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Amelia Volume 2 chapter 25

Affairs in Balquhidder 1730 to 1736

[page 339]
ABOUT this period there appears to have been a meeting at Blair Atholl of the Clan Gregor and Clan Grant, no traces of it occur in the Atholl papers, but, if conducted at the Inn, it might doubtless be omitted in the Castle Records. The only notice of the meeting is now quoted from the "Baronage ":-

Referring to the assertion that the Grants are said to be descended from Gregor, second son of Malcolm, Morear nan Castal, text continues

“The Grants are thought to be MacGregors, they carry the same Suaitheanntas or mark of distinction, i.e. a branch of fir, and as the Macgregors carried an imperial crown proper, in the shield, this Gregor's descendants assumed three crowns, as a mark of cadency. So true it is they esteem themselves one people, that not 50 years ago [1]   there was a celebrated meeting between those Clans at Blair¬Atholl which lasted for fourteen days, in order to bring it about that they should assume one surname.

“1725 or 6. [2]   At this meeting it was unanimously resolved that application should be made for restoring the name of MacGregor and if that failed the Mac-Gregors agreed that either MacAlpine or Grant should be the common name, [3]   but insisted at all events that MacGregor should be Chief of the united Clan; while it was represented for Grant that as he had now greater interest at Court, it was more proper to choose him Chief, but the Mother Clan would not hearken to these terms; and such a proposal being made, together with the Laird of Grant's having only attended by proxies, displeased the MacGregors and prevented a general agreement, [page 340] tho' some gentlemen of both Clans at that time assumed the ancient name of MacAlpin. [4]  

Protest and dissent by John MacGregor of Glencarnock unless the Chiefship was settled upon him as heir male of the Family of MacGregor penes eund. -Marginal Note in "Baronage,"

Account by Rev. Wm. MacGregor Stirling based on the above.

"In the end of 1725 and beginning of 1726, the MacGregors, and the Grants, on their joint faith in the foregoing tradition, held a numerous meeting of both Clans at Blair in Atholl, during fourteen successive days, for the express purpose of forming a joint Clan. The MacGregors present, whose surname was now proscribed, were willing to take that of Grant, providing that John McGregor of Glencarnock lineal male representative of MacGregor of Breachdsliabh, as the heir male of the Laird of MacGregor, was made Chief of the united Clan, but upon no other condition whatever." "And, I remember " (continues a person who was present at the meeting, and addressed a letter upon the subject to John Murray Esqr afterward Sir John MacGregor Murray Baronet, dated at, Edinburgh 30th August 1769) "that a protestation or dissent was offered in the said John your grandfather's name, declaring that nothing done at the said meeting should prejudge his undoubted right of Chiefship of the MacGregors, which he declared he would not give up to the Laird of Grant, or any other person, who were all come of his ancient Family, and that these protests, with the Land of Grant's not being personally present, hindered the agreement. There are," he adds, "many people as well as me, who must remember this."

The following papers, ending with the offer of £50 reward for apprehension of the murderer of Innernenty, are quoted from the Atholl Papers.

“Att Innerlochlark beg the first of April 1729 years it is minuted and agreed upon betwixt the pairties following to witt Donald Murray [5]   of Innerlochlarkbeg and Robert Murray younger of Glencarnock on the one and oyr pairty."

"Donald Murray sells half of Craigruie, presently possest by Dougall Murray and subtenants being a two mark land &a all lying in the paroch and Lordship of Balqwidder, regalitie of Atholl and shirifdom of Perth, declaring his entry to he at the term of whitsunday next to come, also to deliver Disposition of said lands [page 341] to the said Robert Murray betwixt the date hereof and the 10th April - and to enter the said Robert Murray and his foresaids Vassall to his Grace the Duke of Atholl, superior of the said lands." The Paper is signed by Donald Murray and Rd Murray before these witnesses:
-Robert Campbell in Innerlochlarigbeg and James Drummond Tacksman of Coriechormich.

