Glencoe, pp.673-678.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   GLENCOE, a wild and gloomy vale in the district of Lorn, in Argyleshire, near the head of Loch-Etive; extending from Ballachulish in a south-east direction 10 miles. It lies in the united parishes of Lismore and Appin. “The scenery of this valley,” says a local authority quoted by Pennant, “is far the most picturesque of any in the Highlands, being so wild and uncommon that it never fails to attract the eye of every stranger of the least degree of taste or sensibility. The entrance to it is strongly marked by the craggy mountain of Buachal-ety, a little west of the King’s house. All the other mountains of Glencoe resemble it, and are evidently but naked and solid rocks, rising on each side perpendicularly to a great height from a flat narrow bottom, so that in many places they seem to hang over, and make approaches, as they aspire, towards each other. The tops of the ridge of hills on one side are irregularly serrated for three or four miles, and shot in places into spires, which form the most magnificent part of the scenery above Ken-Lock-[Ceann-loch] Leven.” “There is no valley in Scotland,” says another authority, “so absolutely wild and singular in its features as Glencoe, in the district of Appin, Argyleshire. Entering the glen from the eastern extremity, the mountains rise in stupendous masses all around, forming an amphitheatre, vast in extent, and preserving a stillness and solemnity almost terrific, which is heightened by the desolate appearance of the vale; and, perchance, the hollow scream of a solitary eagle may excite a temporary feeling of horror. The bare rocks immediately in front shoot up perpendicularly, while those more distant appear in an innumerable variety of fantastic forms; and their singularity is increased with the deep furrows worn by the winter-torrents from the top of the mountains. Immense masses of rock are also seen near the path through the glen, which, in the course of ages, have been loosened from the side of the mountain, and hurled along with the currents of rain to the depth of the glen. In length, Glencoe is nearly 9 miles, without the least appearance of any human habitation, or even vegetation to support a few tame animals connected with the most humble household. Its general appearance has a strong tendency to excite a feeling, that the place has been proscribed by Heaven as the habitation either of man or beast.” 

Amid this vast, tremendous solitude, 

Where nought is heard except the wild wind’s sigh, 

Or savage raven’s deep and hollow cry, 

With awful thought the spirit is imbued! 

Around – around for many a weary mile, 

The Alpine masses stretch, the heavy cloud 

Cleaves round their brows, concealing with its shroud 

Bleak, barren rocks, unthawed by Summer’s smile. 

Nought but the desert mountains and lone sky  

Are here:- birds sing not, and the wandering bee 

Searches for flowers in vain; nor shrub, nor tree, 

Nor human habitation greets the eye 

Of heart-struck pilgrim; while around him lie 

Silence and desolation, what is he! 

