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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XXII

“Old sithes they had with the rumples set even.
And then into a tree fast driven;
And some had hatchets set on a pole—
Mischievous weapons, antic and droll.
Each where they lifted tax and cess,
And did the lieges sore oppress,
And cocks and hens, and churns and cheese,
Did kill and eat when they could seize.”
Dugald Graham’s History of the Rebellion.

With the solitary exception mentioned in the previous chapter, the whole people of Cromarty were loyal to the house of Hanover. They were all sound Protestants to the utmost of their ability, and never failed doing justice in a bumper to the “best in Christendom” but when the liquor was bad. It was therefore with no feelings of complacency, that, in the autumn of 1745, they learned that the Pretender, after landing in the western Highlands, had set off with a gathering of Gaelic Roman Catholics to take London from the King. They affirmed, however, that the redcoats were too numerous, and London too strong, to leave the enterprise a chance of success; and it was not until Cope had been set a-scampering, and the bayonets of England proved insufficient to defend it on the Scottish side, that they began to pity George Rex (poor man), and to talk about the downfall of the Kirk. Their attention, however, was called off from all such minor matters to a circumstance connected with the outbreaking which directly affected themselves. Parties of wild Highlanders, taking advantage of the defenceless state of the Lowlands, and the cause of the Pretender, went prowling about the country, robbing as the smith fought, “every man to his own handand stories of their depredations began to pour into the town. They were doing great skaith, it was said, to victual and drink, spulzieing women of their yam, and men of their shoes and bonnets; as for money, there was luckily very little in the country. Nor was it possible to conciliate them by any adaptation whatever of one’s politics to the Jacobite code. A man of Ferindonald, a genuine friend to the Stuart, had gone out to meet with them, and in the fulness of his heart, after perching himself on a hillock by the wayside, he continued to cry out, “You’re welcome ! you’re welcome!” from their first appearance until they had come up to him. “Welcomes or na welcomes,” said a bareheaded, barefooted Highlander, as stooping down he seized him by the ankles; “welcomes or na welcomes, thoir dho do brougan” (Give me your shoes.)

Every day brought a new story of the marauders;—a Navity tacksman, who had listened himself half crazy, and could speak or think of nothing else, was enough of himself to destroy the quiet of the whole parish. Some buried casks of meal under their barn floors, others chests of plaiding and yarn. The tacksman interred an immense gimal, containing five bolls of oatmeal, which escaped the rebels only to be devoured by the rats. So thoroughly had he prepared himself for the worst, that, when week after week went by, and still no Highlanders, he seemed actually disappointed. One morning, however, in the end of January 1746, he was called out to his cottage door to see something unusual on the hill of Eathie; a number of fairy-like figures seemed moving along the ridge, and then, as they descended in a dark compact body to the hollow beneath, there were seen to shoot out from them, at uncertain intervals, quick, sudden flashes, like lightnings from a cloud. “Och, och!” exclaimed the tacksman, who well knew what the apparition indicated, “the longest day that e’er came, even came at last.” And away he went to reside, until the return of quieter times, in a solitary cave of the hill.

