Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell
The '45
Extracts of Statistics from the Annexed Estates for Western Strathearn (1755-56)
The Reports of the Annexed Estates (1755-69)
A Tour of Scotland - Observations
Seismic Activity (1789)
Account of 1791-99 vol-11 - Comrie, County of Perth
Archibald MacNab (1734-1816)
Henry Dundas (1742-1811)
Sir David Baird of Seringapatam (1757-1829)
Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland – Sarah Murray (1799)
Roman Camp, Dalginross – October (1800)
Flash from the Caledonian Mercury – September (1814)
I've a Boat to Catch (1818)
A Picture of Strathearn - John Brown (1823)
St Fillan’s Highland Society (1827)
Letters from the Distant Past (1831 - 1859)
Comrie, St Fillans and Monivard (1837)
Statistical Account: Parish of Comrie (1838)
The Glen Lednock Census (1841)
The Queen’s Visit (1842)
The Road to Comrie (1857)
For the Sake of Nelly Fergus (1860)
From an Unknown Guidebook-circa (1892)
Comrie (1895)
Tales of Derring Do
Soldier, Soldier, won’t you marry me wi’…
The Adventures of Paddy or Highland Peter
Ghoulie Tales
A Serious Business
Mail Order Bride
The Man with the Powerful Voice
Double Entry bookkeeping
Hey, Gie’s ma Haun…or Murder Most Foul
Kate Mackenzie's Terrible Deeds
Watty and Meg Drummond
The Fencibles
Deacon Reid
Amazing Grace
The Day of the Penny Wedding
The MacArthur's were there before the Hills
The Beggar's Badge
A Pane by any other name can be a Pain!
The Powder Keg
The Coo didnae hae ony Teeth!
The Green Lady of Glen Lednock
The Queen of Tynasithe
The Great Wall of Comrie
Whisky, You're the Devil
A Wee Rumble
A Whale of a Time
An Encounter of the Third Kind
Another Debate
Bosom Pals
Getting Stoned in Comrie
Hanging about Comrie
It's Whisky in the Jar
Picking Other Folks' Brains
Porridge for Breakfast
Tarred and Buttered
The Convert
The Debate
The Schism
The Levitation
The Twa' Brithers
There’s a Hare in my Soup
Yer bum's oot the Window

18th & 19th Century

Archibald MacNab (1734-1816)


Thirteenth Chief of the Clan

The traditional family seat of the Clan MacNab (Clan-an-Aba) was at Kinnell House located on the south side of the River Dochart in Killin, Perthshire, which lies at the west end of Loch Tay. Here for centuries the MacNab’s had ruled their roost with some ferocity. They aligned themselves at various times with the Breadalbane Campbells, and the MacGregor’s of Balquhidder. Throughout time there were periods of falling out over various issues. In many cases the root cause was mainly associated with support, for or against, the King, or Parliament, or both. To them it did not matter if the King of the day was a Stuart, or a Hanoverian. They would inevitably try to hedge their bets on the winner sometimes being lucky, but in the main, not so fortunate. Through alliance and fairly prodigious family growth their ascendancy and entitlements covered most of Glen Dochart and the south side of Loch Tay.

Archibald MacNab, the thirteenth, inherited the title of Laird from his uncle, Francis MacNab. Francis was unmarried, but said to have had many offspring. In a commentary undertaken at the end of the eighteenth century a writer penned the following about him, “nor has he ever worn the chains of matrimony, though he has added to his family thirty-two children.” Francis’s arrogance shines like a beacon in Raeburn’s 1802 portrait of him. He died in 1816 along with accrued debts of about £35000 pounds. This phenomenal debt was due to his living a life of excess in wine, women, drinking and carousing. The chief creditor was John Campbell, fourth Earl of Breadalbane.

The Macnab – 1734-1816

Sir Henry Raeburn

As the inheritor to the estate the debt passed to his nephew, Archibald. Archibald had been brought up as a typical son of Highland nobility expecting to follow in the footsteps of his chieftain predecessors. This, to a large degree, involved treating others of lesser rank with disdain and arrogance. This was the wont of feudal Lords, and adopting the philosophy that whatever they had, he was entitled to at least a share in it. His marriage to Margaret Robertson produced six children of which two died in infancy, and with the exception of the eldest born daughter Sarah Anne, who died aged 86 in Florence, Italy, the rest were gone by age thirty. His wife Margaret, who died in Florence in 1868, declined to become involved with him in his Canadian adventures, but, as will be seen, supported him financially at his end!