The road from Ballachulish through this glen is carried along the edge of Loch-Leven about two or three miles, with numerous indentures. “In many places, where it has been blasted out of the perpendicular rock, a parapet, on the side next the water, renders it perfectly secure. The tide here, though it has, in fact, but one inlet, seems to insinuate itself between the openings of several lofty mountains, running in different directions. Such a circumstance is the most favourable thing for picturesque effect which can happen to a watery expanse; and consequently lakes of this description are always more striking than those which flow between straight mountain-ridges. Here are three separate groups, each of the second altitude of Scottish Alps, and forming successively Corry-yusachan, Glenoe, and Glencoe. The landscape is continually varied, by cottages, by the great slate-work of Ballachulish, by a lime-kiln, and various other objects on the wayside; by the islands in the lake; and by the woods and residences at the base of the mountains. At the point where the river Coe joins the lake is Invercoe. The old house, the scene of the infamous massacre, is at a little distance, a perfect ruin. It is an object which cannot be beheld without a horror which is heightened by the solemn majesty of the surrounding scene. Our contemplations of human vice and weakness, however melancholy in themselves, receive a tinge of dignity when they are associated with the grand features of Nature; and even the indignation which we feel at the murder of the MacDonalds, is tranquillized by the sublime scenery of Glencoe. Not that the impression is therefore weakened. It sinks deeper into the mind: and that which might otherwise be a passing emotion, becomes a fixed and serious habit. The particulars of this detestable event are too well-known to need repetition; but the lesson which it inculcates is too important to be forgotten. May it never be addressed to our feelings in vain! The head of Loch-Leven is excluded from view by Scurachie; and the road quitting its banks, turns on the right, to Glencoe, the entrance of which I shall describe in the words of my friend Walker, who preceded me in this part of the tour. ‘After riding two or three miles,’ says he, ‘up the glen, I was disappointed by the scenery, which, though on a bold scale, was nothing very different from what I had seen in other Highland valleys; and I inquired of a man, who was mending the road, whether the glen grew wilder as I proceeded. ‘Indeed,’ said he, ‘it grows aye the langer the waur.’ I therefore moved on, and had gone but a very little further, when the sun was suddenly eclipsed by a mountain. As it was about ten o’clock in the morning of the 5th of September, and as I was at a very considerable distance from the base of the hill, its height and steepness may be easily conceived. Its face was wholly of rock, almost literally perpendicular: and it rose, like a huge black wall, from the margin of a small lake formed by the river. While I was gazing at this object, proceeding slowly, and getting more abreast of a narrow opening between this and a nearer hill, a pointed rock, which rose to a height far beyond both, came gradually into view. It seemed to lean forward, to the opening of the glen, and having a round patch of snow on its front, looked like a one-eyed Cyclops, bending from an embrasure in this gigantic rampart. The beauty of the lake, and of a pretty fall on the river, were hardly to be noticed after objects on so grand a scale.’ Entering here the narrow part of the glen which bends eastward, you behold, on both sides, mountains of naked crags shooting up to the skies in the wildest and most terrific forms; which, when the thick curtain of mist from above is let down upon them, seem to form the barrier to a gloomy region of everlasting night. Through this glen, the high road to Tayndrum is led, and is, for the most part, tolerably perfect; but it cannot be kept so, without very considerable trouble in removing the vast torrents of stone which are continually brought down by the tempests, spreading, as they descend, to the width of 300 yards, or more. In wet weather, also, the mountain-precipices form one continued cataract, the water pouring, in every direction, down their rifts. Such a road, it may be imagined, cannot easily be travelled in a carriage; yet I have known ladies who have passed through it in a chaise, at night, during a tremendous storm of thunder and lightning. In no other part of Britain have I ever seen mountain-summits so wholly consisting of bare crags, as here. Even the herdsmen, and hunters, who are best acquainted with them, find it frequently difficult and dangerous to follow the straying sheep or wild roe-buck. I knew one gentleman who, in pursuit of his game, had advanced so far on one of the highest ridges, that he could only creep backward on his hands and knees, without turning his body. Another, of whom I heard, had a more miraculous escape. He was met, in one of the narrowest passes, by an old blind deer, with which, not being able to turn it back, he struggled, until they both fell together, several hundred feet down the rocks. Stunned by the concussion, he did not recover for some hours; but when he opened his eyes, he found the deer, which had broken his fall, lying dead under him. Mr. Wordsworth – one of the few poets of modern days who deign to consult Nature – has beautifully touched on those accidents, to which a mountainous country is peculiarly liable, in the ‘Brothers,’ a local eclogue, of a new and original species. The subject of that interesting poem is not unlike an event which happened here a little before my arrival. A young girl, the only daughter of her parents, and generally beloved by her companions, incautiously hastening after a lamb, down a declivity, wet with the morning dew, and consequently slippery, missed her footing, and was instantly dashed to pieces on the rocks. There is a degree of juvenile ambition, sharpened by curiosity, which often prompts one to scale these seemingly inaccessible cliffs. About the middle of the glen, at a great height, in the face of a mountain, is a yawning chasm, of between 200 and 300 feet. It forms a vast cave, of which the country-people relate wonders, though I could not learn with certainty that any person had ever explored it. A guide, therefore, was useless; a companion might only have been troublesome; and without expecting to reach it, I ascended alone, with the hope of getting a nearer view of the crags by which it is formed. After some hours of painful and persevering toil, I climbed beyond the height to which sheep go in search of food, and was on the highest border of vegetation: all beyond was bare rock; but, alas! the cave was still some hundred feet above me; and I reaped nothing, but the satisfaction of viewing this wonderful glen, from a point in which it has been contemplated by few travellers, and of learning experimentally the magnitude of those great rifts which from below appear to be mere roughnesses in the face of the rock. The pencil can give but an inadequate idea of objects so immense and savagely grand. The finer features – for even amidst Nature’s mightiest works are frequently found traces of the minutest beauty – the finer features afford subjects for many a partial sketch, which the artist may seek, at his leisure, among the dells and chasms. Between some of the mountains are woody passes, communicating with other glens. Through them descend burns, forming fine cascades, and pouring their waters into rocky basins and hidden pools. Near one of these we sat to eat some refreshment, provided for us by the care of Mrs. Stewart, in a quiet, close scene of the most romantic nature. On one hand was a waterfall sparkling in the sun; on the other, its stream flowed deep, and still, between those rocks which overshadowed us, and formed our seat and table; whilst above them appeared the lofty mountain-tops, awfully grand and sublime.” [Stoddart’s ‘Remarks,’ vol. ii. pp. 26-32.] A chapel in connexion with the Establishment has recently been built in Glencoe. 

