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AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JOURNAL Of JOHN MACDONALD
Part IV


On the 30th November both ships left Chusan Bay with a fair wind, and sailing close along shore among a parcel of small islands, our ship ran upon a sunken rock. She did not rest upon it but she left her false keel behind her. The next night there came on a most dreadful gale of wind which continued for three days and nights without intermission; we were going at the rate of eight knots an hour with bare poles, and towards the end of December arrived at Wampoa, the anchoring place in the river about sixteen miles below the city of Canton. On the 28th December Captain Macintosh went to Canton, and a few days after I and the rest of his servants followed. Here we had the first news of a war with France from the last arrived ships. We remained between Canton and Wampoa until the 14th March 1794, and that day, having got our cargo, passengers, and dispatches on board, set sail, and on the 17th anchored in Maccoa in Portuguese territory. The next day we left the roads of Maccoa, and by the 4th April arrived at North Island, where we took on board wood and water for the homeward bound voyage in company with the "Lion."

April 14th – Both ships weighed anchor and were joined by the China East Indiamen, to the number of eighteen, a Portuguese ship, and an English whaler. The next morning we were out of sight of Java Head, in all twenty-two sail. About the middle of June we were met by the "Sampson," of sixty-four guns, and the "Argo," of forty-four, both ordered by the Government to convoy home the East India fleet, and the next day we made St Helena and were joined by the Bombay, Madras, and Bengal ships; our fleet then consisting of about thirty sail, including the three men-of-war. After passing the island of Ascension we were met by a fleet of outward bound Indiamen, under convoy of the "Assistance," of fifty guns, which returned with us, and the East Indiamen proceeded on their voyage.

August 18th – We made Cape Clear in Ireland, and a few days after entered the English Channel with a fine easy breeze, and on the 7th September arrived at the Downs. I continued in the ship till the 13th, and then left her when the captain’s property was all landed. Before I left China I laid out every penny of money I could muster in different articles that I thought would turn out to advantage, but these things being all contraband goods were seized the moment we came to anchor by the Custom House officers, and then I found myself almost destitute. To complete my misfortunes, when I went to Chelsea for two years’ pension due me I found it stopped for being absent at the time the pensioners were called in, [On the outbreak of the French war a short time before this all the able-bodied pensioners were recalled for service.] when I was away in China. I made application to the commissioners of Chelsea for redress, but to no purpose: I was told that if I re-enlisted into any young regiment then raising I should have my pension again when I should be discharged.

At that time Colonel Baillie [Colonel Baillie was a grandson of the Hon. Hugh Mackay of Bighouse, and afterwards rose to the rank of major-general. ("Book of Mackay," p. 307.] of Rosehall and Lieutenant-Colonel Mackay of Bighouse were in London waiting for a Letter of Service to raise a regiment of fencibles, which was obtained on the 24th October 1794, and on the 27th I enlisted with Lieutenant-Colonel Mackay as pipe-major of that regiment, which was afterwards called the Reay Fencibles. I stayed in London with Lieutenant-Colonel Mackay till the 12th of November, then came with himself to Edinburgh, and was left there with Lieutenant Munro and Lieutenant Hunter of the same regiment, who were then recruiting for it in Edinburgh and the country round. I continued on the recruiting service till the 14th of April 1795, when the recruiting parties belonging to the Reay Fencibles were called in to Elgin in Morayshire, which was our headquarters.

The regiment was embodied at Elgin on the 17th of May 1795, and having received arms and clothing we marched in two divisions to Fort George about the middle of July, where we remained until the beginning of October, when we were ordered to Ireland. Having left Fort George, we marched to Port-Patrick, were safely landed at Donaghadee on the 3rd November, on the 5th arrived at Belfast, and were there inspected by General Nugent, when a few men were rejected and sent home to have their discharge. The regiment began to do duty then and continued so to do till the 24th April 1796, when there was an order for reducing all fencible regiments then in Ireland to 500. In consequence of this reducement I was one of those discharged, on account of my lameness.

Having got my discharge from the Reay Fencibles, Lieutenant-Colonel Mackay gave me letters to his lady and ordered me home to his own house at Bighouse, to stay there till he returned to the country himself. Accordingly, all the discharged men to the number of sixty-five marched from Belfast on the 25th April, and the day following were landed at Port-Patrick under the command of Lieutenant Hugh Clark, who returned to the regiment that same day after settling with all the men before they landed. After landing, we began our march for different parts of Scotland, I and the rest of the discharged men from Lord Reay’s country directing our course for the north. We kept together till we came as far as Badenoch, where I was taken sick and obliged to keep to the king’s road, the rest taking a shorter cut to Inverness.

I arrived at Fort George very sick and much fatigued with travelling on the 10th of May, but my good old friend Mr Mackay, who was private secretary to Lord Heathfield when I lived with him, now an officer of invalids at Fort George, would not let me go till I was fully recovered from my fatigue and sickness. In short, I did not leave Fort George till the 24th May, and on the 28th reached Bighouse, where I was very kindly received by the colonel’s lady. [Mrs Louisa, daughter of Colin Campbell of Glenure, and granddaughter of the Hon. Hugh Mackay of Bighouse.] Soon after my arrival at Bighouse I was employed in teaching the younger part of the children to read and write, and when occasion required to superintend some outwork and to keep accounts.

