Retired from Glasgow police force as Detective Inspector. A big, burly chap, with a deep voice, a knobbed stick, and a fondness for double strength peppermints. He married a first cousin, little Annie Matheson McLachlan, and had a son, John, who was water Engineer of Regina. My uncle's daughter, Margaret (Mrs. Robertson) had no children.
Buried Craigton Cemetery, Glasgow.
His house, Braw House at Ardgay is now (1974) a good Bed and Breakfast.
See also his will, in archives.
John Murray Mackay. 1851 - 11th May 1927. Alias "Old Ben Reay".
He was the second child in the family, and the eldest son. When I first knew him he was getting along well as an Inspector-Detective in the Western Division of Glasgow.
In appearance he was formidable, big and strong, with a round face and a bit overweight. His face suggested great sternness, but his photos show a pleasant twinkle in his eyes. He was balding early, and had an irregular drooping moustache with side whiskers but no beard. His gait upright and regular. The voice deep, almost booming.
John was always well turned out, with an independent air. Off duty he carried a stick, like the gentry of those days. With him and my father I often walked in the Westend Park, I being dressed for the time being with a stiff linen collar, kid gloves and sometimes a small stick as well!
The only Gaelic I heard them speak was "Slanch" or "Slantu" when they had their one little whisky. Conversation was usually above my head, and often relating to recent crimes. Our two houses were a mile apart with a fine Art Gallery between them but I think they never went there, unless at my special request to see the models of ships.
This big chap married his first cousin, Annie McLachlan, daughter of Margaret Murray, his own aunt. Annie was small, neat, kindly, alert, with gaiety in her smile. She brought with her financial expectations, for her father belonged to the firm of Bow and McLachlan, ship-builders on the Clyde, a firm long extinct now.
I believe John acted the part of Big Brother honourably to the three young brothers who followed him to Glasgow. There were many stories about him. One day he appeared with a gash on his face. When asked about it, he replied it was entirely a professional matter and did not explain.
While I was still a schoolboy he retired on a pension, and built a house for himself, wife and daughter Margaret just above Ardgay Station, and almost within sight of the croft, Aisdale, on the hills where he had been born. He called his house "Ben Reay", but there was no mountain of that name.
About this time, I made a 'bloomer' and fell from grace, breaking innocently the old Highland tradition of hospitality. We got a telegram one day saying he was arriving at a certain time for a funeral next day. My father then was away in Wales selling blankets and my mother was in poor health. So I went to the station to meet him. He had appeared to conclude he was to stay with us, but we had only two bedrooms for my parents, my sister and myself. The maid, when we had one, slept in an alcove in the kitchen, as was then the custom. Anyway, I did not invite him to the house. Probably I had not been briefed on the matter, and he was unexpectedly hurt, and got himself put up somewhere else for the night.
During War I, I was encamped at Tain and walked up to see him, being very well received indeed by him and my cousin Margaret. His wife had died the previous year. The house was bright and spotless, the garden tidy and full of little ornaments and figures. At Ardgay he became a Justice of the Peace for the County. I remember visiting a hotel at Tongue where on the wall was an illuminated address testifying to the merits of the inn-keeper, and Ben Reay's signature was on it.
He kept a pony and pony cart or 'trap' for driving around the district, and, like all owners of such, was a proud figure. Now and then he went out with Carnegie the millionaire for a drive. When they stopped at a farm for a drink of milk Carnegie always said he carried no money and made Uncle pay for the drink.
My other personal recollection of him was that when staying at our house he put his foot up on a chair in order to tie his laces, and I told him we were not allowed to do that in our house. I don't think he was annoyed at the time, for I was probably a bit young... and anyway I have done the same myself when no one was looking!
At age 76, in 1927, he died, just a year after his daughter Margaret had married a local farmer, to become his third wife. He hated this chap!
Now for other folk's recollections of Ben Reay:
My sister, Jessie Howie wrote: "Whenever he came to stay with us, in spite of his sever exterior I always was aware that there was a warmth of feeling underneath. I liked him. His physique was solid - a good 18 stone - and his bearing so upright I always pictured him as being physically unable to bend. I never remember him lacing up his own boots. He had a puckish and persuasive way of having all his creature comforts well attended to, and his boots were always laced up happily by whoever was near, and the service acknowledged with thanks in like manner."
"Uncle took the opportunity of his stay with us in Glasgow to visit some of this old cronies. I was asked to accompany him. We would go down Cambridge Street or some such place. Uncle would say "Now you just wait here until I come back. I won't be long". He never was. He would just disappear into some pub to renew acquaintance with some old contact of his former days. I still have a golden sovereign which Uncle John gave me after one of his visits with instructions to keep it, and not do spend it unless in dire necessity."
Frank MacDonald from Blairgowrie wrote to me, 1967: "It was about 1911 I stayed with Old Ben Reay at Ardgay. About the Bible lessons: these were at the breakfast table. The layout was like this:
Me __________________________________ 'Himself' | | Aunt Annie |__________________________________| Margaret The Maid
Annie was a bright soul and liked a bit of fun. One morning the lesson was from Ruth. Each of us read a few verses in turn, starting with 'Himself'. I was reading avidly to myself and enjoying it when just as I reached the spicy bit 'Ben Reay' said "Here endeth the lesson". I had to content myself with the thought that on the following day we would begin with where we left off. But, alas, 'Ben Reay' announced a reading from Isaiah. With great temerity I said, "Excuse me. Should it not be from Ruth. There was a ghastly silence for a bit. Then Uncle John, who never batted an eyelid, said in sepulchral tones, "The lesson is from Isaiah", and began reading the new lesson. In the midst of this I received a beauty of a kick on the shin from little Aunt Annie. When I looked askance at her she gave me the most elf-like wink you ever did see and her expression was funny beyond words."
