Evanton oral history project

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A BLACK SLAVE run away

On the 11th current there run away from the house of Col. Munro of Novar, in Rossshire, a BLACK SLAVE a native of the East Indies, called CAESAR. He is about 25 or 26 years of age, about five feet four or five inches high, has long black hair and was bred a cook. – Whoever secures the said Slave within any of his Majesty’s goals [sic] in Great Britain, upon notice given to Col Munro by Dingwall, or to John Fraser, writer to the signet at Edinburgh, shall receive FIVE GUINEAS reward. It is hoped that masters of ships, and others, will be careful not to secret or carry off the said Slave, otherways they shall be prosecuted in terms of law. If the Slave himself shall return to his master’s service, his offence shall be forgiven.

In 1771 Sir Hector was made Commander of the Forces in India with a seat on the Council of Madras and was knighted for his services. In August 1778 with war between Britain and France he took Pondicherry with some difficulty after which the other French settlements fell more easily.
In 1780 attempts to conciliate with long-standing adversaries Hyder Ali and his son Tippu Tipp/Tippu Sultan with their base in Seringapatam, were unsuccessful and Munro then orchestrated a campaign to defeat them. After disagreement with Lord Macleod, the commander, he appointed someone else to his seat on the Council and took direct control. He unwisely tied himself to Conjeeveram (Kanchipuram = Golden City, one of S. India's most ancient cities once had over 100 temples) and failed to come to the aid of Baillie's force, 3000 of whom were lost. "Munro must be held responsible for one of the greatest calamities that has ever befallen British arms a good and gallant soldier went near by sheer perversity to accomplish the ruin of British power in India" Mt, Fortescue,1911)

General Sir Eyre Coote helped to turn the situation around but Sir Hector had a major disagreement with him at the battle of Perambancum, where troops were needlessly sent to their deaths and he retired soon after from Coote's army.

He was about to return to Britain due to ill health when he was given the command of the siege of the settlement of Negapatam, which Hyder Ali had agreed to give to the Dutch (the Dutch had captured it in 1661). Negapatam, which was defended by 7000 Sepoys and 600 Europeans, surrendered 5 days after the trenches were opened on Nov.12 1781. Hyder Ali then retreated from Tanjore. "No small share of credit must belong to Munro" (Fortescue)

From 1787 he was Colonel of the 42nd Highlanders, the Black Watch, and played a part in the dispersal of the flock gatherers at Boath.

In 1792 "he was smitten with a mania for the introduction of sheep". In the face of local resentment he allowed the Cameron brothers of Lochaber to convert the estate lands of Kildermorie into a sheep walk. A confrontation resulted in May when the brothers poinded the roaming cattle of their neighbours in Strathrusdale. The latter went for reinforcements in Ardross amongst them Alexander Wallace, 'Big Wallace', who came to grapple with a Cameron and twisted the barrel of his gun "like a wuddie". The cattle were set free.

Only two months later the famous confrontation at Boath was one of the results. Seizing on the success of the prior fracas, the guests at a wedding in Strathrusdale, determined to drive all the sheep in Ross and Sutherland across the River Beauly. Proclamations were made accordingly at parish churches and public houses from Alness to Lairg and 200 people assembled in Strath Oykel on Tuesday 31st July. They proceeded to the outlying areas of Lairg and headed south, pressing the shepherds into their service. By Saturday they had reached Boath with many thousand sheep.

Here they dispersed on receiving information of the advance of the Depute Sheriff, Donald Macleod of Geanies, Sir Hector Munro and a party of the 42nd Regiment, who had force-marched from Fort George. A few of the raiders were captured and held at Novar House before being escorted to Inverness prison. Hugh Mackenzie and John Aird were sentenced to 7 year's deportation, Alexander Mackay and Donald Munro to banishment from Scotland for life, Malcolm Ross to a fine of £50 and one month's imprisonment, William Cunningham for three months. All, however, mysteriously escaped from prison. Dr Aird said that he heard "The feeling in the country as to the unrighteousness of the sentence was so strong that the prison door was opened and the prisoners escaped."

