Archive for ‘Scottish history’

July 5, 2019

Scotticisms in our Precious Union or Michael Gove and Sconglais

Perhaps Gordon Brown’s political career would have been more successful had he spent less time trying to reinvent himself as an Englishman. This unfortunate individual suffered from what is known as the Scottish cringe –a state of shame and denial over ties to their homeland and its native tongue.

If any Scots were in doubt before the union with England there was none after it just how much contempt was felt towards them by their new political partners. With the union signed and sealed following a couple of years of scheming by the monarchy and England’s government’s pussy-footing policies such as classifying Scots as aliens and preventing the nation trading with English colonies the gloves were off. Scotland had been emasculated and would no longer pose a threat as a potential backdoor to England’s enemy, France. But this was a union of two very different nations – separated among other things by a common language.

Scots spoke Scots (in a host of dialects) but political discourse with the new partners meant compromise. Let’s be clear – not compromise exactly as that involves give and take on both sides – the kind of compromise you get from an unequal partnership or union where one side dictates and the other complies. To a large degree Scots abandoned their language while the English didn’t. The union or as we now have to call it – the precious union expected those Scots in prominent positions to adopt English as the lingua franca (if you’ll pardon the expression) as the official language of the combined nations. Sometimes it was English with a Scottish frill – let’s call it Sconglais.

Even in areas of cultural life where Scotland was pre-eminent, specifically the Enlightenment, some of its greatest luminaries such as David Hume and James Beattie* sought to eradicate Scotticisms (Scottish words) from their works – possibly to appeal to a broader audience – not England but Continental Europe where the dynamism of the philosophical and medical Enlightenment movement was closest to Scotland’s. Refining the Scotch tongue was regarded as necessary for many an ambitious Scot whose natural way of communicating was regarded as an impediment to advancement.

I was conscious as a child how many Scots sounded clumsy when talking to an English person in English and always felt obliged to adapt their natural flow of speaking to accommodate the visitor, to help their understanding, never the other way round. Scots have long been taught to despise their own tongue and until more recent years were ‘corrected’ at home and school and encouraged to speak ‘proper’ English. It’s often said Scots speak two languages – one among themselves and another in mixed company.  Imagine being led to believe your own language is inferior to someone else’s?

While universities and polite society in the 18th century weaned themselves off broad Scots this didn’t happen among working people whose communications tended to be localised – so they had no need to interpret their words; everyone understood them.

With the union Scotland became North Britain. Was there ever a South Britain?  The language (s) spoken in North Britain were derided as barbaric, like their peoples. Highlanders with their indecipherable Gaelic were regarded with greatest suspicion and loathing. The people were described as savages.  Ironic it was then that the leisured classes included Highland Scotland in their Grand Tours, in search of experiences (tame savagery) and education (if not enlightenment.) During these pre-Victorian years the brutality of Culloden was a well within living memory, Scots were being cleared off their lands and Highland Scotland was in a sense a million miles away from cosy metropolitan life as lived in London or even Edinburgh.

The lexicographer, Dr Johnson, and his side-kick cum translator, James Boswell, ‘did’ the Highlands. He didn’t like it – couldn’t understand the people and through his dictionary he did his bit to regulate the English language which further relegated broad Scots never mind our rich dialect words and expressions to this country’s savage past.

There was no place for uncouth Scotticisms in the brave new world of the precious union of equals – no matter that broad Scots was more akin to the language of Chaucer than Johnson’s tarted up modernisms. For all that the impact of standardising English, and therefore Scots, was felt more in the homes of the upper and middle classes than among the working classes who could read English but continued to communicate in their own tongues.

Which brings me to Michael Gove. Gove is a hybrid; a Scot/Anglo whose mellifluous vocal acrobatics have resulted in an accent and form of speech that is part Aberdeen (miniscule) but mainly Estuary English – Sconglais. Despite his best efforts Gove absorbed Scots words as a child, yes indeed he was once a child, albeit one who had more in common with 30s-somethings than 13s-somethings. When he spoke of a ‘dunt towards the workplace’ in 2013 his use of the word ‘dunt’ – an everyday term here – created uproar among Britain’s narrow metropolitans. I doubt he picked the word deliberately for effect as Gordon Brown might have done but wouldn’t because that would have highlighted his Scottishness.  Gove was probably as taken aback as we were in Scotland over the reaction created among England’s press.

With radio, television, film and the internet languages across the world are being altered at a terrific speed. Here in Aberdeenshire the unique Doric is fast disappearing – I should say Dorics because there are as many variations as there are communities. The move towards English that began in Scotland with the professional classes continues. You can still hear Scots being spoken where working class folk get together and in farming areas, though not among today’s lairds and lairdesses – though once they spoke as everyone around them did – and would have been proficient in several other languages as well. 

Henry Dundas who more or less managed Scottish political affairs in the late 18th century – a guy on the make who delayed the abolition of slavery and confused public money with his own – that kind of person; I think the technical description is, a piece of shit. All beyond the point, he was Scottish and brought up speaking Scots and one day he asked the PM, Pitt, for the loan of a horse for ‘the length of Highgate.’ Now any Scot would understand that to mean a horse that could cover that sort of distance but the Englishman that was Pitt replied he didn’t have a horse quite so long. Och but those quaint Scots are a constant source of amusement.

It was to avoid such confusion that Johnson compiled his dictionary. Deliberately misconstruing someone’s meaning might have been the case with Pitt. It certainly was by the Provost of Edinburgh who when asked by the Duke of Newcastle following the Porteous Riots of 1736 what kind  of shot the town guard under Captain Porteous used in their muskets, replied -“Ou, juist sic as ane shute dukes and sic like fules wi.” (Oh, just such as ones that shoots dukes and such fools with.)

His comment was condemned as an insult in the House of Lords (which it was) but the provost’s neck was spared when the Duke of Argyle argued it was merely a funny remark that when translated into English meant ducks and water-fowl not Peers and Idiots. As if!

 Scotticisms will linger on for a long time yet but as sprinkles over the cream of the Scots tongue. There should be no shame felt in our unique and descriptive vocabulary and institutions such as Aberdeen’s Elphinstone Institute provide an important service to our language in celebrating it and collecting examples of our mither tongue.

I grew up knowing that a hog was a sheep and a pig was a coarse earthenware jar but a Scottish servant a couple of centuries ago caused consternation when she set out from her employer’s London home to find “a great broon pig to haud the butter in.”

No self-respecting Scottish butcher would have offered a leg of pork, only a gigot. Gigot is from the French for, well, gigot, and evocative of Scotland’s ancient close relationship with France. There are lots of similar examples – caraff/carafe; gooseberries/groseille; perticks/perdix (partridge); Ashet/assiette; fash – very familiar today through Outlander as in dinae fash yersel – from the French facher; gean/guigne (cherry); ule or yle/huile (oil); serviette/serviette (napkin); gysard/guiser; haggis/hachis; jalousie/jalouser (suspect).

If you were said to be silly in Scotland you weren’t a bit daft but physically under the weather. And it’s common to hear folk here observe that someone’s health is failing whereas this is apparently a term only known in relation to business in England.

Long gone are Scots names for illnesses such as the nirls (measles); blabs (nettle-rash); scaw (clap); kinkhost’ fever (whooping-cough);  branks (mumps); the worm (toothache.)

Imagine the consternation here to be told that political change on the Continent had been brought about by a cow – “a coo dee’t a” (coup d’etat.) Then again in Scotland all things are possible.

At the risk of establishing a cow theme let me remind you, if you need reminding, of the old Scottish proverb, “Do as the cow of Forfar did, tak a standing drink.” It came about because one day a Forfar woman left the beer she had just brewed to cool outside her cottage when up came a cow and drank it. She sued the cow’s owner for compensation but the bailies of Forfar acquitted him on grounds that when Highland folk took leave of one another their last drink would be taken standing up – a dochan doris (deoch-an-doruis) – deoch is a drink/an means of the in Gaelic/ doruis or dorais is the possessive case of dorus, a door so literally the last drink at the door. This last drink was never charged at an inn so it was argued in court that as the cow had stood while drinking the woman’s ale there should be no charge – in both senses.

As usual I have veered straight up a blind alley. Back to the language that divides Britain. The English poet, Charles Lamb, had no time for Scots whom he dismissed as having no humour – presumably it went straight over his head. Some of his prejudice was based on a meeting he had with a son of Rabbie Burns when he wished he’d seen the father instead of the son. A chorus of Scots voices returned, “That’s impossible, for he’s dead.” Lamb considered these Scots didn’t share his wit. And to be honest his droll remark doesn’t strike me as funny, which rather proves his point no doubt.

Perhaps less nowadays than in the past the Scottish sense of humour, a dry pawkish humour, is often misunderstood south of the border (don’t mention the border.) Scots tend to play down situations and are far less respectful of social position – the lack of interest in royal pageantry is a prime example.  

We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns is woven into the psyche of Scots: the take-down is integral to our humour – I kent his faither. Here’s an example from way back. A conceited packman (trader) blawin (boasting) about the grand life of folk in York, London and other English places was asked where he came from.

“Oh, I’m from the Border.’

“Ach the Border, I thocht that. It’s aye the selvedge (seam) is the wakest bit o the wab (cloth)!”

Ah yes there are as many jokes in Scotland about the English as there are in England about the Scots. Here’s a couple of ancient funny stories:  

When an Englishman sneered that no man of taste would spend any time in a country like Scotland  a Scot replied, “Tastes differ; I’ll tak ye to a place no far frae Stirling whaur thirty thousand o yer countrymen ha’ been for five hunder years, and they’ve nae thocht o’ leavin’ yet.”

A Scotsman was making his way back home from an unsuccessful trip selling goods in England. Penniless he reached Carlisle when he saw a notice offering £50 for someone to act as hangman to dispatch a well-known local criminal. He applied and got the job but then a local man condemned him as a “mean beggarly Scot” for doing for money what no Englishman would. Undaunted the Scots trader grinned, “I’ll hang ye a’ at the price.”

Then there’s the story of the Englishman who bought a country estate in Scotland. Travelling abroad one time he tried to pass himself off as a Scot when he met up with a native born one. To prove his claim he went on about Scotland, haggis, whisky, Bannockburn, Queen Mary and even how writers Scott and Burns were superior to all English authors – and so on. Still he failed to convince. The Scot turned to him and said, “Weel, I’m jest thinkin’ my lad, ye’re nae Scotsman; but I’ll tell ye what ye are – ye’re jest an improved Englishman.”  

Time for a last one?

An English tourist enjoying a bit of angling in Scotland asked a local girl to catch a horse-fly for him to use on his hook. The girl stared at him, confused. “Have you never seen a horse-fly?” he demanded. “Na, sir,” she replied, “but ance I saw a coo jumper ower a cliff.” Now if he’d known a horse-fly is really a cleg she’d have obliged him.  

Of course in the union of equals, apologies, the precious union,  it was never England that changed; from its parliament to peely-wally Scots have been the ones to submit to pressure from the bigger partner. I’m sure you have several examples of your own.

*Dr Beattie of Aberdeen wrote: Scotticisms designed to Correct Improprieties of Speech and Writing

June 21, 2019

From Scotland to Australia: Ben Boyd was a nasty piece of work

Benjamin Boyd

Walk around any town any place and it is extraordinary who does and who doesn’t get honoured – with statues, streets and squares named after them, public parks and so on.

