Sunday, October 18, 2020

Ballachulish Part 4 - Doctors & and legal battles


Looking north over Ballachulish village and quarry to Loch Leven. Picture credit: MM0HLQ


We ended Part 3 in 1862 when "from pecuniary difficulties" Dugald, the 7th Stewart laird of Ballachulish, sold the estate after it had been in his family for more than 300 years. 

The purchaser was a Yorkshireman, Captain Robert Tennant. This was part of a common pattern for Highland estates in the mid 19th century - families who had owned them for generations succumbed to debt and had to sell them to non-resident outsiders, often Victorian nouveaux riches. Captain Tennant seems to have been more than usually non-resident, though, in that he only ever visited his new property once, for two weeks in the autumn of 1865. The rest of the time Ballachulish House was the residence of his factor (Scottish word for estate manager). Tennant's ownership was brief, however. In in 1871 he sold the estate to an Irish baronet, Sir George Beresford. His tenure as owner was even shorter, though, for he died two years later in 1873 leaving the estate in his will to trustees to hold it for Lady Beresford's lifetime use and then on her death to pass to their only surviving child, Mrs Marcia Drummond.

The Beresfords' ownership of Ballachulish Estate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was punctuated by a bewildering succession of litigations involving the estate and its slate quarry. These are interesting as preserving snippets of historical detail which might otherwise have been lost but at the same time they can be frustrating. That's because the law reports only narrate such of the facts as are necessary for the decision of the legal point in issue. That's good for lawyers but annoying for historians as it leaves some of the story untold. But with that caveat, here's the tale of the legal entanglements of the owners of Ballachulish Estate and their quarrymaster tenants.


Looking east from Ballachulish village and quarry towards Glen Coe. Picture by kind permission of Neil Barr


Despite his noble connections (he was a cousin of the Marquess of Waterford), Sir George Beresford appears to have been heavily in debt. When he died, Ballachulish Estate was mortgaged for £48,000 (about £5 million in today's money) and his creditors pressed his trustees (his widow and her brothers) for payment. Help appeared to be at hand, however, in the form of their solicitor in Glasgow, one George Gardner. Also their factor, he arranged new loans but the Beresfords were still not clear and required a further £6,500. Gardner obtained this from his father, James, who also appeared to do them a big favour by taking on the lease of the slate quarry when it was given up by the previous tenant, Alexander Pitcairn, in 1874. Prior to taking on the quarry in 1863, Pitcairn had the track record of having been the manager at the Easdale slate quarries but James Gardner's background was as a butcher! He also proposed to take into business with him at the quarry his younger son John, hitherto a lard and tallow merchant, so it was perhaps as well that he continued the employment of Pitcairn's quarry manager, John Ferguson, to guide them (at an annual salary of £200: about £23,000 in today's money) . 

The rent paid by the quarry tenant was obviously the Beresfords' biggest source of income but it was paid by James Gardner to his older son, George, the solicitor, as the estate factor. But by 1875 it appears that George had become neglectful of his factorial duties. The Beresfords put pressure on him through his father who agreed to take over George's role as factor. That meant that James Gardner as quarry tenant was now paying the rent to himself as his landlords' factor and if you think that sounds like a situation loaded with the potential for trouble then you'd be right. Relations between the Beresfords and the Gardners deteriorated and they were sacked as factors in March 1876. Then, in September that year, James Gardner, possibly as a diversionary tactic because the new factors were on the point of uncovering the extent of his malfeasance, precipitated a crisis by demanding repayment of his £6,500 loan. When the Beresfords refused to pay, Gardner threatened to enforce his mortgage on the estate and sell it to recoup his debt.


Looking across to Ballachulish from the north shore of Loch Leven: the less well known West Quarry is clearly visible on the right.


At this point, the Beresfords - who claimed (somewhat naively, perhaps) to be unaware of having signed any mortgage giving Gardner power of sale - went to court to obtain an interdict (Scottish equivalent of an injunction) to prevent him selling, at least until it had been ascertained in a proper accounting what, if any, money was left owing to him after the Beresfords had been credited with the quarry rents he was due them. The Court was of opinion that the terms of Gardner's mortgage over the estate were unusually draconian (probably as a result of the Beresfords' lawyer, George Gardner, having a conflict of interest due to the creditor being his father) and consequently the interdict was granted. Meanwhile, the Beresfords (having presumably engaged a new lawyer) had discovered another nasty surprise in the various contracts they'd signed with the Gardners, this time in the lease of the slate quarry. 

Before they fell out, Lady Beresford had agreed that James Gardner might have a fifteen year lease but when the lease which had been signed was checked, it was found to be for 35 years. The Beresfords therefore raised a court action to have it declared null and void. The court decided that Gardner had fraudulently procured the signature of a 35 year lease but when the Beresfords moved the court for an order evicting him, he responded with the audacious defence that, although the 35 year lease had been cancelled, that still left him entitled to a 15 year one in terms of his agreement with Lady Beresford! Gardner fought that case all the way to the House of Lords before he was finally evicted but however disreputably he may have behaved didn't alter the fact that the Beresfords still owed him repayment of his £6,500 loan. He also made a claim for compensation for upwards of £10,000 he claimed he'd spent on improvements to the quarry including a railway a mile long, new levels and inclines and a pier and buildings. The Beresfords therefore needed to raise money to buy Gardner off and a new tenant for the slate quarries.

This time their plight came to the attention of the local doctor, Donald Campbell. As well being a medical man, Campbell had a coaching business and he did a deal with a business acquaintance in Glasgow, Alexander McKinlay, with whom he dealt in horses in connection with his coaches. In terms of this agreement, Campbell would take the tenancy of the quarry, McKinlay would lend the Beresfords the money they needed to buy off George Gardner and they (Campbell & McKinlay) would share the profits of the quarries. Now, having had their fingers so badly burnt borrowing money from and renting their quarry to a butcher and his lard and tallow merchant son, you wonder if the Beresfords weren't taking something of a risk by doing the same thing again with a doctor turned coachman and his horse dealer friend! I wonder if it was to limit their exposure that they very quickly paid McKinlay back the money he'd lent them to buy Gardner off (£10,000) by borrowing that amount from Lady Beresford's brother, Admiral Lucas. If so, it didn't keep them out of trouble because thirteen years later, in 1892, we find the Admiral's marriage contract trustees (to whom he'd assigned the debt) suing the Beresfords for payment! Sadly, the law reports don't reveal why relations within the family had apparently soured to the extent of litigating amongst themselves but the Beresfords must have managed to refinance once again because Ballachulish Estate remained in their ownership for many more decades.


The entrance to the East Quarry is on the left. The houses in the foreground have all now been demolished and the main A82 road now passes over their site beside where the Isles of Glen Coe Hotel is now.

Meanwhile, the lease of the quarries to Donald Campbell, the doctor turned coach proprietor, was going without a hitch as far as the Beresfords concerned. But that didn't prevent Campbell falling out with his partner McKinlay over the final division of profits when the lease ended as scheduled in 1893. Remember that Dr. Campbell was the tenant of the quarry but had a deal with McKinlay to pay him half the profits. Campbell also ran a store at the quarry from which he sold goods to the workers and McKinlay claimed that Campbell should have been paying him half of the profits of this store as part of the overall quarry operation. Campbell denied this and claimed it was a separate business McKinlay had no concern with. The ensuing litigation reveals a lot of interesting detail about the operation of the quarry in the last quarter of the 19th century and I can do no better than simply to quote from the judgement:-

“In conformity with the practice of the estate the quarry was wrought by piecework. The men worked in squads of six, and to each squad was assigned a certain breadth of rock, which they quarried and worked into slates. The haulage of these slates from the quarry to the quay was provided by the tenant, who stored them in separate sheds belonging to the respective squads, and each squad looked after the loading and stowing of its own slates on board the ships chartered for the purpose. 

The men had to provide their own quarrying materials, including gunpowder, iron tools, hammer handles, and rope. They were at liberty to supply themselves with these materials as they pleased; but practically, in pursuance of a custom which had prevailed before [Dr. Campbell] became tenant, they bought them at a store carried on by [Campbell] as a separate business, with separate books, and to a certain extent separate clerks. These materials were sold to the men, not at cost price, but at a profit. This business was, however, carried on, and the materials kept in stock, within the [land rented from the Beresfords along with the quarries themselves] with this exception, that the powder was stored in a magazine which was outside [that land], and which does not appear to have been expressly taken on lease by [Campbell]. 

Besides the materials required by the men who were on piecework, the quarry itself required supplies of material for its general working. These were chiefly (1) coals for the locomotive and stationary engines, (2) forage for the horses, and (3) tools for making or repairing the quarry roads and the like. These also were provided by [Dr. Campbell] through the medium of his general business, but they were (subject to a trifling exception) charged to the quarry at cost price.

The [business of the store] further extended to supplying household coal at a profit to the quarry workers at their homes as well as to the general public, and also (to a small extent) supplying the forage. [Campbell] arranged for these supplies being brought to Ballachulish by sea. This was sometimes done by chartering vessels, and sometimes by a steamer belonging to himself, which brought coal and took away slates. This steamer was run as part of the general business, and yielded a considerable profit, but the pursuer does not claim to share in it. 

The quarrymen were paid eight times in the year—every six or seven weeks. At each pay-day those who got supplies of household coal in the interval were debited with it at market prices (and not at cost price), and received the balance of their wages in cash. A considerable profit resulted to [Dr Campbell] upon the coals so supplied during the currency of the lease."


A rather grainy picture clearly shows the galleries (levels) in which the East Quarry was worked. Picture by kind permission of Glencoe Folk Museum

Other interesting snippets from the court case included that the quarry workers had their tools repaired and sharpened by quarry smiths for which a weekly charge was made. And although no details were given, Campbell had also been convicted of an offence under the Truck Acts (the legislation that requires employees to be paid in money rather than in kind on which the employer might be profiteering). But that said, it's noteworthy that the workers were now, in the 1890s, employees - fifty years earlier, they'd been self employed, paying the estate for the privilege of working in the quarry and selling to it the slates they made.

The case also contains some interesting financial details. In 1878, when Campbell took over the tenancy, the quarry plant (chiefly, the infrastructure - tramways and steam engines etc. - to haul the rock from the quarry face to the shore where it was worked into slates) was valued at £7,584:16s (about £900,000 in today's money). And the rent Campbell paid the Beresford Trustees was £1,000 per year (£120k today) or a half of his annual profits, whichever was higher. The profits in 1892 were £2,605:9s:5d (£330k).

Incidentally, McKinlay lost his case for a share of the profits of the store. The court laid emphasis on the fact that there was no suggestion that the Beresfords were entitled to any of these profits as part of their rent. It also a highlighted a meeting in 1884 at which Dr Campbell had told McKinlay that he had no share of the store profits. There's the delicious snippet that the meeting took place in the back parlour of McKinlay's house in Pollokshields - then as now one of Glasgow's most opulent suburbs - and one can easily picture the pair - whom the judge characterised as "shrewd businessmen" - in a cigar smoke filled room!


Dr Lachlan Grant. Photo by kind permission of Glencoe Folk Museum   

No discussion of Ballachulish doctors in the courts would be complete without a mention of Lachlan Grant pictured above. When Dr Campbell's lease ended in 1893, the quarry was taken over by a company called The Ballachulish Slate Quarries Ltd (BSQL) which soon acquired its principal competitor, the Easdale slate quarries. In 1900, BSQL appointed a local doctor, the 29 year old Lachlan Grant, as medical officer to their 600 employees (and retired workers) at Ballachulish and their families. As well as an annual salary of £270 (about £33,000 in today's money), Grant was permitted in terms of his contract to have his own separate private practice for local patients other than the quarriers and to hold other medical appointments in the locality but, in both cases, only for so long as he was employed by BSQL. If not, he would have to withdraw from local practice and the rationale behind that was that BSQL would only be able to secure a decent successor if they were able to hold out the prospect of a monopoly on the local medical practice outside the quarry.

But the young doctor quickly turned into something of a thorn in BSQL's side. He sided with the men against their employer and raised concerns about the state of the company's houses - those same cottages which had been so lauded in the Second Statistical Account (page 250) half a century before. In July 1902, just two years after they'd employed him, BSQL decided to dispense with Grant's services but the quarry workers didn't take this lying down. At this point, it's worth quoting verbatim again from the pleadings in the ensuing court case:-

"After it became known in the district that [BSQL's] directors had terminated [Dr Grant's] appointment there was general and widespread indignation, and on 8th July a mass meeting of [BSQL's] employees and others was held at Ballachulish, when resolutions were unanimously adopted expressing regret at the dismissal of [Dr Grant], respectfully requesting the directors to reconsider their decision, and expressing regret that the workmen had had no voice in the matter. 

As the directors adhered to their resolution another mass meeting was held on 15th July, which was attended not only by the quarry workers but by practically the entire population, including landed proprietors, clergymen, and other influential residenters in the district. [Dr Grant] was unanimously requested by this meeting to remain in the district, and a medical committee of the quarrymen, which had been reconstituted at said meeting, passed the following resolution, which was also unanimously approved of by the said mass meeting, and signed by all the members of committee and communicated to [BSQL]—‘We, the medical committee unanimously elected at a mass meeting of the employees of the Ballachulish Slate Quarries, Limited, on 15th July 1902, having learned with extreme surprise and regret that the petition signed by over 400 names, and the resolution of the employees in favour of Dr Grant, have been ignored by the directors, and that they still insist in terminating his agreement, do hereby reserve to ourselves the right of appointing our own medical officer, and hereby give notice on behalf of the employees that they will not allow any deductions to be made from their wages on behalf of any doctor who is not appointed by us.’ At the same meeting the committee nominated [Dr Grant] as their medical adviser. 

[Dr Grant] decided to accept the said appointment, and to accede to the unanimous public demand that he should continue to practice his profession in Ballachulish and district. Moreover, he holds many public appointments in the district, including those of medical officer appointed by the Government under the Factory Acts, Poor-law medical officer under the Parish Council, medical officer to the Lettermore Granite Quarries, medical officer to the Foresters' Friendly Society, Ancient Shepherds' Friendly Society, Friendly Society of Rechabites, and others. It was impossible for [Dr Grant] to terminate his contracts with all these public bodies without occasioning much public inconvenience and incurring considerable pecuniary obligations. 

The directors of [BSQL] are all non-resident. For a long time past [BSQL] have persuaded their employees to sign an agreement authorising [them] to make a deduction from the weekly pay of each employee for ‘the sums to be paid by you (i.e., [BSQL]) on our behalf for medicine and medical attendance.’ ... [BSQL] have no mandate from the workmen to employ any medical adviser whomsoever on their behalf, or to prevent defender practising in the district, and no obligation rests on [BSQL] to provide medical attendance for their workmen. Even if [BSQL] appoint a medical officer they cannot compel their employees to consult him."


Looking over the Ballachulish narrows (where the bridge is today) up Loch Leven towards Ballachulish village and Glen Coe. The East Quarry is clearly visible on the hillside in the middle distance.

BSQL were infuriated at their rebellious workforce. On 31st July, they had appointed a new medical officer but he couldn't take up his position so long as Lachlan Grant refused to step aside. They therefore went to court to seek an interdict against Grant to prevent him from "carrying on the practice of a doctor of medicine in the said village or district of Ballachulish, and in particular from acting as a medical practitioner or surgeon in any manner of way to the employees of [BSQL] and their families, and the old men who had previously been employees of [BSQL], and their families, in said village or district of Ballachulish."

Dr Grant defended the action but it's important to understand that the court wasn't being asked to arbitrate the dispute or decide whether it was morally right that he be allowed to continue to minister to the quarriers of Ballachulish (nor to reverse his dismissal). The court's job was to decide whether the clause in the contract he had signed whereby he undertook not to practice in the area if he ceased to be employed by BSQL was legally valid or not. It was an example of what's called a "non-compete clause" nowadays and these are legally enforceable provided they're not unduly restrictive in terms of the time and/or area for which they apply: in other words, a clause preventing someone from practising anywhere in Scotland in perpetuity is not enforceable but one preventing someone from practising in a narrower area and/or for a finite period like two or three years could be.

Dr Grant lost the first round of his court battle so he appealed to the Inner House of the Court of Session (Scottish equivalent of the Court of Appeal) where four senior judges headed by the Lord Justice Clerk re-heard his case. But by a majority of three to one they were also against him. In upholding the validity of his non-compete clause, emphasis was laid on the fact that, although it was not limited in time, it was spatially restricted to a very small area, namely, the immediate locality of Ballachulish. (The judge in the minority thought the clause invalid because practically everyone within that small area was known to be clamouring for Dr Grant's services which made the case an unusual one where non-compete clauses were concerned.)

Slates being worked up at the East Quarry. Photo by kind permission of Glencoe Folk Museum

The appeal judgement in BSQL's favour was not delivered until June 1903, almost a year after the dispute had broken out. And while the wheels of the law had been grinding slowly in Edinburgh, more dramatic events had been taking place in Ballachulish. BSQL had instituted a lock out at the quarry (the reverse of a strike involving the employer preventing the workforce from working). With no union to provide strike pay, this hurt the quarriers badly and many drifted away to find work in slate quarries elsewhere including at Toberonochy and Balvicar on the islands of, respectively, Luing and Seil south of Oban (but not, presumably, at Easdale which also belonged to BSQL). Others found work building an artificial loch in the hills above Glen Creran to the south of Ballachulish on Fasnacloich Estate which belonged to a sympathetic landowner, the wealthy and philanthropic Tom Bullough. (He was the cousin of Sir George Bullough, the owner of Rum and who also indulged in hydro-engineering there as I described in this post.) Meanwhile, scab labour hired by BSQL to remove unsold stock from the quarry was pelted by the women and children of Ballachulish with broken slates, something of which there was an abundant supply around the village.  

Following his second legal setback, Dr Grant was considering appealing again to the highest court in the land at that time, the House of Lords. The Court of Session agreed to suspend the interdict it had granted preventing him practicing in Ballachulish for two months in order to give him time to arrange his affairs on the assumption that the Lords would also refuse his appeal. And there the record so far as revealed by the law reports abruptly stops. It seems, however, that the appeal to the Lords never happened and that, later in 1903, sense prevailed and the dispute was defused by Dr Grant being re-hired by BSQL. He remained in practice at Ballachulish until he died in 1945, constantly active in the pursuit of social justice. Amongst the causes he championed were the Highlands & Islands Medical Service, established in 1913 and a sort of local forerunner of the NHS (which I touched on this post), and then the NHS itself. You can read a bit more about Lachlan Grant here. There are also two books about him - here and here.

In a final post about Ballachulish, I will describe the decline and fall of the slate quarries but will conclude this one with a final legal curiosty: one of the legal precedents BSQL cited in support of their argument that the non-compete clause in Lachlan Grant's contract was valid was the 1867 case of Macintyre v Macraild. By coincidence, it also involved the contract of employment of a doctor. And by an even more extraordinary coincidence, it was the doctor who attended the Ballachulish slate quarries! Just what was it about the place that turned its medical men into such litigious maniacs? 


The East Quarry with the mountains of Glen Coe in the background. Picture credit tanxiaolian91

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Ballachulish Part 3 - the 19th century

In Part 2, I narrated how, having begun at Easdale in the 1630s, slate quarrying remained something of a niche industry until demand increased dramatically in the second half of the 18th century with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the massive growth in towns. And how John Stewart, the 5th laird of Ballachulish, opened a second slate quarry on his estate around 1780, at Brecklet Farm, to take advantage of the new demand.

Roof tops in Edinburgh's New Town - new demand for slate in the later 18th century. Picture credit Urban Marcen

First, let's clear up names and places. The original quarry opened in the 1690s was on Laroch Farm on the west side of the River Laroch which flowed down Gleann an Fhiodh ("Glen an EE-yuh"). Latterly, at least, these were, in fact, two small quarries side by side. I'm going to call them the West Quarries although they're sometimes referred to as West Laroch Quarry or the West and Middle Quarries. The new quarry, opened around 1780, was on the east side of the river. It was on Brecklet Farm but is rather confusingly known as East Laroch Quarry. I'm going to call it the East Quarry. It was much larger and when it opened, the West Quarries closed although they were re-opened in the 1860s. Finally, there were another two much smaller quarries: Brecklet which lay immediately to the south of the East Quarry and Khartoum (don't know the explanation for that name!) which was about half a mile further south up Gleann an Fhiodh. References to simply "the quarry" can be assumed to be references to the biggest, the East Quarry.

OS 6 inch map. Go to this link and use the "Change transparency of overlay" slider on the left to reveal geo-located modern mapping or satellite imagery under the old map.
Resuming the narrative, then, Ballachulish and Easdale both possessed an advantage over other slate quarries: they were beside the sea. In the days before road or rail transport, when the biggest load was as much as could be put over the back of a horse, that meant their product could be more conveniently exported by sea. The transport advantages at Ballachulish were highlighted in the First Statistical Account (scroll to page 499) for the parish of Lismore and Appin written in 1791. After recording that there were "74 families in the quarry, containing 322 souls", it notes:-

"... a great quantity of slates are sent yearly to the north and east countries, to Leith, Clyde, England, Ireland, and even to America. Vessels of any burden can load most commodiously in [i.e. by beached on] fine smooth sand, so near the shore, that they may be loaded by throwing a few planks between the vessels and the shore; and there is little or no swell in the road [i.e. loch]. The quality of slates is thought very good."       

Rock blasted out of the quarries was moved in wagons on tramways to the shore of the loch where it was worked into slates. However, only 15% of the rock ended up as the finished article: the remaining 85% was waste which was tipped into the sea. This gradually formed peninsulas out into Loch Leven along the edges of which were constructed wharves to make the loading of ships carrying the slates away even easier.

The peninsulas formed by dumping spoil into Loch Leven are clearly visible spreading out from the East Quarry. There's a higher resolution version of this photo here.

Around 1840, the output from Ballachulish exceeded that from Easdale for the first time and there's a very full description of the operations in the Second Statistical Account (scroll to page 247) written in 1841. It describes how the quarry was worked in three levels called "galleries". These are clearly visible in the photo below which includes a fourth gallery opened later:-

Levels at the East Quarry. Picture credit John Winkler

To remove the rock from the upper galleries, an inclined plane (ramp) was built down which wagons of rock could be lowered. This is still standing and every time I see it, I can't help thinking what a reliable brake the machinery must have had (a flywheel, apparently, however that works) to prevent runaway wagons crashing spectacularly to sea level:-

The arch was to carry the road to Glen Coe but it has now been bypassed. Picture credit: Martin Briscoe

The Statistical Account also describes the working practices. The quarry was worked by crews of four men, two of whom blasted out the rock while the other two split that rock up and cut it into slates in a sort of production line: if kept supplied by the first two men, the splitter and cutter could turn out up to 2,000 slates a day! The trade passed down from father to son amongst the locals with very few outsiders joining the workforce. This was because the skills needed to be learnt from a very early age.

At work in the East Quarry. Picture credit National Galleries of Scotland

If I've understood the contractual arrangements with the workers described in the 1841 Statistical Account correctly, each crew paid "the master" (which might be the laird of Ballachulish Estate himself or a third party tenant to whom the Estate had rented the quarrying rights) for access to the quarry. The crew paid for the tools and gun powder to blast the rock in the quarry and the master kept up the tramways and wagons to take the rock to the shore to be worked into slates. The master then bought the finished slates from the crews and the net result was that members of the best crews could earn up to £1 a week. That's about £100 in today's money and if it doesn't sound like very much, it was higher than average at the time. According to this paper (page 7), in 1867, twenty six years after the Statistical Account, 70% of unskilled Scottish labourers earned less £30/year while skilled labourers (which the members of the crews were) might expect to earn £47-50/year. As well as the crews, there were various other tradesmen employed (by the master, I think) round the quarry such as carpenters and blacksmiths (to maintain the tramways, wagons and flywheels, I assume) who earned much lower amounts. It seems that the crews also hired temporary extra labour from time to time.

Working the quarry. Picture credit Ballachulish Quarrying Stories

The 1841 Statistical Account also described the quarriers' housing in the villages of West and East Laroch. These are now together known as Ballachulish although that name - which is from the Gaelic Baile a' Chaolais meaning "farm (or settlement) at the narrows" - originally applied to the areas two miles further west on either side of the narrows of Loch Leven where the bridge is now and the ferry used to cross. Anyway, the description in the SA is worth quoting at length:-

Upwards of three-fourths of the men employed in the quarries have their houses on the Bailechelish estate [others lived in what's now Glencoe Village], and the houses are built with stone and lime, and slated. The accommodation in each is three partments, all plastered, with chimnies and grates in the principal one, and an open garret above. To most of them a cowhouse is attached, as almost every man with a family has a cow, which is pastured on the adjoining hill, and also a piece of ground, which produces annually from two two and a half tons of potatoes, as well as a small vegetable garden. A man occupying a house of the best description of those just mentioned, pays of yearly rent for the house, £2:5s; pasture of cow, £1:6s; potato ground etc. 15s; total £4:6s [£4.30 or about £450 in today's money]. ... The fuel used is entirely coals, which are brought in at a moderate freight, by vessels coming for slates.

On the whole, the condition of the quarriers is, in most respects, superior to that of the people in the same station of life in the surrounding country. They are sensible of the advantages which they enjoy, and are an orderly and generally a well-behaved body of men in every respect.    

Quarriers' cottages in West Laroch

East Laroch. These houses have all been demolished now and the Isle of Glencoe Hotel now stands just to the right of them. Note also the wharves formed on the tongues of land formed by dumping spoil in the loch.

Someone who doesn't seem to have prospered particularly from the quarries was the "masters", the Stewarts of Ballachulish themselves. Why do I say that? Well other clan chiefs who'd profited from exploiting the natural resources of their estates in response to the new demands of the Industrial Revolution built themselves sumptuous new houses: I'm thinking of the MacDonalds of Sleat who built Armadale Castle on the back of kelp (chemicals derived from seaweed) profits and the Camerons of Lochiel who built Achnacarry out of increased rents from land let for sheep farming. The Stewarts of Ballachulish, however, retained the relatively unpretentious Ballachulish House, built in the 1760s (to replace a previous house burnt in 1746 in the wake of the Battle of Culloden) and modestly extended in the 1790s.

The west front of Ballachulish House added in the 1790s. Picture credit Airbnb

In 1862, the 7th laird of Ballachulish, Dugald Stuart (note the spelling now with a "u" since the estate passed through an heiress, Lilias, d.1840, the daughter of the 5th laird, who married a Mr Stuart) sold the estate "from pecuniary difficulties" following a brief period of operating the quarries himself after the last tenant's lease had expired. Were these above average earnings enjoyed by the quarriers too high and the rents of their superior dwellings too low? That's just flippant speculation on my part - many Highland estates were sold in the mid 19th century when the families who'd held them for centuries succumbed to debt. But it's worth noting the contrast that, whereas the tenantry of kelping and sheep farming estates like Sleat and Lochiel were driven out by clearance and emigration, the people of Ballachulish Estate retained their jobs in the quarry and their cottages.

A view of the East Quarry by John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880-1951) employing quite a lot of artistic licence not least by making it look more like a chalk than a slate quarry. The mountain behind is the Pap of Glencoe which is not visible from this angle in reality. Picture credit ArtUK

I shall return to Ballachulish in the post Stuart era in a subsequent post.

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 the soldiers 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 misunderstanding 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. 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. By the 20th century, buildings in Scotland not roofed in slate were exceptional but 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: he 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 valuation of all properties in the county for tax purposes - the 18th century equivalent of today's Rateable Values and Council Tax bands. 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 valuation 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 consulting original contemporary correspondence between the key players available at 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 - after being a bit slow off his mark tried to swear timeously but 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 today's authorities are impotently appalled at periodic outbreaks of violence between present day mafias such as Mexican drug cartels, for example. If you want to know what Argyll and Lochaber were like in the late 17th century, then think Helmand or Sinaloa 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 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 for 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 still 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 to administer the oath in tears. Ardkinglas sent a copy of the oath, with Colonel Hill's letter, to Edinburgh with a request that they 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 failure to swear the oath of allegiance to King William by the deadline on 31 December 1691 as a pretext to teach some unruly clans a lesson they would never forget. The MacDonalds of Glencoe and their partners in crime, the egregious MacDonells of Keppoch, were firmly in Stair's sights but at first it looked as if he might be disappointed after early reports from the north suggested that both of these clans had sworn in time. 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 in which Stair said: "I am sorry that Keppoch and M'Kean of Glencoe are safe." In fact, Keppoch had indeed sworn in time but two days later Stair received better news and had the consolation of being 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 January 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