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Northern Rural Life in the Eighteenth Century


DURING the closing days of September 1745 the good town of AberdeeR was put in a sad stir by reason of a certain irruption then made. Prince Charles Stewart had landed on the west coast, had advanced to Edinburgh, had fought and won the battle of Prestonpans. And now, on the 25th day of the month named, the very day, as it fell out, of the Town Council election, when, according to use and wont, the old Council had elected the new, and they had not yet got the length of electing the Provost, John Hamilton, in Strathbogie, entered the town in a hostile manner, "drums beating and colours flying," with "a band of armed men, both horse and foot," at his back. The rebel forces were paraded at the Market Place and Cross. Meanwhile the valiant councillors had promptly taken to flight, and John Hamilton had it all his own way. He sent in quest of "James Morrison, Esq., present Provost," and his messengers not finding that gentleman at home, a second party was sent with orders to burn his house if he did not appear. What effect this threat may have had is not apparent; but the Provost was at last found, and carried down prisoner to the town-house. They next set him up upon the Cross in the company of a couple of Baillies and certain of the councillors, where he had to listen to a disloyal Sheriff-substitute reading the Pretender’s manifestoes. "Thereafter they caused wine to be brought to the Cross, where they openly and avowedly drank the Pretender’s health, and several other treasonable and rebellious healths." They even "endeavoured, by force, to make the said Provost drink their healths," "which he refusing, they poured the wine down his breast."

After John Hamilton came Lord Lewis Gordon, who, by and by, in his assumed title of Governor of Aberdeen, issued an order, in Prince Charlie’s name, for the collection of the King’s cess. In the Diary of Rev. John Bisset, one of the ministers of St. Nicholas, under date February 3, 1746, is this entry :—" This day the drum went warning all yet deficient in paying their cess, in the name of Lord Lewis Gordon to repair with payment to the quarters of one Hacket, empowered to gather it up, under the pain of military execution." The Town’s Collector, Mr. Dirom, being, it would seem, of loyal temper, and somewbat advanced in years, excused himself on the score of physical frailty, but recommended his clerk, Charles Hacket, as a person likely to be found suitable for the business. Charlie Hacket was an active young fellow, and being a red hot Jacobite to boot, he collected the cess accordingly with all due zeal, as indicated by the Rev. John Bisset, which served to bring him into trouble by and by, when Culloden had been fought and the Pretender’s hopes shattered for ever. In those days Charlie Hacket, to use his own phrase, got familiar with the practice of "sleepin’ in his beets." He skulked about where he best might, his hiding place for a while being, it was said, at the further side of the meal-girnal belonging to a Garioch laird of like leanings with himself, but uncommitted by any overt act.

Better times came, however, and Charlie Hacket having married Miss Smith, heiress of the pleasant estate of Inveramsay (anciently Poolwall) in the Gariocb, became life-renter of that property, and by and by got to be well known as a zealous and successful agricultural improver. [Among the local rebels taken prisooer in December, 1745, was Mr. Smith, Junior, of Inveramsay; and in the list of excepted persons against whom an ignoramus verdict was returned in 1742 was David Smith of Inveramsay. The obituary notice of Mr. John Smith, Senior, which appeared on October 80, 1750, ran thus :—" Last week, died at Inveramsay, aged near 100, John Smith of Inveramsay; a gentleman who thro’ the various scenes of a long hfe, in all its different stations, had the deserved character of an upright,honest man." His decease allb wed Hacket to sncceed to the life-rent of the estate.] And it is in this phase of his character that we have to look at him.

That Laird Hackct of Inveramsay was decidedly in advance of his time in his general notions of agriculture, the traditions of the place, and even the outward aspect of the home farm which he cultivated, testified long after his day. He had been at pains to lay out the land in well-arranged fields, which he duly enclosed with fences, planting rows of ash and other hardwood trees, where he thought it suitable and neccssaryfor shelter or ornament. And the more elderly natives of the generation following that to which he belonged had ever so many stories about Laird Hacket-. He was a Jacobite, as has been said, as well as an ardent farmer, possessing in full measure the Jacobite habit of swearing; and so there came the long-lived local bye-word—---" Like Laird Hacket: that bann’t a’ the ouk an del’t dockens on Sunday." He had a portrait of the Pretender over the fire-place in his sitting room, which he would gaze upon and apostrophise, not always with perfect placidity, when he thought of his own sufferings as a Royalist. Yet when he went to chapel, being a faithful adherent of the Episcopal faith, as prayer for the reigning sovereign was offered up, his response would be an audible groan in place of the orthodox Amen. At times, it is said, his feelings found vent in even a more emphatic form of expression.

Let us sketch the personal appearance of this last century laird. A small, compactly-built man, with brownish-coloured coat, and worsted knee breeches, knitted—as were also the stockings that encased his sturdy and somewhat "bowed" lower limbs—by his own wife. On his head, when in the sort of undress that served for every-day home use, he wore a worsted nightcap, or Kilinarnock cowl, underneath which glowed his reddish visage and sharp twinkling eyes. Such was the man, who, "doeken" spade in hand, strode about commanding everybody right and left, and astonishing his jog-trot neighbours by the novelty of his proceedings as an agriculturist.

He sowed turnips first about 1750, and in those days people came from the next parish, when harvest was over, to buy them by the pound and stone weight from his farm grieve, to be used as a dainty dish at the "clyack" supper and other fit occasions. He sowed at first broadcast, a practice which, although given up earlier in some localities, prevailed pretty commonly in Aberdeenshire down to the close of the century, and even a little later. And he believed in the broadcast method for the time, though not impervious to argument on the subject. When drilling began to be advocated, Hacket saw fit to forego the old practice for a season in favour of it. The crop disappointed his expectations, however, and in hot ire he exclaimed, "Deil drill me aff o’ the earth if ever I drill again." Yet he did drill again, not once but frequently, having seen reason to change his opinion, while the arclj, enemy took no immediate advantage of his rash uttefance.

