An American patriot, the Countess and the Clearances

When researching his recent book, ‘Set Adrift Upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances’ (published by Birlinn), James Hunter came across an intriguing possibility which he blogs about here.

Could one of 1820 London’s up-market drawing-rooms have seen the Countess of Sutherland come up against a clearance critic in the shape of a US ambassador? The possibility arises from the family background of William MacKay who’s to be met with in Memorabilia Domestica, the memoirs of Donald Sage, a Sutherland minister. There Sage writes of how, as he preached in the open air at Langdale just prior to the 1819 clearance of Strathnaver, his ‘eye fell upon’ MacKay’s ‘venerable countenance’. ‘I was deeply affected,’ Sage goes on, ‘and could scarcely articulate the psalm’.

This was not just because Sage was close to MacKay whom he knew as ‘Old Achoul’. In what was being done to MacKay, then in his late nineties, by the Countess of Sutherland and her employees, Donald Sage saw something emblematic of what he called ‘the extinction of the last remnant of the ancient Highland peasantry of the north’.

As indicated by the title given him by Donald Sage, William MacKay, who could trace his ancestry to his clan’s medieval founders, spent much of his life at Achoul to the east of Loch Naver in what today’s been designated as Wild Land Area 35. Evicted from Achoul in 1807, he’d moved in with his daughter and son-in-law at Grumbeg on Loch Naver’s other shore. Now Grumbeg too was to be cleared and William was en route for Caithness where he’d die, aged 99, in 1822.

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From Grumbeg and looking across Loch Naver to Achoul. Image: Cailean MacLean, Skye.

Might William have wished in 1819 that, half a century earlier, he’d joined those members of his family who then emigrated to America? The opportunity to do so must have been there in 1772 when George MacKay, William’s cousin, made it possible for some 200 people to quit Sutherland for Wilmington, North Carolina, aboard the Adventure, a ship George had chartered. Among the Adventure’s passengers was William MacKay’s younger sister, Elizabeth, sailing for Wilmington with her second husband, Archibald Campbell and their ten children.

From Wilmington the Campbells moved inland to settle at Crooked Creek in Mecklenburg County – near the present-day city of Charlotte. There, when America’s Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, the Campbells – unlike most newly arrived immigrants from the Highlands – took the patriot, or anti-British, side. Two of George and Elizabeth’s sons, Alexander and Donald, died in the fighting that followed. Those men’s younger brother, George, just three when the family left Sutherland and not old enough to join future US president George Washington’s Continental Army, took no part in the struggle for American independence. But he made clear where his sympathies lay by adopting ‘Washington’ as a middle name.

Nor was the self-styled George Washington Campbell’s hostility towards Britain to cease when, having trained as a lawyer and having moved across the Appalachians to Tennessee, he went into politics. Representing Tennessee first in the House of Representatives and later in the US Senate, Campbell was a leading backer of America’s 1812 declaration of war on the United Kingdom – serving as President James Madison’s Secretary for the Treasury during much of the ensuing conflict.

CAMPBELL,_George_W-Treasury_(BEP_engraved_portrait)

By The Bureau of Engraving and Printing – Restoration by Godot13, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33915326

By 1819, when his mother’s brother, William MacKay, was being evicted from the second of the two Strathnaver homes he’d been forced to abandon, George Washington Campbell was in St Petersburg as US ambassador at the court of Tsar Alexander I. From St Petersburg, Campbell corresponded with his Scottish relatives – among them Donald MacKay, one of the ambassador’s Strathnaver kinsmen, then serving with the British Army’s 42nd Regiment (the Black Watch) in Ireland.

Ambassador Campbell, then, is likely to have known at least something of Strathnaver’s clearance. This raises an intriguing possibility stemming from Campbell’s movements in 1820 when, on his way home from St Petersburg, he spent several weeks in London. While there and while meeting with a number of British politicians and aristocrats, might he have found himself in the same company as that prominent fixture on the capital’s social scene, Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland and Marchioness of Stafford?

What might Lady Stafford have said on meeting with this American statesman and diplomat? And how might Campbell have responded? Perhaps, one hopes, with words to the effect that he was glad to have the opportunity to learn why the countess had found it necessary to twice evict his uncle.

***

William MacKay of Achoul’s ancestry can be traced in The Book of MacKay, put together by Angus MacKay and published in Edinburgh in 1906. George Washington Campbell’s papers, including some correspondence with his Scottish relatives, are held by the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. The fullest account of Campbell’s life is George Washington Campbell: Western Statesman, by W. T. Jordan, published in Tallahassee in 1955.

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Parlours and Sofas: Houses, Status and the Emerging Highland Middle Class

This is part 3 of our short series on the life and times of Sheriff Hugh MacCulloch who is memorialised just outside Dornoch.

Prior to the Clearances, most people (with the exception of the poor and the aristocracy) lived in longhouses. With thick walls of stone and turf, roofed with heather or reed thatch, they gave warmth and shelter to families and livestock. Most were furnished with home-made chairs, benches, chests, and maybe shelves, beds or a bookcase, alongside the spinning wheel and the central fire. People with more money and power, tacksmen and ministers, were however beginning to emulate southern counterparts with two-storey houses of stone, mortar and lime. Their very design not only marked these families out as prestigious, but created a sense of class division and promoted the networks which were so vital to advancement in marriage and the professions.

In the little capital town of Sutherland, Dornoch, Hugh MacCulloch was an important man. As Sheriff-Substitute for the County he lived in the civic centre, close by the court and next to the cathedral ruins, part of which served as the parish church. ‘His house was situated to the south of the town, and at the foot of what was called the Vennel, a small pathway leading from the churchyard.’ This house ‘of an antique cast’ may not have been new but it displayed MacCulloch’s status as a man of status. It was organised for genteel entertainment and networking. ‘The parlour or dining-room had three windows, and on its wall hung several prints. In the north-west corner of the room and near the door, stood a handsome eight-day clock – a present which the Sheriff had received from the Sutherland Volunteers, of which he was Major. A large sofa stood on the opposite side, near the fire-place.’ The house was also a place of work. The Sheriff’s ‘study was a small room upstairs … crammed with books and papers.’

1783 Dornoch map

1783 map of Dornoch. Presumably McCulloch’s house was one of those in the bottom right hand corner of what is shown on the map. Image: Historylinks Museum.

Two floors of attics topped it off. In November 1801 twelve- and fourteen-year-old Donald and Aeneas Sage arrived to lodge. ‘Mrs. MacCulloch showed us to our bedroom. It was at the top of the house, an attic above an attic – a dreary, cold place, having all the rude finishings of a coarse loft.’ Rude perhaps, but when the Sheriff returned that evening ‘he received us with the most fatherly kindness’.

Donald and Aeneas might have been a bit frightened and homesick, but a large stone house was familiar. Their parents, Isabella and Alexander, lived in the Kildonan manse, the house provided for the minister, some three days walk to the north-west. Their home rose tall on the fringes of the cluster of their neighbours’ longhouses. Like the MacCullochs’, their ground floor was occupied by a parlour, bedroom, and a closet. Upstairs were a dining-room, bedroom, and another closet. It also had an attic with two garrets: one a bed-room, the other a storeroom for lumber. Unlike upper class houses there was no wallpaper. Walls were ‘cat and clay, plastered over with lime’, finished with white-wash which came off on everything that touched it. Outside the main house were two low buildings with turf roofs, one containing the nursery, kitchen and byre, and the other, a barn and stable. Like the Sheriff’s house, this building was more than a family home.

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The manse at Kildonan in 2018. Image: Elizabeth Ritchie

One reason ministers were provided with spacious houses was so they could provide hospitality. When Hugh MacCulloch came to investigate a riot in the heights of Kildonan in October 1801, he stayed at the manse. Donald recollected: ‘On the evening of his arrival … he was drenched almost to the skin, as it had rained heavily through the day; he especially required dry stockings, and he preferred putting them on at the kitchen fireside … he took particular notice of me, and asked me many questions about my progress in learning, particularly in Latin. He was much pleased with my answers, and said that, if my father would send my brother and me to school at Dornoch, he would keep us for three months in his own house.’

In the years before the clearances, it is possible to see the emergence of a distinct middling, professional class in the rural Highlands through their houses. As elsewhere in Britain they began to mark themselves out with homes in non-indigenous styles, partly built with materials not available locally. Specialised rooms provided spaces for professional men to work with books and papers; promoted privacy; and separated domestic life from hospitality. Parlours and dining rooms, rather than a shared domestic space where family and visitors were cooked for, ate and entertained alike, meant domestic rituals were formalised, and visitors were separated into those catered for in the kitchen or formally entertained in the parlour. Spare bedrooms made providing hospitality to travelling gentlemen easy. So along with the new houses were built the networks which promoted the careers, marriages and opportunities for the families who lived in them.

Sources:

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica, chapter 9

Ideas about homes, respectability and the rising middle class particularly inspired by Catherine Hall and Leonore Davidoff, Family fortunes: men and women of the English middle class 1780-1850 (London, 1987, 2002).

