An Orkney Diarist on Infamous Shipwrecks #History #Scotland

•December 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The Diary of Thomas Brown in Kirkwall provides a glimpse into how the Presbyterian struggle of the 1680s was viewed at the opposite end of the nation. Brown’s diary mainly records marriages and deaths in Orkney, sometimes hangings, mainly for sheep stealing, and domestic violence. He even recorded a clan battle, but every once in a while something else caught his eye…

Croune of London 1679

Brown rarely recorded the “far-off” events of the day, but his pen recorded three events in 1679:

‘The 3 May 1679, being Saturday, Mr Sharp, ye Arch Bischop of St Androis, was barborslie murdered by some fanacted persones within a myle or two of ye sd. citie.’ (Brown, Diary, 9.)

‘The 22 of June 1679, being ane Sabbath morneing, the Duck of Monmoth hath battell with the wigges in ye wast of Scotland, near Bothwall Briggs, and he with his arme (glorie be to the Almightie) had the victorie yt. day.’ (Brown, Diary, 9.)

The Croune of London, 1679
Later that year, the unexpected happened. The bodies of Whigs at Bothwell washed ashore on Orkney:

‘The 10th Decr. 1679, being Wednisday, at 9 in the evening or yrabout, the vessell or ship callit ye Croun, qrin was 250 or yby of ye Quhiggs takin at Bothwall Brigs to have bein sent to Verginy, paroched at or neirby ye Moull head of Deirness.’ (Brown, Diary, 10.)

It had taken the Croune of London thirteen wintry days to make its way from Leith to be wrecked on the Mull of Deerness. In the spring of 1682, Brown made the same journey, twice, in two or three days. Brown sailed to Leith, where he presumably witnessed the execution of the Covenanter. Robert Gray, and heard news about the wreck of HMS Gloucester on the Lemon or Ower shoal/sandbank off Yarmouth:

‘Munday, 1st May, 1682, I sailled from Kirkwall for Leith, and arryved yr. on Thursday’s morning, the 4th yrof.’

HMS Gloucester, 1682
‘Wednisday, the 3 May, 1682, ther wes a veshell of sixtie guns, belonging to his Matie, qron the Duk of York wes comeing for Leith, parished at that pairt, neir England, called the Limmerbre [Lemon/Ower shoal], or it lyes betwixt England & Holland, ther being tua Scott’s noblemen, viz., Roxbrugh and Hoptoun, parished in the sd. ship, with about tuo or thrie hundreth men more parished.’ (Brown, Diary, 22-23.)

For a wonderful painting of the wreck of the Gloucester, see here.

The wreck of the Gloucester was infamous as the Duke of York, later James VII & II, allegedly saved his beloved dogs rather than the men, including two Scots nobles. The drowning sailors allegedly cried out huzzas to York as the ship sank. 130 drowned. Among those who escaped were John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough.

For an account of the shipwreck, see here.

York arrived in Leith on 6 May, at least according to Lord Fountainhall. After noting a trades riot in which nine were killed, Brown returns to York’s departure after a brief stay:

‘Munday, the 15 Maij 1682, betuixt thrie & fur in the afternoon, the Duk of York, with his Dutchis, sailled from Leith for Londone.’ (Brown, Diary, 23.)

‘19 May 1682, ther wes ane Rot. Gray, a gentlemen qho leived upon the border, was hanged at the Grassmarkit, in Edr., for treasonable acting and speaking against his Matie.
Fryday’s morning, 26 Maij 1682, I sailled from Leith to Orknay, and arryved yr on the Sabbath yrafter.’ (Brown, Diary, 23.)

For York’s account of the same period, see here.

Back home, the Presbyterian struggle once again came to Orkney’s shores by ship:

‘Wednsday, at night, the 6th Maij 1685, tua of Argyl’s srvands, the ane caled Mr William Blakitter and the uyr Mr Wame. Spence, came from a great veshell of his and landit at Smowgrow, and rom thaire came to Kirkwall the sd. night, and being knowen that they wer srvands to a rebell, they wer be the Magistrates [ordered] to remaine in ther quarters as prisoners till farther ordor from the Privie Counsell, and be whois ordor, with Brecknes, they wer sent owt of Kirkwall wth. a pairtie the 29 of the sd. moneth of May to St. Marts. Houp to goe allongst with Skipper Bytter, then bound to Leith.’ (Brown, Diary, 34-5.)

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Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Dunnottar Prisoners Attempting to Escape at Leith are put in Irons #History #Scotland

•November 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment


On 31 October, 1685, nineteen prisoners, some of whom were suspected of attempting to escape from Leith Tolbooth, were brought to Edinburgh Tolbooth and put in irons.

What makes the list intriguing is that most of the prisoners from Leith had previously been imprisoned in Dunnottar Castle. Many of them had been given to George Scot of Pitlochie for banishment to PerthAmboy/East Jersey in mid August. Some of them are recorded as having their banishment stopped before Pitlochie’s ship, the Henry & Francis, departed at the beginning of September.

The nineteen prisoners on the list were mainly women or the old, the sick or those who were simply left behind when the ship sailed. One intriguing aspect of the list is that it includes the names of five Dunnottar prisoners who are often recorded as having been banished on the Henry & Francis and said to have reached Perth Amboy. As these prisoners were in Leith on 30 October, is it clear that they were not transported.


Under the records of Edinburgh Tolbooth for 31 October, 1685:

Colin Alisone (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Stopped 25 Aug.)
William Hanna (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Stopped 25 Aug.)
David Scott (Dunnottar.)
John Kollie i.e., John Kellie (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Said to have reached Perth Amboy.)]
William Douglas (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Said to have reached Perth Amboy.)
Patrick Cunninghame (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Said to have reached Perth Amboy.)
John King (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Said to have reached Perth Amboy.)
Christian Cavie (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Said to have reached Perth Amboy.)
Jonett Scott
Elizabeth Maitland (Dunnottar.)
Margaret Maitland
Jean Sempill (Dunnottar.)
Jean Mcgie (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Stopped 21 Aug.)
Helen Smith
Marion fforrester
Elspeth Walker i.e., Elizabeth Walker (Dunnottar.)
Elspeth Corss, i.e., Elizabeth Corse/Corss (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Stopped 21 Aug.)
Christian Scott (Dunnottar, Banished 17 Aug. Stopped 21 Aug.)
Grissell Gardiner
All brought from the Tolbuith of Leith by ane ordor ffrom his Majesties privie Councill wherof the tennor ffollowes

Edr 30 of October 1685
The Lords of the Committie of his Majesties privie Councill for publict affairs having receaved information ffrom the Baillie of Leith that severall of the persones in their prison vpon the publict accompt had bein attempting to make their escape and in order therto had gott instruments and towes carryed in to them doe therfore heirby give order to the Lord Provist of Edinburgh to causs a pairty of the toun guaird to transport the saids prisoners from the Tolbuith of Leith to the Tolbuith of Edinburgh and to cause putt them in the iron houss and in the irones till furder ordor Sic Sub Will Paterson (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, XII, 184-5.)

On 12 November, one of the former Dunnottar prisoners, John Kellie, baxter in Dunbar, was liberated. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, XII, 185.)

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Photograph: Dunnottar Castle © Copyright Jjhake and licensed for reuse.

James Nisbet Escapes at Crossford and near Shotts #History #Scotland

•November 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

After he became a fugitive in early 1685, James Nisbet appears to have mainly stayed in his native Ayrshire. However, on at least one occasion he crossed the River Clyde and journeyed to a Lanarkshire moor with strong associations with field preaching.


The Clyde at Crossford © Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse.

‘At Crossford’, Lesmahagow parish, Lanarkshire.
Crossford was a key crossing point on the River Clyde. For fugitives like Nisbet, the use of such crossing points were risky moments as they were used by soldiers.

James Muir in ‘Crossford Boat’ was hanged in Edinburgh early 1684. Prophetesses drew large crowds to Crossford in 1686.

Map of Crossford

Aerial View of Crossford

Nisbet’s escape from capture at Crossford may be linked to the only location that he names on the north bank of the Clyde, Leadloch. Crossford immediately follows Leadloch in Nisbet’s list of escapes.


Later house at Leadloch © Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse.

‘At Lead-loch’, i.e., Leadloch in Cambusnethan parish, Lanarkshire.
Leadloch lies right on the Lanarkshire boundary in an area that was frequently used for field preachings. It is close to both Starryshaw and Falla Hill, where Donald Cargill preached, and the Peden Stone at Benhar.

