Sunday, 26 December 2010

1752 - James Of The Glen......

Loch leven and The Pap of Glencoe.
Looking towards Ballachulish.

Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know that I do love my history, particularly Scots history. You'll also know that I have an eye for injustice and, as my Lovely G and I have returned from our walk, having been foolish enough to brave the sub-zero temperatures, the house is warm and snug and I'm sitting here at the kitchen table with a small bottle of ale and with some nice music pouring from my headphones { Cu Cuillan's Lament } perhaps it's not that unusual that my mind has turned to a favourite place and a story that's stayed with me since I first came across it years ago,  particularly since the story turns on injustice.  It's a famous tale, well known to many I would imagine, but no worse for yet another telling on a day like this.  It's most popular incarnation was to be part of the story of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Kidnapped',  another tale, surprise, surprise, of betrayal and the age old quest for justice and retribution as the hero David Balfour and the dashing and noble Jacobite Allan Breck escape across the wilds of this area pursued by Redcoats.

Pass through Fort William in the Western Highlands and head South towards Glencoe and you will pass through some wonderful scenery.  I love it here; Ballachulish; the dark waters of Lochs Linne and Leven and the high mountains of Mamore; the beauty of Glencoe and Glen Etive and the ancient districts of Appin, Morven and Lochaber. It's an area brimming with stories;  Robert The Bruce and the battle of Inverlochy; the infamous 1692 massacre of the MacDonalds in Glencoe;  the red-coated Government troops manning the garrison at Fort William slowly dying from institutional neglect and the harsh environment of - to their mind - a foreign and hostile land of unintelligible savages, high mountains and deep gloomy glens so far from civilisation; the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure and almost countless tales of clan warfare, Jacobites, evictions and transportation's to America.

 In these modern days of  motor travel you might momentarily appreciate the view from your window as you speed  over the utilitarian, almost military, bridge that stitches the land together across the narrow head of Loch Leven at Ballachulish.  Ballachulish,  ( Gaelic - Baile a' Chaolais}  means 'town of the narrows' or 'straits' and the narrows in question are Caolas Mhic Phàdraig - Peter or Patrick's son's narrows. Until a road was built around the head of loch Leven in 1929 the only way across the narrow, deep, flowing waters was via a ferry established in 1733, although earlier there had been other ferries and this was merely the establishment of a controlled crossing given the political instability of the times. You can still see the now redundant ferry slipway almost directly below the bridge as you pass over. As the bridge reaches land with its southern tip it lands on a high promontory, less noticeable as such now because the height of the bridge removes its lofty impact. Passengers in cars hurrying by barely see the white monument to Seumas a Ghlinne,  James of the Glen or James Stewart of Acharn to be most correct, other than as a white flash above them. Stand below by the waters lip on the slipway and imagine the bridge gone and you waiting for the ferry to arrive, you'll realise that this promontory is a very prominent point here and can be seen for many miles in almost every direction, an unusual thing in a landscape such as this.

 It was because of that visibility that James of the Glen was brought here to stand for his few final moments and recite the XXXV psalm, that heartfelt plea for rescue and retribution, before he was executed for the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure - a murder he simply did not commit.

Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them. For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall. And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation. All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him

As Campbell of Glenure disembarked from the ferry at Ballachulish that day in May 1752 he turned to one of his companions and said that he was glad to have come out of his mother's country across the river as he did not feel safe there. This strange remark shows the complicated situation that highland families found themselves in in those days. Loyalties to the 'Jacobite' cause of exiled King James, the 'king over the water', in France, or to the 'establishment' of protestant King 'German' George and the house of Hanover, divided families and made bitter enemies of close relatives. Glenure's mother was a Cameron and her clan fervently Jacobite, but he was a Campbell's son and a Hanovarian who had fought against the Jacobites in the recent rebellion, so he was considered a traitor by his mothers people. He worked as agent on behalf of the Duke of Argyll and was responsible for managing tenancies on the estates. As part of these duties he had been evicting 'unsafe' tenants across the estates beyond the narrows in Lochaber, balancing the numbers of loyal tenants against fractious Jacobites.  Although he may have felt safer as he mounted his horse at the side of the ferry, little did he know that he would be dead in less than an hour.

Campbell and Stewart were no strangers, in fact as Glenure had taken over Stewarts duties as factor or agent for the estates, there was a significant amount of contact between them and they believed themselves distantly related, but the relationship between them is complicated and would certainly at face value seem to warrant antagonism if not outright enmity. Despite this it's recorded as being one of mutual respect for it could be said that their fortunes and their circumstances had been dictated by their loyalty to the opposing royal families and the control of others. Stewart was a fervent and unrepentant Jacobite, an industrious farmer, and a thorn in the flesh of the ruling Campbell landowners, resisting in every legal way, mistreatment of tenants who had not been loyal to the Hanovarians. He was a small man in his late forties or early fifties, well educated by the standards of the day, with a good grasp of business and the law and he could speak and write fluently in English, which was rare in almost exclusively Gaelic speaking highlands.  This made him very useful to non English speakers when dealing with the authorities and made him well known far and wide throughout Appin and Lochaber. Like many, he more than enjoyed a wee dram or two and had a private still on his property. He was somewhat of an entrepreneur and had mixed business interests, including his farm. He was successful and prosperous by the standards of the day, employing several local people in various roles. Despite living on a small property himself, he and his wife had fostered - in the age old highland way of developing kinship - several children from related families, including the Allan {Breck} Stewart of 'Kidnapped' fame. During the rebellion of '45 he had been in charge of the small local Jacobite militia force and is thought to have been 'out' for the Jacobites in the rebellion of  '19. Despite the harsh and unsympathetic nature of some of Glenures role, he appears to have acted with less spite, haste and brutality than many of his counterparts and this may be the basis for the more respectful and cordial relations between the two men at the heart of the story. Perhaps because of this apparent tardiness in dispensing his duties, or because of instances in his past where his judgement or even loyalty to the Hanovarian cause had been questioned, Glenures position was itself less than secure with his employers and was currently under scrutiny. Therefore at this point in time he was under a significant amount of pressure to retain his position and ability to provide for his pregnant wife and young family.

The final hopeless Jacobite attempt to reinstate a Stewart to the throne of Britain ended strewn across the field of Culloden Moor and in bloody tatters in front of redcoat lines on a cold April morning just six years before. It signalled the beginning of the end for the traditional clan based way of life and change began with a 'pacification' that begat an exodus from the highlands, either through necessity or outright force and would continue to bleed its people across the world for generations.  The rebellious clans, and they were the minority, were torn from loyal disloyalty by musket, bayonet and rope, by transportation and execution, imprisonment and exile of their chiefs, the robbing of homes, burning of glens, the carrying off of cattle and by the merciless harrying of their homeless men, women and children.  After Culloden, many of the surviving Jacobite clan chiefs at the heart of the rebellion fled to France and relied thereafter on being maintained by loyal tenants paying their dues through intermediaries. Those unfortunate enough to remain were at the mercy of a Government determined to finally break the power of the clans and destroy any potential for further rebellion. This pacification was done in the most brutal way, starting with the execution of any injured on the battlefield at Culloden and continued across the highlands with such a year of murder, atrocity, looting and burning that it would be called ethnic cleansing in modern times. They proscribed the wearing of tartan or the kilt and the right of the people to hold and bear weapons unless as a member of the Government army, a tactic which harnessed the martial prowess and potentially troublesome manpower of its former enemies in an effective blueprint for centuries of imperial expansion to come. It took steps against the Episcopal Church, which had been instrumental in building clan support for the rebellion, promoting the Protestant Kirk of Scotland and introduced into each parish schools where only approved classes were taught in English only and by teachers appointed by the crown. These measures were all intended to break once and for all the culture of the clans by removing from them their attachment to their church, their language and the clan structure they had relied upon for centuries.

Those who disregarded these prohibitions faced severe consequences.  Landowners could find themselves 'attainted' - dispossessed of lands, position and influence - and Jacobite tennants could find themselves summarily evicted with property given to more loyal subjects, imprisonment and, in repeat offenders, transportation for life. James Stewart held his property from and acted as tacksman {agent} for his relative, the attainted and exiled Ardshiel, representing his interests back home and collecting rents, settling disputes and maintaining the estate. This had placed him in a position of influence and authority locally and because of this when the estate was placed under the control of the Campbell Duke of Argyll in 1749, he was removed from his farm and position and replaced in both by Campbell of Glenure. Glenure was widely hated, for not only was he a traitor as far as the Jacobite population was concerned, he was the everyday representative and manifestation of an oppressive, occupying force responsible for the implementation of evictions, destitution of those who deserved protection  and for increasing rents across a large local area. Due to his trusted position within the Jacobite community, James of the Glen came into contact with Glenure regularly, advising, mediating, representing and defending the rights of the population against the impositions of the new regime, forcing expensive delays and due legal process on the Hanovarians wherever he could. This did not enamour him to the establishment.

Glenure and his three companions mounted their horses and rode quietly off in single file on the path heading onto the hills and the forest of Lettermore, a heavily wooded hillside, then of birch and scots pine, nowadays of those conifers common all over Scotland. The narrow track climbed slowly up the side of the hill and took them towards their destination for the night at the Kentallen Inn where they had business to evict several smallholders the following day in nearby Duror. The steepness of the trail through the trees and moss covered boulders of the hillside quickly caused the four horses to be strung out on the path, some yards separating each from the others. Half an hour after leaving the ferry, about five o'clock in the afternoon a single shot rang out from the trees, startling the travellers and causing Glenure to cry out in pain and slump forward on his horse, although he did not fall. Some distance away up the hill, a man in tan jacket and trews, carrying what looked like a rifle, broke cover and ran off up the hillside. He was too far away to see clearly and was never identified. The three men with Glenure had dismounted and taken cover as soon as they recovered from the initial shock, fearing there were more attackers and called back to Glenure to do likewise but he was unable. Glenure called back weakly for help and to say  "I have been killed". His companions went to help him from his horse and found him drenched in blood from two bullet holes about two inches apart, in his back . {to load two bullets into a musket was a common thing for hunters of the day to do}  They laid him out on the ground at the side of the path and after only a moment or two Glenure died. After a short discussion two men went for help, one back down the path to the landowner, Stewart of Ballachulish House, one to the farm of James of the Glen. The third man nervously stayed with Glenure's body on the hill.

When news of the murder reached James of the Glen that day he said " Whoever will be the culprit, I will be the victim." It was a prophetic statement. Despite it being acknowledged that he did not pull the trigger, he was implicated because of the depth of his knowledge of the local community and the fact that one of those thought to be the most likely culprit was James' foster son Allan Breck Stewart, who would be made famous by his part in Stevensons' tale. That on the day of the murder, Allan Breck had absconded never to be seen again - at least by those who sought him - was considered further proof, if any were needed, that the plot had been hatched under the roof of James of the Glen. James was seized and tried in the old kirk at Inverary in the heart of Campbell country. The chief judge was the Duke of Argyll, himself a Campbell and no less than fourteen of the jurors were Campbell gentlemen. Also charged in absentia with the murder was Allan Breck although there was no evidence that he had carried out the deed. He was a much darker character than his literary being, an aggressive, violent and malevolent young man often in conflict with authority and would today be labelled as deeply troubled. There were other candidates; Camerons and MacOllonies, but none were to be found. The whole area was tense at the time and rife with rumours of yet another Jacobite uprising, and it is perhaps this which sealed the fate of James of the Glen and allowed his trial to proceed without proper defence as none would speak effectively on his behalf, perhaps for fear of being tainted with rebellion and identified as Jacobite.

He was found guilty of murder as charged after a perfunctory trial and sentenced to death.

It was decreed that James should be hung on the promontory at Ballachulish and that his body should remain on the gibbet as a warning to any who might oppose the established rule of law. His sentence was duly carried out and his body left - in sight of his mother's house on the other side of the loch - and under guard to prevent anyone foolish enough to think of removing it. It remained there for eighteen months until the gibbet was torn down by a gale and sent into the dark waters of the loch.

It's not known who fired the fatal shot that killed Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure that day. It was a barely remembered fireside tale until it was made famous by Stevenson all those years later. There are many theories and possibilities but it remains a mystery. Perhaps one telling point is the tale of a young man and distant relative of James of the Glen who had to be held down by relatives on the day of the execution as he wanted to go and admit to the killing. It's said that it was this same man who gathered James' bones after the gibbet was cast into the loch and carefully washed them and prepared them for a christian burial.

The gnarled memorial to James of the Glen on the promontory at Ballachulish is made from the white stone of his farm at Acharn and is a poignant spot from which to reflect on the past and how a decent man was sacrificed in naked retaliation and  for political expediency. Despite it's dressing in civil legality his public execution and exhibition was perhaps also the final grotesque act of suppression of the Jacobite cause in Scotland. Three miles to the west, on the quiet hillside of Lettermore,  is a slate cairn in memory of Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure which also marks the spot of the death of someone caught up in circumstance and guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In one of those oddities of the modern times we live in there is a movement afoot to gain a free pardon for James of the Glen. In 2008 it went before the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission but was denied due to the case being so old it was not in the interest of justice. Now, in 2010, the application is with The Scottish Ministers.

see you later.

Listening to Mike Oldfield,  Crises'


coastkid said...

Great bit of writing Al...that must have took a while,
I have always called the Ballachulish bridge the `easy rider` bridge as its like the one at the start of the famous Peter Fonda and Dennis hopper film...
Its like alot highland bridges,Skye,Kylesku,and our local Forth Bridge which superseed an ancient ferry crossing.
I like another Mike Oldfield song- 5 miles out...

Alistair said...

Thanks for the comment SNB. I know most of those bridges well yet still hanker after the old ferries, especially the Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. I adore the Corran Ferry and use it when I can. Ballachulish hotel is probably our favourite in the whole country.

I know the song you mention well. It's a favourite of mine too, so it may appear at some time. This just happened to be playing through the headphones as I finished the post. And aye - it did take a while and since posting I've been back and honed and hacked here and there too.

The Scudder said...

A wonderful and insightful piece of Scottish Historical writing ,, My old History teacher could never move me like this .,.,
You, on the other hand I could listen to all day ,, and maybe finally gain that Higher I missed all these years ago in the subject ?
Incidentally, indulge me if you will ,, What side did we Buchanans fight on ? ( I'm almost sure we were good guys ?? )
Finally you gave me one lovely little thought to ponder ,,,"he more than enjoyed a wee dram or two and had a private still on his property."
Where can you buy a wee still these days I wonder ?

Bovey Belle said...

How I enjoyed this. . . a very skilful and fascinating piece of writing and my thoughts are with the poor folk who perished during this tyrannical time. I never realized the implications of being seen to be something you weren't - a friend of the Jacobite cause, however loose the "connection" might be - in the years which came after.

Alistair said...

Scudder, Cheers buddy. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's strange that I became so fascinated by history as I never took it as a subject at secondary school. You've said such nice things about the way I write it's clear that my 'style' hits home with you.

Clan Buchanan are not normally included in the ranks of acknowledged Jacobite clans as far as I know but it's a complicated story with what was a civil war in reality and there are many stories of clans - like my Clan Donnachaidh - with relatives, even brothers on the opposite side. It's likely there were a few Buchanans on both sides. Even in those far off days the lure of adventure and risk would have been a strong pull on young men keen to test themselves and full of bravado.

As for the still - well that's illegal isn't it? I'm sure us Scots being fine upstanding and law abiding folks wouldn't do such things nowadays, especially as we love paying tax so much........

Morning BB, his story has struck a chord with you too. It was a really complicated situation as clans and people with interconnected in so many ways. The 'fostering' that James and his wife did was a system where boys were sent off to distant relatives as a means of both strengthening the kinship bonds across families and of making the children independant, aware of familial ties and obligated to the family and clan structure. There's a story of a young Hanovarian Lieutenant taking a troop of soldiers from the field at Culloden to burn down Culloden house who ignored his orders and turned his troops away when he saw the arms of his mother's clan quartered with another in a marriage plaque above the door. This sign can still be seen on the house - now a hotel - today.

One of the telling points in this story for me is that one of the group with Glenure went to James for assistance. You don't do that if someone is felt to be a threat. As for Breck scarpering; you could hardly blame him under the circumstances as he must have known he would be in the firing line with his reputation regardless of any involvement or not.

Even today travel around the highlands and you can see the aftermath of the '45 in the Protestant churches and schools that were inserted into each tiny parish to break the hold of Catholicism and the fact that even now Gaelic is hanging on by its fingertips. Even the landscape shows its effect with the mountainsides filled with trees - originally incentivised by the govt even before the coming of the Cheviot sheep and lowland shepherd - instead of estates filled with tenant farmers.......

Unknown said...

Yet another great read. Thanks, I do enjoy history. One thought from this side of the "pond", at the time, being sent to the America's must have been dreadful to those involved, but what would the world be like otherwise.
Keep writing,

Alistair said...

Thanks for the comment Kat. Glad you enjoyed it.

There's much to ponder in that thought isn't there..........

thank you.

Elizabeth Rhiannon said...

