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Deeside Tales
Note X

THE sketch of the poacher excited so much interest on the appearance of “Deeside Tales” that Michie made a point of adding to his collection any floating story concerning him—and they were at one time pretty numerous—that came in his way, in view of a second edition. McCombie Smith in his “Romance of Poaching,” published some years ago, which contains an account of Sandy, mentions on Michie’s authority that a fuller narrative might one day be expected from his pen. Unfortunately, however, almost all the additional materials on the subject which were found among his papers are in the form of memoranda intelligible only to himself. The only story which was written out is inserted in chapter xxiv. One or two others concern Sandy’s sister and her smuggling exploits, and it has not been thought necessary to include them, especially as they are very much at second hand.

A fact which Michie does not refer to in his account of Sandy is worth recording. As in the case of George Brown, the Sennachie, his interest in his subject may have been stimulated by the tie of kinship. Brown was his grand-uncle and Sandy was his second cousin; and his father’s house was one of those to which the wanderer occasionally resorted for a few hours’ shelter.

In Scrope’s Days of Deer-Stalking there is a chapter on Highland poachers in which Sandy Davidson is possibly referred to. Scrope was an Englishman who had the run of the Atholl deer forest about 1830, one of the pioneers of the army of English and cosmopolitan sportsmen which was about to descend on Scotland. As a squire and magistrate in the south he was familiar with the “drunken vagabonds” (so he calls them) who lived by the trade of game stealing. His surprise at the Highland variety seems to have been considerable, and in spite of himself he felt their attraction. He had the candour at any rate, though he well knew the heavy toll they levied on the moors and forests, to do justice to their qualities in his book. “In the Highlands,” he says, “one never hears of the ruffians that infest the preserves in England. Your Gael has a fine rough sense of honour about him . . . They have still a high regard for their chieftains.” These are high compliments coming from such a quarter. As an instance of the peculiarities of the Highland poacher he tells a story of one who had lately been taken in the forest of Braemar; that, having some good points in his character, the noblemen who rented the ground told him that, if he would promise never to poach again in the district, his gun should be restored and he himself set at liberty. The man very coolly replied that he wished to have an hour to consider, and at the expiration of the time stepped forward and announced that they might take his gun and him too, for he would not give the promise.

The name of this high-spirited poacher is not given, but the date corresponds with Sandy’s floruit; and if the story does not refer to him, it shows, at any rate, that he had contemporaries who played the game in the same spirit as himself.

A writer in the Elgin Courant in 1872 praises in high terms the truthfulness of Michie’s account of the last of the old poachers, and as he supplies a few touches of his own, an extract from his remarks may be given here:

“Who is there of forty years of age, in all the upper districts of Moray, Banff, and Aberdeen shires, that does not remember Sandy Davidson, or, as he was called among the Banffshire hills, ‘Muckle Davidson,’ to distinguish him from another person of the name of Davidson, but a very different kind of man, and no relation, we believe, to Sandy, who was known as ‘Little Davidson* or Charlie Davidson? Both were wandering poachers. Sometimes they travelled together but oftener they were separate. Indeed, their meetings were mere chance foregatherings. Charlie was the deadlier shot of the two, but he was a poacher and little more, with a good many of the failings to which a life like his almost invariably leads. Sandy, on the other hand, however strange it may seem to say so, was still a gentleman—a gentleman in appearance, in manners, in conversation, and in feeling. To people generally in the districts over which he travelled he was little known except by sight He might be seen walking along the road or through the hills, with his gun under his arm and his dog at his heels, with a dignity of bearing suited to a nobleman, but generally avoiding places of public resort, and not caring even to court casual conversation or make acquaintances as he went along. His fine figure was much admired, and his generous, noble nature gained him troops of friends, but a certain air of mystery was always associated with the lonely wanderer, and those who knew him best found him very reticent as to his own history—indeed to everything that concerned himself That such a man should be a poor homeless wanderer and a poacher was a complete anomaly.”


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