For the Love of a Highland Home
Kathy Fraser (Grey Thrush Publishing, £22.50 including p&p from kreelig@aol. com; Reelig, Kirkhill, Inverness IV5 7PP)
JUST MARRIED, Kathy Fraser asked her husband, Malcolm, to tell her about the five young men whose portraits—copies of paintings by Raeburn—were hanging in the hall of her new Highland home. ‘Not sure,’ came the reply. ‘I think they were ancestors who all went to India.’
Two hundred years ago, the Frasers of Reelig were impoverished Highland gentry desperately trying to save their estate. It was common practice among such families to send sons abroad to seek a fortune and this book tells the story of those five brothers as they struggled to save their home near Inverness.
With Moniack always in their hearts, the sons of Edward and Jane Fraser set off overseas. Two went to a cotton plantation in Guyana. When this failed, they joined the other three in India, where the East India Company offered tantalising rewards.
Mrs Fraser has taken the journals and hundreds of letters still in the family house as the framework for her book and woven their contents into an eloquent history of this remarkable family, illustrated with 78 fascinating colour plates. The scope is vast, from Guyana, India and the Middle East to the Highlands, and their adventures, tragedies and achievements make for a compelling read.
Best known of the five is the oldest son, James Baillie Fraser (1783–1856), who worked with the professional artists William Havell and George Chinnery and produced fine Picturesque views of India, as well as publishing accounts of his Persian travels; he could never resist lingering to inspect Eastern treasures, even when family priorities demanded his swift return home. When he did get back, he took his Guyanan servant on a trek to the Western Isles, ‘Black John’ on a pony, James on foot, causing astonishment among the highlanders they encountered.
His brother William, agent to the Governor-general of India and Commissioner of the Delhi Territory, couldn’t resist danger and loved going to war. He reputedly killed some 85 lions, went tiger hunting on foot, adopted Indian ways and dress and had a secret Indian family. In 1835, he was assassinated on the instructions of a nawab with whom he’d had a disagreement.
None of the sons made a fortune and some died tragically young, but each was driven by a desire to retire with honour to the Highlands. Only one, James, achieved this—through espionage work for the Foreign Office and his books and watercolours— but Moniack, now called Reelig, was saved. Richenda Miers
Sir Archibald Seton, patron of the Fraser brothers, writing one of his effusive letters