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The Case of the Pet Lamb
Winans v. Macrae By Curliana Dingwall

There were two men in one city: the one rich and the other poor.
The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds.
But the poor man had nothing but one ewe lamb; which he had bought and nourished up; and it grew up together with him and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup.”

II. Samuel, xii. chapter, 1, 2 and 3 verses.

On a narrow green bank between the public highway and the sea at the upper end of Loch Duich stands the appropriately named hamlet of Cairngorm. Before the days of deer forests when the district was the home of those faithful feifs of the High Chief of Kintail, the big and wild Macraes, the neighbouring hills and glens maintained game and cattle, and the adjacent sea provided ample supplies of fish for the sustenance of the clansmen. But at the time of which I write even the more modern ewe and wedder had disappeared; the land had become a gigantic sanctuary for the red deer; while over its vast stretches of hill and dale only ONE RICH AMERICAN MILLIONAIRE, and his servile ghillies, had a legal right to roam. The few people left in the little hamlet had not even bits of garden ground attached to their dwellings. They were indeed the lawful occupiers of only the few square feet of ground upon which their wretched houses stood; so that when he stepped off the narrow public highway the cottar of Cairngorm became in the eyes of the law a trespasser, liable to be interdicted at the instance of the landlord or his sporting tenant.

Among the few remnants of the clan who still lingered in the old hamlet was a certain Murdo Macrae, who earned a precarious living by cobbling the village shoes, and by occasioned employment on a big farm in the neighbourhood. In the dim twilight of a bleak spring evening, some twenty years ago, Murdo, wending his way homewards over the moorland, heard the feeble bleating of a lamb. The creature had lost its mother and was perishing. Undoubtedly it would have died of starvation that night had not Macrae, pitying the suffering animal, picked it up and carried it to his home at Cairngorm. By careful nursing and feeding in the warmth of his homely hearth, the animal recovered and soon became the pet of the household. It was the constant follower and companion of his children, and scampered with them in play around their humble home. This lamb became notorious.

The cottage was romantically situated overlooking the dark land locked and placid waters of the loch, while all around stood that grandest and wildest of highland mountain groups commonly known as the Five Sisters of Kintail. The public highway passes within a few feet of the back wall, while on the opposite side, and bounded by the unfenced road, lay the


At that time these forests extended continuously under various proprietors from that particular spot to the Castle of Beaufort, at the head of the Beauly Firth. This vast stretch of county embraces an area of about 200,000 acres. It was a strange contiguity. On the one side of the road a few square feet—on the other 300 square miles of mountain, strath, and moor; the occupant of the one, a humble shoemaker— the tenant of the other, a proud millionaire. The last thing one would expect to occur between these two persons is a litigation over the rights and privileges of their respective possessions. Yet it so happened twenty years ago, and the English speaking world looked on in amazement and indignation. It was all over that symbol of innocence the little pet lamb, and it was in this wise. Between the public road as it passes the cottage and the lowest slope of the Morrich Hill, there is a strip of level ground on which the pasture is uncommonly sweet. In his gambols about the cottage, the lamb sometimes found its way on to this piece of ground, and now and again it nibbled at the grass. A zealous gamekeeper reported the trespass to his master, and thereupon the poor cobbler was summoned to the


in an action which prayed the court to interdict him from trespassing upon Mr. Winan’s 300 square miles, by allowing his lamb to leave the road and eat the grass that ought to have fed his stags. It was an unequal contest, suggestive of the scriptural battle between David and Goliath, and the parable of Nathan, partly quoted at the head of this article. The highest legal talent was employed on the side of the rich man, while the poor man had to rest content with such legal assistance as he was able to procure. The proof occupied several days, and so keen was the interest taken in the case that there sat on the bench by the side of the Sheriff ladies and gentlemen of the landlord class, among whom was the genial son of the proprietor of Kintail, then Mr., now Sir Allan Mackenzie, the popular laird of Glenmuick. It was an unusual spectacle in the little court house, and it is needless to say that, with the exception of the lawyers who represented Mr. Winans, all present manifested genuine sympathy with the persecuted cottar. To the great disappointment of the public, Mr. Winans declined to submit himself for examination in open court. His evidence was taken privately in London before a Commissioner appointed by the Sheriff, in the course of which he frankly and brutally stated that he cared nothing about the lamb, and that his chief object was to have the people evicted from their homes. It is due to the memory of the Landlord, the late Sir James Mackenzie, to say that he strongly resisted all efforts to have the people removed, and had successfully contested a law plea with Winans, the object of which was to compel Sir James to evict the people from Cairngorm.

