Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Ballachulish Part 2 - Slate and Murder

In Part 1, I recounted how the medieval Lordship of Lorne had passed from the MacDougalls to the Stewarts in the 14th century then from the Stewarts to the Campbells in the 15th. At both of these changes, the outgoing clan had nevertheless been left with a slice of territory, the Stewarts' being Appin, the land between Loch Leven and Loch Creran. Then, in the mid 16th century, the Appin Stewart chiefs began parcelling out their estate amongst their kinsmen. One of these was Alan Stewart, grandson of the 3rd Stewart of Appin, who in the 1540s thereby acquired Ballachulish Estate consisting of three farms on the south shore of Loch Leven - Ballachulish, Laroch and Brecklet.

Ballachulish Estate outlined red on Aaron Arrowsmith's map of 1807. Note Brecklet at the east end. Laroch is where "Slate Quarry" is marked.

In 1692, the year of the Massacre of Glencoe, the laird was John Stewart, 3rd of Ballachulish. It appears that the tenants of the two eastern farms on his estate - Laroch and Brecklet - were clansmen of the neighbouring MacDonalds of Glencoe which was the target of the Massacre. According to John Prebble's book, soldiers were quartered at Laroch and Brecklet and he narrates a local tradition that one of them at Brecklet - a Campbell as well - tipped his hosts off the night before the slaughter giving them the chance to escape. The family concerned were named Robertson and note, therefore, how we have members of one clan (MacDonalds of Glencoe) living on the lands of another clan (Stewarts of Appin) and having a surname (Robertson) different from that of their chief (MacDonald) and which is actually the name of an entirely unrelated clan (Robertsons of Struan). This was, in fact, very common and dispels the myth that the members of a clan all lived on their chief's land and had his surname.

A MacDonald of Glencoe pondering on his identity

Anyway, "in or about the year 1697" the laird of Ballachulish opened a slate quarry on his estate at Laroch. Here's another insight into Highland history: just five or so years after the Massacre of Glencoe - an event emblematic of the usual perception of Highland clans, involving as it does rebellion, feud and slaughter - and the neighbouring chieftain is engaging in the rather more prosaic commercial activity of exploiting the mineral resources of his estate. But this doesn't mean that the Stewarts of Ballachulish had suddenly gone soft either. They hadn't - the next laird, Alexander, was out for the Jacobites in the 1715 and 1745 Rebellions and fought at the Battle of Culloden. It's often said that the clan system came to an end at Culloden - as if it continued in full vigour until 1746 and then suddenly vanished in a puff of smoke. It didn't. The Highlands and the clans had been in a state of transition since early in the 17th century and the Stewarts of Ballachulish - looking Janus-like simultaneously one way as martial Jacobites and the other as commercial quarrymasters - encapsulate the transition perfectly.

Kenneth "Og" [Young] MacKenzie, 4th Earl of Seaforth, 1661-1701. Late 17th century Jacobite clan chief par excellence pictured here because he's not wearing the tartan garb you'd expect a clan chief to wear. They lived in two worlds: Highland warlord one moment, commercial businessman dealing with the Lowlands - and dressing that part - the next. Picture credit: ArtUK

The earliest slate quarries in Scotland worked on an industrial scale (as opposed to for purely local demand) were those at Easdale and the neighbouring "Slate Islands" about 10 miles south of Oban. These began around 1630 and an early customer for Easdale slates was the nearby Castle Stalker. Upon slate being discovered at Ballachulish in the 1690s, experienced workers were brought in from Easdale to teach the locals the trade but, although by the 20th century, buildings in Scotland not roofed in slate were exceptional, in the 17th and early 18th centuries, the majority of buildings - even those in towns and prestige buildings like churches and most castles - were still thatched. Thus, it's said there was only one slated house in Greenock in 1712 and only four in 1716. The laird of Gairloch's house was known as Taigh Dige - the Moat House - but when he built himself a new one (pictured below) in 1738, the fact that it was slated caused such a stir locally that it was known as Taigh Dige nan Gorm Leac - the Moat House of the Blue Slabs. 

Flowerdale House, Gairloch

Slate quarrying was thus something of a niche industry until the second half of the 18th century when demand began to increase with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the dramatic expansion of towns. So much so that, "some time prior to 1760", [See EDIT at the end] John Stewart, the 5th laird of Ballachulish, opened a second quarry, this time on Brecklet Farm to the east of the original quarry on Laroch Farm. Note again the proximity to one of the more recognisable dates in Highland history: 1745. We've already mentioned the Stewarts' involvement in the Jacobite Rebellions and as we're now in the 1750s, no discussion of Ballachulish in that decade would be complete without mentioning the Appin Murder.

I may return to do a separate post about the Appin Murder but briefly for now, the estate immediately to the south of Ballachulish, Ardsheal (see the map at the end of this post), had been forfeited to the Crown due to the involvement of its owner, Charles Stewart, in the 1745 Rebellion. (Despite the laird of Ballachulish's involvement in the Rebellion, he seems to have escaped forfeiture.) Ardsheal was placed under the management of another local landowner, Colin Campbell of Glenure, who acted as the Crown's factor. On 14th May 1752, while travelling from Fort William to Kentallen, Glenure was shot and killed on the road about a mile south of Ballachulish Ferry (where the bridge over Loch Leven is now). Two men were immediately suspected by the authorities: Allan Breck Stewart, who was alleged to have pulled the trigger, and James Stewart - known as James of the Glen - who was Ardsheal's half brother and was alleged to have set Allan Breck up to kill Glenure and assisted his escape.

The Appin Murder was woven into Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Kidnapped"

Allan Breck disappeared a few days after the murder but James of the Glen was arrested and put on trial at Inveraray before the Duke of Argyll as Lord Justice General and a jury, eleven out of fifteen of whom were Campbells. Amongst the witnesses were the laird of Ballachulish who'd been walking along the road with Glenure moments before he was shot and testified to the fact that Alan Breck had been in the area in the hours before the murder. The case against James was very circumstantial but he was nevertheless found guilty after what's widely considered to have been a miscarriage of justice. He was hanged at the south side of the Ballachulish Ferry and his body was left hanging in a cage there for 18 months as a dire warning to others who might be tempted to molest officials of the Crown.

The year before the Appin Murder, 1751, witnessed a rather more mundane event in Argyll: the compilation of a new Roll providing valuations - like Rateable Values or Council Tax bands - of all properties in the county. I mention this to illustrate again the mixture of the banal and the dramatic in this corner of the Highlands in the 1740s & 50s: from rebellion and murder to slate quarrying and tax revaluations! Despite the occasional mayhem which is what everybody remembers, ordinary life went on. You can view the full 1751 roll here but below is an extract showing the properties of some notables: at the top are the three farms - Ballachulish, Laroch and Brecklet - comprising Ballachulish Estate. Further down you can see the soon to be late Colin Campbell of Glenure's property and below him is his kinsman John Campbell of Balliveolan: it was Glenure's taking of James of the Glen's farm of Glenduror on Ardsheal Estate in 1751 and giving it to Balliveolan that supposedly formed one of James' motives for murder.

Extract from 1751 Land Tax Valuation Roll from Scotland's Places
Having digressed off into the Appin Murder there, I'll break here and resume the tale of slate quarrying at Ballachulish in the next post. I leave you with a map of the locations mentioned in this post.

[EDIT 6 May 2020 - I think I'm wrong about the second quarry on Ballachulish Estate, at Brecklet, having been opened in the 1750s.

