Wednesday, October 17, 2018

McCaig's Tower

As a lawyer (retired), I'm naturally interested in legal cases that took place along the Kyles and Western Isles. Apart from the points of law involved, case reports often reveal interesting historical detail. Thus, I've written before about the legal sequels to the wreck of the brigantine Aid of Dundee off the coast of Harris in 1819 (here); the sinking of the Islay mail steamer Lochiel in 1960 (here); and a dispute between rival ferry operators across Kyle Akin (here). So here's another episode from the legal archives, this time concerning McCaig's Tower, the great rotunda which crowns Oban's skyline.

Photo credit - Gerhard Lehner

The tower was built in the 1890s by Lismore born local bank manager, John Stuart McCaig. You can read about its construction in this article on Undiscovered Scotland. The article also speculates about what more McCaig may have intended for the site before he died just as the Tower was being completed in 1902. Well, the litigation which ensued from the terms of his will provides the answers.

One of a family of nine none of whom married, Stuart McCaig lived at the time of his death with his two surviving siblings, his brother Duncan and sister Catherine. They lived at John Square, in Oban (described in the Ordnance Survey name book as "a superior block of building on the west side of George Street", it no longer exists having been replaced by a parade of shops with the same name: see here) which Stuart and Duncan owned jointly. Duncan died a month after Stuart leaving Catherine as the sole heir to both of them.

Plaque above the entrance to the Tower - picture credit Andrew Bowden

Stuart McCaig left an estate consisting of real estate yielding an annual rent of around £2,500 (about £300,000 in today's money) plus moveable estate (banks accounts, stocks, shares etc.) of about £10,000 (around £1 million today). But all Catherine was left out of this fortune was a life annuity of £300 (£35,000 today). The rest of Stuart's estate was left in trust for the following purposes:-

erecting monuments and statues for myself, brothers, and sisters on the tower or circular building called the Stuart M'Caig Tower, situated on the Battery Hill above Oban, the making of these statues to be given to Scotch sculptors from time to time as the necessary funds may accumulate for that purpose; also that artistic towers be built on the hillock at the end of Aird's Park, in the parish of Muckairn, and on other prominent points on the Muckairn estate, and on other prominent places on the various estates; such in particular on the Meolreoy of Balagown, lying north-east of Kilachonish farmhouse; my wish and desire is to encourage young and rising artists, and for that purpose prizes be given for the best plans of the proposed statues, towers, etc.,

In a codicil signed a few months before his death, McCaig added the following detail:-

I have to describe and explain that I particularly want the trustees to erect on the top of the wall of the tower I built in Oban, statues in large figures of all my five brothers and of myself, namely, Duncan, John, Dugald, Donald, Peter, and of my father Malcolm and of my mother Margaret, and of my sisters Jean, Catherine, Margaret and Ann, and that these statues be modelled after photographs, and where these may not be available that the statues may have a family likeness to my own photograph or any other member of my foresaid family and that those statues will cost not less than one thousand pounds sterling [£115,000 today].

Oban in the 1870s before McCaig's Tower had been built - picture credit National Galleries of Scotland

Stuart McCaig had also specified in his will that his trustee was to be Glasgow University but that the trust was to be managed locally by his lawyer, Donald McGregor. The latter had a concern that the will (which had been written by McCaig personally) contained two mistakes which a lawyer wouldn't have made - it didn't say what was to happen to Stuart's moveable estate and didn't say what was to happen to the real estate after the towers and statues had been paid for. So McGregor got Catherine - as Stuart's next of kin who would inherit anything not disposed of by his will - to sign a "Deed of Assignation and Corroboration" whereby she agreed that the towers and statues were to be paid for out of the moveable as well as the real estate and that, after the statues and towers had been erected on the two sites specifically mentioned in the will, the whole remaining estate (real and moveable) was to be applied towards endowing a new chair at Glasgow University to be called the John Stuart McCaig Chair for teaching "sculpture, painting, music, or other fine art or kindred objects".   

