Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

In the Hebrides
Chapter 11


"Ye trusted in our Hieland men,
They trusted you, dear Charlie,
They kent your hiding in the glen,
Death and exile braving.

English bribes were all in vain,
Tho' poor—and poorer we maun be,
Biller canna buy the heart

That beateth aye for thine and thee."

WHENEVER you make up your mind to come and explore these islands, I advise you, before starting, to rub up your Jacobite lore; for YOU will find stories about Prince Charlie springing up from every rock and cave; and the Highlanders will think you sadly ignorant, if they find you wanting in knowledge on so important a topic.

Being myself one of the ungifted many, with scant memory for biography, and less for history, I took the precaution of reading up all manner of Jacobite books; and from these (more especially from 'Browne's History of the Clans ')managed to trace Prince Charlie's wanderings from island to island; and I think it may save you some trouble, if I give you a short sketch thereof.

Of course you remember how, after the terrible defeat of Culloden, 1745, Charles escaped first to the wilds of Ross-shire. This being too hazardous a hiding-place, he embarked in an open boat for the Hebrides. A violent storm arose; rain pouring in torrents, and vivid lightning, which only revealed the blackness of raging waters on every side, while thunder crashed over the heads of the little company. They had no compass, and had to drive before the wind, fearing lest the fury of the waves should dash them on the coast of Skye, where the Government had troops watching for the Prince.

To their intense relief, when the day broke, they found themselves on the coast of Benbecula, a small island lying between North and South Uist, and connected with both by fords, through which at low water you can drive or walk. These, together with Harris and Lewis, form the Long Island; though, in point of fact, the sound of Harris completely divides the two latter from the former. Here, for a while, Charles found safety in a deserted hut.

His pursuers, stimulated by the promised reward of 30,000 for his apprehension, were not idle. Being fully convinced that lie had found refuge in the isles, they adopted the plan of taking the furthest point first, and sailed to St. Kilda. The terrified inhabitants fled, and concealed themselves in their rocky caves and cliffs. Some of them were, however, captured, and brought before General Campbell, who inquired what had become of "The Pretender," to which they replied that they had never heard of such a person; but they believed that their laird (Macleod) had lately been at war with a woman at a great distance, and had overcome her. This, they said, was all they knew of the affairs of the world.

Meanwhile, in the hut on Benbecula, the bonnie Prince, taking the old sail of the boat as his only bed, slept the sleep of the weary, on the hard earth; and two days later, he and his little party sailed for Stornoway, hoping to pass themselves off as the shipwrecked crew of an Orkney boat, and so be able to hire a vessel, under pretext of returning home, and thus escape to France. A violent gale, however, compelled them to put in at the small island of Scalpa (or Glass), near Harris, where they assumed the name of Sinclair, and, in their character of Orkney merchants, were hospitably entertained by a farmer, who insisted on their remaining with him while one of the party went on to Stornoway to hire a vessel.

This being done, Charles again sailed; and again the wind was contrary, and he was compelled to land in Loch Seaforth, in the island of 'Lewis, whence on a dark and rainy night he had to walk over a wild and trackless waste. The young Highlander who acted as his guide, lost his way, and so it was not till the following day at noon, that they reached Stornoway; a fortunate accident, inasmuch as the Presbyterian minister of South Uist had sent information that the Prince had landed with 500 men to burn the town and carry off the cattle; in consequence of which, the inhabitants were all rising in arms to oppose him.

As it was, a trusty friend came to meet him at the Point of Arynish, half a mile from the town, bringing provisions, which the wanderers sorely needed, having tasted nothing for eighteen hours, during which they had been drenched to the skin. Here a shelter for the night was procured, and a cow bought and slaughtered, the Prince taking his share in the rough cookery, mixing oatmeal with the brains of the cow, and making cakes, which he baked before the fire.

The captain of the vessel which they had hired now positively refused to stand by his engagement; so the Prince had once more to sail from these inhospitable shores, and take refuge on the smaller islands; a desolate rock called Iffurt, or Euirn, being his next hiding-place for a few days. A roofless hut was his sole shelter; one of the little band keeping watch while the others slept.

