Barrisdale – Honour Maligned by Valerie Smith.

“Here to thee will belong the acts of establishing the custom of peace, of sparing the down trodden and of abasing the proud…”

With this inscription on his broadsword Colla Ban MacDonell 2nd of Barrisdale lived his life in the Highlands. A man of great strength, admired for his leadership and personal charm; yet he died in Edinburgh Castle, without trial in 1750 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars cemetery.

Many a historian since has brought in an unsubstantiated verdict of guilty, this we hope to argue here.

It is interesting to note that the celebrated Scottish historian and politician Charles Fraser Mackintosh who was closely associated with the city and county of Inverness, particularly as a Member of Parliament published a number of works on the history of the Highlands and Highland Clans.

Just prior to his death in 1901 he became interested in researching and publishing the defence of Coll Macdonell 2nd of Barrisdale and with access to family records through his friendship with Christian Helen CAMERON who was the daughter of Sir Alexander Cameron of Inverailort and Christian MacDonell of Barrisdale and wife of James Head JP. He was about to go into print and but for his untimely death, this would have been accomplished.

Research in the Inverness Highland Archives located three Pages, handwritten by Charles Fraser Mackintosh, untitled and covered in mould, comparing these notes to other handwriting held there, it was evident that this was his preparatory work for the defence of Barrisdale.

These Charles Fraser Mackintosh’s papers along with margin notes on his personal copy of the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (held in the Inverness Library) gives an insight into what he found as the falseness of the evidence laid out before Coll 2nd of Barrisdale, whose only crime appears to have been that he was successful in providing wealth and leadership for his Barrisdale Cadet line of Glengarry, owning or controlling vast areas from his Clan Land in one of the most beautiful yet unyielding part of the Highland West Coast – Na Garbh Chriochan The Rough Boundsdown through the Great Glen into Laggan.

However, before we enter into Charles Fraser Mackintosh evidential arguments, we should look first at the original charge, that of Blackmail.

In the case of Coll MacDonell 2nd of Barrisdale, much has been written regarding his use of Blackmail within the areas under his control in the Highlands. Every opportunity has been taken to assert that it was from this, that he obtained power and wealth.  Perhaps, now with greater understanding of the conditions we can place a fairer judgement.

In his ‘Gaelic Etymology’ Dr Charles Mackay alludes to mail being from the Gaelic màlrent,tax or tribute.  The question is what is the derivation of black. 

Two or three centuries ago, when a drove of cattle was going south through the Highlands, it had to move along glens, and in doing so had to use the roads when there were any; these roads and bridges being kept up by the work of the local residents. Often by the roadside, fences would be either absent or defective, and the hungry cattle, making a rush at any growing crops, would in a few minutes do a good deal of damage.  To pay for the use of the roads, and for the damage done to the crops, it would be only fair that some payment should be made by the owner of the drove.  This would be most easily done by giving one or more of the cattle.  What would be the best place to collect this tax.  Not where the strath or glen was wide; but where it was at the narrowest.  That spot would be where there was a pass.

The Gaelic for pass is Bealach; this sound quickly would soon become Balch; instead of sounding ch guttural, it by corruption, was sounded like k.  So that Black-Mail means the tax levied at the pass.  With the regular cattle drives through the Highland areas under his control many a head of cattle would be taken into Barrisdale’s control.

Our next evidence finds Barrisdale in the role of protector reference a letter written by Coll of Barrisdale in Dec 1734 wherein he requests from the “The Laird of Applecross” protection for a Ewen McPhie:

“I have sent him to you to be protected for no Campbell will ever go at such distance in suits of him, and if he fall in their hands I would be terribly affronted and Caldarse would lose his point and the matter in dispute is considerable to be sure five hundred pounds will not deside it there is not many I would presume to use this freedom with because there is some expense I keeping a fellow of three of four months but the mark of hartie and true friendship I always had from you give me intire confidence to ask this favour. Likewise I beg you at anytime you can think, I can be of use to you, most absolutely to Command … whatever the crime, McPHIE who is to give witness against the Campbell where he and several others are to prove several depredations against my Lord Breadalbane’s people”. (NLS Delvine papers).