Not long after, Catherine began to have doubts about all this. In the ensuing litgation, she alleged she had asked the lawyer, Mr MacGregor, to see Stuart's will but he had refused. Then, even more audaciously, the lawyer asked her to sign another document making over the share in the house at John Square she had inherited from Duncan in return for the right to live there rent free for the rest of her life. This she refused to do and instead raised court actions against the University and McGregor to set aside the Deed of Assignation and Corroboration (which, she alleged, she had signed only because she was elderly, in frail health and grieving the recent deaths of her brothers and had lacked independent legal advice) and Stuart's will and codicil itself.

A view of Oban of Oban showing McCaig's Tower at an early stage of its construction in the 1890s. This is a photo I took of a photo hanging in the Calmac Terminal Building at Oban

In fairness to the memory of Donald McGregor, the legal case reports don't reveal whether Catherine McCaig's allegations of his questionable ethics were proved. This is because the reports are more concerned with the points of law arising than the actual outcomes for the parties. All we're told is that the court decided there was a stateable case fit to be sent for trial by jury. We're not even told if the Deed of Assignation and Corroboration was, in the end, set aside although I think it must have been or the parallel case to set aside the will and codicil could not have proceeded. In regard to that, Catherine's lawyers realised that, while Stuart had undoubtedly been somewhat eccentric, they could not go so far as to claim he was mentally unbalanced rendering his will vulnerable to challenge on that account. So they had to attack it on the more subtle ground that the detail of the towers and statues scheme was too vaguely expressed in the will to be put into effect - for example, were the eleven statues of the McCaigs to cost £1,000 in total or £1,000 each?

The first judge consulted dismissed this argument and upheld the will, albeit not without some hesitation. But ruling that the intention was that the statues be £1,000 each, he remarked that the towers and statues scheme:

may be fantastic, and may result in what most people will consider waste of money. But the money was Mr. M'Caig's, and the project is neither, so far as I can see, contrary to public policy or morals, nor [referring to a recent case in which a bequest "for the advancement and diffusion of the science of phrenology" had been upheld] more vague and indefinite in scope than some of the schemes which have been held to be within the recognition of the law.

Inside the Tower at dusk - picture credit Andras Sobester

Catherine McCaig appealed. This time her lawyers deployed a different legal argument, namely, that one can only disinherit one's nearest of kin by a legacy which benefits someone else or the public at large whereas Stuart's towers and statues scheme was of no benefit to anyone. With this the four appeal judges agreed: the incidental benefits in the shape of the prizes rising young artists stood to win didn't count. Nor did this fall within the recognized exceptions of bequests for memorials to historical personages or events or for "beautifying or embellishing a town or neighbourhood" which are of public benefit.

On this narrow technical ground (that the towers and statues scheme didn't benefit anyone), the appeal judges rested their judgement overturning the will. But it didn't prevent two of them expatiating on their personal views of Stuart McCaig and his scheme. The Lord Justice Clerk said:-

He seems to have been possessed of an inordinate vanity as regards himself and his relatives, so extreme as to amount almost to a moral disease, though quite consistent with sanity.

And Lord Kyllachy said:-

I consider that, if it is not unlawful, it ought to be unlawful, to dedicate ... the whole income of a large estate ... to objects ... which have no other purpose or use than that of perpetuating at great cost, and in an absurd manner, the idiosyncrasies of an eccentric testator. ... Indeed, I suppose it would be hardly contended to be [lawful] if the purposes, say of the trust here, were to be slightly varied, and the trustees were, for instance, directed to lay the truster's estate waste, and to keep it so; or to turn the income of the estate into money, and throw the money yearly into the sea; or to expend the income in annual or monthly funeral services in the testator's memory; or to expend it in discharging from prominent points upon the estate, salvoes of artillery upon the birthdays of the testator, and his brothers and sisters.