Although a man of some charm and eloquence Archibald was a dissolute. This social parasite, who enjoyed fine and rich living, also expected to be maintained according to his rank by his tacksmen and clansmen from the tithes, levies, rent and servitude imposed on them by the traditional and typical “modus operandi” of the Clan system.

Realizing that there would be no escape from his debts, and after a writ for foreclosure had been issued which if found guilty could mean prison, he left the area in 1823 with a man named Peter McIntyre. They secretly sailed from Dundee to London where Archibald borrowed money for a passage to the Great Dominion of Canada. Once there he proceeded to Glengarry Township where his cousin had settled at a place called Arnprior, then Upper Canada, now Ontario. This relative was the last Buchanan of the ancient house of Arnprior which was located on the shore of the Lake of Monteith in South Perthshire.

Modern Map of Eastern Ontario showing Carleton Place and Arnprior

Perthshire Settlers from the 1800’s were granted land on either side of Highway 7

Once settled in, and no doubt using all of Buchanan’s contacts as well as his own, and realizing the opportunities to hand, he went to York (Toronto) to negotiate for land along the Ottawa River. Being granted this he could bring some of his clansmen over to Canada as settlers. He became friendly with the Governor-General of Canada, Sir Peregrine Maitland, who was attracted to his personality and manners. Maitland authorised a grant for eighty one thousand acres in the valley of the Ottawa River. The land under consideration had only recently been surveyed by the chief surveyor, Sherwood, and it bordered Fitzroy on the Ottawa River. MacNab without seeing the land eagerly accepted it and agreed to the Government terms to settle it with his clansmen in a similar fashion to the established settlements in adjoining Glengarry County along the St. Lawrence River. However, these neighbouring lands were government lands called Crown Lands and were rent-free. This fact MacNab kept to himself. His clansmen only found out about it by accident rather than by design and when they did, trouble brewed. They started questioning the reason why they had to pay a rent to MacNab.

MacNab who was a Justice of the Peace, had been given complete control over the land for eighteenth months at the end of which time the government representative would review the situation and determine how the settlement was working out. MacNab had the power to assign up to one hundred acres to any one family and he himself was granted twelve hundred acres. This would be increased upon completion of the settlement terms.

The settlers were to pay MacNab interest on any money expended for their needs. The surveyor, Sherwood, was given first choice of the land in payment for his services, but the remainder was entirely in McNab’s hands. In 1824 he wrote to Dr. Hamilton in Scotland requesting that twenty families should join him and that he would meet them in Montreal and bring them to the new land. In January of 1825 a bond was prepared by the Canadian Attorney-General and the following men with their families signed up: James Carmichael, Peter Campbell, Donald Fisher, Peter Drummond, James Robertson, Alexander McNab, James McFarlane, Duncan Campbell, James McDonald, Donald McNaughton, John McDermid, John McIntyre, Peter McIntyre, Donald McIntyre, James McLaurin, Peter MacMillan, James Storie, James McFarlan, Alexander Miller, Malcolm McLaren and Colin McCaul. In April of that year a party consisting of eighty four people boarded the “Niagara” and set sail from Greenock, and said farewell to the land of their birth.

After about five weeks on the Atlantic Ocean and up through the St. Lawrence River they arrived and were met at the Port of Montreal by MacNab, and his piper, James McNee. As it was not possible to sail through the Lachine Rapids they portaged to Lachine where they boarded flat-bottomed bateaux, and three days later arrived at Point Fortune on the Ottawa River. The new settlers then walked to Hawkesbury following the course of the river and were joined there by a man called McLachlin who had been awarded the contract to bring their baggage there by ox cart and sled. From Hawkesbury they embarked upon a riverboat called the “Union” and sailed for Hull. After two days and two nights travel they reached Chats Lake, now called Fitzroy Harbour, where they disembarked and proceeded through the woods following Indian trails and paths to MacNab’s settlement, known today as Arnprior. The journey from Montreal had taken twenty eight days.

Upon their arrival they pitched camp secure in the knowledge that their chief had promised to furnish them with whatever they required for a year. No one can imagine their surprise when they found out that he could not. Nor would he give them even the bare necessities of life, never mind the tools required to build shelters to survive the first winter. On occasion the temperature drops to 40 degrees below zero! Some, after locating their allotted land amidst the dense forestry they were forced to go to work for someone else in neighbouring townships in order to earn sufficient money to buy provisions. A few were employed by Thomas Burns in Fitzroy for harvesting, haying and potato digging, whereas others went as far as Murphy’s Falls, Beckwith County, some twenty miles away, to work often buying food on credit. The settlers at Morphy’s Falls, now called Carleton Place, Ontario, came from Comrie, St. Fillans, Lochearnhead, and the wider Perthshire community, so it was probable that some were family relations, and others friends.

To get to Morphy’s Falls from Arnprior was difficult and not without risk. To accomplish this journey to work one took a canoe or bateau following the route, Flat Rapids - down the Madawaska River to Chats Lake - up Chats Lake to the mouth of the Mississippi - up the Mississippi to Sneddon’s Inn at Ramsay, and then by Indian footpath to Morphy’s Falls. For the next three years small loads of supplies bought, or loaned, from Murphy’s Falls, were manhandled onto rough-hewn boats or canoes and carried on the backs of these men.

Early in their first year there, many, if not all, became aware that MacNab was engaged in some form of malpractice. As early as September 1825, just a few weeks after their arrival, he was sued by Harvey and Powell, who were mill owners in Pakenham, for non-payment of supplies bought, and money loaned. Documents and letters still extant in the museum in Perth, Ontario, attest to the fact that as early as February of that year he was in serious financial difficulty, and he was constantly trying to placate his creditors.

To try to make up these debts he continuously hounded his “beholden” clansmen in the hope that their contributions would alleviate them. These settlers were roundly abused by him at every turn. They adhered strictly to their positions with traditional clan allegiance, and the chief always came first. They were kept as formerly, as chattels or serfs, with no rights of their own, nor any government with which to appeal. Women and children were kept alive on subsistence rations of only potatoes or flour with a little salt added. All settlers had to ask his permission to take work from outside the settlement so that they could earn a little money which they had to turn over to him...and he did not always give the permission sought. This endurance to the whims of a Highland chief was borne in stoic fashion because, after all, that was what they had been used to in Scotland!

However, in their midst was a schoolteacher called Alex Miller, who would not jump to the Laird’s beck and call. An arrangement had been established by MacNab that all timber in the new township belonged to him, but Miller, believing this to be incorrect, sold some from his location to John Dill, a lumberman. When this came to light MacNab used all his influence with the governing powers to force Dill to pay duty on all the lumber he had bought. In 1826 Miller asked MacNab for permission to work in another township in order to provide food for his family. Because of the earlier transaction with the timber dispute Miller was refused permission and this began a series of persecutions which lasted for sixteen years before eventually MacNab was brought to justice and seen for what he really was, a cheat and a wastrel.

Miller had sufficient provisions for about six weeks and no other way of supplementing his income so he left the township. This led to the issuance of a warrant for his arrest and he was arrested “a capias” by order of the Laird for a debt of £80 and taken to the jail at Perth. These were the days when a person could be arrested for debts of forty shillings and kept in prison for months without redress and it was six weeks before his fellow settlers knew of his whereabouts. When they heard five men; John McIntyre, James McFarlane, Peter McIntyre, Donald McNaughton and James McDonald, travelled the sixty miles to the Perth goal and put up bail money with the result that he was freed.

They engaged a lawyer, James Boulton, to defend him but he was a member of the powerful Family Compact Household of York (Toronto) which then existed and each had to pay a fine of £50. The Compact found for MacNab who was a supporter of it, and although Miller was freed to become a teacher in Beckwith, nonetheless he was adjudged not to be innocent. In 1827 MacNab wrote to Lord Hamilton in Scotland asking that more settlers be sent from the old “sod” but was refused point blank because by this time his reign of terror and corruption had been reported and the information passed back to Scotland.

When MacNab visited Montreal or York he lived in the grand fashion entertaining in a lavish style as a result of his revenues from his so called timber rights. On one occasion in Montreal he met and persuaded some recent arrivals to join him in the Township on the understanding that each paid half a bushel of wheat per acre to him, and his successors, forever. He was so charming, hospitable and full of encouraging stories about life there that families named Hamilton, Wilson and David Airth set off at once. It has not been recorded what they families found when they got there, but no doubt, like most others, they would have been aghast at MacNab’s treatment of them and the others.

An anonymous letter was sent to the Governor-General complaining about MacNab’s tyranny, behaviour and treatment. The letter was forwarded to MacNab who assumed it had been sent by one of his clansmen, Alexander MacNab who had given him some trouble. Immediately he sent the following to Alexander:

Kinnell Lodge

13 March, 1829

“Alexander MacNab,

Degraded Clansman,- You are accused to me by Sir John Colborne of libel sedition and high treason. You will therfor compear before me at my house of Kinnell, and there make submission; and if you show a contrite and repentant spirit, and confess your faults against me, your legitimate chief, and your crime against his Majesty King George, I will intercede for your pardon. Your offended Chief,


Alexander, although he would be aware of MacNab’s abuses, had not written the letter, nor probably knew anything about it, protested his innocence, but to no avail. He was convicted by a court and thrown in jail. Upon his release he sought redress through the law, appealed his conviction, and was declared innocent.

Being a man of small mind MacNab never forgave an insult or injury whether real or imagined and the story is told of his detestation of a fellow MacNab, Sir Allan MacNab of Hamilton, Ontario. They both checked in to a hotel one evening in Hamilton at different times. MacNab signed the guest book as “The MacNab.” On seeing his signature when he checked in later in the evening Sir Allan wrote his name below it “The Other MacNab.”

Throughout the years in Canada MacNab continued to harry his settlers, hounding them for money and generally making their lives miserable. They, for their part, whilst they objected could make no impression on the powers then existing in the Family Compact including William Morris of Perth who, whilst sympathetic, did nothing. Eventually the numerous petitions were obvious to even the most blind, and Lord Durham and Francis Allan, the Crown Land agents, decided to act and established a full enquiry. A report was produced which showed beyond doubt the tyranny and despotism of MacNab and that it had lasted sixteen years. It was shown that all of the charges made by the settlers were in fact true and that MacNab could not produce one piece of paper which proved that he had laid out as much as a penny for, and on, the settlers.

Archibald MacNab – 13th Chief of the Clan MacNab

The government moved in and MacNab, feeling and fearing that he was losing power, offered to sell them his land which he had already sold and rented several times over to others. He offered £9000, they counter offered at £4000, and eventually paid £2500. He was compelled to refund all rents paid and redress wrongs he had done to his people which resulted in his ruination. Now, very much on the downward slope, he continued to harass and denigrate his clan’s people and brought legal suit after legal suit against them, however he lost most of them. Seeing his power completely dissipated he slipped away from Arnprior in 1853 for Hamilton, and from there to the Orkney Islands. At some point he must have contacted his wife Margaret in Florence asking for money and she granted him a small allowance. Thereafter he went to France where he died in 1860 in Lanion in the Côtes d’Armor, a small fishing village, in poverty, loneliness and considerable disgrace. As regards the settlers their lives improved immeasurably without him and although hard work was the order of the day they prospered and subsequent generations were able to say, with truth, that Canada had been good to them.

Lanion, Côtes d’Armor

However, one is left with the lingering and somewhat sad question “Was this how a typical Highland Laird acted before the breakup of the Clan system?” The answer is that a local Highland chief could, at will, hang anyone he fancied from a tree for true, or imagined offence! He could call out any and all at this bidding to work for him, and die for him! He never let the local people forget that they owed him everything! It is amazing that even throughout the centuries where the clan system prevailed, where oppression was the rule rather than the exception, the people of the clan remained loyal! It was perhaps that they had no choice. Choice was not a feature in their lives. And even at the end they were the ones force-evicted, not the local Chief or Laird. After all, he owned the land!

The descendants of these clan chieftains, most of whom now are Anglo-Scots, are regularly invited over to the United States and Canada with all expenses paid. There they are wined and dined in high fashion. Their task is to open a St. Andrews Ball, or attend a Highland Games, or inaugurate a Chair on Scottish studies at a university. To add insult to injury they are royally received by descendants of people who, over generations, their families had sorely abused. The ancestors of these “distinguished” families were the same folk who force-evicted their tenants using “Fire and Sword” policies! No-one seems to care anymore!

Some time ago I attended a St. Andrews Ball and went along with some misgivings. I knew that what lay before me was a travesty. The Chieftain was immaculately attired in full Highland dress proudly displaying upon his ample chest, gleaming medals, no doubt signifying bravery. He was too young for any recent major war! His opening remarks started off in supercilious vein. His accent was English (he had been educated there), and nasal. He commenced with thanking his hosts for their kindness and generosity and then, moving in to the main part of his speech, said, “Throughout the world tonight there will be thousands of drunken Scotsmen.” There was no point in listening anymore! This from a family that for centuries had been involved in oppression, treachery, abuse, violence, death, theft and murder, regardless of sex, or age. This wretch was descended from Clan Chiefs whose followers burned down homes and hung men for little or no reason. A family that stole most of what they had ever received, and whose very name places a stain on a proud heritage. Later in the evening he became one of those not so sober Scotsmen!

I see from a recent reading that Sir Malcolm MacGregor, chief of the Clan Macgregor, and his lady fair recently attended the Highland games in Stone Mountain, in Georgia. Here two or three centuries ago, hundreds of exiled Scots were forcibly sent there to act as indentured servants (slaves). It was interesting to note that the ancestors of this couple were intimately involved in the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, over the years, and created mayhem for all their close neighbours in Strathearn, Strathyre, and also in Breadalbane as well as in the Border country. I wondered who paid for this junket and what it achieved. The article written by the lady fair herself, suggests that their hosts were generous and friendly. No doubt they were, however, one wonders if their hosts knew the real reason as to why they ended up there! The photograph of the happy pair shows the great Highland chief hanging on to a decorative pole of some sort. Beside him, with almost a look of resignation, stands his handsome wife dressed to the nines in what one assumes is true and original MacGregor tartan - not the work of Sir Walter Scott and his fanciful notions! Her hat resembled a lampshade! Achoan, achoan.

She gaily admits to being an Armstrong. These people were a well known band of intergenerational thieves and cut throats that stole and pillaged throughout the Scottish and English Marches in the Border region between Scotland and England. One of the most prominent of these Border reivers was wee “Johnnie Armstrong.” He became public enemy number 1 for a time. Eventually a meeting was arranged between Johnnie and King James V. When they all arrived in their finery, no doubt stolen, most of them were killed on the spot, with wee Johnnie being justly hung in Caernlanrigg Chapel, south of Hawick! He was the scourge of the area, a brigand, thief, murderer and thug…and that was his better side! The King was not much better!

It is time that these all expense paid trips paid for by members of the St Andrews Society, Clan Name Associations, Highland Games and Gatherings, to open an event by so called “hereditary” clan chieftains, be stopped once and for all. It is embarrassing to any intelligent Scot who knows how they treated their clans’ people over millennia by having them act as slaves in humiliating and demeaning circumstances. The MacGregors never had or owned any land to talk of. They stole whatever they could get their hands on. They stole, fought and murdered the Stewarts, the Murrays, the Drummonds, the Campbells, the MacLarens, the Buchanans, the Colquhouns, the Robertsons, the MacNabs, and anyone else who crossed their paths! To be fair, though, all these tribes were all doing the same thing! It is a fact that ordinary men and women who went out in the morning may not have returned to their homes in the evening!

It is time that this form of financial handout or welfare, to ostensibly keep Scottish history alive, was stopped. Highland Games and Scottish events should be opened by a little boy or girl from the local community, and Scots would still attend! This is not sour grapes as the name of this author is the second oldest name in Scotland, and it is also probably true that he was descended from Nechtan the Pict himself. You will all be interested in knowing that once Nechtan did his thing as a Clan chief, he became a priest or a monk renouncing all worldly possessions. Perhaps the hundreds of Highland Chiefs and their retainers out there, waiting for a call to open the next event, all expenses paid, should follow the same path!

The richness of our culture and heritage lies in the common folk, the “cast of thousands.” They are the ones that created the history, the music of the bagpipes, the country dance music, the fiddle music, the country and Highland dancing, the Highland games, and the poems and songs which have endured and are offered in all parts of the globe. It is their contribution which makes the difference. How they managed to do all these things under the circumstances is a story in itself and is the “real” stuff of legends. They were the ones who created the national ethos – Scots, Despite Them!

An unlikely encounter-See Chapter on the MacGregors

A Colqhoun and a MacGregor at Stone Mountain Highland Games in Georgia, 2008