Holy Hugh: Of Fields and Fellowship

This is part 2 of our short series on the life and times of Sheriff Hugh MacCulloch who is memorialised just outside Dornoch.

In a field at Proncy, by the A9 near the turn off to Dornoch, there is a stone. It is a memorial to Hugh MacCulloch. When he is remembered today it is usually as the most eminent victim of the 1809 Meikle Ferry Disaster. But in his time, he was best known as an ‘eminent Christian’.

MacCulloch Memorial - Feb 2019

This month the Memorial has been encased in a box by Dornoch Academy students guided by DJ MacLeod (Autonomy Youth Services). This is to aid preservation. The field behind is where people met together to worship, led by Hugh MacCulloch. Photo: DJ MacLeod.

He came from the professional class of the eighteenth-century Highlands. His father was a writer (a legal role) and a bailie of the burgh of Dornoch. At some early point in his upbringing he experienced ‘saving impressions’ of ‘divine truth and divine agency’. His relationship to Christian faith was more than weekly attendance at church, more than dutiful Bible reading. He had a personal commitment to and experience of God. As he grew, he spent time with other committed believers who mentored, encouraged and challenged him.

After studying law at university, he married a Miss Sutherland. Born in 1765 Christian was daughter of the minister in Dornoch (John Sutherland). Hugh presumably knew her as a young person, or perhaps met her on visits to his parents. They had ‘a considerable family’. Hugh established himself in his career and was given the role of Sheriff-Substitute of Sutherland. The family settled in Dornoch.

As a devout man, Hugh MacCulloch had responsibility for the spiritual well-being of his household. That meant anyone living, or visiting, under his roof. The Directory for Family Worship, passed at the General Assembly of 1647 instructed heads of families to conduct ‘communion with God’, morning and evening. The family was critical in establishing and maintaining protestant culture. In this ideal, the family was a ‘seminary’, a patriarchal household where the father was meant to gently, firmly and wisely lead wife, children and servants in godliness. Donald Sage recollected that ‘family worship was regularly observed morning and evening’ when he was a lodger with the MacCullochs in 1801. The Directory indicated they should begin with prayer for church, nation and family members. Then scripture was read, ensuring everyone understood the passage. This practice was far from uniquely Highland or even Scottish. It developed within many reformed traditions throughout Europe and North America.

On Sunday evenings, things were a bit different. Then Hugh ‘examined all the inmates of his household on their scriptural knowledge, concluding with an exposition of the chapter which he had read.’ While it is easy to assume this was a bit grim and oppressive, the event attracted the neighbours. There is no reason that it couldn’t be conducted with fun, or some intellectual sparring and competition. It is quite likely that the neighbours came along because they could not read and therefore could not hold family worship themselves very easily. The language used was Gaelic, but a few of the neighbours did not speak it. Donald particularly recollected that was so for John Hay, a mason. Hugh therefore gave the concluding prayer partly in one language and partly in the other. He called this ‘a speckled prayer’.

MacCulloch Memorial 2 Feb 2019

The memorial and the field in the opposite direction! Photo: DJ MacLeod.

Saturdays were busy for the Sheriff-Substitute. Each Saturday he went the mile or two out of town to Pronsy. There, in what is now a field, he met with other committed Christians for a ‘fellowship meeting’. At these meetings people prayed together, they sang, they heard the Bible read and someone often preached. In all likelihood much of this was done by Hugh, probably with assistance from other local men. Donald Sage later claimed that ‘it was these occasions of Christian intercourse with his fellow-citizens, which they found peculiarly edifying, that embalmed his memory in the hearts of the survivors [of the disaster].’ Outdoor meetings were quite common in this period, particularly among Evangelicals who had a Moderate minister who they felt did not meet their spiritual needs. Some ministers were fine with this, others felt it undermined their authority. Some local Evangelicals removed themselves from the churches of Moderate ministers and met on Sunday mornings by themselves, but Hugh MacCulloch did not do that. Indeed his Saturday meetings may have been an attempt to dissuade people from such a schism. However, in church he did make it clear when he was uncomfortable with the preaching. ‘He was a regular attendant at church; as, though Dr. Bethune’s doctrine seemed to him to be dry enough, he, unlike others equally eminent for piety with himself, would not on that account become an absentee, all the more that he held a public office. He did not fail, however, by his restlessness of manner, to indicate when he was not being edified.’