I stumbled upon one Benjamin Boyd in the way that is usual for me –by reading about something entirely different. In this latest instance I was fair enjoying a rip-roaring melodrama written and set in Aberdeen in the 1800s called the King of Andaman. Incidental to the story is a reference to an adventurous fellow called Ben Boyd who started up the Royal Australia Bank. I didn’t know if this was fact or fiction so checked him out and discovered it was true and that old Ben was a bit of a scoundrel. Let me tell you about him.

Benjamin Boyd was born on 21 August 1803 in Wigtonshire and met his unexpected death not a day too soon in October 1851, in the Solomon Islands. During the intervening forty-eight years Benjamin Boyd made a fortune, lost a fortune, dabbled in politics and wrecked many a life. In short Benjamin Boyd was a truly nasty and despicable piece of work.

Born in Scotland to an English merchant and his wife at the family’s country estate in the southwest Ben was ascribed Scottish nationality while his brother, Mark, who was a writer as well as brother-in-crime is said to be English. This is all pretty well besides the point.

The Boyd children, there were more of them, grew up in the expectation that life was about getting rich. Benjamin who became a stockbroker in London soon cast an eye towards Australia which he viewed as the place to make his fortune. Australia had been claimed as British in the 18th century because it could. But what use was all this land so far from Britain if there weren’t skilled people to work and develop it? Obviously the racist British dismissed Australia’s indigenous population as being nothing less than a nuisance with no claim to the place they had occupied for tens of thousands of years.

The first British colony there was established in 1788 in what was named New South Wales – an area covering over half of mainland Australia. The first imported labour comprised American Loyalists, Chinese and South Sea Islanders but in a light bulb moment it was decided that transported prisoners from Britain would make ideal captive workers to establish agriculture and industries. Unlike the popular image of these unfortunates torn away from their families the people shipped thousands of miles were not uncouth vicious criminals but skilled artisans, farmers and the like convicted of petty misdemeanours. Before long fleets of ships brought consignments of men, women and children to turn this far off land into profit.   

 Australia was regarded as the ideal place to acquire fortunes on the cheap. Ben Boyd certainly thought so. He tried to buy up land in New South Wales but was resisted by the British authorities who were unwilling to sell to an individual; leasing was his option. As a merchant trader Boyd established harbours and coaling stations for his vessels in Australia. The finance he needed to setup came from the Royal Bank of Australia – Boyd’s own bank. He and his brother Mark had taken the precaution of raising money in London in 1839, prior to Ben’s move to Australia. They gave the bank an appropriate name, Royal Bank of Australia, and sold debentures of £200,00 – that is they raised funds through promises of good returns for investors and so suitably financed Ben Boyd sailed to Australia aboard his luxury schooner, Wanderer.

I should say just prior to this Boyd set up two businesses in addition to the bank; The Australian Wool Company and Boyd Brothers. As with dodgy companies today these two were essentially the same but under two names.

Boyd dispatched several vessels filled with merchandise prior to his journey so his arrival in Australia meant he had items to trade. Once landed in Australia Boyd established a branch of his Australian bank in Sydney, along with fellow entrepreneur, Joseph Phelps Robinson. At the same time, c.1844, he became a squatter – taking over huge tracts of land for grazing thousands of sheep and cattle. Boyd’s bank stayed buoyant long enough for the pair to add to their livestock holdings several times over and enabled them to lease extra millions of acres of land. The money Boyd used to pay for land, sheep, cattle, horses, houses etc was borrowed from his own bank – in short he was speculating with bank money.

Having acquired the land for next to nothing Boyd also expected labour to come for a song.  His plea to the British authorities was to provide cheap labour, virtually slave labour, to enhance profits from investing in Australia but despite having access to transported convict labour Boyd remained dissatisfied.

He suggested to the government and it agreed that he take (take as in compel)people from nearby island communities including Tanna (New Hebrides) and Lifu (Loyalty Islands.) Ships were sent and bullies hired to kidnap and ship to Australia fit men and women, blackbirding, who would be indentured to Boyd for 5 years. As for pay that was set at 26 shillings a year along with meat, trousers, two shirts and a Kilmarnock cap (non-islander shepherds were paid £10 annually plus meat and flour but no luxuries such as tea and sugar.) Nervous British authorities recognised Boyd’s kidnapping activities were illegal. Some islanders ran away and tried to return to their homes. Others became ill. All in all these unfortunate people suffered dreadfully and despite their distribution across a wide expanse of land an organised uprising occurred with bids for freedom. Boyd saw people only in terms of profit and having lost some of the original islanders he tried to replace them by kidnapping others. At this point the New South Wales Legislative Council stepped in to stop him. While this was progress it didn’t help islanders already abandoned in Australia unlikely ever to get back home. White settlers and the press demonised victim islanders – describing them as wild savages which is extraordinary given the savagery of Ben Boyd’s behaviour.  He, in turn, was furious that the authorities had denied him and that the very people he was exploiting failed to appreciate the opportunities he provided them with.

Boyd’s ruthless approach to making money attracted a large amount of criticism at the time but that hasn’t dented the apparent admiration later generations of Australians felt for the guy.

The town he set up was called, naturally, Boyd Town or Boydtown and established on Twofold Bay on the south coast of New South Wales. It was used to service Boyd’s farming interests. Here his livestock was butchered and processed by boiling and salting. In addition to houses and the essential stockyards the town had a hotel and church and, of course, a jetty several feet long as well as a lighthouse for the safety of Boyd’s merchant ships carrying mutton, beef, wool and skins to Britain. Always on the lookout for yet another source of cash Boyd also set up a whaling station with 9 or 10 sperm whalers.

Boyd’s house

Boyd’s decision to enter politics appears to have been pragmatic; to smooth the way for his business interests. Australia was attracting attention for its economic potential and Boyd got himself into a position of representing big farmers like himself. It’s clear he was ambitious and his ambitions ran away with him. He had fingers in numerous pies and he was secretive about his business activities which were obviously shady enough to be criminal. When his financial ship ran aground he was found to have lied about the business profits and in 1847 he was ousted by angry shareholders and replaced by yet another brother, William Sprott Boyd. This Boyd proved as unreliable as Benjamin and a couple of years later a liquidator took over. When in 1848 the debenchers who had funded the Royal Australian Bank were due to be paid back it was discovered the money was gone and Boyd’s property was seized as some kind of recompense. I’m fairly certain that the bulk of monies taken out of the failing bank were sent back to London to Boyd’s accounts there. Boyd’s murky financial deals were described by one of his contemporaries as a Chinese puzzle. It cannot be but argued that the bank he set up was a shell company to advance the Boyds. Both Ben and Mark were made bankrupt.

Smarting from his downfall in Australia Benjamin Boyd turned his attention to America and the lure of California’s gold rush in 1849 but when that didn’t work out he jumped back onboard his ship Wanderer to set up a republic in the Pacific Islands. As you do.

The deeply ingrained racism and hypocrisy that drove European colonisation was never far from Boyd’s thoughts. The Wanderer docked at Guadalcanal in the Solomons at San Christobal Island and early one morning Boyd disembarked for a spot of shooting. And disappeared.

Shots had been heard, presumably fired by Boyd. Who or what he shot at is not recorded but it was supposed that islanders dealt with this usurper – “wandering, perhaps, among antipodean savages, naked and tattooed, or perhaps tomahawked, or probably eaten!” A tough bite. During the day, before it was realised Boyd had disappeared, islanders had tried to coax the ship’s crew ashore. When they refused some attempted to board Wanderer but were fought off and killed. An armed party went ashore and found Boyd’s footprints surrounded by other prints along with a piece of his double barrelled rifle. They searched every house for miles but didn’t unearth Boyd. On its return to Australia Wanderer was wrecked in a storm.

Rumours persisted that Boyd still lived and was a prisoner. It was said his initials were seen carved on trees. Guadalcanal islanders claimed he was alive. A search was undertaken in 1854 but to no avail. More stories emerged – that Boyd had been killed by native islanders after their own folk were attacked by the crew of Wanderer; Boyd was said to have been hanged in the canoe house of King Tabula. Such accounts led to a reward being issued for Boyd’s skull and an enterprising native produced a skull. By the time it was realised the skull belonged to a long dead Papuan with perfect teeth, as opposed to Boyd’s false teeth, the payment of 20 tomahawks had been paid.

During his lifetime Boyd made a great show of his wealth but it was built on criminal schemes and borrowed cash. He lived the life but like his bank it was an empty shell. All the money that slipped though his fingers he spent on a lavish lifestyle that was enabled by the very labourers on whom he depended and ruthlessly exploited. He was a man on the make without the acumen to succeed without cheating.  When he died Boyd was worth less than £3000.

The town he established, Boydtown, became a ghost town after his business empire collapsed until the 1930s when it underwent a revival. Boyd has been commemorated in other ways including the Ben Boyd National Park, set up in 1971. Frankly it seems gauche and extraordinary that Australia regards Benjamin Boyd worthy of honouring. I’d have thought Australia’s indigenous population or those kidnapped and enslaved Pacific Islanders were far more deserving.

Ben Boyd National Park

https://www.smh.com.au/national/blackbirding-shame-yet-to-be-acknowledged-in-australia-20150603-ghfn9c.html

May 28, 2019

You can’t be a doctor you are a women: Scotland’s first women physicians

Men only medical lecture Glasgow

In ancient and early civilisations women physicians were accepted within their communities to practise healing but when medicine was professionalised through university degrees women found themselves excluded and their practical expertise scorned. Universities were for centuries exclusively male institutions of learning. The first chair of medicine at any university in the British Isles was introduced in Scotland, at Aberdeen’s King’s College, in 1497.

All kinds of obstacles were placed before young women attempting to enter the medical profession. Initially denied admittance to lectures, they were then tholled in some circumstances and confronted by male anger and hostility, sometime violence.

When eventually in the 19thc century women endeavoured to set up their own medical training facilities they faced reluctance from some male lecturers to provide classes. Undeterred these women stuck to their principles that women should have the opportunity to study and practise medicine in Britain.

By the eighteenth century attitudes towards female medics elsewhere in Europe were more enlightened.

Dorothea Erxleben was the first European women to be granted a decree to practise as a physician in Europe, in 1754. This was in Prussia. It took a century and a half for Scotland to produce its first graduate woman doctor, Marion Gilchrist from Bothwell in 1894.

Dr Marion Gilchrist

In England the London School of Medicine for Women was set up in 1874, its prime mover being the overbearing figure of Sophia Jex-Blake, and in 1876 a highly controversial Act of Parliament afforded females the right to gain access to the medical profession. Opponents of this Act included many women who thought themselves too feeble and inferior to the male species to cope with any professional career including medicine. Although Queen Victoria gave her assent to the Act she was staunchly opposed to any rights for women, not any that infringed on hers you understand.  

This Act meant women could now practice in the UK but not graduate in medicine here, kowtowing to those misogynist strongholds – British universities. British females were obliged to complete their studies at enlightened foreign universities. The first woman to be registered as a practising physician in the UK was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1859. From Bristol in England she took her degree at Geneva Medical College (incidentally she was also the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.) Blackwell has a fascinating history and I urge you to read about her life.

