A Wander Through Bute's Graveyards

The following extracts are taken from a forthcoming guide book to the island by David McDowall, Bute, due to be published later this year.

'Time, like an ever-rolling stream Bears all its sons away; They fly forgotten, as a dream Dies at the break of day.'

So runs one familiar verse of the hymn, 'O God our help in ages past'. It is beautiful and poetic. One can hardly fail to get the point. And yet it is not quite true. Those emotionally close to us leave an aura behind them. They do not normally fly forgotten. Throughout their lives children remember their grandparents, and the fortunate ones will have been told about family forebears back into the nineteenth century or earlier. Yet even without one's own family memories, gravestones allow us to remember the continuities of community and individuals. It is certainly true in Bute, where many family names are well known, some undoubtedly rooted in Bute's medieval period.

The following, however, concentrates on the stories of just a few people buried in Bute, most of whom have stones commemorating them, but not quite all. Some were too poor to have headstones, but we know they are there. And in the =case of Birdie Bowers, he isn't there, but he is remembered on his mother's headstone.

The High Kirk graveyard

In the second half of the eighteenth century certain grounds were allocated to particular families, for example the McNeils, the Duncans, the McKinlays, the McAlisters, the McKirdys, the McKechnies and the Gillies, all close to the church, not to mention the Bute family vault used until the family became Catholic. Yet there are also plenty of individuals buried here who demand you should take note:

Robert Thom (1774-1847). Robert Thom was largely responsible for Bute's prosperity in the nineteenth century. He took over the ailing Rothesay cotton mills after they had failed in 1812, on account of the cost of importing coal to power the mills. In his late thirties, Thom was a man at the height of his powers. He had attended Anderson's Institution (which would later morph into the University of Strathclyde) in Glasgow where he had become fascinated by hydraulics. He was sure he could add enough water to Loch Fad and its head, the Kirk Dam, to drive the mills successfully without ever having recourse to steam power.

Between 1813 and 1822 Thom oversaw the canalisation of water from the west and south of the island to drain into Loch Fad, and then through the lade to the sea. This was achieved by six 'cuts' - canals which took the water virtually along the contour lines, with a drop of 1:1,200, the slightest decline imaginable. Thus his cuts meandered patiently, joining one stream with another, with culverts and bridges where necessary so as not to obstruct tracks and roads. He rejected freestanding aqueducts as an unnecessary expense. His most ambitious cut diverted water flowing naturally southwards to Kilchattan Bay and coaxed it north through the Mount Stuart estate to the Scoulag Burn, thence through Kerrycroy and past the south end of Loch Ascog to join the Barnauld Burn, and then to flow south-westwards into Loch Fad. All told, Thom's engineering increased Rothesay's waterpower from 30hp to 70hp, power equivalent to the steam engines used on the mainland.

So efficient were these cuts that Mount Stuart's own water supply ran dry. Consequently, in 1829 the Marquess took Thom to court. He lost, for the lease had specifically allowed Thom 'all the water that could be turned into Loch Fad.' The Marquess must have been stunned when his water tank ran dry. We are stunned by what the cuts achieved. Yet perhaps we should be stunned most of all that Thom achieved this for approximately £3,000 (hardly more than £120,000 in today's terms).

Having gone to such effort, it was understandable that Thom could not bear to see water wasted. Yet this is precisely what had been happening in Rothesay. When the mills stood idle, water first filled the lade then ran into the sea. Thom designed self-activating sluices to prevent this: when water was shut off at the mills, the lade would fill with water. A float-operated sluice at the top of the lade would close, thus preventing further let-down from the Kirk Dam into the lade. When the mills started operating again and the water level in the lade fell, the float would drop, opening the sluice again: simple and brilliant. Thom went on to refine his system further, with a couple of auxiliary reservoirs in the cuts to store water in periods of heavy rainfall: Dixon's Dam on Drumreoch Moor and Kilmory Dam, below Loch Dhu. These, too, were operated by automatic sluices.

