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

I've a Boat to Catch (1818)

The year started on the bright note with the opening of the Masonic Hall in Comrie with its first meeting being well attended in late January. It was named St. Kessac and its designated number in the Grand Roll of Ancient Freemasons in Scotland was 269. However while this was a happy event for many, everything else was gloomy and in some cases, disastrous.

The reality of the ending of the Napoleonic war after the Battle of Waterloo was setting in with the flax makers and the weavers. Napoleon had been beaten at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and Sergeant Hamish MacGregor and some of his mates had returned to Comrie having walked the length of England to get there. They were, no doubt, glad to be back as it was a lot more peaceful in the village and up in the Ross than “oot there.” Napoleon was now idling his final years in St. Helena and it was evident that the excitement of the war years which had spanned from roughly 1790 till 1815 were taking its toll on employment. It would be true to say that with his exile, our own local Diaspora was about to fall on everyone in Upper Strathearn. As such this is a good time to have a little reprise of our village at that time.

The Ross Bridge had been completed in 1792 bridging the Earn and connecting the weaving village of Ross to the village of Comrie. The old ford called Ath nan Sop was no longer required.

Ross Bridge built in 1792

Ath nan Sop

From around this time onwards the village had gradually taken shape as people from the glens came down into the community. Many had been tenant farmers who eaked out a precarious living. The farmers scraped a living from the great local estates such as Drummond, Dunira, Lawers, Aberuchill and Ochtertyre. Many, particularly on Drummond land, the largest estate by far, although Protestants, were made to conform to the Catholic Laird’s bidding and had been sent out in the ‘15 and ’45 debacles. They had suffered cruelly with death and banishment a constant companion. By the latter part of the 18th century they were no doubt breathing a sigh of relief that at least they and their families were still in the land of their fathers, even as “indentured” tenants. Tenants were, in the author’s opinion, one step above, slaves!

A few smallholders owned a “wee puckle o’ land,” perhaps a field or two and on it they grew potatoes, turnips or hay. A few would own a “coo” and perhaps a pig and a few hens - at best it must have been subsistence living. Some of the ruins of these small holdings can be seen in Glen Artney at Finduglen and Glen Lednock within three miles of Loch Lednock, although some have disappeared, and it is difficult to find any sign of anything having been there. A sign for the explorer are patches of nettles which signify that someone had lived there or very close by! A beautiful example of two abandoned and ruined communities can be seen at Easter and Wester Glentarken far above St. Fillans.

Others such as cotters and weavers did quite well during the early years of the 19th century. After all, Britannia ruled the waves! Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar had ensured that neither the French nor the Spanish navies would be a foreseeable threat. During the war the need for canvas for sails for naval vessels had become greater than ever. So too, as the army increased in size, had the demand for uniforms made of linen. The flax makers of Strathearn had plenty of work, profits were to be had, and the good times rolled. They made their living through the processing of flax and weaving it into cloth. One can still see evidence of their retting ponds and lime kilns in Glen Lednock at Glaslarich and Tighnasithe. However, as the snow “droppeth from the gentle heavens” it melts, too. There is now little trace of this once busy industry.

Tigh Na Sithe (Tynashee)

After the great victory at Waterloo in 1815 there would no longer be any need for flax on the scale produced as a result of the war being over. The trade spluttered along for thirty years and then died out. Concomitantly the skilled and the unskilled labouring classes were also in peril. There was no longer a call to build the great dykes around estates as now the land had been clearly identified and delineated by the local estates. The dykes had been built to keep the “clean in” and the “unco clean” oot!

By this time it is true to say that by 1818 the outline of the village of Comrie had been established. Comrie was a planned village and at that time contained about 250 houses paralleling the course of the River Earn. The principal streets created were named after local powerful families and their estates; Drummond Street, Dunira Street and Burrell Street to be specific. The skills of the builders and their helpers too were no longer needed. In fact, there were just too many people and not enough work to be had (this has been true ever since). When soldiers and sailors had returned for the war they too were “surplus to requirements.”

Equally so other factors were in play. There had been a substantial drop in the selling of all agricultural products; oats, barley, potatoes, turnips, wheat, etc, and it was hard work to make a go of farming. Profits were down alarmingly. It however can be said that sheep were becoming more plentiful and that was like the grim reaper for many, especially tenant farmers and workers. Sheep could be sold at market value, whereas the indigenous people were expensive and sometimes were perceived to be more trouble than their worth!

Throughout the early 19th century the Scottish Diaspora continued apace. It had started in the North of Scotland in Sutherland, Rossshire and Invernessshire and moved inexorably south in a line from the north-east to the south-west. Tens of thousands of Scots were evicted from the land of their birth and forefathers. In its early days areas in the country after the ’45 were cruelly “ethnically cleansed.” Scots, in their tens of thousands were swept off the land by Fire and Sword policies. They were shipped to ports there to be herded on to boats for Canada, Australia and the US – anywhere would do. As long as they were out of sight, they were out of mind! Their homes for generations, now burned and abandoned, and their glens became the home of hundreds of thousands of sheep! The inhabitants were no longer required by the land owner. By 1818 the line had moved into Perthshire and the Tay valley, and Strathearn however, by this time, the forcible methods had mellowed. After all who did the fighting for the British army – none other than the sons of the evicted and dispossessed! There was in our area only one recorded exception. This was the forced eviction of the people in Glen Quaich in the early 1830’s by the Fourth Marquis of Breadalbane. Sometimes I think that some people should be disinterred and hung on a gibbet at a cross roads! He is high on this author’s list! In my opinion it serves a purpose! It happened to Oliver Cromwell…and no-one complained!

Lonely Glen Quaich and Loch Freuchie in the Distance

At this time the new land of Canada was opening up towards the west and land roughly following the present road from Ottawa to Toronto (Highway 7) and to the west was becoming available for emigrants and their families.

The British Government was also advocating population movement and offered incentives of land. A family could receive an allotment of a one hundred acre lot as long as they cleared it over the first five years. Many took this opportunity as the decision was based on starving to death in Strathearn or possible surviving in another country, thousands of miles away across the seas. It is easy for the reader therefore to see, with hindsight, that the established way of life in Highland Strathearn was about to change, and the area would never be the same again. News from beyond the seas had begun to filter through to the people in Strathearn and many, pondered long and hard, and took decisions.

The following families from the Comrie area, in sore distress applied for, and were granted, emigration status: Anderson, Campbell, Carmichael, Clark, Comrie, Cram, Dewar, Drummond, Dundas, Ferguson, Gow, McArthur, McCallum, McCowan, McCuig, McDiarmed, McEwan, McGregor, McIntyre, McLaren, McLauren, McNie, and Stewart. When one thinks about it one could cry!

Although some who had borrowed money took a coach from Crieff to Paisley, the vast majority assembled at Comrie Square in May, 1818, and crossed over the old rickety Dalginross Bridge. All knew they would never see this place ever again. Hunching down and weeping, and only carrying essentials, they walked or shuffled up Dalginross branching off onto the Braco road, and passing through the old Roman camp with its glorious view of the Sleeping Giant, and the Aberuchill mountains. Turning into Cowden, where the old road to the south lay, they followed it up past the old farmhouse there, and with one last look back over the Bogton Braes saw their homeland for the last time, then passed the Puddock Hoose joining the Langsyde Road (the B827). Och my, it would make a stone greet!

The Old Dalginross Bridge

From there they walked to Stirling and on to Glasgow. Thereafter they crossed the Clyde and ended up at Greenock. Reports suggest the scene was of absolute chaos as no arrangements had been made for them and oddly enough, angry words were spoken! They also met up with fellow travellers from Perthshire who came from the parishes of Dull, Killin, Muthill, Callander, Balquhidder, Little Dunkeld and Blair Atholl. Eventually their transport to the new World arrived consisting of the 260 ton brig “Curlew” (Captain Young) with its companion ships, the 230 ton “Sophie” (Captain Moore), and the “Jane.” The three ships were bound for Quebec City.

Model of a typical brig for the early 1800's

The “Curlew” drew anchor on Tuesday, the 21st July and the “Sophie” five days later on the 26th. Can anyone imagine that last look of Scotland as the vessel moved down the Tail o’ the Bank? The distant Scottish hills, with all their beauty on a sunny and breezy day, would recede from view far too rapidly! They arrived in Quebec City after a relatively uneventful passage on the 9th of September where they disembarked. It is unclear at this point how the party made their way to Montreal. They may have been transshipped by one of the very few steamers, or possibly by some other river boat, or even by coach and some even using Shank’s Pony!

I've a Boat to Catch (1818) - 1
I've a Boat to Catch (1818) - 2

The next part of their journey started at Lachine near Montreal where they took onward passage by shallow-drafted bateaux up the Ottawa River and the new land. Again they were unloaded at St. Andrews East (now St. André Est) opposite Pointe Fortune. This was due to fierce river rapids which they had to portage around. There, a little boy in the party became ill with whooping cough so the Crozier of St. Fillan was pressed into service… and lo, he was healed! The little boy was a Dewar from Strathtay and he was cured in the Argenteuil Seigniory, in nearby Carillon.

St. André East

It is unclear how they proceeded towards is now called Ottawa – it could have been on either side of the Ottawa river with the odds being on the Quebec side passing by the village of Hawkesbury on the opposite bank. They arrived in Wrightsville or Wrightville or Wrighttown in September. The settlement had been named after a man whose family originated in Kingston upon Hull in England and, at best, could be described as a lumber and logging camp. This dwelling place lay opposite Ottawa, which was then called Bytown. Bytown, standing next to the Chaudiere Falls, had been named after Colonel By who had been tasked to build a canal between Bytown and Lake Ontario.

Naturally the emigrant party would have to make the trip from Ste André Est and Pointe Fortune and Wrightville several times to collect all their gear. Government and land agents were in place to offer guidance, no doubt with fees being allocated and agreements being struck, as to what land portions would be in place in the spring. In all likeliehood the higher the fee, the better the allocated land. The winter begins in earnest in mid October so they would have to build tent shelters or lean to`s to meet the approaching long, very cold, and harsh winter. At that time there was only one wooden-framed building in the whole area.

The year finished on both a high and a low note. The beautiful Christmas carol “Silent Night” was written in Germany by Josef Mohr however, it was said that the organ broke down at its inauguration. Two or three years later it was set to music by Franz Mohrt however, it is unlikely if any of the Strathearn people alive at that time would have ever heard it in their lifetimes in Canada. It can also be surmised that many of the settlers died of a broken heart!

In the spring a party of them set out and some twenty five miles west of Bytown came to a small community called Morphy`s Falls. There, fifty and 100 hundred acre lots of land grants had been given to them and the long journey at last had come to a conclusion. All they had to do was build a house, clear the acreage of millions of trees, dig out the trunks, work up the soil, and plant a crop! They had five years to show evidence of their toil. If the plot met with the requirements stipulated by the local government they were granted the land, no doubt returning any borrowings which had been made to assist them on their journey.

Jessie Dewar in a letter dated 1910 states about her emigrant family that “they endured very great hardships. The first year they had to carry provisions 60 miles on their back, the most of the way on an Indian Trail.”

Probably some gave up, but the majority continued on. It is probable that within three generations of back breaking work by all they were well ahead of where they would have been had they stayed in Strathearn! We will meet some of their descendants when we look at the chapter of twinning Comrie and Carleton Place.

Carleton Place Town Hall

Others followed from the Breadalbane lands which stretched from Aberfeldy to Oban on both sides of Loch Tay and the Sma’ Glen as well as Glen Quaich. In 1832 the Laird of Breadalbane, a Campbell, decided that he no longer wanted his loyal tenants on his land. They were force evicted from their ancestral homes in Glen Quaich. Three or more hundred families were shipped to Upper Canada from his lands in Glen Quaich in 1832. They were replaced by sheep! These folk eventually ended up in North Easthope, near Stratford, Ontario, some 250 miles from Carleton Place. At least there were “kissing cousins” relatively close by!

Memorial Stone to the Settlers from Glen Quaich at North Easthope, Ontario