I based myself for that date on the Second Statistical Account (here - page 247) but on re-reading that, the quarry referred to there as having been opened "some time previous to 1760" seems to be the original quarry at Laroch which all other accounts say was opened in the 1690s. Bremner says the second, Brecklet quarry was opened "about the year 1780" and that accords with the SSA which was written in 1841 and speaks of the second, Brecklet quarry having been in operation "for upwards of fifty years". This revision of date for the second quarry rather dilutes my point about about the contemporaneity of the dramatic and the banal but even so ... Sorry.]               

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Massacre of Glen Coe

This post was going to have been Part 2 of Ballachulish but I got waylaid by the Massacre of Glen Coe which took place just up the road.

I was just trying to see what (if any) impact the Massacre might have had in neighbouring Ballachulish but I found myself wanting to know the full chapter and verse, including buying and reading the book by John Prebble (pictured above) and original contemporary correspondence between the key players available at Archive.org. So I'm just going to write the Massacre up, as much as an aide memoire to myself as anything else.

King James VII & II by Sir Godfrey Kneller

In 1688, King James VII of Scotland (II of England) was overthrown for the same autocratic and high-handed attitude to government as had cost his father, Charles I, his head. He was replaced on the throne by his daughter Mary and her husband (and also first cousin), William of Orange.

A bit of context about William is necessary. Though his mother was a Stuart princess (sister of Charles II and James VII), he was a Dutchman who held the office of Stadtholder - which was a sort of hereditary president - of the Dutch Republic. Holland was at war with France in a conflict (the Nine Years War) in which England, Scotland and Ireland had hitherto been neutral. The principal theatre of the war was in Flanders. William's main interest in becoming king of the three British kingdoms was to be able to bring them into this war against France, the prosecution of which was his chief pre-occupation.

King William II (III of England) - "William of Orange" by Sir Godfrey Kneller

In Scotland, not everybody was happy at the irregular change of monarch and some rose in arms in an attempt restore the deposed King James. Prominent amongst these Jacobites, as his supporters were known (from the Latin Jacobus for James), were many of the Highland clans. The rising got off to a flying start with the Jacobite general, Sir John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee ("Bonnie Dundee" but aka "Bluidy Clavers" for his reputation in suppressing Covenanters in the 1670s), scoring a notable victory over the new government's troops at the Battle of Killiecrankie in July 1689. However, Dundee himself was killed at the battle and his successors as generals, Alexander Cannon and Thomas Buchan (who nobody's ever heard of!), failed to press home the Jacobites' advantage and the rising fizzled out after they were defeated at the Battle of Cromdale in April 1690. But there was no formal surrender by the Jacobites or settlement of terms with them: Cannon and Buchan remained at large and they continued to hold castles against the government including Eilean Donan and Duart.

Eilean Donan Castle - held by the Jacobites 1689-92. Picture credit Aidan Williamson

Meanwhile in Ireland, a much larger Jacobite rising had been taking place. This included those events which reverberate through the consciousness of Northern Ireland to the present day, the siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne. By the summer of 1691, the Irish rising was almost over and William was anxious that Scotland also finally be pacified in order that he could return to concentrating on his continental war against France without any Jacobite threats in his rear. But he was also reluctant to commit many troops to Scotland so he instructed his ministers to try to reach a settlement with the Jacobites using a mixture of carrots and sticks.

Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, Earl of Breadalbane

In June 1691, the chief of the Campbells of Glenorchy, the Earl of Breadalbane, acting on behalf of the Government held a meeting with the Jacobite chiefs at his castle of Achallader near Bridge of Orchy. Armed with a fund of £12,000 (about £3 million in today's money), ostensibly to buy disputed land in an effort to reduce inter-clan feuds but in reality for distribution as bribes, Breadalbane succeeded in getting the Jacobites to declare a formal ceasefire for three months. At the end of August, the king followed this up with a Proclamation of Indemnity promising a pardon to all rebels who swore an oath of allegiance to him before the end of 1691.

But before the Jacobite chiefs could swear allegiance to William, they had to get James to release them from their oaths of allegiance to him. A messenger was sent to James, now in exile in France, but he delayed releasing the chiefs: as well as being indecisive by nature, he hadn't in late 1691 totally given up hope of renewed action on his behalf in Scotland, aided perhaps by an invasion from France of the Irish Jacobite forces who'd been allowed to withdraw intact to France (the so-called "Flight of the Wild Geese" if you've heard of that) under the Treaty of Limerick which ended the Irish Rising in October 1691. In fact James' permission to his supporters to swear allegiance to William didn't arrive in Edinburgh until 21st December and it didn't reach Lochaber until 28th December, three days before the deadline. The Jacobite chiefs reacted differently: some (including the very influential Cameron of Lochiel pictured below) made haste to take the oath to William in time while others (including the equally influential Macdonell of Glengarry) deliberately held out. One - Macdonald of Glencoe - was a bit slow off his mark but tried to swear timeously and failed.       

Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, 1628-1719. Copyright National Galleries of Scotland

A bit of context is necessary about the Macdonalds of Glencoe as well. The Highland clans had a deserved reputation for feuding amongst themselves and raiding their neighbours' cattle. It was behaviour the 16th and 17th century authorities in Edinburgh deplored but were seldom able to control in much the same way as 20th and 21st century authorities are impotently appalled at periodic outbreaks of violence between present days gangs such as Mafia clans, for example. If you want to know what Argyll and Lochaber were like in the late 17th century, then think Helmand Province in the late 20th.

Also known as the MacIains after the Gaelic patronymic of their chiefs, the MacDonalds of Glencoe were a small clan, probably numbering only about 500 souls in total and with a fighting force of about 100-150 men. But though small in numbers, they were among the most egregious of clans where raiding their neighbours was concerned. Then, as now, political disturbance was used as thin cover for simple criminality. Thus, during the Covenanter wars of the 1640s, the pro-Royalist MacIains, in company with the equally notorious MacDonells of Keppoch, ravaged the Covenanting Campbell of Glenorchy's lands in Breadalbane in two successive years, 1645 and 1646. Again in 1655, the MacIains and Keppochs raided Campbell territory in Breadalbane and Glen Lyon. On each of these occasions, large quantities of cattle and other booty were carried off. In 1685, the suppression of the rising led by the chief of the Campbells, the Earl of Argyll, against the accession of James VII gave cover to reprisals on the lands of various Campbell lairds in southern Argyll. In the course of these the MacIains, along with the Stewarts of Appin as well as their usual partners, the Keppochs, relieved Campbell of Ardkinglas of 1,500 cows and 2,000 sheep and goats. And most recently, on their way back home after the Jacobite setback following the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, the MacIains and the Keppochs raided Glen Lyon in what John Prebble called "the greatest raid the Lochaber men ever made into Breadalbane."

So MacIain of Glencoe was a man with a lot of enemies when, on 31st December 1691, the last day possible to take the oath of allegiance, he went to Fort William in order to swear it before the Governor there, Colonel Hill. But Hill couldn't administer the oath because, in terms of the Proclamation of Indemnity (read it here), it had to be taken before a civil magistrate and the person MacIain needed to see was the Sheriff-Depute of Argyll at Inveraray, Colin Campbell of Ardkinglas. The history between these two men six years earlier might explain MacIain's decision to leave it so late and go to Fort William but whatever his motive he realised he had to make immediate haste to Inveraray. There was no chance of getting there by midnight when the deadline to take the oath expired but Colonel Hill gave MacIain a letter to Ardkinglas confirming that he'd attempted to swear timeously and recommending the Sheriff-Depute to receive Glencoe "as a lost sheep" and administer the oath, albeit inevitably a day or two late.