Robert Thom is a prophet for our own time. As we rip the planet apart in our desire for power and its potentialities with scarcely a thought for the consequences, here is a man who worked with the grain of nature. Scandalously this colossus does not yet feature in The Dictionary of National Biography, nor in Scotland-specific encyclopaedias and biographical collections. Like his contemporary, Paisley's James Simpson, whose designs for slow sand water filtration plants saved literally tens of millions of lives across the Empire by providing clean water, Thom remains a largely unsung hero of British engineering. He went on to construct the Great Reservoir, later known as Loch Thom, and its 11 kilometre cut to supply Greenock with water and water power, completed in 1827. The piped water was completely clean, since he had designed a slow sand filtration system for the city. Thom was a truly great Briton. He lies by the door of the old session house on the right of the front door of the High Kirk.

John Arnott died in Rothesay in October 1864, at the age of 84 after an eventful life. His grave has not been found but he was undoubtedly buried here. His story merits retelling. He enlisted in the 42nd Foot (the Black Watch) at the age of 17, in 1799. The 42nd was part of Sir John Moore's expedition into the heart of Spain in 1808, to support a Spanish army to resist Napoleon. His force of 35,000 men nearly reached Madrid before it became clear that no Spanish army would materialise and that the French, far from having only 80,000 men, actually had closer to 300,000. As these were divided into five separate columns, there was not a moment to spare to avoid being cut off from the coast. Moore's men made a midwinter retreat over the mountains to Corunna. Many were lost due to the privations of extreme cold, hunger and exhaustion. French cavalry and tirailleurs constantly harried the rearguard. The force reached Corunna so closely pursued that it was unable to embark.

We can ourselves imagine the scene at Corunna thanks to an eyewitness report by a naval officer who had come ashore (which sadly I must abbreviate):

'The soldiers lay scattered about, wearied, and dispirited, ragged in their dress, and many of them sickly, or rather broken down in their appearance, by the fatigues of this celebrated retreat... The army... had been marching, fighting, and starving, almost without intermission since the day on which they landed, two months before...

'I had but just asked the commanding officer of one of the regiments... "Whether he thought anything could possibly rouse the men up?" In reply, he said... "You'll see by-and-bye, Sir, if the French there choose to come over."

'... Almost at the instant... a furious cannonading opened from a battery... At the first discharge from the French battery, the whole body of the British troops, from one end of the position to the other, started to their feet, snatched up their arms, and formed in line with as much regularity and apparent coolness as if they had been exercising on parade in Hyde Park... I have already noticed the silence which reigned over the field; now, however, there could be heard a loud hum, and occasionally a jolly shout and many a peal of laughter, along a distance of nearly a mile. In the midst of these sounds the peculiar sharp "click-click-click" of fixing bayonets fell distinctly on the ear very ominously... Their kits... being placed on their shoulders, the army, in a few minutes, stood perfectly ready to meet that of the enemy, whose troops, in three immense close columns, by this time were pelting rapidly down the side of the opposite heights.'

The 42nd Foot were placed in the centre, where Moore correctly anticipated the brunt of the attack. When they ran out of ammunition the men began to fall back. Moore rode up to them, 'stood up in his stirrups and in a loud voice called to them, "My brave 42nd, if you've fired your ammunition, you've still your bayonets." They turned about to advance on the enemy for the second time that day. A few seconds later, Moore took a round-shot which ripped his arm off and exposed his lung and ribs. A small party, including Corporal Arnott, carried him off the field in a blanket. Moore survived long enough to know the French had been repulsed and would have to await reinforcements. Throughout the night the rearguard lit large fires on the hilltops and moved across the front of them to give the impression of activity. Down below, in the harbour sailors rowed to-and-fro, ferrying first the wounded and then the whole army onto the ships.

On its return to Britain, the 42nd marched through Edinburgh. Newly promoted sergeant, Arnott naturally needed a wife. He duly wooed and won Margaret McLean in Paisley in December 1810. It was not long before the 42nd were back on active service with Wellington in the Peninsula. Margaret accompanied him throughout the campaign. By her marriage she, too, undertook a daunting duty. Wherever the 42nd was involved in an engagement, Margaret and the other sergeants' wives, went onto the battlefield, retrieving the wounded, comforting the dying. John Arnott's final battle was the delaying action at Quatre Bras, the day before Waterloo. The 42nd took very heavy casualties. One of them was John Arnott. It seems to have been Margaret who carried him from the field. Arnott survived but they never extracted the musket ball embedded in his chest. Margaret outlived him in penury by only two years. Next time you have a glass in your hand toast the memory of this extraordinary couple.