Later, Frank told me that in his retirement Ben Reay became a coal merchant! (My father never seems to have told me anything!) Each year, as Frank was good at figures, Uncle would write to him about coming up to Ardgay, as he "had some accounts to send out". Frank paid perhaps five visits. He would see three truck loads of coal addressed to Uncle at the station. Uncle would then arrange for the distribution to over a dozen of his customers by a local carter or for collection by the customers themselves. Frank then made out invoices on printed forms headed "John Mackay".
Frank again: "About Robertson - Ben Reay hated him, as his probable successor to the house he had built for himself. Hence his action in willing away the use of the house after his death, to spite Robertson, and, incidentally to spite his daughter, Margaret for marrying the man, even though Margaret had been devoted to him and to his service all her life."
Still from Frank: "Sometime before he died, Ben Reay had learned about the high cost of hiring a funeral hearse from Tain, some 12 miles away. He "would have none of this". So he made arrangements with a local farmer (not Robertson!) that his coffin would be put on a hay wagon, and taken to the cemetery about a mile away. "And there would be no carriages either".
The service took place in the sloping garden outside the front door. (Did he not go to Church?). The coffin was placed on a trellis of wood. The only relatives from the South were Frank, and our cousin Dr. William Mackay from Salford, (Where was my father?) who put up at the local hotel. Margaret, his daughter, whom everyone commends as a generous and thoughtful hostess, had laid on every kind of food and drink at the hotel for the guests. It was a real good show. As Ben Reay was well known there was "a large and representative crowd".
Then the folk fell in behind the coffin, now on the hay wagon, everyone walking, the gigs, traps and horses being left at the hotel stables. On the hay wagon, behind the coffin, was a case of whisky and food, especially for those who felt weak on the road, or who were not returning to the hotel. Frank's job was to see that everyone 'had enough' while William was a kind of director of ceremonies. There was no service at the graveside. When the interment was over the guests sheltered behind a wall, for it was windy and cold, and finished all the whisky.
And from then on, Ben Reay's little office or cubby hole from which his coal accounts were sent out was taken over by Robertson, doubtless with a smile on his face, as he sat down on the old boy's chair, saying to himself "At last".
I (RLM) have a copy of the old chap's will. In it he left the life-rent, use and enjoyment of his house and all his property to my father, George, and thereafter to (Ben Reay's) his son, John and daughter Margaret, and their heirs. My father refused everything, believing that Margaret had been so very badly treated, so she and Robertson continued to enjoy the house freely. But some years later, Margaret died suddenly without leaving a will, and the house therefore became the property of Ben Reay's granddaughter in Canada.
It was at this time while holidaying up North with my cousin Dr. William that we chanced to call upon Robertson in his wee cubby hole. As he poured out his story about having to pay for a valuer to come all the way from Edinburgh to assess the value of the house, and then having to pay all that money to a young woman in Canada for a house which he considered was his by right he grew inarticulate with rage at the thought. For, of course, the Canadian was not going to live in the house. So, Ben Reay won in the end. Robertson died soon after Margaret, and his medical son from Norwich came up and took over the place.
I later wrote to Dr. Robertson to ask if there were any books etc. of genealogical interest about the place. The doctor looked round and in a heap in the pony shed at the bottom of the garden found Old Ben Reay's family bible, a splendid specimen. He had not used it much. By the doctor's courtesy I have it now. Then the doctor died! I only got the bible just in time!
Frank Macdonald asserts that the three top of the page entries about Brother Andrew, Donald and Annie MacLachlan Mackay could not possibly be in the hand of Ben Reay. He had letters from time to time from Ben Reay and these were always neat and the lines of writing straight even though the page would be unlined. He suggests that the middle of the page entry about Annie McLachlan Mackay is in his Uncle's handwriting. It bears a familial resemblance to the handwriting of RLM's father.
We passed the house last year. (1971). It is now a "Bed and Breakfast" place. And of very good local reputation. The little ornaments are still in the front garden. My cousin Margaret was buried in the same grave as the father who willed away from her the house in which she had lived for over 37 years. Robertson's remains are in the same cemetery at Ardgay, but they lie with those of his first wife about 50 yards to the South of his third wife.
Ben Reay's only son, John, became water engineer at Regina, Canada. I had a service patient in Normandy during the late war who saw John just less than an hour before he died from a coronary thrombosis while cutting his grass. He said John had a fine local reputation, was a great social asset to the town, and sadly missed. John did not see eye to eye with his father. He did the right thing by going to Canada.
From the Kyle of Tongue, Helen Buchanan wrote: "My father never took to Ben Reay... and that was mutual... a great big bully". When his sister, Margaret Black, died in Lonachuan in 1916 after what was a terrible winter, Ben Reay did not attend her funeral at the nearby cemetery at Creich.