   Glencoe has acquired a mournful historical celebrity by the cruel massacre of its unsuspecting inhabitants, in 1691. King William had published a proclamation, inviting the Highlanders who had been in arms for James II. to accept of a general amnesty before the 1st of January, on pain of military execution after that period. In common with the other chiefs who had supported the cause of King James, Mackean or Alexander Macdonald of Glencoe resolved to avail himself of the indemnity offered by the Government; and accordingly proceeded to Fort-William to take the required oaths, where he arrived on the 31st day of December, 1691, being the last day allowed by the proclamation for taking the oaths. He immediately presented himself to Colonel Hill, the governor of Fort-William, and required him to administer the oath of allegiance to the Government; but the colonel declined to act, On the ground, that under the proclamation the civil magistrate alone could administer them. Glencoe remonstrated with Hill on account of the exigency of the case, as there was not any magistrate whom he could reach before the expiration of that day, but Hill persisted in his resolution. He, however, advised Glencoe to proceed instantly to Inverary, and gave him a letter to Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinlass, sheriff of Argyleshire, begging of him to receive Glencoe as “a lost sheep,” and to administer the necessary oaths to him. Hill, at the same time, gave Glencoe a personal protection under his hand, and gave him an assurance that no proceeding should be instituted against him under the proclamation, till he should have an opportunity of laying his case before the King or the Privy-council. Glencoe left Fort-William immediately, and so great was his anxiety to reach Inverary with as little delay as possible, that although his way lay through mountains almost impassable, and although the country was covered with a deep snow, he proceeded on his journey without even stopping to see his family, though he passed within half-a-mile of his own house. At Barcaldine he was detained twenty-four hours by Captain Drummond. On arriving at Inverary, Sir Colin Campbell was absent, and he had to wait three days till his return, Sir Colin having been prevented from reaching Inverary sooner, on account of the badness of the weather. As the time allowed by the proclamation for taking the oaths had expired, Sir Colin declined at first to swear Glencoe, alleging that it would be of no use to take the oaths; but Glencoe having first importuned him with tears to receive from him the oath of allegiance, and having thereafter threatened to protest against the sheriff should he refuse to act, Sir Colin yielded, and administered the oaths to Glencoe and his attendants on the 6th of January. Glencoe, thereupon, returned home in perfect reliance that having done his utmost to comply with the injunction of the Government, he was free from danger. 

   Three days after the oaths were taken, Sir Colin wrote Hill, acquainting him of what he had done, and that Glencoe had undertaken to get all his friends and followers to follow his example; and about the same time he sent the letter which he had received from Hill, and a certificate that Glencoe had taken the oath of allegiance, together with instructions to lay the same before the Privy-council, and to inform him whether or not the council received the oath. The paper on which the certificate that Glencoe had taken the oaths was written, contained other certificates of oaths which had been administered within the time fixed, but Sir Gilbert Elliot, the clerk of the Privy-council, refused to receive the certificate relating to Glencoe as irregular. Campbell, thereupon, waited upon Lord Aberuchil, a privy-councillor, and requested him to take the opinion of some members of the council, who accordingly spoke to Lord Stair and other privy-councillors; all of whom gave an opinion that the certificate could not be received without a warrant from the King. Instead, however, of laying the matter before the Privy-council, or informing Glencoe of the rejection of the certificate, that he might petition the King. Campbell perfidiously defaced the certificate, and gave in the paper on which it was written to the clerks of the council.1 That no time, however, might be lost in enforcing the penalties in the proclamation, now that the time allowed for taking the oath of allegiance had expired, instructions of rather an equivocal nature, signed and countersigned by the King on the 11th of January, were sent down by young Stair to Sir Thomas Livingston on the same day, enclosed in a letter from the secretary of same date. By the instructions, Livingston was ordered “to march the troops against the rebels who had not taken the benefit of the indemnity, and to destroy them by fire and sword;” but lest such a course might render them desperate, he was allowed to “give terms and quarters, but in this manner only, that chieftains and heritors, or leaders, be prisoners of war, their lives only safe, and all other things in mercy, they taking the oath of allegiance; and the community taking the oath of allegiance, and rendering their arms, and submitting to the government, are to have quarters, and indemnity for their lives and fortunes, and to be protected from the soldiers.” As a hint to Livingston how to act under the discretionary power with which these instructions vested him, Dalrymple says in his letter containing them: “I have no great kindness to Keppoch nor Glencoe, and it is well that people are in mercy, and then just now my Lord Argyle tells me that Glencoe hath not taken the oath, at which I rejoice. It is a great work of charity to be exact in rooting out that damnable sect, the worst of the Highlands.” The purport of this letter could not be misunderstood; but lest Livingston might not feel disposed to imbrue his hands in the blood of Glencoe and his people, additional instructions bearing the date of 16th January, and also signed and countersigned by King William, were despatched to Livingston by the master of Stair, ordering him to extirpate the whole clan.2 In the letter containing these instructions, Dalrymple informs Livingston that “the king does not at all incline to receive any after the diet but in mercy,” but he artfully adds, “but for a just example of vengeance, I entreat the thieving tribe of Glencoe may be rooted out to purpose.” Lest, however, Livingston might hesitate, a duplicate of these additional instructions was sent at the same time by Secretary Dalrymple to Colonel Hill, the governor of Fort-William, with a letter of an import similar to that sent to Livingston.3 

   Preparatory to putting the butchering warrant in execution, a party of Argyle’s regiment, to the number of 120 men, under the command of Captain Campbell of Glenlyon, was ordered to proceed to Glencoe, and take up their quarters there, about the end of January or beginning of February. On approaching the glen, they were met by John Macdonald, the elder son of the chief, at the head of about twenty men, who demanded from Campbell the reason of his coming into a peaceful country with a military force: Glenlyon, and two subalterns who were with him, explained that they came as friends, and that their sole object was to obtain suitable quarters, where they could conveniently collect the arrears of cess and hearth-money – a new tax laid on by the Scottish parliament in 1690 – in proof of which, Lieutenant Lindsay produced the instructions of Colonel Hill to that effect. The officers having given their parole of honour that they came without any hostile intentions, and that no harm would be done to the persons or properties of the chief and his tenants, they received a kindly welcome, and were hospitably entertained by Glencoe and his family till the fatal morning of the massacre. Indeed, so familiar was Glenlyon, that scarcely a day passed that he did not visit the house of Alexander Macdonald, the younger son of the chief, who was married to his niece, and take his “morning drink,” agreeably to the most approved practice of Highland hospitality. If Secretary Dalrymple imagined that Livingston was disinclined to follow his instructions he was mistaken; for immediately on receipt of them, he wrote Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, who had been fixed upon by the secretary to be the executioner, expressing his satisfaction that Glencoe had not taken the oath within the period prescribed, and urging him now that a “fair occasion” offered for showing that his garrison served for some use, and as the order to him from the court was positive, not to spare any that had not come timeously in, and desiring that he would begin with Glencoe, and spare nothing of what belongs to them, “but not to trouble the government with prisoners,” or in other words, to massacre every man, woman, and child. Hamilton, however, did not take any immediate steps for executing this inhuman order. In the meantime, the master of Stair was not inactive in inciting his blood-hounds to the carnage, and accordingly on the 30th of January he wrote two letters, one to Livingston, and the other to Hill, urging them on. Addressing the former, he says: “I am glad Glencoe did not come in within the time prefixed; I hope what is done there may be in earnest, since the rest are not in a condition to draw together help. I think to harry (plunder) their cattle, and burn their houses, is but to render them desperate lawless men to rob their neighbours, but I believe you will be satisfied, it were a great advantage to the nation that thieving tribe were rooted out and cut off; it must be quietly done, otherwise they will make shift for both their men and their cattle. Argyle’s detachment lies in Lelrickweel, to assist the garrison to do all of a sudden.” And in his letter to Hill, he says: “Pray, when the thing concerning Glencoe is resolved, let it be secret and sudden, otherwise the men will shift you, and better not meddle with them than not to do it to purpose, to cut off that nest of robbers who have fallen in the mercy of the law, now when there is force and opportunity, whereby the king’s justice will be as conspicuous and useful as his clemency to others. I apprehend the storm is so great that for some time you can do little, but so soon as possible I know you will be at work, for these false people will do nothing, but as they see you in a condition to do with them.” 