Thus did Catherine McCaig eventually inherit her brother's fortune except that it wasn't mere avarice which had motivated her to challenge his will. Rather, according to one of the appeal judges, it was because she did not wish to see her family ridiculed by being immortalised in such an extravagant manner. Thus, when she, a spinster with no known surviving relatives at all, made her own will in 1908 she provided for a modest statue of her brother Major Duncan McCaig to be put up in front of the Volunteer Drill Hall in Breadalbane Street in which he had been active. That done, she directed her trustees to hold the remainder of her estate and apply the annual income in the following order: (1) upkeep of Duncan's statue; (2) a supplement of £20 per annum to the stipend of the United Free Church Minister of her native Lismore; (3) £20pa to Oban Town Council to spend on coal for "deserving poor people in Oban"; (4) annuities of £20/30 to three friends; and (5) the rest towards:-

the assistance of the education and maintenance of Gaelic-speaking students at Scottish schools, universities, or church colleges, in providing lectures calculated to further the knowledge, use, and study of Gaelic language and literature

and finally for erecting and equipping a building in Oban to be called the McCaig Memorial Institute.

But then Catherine - mindful perhaps that the bulk of her estate (worth about £30,000 or about £3 million today) had been inherited from Stuart and that she had only got this because she had challenged his towers and statues scheme and that it might be only be fair give his pet schemes a chance before implementing her own - had a change of heart. She made a codicil to her will. This specified that, after the statue of Duncan had been provided for but before anything was spent on UF Ministers, deserving poor, friends or Gaelic education, McCaig's Tower was to be fenced off to exclude the public, its interior leveled off and bronze statues costing not less than £1,000 each of herself and her parents and eight siblings be erected inside. As that was estimated to absorb the whole of the trust income for at least eight years, the Lismore UF congregation, Oban Town Council and the three friends, all of whose annual payments would be delayed, challenged the codicil in court.

Lismore United Free Church as seen in Google Streetview

This time, the legal debate centred on the question of whether Catherine's statues scheme fell within the recognised exception to the rule that a trust must benefit someone (or the general public) of a family memorial "on a customary and rational scale" (usually in a cemetery) or a proportionate statue or monument (usually somewhere else) to a national or local celebrity. The judges consulted were unanimously of the opinion it did not. Describing it as a "sheer waste of money", Lord Salvesen continued:-

The prospect of Scotland being dotted with monuments to obscure persons who happened to have amassed a sufficiency of means, and cumbered with trusts for the purpose of maintaining these monuments in all time coming, appears to me to be little less than appalling.

These comments in the written judgement were, however, comparatively mild compared with the Lord Justice Clerk's remarks in court alluding to a dramatic recent turn of events in the course of WWI as reported in the Glasgow Herald (page 11, 2nd column) :-

It's a good thing [Catherine's statues scheme] is limited to statues and not to obelisks such as are set up. These things are monstrous. ... It would be useful if Zeppelins could come and knock them down. 

View from McCaig's Tower over Oban Harbour - picture credit Oban ships and scenery

In light of the judicial mockery of the McCaigs, therefore, it's pleasing to record that Catherine's trust for the promotion of Gaelic was duly set up and remains very much in existence today - you can read about it here. The United Free Church of Lismore didn't merge with the Church of Scotland in 1929 as most UF congregations did but carried on as a "UF Continuing" congregation until it closed in 1970 - read about that here. And all I could find out about the statue of Major Duncan McCaig (which the courts did permit) was this selfie on Instagram:-

Duncan on the left: Picture credit NS Design Ltd

But I don't know where the statue is - the Corran Halls perhaps? I do know the site of the Volunteer Drill Hall where it was originally to have been put up is now occupied by two blocks of 60s looking flats at 12-14 Breadalbane Street so perhaps Duncan was moved to his present location when they were built.

Which just leaves to be located the "Meolreoy of Balagown" which Stuart McCaig identified as an eligible site for one of his artistic towers. I think it must be the hill called Meall Reamhar on the OS maps on the west shore of Loch Nell between Ballygowan and Killiechoinich Farms about 2 miles south east of Oban. I don't know that area but from a virtual drive round in the Google Streetview car, the Meolreoy doesn't seem to be a very prominent feature - maybe an artistic tower is just what it needs.