As no contemporary pictures of MacIain or Hill exist, we have to make do with stills from a 1971 film which you can see on Youtube here. James Robertson Justice as MacIain - it was JRJ's last film (and MacIain's!) It's pretty wooden but tells the story of the Massacre quite accurately without resort to Braveheart style distortions

In fact, MacIain didn't meet up with Ardkinglas at Inveraray until 5th January. At first, the Sheriff-Depute demurred at administering the oath though whether because of a grudge he bore against MacIain for having raided his land in 1685 or scruples about performing his duties to the letter, we don't know. What we do know, because Ardkinglas testified to it to the subsequent enquiry, is that he relented when MacIain pleaded with him in tears. Ardkinglas sent a copy of the oath, with Colonel Hill's letter, to Edinburgh with a request that it be placed before the Privy Council for a ruling on whether the oath had been validly sworn in terms of the Proclamation of Indemnity.

Story in the London Gazette of 14 January 1692 (old style 1691) reporting that Lochiel, Keppoch and Stewart of Appin, amongst others, had sworn oaths of allegiance. 

MacIain returned home from Inveraray to Glen Coe in the belief all was well. But it wasn't. For if people like Colonel Hill of Fort William and Campbell of Ardkinglas had been prepared to take a lenient view of MacIain's lateness in submitting, his case had not been placed before the Privy Council and the most powerful man in Scotland, the Secretary of State - effectively the prime minister, although that office didn't exist then - Sir John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, had other ideas.    

The Master of Stair - if any Scottish lawyers are reading this, he was the son of the Lord Stair who wrote the Institutions. (Only a Scottish lawyer knows what that means.)

Stair was determined to use MacIain's technical breach of the terms of the Proclamation of Indemnity as cover to teach his unruly clan a lesson they would never forget. In fact, on the assumption they would not come in on time, Stair had already resolved on action against the two most notorious of Highland clans even before the time limit to swear allegiance ran out on 31 December 1691. This emerges from a letter (read it here) he wrote to the Commander in Chief of the army in Scotland, Sir Thomas Livingstone, on 9 January when Stair erroneously believed that MacIain had sworn in time and in which he said: "I am sorry that Keppoch and M'Kean of Glencoe are safe." But two days later, Stair had better news and was able to write (here - page 62) to Livingstone:-

Just now my Lord Argile tells me that Glenco hath not taken the oathes, at which I rejoice, it's a great work of charity to be exact in rooting out that damnable sept, the worst of all the Highlands.

Meanwhile, the primary target amongst the hold out clans who had not sworn allegiance was the MacDonells of Glengarry. Apart from anything else, the government wanted their castle at Invergarry (below) for a garrison at a point mid way between Fort William and Inverness, the role fulfilled by Fort Augustus after 1715.   

Due to now being almost totally surrounded by tall trees, Invergarry Castle is more easily seen in this Victorian chromolithograph than a modern photo: Picture credit pastpin

When Invergarry surrendered in the second half of January, government forces were freed up to execute Stair's plan to destroy the MacDonalds of Glencoe. On 1 February 1692, a company of 120 men of the Earl of Argyll's regiment was despatched to Glen Coe under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon - yes, that Glen Lyon, the one subjected to "the greatest raid ever into Breadalbane" by the MacIains and Keppochs three years earlier. But Glenlyon didn't at this stage know the nature of his mission and for now his orders were simply to quarter his men on the people of Glen Coe. That meant live with and be fed by them free of charge due to Fort William being full. Quartering was an accepted fact of life at the time so the MacDonalds were not unduly perturbed by the arrival of the soldiers and, as is well known, accepted them hospitably into their homes without rancour. And just to show there's nothing black and white where clans are concerned, Glenlyon's niece was married to MacIain's second son so there was a bit of a family reunion to be had. And despite the fact that he'd been so recently financially ruined by the great raid of his lands, he passed many of his evenings in Glen Coe amicably drinking and playing cards with MacIain's sons: it's been suggested Glenlyon held Keppoch more than MacIain primarily to blame for the raid.

Robert Campbell of Glenlyon was 60 at the time of the Massacre of Glencoe. This is him as a young man.

On 12 February 1692, a cascade of new orders were issued. The Deputy Governor of Fort William, Lt. Col. James Hamilton, instructed Major Robert Duncanson of Argyll's Regiment camped at North Ballachulish to cross Loch Leven to Glen Coe and join Glenlyon in the execution of orders against the MacDonalds of Glencoe. These (read them here) included that:

none be spared, nor the government troubled with prisoners

Duncanson was to do this at 7 o'clock sharp the following morning and, in wording which looks like it's giving him cover for conveniently not getting there until after the dirty work had been done, Hamilton told Duncanson he would "endeavour" to get from Fort William via Kinlochleven to the east end of Glen Coe at the same time to cut off the MacDonalds' escape in that direction.   

Duncanson in turn wrote to Glenlyon, ordering him to

fall upon the rebells, the M'Donalds of Glenco, and to putt all to the sword under 70.

In an even more blatant attempt at shielding himself, Duncanson ordered Glenlyon to act at 5 o' clock the following morning, precisely. Duncanson would "strive", he said, to get there by 5.00 to assist but Glenlyon wasn't to wait for him. In the event, Duncanson didn't arrive on the scene until 7.00am when it was all over, thereby complying with his orders from Hamilton but avoiding getting any actual blood on his hands. And Hamilton's party didn't arrive until 11 o'clock.

Looking east up Glen Coe. The killings took place in the floor of the valley at bottom right. Picture credit Oscar Garcia

The Massacre of Glencoe is usually portrayed as just another act in the perennial feud between the MacDonalds and the Campbells and with the latter for once getting the chance to give the former a taste of their own medicine. But although the Massacre was carried out by men of the Earl of Argyll's regiment under the command of a Campbell, only about a tenth of them had the name Campbell and we cannot know or assume the clan allegiance (if any) of such of the remainder as appear from their names to have been Highlanders. While Glenlyon did not refuse his orders, and he put them into execution at 5.00am prompt as instructed, there is some anecdotal evidence that the worst of the killing was carried out by Lowland soldiers who viewed their erstwhile hosts with contempt, not for being MacDonalds, but simply for being Highlanders whom the lowlanders tended to regard generally as worthless barbarian savages. Thus, for example, and although it hardly goes very far towards redeeming him, it was said that a boy of about 12 ran to Glenlyon begging for mercy. When he appeared minded to spare the lad, a Lowland officer, Captain Drummond, impatiently reminded Glenlyon of their orders to spare nobody under 70 then shot the boy.         
Anyway, the generally accepted number of people killed before dawn on 13th November 1692 is 38. These included MacIain himself but not his two sons John and Alexander whom Duncanson and Glenlyon had both been enjoined in their orders not to let escape. It's not clear whether this 38 dead includes the two women, two children, a boy of about 12 or 13 and two old men mentioned by witnesses to the subsequent Commission of Enquiry as having been killed. It certainly doesn't include those who must inevitably have died of exposure as they fled into the surrounding mountains.

After the Massacre of Glencoe by Peter Graham shows a group of women and children escaping into the mountains but appears to overlook the fact that the Massacre took place in mid winter. There also appear to be flames at bottom right but while the people's houses were indeed torched, they were on the floor of the glen and not up on the hillsides as appears here.