Come Jan 1744, he is co-writer with Aneas McDonald in a letter: To Honourable Gentleman (Lochiel, Cameron of Fassifern, Glengarry, Keppoch, Glencoe) requesting their attendance at a meeting to discuss lawlessness in the area. (NLS Fassifern papers).

In October 1744 he is appointed by Glengarry and the Gentleman of Districts, together with MacDonald of Scothouse as Deputy of the district of Knoydart. (TGSI Lord MacDonald’s charter chest).

Barrisdale next stands accused of not being available in support on the day of Culloden.  However we know from records that The Earl of Cromatry, together with Barrisdale, Glengyle and MacKinnon, were sent into Sutherland to try to recapture money, £12,000 and stores which had been seized from the Prince’s vessel in the Pentland Firth on or about the 26th March.

We know also that they were surprised by Lords Sutherland and Rea on 15th April At Dunrobin Castle and Cromarty was taken … only 30 escaped about 40 of them were killed or drowned, the Earl, his son, some officers and upwards of 150 private men were made prisoners. 

Needing to return, Coll MacDonell was able to muster his men and leave the following day to return south to Culloden in response to receiving the Princes orders on the 13th. This says much for the ability of the man to lead back a disciplined group of men who had been routed with heavy losses the day before.

The charge laid against Barrisdale that his men appropriated some of the French gold which was landed at Loch nan Uamh on 1 May 1746 from the ‘Mars’ and the ‘Bellona’, is possibly correct, however, gold was taken by many, Cluny’s share was never accounted for, and the fact that he lived for years after Culloden in the ‘Cave’ without venturing out would suggest that he had the means to support him in comfort. Compared to the gold buried in Cameron land near Loch Arkaig any taken by Barrisdale’s men was insignificant.

More importantly, this was never one of the charges laid before him in questions asked of Barrisdale by Prince Charles Stuart through his Secretary Kelly. (Stuart Papers, Windsor Castle).

Another inconsistency of these charges is related in the August 1746 page 429 Gentleman’s Magazine:

“On June 28, under the disguise of a lady’s maid Prince Charles sailed with her in a small boat … he hired a boatman and returned to the continent. There it is said he was joined by Barrisdale in manifest violation of the protection his Royal Highness has given him and not withstanding the vigilance of the parties which guarded the passes he escaped through Glengarry to Badenoch….”

This provides further evidence that Barrisdale was actively supporting the Prince.

The author John S. Gibson’s charged that Coll of Barrisdale tried to assist the authorities by intercepting two French officers who had landed at Loch Broom, the Chevalier de Lanzière de Lancise and Lieutenant Berar:  ‘They were utterly lost in this wilderness of hill and mountain because they had to flee from the Laird of Barrisdale’.

It would be obvious to any, had Barrisdale or his clansmen wished to intercept the Frenchmen whilst they travelled through Barrisdale land, it would have been completed, the truth was that there was no clear indication that Frenchmen arriving in Scotland as friends of the Prince were immediately welcomed by the Jacobites.  Bonnie Prince Charlie posed as Lord Drummond to interview two of these, whom he suspected to be spies for the Government forces … many a Frenchman had arrived in Scotland and been captured, all trust had gone.

“Chevalier de Lancize persuaded the Prince’s friends there that rescue from France would eventually come. And so the gentlemen of Clan Donald set up hundred mile chain of communication from Clanranald’s South Uist to Clanranald’s Moidart, and from there to the country the Camerons and onward to the slopes of Ben Alder”. (Gibson).

Those gentleman of Clan Donald would have included Coll MacDonell, the chain of communication had been in  place for the whole period after Culloden, how else could the communication traveled so far, so fast, other than by the use of Clansmen, … at all points throughout this period of the Princes’ exile Barrisdale  is contactable or aware of where the Prince is and what is going on.

17 July 1746: In Neil MacEachain’s narrative he states that during the period that the Prince spent in the Braes of Morar near Meoble his host was Angus MacEachine (Borradale’s son-in-law) that while waiting at Borradale the Prince had daily conferences with young Clanranald and Barrisdale;

Knowing that he has been duped on the 26 Jul 1746 Lord Albemarle withdraws the protection order from Coll MacDonell of Barrisdale, In a letter on 4 Aug 1746 Major-General Campbell to the Earl of Albemarle Horse Shoe Bay writes.

“My Lord … I have this day received a letter from the Commanding Officer in Mull, with a piece of Intelligence as follows: This moment (viz Aug 3rd ) I received Information from Allan McLean here , that the Pretenders son, Lochiel and four more were in a Shild House in Glendeasrie six days past, and on observing a part of the Military coming that way made their escape to the hill … I am also informed that Colonel McDonald of Barasdell was in the company with them a day or two before they were surprysed by the party and that he parted with the Pretenders son in as good terms as usual.”

Then on 9 Aug The Lord Justice-Clerk Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun writes to the Earl of Albemarle – In reference to: Letter to Earl of Albemarle stated to have been signed at Glenluh 16 July 1746 by Col. McDonnell of Barisdale etc.

“Since there is little hopes of catching the signers of that information by force, the only method left is to grant them a protection for their person as your lordship proposed. I wish they may come all at one time, that they may be at once separately examined, for the Highlanders are all false and cunning. H.R.H. granted a protection to Barisdale (the first of the Subscribers of this Information)’ which, upon the shortcomings of his proposed merit, was not renewed”.

In an attempt to save further loss to clan and estates on 13 Aug 1746, Fort Augustus Col Macdonald of Barisdale with 50 men surrendered themselves to the Earl of Albemarle before he decamped.

As reported in The Scots Magazine On the 6th Sept, two French ships of force anchored at Loch­Uaoua. Next day four Gentlemen landed, sent Hugh Macdonald in Keppoch in quest of some of the rebel chiefs, and then returned to their ships. This man having brought Barisdale and his son to them, they landed again on the 8th, got guides to carry them to Dr Cameron, and were no more heard of for several days. Before the 17th, the Macdonalds of Clanranald junior, Lochgarry, Glenalladel, Dalela and his two brothers, the second Barisdale and his son, and some say Stewart of Ardsheill and four Gentlemen from Appin, were on-board.

It was then further reported on 16 Sep 1746 by Abermarle’s spy:

6 o’clock in ye morning

“In the letter I sent you yesterday I acquainted you with what accounts I had from Captain MacLeod concerning the French Ships of War which touched at South Uist; all that I have to add to these Accounts is that we are told from the Main Land, that three French ships of War came into Lochennoare in Muidort and received several persons on board; some say the Young Pretender was of the number as also Colonel McDonald of Barrisdil, his son Archibald, John McDonald younger Scothouses Son, two sons of Moror’s Lochiel, a son of Keanloch Muidort’s and others whom I have not heard named; that these French Ships put to sea on the 15th current,  Yesterday evening I saw two large vessels (which to me seemed to be shipe of war) were cruising between Lochennoare and the Island of Egg, which at length sailed into Lochennoare but whether they staid there I know not as the point of Aresaig intercepted my view and night came on.  But whether those ships were British or French no distinguish the distance being considerable. This is all I have yet discovered.

I am  etc Donald MacDonald
Keanlochnidale 17th Sept 1746”

In a following letter to Abermarle, Thursday the 18th:

“at twelve o’clock, the pretender’s son embarked on board a French ship of war  in the same loch in Moydart where he first landed, attended by McPherson of Clunie, with others of his clan, Cameron of Lochiel Dr Cameron his brother, Ludwick Cameron of Torcastle, Allan Cameron, Macdonald of Lochgary, and many others whose names were not known; and that Barisdale was said to have gone on board before the pretender’s son got to the ships”.

