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Culloden House & Moor - Chapter 2


Culloden House

Culloden House

ON the evening of Monday, the 14th of April, the Prince led out his troops to the parks around Culloden House about 4 miles east of Inverness, where those under Lord John Drummond also rendezvoused; and next day they were all marshalled in order of battle on the Moor of Culloden, or, as it was then called, Drumossie Moor, expecting the advance of the Royal army.

The hills on the south side of Loch Ness subside at the lower end of that lake into a long, smooth swelling ridge, which gradually declines to the eastwards and does not finally attain the level of the low ground till near Nairn. This ridge rises with a lessening slope, as the elevation diminishes from a great terraced plain which borders the firth and the river Ness on the south about 90 feet high, forming a portion of a great gravel-terrace or coast-line, which extends from the confines of Loch Ness through Inverness, Nairn, and Moray shires, to the mouth of the Spey; having a line of similar height and character opposed to it on the Ross-shire coast; indicating a former elevation of the sea nearly corresponding with the summit- level of the Great Glen reaching from sea to sea, which lies between Lochs Oich and Lochy. The ridge contracts by degrees in width as it declines. Opposite Culloden its base is about a mile removed from the shore; and, attaining hereabouts an average elevation of some 470 feet above the sea, it extends to the river Nairn a stretch at this part, as the crow flies, of about two miles, the summit for nearly a mile across being of a very gently rolling, almost though not quite level surface, having slight depressions where, more particularly, the. surface- water lodging rendered them wet and spongy or marshy, which indeed the whole Moor is somewhat at that time of the year. The view of the Moray and Beauly Firths and of the mountains of the northern counties, and along the Great Glen, is truly magnificent. On the 15th and 16th, the Highland army was drawn up on the top of the ridge and their position lay pretty near in a line with Culloden house on the summit of the Moor, across which they extended towards the river Nairn, and fronting the north- east.

The present mansion, built about the year 1780, is a stately edifice, after the fashion of English manor-houses of the period, consisting of a large twin central building, high roofed and balustraded, the rooms in which are spacious and finely proportioned, with two storeyed wings of like width connected thereto by open-walled courts: all built of dark red, with dressings of white, sandstone. It occupies the site of the old Castle (the vaults of which form the sunk storey) near the foot of the ascent to the Moor, and is surrounded by extensive and finely timbered park-ground. The former edifice was an oblong building, surrounded by a high court-wall, and was a place of some strength.

In October 1745, after the crafty Lord Lovat's inclinations to the Stuart cause had become manifest to his clan, Fraser of Foyers made an unsuccessful attempt to seize the Castle and the person of President Forbes, presuming no doubt that these would prove acceptable acquisitions to his chief. It is not ascertained that Lovat was privy to the scheme, with which he emphatically disclaimed all complicity, though it has been asserted that at an early stage he strongly recommended steps being taken to secure the person of the President, and that he latterly attached great blame to the disregard of this shrewd advice. The latter being ~ always on very friendly terms with the old chief, but duly apprehending the extent to which he was to be trusted, comments thus in a letter to him on the conduct of his vassals on this occasion:

"I very well know it would give your lordship more pain than it did me, though no man of common equity who knows that they carried off my sheep, robbed my gardener, and the poor weaver who is a common benefit to the country, and carried off some of my tenants' cattle, will imagine that there was the least countenance from any one about your lordship to this transaction; nor should I now give you any trouble on a subject so disagreeable, but that I am teased every hour with reports that the gentlemen who failed of their principal aim, give it now out that they are to pillage, burn, and destroy my innocent tenants."

Culloden Moor  

Culloden Moor


In 1715 the old Castle was also besieged by a party of Frasers, liege-men of MacKenzie of Fraserdale. On this occasion, being defended by Mrs. Forbes, a cannon-shot from the walls cut a branch off a tall old tree, which, stifled with ivy, long formed a picturesque object on the lawn. The branch lighted on and killed one of the besieging party.

The MSS. in possession of the Culloden family are valuable, and from them one of the earliest of the selections by which Scottish history has been illustrated from private archives, was published in 1815 the Culloden Papers, edited by the late Major Hugh Robert Duff of Muirtown.

