The Escape From the Devil’s Beef Tub

Strait StepAbove the Strait Step © Chris Heaton and licensed for reuse.

According to traditions recorded in the nineteenth century, after John Hunter was killed above the Devil’s Beef Tub in 1685, his companion, ‘——-‘ Welsh, the ‘Babe of Tweedhopefoot’, escaped from Colonel James Douglas’s men.

Tweedhopefoot lies in Tweedsmuir parish to the north of the Devil’s Beef Tub.

Map of Tweedhopefoot            Street View of Tweedhopefoot

FinglandFingland © frank smith and licensed for reuse.

There were two individuals named Welsh who lived in Tweedsmuir parish appear on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684.

A John Welsh ‘in Fingland’ lived a short distance down the River Tweed from Tweedhopefoot.

Map of Fingland          Aerial View of Fingland

MenzionMenzion © David Medcalf and licensed for reuse.

A second fugitive, ‘John Welsh in Munion’ i.e., Menzion, was also listed on the roll. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 223.)

Map of Menzion             Street View of Menzion

Menzion lies down the Fruid Water from Carterhope, a key location in the traditions of his escape.

It is possible that Welsh was one of the John Welshes on the Fugitive Roll, however, the stories of him belong to the realm of tradition, rather than that of history. Even Simpson, who first recorded the tradition, conceded that Welsh was a legendary figure: ‘How he acquired this soubriquet it is not easy to say, but he was a man of very great bodily strength; and stories are told of his wonderful feats, that seem to partake more of legend than of sober truth. He was, however, identified with the Covenanters. His house was a home to the ministers, and he had suffered many privations on account of the sympathy which he showed them.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 113.)

According Simpson, ‘[…] After the death of his companion [at the hands of Colonel Douglas’s men], Welsh continued his flight across the wilderness, intending, if possible, to reach a place called Carterhope.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 114.)

In 1892, a letter was sent to the author of Martyrs Graves from the minister of Tweedsmuir parish. It related a little more about what allegedly happened after Hunter was shot. The information it contained had come from a descendant of Welsh who had emigrated to and died in Australia.

‘Welsh got out through the Skail Step, otherwise named Coolin Pass, and on to the moor above, where for a time he was master of the situation, for the ground being rough with moss and hay, a hardy peasant could easily outstrip the best mounted trooper. On he flew past Earlshaugh, making for his aunt’s home at Carterhope, which he at length reached
in safety.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 448-9.)

The Strait Step lies directly above the traditional spot for Hunter’s death.

Map of Strait Step

EarlshaughEarlshaugh © Iain Russell and licensed for reuse.

Earlshaugh lies across the moor to the north of the Strait Step.

Map of Earlshaugh           Aerial View of Earlshaugh

The Fugitive Roll of 1684 listed a ‘William Porteous in Earl’s-haugh’. He may have been banished to Barbados in either 1685, or 1687. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 223.)

Passing by Earlshaugh, Welsh fled on to Carterhope, which lies across the moor to the north-east.

Carterhope BurnCarterhope Burn © Richard Webb and licensed for reuse.

The Ruins of Carterhope now lie just below the waterline of the Fruid Reservoir.

Map of former site of Carterhope

The ruins of it are just visible below the water.

Aerial View of Carterhope

According to Simpson, at Carterhope, Welsh made one of those cunning escapes which are found in many later traditions about the Covenanters:

‘He arrived at the house without having been seen by the troopers, and placed himself by the fire, to wait the result. The soldiers, though they did not see him enter, had nevertheless followed in the track in which he had fled, and at length came to the place. They entered in their usual uproarious manner, while Welsh was sitting apparently unconcerned before the fire. The soldiers not expecting, perhaps, to find the object of their pursuit in the hut, and having no personal knowledge of him, did not seem to notice him. The mistress of the house, however, fearing lest a discovery should by some means be made, resorted to a kind of stratagem to prevent suspicion. She approached Welsh, who appeared to be carelessly dozing over the fire, and giving him a heavy slap between the shoulders, commanded him to rise and to proceed to his work, chiding him for his slothfulness in sitting all day cowering by the hearth, while his proper business was neglected. He took the hint, and withdrew from the apartment. The soldiers naturally conceived that he was a person belonging to the house, and consequently made no inquiries. He often remarked, that the kindest cuff he ever received was from the gudewife of Carterhope, whose presence of mind, at that critical moment, was in all likelihood the means of saving his life.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 114.)

According to the 1892 letter’s version of his escape:

‘Here his aunt made him strip and put on old working clothes, and then said, Sit ye doun by the fire. By and bye the soldiers came to the door and demanded the fugitive. She told them to search the house, and at the same time called out to Welsh, Get up and haud the sodgers horses. He did as he was bid. They searched the house in vain, then came out, mounted, and rode off, leaving Welsh exactly as they found him.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 449.)

Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on February 7, 2013.

One Response to “The Escape From the Devil’s Beef Tub”

  1. […] For the escape of Welsh after Hunter’s death, see here. […]

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