During all of these communiqués there is no mention of either Barrisdale being under arrest, being held on board, or being handcuffed, the movements suggest that of a man preparing to leave the country and taking on-board personal belongings.

Charles Fraser Mackintosh’s three handwritten pages support all this evidence, however he takes the issue further:

“Upon 13th April Barrisdale a lodger in Edinburgh Castle from whence he never emerged a living man.  Upon 18th April The Lord Justice Clerk reports that he has his prisoner but he did not take the trouble of sending even a copy of the Prisoners declaration – From this day 15th May 1749 up to his death on 1st June 1750 Barrisdal is kept in a confinement as close as if he were in the Convent dungeon of the Bastille, never tried, nor is there anything in the papers to show that the Duke of Newcastle’s order to proceed against him “according to law” had been even initiated. If that had have been, the real meaning for this monstrous breach of the fundamental points in the law that a man is innocent until proven guilty…”

Barrisdale in death must be maligned.  The allegation positively devilish, connected with his burial circulated in the Impartial Hand, circulated by Mr A Lang are shown to have been false.

Upon the question of Barrisdale’s alleged treason it may be stated:

The  charge of Treason by Jacobite and Hanoverian are in themselves inconsistent and mutually destructive.

The Jacobite charges were formally departed from and for whatever they were worth, cancelled by the French King.

The Hanoverian charges, although “ a True Bill” was passed, were not insisted on, far less established.  It cannot for a moment be doubted that if proof were available a trial would have taken place.

Dr Cameron Lees specific charges explained and answered:

Charge – “His fidelity to the cause after Culloden was suspected by hisccompanions”

Answer –  Men left Murray of Broughton saving themselves to the loss of their heads for treason. May have done similar if they thought of Barrisdale as a traitor. Until the charge is specifically formulated and brought home by a person of intelligence, fairness and honour the charge is unsubstantiated and undeserving of credit.

Charge – “When Prince Charles sailed for France, he was seized and came with him with a view to his being tried in that country as an Informer”

Answer –  Barrisdale and his son were inveigled on board the French ship, But with what view other than gratifying the malice of ill wishers does not appear.  Barrisdale was not a Frenchman nor subject to French Jurisdiction.  Finding him however illegally carried into France.  King Louis did keep him in prison but he dared not at his peril punish Barrisdale for any alleged wrong committed out of France, not against that country.  The French King’s behaviour contrasts most favourably with the vindictive cruel acts of the Hanoverian and Jacobite

Charge –  “Barrisdale and his son were confined to Prison from which they effected their escape to Scotland”

Answer – Here is a glaring mis-statement.  Barrisdale did not escape, but after the confinement they were finally liberated by the French King.

Charge – “The State Papers show that there is no doubt of Barrisdale being a traitor to his friends”

Answer – The State papers, at least such that are authentic and true now and received in Court. Show nothing of the kind.

Charge – Barrisdale writes to the Duke of Cumberland promising to “discover the whereabouts of the Prince”

Answer – I have found no such letter among the papers where if it existed it might lie.  Those about the Duke of Cumberland may have reported that Barrisdale offered to make disclosures, a very different matter of the production of Barrisdale’s autographed letter to this effect.

There has been many a miscarriage of justice in the reporting of the life of Coll MacDonell of Barrisdale, Charles Fraser Mackintosh’s vindication of his support for his Clan and his Prince was to have been published in the early 19000’s this was prevented by his death, perhaps others with more information than recorded here, will finally restore the deserved honour to life of this extraordinary Highlander.

In closing our defence of Barrisdale. A quote from Alice Clarie MacDonellBardess to the Clan Donald, writing to Mrs Head in 27 July 1890:

“… The MacDonalds what ever their faults of Pride were always alluded to as trusty – as to Barrisdale’s cheating the Hanoverians – WELL, they never kept their word, neither prisoners nor Generals & so it was a difficult matter to deal with them. They were people that any fine service of honour was lost upon.

Barrisdale was a splendid soldier and did loyal service in his fighting record, anything that may crop up in my sisters researches relating to him we will be delighted to let you know.”