lewis Macgregor, inspector of the charity schools, with an order to remove from Strachur to the parish of Tongue in the north part of the shire of Sutherland, and there to teach a school newly erected by the Honourable Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. I must own I did not much like this news, being very well contented with my situation where I was, and wanted no changing. I was obliged, however, to comply with the order or lose my bread. Accordingly I went to Greenock and agreed with the master of one of the herring fishing vessels to take my chest on board and carry it to Badcall, an arm of the sea in the north of Sutherland near the place where I was to set up school, I myself choosing to travel it. So having parted with my good friends, the gentlemen of Strachur, I went to my father’s house at Inveraray where I stayed two nights, and in May 1776 set out for my journey.

The weather being excessively hot, I was obliged to make short stages. I halted at Fort William, Fort Augustus, and at Inverness, and arrived at Tongue about the middle of June, after I had travelled upwards of two hundred miles. Being arrived at the minister’s house at Tongue, [The Rev. William Mackenzie was minister of Tongue 1769-1834. He was succeeded in the parish by his son Hugh, who was succeeded by his son William.] I was informed that my school was to be erected at the distance of five miles north-east from Tongue. I rested there that night, and early next morning proceeded for Skerray (which was my destination), where I was very genteelly received by Mr and Mrs Mackay [James Mackay of Skerray and his wife Marion ("Book of Mackay," p. 308). It was in this worthy man’s house that Hugh, sixth Lord Reay, resided for many years.] of Skerray, and their daughter Anne who was a widow, having been but a short time married to Mr Mackay of Melness, and lived in her father’s house since his death. This lady, I may venture to say, was as well accomplished as any that ever I was acquainted with, and might have been married to very good advantage if she would, as she had several good offers, but she chose to live single. The kindness and civility I met with in this family is beyond my expression; in short, I was offered to live in the family, and you may think that a stranger, as I then was, would be glad of the offer.

This gentleman had two promising boys (who were his grandchildren) [The orphan children of Donald Mackay of Borgie ("Book of Mackay," p. 320.] in his house, who were both fatherless and motherless; and upon their account I was extremely well used, the old people being fond of them even to a fault, especially the grandmother. These two boys I had under my tuition both at school and at home, and being extraordinarily well liked in the family I was introduced into the best company in the country. This part of Sutherlandshire is inhabited by the Mackays, a clan remarkable for their loyalty, and for their hospitality to strangers, which I experienced very much. I remained in Skerray’s family for two years, during which time I lived very happy and might live so all my life only for my rambling inclination.

About that time (1778) His Grace the Duke of Gordon got a commission to raise a Highland regiment which was to be called the North Fencibles, and Mr Mackay [George Mackay of Hands, then of Bighouse, grandson of the Hon. Charles Mackay of Sandwood, son of the first Lord Reay ("Book of Mackay," p. 332.] of Bighouse having a captain’s commission in that regiment I was determined to go with him let the consequence be what it would, and that contrary to the advice of all the gentlemen of the country, and particularly the captain, who expostulated with me as much as he could to deter me from enlisting, but all availed nothing. So on the 4th of June 1778 I enlisted with Captain Mackay as pipe-major of the regiment and to have a shilling per day. We stayed in the country recruiting till September, and then our party, consisting of 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, 1 ensign, 5 sergeants, and 103 privates, marched from their different rendezvous to the Meikle Ferry, and that night got billets in the town of Tain where we were very kindly received. The next day we proceeded to Campbelltown, near Fort George, and from thence to Elgin in Morayshire, which was our headquarters. That very evening we arrived in Elgin I was dispatched to the Duke of Gordon’s house, where I was detained for ten weeks to play the pipes.

In November following the regiment was ordered to the garrison of Fort George to be disciplined, and I was ordered to join my company at Elgin, but before I left the duke’s house I received two guineas as a present from His Grace for my music. We marched to Fort George in three divisions, and being all arrived took up our quarters there for that winter. Everything was reasonable in Fort George that year, so that we might have made a very comfortable living of it if our men had been acquainted with a soldier’s manner of living, but, what through indolence and excess of drinking, a great many of them fell sick and some died.

At that time Colonel George Mackenzie, son to the late Earl of Cromarty, was raising a second battalion for the 73rd [This regiment was known as Lord Macleod’s Highlanders. For the first battalion of this regiment Captain Aeneas Mackay of Scotstoun, brother of Bighouse, raised a company in Strathnaver and served with it for a time in India.] regiment of Highlanders, and had his headquarters at Inverness. He used to come frequently to dine with the officers of the North Fencibles, where he had an opportunity of hearing me play the pipes, which so pleased him that he earnestly wished to have me in his regiment, and applied himself closely to Captain Mackay for my discharge; but he, judging I would not agree to go abroad, never acquainted me with the colonel’s design till the colonel himself attacked me in person, after the 73rd had been embarked at Fort George. As he offered me very good terms I consented to go, and accordingly I was sent to Gordon Castle post haste for my discharge, with letters from colonel and Captain Mackay for the duke. I arrived at Gordon Castle that night, and next morning had my discharge signed by the duke, but before I returned to Fort George the transports with the 73rd on board had sailed. However I had received directions how to proceed in that case from Colonel Mackenzie, which was to take passage in the first vessel to London, and proceed from thence to Portsmouth where I should meet the regiment, as they were to wait there some time for orders from the War Office.

Agreeably to the colonel’s directions, after coming to Fort George I got cleared off from the North Fencibles and went to Inverness to buy some necessary articles, and upon enquiry found that there was a vessel there taking in goods and passengers for London. So I agreed with her captain for a cabin passage (for which I paid a guinea and a half, and was found in victuals and drinks), put my things on board, and went by land to Cromarty, where the vessel was to call for passengers, which she did. On the 2nd day of April 1779, I embarked at Cromarty, and the same evening we set sail for London with a favourable breeze, which increasing soon cleared us of the firth.