The marauders entered the town about mid-day. They were armed every one after his own fashion, some with dirks and broadswords, some with pistols and fowling-pieces, and not a few with scythes, pikes, and Lochaber-axes. Some carried immense bunches of yam, some webs of plaiding, some bundles of shirts and stockings. Most of the men of the place, who would readily enough have joined issue with them at the cudgel, but bore no marked affection to broadswords and Lochaber-axes, had conveyed themselves out of the way, leaving their wives to settle with them as they best might. They entered the better-looking houses by half-dozens, turned the furniture topsy-turvy, emptied chests and drawers, did wonderful execution on dried salmon and hung beef, and set ale-barrels abroach. One poor woman, in attempting to rescue a bundle of yam, had her cheek laid open by a fellow who dashed the muzzle of his pistol into her face; another was thrown down and robbed of her shoes. There lived at this time one Nannie Miller, a matron of the place, who sold ale. She was a large-boned, amazon-looking woman, about six feet in height, of immense strength, and no ordinary share of courage. Two of the Highlanders entered her cottage, and with much good-nature (for they had had a long walk, she said) she set down before them a pint of her best ale and a basket of scones, with some dried fish. They ate and drank, and then rose to spulzie; but they were too few, as it proved, for the enterprise; for when one of them was engaged in ransacking a large meal-barrel, and the other in breaking open a chest, Nannie made a sudden onslaught, bundled the one fellow head-foremost into the barrel, and turning on his companion as he rushed in to the rescue, floored him with a single blow. The day was all her own in a twinkling; the Highlanders fled, one of them half-choked by the meal, the other more than half throttled by Nannie; but glad, notwithstanding, to get off so well.

In the middle of the spulzie a sloop of war hove in sight, and a boat was seen shooting out to meet her from under the rocks of the hill. Sail after sail was run out on her yards as soon as the boat touched her side, and she came careering up the Firth like an angry giant. The Highlanders gathered in the street, and, according to old Dunbar,

Fu’ loud in Ershe they hegowt to clatter,
And rouped like revin and ruke.

One of them, who seemed to have drunk freely, was hacking with his broadsword at the rails of a wooden bridge, and swearing furiously at the ship; and a little girl, who chanced to be passing with a jug of milk, was so terrified that she fell and broke the jug. “Poor sing, poor sing!” said the Highlander, as he raised her and wiped her face with the comer of his plaid, “hersel’ widna hurt a pit o’ you.” The party, in their retreat, took the road that passes towards the west, along the edge of the bay; and no sooner had the sloop cleared the intervening headland, than she began to fire on them. One of the bullets struck off a piece from a large granite boulder on the shore termed the Pindler, and in less than half a minute the Highlanders were scattered over the face of the hill. They did not again return to Cromarty. Though they fared better ifi their predatory excursions than most of their countrymen who accompanied the Prince, and transferred to their homes much of the “plenishing” of the Lowlands, it was observed that in few instances did their gains enrich their descendants. I once wrought in the same shed with an old mason, a native of the parish of Urquhart, who, in giving me a history of his early life, told me that his father had left at his death a considerable sum of money to himself and three brothers, and that not one of them was sober for two days together until they had squandered the whole. “And no wonder,” remarked another mason from the same parish, who was hewing beside him; “your father went out a-harrying in the Forty-Five, and muckle did he bring back with him, but it was ill gotten, and couldna last.”

As spring came on, a new set of stories bagan to pass current among the people of the town. The Pretender had failed, it was said, in his enterprise, and was falling back on the Highlands. But there was something anomalous in the stories; for it was affirmed that he was both running away and gaining all the battles. This they could not understand; and when, early in March, Lord Louden entered the town at the head of sixteen hundred men, in full retreat before the rebels, they began to ask whether it was customary for one flying army to pursue another. His Lordship dealt by them more hardly than even the marauders; for, after transporting his men across the ferry, he broke all their boats. “It’s a sair time for puir folk,” said an old fisherman when witnessing the destruction of his skiff; “gain King, gain Pretender, waes me, I’m the loser gain wha like.”

Amid all the surmises and uncertainties of the town’s-people, matters were fast drawing to a crisis with the Highlanders. On the 15th of April a sloop from Lossiemouth entered the Firth, and brought intelligence that Duke William and his army had crossed the Spey, and were on the march for Inverness, then occupied by the rebels. On the following morning nearly all the males of the place, and not a few of the women, had climbed the neighbouring hill to watch the progress of their march. The weather was dull and unpleasant. There was a cold breeze from the east, accompanied by a thick drizzling rain, and the hills of Moray and Inverness were girdled with wreaths of mist. The lower grounds, which lie along the Firth, looked dim and blue through the haze, and the eye vainly commanded the whole tract of country which stretches between Inverness and Nairn. A little after noon, however, the weather began to clear up, and a sailor, who had brought with him the ship-glass, thought he could discover something unusual on the moor of Culloden.