   In pursuance of these fresh instructions from the secretary, Hill, on the 12th of February, sent orders to Hamilton, forthwith to execute the fatal commission, who, accordingly, on the same day, directed Major Robert Duncanson of Argyle’s regiment to proceed immediately with a detachment of that regiment to Glencoe, so as to reach the post which had been assigned him by five o’clock the following morning, at which hour Hamilton promised to reach another post with a party of Hill’s regiment. Whether Duncanson was averse to take an active personal part in the bloody tragedy about to be enacted, is a question the solution of which would neither aggravate nor extenuate his guilt as a party to one of the foulest murders ever perpetrated in any age or country; but the probability is, that he felt some repugnance to act in person, as immediately on receipt of Hamilton’s order, he despatched another order from himself to Captain Campbell of Glenlyon, then living in Glencoe, with instructions to fall upon the Macdonalds precisely at five o’clock the following morning, and put all to the sword under seventy years of age. Campbell was a man fitted for every kind of villany, a monster in human shape, who, for the sake of lucre, or to gratify his revenge, would have destroyed his nearest and dearest friend; and who, with consummate treachery, 

” Could smile, and murder while he smiled.”

   With this sanguinary order in his pocket, he accordingly did not hesitate to spend the eve of the massacre at cards with John and Alexander Macdonald, the sons of the chief, to wish them good night at parting, and to accept an invitation from Glencoe himself to dine with him the following day, although he had resolved to imbrue his hands in the blood of his kind-hearted and unsuspecting host, his sons, and utterly to exterminate the whole clan within a few hours! Little suspecting the intended butchery, Glencoe and his sons retired to rest at their usual hour; but early in the morning, while the preparations for the intended massacre were going on, John Macdonald, the elder son of the chief, hearing the sound of voices about his house, grew alarmed, and jumping out of bed threw on his clothes, and went to Inveriggen, where Glenlyon was quartered, to ascertain the cause of the unusual bustle which had interrupted his nocturnal slumbers. To his great surprise he found the soldiers all in motion, as if preparing for some enterprise, a circumstance which induced him to inquire at Captain Campbell the object of such extraordinary preparations at such an early hour. The anxiety with which young Macdonald pressed his question, indicating a secret distrust on his part, Campbell endeavoured by professions of friendship to lull his suspicions, and pretended that his sole design was to march against some of Glengarry’s men. As John Macdonald, the younger son of Glencoe, was married to Glenlyon’s niece, that crafty knave referred to his connexion with the family of Glencoe, and put it to the young man, whether, if he intended any thing hostile to the clan, he would not have provided for the safety of his niece and her husband. Macdonald, apparently satisfied with this explanation, returned home and retired again to rest, but he had not been long in bed when his servant, who, apprehensive of the real intentions of Glenlyon and his party, had prevented Macdonald from sleeping, informed him of the approach of a party of men towards the house. Jumping immediately out of bed he ran to the door, and perceiving a body of about twenty soldiers with muskets and fixed bayonets coming in the direction of his house, he fled to a hill in the neighbourhood, where he was joined by his brother Alexander, who had escaped from the scene of carnage, after being wakened from sleep by his servant. 

   The massacre commenced about five o’clock in the morning at three different places at once. Glenlyon, with a barbarity which fortunately for society has few parallels, undertook to butcher his own hospitable landlord and the other inhabitants of Inverriggen, where he and a party of his men were quartered, and despatched Lieutenant Lindsay with another party of soldiers to Glencoe’s house to cut off the unsuspecting chief. Under the pretence of a friendly visit he and his party obtained admission into the house. Glencoe was in bed, and while in the act of rising to receive his cruel visiters, he was basely shot at by two of the soldiers, and fell lifeless into the arms of his wife. One ball entered the back of his head, and another penetrated his body. The lady, in the extremity of her anguish, leapt out of bed and put on her clothes, but the ruffians stripped her naked, pulled the rings off her fingers with their teeth, and treated her so cruelly that she died the following day. The party also killed two men whom they found in the house, and wounded a third, named Duncan Don, who came occasionally to Glencoe with letters from Braemar. While the butchery was going on in Glencoe’s house, Glenlyon was busily pursuing the same murderous course at Inverriggen, where his own host was shot by his order. Here the party seized nine men, whom they first bound hand and foot, after which they shot them one by one. Glenlyon was desirous of saving the life of a young man about twenty years of age, but one Captain Drummond shot him dead. The same officer, impelled by a thirst for blood, ran his dagger through the body of a boy who had grasped Campbell by the legs, and who was supplicating for mercy. Glenlyon’s party carried their cruelty even so far as to kill a woman, and a boy only four or five years old. A third party, under the command of one Sergeant Barker, which was quartered in the village of Auchnaion, fired upon a body of nine men whom they observed in a house in the village sitting before a fire. Among these was the laird of Auchintrincken, who was killed on the spot, along with four more of the party. This gentleman had at the time a protection in his pocket from Colonel Hill, which he had received three months before. The remainder of the party in the house, two or three of whom were wounded, escaped by the back of the house, with the exception of a brother of Auchintrincken, who having been seized by Barker, requested him, as a favour, not to despatch him in the house, but to kill him without. The sergeant consented, because, as he said, he had experienced his kindness; but when brought out he threw his plaid, which he had kept loose, over the faces of the soldiers who were appointed to shoot him, and also escaped. Besides the slaughter at these three places, there were some persons dragged from their beds and murdered in other parts of the glen, among whom was an old man of eighty years of age. Between thirty and forty of the inhabitants of the Glen were slaughtered, and the whole male population, under seventy years of age, amounting to two hundred, would have been cut off, if, fortunately for them, a party of four hundred men under Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, who was principally charged with the execution of the sanguinary warrant, had not been prevented by the severity of the weather from reaching the glen till eleven o’clock, six hours after the slaughter, by which time the whole surviving male inhabitants, warned of their danger and the fate of their chief and the other sufferers, had fled to the hills. Ignorant of this latter circumstance, Hamilton, on arriving at Kinlochleven, appointed several parties to proceed to different parts of the glen, with orders to take no prisoners, but to kill all the men that came in their way. They had not, however, proceeded far when they fell in with Major Duncanson’s party, by whom they were informed of the events of the morning, and who told them that as the survivors had escaped to the hills, they had nothing to do but to burn the houses and carry off the cattle. They accordingly set fire to the houses, and having collected the cattle and effects in the glen, they carried them to Inverlochy, where they were divided among the officers of the garrison. That Hamilton would have executed his commission to the very letter, is evident from the fact, that an old man, the only remaining male inhabitant of the desolate vale they fell in with, was put to death by his orders. 

