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The Slaying Of Sergeant Davies






We now examine a ghost with a purpose; he wanted to have his bones
buried. The Highlands, in spite of Culloden, were not entirely
pacified in the year 1749. Broken men, robbers, fellows with wrongs
unspeakable to revenge, were out in the heather. The hills that
seemed so lonely were not bare of human life. A man was seldom so
solitary but that eyes might be on him from cave, corry, wood, or den.
The Disarming Act had been obeyed in the usual style: old useless
weapons were given up to the military. But the spirit of the clans
was not wholly broken. Even the old wife of Donald Ban, when he was
"sair hadden down by a Bodach" (ghost) asked the spirit to answer one
question, "Will the Prince come again?" The song expressed the
feelings of the people:--

The wind has left me bare indeed,
And blawn my bonnet off my heid,
But something's hid in Hieland brae,
The wind's no blawn my sword away!

Traffickers came and went from Prince Charles to Cluny, from Charles
in the Convent of St. Joseph to Cluny lurking on Ben Alder. Kilt and
tartan were worn at the risk of life or liberty, in short, the embers
of the rising were not yet extinct.

At this time, in the summer of 1749, Sergeant Arthur Davies, of
Guise's regiment, marched with eight privates from Aberdeen to Dubrach
in Braemar, while a corporal's guard occupied the Spital of Glenshee,
some eight miles away. "A more waste tract of mountain and bog, rocks
and ravines, without habitations of any kind till you reach
Glenclunie, is scarce to be met with in Scotland," says Sir Walter.

The sergeant's business was the general surveillance of the country
side. He was a kindly prosperous man, liked in the country, fond of
children, newly married, and his wife bore witness "that he and she
lived together in as great amity and love as any couple could do, and
that he never was in use to stay away a night from her".

The sergeant had saved fifteen guineas and a half; he carried the gold
in a green silk purse, and was not averse to displaying it. He wore a
silver watch, and two gold rings, one with a peculiar knob on the
bezel. He had silver buckles to his brogues, silver knee-buckles, two
dozen silver buttons on a striped lute-string waistcoat, and he
carried a gun, a present from an officer in his regiment. His dress,
on the fatal 28th of September, was "a blue surtout coat, with a
striped silk vest, and teiken breeches and brown stockings". His
hair, of "a dark mouse colour," was worn in a silk ribbon, his hat was
silver laced, and bore his initials cut in the felt. Thus attired, "a
pretty man," Sergeant Davies said good-bye to his wife, who never saw
him again, and left his lodgings at Michael Farquharson's early on
28th September. He took four men with him, and went to meet the
patrol from Glenshee. On the way he met John Growar in Glenclunie,
who spoke with him "about a tartan coat, which the sergeant had
observed him to drop, and after strictly enjoining him not to use it
again, dismissed him, instead of making him prisoner".

This encounter was after Davies left his men, before meeting the
patrol, it being his intention to cross the hill and try for a shot at
a stag.

The sergeant never rejoined his men or met the patrol! He vanished as
if the fairies had taken him. His captain searched the hill with a
band of men four days after the disappearance, but to no avail.
Various rumours ran about the country, among others a clatter that
Davies had been killed by Duncan Clerk and Alexander Bain Macdonald.
But the body was undiscovered.

In June, one Alexander Macpherson came to Donald Farquharson, son of
the man with whom Davies had been used to lodge. Macpherson (who was
living in a sheiling or summer hut of shepherds on the hills) said
that he "was greatly troubled by the ghost of Sergeant Davies, who
insisted that he should bury his bones, and that, he having declined
to bury them, the ghost insisted that he should apply to Donald
Farquharson". Farquharson "could not believe this," till Macpherson
invited him to come and see the bones. Then Farquharson went with the
other, "as he thought it might possibly be true, and if it was, he did
not know but the apparition might trouble himself".

The bones were found in a peat moss, about half a mile from the road
taken by the patrols. There, too, lay the poor sergeant's mouse-
coloured hair, with rags of his blue cloth and his brogues, without
the silver buckles, and there did Farquharson and Macpherson bury them
all.