Monday, September 10, 2018

St Catherine's Ferry

As a child in the late 60s, we always went on our Easter holidays to Kishorn in Wester Ross. The drive up from Edinburgh involved crossing the Ballachulish and Strome Ferries and in some respects this was my favourite part of the holiday! I used to pore over Ordnance Survey one inch maps looking at the routes of similar ferries and was always curious about the ferry across Loch Fyne between St Catherine's and Inveraray which, at about a mile and a half, was so much longer than the normal ferry crossing of about a quarter-half a mile.

I was also intrigued by this being a "Ferry F" - a foot ferry with a single pecked line on the OS map as opposed to the more familiar vehicular ferry ("Ferry V") marked by a double pecked line. I knew fine what a vehicular ferry looked like ...

Strome Ferry - picture credit foundin_a_attic

... but wasn't very sure what this foot ferry must look like considering the only foot ferry I'd ever seen was the one sculled across the 40 yard wide River Almond at Cramond which would obviously not be very suitable for crossing Loch Fyne.

Cramond Ferry - picture credit National Museums of Scotland

In 1973, we decided to go to Inveraray for our Easter holidays. Disappointment at going to a destination which did not involve a car having to be driven on to a boat was countered by the knowledge that at least my curiosity about this enigmatic foot ferry would be requited and a trip across it would likely be on the cards.

Alas, despite still being marked on the then latest edition of the OS 1 inch map (pictured above), the St Catherine's Ferry had been discontinued some years earlier. Presumably, everybody was now travelling by car or bus and it was quicker to go by road round the head of Loch Fyne. But in the pre-internal combustion engine era, when travel by water could, in the right weather, be a perfectly viable alternative to travel on foot or horseback, the St Catherine's ferry had been a vital link in the communication network between Glasgow and the Clyde and Inveraray and the parts of Argyll beyond. Look at the map below:-

In the second half of the 18th century, as now, the land route to Inveraray was the military road (built 1743-49 by Major Caulfeild, not General Wade) from Dumbarton up Loch Lomond, through Arrochar and across the Rest & Be Thankful then round the head of Loch Fyne - red route on the map. But an alternative in these days was the green route using the ferry across Loch Long at Portincaple (I'm not exactly sure where the west terminus of that ferry was, whether it was on the opposite shore of Loch Long or went up to Lochgoilhead but I better save that for another blog) and the St Catherine's Ferry across Loch Fyne.

The Rest & Be Thankful before it was realigned to today's route in (I think - another blog topic?) the late 1930s

The alternative "sea routes" to Inveraray via the St Catherine's Ferry were given a boost by the construction of new roads from Lochgoilhead to Ardno on the east side of Loch Fyne (green) and from Ardentinny to Strachur (yellow) by the Highland Roads & Bridges Commission in 1809 and 1810.  The Memorial to the HR&BC petitioning their assistance for the Lochgoilhead road is instructive:-

And supposing the traveller to start at Inveraray to ferry over at St. Catherine's, the distance from St. Catherine's to Loch-Goil-Head is not eight miles. The advantages of this road are obvious; travellers may reach Loch-Goil-Head from Inveraray in less than three hours. Foot travellers are generally encumbered with heavy burthens, but by having a hired cart at St Catherine's and another at Loch-Goil-Head, they will be enabled to proceed with ease and expedition.

In the following decade, steam navigation began on the Clyde and, in 1825, The Lochgoil & Lochlong Steamboat Company was formed to sail from Greenock to Lochgoilhead via calls at Ardentinny and Portincaple amongst other places - there's much more about these steamers on the wonderful Dalmadan website. Another alternative was by coach from Dunoon and then steamer up Loch Eck and a sail on any of these steamers followed by a coach trip along relatively new roads to St Catherine's must have held considerable attractions compared with struggling up the old military road over "the Rest". Another factor which would have generated traffic for the St Catherine's Ferry in times gone by was that Inveraray was then more of an "entry point" to north Argyll than nowadays with more travellers going north via the Port Sonachan ferry across Loch Awe (brown route on the map).

"Lochgoilhead from the Steamer" - an 1848 sketch by J F Campbell showing the coach preparing to depart for St Catherine's - picture credit Wikipedia

So much for its connections, what of the infrastructure of the ferry? On the St Catherine's side (go for a virtual walk round in Google Streetview here), the pier was built by the Highland Roads & Bridges Commission in 1818-20 to a design by Thomas Telford. The note in the Commissioners' 1821 Report speaks for itself:-

ST. CATHERINE'S FERRY PIER - Opposite to Inverary on Loch Fine [sic.], a Ferry Pier, Ninety Yards in extent, has been built at St.Catherine's, equidistant from the Northern Terminations of the Strachur and Ardnoe Roads [from Ardentinny and Lochgoilhead respectively], and is an example of great convenience obtained at the moderate expense of £166, one half of which was paid by Captain Campbell of St. Catherine's, the Proprietor. Many such Piers would be highly serviceable in the County of Argyll, indented and intersected as it is by the sea, and by fresh water Lakes, in all directions.

From the HR&BC's 9th Report, 1821

Opposite the pier was that other essential requisite of a ferry in centuries gone by, an inn. It had a sign above the door claiming to have been granted a charter in 1460 as a "wayfarer's tavern": no doubt there had been a hostelry on the site since before 1756 when the main block of the present building was built but I'm not sure how credible the 15th century claim is. In 1864, the poet Alexander Smith wrote in "A Summer in Skye":-

The only thing likely to interest the stranger at the little hostelry of St Catherine's is John Campbell, the proprietor of the same, and driver of the coach from the inn to the steamboat wharf at Loch Goil. ... He has not started on his journey a hundred yards when, from something or another, he finds you occasion for a story, in which he is sure to proiduce a roar of laughter from those alongside of, and behind, him. ... Every one who tarries at St. Catherine's should get himself driven across to Loch Goil by John Campbell, and should take pains to procure a seat on the box beside him. When he returns to the south, he can relate over again the stories he hears, and make himself the hero of them.

The St. Catherine's to Lochgoilhead coach in Hell's Glen - picture credit

Today, sadly, the inn at St Catherine's is empty and deteriorating having been closed for about ten years and on the Buildings at Risk Register.

The St Catherine's Hotel in happier times - picture credit Tour Scotland Photographs & Videos

On the Inveraray side, there's still a house called "Ferry Land" ("land" used there as the old Scottish word for a tenement or multi-storey building). Dating to 1777, this was previously the Ferry Inn and also the ferryman's house.

Ferryland, Inveraray via Google Streetview

The St Catherine's Ferry belonged to Inveraray Burgh Council. What I mean by that is not that the boats belonged to the Council but that Inveraray owned the exclusive right to operate a ferry across Loch Fyne at this location which nobody else could set up in competition with. Under Scottish law, ferry rights usually belonged to the landowner(s) on one or both sides of ferry but could belong to a third party in the same way that the right to fish for salmon in Scotland does not necessarily belong to the owner of the banks of the river or loch concerned. I tried to explain this esoteric point of law in the context of the Kyleakin Ferry to Skye (which belonged jointly to the owners on either side before being sold to the Highland Railway when they were building their railway to Kyle) in this post. Anyway, as was the common practice, Inveraray Council didn't operate the ferry itself but leased the right to a tenant. A Report on the assets of Scottish burghs compiled in 1835 noted:-

[St Catherine's] ferry for many years was of no consequence as an object of revenue; it being granted rent-free, on condition merely that the tenant should provide sufficient boats and hands for the accommodation of the public. The rent presently paid is £40; the first rent charged was £9.

