William M'Combie Smith.

Memoir of the family of M'Combie, a branch of the Clan M'Intosh; online

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The old chief knew that no man unaided could
have done what had been done, and deemed it
prudent to propitiate his uncanny visitor.

But a still more exciting and uncanny adventure
awaited him. In going through the forest of Can-



M'Comie Mor and the Fairy. 43

lochan one day he came upon no less a being
than the water-kelpie's wife, in the weird and
secluded Glascorrie. Taken unawares, this re-
doubted fairy or elf had not time to escape to
the water before M'Comie Mor had her firmly
in his grasp. But how to get her to Crandart ?
He knew that if he crossed running water with
her she would escape from him, do what he
might. He therefore set out on a long and diffi-
cult route homewards, around the head-waters of
the Brighty, along the summits of Craig Leacach,
Cairn Aighe, Black Hill, and Monamenach, then
cautiously threading the mountain - side above
Crandart, and nearly losing his precious capture
while incautiously stepping over an almost in-
visible streamlet, he at length landed her safely
at Crandart. Arrived there, his unwilling visitor
had to bargain for her release, the condition being
that the chief should have some circumstance re-
lating to the time, place, or manner of his death
foretold him. Thereupon the fairy, taking him
to the face of the hill above Crandart, pointed
out a large stone, and told him he would die



44 The Family of M'Combie.

with his head above it. Having now acquired
her Hberty, she departed to her own haunts
again, and we may be sure was careful never
to be so incautious in her future wanderinQ^s in
Canlochan. M'Comie Mor took prudent pre-
cautions that dying with his head above the
stone pointed out by the fairy should prove
more convenient than its then position war-
ranted. He therefore caused the stone to be
removed from the hillside, and built into the
wall of his house at Crandart, so that the head
of the stone was under the head of his bed,
whereon many years after he died, with his head
above the stone, as the fairy foretold.

As John M'Comie advanced in life and found
his personal strength diminishing, he was anxious
that his eldest son and successor might be worthy
of the family name, but seems to have had some
doubts on this point, as although the young man,
who was also named John, had obtained the cog-
nomen of Mor, big, from his stalwart appearance,
yet his quiet peaceable disposition had led the
old chief to imagine he was too gentle — had, as



]\PCoinie Mor tests his Eldest Son. 45

he said, too much of the Campbell blood in him.
This, according to M'Comie Mors opinion, was
not likely to increase his courage ; he therefore
determined to put it to the test, and thereby set
his mind at rest. Knowing that his son would
be returning from Glenshee to Glenisla one even-
ing about dusk by the pass of Glen Bainie, he
there lay in wait for him at a sort of natural
stone seat, still called M'Comie Mors Chair.
Having disguised himself as much as possible,
he trusted to the deepening twilight sufficiently
concealing his identity. No sooner, then, did his
son appear, than, without uttering a word of chal-
lenge or warning, he at once sprang up, drew his
sword, and attacked him. It has been already
mentioned that M'Comie Mor was distinguished
by the peculiarly graceful sweep with which he
drew his sword when about to fight. His son
fortunately observed this, and at once suspected
both who his adversary was and the reason for
this unexpected attack. Keeping his suspicions
to himself, however, he at once began to defend
himself, while demanding the reason of the attack.



46 The Family of M'Coinbie.

His demand meeting with no attention from his
silent aggressor, he gave all his attention to the
matter on hand, and exerting his utmost skill,
strength, and agility, he began to press his op-
ponent in the most determined manner, and at
length disarmed him, and had him completely
at his mercy. He then told his exhausted and
— for the first time in his life — defeated assailant,
that if he wished to save his life he must at once
reveal his name, and give his reason for so un-
provoked an attack. At the first sound of his
father's voice, his son immediately began to
reproach him for thus endangering both their
lives, and told him that he could have slain him
more than once during the combat, and probably
would have done so, had he not suspected from
his manner of drawing his sword and beginning
the attack who he was, and reminded him of
how awful a thing it would have been for the
survivor had either of them slain the other ; to
all of which the old chief, highly elated by his
son's unquestionable courage, strength, and skill,
contentedly replied that all that was of no con-



M'Comie Mor forfaulted as a Royalist. 47

sequence compared with the now, to his mind,
clearly demonstrated fact that his son was a true
M'Comie.

