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The Northern Highlands in the Nineteenth Century


Readers of the foregoing annals must have observed frequent reference to a family of Grants from Forres, who distinguished themselves in the public service. They were a remarkable family. The father, Duncan Grant, was born at Mullochard, in Strathspey, the seat of a branch of the Clan Allan sept of the Grants. The house, an old, quaint building, is still occupied. Duncan settled in Forres, conducted a business there, and became a prosperous man. He was made Provost of the town, and purchased a property in the neighbourhood. He married Jean, who is described in an obituary notice of one of her sons as the daughter of Robert Grant of Kylimore, Banffshire. The Highland Lady, Mrs Smith of Baltiboys (daughter of Sir John Peter Grant of Rothiemurchus) says that Mrs Grant was "well born of the Arndilly Grants, and very proud she was of her lineage." Provost Grant died in 1788, leaving his widow with a surviving family of eight sons and three daughters, one son having died in infancy before his father. The Highland Lady says that the widow was known among her friends as "Mrs Pro," and implies that she had a struggle to set out her sons in the world. The success of most of them was remarkable. Two were knighted, one became a Judge in the Supreme Court of Madras, one a Colonel in the Madras Army, and another, Colquhoun Grant, lives in the pages of Napier as the most capable intelligence officer in the army of Wellington. The youngest daughter was married to Sir James Macgrigor, a distinguished medical officer, who became a knight and a baronet. The mother of this notable family died at Forres in 1825, and a tombstone in their burying-place records as follows the family history:-

Sacred to the Memory of
DUNCAN GRANT, Esq. of Lingieston,
Provost of Forres,
Who died at Bath on the 1st of January 1788,
Aged 59 years,
and of
Mrs Jean Grant, his Widow,
Who died on the 11th of October 1825,
Aged 82 years,

Having been left with a young and numerous family, she devoted herself to the discharge of her duties to them in a manner that secure her the esteem of all that knew her.

Also their Children—

Hugh, their 9th son, who died in infancy in 1782.

Archibald, their 4th son, Midshipman in the Southampton Frigate, who lost his life by volunteering a hazardous duty in 1793, aged 18 years.

Robert, their 7th son, who died at Forres in 1795, aged 17 years.

Duncan, their 6th son, Captain in the 78th Highland Regiment, who fell when gallantly leading on the escalade at Ahmedneggor, in India, on the 8th of August 1803, aged 26 years. He was an officer of great promise, and much beloved in that distinguished corps, in which he had served from the time of its first enrolment.

Walter, their eldest son, Master in Equity of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Madras, who died there on the 5th of November 1807, aged 38 years. His memory will be long cherished by his relatives and a numerous circle of friends. He was a dutiful son, an affectionate brother, and highly eminent in official capacity.

Colquhoun, their 8th son, Lieut.-Colonel of the 54th Regiment, and Assistant Quartermaster-General of the Army in the Peninsula and Netherlands commanded by the Duke of Wellington. This distinguished officer was in charge of the Intelligence Department of these Armies during the whole of their campaigns. He died at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 28th of September 1829, aged 49 years.

Alexander, their 3rd son, who died 5th September 1834.

Lewis, their 5th son, who died 26th January 1852.

James Robert, their 2nd son, who died 12th January 1864.

Elizabeth Anne, their eldest daughter (widow of Colonel Lewis Grant), who died 7th April 1850,

And Jane Duff, their 2nd daughter, who died 21st June (year indistinct).

This additional tablet was erected in 1871 by their youngest daughter, the only survivor of the family, Dame Mary Macgrigor (widow of Sir James Macgrigor, Bart., K.C.B.), who died 1st April 1872.

This is a modest record, which avoids mention of the honours attained by the sons who survived Colquhoun. The names were, of course, inscribed at widely different dates. In the "Courier" of October 19th 1825, there is a short obituary notice of Mrs Provost Grant, which will appear in its place in our Notes, but may be noted here. It is as follows:—"Died, at Forres, on the 11th inst., aged 82, Mrs Jean Grant, relict of the late Duncan Grant, Esq., Provost of Forres. This much-respected lady having been deprived of her valuable husband while their numerous family were young, had great merit and satisfaction in their progress in life. It is remarkable that at one period of the late war she had not, out of six sons in the service of their country, one in Europe; but three of them having accidentally returned to the parental roof just previous to her decease, they had the melancholy satisfaction of solacing her latter moments and of attending her remains to the grave."

