Page images

would he have resumed his old profession of cattle-dealing. Accordingly, in the year 1720, we find old Rob addressing a letter to Field-Marshal Wade, who was then marching through the Highlands, receiving the submission of such clans as had been concerned in the rebellion of 1715, offering to become once more a good subject of King George.' The letter is very humble and submissive, and by no means ill-written; alluding, however, more to his conduct as a rebel in the year 1715, than to the lawless exploits for which subsequently to that time he had become notorious. No notice seems to have been taken of this letter; and Rob appears to have come to the conclusion that he must die as he had lived an outlaw.

From this time our information about his movements bee comes more scanty; and the probability is, that his joints were growing stiff, and his arm less powerful than before, and that he began to feel a rough and violent occupation less fitted to his strength and years. His fame had already extended far enough. He was known in England as well as in Scotland. In London he had been made the subject of a catch-penny tract, entitled “The Highland Rogue,” full of the most extravagant stories of his strength and sagacity; and it is not impossible but his name may have even figured in conversation in circles where Pope and Addison were present. But Rob’s days of activity and enterprise were over; and even his unmatched skill as a swordsman could not always avail him when his antagonist had youth on his side. For the last ten or twelve years, therefore, of his life, he refrained as much as possible from his former habits. During the first period of his long life, and down to the time of his absconding, he had been a Protestant, and, it is said, a regular attendant at the parish church. After turning cearnach, his visits to church, though they were not altogether given up, became fewer; but now, in his old age, beginning to think of serious subjects, he saw fit to give up attendance on the Presbyterian worship, and became a Roman Catholic. Rob, however, never appears to have clung with any remarkable tenacity to the faith which he professed.

This remarkable, and, as we must call him, unfortunate personage, died a very old man about the year 1738. When he was on his deathbed, one of his enemies, a Maclaren, came to see him. Before admitting him, the old man insisted on being lifted up, with his plaid put round him, and his broadsword, pistols, and dirk placed beside him; for, said he, “No Maclaren shall ever see Rob Macgregor unarmed." He received his foeman's inquiries coldly and civilly. As they were together the priest came in. Taking the opportunity afforded him by the meeting of the two hostile clansmen on so solemn an occasion, the priest exhorted Rob to forgive his enemies, and quoted the appropriate passage in the Lord's Prayer. “Ay," says Rob, "ye hae gien me baith law and gospel for it. It's a hard law, but I ken it's gospel.” Then turn

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ing to his son Robert, who was standing near, “My sword and dirk lie there, Rob: I forgive my enemies; but see you to them, or may

The priest checked the rest, and Rob grew calm. When Maclaren had left the house, the dying man–the Highland spirit burning brighter in him at this the last moment than it had ever done before—said, after a little pause, “Now it is all over; tell the piper to play Ha til mi tulidh !-[We return no more !]” The piper obeyed. With the music of this Gaelic dirge in his ears Rob Roy breathed his last. He was buried in the churchyard of Balquidder. His grave is covered with a simple tombstone, without an inscription, but with a broadsword rudely carved on it.

ROB ROY'S SONS, JAMES AND ROBERT. Rob had five sons—Coll, Ronald, James, Duncan, and Robert. Of these, James and Robert had the most singular history. It does not appear that they followed their father's lawless mode of life after his death. All the five were engaged, with the rest of their clan, in the rebellion of 1745. James, who was a tall and very handsome man, held a major's or captain's commission in the Pretender's army, and particularly distinguished himself by his bravery and ability. At the battle of Prestonpans, when advancing to the charge at the head of his company, not a few of whom had belonged to his father's band, he fell to the ground with his thigh-bone broken. Immediately lifting himself up, by resting his head on his elbow, he cried out, “I am not dead, my lads, and I shall see who among you does not do his duty!" After the suppression of the rebellion, James and his brothers contrived to elude the penalties inflicted by the government, although James was at first included in the list of the attainted. At this time James was a married man, and had fourteen children. Robert, who had married a daughter of Graham of Drunkie, was now a widower.