The hospitality of that period was profuse, and sociality was carried to an extreme. Claret was the favourite wine. The good cheer of the Culloden household was proverbial. Burt (an English officer), in his Letters from the North of Scotland, thus narrates the usages of the dinner-table:

"It is the custom of that house, at the first visit or introduction, to take up your freedom by cracking his nut (as he terms it), that is, a cocoa-shell, which holds a pint, filled with champagne, or such other sort of wine as you shall choose. You may guess by the introduction at the contents of the volume.... As the company are disabled one after another, two servants, who are all the time in waiting, take up the invalids with short poles in the chairs as they sit (if not fallen down), and carry them to their beds, and still the hero holds out." No wonder that Culloden was known by the name of "Bumper John!"

"The types of true hospitality in a farmer's house of old," says Hill Burton in his Life of President Forbes, "were said to be an anker of whisky, always on the spiggot, a boiler with perpetual hot water, and a cask of sugar with a spade in it. Culloden's hospitalities were of a more aristocratic order, and the custom of the house was to prize off the top of each successive cask of claret, and place it in the corner of the hall, to be emptied in pailfuls."

Such was the hospitality of the times, that even in the more temperate establishment at Bunchrew, where his brother, Mr. Duncan Forbes, generally resided, the convivialities occasioned an outlay, as appears from an old account, of 40 in the course of a month for claret bought in individual dozens at 16s. and 18s.

Of Duncan Forbes, brother of John, Sir Walter Scott, in his review of the Culloden Papers in the Quarterly Review, No. 28 (18I6), says:

"He was promoted to the office of Advocate-Depute, and in 1725 to that of Lord Advocate, always a situation of high power and importance, but particularly so in times of a disputed title and repeated insurrections.... Placed as it were on the very verge of the discontented districts, he had a difficult and even dangerous game to play. It was, says the editor of these papers most truly, more congenial to his nature to reclaim than to punish, and his life was spent in keeping quiet, by means of influence, persuasion, and the interposition of friends, those warlike and independent chiefs whom presumption and political prejudice were perpetually urging to take up arms.

"Lord Advocate Forbes suppressed, by his personal exertions, the desperate and alarming riots concerning the malt tax in 1725, and was among the patriots who saved the city of Edinburgh from the vindictive measures meditated against the metropolis on account of the singular insurrection called the Porteous Mob. It was indeed one of the brightest points of this great man's character, that, though the steady friend of government and good order, he was the boldest and most active mediator for his misguided fellow-subjects, when it was proposed to urge punishment beyond the bounds of correction into those of vengeance. Many other patriotic labours occupied his attention, concerning which information will be found in these 'Papers.' He was the first to give the example (since so well followed) of those effects which careful agriculture can produce, even when contending with the disadvantages of soil and climate. It was he who first proposed encouragement to the linen trade and other manufactures in Scotland. It was he also who first took measures for preserving and arranging the Records of the kingdom of Scotland. The promotion of Forbes to the high office of President of the Court of Session took place in 1737. When called, as Lord Hardwicke expressed it, by the voice of the country to fill the vacant chair, his appointment was hailed by all ranks as a guarantee for the impartial administration of justice, and the gradual and sound elucidation of law."

To President Fortes belongs the credit of suggesting to government, several years before the Forty-Five, in the prospect of a war with France or Spain, and in anticipation of this proving the signal for another rising in behalf of the Pretender, the embodiment of a certain number of regiments of Highlanders for foreign service. He proposed that an English or Scottish officer of undoubted loyalty should be appointed colonel of each regiment, but that all the other officers should be selected from a list he had drawn up of chiefs and chieftains of the disaffected clans. "If government," he urged, "pre-engages the Highlanders, in the manner I propose, they will not only serve well against the enemy abroad, but will be hostages for the good behaviour of their relations at home, and I am persuaded that it will be absolutely impossible to raise a rebellion in the Highlands." (Home's History of the Rebellion.) Had this plan not been rejected by a timid policy, in all probability the Rising would never have taken place.

