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Reign of George the Second, 1727-1745, pp.398-408.

THE accession of George II., while not disturbing in England that predominance of the great Whig nobles which had existed since the Revolution, and leaving the practical administration, as before, in the hands of Sir Robert Walpole, produced no change in the system of improvement which the Union had inaugurated. Under the rule of the Argylls, the Dalrymples, and one or two other eminent Whig families, with the mild and virtuous Duncan Forbes as Lord Advocate, the country enjoyed peace, and was enabled to develop its long dormant energies, in the pursuits of agriculture, of manufactures, and of commerce. All but a few of the Highland clans had apparently given their final submission to the Guelph dynasty; and though the Stuart cause was known to be upheld by some, it was generally thought that there was very little chance of further civil war on that subject.

In 1744, Great Britain was engaged in a war which involved most of the great powers of Europe. The French minister, Cardinal de Tencin, conceived that an invasion of England on behalf of the House of Stuart would be an excellent diversion in favour of the arms of his country. The time was in reality long past for any effective movement of this kind. New men and new things had extinguished all rational hopes in the Jacobite party. Still, there were some chiefs in the Highlands who had never abandoned the Stuart cause. In the Lowlands, there were discontents which seemed capable of being turned to some account in effecting the desired revolution. Prince Charles Edward, the eldest son of the so-called Pretender, was an ardent-minded youth, eager to try a last chance for the restoration of his family. The Cardinal really made some preparations for an expedition to be conducted by the Prince; but it was prevented by a storm and an opposing English armament, from leaving the French coast. Disappointed of the promised aid, Charles secretly voyaged with seven friends to the western coast of Inverness-shire, and, landing there towards the close of July 1745, was soon surrounded by a few hundreds of friendly Camerons and Macdonalds. He raised his standard at Glenfinnan on the 19th of August, and expressed himself as determined, with such as would follow him, to win back a crown, or perish in the attempt. The rebellion came to an end on Culloden Moor, near Inverness (April 16, 1746), the Highland army being broken and dispersed with great slaughter. Prince Charles fled to the west coast, and after several months of fugitive life, during which he endured incredible hardships, escaped back to France.



Mar. 1. – At four o’clock in the morning, a smart shock of an earthquake was experienced in Edinburgh and throughout the south of Scotland, is not in other quarters. At Selkirk, every house was shaken, and some people were tumbled out of bed, but no damage was done.

Mar. 27. – The conflict between the Bank of Scotland and its young and pretentious Whig rival, the Royal Bank, which had been established the previous year, led to a temporary stoppage of payments at the former establishment, the last that ever took place. The Royal Bank ‘having all the public money given in to them, has at present worsted [the Bank of Scotland], and run them out of cash.’ In their own advertisement on the occasion, they attribute the calamity to ‘the great embarrassment that has been upon credit and circulation of money in payments for some months bygone, arising from causes and by means well known both in city and country.’ In this very crisis, the Bank announced its dividend of four per cent. on its capital stock, but appropriating it as part of ten per cent. now called up from the shareholders, ‘the other sixty pounds Scots on each share to be paid in before the 15th of June.’ The directors at the same time ordered their notes to bear interest during the time that payment should be suspended.

It must have been a draught of very bitter gall to the Old Bank, when their young rival came ostentatiously forward with an announcement that, for the ‘relief of such people as wanted to go to market,’ they would give specie for the twenty-shilling notes of the Bank of Scotland till further notice.

The Bank of Scotland resumed paying its twenty-shilling notes on the 27th of June.

Nov. – The influenza, in a very virulent form, after passing over the Continent, came to England, and a fortnight after had made its way into Scotland. A cold and cough, with fever, laid hold of nearly every person, sometimes in a moment as they stood on their feet, and in some instances attended with raving. Wodrow of course entertained hopes that Glasgow would receive a good share of the calamity; but it proved less severe there than in some other places. He adverts, however, to the fact, that, owing to the ailment, ‘there was no hearing sermon for some time.’

Nov. 7. – ‘Yesterday, one Margaret Gibson, for the crime of theft, was drummed through the city in a very disgraceful manner. Over her neck was fixed a board with spring and bells, which rung as she walked. At some inches distant from her face was fixed a false-face, over which was hung a fox’s tail. In short, she was a very odd spectacle.’ – Edinburgh Evening Courant.


Oct. 26. – One William Muir, brother of two men who had recently been hanged at Ayr for theft, was this day tried before a jury, for housebreaking, by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, acting as ‘High Sheriff within burgh.’ The man was condemned to death, and the sentence was duly executed on the ensuing 2d of December, he dying penitent.

