Children of the ’45 by John Macdonald.

From “Travels in various parts of Europe, Asia and Africa During a Series of Thirty Years and Upwards“, by John Macdonald, a cadet of the Family of Keppoch in Inverness-shire. London, 1790.

It was formerly customary for the younger sons of gentlemen’s families in Scotland that did not go into the navy or army to become graziers. My father, who had no estate of his own, rented near a thousand acres of the Laird of Grant. He reared cattle, and drove them to the South of Scotland and into England, where he sold them.

He married, at the age of twenty, a daughter of some family of the name of Mackay; but I never knew anything of her family. My mother bore a daughter to him, and four sons; but he, being a rover in disposition and always hankering after the army, addicted himself to the use of the broadsword, in which he excelled, and being very hot and quarrelsome, challenged and fought many gentlemen with the sword and target, which affronted many families in the neighbourhood and broke my mother’s heart.

I was born in the beginning of the year 1741, and about two years after my mother had another son, of whom she died in childbed. On this my father was almost distracted, swore he would never marry another woman and said often to the children, “Thy mother I shall never forget.” Then he turned extravagant, did not stay at home so much as he should have done, but neglected his business, and when the Rebellion began in 1745, he raised a number of men of his own name, whom he employed as his drovers, and marched them up to Prince Charles, whose first camp was about twenty miles off my father’s house. The Prince received him kindly and made him a captain of the Macdonald’s clan. He then left his business to the grieve, or foreman, and very seldom came home. He was in all the battles that ensued in Scotland till he fell at Culloden.

The Laird of Grant, thinking things would go wrong with Prince Charles, took possession of what cattle was left, and put a person in the house in his name, which indeed saved it afterwards from the flames. The man that had the charge of my father’s affairs went with the cattle and had a place at the Laird of Grant’s. His name was Boyd. He took my eldest brother, as he had a great regard for the boy and the boy for him, and then we four were left with the maid, who took no care of the house, or any little things that were left, as she never expected any wages, but soon went off with a lover.

We were now left alone; but my sister being, by the providence of God, bold, of a heroic disposition, and strong withal, was prepared to go through the following hardships: Boyd, having read a letter dated from my father, Captain Macdonald, at Goolen’s Inn and Livery Stables, Head of the Canongate, Edinburgh – an answer was returned – but I believe all the letters to Prince Charles’ camp were intercepted, for we never saw or heard from our father more.

After the letter came from our father, my sister was never easy, and had it in her head to go to Edinburgh to see my father. She got all the money she could get together, which was 14 pounds Scots, or twenty-three shillings and four pence English. With this, the letter from my father in her bosom, and her three brothers in her hand, out she sets for Edinburgh, from the parish of Urquhart, about the middle of September 1745. Now our ages were as follows: Kitty, fourteen; Duncan that was left with Boyd, between ten and eleven; Daniel, seven; I. four and a half; and my brother Alexander, two years and a half.

She chose for her departure a moonlight night, that the people should not stop her; and so she got into Inverness about breakfast, having travelled nine miles. My sister carried the child on her back, Daniel carried the bundle, and I ran alongside of both. In this manner we travelled from Inverness to Edinburgh, which is one hundred and fifty measured miles, in the space of two months. Now we shall see the providence of God towards helpless orphans that fate left to his care alone. As we travelled we were the surprise of everyone, as we were so young.

Our money being expended, we were obliged to beg our bread. We were kindly used by some and harshly by others that were against the Prince. One kind woman equipt us with a little bag for oatmeal, for people that would not take us in would give us a handful of meal. She gave us a round wooden dish also, which my sister put our pottage in when she met with good people that would let her make it, or bake cakes of oatmeal on their gridiron. The chief of our food was pottage and milk, or cakes and milk; and sometimes. if we met with good friends at a farmhouse we got a bit of meat. If it rained we waited at a farmhouse sometimes for two or three days. On the journey we had two things to recommend us, although begging from house to house: the things we had on were all plaid, and of the finest kind, for an extravagant father cares not what he buys. Our apparel looked like that of a gentleman’s children, and we had a great share of beauty. Oftentimes, where we came, folks would say, “Poor dears! They certainly are some gentleman’s children.” Others, “What if they are a gentleman’s bastards?”

So, as God knows all things that are to happen, if he takes one thing, he gives another; and he has promised to take care of fatherless and motherless children. We never marched when it rained, if it had been two or three days, and, on a fine sun shining day we played on the road till near night, when we continued to shuffle forward. If we could not reach a house, my sister would cover us with our plaids and cut the tops of brooms with her knife to lay on and cover our plaids. In this manner we lay at nights for weeks, and always set off in the morning.