Sir James MacIntosh, in his review of the Culloden Papers in the Edinburgh


Simon Fraser Lord Lovat


Simon Fraser Lord Lovat

Review, No. 51 (1816), pays this noble testimony to the President:

"There are various lords and lairds who make but a shabby figure in this collection. But our great pride and consolation is in the ever clear honour and open heart of him to whom they address themselves. For Duncan Forbes no descendant will ever have to blush or feel ashamed, and the perusal of this book will prove that Scotland, ever since she ceased to be a separate kingdom, has had at least one statesman whose principles were as pure as his understanding was enlightened, and whose concern for his country was not so much as suspected to be quickened by any regard to his own power or emoluments."

Hill Burton, in his Lives of Lord Lovat and Duncan Forbes (1847), thus sums up the President's character, after narrating the closing scenes of his life on 10th December 1747:

"So died a man both great and good, who, like all the erring human race, mingled some defects with his virtues; yet they were with him so open and natural that they enable us the better to feel the reality of his excellences, as part of a character that is set before us in all its merely human proportions, and claims no ideal perfection. Five years after his death, his fellow-lawyers erected a statue to his memory, worthily placed in that noble old hall where the memory of his services and his character still lives, as of one who uttered and elevated the tone of professional and judicial morality in his day, and left even to the present generation a greater legacy of sound and honest principles than they might have been able to achieve without his aid. There is something in this statue of the florid drapery and excited manner of its French artist, Roubillac; but the accuracy with which the features are portrayed is sufficient to impart a solemn dignity to the marble face, valence a slightly profuse tone in the adjuncts of the statue makes a scarcely perceptible deduction. In this and in the other representations of President Forbes, for his portrait holds a respected place in many a household and many a public institution of his native country, we can see that Nature, by a harmony of mental and corporeal qualities not often exemplified, represented the excellences of his mind with singular precision in a countenance which has scarcely been excelled for the united expression of open honesty, firmness, intellect, and gentleness."

Cottage on Culloden Moor  

Cottage on Culloden Moor


The scene of conflict is about 5 miles from Inverness, and is intersected by a district road which, about 2 miles from Inverness, immediately behind the house of Castlehill, strikes off on the left hand from the public road to Perth, and leads to Kilravock and Cawdor, on the river Nairn. A monumental cairn close by the roadside, a series of long trenches on the opposite side of the road, and a few smaller ones on the north side, slightly raised above the surface of the ground, and still distinguished by their vivid green turf amid the brown heather, where the slain lie interred, mark the close vicinity of the spot where the Royal left wing met the impetuous shock of the Highland right and right centre. It is rather more than half-a-mile from the Water of Nairn.

Considerable portions of the Moor around the scene of conflict are now under cultivation; but most of the field of battle is moorland or fir and larch plantation. The Highland army lay on the night of the 14th and morning of the 16th in a hollow on the north edge of the Moor, outside of the fir plantation which skirts the birch wood covering the northern hill-face, about three-fourths of a mile above Culloden House, and to the west of the farm of Drumbuie. The position is intermediate (but farther south) between a group of old pinetrees, called "Steele's Mount," from their having been planted by a servant of the President's of that name, and another group of pines, of about the same age, about half-a-mile to the west; which groups from the low ground will be discerned to overtop the here closely surrounding birch wood. The hollow is, however, considerably nearer this west group than to Steele's Mount.

From this position the troops were moved across the Moor for more than three-quarters of a mile, most probably for the sake of a degree of covering to the right wing from a low stone dyke which lined the north side of a large enclosure or park, and from which too other dykes extended on the east and west sides to the river Nairn; and, probably with an eye to a possible reverse, of vicinity to the hills south of the Nairn. It was, however, withdrawing them out of the line of protection for Inverness. All traces of these dykes have now disappeared.

A high stone fence now runs along the whole length on the north-west or north side of the farm of Leanach for fully three-fourths of a mile, the space to the river being laid out in large arable fields. About midway, and a little to the east of the graves, it abuts, making an oblique bend, upon the public road, along which it then rims nearly in the same line; but at the west end, the public road and this fence are 400 yards apart. Here a road runs down to the river, which is lined along the fields by another stone fence of the same character, opposite which, and west of the road and of Leanach farm, lies the farm of Culchuinag. Again, at the farther, the north-east, end of the north fence, there is another fenced road leading to the farmsteading of Leanach and across the Nairn. At the angle where this latter leaves the public road, there is a large flattish boulder stone, called the "Duke's," or "Cumberland's Stone" where the Duke of Cumberland stood when surveying the field of battle before coming to close quarters (for then he was within the lines), and where part of his baggage was placed. It is rather more than half-a-mile from the monumental cairn.