A substantial number of women had their ambition to practise medicine thwarted by prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. When in the later 19th century Edinburgh’s prestigious medical school opened its lecture room doors to female students it still denied them completion of their courses so Jex-Blake replicated the school of medicine for women in London with a similar one in the Scottish capital in 1886. The women behind it were known as the Edinburgh Seven and comprised of Blake; Isabel Thorne ; Emily Bovell; Edith Pechey , Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans and Mary Anderson.This small body was representative of a larger body of women equally determined to break through the male-dominated profession and offer help to people and communities in desperate need of medical assistance.

Agnes Henderson from Aberdeen lived in grand Devanha House along with her parents, fifteen siblings, several horses and a kangaroo. The Hendersons were progressive people; her father supported and campaigned for the right of women to study medicine at Edinburgh and Agnes came to know and befriended Sophia Jex-Blake but in one of those disconnects that affects people Agnes’ father, William Henderson, a Lord Provost in Aberdeen, did not extend his support to his own daughter’s ambitions.

However Agnes Henderson was her own woman, she studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and took her LRCPE and LRCSE – Licence of the Royal College of Physicians of London and Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh – a means of becoming registered with the General Medical Council for those prevented from taking the straightforward route through university medical schools.

Despite her top qualifications Agnes was unable to practise as a doctor in Scotland so this bright young woman took her brilliance to the Continent; to Brussels and Vienna and became a member of the Royal College of Dublin. From there she went to India where her wealthy father had funded a clinic in Nagpur (Bombay.) Agnes decided she would like to run it and so at the age of 53 Dr Agnes sailed to India. One reason behind her decision might have been a ban on women Catholics practising medicine (until 1936) and she had converted to Catholicism while in Ireland.

Many of the women who fought the system to practise medicine were driven by what they witnessed of the appalling conditions women and children in particular lived in through the Victorian era. Women, especially poor women, were oppressed by child-bearing – denied information and access to family planning, to abortion, to safe childbirth by the indifference of society they were at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of social and medical care and wages. As bad as life was for men it was worse for women and children.

Dr Agnes Henderson of the Mure Memorial Hospital

It is still the case that in parts of the world women are denied the health care they desperately need because of gender discrimination. So it was when Agnes went to India. She worked to employ her medical skills to help women and girls and at the same time spoke out against the white slave trade that exploited so many females. For her service to medicine and missionary activities in India Agnes Henderson was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal.

Britain’s pioneering women doctors were often active in other areas of social improvement such as the women’s suffrage movement. Agnes was secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and her stepmother, Priscilla Bright McLaren, was also active in the movement and the pair along with Jane Taylour (Taylor) travelled to Orkney and Shetland to promote women’s suffrage there.

The British Empire created opportunities for early women doctors to practise. India also attracted Dr Isabella Macdonald Macdonald from Arbroath who graduated as a medical doctor and pharmacist in 1888 from the London School of Medicine for Women. Another who used her skills to develop health facilities for women in India was Margaret Ida Balfour. She was born in Edinburgh, her mother a Blaikie from the prominent family of Aberdeen Blaikies who were industrialists and one a Lord Provost. A year after completing her qualification as a physician at Edinburgh in 1891 Margaret Balfour travelled to India, to Ludhiana, and within two years she had helped create a medical school for women. Margaret Balfour spent her working life in India in roles that included assistant to the Inspector General of Civil Hospitals in Punjab and Chief Medical Officer of the Women’s Medical Service.  She, too, was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal for public service in India, in 1920.

Mary Anderson mentioned above as one of the Edinburgh Seven came from Boyndie in Banffshire in northeast Scotland. She, like Agnes, thwarted by the male stranglehold over medicine in Scotland went abroad to complete her studies – in Mary’s case to Paris after Edinburgh. She was forty-two when she completed her medical doctorate in France; her thesis was on mitral stenosis (heart disease) which disproportionately affected women. Mary Anderson went on to become a senior physician at the New Hospital for Women in London.

Flora Murray from Dumfries was another early Scottish woman doctor and in common with others who fought for the right to study and qualify she was very active in the women’s suffrage movement – in her case that included tending suffragettes forcibly fed in prison.  

The story of Dr Elsie Inglis is better-known. Born into a Scottish family in India in 1864 she studied at Edinburgh’s School of Medicine. She, too, was politically active and a supporter of women’s suffrage and advocate for social and political improvements in society in general.

Elsie Inglis went on to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service committee during the Great War which made it possible for women to become involved in the war. Elsie Inglis worked in France, Belgium, Russia and Serbia. It is there in Serbia she made the greatest impact, developing its health care institutions and was responsible for reducing the incidence of typhus. For that she was recognised there with the Order of the White Eagle (first class) and a memorial fountain in Mladenovac.

I’ve selected a handful of Scotland’s early women doctors who succeeded against the odds to push the boundaries that restricted smart and ambitious women in this country but two that must be included before I wind up are the sisters Grace and Martha Cadell.

The Cadell sisters were involved in Sophia Jex-Blake’s Edinburgh group but were thrown out of the course for being over-attentive to a patient and breaching Jex-Brake’s hard-and-fast rules. The Cadells challenged Jex-Blake through the courts and won, damaging the Edinburgh School’s reputation. Then they along with Elsie Inglis formed the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women – and prevented Jex-Blake from getting involved in it – soon after Jex-Blake’s own school closed down, in 1898.

In 1892 women eventually obtained the right to study at Scottish universities and Edinburgh born Jessie MacLaren MacGregor became one of the first women to graduate from Edinburgh University having begun her studies at Jex-Blake’s school. She was evidently extremely intelligent and highly qualified and she embarked on her medical career providing care for women and children in the capital, and to its working class women and their families in particular. Tragically Jessie MacGregor was only 43 when she died of acute cerebral meningitis in 1906 at Denver, Colorado in the USA where she had been working.  

Finally a word on Dr Mary Esslemont. She was a giant of the medical profession. Born in Aberdeen in 1891, her mother had studied medicine in those years when women were denied the ability to graduate but worked in her later years alongside Mary. Mary’s own career illustrated the backwardness of misogyny that denied women like her the opportunity to apply their skills to health and welfare throughout centuries of gender discrimination. Like so many women doctors, Mary Esslemont provided essential care to the poorest in society, and to the travelling community who spent time in Aberdeen. She was involved in establishing the NHS (the only woman on the BMA committee in talks with Bevan), was an assistant medical officer in Yorkshire, promoted family planning and free contraception, was a popular and enterprising general practitioner in Aberdeen – introducing child-centred practices from around the world to the city’s communities.

Being a feminist and determined woman seeking equality in the 19th century was a whole lot harder than it is today. There is still misogyny and now a different kind of gender politics which some see as threatening women from a different perspective. That’s the future. I deal in history.  

May 8, 2019

Poor Lexy Campbell, Lord Byron and the man who could raise the dead

Lexy Campbell was very young when she caught Lord Byron’s eye on a visit to his former nurse, Agnes Gray, in the village of Woodside, close to Aberdeen. Agnes and her husband, Alexander Melvin, lived in a first floor flat at 177 Barron Street, its back to the old turnpike road to Inverurie, as was the tradition. Following his visit the tenement was tagged ‘Byron Hall.’

A young George Gordon, Lord Byron, admirer of Lexy Campbell

I don’t know when that was but reckon she was around fourteen or fifteen, ten years younger than Byron; known in Aberdeen by his mother’s family name, George Gordon.

Lexy, Alexandrina Campbell was five foot three, fair with light brown hair and hazel eyes with a little mole on her right cheek. She lived near Agnes in Printfield, in the flat of a ‘very respectable spinster, called Nelly Calder. It was subsequently reported that poor Lexy’s reputation suffered following the attentions of George Gordon, Lord Byron, whose reputation is well-known but on this occasion he appears to have been innocent – well fairly innocent for she might have been tainted by the whiff of scandal that always hung about the poet and ‘Poor Lexy lost caste by this affair, and her subsequent history was unfortunate.’

When she was 30 years old Lexy Campbell was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) Australia along with 99 other prisoners from Britain on the ship, Harmony. Why? Well, it all started like this –

Lexy Campbell became the housekeeper, tutor to his children and perhaps mistress of the notorious Black Malcolm Gillespie. Dark haired with a dark complexion Gillespie was a gauger, an exciseman – employed by the government to collect taxes, for the purposes of this account we’re concerned with the whisky tax imposed on the spirit in Scotland by the British government eager to control the smuggling of foreign spirits and illegally produced whisky in Scotland – illegal in the sense of not paying the government’s tax. Originally from Dunblane, Gillespie worked in various districts including Collieston, Stonehaven and later went to live at Crombie Cottage at Skene, west of Aberdeen. He was a very successful gauger and for 28 years he was a scourge of local whisky smugglers, well-informed and knowledgeable on the whereabouts of stills and routes taken by smugglers. He’s credited with seizing 410 gallons on a single occasion and over his time as an exciseman he captured 22,751 gallons of spirits, 165 horses and 82 carts.

It appears the government didn’t pay their gaugers very much for Gillespie felt the need to make a bit more besides to maintain the lifestyle he thought should be his. But I’ll come back to that.

One of Black Gillespie’s adversaries was entrepreneur whisky man, John Duff – a prolific whisky maker and smuggler. One day with 40 gallons of whisky concealed in his house ready to be carted to Aberdeen for sale he was dismayed to spot the approach of the exciseman, Gillespie. Time was too short to shift the barrels of whisky so Duff frantically thought how he might prevent Gillespie searching his property.

Landseer’s romantic image of an illicit whisky still

This was a time when itinerant craftsmen took their skills around the countryside rather than folk going to them in a village or town. It so happened that a travelling tailor was at Duff’s house ‘whipping the cat’ i.e. engaged on making up clothes there.

This particular tailor was a Highlander although that probably has little relevance to his insatiable thirst for whisky. And no, he wasn’t persuaded to drink 40 gallons of the stuff in the time it took Gillespie to arrive.

‘There’s Gillespie, we maun try to save the drink. Will ye render assistance, Tam?’ John Duff asked the tailor.

The tailor agreed to help Duff when he was promised he would be paid as much whisky as he could drink in a week but on discovering the plan involved him playing dead Tam the tailor was less enthusiastic for as a Highlander he had sufficient respect for religion to worry about playing with fate and death.

However, he agreed and lay down on the long table with a napkin tied under his chin and a cloth spread over his face – every inch a corpse.

Gillespie marched straight into the house and was surprised to be greeted by a body laid out in front of the window and Duff and his relatives seated about in a state of mourning – their faces wet with tears and bibles in their hands as they sang a Psalm.

‘Oh, Mr Gillespie! Ye hae come to a hoose o’ mourin’. As ye see, we hae just been askin’ Divine aid to sustain us in this sair dispensation, but come inbye! Come inbye,’ invited Duff.

The two men talked a little about the dead man who Duff claimed was his brother newly returned home from America. Gillespie was well-informed about the people in the community he policed and was certain Duff had no brother. Suspicious, he enquired what the man had died from. Duff was dumfoundered and thinking fast thought it best to say it was something highly infectious to encourage Gillespie to leave but his mind went blank. He dropped his gaze and his eyes fell on the open bible in his lap. And he read the first words he saw.

‘’Nae ither than leprosy,’ he said.

‘Leprosy, did you say?’ cried an astounded Gillespie.