Hugh MacCulloch was remembered as a pretty ordinary judge. His administration of justice was ‘free indeed from all sorts of corruption, but it was defective in regard to clear views of civil and criminal law.’ However, it was his ‘eminent piety and Christian fellowship’ which ‘enshrined his memory in the hearts of all who knew him.’

Sources:

The Directory for Family Worship, Assembly at Edinburgh, 24 August 1647, Sess. 10. Act for observing the directions of the General Assembly for secret and private worship, and mutual edification; and censuring such as neglect family-worship. A copy can be found on http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_standards/index.html?mainframe=/documents/wcf_standards/p417-direct_fam_worship.html

Janay Nugent, ‘“The mistresse of the family hath a special hand”: family, women, mothers, and the establishment of a “godly community of Scots”’, in Stuart Macdonald and Daniel MacLeod (eds), Keeping the Kirk. Scottish Religion at Home and in the Diaspora (Guelph, 2014), 39-62.

Andrew Cambers and Michelle Wolfe, ‘Reading, family religion, and Evangelical identity in late Stuart England’, The Historical Journal 47.4 (2004) 875-896.

Gerald F. Moran and Maris A. Vinovskis, ‘The Great Care of Godly Parents: Early Childhood in Puritan New England’, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 50.4/5 (1985), 24-37.

Hugh MacCulloch and the Dornoch Firth

This week work begins on the Sheriff MacCulloch Memorial Project. Historylinks was recently awarded £1100 by Museums and Galleries Scotland to restore the memorial stone. The Museum is working with young people from Dornoch Academy in this project. See facebook for more information and photos. The next few blog posts will consider the life and times of Hugh MacCulloch.

It must have been hot that day. The lads maybe exploded out of school, shouting and throwing their bags. They might have taken off, chasing each other across the common grazings, past what is now the airstrip, that separated Dornoch from the ‘cockle ebb’, the sands on the north shore of the firth. Stripped off, they tiptoed, plunged into the chilly water, splashing and swimming, salt stinging their eyes. It’s wide at high tide, and at low tide sand banks appear, sometimes giving the impression that you could wade across. But between these banks there are fast flowing channels. Hugh’s efforts quickly took him out of his depth, and he sank. The other boys maybe thought at first that he was messing about, but he didn’t bob up again. They shouted an alarm and several men who were working nearby dashed into the sea. He had been in the water some time and it was an apparently lifeless body they pulled out. The men applied ‘judicious treatment’ and he choked back into life.

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Shells of cockles can still be found at the ‘Cockle Ebb’. Hugh probably went bathing at this spot, though probably not on the sort of dull January day this was taken! The view here is towards the site of the Meikle Ferry, where many years later he breathed his last. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Hugh MacCulloch related this story many times. And when he told it to a young lodger in 1801 he said ‘if God were to give him his choice of deaths, he would choose drowning, for … he felt as he was in the act of sinking, and when the waters were rushing in at his mouth and nostrils, as if he were falling into a gentle sleep.’ His wish was granted. Eight years later and about four miles above that very spot on that very firth, he was, with many others, drowned.

In 1809 Hugh was probably in his fifties. He was a well-respected man, the retired Sheriff-Substitute of Sutherland and known for his honesty and piety, if not his brilliance in law. On August 16th Hugh decided to attend the Lammas Fair in Tain. He left his house in Dornoch that morning and crossed the ferry. Later, rumours spread that the men who loaded the evening ferry had been drinking. Donald Sage, that young lodger, later recorded the story in biblical style: ‘When he came to the Meikleferry, late in the day, the shore was crowded with people returning home from the market. On his arrival they all made way for him, and he was, quickly seated at the stern of the wherry; but afterwards the multitude pressed into the ferry-boat – the more earnestly, as they would thus have the privilege of crossing in the same boat with the Sheriff. Apprehensive of the issue, Mr. MacCulloch turned away at least two score of them from the boat. There still remained on board, however, too many for safety. It was a dead calm, and the wherry was pushed off from land. But when it had nearly reached the middle of the ferry, and the deepest part of it, the boat gave a sudden jerk, the water rushed in, and, with the exception of two or three who escaped by swimming, the whole of those on board sank to the bottom and perished. About 70 persons were thus drowned. This fearful event took place during the darkness of night … and created a deep sensation all over the country.’

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Tain, from the Cockle Ebb. Low tide. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The tale of how Hugh’s body, among the last to be found, was discovered, reveals the mysticism which was part of Highland Evangelical Christianity. It is also reminiscent of saints’ stories in the Catholic tradition, where bodies which do not decompose prove saintliness. Donald Sage explained that the ‘particular spot where it lay under the flood was discovered in a dream. A fellow-Christian and an acquaintance, deeply affected by his death, dreamed of his departed friend. In the dream the Sheriff appeared, spoke of his sudden call to the other world, and told him where his earthly remains lay, adding that, whilst the fish of the sea were permitted to mangle at their pleasure the bodies of his fellow-sufferers, they were restrained from putting a tooth upon his, which would be found entire. The dream was realised in every particular.’