The long proof was at last ended, the case was debated, and in a few days the Sheriff Substitute issued judgment in favour of Macrae, and thus in the first round right prevailed over might. An appeal was noted, the case was again debated, this time before the Sheriff Principal. By arrangement it took place in the Parliament House at Edinburgh, and the leading Scottish Newspapers fully reported the discussion. The decision of the Sheriff Substitute was reversed, judgment given in favour of the millionaire, and the second round ended in the victory of might over right. By this time public interest in the litigation became intense.


themselves openly expressed sympathy with Macrae, and well they might, for the land laws in virtue of which they held their estates were being stretched to the breaking point and placed in serious jeopardy. The third and final round was fought in the Court of Session, whither the case was taken on appeal. It resulted in a gratifying and conclusive victory for right, and one more proof of the spotless integrity of the Scottish Bench. The Judges were the present Lord Justice Clerk, and Lords Young, Craighill and Rutherford-Clark, who have since all passed off the Bench with the exception of the first named. The late Sheriff Comrie Thomson, and the present Lord Pearson, were Counsel for Winans, while Macrae was represented by a young Advocate, then Mr. Graham-Murray, now Lord Dunedin, the Lord President of the Court of Session, who was at the time rapidly rising into eminence at the Bar. Mr., now Professor Neil J. D. Kennedy, of Aberdeen, was Junior Counsel on the same side. The debate in the Second Division continued for two days, and, as already indicated, resulted in


for the poor man, while Mr. Winans was found liable in all costs. I had the pleasure of listening to the two days’ debate, and the still greater pleasure of hearing the final judgment delivered. Never can I forget the expression of contempt with which Lord Young in the course of his speech uttered these scornful words:—

“If he wants to protect his 200,000 acres
“from being invaded in that way—against
“children toddling on to the grass at the
“roadside, or against the gambols of a
“lamb or a cat or a kitten—I say if he
“wants to exclude those he must adopt
“other means of doing so, for I decline to
“be a party to the fencing of this man’s
“ground by means of an interdict of Her
“Majesty’s Judges.”

All the Scotch and many of the English and American newspapers contained leading articles expressing the utmost satisfaction, and there never was a legal decision that commanded more universal approbation among all ranks and classes of the people.

To most persons Mr. Winans and his ways were contemptible and offensive: to some he was an interesting psychological study. They speculated on the motives of the man, who adding one great forest to another, continued to pay annually enormous rents to Highland proprietors, and retained in his service at the highest wages an army of gamekeepers and watchers, while over the wide acres of Kintail, which he held for a period of ten years, if not also over other forests of which he was lessee, he had never stalked a stag or fired a rifle. He might have been on rare occasions in the upper reaches of Glen Affric, but he never saw the dark recesses of Glen Lick, or climbed the Alpine slopes of Ben Attow. So it followed that the whole of that wild romantic region remained for ten long years a silent sanctuary of the eagle and the stag. It was said, and it seems highly probable, that this gigantic afforestment, and his apparent oppression of the people, arose not from any love of seclusion or misanthropical propensities, but from a malicious desire to bring the whole system of Highland land tenure into disrepute, not by any means in the interests of the crofters, but for the damage of the Highland lairds, with some of whom he had happened to quarrel.

Those who are old enough to remember the troubles which resulted in the passing of that


The Crofters’ Holdings Act of 1886, will recollect how valuable the conduct of Mr. Winans had proved as an object lesson in the agitation which led up to the enactment of that beneficial piece of legislation. It is remarkable that within twelve months, almost to a day, of the date on which the Court of Session bowled over Mr. Winans, the Crofters’ Act became the law of the land. To all which we may apply the riddle of the Old Testament:—

“Out of the eater came forth meat:
“Out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

The little quadruped which was the unconscious cause of so much human commotion became the property of Sir Allan Mackenzie, and was exhibited at a Bazaar in Dingwall shortly after the case was decided. Crowds of people willingly paid for a sight of the lamb that had become so famous, and there never was an animal that caused so much noise in the world, or one that poured so much hard cash into the pockets of the lawyers.

Mr. Winans long ago passed out of Kintail, and shortly afterwards out of the world; but Macrae still sits in the old cottage on the green banks of Cairngorm.

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