According to local tradition, Sir Hector Munro had the Fyrish Monument and the two lesser models built to provide work at time of famine. They were supposedly modelled on gates of Indian city of Negapatam, which he had captured from the Dutch. (There are no trace of such gates. Nagapattinam is a town in Tamilnadu, with which a story of a Christian vision is associated. A boy from nearby Velankanni saw a vision of a beautiful lady with a child and the lady asked him to run to Nagapattinam to request a particular Catholic gentleman to build a church for her. The boy did so and found that the gentleman had had a similar vision. The gentleman put up a thatched shed and placed the statue of Mary in it and the statue still adorns the shrine of the Basilica today). Alternatively the gates (according to Norman Macrae) were modelled on those of Seringapatam, the capital city of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan, but one which was only later captured by Arthur Wellesley.

The National Dictionary of Biography states that Sir Hector married Isabel Gordon, who died in 1799 aged 92. Mackenzie writes that he was unmarried, had 3 children out of wedlock but treated them all as legitimate. Mackenzie relates that Hugh, the first son, a Lieutenant and deputy barrack master, was eaten by a tiger at Sangor Island, India; his second, Alexander, was devoured by a shark also in India. (An eighteenth century Staffordshire model of a Redcoat being eaten by a tiger is entitled 'Death of Munro'. A clockwork model, said to have been made for Hyder Ali, was bought at auction by the British Museum in mid 1970s).

The General's daughter Jane survived to marry the wealthy Colonel Sir Ronald Crauford Ferguson and their descendants in 1865 succeeded to Novar as the Munro-Fergusons, following on from Hector's brother Sir Alexander and his son.


Alexander Mackenzie's 'History of the Munros' Bain's 'History of Ross'

Colonel Thornton's 'Light and Shade in Bygone India' JW Fortescue's History of the British Army, 1911 'The State of Husbandry in Scotland', Andrew Wright National Dictionary of Biography

Hector Munro, Fauns

Ronald Crauford Munro Ferguson, Lord Novar KT, PC, GCMG


First viscount 1920.

KT 1926, PC 1910, GCMG 1914

Eldest son of Colonel Munro-Ferguson, MP (who had added Munro on the death of his first cousin, on inheriting Novar and Muirton).

Married 1889.

Educated at home and at Sandhurst. Grenadier Guards 1879 to 1884. Took an active part in the agitation for electoral reform.

Liberal MP for Ross and Cromarty 1884 to 1885, when he was defeated by Dr MacDonald, a Land Leaguer candidate;

In the 1886 Election he was narrowly beaten by Sir Archibald Orr Ewing, but in the same year was successful in Gladstone's old constituency, the Leith Burghs, where he remained MP 1886-1914.

Private Secretary to the Sec. of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl of Roseberry) in 1886 and 1892-4.

Junior Lord of the Treasury 1894.

Provost of Kircaldy 1906-1914.

Governor General and Commander in Chief of Australia, on Asquith's recommendation, 1914 - 1920. "In Australia his past military experience was of great service particularly in training and dispatching the Australian Expeditionary Force. In travelling to visit the camps he made himself very popular everywhere."

He considered that his encouragement of the cultivation of timber was his "best legacy to Melbourne". (Who Was Who)

Secretary of State for Scotland 1922 - 24.

The Ross-shire Journal wrote that he was "a Roseberry follower throughout; but for his allegiance to the noble Earl, he might have risen to cabinet rank. More recently he had acted with considerable independence and has been an inconvenient critic of the government.... In Ross-shire until the last eight years or so, he was a somewhat notable figure since then he has spent his spare time in Fifeshire."(13.2. 1914)

There is a portrait of him by Lorimer at Raith House.

He was particularly interested in forestry and was apparently held in high regard by his tenants and staff at Novar.

Lady Novar, GBE, LLB


Lady Helen Hermione Blackwood of First Marquis of Dufferin.

In Australia she was closely involved in the nursing of troops, for which she received the GBE in 1918.

"In the service of others her life was spent" (Memorial at Novar)

She was involved in running the estate after Lord Novar's death. She lived in Raith and visited a couple of times a year.

Arthur B. L. Munro-Ferguson

He took over the running of Novar in 1951, having served in the army and studying at University,

He is a grand nephew of Lord Novar who had no offspring. His grandmother was Lord Novar's sister who married Luttrell of Dunster castle. A more direct heir, a son of his brother Robert, lived in America and declined the position.