James Duncan (1796-1874). A large bronze recumbent figure rests on a sarcophagus of polished Peterhead granite, itself on a plinth of white granite. James Duncan had made his pile in Valparaiso, but apparently died in London. The Buteman penned a nice put-down concerning his tomb:

'As a work of art, it does credit to the sculptor, Mr George A. Ewing of Glasgow... We cannot say much in its praise, however, as a likeness of Mr Duncan ... Due allowance must be made for the fact that the artist never saw the deceased.'

Edward La Trobe Bateman (1815-97) was a minor artist of the Pre-Raphaelite school, a friend of painters like Millais and Rossetti. His interest in the decorative arts is manifest in the elaborately carved cross marking his grave. Perhaps he designed it himself. He moved to a house called the Hermitage in north London, a name he also applied to his home in Bute, just north of Kerrycroy, now discreetly hidden behind rhododendrons. In 1852 he joined the gold rush to Australia. Yet he earned his keep not by panning gold but by drawing pencil sketches of huts and tents which sold quickly at £5 each (over £250 in our terms). He turned his hand to landscape gardening and became a well-known figure in Melbourne. He returned to Britain in the early 1870s to take up a commission to re-design rooms and gardens at Mount Stuart. According to one dictionary, 'Batemen liked dense planting, and enclosures centred upon picturesque houses with gables and towers, buried in thatch and ivy.' He also re-designed the garden at Ascog Hall for Alexander Bannatyne Stewart, and almost certainly designed the famous Fernery.

Stephanie Hortense Marie Mathilde Elisabeth Amélie Bonaparte, died 1 July 1885, aged 48. The temptation is to think she might be part of the imperial family, perhaps a daughter born to the Emperor Napoleon III, but on the wrong side of the blanket. Alas, no evidence seems to exist. In the 1881 census she claims to have been born in Scotland, perhaps to French émigré parents. Perhaps she first married a Bonaparte, but she later married Benjamin St John Baptist Joule, older brother of the more famous James, whose scientific enquiries immortalised the name Joule as a unit of energy. Benjamin, however, has his own minor claim to fame as an accomplished organist in Manchester, where he led the Anglican choral revival. Why he and his wife fetched up in Rothesay remains a mystery.

Sir William Maxwell (1841-1923) was a champion of the Co-operative Movement in Scotland. He left school aged 10 and was self-educated. He had already learnt a lesson that most of us take far longer to learn. Aged about nine, he was filled with Presbyterian animus against Catholics and led a group of boys in a raid on a neighbouring Catholic school. His punishment was to spend some weeks attending classes in that very school, 'to study and associate with the hated enemy.' The experience cured him of prejudice for life. In 1862 he decided to educate himself by walking across Europe. He never made it, but he did spend four months walking the highways and byways of north Ireland and England, in the company of indigent itinerants and cotton factory men put out of work. Sickness brought his escapade to a halt, but he had seen what he had to do in life. For the next thirty years he devoted himself to the cause of the Co-operative Movement, to improve the lot of ordinary working people. Maxwell's vision was also internationalist. As late as 1913 he was addressing the International Co-operative Movement, believing it could help 'bring in a time when men would beat their swords into ploughshares and bring peace and hope and comfort to the workers of the world.' Alas, his idealism reckoned without the egos and cynicism of politicians and arms manufacturers.

Maxwell moved to Rothesay in 1904. To its shame, Rothesay gave him a poor reception, distrusting his ideals. In the words of his biographer, 'On learning who he was, no contractor would remove his furniture from the pier to his house.' In addition, many traders in Rothesay shunned his custom. Maxwell understood such hostility to be driven by ignorant prejudice. Recollection of his own childhood bigotry must have stood him in good stead, for he responded with grace and generosity of spirit, and won people over. He was delighted to be associated with the Co-operative ventures in Bute. He always kept his distance from the Labour Party. He stuck to the line that his work was about fair dealing for ordinary people and individuals could work out for themselves which political party to vote for. Here, too, is a hero to remember when next you have a glass in your hand.

