John Murdoch

John Murdoch stayed at Bonskeid from around 1821 when he was 3 until 1827 when he and his family moved to Islay.

At Bonskeid we lived in a cottage at the roadside, at the foot of the hill of Clochgan, one part of the year, and the other part in Bonskeid House which was rented for the purposes of sport by the Reverend John Sandford. This gentleman was accompanied by a very beautiful woman who was called Mrs Sandford but who was the runaway lady of the Lord Cloncurry of the day. From Bonskeid I was sent to school, at the foot of the Glen of Fincastle, to one David Stewart. He was an old man married to a young strong wife and had a grown up son who also helped him to teach.
Just above the schoolhouse was Ballinealich the farm of Charles Forbes. Of this man I have all my life reserved a vivid picture. He sat in an angle formed by a table and the wall. The table was round. But it had an articulated connection with the wall and was supported by a broad leg attached by a joint. A dish with mashed potatoes was laid on this table and a bowl and spoon for each person were placed. This then arranged, the father of the family took off his very broad bonnet and, with his shining bald head exposed to the light which came in through the chimney, he gave thanks. This done he put on the bonnet and proceeded with the horn spoon, like the rest, to partake of the simple fare before him. When the meal was over, and the vessels removed, the table was folded up against the wall and leg fell flat against it.
Ths fire was on the floor a little distance from the end wall and was overhung by a large, wide funnel which terminated above in the hole in the roof. I think this funnel is called the 'hallon' in broad Scotch. I have an idea that the fire at Lynemore, in the old house, was overhung in the same way and that there was a large stone near on which tapers of bog pine burned and gave light by which the women carded and spun.
I am reminded on one of the Atholl institutions of these days. Young women from different houses, to the number sometimes of a dozen, shouldered their spinning wheels and marched, in their clean but homely attire, to some neighbour's house where they competed who should spin the greatest quantity of linen yarn. The Atholl women of these days spun with both hands. The wheels had two bobbins and combs, as they were called, and the maidens sent down a thread with each hand as well as other women did one thread. In the evening young men gathered and the day's labours terminated in a dance to the music of pipe of fiddle or of both alternately.
My parents being bent on having me educated to better purpose that was likely in David Stewart's school, I was sent to that of John MacCraw at Moulin above Pitlochry. When Candlemas came round I remember being provided with a fine, big red-breasted and black-winged cock which I carred that morning all the way from Bonskeid to Moulin. The owner of the best fighting cock was king of the school. How long he reigned I do not remember. The reign of the tawse was so very visible in this school that no one was at all likely to carry another sceptre long. To all appearance John MacCraw held that the rod or the tawse was the chief factor in education. He literally thrashed terror into our flesh. Whether he was equally successful in impairing knowledge to the boys, I cannot say.
The catechism was at that time, as it is now, one of the instruments of education in Scotland; and I remember being kept religiously locked up in one of the big rooms at Bonskeid House so that I could not stay away from learning it. There was some feeling of dislike for the book implanted within me by the confinement. I question if any good came of it.
The surroundings of Bonskeid as well as those of Lynemore, were very favourable to the growth of Highland sentiment. We were surrounded by woods, some old and recently planted. We were in the angle formed by the meeting of the Tummel and the Garry. A short ramble among the trees and rocks and boulders and bracken took us to the bank of the Tummel where I gathered quantities of what appeared to me still to have been ery large hazel nuts. Across the river came the strains of the pipes played by one John Scott, I think. My father had a fiddle. And he and others helped to make the little house in the wood musical.
At the time the district was full of music and dancing -defiled, I am sorry to say, by the droppings of the still which was a power in the glen. I remember being in bothies quite near in the wood where the malt was masking. And ponies, with their whisky kegs, going down to the machair, as the lowlands were called, were frequent after nightfall. On one occasion a man with a white pony and two kegs, sought concealement about us for the day. When night fell he departed with his contraband. On another occasion I was sent up the glen for a bottle of whisky; and although I met the 'gauger' on my way back, I made myself believe that I succeeded in concealing the smuggled goods. At any rate, I was not taken prisoner!

Source: John Murdoch's own writings.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful