Generation: Z

Alex MacPherson


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Crofter at Dounie, 1800-1823. Crofter at Meikle Daan, 1824-1830 or later.

RLM: Epistle 1:

Now I will present you with what I have learned about the MacPhersons into which family Andrew I, (A) married in the year of Waterloo, 1815, a battle in which none of our peace-loving ancestors took part, so far as I can ascertain.

These MacPhersons! Are they ours?

I now deviate from the Mackay-MacPherson Union to present some new evidence for your consideration. I kept on at Helen Buchanan (D), again and again, entreating her to shake up the memories of what she had heard in her youth from her mother about the MacPhersons. And she kept murmuring "Miekle Daan. Miekle Daan. Meikle Daan". Then she wrote again:

These MacPhersons were associated both with Bonar Bridge and with Delny in Ross-shire. They were aye lamenting their former comfort. 'Fetch and carry' more! Likely they had a fairly good living. Their father was an A.1. scholar, a lawyer student. Later ran an inn when his father went bankrupt. Said to be a clever lot.

My father, George (1866-1940) said that as a very young boy he got 6d for warning a man "up the hill" that the excise men were coming after him to see if he had an illicit still. Helen knew the story, and asserted that the man up the hill was a MacPherson and a relative! (? name Hugh).

This very year, 1971, I have seen the original diary, written in his neat hand, by Donald Murray (B) my grandmother's eldest brother. Donald was then working in Glasgow, and in 1855 he took a tour through Sutherland with one of his sons, and recorded:

I called on MacPherson on the Strui who would not admit my family three years ago when passing that way, but found that he had left and it was a son who was in the house.

1855! So our Murrays knew these MacPhersons! From my charts I know that Donald's youngest sister, Janet (B), who married my Grandfather about 1849, had thus become a daughter-in-law of Margaret MacPherson. Donald could have been at the wedding! The name MacPherson means 'Son of the Parson'. In the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion the MacPhersons supported that idler, Prince Charlie, unlike the Mackays. But amor wincit omnia, that did not prevent Andrew Mackay I from marrying a MacPherson!

I pondered upon the next step, and decided to write to the agent or factor of the estate of Balnagown Castle. His reply was pleasant and brief, indicating that if I liked to call he could show me some records. What followed reminds me of that magic poem of Walter de la Mare, entitled "The Listener" Read it as the light is falling!

Last autumn, when the leaves were turning and beginning to fall, Granny, Robert and Andrew (F) and I rode up to Balnagown Castle (16/17th C, in red sandstone, turreted and pinnacled). Alas, we were not on horseback, but in our 2 litre Rover.

The once-handsome Lodge gates were broken, the Lodge empty, the roadway untidy, weedy, pot-holed, the grass long, the trees neglected. Flower beds had gone, and the statues by the drive were unclean. Bits of masonry had fallen from the castle turrets onto the pavement beneath. Whole and broken bricks lay here and there. The big front doors under the portico were shut and dirty.

We peered in through a spotty side window and saw in the entresol nothing but rubbish, paper and dust and a restaurant-type of coat-stand. On it hung a War 1 uniform of a major in a Highland Regiment, probably the Seaforths. Andrew rang the bell at a side-door, but no one came. He rang it again, yet again. Through the dusty glass pane of that door we saw an arrow on a scruffy piece of paper on the opposite wall, pointing upstairs, with the work "OFFICE" in red ink. So we pushed the creaking door, and crossed the threshold of this silent domain. Through more litter of paper and brick-dust we ascended the winding stairway to the third floor, where we again saw the word "OFFICE". We entered, unopposed, a large attic-shaped room.

Herein, 'worked' the Estate Manager and his secretary, in an atmosphere never changing of cigarette smoke, dust and shut windows. Round the walls were half-filled bookcases, here and there the glass missing. On tables and on the floor were piles of paper, maps, files and document holders. We were received with great courtesy by the Manager, and by his young lady assistant, who took a good look at Robert, Andrew and ME, in that order! Both smoked continuously. They had received notice of our impending visit, and had generously laid out for our inspection some estate record books for the years 1820 to 1823.

Meanwhile, Andrew and I got down to the business of taking notes from some of the documents, and Robert stood by, sometimes looking at the young secretary, sometimes at the books, and sometimes at the dust and disorder.

Suddenly the door behind him opened, and in breezed a huge man in a scarlet waistcoat, with a big moustache, a very red face and thick neck and a genuine deep, husky, whisky voice. He greeted us most cheerfully, shaking hands all round. He was the Irish owner of this Palace, by marriage, I think. He then sat down at a small table in a corner while his factor attended to his questions. Sometimes the latter would turn to his heap of papers or hand over an old map showing farm boundaries and names. Meanwhile, Andrew and I went on furiously at our copying. We were not going to waste time! This is what we wrote:

Alexander MacPherson, Tenant at Dounie.