When we had any brook to cross or small river, my sister would carry over my young brother, then come for me, and afterwards come back to take my brother’s hand. One time, as she was wading with Alexander, when she came near the other side, the water overpowered her, and carried her and my brother into a whirlpool, where they floated. till a man, who was digging potatoes at a little distance, saw her distress and ran to her relief. He took her and the boy out of the pool and carried my brother and me over also. He then took us to a farmhouse, where we had victuals and drink and our cloaths dried; and at night we were put into a barn amongst the straw.

If at any time we happened to be benighted, and could not get quarters, we sometimes lay in an old house without a roof or any house near it; another time, if the weather was fine, near the roadside, amongst some fine broom. One day, in the morning before we got up, a lunatic, who was coming along, heard us speak; he drew aside, and stood over us for some time; he never spoke but seemed amazed. He then ran away as if he had been afraid and we were very glad.

When we came near to Dundee, not far from the town on the side of a river, there was an old castle where there was a blacksmith’s shop. The blacksmith’s wife was as good a woman as ever lived; she put hay in one of the corners of the castle where the rain did not come in, and there at night we lay. In the day we went a begging to Dundee and at night we came home. She let my sister dress our pottage and bake cakes. So we staid here three weeks, after which we set out again on our journey.

When it was fine weather, and we came to a rivulet my sister washed our second shirt and stockings, for we either had no more at first, or else she did not chuse to bring any more with her. When we came to a river where was a ferry-boat we begged our passage over.

Then we came to Perth where we stayed a week or two. The letter from my father was now so worn with fretting and chaffing that it was scarce legible; but a gentleman made shift to copy it for us afresh.

From Perth we travelled to Kinghorn where we staid a few days till we could get our passage to Leith. A gentleman who was a passenger in the same boat with us paid our fare. Before we left the boat the same gentleman made a collection for us. He raised half-a-crown. As we passed through Leith we went into an eating house and had plenty of bread, meat and broth for fivepence. In those days a working man could dine well for two pence.

As we were passing onward to Edinburgh by Leith Walk a country-woman of ours spoke to us and asked my sister where we were going, and from whence we came. My sister told her. She answered that Prince Charles was gone from Edinburgh and all his army with him. On hearing this, we sat down and cried and the woman cried out of pity. Then she took us to Goolens’ Inn.

Mr Goolen and every one in the house was surprised and sorry to see us in such a situation. Mr Goolen gave us some victuals and told my sister he would get us into the workhouse; for he was a very good man and beloved by every one that knew him. My sister would not hear of the workhouse, nor of any confinement but took us away immediately. We strayed down toward the bottom of the Canongate, staring at the signs, coaches and fine horses.

At the house below the Duke of Queensberry’s in the Canongate, a woman who stood at the door, seeing us strangers in the Highland dress took us in, and asked us several questions concerning our situation which we answered. She was a widow, and let lodgings; her husband before he died, was a master chairman of the name Macdonald born near the place where we were born. The woman let us sleep in a lumber garret on an old mattress and gave us an old blanket or two. We had a shilling left from the collection made for us in the boat with which we bought provisions.

Next morning we set out again and returned at night; and in this manner continued to live for some time. When we were tired of the town, then we went and begged our way in the country. Sometimes we lay in a barn, and at other times in a barn yard. In such situations, my sister would not let us cough lest we should be heard and we set off early in the morning for fear of being seen. In this manner we travelled round the country to Berwick, and to Morpeth in England.

In the month of April, 1746 we returned to Edinburgh by the Cheviot Hills and Coldstream. We went to Mrs Macdonald’s as before and she let us lie in the lumber chamber as usual. Brother Daniel and I, when we got up one day in the morning, went out to play with the boys and would not be kept under command by my sister who had the young child to take care of so that in the daytime we were seldom together. We went on in this manner for some time, till an unlucky accident happened which separated us all.

One day as the Countess of Murray, who resided in the Canongate, was returning from an airing with her coach and six, my sister and the child on her back crossing the street were both run over by the carriage. My sister and brother screaming for fear, and the people calling stop, made the Countess faint away. Kitty and Alexander were taken from under the horses and, as God would have it, no bones were broken. They were both taken into the lady’s house and duly taken care of. When they recovered the boy was put to nurse by Lady Murray and one Mr Vernon, an Englishman who had been butler to Lord Murray and by him placed in a good office in the Excise, took my sister for a servant and cloathed her. Thus my sister and Alexander were both done for.

As to Daniel and me, we both of us begged and played our time away, strolling round the country and stopping sometimes in the barnyard and at other times in a barn. In town we lay in the stairs; for about Edinburgh as in Paris and Madrid many large families live upon one staircase. They shut their own door, but the street door is always open.

There was an opinion at that time very prevalent amongst us poor children, of whom, after the rebellion, there were a great many, that the doctors came at night to find poor children asleep and put sticking plaisters to their mouth that they might not call out, and then to take them away to be dissected, and, indeed, I believe it very true, for what everyone says must be true, and the poor Highlanders were more despised at that time by the Scots in general, of the other party, than the devils in hell. So when we passed the night in a stair or at a door, one slept and the other kept watch.

In our rounds we went to see our brother, sometimes, at nurse; and one time to see my sister, but she wept so much that Daniel, having more sense than me, said, after we came away, he would not go again, because our being poor and helpless hurt her so much.

Another day we went a begging to Mr Campbell’s a master carpenter’s; and who should come to the door but one of my father’s servants. The man, on seeing us, was greatly affected and a scene ensued which took the attention of many. But nothing touched our hearts; we had no sorrow nor the least uneasiness.

One morning we strolled within the gates of the city of Edinburgh to see the fine high houses, and were taken up by the soldiers of the City Guard; for none may beg within the walls of the City; and the soldiers have an allowance for every one they take up. Our names were given to the Captain of the Guard and entered in a book. Young people that could not find protection were sent abroad in merchant ships in a situation little better than that of convicts – though not under the same disgrace. But when the guard soldiers found who we were, they were very sorry at what they had done for they were mostly all Highlanders and from our own shire of Inverness. They asked us, if we knew any person in town. My brother mentioned Mr Goolen at the livery stables at the head of the Canongate. This worthy man appeared for us at the Council Chamber before the Lord Provost and gave him such information concerning us as induced him to set us at liberty.

We went with Mr Goolen, and as there was one of his houses next door to his dwelling house empty he let us lie at night in a closet on hay. When we had a mind to go to rest we got both of us together into a corn sack. We went out in the daytime as before abegging but at night we had a whole house to ourselves like gentlemen. Now Daniel being the oldest and about the size of Mr Goolen’s son, his only child, he got his old clothes and played with the boy and went on errands and there remained.

I was still left to my shifts and went out as usual to beg and play for about one year. At night when I came home, I lay down at the door of a warehouse till my brother came to bed. He always bought me something to eat and some halfpence for the next day… Soon after this the house was let. We then slept in the stable in the haystall.

About this time one Mr Fraser a master shoemaker took me to rock the cradle. I did not like the confinement of this. I pinched the child in the cradle and made it cry. I was turned off accordingly which was the thing that I wanted. I was now taken into a gentleman’s house to turn the spit. They gave me stinking veal for dinner – I put it behind the chest and set off. I went next to lead a blind fiddler with whom I lived four months. He taught me to play on the bass. The fiddler beat me well with the strap of the fiddlecase so I left my master, the ass and the fiddles and ran as fast as I could into Edinburgh. I went next to a farmer’s near Corstorphine about five miles from Edinburgh. I would not stay in the farmer’s two days – like Lot’s wife I looked back to the city whither I returned.

I now began to leave off Goolen’s Lane or Close and found out Gibb’s Lane, a little below about thirty yards distance. Mr Gibbs kept hackney coaches and chaises and twenty horses. I got some victuals and drink from the coachmen and postillions for doing what they desired me and I slept in the large tub in which they mixed the oats and corn for the horses. In this situation I continued for some time. When I left my brother he was taken to sleep in Mr Goolen’s house. I saw him every day.

About this time one of the coachmen’s sons died and as I was all tatters he gave me his cloaths which fitted me to an hair. When a coachman went into the country with a family to their country house I went in the boot and came home with them again. And when I told them on their asking me who I was they often gave me sixpence or a shilling which I spent immediately with the coachman and postillion. I liked this life with all my heart.

In October, 1746 my brother Duncan in the Highlands hearing that we were about Edinburgh, that our father was killed in the battle of Culloden which is within twenty miles of the place where he lived with Boyd, that everything belonging to the rebels was destroyed and their houses set on fire by the Duke of Cumberland, came to Edinburgh dressed very genteely with two guineas in his pocket for he never tasted of poverty as we did. When he saw us he was amazed and grieved to the heart and thought bad worse. He stopt at Mr Goolen’s with his brother and paid what he called for. In a week Mr Goolen sent him to Falkirk to his brother, a stonemason in great business and credit with whom he was bound apprentice for seven years.

Between this time and the year fifty I became a postillion to Mr Gibb who set his carpenter to make a bed frame for me over the hay stall in one of the stables and gave me blankets, bedding and sheets every month. He put me in livery and looked upon me as his apprentice. I was fitted out with a green jacket with a red cape; a red waistcoat and a leather cap with the forepart lined with red morocco. When I was put on the horse I had a strap about my waist and fastened to the crupper of the saddle so that if the horse stumbled I could not pitch over his head … I was the littlest postillion in Scotland or any other country.

Now everything was agreeable. My sister and two brothers were always in town. We saw one another frequently and wanted for nothing. All the others had education. I had none but learned wickedness.