Emily Bowers was the mother of Henry 'Birdie' Bowers (1883-1912), and it is his story that she (and her daughter Edith, who died in 1964) would have wanted told, for his name is also lovingly recorded on the gravestone. Bowers joined Captain Scott's ill-fated Antarctic Expedition of 1910. He was only 27. He had been born in Renfrewshire and after boarding school in Kent, he decided to be a sailor and trained on HMS Worcester, an old man o'war moored on the Thames. He joined the merchant navy, and acquired his master's ticket. Scott described his appearance: 'A very plain pink face carrying an immense beak-like nose (which has of course, gained him the name of "Birdie"), surmounted by close cropped red hair.'

On the expedition he proved his worth with his energy and dedication. Scott's journals repeatedly referred to Bowers as 'a treasure', and added on one occasion, 'his ardour is inspiring.' Early on in the expedition, Bowers had the nightmare of camping in the dark on what turned out to be an ice floe in the process of breaking up. He and two others had been assigned to bring the ponies across the sea ice. Bowers described what it was like, waking in the darkness to the noise of ice cracking:

'We were in the middle of a floating pack of broken-up ice... Long black tongues of water were everywhere. The floe on which we were had split right under our picketing line... The two sledges securing the other end of the line were on the next flow and had been pulled right to the edge... I... rushed out in my socks to save the two sledges; the two floes were touching farther on and I dragged them to this place and got them on to our floe. At that moment our floe split in two. I then got my finnesko [well-insulated Lapp boots] on, remarking that we had been in tight places but this was about the limit... We packed up camp and harnessed our ponies in remarkably quick time... Our only hope lay to the south... We found the ponies would jump the intervals well... My idea was never to separate, but to get everything on one floe at a time, and then wait until it touched or nearly touched another in the right direction, and then jump the ponies over and drag the four sledges across ourselves. In this way we made slow but sure progress... The ponies behaved as well as my companions and jumped the floes in great style. After getting them on a new floe we simply left them... till we were over with the sledges and ready to take them on again. Their implicit trust in us was touching to behold. After some hours we saw fast ice ahead, and thank God for it. Meanwhile a further unpleasantness occurred in the arrival of a host of the terrible 'killer' whales. These were reaping a harvest of seal in the broken up ice, and cruised among the floes with their immense black fins sticking up, and blowing with a terrific roar... Killers act in concert... by pressing up the thin ice from beneath and splitting it in all directions. It took us over six hours to get close to the fast ice, which proved to be the Barrier... We had only just cleared the Strait in time, though, as all the ice in the centre... headed off into the middle of the Strait... Our spirits rose as we neared to the Barrier edge. We rushed up the slope towards safety, and were little prepared for the scene that met our eyes at the top. All along the Barrier face a broad lane of water from thirty to forty feet wide extended. This was filled with smashed up brash ice which was heaving up and down to the swell... Killers were cruising there with fiendish activity and the Barrier edge was a sheer cliff of ice on the other side.'

Bowers and the others managed to cross when the floe moved against the cliff face, but after all their efforts, they had to abandon the ponies.

Amundsen, of course, beat Scott's team to the South Pole, a profoundly dispiriting experience for them. One by one, the men died on the return journey. Bowers was one of the final three. When the tent was dug out, Scott was found in his sleeping bag, Bowers and Wilson either side of him. In the words of one account, 'Wilson's hands were clasped on his chest like a knight recumbent, 'Birdie' Bower's great nose curved like a scimitar out of his Jaeger helmet. Their gabardine overalls were stiff as armour. With their cross-gartered Burberry leggings, they could have been disentombed Vikings.' The Vikings of Bute one thousand years earlier would have celebrated such heroism in their cups, and so should we.