The aftermath - Royal Commission and Parliamentary Enquiry   
Were it not for the fact that it was perpetrated by guests upon their hosts as they were asleep in their beds, the action by the Government against the MacDonalds of Glencoe would probably not occupy more than a sentence or two in the history books. Whilst it may have been harsh to single out the MacIains for having sworn allegiance just a few days after the deadline when other holdout clans who didn't submit till much later were spared, the episode would probably have been largely dismissed as a measure pour encourager les autres if only it had been carried out, to quote the subsequent Commission of Enquiry, "by fair hostility". Commander-in-Chief Livingstone captured the mood when he wrote to Lt. Col. Hamilton in May 1693:-

It is not that any body thinks that thieving tribe did not deserve to be destroyed, but that it should have been by such as was quartered amongst them, makes a great noise.

In fact, Livingstone's letter to Hamilton (read it here) was in the context of a possible Parliamentary enquiry into the Massacre. But this never got off the ground. The time was not yet right politically. However, things had changed by 1695 when Stair was now politically on the defensive. His enemies were determined to use his role in the Massacre to attack him and they induced King William to order a Commission of Enquiry.

John Hay, 1st Marquess of Tweeddale who presided over the 1695 Royal Commission of Enquiry into the Massacre of Glencoe. Picture credit National Galleries of Scotland

Many of those involved gave evidence to the Commission including John MacDonald, the late MacIain's son and now chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe, his brother Alasdair and three of their clansmen; Colonel Hill the Governor of Fort William; Colin Campbell of Ardkinglas (who administered the oath to MacIain six days late); Private Campbell of Glenlyon's company (who testified to seeing other soldiers killing people but not, naturally, to killing anybody himself); and Major Forbes and Lieutenants Farquhar and Kennedy of Lt. Col. Hamilton's party (which had approached Glen Coe from the east via Kinlochleven but arrived so late that, in the words of the Commission "there remained nothing to be done by [Hamilton], and his men, save that they burnt some houses, and kill'd an old man"). There seems to be a conflict of opinion on whether Hamilton himself testified but the Commission definitely didn't hear from Major Duncanson, Glenlyon or Captain Drummond who shot the boy Glenlyon had been minded to spare because they were all with their regiment in Flanders.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh where the Royal Commission sat in May and June 1695. Picture credit Elena Kazantzanidou

A "barbarous murder" was how the Commission categorised the events of 13 February 1692 in its Report to the King but who had ordered it? And how deeply involved was King William personally? 

The Commission found that, in response to the fact that some of the Jacobite clans had not sworn allegiance to him by the appointed day on 31st December 1691, the King signed orders in London dated 11th January 1692 to his Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, Sir Thomas Livingstone. You can read them here. Livingstone was ordered to:-

march our troops, which are now posted at Inverlochy [i.e. Fort William] and Inverness, and to act against these Highland rebells who have not taken the benefite of our indemnity, by fire and sword, and all manner of hostility; to burn their houses, seiz or destroy their goods or cattell, plenishing or cloaths, and to cutt off the men.                 

It sounds draconian but this was really just a stereotyped form of words authorising military action against the holdout clans (as opposed to, say, pursuing a policy of doing nothing or continuing to negotiate etc.) which the Commission considered the King was quite within his rights to do. And the order was mitigated by William also ordering Livingstone that chiefs who swore allegiance might be spared their lives upon being taken prisoner and forfeiting their lands while their clansmen ("yeomen and commonalty") could go free and also keep their property if they submitted.

Sir Thomas Livingstone, Commander in Chief of the army in Scotland in the 1690s.

These orders were sent to Livingstone by Stair who was with the King in London. He also copied the orders to the Governor of Fort William, Colonel Hill, but back in December Stair had previously arranged with Livingstone that the officer primarily responsible for action against such of the Lochaber clans as did not submit would be Hill's deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton. This was partly due to the fact that Hill was elderly and in poor health but also, no doubt, because Hill was known to be sympathetic to the clans, even such incorrigibles as the MacIains and Keppochs, and might not have had the stomach for the sort of stern measures against them Stair was planning.  

On 11th January, Stair discovered that, contrary to his earlier understanding, the MacDonalds of Glencoe had not in fact sworn allegiance by the deadline on 31st December. This, therefore, necessitated additional orders which the King signed on 16th January. They are here and, after dealing with other matters and repeating that anyone who took the oath of allegiance should be spared, contained the key order:-

4. If M'Kean of Glencoe, and that tribe, can be well separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of the publick justice to extirpate that sept of thieves.

The Commission interpreted that obscurely worded sentence to mean that William understood that MacIain had not yet taken the oath of allegiance and that, if he continued to refuse to do so (thereby "separating himself from the rest" of the holdout clans who were assumed to be all going to submit shortly), his clan were, in the words of the Commission: "only to be proceeded against in the way of publick justice and no other way." If that seems a rather charitable interpretation of the word "extirpate", it was hardly to be expected that the Commission was going to point any fingers of blame too directly at the King. I think what William meant by "extirpate" was that the MacIains were to be utterly destroyed as a fighting force such that they could never again trouble their neighbours: that might involve a more root and branch aassault than would be sufficient to neutralise them solely in the context of ending the Jacobite rebellion but it was still be in "fair hostility". I don't think His Majesty was ordering the MacIains to be murdered in their beds.

Glen Coe in winter - Picture credit Ed Daynes

Thus was the King acquitted of responsibility for the Masscare of Glencoe. What of his minions?

It's important to understand that, up till this point, in the middle of January, neither the King, Stair nor Livingstone knew that MacIain had taken the oath of allegiance but late. They all thought he hadn't sworn at all and the orders for action against his clan were on the assumption that he continued to refuse to submit. But that soon changed for, on 23rd January, Livingstone wrote (here) from Edinburgh to Hamilton at Fort William in terms which showed he knew MacIain had already sworn, albeit late:

Since my last [letter to you on 18th January] I understand that the Laird of Glenco, coming after the prefixed time, was not admitted to take the oath, which is very good news here, being that at Court it's wished he had not taken it, so that that thieving nest might be intirely rooted out; ... I desire you would begin with Glenco, and spair nothing which belongs to him, but do not trouble the Government with prisoners. [emphasis added]

Thus did Livingstone disobey his instructions from the King by ordering Hamilton to take no prisoners from the MacDonalds when he knew that MacIain had taken the oath. 

Hamilton promptly ordered Glenlyon's men into Glen Coe but there was a problem - Colonel Hill. Although opposed to what was afoot - as he expressed it in his testimony to the Commssion, he "liked not the business, but was grieved at it" - Hill still had to be given his place in the military chain of command and nothing could be done against the MacDonalds without his order. But he couldn't bring himself to give it. The attack would probably have started immediately the soldiers arrived in the glen on 1st February but the Colonel's prevarication meant they had to take up their quarters and wait. Eventually, on 12th February, Hill attempted, rather unconvincingly, to square his conscience by simply authorising Hamilton to execute the orders he (Hamilton) had already received from Livingstone.
The Pass of Glen Coe from the east. Hamilton's party, minus two officers who'd refused to take part, approached from Fort William down the hills on the right. Picture credit David Galloway

The Commission's final report dated 15th June 1695 didn't allocate responsibility for the Massacre of Glencoe to any individual but the Master of Stair did not come out of it well. In particular, they highlighted a letter Stair had sent to Livingstone on 30th January, before the Massacre took place, which they claimed proved Stair knew that MacIain had taken the oath, albeit late, yet still egged the Commander-in-Chief on to "rooting out and cutting off that thieving tribe" contrary to the King's orders. But what Stair said in the letter was "I am glade that Glenco did not come in within the time prescribed." That is equally consistent with a belief that Glencoe had not come in at all. In other words, he does not say "I am glad that Glencoe came in after the time prescribed." These and other points in Stair's defence were made in a document circulated by his friends you can read here. Putting on my legal hat, if I were a juror I think I'd have to return a verdict of "not proven": there's no evidence he knew MacIain had taken the oath. The same cannot be said in defence of Sir Thomas Livingstone, though. Nobody's ever heard of Livingstone yet I think he is at least as guilty as Stair if not - as a military officer who disobeyed his orders - more so.