Major Hector Munro-Ferguson of Assynt (Lovat Scouts)

1867 - 1951

Brother of Lord Mover. Second son of Robert Munro-Ferguson of Raith Novar. He had no legitimate family. It is widely reputed in the village that he fathered a daughter by a maid servant late in life. "Annie gave birth to a little girl who eventually had a private tutor and everything. She wasn't allowed to go to the public school." Another version is that the girl was taken in and brought up by them.

The Major took an interest in the village. He provided/supported the Club House and was often in there, playing billiards,’ Scissor legs' was his local by-name.

Henrietta Christobel Ellis, wife of Major Munro-Ferguson 1888 - 1958,

Kept the garden at Assynt beautiful.

"They were both very. affable".

Had the Glenglass schoolchildren for Christmas tea.

She was "a bit of a character." She was very good to the neighbours. A chain smoker, she used to roll her own cigarettes, She was wracked with cancer. She was related to the Queen Mother. Her next of kin, she told the infirmary nurse, was the Countess of Norbury,


In 1885 the residents of Evanton were curious to know who was this bluff, english north countryman with military bearing, who had arrived as the new owner of Swordale.

Some remembered back to another character of Swordale, John Dearg Munro, renowned for his whisky smuggling escapades involving coffins and hearses. Rumours persisted as to how he had come by his great wealth, starting by earning 6d a day and going on to purchase Lemlair, Clare and Swordale. It was even supposed that he had found the proceeds of a mail coach robbery.

It was he who had changed the name of Bogreach to Fannyfield, after his dear wife Fanny.

* * * * *

Now his grandson, John, was selling Swordale to Major Randle Jackson. The 'Gallant Major' was soon to make his mark for he determined from the start not only to develop the estate but to play the full the role of an active, conservative landlord and gentleman. During the next 18 years he was to impose himself forcefully on most facets of local life, from employment to entertainment, church to education, and soup to politics. In so doing there is no doubt that he trod on many toes and created some animosity, but at the end of the day the parish had much to thank him for.

Jackson arrived a wealthy man. His father-in-law, Edward Baxter, of Kincaldrum was an important Dundee jute merchant, owning several spinning mills. Baxter Park, Dundee, was gifted by and named after him. Randle's own father was one Edward James Jackson, a barrister from Unwell, Norfolk, and his mother Elisa Seton.

Educated at Edinburgh and Sandhurst, he joined the Middlesex Regiment and he took part in suppressing the Indian Mutiny. In 1861 he joined the 32nd Cornwall Light Infantry and in 1366 passed to the King's Royal Irish (the 8th) Hussars. Retiring in 1874, he settled in St Andrews and joined the

Fife Light Horse, receiving the rank of Major.

A life-scale painting of Major Jackson in the Evanton Diamond Jubilee Hall shows him sporting his long whiskers, golf club in hand. This would be on either St Andrews 'Royal and Ancient', of which he was captain for a term or Tain Golf Course, of which he was both captain and patron. The painting was presented by his wife in 1906 and supported by public subscription.

It is said by some that he bought Swordale from Munro of Swordale on condition it was cleared of all tenants. Jackson himself always protested that he had known nothing of any crofters when he had bought it.

His lasting reputation is as village benefactor. He was on Kiltearn School Board, which he chaired for some years. He initiated the School Soup Kitchen in 1900. He was the main force behind the building of the Diamond Jubilee Hall. He was largely responsible for the establishment of the Knockrash Smallholdings on the Swordale road, making Kiltearn itself one of the first parishes in Scotland to benefit from the provisions of the Smallholding Act 1382.
In 1890 Major Jackson, spoke in Dingwall concerning allotments for the working class. He criticised the inconsistency of a candidate in adopting a policy of "land for the people", while he retained the whole of his big farm bordering on Dingwall and Maryburgh, when there were so many poor people in Maryburgh and Dingwall.

In Invergordon in January 1394 he spoke on the topic of 'The Ploughman and Agriculture.' He urged ploughmen to "be reasonable and not to grasp too much.” When asked if he had given his ploughmen a 9 hour day he stated "They have already except when we are greatly pressed." He was, however, against legislation on the matter.