Jinty Bell lies in an unmarked grave, just above the cypresses in the second section of the graveyard. Because she lived in a cave, her story has generated an immense amount of fascination. Her story, however, is a good deal more interesting than the cave itself, which is no more than a crevice about 50 metres north of Castle Cree, south of Ettrick Bay. Jinty was, in a sense, a direct spiritual descendent of the Irish Travellers who arrived in Bute in the late seventeenth century to live in igloo-shaped dwellings made of crude willow basketwork and covered in turfs near the seashore, where they could find mussels to eat. There were still one or two of these Travellers odd-jobbing in the 1950s. Yet Jinty was no Traveller by birth, for she was born very much more prosaically in Rothesay in 1846, her father being a local building labourer and her mother an incomer from Carradale. By the age of 13, Jinty was a factory girl in one of the cotton mills. In February 1884 when she was already aged 37, she gave birth to a son, Malcolm, somewhere in the High Street. The absence of a house number strongly suggests that he was born out of doors. Furthermore it was Jinty herself who reported the birth, marking the register with an illiterate's cross. Was she alone when she gave birth? I am tempted to think so. She was, of course, unmarried but the father's name was John Muldoon, a casual labourer.

By 1901 Malcolm was a teenager and stonemason's assistant in Rothesay but by then Jinty had been living in her cave for about ten years, the census that year recording her age as 46 (who can criticise a woman's modesty about her true age?), her employment as 'farm worker' and her abode accorded some dignity as 'Upper Ardroscadale Cave'. Malcolm seems to have looked out for her, for if you visit her miserable dwelling, you will find the remains of a concrete lintel over the mouth of the cave. It seems he constructed an extension for her. Jinty used to hawk cockles on Rothesay Pier, something she had been doing before she fled to her cave. One of her visitors in 1902 remarked:

'Inside are two apartments divided by a curtain... The bedroom is simply furnished – a bed on the bosom of Mother Earth and an alarm clock being its sole equipment... The kitchen is quite a cosy corner in its way, a stranded herring box taking the place of the more approved, but less substantial orange box, and being at once cupboard, dresser, table and lounge. The range is simple and effective - two large stones a foot apart for sides, with a bar or two of iron laid across... the water supply a splendid spring in the brae above, is "keppit" in an old circular boiler.'

In 1914, when Jinty was in her late 60s, another visitor described the scene:

'A few empty herring boxes, a broken oar, and some oddments of clothing lay scattered about. Within, there was a bed in an alcove. The rock opposite was blackened with wood reek. The only "home comfort" noticeable was a small alarm clock, which ticked bravely in the midst of its ancient surroundings.'

Malcolm was conscripted when he was already in his thirties, into the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. He was killed in action on the Western Front on 7 April 1917. Did the post boy bring Jinty the fateful telegram here in the cave? And what turmoil of feelings did the news provoke in her? We shall never know. We are left with the central question: why did she eschew life in the community of Rothesay to live in this miserable crack in the rock? Did she fall out badly with her man and have nowhere else to go? Did she suffer some kind of mental breakdown? However jocular she seemed to those who visited her, one suspects that at a deep level she suffered profound sadness and alienation. That alienation is also indicated by her brief death details. At least she had left her wretched cave and died indoors, in a house in Mill Street in 1923, aged 77. Yet it seems she died alone. It was a police constable who reported her death.

Kingarth graveyard

This kirkyard contains some remarkable graves, which testify both to the enduring kindred names of the island, particularly around the site of the old kirk, but also to the astonishing array of incomers, not merely from other parts of Britain, but further afield. The best thing is to wander around enjoying them. There are plenty of McFies, variously spelt. They are thought to have come from Colonsay in the early eighteenth century (but the McFies of Inchmarnock seem to have arrived in the seventeenth). In Kingarth some were wrights, presumably working at the Kingarth smiddy; others farmed at Gallachan and Quochag. Stones of particular interest include:

The Ardnahoe Seven: On the night of 7th/8th July 1887, the straw shed and barn of Ardnahoe Farm caught fire and burnt down. There were nine labourers asleep in the upper storey of the barn. Two men, John Fraill and William Docherty, survived to tell the tale:

'[Docherty] was awakened by hearing the crackling of the straw, as it was being consumed by the flames. He at once roused up the others, and told them to make haste or they would be burned to death. One of the women said to him – "O, for heaven's sake, save me," and clutched on his arm, while one of the men took his other arm. He dragged them towards the top of the ladder. The heat was intense, and the smoke was apparently overpowering the poor creatures hanging on to him, as he said he felt their grip gradually relax, till they dropped down, and as he felt himself being scorched, he quickly slipped down the ladder into the burning pit beneath, and dashed to the door... He observed that John Fraill had made his way out of the window. Both of them were naked... Docherty says that after he made his escape from the burning barn, the screams of those he had left behind were something terrific... He was burned about the back, the head and the arms.'

When Docherty was interviewed that very morning by The Buteman, he was already at work thinning turnips. Who among us would have done the same? Six itinerant tatty-howkers and a casual labourer perished in the conflagration: 'It has been impossible to ascertain the names of the poor creatures who so suddenly met such a terrible death, as they were all strangers in the district.' So their next of kin would never have learnt of their fate.

Louis Conod, 'a Swiss by birth, faithful servant to the Marquis of Bute who whilst bathing in the sea was unfortunately drouned, 12 July 1808.'

John Sanders had been ordained into the parish of Kingarth in 1878. In August 1918 he had suffered the unbearable blow of loosing his son, Frank, an officer in the Argylls, in an attack in which every officer in the battalion fell. He died in 1926, aged 74, after suffering ill health for some years. It seems, judging by the harsh words thrown at him over the erection of the Kingarth War Memorial, that there had been a clash of egos between two of the 'top dogs' of the parish, himself and William Esplin, the dominie.

The family Mackay. Margaret McAlister knew a thing or two about bereavement. Born into the famous farming family at Mid-Ascog in 1859, she married Archibald MacKay of another well-known Bute farming family. Archibald had a well-founded reputation for a fine dairy herd at Bruchag Farm. He and the farmer at Meikle Kilchattan provided the south end with milk and butter on alternate days. He was also an ace at breeding Clydesdales. He and Margaret lost their fourteen-year old son, Archibald, in 1901. Twelve years later Margaret was widowed, and a couple of years after that her 15-year old daughter Elizabeth died. Then the war claimed her eldest boy, John. He had emigrated to Kenya, risen to the rank of warrant officer in the King's African Rifles but died of sickness, the principal cause of death in the east African campaign. Like so many Brandane farmers, Margaret was possessed of dogged courage, ability and energy. She ran the farm with great flair after Archibald's death, until her eldest son, Robert, returned to take over in 1928. She died aged 90, in 1949.

Archibald Ferguson was a distinguished pipe-major in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. He was born, appropriately, at Piperhall (just ½ km east of the Kingarth War Memorial) in 1871. His body was found floating in the Forth & Clyde Canal on 27 March 1907, not far from his barracks at Maryhill, Glasgow. He had been missing for a fortnight. Whether he jumped, fell or was pushed remains a mystery. He was buried here with full honours, four regimental pipers played his corpse into the kirkyard to 'Land o' the Leal', and after his interment the regimental lament, 'Lochaber No More.' His brother, Donald, was also a piper, born in 1882. He migrated to British Columbia, married and begat five children. He died during military service in February 1918, his name inscribed on the Kingarth memorial.