I was extremely well used at the colonel’s house, but I wished for some employment by which I might be more independent, as I considered myself one who might well be spared, having no particular charge there. The colonel’s lady wished very much that I should set up a school in her neighbourhood, but the people could not give me proper encouragement, so it was dropped. About the middle of October I received a letter from Mr Alexander Grant, Falsaid, and Mr Donald Mackay, Kinside, two respectable farmers in the parish of Tongue, inviting me to teach their children, as they were acquainted with me before I left that country. I duly accepted their terms, and having got a school house built began teaching on the 15th November with upwards of a dozen scholars belonging to my constituents and the neighbours around.

In the month of June following the parish school became vacant in consequence of the school master being deprived of his reason, [This unfortunate gentleman in a fit of madness burned the parish records of Tongue.] and on the 3rd October 1797 I was engaged by the Rev. William Mackenzie and the leading men of the parish to teach this school until a qualified man should be wanted, or until I should be otherwise provided for. Accordingly, on the 15th November I left Falsaid much against the will of my constituents, and on the 20th began teaching at Kirkiboll. I continued teaching the school here until May 1800, with good success, but being often told by Mr Mackenzie that Lord Reay wished to have a qualified teacher in that parish in particular, I engaged to teach the parochial school of Durness, the adjoining parish, and on the 15th May I left off teaching at Kirkiboll to begin at Durness on the 20th, where I met with every encouragement from Mr Thomson, minister of the parish, and from all the other gentlemen in that place, who all contributed to augment my salary and to render my condition as comfortable as possible.

At my first entrance upon business I boarded, but upon more deliberate consideration I thought it best to marry, and having fixed my choice I was married on the 22nd of July 1800 to a young widow whose former husband [A Macpherson to name and a native of Hope, Durness.] was an intimate acquaintance of my own in the Reay Fencibles, and by whom she had two sons. About the beginning of April 1801 there was a general call for the out pensioners; those of Caithness and the county of Sutherland were ordered to appear at Dornoch on the 30th of April and 1st May. In consequence of the above order I appeared and was examined by a doctor, but was returned unfit for garrison duty. A few only were ordered for garrison, I think twelve only were kept out of 150 pensioners, the rest were all dismissed and got at the rate of a penny a mile to carry them home.

On the 23rd of March 1802 my wife was safely delivered of a son, who was baptized on the 26th and named James Mackay, after my worthy and benevolent friend the late Mr Mackay of Skerray, as a token of gratitude for the many favours conferred upon me by that gentleman and the rest of his worthy family. And on the 29th of April 1804 she bore a daughter, who was named Anne, after Mrs Mackay of Melness, daughter of Mr Mackay of Skerray.

In 1803 a Bill passed in Parliament for augmenting the salaries of parochial school-masters, requiring at the same time that they should be qualified to teach Latin. By this Act I was liable to be turned out of office as not being qualified. I continued, however, to teach the parochial school of Durness until 15th May 1806, but did not obtain the augmentation. In November 1805 I engaged with Captain Mackay of Skerray [Captain Mackay was a son of Donald of Borgie, and grandson of James Mackay of Skerray ("Book of Mackay," p. 320.] to teach a school in that district, the salary for which was to be paid by contribution. On the 17th April 1806 my wife was delivered of a daughter, who was baptized after the name of Betty, for the deceased Mrs Mackay of Skail, sister of the present Captain Mackay of Skerray, a worthy woman.

On the 21st May I removed with my family from Durness to Skerray, and on the 26th opened school there. Nothing worth mentioning happened until the 24th of December 1807, when my pension was augmented from 7 pounds, 5s. to 12 pounds, 18s. 9d. a year by the interposition of Mr Hector Mackay, [Hector was a near relative of Captain John Mackay of Skerray. He served in the War Office and held the rank of captain.] a gentleman of great repute in London and who is well acquainted with some of the managers of Chelsea College. It is true the pensions in general were augmented, but those who served but a few years (as was my case) required some person of distinction to represent their case. Otherwise they would be taken but little notice of.

10th May 1808 – My wife was delivered of a third daughter, who was baptized on the 14th and named Caroline, [Caroline was a daughter of Colonel Hugh Mackay of Balnakiel ("Book of Mackay," p. 315.)] after the present Mrs Mackay of Skerray, as a small tribute of gratitude due to that worthy lady for the many obligations she has conferred on me and my family, and to which the present Skerray himself has often contributed in a most obliging manner.

On the 20th May 1808 Captain Mackay was seized by a pain in the bones, which he was subject to once or twice in the year. He struggled against it for two or three days but was at last obliged to take to his bed, his sickness having heightened into a nervous fever. He was sometimes thought to have a cool bed, but as often relapsed. His greatest complaint was at first in his bowels with a great compressure upon his breast, which continued till the 4th June when he complained of his head, the fever having taken another turn, and on the 7th about 8 o’clock in the evening he died. Raising his hands and eyes to heaven, the last words he was heard to utter were – "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, who was and is, and is to come; grant that my soul may have free admission into that glorious place, which I now behold. That will do: I have now got the victory!" Having thus spoken he let his hands down by his sides and, I trust, slept in Jesus.

The situation of his family at that time may be easier conceived than described; his only sister and his three eldest children being so ill of the fever that they could not be informed of his death, nor were they told of it until some time after his funeral. Mrs Mackay bore all with a truly Christian resignation although very low, having been brought to bed only a few days before her husband fell sick. Thus died a gentleman greatly esteemed by all who knew him, beloved by all ranks of people, generally and justly lamented. He was one of the best of husbands, a tender parent, a kind master. Humane, affable, benevolent, and of the most tender feelings, he could see none in distress without relieving them if it were in his power.

About the same time an account of the death of Mr Hector Mackay, London, appeared in the public papers, which happened on the 20th May 1808, and would have occasioned great grief to all his relatives if it came at any other time, but Captain Mackay’s death made such a wound in the heart of all concerned that all other sorrow passed through unnoticed, except Mr Hector’s own sisters who now must be inconsolable after the loss of so good a brother, who was also a great support to them.

On the 12th June Captain Mackay’s remains were interred [He was buried in Skerray cemetery where a massive monument marks his grave.] with all the solemnity due to his rank. His own company of volunteers fired three volleys over his grave at the time of his interment. It was not till the 24th June that his sister and children were so far recovered as to hear the account of his death, when they were thought out of danger. Miss Jean, sister to the deceased, on receiving the news of her brother’s death from the Rev. William Mackenzie, minister of Tongue, was greatly agitated, but Mr Hugh, [Hugh died while studying for the ministry of the Church.] eldest son of the deceased, a boy of fourteen years of age, behaved with uncommon manly resignation; the rest of the children were all more or less affected, according as they were sensible of their loss.

Monument

The following account of Captain Mackay’s death appeared in the Edinburgh Advertiser of the 24th June 1808: -

"Died at Skerray, on the 7th June, in the 41st year of his age, John Mackay, Esq., Captain of the Volunteer company in the parish of Tongue, deeply and justly lamented not only by his own family, but by all within the circle of his acquaintance, being a gentleman of sincere and unaffected piety, of the greatest honour, and strictest probity, and who in discharging his relative duties shone with peculiar lustre."

It may be thought by some that this digression from the narrative of my own life is rather tedious, and that I have dwelt too long on the death of this truly worthy man, but such as may think so little know the feelings of my heart, having lost my only earthly friend and the chief support of my helpless family. I never dreaded want so long as he lived, as he delighted in the happiness of his subjects and always regarded the wants of the poor and indigent. His attachment to me was uncommonly strong, having been his own teacher when a boy and now teaching his children. The following poem was composed by a neighbour friend, who was well acquainted with his life and character from infancy: -

"Fain would my artless muse her tribute lend
To sing the grateful praises of a friend;
A faithful friend he was whose memory dear
From all that knew him claims the melting tear.

Yet not for him need tears of sorrow flow,
He now is far beyond the reach of woe;
But for the relatives whom he has left,
By early death of such a friend bereft.

No artful praises did his fame require,
The simple truth is all we need to hear.
All that the noblest genius could suggest
When said of him would be no more than just.

The Christian graces were in him combined
To all the pleasing charms of nature joined,
A noble aspect, and a graceful mien,
A solid judgment, and a mind serene.

The social duties were his special care,
In true affection none surpassed him there:
The fondest husband, and the parent kind,
The best of neighbours, and the constant friend.

All this he was, and more than I can tell,
But ah! he’s gone whom I had loved so well;
Cold death has called him to an early tomb,
In life’s full strength and youth’s meridian bloom.

To that bless’d land where such pleasures dwell
As thought conceives not or tongue can tell.
In this rejoice, fond partner of his heart,
Death hath no power but o’er his mortal part.

His precious soul hath reached a happier shore,
Where death and sorrow dare approach no more.
On Heaven’s all powerful aid repose your trust,
Although with grief’s corroding cares oppressed.

This pleasing hope should soothe your breast:
Tho’ you must mourn yet he is blessed."

I continued in this place two years after the death of Captain Mackay, but soon after that eventful period I felt the effects of the want of my patron, and my school began to fall away considerably. Some of the grown-up boys that attended my school enlisted into the army, some went to business; some of the parents became regardless and withdrew their children, and others who had children fit for school did not send them. At Whitsunday 1807 one of the principal farms in the district was laid under sheep, and the people that were there dispersed. The man who took it, having no children fit for school, did not consider himself as interested either in me or the school. My only support now was Mrs Mackay of Skerray, who always stood my friend in time of need and often relieved my wants as often as she knew of them, and that without any application made. Being naturally of a charitable disposition, and knowing how much her worthy husband felt himself interested in me, she never withdrew her kindness. Nor was I the only one that felt the good effects of her regard and love to his memory, as I often knew her to stretch a point to serve any of those whom she knew to be attached to him.


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