Next, Parliament debated the report. It immediately passed unanimous motions declaring the Massacre to be murder but exonerating the King and then moved on to debating who it considered to be guilty. In an address to his Majesty dated 10th July 1695, the Master of Stair's letters were declared to have exceeded the King's orders and to have been "the original cause of this unhappy business". Parliament tactfully suggested that His Majesty "give such orders about [Stair], for vindication of your Government, as you in your royal wisdom shall think fitt."

Sir Thomas Livingstone, the Commander-in-Chief, must have had powerful friends because he was exhonerated, Parliament accepting that he did not know MacIain had sworn allegiance even though his correspondence clearly showed that he did. They also found Colonel Hill, the Governor of Fort William, to be innocent, his evasive order to his deputy, Hamilton, merely to follow the orders he (Hamilton) had received from Livingstone being regarded as enough to absolve him.

Hamilton - who'd absconded and failed to appear before Parliament - was found "not clear of the murder of the Glencoe men and that there was ground to prosecute him for it". Major Duncanson of the Earl of Argyll's Regiment who'd received orders from Hamilton and in turn ordered Glenlyon to fall upon the MacDonalds before dawn on 13th February 1692 was in Flanders with his regiment and Parliament had not seen the orders he'd either received or given - they therefore recommended to the King that Duncanson either be questioned in Flanders or sent home for prosecution as His Majesty thought fit.

As for Glenlyon and the junior and non-commissioned officers under his command, they too were in Flanders but Parliament was satisfied that they were all "actors in the slaughter of the Glencoe men under trust" and the King was requested to send them home "to be prosecuted for the same according to law".

Parliament Hall in Edinburgh where the Scottish Parliament debated responsibility for the Massacre of Glencoe in July 1695. The stained glass wasn't there in 1695 but the ornate ceiling was.
Anybody else?
It's the Master of Stair that's usually remembered as the orchestrator of the Massacre of Glencoe - the man who used political turbulence as a pretext to exterminate a clan who were criminals but not enemies of the state. But what made someone with no vested interest - Stair owned no estates in areas vulnerable to predation by the likes of the MacIains or Keppochs - suddenly becme such a champion of law and order in the Highlands? Might the real architect of the Massacre have been someone who did have that vested interest and gave Stair the idea. A circumstantial case can be made for that person being the John Campbell of Glenorchy, the Earl of Breadalbane.

Breadalbane had land close to Glen Coe and MacIain's sons testified to the Royal Commission that, at the meeting at Achallader in June 1691 to negotiate the Jacobite ceasefire, there had been a quarrel between their father and the Earl over stolen cows and that MacIain had told them that Breadlbane "threaten'd to do him a mischief". The MacDonald brothers also told the Commission about an odd episode in which, a few days after the Massacre, Breadalbane's steward came to them with an offer that, if they wrote a letter clearing the Earl of any involvement in it, he would use his influence to procure their "remission and restitution".

In his book, John Prebble noted a ramping up of the invective against the MacIains in Stair's correspondence after a meeting he'd had with the Earl of Argyll and Breadalbane on 7th Januray 1692. And finally, and to my mind the most telling evidence, is that Stair informed Colonel Hill in a letter of 16th January that these Earls had agreed not to allow the MacIains to retreat into their lands surrounding Glen Coe.

Neither the Commission nor Parliament considered Breadalbane's possible involvement in the Massacre because he was not in the political or military chain of command. But for those who suspect he may have had a hand in it, it's poetic justice that the proceedings before the Commission incidentally revealed that he'd been been double dealing with the Jacobites at Achallader with the result that Breadalbane was arrested and incarcerated in Edinburgh Castle on charges of treason.  

The reliably photogenic ruins of Kilchurn Castle, one of several owned by the Earl of Breadalbane. The lower range of buildings and towers on the left were built by the Earl in 1690 in one of the last ever exercises in private fortification in Scotland. Picture credit Wallace Shackleton

What became of everybody?
Despite Parliament's recommendations to the King, nobody was ever prosecuted for the Massacre of Glencoe.

Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon died a year later, in 1696, in Bruges. Ironically, his heir, John Campbell of Glenlyon led his clansmen out in both the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite Rebellions.

Major Robert Duncanson, who'd ordered Glenlyon to fall upon the MacIains, was arrested when he returned to Scotland in 1697 but for debt rather than "barbarous murder". He eventually returned to the army and died in 1705 at the Siege of Valencia de Alcantara during the War of the Spanish Succession, the colonel of his own regiment.

A month after Parliament had determined he ought to be prosecuted, Lt Col. Hamilton, the Deputy Governor of Fort William, turned up at the King's camp in Flanders to throw himself on William's mercy - but nothing seems to have come of this and vanished into obscurity.

Hamilton's superior, the conscience stricken Colonel Hill, remained as Governor of Fort William until 1698 when he finally retired on half pay.

The Commander-in-Chief, Sir Thomas Livingstone, who disobeyed the King's orders by prosecuting the MacDonalds of Glencoe in the knowledge that they had taken the oath, was promoted to the peerage as Viscount Teviot in 1696. He ended his military career a Lieutenant-General in 1703 and died in 1711. His estranged wife was accused but acquitted of having poisoned him. He's buried in Westminster Abbey.

Sir Thomas Livingstone, Viscount Teviot's memorial in Westminster Abbey. Picture credit - Westminster Abbey

There's no monument to the only two men on the Government's side to come out of the Massacre of Glencoe with their consciences entirely clear and honour intact - two lieutenants in Hamilton's party which marched from Fort William to the east end of Glen Coe and got there after it was all over. Possibly the Gilbert Kennedy and Francis Farquhar who gave evidence to the Commission, they refused to take part and were arrested by Hamilton for their trouble.

The treason charges against the Earl of Breadalbane were eventually dropped but the authorities had been right to suspect his loyalty: he sent 500 of his clansmen to join the Jacobites in 1715 but escaped punishment again by dying the following year.

The Master of Stair deemed it prudent to resign as Secretary of State in the wake of the parliamentary enquiry but this was very much in the nature of a tactical temporary withdrawal rather than any admission of culpability. The orders the King gave about him "for vindication of Government" were probably not quite what Parliament had had in mind in its address to William: he issued a "Scroll of Discharge" to Stair (now Viscount Stair since the death of his father, the famous lawyer, in November 1695) exonerating him from any responsibility for the Massacre in respect that he "being at London, many hundred miles distant, he could have no knowledge of, nor accession to, the method of that execution". Stair subsequently made a political come back during the reign of Queen Anne and was promoted to Earl of Stair.

In 1697, King William II & III's war against France ran out of steam but he secured pretty reasonable terms at the Peace of Ryswick including recognition by France of himself rather than the deposed James VII & II as King of England, Scotland & Ireland. James never recovered his thrones: he died in 1701 and William the following year.

MacDonald of Glencoe burial enclosure on Eilean Munde - Picture credit James Lynott

As for the MacDonalds of Glencoe, in the immediate aftermath of the Massacre they lived as fugitives in the surrounding mountains until that August, 1692, when, through the intercession of Colonel Hill, they were allowed to return to rebuild their homes in the glen. They had obviously prospered enough that, by 1708, the new chief, the murdered MacIain's son, John, had built himself a new house to replace his father's burnt by Glenlyon's men. That house no longer stands but a dated and monogrammed pediment from it is preserved in the wall of the MacDonalds' burial enclosure on Eilean Munde in Loch Leven pictured above. They remained incorrigible Jacobites, though, and were "out" in both the 1715 and 1745 Rebellions.