Croc-an-Raer Graveyard

The Hogarths: were an important fishing family at St Ninian's Point, described in my forthcoming book. Death was the close neighbour of every family until the twentieth century. John Hogarth and his wife, Jane Nelson Waugh, living at St. Ninian's Point, buried two daughters, Agnes in her infancy and Isabella at the age of 15. That was not so unusual. Yet one branch of the Hogarths was particularly well acquainted with sorrow. Mary Malcom, remembered on a nearby stone, married James Hogarth, a fisherman at Port Bannatyne in 1856 and bore him eleven children, of whom three were deaf and incapable of oral speech: her eldest, James, her sixth, Jane, and her tenth, Kate. She buried her seventh child, Gilbert, aged 20 months in 1870, her ninth, Mary, aged only 5 weeks in 1872. The sea took her son, Malcom, when he was thirty in 1900, yachting off Milford Haven. Five years later, in 1905, it also took her man, James, aged 73. His skiff sank following a collision with another boat off Arran. It seems he got entangled either in the sail or the running gear. His body was never recovered. Ten years later she lost her youngest, another Gilbert. He had gone to Canada in search of a better life. With the onset of war, he had enlisted in the Alberta Regiment. He was blown to bits in a desperate counter-attack to defend the Ypres Salient on 23 April 1915, one of 55,000 Allied soldiers whose mortal remains were never recovered, their names inscribed on the Menin Gate. Every evening without fail, the traffic halts and a bugle sounds the Last Post, a daily passing-bell for the blasphemy perpetrated upon them. Mary's grief was not yet enough. Another son, William, died in 1918, aged only 55.

The Revd John MacArthur took over an empty church as Minister here in 1843 after Alexander McBride had led the entire congregation out in the Disruption. Think of his awesome task rebuilding a congregation and his unpopularity with the members of the new Free Church who now gathered in Port Bannatyne, perhaps still a little damp from the rigours of their first Communion as a Free Church. (Their first Communion had in heavy rain, outside the building from which they had just been expelled.) It cannot have been much fun for him but, as the gravestone states, he stuck it out for 25 years.

Duncan Hoyle, briefly master of Kames. He had been born in a hut just opposite Saw Mill Cottage on Kames Bay. He it was who developed Port Bannatyne, having made his fortune in Australia. In smartening up Port Bannatyne (he unsuccessfully tried to change its name to Kamesburgh), he incurred the wrath of the Port's fishing community, forcing them to remove their fishing nets and their drying posts along the edge of the bay. His is the tall stone cross surrounded by railings, close by where you entered the graveyard, once gleaming white marble, now turned almost black.

The Merchant Navy seamen buried at the line of white limestone graves, 21 men from the Coronda, or at least as many body parts as could be found, are interred in seven graves. It is too terrible to contemplate for long. Here are two things to marvel at: that the merchant seamen came from such varied international backgrounds and also the strong presence of men from the Gaidhealtachd, the Gaelic inscription reading: 'Eternal rest grant him, O Lord; and may light perpetual shine upon him.' Indeed, these stones seem to be the last permanent public evidence of Gaelic in Bute.

John Balloch (1860–1947), to be found three graves to the right of the merchant seamen. His name is below that of his wife, Eliza Porteous, on the same stone. John Balloch was a famous piper. He joined the army, aged 18. Four years later, he piped the lead company of the Highland Brigade into action at Tel el-Kebir, 13 September 1882. He undertook his role with courage, only a few paces from the commanding officer who was shot down. The battle itself, however, was hardly an honourable episode. It was undertaken to overthrow a nationalist leader in Egypt inimical to British interests. We would now call that kind of action regime change. It commenced the British Occupation of Egypt, which decisively ended with the Suez débâcle in 1956. Having blighted Egypt with 70 years of occupation, Britain went on to damage profoundly the prospects of the indigenous people of Palestine and Iraq. Balloch, of course, was simply a soldier, doing his duty. He was posted to India where he tutored Gurkha pipers and composed a number of tunes, some of them still well known. Having retired in 1899, he rejoined the King's Own Scottish Borderers in 1914 and served with them till 1918. Both his son and grandson became pipers.

Across the road is a mound, now planted with fir trees which give the place a strongly interior feeling. The stone wall surrounding it is late eighteenth century, but what lies inside is largely a matter for conjecture. Once thought of as a prehistoric site, it is probably medieval. Possibly thinking it to be a prehistoric fort or burial mound, it appealed to one nineteenth century owner of the Kames estate, James Hamilton, as a place to be buried, hence the rather tumbled down tomb. He had must have fallen out with his wife, Harriet, since he stipulated he was to remain buried alone. If she had had her wits about her she could have emulated my own forebear and hit back by inscribing her husband's stone with the prescription: 'Prepare to meet thy God'.

© David McDowall, April 2009

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Alistair MacDonald, Ross McLaughlin and Emma Selkirk for their help.



 
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