Every eye was turned in that direction. Suddenly there rose a little dense cloud of smoke, as if a volcano had burst out on the moor; then succeeded the booming of cannon and the rattle of musketry. “They are at it, God wi’ the right!” shouted out Donald Sandison; “ look, Sandy Wright, is the smoke no going the way o’ Inverness?” “It’s but the easterly haar,” said Sandy; “auld as I am, Donald, I could wish to be near enough to gae ae stroke for the king!” The smoke continued to rise in clouds that went rolling towards the west, and the roar of cannon to rebound among the hills. At length they could hear only the smart pattering of musketry, and the tide of battle seemed evidently sweeping towards Inverness. The cloud passed from the moor; and when, at intervals, a fresh burst shot up through the haze, it seemed to rise from among the fields in the vicinity of the town. Anon all was silence; and the people, after lingering till near nightfall, returned to their homes to tell that Duke William had beaten the rebels, and to drink healths to the King. They spoke always of the Duke’s army as “our folk,” and his victory as “our victory.” I have heard an old woman of the place repeat a rude song, expressive of their triumph on this occasion, which she had learned from her nurse when almost an infant. My memory has retained only one of the verses, and a horrible verse it is:—

Lovat’s head i* the pat,
Horns and a’ thegither.
We’ll mak brose o’ that,
An’ gie the swine their supper.

In after years they thought less hardly of the cause of the Stuarts; and I have heard some of their old men relate stories of the poor people who suffered at this time, with a good deal of feeling. There was a Highlander named Robertson, a man of rare wit and humour, who had been crippled of an arm at Culloden. He used, in after years, to come to the place as a sort of travelling merchant, and always met with much kindness from them. So much attached was he to the Prince that he would willingly have lost the other arm for him too. Another Highlander, who had also been wounded on the moor, was a great favourite with them likewise. On seeing the battle irretrievably lost, and further resistance unavailing, he was stealing warily out of the field, when two English dragoons came galloping up to him to cut him down. He turned round, drew a pistol from his belt, shot the foremost through the body, and then hurled his weapon at the head of the other, who immediately drew rein and rode off. The sword of the dying man wounded him in its descent in the fleshy part of the hand, between the thumb and the forefinger; and he retained the scar while he lived. There was another Highlander who resided near Kessock, who had vowed, immediately after the battle of Preston, that he would neither cut nor comb the hair of his head until Charles Stuart was placed on the throne of his ancestors. And he religiously observed his vow. My grandfather saw him twenty years after the battle. He was then a strange, grotesque-looking thing, not very unlike a huge cabbage set a-walking; for his hair stuck out nearly a foot on each side of his head, and was matted into a kind of felt. But truce with such stories! Fifty years ago they formed, an endless series; but they have now nearly all passed away, or only live, if I may so' express myself, in those echoes of the. departed generations which still faintly reveberate among the quieter recesses of the present. Of all the people who witnessed the smoke of Culloden from the hill of Cromarty I remember only three.

About eighteen years ago, when quite a boy, I was brought by a relation to see a very old man then on his death-bed, who resided in a small cottage among the woods of the hill. My kinsman for the twenty preceding years had lived with him on terms of the closest intimacy, and had been with him, about ten months before, when he met with an accident from a falling tree, by which he received so serious an injury that it proved the occasion of this his final illness. A thick darkness, however, had settled over all the events of his latter life, and he remembered neither his acquaintance of twenty years nor the accident. His daughter named the father of my friend, in the hope of awakening some early train of thought that might lead him into the more recent period; but his knowledge of even the father had commenced during the forty previous years, and his name sounded as strangely to him as that of his son. “He is a great-grandchild,” said the woman, “of your old friend Donald Eoy, the Nigg elder.” “Of Donald Roy!—a greatgrandchild of Donald Roy!” he exclaimed, holding out his hard withered hand; “oh, how glad I am to see him! How kind it is of him,” he added, “thus to visit a poor bedridden old man! I have now lived in the world for more than a hundred years, and during my long sojourn have known few men I could compare with Donald Roy.”

