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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Sir James Grant, Bart., of Grant

At a period when many of the extensive Highland proprietors, actuated by a violent frenzy for improvement, were driving whole districts of people from the abodes of their forefathers, and compelling them to seek for that shelter in a foreign land which was denied them in their own—when absenteeism, and the vices of courtly intrigue and fashionable dissipation, had sapped the morality of too many of our landholders, Sir James Grant escaped the contagion; and, during a long life, was distinguished for the possession of those virtues which are the surest bulwarks of the peace, happiness, and strength of a country. Possessed of extensive estates, and surrounded by a numerous tenantry, his exertions seemed to be equally devoted to the progressive improvement of the one, and the present comfort and enjoyment of the other.

Sir James was born in 1738, and succeeded to the family estates and title on the death of his father, Ludovic, in 1773. He represented the county of Moray in Parliament so early as 1761, and for several years afterwards. He was also some time member for Banff; and, although he made no attempt to figure in the political arena, or to become an intriguing partizan of either party, his zeal for constitutional liberty, in the hour of danger, was neither less prompt nor less efficient than that of some blustering persons, misnamed patriots, who attempted to make their local influence the pedestal of future elevation.

On the declaration of war in 1793, Sir James was among the first, if not the very first, to step forward in the service of the country with a regiment of fencibles, raised almost exclusively among his own tenantry, and with such alacrity, that in less than two months even more than the complement of men were assembled at Forres, the headquarters of the regiment. Almost immediately after the fencibles were embodied, Sir James raised another corps, called the 97th, or Strathspey Regiment, for more extended service, which consisted of eighteen hundred men. This regiment was embodied in 1794, and immediately marched into England. Of both these regiments Sir James was, of course, appointed Colonel. Next year, the 97th were drafted into other corps—the two flank companies being incorporated with the 42nd, then preparing for the West Indies.

The fencibles continued embodied till 1799, and did duty in various parts of Scotland. While stationed at Linlithgow, proposals were made for extending the services of the regiment to England and Ireland; but, from some misunderstanding on the subject among the men, they would not agree. This attempt on the part of the officers, who acted without duly consulting the soldiers in a matter which concerned them so materially, gave rise to much discontent and distrust in the ranks ; but confidence was soon restored by the presence of Sir James, who hurried to join the regiment as soon as he was aware of the circumstances.

In 1795, the Strathspey Fencibles were quartered at Dumfries, where a trifling affair happened, which, as it constitutes the only warlike affray that occurred in Scotland during the whole volunteer and fencible era, is perhaps worth recording. "On the evening of the 9th June, the civil magistrates of Dumfries applied to the commanding officer of the 1st Fencibles for a party to aid in apprehending some Irish tinkers, who were in a house about a mile and a half distant from the town. On the party's approaching the house, and requiring admittance, the tinkers fired on them, and wounded Sergeant Beaton very severely in the head and groin; John Grant, a grenadier, in both legs; and one Fraser, of the light company, in the arm: the two last were very much hurt, the tinkers' arms being loaded with rugged slugs and small bullets. The party pushed on to the house; and, though they had suffered so severely, abstained from bayoneting them when they called for mercy. One man, and two women in men's clothes, were brought in prisoners. Two men, in the darkness of the night, made their escape; but one of them was apprehended and brought in next morning, and a party went out, upon information, to apprehend the other. Fraser's arm received the whole charge, which, it is believed, saved his heart. Beaton, it is expected, will soon recover." So says the chronicle of this event. One of the soldiers, however, afterwards died of his wounds. The leader of the tinkers, named John O'Neill, was brought to Edinburgh for trial. He was a Roman Catholic; and at that time a number of genteel Catholic families being resident in Dumfries, they resolved to be at the expense of defending O'Neill, on the ground that he was justifiable in resisting any attempt to enter his own house. With this view, they prevailed on the late Mrs. Riddell of Woodley Park to go to Edinburgh and procure counsel. Mrs. Riddell was a great beauty, and a poetess of no inconsiderable note. She wrote a critique on the poems of Burns, and materially assisted Dr. Currie in writing the life of the poet. She found no difficulty in obtaining the services of Henry Erskine, without fee or reward; but, notwithstanding, O'Neill was found guilty, and condemned to be hanged. The good offices of Mrs. Riddell, however, did not terminate here. She applied to Charles Fox; and, through him, obtained a commutation of his sentence.

A still more unpleasant affair occurred in the regiment, while at Dumfries, only a few days after the encounter with the tinkers. One of the men being confined for some trifling instance of improper conduct, an attempt was made by a few of his comrades to effect a rescue; but they failed in the endeavour, and the ringleader was taken prisoner. A court-martial having been immediately held, the prisoners were remanded back to the guard-room; but on the way the escort was attacked by fifty or sixty of the soldiers, with fixed bayonets, and the prisoners rescued. By great exertions on the part of the lieutenant-colonel and officers, most of the parties were afterwards secured, when they expressed deep regret for their improper conduct, and peaceably submitted to their fate. Sir James was not with the regiment at this period, and arrived too late to interfere with propriety and effect. At a general court-martial, held at Musselburgh soon after, five of the mutineers were found guilty—four were adjudged to suffer death, and one to receive corporeal punishment. The melancholy spectacle of a military execution took place in consequence at the Links of Gullen, on the 19th July, 1795, in presence of all the regular and volunteer troops in the neighbourhood. When the prisoners had been marched to the scene, the sentence was restricted to two individuals, who suffered accordingly. The Strathspey Fencibles, along with most of the other similar regiments, was disbanded in 1799.

Sir James was one of the original office-bearers of the Highland Society of Edinburgh, instituted in 1784; and continued to be one of the most zealous members of that society. In 1794 he was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Inverness—which office he filled till he was compelled to resign, in consequence of ill-health, in 1809, when his son was nominated his successor. In 1795 he was preferred as Cashier to the Excise, when his seat in Parliament became vacuated, in consequence of which Mr. M'Dougal Grant succeeded him in the representation of Banffshire.

After a lingering illness, Sir James died at Castle Grant on the 18th February, 1811, deeply regretted. He married, in 1763, Jane, only child of Alexander Duff of Hatton, Esq., by whom he had seven sons and six daughters. The eldest, Lewis Alexander Grant, succeeded to the estates and earldom of Seafield on the death of his cousin James, Earl of Findlater and Seafield, in 1811. The second son, Colonel the Hon. Francis-William Grant, the present Earl, succeeded his brother in 1840.

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