Abstract of "Instrument of Resignation of above in favour of Rob. Murray 1729.
"At Dunkeld 15th day of April 1729. Donald Murray in Kinchraggan appeared as proxy for & in name of Donald Murray of Innerlochlarigbeg - in the personal presence of His Grace James Duke of Atholl, Superior of the Lands, and the said Donald Murray in Kinchraggan by virtue of his proxy surrendered and gave over the Lands i.e. the half of Craigruie into the hands of the said Duke as superior, the land being presently possest by Dugall Murray and his subtenants, as it was Sometime possest by Malcome Murray that a new infeftment of the same might be given and granted back again by His Grace to the said Robert Murray and his heirs &c." It is signed by Alexander Murray Factor and Thomas Bissett before Alexr Fergusson witness and Paul Shaw in Kincraigie, witness.

"At Logierat the 7th day of January 1731 In presence of Mr Alexr Murray Baillie of the Regalitie of Atholl Compeared John McLaren Writter in Easthaugh as Proxie for and in name of the afterdesigned Robert Murray and gave in the Com-mission afterwritten Desiring it might be insert and registered in the said Regality Court Books there to remain for conservation, which desyre the said Baillie finding reasonable He decerned and ordained and hereby decerns and ordains the same so to be done, and whereof the tenor follows viz We James Duke of Atholl &a Herit¬able Lord of the Regality of Atholl, Considering that our Lordship of Ballquidder is at a great distance from Logierait Head Burgh of the said Regality and the Seat of the Courts thereof, And so, inconvenient for our vassals and tennents in Ball¬quidder to come that length with all their Civil and criminall causes, Doe therefore for their further ease and convenience, judge it proper to constitute a Baillie among themselves, and having confidence in the fidelitie of Robert Murray Younger of Glencarnock, and his qualifications, to discharge the said Trust Doe hereby make constitute and appoint the said Robert Murray one of our Baillies of the Regalitye of Atholl, Insofar as extends to our said Lordship of Balquidder, With power to him to assise and hold Courts of Regalitie in anie part within the said Lordship, and to judge in all matters Civil and criminal, as fullie in all respects, as anie of our other Baillies of the Regalitie of Atholl can doe. As also with power to him to create and appoint Clerks, Fiscals, Officers, Dempsters and other members of Court for whom he is to be answerable. And we hereby assign and dispone to our said Baillie all the fees, emoluments, fines, amerciments and Confiscations of Court, He being obliged out of the same to defray the charges of prosecutione and to satisfie [page 342] the other members of Court for their paines. And we hereby except and reserve to us all fines and confiscations exceeding fifty pounds Scots, And we declare this our commission to continue during our pleasure allenarlie and untill we recall the same. And for the more securitie, we consent to the Registration hereof in the Books of Council and Session or others competent therein, to remain for Conserva¬tion and to that effect, we constitute John McLaren writter in Easthaugh our Prior &a In witness whereof ther presents, consisting of this and preceding page are written on stamped paper by Paul Shaw Servitor to Thomas Bisset Commissar of Dunkeld, and subscribed by us at Dunkeld the 5th day of Jan. 1731, before these witnesses Alexander Murray our Factor and the said Thomas Bissat 'Sic Subscribi¬tur,' Atholl &c. Extracted by me …Thomas Bissat."

"Be it known to all presents Me James Grahame of Glengyle, where Duncan and John Murrays, Tacksmen of Innerlochlagmore, whereof the Lands of Lech¬rhonie after mentioned are a part, did set to certain parties named the said lands for the space of thirteen years qrof there are ten years yet to run from whitsunday next, and that my share and proportion was so much; and seeing that Robert Murray of Glencarnock heritable proprietor of these lands, has instantly made pay¬ment to me of such and such a sum for my granting these presents in manner underwritten therefore witt ye that I hereby constitute and ordain the said Robert Murray his heirs &a my favourable assignies to the tack during the whole years yet to run, substituting the said Robert Murray in my full right and place of the premises, so far as it extends to my equal half.
Signed at Inercharneg the 3d day of May 1735 before these witnesses. signed Ja; Grahame.
"Donald Murray of Monachiltuarach;
Patrick Murray in Innerlochlarmore."