This becoming unendurable, it was resolved to return to Scalpa. Not daring to remain there, they started once more. A hard night's rowing followed, the sea being dead calm; but towards morning the wind rose, and they scudded along the coast of Harris.

Now a new danger threatened them. They were detected by a man-o'-war, and chased for three leagues, till they escaped among the rocky inlets about Rodel. After this, they kept close in shore, along the creeks of North Uist, when they were espied by another war-ship, which was lying in Loch Maddy. This also gave them chase, when they again narrowly escaped, and once more landed on Benbecula; soon afterwards such a storm arose as drove away the ships, and gave the fugitives breathing time.

All this time their sole food, consisted of oatmeal, mixed with salt water—as they had no fresh—and washed down with a drain of brandy which they fortunately had on board. Great was their rejoicing when they succeeded in capturing as many crabs as filled a small pail, which Charles himself carried to a miserable hut two miles distant. The door was so low that they could only crawl in on hands and knees till they dug away an entrance.

Here they remained for several days, during which a welcome present of half a dozen shirts, shoes, and stockings, and needful food, was sent by Lady Clanranald, whose husband, Macdonald of Clanranald, was lord of the island, and faithful to his Prince, for whom he contrived a more secure hiding-place in the Forest House of Glen Coradale, in South Uist. The house not being water-tight, two cows' hides were placed upon sticks to prevent the rain from falling on him when asleep.

On this island there was abundance of game, by pursuit of which Charles wiled away the weary hours, as well as kept the pot boiling. Here he remained for upwards of a month in perfect confidence, although his hiding-place, and the promised reward of 30,000 for his apprehension, were alike known to upwards of a hundred of the poor islanders.

Meanwhile every creek and ferry along the shore was guarded by cutters, sloops of war, and frigates, and upwards of 1500 militia, as well as some regular troops, were landed in different parts of the Long Island. At length the peril became so imminent that he dared remain no longer in South Uist, and again fled, in an open boat, first to the tiny islet of Ouia, thence to Rossinish, and again to Loch Boisdale, backwards and forwards, always in imminent danger. At one time no less than fifteen sail were in sight. There were days when they were so hard pressed that all hope seemed lost, and when no food could be obtained save the limpets and seaweeds which they gathered on the rocks.

At last they had to disperse their little band, and Charles, keeping with him only one companion, O'Neil, returned to Benbecula, where happily he found a kinswoman of Clanranald, namely Flora Macdonald, a name thenceforth honoured among women. She was the daughter of Macdonald of Milton, in South Uist; but her father died in her infancy, and her mother married secondly Macdonald of Arinadale, in Skye, who commanded one of the militia corps now in pursuit of the Prince.

Flora was at this time aged four-and-twenty, a woman fair to look upon, and as wise and lovable as she was fair. Her own description of the Prince, whom she now met for the first time, is that he looked thin and delicate, utterly worn out by fatigue, yet "showing such cheerfulness and fortitude as none could credit but those who saw him."

Now came the celebrated plan for his escape to Skye, disguised as her tall Irish maid Betty Burke--a difficult matter, as even she and her man-servant were taken prisoners by the militia while attempting to cross the ford on their return to Ormaclade (Clanranald's house), where she was to procure the necessary feminine raiment. They were detained all night, and next morning were taken before the commanding officer, who, happily, turned out to be Arxnadale, her step-father, from whom she procured the necessary passports, including the name of "her spinning-woman." There is little doubt that he more than suspected who the Irish maid really was.

Flora Macdonald now sent a message to bid the Prince join her at Roesinish; but how to do so was the difficulty, as both the fords were guarded. At length a small boat was procured, and, after many difficulties, he arrived, drenched to the skin and exhausted with hunger and fatigue. Here he was rejoined by Flora Macdonald, Lady Clanranald, and Mrs. Macdonald. They found him roasting the heart of a sheep on a wooden spit, and he met their commiserations with cheery words and jokes at his own expense. They all dined together, and afterwards Betty Burke's homely dress was produced. 'It consisted of a flowered linen gown, a quilted petticoat, white apron, and cloak of dun camlet with hood, as worn by the Irish peasants.