Leaving tradition, we now come to the histor-
ical part of the history of John M'Comie, and it
will be found that it is far more excitingf and
tragical than anything handed down by tradition.
To understand how the strange and stirring
events towards the close of John M'Comie's life
originated, we must bear in mind that he had
entered into possession of the barony of Forter
during the time of the Commonwealth. In these
unsettled and unsettling times, such a man as
John M'Comie could not remain inactive. At
the outset he had sided with the King's party,^
and in Chambers's ' History of the Rebellion in
Scotland ' we find, in vol. ii., appendix, under
date February 11, 1645, as forfaulted for "the
invasione of the Northe,"^ John M'Colmie.^
There is no doubt, however, but that he
changed sides, and it is probable this was in
great measure owing to his being married to

^ Appendix, Note A. ^ Appendix, Note I. ^ Appendix, Note J.



48 The Family of M'Covibie.

Elizabeth Campbell, granddaughter of Donald
Campbell of Denhead, near Coupar-Angus, who
was a son of Donald Campbell, last Abbot of
Coupar in Angus, and fourth son of Archibald,
Earl of Argyll. It was doubtless this connection
by marriage with a scion of the House of Argyll
that induced John M'Comie to side with the
Parliament and Cromwell latterly. This change
of sides proved most disastrous to him and his
family, for no sooner was the Restoration an
accomplished fact, than the Royalists, who had
before feared and respected him, began to harass
him in person and property. Charles II. was
restored in May 1660, entering London on the
29th of May, and in less than a year afterwards
the Scottish Parliament passed an " Act and
Decreit in favour of James, Earle of Airlie,
against Johne M'Intosh, alias M'Comie, of For-
thar," at Edinburgh, May 3, 1661. From
which Act it appears that the Earl's father,
James, Lord Ogilvie, had raised letters of free
forestry for the forest of Glascorrie, commonly
called Camlochan, in the reign of James VI., as



M'Couiie Mors Laivsiiit ivitli Lord Air lie. 49

had also the then Earl In the reign of Charles I.
Yet, notwithstanding, " The said Johne M'Intosh,
alias M'Comie, upon ane secreit design to in-
croach upon the supplicant's glen of Glascorie,
comonly called Camlochan, did eat the grass
of the said forrest, cut down and destroy the
growing trees, and kill the roes and dears haunt-
ing and feiding therein at his pleasure." John
M'Comie had obtained a sight of these letters
and " gave ane inventar subscryved with his hand
for redeliverie thereof, . . . but flatlie refused
so to doe." So cannot get them, though " neid-
full to the supplicant and James, Lord Ogilvie, his
Sonne." "And the said John M'Comie, defender,
compeiring personally with Mr George M'Ken-
zie^ his pro""', . . . and alledged that he ought not
to redeliver the same Because be verteu of ane
contract of alienation betuixt the persewer and
defender The persewer is obleidged to deliver to
him the said writs et quod frustra petit qui mox
est restiturtis. Whereunto it was replyed for the
said persewer that he opposed the band and in-

1 Appendix, Note K.
D



50 The Family of M'Conibie.

ventar subscryved with his hand for redelyverie
of the same, To the which it wes duplyed for the
said defender, that the yeers wherein the per-
sewer had hbertie to redeim the said glen of
Glascorie from the defender not being expyred
the time of the granting of the saids inventars,
as they are now, he could not be tyed be verteu
therof to deliver the same, his right to the said
glen being now irredeimable, and the writs his
oune. All which being set forth, His Maiestie,
with advice and consent of the saids estates of
Parliament," ordained that the letters of free
forestry be given up.

From which it would appear that the defence
of John M'Comie lay, first, in the fact that the
deed of alienation gave him the right to the
letters, and that it was needless to give back to
Lord Airlie what he would immediately have to
redeliver again ; second, that the time which had
been given to the Earl of Airlie to redeem the
forest had expired, and that as the engagement
to redeliver the letters referred only to the time
during which the forest could be redeemed, the



M'Comie Mors Lawstut with Lord Air lie. 51

letters of free forestry were, like the forest itself,
beyond recall, and were now the property of
John M'Comie, not of Lord Airlie. In the Act
there is no attempt to deny John M'Comie's
statements. Judgment was simply given against
him, the reason for which appears in certain
phrases in an " Act and Remit, James, Earle of
Airlie, against Johne M'Intoshe, alias M'Comie, of
Forther." " Anent the supplication given in to
the Estates of Parliament be James, Earle of
Airlie, and James, Lord Ogilvie, his sonne, against
Johne M'Intosh, alias M'Comie, of Forther, shew-
ing That be ane contract of alienation passed
betuixt the supplicant and the said Johne M'ln-
tosh, anent the alienation to him of the lands and
baronie of Forther, Ther is expreslie reserved
to the supplicant the forest and glen of Glascorie,
cofnonly called Camlochan, lyand within the
parochen of Glenyla and Shereffdome of Forfar,
and bounded within the particular meiths and
marches mentioned in the said contract : Not-
withstanding of the which reservation, the said
John M'Intosh, alias M'Comie, haveing great