Hacket’s tenants, as was common in those days, were bound to give certain personal services to their landlord; and these services included a day at turnip hoeing. In order to compel the workers to keep their eyes sufficiently near the ground to admit of the plants being clearly seen, the regulation length of the Jaoe handle was fixed at two feet and a half.; and when the laird saw a hoer standing too erect to suit his ideas, he would march up to him and demand his implement to have the handle curtailed. Certain sturdy fellows, who claimed the right to use the form of handle that was satisfactory to themselves, promptly resisted any such interference, at which the laird would explode in great wrath. Re had no help but submit, however, for, with all his energy and vehemence, he possessed not the physical strength of such men as Barclay of Ury, and therefore was not in a position to follow his method of training—In those days they one and all believed in the maxim, "Kiss a earle an’ clap a carle, that ‘s the way to tine a carle. Knock a carle an’ ding a carle, that ‘s the way to win a carle."

But it was not in independent turnip hoers alone that Laird Racket encountered the "stalk o’ carl hemp." It was told how, on a "forcy" leading day in harvest, he had gone to the stackyard, where a "rick" was in process of building. It was well on toward the "easin’," when Saunders, his grieve, who was a-top of it, for some reason good and sufficient to him, desired the "forker" to slacken his hand. The laird, who, in his own impetuous way, had been urging all speed for fear of broken weather, peremptorily ordered the man to go on. He was obeyed, and the sheaves were pitched up with redoubled force. By and bye there was an ominous growl of remonstrance from the top of the stack, which had no result but a renewal of the laird’s order with increased emphasis; next there appeared over the edge of the sheaves a pair of very sturdy legs, the owner of which evidently meditated a sudden descent to terra firma, whatever else. No further hint was waited for. With a just appreciation of Saunders’s temper when roused, the "cornyard" was forthwith cleared of human occupants—the laird, who led in flight, followed by the forker, losing his stick as he doubled through between the bars of the "yett," and staying not for an instant to pick it up again.

One operation in improved husbandry, which was disliked and despised by the natives, was that of enclosing. Of old time cattle had roved hither and thither much at their will, and the idea that they should be restricted in so doing was reckoned very intolerable. Improvers generally had a good deal to do in contending against this feeling which, in some cases, led to fences being wilfully thrown down, and newly planted trees pulled up. And as Hacket’s temper was none of the calmest, he was apt to get greatly irritated at the idea of any thing in the nature of a trespass upon his lands. On one occasion he had observed the cattle belonging to the miller on the neighbouring estate straying over a fine haugh upon the lands of Inveramsay, and he set off in hot haste to impound them for the damage done. Not so fast, however. The miller’s herd had probably been taking a quiet snooze by the dykeside when his charge strayed over the burn, but by the time Laird Hacket had reached the lower end of the haugh, he was wide awake, as the laird speedily found. For he had scarcely begun to move off the beasts, which he was prepared to treat as his lawful captives, when the herd, a stout, half-grown fellow, as herds in those days were, came scouring along with an armful of stones, with which he forthwith commenced a vigorous assault on the enemy, who was glad to make "his feet his freens," as he had done after Oulloden; ingloriously quitting his prey, and returning homeward even more quickly than he had come, while the incensed herd followed him a good way along the brae with a furious fusilade of stones.

At another time, when passing near the outskirts of his property, Mr. Hacket met Saunders Nicol quietly driving home some half-dozen sheep which had evidently been straying on the laird’s land, where they had been feeding for half the day, or, it might be, nearer the whole of it. Hacket flared up at the idea. of such a trespass on his "bounds," and, in the parley that ensued, lifted his stick, with the exclamation, "I’ll hazel ye, sir!" uttered in his fiercest tones. "An’ ye hazel me the nicht, ye maybe winna hazel anither the morn !" answered Saunders, coolly jogging on with his ewes, and leaving the laird, who, no doubt wisely, deemed discretion the better part of valour, to digest his wrath at leisure.

Such was this improving Garioch laird, and such the relations in which he stood toward those amongst whom he lived. But with all his oddities, Hacket, as an improver, achieved good results himself, and gave a distinct impetus to agriculture in his locality. The writer of the Old Statistical Account of the Parish of Chapel of Garioch, in which Inveramsay is situated, while crediting him with having first introduced "the culture of turnips and sown grass" in that parish, adds, that his example in farming had been followed by many in the neighbourhood. "The crop of one field upop the Mains of Inveramsay, which before Mr. Hacket’s improvements was sold for 30s., is now," he says, "reckoned worth £60 sterling; and the rest of the farm is improved in the same proportion." He retained his reputation as a capable business man throughout, and one of the records we find of him is in the famine year 1783. [There are one or two later entries. In 1790 the mortcloth is required for Mrs. Hacket. In 1792 a certain female appears before the session, and a letter is read from Charles Hacket acknowledging himself the father of her illegitimate child. He offers to pay what fine they thought right to inflict, if they would allow the case to he dismissed "sessionaily "—that is, withont any public appear. ance before the congregation. £3 being paid "to the poor,’ the case is dismissed accordingly. We must not forget that Hacket, who thus negotiated with the Presbyterian Kirk-session, was him. pelf a staunch Episcopalian.] The kirk-session had met to consider the necessities of the parish on account of the dearth, and having resolved to purchase a quantity of peasemeal, they entrusted to him the duty of negotiating for the same—a duty he seems, from the session minute, to have discharged both well and promptly, his "activity" in the matter being specially mentioned.

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