But there was also an old low dyke pertaining to the farm of Old Leanach, which adjoined the northern portion of the park, of which the old house (Old Leanach) is still to be seen, a black clay-built, straw-thatched cottage in a field, and not far from the road, about 200 yards east of the graves. The Old Leanach north-west or north dyke, somewhat of a continuation of the North Park dyke, seems to have obliquely crossed the line of the new north fence, 50 yards west of the present cross fence, and after a short interval to have turned nearly parallel to the former, and to have terminated on the south side of the clearing, about 100 yards west of the well, being 40 yards from the new north fence; and the line, if produced, would cut the public road 70 yards west of the point where the present north fence reaches it.

The north side of the road all along here is skirted, but for no great depth, by a fir and larch plantation, which also occupies the whole triangular area on the south side of the western moiety of the portion in question of the public road (800 yards), the north eastern terminal angle being at the point where the long northern fence deflects to the public road. At this point, 25 yards south of the centre of the road, there is a well, about 30 yards farther east than the eastermost burial trench, and known as the "Black Well," or "Well of the Dead," some of the wounded having crawled hither to die. The length of the present north fence, from the west end of the planting to the well, is 700 yards. An irregularly oval clearing or open enclosure has been left at this spot on both sides of the road for some 240 by about 100 yards in extreme length and breadth.  The principal trenches are  in  the southern  division, in  a  space of


Cumberland Stone, Culloden Battlefield

about 130 by 25 yards of extreme width; but there are two or three smaller and less prominent on the north side of the road. The old north- west, or call it north dyke, of the park at the west end commenced 130 yards south-east of the south angle of the planting, or west angle of Leanach farm, close to, if anything a little south of, a bend in the present south- west fence, and it ran in a line such as, if prolonged, would meet the present north-west, or say north, fence, about 30 yards north-east of the well; but it extended only for the length of 350 yards. Here it was joined by another old dyke, that on the north-east, or say east, side of the park, at about right angles towards the junction, but making a bend to the east farther south, and then running to the river-side. There was also, as indicated, a dyke on the west or south-west side, near about the line of the present western fence. There is a high cross stone fence now dividing the fields, which joins the north fence, 450 yards, to the east. The line of the old east dyke, if produced, would strike the present north fence 110 yards west of the present cross fence; while the line of the old north dyke, if produced, would strike the present cross fence 50 yards from the present north fence. These are the only dykes mentioned by or seemingly known to Home and almost all other writers.

Pedestrians can most effectively shorten the walking distance (6 miles) from Inverness to the battlefield, by taking the Highland railway train to Culloden Moor Station, about a mile east of Cumberland's stone. But very pleasant walks can be had by approaching the Moor from Allanfearn Station, about three miles north-west of the stone. Two alternative routes present themselves. One way is to pass the Allanfearn farm offices above the Station, and turn to the right along a road running west, lined by an avenue of trees, then by a cross road to the left, which will lead past the Mains of Culloden farm-offices, and thence by the west end of the lawn in front of the mansion house, past the stables, and between them and the dog-kennel, and by a broad woodland pathway on the east side of a burn course, slantingly up to the right through a birch wood, at one time covering the hill-face but now partly cut down. This path crosses the Inverness to Aviemore railway by a bridge on which is left in situ a stone known as the "President's Seat," and conducts to the farm of Black Park, at the west end, and south of the birch wood, and near the public road from Inverness, less than half-a-mile west of the Stable Hollow house. The distance may be shortened by, towards the middle of the ascent, holding right up the hill and crossing the Moor ground to the west end of the fir and larch plantation, or to the Stable Hollow house. Behind one of the small farm-houses, also in Stable Hollow, and next to "King's Stables," on the way in this direction, not far from the planting, a large protruding boulder will be seen, where the country people concur in saying one of the Prince's cannon was planted. On the way up the hill- face, but on the west side of the burn in the birch wood near the top of the hill, there is a very fine enclosed chalybeate well, called Tobar Mhoire or Mary's Well. It is much resorted to by lads and lasses from Inverness on the first Sunday of May.

Culloden Battlefield Map - Click for Larger Image  

Battlefield Map - Click for Larger Image


To reach the east end of the battle-field from Allanfearn Station, turn to the left after passing the Allanfearn offices, the next road, diverging to the right, will conduct in a straight line to the west end of the small village of Balloch of Culloden. From the east end of the village it ascends the face of the ridge, passing by and by through a young fir plantation, and at the top through a belt of older planting. Having surmounted the ascent and proceeded a few hundred yards, the road strikes across the Moor, running through some young fir and larch plantations emerges on the district-road from Inverness after having crossed a track which, it may be observed is the remains of a road made by Lord Lovat from Dalcross Castle to his property in Stratherrick. This latter was the only roadway at the time of the battle through the Moor, which was then, too, quite bare, though with a number of cottars' huts scattered over it. 

The district-road is reached at a point where bordered on the farther side by the extensive arable farm of Leanach enclosed by stone dykes, the general survey of the Moor is somewhat obscured by the rising plantation. The principal Graves and the Cairn lie to the west (the right hand) about half-a-mile distant; while again, on the opposite side, within the angle where the farm-road leads down to the farm-steading of Leanach, there is, as already mentioned, the large flattened boulder-stone, called the Duke's Stone.

The pedestrian need not retrace his steps, but, striking across the Moor, somewhat more to the west than before, towards the farm-house of Drumbuie, at the edge of the planting on the north face of the ridge, he will find a pathway leading down through the plantation above Balloch to the group of older and higher trees called Steele's Mount, and thence parallel to the south and west fences of the park, and in front of Culloden House, whence the previous directions will suffice. Or, from below Steele's Mount, he can hold straight down through an avenue of pines to the west of Balloch farm-house, and thence along a continuation of horse chestnuts to the east of the back of Culloden House. Another return route will be afterwards pointed out, from a little to the west of the Graves. If driving, however, an agreeable circuit may be made by Dalcross Castle. The road by it to the public road between Inverness and Nairn strikes off on the left hand about 3 miles from the Graves, passing Croy Free Church and Manse.

Such ground as Culloden Moor was obviously of the very worst description for the tactics of Highlanders, while, if the Duke of Cumberland had had his choice, he could scarcely have selected a locality more favourable for the handling of regular troops, more especially when supported by horse and artillery, although at that season there was a good deal of the ground in a marshy state. The farther side of the river Nairn is bordered by a narrow strip of high land, from which moorland hills, rising first in broken terraces, gradually slope up to a considerable elevation the highest on Culloden property being 1468 feet, and on MacIntosh's, immediately adjoining, fully a couple of hundred feet higher; and form the northern limits of a great expanse of hill country stretching to the Findhorn. On the south side of the Nairn, then, the relative circumstances would have been reversed, while the Highlanders could retire at will into intricate fastnesses; and if they could induce their adversaries to follow them, the contest could be indefinitely prolonged, and could scarcely fail to result in disaster to regular troops. The north bank of the Nairn, too, though not high, is here generally steep, and would present obstacles to the passage of horse and artillery.

The situation did not escape the prescient eye of Lord George Murray, and he had it examined by Brigadier Stapleton and Colonel Ker, who reported in favour of the position and the Highland chiefs concurred in the opinion. The Prince, however, influenced by his foreign advisers, who dreaded the prospect of a probable campaign in the mountains, adhered to his predilection for the open moor ground, in order, it is presumed, to cover Inverness, where most of the baggage had been left. "What I can aver," says Lord George, with reference to the advice to cross the Nairn, "is, that myself and most of the clans, at least all I spoke with, were for this operation and his Royal Highness could have supported the fatigue as well as any person in the army. It's true Sir Thomas Sheridan, etc., could not have undergone it, so we were obliged to be undone for their ease. As to provisions, had I been allowed to have any direction, we would not have wanted (though perhaps not of the best) for years, as long as there were cattle in the Highlands or meal in the Lowlands."



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