Custom. Victual. Money. 1822. To Balance for arrears for Rent, and year 1821 per statement in Compt. Book No. 1, page 232. 19 : 12 : 11

To money Rent for crop and year 1822 due and payable Martinmass 1822. 22 : 12 : 10 1/2

To victual rent for crop and year, 1822 due and payable in kind and whereof in oatmeal and barley 14 : 4 : 2 3/4 7 : 0 : 0 ______ 21 : 3 : 2 3/4

To customs payable in kind for crop and year 1822 23 : 8 : 12d

To (?hay) Undelivered 1818192 and converted to Barley 19 : 5 1/2 undelivered at 25/0 per bole 7 : 5 : 2 1/2 to oatmeal for Barley l.b. 1 1/4 peck ____________________________ 23 : 8 : 12 50 : 18 : 1 1/4 21 : 3 : 2 3/4

Much of the above was repeated in detail on another page. Then came a bit of a summary:

11th November 1823. Balance for arrears of rent for crop 1822 Qr. Stat. as on Pa. 23 82 : 7 : 7 1/4 The tenant removed at Whit Day 1823, and was succeeded by Donald Robertson and James his son. February 10th. 1824. To proportion Expenses of Sequestration for arrears 1822 18/0 To balance due to Tenant on this a/c 1 1/4 To Balance Barley due to Tenant this a/c 3/2.

A month or so after our visit I wrote again to the factor, enclosing a cheque for three guineas, and asking him if he would have another look in his records. Incidentally, my passbook at the bank shows no evidence of that cheque ever being presented! In due course, Mr. W. G. Hunter wrote back to me, and I quote parts of his letter:

I have determined that Alexander MacPherson inhabited a croft at Dounie from as early as 1800 (there being mention of him on some old maps of that area). He was a bad crofter according to the Estate Ledgers. Your cousin (i.e. Helen Buchanan) is quite right about Meikle Daan. Alexander MacPherson, having been removed from Dounie, acquired a croft at Meikle Daan in 1824, having paid off some of his arrears at Dounie. Alexander MacPherson remained at Meikle Daan until 1830, anyway. After which time we have no record due to the loss of one of our ledgers. I suspect that the croft again changed hands on the death of Alex MacPherson between 1830 and 1847.

There is also a Hugh MacPherson at Balinleigh, in Dounie area, in 1820, who appears in even worse arrears than Alex MacPherson, and who is suggested to be a rather dastardly fellow. It appears that the more MacPhersons we find, the more we do not want to know. I hope it is helpful in some ways, although it must be giving you nightmares finding that your ancient ancestors or whatever were not altogether upstanding citizens. Blame it on the Environment!

Yours faithfully, W.G. Hunter.

Alan Eric! Et Ali! I have laid before you now ALL the evidence I have collected about these MacPhersons, without reserve. Know, Alan, you are an authority on Detective Stories and Tales of Mystery. Do you accept this man, Alex MacPherson to be one of your legal 32 great-great-great-great-Grandfathers?

Comment! 82 : 7 : 7 1/4 seems a very large sum indeed for Alexander to be owing. Was it a very large crofting? Or was the rent too high for the croft to be an economic proposition? What is the equivalent sum at today's prices? Eggs then would be a penny a dozen! There is a distillery only a mile from Dounie. Nearby also were the Morangie and Ardjackie Farms, only 4 miles to the East. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Journal for July 1962 "whisky distilling was carried out in the neighbourhood as a side-line to farming". Was Alexander MacPherson interested in this? The famous Morangie Distillery Co. was formed by a William Matheson and his brother after Peel's 1842 Budget. Were these our Mathesons? Did they teach MacPherson anything? We will never know!

Snippets from Margaret Carruthers:

Hugh MacPherson, The Smuggler.

Margaret is now 69. She spent some summer holidays at Lonachuan in her childhood with her grandmother, Margaret Black, (later Mrs. Walsh). The grandmother had all the tales of the neighbourhood.

There was a lawyer named MacPherson who lived at or near Edderton, and who was possibly a relation. This lawyer went bankrupt, and thereafter took to keeping an inn or hotel at Edderton.

He had a son, a law student named Hugh (Articled or University?) who failed in his law examinations, but who resolved, somehow, to pay off his father's debts. He took to producing whisky in an illicit still, which was located in the croft, up the hill, behind Aisdale, the next one to Aidsale, where RLM's father was born. He was well known in the district, and what with his knowledge of some of the law, his natural awareness, his mobility and the ease with which he managed to keep his still from being discovered, he kept going quite a time. He was nearly caught once, but he got his wife, who was seated at the fireside, to put the still under her skirt while the excise men searched the house, unsuccessfully. Hugh was an old man when he died about 1922, so he may have been born around 1840.

Hugh's croft was also next to Robbie Munro' (Gaelic Robbie). He had a daughter named Hughina, who this year (1969) is said to be in a home at the Poles, near Dornoch.

I narrate this just because I remember that my revered father - I have never thus previously described him - once told me that the first money he ever earned was sixpence, for running up a hill to warn a chap with an elicit still that the customs and excise gaugers were coming up to inspect his croft. Would this be the same Hughie MacPherson?

And Margaret Carruther's story has come all the way back from Canada as family legend!

And Margaret said that Hughie's right hand man in the disposal of the whiskey was the grocer's chief assistant! And visiting magistrates always said that the grocer always produced very fine whisky. And the grocer NEVER suspected his assistant!

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