Wonderful writing, as per usual ;) I'd love to get deep into Scotland and explore that wild land...we only made it to Edinburgh :) Great post, take care and best for the upcoming New Year to both you and the Lovely G.

Alistair said...

Thanks ER. I'm glad to have piqued your interest. Although Edinburgh is beautiful there's a lot more to the country and I'm sure you would enjoy exploring further afield if you got the chance.

Big Swifty said...

I first visited Ballachulish as a child over 40 years ago, and remember a decrepit B&B (Laroch house?) run by a couple of eccentric old ladies. Years later I heard Ivor Cutler's poems about Scottish Sitting Rooms that took me right back to my childhood. My dad didn't use the ferry, he would prefer to spend his money on the drive round Kinlochleven!
I love the history postings, and actually being in that historical landscape moves me greatly. We're planning our summer hol now, and are homing in on Mull.....

Morning's Minion said...

Somehow I missed several of your recent posts and am glad to have caught up with this one in particular.
In US schools what little bit we read of Scottish history might mention the Jacobites in passing. I read some historical narratives when a teenager and became interested in learning more about the clans, the feuds, the entangled loyalties.
I do think that the composition of these historical sketches is a definite strong point of your writing.
I doubt I'll ever sort the clans in their relationships and allegiances, but I'm drawn to read more about them.
I know very little about my own Scots background [Ross, Andrews] except that the first ones to cross to the US didn't do so voluntarily.

Alistair said...

It's a fantastic part of the country around Ballachulish and Glencoe. I used to have a friend who had a house on Mull and he kept telling me I'd love it but sadly never made it before he died.

It's a place I'd like to see. I feel quite jealous.

Anonymous said...

A great read, Alistair, many parallels between this story and that of William Jobling, gibbeted at Jarrow Slake, not far from where my fiance was born ( many years later, hehe). He too was a convenient 'patsy' used to send a message to striking miners.


Alistair said...

Thanks Adam! Nice of you to visit and leave a comment.

Jings - it's nice to get a comment on one of the older posts - it rarely happens. This is a tale which I'm sure resonates through many areas. We're all subject to the establishment and they do protect their position although thankfully no longer in the way described here.

I've never heard of the man you mention. I must look him up.

Any suggestions?

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

Great overview of the Appin Murder. Any records of James' family (wife and children) history? Especially names, ages of his children and their whereabout (eg, did any make it to America and, if so, when and where?). Don Stewart (SE NC) 10.13.14

Alistair said...

Thanks Don,

I've no knowledge of any direct line but would have thought it unusual perhaps. I'll have a look at some of the books I have and see if there's anything there and I'll get back to you here.


Alistair said...


Looked at everything I have and can't see any mention of children. Would be really unusual I'd have thought at that time.

Sorry can't be of more help.

Cheers and good luck with your hunt!

Unknown said...

Hi Al,
Just came across your blog re: Jamie of the Glen. Loved it, have a soft spot for Jamie's injustice and being hung as a lesson to others. I always stop, say hello and leave a wee minding. Last week while it was blowin a hoolie I climbed the stairs, abet extremely slippery wi leaves and no hand rail ! Jings I thought, if I fall here naebudy would hear me shout! Think a letter to council for a bannister is in order. Anyway, I wanted to leave a wee homemade twig wreath with Stewart tartan weaved into it. As I placed it against the stone, in between little lanterns, heather posies and the odd single flower, the wind stopped and everything was still...just for that moment. Slainte James, and Thank you Al.

Unknown said...

Hi Al and Don,
Accounts from the time remember him as a kindly man; indeed, he was foster father to a number of orphan children, among them a young man called Allan Breck Stewart who had been left fatherless by one of James’ relatives based in Rannoch. Allan Breck, a waster who squandered both his father’s inheritance and much of James’ money, is a key figure in the Appin Murder story.

Alistair said...

Hi Fiona,

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop and comment on my wee blog. Nice to get comment from a reader, especially on some of the older stories. I've cobbled a few tales of the area together in here - which you might have visited if you liked this. I especially like the connection with Stewart of Ardsheal and have written of the fate of him and his wife who was a remarkable woman. If you haven't tried them I would modestly recommend them to you.

Next time you pass by and stop at the memorial say a wee hello from me. I'm hoping to get back there next year and will pay my respects once again as I usually do when I'm in the area.

Thanks again for your comments.

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...