The gauger was more suspicious than ever and asked to see the corpse. Duff warned him he was taking his life in his hands but to go ahead.

Gillespie stepped up, ‘Oh, I don’t think there’s much danger, for I am not very liable to infection.’ He lifted the cloth and was sure he recognised the man laid out who didn’t look very dead or diseased. It came to him that this was none other than the wandering and often drunken tailor he had seen weeks earlier. From his pocket he took out his snuff box and taking a pinch of the stuff pushed it into the nostrils of the ‘streekit’ man. The corpse sneezed, again and again, and sprung to his feet, tearing off the cloths around his face while the Duff family looked on aghast and Gillespie smiled.

‘What the devil gar’d ye stap yer langnailed fingers up my nose?’ demanded the risen corpse.

‘Man, I think you have reason to be thankful that I did so. If I had not, our friend here might have buried you alive. If you ever again fall a victim to the leprosy you now know the cure. Just try the effects of a pickle snuff,’ said Gillespie.

Then turning to Duff he told him he had just witnessed one of those miracles he read about in the bible.’ As for raising the dead Gillespie insisted he couldn’t do that but had come close, ‘for I have at least raised the ninth part of one… you thought the body only remained, and that the spirit was fled: you see you are mistaken. After such an error I could never pardon myself if I departed without searching the house. It is not known what further discoveries I may make. I may even find spirits absent from the body.’

And so it was that John Duff’s store of whisky spirit was discovered and confiscated and Duff dealt with by the courts which put a stop to his whisky smuggling career.

When it came to his turn Gillespie’s own court appearances must have raised a wry smile and a slàinte mhath or two around the straths and townships of Aberdeenshire.

In 1827 Malcolm Gillespie and George Skene Edwards were charged with forgery to obtain money. On his arrest Gillespie uttered, ‘Good God, I am a gone man. You must allow me to disappear and this will be all settled.’ He appealed to have the charges removed which was rich given his ruthless approach to those he apprehended. Before his arrest when he became aware the game was up on his forgeries he told one witness against him, ‘for God’s sake good woman, don’t do that, for, if the fiscal got notice of that, I might as well cut myself in pieces, or blow out my brains.’

The man with a craving for high living, or as high as a gauger cum fraudster could expect, who forged Treasury bills went on to try to defraud two insurance companies.

The home he and Lexy lived in, Crombie Cottage, he insured for £530 with one insurer and £300 with another. One or two others shared the house and all were implicated in Gillespie’s plot to burn down the house and claim insurance money on it. Gillespie took himself off to Edinburgh, presumably to give himself an alibi, leaving the others to arrange the fire by smearing the furniture with rosin, inflammable solid pine resin, jamming more resin between roof joists, pouring turpentine around and sprinkling gunpowder over surfaces. Coils of dry ropes were brought into the house to help it burn and one part of the thatch was cut to prevent a single area go up in flames.  On the night of 21 February 1827 all the participants took a dram of whisky then Lexy took a lit candle into the cellar and set it alight while another ignited the dry ropes.  

It was an elaborate plan and it worked. The house burnt down good and proper or in Gillespie’s words it was ‘genteelly done.’

On 30 April Gillespie was apprehended for his claim on the insurance companies. He, Lexy and the rest were held in Aberdeen’s tolbooth. By a majority verdict Gillespie was declared guilty of forgery and told to expect no mercy in this world. He bowed to both bench and jury. Gillespie retained hopes of a reprieve to near the end for he was much respected as guardian of the law of taxation by many a landed gentleman and MP but when that didn’t come the gauger became introspect and dejected. At the last moment he admitted his forgeries, protesting he acted honestly. He was executed on 16 November. When he stepped up to the scaffold he looked towards the west – supposedly towards Skene. Following his hanging he was cut down and transported back to Skene and buried there.  

The type of convict ship Lexy sailed on to Van Diemen’s Land

As he had been convicted on the capital offence of forgery Gillespie was not tried on fire-raising to defraud. His accomplices faced that charge but it was accepted by the court that Gillespie had been behind the plan so they were shown leniency – seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land – which is why Byron’s early love, fair Lexy Campbell, at the age of thirty found herself in the company of 99 others on a convict ship, Harmony, bound for Australia on 9 September 1828. Her fate there? I don’t know.

PS Thanks to John and Lesley who responded to the initial blog with links to information about Lexy. I had read previously she was from Ross-shire (like me) but dismissed this as it mentioned a place called Haries (which doesn’t exist) however it must mean Harris in the Western Isles which is in Easter Ross.

I didn’t find out much more about Lexy post-transportation other than she was described as well-behaved and married a man called Bryan. Grateful to readers and https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/about-convict-lives/about-convict-lives for this information and anymore is welcomed.

April 27, 2019

Oh look there’s a creepy guy in camouflage breeks with a mighty big weapon picking on a little unarmed roe deer

Good mixed shooting was once the boast of Aberdeenshire – perhaps it still is – bagging pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe, mallard, golden eye, pochard, tufted duck, ring-dove, brown hare, rabbit, curlew, golden plover, green plover, dunlin, little stint, purple sandpiper, turnstone, redshank, moorhen, water rail and coot were given as examples of the sheer variety of species taken on a typical shoot in an article in the Aberdeen and District British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1934. Several of those birds mentioned are now struggling for survival.

Over millennia changing climate patterns in association with human interference have led to the disappearance of Scotland’s elk, the extinction of the auroch, an ox (Bos primigenius) which looked similar to our Highland cattle, lynx, arctic fox, bear and wolf as human habitation encroached on habitats and animals regarded as dangerous or simply fair game were hunted to extinction.  Wolves, greatly feared by folk in the countryside and probably with good reason, found a source of meat fairly easy to access were human corpses which drove some communities to bury their dead offshore if an island was handy. Obviously eating already dead people was preferable to attacking the living and not unlike human practices of picking up bits of animal corpses from butchers and supermarkets though without producing payment, of course. In 1427 a law was introduced in Scotland for three annual wolf hunts during spring and summer to help control/wipe out the creatures at a time that would be most effective – when they were producing and nursing young.

Several claims exist over when and where Scotland’s last wolf was slain. One killed at Kirkmichael in Banffshire in 1644 was certainly not it. Another last wolf turned up in Moray in the middle of the 18th century and that might have been the sole survivor till then but it’s likely the odd one hung on after this.

Capercaillie

There were herds of little wild horses roaming Aberdeenshire’s forests into the 16th century. Evidence found at Birse suggested they were likely crosses with domestic horse – similar to the state of our wildcats. How many true wildcats remain is open to speculation but surely scant few. As with practically every other species these lovely creatures have suffered vicious persecution by farmers, gamekeepers, estate workers and the usual suspects that take potshots at anything that moves. It is said the last wildcat on Donside was killed at Alford in 1862 and on Deeside at Glentanar in 1875 but it’s possible they weren’t all wiped out or that some migrated to the area, perhaps from Speyside, for there have been sightings of what may be the wildcat in more recent years.

Gamekeepers have earned a bad reputation as exterminators of wildlife – with good cause. We are all familiar with the curious coincidences of our raptors meeting their deaths over shooting estates while the courts continue to treat such crimes as minor, failing to impose deterrent sentences on those found guilty of illegal killings.

While about the worst that happens to an estate employee convicted of illegal killings is exposure in the press for a day or two life was once far more comfortable for them. Dealing with vermin aka wildlife was part of the job. In 1863-4 a single Donside estate keeper killed 30 polecats. Thirty years later it was extinct in the area. Pine martens were likewise persecuted and are now protected because of their scarcity. There are pine martens around today, including in Ross-shire but they aren’t common.

Outrage over the vast numbers of mountain hares being shot on sporting estates has been met with insistence from estate interests that there are plenty stocks of hares. That they cannot come up with reliable figures for their claims is worrying but not surprising. That Scottish government ministers consort with sporting interests is also worrying but not surprising.

The encroachment of human habitation and agriculture, the drainage of muirs and removal of large tracts of ancient forests force out birds and animals dependent on those habitats.  Vestiges of the old Caledonian forests can be found at Glentanar, Ballochbuie, Deeside and Speyside but what remains is a mere trace of the woodlands that once provided areas of safety and food for our wildlife pushing them upland to less suitable territory which lack food and reduce the chance of survival.  

The red squirrel has become a great focus for protection to the extent that its grey cousins are eradicated by local authorities around the country – the same local authorities who removed trees used by red squirrels so reducing their chances of survival. However, it isn’t so long ago the red squirrel had the same reputation as the grey and was regarded as a pest – rats with long bushy tails and a popular target for the pot-shotter. On the subject of rats the black rat notorious for spreading the plague in the early middle ages having arrived on ships from the East was in time ousted by the common brown rat another immigrant, this time from Asia in the 18th century.

Rats have proven themselves pretty damn indestructible although many people wish they weren’t. It’s interesting that there aren’t tweedy types who go on rat shoots on a Sunday afternoon but choose something a whole lot prettier and a whole lot less capable of escaping their shotguns.

The capercaillie is/was fairly spectacular with its dramatic plumage provided welcome variety in rural parts of Scotland but they have all but gone. The menace of an armed idiot has all but wiped them out.  Indeed they succeeded in the 18th century for the capercaillie vanished around 1760 and was reintroduced from Sweden in 1837. By the 1960s these large birds were numerous again and said to be common. I saw one once – in the 1970s near the Cairn o’ Mount. It might have been one of the last ones in the area for they sure aren’t common now. Their future here is on a very shoogly peg.

The extension of farming, grazing sheep and cattle and the prevalence of mono-culture grouse estates that treated every other animal and bird as vermin have been instrumental in stripping away so much of Scotland’s native wild species. We are all too well aware of the targeting of birds of prey over these areas with lots of tall tales circulating about the extent of lamb predation and insistence that high numbers of disappearing raptors over sporting estates is purely coincidental. Rambling types around Alford are only too familiar with aggressive heavies employed on Aberdeenshire estates, other similarly run estates are available, – same gun-toting, shooting jacketed gamies. Ordinary folk out to enjoy the freedom to roam in their own country are most definitely dissuaded from doing just that by these bullies and heaven help any wildlife straying over their property.

I’ve written before about the insatiable desire of types who crave to destroy life. My mother used to tell of fox cubs being bred near Dingwall which were transported down to England and released for fox hunting there – putting to bed the myth that the hunt was to eliminate local vermin. Another myth is that hobby shooters eat or sell to butchers and hotels what they kill. Regulations have all but stopped the hotel trade and huge numbers of birds and animals killed for the sheer hell of it are either dumped or buried.

Rabbits – they are everywhere, mostly dead on our roads, were imported from southeast Europe. In Aberdeen they were first released at the links near Donmouth. Another import this time from Asia is the exotic-looking pheasant. It proved so popular they were shot out of existence and had to be reintroduced

Some creatures turned up accidentally on these shores such as the tropical loggerhead turtle that was picked up in salmon nets at Pennan in 1861. It never made it home, somewhere equally dangerous but farther south, and numbers are now dwindling.  The purple heron that flew to Donmouth in 1872 never made it home either to southern Europe, Africa or Asia but was inevitably shot. A glossy ibis discovered at Fraserburgh was so strikingly beautiful it was also shot. It along with an American killdeer plover, which doesn’t kill deer but got its name from its call, ended their days as curiosities in Aberdeen University’s Natural History Museum – post execution.

