Total Pageviews

Friday, 11 July 2014

Corriechoillie: John Cameron, Lochaber Drover

Dealing in livestock was a mainstay of the Highland economy, particularly during the nineteenth century, and there can be little doubt that the most famous drover of them all was Corriechoillie (sometimes Corrychoillie), the nickname of John Cameron after his place of residence not far from Spean Bridge. Such was his fame that oftentimes his nickname was abbreviated to Corrie (or Corry). A few anecdotes about Corrie were recorded by Calum Maclean on his fieldwork visit to Lochaber in 1951. A few of these were recorded from John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber, and one other from Archibald MacInnes from nearby Achluachrach. The following short anecdote was recited by John MacDonald on the 10th of January 1951:

Coire Choillidh a’ tuiteam san Uisge

’S e dròbhair ainmeil a bh’ ann an Coire Choillidh. Chaochail e bho chionn iomadh bliadhna. Chaochail e anns na 1856. Agus ’s iomadh turas a bha e a-mach anns na h-eileanan an àird an iar a’ ceannachd crodh agus ann an iomadh àite eile. Ach dè bh’ agad air is e a’ tighinn car anamoch a-staigh air a’ bhàta anns na h-eileanan an àird an iar, nach to thuit e far a’ chèidh. Agus bha gillean glè thapaidh ann agus shàbhail iad e. Thug iad an àirde e. Agus mura biodh, bha Coire Coillidh air a bhàthadh.
“Ma-tà,” thuirt iad ris an uair sin, “bu chòir dhut taing a thoirt do Dhia gun deach do shàbhaladh, Iain.”
“Ma-tà,” thuirt e, “theag’ gun d’rinn E beagan,” thuirt e, “ach rinn mi fhìn dìcheall glè mhòr. Is mar a dèanainn sin, bha mi air mo chall.”

And the translation goes something like the following:

Corriechoillie Falling in the Water

Corriechoillie (‘John Cameron’) was a famous drover and died many years ago in 1856. He was often on business out in the Western Isles and other places buying cattle, and in many other places as well. But what do have here is when he was coming in late at night in a boat returning from the Isles and he fell from the quay. Some strong lads saved him and pulled him out. If they hadn’t done so then Corriechoille would have been drowned.
“Well,” they said to him then, “you should give praise to God that you have been saved, John.”
“Well,” he said, “Doubtless He did a little but I hand’t myself made a great effort then I would have surely died.”

Another anecdote, also recorded on the 10th of January 1951, from John MacDonald goes as follows:

Coire Choillidh aig Roup

Bha Coire Choillidh turas aig roup agus iad a’ creic a-mach meall ghnothaichean. Ach dé thàinig mu dheireadh ach carbad glè bhòidheach agus paidhir each. Bha a h-uile rud a bh’ ann a’ dol còmhla. Bha Coire Choillidh airson seo fhaotainn. Bu toil leis na h-eich agus daonnan, ’s ann mar muin eich a bhiodh e falbh. Agus ’s ann air muin eich –
rud a tha glè iongantach a chaochail e, faoda’ mi a’ ghràitinn. Cha d’rinn iad ach a thoirt far druim an eich nuair a chaochail e ann an Coire Choillidh. Ach, co-dhiù, mar a bh’ ann is e ann an èididh gu math peallach. Cò thàinig air adhart ach bean uasal glè stràiceil dhith fhéin. Agus thug i upag gu taobh do Choir Choillidh agus thòisich i air tairgsinn air a’ charbad agus air na h-eich. Ma thòisich, thòisich Coire Choillidh. Ghabh e an rud cho dona, àrdanach. Agus mar bu mhutha a bha i a’ tairgsinn ’s ann bu mhutha a bha Coire Choillidh. Chaidh a’ phrìs thar prìs glè àrd. Stad i mu dheireadh a’ tairgsinn. Fhuair Coire Choillidh an carbad agus na h-eich. Fhuair i a-mach cò an duine a bh’ ann agus thàinig i a dh’iarraidh mathanas air agus a leisgeul a ghabhail nach do thuig i gur h-e Coire Choillidh a bh’ aice. Mheath seo an cridhe aig Coire Choillidh cho mór agus gun tuirt e rithe ma bha i airson na h-eich agus an carbad fhaotainn gun toireadh e dhì e na thìoclaid. Agus ’s ann mar sin a bha. Bha i cho mòr agus cho pròiseil às agus dh’iarr i mìle mathanas. Agus bha Coire Choillidh cho toilichte agus a’ ghnìomh a rinn e. Agus ghabh iad mar sin beannachd le chèile. Is tha an naidheachd air a h-innseadh is tha i air a h-innseadh mar a chuala mise i.