In the evening they went to the sea-shore, near where the boat lay, when a messenger rushed down to say that a large party of soldiers was at the house in quest of Charles. Lady Clanranald at once returned home, and was cross-examined as to the cause of her absence. She said she was visiting a sick child.

While the Prince and Flora were waiting on the shore, four boats full of armed men sailed close past them, happily without detecting them, as they lay hidden behind the rocks. As soon as the darkness covered their escape, they set sail, and during an anxious and stormy night, made more anxious by having no compass, Charles inspirited the crew with songs and stories.

When morning broke they were thankful to find they were off Skye, near the point of Waternish. Here, however, they were fired upon by MacLeod's militia, who called to them to land, a summons to which they paid no heed, and continued to row on, but slowly, so as to prevent suspicion. The MacLeods continued to fire till the boat got out of range, no one, however, being hurt; and in due time the fugitives reached Monkstadt, where they landed.

Monkstadt, or Mogstat, belonged to Sir Alexander MacDonald, then serving with the Duke of Cumberland at Fort Augustus. His wife, Lady Margaret, was a daughter of the Earl of Eglinton, a true Jacobite, as her husband also was at heart, though too timid to declare himself for the Prince.

Flora went at once to the house, fortunately accompanied only by her man-servant, for there she found an officer commanding a detachment of militia, who questioned her closely about her journey, but was satisfied with the simplicity of her account. Lady Margaret, on hearing of the arrival of the Prince, left Flora to keep the officer in play, and taking Macdonald of Kingsburgh into the old garden, confided to him the state of affairs, and it was agreed that his house would be the best hiding-place for the present.
He therefore went down to the shore to seek for Betty Burke, and they started together on foot. To disarm all suspicion, Flora dined with Lady Margaret, and helped her to entertain her military guest. Afterwards she started on horseback, accompanied by a Miss Macdonald, who was returning home escorted by two servants. The latter, on overtaking the pedestrians, were struck by the tall woman stalking along beside Kingsburgh, and exclaimed that it must either be an Irishwoman or a man in woman's dress. "Bless me," said the maid, "what lang strides the jade takes, and how awkwardly she manages her petticoats!" Flora quickened her pace and soon distanced the walkers, rejoicing when she reached the turn of the road where Miss Macdonald and her prying maid were to turn aside. Then she turned down the path to Kingsburgb, to which a short cut across the hills had brought the Prince at the same time, that is, about 11 p.m.

The lady of the house had gone quietly to bed, when her daughter ran up to tell her that her father had brought to the house the "most odd, muckle, ill-shaken-up wife that ever she seed, and taken her into the hail too!"

The good wife hastened down to welcome her husband's guest, but when the strange Irishwoman rose and gave her a kiss of greeting, according to the old Highland custom, she suspected that it must be some nobleman or gentleman in disguise, and, going aside to her husband, asked if he had any tidings of the Prince. On hearing that he himself stood before her, the anguish of having only such homely fare as bacon and eggs ready to offer him, and the overwhelming pride of being made to sit down at table with him, were almost too much for the good woman. She was greatly horrified on hearing that the boat in which he had come to Skye had at once been sent back to South Uist, as she said there was great risk of capture, and of the boatmen being tortured to make them confess what they knew. And this proved to be precisely what did happen, and resulted in the men even giving a minute description of his disguise.

To the infinite satisfaction of the Prince, it was decided that he should resume the garb of Old Gaul, his host giving him a Highland dress of his own, which he was to put on when safely out of the house, and out of danger of being discovered by the servants. As the women were fastening on his cap, Mrs. Macdonald of Kingsburgh bade Flora ask for a lock of his bonnie hair. This she refused to do, but the Prince, gathering the meaning of the request, which was made in Gaelic, laid his head on Flora's lap and bade her cut off a lock herself, a precious relic, which the ladies dearly treasured. His hostess likewise treasured the sheets in which he had slept, and vowed they should never be washed or used till her death, when they should serve as her winding-sheet, to which use they were accordingly put.