Nowadays our Scottish golden eagles are pretty rare and exotic. In the ten years between 1776 and 1786 seventy of them were killed in five Deeside parishes alone, severely affecting their numbers. As for the white-tailed eagle, Scotland’s largest bird of prey, it was once numerous but determined persecution of the bird resulted in its extinction in the 20th century. It is being reintroduced, to the chagrin of some farmers.   Another recently reintroduced species is the red kite which has become a  fairly familiar sight over Donside and once more around Conon Bridge following a disgraceful episode in 2015 when a large number of raptors including kites were killed, many poisoned, around there. A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to watch six of them soar over Strathpeffer. Meanwhile those criminals responsible for targeting them are keeping a low profile. The species once so common around Scotland were all killed off by the end of the 19th century. Peregrine falcons and ravens were all once very common and hen harriers, too, eventually succumbing to shooting and trapping.

It is not only large birds of prey which have fallen victim to the determined farmer, gamekeeper and the odd brainless wonder. Smaller birds have suffered from being labelled as farm pests. In 1930, Aberdeen County Council was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of them including: 65,000 rooks, 3,563 eggs and 601 nests; 7,442 wood pigeons, plus eggs and nests; 1,992 house sparrows and 704 eggs; 1,108 starlings; 897 gulls and eggs along with 1,500 brown hares and everyone’s favourite – although not Aberdeen County Council’s evidently – 175 red squirrels.

Britain’s biggest rookery was at Hatton Castle near Turriff where some 6,000 nests were counted in old beech trees and coniferous plantations during the 1960s. Each year around 10,000 of them were shot by local farmers. In the 1960s the curlew, lapwings, skylarks were very common and winter visitor, the snow bunting. I still see the odd one but not flocks. I spotted a curlew recently near Kemnay but those I used to see near Alford have disappeared. There’s a skylark hereabouts. Singular.

 Before 1850 the starling was a non-breeding migrant in Aberdeenshire, one of our rare visitors. It liked what it saw in beautiful Aberdeenshire and stayed – actually because the spread of land cultivation inadvertently provided food for starlings such as daddy long legs and grass beetles which meant they did well and so their numbers increased to the extent that within a decade it was classified as a pest. Their numbers have since declined greatly with modern methods of farming. Our farmers plough right up to fences and dykes leaving virtually no green areas to provide habitat and food for birds and small animals. With the disappearance of the starling goes their spectacular mesmeric murmurations.

Whether it was on land, in trees, in the rivers or seas animals and birds have been hunted down and systematically killed for profit, for food, for fun and for fats. Think fat think whales and seals. Northeast Scotland dominated the 19th century whaling industry in the Greenland Sea and Davis Straits – a dangerous business for all involved. On October 13, 1830 the Aberdeen Journal lamented the decline of whaling and loss of whaling vessels from Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Aberdeen and Aberdeen’s final whaling ship sailed in 1865. Of course that wasn’t the end of whaling, as we know.

A century later there was talk about the disappearance of mountain hares from our higher hills. This was a blow for the sportsman and woman who made do with blasting at the less prestigious brown hare, still numerous on the muirs. Despite being not much valued they were shot in their thousands. Social media has provided reminders that wildlife are not taken in penny numbers with pictures of trucks loaded up with mountain hare carcasses being taken off hillsides for disposal by sporting estate workers who say numbers of the mountain hare are high but have produced no credible evidence to back up their claims.

Our native red deer have consistently been popular with those who take to the hills for a spot of blood sport. In the 1960s around 10% of the red deer population was shot annually i.e. c.2000. There have been conflicting estimates of their numbers and the best means of controlling what are thriving numbers of them.

Roe deer are tiny animals; very timid. They are popular with creepy men in camouflage breeks, wax jackets and flat caps armed with huge guns that look like they’ve done a heap of damage in Iraq or Afghanistan.  In case you were wondering the little roe deer are unarmed.

The encroachment of humans, the adaption of the countryside to provide economic value will always put pressure on our wildlife. Add to this blend hobby hunters and climate change and the mix becomes toxic. Survival for so many species has been easy/tricky/impossible depending on so many circumstances but human interference arguably poses the most deadly threat to nature and that will only increase.

April 12, 2019

The destruction of the Highland way of life is a mere footnote in the pages of British history. The last Jacobite hanged.

Dr Archie Cameron stole back to Loch Arkaig in Lochaber to retrieve French gold meant to support the Jacobite cause during the second uprising. It was eight years after the bloody massacre at Culloden, that misbegotten battle to prevent the imposition of a German Protestant on the throne of Great Britain and Ireland following the proscription of Catholics from the monarchy.

Cameron took a calculated risk in returning to Scotland from France where he had sought refuge, and lost. Was he eager to get his hands on the treasure to support his growing family or use it to fund a third uprising against the Elector of Hanover and his heirs? As it happened someone else was eyeing up the cache, fellow Scot and Jacobite, Alastair Ruadh Mac Dohomnuil (Alastair MacDonnell) of Glengarry who turned government informer – his undercover name was Pickle. MacDonnell succeeded in pocketing the gold after tipping off the British government to Cameron’s whereabouts. The doctor was captured by a contingent of redcoats at Innersnaid near Loch Katrine on 20th March 1753 and this was the reason he became the last Jacobite hanged (by the state at least.)

Dr Archibald Cameron

Dr Archibald Cameron

A mere hanging lacked the necessary humiliation required by the English authorities in need of a political message which is why being declared guilty of High Treason 46 year old Dr Archie Cameron found himself bound to and dragged on a sledge through London streets then transferred to a cart to await his execution – a business that was to involve being left to swing till not quite dead before being cut down, his abdomen sliced through so his guts could be removed and burnt and his head  separated from his body and exhibited.  None can say the British state is not savage and bloodthirsty when it comes to revenge.

This son of clan chief, Cameron of Lochiel, who studied medicine at Edinburgh was as ardent a backer of the legal claim of James VII and his heirs to the throne of Gt Britain and Ireland (the one mocked as ‘The Pretender’ although that term would have been more appropriately applied to the German Georges as any in his family.)

In the wake of the failed uprising of 1745/46 Cameron was one of many Scottish lairds and noblemen charged with high treason under the 1746 Act of Attainder (one of the laws brought in to penalise Jacobites [supporters of James].)

Jacobites were not only Scots for theirs was a religious feud between Catholics (Jacobites) and Protestants (German George’s supporters.) However, no English person was listed on the London government’s roll of traitors.

There were many in Scotland opposed to the rising and some places showed their feelings by bell ringing and celebrations when the rebellion reached its bloody conclusion. Then again it is not unusual during times of war to defer to the winning side as an act of self-preservation.

George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland aka Butcher Cumberland in Scotland and Sweet William in England,* headed the army that ultimately defeated the Jacobites. He was humbly congratulated by Glasgow’s magistrates and merchants following his ‘glorious’ victory at Culloden near Inverness and there was delight that the

‘distressed country which had seen violence and confusion, was restored from slavery and oppression to liberty and tranquillity.’

One woman’s or man’s liberty and tranquillity is another’s repression and torment.

Business people worried that divisions across Britain would interfere with commerce and there were those who were desperate to halt the ‘exorbitant Power of France’ – any of that ring a bell? Butcher Cumberland became British traders’  ‘glorious instrument’ but for great numbers of Highland Scots he was an instrument of terror. 

A young Jacobite fighting at Culloden (from Peter Watkins film, Culloden.)

While joy and partying cheered the populace of Glasgow further north government troops including contingents of German mercenaries combed the land for any termed ‘rebels’ and their families who were put to the sword, hanged from trees or shot. Homes were torched, men and women humiliated and mistreated, women and girls raped, families broken up and those fortunate enough to escape with their lives were rounded up, many manhandled onto boats anchored at strategic parts off the Scottish coast then shipped to North America or south to English prisons and trials. Permanent garrisons and forts were built around the Highlands by the London government determined to contain the rebellious north and instil a reign of fear.

Cameron was bound and taken to Stirling then Edinburgh and ultimately London where he was imprisoned in the Tower. A brief appearance before the King’s Bench at Westminster confirmed his identity and a charge of being a key ‘Agent, Actor and Contriver of the Rebellion in 1745 and against whom an Outlawry was issued out in the London Gazette …’ (Caledonian Mercury 24 May, 1753.) From there Dr Archibald Cameron of Lochiel was returned to the Tower of London until his execution a few weeks later.

His death would come slowly. There was the degrading traitor parade on a wooden sledge through London’s streets lined with the curious but it was said there were none of the usual taunts  or items thrown at the man being led to his death for it was widely reported Cameron was a kindly, softly spoken and considerate man condemned on a technicality and he attracted respect. He showed composure during this public ordeal, searching the sea of faces crowded around him for any friends there to share his agony and he smiled at some who caught his eye.

He had not been permitted a quill pen and ink to write down his final thoughts but a blunt pencil and scrap of paper found their way into his hands and this was passed to his wife (who had been able to visit her husband in the Tower.)

At Tower Hill Cameron was helped onto a cart from his sledge and there he talked for a short time with a minister, admitting to him he was ‘a little tired’ but resigned to his fate. The two prayed together and recited extracts of Psalms until Cameron said, I have now done with this World, and am ready to leave it

After embracing him the minister tripped as he left the cart and was urged by the considerate man facing death to be careful.

That mood of compassion continued for Cameron was left hanging for 20 minutes to ensure, hopefully, he was dead before his head was hacked from his shoulders. In the event he was not gralloched like a deer as had been the fate of many before him, including famously William Wallace 450 years earlier, nor were his limbs severed from his body or his head placed on a spike on London Bridge but instead it was placed alongside his body when he was buried in the Savoy Chapel at Westminster in London – though I’m sure he would have preferred to lie at Lochiel.

And so with Archie Cameron’s death on the 7th June 1753 the number executed by the British state post-Culloden came to over 90. Archibald Cameron of Lochiel was the last of the Jacobites to be formally executed for High Treason while Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, had been the last Jacobite and last man beheaded in Britain, in 1747.

As for Pickle the Spy, Alastair Ruadh Mac Dohomnuil (ruadh is Gaelic for red as in red-haired), who was responsible for Cameron’s capture, he had spent two years in the Tower of London and on his release in 1747 he went out a snitch – a traitor in other words, though not regarded as such by the British government, of course. He provided the London government with a host of intelligence which resulted in the deaths of several of his former comrades. It is said he dealt directly with Henry Pelham, Whig and prime minister.

On Pelham’s Wiki entry it says:

Pelham’s premiership was relatively uneventful in terms of domestic affairs, although it was during his premiership that Great Britain experienced the tumult of the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

Tumult. And so we get a sense of the insignificance of Scotland’s history within terms of Britain – that the last civil war fought in these islands is designated as insignificant and the deaths, the confiscation of lands, the eradication of the Highland clan system, the burning out of families from their homes, the harrying of the Highlands by British and German troops, the prohibition of the very clothes on the backs of Highlanders (how did poor Highlanders find clothes different from their home-spun traditional garments?), the music and instruments they played even the language they spoke was targeted and outlawed. Quite scandalous. Today this kind of merciless assault on a region’s way of life would be seen for what it is and condemned. Not so in the 18th century. The Highlands had been designated as wild and desolate. Its majestic mountain landscape as ugly and the communities who lived there as savages and not being entirely human it was easy to turn a blind eye to having them systematically cleared from their homes and transported to the Americas and other parts of the world. And all of this disgraceful persecution is summed up as – a tumult (a melee, commotion, ruckus, disturbance.) 