How the catastrophe of the Meikle Ferry impacted south-east Sutherland is reminiscent of the impact of the loss of the Iolaire on the Isle of Lewis 110 years later. In both, a small community lost many of its most active in one appalling moment. The response to the sudden needs of families bereft of the husbands, mothers, sons, wives, fathers, daughters who traded at Tain that day was to set up a fund. Monies poured in from people with local connections all over the world. Even donations from the profits of West Indian slave plantations ended up in the pockets of grief-stricken families. Hugh MacCulloch’s wife and his daughter, Chirsty, long survived him, and benefited from the Meikleferry Fund.

The Dornoch Firth which, in the years following the Jacobite Rising saw the birth of a boy named Hugh; which provided cooling, but dangerous waters for his youthful play; which was crossed every time the mature man travelled south on business or pleasure, eventually claimed that life. But its chill depths preserved him, casting him up in the place the visionary spoke of, so he could be buried in the way his family wanted.

Sources:

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica, chapter 9.

Walter Scott (ed), ‘Dreadful Accident at the Meikle Ferry’, The Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809, 248.

N.B. Brian Munro has since unearthed a document (The Meikle Ferry Disaster Fund Book) in the Highland Archives which is far more contemporary than Sage’s memoirs and seems to state quite clearly that the accident took place ‘in the forenoon’ when people were on their way to the Lammas Fair, rather than returning from it. That does not, I think, remove any of the interest or importance of Sage’s analysis of the event and its impact, but shows how the details of narratives can shift.

Zebras and Maharajas in Strathcarron

Iain Thornber of Glensanda Estate (Morvern) contributes a fascinating insight, first published in Morvern Lines in April 2017, then in Am Bratach in October 2018.

Lady Meux (pronounced ‘Mews’) from Alladale near Bonar Bridge was probably one of the most flamboyant and interesting characters ever to come to Ross-shire. When her contemporaries were plodding over the moors on dumpy Highland ponies, Lady Meux was driving herself around in a four-wheeled carriage drawn by a pair of zebras.

Lady Meux was born Valerie Langdon in 1847. She was the daughter of a Devon butcher and worked as an actress and a banjo-playing barmaid before marrying Sir Henry Meux, 3rd baronet (1856-1900). According to her obituary in the New York Times, she met Sir Henry while performing in Brighton. Some sources give another slant to her career, although in her defence Lady Meux maintained: ‘I can very honestly say that my sins were committed before, and not after marriage’.

The colossal Meux wealth came from brewing. Henry’s father, the 2nd baronet, married into the Marquess of Ailesbury’s family (later styled Aylesbury), in Buckinghamshire. Needless to say they were not enamoured by the arrival of this flamboyant cuckoo in their midst and, typical of the unpleasant snobbery of the time, shunned Henry, as he was in trade, and Valerie because of her background. Thumbing her nose at them all Valerie made her indifference known by regularly driving past the Ailesbury’s fashionable London house with her zebras. She also sat for James McNeil Whistler — an American and one of the most acclaimed and expensive society painters of the day.

Lady Meux in pink by James McNeil Whistler

Lady Meux in Pink by James McNeill Whistler

Lady Meux and her husband improved and enlarged Theobalds, their property in Hertfordshire, by adding an indoor roller-skating rink and a swimming pool. At her request Henry bought Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar (one of the eight gates that surrounded the old city of London) and rebuilt all 400 tons of it as a new gateway to Theobalds. There, in its upper chamber, Valerie allegedly entertained guests including the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.

Bitten by the Victorian bug for Highland life and scenery, Sir Henry and Lady Meux took a lease of Alladale, which at the time was one of the best-known deer forests in Scotland. It belonged to Sir Charles Ross, inventor of the famous Ross rifle, who lived at nearby Balnagowan Castle, now owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed of Harrods fame. In 1360 Alladale was called ‘Freevater’ or Walter’s Forest, after one of Sir Charles’s ancestors who was killed at Bannockburn. Here Henry and Valerie provided stalking, fishing and grouse shooting for their friends on a grand scale.