An Irony?
Retribution against against Highland Clans in the course of the suppression of Jacobite risings - of which the Massacre of Glen Coe and the reprisals in the months following the Battle of Culloden are examples - are, together with the Highland Clearances, often seen as key events in a wider campaign of suppression by outside agencies of Highland culture as whole. It may not be uncoincidental that these were the topics of John Prebble's best selling trilogy. But there is a ghastly irony here which I'm grateful to historian and tour guide Andrew Grant MacKenzie for drawing to my attention. In this article, Andrew describes how Alexander MacDonald, the 16th Chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe and the murdered MacIain's great great grandson who owned Glencoe Estate from 1787 to 1814 was a sheep-farmer on a massive scale. As I understand it, MacDonald didn't practice sheep farming in Glen Coe but he did on a truly vast portfolio of land, including as far away as Loch Luichart in Ross-shire, he rented from third parties. It's kind of hard to believe MacDonald didn't perpetrate any clearances on native tenantry in pursuit of this collossal farming enterprise. It eventually collapsed under its own weight and certainly came back to haunt the tenantry (it would be anachronistic to call them clansmen) in Glen Coe when, to raise money to settle his debts after his death in 1814, MacDonald's trustees had to raise the tenants' rents ruining many of them. What an irony that the work left undone by Campbell of Glenlyon and his superiors in 1692 ended up being continued a century later by the MacIains' own chief!

Memorial in Glen Coe. Picture credit Jacobite52

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Ballachulish Part 1 - the Lordship of Lorne

Picture credit - Alan Austin

My sister-in-law and her family are great fans of the Isles of Glencoe Hotel at Ballachulish, pictured above, and regularly go there for weekend breaks. And I noted a visitor from South Africa describe it on Facebook recently as an "exquisite place". Surrounded by greenery by the shore of Loch Leven a few miles from Scotland's most famous glen - Glen Coe, celebrated in equal measure for its scenery, outdoor recreation and history - this is tourist central.

Yet 35 years ago, Ballachulish was described as "Scotland's dirtiest village". Have a look at the Youtube video below. It's a piece from the BBC's "Nationwide" programme in 1973. Note the burnt out buildings, the abandoned cars, the derelict railway station and piles of debris. Where the IoG Hotel now stands is the tongue of waste land sticking out into the sea at 1:47 and where the reporter is walking from 2:00 to 2:28.

That's how I remember Ballachulish from my earliest recollection in the 70s - a grotty blot on the landscape to whizz past, normal gorgeous Highland scenery to be resumed shortly. As the Youtube reveals, it's because Ballachulish is not a crofting or fishing village but a slate quarrying village. And once the quarry had closed, industrial dereliction set in. I was sort of vaguely aware of Ballachulish's quarrying past but decided I needed to know more. The intrusion of industry into the Highlands & Islands, an area generally associated with being "unspoilt", is a theme that fascinates me. As so often happens, though, my enquiries led me into a few digressions so this post is going to be a bit leggier than I originally planned.

Approximate boundaries of Lorne in yellow

The Lordship of Lorne
Ballachulish is situated at the very north end of the territory called Lorne which stretches from Loch Leven south to Loch Awe. In the 13th century, Lorne, with its adjacent islands of Mull, Coll, Tiree and Jura was held by the MacDougalls of Argyll, the most powerful lords on the western seaboard who ruled their domain from Dunstaffnage Castle, just north of Oban.

Dunstaffnage Castle. The curtain wall was probably built in the second quarter of the 13th century by Duncan (died c.1240) or Ewen MacDougall of Argyll. Picture credit Ben Allison

The MacDougall Lords of Argyll had prospered by backing the right horse in the struggle between Scotland and Norway for control of the western seaboard which culminated in the Norwegians ceding suzerainty over the islands on the west coast of Scotland after the Battle of Largs in 1263. But the MacDougalls then spectacularly crashed and burnt early the next century by backing the wrong horse in the Wars of Independence.

Allied by marriage to the Comyns who were in turn similarly allied to the Balliols, the MacDougalls started well by beating Robert Bruce when he was at his lowest ebb at the Battle of Dalrigh just east of Tyndrum in 1306. But two years later Bruce turned the tables by defeating the MacDougalls at the Battle of the Pass of Brander (the steep sided valley the road to Oban passes through between Loch Awe and Loch Etive). Dunstaffnage was besieged and captured for the king. Alexander MacDougall of Argyll and his son John went into exile in England never to return to Scotland, their estates forfeited to the Crown: for a time John was an admiral in the English navy, an appropriate role for one whose heraldic banner was an image of a galley.

The Galley of Lorne - the coat of arms of the Lords of Lorne

The foregoing account of the fall of the MacDougalls of Argyll is quite well known. But what I didn't know was that they made a comeback in the reign of Robert Bruce's son, David II (1329-71). Admiral John's grandson, another John nicknamed Gallda (Gaelic for "foreigner" in reference to his years of exile in England), managed to ingratiate himself with the new king sufficiently to be rewarded in the 1350s by a grant of the mainland parts of his family's former territory, namely the Lordship of Lorne. But the MacDougall resurgence was destined to be shortlived because when John Gallda died in the mid 1370s, he left two legitimate daughters and an illegitimate son, Allan. This set the scene for a power struggle because the MacDougall clan kindred in Lorne supported Allan as their chief whereas the Crown insisted on the application of feudal law - which required that the lands of the lordship be divided between the legitimate heiresses with the elder's husband taking the title Lord of Lorne - particularly as the heiresses' husbands were two brothers, Stewart kinsmen of the new king, Robert II (1371-90), the first of the Stewart dynasty.

After much manoeuvring, political, military and legal, a settlement was arrived at whereby, in 1388, the older heiress and her husband transferred their interest in Lorne to her sister and brother-in-law - Sir John Stewart of Innermeath - and Allan MacDougall contented himself with the island of Kerrera and a slice of territory between Oban and Loch Feochan under Stewart overlordship. At some point in the mid-15th century, a subsequent MacDougall chief built as his stronghold Dunollie Castle at the entrance to Oban Bay - the castle and Kerrera still belong to the MacDougalls at the present day.

The familiar profile of Dunollie Castle at the entrance to Oban Bay - Picture credit dun_deagh

Stewarts of Appin
Thus did the Lordship of Lorne come into the hands of the Stewarts but only for two more generations when history repeated itself. The third Stewart Lord of Lorne, John Mourach ("Leper John"), died in 1463, assassinated in Dunstaffnage Castle by a renegade MacDougall still smarting over the settlement of the Lordship reached more than half a century earlier. John left three legitimate daughters, an illegitimate son, Dugald, and a brother, Walter, to whom he intended Lorne to pass absent a legitimate son. But the daughters were married to three members of that most acquisitive of clans, the Campbells: Colin, 1st Earl of Argyll; his uncle, Colin, 1st Campbell of Glenorchy; and Arthur Campbell of Otter. These three were not about to pass up the opportunity to add Lorne to their existing territories round Loch Awe. In 1469, after much political and legal wrangling, the Campbells backed Walter Stewart into a deal whereby he got to keep some of his late brother's lowland estates due to be inherited by his nieces, the Campbells' wives, in exchange for transferring Lorne to the Earl of Argyll. The latter then cut Glenorchy in for a third share of Lorne, specifically the southmost part between Loch Feochan and Loch Melfort. (Arthur of Otter doesn't seem to have got anything.) Finally, John Mourach's masterful illegitimate son Dugald was accommodated with the northmost portion of Lorne, from Loch Creran to Loch Leven. He and his successors styled themselves Stewart of Appin.