We sailed close along shore after we cleared Peterhead, for fear of French and American privateers that infested the coast at these times. Our passage was extremely agreeable, meeting with a great many ships and small craft that traded along the coast. We likewise met several fishing boats who supplied us with fresh fish at a very cheap rate. Of Sunderland we met a large fleet of colliers bound for different parts of England, and kept company with them till we came to Yarmouth Roads, they keeping to sea farther than we wanted. After coming through Yarmouth Roads we anchored in a small bay waiting for the tide to carry us to the Nore, to which we proceeded next morning and had a very pleasant prospect of the country on both sides of the Thames, arriving at Hawley’s Wharf that afternoon after a pleasant passage of seven days from Cromarty to London.

Being now arrived at the grand metropolis, I was rather at a stand how to proceed, being an entire stranger. I had no sooner set my foot on shore, however, than I met two particular school-fellows of mine, then soldiers in the third regiment of Foot Guards, who being very well acquainted in London soon found very good quarters for me; and after having drank very heartily together we parted for that night, having first set a time and place to meet next day. The day following I waited upon Messrs Bishop and Brummel, agents to the 73rd regiment, with letters from Captain Mackay, and an order from Colonel Mackenzie for whatever money I might have occasion for to bring me to the regiment. Here I was informed the 73rd was then on board the transports at Spithead waiting for an order to land, and that I had no occasion to be in any hurry. The next day I and my old school-fellows met at Wapping and passed the day very merrily together. I then went to have a view of Westminster Abbey and several other curiosities in London. And after having spent a week in London I thought it high time for me to set out for Portsmouth.

On the 16th April 1779, I left London, and on the 18th I arrived at Portsmouth, to find Colonel Mackenzie and the most part of the officers of the 73rd at the Fountain Inn. The colonel expressed a great deal of joy at my arrival, and showed me all the marks of kindness I could naturally expect of one of his rank; nor did his goodness stop here but continued always fresh during my stay in the regiment. Two or three days after my coming to Portsmouth I settled with the colonel about my bounty and subsistence, and he very cheerfully laid down twenty guineas of bounty money, and the arrears of my pay since I left Fort George at one shilling and sixpence per day.

On the 7th of May the route came from the War Office for the regiment to land, which they did the next morning at Portsmouth Common, and the same day marched to their different cantonments as directed by the route. The colonel’s, major’s, and Captain Macintosh’s companies, together with the grenadiers and the light infantry, marched so far as Petersfield in Hampshire, where they rested for two nights, and on the morning of the 10th of May the grenadiers and light infantry set out from Petersfield to Alton and Farnham in Surrey. The whole regiment was dispersed in the different cantonments allotted, and now, being a little more settled, the colonel appointed me to his own company and to be pipe-major for the regiment, there being two more for the grenadier company, and one for the light infantry.

We stayed in these cantonments till the 24th of June, when the two flank companies joined us at Petersfield, and marched along with us to Hilsea Barracks where we were joined by the other five companies, and marching all in a body to Southsea Castle, we embarked on board the transports waiting to receive us. On the 25th June 1779 we sailed from Spithead under convoy of two frigates, with some drafts for different regiments aboard, and two days after we arrived in Plymouth Sound. On the 27th we landed at Mutton Cove, and marched directly into Plymouth Dock Barracks, where we remained until the 24th July, when we received an order to remove from Dock Barracks and encamp a little beyond Maker Church, on Lord Edgecomb’s estate in Cornwall. The troops which composed this camp were the 1st battalion of the Royal Scots on the right, the Leicester and North Hampshire militia regiments in the centre, and the 2nd battalion of the 73rd regiment on the left.

During our stay in this camp, the French fleet, which was so much dreaded, appeared off the Ram-head; some of them sailed close by the Sound and had a fair view of the garrison of Plymouth, the shipping, &c. The formidable appearance of this fleet, and the nearness of their approach, struck such terror in the breasts of the inhabitants of that coast, that the most part of them left their houses and fled to the interior of the country, taking their cash and most valuable effects with them. They returned, however, in a few days after the French fleet disappeared. Soon after this the merchants and gentlemen of Plymouth, and all the little towns adjacent, raised companies of volunteers for the defence of their country and properties, and the place all round was fortified with batteries and guns for the better reception of the French, should they make an invasion on these coasts.

We remained encamped on this ground till the 24th November, then broke up camp and marched back to our former barracks at Plymouth Dock, and soon after were informed that we should be among the first troops for foreign service, but our destination [They had sealed orders for Minorca ("Siege of Gibraltar").] was not known. Accordingly, on the 8th December 1779, we marched from Dock Barracks, and that same day embarked on board the transports that lay in Catwater waiting for such troops as were going aboard. It was my chance to go on board the "Dispatch" transport, Captain Munro, who behaved very well to the men in general.

We were detained there at anchor waiting for a convoy till the 27th December, and then sailed from Plymouth Sound under convoy of six sail of the line and two frigates, and joined the grand fleet under the command of Admiral Sir George Bridges Rodney off the Ram-head that same evening. The fleet was really a very pretty sight, consisting of about twenty-four sail of the line, nine frigates, with a considerable number of armed ships, store ships, and a great many merchantmen, to the amount of one hundred and fifty. We continued our voyage with a pleasant gale till the 8th January 1780. About four o’clock in the morning we discovered a large fleet bearing down upon us mistaking us for a convoy of their own, but finding their mistake they tacked about immediately. Our admiral hoisted a signal for a general chase, and ordered the transports to lie to with one ship of the line and two frigates.


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