Robert Campbell ~ Glencoe Massacre

Captain Robert Campbell (1630-1696), 5th Laird of Glen Lyon, second son of Archibald Campbell of Glen Lyon from whom he inherited Meggernie Castle. Campbell oversaw the improvement of the castle. A combination of building expenditure, gambling debts, and a Bacchanalian lifestyle led eventually to potential bankruptcy from which only the kindness of family and friends saved him, temporarily. Campbell was soon forced to sell the majority of his estate (to the Earl of Tullibardine). During the 1689-1692 Jacobite uprising Campbell became a Captain in the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot. It was in this capacity that he led what has become known as the Glencoe Massacre (13 February 1692) in which dozens of MacDonalds were put to death: many others died after their homes were fired and they were driven out to die of exposure. The event was so brutal that a Commission of Inquiry was established in 1695 despite government attempts to maintain a cover-up. The Inquiry deemed the action murder and the soldiers accountable. John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, the Secretary of State for Scotland at the time was found to have organised the massacre and resigned (though with a government pension). Robert Campbell on the other hand died penniless a year later.

“Robert Campbell and the Glencoe Massacre

Deer grazing in Blair AthollWhen Robert Campbell inherited Meggernie Castle, in Glenlyon, from his father he set about improving it in the most lavish fashion. He roofed it with slates instead of thatch, he enlarged it very substantially and in the process created one of the stately homes of Perthshire. He also succeeded in bankrupting himself. Though he borrowed from his friends, his relatives and his tenants, he still could not meet his debts.
In a last despairing effort he sold all the woods of Glenlyon which were part of the old Caledonian forest. Workmen arrived from the south, the trees were felled and the logs sent floating down the Lyon, choking the river, causing widespread flooding and ruining the fishing. Even the trees left uncut were burned by the workmen so that all that was left was bare hillside.

But Robert Campbell was still unable to satisfy his creditors. His own tenants offered him half their cattle to pay off his debts but he refused and sold almost all of the estate to the Earl of Tullibardine in1684. All that he retained was Chesthill, a few miles from Fortingall, which belonged to his wife. In a last desperate effort to support his wife and family Robert Campbell at the age of fifty nine joined the Argyll Regiment of Foot and came to play his part in the Glencoe massacre.

The Government, after the rising of 1689, decided that all the clan chiefs should be required to take an oath of loyalty to King William before January 1st 1689. It was not something that many of them were particularly happy to do and they sent a messenger to France asking the exiled King James’ permission to change their oath of allegiance. The messenger only came back to Dunkeld on December 23rd, and it was December 29th before he reached McDonald of Glencoe.

Unfortunately McDonald went to Inverlochy to register his allegiance instead of Inverary. It was sixty miles to Inverary, it was snowing heavily and it was January 5th before he reached there. Even so, his deed was registered by the Sheriff and sent to Edinburgh together with a letter from Colonel Hill of Inverlochy explaining the reasons for the delay. But the document was declared illegal and McDonald’s name was not added to the list of those who had signed the Oath of Allegiance.

Glengarry was also late with his Deed and was the subject of a revealing letter from the King to Colonel Hill dated January 16th 1692. “We do allow you to receive the submission of Glengarry and those with him upon their taking the Oath of Allegiance…If McEan (McDonald) of Glencoe and that tribe can well be separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of public justice to extirpate that sect of thieves.”

On February 1st, men of the Argyll Regiment under the leadership of Robert Campbell were marched to Glencoe and billeted upon the people of the village. They were received with typical Highland hospitality for there was no reason to suppose that their mission was anything but friendly. Robert Campbell himself spent much of the time with McDonald’s two sons, one of whom was married to his own step-sister.

Then on February 12th, he received a message from Major Duncanson. “You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put al to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old fox and his sones doe upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in executione at fyve of the clock precisely; and by that time or very shortly after it I’ll strive to be at you with a stronger party. This is by the King’s special command, for the good and safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be put in executione without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King or Government, nor a man fit to carry Commissions in the King’s service. Expecting that you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof, as you love yourself, I subscribe these with my hand att Balichelis February 12th 1692. Ro Duncanson.”

The instructions were chillingly precise. Yet out of more than two hundred living in the glen only thirty eight were killed. Either Robert Campbell was incompetent or he and his men were less than enthusiastic for their task. There were tales told of soldiers warning families of the approaching massacre by holding strange soliloquies with dogs and cats and even stones. Though the ‘old fox’ was indeed shot dead his two sons escaped with their wives and families.

Besides being ineffectual, the massacre proved to be a monumental blunder and public opinion was such that the Government was forced to hold an inquest into the affair.”

“The Curse of Glencoe on the Glenlyon Campbells

The barren Glenshee landscape. Picture by Chas WebbRobert of Glenlyon, who was the commanding officer at the Massacre of Glencoe died lonely and disgraced on August 2nd 1696. He left behind a wife, three sons, four daughters and a plethora of debts. The lands of Glenlyon had been sold off and all that was left was the small property of Kilmorlich. The eldest son, Iain Buidhe (yellow haired John) set himself the task of freeing the family of debt, a feat which he eventually accomplished though it took him most of his life.
He was lucky in that he enjoyed the friendship of both the Duke of Atholl and the Breadalbanes, to both of whom he owed money. Soon after his father’s death the Duke of Atholl agreed to excamb Kilmorlich for the estate of Fortingall, a very favourable swap from Glenlyon’s point of view. Also, at his mother’s request, he applied to Breadalbane for the return of the famous Clach-Buadha (Stone of Victory). This stone though belonging to the Campbells of Glenlyon had been in the possession of the Breadalbanes all through Robert Campbell’s lifetime and his wife, Iain’s mother, believed that many of the misfortunes that had befallen the family could be traced back to the loss of the stone. It was said that good fortune attended Iain Campbell from the time he recovered the stone though this is perhaps open to question. He had the misfortune to choose the wrong side at the time of Mar’s rebellion.

He fought at Sherriffmuir and after the collapse of the rising he was fortced to flee to France. Some six years later, largely through the help of Lord Glenorchy, he was allowed to return home. Once back he built himself a new house at Fortingall (Previous to this time the family all lived with their mother at Chesthill in Glenlyon.) and set about improving his estate. He had eight children of which only one, a daughter, ever married.

There is no indication that Iain Buidhe ever felt shame at his father’s conduct at Glencoe or that the family was treated with anything but respect and affection by the people of Glenlyon. However, Iain’s eldest son named John but with the nickname An Coirneal Dubh (The black Colonel) was very different from his father. He was a tall serious young man with no sympathy for the Jacobite cause. He possessed a strain of melancholy and believed that the ‘Curse of Glencoe’ lay both upon himself and the rest of the family. He joined the Black Watch and served with distinction in Europe; but his stern authoritarianism, his rigid moral code and his strongly held Hanovarian sympathies served to cause an irreparable breach between him and his father.

After 1745 Iain Buidhe went into hiding, though he was probably never in too much danger. He had been too old to fight himself but had used his influence to obtain recruits for the Prince in Glenlyon and Breadalbane. Again friends in high places pleaded his case and he was allowed to return to Fortingall later in the year. He died soon afterwards.

The aftermath of the Rebellion was a sad time for young John Campbell as he and his men were ordered to burn the houses and remove the cattle from the Jacobite lairds of Perthshire, most of whom he had known personally. He felt more and more that this was part of his unhappy destiny. One person who knew him commented “A man by himself was the Black Colonel; for he ever believed that the evil spell of the curse of Glencoe was upon him.” In 1748 he transferred into the Marines and from then until 1769 he was always on active service. It was almost as if he did not wish to return to Glenlyon though he kept in close touch and often remitted money home.

Soon after returning to Glenlyon he went shooting with his younger brother, Archie, who fired at a hare. Unfortunately John was in the line of fire and the attendant cried, “You have shot your brother.” The two of them ran up to the Coirneal Dubh who showed them his cloak, riddled with shot, saying “Don’t be afraid. I am not touched. The curse of Glencoe is a spell upon me. I have been in mortal strife many a time and remained untouched while friends and foes were falling around me. I must drie my weird.”

With the revolt in America, John was recalled but once again the curse of Glencoe travelled with him. General Stewart of Garth relates the story “In 1771 Colonel Campbell was ordered to superintend the execution of a soldier of marines condemned to be shot. A reprieve was sent, but the ceremony was to proceed until the criminal was on his knees with a cap over his eyes. It was then he was to be informed of his pardon. No person was to be told, even the firing party who were warned that the signal to fire would be the waving of a white handkerchied by the commanding officer. When all was prepared, Colonel Campbell put his hand in his pocket for the reprieve, and in pulling out the packet, the white handkerchief accompanied it and the unfortunate prisoner was shot dead. The paper dropped through Colonel’s fingers and clapping his hands to his forehead he exclaimed. ‘The curse of God and Glencoe is here: I am a ruined man.’ Soon after he retired from the service though great efforts were made to persuade him to change his mind.”

He came back to Glenlyon and set about trying to regain the lands that had been lost by his grandfather. In this he was helped by his two brothers Archibald and David. David had been trained as a doctor. He went to Jamaica and remained there until 1782. Archibald, the youngest of the three, joined the army and saw service in Canada where he was wounded. He returned to Scotland and became chamberlain to the Earl of Breadalbane.

John was never prepared to marry because of his belief in the curse of Glencoe. However, he felt that his brothers who were of a more sanguine disposition should, if possible marry to perpetuate the family line. It was not to be. Archiebald who had promised to marry when he met ‘a lassie he liked and whom he could get to like him in return’ died suddenly of his old war wound at the age of 51. David, when he eventually came back to Scotland, felt that he was too old for such an undertaking.

John, Coirneal Dubh, Campbell died in 1781. Shortly before his death on April 4th he signed a deed entailing his estate. He appointed David Campbell and others to invest his money in the purchase of property, beside or near to his entailed estate. To the very last he tried to win back the old Glenlyon lands but perhaps the old Glencoe curse did indeed pursue him to the end. As none of the brothers had married the estate eventually went to Francis Garden, a grand nephew, who assumed the surname of Campbell to become Francis Garden Campbell of Troup and Glenlyon. There were three more Francis Campbells. Finally, the fourth Francis Campbell sold the property in 1885 to Sir Donald Currie.

By this time the curse of Glencoe had surely run its course, but by this time too, the Campbells of Glenlyon were no more.”

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