Glen Discovery in GlenLyon
About us

Loose and Broken Men

Edited by Peter Lawrie, from original article by R B Cunningham-Graham published in the Scottish Historical Review Vol X, No 38, January 1913

A most interesting article by Cunningham-Graham, commenting on a raid on a farm on the estate of Gartmore at the edge of the Highlands near the end of the 17th century. The raiders appeared to include at least five Glencoe people (M'Ians, perhaps made homeless by the massacre of Glencoe only six years earlier). They were led by Ewan Cameron who had a local lodging near Aberfoyle. There was one MacGregor involved, plus another, Paul Clerich, with a known MacGregor alias. However, another MacGregor - Alexander Campbell, alias M'Grigor - informed the landlord of the identity of raiders whom, as it turned out, included one of the Gartmore estate's own tenants, Walter M'Watt.

Cunningham-Graham's criticises Alexander Campbell, alias M'Grigor for his betrayal "Whatever could have come into his head ...... the recreant M'Gregor" In point of fact, the Glengyle MacGregors ran a Highland Watch for the protection of livestock on the farms below the Highland line. Donald Glas of Glengyle had successfully prosecuted before the sheriff court at Stirling a farmer who had refused to pay the agreed money for the protection offered. Today 'blackmail' [mail being the Scots word for rent] has entirely criminal connotations, but the success of Donald Glas in this instance demonstrated that in the 17th century, it was a valued service for which payment was due. Alexander Campbell, alias M'Grigor appears to have been carrying out the service for which the estate of Gartmore had probably paid, that of recovery of stolen livestock and identification of the thieves.

The preamble illustrated Lowland hostility to Highlanders as late as the early 19th Century.

Cunningham-Graham wrote "I found the other day an old bundle of papers docketted as above in my own hand."

"Many years ago I must have come on them at Gartmore, and as in those days it was what the people called a ‘sort o' back-lying place,' traditions of the doings of loose and broken men still survived, though vaguely and as in a mist. The loose and broken men, whose fame still echoed faintly in my youth, were those who after the ‘Forty-Five’ either were not included in the general amnesty, or had become accustomed to a life of violence.

Once walking down the avenue at Gartmore with my old relation, Captain Speirs, we passed three moss-grown lumps of pudding­stone that marked the ancient gallows-tree. Turning to it he said:
'Many's the broken man your ancestor, old Laird Nicol, hangit up there, after the Forty-five.'
He also told me, just as if he had been speaking about savages, ‘When I was young, one day up on Loch Ard-side, I met a Hielandman, and when I spoke to him, he answered "Cha neil Sassenach"; [1]   I felt inclined to lay my whip about his back.'
Even then I wondered why, but prudently refrained from saying anything, for the old Captain had served through the Peninsular Campaign, had been at Waterloo, and, as the country people used to say, he had 'an eye intil him like a hawk.'

[Note by Editor (PJL): R B Cunningham-Graham was born in 1852, so let's assume this 'walk at Gartmore' took place when he was 18 in 1870. If Captain Speirs had served in the Peninsula campaign - 1808 to 1814 - he was probably born in the early 1790s at the latest, therefore he would been about eighty in 1870, so just credible]

"This antipathy to Highlandmen which I have seen exhibited in my youth, even by educated men who lived near to the Highland Line, was the result of the exploits of the aforesaid loose and broken men, who had descended (unapostolically) from the old marauding clans. The enemy came from 'above the pass,' to such as my old uncle, and all the glamour Scott had thrown upon the clans never removed the prejudice from their dour Lowland minds. Perhaps if we had lived in those times we might have shared it too.

One of the documents in the bundle to which I have referred is docketted ' Information for Mr. Thomas Buchanan, Minister of Tullyallan, heritor of Gouston in Cashlie.' Gouston is a farm on the Gartmore estate, on which I, in years gone by, have passed many long and wet hours measuring drains and listening to complaints.
'Laird, ma barn flure's fair boss.'
' Ye ken a' the grips are wasted.'
' I havena got a gate in the whole farm,'
with much of the same kind; complaints no doubt all justified, but difficult to satisfy without Golconda or the Rand to draw upon, are ever present in my mind.

The document itself, one of a bundle dealing with the case, written I should judge by a country writer (I have several documents drawn up by one who styles himself ' Writer in Garrachel,' a farm in Gartmore barony), is on that thick and woolly but well­made paper used by our ancestors, and unprocurable today. The writing is elegant, with something of a look of Arabic about its curving lines.
It states that : 'Ewan Cameron, Donald M'Tavish in Glenco, Allen Mackay, in thair (in thair, seems what the French would call "une terre vague," but has a fine noncommital flavour in a legal document), John and Arch. M'Ian, his brethren, Donald M'Ian, alias Donachar, also Paul Clerich, Dugald and Duncan M'Ferson in Craiguchty, Robert Dou M'Gregor and his brethren, John and Walter M'Watt, alias Forrester, in Offerance of Garrochyle belonging to the Laird of Gartmore ... came violentlie under cloud of night to the dwelling house of Isabell M'Cluckey, relict of John Carrick, tenant in the town of Gouston with this party above mentioned and more, on December sixteen hundred (the date is blank, but it occurred in 1698 ), and then on that same night, it being the Lord's Day, broke open her house, stript (another document on the case says "struck," which seems more consonant to the character of the Highlanders) and bound herself and children contrarie to the authoritie of the nation, and took with them her whole insicht and plenishing, utensils and domicil, with the number of six horses and mares, sixteen great cows and their followers, item thirty six great sheep and lambs and hogs equivalent, and carried them all away violentlie, till they came to the said Craiguchty, where the said Ewan Cameron cohabited.'

I fancy that in Craiguchty, which even in my youth was a wild-looking place, the 'authoritie of the nation’ had little sway in those days.

From another document in the bundle, it appears that, not content with driving off the stock and bearing away the 'insicht and the plenishings, [2]   the complainants and their servants were almost frichted from their Witts, through the barbarous usadge of the said broken and loose men.'

However, the 'mad-herdsmen,' as the phrase went then, drove the 'creagh' towards Aberfoyle. The path by which they carried it was probably one that I once knew well. It runs from Gartmore village, behind the Drum, out over a wild valley set with junipers and whins, till after crossing a little tinkling, brown burn, it enters a thick copse. Emerging from it, it leaves two cottages on the right hand, near which grow several rowans and an old holly, and once again comes out upon a valley, but flatter than the last. In the middle of it runs a larger burn, its waters dark and mossy, with little linns in which occasionally a pike lies basking in the sun. An old-world bridge is supported upon blocks of pudding-stone, the footway formed of slabs of whin, which from remotest ages must have been used by countless generations of brogue-shod feet, it is so polished and worn smooth. Again, there is another little copse, surrounded by a dry-stone dyke, with hoops of withes stuck into the feals, to keep back sheep, and then the track comes out upon the manse of Aberfoyle, with its long row of storm-swept Spanish chestnuts, planted by Dr. Patrick Graham, author of Sketches of Perthshire.

From this spot, Ewan Cameron, Donald M'Ian (alias Donachar) and Robert Dhu M'Gregor, might have seen, though of course they did not look, being occupied with the creagh, the church and ancient churchyard of Aberfoyle, and the high-pitched, two-arched bridge, under which runs the Avon­ Dhu. All this they might have seen as 'Ewan Cameron cohabited at Craiguchty,' near the Bridge of Aberfoyle. Had they but looked they would have seen the Clachan with its low, black huts, looking like boats set upside down, the smoke ascending from the wooden box-like chimneys, - these they did not mark, quite naturally, as they were the only chimneys they had ever seen; nor did the acrid peat-reek fill their nostrils, accustomed to its fumes, with the same smell of wildness as it does ours today. Craigmore and its White Lady was but a ruckle of old stones to them, and if they thought of any natural feature, it may have been the Fairy Hill to which the Rev. Robert Kirke, their minister, had retired only six years before, to take up habitation with the Men of Peace. [3]  

Most probably they only scrugged their bonnets, shifted their targets on their backs, called out to any lagging beast, or without stopping picked up a stone to throw at him. The retiring freebooters 'lay there (Craiguchty) the first night.' One can see them, going and coming about the little shieling, and Ewan Cameron's wife and children, with shaggy hair and uncouth look, coming out to meet them, just as the women of an Arab 'duar' come out to meet a marauding party, raising their shrill cries.
Some of the men must have been on guard all night to keep the animals from straying and to guard against surprise, and as they walked about, blowing upon their fingers to keep them warm, the cold December night must have seemed long to them. They would sleep little, between the cold and fear of an attack. Long before daylight they would be astir, just as a war party of Indians, or cattle-men upon an expedition in America, who spend the colder hours before the morning seated around the fire, always rise just before the dawn to boil their coffee pots. We know what took the place of coffee with Ewan Cameron and his band, or can divine it at the least. Next night they reached Achray, 'in the Earl of Menteith's land, and lay there in the town.' By this time the 'said hership' (that is, the stolen beasts) must have been rather troublesome to drive, as the old trail, now long disused, that ran by the birch copse above the west end of Loch Drunkie, was steep and rocky, and ill adapted for 'greate cowes.' Both at Craiguchty and Achray 'they had begun to sell their booty, for the tenants there are reported as not having been 'free of the hership.' In fact, 'Walter and John M'Lachlin in Blairwosh' bought several of the animals. Their names seem not to have been concealed, and it appears the transaction was looked upon as one quite natural. One, Donald Stewart, 'who dwells at the west end of Loch Achray,' also 'bought some of the geare,' with 'certaine' of the sheep, and 'thereafter transported them to the highland to the grass.' Almost unconsciously, with regard to these sheep, the Spanish proverb rises to the mind, that says, ' a sardine that the cat has taken, seldom or never comes back to the plate.'

So far, all is clear and above board. Ewan Cameron and his band of rogues broke in and stole and disposed of such of the booty as they could, sharing, one hopes, equitably between them the sum of ' fiftie six pounds, six shillings and eight pennies' (Scots) that they found in the house, reserving naturally a small sum, in the nature of a bonus, to Ewan Cameron, for his skill in getting up the raid.

As I do not believe in the word 'stripping,' and am aware that if we substitute the homelier 'striking' for it, no great harm would probably be done in an age when the stage directions in a play frequently run 'beats his servant John,' when speaking of some fine, young spark, all hitherto seems to have been conducted in the best style of such business known on the Highland line.

Now comes in one 'Alexander Campbell, alias M'Grigor,' who 'informs' ; oh, what a falling off was there, in one of the Gregarach. This hereditary enemy of my own family, and it is chiefly upon that account I wish to speak dispassionately ... 'sed magis amicus veritas' ... informed, that is he condescended to give his moral support to laws made by the Sassenach ' that Duncan Stewart in Baad of Bochasteal, bought two of the said cowes.'

Whatever could have come into his head ? Could not this Campbell, for I feel he could not have been of the sept of Dougal Ciar Mar, the hero who wrought such execution on the shaveling band [4]   of clerks after Glen Fruin, have left the matter to the 'coir na claidheamh' [5] So far from this, the recreant M'Gregor, bound and obliged himself 'to prove the same by four sufficient witnesses '- so quickly had he deteriorated from the true practice of his clan. His sufficient witnesses were 'John Grame and his sub-tenant in Ballanton, his neighbour Finley Dymoch, and John M'Adam, Osteleir in Offerance of Gartmore.' A little leaven leaveneth the whole, and the bad example of this man soon bore its evil fruit.

We find that 'Robert Grame in Ballanton' (that is not wonderful, for he was of a hostile clan and had received none of the spoil as justifiable hush money) also came forward, with what in his case I should soften into' testimony.' Far more remains to telL 'Jean, spouse to the said Ewan Cameron,' that very Ewan who so justly received a bonus as the rent of his ability, also came forward and informed. She deponed 'that Walter M'Watt was of the band,' although we knew it all before.

It is painful to me to record that the said M'Watt was 'tenant to said Laird of Gartmore, 'for it appears according to the evidence of Ewan Cameron's wife that 'he brocht the said rogues to the said house, went in at ane hole in the byre, which formerly he knew, opened the door and cutted the bands of the said cowes and horse.' This man, who after all neither made nor unmade kings, but only served his lord (Ewan Cameron), 'got for his pains, two sheep, a plyde, a pair of tow-cards, two heckles and a pair of wool cleets, with ane maikle brass pan and several other thinges.'

The harrying of the luckless Isabell M'Clucky seems to have been done thoroughly enough, and in a business way. However, punishment possibly overtook the evil-doers, as Thomas M'Callum, 'who changed the said brass pott with the said M'Watt for bute, [6]   testified in confirmation of the above.
'Item Janet Macneall giveth up that she saw him take the plough irons out of a moss hole the summer thereafter with ane pott when he flitted out of Offerance to the waird, and that he sent the plaid and some other plenishing that he got to John Hunter his house in Corriegreenan for fear of being known.
Item the said Walter M'Watt died tenant to the Laird of Gartmore and his spouse and the said John Hunter took and intromitted with the whole geir.
Item Elizabeth Parland spouse to umquhile George M'Muir, Moorherd in Gartmore, informs she being ane ostlere, that they gave a cow that night they lifted the hership to Patrick Graeme in Middle Gartfarran in the byegoing betwixt him and his brother Alexander Graeme in Borland and also that the said Robert M'Grigor and his brethern with the said John M'Watt met them in the way, although they came not to the house.
Item that they sold the rest of the geir at one Nicol M'Nicol's house in the Brae of Glenurchy and the said Nicol M'Nicol got a flecked horse for meat and drink from them and lastly Dugald M'Laren and his brother Alexander got aquaviti among them. This is the true information of the said persons that I have endeavoured to get nottrie att, and if they be not material bonds and grounds of pursuit in it I give it over, but as I think the most material point is in the third article.'

So ends the document, leaving us in the dark as to what happened in the end, just as is usually the case in life. The names of nearly all the witnesses, as Elizabeth Parlane, John Ffisher, Robert Carrick, Robert M'Laren, Thomas M'Millan, the pseudo-M'Gregor, and of course the Grames, were all familiar to me in the Gartmore of my youth.

All the place-names remain unchanged, although a certain number of them have been forgotten, except by me, and various old semi-Highlanders interested in such things, or accustomed to their sound. Ballanton, Craiguchty, Cullochgairtane (now Cooligarten), Offerance of Garrachel, Gouston of Cashlie, Bochaistail, Gartfarran, Craigieneult, Boquhapple, Corriegreenan, and others which I have not set down, as Milltown of Aberfoyle, though they occur in one or other of the documents, are household words to me.

What is changed entirely is the life. No one, I say it boldly, no one alive can reconstruct a Highlander of the class treated of in my document as Loose and Broken Men. Pictures may show us chiefs. Song and tradition tell us tricks of manner; but Ewan Cameron, Robert Dou M'Grigor, and their bold compeers elude us utterly.

A print of Rob Roy, from the well-known picture once in the possession of the Buchanans of Arden, hangs above the mantelpiece just where I write these lines. He must have known many a "gallowglass" of the Ewan Cameron breed; but even he was semi-civilised, and of a race different from all my friends. Long-haired, light (and rough) footed, wild-eyed, ragged carles they must have been; keen on a trail as is an Indian or a Black-boy in North Queensland, pitiless, blood-thirsty, and yet apt at a bargain, as their disposal of the 'particular goodes, to wit, four horses and two mares,' the sheep and other 'gear' goes far to prove. The mares and horses are set down as being worth ' thirttie six pound the piece overhead,' and I am certain Ewan Cameron got full value for them, even although the price was paid in Scots, for sterling money in those days could not have been much used 'above the pass.'

It must have been a more exciting life in Gartmore and in Aberfoyle than in our times, and have resembled that of Western Texas fifty years ago. In London, Addison was rising into fame, and had already translated Ovid's Metamorphoses. Prior was Secretary to the Embassy in Holland, Swift was a parish priest at Laracar, and in the very year (1698) in which Ewan Cameron drove his 'creagh' past the Grey Mare's Tail, on the old road to Loch Achray, Defoe published his Essay on Projects, and two years later his True Englishman.

Roads must have been non-existent, or at least primitive in the district of Menteith. This is shown clearly by the separation, as of a whole world, between the farm of Gouston, near Buchlyvie, and the shores of Loch Achray, where it was safe to sell in open day, beasts stolen barely fifteen miles away. Men, customs, crops, and in a measure even the face of the low country through which those loose and broken men passed, driving the stolen cows and sheep, have changed. If they returned, all that they would find unaltered would be the hills, Ben Dearg and Ben Dhu, Craig Vadh, Ben Ledi, Schiehallion, Ben Voirlich, distant Ben More, with its two peaks, and Ben Venue peeping up timidly above the road they travelled on that December night, the Rock of Stirling, the brown and billowy Flanders moss, and the white shrouding mists.

[1] Literally: "I don't have the English"

[2] The subjoined Inventory, dated 1698, shows how thoroughly the work was done. It also shows what a careful housewife lsabell M'Luckit was, and that she was a past mistress of the science of making a 'poor mouth.'
Ane particular List of what goods and geir utencills and domicills was taken and plundered from Issobell M'Luckie Relict of the decest John Kerick by Eun Cameron and his Accomplices as it was given up by her self:

In primis there was Ane gray meir estat to 40 00 00
Item other three meirs estat to 20 lib p.p. is 60 00 00
It Ane flecked horse and ane black horse estat to 24 lib p.p 48 00 00
It there was taken away ten tydie Coues estat to p.p. 24 lib is 240 00 00
It three forrow Cowes giving milk estat to 20 lib pp is 60 00 00
It two yeild Cowes estat to 12 lib p.p. is 24 00 00
It two twoyeirolds estat to S lib p.p. is 16 00 00
It there was taken away thirtietwo great southland Sheep estat to thre pound Scots p pice is 96 00 00
It there was fourtein hogs estat to 2 lib 10 sh: p.p is 21 00 00
It of Cloath and wolen yairn estat to 35 00 00
It Eight plyds viz four qrof double and four single estat to 48 00 00
It ane pair of wollen Clats estat to 1 16 00
It Ane pair of Cards estat to 2 mk is 1 6 8
It two heckles viz Ane fyne & ane courser estat to 3 18 0
It of mead neli harn in shirts 30 elns estat to 12 0 0
It of neli Linning in Shirts 24 elns estat to 12 0 0
It ten petticoats esta t to 30 0 0
It four westcoats for women estat to 4 6 0
It thre gouns for women estat to 12 0 0
It on ax two womels a borrall & a hamer estat to 2 10 0
It two brass pans esta to 3 12 0
It two dozen & a half of spoons estat to 1 18 0
It on pair of sheetts & on pair blanqwets estat to 5 0 0
It on Covering estat to 4 0 0
It two bibles estat to 3 10 0
It on pair of tongs estat to 0 10 0
It 2 pair shoes & 2 pairs stockings estat to 5 8 0
It two green aprons estat to 3 0 0
It Ane pair of plou Irons and plough graith estat to 12 0 0
It Ane pistoll and a firelock estat to 10 0 0
It of readie Cash 13 6 8
It an e buff belt 1 4 0
It two plyds estat to 16 0 0
It of Muslin and Lining and oyr fyn Close estat to 20 0 0
It ten elns of new black felt in yearn & wool 10 0 0
It Six Sack of tueling four elns each 8 0 0
It a canvas eight eln 2 13 4
It a quarter of Butter & half ston 2 0 0
I flacked horse 4 year old  
1 bell broun horse 3 whyt feet 8 year old  
2 bell broun mares whyt foted whyt nosed 7 year old  
Merk of her sheep prope in ye far lug & only cloven in ye near lug-  
Loss of 20 bols of red land whyt corn sowing 33 13 4
It a hundred cups of sheep muck 9 0 0
It Sixtie cups of cows muck 2 0 0
It of silver rent 60 0 0
It of Lorne meal ten bols 80 0 0
It of expenses wt. M'Luckie at sevral trysts 10 0 0
It of spy money 10 0 0
Total 204 13 4

[3] See the Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fairies and Fauns, written in 1691 and supposed to have been first published in 1815.It was reprinted in 1893, with Introduction by Andrew Lang.

[4] I am well aware that gentlemen of the Clan Gregor have indignantly denied that Dougal Ciar Mor was the author of the slaughter of the students in Glen Fruin. If though we hold him innocent, how is he to be justified in the eyes of fame, for he seems to have done nothing else worthy of remark, ... except of course being the ancestor of Rob Roy, an entirely unconscious feat of arms on his part.

[5] Right of the sword

[6] Bute = spoil