Robert, of all the brothers, seems to have been the most wild and reckless. He was described by one who knew him as “mad and quarrelsome, and given to pranks.” Shortly after his father's death, he killed one of the Maclarens, was outlawed for it, and had gone abroad; and now that, in consequence of the inefficient administration of justice at that period, he was allowed to resume his place in society, he resolved on another Macgregorlike outrage on its laws. Instigated partly by passion, partly by a desire of retrieving his fallen fortunes, he determined to carry off Jean Key or Wright, a young woman nineteen years of age, whose husband was just dead, leaving her a property of 16,000 merks. The practice of carrying off women and marrying them, which we know to have been not uncommon among the ancient nations, and of which we have instances of not very late date in Ireland, was quite consistent with old Highland manners, and is celebrated in many ballads. In fact, when a Highlander was

śmitten by the charms of a Lowland lass, carrying her away, by force was in many cases the only way of obtaining her; and the abduction of a girl seems to have been regarded not as a erime, but as a bold and manly action. In many cases, too, the parties had agreed beforehand; and the violence used by the bridegroom was only a make-believe, to increase the piquancy and éclut of the marriage; or, at most, a means of overcoming the maiden's scruples about disobeying her parents when they disliked the match. Nor even where the abduction was entirely without the knowledge, and against the will of the bride, was the transaction regarded as very blameworthy. Sir Walter Scott was once severely taken to task by an old lady for expressing his disapprobation of the practice in a particular instance. “I assure you," said the venerable lady,“ they made the happiest marriages these carryings awa o' lasses—far happier than folk mak now-adays. My mither never saw my father till the nicht that he carried her awa wi' ten head o' black cattle, and there wasna a happier couple in a’ the Highlands.”

În Rob Oig?s case, however, there seems to have been none of those redeeming circumstances alluded to by the worthy lady. On the night of the 8th of December 1750, he went, accompanied by his brothers James and Duncan, to the house of Edinbelly, in Balfron, Stirlingshire, where Jean Key was residing with her mother. . Rushing in with pistols and dirks, the brothers terrified the males of the family into submission, and dragging the poor girl out, placed her on horseback, and rode away, stopping at several houses on the road. Next day the marriage between Rob Oig and his victim was performed at Rowerdennan by a priest named Smith, who had been brought from Glasgow for the purpose, the bride being forced by threats to give her assent. The brothers seem to have expected that the unfortunate woman would soon become reconciled to her condition, and that in this way they would escape the punishment annexed by law to the crime of which they had been guilty ; but the continued manifestation of repugnance and aversion on her part, and the assiduity of her relations, began to alarm them. Their cousin, Macgregor of Glengyle, too, would give them no countenance; and the property of their victim had been sequestrated by a warrant of the supreme civil court. Extracting a solemn promise that she would never appear in a court of law to prosecute them, James Macgregor conveyed her to Edinburgh, where he remained for some time, both to prevent her from adopting the legal steps which he knew her relations would advise, and also to see whether it were possible to get the sequestration of her effects removed. But at length the Court of Session interfered, and took her in charge, and Macgregor left town. Free now from the restraint which the presence of the Macgregors had put upon her, Jean Key reluctantly yielded to the solicitations of her friends, and made an affidavit or written declaration of her wrongs, which could be used in a court of law. She did not live, however, to take any part in the subsequent proceedings which her relations set on foot; for her health and spirits had been completely broken, and having been removed to Glasgow, she died there on the 4th of October 1751. Her husband, Robert Oig, made several attempts to see her, but was not admitted.

It is probable that, if she had lived, the matter would have been allowed to drop; but after her death, her relations redoubled their efforts to bring the culprits to justice. James Macgregor was apprehended at Stirling on the 19th of May 1752, and brought up before the Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh on the 13th of July. The indictment was drawn up against James Macgregor, "alias Drummond, alias James More, and charged him with the crimes of hamesucken and forcible abduction. The case went to trial on the 4th of August, and witnesses were examined on both sides. The fact of forcible abduction was clearly proved by the testimony of a great many persons; but, in opposition to this, the prisoner set up the plea that Jean Key was herself privy and consenting to the outrage. Several witnesses, principally of the Macgregor clan, swore that, having seen her after she had been carried away from Edinbelly, she seemed to be a very content;” “ in very good-humour, no way displeased, and very merry; so that they understood, from her conduct, that violence had been used merely for form's sake, her relations being averse to the match, and her former husband being but six weeks dead.

The verdict returned by the jury was one finding the forcible abduction of Jean Key from her own house proved, but the charge of subsequent violence and compulsory marriage not proved ; and this verdict was accompanied by an expression of the anxiety of the jury that the case should be taken out of the class of capital offences. This occasioned a great deal of arguing and consultation among the judges and lawyers of Edinburgh; and in the meantime the prisoner was sent back to his place of confinement in the castle. About two months and a half had elapsed, and the lawyers were still employed in clearing up this difficult case, when one morning, before breakfast, the news ran through the town that James Macgregor had made

The affair is detailed in the Scots Magazine for November 1752. “James Macgregor, alias Drummond," runs the paragraph, " under trial for carrying off Jean Key of Edinbelly, made his escape from Edinburgh castle on the 16th. That evening he dressed himself in an old tattered big-coat, put over his own clothes, an old nightcap, an old leathern apron, and old dirty shoes and stockings, so as to personate a cobbler. When he was thus equipped, his daughter, a servant-maid who assisted, and who was the only person with him in the room, except two

his escape.

work carelessly, and this with such an audible voice, as to be heard by the sentinels without the room door. About seven o'clock, while she was scolding, the pretended cobbler opened the room door, and went out with a pair of old shoes in his hand, muttering his discontent for the harsh usage he had received. He passed the guards unsuspected; but was soon missed, and a strict search made in the castle, and also in the city, the gates of which were shut; but all in vain.” In the number of the same magazine for the following month, we are informed that, in consequence of an order from London, “the two lieutenants who commanded the guard the night Drummond escaped are broke ; the sergeant who had the charge of locking up the prisoner is reduced to a private man; the porter has been whipped; and all the rest are released.” On escaping from Edinburgh, James Macgregor had made direct for England; thence he made his way to the Isle of Man; and from that he escaped to France.

The affair, however, was not yet at an end. On the 15th of January 1763, Duncan Macgregor was brought to trial for his share in the crime of carrying away Jean Key. As Duncan was not so deeply implicated as his brothers, he was acquitted, and dismissed. Robert Macgregor, alias Campbell, alias Drummond, alias Robert Oig, was apprehended shortly after, and brought to trial on the 24th of December 1753; and his fate was not so happy as that of his brothers. The evidence adduced was pretty much the same as on the trial of James; but a distinct verdict of guilty having been returned, “ the court decerned and adjudged the prisoner to be carried from the bar back to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, there to remain till Wednesday the 16th day of February next to come, and upon the said day, to be taken from the said Tolbooth to the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, and there, betwixt the hours of two and four o'clock of the said day, to be hanged by the neck by the common hangman, upon a gibbet, until he be dead.” This sentence was duly carried into effect. The prisoner, on the day of execution, says a contemporary Edinburgh newspaper,

was very genteelly dressed, and read a volume of Gother's works from the prison to the execution, and for a considerable time on the scaffold.” He died professing the Roman Catholic faith, and expressing a hope that his fate would satisfy justice, and stay further proceedings against his brother James. His body was given to his friends, put into a coffin, and conveyed away to the Highlands. The justice of the punishment inflicted on him was generally acknowledged; but there were some who persisted in believing, that if the culprit had been anybody else than a Macgregor, he would have been less severely dealt with.

The remainder of James Macgregor's story is very melancholy; for, as Sir Walter Scott says, “ It is melancholy to look on the dying 'struggles even of a wolf or tiger.” He lived in Paris in a state of extreme misery and destitution. A letter has been

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »