Country Life Every Week - - Books -

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

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