52 The Family of M'Coinbie.

power with the late vsiirpers as their intelligencer
and favourite, had these severall years bygone en-
croached within the meiths and marches of the
said forrest, and had pastured yeerly thereon
above fyvescore oxen and twenty milk kyne with
diverse horses. For remeid whairof the suppli-
cant intendit action of coofnition of marches and
molestation against the said John M'Comie be-
for the Shirreff of Forfar, founded vpon the Act
of Parliament, In which action ther being diverse
disputes, ansuers, duplys, and triplyes made for
either partie and set doun in writ, The same
wes at lenth delivered to Mr David Nevay,
Shirreff of Forfar, to be advised be him, who
being readie to pronounce interloquitur therein,
The said Johne M'Comie, be his said moyen and
favotcr with the English vsurpers, purchased ane
advocation of the said persute, and produced the
same befor the said Shirreff depute, thereby to
stop and discharge him from any further pro-
ceiding therein, Albeit upon most false and unjust
grounds. . . . Since the production of the which
advocation not only the forsaid action and per-



M'Comie Mors Lawsuit zvith Lord Airlie. 53

sute had sisted and sleeped, Bot also the said
Johne M'Comie had continewed yeerly sensyne
pasturing his goods and cattell vpon the said
forrest, and eiting and destroying the haill grasse
thairof, to the supphcants' great hurt, preiudice,
and heavie oppression. . . . Thereupon His
Majestie, with advice and consent of the saids
estates of ParHament, having considered the said
suppHcation, . . . and the said defender nor his
said pro""' had proposed no reasonable cause why
the desire of the said petition ought not to be
granted," — thereupon remits to Sheriff to settle
marches. Here we have the reason of the
summary settlement of the matters in dispute.
It is admitted that John M'Comie had had full
and complete possession of the forest of Can-
lochan for years past, and that he had got
discharge "from any further proceeding" anent
his right. But he had got all this, it was alleged,
because of his "moyen and favour with the
English usurpers," and on account of his "hav-
ing great power with the late usurpers as their
intelligencer and favourite." For such a one



54 The Family of M'Combie.

against a Royalist nobleman there was little hope
of a favourable issue in any court of law of that
period, and in Parliament none whatever. That
Lord Airlie placed his hopes of success not on
a decision according to law, but on the political
feeling of the time, is shown by his bringing the
matter in dispute, not before the ordinary legal
tribunals, but before Parliament. To the Resto-
ration Parliament the matter would appear very
simple. Here is Lord Airlie, one of ourselves,
who, while our party was held in subjection by
the late usurpers, alienated a valuable part of his
property to one in power and favour with these
usurpers. This deed of alienation has become
irredeemable, but Lord Airlie says this was
owing to the position of the respective parties at
the time, the usurpers having great power, the
Royalists little or no power. Lord Airlie, there-
fore, wants his property back again, which we,
as the party now in power, will now give him,
putting aside all question of the legality or justice
of our decision.^

^ Appendix, Note L.



M'Comie M or excepted from Act of Indemnity. 55

As showing still further to what extent John
M'Comie was a marked man, and disliked by the
Government of the Restoration, we learn from the
Acts of Parliament of Scotland, vol. vii. p. 426,
that he was amongst the " exceptions from the
Act of Indemnity, Sept. 9, 1662, in so far as
may concern the payment of the sumes under-
written," — viz., "Johne Malcolme of Forthar,
1800 pds."

In 1665 John Mackintosh of Forter in Glenisla,
with twenty-five Farquharsons under William of
Inverey, and George Farquharson of Brough-
dearg in Glenshee, were among 500 men who
attended the summons of the chief of the
M'Intoshes, to meet at the Kirk of Insh. It
is also worthy of note that Forbes of Skellater
joined the M'Intoshes at the same muster.