When he entered the political arena it was put about that his 'good works' were motivated by political ambition. In 1895 he sought to stand as Unionist Party Parliamentary Candidate for the County. Many within the party were not in favour, "his greatest service to the Unionist cause", wrote one Unionist, "would be a judicious retirement, an opinion which is held by every thinking man in Ross-shire, whether he be Tory or Liberal". After considerable wrangling, however, he was adopted unanimously and set to the campaign with his customary vigour.

He was questioned whether when he came into the estate of Swordale there were crofters on that estate. "Is that not so?” asked Meldrum.

He replied that when purchasing Swordale he had written to the then proprietor Mr Munro of Lemlair "enquiring if there were any crofters on the estate and he replied that there were not. But since I became proprietor I found out that there had been crofters at Clair. I did take the following steps to bring them back. I wrote some of the crofters who had been there inquiring if they wished to go back and they told me that they could not live at Clair. When I bought Swordale there was no residential population nor a crofter on the estate. There were 11 persons employed at a wage of £240 a year. At present they have a resident population and there are 38 people employed at a wage of £1000 pa, not including milk, potatoes and coal. There are also many in the district employed I have not dispopulated the county."

Through his solicitor he had said much the same at the Royal Commission Enquiry of 1892 ('Red Deer Commission'), when he claimed that "in no way could the land on his estate support in comfort more mouths than it does at present." He claimed to have spent £20,000 on the estate since he came to Swordale. This excluded the Victorian mansion house, designed by Maitland of Tain, that he had built onto the older house.

Donald Maclennan, a crofter in Cullicudden, told the enquiry that, despite the larger number of domestic servants engaged by Jackson than his predecessor Munro, "it would be immensely preferable to have those various lands occupied by small tenants as before."

Jackson's views were very close to those of Arthur Balfour, the leader of the Unionist party. His opponents put him down as an 'old fashioned Tory' but he denied the claim. He counterclaimed that "the Gladstonian party has done nothing for the agricultural labourer to help him out of the present difficulty."

He wished to see:

  • More persons owning land;

  • Improvement in the housing of farm servants

  • A deputation of ploughmen to meet with farmers to discuss better conditions

  • The Crofter's Act being extended to leaseholders.

  • A continuing mixture of large and small land holdings, "as one helps the other."

  • More Small-Holdings and compulsory purchase next to populous places. The continuation of the Game Laws.

  • Amalgamation of the Churches in order to lower the Sustentation Tax. The maintenance of the Established Church and the issue as a 'Test Question' for MPs.

  • The Old Age Pension Scheme (four years later, however, he was speaking in favour of Friendly Societies, as against the Old Age Pension proposals).

He was not in favour of:

  • Saturday half holiday, "preferring to give a week's holiday at a time." The Employer's Liability Bill

  • Paying MPs - far better to let them continue unpaid

  • Home Rule for Ireland? - "decidedly not"

On Home Rule for Scotland he stated that he was "in favour of Scottish affairs being settled in Scotland."

Asked whether he allowed fishing on River Skiach, he stated "Yes,..but (they) need to ask permission..."I have put 6000 trout in that river"

He did not "see that everyone should go at me for Clair - I never turned anyone out of Clair."

In February 1994 Rev Watson presided at an Election Meeting in the Thomas Hogg Memorial Hall, Evanton. He commended Major Jackson for having got the County Council to purchase Knockrash in 1393 and having given £100 to make the land cheaper and for advancing one fifth of the price on loan. He suggested that the wranglings over Jackson's candidature were reputedly caused by his views on the Land Question being too advanced for other landlords.

A correspondent in Lochbroom reported that "only for the Major the General Election would be as quiet as a churchyard. "

In June 1895 Jackson's message to the Electors of Ross and Cromarty "Gentlemen, I am in favour of Temperance but not by coercion, " He alleged that his Liberal opponent Weir was "tied to the Irish Gladstonian party"

At the final Election Meeting in Evanton, he said the 'Separatists' were trying to make capital out of the fact that the ploughmen were to vote against him. He was glad to say he "would have the majority of the votes of this class,"

The Ross-shire Journal criticised Novar and his factor for standing outside the polling booth and trying to influence the electors of Kiltearn against Jackson: "Now, suppose any other landlord in Ross-shire had done such a thing on their side, what a cry here would have been among the land Leaguers."

The 1895 election resulted in a slightly increased majority for the sitting MP, Galloway Weir (3272 to 2409). Jackson found the result of the poll "somewhat disappointing." The Ross-shire Journal suggested indignantly, that "having labelled Major Jackson a Tory, little else was needed. In one place the people were told that Major Jackson was a Roman Catholic, in another that he was an Episcopalian. They were also told that all his acts of kindness and generosity had been performed solely with a view to making political capital and that he had ruthlessly evicted a number of crofters from his estates."

Despite his defeat, Jackson was met in Evanton by an enthusiastic reception, presided by Dr Allan. His carriage was pulled through the streets. When his successful opponent, Galloway Weir, passed through later, he was booed by some before going on to a warmer welcome in Alness.

Within a few years Major Jackson was preparing again to contest Ross and Cromarty and had formed a committee and formidable organisation throughout the county. The Ross-shire Journal asked "whether this irresponsible way of working will be looked on with favour by the Association."
* * * * *
In October 1896 while driving home from Wyvis Lodge with Percy Barbour, Wyvis, their horse shied and their carriage overturned. Major Jackson was thrown into the loch Glass and Mr Barbour was seriously hurt. A sign marks the spot.
Jackson was the moving spirit behind the Diamond Jubilee Hall and chairman of the fund-raising committee as well as one of its trustees. The foundation stone was laid by his daughter Annie Constance and the Hall was opened on the last day of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Year in 1897. Controversy had arisen along the way, however, when the factor of Novar Mr Meiklejohn had publicly insinuated that Jackson and one other trustee might seek benefit for themselves or their heirs (or turn it into an Episcopalian Chapel!).

Jackson threatened legal action if he did not receive a full apology and subsequently proceeded with a lengthy and presumably costly court case and appeal, in which he failed to win a case for libel but must have received some satisfaction from the judges' criticism of the Novar factor.

In the course of the trial there was criticism of Novar himself. Ronald Crauford Munro Ferguson MP (later Lord Novar) had been lukewarm at best in his support for the Hall, preferring to renovate the Chapel for the same purpose. Politically, of course, Novar and Jackson were in different camps, Novar a Liberal MP, in 1884 for the local county, since 1885 for Leith Burghs.
A large portrait of the major, set at St Andrew’s Golf Course, was donated to the community by his widow, and (until 2010 at least) hangs in the hall.
Jackson was highly disappointed, despite his ill health, not to be selected as Unionist candidate in 1900, as a letter from his widow Emily to the Constitutional Association in 1905 makes clear:

"In 1895 Major Jackson made a long, continuous and gallant fight for the Unionist cause in Ross-shire. He visited every part of the constituency and addressed the electors all over the country. He spared neither health, time nor money. The result of the election was most gratifying, 2409 Unionists voted for him - a Conservative and a landlord. In November 1899 he again offered his services to the party. No word was sent to him for 9 months.

He was then informed by your committee that he would not make such a strong candidate as another gentleman."

"Major Jackson was discarded without being thanked either publicly or privately for his services, which was a breach of political etiquette and courtesy that I am glad to think rare in this country. That I am not the only one to resent the treatment Major Jackson received is shown by the result of the 1900 election when the 'strong' candidate polled 758 fewer votes than Major Jackson."

The Jacksons entertained frequently, holding annual parties for the school children, dances for the tenantry and so on. The Major frequently held gramophone recitals in various halls. In Edderton he gave a talk on China, based possibly on his time as a soldier. He supported the Alness Caberfeidh Lodge of Oddfellows, a Friendly Society, and spoke at public meeting in Evanton to form a local branch of the same. His pressure for a side school at Swordale, and his offer of a small building for the purpose, received the authority of the department of Education shortly before his death.

He is attributed with having successfully squeezed the Congested Areas Board for grants and was claimed to be a staunch advocate of the crofter and cottar classes. He sat in he County Council for two terms, he was a Commissioner of Supply, Chairman of the Piers and Harbours Committee, a Deputy Lieutenant of the County and a Justice of the Peace. In all matters, says the Ross-shire Journal, he was thorough and often impulsive.

In May 1900 he took action against the Industrial Inventions Development Company in the Queen's Bench to recover £475. The action was settled out of court.

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