He was no Pretender
I CAME across an interesting little story recently in connection with Queen Victoria’s visit to Lochaber in 1873.
On the day Her Majesty went out from Inverlochy Castle to Glenfinnan, her coachman was a Cameron, employed for the occasion by Lord Abinger.
On the way, it seems, he and the Queen chatted freely until they reached Glenfinnan where the Queen, on seeing the Jacobite monument, announced that it was the Pretender that had raised his standard. The coachman straight away said: ‘Ma’am, he was no Pretender’, which resulted in them driving back to Inverlochy in silence – not helped by meeting some ‘dreadful reporters’ on the way.
Afterwards she complained about Mr Cameron and he was dismissed. But the story of him upholding the Clan Cameron loyalty to Prince Charles Edward Stewart spread and, although he had no steady occupation, he was never out of work for the rest of his life.
A similar exchange happened at the time of Queen Victoria’s uncle who became King William IV and whom she succeeded. He met a party of Macleans who had been out in the ’45. ‘You are all rebels here,’ he exclaimed. ‘No, may it please Your Royal Highness,’ said one of them. “I did fight for our rightful Prince but as that family have gone and George the Third, your royal father, is now the nearest heir, I can say that you have no more loyal subjects than the Jacobites of Scotland.’
Queen Victoria left Balmoral for Inverlochy Castle at about 8am on September 9. She travelled by train to Kingussie and from there the royal party were transported in four horse- drawn carriages, arriving at their destination some 10 hours later. Accompanying her were Princess Beatrice, her eldest daughter, aged 16 at the time, whose daughter, Victoria Eugene, became Queen of Spain; Lady Jane Churchill (lady-in-waiting), General (later Sir) Henry Ponsonby, private secretary and keeper of the privy purse; Dr Fox, physician; nine servants; and her collie dog called Noble.
One of the servants was John Brown, her attendant and personal bodyguard. There had been six attempts on the Queen’s life up until 1873, the most recent during the previous year, which is why John Brown was always close to the Queen. It is most likely that both he and General Ponsonby were armed during the visit.
Queen Victoria recorded the main events of her week-long stay at Inverlochy Castle in her journal, which was published in 1884. The Oban Times, whose local correspondent more than likely had a ‘hotline’ to the butler’s pantry, filled in the minutiae by reporting as early as July 26 that the Queen’s bed and other objects had been sent ahead.
What was the purpose of the Queen’s visit? There were probably two reasons. First, to visit the spectacular Glencoe, evidenced by the entry in her journal for Saturday September 13, 1873, in which she wrote: ‘We meant to go to Glencoe, which was the principal object of our coming here.’ As an artist in her own right, and a great admirer of others who could capture the wild grandeur of the Scottish mountains on canvas, she was likely to have been inspired by the oil painting of Glencoe executed in 1864 by Horatio McCulloch (1805- 67), who was one of her favourite landscape artists.
Secondly, she wanted to relive a visit to the area which she and Prince Albert had made 26 years earlier.
During her time at Inverlochy Castle, Queen Victoria not only visited Glenfinnan and Glencoe but also the head of Glen Nevis, Fort William and Banavie. The most popular, though, was a boat journey up Loch Arkaig as a guest of Donald Cameron, 24th chief of Clan Cameron.
The Queen wrote in her journal: ‘ He [ Lochiel] received us wearing his kilt and plaid just above the pier, and we all went on board the little steamer. The afternoon was beautiful, and lit up the fine scenery to the greatest advantage. We went about half way up the loch (which is 14 miles long), as we had not time to go farther, to the disappointment of Lochiel, who said it grew wilder and wilder higher up. To the left is the deer forest; to the right he has sheep.’
General Ponsonby, a master in the art of diplomacy who clearly wanted to defuse the incident with the coachman, later remarked to the Queen: ‘There was Lochiel, whose great-grand-uncle had been the real moving cause of the rising of 1745. Without him Prince Charles would not have made the attempt, showing your majesty (whose great-great-grandfather he had striven to dethrone) the scenes made historical by Prince Charlie’s wanderings. It was a scene one could not look on unmoved.’
Angus Kennedy, the captain of the little steamer named The Rifle, of which I will have more to say in a future column, used to relate that it was John Brown who gave orders to turn just at the point on the loch when the finest scenery was opening out – much to Lochiel’s great annoyance.
Inverlochy Castle, where Queen Victoria stayed on her visit to Lochaber in 1873.
Donald Cameron of Lochiel who accompanied Queen Victoria up Loch Arkaig.