Map of Leadloch

Aerial View of Leadloch

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Battle of Dunkeld of 1689 in Crockett’s Lochinvar #History #Literature #Scotland

•November 27, 2016 • Leave a Comment


The novel Lochinvar (1897) by S. R. Crockett contains a description of the Battle of Dunkeld fought between the Cameronian Regiment, made up of the Society people, and the Jacobites, many of them Highlanders.

The excerpt, below, mentions role of Henry Erskine, Lord Cardoss, and the death of Lieutenant-Colonel William Cleland in the battle.

‘The Cameronians, known throughout Scotland as the “Seven Thousand,” had garrisoned Edinburgh during the fierce, troublous months of the Convention. When there was no other force in the country, they had stood between the kingdom and anarchy. And now, when at last the government of William was becoming better established, twelve hundred men of the Blue Banner formed themselves into a regiment — all stem, determined, much-enduring veterans, who had brought from their Westland homes a hatred of the Highlanders sharpened by memories of the Great Raid, when for months the most barbarous and savage clans had been quartered on the West and South, till the poor folk of Galloway and Ayr were fairly eaten up, and most of their hard-won gear vanished clean away into the trackless deserts of the North.

Now, in the anxious days that succeeded Killiekrankie, eight hundred of this Cameronian regiment had been ordered to Dunkeld, which was rightly supposed to be the post of danger. The other four hundred of the regiment had been sent to garrison Badenoch and to keep the West quiet; so that the young Covenanting commander, Cleland — a youth not yet in his twenty-eighth year — had but two-thirds of his regiment with him.

But such men as they were! — none like them had been seen under arms since the Ironsides of Cromwell went back to their farm-steadings and forges.

It was no desirable stronghold which they were set to keep. Indeed, after a small experience of Dunkeld the other regiments which had Been sent under Lord Cardross to assist in driving back the enemy gladly departed for Perth. The town, they said, was completely indefensible. It was commanded on all sides by heights, even as Killiekrankie had been. The streets could readily be forced at a dozen points, and then every man would die miserably, like rats in a hole.

“Even so,” said Cleland, calmly, to my Lord Cardross, “but I was bidden to hold this town and no other, and here I and those with me will bide until we die.”

And, as is not the case with many a valiant commander’s boast, he made his words good.

It was a very considerable army which gathered about the devoted Cameronians — not less than five thousand victorious clansmen — under a leader of experience, if not of well-proven parts.

Wat was still with Lochiell, and Scarlett, in deep disgust at Keppoch’s miscellaneous plunderings, drew his sword also with the same chief.

By early morning the town was completely surrounded and the attack began. But the brave band of Wild Whigs of the West stuck dourly to their outposts, and for an hour or more their little handf uls defied behind the walls of town-yards and ruinous petty enclosures all the assaults of the clansmen. At last these inconsiderable outer defences were driven in, the whole regiment was shut up in the cathedral and in an adjoining house of many unglazed windows, which was standing roofed but unfinished close at hand.

Here the grim men of the South, doggedly saying their prayers behind their clinched teeth, met and turned every assault, taking aim at their assailants with the utmost composure and certainty.

Clan after clan charged down upon those crumbling walls. Rush after rush of plaided men melted before that deadly storm of bullets. Thrice Wat, in the thick of Lochiel’s men, dashed at the defences. Thrice was he carried back by the wave of tartan which recoiled from the reeking muskets of the men of the Covenant.

Glengarry fell wounded. The McDonalds broke. Then, in the nick of time, the McLeans dashed into the thick of the fight and had almost won the wall when young Cleland, rushing across the court to meet them in person, was struck by two bullets — one through his head, the other in his side. In spite of his agony, he set his hand to his brow and staggered towards the interior of the church, crying, “Have at them, lads! all is well with me!” This he said in order to conceal his wound from his men. But he fell dead or ever he reached the door.

The lead for the muskets began to give out. But in a moment there were men on the roof of the new building stripping off the metal, while others beneath were melting it and thrusting the bullets, yet warm from the “cams,” into their hotter barrels, or cutting the sheets of lead into rough slugs to fire at the enemy.

