Angus Ban of Inch by Kathleen McDonald, Keppoch, Okoia, New Zealand.

Every country likes to remember its famous men and women. Statues of them are erected in the places where they lived and worked and lists of honour carry the names of brave warriors who died in battle for their country. They have many biographers and although a good deal of familiar ground has to be traversed again, not many years go by at a time without some writer shaking the dust from the files and reshaping studies of their lives into readable packages for the next generation.

It is not surprising therefore that much has been written about Alexander of Culloden and the phase of Scottish history through which he lived and died, but as little or nothing is known of the period of his life when he returned from France about 1719 and lived in Skye, the birthright of his eldest child, Angus Ban (born during this time) has proved rather a debatable question with historians.

The student of clan history in Scotland should not confine his attention exclusively to the country, but should also follow the expatriated families beyond the seven seas. The battle of Culloden and its aftermath affected many generations. Like my late husband, I am descended from brave men who fought on that desolate moor. My proud Cameron ancestors left their homeland never to return; they cherished their heritage and yearned for their homeland as only those who never went back can, for a man’s pride is living in the land of his birth.

The bond between a child and his parent is strong and descendants of exiles from the Highlands of Scotland were taught personally the history and poetry of old Scotland that clustered around Jacobitism. The instinctive behaviour of the early pioneering Scots was to stay within their own tight settlement and the families they founded watched their elders at work and recreation, so naturally, their aims and ideals became their aims and ideals; their songs and poems became their songs and poems; the history of their homeland became their history. Thus imbued with these strong family traditions they inherited a transplanted heritage where oral tradition, based on fact, played a vital role in their education which was handed down from generation to generation. Personal heirlooms and loved mementoes brought out from Scotland were cherished in our homes and they played also a part in the romantic history of a land across the seas. How many children in Scotland when taught the poems of Robert Burns would be given a first edition of his poems, inscribed by him, to read and study? Therefore as South Sea lslanders descended from Scottish forebears with only a brief dimension in our own country’s culture, we cannot help but respond to the cultural identity of our proud Scottish ancestors.

In reading the history of Scotland and that of my own country, it is interesting to note the similarity between the ancient Scot and the early Maori of New Zealand. Both races lived in tribes; both derived a sense of worth from being tangata whenua – people of the land; both bred fierce and brave warriors; both had a deep seated sense of identity; both were defined by clan names; both practised the custom of fosterage: both had the gift for poeticising events and figures. Tribal feuds were similar and the literature of both races was almost wholly oral. There was an empathy between the Maori and the Scot and many intermarried and founded families here.

Truth is an elusive quality when one tries to unravel history so, in order to evoke the flavour of the era into which Angus Ban was born, it would seem desirable to study fully the customs and laws of the period, its culture, characteristics and achievements. History tells us that handfasting, a system of trial marriage, was a tribal custom within the Scottish clan society. The parties contracted to live together for a year and a day and if there was no issue of their union the parties were then at liberty to dissolve the contract. If, however, a child was born during this time the father became responsible for the mother and child, thus regulating the union. The significance of this type of relationship cannot be underrated and the symbols of tribal order overlooked because they are not of our present day culture. Marriage laws as we know them were then totally non-existent.

The mother died shortly after Angus’ birth and the father became responsible for him, thereby following the concept of a valid relationship of love and trust within a tribal order. There can be little doubt, that had the mother lived she would have been written in the annals of history as the wife of Alexander Keppoch of Culloden. It might not have been considered a political marriage for the young Keppoch as marriages of convenience played their own pan in these affairs but nevertheless it has the hallmarks of being a valid one. Keppoch at that time was not committed to another, nor did he avail himself of the custom of fosterage which consisted of an infant, particularly an illegitimate one, being sent to be reared in another family of the clan. The father kept his child close by him throughout his life and brought him up in the love and intimacy of his family home. It does appear therefore as if Angus Ban, instead of being illegitimate, rather succeeded to the burdensome heritage of a tribal marriage union for it must not be overlooked that he was born and nurtured amid the influences of a system now passed.

Family tradition has it that in every way the boy was treated as the dearly loved eldest son and that his stepmother recognized this by her devotion and acceptance in placing her eight young children and herself under the influence and protection of Angus Ban after her husband’s death.

It is recorded in family history by the late Josephine M. MacDonell of Keppoch that:

 “Angus acted a father to the family. They made no attempt to dispute his place as Chief, and his brother Ranald in 1757 entered the 78th or Frazer’s Highlanders, not as Keppoch but ‘Son of Keppoch’ ten years after his father’s death, which showed he looked on Angus as rightful Chief, Angus resigned to his brother about 1759 because he having taken part in the rising for Prince Charles Edward, his life was under attainder, and to try and save the lands, by his advice Ranald applied for a grant of the Keppoch lands through the Duke of Gordon, then Lord of Lochaber; this he obtained, and retained them till his (Ranald’s) death, when MacKintosh got hold of them thro’ his long deferred Charter obtained after the first battle of Inverlochy.”

Culloden and its brutal aftermath was traumatic for the true and loyal Jacobite. Those were heroic days when the elite Highland Clans were scattered and hunted like wild animals of the fields. Placed as he was amidst the perplexities of that dangerous time Angus Ban, with a price on his head, did all he possibly could to save his father’s family and his clansmen from the disgusting brutality of Cumberland’s men following that terrible battle. Like other notable Chiefs he had to go into hiding for a while and like them he attended the meeting which was held at Achnacarry by the Chiefs on the 8th May 1746, when they entered into a bond for their mutual defence, never to lay down their arms or make a general peace without the consent of the whole. (Josephine M. MacDonell of Keppoch). It is interesting to reflect that Angus Ban, like the gentle Lochiel of the Cameron Clan, never made his submission to the Hanoverian Government. This fact gives a great sense of personal pride to my two sons even today so many generations and years away from Culloden. They walked tall even in defeat.

And for the good of the clan Angus Ban, eldest son of Keppoch of Culloden, did the only responsible thing for the welfare of his family and clansmen – he used his strong influence to encourage his stepbrother, Ranald, to apply for the return of the lands of Keppoch and the second son of Keppoch became Chief

Family tradition has it that Angus Ban was a gentle man with a great sense of responsibility. He led a truly Christian life; loyal and faithful to his religious beliefs, his family and his country and throughout the centuries his descendants in New Zealand likewise have remained loyal to the same Christian belief of their forefathers and revere with pride the name of their ancestor, Angus Ban of Inch.

It is said that Angus’ son John was a man of culture and learning who was the last Scottish gentleman to see Prince Charles Stuart, who gave him a piece of ribbon as a token of honour. John was at the Scottish College at Rome when he was presented to his Prince. His father who accompanied the Prince in part of his wanderings, helping him to escape from his enemies related many stories of those sad, brave days to his son. John in turn, passed them on to his nephew Angus, the father of Josephine MacDonell the authoress of the Historical Record of the Branch of Clann Domnuill called “The MacDonells of Keppoch and Gargavach.”

Angus, grandson of Angus Ban, died whilst still young of smallpox contracted during a visit of compassion to the bedside of a dying man. He left a young widow and twelve children, four of whom were to become famous. Frances became Mother Marie-Celestine, the second Mother-General of the Good Shepherd Order and her life was one of great spiritual devotion. Indeed, the beauty of her spirit is evident in the likeness we have of her. The sad poem, translated from the French, of farewell to her family and home in Scotland is very moving. Frances became greatly reverenced in Spain, France and Belgium. Alice Claire, her youngest sister, was Bardess to Clan Donald. Another descendant of the gentle Angus Ban became a well-known New Zealand padre in the First World War. Another, a noted New Zealand pianist and singer. Several others were fine New Zealand athletes. One referred to as the softly-spoken sportsmaster (at a leading Catholic College) was for thirty years a popular figure on college athletic fields in the Wellington district of New Zealand. It has been written that quite a few All Blacks (NZ champion rugby football payers) and many champion fighters began their sporting careers under his tuition.

I had the happiness of being married for many years to a descendant of Angus Ban, a courteous, unassuming man, well-known throughout our area for his Christian friendliness to one and all. One of the finest tributes paid at his requiem by a well-known citizen of our city was that “he was a man without fault.”

A gentle streak has certainly filtered down through the centuries from the venerable man of Old Scotland – Angus Ban of Inch, eldest son of Keppoch of Culloden.