Castle Stalker - Picture credit WłasnąDrogą

In the third quarter of the 16th century, Alan, the 3rd Stewart of Appin (counting from Dugald, the illegitimate son of John Mourach, the last Stewart Lord of Lorne) built as his stronghold Castle Stalker, pictured above. He also parcelled out parts of his estate to his kinsmen. This was a very clannish thing to do - a clan chief's kinsmen owning parts of the clan territory was functionally the same, if not preferable, in clan terms to it all being owned by the chief himself. (The Stewarts of Appin are a good example of a segment of a lowland family settling in the Highlands, going native and morphing into a clan. The Frasers are another example - indeed most people don't realise there were ever Frasers who weren't part of a Highland clan.) Anyway, among the Stewart kinsmen who got a portion of Appin was Alan's grandson, another Alan, who, around 1540, received Ballachulish Estate consisting of three farms on the south shore of Loch Leven, namely, (from west to east) Ballachulish, Laroch and Brecklet.

And having FINALLY wrenched myself back round to Ballachulish where I started, I think I'll break here and resume in a subsequent post.

The arms of Stewart of Appin reflect his heritage: the "fesse cheque" of the Stewarts quartered with the Galley of Lorne

The Rest and be Thankful

In the early hours of Thursday 30 January 2020, after hours of torrential rain, the "Rest and be thankful" - as the stretch of the A83 road between Arrochar and Cairndow is known - was closed by a landslide. This is quite a regular occurrence - it happens about every couple of years - but what grabbed my attention about it this time was the response to the closure which enabled drivers almost to travel in time.

Picture credit - BBC

The problem
It may be a regular occurrence but that doesn't stop closure of The Rest and be Thankful being a headache. Consider the map below:-

The Rest is the red stretch in the red circle. It's closure is not too much of an issue for travellers from Glasgow to Dunoon and the south of Cowal (the peninsula enclosed by Loch Fyne on the west and the Firth of Clyde and Loch Long on the east) because they have the alternative of the car ferry across the Clyde between McInroy's Point and Hunter's Quay (green line on the map) which takes 20 minutes and runs at a frequency of up to 15 minutes at peak periods.

Closure of the Rest is more of a problem for people going to south west Argyll - Inveraray, Lochgilphead, the ferry to Islay, Kintyre and Campbeltown. They have no option but to go round to Inveraray via Crianlarich, Tyndrum and Dalmally (blue line on the map) which adds an extra 23 miles (about 35 minutes' driving time) to the journey. (Incidentally, you read in the media of a diversion of 59 miles - see for e.g. here - but that's Tarbet to Cairndow (not Inveraray) via Tyndrum and is the total distance rather than the extra distance closure of the Rest causes.)

The road
The road over The Rest and be Thankful was part of a military road from Dumbarton to Inveraray built between 1743 and 1749 by Major Caulfeild (General Wade's successor as military road builder as discussed here.) Leaving the west shore of Loch Long at Ardgartan opposite Arrochar, it followed the floor of Glen Croe (not to be confused with the more famous Glen Coe which is further north) before climbing steeply via a hairpin bend to the pass (806' elevation) which leads into Glen Kinglas and the descent to Loch Fyne at Cairndow. Travelling this way in 1760, Richard Pococke, an Anglican clergyman who became Bishop of Ossory then of Meath in Ireland, noted at the head of the pass "a semi-circular seat made in turf, on which is this inscription on a stone - "Rest and be thankful, 1748"". And so this stretch of road has been known ever since.

Picture credit - nairnbairn via Geograph

Note that the stone presently at the top of the Rest (pictured above) is a later one and not the one Pococke noted. The inscription on the present stone is:-

"Rest and be thankful - Military road rep'd [repaired] by 93d. Reg't [Regiment] 1768 transferred to Comm'rs [Commissioners] for H. R. & B [Highland Roads & Bridges] in the year 1814." 

It marks the transfer of repsonsibility for maintaining the road from the military to the civilian authorities. But if it had been adequate for marching soldiers along (provided they remembered to rest and be thankful at the top of the pass), it was less good for wheeled traffic owing to the steep gradients at the head of Glen Croe. A memorial by the Duke of Argyll and other landowners in the county to the Highland Roads & Bridges Commissioners in 1808 on the subject is worth quoting in full:-

That till about the middle of the last [the 18th] century there was no Road between Argyllshire and the rest of the Kingdom, except over high Mountains and by crossing dangerous Ferries, and although a new Road [i.e. the military road] was then made at the Expence of the Public, from Dumbarton to Inveraray, by the sides of Loch-Lomond, Loch-Long and Loch-Fine, yet there were so few Carriages used in the Country at that time, that little or no attention appears to have been given to the adapting the Road for that purpose, and the consequence is, that of late years it is found to be both difficult and dangerous for Carriages, and it has been the desire of every person concerned, particularly the Judges of the Supreme Criminal Court, who are obliged to travel the Road twice a year, [this is referring to sittings of the High Court of Justiciary at Inveraray] to have alterations made upon the present Line of Road, so as to render it more easy and safe for Travellers; and one very considerable improvement has lately been made at the public Expence upon that part of the Road which is on the side of Loch-Lomond, by which the access for Carriages from Dumbarton to the Head of Loch-Long is greatly meliorated.
     That between Loch-Long and Loch-Fine the access is still extremely bad, some parts rising no less than One in Three perpendicular in getting over the Mountain which separates Glen-Crow from Glen-Kinglas.
     That the Memorialists have lately had the whole of that part of the road surveyed by Charles Abercromby, and have received from him a Plan for altering and amending it in such a way as that the rise shall in no part exceed One in Twenty-six, and a great part will not rise above One in Thirty.
     That the Expence of making these alterations is estimated by Mr. Abercromby at £6,890 sterling, and the Memorialists are willing to contribute One-half thereof by an assessment upon their property, and to undertake the support of the Road in future by Tolls aided by the Statute Labour, provided they shall be encouraged by the Honourable Commissioners under the Authority of the aforesaid Act of Parliament

That last sentence alludes to the fact that the Highland Roads & Bridges Commissioners had power under an Act of Parliament of 1803 to contribute half of the cost of road works if the local landowners paid the other half - so the memorial quoted above was, in modern parlance, an application for match funding. But the Commissioners declined the request, taking the view that they had statutory power to assist the construction of new roads but not the improvement of existing ones.

By road and steamboat from Glasgow to Inveraray

What the HRB Commissioners did agree to assist, though, was the construction in the first decade of the 19th century of two new roads across Cowal with shallower gradients - one from Lochgoilhead to Ardno on the east shore of Loch Fyne (green on the map above) and the other from Ardentinny to Strachur (yellow). From the western terminus of either of these roads, the traveller could get to Inveraray by existing roads and either across the loch by St Catherine's Ferry or round its head. The two new roads really came into their own a few years later with the advent of steam navigation and Ardentinny and Lochgoilhead came within easy reach of regular steamers from Glasgow: these were preferable routes for all except the tiny minority (the aristocracy and the High Court judges) who had their own carriages:-

The Marquis of Lorne (son and heir of the Duke of Argyll) and his bride, Princess Louise (daughter of Queen Victoria), crossing the Rest in 1871. The difficulties and dangers of the route for carriages complained of to the HRB Commissioners don't seem to be impeding their progress. But the scenery has been exaggerated in the drawing so no doubt the apparent speed of the carriage has been as well!

Thus, as far as most travellers were concerned, the road over the Rest and be Thankful was eclipsed for the remainder of the 19th century by the two more southerly routes across Cowal. But this changed with the advent of the motor vehicle in the early 20th century century and calls for improvement of the Rest were renewed. Here's a selection of photos of it at this time:-

The road going out the bottom left of the photo is going towards Cairndow and Inveraray, bottom right is the side road to Lochgoilhead (B828) and the road going top right is going towards the hairpin bend to drop down into Glen Croe - you can see the road along the floor of the glen heading towards Arrochar in the background. The finger post points left to Cairndow and St Catherine's and right to Arrochar. Picture credit - Am Baile   

The hairpin bend in the military road. The highest level of road visible is the side road to Lochgoilhead (B828) which has its own hairpin bend just out of view to the right. The lowest level of road on the right is the road to Cairdndow and Inveraray.

Looking east down Glen Croe

I've heard that lorries sometimes had to reverse up the hairpin because reverse gear was lower than first. The 1922 AA Book warned that the descent was "exceedingly sharp, and the utmost caution is required in handling the brakes." The AA also noted that the hairpin bend had recently been improved (is that visible in the last photo above?) but more comprehensive upgrading didn't come until the 1930s. (This was a time when two other arterial routes which were essentially still 18th century military roads were re-engineered: the A82 from Tyndrum to Inverness (think of the "new" road across the Black Mount and through Glen Coe) and the A9 from Dunkeld to Inverness.) The whole road from Cairndow, on the shore of Loch Fyne, to Ardgartan on the shore of Loch Long opposite Arrochar, was improved. The work seems to have proceeded in phases from west to east over almost a decade. I gather Cairndow was bypassed in 1932 and the hump-backed 18th century military bridge at Butterbridge in Glen Kinglas seems to have been bypassed at some time during the 1930s as well.

The humpbacked military bridge bridge at Butterbridge in Glen Kinglas built 1748-49, bypassed by the present A83 in the 1930s. Picture credit - Andrew Mckie
Butterbridge and its bypass built in the 1930s. Picture credit Paweł Stankiewicz

But the crucial section - bypassing the hairpin bend at the Rest and be Thankful and the steep drop to the floor of Glen Croe by making a new line of road higher up the side of the glen and descending on a more gentle gradient - was interrupted by the War and not opened until 1945.

This War Revision of the OS One Inch map published 1941 (see it in full here) shows the Cairndow and Butterbridge bypasses (red and yellow circles) completed but the new line of road down Glen Croe (green circle) still marked by uncoloured pecked lines meaning it hadn't been built yet.

Despite the inauguration of the new road up Glen Croe in the 1940s, the old military road remained in place, used as an access to the farms in the floor of the glen. It was also, due to its challenges, popular for car rallying. Here's a selection of views of the old and new roads:-

The old and new roads at the Rest and be Thankful summit. Notice the ghost junction between the old road and the side road to the west (left) to Lochgoilhead (B828) at the south (bottom) end of the car park in the angle between the old and new A83.
The new road in Glen Croe with the old road below it. (The road through the trees on the right is just a forestry track.) Picture credit r n b 69

The new road (bottom right) passing the hairpin bend in the old military road
Raindrops on the Google Streetview car's lens as it approaches the summit. The hairpin bend in the old military road is visible on the left.

Temporary solution     
What grabbed my attention about the recent closure of the Rest and be Thankful was the temporary solution: re-opening the old military road to traffic. I didn't know this before but apparently it was reinforced in 2013 so as to be available as a temporary relief road while a landslide over the "new" road was cleared. There's an album of pictures of the work being carried out here.

18th century bridge being prepared for 21st century traffic. Note the crash barrier of the "new" road along the top of the photo. Picture credit - Glen Wallace

As it's a single track road, when in use as a diversion off the "new" road, traffic is ferried up and down the military road in one way convoys:-

The Citylink coach from Glasgow to Campbeltown eadges nervously up the military road in 2014. Picture credit - busmanscotland

It wasn't plain sailing when the old road was brought in to use last weekend, though, as apparently a lorry got stuck causing a two hour delay:-

Picture credit - Jai Cowper-Smith/Dunoon Observer
By the side of Loch Restil looking south (Arrochar direction) towards the summit. Picture credit - Dunoon Observer

I can't help thinking that, even without such accidents, waiting for your convoy's turn to go can't involve much less time than driving round via Tyndrum and Dalmally.

A parallel?
The sight of the traffic instrastructure of previous centuries being re-commissioned, queuing vehicles, traffic cones, police cars and hi-viz jacketed Health & Safety types having kittens reminded me very strongly of when that other road vulnerable to landslides - the A890 along the south shore of Loch Carron - was closed for a few months in 2012 and the Strome Ferry, which had formed the link until the road was built in 1970, was brought back into use. There's an album of pictures of that here.

Car ferry approaching North Strome for the first time in 42 years. Picture credit - Donald Morrison

When the A890 along Loch Carron is closed, it involves a corking 120 mile (2.75 hours) detour to get to the other side of the loch (back up to Achnasheen, over to Beauly, down to Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston, then west via Cluanie and Kintail to Auchtertyre). As the children of Lochcarron village go to school in Plockton on the other side of the loch, when it became clear the road round would be closed for longer than a day or two, there was nothing for it but to resort to the desparate measure of re-opening the famous "Strome Ferry (No Ferry)". Fortunately there is a sole survivor of the sort of six car turntable ferry that used to operate at Strome. She is the Glenachulish, built for service on the Ballachulish Ferry but made redundant there when the bridge across Loch Leven  opened in 1975. Nowadays, she operates the summer only Kylerhea Ferry and, as she winters at Kishorn just round the coast from Loch Carron, she was available to take up service at Strome at short notice when the road was closed in January 2012.

Permanent solutions?
No amount of shoring up will immunise the A83 in Glen Croe or the A890 by Loch Carron from the threat of future landslides. The ideal permanent solution for the A83 would be a tunnel. And anything less than all the way from Ardgartan on Loch Long to Cairndow on Loch Fyne would be a false economy because Glen Kinglas (from Butterbridge down to Cairndow) is also prone to landslides (though less frequently) and here there is no alternative of the old military road because the present road follows its line too closely.

Looking west down Glen Kinglas towards Loch Fyne. Picture credit Gareth Harper

At Loch Carron, the talk is either of a bridge (or causeway incorporating tidal generator) across the narrows where the ferry used to run or else a new road leaving the shore of the loch at Attadale before it reaches the landslide zone and running inland, across the hills to Gleann Udalain and rejoining the A890 a couple of miles north of Auchtertyre (see 2014 Options Appraisal here). The whole road from Contin to Achnasheen to Lochcarron and across the Strome Ferry to Auchtertyre - today's A835/832/890 - was another one funded around 1810 by our friends the Highland Roads & Bridges Commissioners who had declined to fund improvements to the Rest and be Thankful. Their resident engineer, Thomas Telford, had suggested to them a route round Loch Carron and through Gleann Udalain as an alternative to the Strome Ferry but this was not taken up, presumably due to the additional expense involved. All these schemes, in Wester Ross and Argyll, remain expensive, of course, so for some time to come I expect to keep seeing this:-

Picture credit - Dunoon Observer

I certainly hope so, anyway - I'd pay quite a lot of money to be able to wind the clock back to the 1930s and drive up Glen Croe on the military road and across the Strome Ferry in the same weekend!