William M'Combie Smith.

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

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place with the same breed, beating every other
breed of note either at home or abroad.

From the time he entered on this work, it be-
came the main business of his life. He was
never at rest long from Tillyfour. When neces-
sarily absent on business, he always set out for

William M'Combie of Tilly four. 1 1 1

home immediately it was finished. Every day
of his life, if at home and well, he made his
rounds of his byres or his fields, and saw every
beast ; and no eye was quicker in detecting any-
thing amiss with any of them. Such unremitting
ardour soon brought success, show-yard honours
came thick and fast, and what is more, continued.
The agricultural world began to realise that this
was no common man, making lucky hits now and
again, but a man with a genius for what he had
taken in hand — a man making history in his own
particular walk of life.

In recognition, therefore, of the work he was
accomplishing, he was entertained to dinner at
Aberdeen in 1862 by about four hundred of the
leading noblemen and gentlemen in the north of
Scotland connected with agriculture, under the
presidency of the late Marquis of Huntly. On
that occasion he, in a few words, put before the
public what had been his aim in life, and to what
extent he had attained it. " I was led," said he,
"by a father whose memory I revere, to believe
that our polled cattle are peculiarly suited to our

112 The Family of M'Combie.

soil and climate, and that if their properties were
rightly brought out, they would equal, if not sur-
pass, any other breed as to weight, symmetry,
and quality of flesh. I resolved that I would
endeavour to improve our native breed. I ex-
erted all my energies to accomplish this purpose.
For many years I was an unsuccessful exhibitor
at the Smithfield Club. I went to Baker Street.
I minutely examined the prize-winners. I di-
rected my attention especially to the points in
which the English were superior to the Scottish
cattle. I came to the conclusion that I had been
beaten, not because our Scottish breed was in-
ferior to the English breeds,^ — I saw that I had
been beaten because I was imperfectly acquainted
with the points of the animals most appreciated
in Baker Street. I doubled, I tripled, I quad-
rupled the cake allowed to my feeding stock. I
attained the object of my ambition. English
agriculturists always maintained that a Scot would
never take a first place in a competition with a
shorthorn, a Hereford, or a Devon. I have
given them reason for changing their opinion."

WiUiam Al'Combi'e of Tilly four. 1 13

Not long after this he was entertained to dinner
by the farm-servants and tradesmen of the vale
of Alford, an honour which he always looked
back upon with especial pride. In 1865, when
the rinderpest was paralysing stock-breeders by
its ravages, the farmers of Aberdeenshire, under
the leadership of William M'Combie, showed the
agricultural world how to grapple successfully
with this evil, by the stamping-out process they

In 1866 he succeeded Mr George Hope, Fen-
tonbarns, as second president of the Scottish
Chamber of Agriculture. In December of the
following year his fortunes as a combined feeder
and breeder of the polled Aberdeen-Angus cattle
reached a climax, when Black Prince, a pure
Aberdeen-Angus ox bred and fed by himself,
was, Eclipse-like, "first, and the rest nowhere,"
both at Birmingham and London. So conspic-
uous was he by his superiority over all the most
noted English breeds, that her Majesty the Queen
expressed a wish to see so notable an animal.
He was accordingly sent by Windsor on his way


114 The Family of M'Conibie.

from Birmingham to London. Her Majesty was
greatly struck with the magnificent black, and
Mr M'Combie was so proud of the honour done
to himself through his champion, that, after
Smithfield, he offered the Black Prince as a eift
to his sovereign. Her Majesty of course de-
clined so large a present, but graciously accepted
the baron of beef for her Christmas dinner. The
after-result of this was, that Mr M'Combie had
the high honour of receiving her Majesty at
Tillyfour in 1868. On this occasion some 400
polled cattle were spread over the fields sur-
rounding the mansion - house of Tillyfour, in
which her Majesty took tea before setting out
on her return to Balmoral.

In 1867 'Cattle and Cattle-Breeders,' by Wil-
liam M'Combie, Tillyfour, was published. Few
men seemed more unlikely at one time to have
turned author than he was. ' Cattle and Cattle-
Breeders ' was, however, a success, Qroino^ throuo-h

■'00 o

three editions in a few years. It contained much
valuable matter on the breeding, feeding, and
care of cattle, and some racy reminiscences of

Williain APCombie of Tilly fottr. 1 15

the great cattle-dealers in the beginning of the
century. The style is plain and unaffected, being
just such as a man adopts who, without any pre-
tensions to literary culture, has something to say,
and says it in a simple, straightforward manner.
For its raison cPelre the book supplied a good
deal of information, not before published, on
matters of moment to an important part of the
community, which is more than can be said of
most books.

Although now over sixty years of age, and
held in honour by all classes, from sovereign to
peasant, William M'Combie was yet looking for-
ward, in 1867, to still further honours in a new
field. When it became certain that the county
of Aberdeen was to have an additional member
of Parliament as soon as the Reform Bill of 1867
became law, he diligently canvassed West Aber-
deenshire, and at the general election in 1868 he
was returned unopposed, being the first tenant-
farmer returned for a Scottish constituency, and
the second returned to the House of Commons.
As a member of Parliament, he had the ear of

J 1 6 The Family of M'Combie.

the House of Commons whenever he spoke on
agricultural questions, and the unwavering confi-
dence of his constituents. At the general elec-
tion in 1874 he was opposed by Mr Edward
Ross, more celebrated as a rifle-shot than as a
politician. The result was the most decisive
victory obtained by any member returned at that
election, the figures being — M'Combie, 2401;
Ross, 326.

There can be no doubt, however, but that his
parliamentary duties, coupled with his large farm-
ing operations, and the management of his famous
breeding - herd, put too great a strain on his
powers. When, therefore, after his brother's
death, he, in 1875, purchased Tillyfour, it was
not to be wondered at that he gave up Dorsell,
the most outlying of his farms from Tillyfour, in
that year, and resigned his parliamentary duties
in 1876. On the occasion of his retirement, a
large sum of money was subscribed for, and in-
vested so as to provide the "M'Combie Prize"
annually at Aberdeen for the best specimen of
the breed with which his name was so indissol-

William M'Couibic of Tilly four. 1 1 7

ubly connected. Thus honoured, and Hghtened
of part of his work, he settled down more closely
to his home affairs, and projected many improve-
ments on the home farm and estate of Tillyfour,
several of which he saw effected. But he was
failing fast in bodily strength. Those long reck-
less rides, at all times and in all weathers, when
in the heyday of his youth and strength, were
having their effect now. But before the end he
was to have one crowning honour and glory for
the breed he had done so much for. In 1878, at
the great Exhibition at Paris, he won the two
great prizes of the show against all the most
famous breeds from every country of Europe, his
group of polled Aberdeen -Angus cattle being
first both for breeding and feeding qualities. It
was a fitting close to a g-lorious career. Prac-
tically there was no further honour possible of
acquirement for the Tillyfour herd. After this
he was not long spared, and died, full, of years
and honours, at Tillyfour on February i, 1880.

In this brief summary of the chief events of
the life of William M'Combie of Tillyfour, but

ii8 The Family of APCombic.

little idea can be formed of the man as he lived
and moved at home and abroad. He was con-
siderably above the average height, his personal
appearance being more indicative of strength and
vigour than of elegance or refinement. His head
was massive, with a commanding forehead ; the
rest of his features plain. The disposition which
led him to neglect his education when young, also
led him to be less refined in speech and manners
than most people would have expected from the
high position he attained latterly in social life.
But his strength of intellect and force of will grave
a natural dignity to him, which did much to over-
shadow these defects, and no one could see him
without recognising a man born with power to
overcome obstacles, and to make a name for him-
self. His neglect of education had also much to
do with his defects as an orator ; yet here, again,
his force of character commanded attention, and
throufjh the haltino- sentences his meaninof would
come out clear and forcible in a few terse, homely
words. Some of his unprepared speeches, had
they been printed verbatim, would have seemed

William M'Covibic of Tilly four. 1 19

not much clearer than Cromwell's, yet, like him,
ideas pregnant with meaning could be seen strug-
gling through the seeming confusion and repe-

As an agriculturist in the strict meaninof of
the word, he stood high. He reclaimed much
on Tillyfour from heather and bog, pointing
out with satisfaction fields great part of which
he had himself ploughed for the first time. He
dealt liberally in manure, employed only the
best seeds, and took many prizes both for grain
and root crops. He was very particular as to
having good workmen, and it may safely be
said that better ploughed and drilled fields, or
better - built stacks, were not to be seen any-
where than on Tillyfour, Bridgend, and Dorsell.
He was an excellent judge of men, and gener-
ally had a good idea of the worth of a man
before he was long in his service. He had
also a penchant for strong men, and was very
proud of any of his servants who had won prizes
at athletic sports, never failing to point them
out to visitors, with a short history of their ex-

I 20 The Faimly of M'Coinbic.

ploits. For a long period his three farms were
training-schools for young men who wanted to
push themselves on in the agricultural world,
and he was ever willing to forward merit by
generous recommendation. In the latter part
of his life he paid strict attention to the duties
of religion, holding family worship nightly with
his immediate household, and on Sunday the
whole of the servants at Tillyfour were as-
sembled for this purpose. He was by no means
ascetic, however, had a keen relish for humour,
and enjoyed a hearty laugh. His outward de-
meanour was somewhat brusque and seemingly
harsh at times, but those who knew him inti-
mately, knew that there was much depth of kindly
feeling beneath it. His success in life was
entirely due to his own conspicuous abilities,
and untiring persistence in the course he had
entered on. He was a ** powerful, pushing, and
prosperous M'Combie," a veritable M'Comie Mor
in his own line, a benefactor of his time whose
name and fame will lons" survive.




TiriLLIAM M'COMBIE, eldest son of
Thomas M'Combie of Easterskene, and
Margaret, daughter of James Boyn, Esq.,
Aberdeen, was born in Aberdeen In 1802,
and was made a free infant burgess of the
city in the same year, his father being a
magistrate at that time, and magistrates when
in office being entitled to have that privi-
lege conferred on their sons born during their
magistracy. Vv^hen a boy of about five or six

1 2 2 The Family of M' Coinbie.

years of age, he remembers being along with
his parents on a visit to his grandfather at Lyn-
turk, and seeing and talking to him not long
before he died, which was in i8o8. This was
in the old house of Lynturk, already mentioned
as having been built by his grandfather. When
we remember that his grandfather was eighty-
eight years of age when he died, and was there-
fore born only six years after the death of his
grandfather Donald, who did not live to be a
very old man, we see that very little is wanting
from having the history of the stirring events
that took place in the family of the M'Combies
in Glenisla and Glenshee between i66o and
1673, told by a contemporary, and in several
cases an eyewitness of them, to his grandson,
who in turn could have told them to his grand-
son, who is still alive. Or in other words, only
a few years were wanting, from the present head
of the family being the second who could have
received the history of the raid of Crandart in
1669 by direct oral communication from one
who was witness of and shared in the conster-

William M'Coinbic of Eastcrskcnc. 123

nation and wrath in the old Ha' of Crandart
amongst the family of M'Comie Mor, when
the dastardly outrage became known on that
eventful New Year's morning. As it is, it is
very remarkable that Mr M'Combie is but the
third to whom the history of events that took
place over two hundred years ago may be said
to have come, by direct oral tradition, from an
eyewitness and participator in them.^

Mr M'Combie was educated in Aberdeen, and
graduated at Marischal College in 1820. In 1822
he was one of a number of young gentlemen
from Aberdeenshire who went to Edinburgh to
participate in the rejoicings consequent on the
visit of George IV. to Scotland. In 1824, on
the death of his father, he succeeded to the
estate of Easterskene, and commenced the series
of improvements which, continued up to the
present time, has wrought a change hard to
realise by those unacquainted with the aspect
of the estate in 1824. But while busy with
improvements at Easterskene, there had arisen

1 Appendix, Note S.

124 The Family of M'Combie.

in his mind before this time an earnest desire
to investigate, and if possible throw additional
light on, the history of his ancestors in Perth-
shire and Forfarshire. Up to the time when
Mr M'Combie began his researches, the family
in Aberdeenshire had litde but traditionary re-
miniscences of the history of their ancestors.
The leading facts, such as their being landed
proprietors in Glenshee in Perthshire, and latterly
in Glenisla in Forfarshire, and of the feud with
the Farquharsons, and the breaking up of the
family soon afterwards, were well known to all
Donald's descendants in Aberdeenshire. Mr
M'Combie remembers hearing the particulars
of the fight at the Moss of Forfar from his
father and uncles, long before he knew that all
the details were preserved in the Justiciary
Records. His grandfather William used to deal
to a considerable extent in cattle — in fact, was
paving the way for his still more renowned son
Charles, and grandson William, of Tillyfour,
in the same line. His business in that line
occasionally took him to Forfarshire, where

William Al'Coiiihic of Eastcrskcne. 125

he met and in time became acquainted with
the Earl of Airhe of that time. Lord AirHe
was greatly interested when he became aware
that this Aberdeenshire farmer was a great-
grandson of the famous M'Comie Mor who had
obtained the wadset of the barony of Porter
from the Earl of Airlie in the time of Charles I.,
and had required two Acts of the Scottish Par-
liament to make him forego his claim of free
forestry in Canlochan. So interested was he
and pleased with William M'Combie— who, like
so many of the descendants of M'Comie Mor,
carried proof of the genuineness of his descent
in his own massive frame — that he more than
once intimated the pleasure it would give him
to see the M'Combies once more settled in Glen-
isla. All these reminiscences were eagerly
gathered and treasured up in the mind of the
young laird of Easterskene. And now, after
long years of push and progress by Donald's
descendants, there was at length one who had
at once both the time, and not only the incli-
nation but an enthusiastic desire, to trace back

126 The Family of Al'Combie.

the history of his ancestors. In 1827 he
determined to visit Glenisla and Glenshee.
Mr Martin, at that time minister of Glen-
isla, knowing Mr M'Combie to be a descendant
of M'Comie Mor, had previously made his
acquaintance, and on Mr Martin's invitation,
Glenisla manse was made his headquarters.
The two weeks he then spent in wandering
over the upper end of Glenisla and of Glen-
shee, he has always looked back upon as
amongst the most interesting and pleasant of
his life. Twice since then he has gone over
the same ground. In these later expeditions
he was accompanied at one time by his brother,
Mr J. B. M'Combie — at another time by Dr
Taylor, minister of Leochel-Cushnie, who was
well skilled in antiquarian lore. At the time
of Dr Taylor's visit, he made out with consider-
able certainty the ground -plan of the mansion-
house of Crandart erected by John M'Comie
in 1660. On each occasion Mr M'Combie found
much to interest him, and met with local eentle-
men willing to help him in his researches. The

William Jll' Coinbie of E aster skcnc. 1 2 7

late Mr William Shaw, Finnegand, entered
with great zeal into the matter, and to him Mr
M'Combie was indebted for many interesting
facts in the history of the M'Combies, both his-
torical and traditional. The late Mr Thomas
Shaw, Little Forter, Glenisla, on Mr M'Combie's
first visit was very friendly and attentive, and
by him Mr M'Combie was led to study the
etymology of the Gaelic names of places, with
the result that more than one Gaelic scholar
has been with difficulty persuaded that Mr
M'Combie could not speak Gaelic. It is rather
strange, too, that Mr Shaw, his first preceptor
in the etymology of Gaelic names, was also un-
able to speak Gaelic. Mr J. B. M'Combie was
from the first an active assistant in the search for
documentary evidence regarding the history of
the family, and little by little much that hitherto
rested on tradition in the family was established
as historically correct. The record of the great
double trial M'Comies v. Farquharsons, Far-
quharsons v. M'Comies, was a grand find; so
also were the two Acts and Decreets of the Scot-

1 28 The Family of M'Combie.

tish Parliament settling the dispute between
Lord Airlie and John M'Comie as to Canlochan.
The search after authentic records of his an-
cestors was no transient pursuit, but has con-
tinued throufyhout a lone life.

In 1 83 1, Mr M'Combie married Katherine
Ann Buchan Forbes, eldest daughter of Major
Alexander Forbes of Inverernan. This lady was
a Forbes by descent on both sides, her mother
being a daughter of Duncan Forbes Mitchell, Esq.
of Thainston, second son of Sir Arthur Forbes
of Craigievar. In 1832 a son, Thomas, was born.
In the same year was built the present handsome
mansion-house of Easterskene, and a short time
previously Mr M'Combie had succeeded to the
barony of Lynturk, on the death of his uncle
Peter. For about three years, therefore, from
the birth of his son, it seemed as if nothing
was wanting to his happiness and good fortune.
But such remarkable felicity rarely lasts long in
this world. In 1835 the first blow came In the
death of his wife, and six years later the death of
his son seemed for a time to have left life almost

William JM'Coinbic of Easterskene. 129

a blank. Both wife and son lie side by side in
the churchyard of Skene, and the following epi-
taph closed for ever in this world the record of
two lives, in whom for a season were placed
the brightest hopes: "Within this enclosure are
interred the remains of Katherine Ann Buchan
Forbes, the wife of William M'Combie of Easter-
skene and Lynturk, and daughter of Major Alex-
ander Forbes of Inverernan, who died on the
1 6th day of April 1835, in the 26th year of her
age ; and of their son Thomas, who died on the
15th of September 1841, in the loth year of his

From this period Mr M'Combie gave his time
almost exclusively to the management of his
estates, which we now proceed to describe. The
estate of Easterskene lies wholly in the parish
of Skene, the mansion-house being about 9 miles
west from Aberdeen, about 4^ miles south of
the Don, and about 6 miles north of the Dee.
The length from north to south is fully 2 miles,
the breadth from east to west about i ^ mile.
The estate is bounded on the north by the lands


130 The Family of M'Combie.

of Skene and KInellar, on the east by the lands
of Achronie and Kirkville, on the south by the
lands of Cairnie and Skene, and on the west by
the lands of Skene. The elevation ranges from
under 300 ft. above sea-level on the north side
of the Loch of Skene, to a little over 700 ft. on
the summit of the wooded height south-east from
Drumstone. When Mr M'Combie succeeded to
the estate, much of the low ground was an unre-
claimed swamp, while much of the higher ground
was a bare heather moor. Now it may safely
be said that there is not a square yard of waste
ground on the estate, all being either in a course
of rotation, in pasture, or under wood. The farms
from south to north, all with orood houses and
well fenced, are Lochhead, South Bank, Howe-
moss, Millbuie, North Bank, and Drumstone.
The main road from Aberdeen to Alford and
Strathdon passes through the south end of the
estate. From this a branch goes north to Kirk-
ton of Skene, from near which the east avenue
leads to the mar^sion-house. From Kirkton of
Skene a road joins the main road near Lochhead.

William M'Combie of Easterskene. 1 3 1

From the main road again, another strikes north
by the Free church and school, and north-west
by South Bank and Line of Skene. From this
again, a Httle above the school, a branch goes
past the home farm of Easterskene, below which
the west avenue strikes off to the mansion-house.
This road is continued past the home farm by
Howemoss, Millbuie, and Drumstone, being a
thoroughfare to K into re and the right bank of
the Don eastwards from Kintore. Drumstone,
on the high ground on the north of the estate,
receives its name from the stone on which the
laird of Drum rested on his way to the hard-
fought battle of Harlaw in 141 1, and took a last
look backwards to the lands of Drum, with a
presentiment that he would never see them again.
The stone forms a sort of natural chair, and has
always been an object of interest to Mr M'Combie,
who many years ago had " Drum's Stone, Har-
law, 141 1," inscribed on it. Besides the farms
mentioned, most of the village of Kirkton of
Skene is on Easterskene, with various tradesmen,
and a blacksmith's shop at Millbuie, and a saw-

132 The Family of M'Conibie.

mill at Lochhead. Reserving notice of the home
farm in the meantime, we come to the mansion-
house, a handsome building in the Elizabethan
style, surrounded by beautiful and well - kept
policies, the whole having a southern aspect.
The situation is delightful, the view truly mag-
nificent. To the south and west the Loch of
Skene, with the woods of Skene and Dunecht,
. make a fine foreground, backed by the Hill of
Fare. Farther west, the Forest of Corennie, and
Bennachaille overlooking Tillyfour, and beyond
these the mountains overlooking Cromar, con-
spicuous amongst them the massive crown of
Morven ; then to the south the Grampians, beyond
the valley of the Dee, with Mount Battock and
Clochnaben, and the lesser heights sloping gradu-
ally to the North Sea, — form a prospect of which
the eye never wearies. As one emerges from the
woods surrounding the lawn on the west, the
Mither Tap of Bennachie, with the wooded
heights of Cairn William, are seen to the north-
west shutting in the vale of Alford. As you
ascend to Drumstone the prospect on all sides

William M'Combie of Easterskene.


enlarges, until on the summit you command the
rich valley of the Don stretching away by Kin-
tore and Inverurie, beyond which lies the district
of the Garioch. From here, too, Callievar, beyond
the vale of Alford, the Tap o' Noth, the Buck of
the Cabrach, and in the dim distance Ben Avon,

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Online LibraryWilliam M'Combie SmithMemoir of the family of M'Combie, a branch of the Clan M'Intosh; → online text (page 6 of 8)