And the translation goes something like the following:

Corriechoillie at an Auction

Corriechoillie was at an auction and they were selling many things. But it so happened that the last lot was a very handsome carriage and a pair of horses. Everything was being sold together. Corriechoillie wanted it. He was always very keen on horses and he would always travel in the saddle. It was on horseback, a thing that is very amazing, that he died, I may say. They’re only recourse was to lift him from the horse’s back when in died in Corriechoillie. But, in any case, he used to dress in rather ragged clothes. Who happened to come his way but a lady who had a high opinion of herself. And she shoved Corriechoillie’s side and she began bidding for the carriage and horses. If she did, so did Corriechoillie. He took it so badly. As she increased the bid so did Corriechoillie. The price went up and up. She eventually stopped bidding. Corriechoillie won the carriage and horse. She found out who the man was and she went over to ask for his forgiveness and to take her apology for she hadn’t understand that she had been bidding against Corriechoillie. This melted Corriechoillie’s heart so much so that he said to her that if she wanted the carriage and horses then he would give it to her as a present. And that’s was happened. She was so haughty and proud that she asked for a thousand apologies. But Corriechoillie was very pleased from his act of generosity. And they both gave one another blessings on parting. That is how the anecdote goes and it is told the way in which I heard it.

The final anecdote told by John MacDonald about Corriechoillie was recorded by Calum Maclean during the same recording session on the very same day:

Coire Choillidh anns a’ Bhanca

Bha Coire Choillidh turas eile agus e a’ falbh chun na fèile. Bha mòran airgid air a shiubhal ach cha robh iomlaid ann. Nuair a bhiodh e a’ pàigheadh dh'fheumadh e iomlaid a bhith aige. Theagamh nan toireadh e còig notaichean is crùn air gamhainn: mura biodh an t-airgead briste a tha seo aige cha dèanadh e an gnothach. Chaidh e a-staigh air a thuras don bhanca a bha an Cinn a’ Ghiuthasaich a dh'iarraidh iomlaid. Shaoil leotha gur h-e bh’ ann fear siubhail. Dh’fhaighneachd iad dheth an robh mòran airgid aige na an robh mòran airgid a dhìth air.
“O! tha beagan agam,” thuirt e.
“A bheil mìle not agad?”
“Tha.”
“A bheil dà mhìle not?”
“Tha.”
“A bheil an uibhir seo a mhìltean?”
“Tha.”
Chan eil e gu diubhar dè na mìltean a theireadh iad, bha iad aig Coire Choillidh. Ach mu dheireadh, dh’aithnich iad gun robh iad a’ gabhail brath air agus a’ fanaid. Mar sin dh'iarr e iomlaid airson an uibhir seo de dh’airgead agus cha robh de dh’iomlaid sa bhanca na b’ urrainn a thoirt dà.
“A-nise," thuirt e,”mura bidh sibh fuathasach sàmhach,” thuirt e, “cuiridh mi a-staigh casaid oirbh an dòigh a tha sibh a’ bruidhinn ri sluagh, nuair a thig iad a-staigh an seo agus nach urrainn dhuibh an t-airgead a tha a dhìth orm a thoirt dhomh. Agus mar sin,” thuirt e, “mar is sàmhaiche a dh’fhanas sibh ’s e is fheàrr dhuibh.”
Dh’iarr iad mòran mathanas agus agus thuirt iad ris nach do thuig iad cò an duine a bh’ aca. Ach tha sinn an deaghaidh a thuisginn a-nise. ’S e sibh-se Coire Choillidh. Tha sinn ag iarraidh mìle mathanas agus na leigibh an naidheachd nas fhaide.
.
And the translation goes something like this:

Corriechoillie in the Bank

Corriechoillie was on another trip and he was going to market. He carried with him a lot of money on his journey but he didn’t have any change. When it came to making payment, he would need some change. Doubtless if he bought a stirk for five pounds and a crown then if he didn’t have any change then he wouldn’t be able to make a purchase. He went into a bank on another occasion when he was in Kingussie to get some change. They thought that he was a traveller. They asked him if had a lot of money or if he needed a lot of money.
“Oh, I’ve got a little,” he replied.
“Have you got a thousand?”
“Yes.”
“Have you got two thousand?”
“Yes.”
“Yes.”
It made no difference how many thousands they’d say, Corriechoillie had that much. But eventually they knew that they were taking advantage of him and mocking him. Therefore, he requested change for such an amount of money but they didn’t have enough money in the bank to give that to him.
“Now,” he said, “if you don’t remain very quiet, “he said, “I shall put a complaint in about the way in which you talk to folk when they come in here and that you can’t give me the money which I requested you to give to me. And, therefore, “he said, “the quieter you stay the better off you’ll be.”
They asked him for forgiveness and they admitted that they had not known who the man was that they were dealing with. But that they now clearly understood: you’re Corriechoillie. We wish to be forgiven and don’t let this go any further.

The last anecdote was recorded by Calum Maclean on the 7th of January 1951 from Archibald MacInnes from Achluachrach:

Mar a Fhuair Choire Choillidh an t-Airgead

Bha meall airgid aig Iain Camshron, ris an abradh iad Coire Choillidh. Bha e ann bho chionn ceud gu leth bliadhna. Bha meall talamh agus stoc aige. Tha feadhainn ag ràdha mar fhuair e an t-airgead an toiseach. Bha e a’ buachailleachd othaisgean gu deas. Tha teans gun robh na litrichean is na rudan sin a’ tighinn seachad le each is le van. Tha teans gun robh robairean air an cùlaibh agus thilg iad am poca a bha seo thar an hedge is thàinig e is land e, is sneachda ann, far an robh an Camshronach a’ buachailleachd nan othaisgean. Chuir e iongnadh uamharaidh air cò às a thàinig an rud. Tha teans gun do dh’fhosgail e e is gun d’fhuair e suimeannan gu leòr de dh’airgead ann is nach a fhuair na robairean sgillinn dheth. An rud nach robh feum chuir e gu taobh e na thìodhlaic e e. Agus tha iad a’ dèanadh a-mach gur h-ann mar sin a fhuair e an t-airgead leis bha meall den taobh tuath de dh’Albainn aige fo stoc, crodh is
caoraich, mìltean de dh’fhad anns na treudan a bhiodh a’ dol gu margadh deireadh na bliadhna.
Bha e trip air a’ bhàta a’ dol o tuath do Ghlaschu. Thachair Sasannach air is bha e pòsda. Thòisich e air reic na bean ris, Coire Choillidh a’ tarraing às. Thuirt e ri Coire Choillidh an toireadh e dà mhile not oirre. Thuirt e gun toireadh. Bhuail e dìreach am bargan seachad mun robh fhios aige càite an robh e. Nuair a bhuail am bàta aig Glaschu, leum e air tìr. Chaidh e a-staigh don chiad bhank a thachair air is bha an t-ainm math gu leòr. Bha e air ais far an robh am fear seo isa dhà mhìle not na dhòrn aige:
“Sin agad dhut a-nise. Is leam-sa a’ bhean agad.”
Cha robh aig an t-Sasannach ach gun dèanadh e e fhèin glè mhìn agus ìosal dha agus feuch am fàgadh e a’ bhean aige mar a bha e, leis bha pailteas fhianaisean air a’ mhargadh a chaidh a dhèanadh air a’ bhàta.

And the translation goes something like the following:

How Corriechoillie Got his Money

John Cameron, who they called Corriechoillie, had lots of money. He lived around one-hundred and fifty years ago. He owned a lot of land as well as stock. Some say this is how he got his money at the beginning: he was herding ewes down south. It so happened that threw were letters and other things being carried by with a horse and van. It so happened that robbers were at the back and they threw a sack over the hedge and it landed where there was snow lying in the place where Cameron was herding the ewes. He was greatly surprised about where this thing had come from. It so happened that he opened it and found a great sum of money and not a penny of which got into the hands of the robbers. That which he didn’t need he put it to one side and buried it. And they maintain that this is how he got his money and he owned a great deal of Northern Scotland where he kept his stock of cattle and sheep, which used to go to the market at the end of year many miles in length in their droves.
He was on a boat trip going north to Glasgow. He met an Englishman who was a married man. He began to sell his wife to him as was trying to pull Corriechollie’s leg. He asked Corriechoillie if he would be willing to give him ₤2000 for her. He said that he would. He struck the bargain before he knew where he was. When the boat landed in Glasgow, he leapt onshore. He entered the first bank that he found and his name was good enough. He was back to where the other man was with ₤2000 in his fist.
“There you are now, I own your wife.”
The Englishman’s only recourse was to fawn and beg so that he could keep his wife as there were so many witnesses on board the boat who were going to market.