So, relentlessly, hour by hour the struggle went on. Ever, as the attacks failed, fresh clans tried their fierce courage in emulous assault, firing once, throwing away their guns, and then charging home with the claymore.

But these Cameronians were no levies roughly disciplined and driven in chains to the battlefield. Men of the moors and the moss-hags were they — good at the prayer, better at the musket, best of all with the steady eye which directed the unshaken hand, and the quiet heart within dourly certain of victory and of the righteousness of its cause.

Clan by clan, the very men who had swept Mackay’s troops into the Garry [at Killiecrankie] fell back shattered and dismayed from the broken defences of the Hill Folk. In vain the war-pipes brayed; in vain a thousand throats cried “Claymore!” In vain Lochiel’s men drove for the fourth time desperately at the wall. From within came no noise, save the clatter of the musket-shots running the circuit of the defences, or the dull thud as a man fell over in the ranks or collapsed like a shut telescope in his place — not a groan from the wounded, as men stricken to death drew themselves desperately np to get a last shot at the enemies of Christ’s Cause and Covenant, that they might face God contentedly with their duty done and all their powder spent.

Left almost alone in the fierce ebb of the fourth assault, Wat had gained the top of the wall when a sudden blow on the head stunned him. He fell inward among the wounded and dying men of the defenders and there lay motionless, while outside the last charge of the baffled clansmen broke on the stubborn hodden gray of the Cameronian regiment, vainly as the water of the ninth wave breaks on the cliffs that look out to the Atlantic.

The chiefs still tried to rally their men. Cannon offered to lead them again to the assault in person. But it might not be. “We can fight men,” they said, as they fell back, sullenly, “but these are devils incarnate.”


When Wat Gordon opened his eyes, he looked into a face he knew right well.

“Faith, Will, is it time to get up already ?” he said, thinking his cousin and he were off together on some ploy of ancient days — for a morning’s fishing on the hills above Knockman, mayhap.

For his cousin Will it was indeed who stood before him, clad in the worn and smoke-begrimed uniform of the Regiment of the Covenant.

“Wat, Wat, how came you here, lad?” cried Will Gordon…’

For more stories and poems on the Covenanters of the 1680s, see here.

The Shame of Stealing a Dress in 1686 #History #Scotland

•November 25, 2016 • 2 Comments


Lord Fountainhall reports:

24 June, 1686:
‘A poor woman stealls some money and cloadis, from one Dobson hir mistris, and endeavoring to escape in a ship at Prestonpans, is apprehended and incarcerat in Edinburgh Tolbuith, wher for shame shee hangs hirselfe.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, II, 741.)

Isobel Alison Transported to Edinburgh in 1680 #History #Scotland

•November 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment


A woman’s journey to martyrdom begins, in Kinross…

Isobel Alison had brought news and provisions from Perth to the assassins of Archbishop Sharp when they were in hiding at Bridge of Earn in early May, 1679. It is not clear if her captors knew that. In her interrogations, the authorities were clearly interested in her connections to them, but homed in on her later meetings with John Balfour of Kinloch and David Hackston of Rathillet in the year before her capture, i.e., in 1680, rather than May, 1679. They were also interested in her connections to Donald Cargill and James Skene.

She was presumably captured in November, 1680, soon after Cargill was ambushed at the Mutton Hole and the supposed gunpowder plot against the Duke of York, when Cargill’s network was compromised.

27 November, 1680:
Issobell Aillisone warditt by command of my lord chancier who was apoynted to be transported ffrom Kinrose to the Tolbuith of edr and wardit. This done by ordor of major Johnstoune [of the Town Guard] by a missive under his hand’. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, VI, 150.)

On her way to Edinburgh Tolbooth, Alison was held in Kinross Tolbooth. On the Canmore website, the clock tower that survives appears to be from the old pre 1742 parish church. It is not clear if it was used as the tolbooth, but other websites suggest that it was. Pittenweem did have a tolbooth spire incorporated into a church.

Street View of Kinross Tolbooth

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Picture: Kinross Town Hall © Bill Henderson and licensed for reuse.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Covenanter of The Standard Bearer #History #Literature #Scotland

•November 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The story of a boy and his two collie dogs set in the Killing Times…


The Standard Bearer by S. R. Crockett (1897) is a novel based on the life of the post-Revolution Covenanter, the Reverend John MacMillan, leader of the McMillanites.

It also features other Society people from the 1680s: Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, his daughter Mary Gordon, who married MacMillan, Lady Earlstoun and her sister Jean Hamilton.

One source Crockett used was Reid’s A Cameronian Apostle: Being Some Account of John MacMillan of Balmaghie, which was published the year before The Standard Bearer. From it, it is not clear where MacMillan was brought up, but it was almost certainly either in the parishes of Minnigaff, Dalry or Kells.

Tradition favours his birth in 1669 at ‘Barncauchlaw’, now Barncaughla, in Minnigaff parish, but his birth easily could have been both later and elsewhere. Crockett sets the family home of ‘Ardarroch’ by Bennan, above Loch Ken, in Kells parish. The area is now heavily forested and part of the Galloway Forest Park.


View from Bennan © Anthony O’Neil and licensed for reuse.

The Standard Bearer opens with a fictional field shooting by the notorious Grierson of Lag:

‘This is what I, Quintin MacClellan, saw on the grassy summit of the Bennan — a thing which, being seen and overpast in an hour, changed all my life, and so in time by the grace of God and the chafe of circumstances made me for good or evil the man I am.

I was a herd laddie at the time, like David, keeping my father’s flocks and kicking up my heels among the collie tykes, with many another shepherd-boy in the wide moorish parishes of Minnigaff, Dalry and the Kells.

Now my father (and his father before him) had been all his life “indweller” in the hill farm of Ardarroch which sits on the purple braeface above the loch of Ken, with a little circumambient yard enclosed by cattle-offices and a dozen red-stemmed fir trees, in which the winds and […]

For I must tell of myself and what befell me on the Bennan top the twenty-first day of June — high Midsummer Day of the Year Terrible, and of all that it brought to me. […]

I suppose that all the afternoon the whaups had piped and “willywhaaed,” the snipes bleated and whinnied overhead, and that the peewits had complained to each other of the question boy-beast below them, which ran on two legs and waved other two so foolishly in the air. But I did not hear them. My ears were dulled. The moorland sounds melted deliciously into the very sough and murmur of reposefulness. I was already well on my way to Drowsieland. I heard my mother sing me a lullaby somewhere among the tranced fields. Suddenly the cradle-song ceased. Through shut eyelids I grew conscious of a disturbing influence. Though my face nestled deep down in the crook of my arm I knew that Ashie and Gray had all suddenly sat up.

“Ouf-f!” quoth Ashie protestingly, deep in his stomach so that the sound would carry no further than his master’s ear.

“Gur-r-r!” growled Gray, his sister, yet more softly, the black wicks of her mouth pulled away from her wicked shining eye-teeth.

Thinking that the sheep were straying and that it might be as well by a timely shout to save myself miles and miles of hot chase over the heather, I sat up, ungraciously discontented to be thus aroused, and yet more unreasonably angry with the dogs whose watchfulness had recalled me to the realities of life. As I raised my head, the sounds of the hills broke on my ear suddenly loud — indeed almost insolently insistant. The suppressed far-away hush of Dreamland scattered itself like a broken glass before the brisk clamour of the broad wind-stirred day.

I glanced at the flock beneath me. They were feeding and straying quietly enough — rather widely perhaps, but nothing to make a fret about.

“Restless tykes!” I muttered irritably, striking right and left at the dogs with my staff. “De’il take you, silly beasts that ye are!”

“Ouf-fl” said Ashie, warningly as before, but from a safer distance, his nose pointing directly away from the hefting lambs. Gray said nothing, but uncovered her shining teeth a little further and cocked her ears more directly towards the summit of the Bennan behind me.

I looked about me high and low, but still I could see no cause for alarm.

“Daft brutes! Silly beasts!” I cried again more crossly than ever. And with that I was about to consign myself to sleep again, or at least to seek the pleasant paths of the day-dreamland from which I had been so abruptly recalled.

But the dogs with bristling hair, cocked ears and proudly-plumaged tails were already ten yards up the slope towards the top of the fell, sniffing belligerently as though they scented an intrusive stranger dog at the entering in of the sacred enclosure of the farmyard of Ardarroch.