The old man raised himself in his bed, for his strength had not yet quite failed him, and began to relate to my friend, in a full unbroken voice, some of the stories regarding the Nigg elder, which I have imparted to the reader in a former chapter. His mind was full of the early past, and he seemed to see its events all the more clearly from the darkness of the intervening period —just as the stars may be discerned at noonday at the bottom of a deep mine, impenetrably gloomy in all its nearer recesses, when they are invisible from the summit of a hill. He ran over the incidents of his early life. He told how, in his thirtieth year, when the country resounded with the clash of arms, he had quitted his peaceful avocations as a gardener, and joined the army of the king. He fought at Culloden, and saw the clans broken before the bayonets of Cumberland. His heart bled, he said, for his countrymen. They lay bleeding on the moor, or were scattered over it; and he saw the long swords of the horsemen plied incessantly in the pursuit. Still more melancholy were his feelings, when, from a hill of Inverness-shire, he looked down on a wide extent of country, and saw the smoke of a hundred burning cottages ascending in the calm morning air.—He died a few weeks after our visit, aged a hundred years and ten months. His death took place in winter ;—it was an open, boisterous winter, that bore heavy on the weak and aged; and in less than a month after, two very old men besides were also gathered to their fathers. And they, too, had had a share in the Forty-five.

The younger was a ship-boy at the time, and the ship in which he sailed was captured with a lading of Government stores, by a party of the rebels. He was named Robertson, and there were several of the Robertsons of Struan among the party. He was soon on excellent terms with them ; and on one occasion, when rallying some of the Struans on their undertaking, he spoke of their leader as the Pretender. “Beware, my boy,” said an elderly Highlander, “and do not again repeat that word ; there are men in the ship who, if they but heard you, would perhaps take your life for it; for remember we are not all Robertsons.” The other old man who died at this time, had been an officer, it was said, in the Prince’s army; but he was a person of a distant, reserved cast of character; and there was little known of his history, except that he had been bred to the profession of medicine, and had been unfortunate through his adherence to the Prince. It was remarked by the town’s-people that his spirit and manners were superior to his condition.

Among the old papers in Sandison’s scrutoire, I found a curious version of the 137th Psalm, the production of some unfortunate Jacobite of this period. It seems to have been written at Paris shortly after the failure of the enterprise, and when the Prince and his party were in no favour at court; for the author, a man apparently of keen feelings, applies, with all the sorrowful energy of a wounded spirit, the curses denounced against Edom and Babylon to England and France.


Br the sad Seine we sat and wept
When Scotland we thought on:
Reft of her brave and true, and all
Her ancient spirit gone.

“Revenge,” the sons of Gallia said,
Revenge your native land;
Already your insulting foes
Crowd the Batavian strand.”

How shall the sons of freedom e’er
For foreign conquest fight?
How wield anew the luckless sword
That fail’d in Scotland’s right?

If thee, O Scotland! I forget
Till fails my latest breath,
May foul dishonour stain my name,
Be mine a coward’s death!

May sad remorse for fancied guilt
My future days employ,
If all thy sacred rights are not
Above my chiefest joy!

Remember England’s children,
Lord, Who on Drumossie day,
Deaf to the voice of kindred love,
“Raze, raze it quite,” did say.

And thou, proud Gallia faithless friend
Whose ruin is not far,
Just Heaven on thy devoted head
Pour all the woes of war!

When thou thy slaughter’d little ones
And ravish’d dames shalt aee,
Such help, such pity mayst thou have
As Scotland had from thee.

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