   After the destruction of the houses, a scene of the most heart-rending description ensued. Ejected from their dwellings by the devouring element, aged matrons, married women, and widowed mothers, with infants at their breasts and followed by children on foot, clinging to them with all the solicitude and anxiety of helplessness, were to be seen all wending their way, almost in a state of nudity, towards the mountains in a piercing snow-storm, in quest of some friendly hovel, beneath whose roof they might seek shelter from the pitiless tempest, and deplore their unhappy fate. But as there were no houses within the distance of several miles, and as these could only be reached by crossing mountains deeply covered with snow, the greater part of these unhappy beings, overcome by fatigue, cold, and hunger, dropt down and perished miserably among the snow. While this brutal massacre struck terror into the hearts of the Jacobite chiefs, and thus so far served the immediate object of the government, it was highly prejudicial to King William, who was considered its chief author. In every quarter, even at court, the account of the massacre was received with horror and indignation, and the Jacobite party did not fail to turn the affair to good account against the government, by exaggerating, both at home and abroad, the barbarous details. The odium of the nation rose to such a pitch, that had the exiled monarch appeared at the head of a few thousand men, he would probably have succeeded in regaining his crown. The ministry, and even King William, grew alarmed, and to pacify the people he dismissed the Master of Stair from his councils, and appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate the affair, and pretended that he had signed the order for the massacre among a mass of other papers, without knowing its contents. This is the only defence ever offered for King William, but it is quite unsatisfactory. For 1st, It is inconceivable that Secretary Dalrymple or any other minister, would have ventured to prepare such an extraordinary order without the express authority of his majesty, or would have obtained his signature to it without first acquainting him of its purport. 2d, The fact that neither Dalrymple nor any other minister was impeached for such an act, makes it extremely probable that William was privy to its contents. 3d, The unusual mode of signing and countersigning the order would have made William desirous to know the import of such a document, had he not been previously aware of its nature. 4th, His refusal or neglect to order the principal parties concerned in the massacre to be brought to trial, after the estates of parliament had addressed him for that purpose, and the fact of his promoting those guilty individuals in his service, show that he could not do so without implicating himself. Though the nation had long desired an inquiry into this barbarous affair, it was not until the 29th day of April, 1695, upwards of three years after the massacre, that a commission was granted. A commission had, indeed, been issued in 1693, appointing the Duke of Hamilton and others to examine into the affair; but this was a piece of mere mockery, and was never acted upon; but it now became necessary to satisfy the call of the nation by instituting an investigation. The Marquis of Tweeddale, lord-high-chancellor of Scotland, and the other commissioners now appointed, accordingly entered upon the inquiry, and, after examining witnesses and documents, drew up a report which was subscribed at Holyrood-house, on the 20th of June, and transmitted to his majesty. The commissioners appear to have executed their task with great fairness, but, anxious to palliate the conduct of the king, they gave a forced construction to the terms of the order, and threw the whole blame of the massacre upon Secretary Dalrymple. 

   Glencoe is supposed, by some, to have been the birth-place of Ossian. In the middle of the vale runs ‘the roaring stream of Cona;’ the mountain of Malmor rises on the south; and the celebrated Con-Fion – ‘the hill of Fingal’ – is situated on the north side of the vale. Garnett says: “Any poetical genius who had spent the early days of his life in this glen, must have had the same or similar ideas, and would have painted them in the same manner that Ossian has done; for he would here see nothing but grand and simple imagery – the blue mists hanging on the hills – the sun peeping through a cloud – the raging of the storm, or the fury of the torrent.” Stoddart says, “If any district can, with peculiar propriety, boast of the birth of Ossian, it is this. The translator of his poems has so unjustifiably altered the original names, both of men and places, that it is not easy to trace them in those which now exist. Something like many of them is to be found all over the Highlands, but here they are most numerous; several of the names referring either to the heroes of the Fingalian race, or to their general occupation, hunting. Here is Scur-no-Fionn, ‘the mountain of the Fingalians;’ Coe, the name of the river, is supposed to be the Cona of Ossian; Grianan Dearduil, ‘the sunny place of Dearduil,’ is supposed to refer to Ossian’s Darthula, whom Nathos stole from her husband Conquhan. Here also are Ach-na-con, ‘the field of the dog;’ Caolis-na-con, ‘the ferry of the dog;’ Bitanabean, ‘the deerskin mountain,’ &c. Add to this, that the neighbouring country bears similar traces; that Morven is the peculiar name of Fingal’s domain; that an island in Loch-Etive is supposed to be named from Usnath, the father of Nathos; and that Etive itself is so named from the deer of its mountains. It must not, however, be dissembled that the same names occur in other places. The stream of Conan, in Ross-shire, is supposed to be Cona, and is near Knock Farril-na-Fion, which takes its name from Fingal; and Daruil, or Jarduil, is a name common to most of the rocks, which, like the one in Glen-Coe, are termed Vitrified forts. 