Since I started writing this post, I've discovered an article published just last month [August 2018] about the ferry in the Argyllshire Advertiser. Aptly titled "The sea unites - the story of Inveraray's ferry", you can read it here. In case that link goes dead, there's a screen grab below:-

Amongst other interesting snippets, the article tells us that St Catherine's ferry had been equipped with steam vessels as early as 1827 and that the tenant of the ferry from 1836 to 1865 was the Lochgoil and Loch Long Steamboat Company. In 1865, the ferry was taken over by the Inveraray Ferry & Coach Company who introduced a new 60 foot iron paddle steamer called the Fairy. This link contains a very small picture of her and also hints that the ferry passed through the hands of other companies such as Inveraray & St Catherine's Ferry Co. Ltd and Inveraray Steam Ferry Co. before being taken back in hand by Inveraray Burgh Council in 1892 with a new steamer called the Fairy II. Below is a rather grainy picture of the Fairy I - there's a clearer version of it on the Dalmadan website here

Picture credit Argyllshire Advertiser

It seems that rowing boats continued to operate alongside the steamboats, the operation of St Catherine's Ferry in 1875 being described in Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Scotland thus:-

At St. Catherine's (small Inn), is a Ferry to Inveraray. 2 m. [miles] by rowing boat in 1/2 hour; and by steamer (fare 1s.) twice a day in 10 minutes. Coach to Lochgoilhead.

One of the steam ferries - possibly the Fairy II at St Catherine's Pier - photo credit Graham Thomas

The article in the Argyllshire Advertiser tells us that the Fairy II was wrecked in a storm in 1912 (not while on passage we assume) following which the St Catherine's Ferry was operated by a succession of motor launches (see the article for more detail) before it ceased in 1963. In retrospect it seems odd it lasted so long - the railway to Oban opened in 1880 must have taken away some of the the traffic passing through Inveraray for points further north and the improvement of the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful (which I think was in 1937) makes it curious that the ferry resumed after the War.

As ever, if anyone can add any detail or memories of the St Catherine's Ferry, then do leave a comment but I leave you with a picture of a Loch Fyne skiff, a type of herring fishing boat a motorised example of which the AA article tells us operated the ferry during the 20th century - maybe my mental picture of the Cramond ferry was not so wide of the mark after all!

Two skiffs at Tarbert - picture credit ThistleDhu1

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Loch Oban

If you've never heard of Loch Oban before, then worry not because neither had I before today.

Towns are few and far between on the western seaboard of Scotland outside the Firth of Clyde so there's usually an interesting story around their establishment. For a while I've been noting down any snippets I've chanced across about the early history of Oban and today I had a look at the location on the Roy Maps drawn around 1750:-

From National Library of Scotland's Geo-referenced maps

These maps were drawn before the town was established in the last quarter of the 18th century so one shouldn't read anything into the cluster of red dots - it probably indicates little more than a baile, the Gaelic word for a pre-industrial communal farm known as fermtoun in English. But what did catch my eye on the Roy Maps was something I never knew about before - the now vanished Loch Oban. And note Oban Miln on its south east shore: miln is the old Scottish word for mill.

100 years later and the Admiralty Chart surveyed in 1856 shows us that "Loch" Oban is, in fact (or perhaps had become due to drainage in connection wih development of the surrounding town) merely a "Marsh at times covered with water".

National Library of Scotland

By 1870, when the first Ordnance Survey Six Inch map was drawn, the "loch" appears if anything even drier but is now named Loch a' Mhuilinn. Pronounced "LOCH-ah VOO-lin", that's Gaelic for "Mill Loch". Note that the mill is still there:-

National Library of Scotland

Fast forward another 30 years and the OS 25 inch map of 1898 indicates that the north part of the loch is now totally drained and occupied by a goods station and an auction mart entered off Lochside Street. The mill appears to have been replaced by Mill Farm:-

National Library of Scotland

Today, the site is occupied by the inevitable ...

Google Streetview

And behind Tesco is Lochavulin Industrial Estate, the origin of the name of which is now revealed. I suppose Tesco and an industrial estate containing Homebase and Argos etc. is functionally the same to a 21st century town as a miln was to an 18th century baile. There's all sorts of fascinating local history lurking in the most unlikely spots!