I first encountered Dr Archibald Cameron, Pickle the Spy and other players of the time in D. K. Broster’s fine Jacobite Trilogy. Dorothy Kathleen Broster was an English writer from Garston, Liverpool and academic. The Flight of the Heron, the first tale of her trilogy published in 1925 proved a huge success and no wonder for it’s a wonderful adventure story and Outlander’s Jamie Fraser is a spit for Ewen Cameron in all kinds of ways. Mac Donnell is Finlay MacPhair of Glenshian in Broster’s books. 

It is easy to romanticise the Jacobites, fighting against a British state defended by a large efficient army; well-organised and brutally ruthless. Everything was thrown at the Jacobites – at Catholic Highland lairds and clan leaders – and ordinary clans men and women – doggedly faithful to each other but the Jacobites did not set out to defend a now lost separate Highland identity although their actions quickened the eradication of what distinguished the Highlander from Lowlander. Theirs was a religious campaign.

Lands belonging to pro-Jacobite clans were confiscated by the British state in a way many of us would heartily approve of today. In the 18th century these lands, purloined by the German king and his government in London, were then sold off to the highest bidder or dispensed to friends. The clan lands were broken up. That cohesiveness of place was lost. Many Highland lairds of today who flaunt their non-outlawed tartans and hairy tweeds harbour none of the obligations or responsibilities towards the people who live in their communities that pre-Culloden Highland lairds held to. That unique system of life that distinguished the Highlands from the rest of Gt. Britain and Ireland was destroyed on the scaffolds of London.

*The flower Sweet William is not welcome in some Scottish gardens for its glorification of the Butcher Cumberland.

 

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2019/02/01/kelp-clearances-clanranald-speculators-and-scottish-scoundrel-lairds

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/reflections-on-the-highland-clearances-croick-church-at-strathcarron

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/the-church-belongs-to-god-but-the-stone-belongs-to-the-duke-the-highland-clearances-as-told-by-iain-crichton-smith

 

March 22, 2019

Remember that you are an Englishman and consequently have won first prize in the lottery of life. English/British/Scottish – discuss

Remember that you are an Englishman and consequently have won first prize in the lottery of life. (Cecil Rhodes)

That modest opinion may well have been shared by the majority of his kin folk but beneath it flowed an undercurrent of resentment that the message wasn’t being shouted loudly enough so the rest of the world could better appreciate it – and, importantly, the rest of Britain.

“Most English people have observed, with discomfort if not alarm, the persistent and united effort made by the Press of this country to stamp out the use of the words ‘England’ and ‘English,’ substituting for them ‘Britain’ and ‘British.’

Such was a claim which to most Scots was surely arresting in its absurdity. It was made in The Era, a British newspaper, in 1937. It claimed this was an attempt to –

‘obliterate the conception of England as a separate entity; to make the English masses, and the world at large, regard the four people of the British Isles as identical in character, temperament, and spiritual gifts.”

While it is undoubtedly true that a definition of Englishness is difficult to pin down, not unconnected with the fudging of English with British since the Act of Union, much of the populations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales might scratch their heads when England complains of having its identity obliterated knowing the three smaller nations are the ones who have suffered greatest from this phenomenon. The four parts of the UK have lost their distinctiveness – some today even argue there are not four parts to the UK but one single entity. The writer back in the thirties is not so daft or politically devious but still he fails to recognise that when England and English became shorthand for Britain and British all those centuries ago the blurring of distinctions began but England’s greater population kept England at the forefront of the Union and perceptions of it while all but obliterating the unique identities of the three other parts of the Unions.

Blame for the confusion of identities within the Union, according to the writer in The Era, lies with the press and the BBC. His points to the BBC’s celebration of St Andrew’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, St David’s Day but not St George’s Day. I don’t know if the BBC mentioned Burns’ Night in the thirties but that could have been added to his list. I don’t know, either, if there is a Shakespeare Night or morning or afternoon, perhaps there should be. However, Shakespeare does get wall-to-wall coverage in programmes across the BBC so perhaps a Shakespeare afternoon wouldn’t be noticed, is not necessary or would be overload. What really got the author’s dander up was seeing Shakespeare described as a British poet. Gadzooks!

He’s right about Shakespeare. He was English. And pre-Union. At the same time that bad boy of literature, Lord Byron, is invariably referred to as an English poet although he is very much British – having a Scottish mother, was brought up in Scotland and retained his Scottish accent till the end of his days. Double gadzooks! Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes stories is frequently described as English and do we complain? – well, aye, but no-one takes any notice. Worst of all in the commentator’s view was seeing a picture of York Minister in a newspaper with the caption, “This Britain.” Welcome to our world, matey.

Not only England, but every Englishman is an island.
(Novalis, German poet d.1801)

Back to our author who complains that the ‘non-English peoples of Britain’ – ‘these peoples’ he calls us – that’s Scots, Irish and Welsh (whose population, he points out, make up less than Greater London) ‘have been given equitable representation in the English Parliament’ which begs the question – what parliament? English post-Unions? Surely an English parliament doesn’t exist? But it’s as we suspected – Westminster is or isn’t a British or English parliament? And then there’s his use of ‘given’? – the largesse of England towards non-English bits of – uhm, Britain is underwhelming.

The writer ties himself in a right Gordian knot – that has definitely no Aberdeenshire associations – when he writes that one of the four entities making up Britain, let us call it England, has and deserves to have the whip hand and the right to distribute ‘rights’ as it sees fit (and presumably withdraw them as it seems fit.)

In his defence the writer is clearly in support of Home Rule for the non-English parts of the Union for he says that if any wanted Home Rule ‘there would be no opposition from England’ – to which I say, if only.

The political independence lost by Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to England, he claims, has been amply compensated by the economic advantages provided by being in the UK and being raised to a position within the world that would be impossible without being tied to England. You have to admire his gall if not his ignorance of the intellects, discoveries and influence of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish over time – many simply classified as, uhm – English. Where is Voltaire when you need him? Ah, here he is –

We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.
(Voltaire)

If we were ever in any doubt that England is the leading entity in the Union our correspondent is on hand to sort us out – ‘if tomorrow Scotland, Ireland and Wales became as independent as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the prestige of England would not be lowered at all in the eyes of the world.’ His England, he claims, suffered 82% of the casualties in the First World War. His reference to casualties is as vague as it is nonsense, plucked out of the air for impact. Untangling English from Scottish, Welsh or Irish casualties who might have lived in England or been in English regiments and were counted as English is a mine field. Sheer fiction.

It is an anathema to the writer that the traditions and culture of the entities of the Union have had their differences flattened out. He deplores that the English, descended from peasants, have been ‘callously and blindly robbed of their ancient rights, not only by the Land Enclosure Acts, but by the whole monetary policy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’ He’s right you know. Finally he’s got a point.

An Englishman has all the qualities of a poker except its occasional warmth.

(Daniel O’Connell)

And so the debate over the Union, definitions of what comprises Britain and Britishness rumbles on. It began even before the Union was set up and has been defined by England and her interests. For many of us here in Scotland we have grown up in a Britain that is dominated by England and Englishness that are as alien to us as they are to people from other nations. Even the very language we use in Scotland is unacceptable as British and ridiculed if introduced into conversations in England (where we tend to speak a different version of the language spoken at home because we adapt to accommodate the English population of Britain) e.g. listen to SNP MPs rather self-consciously incorporate words that are part of our everyday speech when they debate in parliament and are greeted with smiles and cheers. Why should they be? They wouldn’t be in Scotland which last time I looked was part of Britain. I don’t think many in the Commons laugh at their use any more except possibly Scottish Tories who appear embarrassed by anything that is distinctly Scottish. In previous times it was different and Scottish MPs were frequently and cruelly mocked for the use of Scotticisms in the ‘English parliament.’

The Scotsman newspaper (surely an oxymoron) is a platform for pro-Union views which often touches on Scottishness/ Englishness/Britishness. In an edition in 1947 it was claimed that few English people think of themselves as British only English and for them the Union wasn’t important. The concept of ‘we’ as in we together who make up Britain had little meaning for them. The did not have a sense of being at one with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What they understood as ‘the nation’ or ‘the country’ was and still is England. They had no notion on what went on elsewhere in the other entities of the UK and presumably imagined people of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales lived lives identical to theirs in England.

By contrast Scots have always understood the difference between Britain/England/Scotland and have had to endure the virtual suppression of Scotland as a partner in the Union. That struggle has not really succeeded and Scotland as a distinctive entity with her own character and needs that became invisible in 1707 is scarcely visible in today’s British press, BBC, Sky, ITN where Scottish events and news don’t figure and at Westminster English MPs outnumber Scots by 10 :1. Scotland’s influence in Britain is virtually nil. Not sure why I included ‘virtually’ – omit as you see fit.  Today there are only 74 Scottish MPs who will always be outvoted by England’s 541 MPs who naturally put the interests of England ahead of Scotland’s. When English people talk of the English parliament of Westminster they are spot on. Westminster’s traditions pre-date the Union, references there are to English politics, the built-in majority is English – the monarch in whose name the parliament sits is called Queen Elizabeth II despite there never having been a Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland. But then Scotland is an irrelevance in the union of Britain.

It is not surprising that the period following World War 2 provided an edge to the debate over Britain/England/Scotland for it was a war fought to defend the freedom of sovereign nations across the world from fascism. Scots lives were lost in that war where British soldiers have been described as English and the Union of nations that is Britain was presented to the world as England. It is the cruellest of actions to take someone’s life and deny their identity and existence but that is what happens in a union of unequals.

 

February 20, 2019

America – The Land of Opportunity – and death. The tragic case of Peter Adam.


All life lies in graveyards and it follows that sometimes an inscription intrigues and tantalises those of us who like nothing better than to wander around a cemetery with a camera and notebook.

There is a reference in Aberdeen’s Allenvale cemetery to ‘Poor Kate.’ What lies behind this poignant phrase I have no idea but when I came across another equally mysterious reference last weekend in Monymusk graveyard in Aberdeenshire I was tempted to probe behind its veiled reference.

ERECTED
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
PETER ADAM, MASON
SON OF GEORGE ADAM, DALMADILLY
WHO MYSTERIOUSLY MET HIS DEATH
ON HIS WAY HOME FROM FOX ISLAND
SEPTEMBER 17, 1872
IN THE 24TH YEAR OF AGE
AND LIES BURIED
AT PALMER MASS,US
AMERICA

The inscription goes on to include Peter’s parents – George and Isabella Reid and at the base of the gravestone is a message I can’t quite manage to decipher –

Peter Adams folks stone

Homeward with longing heart he sped To parents, Brothers, Sisters dear, Home, Home unto himself he said,   ?     ?     ?     not Home in Heaven so near

What happened to Peter was this 

He had sailed to America with his friend, Peter Murray, as a twenty-two year old to work there at his trade of stonemason. Stonemasons from across Scotland and specially from the northeast frequently spent months or years in America and Canada where their skills were sought for the rush of building taking place during the years of mass immigration of the 19th century and when the north American stone industry was only getting underway and in need of experienced and skilled labour. Many Scottish migrant masons settled in Canada and America like fellow-Scot, stonemason Donald MacLeod who was part of that mass exodus of the cleared and voluntary of the 19th century and who wrote about the brutality of the United Kingdom’s treatment of Highland Scots. Peter Adam was not forced abroad but chose to go for a time and this rather serious young man planned to return home to his sweetheart.