The eighth son, Colquhoun, had the most striking career in the family. He must not be confused with another officer, Lieut.-General Sir Colquhoun Grant, who distinguished himself in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, and who sprang from the Grants of Gartinbeg. The Forres Colquhoun was a younger man, born in 1780. Through the interest of General James Grant of Ballindalloch, he obtained in 1795 an ensigncy in the 11th Foot, before he had completed his 15th year. He was, however, allowed to remain in a military school near London until, in the following year, he obtained his lieutenancy. His special aptitudes were brilliantly shown in the Peninsular War. By his facility for acquiring languages, his faculty for ingratiating himself with the peasantry and obtaining their confidence, and his wonderful shrewdness, tact, and skill in discovering the plans of the enemy, Grant became an Intelligence Officer of extraordinary expertness and resource. Many of his adventures were of the most romantic kind. As he always wore his uniform he could not be regarded or treated as a spy. A good account of his services, though necessarily abridged, appears in the Dictionary of National Biography. The late Sir Felix Mackenzie, Forres, was good enough to send us a series of Notes, which he received from an old lady, a relative of the Grants, who died some years ago, upwards of ninety years of age. This lady did not know who had written the Notes, but they are interesting and characteristic, and were probably jotted down from personal reminiscences. The opening passage may be quoted —

"At one period of the time when the British army occupied the heights of Tones Vedras, a scarcity of provisions began to be felt owing to contrary winds and non-arrival of some transports. A group of officers of the 11th Regiment lying on the ground were conversing on this subject, when one of them, a Captain of the Light Company, surprised them by an offer to find his way to the distant mountains (if he could obtain leave), and procure supplies for the troops both of cattle and corn. The army of the enemy under Massena lay between them and the snowcapped mountains he pointed to, but the offer was made by our friend Colquhoun Grant, and therefore not to be lightly treated. The 11th Regiment came from Madeira to Portugal, and whilst stationed at the former place Grant had learned the Portuguese language. He had also gained some knowledge of the country he was now going to explore alone, in the course of service with his regiment, before the army fell back on the formidable lines where they now defended Lisbon.

"In a couple of days Grant started, Lord Wellington having previously had some conversation with him giving him leave of absence and a command of money. He completely succeeded in his daring enterprise. He got to the mountainous district, and there stationing himself, he completely drained the country of all its surplus produce and got the same safely transported round the flank of the French army into the British camp. By means of his old friends, the Labradores of the neighbourhood, the intelligence soon spread where ready money was to be had. for all the grain and the sheep and oxen that could be spared, and for days long trains of mules laden with the former and thousands upon thousands of the latter came winding up the passes from the country beyond to Grant’s snug station on the mountains. He thus restored plenty to our camp by exhausting the resources of the enemy, which made Massena leave Portugal and rendered his retreat so disastrous.

"This, I think, was the first service which brought Grant into notice and gained him the entire confidence of Lord Wellington, who ever afterwards entertained a strong personal regard for him. The tact and talent he had displayed in this instance immediately gained him further employment, and he was sent off to watch the enemy’s movements as they continued hovering about. He sent off daily (sometimes hourly) intelligence to headquarters, which frequently was of the utmost importance to the Commander-in-Chief, and was always delivered into his own hands by his express orders, that no time might be lost by its passing through the ordinary channels of official communication."

The writer goes on to say that in the houses of the farmers Grant always met with the kindest reception, and such was his reliance on their good faith that after supper he sometimes joined in their dances, and afterwards went to bed and slept soundly within a hundred yards of a French sentry or vidette. "He was practically acquainted with the whole construction of the French army through all its divisions and subdivisions. He even knew the uniform of every French regiment in the country, and was always provided with a good telescope and maps." Napier describes Grant as possessing "the utmost daring so mixed with subtlety of genius, and both so tempered with discretion, that it is hard to say which quality predominated." In another passage he speaks of him as "this generous and spirited and yet gentle-minded man." Napier gives a detailed account of Grant’s capture by the French Marshal, Marmont, and the series of incidents that followed. Marmont seemed to be in doubt of his identity. There was a spy named John Grant in the service of Wellington, a man in his own line of extraordinary astuteness. The French Marshal appeared to admit that Colquhoun Grant had been captured in uniform, and was entitled to consideration, but he was desperately anxious to get rid of him. He therefore exacted a special parole that he would not consent to be released by the guerilla bands on his journey through Spain to France. "But Marmont also sent a letter with the escort to the Governor of Bayonne, in which, still labouring under the error that there was only one Grant, he designated his captive as a dangerous spy, who had done infinite mischief to the French army, and whom he had only not executed on the spot out of respect to something resembling a uniform which he wore at the time of his capture. He, therefore, desired that at Bayonne he should be placed in irons and sent up to Paris." Grant got wind of the contents of this letter, and so managed that its delivery was delayed, and that he was enjoying a pleasant trip to Paris in company with a French officer before the Governor of Bayonne could intercept him. At Paris he had an agreeable time, and then found means to move down to the mouth of the Loire, and to have himself transferred by French fishermen to a British ship. The last part of the adventure was the most exciting and dangerous. The whole story may be read at length in Napier’s History of the Peninsular War, but is too long for quotation here. When Grant reached England he obtained permission to send back in exchange a French officer of equal rank with himself. He then returned to the Peninsula "and within four months from the date of his first capture was again on the Tormes watching Marmont’s army." There is little cause to wonder that Wellington placed great confidence in him. Meanwhile his position on the British staff was that of Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General. After his escape he was employed as Intelligence Officer during the rest of the Peninsular War. He became brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and Major in his regiment in 1814.

When the Waterloo Campaign began, the Duke of Wellington at once availed himself of Colquhoun Grant’s services, placing him in charge of the Intelligence Department of the Army with the rank of Assistant Adjutant-General. In this position Grant did admirable work. He actually sent to Wellington information of Napoleon’s intention to fight in the neighbourhood of Waterloo, though by a blunder—if blunder it can be called—on the part of another officer, the message was not delivered to the Duke until the battle had begun. The story is told in a paper drawn up by Sir William Napier, and published in Napier’s Life, edited by his son-in-law Lord Aberdare. The paper was forwarded by Sir William to the Duke of Cambridge in the hope that it would be useful to Colquhoun’s son. We quote the passage in question :—

"When Napoleon returned from Elba, the Duke instantly called Grant from the Military College at Farnham to Belgium to take charge of the intelligence department. Before a week had passed he discovered and engaged a man and his wife, people peculiarly fitted for his purpose, to go to Paris as spies; from thence they transmitted: constant and sure intelligence, having by some means access to the French Bureau de la Guerre. On the 15th June this man sent a note which I have seen noted thus by the Duke of Wellington in his own hand: —‘Received from Grant, June 18th, at 11 o’clock,’ that is to say, just as the battle of Waterloo was commencing. This document and its story is remarkable. Had it been received, as it ought to have been, two days before the battle, no surprise of the allies could have happened, and the great battle would probably have been fought and easily won on the banks of the Sambre. The contents ran in substance and I think nearly in words, besides a great deal of minor information—’Les routes sont combrées de troupes et de materiel, les officiers de toutes grades parlent haut que la grande bataille sera livrée avant trois Jours.’

"Why was this important notice withheld from the Duke until it was too late? Grant was far in advance of the British outposts to be near his agents; other agents were employed by the Duke in various directions, and to ensure the regular transmission of their reports, General Dombery was placed at Condo (I think) as an intermediate authority. That General mistook his position, and fancied he was to pledge of the importance and value of the reports. Hence, on receiving Grant’s important letter, he sent it back, saying that, so far from convincing him that the Emperor was advancing for battle, it assured him of the contrary. Grant instantly conveyed the letter direct to the Duke, but it only reached him on the field of Waterloo!—too late to be useful, but furnishing a convincing proof of Grant's great talent; for never was intelligence more complete, more exact, or more important, procured for a General in such grave circumstances."

At a later date Grant was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel of the 54th Foot. He commanded a brigade during the first Burmese War, and was made a C B. In Burmab, however, he contracted a fever, and his health broke down. He sold out of the service in 1829, and died the same year at Aix-la-Chapelle, where a monument was erected to him in the Protestant cemetery. In his later years, we fear, he suffered from disappointment. Tardy promotion, combined with exile and fever, was poor recognition for the services he had rendered.

A few words may be given to other members of the family, culled in part from notices in the pages of the "Courier." Colonel Alexander Grant, C.B., died in 1834. We have been unable to trace any particulars regarding him beyond the fact that he was a distinguished Madras officer.

General Sir Lewis Grant died 26th January 1852. He entered the army in 1794 as Lieutenant in the 97th Regiment, and his other commissions are dated as follows:—Captain in 1796, Major in 1802, Lieutenant Colonel in 1804, Colonel in 1813, Major-General in 1819, Lieutenant-General in 1837, and General in November 1851. He served with Sir Ralph Abercromby in the West Indies, and in 1820 was appointed military governor of the Bahama Islands. In 1831 he was knighted, and in 1839 became Colonel of the 96th regiment.

Sir James Robert Grant, C.B., K.H., died 12th January 1864, at Basford, near Nottingham. Born at Forres in 1773, he was in his 91st year. The obituary in the "Times" says that he served as a medical officer of the army throughout the whole of the European war, and was chief of the medical department at Waterloo. He was one of the few who served in the first and last campaigns of the war, namely that of 1793 and that of 1815. He received the order of St Anne of Russia from the Emperor Alexander in person for his services to the Russian army in France under Count Woronzow.

The youngest daughter of the family, Mary, was, as we have said, married to Sir James Macgrigor, M.D., a distinguished army surgeon, born at Cromdale, Inverness-shire, in 1771; died in 1858. He was the eldest son of Colquhoun Macgrigor, merchant in Aberdeen, by his wife Anne, daughter of Lewis Grant of Lethendry, Strathspey. Macgrigor entered the army as a surgeon in 1793; saw service in various parts of the world and rose rapidly; in 1811 was appointed chief of the medical staff of Wellington’s army in the Peninsula, and was with the army from Ciudad Rodrigo, to Toulouse. In 1814 he was knighted. Wellington said of him— "He is one of the most industrious, able, and successful public servants I have ever met with." In 1815 Sir James was appointed Director-General of the Army Medical Department, and held the post until 1851. Sir James originated two benevolent societies in connection with the Army Medical Service which have proved highly successful. He was also the author of numerous publications. Sir James was created a baronet in 1830, and died in 1858 aged 87. His widow died in 1872.

There are few families which can show such a record as the family of Provost Duncan Grant, of Forres. Yet in the region where they were born only a man here and there knows that they ever lived! Sic transit.

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