Sarah Fraser

The Last Highlander

Shadow of Culloden – 1. the fate of Fraser lands

April 24, 2017

 ‘Destroy all the Rebels you find there’

– Cumberland

punishment – still from the 1964 docudrama ‘Culloden’

What strikes me when I hear and read about the aftermath of Culloden, is how recognisable it sometimes feels. I want to post some of the things I talked about at The National Trust Culloden Battlefield Centre last weekend, on the anniversary of the Battle. This year’s theme is ‘The Shadow of Culloden’ – the aftermath. I talked about the consequences for the Lovat Fraser clan.

In both 1745 and 2017, rebellions and civil unrest go on much longer than either side expects. Identifying who are all the different factions that fill the ranks of the warring warring sides, is problematic. Often, it looks unclear to the ordinary outsider, like us, how many factions, or ‘sides’ there are. And, what different outcomes are all of them in it for?

I don’t want to make glib comparisons. We all know there are worlds of differences between the situation in the Ukraine or Middle East now, and the Highlands then. But, I think there are a couple of parallels too.

For example, recovering from civil conflict in a way that allows all factions to return to peaceful co-existence afterwards is a major concern for military and civil planners.

Beauly and the Aird of Lovat
Beauly and the Aird of Lovat

How did they go about that in Fraser country? By Fraser country, I mean roughly the area from Culloden to the east of Inverness, then west of the town into the Lovat heartland (the Aird of Lovat around the Beauly Firth). Beyond the heartland, Fraser country extended down each side of Loch Ness, and through the glens to the west coast.

‘I tremble for fear that this vile spot may still be the ruin of this island and our family’

First, there seemed to be a period of random retribution, as they set out to destroy the underlying structure that might support rebellion. Cumberland looked around and said ‘I tremble for fear that this vile spot may still be the ruin of this island and our family’. It’s almost as if he is frightening himself, to put himself in a position where he has to attack or modify clan society. Then it might, eventually, serve not subvert the state.

Cumberland sent Colonel Mordaunt in to the Beauly Firth. Mordaunt had to ‘destroy all the rebels he finds there and investigate the rumour that the Fox and the Young Pretender were holed up in Fraser country’. The soldiers must make the people reveal what they knew about their leaders. Mordaunt asked for volunteers. At once, 900 stepped forward.


In they marched. They pillaged anything useful – cattle, poultry, cheeses, meal, moveable goods, like plaids and cooking pots. They damaged homes and disabled equipment that could not be moved.

They broke boats and machinery such as ploughshares and millstones – not that they left grain to sow or grind. Mordaunt’s orders were to burn everything they could not carry away.  The glen, from the river Beauly to the hills above, must be laid waste to teach these villains the only lesson that counted – never again.

For the foreseeable future, the people’s energy would have to be directed towards basic social and economic regeneration.img_0174

‘I find them a more stubborn and villainous set of wretches than I imagined would exist,’ Cumberland remarked thoughtfully.

He was astonished. His friend, the Duke of Richmond egged him on. ‘Nothing but force will ever keep that stinking corner of the kingdom quiet…Most joyful it is to think that so many of those villains are destroyed, and indeed the rope must finish those that are escaped with their lives and are fallen.’

Top of a silver snuff box, showing Castle Dounie in flames
Top of a 1747 silver snuff box, showing Castle Dounie in flames

The sight of the Fraser chief’s fortress, Castle Dounie and its outbuildings, provoked whoops of joy for troops looking for their reward: the spoils of war. Before they torched it, they plundered ‘one thousand bottle of wine, three hundred bolls of oatmeal, with a large quantity of malt, and a library of books to the value of £400.’

It ‘was all brought to Inverness. His fine salmon weirs were destroyed.’ They waded into the Beauly and hauled apart the cruives (salmon traps).

Leaping salmon
Leaping salmon

The Fraser chief, Lord Lovat had built them with money borrowed from the bank, letting him and a kinsman to make a viable business of the fishings. The river gushed in nearly knocking the soldiers off their feet. ‘Salmon in abundance’ lay in them and they were ‘brought into the camp and divided among the soldiers.’

As Mordaunt’s men marched back to Inverness, tired and happy, peat stacks burned behind them, the fuel for heat and cooking. Castle Dounie smoked and crumbled, hollowed out to a blackened crown.

Any fighting clansman man who had returned from Culloden had already fled into the hills, until the government accomplished its task. The women and girls did not escape the soldiers’ attention. ‘All this’ destruction, one volunteer said, ‘was very cheerfully undertaken and performed,’ as if they were being asked to help a neighbouring squire bring in a harvest.

After a couple of days, the volunteers marched back to town tired and happy, followed by horses and wagons laden with possessions and stores. Government officers, who lifted a bottle or two from the carts and examined them as they passed, praised the Old Fox’s cellar. They bought Lovat’s Madeira at 2 shillings a bottle and claret for 1 shilling and 8d a bottle.

Some of it they consumed. Some they sent south, to inspire the anecdotes of this extraordinary time and dangerously old-fashioned, foreign country that they could share with friends when the job was done. Good stories attached to Lovat and his people’s things; of this horrendous place and its brutal overlords; of Lord Lovat, tyrant chief and ‘Oracle’, the wickedest of them all; and the ancient barbaric society of the clans. Clanship was a freak dinosaur surviving into the modern age of imperial Britain, but not for much longer. The army divided the proceeds of all these sales among the men who brought in the prizes.


Soldiers informed the Duke that, even after serious looting and destruction, Lord Lovat ‘is possessed of several lands in culture, many of which,’ by July 1746, ‘have now quantities of grain and corns growing on them. … To the end therefore that the corn and grain growing upon the lands be preserved for the use and support of his majesty’s forces in these parts,’ they needed an estate manager. His Royal Highness appointed Major James Fraser of Castle Leathers to be Factor for the Lovat Estates.

A government sympathiser who had fallen out with his chief, Major Fraser was to administer the farms around ‘Castle Dounie, Wester Dounie, Culburnie, Fanellan, Tomich, Lovat, Moniack, Bruiach and the fishings of the water.’

The produce must not feed the people who grew it – in case it nourished a rebellious spirit with their bodies. It should be sent in to ‘his majesty’s forces in these parts.’ Wherever the troops were garrisoned, local people suffered malnutrition. The western Highlands lived under military occupation for several years. Armies must be supplied from their localities.

Around Beauly, the Major should ‘carefully preserve the grass growing thereon for the use of the troops in winter’ to feed their horses. Local people could not graze their animals on it.

Grazings in the Beauly firth
Grazings in the Beauly firth

‘The corn of the several sorts you shall cause to be gathered for the use of the troops likewise’ at harvest time, ‘keeping an account thereof.’ Nothing was to go missing.

When the salmon traps were restored by the locals, any fish caught must be sent to be ‘divided among the King’s troops at Inverness.’ If there is a surplus, which there would be bound to be, the people are not to eat it. The Major must send the salmon to ‘sell, to raise money for defraying the expenses of fishing.’

The businesses of the Lovat estates resumed. Economic activity, the work of cultivating food, and making a living, resumed.

But the electric circuit that connected chief and castle to clan and cottage, and along which food and history and the vicissitudes of everyday life flowed between them, was to be cut off. Identified as a main cause of the rebellion, the clan system would be smashed beyond repair. Instead, of evolving slowly to accommodate the modern world of Great Britain. That is the story of what happened to the land of one forfeited estate – the Lovat Estates, west of Inverness.

In my next post, ‘The Shadow of Culloden’ – 2. The Fate of Fraser prisoners, I tell of the treatment of prisoners and fugitives around Inverness.


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