After Henry’s death, when he was only forty-four, Alladale was taken by the fabulously wealthy Maharaja Holkar of Indore who brought such a large entourage with him that an extension had to be added to the rear of the lodge to accommodate them. Undeterred by widowhood, Lady Meux continued to enjoy life to the full, and well she might, inheriting an income of £240,000 a year from her husband’s estate. She owned a string of race horses, entering them under the assumed name of ‘Mr Theobalds’, and won the Derby in 1901. She collected ancient Egyptian artefacts. The legendary Egyptologist, Wallis Budge, published a catalogue of more than 1,700 of her items including 800 scarabs and amulets. She wanted to leave the entire collection to the British Museum, but the trustees declined the bequest because, she said, they were apparently idiots and it was sold.

Sir Henry and Lady Meux at Alladale

Sir Henry and Lady Meux at Alladale. Image courtesy of Lowewood Museum.

Valerie didn’t always fritter away her husband’s money. During the Boer War she was so impressed by the heroics of the British army at the Battle of Ladysmith in 1899 that she bought six twelve-pounder naval cannon and sent them out to South Africa. When Sir Hedworth Lambton, the commander of the naval brigade at Ladysmith, returned to London, he called on Lady Meux to thank her for her generosity. She was so taken by his charm that she made him the chief beneficiary of her estate on condition that he took the surname Meux (she and Sir Henry had no children). When she died on 20 December 1910, he changed his name and inherited Theobalds and a substantial interest in the Meux Brewery.

Alladale Lodge, home of Sir Henry and Lady Meux

Alladale Lodge. Photo: Iain Thornber.

Although the Meuxs, the Maharaja and the distinguished guests disappeared down the glen decades ago, there is still a quixotic aura about Alladale. The estate now belongs to Paul Lister, heir to the MFI furniture fortune, who courted controversy by turning it into a wilderness reserve intended for wolves, bears and other large predators. Since 2003 a million trees have replaced most of the wild red deer and talk of a huge 50,000 acre, Colditz-style compound has drawn criticism from neighbours, hill-walkers and lawyers as it could contravene principles of open access. From inside wooden stockades a few moose and angry European bison, glare and stamp their feet at passers-by but the howl of the wolf and the growl of the grizzly bear has yet to be heard on the braes; gone too from the lodge stables are the zebras and Lady Meux’s stylish high phaeton.

Hector Munro: Villain Highland Nabob or Highland Hero? (part 2)

Brian Symonds continues his exploration of Ross-shire man, Hector Munro.

Hector Munro, the hero of Buxar, now wealthy and with social status as an MP, was seemingly established comfortably in his Highland Novar estate. However in 1777 he chose to return to India as Commander-in-Chief of the East India Army. Perhaps Munro lost heavily in the major financial crisis following the Scottish Ayr Bank failure in 1772, and the resulting financial embarrassment created the need for him to once more forsake the Highlands.

In his new position Munro presided over wars with the Indian rulers and the French. He personally commanded the forces which in 1778 stormed and captured the strategically important French base at Pondichéry. This victory was so important for Britain that Munro was awarded a knighthood. The newly ennobled Sir Hector Munro, still officially MP for Inverness Burghs even when in India, re-established his financial standing from prize money.

However, in 1780 his fortunes changed. He failed to send assistance to beleaguered East India troops during the campaign against a prince of southern India. As a result the Company lost the whole Carnatic region to the local rulers and the French and destroyed his reputation. It was considered the worst defeat suffered by the British in the eighteenth century. Munro resigned his command and returned to London but was greeted with the news that he had been dismissed from the East India Company in disgrace.

Hector Munro

Trouble followed him north in 1782. The old established landowners were uneasy with the nabobs, those nouveau riche who returned from India with their controversial wealth. This was particularly so when they use it to ‘build grand houses, improve traditional land ownership and to buy political position’.

Once resettled, Munro turned his attention to Novar. There he continued to court controversy. He is said to have found Novar ‘a very inferior property, with poor soil but well adapted for the growth of timber’. He began modernising the management of the estate and initiated improvements to the house and surrounding area, including the construction of the folly of the Gate of Negapatam. Reputedly he spent some £120,000: at current value representing the startling sum of some thirteen million pounds.

Novar House

It is claimed that Sir Hector’s estate improvements and his folly gave much-needed employment to local men. Paradoxically, he also pioneered the introduction of sheep which displaced populations. He also engaged in other profitable enterprises such as the introduction of larch as a commercial timber crop. The resulting clearances and loss of traditional tenure systems that sustained local communities created high local unemployment and poverty while ultimately provoking widespread resistance by tenants. Sir Hector Munro was ‘a man with considerable experience in India of quelling troublesome natives’ and who still maintained his status as the Colonel of a Highland regiment so. He therefore: ‘ordered certain companies of the regiment to Novar, where they dispersed the people and took some of the ringleaders prisoners’. They were subsequently tried at the Justiciary Court sitting at Inverness, and sentenced to transportation for life.

Brahan Seer

Motivation for Munro’s pursuit of estate modernisation might be found in the sheer disparity of the gain from his exploits in India and the traditional income from his Highland estate. An early year in India easily secured him £20 000, a sum equal to thirty eight years of income from his unmodernised Highland estate.

Munro continued to prosper through family connections within the East India Company. His nephew, Captain Alexander Munro, was killed in India and left Sir Hector his possessions. In a letter dated 9th June 1779 this was itemised as ‘three chests of Treasure containing as per Invoice & Bill of Lading inclosed Silver Argots Twenty Seven Thousand and Twenty Seven Rupees’.

Despite the apparent inhumanity he displayed in his military career and his seeming callousness in his management of Novar Estate, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the family misadventures that accompanied his sojourns to India. Whilst he never married he had three sons and a daughter, not all by the same mother. Munro lost his seventeen year old son in 1792, a cadet in the East India Company’s military service: ‘I heard a roar like thunder, and saw an immense royal tiger spring on the unfortunate Munro, who was sitting down: in a moment his head was in the beasts mouth and he rushed into the jungle with him’. A second son, who joined the East India Company as a Writer in 1796, died aboard ship in 1814 on the journey home. His third son, also seventeen and also a cadet in the East India Company service, was killed in 1804 by a shark in the Bay of Bengal. It is not clear what became of his daughter but she may have joined Munro at Novar. Sir Hector Munro died at Novar House during Christmas of 1805: a local man, sometimes hero and sometimes villain.

Sources:

HAC D538/J/3, ‘Will and Letter, Dated 25th July 1778 Calcutta, from Claude Alexander to Major Genl. Hector Munro’

‘The Son of Sir Hector Munro, Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman on Board the Shaw Ardasier, off Saugur Island’, Derby Mercury, 11 July 1793

Bryant, G. J., ‘Munro, Sir Hector (1725/6–1805/6)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19546&gt;

Cain, Alex M, The Cornchest for Scotland: Scots in India (National Library of Scotland, 1986)

Cregeen, Eric, ‘The Tacksmen and Their Successors: A Study of Tenurial Reorganisation in Mull, Morvern and Tiree in the Early Eighteenth Century’ Scottish Studies, 13 (1969), 93–144

Edwardes, Michael, The Nabobs at Home (Edinburgh: Constable, 1991)

Grosjean, Alexia, ‘Return to Belhelvie, 1593-1875: The Impact of Return Migration on an Aberdeenshire Parish’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

Harper, Marjory, ‘Introduction to Emigrant Homecoming’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

Mackenzie, Alexander, History of the Munros of Fowlis: With Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name: To Which Are Added Those of Lexington and New England (Inverness: A. & W, Mackenzie, 1898)

MacKillop, Andrew, ‘The Highlands and the Returning Nabob: Sir Hector Munro of Novar, 1760-1807’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), pp. 233–61

McGilvary, George K., East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, International Library of Historical Studies, 54 (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008)

‘Measuring Worth – Purchasing Power of Pound’ <https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk/&gt; [accessed 13 March 2018]

‘Members Biographies: Munro, Hector (1726-1805), of Novar, Ross’, The History of Parliament <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/munro-hector-1726-1805&gt;

Hector Munro: Highland Villain or Fallen Hero? part 1

Brian Symons is a recent graduate of the University of the Highlands and Islands Masters programme in British Studies. He is a ‘serial student’ whose interests and previous degrees span a wide range of cultural studies. Now retired and living in the far north Highlands, his most recent interest has been the impact of the great wealth brought into the Highlands by the nouveau riche returning from service with the East India Company in the 1800s

The imposing Gate of Negapatam stood above its city and port in Madras, India. Its replica is set on the hilltop at Cnoc Fyrish less than twenty kilometres from the Dornoch Firth. A folly built in the nineteenth century by Sir Hector Munro, it was erected to celebrate his military successes in India, to demonstrate his position and immense wealth and to, allegedly, provide employment during its construction for the local population of his Novar Estate.

Gate of Nagapatnam Fyrish

Hector was born in 1726 the son of Hugh Munro, a merchant. He entered military service at an early age and fought against the Jacobites in 1745. It was rumoured that he was captured but escaped. In 1746 the Duchess of Gordon was travelling in Sutherland accompanied only by an increasingly drunken coachman. Twenty year old Hector Munro gallantly ‘rescued’ her and delivered the Duchess to her destination. In appreciation she used her influence to secure Hector a Lieutenant’s commission in a Highland Regiment and so launched the young Highlander on his controversial career and his road to wealth.

As a newly commissioned officer, Hector was despatched to Badenoch with a troop of soldiers to apprehend ‘all disaffected persons in that district’. Munro and his soldiers tracked down the notorious Cameron, known as ‘Sergeant Mòr’ and transported him to Perth where he was executed. Another Jacobite rebel, Ewen MacPherson of Cluny, seemingly evaded Munro and escaped to France, however rumour suggested that Munro knew MacPherson and allowed him to avoid capture.

In 1759 Hector Munro was appointed a major in a newly formed Highland regiment of the private army of the East India Company. The Company, by means of military might, personal and institutional corruption and political manipulation, exploited the Indian continent extracting prodigious wealth for individuals and the British state. The cost of realising such wealth was the constant wars in India involving the East India Company Private Army, local rulers and the French who had also established trading and military bases on the continent.

Arriving in India with his Highland regiment Major Munro quickly established a formidable reputation. His regiment, as in most of the East India Company army, included locally recruited native soldiers attached as Sepoy battalions to the core British contingent. In 1764 unrest and near-revolt arose in these battalions in support of the claim that sepoys received a far smaller share than the British troops of the ‘donations’ made to the army by the puppet Nawab of Bengal. Despite the justice of the sepoys’ claim, Munro chose to quell the unrest by court-martialling and executing twenty-four of the ringleaders by gruesomely blowing them away from guns’.

execution of mutineers at Peshawur

No doubt Munro believed that his approach to discipline contributed to his success in later years at the Battle of Buxar, where he defeated the significantly larger combined Nawab armies (local princes and potentates) of the Mughal Emperor. In recognition, the East India Company instantly promoted Major Munro to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. However as the main part of the Mughal army fled, Munro was infuriated at the loss of substantial booty. He reportedly estimated the value of the jewels at some two or three million, a colossal sum when converted to current value. However one Nawab, seeking to avoid reprisals, promised a settlement of a vast sum of money to reimburse both the Company and the Army, ‘including eight lacs personally to Major Munro’. Munro’s eight lacs at today’s value amount to some twelve million pounds.

Munro had reached an apex of his military career: his battle success was decisive in establishing control of northern India, effectively making the British East India Company the rulers of the richest provinces of India. In 1765 he resigned his command in India and returned to the Highlands. ‘Nabobs’, the label for such wealthy returnees from India, frequently bought estates throughout Britain. Other Highlanders used their Indian money to buy estates in St Kilda, Orkney and Skye.

Seeking social status, Munro successfully campaigned for election to Parliament as Member for Inverness Burghs. He remained the MP for over thirty years having purchased the estate of Muirtown, Elgin, to meet the electoral residency qualification. His home and primary estate was, however, that of Novar, close to Alness. It was here he began the process of modernisation and ‘improvement’.      (To be continued)

Sources:

The Lawes or Standing Orders of the East India Company 1621 (Farnborough: Gregg International Publishers Limited, 1968)

Anon., ‘The Extraordinary Black Book, Chapter XII: East-India Company’, in The Extraordinary Black Book: (Usually Called the ‘Reformer’s Bible’), ed. by ‘The Original Editor’ (London: Effingham Wilson, 1831), pp. 350–76

Bryant, G. J., ‘Munro, Sir Hector (1725/6–1805/6)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19546&gt;

Cain, Alex M, The Cornchest for Scotland: Scots in India (National Library of Scotland, 1986)

Devine, T. M, and John M MacKenzie, ‘Scots in the Imperial Economy’, in Scotland and the British Empire, ed. by John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine, Oxford History of the British Empire–Companion Series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 227–54

Gardner, Brian, The East India Company: A History (London: Hart-Davis, 1971)

Keay, John, The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company (Scribner, 1994)

Mackenzie, Alexander, History of the Munros of Fowlis: With Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name: To Which Are Added Those of Lexington and New England (Inverness: A. & W, Mackenzie, 1898)

Mackillop, Andrew, ‘The Highlands and the Returning Nabob: Sir Hector Munro of Novar, 1760-1807’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), pp. 233–61

McGilvary, George K., East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, International Library of Historical Studies, 54 (London ; New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008)

‘Members Biographies: Munro, Hector (1726-1805), of Novar, Ross’, The History of Parliament <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/munro-hector-1726-1805&gt;