In September 1872 Peter, carrying the 500 dollars (equivalent to over $10,000 today) he had saved over the two years working in America, set out for Boston to catch a steamer back to Britain. The evening boat from Rockland, Maine was late in arriving and Peter missed his ship to Liverpool so he took himself off to a money broker’s office where he changed all but $200 dollars into gold which he hid about his person then boarded the night express train to New York to catch a ship home from there. Then he disappeared.

A week later some 80 miles west of Boston, at the town of Palmer, Massachusetts, a body was pulled from the Quaboag River. The victim had been stabbed in the neck and his jugular vein had been severed. Discovered sewn into an undershirt were two gold sovereigns and a gold watch and in a wallet in a trouser pocket was $7 along with a luggage receipt and train ticket to New York. The man’s boots had been cut open from top to foot – obviously when he was being robbed.

Peter Murray who had worked with the other Peter at Fox Island heard of the river corpse  which had been subsequently buried as an unknown person and suspecting it was his friend, Peter Adam, he insisted the body be exhumed and was able to confirm his identity. It was presumed the Peter Adam had been followed from the money broker’s office to the train where he hid his gold in his boots. He was then attacked, murdered, his boots cut open, the gold stolen and Peter thrown into the river from one of many rail bridges en route.

Quaboag River

Quaboag River

Peter Murray sent what remained of Peter Adam’s money, a mere $150 (perhaps $50 had been taken to bury him though that seems excessive) to the young man’s father back in Aberdeenshire.

Where the Peters were working was an area known as Vinalhaven and islands known collectively as Fox Islands. The granite they produced was called Fox Island. In 1872 over 600 men were employed quarrying and cutting granite on the Fox Islands for major building works primarily in Washington, Boston and New York.

The Granites of Maine (1907)

Granite areas of Maine c. 1907

Granite quarrying was a major industry and employer – in addition to Scots employed many of its workers came from Ireland and they formed the first Fenian Circle in Maine dedicated to liberating Ireland ‘from the yoke of England and for the establishment of a free and independent government on Irish soil.’ 

Donald MacLeod mentioned earlier, a stonemason from Strathnaver in Sutherland, was also conscious of yokes – of class and he wrote about the Clearances and the impact on Highland Scots of the practices of the vicious and ruthless British ruling classes. I mean to come back to Donald in a future blog. His experiences were different from men such as  Adam and Murray who were enticed away from Scotland to provide vital service to the stone industry in north America by agents of American and Canadian quarriers and mason workshops. Some went for the adventure of visiting a different land; some went for the money to be made there. Peter Adam’s motives are not known; perhaps he was driven by a combination of the two. He certainly saved much of his earnings which would have established a solid monetary foundation for his impending marriage. He was no flighty, immature young man for he was described as serious, religious and sober and we know he was cognisant of the dangers and lawlessness around him in north American when he took the precaution of hiding his gold and cash when he began his journey home. Sadly he would never see his native Aberdeenshire again – his family or his fiancé. He was robbed and killed and the perpetrators got away with their horrible crime.

It is interesting that Peter’s family shied away from declaring that their son was brutally murdered instead they chose to be ambiguous as if shielding themselves from the terrible reality of his death and his memory from being tainted by such horrible association. They might have added the words of the parents of Kate in Allenvale when reflecting on her life – equally ambiguous but suggestive of something tragic in her life –‘Poor Kate’ – ‘Poor Peter.’

Peter Adam folks full stone

February 1, 2019

Kelp, Clearances, Clanranald, Speculators and Scottish Scoundrel Lairds

This blog came about after I was contacted by a reader whose family were involved with kelp preparation in the Hebrides before being forced off their land to make a life elsewhere. What I knew about kelp could have been written on a postage stamp until I looked into it further. This is some of what I discovered.

Much of the glass going into windows in Britain’s better-off households, to protect them from the elements was, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, mainly manufactured using kelp produced by the poorest of people in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Highland Scots engaged in this process from very young children to the elderly and infirm enjoyed none of the protection of glass forced as they were through circumstance to live outside among the rocks on the seashore during the kelp season; enduring all weather conditions and blasted by wind, rain and sea or baked under the hot sun on exposed isles and coasts. When crofters were labouring at the shore they were not looking after their crofts which provided their food and so these failed from lack of attention and in any case the seaweed they traditionally used to fertilize the land was needed to be burnt to make kelp.

kelp

Seaweed used to make kelp

Glass and that other major product of kelp, soap, were made using potash and soda produced from burned seaweed; it was also used in calico production, for bleaching, for iodine, for producing potassium alum (an agent in a host of industrial uses) and for fertilisers. Glass used for bottles and drinking glasses was less dependent on kelp than window glass up until the 1830s. That this important trade has been largely ignored by historians and economic historians is surely down to its location – rural Scotland (Wales and Ireland.) Sadly, historians and social commentators indulge their own prejudices which are passed on through their works which have shaped our knowledge of the past. There has been and still is an emphasis on urban employment over rural – urban = good and significant / rural = bad and trivial.

Kelp production contributed in no small measure to the UK’s economy, it became a valuable commodity and was a major source of employment in rural Scotland with around 60,000 involved in kelp production in the Hebrides and Orkney (a similar number in Ireland.) In any measure this is a large number of people dependent on an industry which was essential to the UK’s production of glass and soap – so much so stones were taken to beaches to encourage seaweed to grow on them. Of course essential as the kelp industry was its lynchpin, the kelpers, were ruthlessly exploited. 30 tons of seaweed was needed to produce 1 ton of kelp ash. Something in the region of 2,000 tons of kelp was produced annually in the western isles in the mid-later 18th century. A laird’s cut was around £21 per ton with local workers paid something under £2 per ton at best and 4d (4 pennies at the other end.)

What is kelp? Nowadays we refer to a type of seaweed as kelp but originally this was the name given to the alkali produced from burning seaweed. Hebridean lairds allocated their crofters a small portion of seashore when kelp production was at its height. In addition to working the land crofters and their families were put to work by their lairds producing kelp. Lairds paid their tenant crofters an annual amount for each ton of kelp and the sums paid reflected what was set by agents working for glass or soap manufacturers.

Kelping was heavy work which required many hands to cut, carry, spread to dry and burn the seaweed in stone kilns (filthy work which led to blindness among kelpers.) Kiln fires burned for about 8 hours to produce kelp, dark blue and oily, which then had to be cooled over weeks.

For crofters whose smallholdings were inland kelp production meant moving their whole family to the shore, perhaps many miles away from their homes so forcing them to live on the seashore where they laboured both day and night by torchlight. Men had to go to sea fishing during the only time available to them, in the dark, to feed their families otherwise attempting to live off the odd limpets or shellfish they could find. There are reports of people eating seaweed but they could not eat the weed they needed for kelp. Oatmeal was the staple diet of Scots but on islands where it might not be possible to grow oats, or in sufficient amounts, having this most basic foodstuff was dependent on the arrival of boats from the mainland. Then again meal wasn’t free and these people had no or virtually no cash because their landlords paid mainly in kind, with goods rather than money. To obtain meal people had to barter the little alternative food they had such as cattle or fish. Because kelp required a lot of hands to produce it families were encouraged to have more children which meant more mouths to feed which was difficult at the best of times but when the worst came families were desperate.

During the long years of the French and Napoleonic wars the British government slapped hefty import taxes on foreign goods and British manufacturing became dependent on home produced kelp so Highland lairds forced their tenants into its production. The Highlands’ youth were also in great demand by the British army because of their height and strength but those families who sacrificed their sons in the British crown’s and government’s wars discovered there was no reciprocation for as soon as the Napoleonic Wars ended the government lowered the tariff on foreign kelp with the result that imports of Barilla or Spanish kelp devastated Highland production and pushed already impoverished people to utter despair. Not everyone did badly, in fact some benefitted – the usual people – London speculators and soap manufacturers. Greed was the winner and if the people of the Hebrides had to survive eating the seaweed that once was in such demand then so be it. Reports of terrible starvation, of children with ribs jutting out and bulging eyes in emaciated faces seem not to have lost any greedy government minister or capitalist manufacturer a minutes sleep.

So there it was British manufacturers preferred foreign kelp or adopted a different type of ash made from salt. Islanders lost the little income they depended on and their lairds lost a source of income. Something had to give. Lairds gave the people away. Forced them out. Burnt them out of their homes so they couldn’t go back. Young and old were forced onto vessels heading for North America. Lairds wanted to empty the land of people so they could replace them with sheep. It’s strange how loyalty is so often a one-way street.

reginald george

Reginal George the big spender

One notorious laird who cleared islanders as if they were detritus was Reginald John James George, chief of Clan Ranald, a branch of Clan Donald, at Moidart and Benbecula. Old Etonian Reginald’s father had previously flogged off most of the Clan’s landholding while Reggie spent his time furthering the domination of Britain abroad. He wasn’t familiar with Scotland and had no understanding of his estate or its people. But in an effort to play the laird he did develop a penchant for tartanalia.

You might recall that post-Culloden those symbols of the Highlands – tartan and bagpipes -were banned in an effort to destroy the very way of life of Highlanders. Once the British army eventually abandoned hunting down Highlanders as a sport and when the British government was certain the Highlands had been well and truly crushed faux Highland chic was invented in cartoon form with the appearance of George IV in Edinburgh in 1822 resplendent in a pair of bright pink tights and a mini kilt. He was encouraged in this pantomime by Sir Walter Scott and various other hangers-on including our Etonian Reggie George. It was absentee landlords who finished the job begun by the crown and government in London to destroy traditional Highland communities bound by kinship. The cleansing of the Highlands and islands continued unabated so the resurgence of tartan was neither here nor there. Its specific context and role had been destroyed for good. Time to indulge in games and make-believe.

Reggie discovered he just adored the Highlands, in his Anglicised head. He didn’t live in the Highlands, of course. His home was in the south of England or abroad and but he remembered ‘his people’ in Moidart and Benbecula when it came to collecting their rents which he made sure he received in full irrespective of the extent ‘his people’ were starving to death. In the years of the kelp industry canny landlords based rents not on croft land value but the value of a tenant’s stretch of shore with its seaweed. Self-indulgent Reggie wasn’t doing so well on the cash front either, for he loved to mingle with the rich and powerful and found he had to spend to prove he was one of them. So, like his father, he burnt through his estate’s wealth and was forced to sell his lands in Scotland in 1838 to Gordon of Cluny. Within a year he tried to persuade Gordon to allow him to keep the estate while allowing the new owner take up the old debts and manage the property for he thought it would be lovely for him to spend the remainder of his days among his affectionately disposed tenantry, ‘whose forefathers and mine have ever been united by ties of no ordinary degree of mutual attachment.’

You couldn’t make this stuff up but with the aristocracy you don’t have to – they’re delusional every one. Reggie’s affectionate tenants on South Uist and Benbecula saw him for what he was a nasty and grasping man who cared nothing for them. When the possibility of Reggie living on Benbecula was broached concerns were raised over his safety from his ‘clansmen.’ Such was their regard for this waster.

The tenants fared no better with John Gordon of Cluny; not only considered to be the richest man in Britain but a thoroughly nasty piece of work and not one who accepted criticism. Gordon’s takeover of Reggie’s estate was part of a long game, for worthless as they were to him then he saw a profit eventually. His other landholdings included tracts in Aberdeenshire, Banff, Nairn and Midlothian as well as the Hebrides but by 1848 Cluny’s Hebridean investment was costing him as he had to pay out nearly £8,000 in famine relief to his wretched tenants.

Another nasty piece of work, Patrick Sellar, the brute and factor who enthusiastically carried out the instructions of George Granville Leveson-Gower and Elizabeth the Duke and Countess of Sutherland. He was the willing hand that carried out many Highland Clearances evicting thousands of families, burning their cottages and establishing large sheep farms. Evicted tenants resettled in coastal crofts were forced to learn to fish and process seaweed. He tried to buy Clan Ranald lands on South Uist, Benbecula and Barra for his employer.

These people were all of a kind. Callously indifferent to human suffering and voraciously greedy. In 1851 Gordon of Cluny began to forcibly evict all his tenants to rid himself of responsibility for providing them with basic relief and with the prospect that sheep would better augment his already obscene level of wealth.

kilns on orkney

Kelp kilns on Orkney

In August 1851 the folk of South Uist were forced to attend a meeting at Loch Boisdale and from there they were grabbed and manhandled onto Atlantic-bound boats like so much cattle by the laird’s lackeys – his factors, estate agents and police. Angus Johnstone was handcuffed and forced onto the ship. Others ran in all directions to find hiding places so desperate were they to stay at home. In one incident a man hid in an Arran boat and was protected by the ship’s master who threatened to ‘split the skull’ of the first man to board his boat. This man survived this particular sweep of people. Most of those who ran were hunted down by men and dogs and dragged onboard vessels. Girls of twelve and fourteen from Barra evaded their persecutors and so the ships sailed to North America without them but with the rest of the family onboard – perhaps to a new life or perhaps to succumb to plague or smallpox during the crossing.

The venerable John Gordon of Cluny was, of course, a scoundrel. His promises were worthless. He told tenants he would pay their passage to Quebec where they would be provided with jobs and land. Reluctantly he paid the ship fees when compelled to by the government but reneged on the guarantees of work and land. So the islanders who left Scotland impoverished found themselves in unfamiliar Canada with nothing. This was no isolated example.

A Canadian newspaper, the Dundas Warder, reported on 2 October 1851
‘We have been pained beyond measure for some time past, to witness in our streets so many unfortunate Highland emigrants, apparently destitute of any means of subsistence, and many of them sick from want and other attendant causes.’

The richest man in Britain was a barbarian who brought incalculable misery, desperation and death to Highland Scots. Add the fate of the cleared people of Scotland to all those other acts of cruelty imposed on helpless communities throughout the British Empire and the slave trade and you have a large slice of British history that is too often glossed over for there is reluctance in many quarters to accept the immense harm created by the most powerful elements in the UK to the most helpless around the world, not least within the British Isles.

Next time you spread toothpaste containing kelp on your toothbrush or sprinkle dried kelp on your salad spare a moment to think of the people whose lives were destroyed by exploitative landlords who forced them to produce kelp when it was worth big money and speculators and the government who threw them to the wolves.

An excellent source is: The Jaws of Sheep: The 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny. James A. Stewart, Jr.
Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium
Vol. 18/19 (1998/1999), pp. 205-226

It can be read online: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20557342?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Shore ownership under udal law in Orkney and Shetland

January 28, 2019

Death of a Pauper

Guest blog by Textor

In June 1850 David Wright, chartist, post office messenger, shoemaker, poet and it seems a police informer, raised a legal action in Aberdeen Sheriff Court. As lowly as the local Sheriff Court might have been the radical democrat was in a sense challenging the might of the British state. His beef was with James Wallace, Inspector of Poor for St Nicholas Parish, one of the many men across Britain who had been given the job of relieving, organising and disciplining the country’s poor.

poors house

The poet’s mother Jean Duncan had recently died. Burial clothing, coffin and interment cost her sons 25 shillings. The poet claimed that St Nicholas Parish, in the person of James Wallace, was due to cover the cost of the funeral. It transpired that Jean had been on the city’s poor roll for over ten years which meant she had been entitled to, and received support from the city. For most of her time on the roll she had been eligible for what was called out-door relief: a meagre amount of entitlement was given while she stayed at what was her home; undoubtedly a poor soul in a poor house.

Circumstances changed about March 1849 out-door relief was withdrawn and she was sent to the Poor’s House on Nelson Street. This recently opened institution became home cum prison for women, men and children from across Aberdeen. We don’t know why Jean Duncan decided the Poor House was not for her; more than likely having been forced out of her own home and losing the degree of freedom that went with it she found institutional discipline at Nelson Street too much and perhaps the mix of residents did not suit her. Whatever the case she abandoned the Poor’s House within three weeks. Sadly for her the rules of the game meant Jean was no longer eligible for poor relief. She lost her official designation of “pauper” and with it any help from the parish.

So it was Jean fell back on the little that her family could provide until her death in the summer of 1850. If the unfortunate woman had died a pauper then the cost of burial could have been covered by parish funds although with the Anatomy Act in operation corpses of any “unclaimed” poor dead were made available to city surgeons for dissection. A “guardian” of Old Machar’s poor put it this way – many prejudices in regard to this subject existed in the minds of some people. Easy for this representative of the middle class to say, he was unlikely to have a family member dispatched to the anatomist and then buried in a pauper’s grave. It’s worth bearing in mind that a pauper’s body could lie unclaimed not because a family lacked feeling or consented to anatomising the corpse but simply because the weight of poverty prevented what was seen as a more fitting interment. Poor’s House inmates almost certainly knew and feared the Anatomy Act and this might have been in Jean Duncan’s thoughts when she decide to go back home.

Sheriff William Watson presided over the case. Here was a man of some local and national standing who was behind the introduction of Industrial Schools across Britain; institutions which by removing the poor’s children from the streets cleared the city of juvenile beggars and “delinquents” and at the same time provided a modicum of education along with opportunities to learn trades. Children were fed, and where necessary clothed. And so streets were cleared of troublesome poor, crime was contained and disaffected children were provided with some sense of their worth and place in industrial Britain. Sheriff Watson in other words was sympathetic towards them and hoped to integrate them into the ways of the Victorian world.

However, as much as the Sheriff was keen to alleviate conditions experienced by some of the city’s poor poet David Wright was treated less fortunately than Aberdeen’s ex-delinquents. Poor Inspector James Wallace argued that having left the Poor House Wright’s mother, Jean Duncan, effectively removed herself from the roll and thus ceased to be a pauper though the Inspector’s action seemed to contradict this when he arranged for a physician to visit the ailing women at her son’s house. This might well have been an act of pure charity by Wallace rather than, as Wright argued, an indication that Jean was still seen as under the care of the Poor Law. The poet’s legal agent explained that he and his brothers had pinched themselves and go into debt in their efforts to support their mother. Sympathy was not forthcoming. Inspector Wallace held against the Wright brothers the fact that on their mother’s death the body was not handed over to the Poor’s House. The legal tide favoured authority, more so when the Sheriff was told that David Wright earned 12 shillings per week as Post Office messenger. Watson ruled that regardless of how the men pinched themselves to perform the last offices in doing this they had been doing no more than was their duty and that they had no call on the parish funds.

rowlandson anatomy

Rowlandson’s Dr William Hunter’s Dissecting Room

The foundation stone of Aberdeen’s new Poor’s House had been laid with Masonic ceremony in April 1848. According to merchant Baillie James Forbes it heralded a new morality where poverty was not seen as a crime. Forbes was a liberal free-trade man and well aware that the competitive trade cycles of capitalism meant periods of unemployment for some with consequent poverty; what Forbes characterised as those unavoidable contingencies which necessarily arise from the peculiar structure of society. Unfortunate, but not a crime. As enthusiastic as he was for free-trade the good Baillie had no reluctance in promoting state intervention in management of the poor. How far this was driven by his sense of it being morally correct is a moot point. More certain is that as a Baillie (magistrate) he was alive to the need for mitigation and control of the worst social and political effects of capitalist commerce, especially so with the burgeoning of the town’s working class. He was unperturbed by the provisions of the New Poor Law Act of 1845 which, according to its critics threatened to bankrupt ratepayers and create a utopia for rogues and vagabonds. For Baillie Forbes the Act was the Magna Charta of the poor in Scotland.

Landowners in the County were aghast at the demands which threatened to be placed on their well-filled purses, but rather than admitting their simple greed they argued that the central weakness in compulsory assessment and state-managed poor relief (as opposed to Church and private philanthropy) was that it could only undermine the “natural” morality of the Scottish poor: the principle of self-dependence. In its place, they said, would be an indifference to industry and careful living.

Baillie Forbes would have none of this. He recognised that with proper organisation, sufficient funds and strict discipline the Poor’s House had every opportunity for engrafting industrial habits on “deserving” cases admitted to it. Of course part of engrafting meant the poor were threatened with “indoor” relief; a threat which promoters hoped would ensure the more indolent and profligate able-bodied persons looking for charity dropped off the poor’s roll, in effect forcing them to work for a living.

sheriff watson

Sheriff Watson

The great and the good who gathered that spring day in 1848 could not but be enthusiastic at the prospect of efficient management of an element of the capitalist social world. Positive feelings of Christian benevolence came from the prospect of providing accommodation, medical care and food for the disabled, the infirm elderly, orphans and even for some able-bodied who were willing to submit to the demands of House rules for short periods of time. Beyond this they hoped their social engineering would go some way to create greater stability and safer political world; at least for commercial and professional classes. After laying the foundation stone some sixty “gentlemen” trooped back down King Street to the Town Hall to partake of a splendid entertainment . . .[where] the wines and fruits were of the most recherché and excellent description. This small feast was provided by Baillie Forbes..

The convivial assembly warmed by the philanthropic glow of the occasion and no doubt buoyed by the wine and fruits on offer listened as Provost George Thompson, local shipping magnate, regaled them with his thoughts on the revolutions rocking continental Europe: dynasties that had stood for ages were being overthrown in a day . . . the whole of Europe was in commotion. However, Britain, he declared, had nothing to fear, his homeland was firm and secure. In her sound and well-balanced constitution there was security for the throne, and protection for the lives and liberties of the people.

Of course, liberty and security for the poor was more circumscribed than that available to the men gathered round the table at the Town Hall. Those forced by circumstance to enter the Poor’s House enjoyed the dubious liberty of being able to offer their corpses to anatomists at Marischal College; a freedom which I suspect was seldom exercised by the men fervently toasting the health of Queen and country. Jean Duncan had briefly experience the liberties and benefits of the Poor’s House and was clearly unimpressed. She was accorded the right, however, to take herself to her son’s home and there experience the rechercé of poverty. Poet David Wright, and police informer or not, recognised that freedom was hinged on wealth and property and that the “working bee” – the working man or woman was at the base of the pyramid supporting all exploiters above. As he put it,

Come then arise–for once be wise,
And imitate the bees;
And all unite in Freedom’s fight,
And spoil the sons of ease.

robber barons