1  Whether in thus acting, Campbell was influenced by Secretary Dalrymple, who has obtained an infamous notoriety by the active part which he took in bringing on the massacre of Glencoe, it is impossible to say; but it is not improbable that this man – who, a few weeks before, had exulted that as the winter was the only season in which the Highlanders could not escape, they could easily be destroyed “in the cold long nights” – was not an indifferent spectator to Campbell’s proceedings. In fact, it appears that the secretary contemplated the total extirpation of the clans, for, in a letter to Sir Thomas Livingston, dated the 7th of January, he says: “You know in general that these troops posted at Inverness and Inverlochie, will be ordered to take in the house of Innergarie, and to destroy entirely the country of Lochaber, Lochiel’s lands, Keppoch’s, Glengarie’s, and Glencoe,” and he adds, “I assure you your power shall be full enough, and I hope the soldiers will not trouble the Government with prisoners.” In another letter to Sir Thomas, written two days thereafter, by which time accounts had reached him that Glencoe had taken the oaths, he expresses satisfaction that “the rebels” would not be able to oppose his designs, and as their chieftains were “all papists,” he thinks it would be well that vengeance fell upon them. The Macdonalds were chiefly marked out by him for destruction, and after saying that he could have wished that they “had not divided ” on the question of taking the oath of indemnity, he expresses his regret to find that Keppoch and Glencoe were safe. 

2  These instructions are as follow: 

WILLIAM R.                                                                                                                         16th January, 1692. 

   1. The copy of the paper given by Macdonald of Aughtera to you has been shown us. We did formerly grant passes to Buchan and Cannon, and we do authorize and allow you to grant passes to them, and ten servants to each of them, to come freely and safely to Leith; from that to be transported to the Netherlands before the 15th of March next, to go from thence where they please, without any stop or trouble. 

   2. We do allow you to receive the submissions of Glengarry and those with him upon their taking the oath of allegiance and delivering up the house of Invergarry; to be safe as to their lives, but as to their estates to depend upon our mercy. 

   3. In case you find that the house of Invergarry cannot probably be taken in this season of the year, with the artillery and provision you can bring there; in that case we leave it to your discretion to give Glengarry the assurance of entire indemnity for life and fortune, upon delivering of the house and arms, and taking the oath of allegiance. In this you are to act as you find the circumstances of the affair do require; but it were much better that those who have not taken the benefit of our indemnity, in the terms within the diet prefixt by our proclamation, should be obliged to render upon mercy. The taking the oath of allegiance is indispensable, others having already taken it. 

   4. If McEan of Glenco and that tribe can be well separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of the public justice to extirpate that set of thieves. The double of these instructions is only communicated to Sir Thomas Livingston. 

W. REX.      

3  From the following extract it would appear that not only the Earl of Breadalbane, but also the Earl of Argyle, was privy to this infamous transaction. “The Earls of Argyle and Breadalbane have promised that they (the Macdonalds of Glencoe) shall have no retreat in their bounds, the passes to Rannoch would be secured, and the hazard certified to the laird of Weems to reset them; in that case Argyle’s detachment with a party that may be posted in Island-Stalker must cut them off.”

2 thoughts on “Glencoe, pp.673-678.

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