“1734. Dec.30. Neil Stewart in Tullochchroisk, of the Shierglas family, having the previous year had two cows stolen, one his own and one belonging to James Roy Stewart in Kynachan, being informed that the thief was one Duncan Ban, son to Donald Ban Beag, alias McGregor, in Lawers, accompanied by James Roy, Loch Tay, he accordingly went to Lawers accompanied by James Roy Stewart and called for Duncan Ban to the Alehouse there kept by William Man. After settling the affair they consumed a bottle of spirits, and Duncan Ban then offered to lodge Neil Stewart in his house for the night. On their way there it appears they quarrelled, as Duncan Ban ran back to the alehouse, and dropping down expired of a stab in the stomach before be could say who had done him the injury. Both the Stewarts were arrested and imprisoned at Killin."
[page 343]
Stewart of Innerhyle to Alexander Murray Factor to the Duke of Atholl.
“Innernenty March 13th 1736. Sir, -Upon the 4th instant there happened a most barbarous action in this Country in the hands of Rob Roy's youngest son. He came with a gun and pistol to the Town of Drumlich where John McLaren Baron Stoibchon, and Wester Innernenty liv'd; and the said Baron with two of his neighbours being att the pleugh, this youngest son of Rob Roy's called Robert, came to the pleugh, and without any provocation, as the Baron was holding the plough, shott him behind his back of which wound he dyed that night.
"Tho' this wretch was the unhappy executioner, yet it is thought he was sett upon by his brothers and others of their adherents to committ this tragicall action as will appear by their conduct, for upon the 9th they not wearying of their vile prac¬tices, hough'd and kill'd upwards of thirty stotes belonging to Donald McLaren, Drover in Innernenty, and threaten frequently to shoot himself and some others of his Clann.
"I happening to be in this country aft the time, and being desired by Stoibchoin's friends to represent these vile practices, that you might fall on proper methods to curb such vilious practices, and acquaint his Grace of all that happen'd in this affair, and in the mean time that you send express orders to your Baillie here to make closs search for the malefactor and impower him to raise the whole country for that effect.
“It is the generall opinion that this hellish plot hath been concerted by Rob Roy's three sons and their adherents, and I humbly think they should all be seas'd if possible and be banish'd the country. I doubt not his Grace will endeavour to free his country of such vile wretches.
"In the mean time I am hopefull you'll have regard to the present dangerous situation of severall people in this country that have been threaten'd by these wretches and cannot safely come out of their houses without arms, and are oblidged to watch their houses and catle least they suffer the same gate with the stotes, which doubtless will happen if the Superior of the country does not immediately quell this affair. Expecting your answer pr Bearer I conclude with compliments to you and am Dr Sir Yr humble Servt." (Signed) "Alexr Stewart of Innernahyle.
"John Stewart brother-in-law to the defunct;
Do: McLaren att Innernentie."

"The same day sir William Murray of Ochtertyre wrote to Alexander Murray saying he understood the murderer was still at large in the country and threatening to shoot any one that should either labour or possess that mailling, and that he thought Mr Archibald Stewart should get an order to the Commander of the in¬dependent company at Crieff to be helpful in seizing him.

"March 15th. Alexander Murray forwarded Sir William's letter to Mr Archibald Stewart with a letter saying: 'These rogues ought to be extirpite [page 344] off the face of the earth. This young fellow that shott John Mclarn of Inernanty, his Gr’s vassal, is Rob Roy's youngest son not above fifteen years old but a mad rascal.'

"March 18th. Mr Archibald Stewart informed the Duke that Mr Hugh Forbes Advocate Depute had applied to Mr Moyle the Commander in Chief for aid of troops which he absolutely refused.

"March 23. Mr Alexander Murray wrote to Mr Archibald Stewart that he heard from Sir William Murray that two of Rob Oig's brethren and two other accomplices had been apprehended and sent to Perth.

"March 25th. The same correspondent informed Mr John Murray 'The only provocation the murderer had to kill Mclaren was that he had entered in to a tack at whitsunday next of the possession the deceased Rob Roy had in tack from his Gr's vassal Malcolm Murray Fuer of Innerlochlarg more tho' Rob's tack was out.'

"April 27. Mr Alexander Murray reported that Stewart of Appin had advertised an offer of £50 to any one who would apprehend the murderer of McLaren of Innernenty,"

It is evident that although Rob Roy MacGregor himself had both honourable and merciful feelings in spite of his wild life, his younger sons and especially Rob Oig the youngest were "barbarous," to use the old term, without apparent redeeming features. They must have lived amidst scenes of bloodshed from their earliest youth. Happily the eldest son Coll was of a different stamp.

The following particulars of the crime narrated above are taken from "The trials of James, Duncan and Robert McGregor Three Sons of the Celebrated Rob Roy" published in Edinburgh 1818. The Writer ex¬presses himself most unfavourably against the Clan Gregor in general, and may be considered decidedly inimical; but the account of the McLaren affair appears to be authentic and, as such, necessary to be included in the history of the Clan.

"Rob Oig, or the younger as the gaelic word signifies, appears from his earliest youth to have shewn a turbulent and reckless disposition. He is said to have been rather of a slender and feeble make, but the weakness of his body was more than compensated by the fierceness of his spirit. A person of the name of McLaren, a kins-man of the McGregors though of a different tribe, had given them offence by his proposal to take a lease of some land in the possession of the McGregor family. Rob Oig, who was then between 16 and 17 years of age went deliberately with a loaded gun to a field where McLaren was ploughing, and wounded him so severely that he died [page 345] the same evening. As the circumstances have been grossly misrepre-sented, we shall give a summary of the proceedings as they appear upon record.

“It seemed improbable that a lad of Rob's years should have committed a crime of this nature, and in revenge of a family quarrel, without the countenance of his relations. Various circumstances also transpired which appeared to implicate James and Ronald the brothers of the actual murderer; and accordingly they were all indicted along with Callum Mclnlister, a retainer of the same tribe against whom also there existed strong grounds of suspicion. The murder was charged as having been committed by a conspiracy among the pannels; and the motive assigned for the enterprise by the prosecutor was the interest which Ronald had as the tenant of Kirkton to prevent the deceased from competing with him for the lease. The indictment stated that the pannels had, on more than one occasion before the murder was committed, threatened that Rob would shoot John McLaren so soon at he got from Doun a gun which had belonged to his father Rob Roy. The pannel Mclnlister was also charged with having threatened to kill the deceased with a dirk if he attempted to get a lease of Ronald's possession. The libel then stated that the said Callum came on the day when the murder was committed along with Robert McGregor to the field where the deceased was ploughing: that they had with them a gun with powder and slug shot: that Callum charged the gun, and laid it down beside Robert, who immediately took it up, approached the spot where the deceased was ploughing, fired upon him, and wounded him so severely in the thigh that he soon thereafter died. Callum was a pretender to skill in surgery; and upon being sent for to dress the wound of the deceased he refused to interfere, on pretence of being ignorant of the species of shot with which the gun had been loaded: and this too, although he had just before charged it with his own hands. The libel then stated that Robert after perpetrating the deed, retired to his Mother's house in the neighbourhood where he boasted that he had drawn the first blood of the McLarens. That James McGregor and Callum McInlister afterwards expressed their warm approbation of the crime, and their wish that one Donald McLaren a friend and kinsman of the deceased had shared the same fate; and that they threatened vengeance on the McLarens if they should dare to bring the murderer to punishment.

“The pannels were charged besides as being notorious thieves and resetters of stolen goods; and special acts of theft alleged to have been committed by them were enumerated. James was charged with having stolen a cow from one McCallum in Strathfillan, and having broken the prison to which he was committed for this offence. Ronald was accused of having stolen a horse from one Duncan Miller other two horses from a woman of the name of Eupham Ferguson, and a Cow from one John Stewart, and with having threatened the man's life when he attempted to reclaim his property. These offences were recapitulated not as substantive charges [page 346] under the indictment, but as a matter of evidence with regard to the general character of the pannels, and do not appear to have been very regularly introduced into the indictment: But a heavier and more pertinent charge against the pannels still remained. They were accused of having, soon after the murder of John McLaren, houghed and killed under cloud of night 40 head of young cattle belonging to his kinsman Donald, a crime which the prosecutor contended was rendered capital by a special statute on which the indictment was founded.