I was reaching for my stick to deal it liberally between them when a waft of warm summer wind brought to my ear the sound of the distant crying of men. Then came the clear, imperative “Crack! Crack!” of musket shots — first two, and then half-a-dozen close together, sharp and distinct as an eager schoolboy snapping his finger and thumb to call the attention of the master to whom he has been forbidden to speak.

Then, again, on the back of this arrived silence, issuing presently in a great disturbed clamour of peewit flocks on the table-lands above me, clouds of them stooping and swooping, screaming and scolding at some unlicensed and unprincipled intruders by me unseen.

I knew well what it meant in a moment. The man-hunt was afoot. The folk of God were once more being pursued like the partridge upon the mountain. It might be that the blood of my own father was even now making another crimson blossom of martyr blood upon the moors of Scotland.

“Down, down, Ashie!” I cried, but under my breath. “Come in to my foot, Gray!” And, knowing by the voice that I was much in earnest, very obediently the dogs slung behind with, however, many little protesting “gurrs” and chest rumblings of muffled rage.

“It must be Lag himself from the Garryhorn,” I thought; “he will be at his old work of pursuing the wanderers with bloodhound and troop-horse.”

Then, with the craft which had perhaps been born in me and which had certainly been fostered by the years of watching and hiding, of open hatred and secret suspicion, I crept cautiously up the side of the fell, taking advantage of every tummock of heather and boss of tall bent grass. Ashie and Gray crawled after me, stiff with intent hate, but every whit as flatly prone and as infinitely cautious as their master.

For they, too, had been born in the Days of Fear, and the spirit of the game had entered into them ere ever they emerged from the blindness of puppydom.

As we ascended, nearer and nearer sounded the turmoil. I heard, as it were, the sound of men’s voices encouraging each other, as the huntsmen do on the hillsides when they drive the red fox from his lair. Then came the baying of dogs and the clattering of irregular musketry.

Till now the collies and I had been sheltered by the grey clints and lichened rocks of the Bennan, but now we had to come out into the open. The last thirty yards of ascent were bare and shelterless, the short, mossy scalp of turf upon them being clean shaven as if cut with a razor.

My heart beat fast, I can tell you who read this tale so comfortably by the ingle-nook. I held it down with my hand as I crept upwards. Ashie and Gray followed like four-footed guardian angels behind, now dragging themselves painfully yard by yard upon their bellies, now lying motionless as stone statues, their moist jowls pressed to the ground and their dilated nostrils snuffing the air for the intelligence which only my duller eyes could bring me.

Yet I knew the risks of the attempt. For as soon as I had left the shelter of the boulders and scattered clumps of heather and bent, I was plain to the sight as a fly crawling over the shell of an egg.

Nevertheless, with a quick rush I reached the top and set my head over.

The broad, flat table-top of the Bennan summit spread out before me like an exercise ground for troops or a racecourse for horses.

Yet not all barren or desolate, for here and there among the grey granite peeped forth the bloom of the young heather, making a livelier purple amid the burnt brown of the short grass, which in its turn was diversified by the vivid emerald green circling the “quacking-quaas” or bottomless moss-holes of the bogs beneath.

Now this is what I saw, lying on my face, with no more than my chin set over the edge — two men in tattered, peat-stained clothing running for their lives towards the edge of the little plateau farthest from me.

Between me and them twenty or thirty dragoons were urging their horses forward in pursuit, weaving this way and that among the soft lairy places, and as many more whose steeds had stuck fast in the moss were coursing the fugitives on foot as though the poor men had been beasts of the field.

Every now and then one of the pursuers would stop, set his musket to his shoulder and blaze away with a loud report and a drift of white smoke, shouting joyously as at a rare jest whether he hit or missed. And I thought that the poor lads would make good their escape with such sorry marksmen. But even whilst I was putting up a prayer for them as I lay panting upon the manifest edge, a chance shot struck the smaller and more slender of the wanderers. He stumbled, poor wretch, and fell forward upon his face. Then, mastering himself, and recognising his grievous case and how much of mercy he had to look for if his enemies came up with him, his strong spirit for an instant conquered his bodily hurt.

He rose immediately, set his hands one over the other upon his side, doubtless to stay the welling gap the bullet had riven there, and ran yet more determinedly after his companion. But close to the further verge his power went from him. His companion halted and would have come back to aid him, or more likely to die with him. But the wounded man threw out his hand in vehement protest.

Run, Sandy,” he cried, so loudly and eagerly that I could easily hear him through
all the shouting and pother. “It will do no good. I am sped. Save yourself — God have mercy — tell Margaret!”

But what he would have told Margaret I know not, for even then he spread out his arms and fell forward on his face in the spongy moss.

At this his companion turned sharply and ran on by himself, finally disappearing among the granite boulders amid a brisk crackling of the soldiers’ pieces.

But their marksmanship was poor, for though they were near to him, what with the breathless race and the unevenness of the ground, not a shot took effect. Nor showed he any sign of scathe when last I saw him, leaping nimbly from clump to clump of bent, where the green slimy moss wet with the peat-brew keeps all soft as a quicksand, so that neither hoof of a charger nor heavy military boot dare venture upon it, though the bare accustomed foot of one bred to the hills may carry him across easily enough. So the fugitive, a tall, burly man, cumbered with little besides a doublet and short hose, disappeared out of my sight, and the plain was bare save for the disappointed dragoons in their red coats and the poor man left fallen on his face in the morass.

I could never see him move hand or foot after he fell; and, indeed, it was not long that he had the chance. For even as I continued to gaze fascinated at the scene of blood which so suddenly had broken in upon the pastoral peace of our Kells hills, I saw a tall, dark soldier, one evidently of some authority among them, stride up to the fallen man. He strove to turn him over with his foot, but the moss clung, and he could not. So without a moment’s hesitation he took a musket from the nearest dragoon, glanced coolly at the priming of the touch, set the butt to his shoulder, and with the muzzle within a foot shot the full charge into the back of the prostrate man.

At this I could command myself no longer. The pursuit and the shooting at the fugitives, even the killing when at least they had a chance for their lives, seemed nothing to this stony-hearted butchery. I gat me up on my feet, and in a boyish frenzy shouted curses upon the murderer.

“God shall send thee to hell for this, wicked man, black murderer that thou art!” I cried,
shaking my clenched hand, like the angry impotent child I was.

The soldiers who were searching here and there, as it were, for more victims among the coverts turned their heads my way and gazed, hearing the voice but seeing no man. Others who stood upon the verge, taking shots as fast as they could load at the man who had escaped, also turned. I yelled at them that they were to show themselves brave soldiers, and shoot me also. The tall, dark buirdly man in the red coat who had fired into the wounded man cried to them “to take a shot at the damned young Whig.” But I think the men were all too much surprised at my bold words to do it, for none moved, so that the speaker was obliged to snatch a pistol from his own belt, and let fly at me himself.

The whistle of the pistol ball as it sped harmlessly by waked me as from a dream. A quick horror took me by the throat. I seemed to see myself laid face down on the turf and the murderer of the poor wanderer pouring shot after shot into my back. I felt my knees tremble, and it seemed (as it often does in a nightmare) that if he pursued I should be unable to move.

But even as I saw the man in red reach for his other pistol the power came back to my limbs.

I turned and ran without knowing it, for the next thing I remember was the scuff of the wind about my ears as I sped recklessly down the steepest slope, with no feeling that my feet were touching the ground at all. I saw Ashie and Gray scouring far before me, with their tails clapped between their legs, for I suppose that their master’s fear had communicated itself to them. Yet all the time I knew well that a single false step, a stumble upon a twisted root of burnt heather, a treacherous clump of grass amid the green slime of the morass, and the fate of the fallen martyr would be mine.

But ere I passed quite out of range I heard the rattle of a dropping fusillade from the edge of the hill above me, as a number of the soldiers let off their pieces at me, firing, I think, half in sport and half from a feeling of chagrin that they had let a more important victim escape them. I heard the whisk-whisk of the balls as they flew wide, and one whizzed past my ear and buried itself with a vicious spit in the moss a yard or two before me as I ran — but all harmless, and soon I was out of range. For I think it was more in cruel jest and with raffish laughter than with any intent to harm me that the soldiers fired.

Nevertheless, my boy’s heart was full of wild fear. I had seen murder done. The wholesome green earth was spotted black with crime. Red motes danced in the sunshine. The sun himself in the wide blue heavens seemed turned to blood. […]’

For more stories and poems on the Covenanters of the 1680s, see here.