It seems strange to us, but about this time the condemnation of criminals to capital punishment by sheriffs of counties and by the chief-magistrate of Edinburgh was by no means infrequent, being entirely in accordance with the statutory arrangements of the country. Nay, more, great territorial lords, especially in the Highlands, still acted upon their ancient privileges of pit and gallows. It is related that the Duke of Athole one day received at Blair an application from his baron-bailie for pardon to a man whom he had condemned to be hanged for theft, but who was a person of such merits otherwise that it seemed a pity to put justice in force against him. The Lord President Forbes, who had stopped to dine with his Grace in the course of a journey to Edinburgh, expressed his surprise that the power of pardoning a condemned criminal should be attributed to any person but the king. ‘Since I have the power of punishing,’ said the duke, ‘it is but right that I should have the power of pardoning.’ Then, calling a servant, he quietly added: ‘Send an express to Logierait, and order Donald Stewart, presently under sentence, to be set at liberty.’


Nov. – ‘William Crawford, janitor of the High School at Edinburgh, somewhat in years, having been thrice proclaimed in the kirk, went thither with his friends, and stood some hours expecting his bride. At last he received a ticket from her in these terms: “William, you must know I am pre-engaged. I am so. I never could like a burnt cuttie. I have now by the hand my sonsie, menseful strapper, with whom I intend to pass my youthful days. You know, old age and youth cannot agree together. I must then be excused if I tell you I am not your humble servant.” The honest man, not taking it much to heart, only said: “Come, let us at least keep the feast on a feast-day. Dinner will be ready. let us go drink, and drive care away. May never a greater misfortune attend an honest man!” Back to dinner they went, and from the company convened the bridegroom got a hundred merks and all charges defrayed; with which he was as well satisfied as he who got madam.’ – Caledonian Mercury.


Feb. – On a stormy night in this month, Colonel Francis Charteris died at his seat of Stonyhill, near Musselburgh. The pencil of Hogarth, which represents him as the old profligate gentleman in the first print of the Harlot’s Progress, has given historical importance to this extraordinary man. Descended from an old family of very moderate fortune in Dumfriesshire – Charteris of Amisfield – he acquired an enormous fortune by gambling and usury, and thus was enabled to indulge in his favourite vices on a scale which might be called magnificent. A single worthy trait has never yet been adduced to redeem the character of Charteris, though it is highly probable that, in some particulars, that character has been exaggerated by popular rumour.

A contemporary assured us that the fortune of Charteris amounted to the then enormous sum of fourteen thousand a year; of which ten thousand was left to this grandson, Francis, second son of the Earl of Wemyss.

‘Upon his death-bed,’ says the same writer, ‘he was exceedingly anxious to know if there were any such thing as hell; and said, were he assured there was no such place (being easy as to heaven), he would give thirty thousand… Mr Cumming the minister attended him on his death-bed, He asked his daughter, who is exceedingly narrow, what he should give him. She replied that it was unusual to give anything on such occasions. “Well, then,” says Charteris, “let is have another flourish from him!” so calling his prayers. There accidentally happened, the night he died, a prodigious hurricane, which the vulgar ascribed to his death.’


Aug. – Isabel Walker, under sentence of death at Dumfries for child-murder, obtained a reprieve through unexpected means. According to a letter dated Edinburgh, August 10, 1738, ‘this unhappy creature was destitute of friends, and had none to apply for her but an only sister, a girl of a fine soul, that overlooked the improbability of success, and helpless and alone, went to London to address the great; and solicited so well, that she got for her, first, a reprieve, and now a remission. Such another instance of onerous friendship can scarce be shown; it well deserved the attention of the greatest, who could not but admire the virtue, and on that account engage in her cause.’

Helen Walker, who acted this heroic part, was the daughter of a small farmer in the parish of Irongray. Her sister, who had been under her care, having concealed her pregnancy, it came to be offered to Helen as a painful privilege, that she could save the accused if she could say, on the trial, that she had received any communication from Isabel regarding her condition. She declared it to be impossible that she should declare a falsehood even to save a sister’s life; and condemnation accordingly took place. Helen then made a journey on foot to London, in the hope of being able to plead for her sister’s life; and, having almost by accident gained the ear and interest of the Duke of Argyll, she succeeded in an object which most persons would have said beforehand was next to unattainable.

Isabel afterwards married her lover, and lived at Whitehaven for many years. Helen survived till 1791, a poor peasant woman, living by the sale of eggs and other small articles, or doing country work, but always distinguished by a quiet self-respect, which prevented any one from ever talking to her of this singular adventure of her early days. Many years after she had been laid in Irongray kirkyard, a lady who had seen and felt an interest in her communicated her story to Sir Walter Scott, who expanded it into a tale (The Heart of Midlothian), of which the chief charm lies in the character and actings of the self-devoted heroine. It was one of the last, and not amongst the least worthy, acts of the great fictionist to raise a monument over her grave, with the following inscription:

‘This stone was erected by the author of Waverley in Memory of HELEN WALKER, who died in the year of God 1791. This humble individual practised in real life the virtues with which fiction has invested the imaginary character of JEANIE DEANS; refusing the slightest departure from veracity, even to save the life of a sister, she nevertheless showed her kindness and fortitude in rescuing her from the severity of the law, at the expense of personal exertions which the time rendered as difficult as the motive was laudable. – Respect the grave of poverty, when combined with love of truth and dear affection.’


The potato – introduced from its native South AMerican ground by Raleigh into Ireland, and so extensively cultivated there in the time of the civil wars, as to be a succour to the poor when all cereal crops had been destroyed by the soldiery – transplanted thence to England, but so little cultivated there towards the end of the seventeenth century, as to be sold in 1694 at sixpence or eightpence a pound – is first heard of in Scotland in 1701, when the Duchess of Buccleuch’s household-book mentions a peck of the esculent as brought from Edinburgh, and costing 2s. 6d. We hear of it in 1733 as used occasionally at supper in the house of the Earl of Eglinton, in Ayrshire. About this time, it was beginning to be cultivated in gardens, but still with a hesitation about its moral character, for o reader of Shakspeare requires to be told that some of the more uncontrollable passions of human nature were supposed to be favoured by its use.


Oct. 10. – Public attention was strongly roused by an accident of an uncommon kind which happened in the lowlands of Ross-shire. The church of Fearn parish was an old Gothic structure covered with a heavy roof of flagstone. This day, being Sunday, while the parishioners were assembled at worship, the roof and part of the side-wall gave way, under the pressure of a load of prematurely fallen snow; and the bulk of the people present were buried under the ruins. The fortunate arrangement of the seats of the gentry in the side recesses saved most of that class from injury; and the minister, Mr Donald Ross, was protected by the sounding-board of his pulpit. There chanced to be present Mr James Robertson, the minister of Lochbroom, a man of uncommon personal strength and great dexterity and courage. He, planting his shoulder under a falling lintel, sustained it till a number of the people escaped. Forty poor people were dug out dead, and in such a state of mutilation that it was found necessary to huddle them all into one grave.


May. – Owing to a severe spring, a malady called ‘fever and cold’ prevailed in Edinburgh, and was spreading all over the country. On Sunday, the 8th May, fifty sick people were prayed for in the city churches, and in the preceding week there had been seventy burials in the Greyfriars, being three times the usual number.


For some years the use of tea had been creeping in amongst nearly all ranks of the people. It was thought by many reflecting persons, amongst whom was the enlightened Lord President Forbes, to be in many respects an improper diet, expensive, wasteful of time, and calculated to render the population weakly and effeminate. During the course of this year, there was a vigorous movement all over Scotland for getting the use of tea abated. Towns, parishes, and counties passed resolutions condemnatory of the Chinese leaf, and pointing strongly to the manlier attractions of beer. The tenants of William Fullarton of Fullarton, in Ayrshire, in a bond they entered into on the occasion, thus delivered themselves: ‘We, being all farmers by profession, think it needless to restrain ourselves formally from indulging in that foreign and consumptive luxury called tea; for when we consider the slender constitutions of many of higher rank, amongst whom it is used, we conclude that it would be but an improper diet to qualify us for the more robust and manly parts of our business; and therefore we shall only give our testimony against it, and leave the enjoyment of it altogether to those who can afford to be weak, indolent, and useless.’


Oct. – Lord Lovat, writing to the Lord President Forbes on the 20th of this month, adverts to the effect of the civil broils in giving encouragement to men of prey in the Highlands. He says: ‘This last fortnight, my cousin William [Fraser], Struie’s uncle, that is married to Kilbockie’s daughter, and who is a very honest man, and she a good woman, had twenty fine cows stolen from him. The country [that is, the country-people] went upon The track, and went into Lochaber and to Rannoch, and came up with the thieves in my Lord Breadalbane’s forest of Glenurchy. The thieves, upon seeing the party that pursued them, abandoned the cattle, and ran off; and William brought home his cattle, but had almost died, and all that was with him, of fatigue, cold, and hunger; but, indeed, it is the best-followed track that ever I heard of in any country. You see how loose the whole country is, when four villains durst come a hundred miles, and take up the best cattle they could find in this country; for they think there is no law, and that makes them so insolent.’

The ancient practice of stealing cattle in the Highlands is well known, as well as the system of compromise called black-mail, by which honest people were enabled in some degree to secure themselves against such losses. Down to 1745, there does not appear to have been any very sensible abatement of this state of things, notwithstanding the keeping up of the armed companies, professedly for the maintenance of law and order. Pennant informs us that many of the lifters of black-mail ‘were wont to insert an article by which they were to be released from their agreement in case of any civil commotion; thus, at the breaking out of the last rebellion, a Macgregor (who assumed the name of Graham), who had with the strictest honour till that event preserved his friends’ cattle, immediately sent them word that from that time they were out of his protection, and must now take care of themselves.’

Mr Pennant also speaks of one ‘Barrisdale’ as a person who at this time stood in great notoriety as a levier of black-mail. His father had obtained from one of the Glengarry family, on wadset, permission to occupy a considerable tract of ground named Barrisdale, on the south side of Loch Hourn, and from this he had hereditarily derived the appellative by which he was most generally known, while his real name was Coll MacDonell, and his actual residence was at Inverie, on Loch Nevis. At the breaking out of the rebellion, Barrisdale and his son acted as partisans of the Stuart cause, the latter in an open manner, the consequence of which was his being named in the act of attainder. During the frightful time of vengeance that followed upon Culloden, the father made some sort of submission to the government troops, which raised a rumour that he had undertaken to assist in securing and delivering up the fugitive prince. What truth or falsehood there might be in the allegation, no one could now undertake to certify; but certain it is that, when a party of the Camerons were preparing, in September 1746, to leave the country with Prince Charles in a French vessel, they seized the Barrisdales, father and son, as culprits, and carried them to France, where they underwent imprisonment, first at St Malo, and afterwards at Saumur, for about a year.

The younger Barrisdale, making his escape from the French prison, returned to the wilds of Inverness-shire, and was there allowed for a time to remain in peace. The father, liberated when Prince Charles was expelled from France, also returned to Scotland; but he had not been more than two days at his house in Knoydart, when a party from Glenelg apprehended him. Being placed as a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle, he died there in June 1750, after a confinement of fourteen months. The son was in like manner seized in July 1753, in a wood on Loch-Hourn-side, along with four or five other gentlemen in the same circumstances, and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. He was condemned upon the act of attainder to die in the Grassmarket on the 22d of May 1754, and while he lay under sentence, his wife, who attended him, brought a daughter into the world. He was, however, reprieved from time to time, and ultimately, after nine years’ confinement, received a pardon in March 1762, took the oath of allegiance to George III., and was made a captain in Colonel Graeme’s regiment, being the same which was afterwards so noted under the name of the Forty-second. When Mr John Knox made his tour of the West Highlands in 1786, to propagate the faith in herring-curing and other modern arts of peace, he found ‘Barrisdale’ residing at the place from which he was named. ‘He lives,’ says the traveller, ‘in silent retirement upon a slender income, and seems by his appearance, conversation, and deportment, to have merited a better fate. He is about six feet high, proportionably made, and was reckoned one of the handsomest men of the age. He is still a prisoner, in a more enlarged sense, and has no society excepting his own family, and that of Mr Macleod of Arnisdale. Living on opposite sides of the loch, their communications are not frequent.’

It seems not inappropriate that this record of old life of Scotland should end with an article in which we find the associations of the lawless times of the Highlands mingling with the industrial proceedings of a happier age. A further extension of our DOMESTIC ANNALS would show how our northern soil became, in the course of little more than a lifetime, one of the fairest scenes of European civilisation. Fully to describe this period – its industries, its rapid growth in intelligence and taste, in literature, science, and art – would form a pleasing task; but it is one which would need to be worked out on a plan different from the present work, and which I should gladly see undertaken by some son of Caledonia who may have more power than I to do her story justice, though he cannot love or respect her more.*


*  With respect to Chambers’ final paragraph, relating how the Highlands had progressed up to his time of writing in 1858, I would point you firmly toward McLeod’s ‘Gloomy Memories‘ which really goes into how the Highlands and Highlanders were treated until 1860ish.
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