Meanwhile it was decided that the Prince, with a little gillie for his guide, should walk across the hills to Portree, while Flora rode round the other way. The object was to get to the isle of Raasay, which was then clear of troops, but it was impossible to trust a Portreo crew, so how to reach the island was the next question. At length the young MacLeods of Raasay, one of whom had been sorely wounded at Culloden, recollected that a small boat lay on a fresh-water loch about a mile inland from Portree, and these brave brothers, with the help of some women, contrived to drag the boat over soft bog and rocky ground till they reached the shore. The boat was old and leaky, but the two brothers, with only the help of a little boy, rowed it over to Raasay, where they found their cousin, and having got a seaworthy boat, they returned to Portree.

By this time Charles had arrived across the hills, thoroughly drenched by the pitiless rain, as many an English tourist has since been while trying the same route, only much as they have occasionally grumbled at the lack of refinement of the old Portree Hotel, it is a very different story to what it was in those days, when the Prince could not even get a drink of milk, nothing but whiskey and water; and the only substitute for a tumbler was a dirty-looking bucket, used by the landlord for baling out the boat. Not even one of those large scallop-shells out of which spirits were commonly drunk, seems to have been forthcoming—(the shells alluded to in old Gaelic, when Ossian's banquet-hall is called "the hail of shells," the host "the chief of shells," the feast "the joy of shells").

Charles for once did stare at this obnoxious drinking cuach, but a whisper from Donald Roy reminded him of caution, so he took a great gulp of water, lest his over-refinement should excite comment. The faithful Donald Roy Macdonald was also alarmed at Charles's extravagance in refusing the change for a sixpenny-bit, in payment of four pennyworth, of tobacco, and equal carelessness in refusing silver change for a guinea.

The Prince had now to bid farewell to the leal woman who, at the imminent risk of her own life, had rescued him from so many perils, and whom he was never to meet again. He presented her with his own miniature, and departed before daybreak, carrying his own meagre store of provisions, a cold fowl and some sugar in one bundle, four shirts in another, a bottle of brandy and one of usquebaugh hanging from his belt. Notwithstanding this Robinson Crusoe-like appearance, Donald Roy was subjected to close questioning by his landlord, who said he thought it must be the Prince in disguise, for he looked so noble. However, he was put off the scent by a feigned confidence, and the Prince, having lain concealed on the shore till midnight, escaped to Raasay with the faithful MacLeods. Here they found the forsaken hut of some shepherds, and soon gathered masses of heather as bedding, no bad couch when closely packed with the fragrant blossoms upwards, and (this was in the month of July) a more springy mattress could hardly be desired.

In this little island there seemed to be comparative safety, but Charles could not rest, and insisted on crossing over to Totternish in Skye, a distance of fifteen miles. The sea was very rough, and his men sorely demurred, but Charles, as usual, encouraged them with stories and Gaelic songs, which he had picked up, together with some knowledge of that language, during these wanderings.

The men rowed with a will, and though the waves were boisterous, and there was a very violent surf along the shore, they contrived about midnight to land at Nicholson's Rock near Scorebreck, drenched, of course. A steep and difficult scramble led them to an old cow-house, the only shelter they could obtain on the bleak, deaulate coast. Here they divided a wretched meal of mouldy oat-cake and cheese, and then, soaked as they were, slept till day. light. In addition to other discomforts, the luckless Charles was tormented by toothache,—no great wonder!

In the morning he dismissed all his companions save Malcolm MacLeod, whom he desired to conduct him to Strath, Mackinnon's country, a long and perilous journey across the island, in continual risk of meeting soldiers. They chose the wildest and most mountainous route, and having agreed that the Prince should pass as MacLeod's gilly, they exchanged clothes, and Charles kept up the character by walking some steps in the rear, carrying their joint bundle, and touching his bonnet when addressed by his master in presence of any chance passer-by. As they neared Mackinnon's country they feared the disguise would prove insufficient, whereupon Charles pocketed his bonnet and wig and bound his head with a handkerchief; he also tore the ruffles from his shirt and the buckles from his shoes, which he fastened with a string. Nevertheless, his graceful mien and carriage betrayed him to two men of Mackinnon's clan, who, on recognizing him, wept bitterly. They were sworn to secrecy on a naked dirk, and kept their oath.