"Rob Oig the principal party in this accusation did not appear, and was accordingly outlawed; but James and Ronald, together with Callum McInlister, were apprehended and brought to trial. Their defence appears to have been conducted with great legal ability; nor is the slightest vestige to he found in the proceedings of that spirit of partiality and oppression which has been so hastily insinuated. Duncan Forbes of Culloden was the prosecutor and his name alone is a triumphant refutation of that idle calumny.

“The defence pleaded for James to the charge of murder was that he had no direct participation either by word or act in the horrid transaction and that he had been absent from the scene and removed at the time to a distance of 40 miles in Argyleshire. The defence made for Ronald against the same charge was nearly of a similar nature, that he had no immediate connection with the deed and that if he did chance to see his brother before and after the murder it was by mere accident and in the house of their mother. “Such was the defence maintained in point of fact, but a long and learned argument was also offered for the pannels upon the law of the case and the relevancy of the indictment. In this pleading it was contended that the previous threats alleged to have been uttered by the pannels did not apply with precision to the facts charged in the indictment, that it was quite irrelevant and inadmissible in a libel for murder, to charge the accused with being habite and repute thieves; that the youth of Robert McGregor the actual murderer was a circumstance of no importance to infer the guilt of conspiracy against his relations for it is in youth that all the passions are most intemperate: That the alleged approval of the murder after the fact had been committed did not warrant a charge of art and part by the law of Scotland and that the previous menaces were of no weight in raising a presumption against the accused because they were to be executed only if the deceased obtained possession of Kirktown; an event which never happened.

“Ronald also offered to prove as a separate defence that he had warned the deceased of the danger to which he was exposed from the ungovernable and impetuous temper of his brother Rob. Both the pannels besides insisting much on the irrelevancy of the charge of their being habite and repute thieves, denied the particular acts of theft alleged, James denied also that be had ever broken prison and stated that on the occasion alluded to he had been confined not in a prison [page 347] but in an ale house, from which he had been discharged by an order from the Commander in chief. As to Eupham Ferguson's horses which Ronald was charged with having stolen it was alleged that they had been lawfully purchased by his father Rob Roy and afterwards publickly sold in open market, while Stewart's cow was said to have been seized not theftuously but in virtue of the law of hypothec, which the McGregors possessed as the proprietors of Stewart's farm.

"The Court pronounced a special interlocutor upon considering this debate, finding the more serious charges made against the pannels relevant, as they certainly were, and giving effect to their defence against some of the minor and more irregular charges made in the indictment.

"The evidence taken upon the trial leaves no vestige of doubt as to the guilt of Rob Oig in the murder of McLaren, whatever opinion may he entertained with respect to the participation of the pannels his kinsmen.

“Dugald Keir, the first witness examined, swore that he saw Rob with a gun on the day of the murder; that suspecting he had some bad purpose in view, he took it from him and spilt the priming; That soon after he heard the report; and on turning round he saw McLaren fall: That he pursued and came up with Rob but durst not apprehend him, as the latter drew a pistol from his side and threatened to fire upon him; That at this time Rob said 'Let McLaren take that for disturbing my mother in her possession.' The same witness swore that the wound inflicted on McLaren was of a very serious kind; and that the pannel Callum when applied to in his chirurgical capacity came without his instruments, and probed the wound with a 'kail castik' which the witness swore was no un¬common practice among highland surgeons of that period.

"Many other witnesses established the guilt of Rob. Robert Murray of Glen-carnock, who indeed had been a victim of the oppressions of the McGregors and entertained no friendly disposition towards them, but whose evidence was received by the Court 'cum nota,' as it is called, swore that he had examined the wound of which McLaren died; That the same night he called at the house of Rob Roy's widow: That he saw Rob Oig there with a gun: That he asked him why he had shot McLaren? To which Rob answered that the deceased had attempted to get his mother's possession and that if the McLarens persevered in giving offence, their misfortunes were only beginning. The witness stated however that he had heard from the deceased himself, that Ronald had warned him of the danger he ran from the violence of Rob's temper, which the witness described as 'mad and quarrelsome and given to pranks.' He swore besides that the gashes inflicted upon Donald McLaren's cattle must have been given by a stronger arm than Rob Oig's. “A good deal of evidence followed with regard to the threats uttered by Ronald against the deceased and of which it is not easy to collect the import; as on the one hand it it clear that menaces of some sort had been expressed by the pannel [page 348] against McLaren; and on the other, it is not less certain that Ronald had given the deceased warning of the desperate projects of his brother Robert.

"There is also a good deal of evidence as to the character and reputation which the pannels held in their own country. Donald and Patrick Stewart and Alexander McLaren swore positively that the pannels were reputed bad men, common thieves, and harbourers and resetters of thieves. Other witnesses were more reserved on this point: John Stewart swore 'That the pannels have bad characters and have beasts not rightly come by, and that might be speered after.' And Mungo Campbell 'that the pannels were thought in the Country to be re¬setters of stolen goods; but that they were not in the rank of the most notorious thieves.'

"Some other particulars of a curious nature transpired in the course of the evidence; Patrick Stewart swore that sometime after McLaren’s death, he heard the pannel Ronald say that he would support his brother Rob so far as the law would permit; although from the detestation he felt for his conduct, he had hitherto avoided all communication with him. The same witness stated that he was present at a conversation betwixt the pannel Callum and Alexander McLaren when Callum proposed that McLaren should grant his bond not to prosecute the murderer, and promised that in the event of his complying no more mischief would be done him by the McGregors; but McLaren having refused, Callum remarked that he might repent it. The same circumstances were sworn to by another witness, John Fisher, who represented Callum as having said 'That if that daft laddie Rob were ta'en up mair ill might follow.' It appeared from the evidcnce of Eupham Ferguson that her horses had been forcibly seized by the McGregors in the first instance, although some promise of paying for them was subsequently made, which however was never fulfilled. John Stewart again swore expressly that his cow had been violently taken from him by Ronald; but Elizabeth Fisher, the single ex¬culpatory witness adduced by the pannels, cast some doubt upon the nature of the transaction.

"The jury by their verdict found the accession of the pannels to the murder of John McLaren not proven; they found also the charge of houghing Alexander McLaren’s cattle not proven. They found in the same terms as to the special acts of theft libelled in the indictment; but they were unanimous in thinking that the charge of being habite and repute thieves was made out against the pannels James and Ronald McGregor; whom the Court accordingly by their judgment ordained to find caution each to the amount of £200 for their good behaviour for seven years. The pannel Callum McInlister was dismissed from the bar.

"The evidence taken in this trial can leave no doubt on any rational mind as to Rob Oig's guilt of the murder of McLaren with which he was charged but as he did not appear to take his trial he was of course outlawed. It is curious to observe [page 349] how much the facts of this case have been misunderstood and misrepresented. In a note to "Campbell's Journey from Edinburgh to the North " it is gravely stated that Rob Oig was acquitted of the murder of McLaren; although in point of fact he was never tried for that crime. It has been also stated that Rob Oig was outlawed when only 12 years old; because by an unlucky accident his gun went off and wounded a relation and this sentence of outlawry has been mentioned as a proof of the violence with which the McGregors were persecuted. The proceedings in the trial prove that Rob was not 12, but betwixt 16 & 17 years of age when he was outlawed and that it was no unlucky accident with which he had been connected but a deliberate and premeditated murder.

"This desperado when he found that his conduct was to be made the subject of a serious inquiry was advised to retire to France and from the proceedings in a subsequent trial it appears that he was present at the Battle of Fontenoy.

"His brother James having been acquitted from the Charge of conspiring in the murder of McLaren, remained in Scotland."


[1] relative to the ‘Baronage’, 1770s

[2] This date is gives in a Note on Baronage in Professor Gregory’s handwriting, it may be only a calculation.

[3] Marginal note in Baronage, printed, quoting "Letters from persons yet alive who were at that meeting, certifying these facts."

[4] Grant of Rothiemurchus, Duncan MacGregor, a son of Breacksliabh &c took the name of MacAlpin on this occasion.-Footnote in "Baronage."

[5] This Donald Murray was the Father of Captain Malcolm MacGregor or Drummond mortally wounded at Prestonpans in 1745.