Alexander Macpherson, in his evidence at the trial, declared that,
late in May, 1750, "when he was in bed, a vision appeared to him as of
a man clothed in blue, who said, '_I am Sergeant Davies_!'". At first
Macpherson thought the figure was "a real living man," a brother of
Donald Farquharson's. He therefore rose and followed his visitor to
the door, where the ghost indicated the position of his bones, and
said that Donald Farquharson would help to inter them. Macpherson
next day found the bones, and spoke to Growar, the man of the tartan
coat (as Growar admitted at the trial). Growar said if Macpherson did
not hold his tongue, he himself would inform Shaw of Daldownie.
Macpherson therefore went straight to Daldownie, who advised him to
bury the bones privily, not to give the country a bad name for a rebel
district. While Macpherson was in doubt, and had not yet spoken to
Farquharson, the ghost revisited him at night and repeated his
command. He also denounced his murderers, Clerk and Macdonald, which
he had declined to do on his first appearance. He spoke in Gaelic,
which, it seems, was a language not known by the sergeant.

Isobel MacHardie, in whose service Macpherson was, deponed that one
night in summer, June, 1750, while she lay at one end of the sheiling
(a hill hut for shepherds or neatherds) and Macpherson lay at the
other, "she saw something naked come in at the door, which frighted
her so much that she drew the clothes over her head. That when it
appeared it came in in a bowing posture, and that next morning she
asked Macpherson what it was that had troubled them in the night
before. To which he answered that she might be easy, for it would not
trouble them any more."

All this was in 1750, but Clerk and Macdonald were not arrested till
September, 1753. They were then detained in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh
on various charges, as of wearing the kilt, till June, 1754, when they
were tried, Grant of Prestongrange prosecuting, aided by Haldane, Home
and Dundas, while Lockhart and Mackintosh defended. It was proved
that Clerk's wife wore Davies's ring, that Clerk, after the murder,
had suddenly become relatively rich and taken a farm, and that the two
men, armed, were on the hill near the scene of the murder on 28th
September, 1749. Moreover, Angus Cameron swore that he saw the murder
committed. His account of his position was curious. He and another
Cameron, since dead, were skulking near sunset in a little hollow on
the hill of Galcharn. There he had skulked all day, "waiting for
Donald Cameron, _who was afterwards hanged_, together with some of the
said Donald's companions from Lochaber". No doubt they were all
honest men who had been "out," and they may well have been on Cluny's
business of conveying gold from the Loch Arkaig hoard to Major Kennedy
for the prince.

On seeing Clerk and Macdonald strike and shoot the man in the silver-
laced hat, Cameron and his companion ran away, nor did Cameron mention
the matter till nine months later, and then only to Donald (not he who
was hanged). Donald advised him to hold his tongue. This Donald
corroborated at the trial. The case against Clerk and Macdonald
looked very black, especially as some witnesses fled and declined to
appear. Scott, who knew Macintosh, the counsel for the prisoners,
says that their advocates and agent "were convinced of their guilt".
Yet a jury of Edinburgh tradesmen, moved by Macintosh's banter of the
apparition, acquitted the accused solely, as Scott believes, because
of the ghost and its newly-learned Gaelic. It is indeed extraordinary
that Prestongrange, the patron of David Balfour, allowed his witnesses
to say what the ghost said, which certainly "is not evidence". Sir
Walter supposes that Macpherson and Mrs. MacHardie invented the
apparition as an excuse for giving evidence. "The ghost's commands,
according to Highland belief, were not to be disobeyed." Macpherson
must have known the facts "by ordinary means". We have seen that
Clerk and Macdonald were at once suspected; there was "a clatter"
against them. But Angus Cameron had not yet told his tale of what he
saw. Then who _did_ tell? Here comes in a curious piece of evidence
of the year 1896. A friend writes (29th December, 1896):--





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Previous: Lord Lyttelton's Ghost



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