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The Slaying Of Sergeant Davies

Categories: More Ghosts With A Purpose
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

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 h
d 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


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):--