A weary march of twenty-four Scotch miles, equal to thirty English, brought them to Ellighiul, near Kilmaree, where MacLeod's sister, in her husband's absence, gave them a cordial welcome, and such a supper as seemed to the famishing creatures kingly indeed. Charles showed due reluctance to sit down at table with his supposed master, who, of course, insisted on his doing so. But when a stout Highland lass brought water to wash MacLeod's feet, and he bade her do likewise for the sick lad, Lewis Caw, his servant, her pride revolted at such a suggestion, and it needed much coaxing to induce her to obey, which at last she did, but so roughly that Charles had to cry for mercy! Utter)y exhausted, the travellers now lay down for a few hours' sleep, but the restless mind would not suffer the weary body to lie still, and Charles arose and busied himself nursing Mrs. Mackinnon's wee bairn.

Her husband was now seen approaching the house, and on hearing who his guest was, he-was transported with joy, and wished at once to make his obeisance. MacLeod, however, reminded him of the danger of being observed by servants, so he entered the room, determined to pass by "Lewis Caw" without notice, but the faithful Highlander had counted too much on his strength of will, for on seeing the Prince he burst into tears, and had to leave the room.

The laird of Mackinnon was now informed of the presence of the loved fugitive, and the old chieftain could not rest till he had done him homage, and conducting him to a neighbouring cave, presented him to Lady Mackinnon, who had prepared a dinner of cold meat, bread, and wine. Towards dusk he embarked, accompanied by the two Mackinnons, and, having narrowly escaped capture by the men-o'-war, succeeded after a rough voyage in reaching the coast of Loch Nevis in Moidart.

His further adventures on the mainland continued to be as perilous as those in the Hebrides, but being foreign to our present object, it is unnecessary to follow him further.

Of the friends who had hitherto shared his danger, the majority were shortly captured on suspicion of having aided his concealment, but, for the most part, were released after a term of imprisonment. Flora Macdonald was amongst the number; her beauty and her wit brought her favour with her jailors, and after a term of honourable captivity, she was released at the special request of Frederick, Prince of Wales; and, being invited to the house of Lady Primrose, in London, became an object of considerable interest to the great folk there.

In due time she returned to Skye, and married young Macdonald of Kingsburgh, whom she accompanied to America twenty-five years later, there making a home for her family, which consisted of five sons and two daughters. Having suffered sore privations during the American war, she once more returned to her native island, and there peacefully ended her days.

She was buried in the old kirkyard of Kilmuir (the cell of Mary), on the high ground overlooking the Long Island, and the sea; across which she had, amid so many perils, brought. her Prince in safety to the old house of Monkstadt, on the shore below. At the time of our visit to Skye, a little mound of earth, half hidden by rank weeds and tall grasses, alone marked the spot where sleeps the dust of one whose honoured name is now a household word. Soon afterwards a very handsome Iona Cross of red granite was erected; and the Highlanders, willing to atone for having left this tribute so long unpaid, took care that the modern cross should over-top the highest of the ancient monolith crosses. The best known to us of these are MacLean's and St. Martin's crosses at Iona, which measure respectively eleven and fourteen feet. The new cross on Kilmuir was a monolith of eighteen feet six inches in height, placed on a basement ten feet high.

Unfortunately, being in a very exposed situation, the new cross seems to have excited the enmity of the wild winds, which, ere long, blew so mightily, that they overthrew it. In its fall it was broken and much injured; it was, however, repaired and set up more strongly than before, though shorn of much of its stature. Nevertheless, as the old kirkyard in which it stands lies 300 feet above the sea, Flora Macdonald's grave will henceforth become a landmark for every ship that sails these stormy seas.

"Far over the hills where the heather grows green,
And down by the Corrie that sings to the sea,
The bonnie young Flora sat sighing her lane,
The dew on her plaid, and the tear in her e'e.

She gazed on the bark, on the breezes that swung
Away on the wave, like a bird of the main,
And aye as it lessened., she sighed and she sung;
Fareweel to the lad I maim ne'er see again,
Fareweel to my hero, the gallant and true,
The crown o' thy Fathers is torn frae thy brow."

 Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus