Caroline Oliphant – Lady Nairne~ Poet

Born in the ‘auld hoose’ of Gask, Perthshire on 16 August 1766, Caroline (also Carolina) Oliphant (her first name is the female form of Charles; she was named for Prince Charles Edward Stuart) became a poet and song writer of note. She met Niel Gow and wrote several songs to accompany airs written by Niel Gow Junior.

Her family the Oliphants of Gask (she was the third daughter) and the Robertsons of Struan were privileged landowners that as Jacobites had fallen foul of the Crown. Both Caroline Oliphant’s father and grandfather were active Jacobites and took part in the 1745 Rising. As a consequence of the defeat at Culloden they fled Scotland (living in political exile for 19 years) and their lands were put up for public auction. Fortunately for Caroline Oliphant, other relations managed to secure the purchase of those lands.

At the late age of 41 (in 1806) Caroline Oliphant married her second cousin, Major William Nairne (1757-1830). She gave birth to a son in 1808 – he became an invalid and was forced to depend on his mother’s care all his life. Caroline Oliphant lived for the majority of the time in Edinburgh.

In 1824 after the visit of George IV to Edinburgh (1822) and after successful lobbying by Walter Scott, the British Parliament gave back the forfeited Jacobite peerages. Major Nairne thence was elevated to the title of Baron (sixth Lord Nairne).He died in 1830 and after his death Caroline Oliphant lived firstly in Ireland and then travelled around Europe with her son until the latter’s death in 1837.

The effect of these turbulent times informed some of Caroline Oliphant’s poetry and songs, most notably:

The Hundred Pipes

Will ye no Come Back Again

Who’ll be King but Charlie

Charlie is my Darling

The Pentland Hills -this poem was about the Covenanters

She was not uncritical of the Jacobite cause and in her writing engages with the failures of certain Jacobite leaders. Neither was Caroline Oliphant constrained by the political happenings of her life and wrote on human issues, nature and the environment:

The Auld House

The Rowan Tree

The Laird o’Cockpen

Caller Herring

The Land of the Leal (c. 1798)

“Wha’ll buy my caller herrin?Oh, ye may call them vulgar farin’, Wive and mithers, maist desparin’, Ca’ them lives o’men.”

As a woman with a high social class position Caroline Oliphant chose not to challenge expected behaviour and so employed a pseudonym. A great deal of her work was published in the name Mrs Bogan of Bogan and appeared in the magazineThe Scottish Minstrel (1821-1824) printed by Robert Purdie – some 87 songs. These works included songs based on popular folk tunes; Caroline Oliphant collected the traditional tunes and put her poetry to the music.

Caroline Oliphant died at the age of 79 on 26 October 1845 at her home in Gask. In the grounds of Gask House, where she is buried, is located a granite stone in her memory. A posthumous collection of her work was published as Lays of Strathearn; it was put together by her sister. More recently (1996) her poetry appeared as Songs by Lady Nairne.

The subject of a number of studies, Caroline Oliphant’s life is detailed by Rogers (1869), G. Henderson (1900) and Kington Oliphant, Jacobite Lairds of Gask (1870).