Broughdearg, opposite to Finnegand in Glen-
shee, and marching with the barony of Forter in
Glenisla, was held in the time of John M'Comie
by Farquharsons. The proprietor about the time
of the Restoration was Robert Farquharson, who
had sought the hand of John M'Comie's daughter



56 The Family of M'Conibie.

in marriage, and had been accepted, but had after-
wards changed his mind, and married Helen
Ogilvie, daughter of Colonel Ogilvie of Shan-
nalie. This slight no doubt rankled in the
minds of the M'Comies, and had much to do
with the bitterness that subsequently existed
between the two families.

Some time after the decisions in his favour, the
Earl of Airlie let the grazings of the forest of
Canlochan to Farquharson of Broughdearg. But
John M'Comie was far from acquiescing in or
even obeying an Act of Parliament, when he
thought it unjust towards himself. Although
Farquharson of Broughdearg had got a tack of
the grazings, he by no means got possession, as
John M'Comie continued to send his stock to
the forest as formerly. Farquharson of course
resented this, and the bad feeling between the
two families increased, till it found vent in a
series of events, so strange, lawless, and exciting,
that one can scarcely believe they could have
taken place little more than two hundred years ago
in Glenisla and Glenshee, where to-day a serious



M'Comie Mors Fend wit Ji Broughdearg. 57

breach of law or order is rarely or ever heard of.
But we are now on firm historical ground, as the
events we are about to narrate are all duly
chronicled in the Justiciary Records, or Books of
Adjurnal, vol. xiii., 1673. From this we learn
that, on the ist of January 1669, Robert Far-
quharson of Broughdearg, and his brothers John
and Alexander, with fifty or sixty others, went
" under cloud and silence of night " to Crandart,
with " swords, durks, pistolls, hagbutts, targes,
halberts, axes, and other weapons," and having
laid themselves in ambush, awaited till near break
of day, when John M'Comie having "had occa-
sion to come abroad about his lawfull affaires,"
they without giving him time even to put on his
clothes, carried him off to Broughdearg. A
strange scene truly, and one little creditable to
the Farquharsons. To surprise an old man, not
only unarmed, but only partially dressed, in the
dark at his own door, was a poor feat for fifty to
sixty men, bristling with arms and armour of all
kinds. It is also to be observed that the Far-
quharsons were the first to use personal violence



58 The Family of M'Combie.

in the quarrel. The force employed, and the
mode of capture, both show very forcibly the
opinion the Farquharsons entertained of M'Comie
Mors prowess even in his old age. But though
the old chief had been thus entrapped, his sons
were to be reckoned with. Accordingly, John
M'Comie was kept all that day at Broughdearg,
but at night was removed to Tombey, which is
called in the indictment, "ane wilderness and
desert place." It is about a mile or little more
westward from Broughdearg, and has still a good
deal of natural birch wood upon it, the name
meaning the birch thicket or knoll. Here on the
following day, John, Alexander, James, Robert,
and Mr Angus (Angus it will be observed
had been at a university and obtained his
degree), came to enter into negotiations for their
father's release, when they also were detained as
prisoners, until the whole were compelled to give
a bond for 1700 merks for their liberty.^ In the
Farquharsons' indictment against the M'Comies,
this visit of the sons for the release of their father

^ Appendix, Note M.



M'Comie Mors Feud with Broiighdearg. 59

is set down as a raid organised by Mr Angus for
the murder of Broucrhdearsf. Mr Anofus is said
to have collected twenty to thirty persons, all
armed with " swords, durks, pistolls, and other
weapons," and knowing that Robert Farquhar-
son was at Tombey, they laid an ambush in a
thicket of wood, near the house of Tombey, and
on the highway, waiting for several hours till he
should come out, on purpose to kill him, and that
they detained several persons that passed by, lest
they should have given Robert Farquharson
intelligence of the ambush. No mention is
made that Mr Angus's father was also at Tom-
bey, in the power of the Farquharsons. To have
slain Robert Farquharson outside the house of
Tombey, while their father was inside it a
prisoner in the power of the Farquharsons,
would have been to have ensured his father's
death, instead of procuring his life and freedom.
And that that was their purpose is clearly proved
by the fact that his release in safety was pro-
cured. It is also difficult to see how, if the
M'Comies had gone with a force of twenty to



6o The Family of ATCombie.

thirty men, they could have been kept prisoners,
apparently without any trouble. We can, how-
ever, believe it quite probable that Mr Angus
and his brothers approached Tombey with
caution, and also believe that if chance had
thrown Robert Farquharson in their way, they
would have seized him and kept him in their
power, as a guarantee for the release of their
father without ransom. But for the reason
already given, it is manifest they would not, at
that time, have made any attempt on Robert
Farquharson's life.

So far the Farquharsons had been the ag-
gressors, and might be supposed to be satisfied
with their success, and the ransom for which they
held the M'Comies' bond. Yet, on the 14th
May of the same year, the Farquharsons and
their retainers, to the number of thirty-eight, all
armed with dirks, pistols, and other weapons,
went to the lands of Kilulock, then occupied by
Robert M'Comie, son of John M'Comie, and
sowed and harrowed the land, although it had
already been sowed and harrowed by Robert



M'Coinie Mors Feud with Brouo-fidearcr, 6i

M'Comie. At first sight it is difficult to see on
what grounds the Farquharsons so repeatedly, and
seemingly so wantonly, attacked the M'Comies
in person and property. To understand this, it
is necessary once more to consider the political
situation. During the latter years of the Com-
monwealth the M'Comies had rapidly increased
in power and influence. John M'Comie's mar-
riage with a Campbell had still further increased
his ascendancy. But in 1661, the very year that
John M'Comie began to be harassed by his
enemies, the Marquis of Argyll was executed.
With the Restoration, John M'Comie's Royalist
neighbours, and chief among them the Ogilvies,
at once began to turn the changed fortunes
of parties to their own account. As John
M'Comie's marriage with a Campbell was at
one time a stepping-stone to power, and latterly
a weight to drag him down, so Robert Farquhar-
son's marriage to an Ogilvie, which would have
been a drawback to his fortunes in the time of
the Commonwealth, was now a powerful agency
for his advancement. Although the cause of the



62 The Family of M'Combie.

breaking off of the marriage between Robert
Farquharson and Miss M'Comie is not men-
tioned, it is highly probable that the marriage
had been arranged about the time of the fall of
the Commonwealth, and that Farquharson had
drawn back when he saw the turn affairs were
likely to take, and had chosen an alliance with
an Ogilvie and Royalist, as likely to be far more
to his advantage. We have, then, on the one
hand John M'Comie proscribed by the Govern-
ment of the Restoration for the part he had taken
latterly on the side of the Commonwealth ; al-
ready deprived in law of part of what he con-
sidered his own property, by the head of the
Ogilvies ; and now attacked in person and pro-
perty by Farquharson of Broughdearg, who was
to enjoy what he had been deprived of. On the
other hand, Farquharson, allied by marriage with
the Ogilvies, and already, as it were, rewarded
for the slight he had given the M'Comies, by
receiving a tack of the disputed forest of Can-
lochan, would naturally think that the M'Comies
were now become fair spoil for all who had the



M'Comie Mors Feud with Broughdearg. 63

courage to attack them, and that they would be
little likely to resort to law after their recent
experience. In these times of civil war, those
on the losing side were practically at the mercy
of those on the winning side. On the most
frivolous pretexts their right to property would
be disputed, or forcibly taken from them, and an
appeal to law was almost certain to go against
them. Their only hope lay in their own ability
to defend themselves and their possessions. And
the Farquharsons were soon to see that M'Comie
Mor was no longer to be trifled with. Old and
failed though he was in person, and knowing that
there was no one now with power to help him,
his spirit was still undaunted, and he determined
to withstand his enemies with his own strength in
future, and to make retaliation when he saw an
opportunity. Accordingly, we find that the next
incident in the feud was that Robert Farquharson
narrowly escaped with his life in July or August
1670, from the pursuit of James and Alexander,
sons of John M'Comie, and Donald Gerters, John
Burns, and David Guthrie, servants to John



64 The Family of M'Coinbie.

M'Comie, within the forest of Glascorrie ; and
these not appearing to answer for the crime at
the trial in 1673, were " denunced our Sove-
raigne Lord's rebells, and ordained them to be
putt to the horn, and all ther movable goods and
gear to be escheat and imbrought to his Majesties
use, as fugitives frae the lawes for the crymes
above mentioned — which wes pronunced for
doome." It was on the occasion of Robert
Farquharson's meeting some of John M'Comie's
servants in Glengarmie, which lies to the north-
west of Broughdearg, and south of Glen Brighty,
that on their telling their master "they had let
the defunct gae without any prejudice," John
M'Comie " did either curse, upbraid, or reprove
them for not taking from him ane legg, ane arme,
or his lyff, declairing that if they had done it he
should have bein their warrand." This fact,
brought out at the trial, shows that M'Comie Mor
was now thoroughly roused ; and it is significant,
too, of the effect this had on the Farquharsons,


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