A series of the more popular anecdotes about Corriechoillie are related by the Rev. Somerled MacMillan in his book Bygone Lochaber: Historical and Traditional. These may have come by way of John MacDonald as the Bard was acknowledged as one of the principal sources for stories in MacMillan’s preface:

CORRIECHOILLIE GREATER THAN WELLINGTON

Discussing stock markets with Corriechoillie one evening, a guest gave it his opinion that the former was ever a greater man than the Duke of Wellington. “Hoot, toot!” replied Cameron, “that’s too much―too much by far―by far.” “Not a bit,” continued the other, as he enlarged on the skill required in concentrating stock at a Southern Market; “do you think the Iron Duke could do as well as you?” Brooding for a space over his toddy and snuff, Corriechoillie answered, “The Duke no doubt, he was a clever man; very, very clever; but I’m not sure, after all, if he could manage twenty thousand sheep, besides black cattle, that could not understand one word he said, Gaelic or English, and bring every hoof of them to Falkirk Tryst! I doubt it, I doubt it!”

CORRIECHOILLIE BARGAINS FOR A WIFE

Travelling south by steamer, Corriechoillie became enamoured over one of the lady passengers, and during the voyage he could scarcely keep his eyes off the fair charmer’s face. Observing his interest, a gentleman accosted Cameron and asked if he would care to buy the lady. “I would,” returned the farmer, “what is the price?” “Give me ₤1,000 and she’s yours,” was the answer. “It’s a bargain,” said Corriechoillie, forcing a guinea of arles into the hand of the amazed stranger. On reaching Greenock, Cameron travelled to Glasgow by rail, and having drawn ₤1,000 from one of the city banks, claimed his purchase on the arrival of the steamer at the Broomielaw. The gentleman, who made the facetious bargain, was thunderstruck, but seeing that the other party to the contract was in dead earnest, he made and over of ₤200 to have it cancelled. This tender, however, was promptly refused but after much haggling, the deal was declared “off”, in consideration of the stranger agreeing to “dine” Corrie’s shepherds and drovers. The feast, at which the choicest liquor was consumed, actually took place in one of the best hotels in the city, and cost the would-be-wag the best part of ₤100.

CORRIECHOILLIE AND THE WILY IRISHMAN

The nimble-fingered fraternity were always on the watch for Highland dealers, and many goodly sums were scooped by these pests of the road. Among his earliest―(if it may have been his first)―visits to Falkirk Tryst, Corriechoillie, being in possession of a sum of ₤200, was anxious about the safety of the money. On reaching Falkirk, he banked half of it, leaving the balance with the landlord of the Red Lion against the time he would require it to pay for purchases. Finding stock to his mind, he returned to the hotel along with the dealer from whom he made the purchase, and asked for the money he had deposited should be handed over. The wily host―an Irishman―denied all knowledge of the matter, and for the moment Corrie was nonplussed Quitting the Inn, Cameron, on the advice of this companion, consulted Archie Cunningham, who was known as “a clever chiel for getting folk out o’ scrapes”. After leistering to his story, the lawyer suggested that Corriechoillie should withdraw the other ₤100 from the bank, and taking witnesses with him, place it also in the keeping of the hotel-keeper. Having followed this advice, Corriechoillie returned shortly afterwards to th hotel alone and asked for the ₤100, as he wished to pay for some stock which he had purchased. The money was duly handed over without any suspicion on the part of the landlord that he was “being had”. At a later hour, accompanied by his witnesses, Corriechoillie again appeared at the Red Lion and tendered a respectful request for his ₤100. Now, when too late, Boniface saw that he had been completely cornered, and while he protested and fumed, he had no alterative in the end but to disgorge the additional sum to its rightful owner.

CORRIECHOILLIE ESCAPES DROWNING

Once when inspecting a herd of goats which were grazing along the wooded bank of the Spean, Corriechoillie inadvertently slipped into the river, which happened to be in flood. A shepherd who witnessed the accident thought that his master was doomed, but Cameron had too much vitality in him to give up life in such an unorthodox fashion. Seizing the branches of an overhanging tree, he succeeded in swinging himself ashore, and, beyond a “drooking”, was none the worse for the immersion. His frightened shepherd, running up to him, shook him gladly, and suggested that he should kneel down at once on the bank and thank his Maker for preserving his life. “Ah, well! Remarked Corriechoillie, “I was very clever myself, or He should have done very little for me!”

These stories reflect some aspects of Corrie and may be complimented by contemporary or near-contemporary accounts. The road engineer Joseph Mitchell in his Reminiscences of My Life in the Highlands left a good, if rather unflattering description, of the Lochaber drover: “He was about five feet six inches tall, thin, with a sharp hook nose and lynx eyes. He was the son of Donald Cameron and Ann MacArthur who kept a tollhouse which was also an inn much frequented by drovers. The family also kept a herd of goats.
Corrie’s ambition to get on in the world was keenly felt even as a youth. He managed to save enough money and bought sheep, goats and some stirks which he then took to market along with the dealer’s own beasts. Some accounts say he was so poor that he and no shoes and wore footless stocking, but this was not that uncommon at that period. The bard, John MacDonald, styled Iain mac Dhòmhnaill ’ic Alasdair, of Uig, Skye, wrote:

Gum biodh iad tric san Ealgaise Bhric’
Ag iomain cruidh tro gharbh-chìioch,
‘S cha rachadh bròg a chur mun spòig
Gu ruigte an ceò on dh’fhalbh iad.

They would be oft at Falkirk Tryst
Driving stock through roughbounds,
And not a boot would go on foot
Till back amidst the mist they left.

Corrie, with his profits and business acumen, soon began to build up his stock and he bought more cattle and sheep and eventually he became as prosperous, or better, than the men who once employed him. At his height he became the largest sheep owner in the Highlands and owned an estimated 60,000 sheep and obtained the tenancy of 11 farms.
Many of these farms were rented from Cameron of Lochiel and, at first, both he and Corrie seemed to get on fine. For on completion of a deal, Lochiel wrote to Corrie in friendly terms on the 6th of January 1834 as North Argyll (Alastair Cameron) writes in his short biographical sketch entitled Our Greatest Highland Drover, John Cameron, “Corrychoillie” (1961):

“The gratification I experience at the near prospect of having a tenant of my own name, who by his activity and enterprise had been enabled to hold off his landlord and chief farms of greater value and extent that are in the possession of any one individual in the Wet Highlands.”
This evidence of good feeling did not last very long and the subject of the difference which rose between Lochiel and “Corry” was Ewan Macphee who became afterwards well known as the “Outlaw of Quoich.” Macphee had been resident on Glenkingie before “Corrychoillie” and had been left unmolested by the previous tenants, but the presence of an individual whose chief vocation appeared to be roaming the hills with a gun, did not suit the industrious, energetic nature of “Corry” so the two met on one or two occasions in rather a hostile manner, culminating in Macphee threatening to shoot him. Lochiel tried to make peace between them and on the 27th of March, 1835, he wrote to “Corry”: ―
“Let me have a particular account of Macphee’s proceedings, his manner of life, and what his family consist of. My feeling with regard to this man is that having been so long unused to habits of industry or occupation of any kind, that when turned adrift he may have recourse to lawless proceedings for his support. Men of his stamp are sometimes reclaimed by kindness, when severity might drive them to desperation. On his principle, if I thought the man had any of the better principles of Rob Roy, I would endevour to provide for him myself. In the meantime there can be no doubt that I am bound to clear the farm of him at the insistence of the tenant.”
Matters evidently did not improve for fifteen months later Lochiel writes concerning the case:―
“Corrychoillie” made repeated complaints to me of the conduct of Macphee, and of the loss he has sustained by him, both of which I cannot but think are somewhat exaggerated, as were he really the desperate character represented, surely Alexander Cameron, Inverguseran, and Thomas Macdonald  (former tenants) would neither of them suffered him to remain on the farm. As to the threat of shooting ‘Corrychoillie’, I think he is more likely to do so if he and his family are turned adrift at his instance. I should have thought that a man of ‘Corrychoillie’s’ immense possessions, an acre or two of potato ground would be unworthy of consideration.”
The question ultimately went to Court. Macphee removed to an island in Loch Quoich which still bears his name. Here he built a bothy for himself and after doing this he realised that he would be better off with a wife companion, so one fine morning he set off across to Glendulochan, where he had previously made the acquaintance of a girl. It is said that without indulging in any more courting he lifted the girl on his back, went back with her to the island and they were duly married.
Macphee then became a character as “Macphee the Outlaw of Loch Quoich.” Ultimately his plunder of game and sheep went beyond the bounds of toleration and the police were called in. It was difficult to bring conclusive evidence against him, until one snowy morning the tracks of a man and several sheep were followed from the hill to the shore opposite the island. Macphee was afterwards arrested and committed to prison where he eventually died.

Be that as it may, John Mitchell also writes that Corrie had great energy and frequently rode night and day the 120 miles from Falkirk to a major local market at Muir of Ord, Ross-shire, with bread, cheese and ₤120 in his pocket. He gave his pony a treat every now and again with a bottle of porter.
Tales as those cited above about his prowess as a dealer, as a man of integrity and of independent spirit spread all over the Highlands. Indeed Corrie may be seen as a type of folk hero, one of their own who had arrived and could outwit any Lowlander.
Dealing stock at trysts was big business. At two Falkirk markets in September and October 1827 a total of 130,000 cattle and 200,000 sheep changed hands. Bargains were stuck usually with whisky to seal the deal. Such gatherings would have been full of hustle and bustle, noise and laughter, making and dealing, drunkenness and fighting and probably a whole lot of other shenanigans. Corrie declared that he had stood the three Falkirk trysts for fifty years and that he had witnessed more changes and participated in all the market scenes described by Gisborne in his Essays on Agriculture, 1854:

The cattle dealers of all descriptions chiefly on horseback are scouring the fields in search of lots they require. The Scottish drovers are for the most part mounted on small, shaggy, spirited ponies that are obviously quite at home among cattle: and they carry their riders through the throngest groups with astonishing speed. The English dealers have, in general, large, stout horses, and the pace the ground with more caution surveying every lot carefully as they go along. When they discover the cattle they went, and when the parties come to an agreement the purchaser claps a penny or arles into the hand of the stockholder, observing at the same time it’s a bargain. Tar dishes are then got, and the purchasers mark being put on the cattle, they are then driven from the field. Besides numbers of shows from 60 to 70 tents are erected along the field for selling spirits and provisions. The owners of these portable taverns pay 2s 6d for the ground they occupy on the first tryst, and 4s 6d on each of the other two. In one of these tents a few gentlemen attend from the Falkirk Bank to accommodate the dealers with money they require. Many kindle fires at the end of their tents, over which cooking is briskly carried on. Broth is made in considerable quantities, and meets a ready sale. As most of the purchasers are paid in these tents, they are constantly filled and surrounded with a mixed multitude of cattle dealers, fishers, drovers, auctioneers, pedlars, jugglers, gamblers, itinerant fruit merchants, ballad singers and beggars.

Such a description may be supplemented by a one left by Dr Norman MacLeod of the Barony Church, Glasgow, in his Reminiscences of a Highland Parish which paints an interesting picture of some of the ongoings in the following terms:

What preparations were made for these gatherings on which the rent and income of the year depended. What a collecting of cattle, of drovers and of dogs. What speculations as to how the market would turn out.
What a shaking of hands in boats and wayside inns by the men in home-spun cloth, gay tartans, or in the more correct garbs of Glasgow or Edinburgh tailors. What a pouring in from all the glens, increasing at every ferry and village and flowing in a river of tenants and proprietors, small and great, to the market.
I have a vision of miles of tents, of flocks and herds, surpassed only by those in the wilderness of Sinai; of armies of Highland sellers trying to get high prices out of Englishmen, and Englishmen trying to put off the Highlandmen, with low prices – but all in a way of ‘fair dealing’. Then on the return, the whole details of the market had to be gone over in minutest detail. It was not enough to give the prices of the three-year-olds and four-year-olds, yield cows, crock ewes, stirks, stots, lambs, tups, wethers, shots, bulls, etc., but the stock of each well known proprietor had to be discussed – Colinsay’s bulls, “Corry’s” sheep, Drumdriesaig’s heifers or Achadanshenaig’s wethers, had all to be passed in review.
Then it did not suffice to tell that this or that great purchaser from the south had given so much for this or that lot; but his first offer, his remarks, his doubts, his advance of price, with the sparring between him and the Highland dealer, had all to be recorded, till the final shaking of hands closed the bargain.

In his definitive history of droving, A. R. B. Haldane paid the following tribute to men like Corrie in The Drove Roads of Scotland: “…when it is considered that a system of commercial dealing calling for skill, courage and honesty of the highest order continued in Scotland throughout nearly three centuries marked by so much of social change and political disturbance, it is impossible not to recognise the merits of the men whose work it was.”
Corrie was twice-married, one of his wives is reputed to have been a woman he saw at the Ballachulish ferry and said he would marry her. A friend bet him sixpence that he would not, but he did. Her name was Emilia MacPherson Ord by whom he had three sons, most of whom later emigrated to Australia. His second wife was Isabella Turnbull by whom he had five sons and four daughters. Of the children of the second marriage, two are reputed to have emigrated and one became the head of a wine merchant’s in Leith.

Even in death Corrie could hardly escape the legendary figure he had become as shown in the following short obituary notice:
 
On the 16th February, at Corrychoillie, Scotland suddenly, after an attack of spasms, in his 75th year, MR. CAMERON. His numerous peculiarities, his indefatigable energy, and strong individuality of character, made him a conspicuous man in the Highlands, and his name will long live in the characteristic anecdotes which are told of him in all parts of the country. The deceased was at one time the largest holder of live stock in the North―probably in Scotland. In giving evidence, upon one occasion, in court, he was asked how many sheep he possessed. He said he did not know. “Have you five thousand?” asked Mr. Patrick Robertson, one of the counsel on the occasion. Corrychoillie gave a patronizing nod of acquiescence. “Have you ten thousand?” “Why I have that of black cattle and horses,” he replied. “Have you twenty, thirty, forty thousand sheep?” “Oh, yes, I have forty thousand.” “Have you fifty thousand?” “I do not exactly know to a few thousands but I have from forty to fifty thousand ‘beasts’.”

An article entitled ‘Corrychoillie: A Highland Character’, here reproduced in full, appeared in the Oamura Mail in 1902 (as reprinted from Chamber’s Journal) and was written by Lindsay S. Turnbull. It offers a good summary of the famous Lochaber drover’s life and legacy and, unsurprisingly, offers similar versions of the above anecdotes which were once told about him:


The subject of this article supplies us with a striking illustration of what is so often spoken of as a "self-made" man. Certainly was this true of John Cameron, of Corrychoillie, who, from small beginnings, by inherent energy, shrewdness, and skill became in his day the foremost grazing master and flock master in Scotland.
Born in the parish of Kilmonivaig, among the Braes of Lochaber, the boy earned his first money from, passing drovers for his services in watching their cattle or sheep while they were having refreshment in the muir toll-house, which belonged to his father. Having saved a few pounds, the venturesome lad bought some goats and sheep, which he sold later on at a fair profit. As a boy and a youth he kept up the practice, so cautiously and profitably managing his affairs that by the time he was twenty years of age he was actually in business for himself, and on a very large scale. By-and-by he rented the farm of Corrychoillie, which lies about thirteen miles north-east of Fort William, and, according to a well-known custom, became familiarly known as Corrychoillie, or Corry for short.
The rate and degree of his prosperity were amazing, and the following story gives some indication of the position to which he had so shrewdly and skillfully attained. A case of sheep stealing was being tried in Inverness, in which Corry figured as a witness. Mr Patrick Robertson, afterwards the well-known Lord Robertson, thus .examined him: ‘I believe your name is John Cameron?'—'Yes.' 'You are a pretty extensive farmer near Fort William?’—‘I am.' ‘How many sheep will you have grazing on the hill-pastures at a time?’—‘I can’t remember the exact number at present.’ ‘Try and let us know as near as you can.’ —‘I can't say,’ Have you 5000?’—A nod of the head. ‘Have you 10,000?’—‘Why, I have that of black cattle and horses.’ ‘Well you have 20,000?’—'Yes.' ‘Then I suppose you can be no other than the great Corrychoillie of the north?'—'Well, I'm all that’s for him.'
Corry led a most busy life, attending, as he so regularly did, ‘the great sheep and wool markets of the north, and the southern trysts; now looking after his great flocks and herds in the pastures or on the march, and again in buying and selling. His strong individuality of character made him conspicuous wherever he went. He was a man of slight but wiry build, and, from all accounts, of tireless energy and enduring power; and the amount of fatigue and physical endurance which he is reported to have undergone without any seaming bad effect is almost incredible. Often when in charge of great droves on the way to the trysts he would be three days without a regular meal, being satisfied with a little whiskey-and-water and a piece of oatcake obtained at a roadside inn, and as many nights without sleep. His piebald ponies, of which he was very proud, seemed as fitted for the tearing strain of a busy life as their master; for it is told that on one occasion, as he was on his way to the Muir of Ord Tryst, he had reached Inverness —a ride of fifty-five miles—where he expected a latter with a cheque, which he required alt the market. However, the letter had not arrived. Undeterred by the wet, stormy night, and in defiance of the remonstrances of his friends, he at once rode off to Fort William, a distance of sixty-five miles, where he learned that the letter had been forwarded to his home address. Thither he rode, and by breakfast-time Corrychoillie was reached. Having breakfasted, he mounted a fresh pony, and reached Muir of Ord that same afternoon. Thus he rode about two hundred miles in less than two days.
It is given to few to run the race of life without being tripped up, and Corry was no exception. Thus it fell out:
He was a very young man when he attended Falkirk Tryst for the first time, and he took with him two hundred pounds wherewith to buy cattle. On the way south he heard many stories of robbers and pickpockets, and he was specially warned to beware of 'Glasgow keellies.' He therefore decided to deposit the one-half of his money in the British Linen Company Bank and retain the other half. In Falkirk he lodged with one Swan, an Irishman, who in the course of a conversation related to Corry a number of cases of farmers being relieved of their pocket-books containing large sums of money. Corry was a little troubled, and confided 'to his landlord that he intended buying cattle to the extent of one hundred pounds, and offered to leave the money in his charge till such time as he required to pay for his purchases, when he would bring the party with him to the inn, and there settle the account. This arrangement approved itself to Corry as the one best fitted to set him quite at ease in regard to the safety of his cash, and free him from the risk of having his pocket picked. In due time Corry turned up at the 'Red Lion' with a drover from the Border, from, whom he had bought his cattle. Calling the innkeeper, he asked for the money. ‘Arrah! be my sowl, me bhoy! is it tryin’ to make a fool of me ye are, or are ye mad wid drink, or have ye got bad stuff in the market that puts yer brains wrong? For bedad! he never gave me a pound besides a hundred pounds, in all your loifetime, ye big Hielan’ rogue—bad luck to yez!' Corry remonstrated: ‘Landlord, you must surely ha’e been drinkin’, or you wouldna ha’e forgot my givin’ you a hundred pounds to keep for me ’till I required it, and that in this very room last night’ ‘Oh, bad luck to me if ever ye gave me a penny or a note in all yer life; and, faix! I’m ready to make my solemn oath before all the sheriffs and magistrates in both Scotland and Ireland to that purpose.' Corry was at his wits’ end. His acquaintance strongly advised him to see Archie Cunningham the lawyer, ‘a clever chield for gettin' folks out o’ a scrape.’ ‘Ah, no,’ said Corrie; ‘the fellow's a rogue, fit to cheat anybody.’ ‘Never mind, my man,’ replied his friend; ‘things may take a better turn yet. But try Archie--try him; for there’s aye balm in Gilead; and ye won’t know what Archie can do for ye.’
After much persuasion, Corry went to the lawyer and told his story. Cunningham’s advice was to draw the remaining one hundred pounds, to treat the landlord’s refusal to pay as a joke, and—in the presence of at least one witness—lend Swan the one hundred pounds. Then Corry was to come back and let the lawyer know how he had got on. Corry acted on this advise, and my host agreed to let bygones by bygones, and promised to keep the money safely, and let him have it when required. Corry thereupon went without his witness, and the landlord promptly paid over the money. Corry again reported himself to the .lawyer, and was told to return in an hour with his witness, and ask for the money. Corry did so, and the landlord’s face burned blue as he exclaimed, ’Oh, bad luck to yez, ye Hielian’ rogue! Did I not give ye yer one hundred pounds about two hours ago, and are ye goin’ to rob me in daylight?’ ‘Here’s my witness,’ replied Corry; ‘ask him if he saw me getting’ back my one hundred pounds. Unless you pay doon instantly I’ll no be long till I compel you to fork oot my cash.’ The landlord saw that the Highlander was not so simple as he looked, and was evidently acting under the advice of some shrewd adviser, probably Archie Cunningham the lawyer. The swindle had failed, and so he reluctantly paid one hundred pounds. Corry was in high spirits when he returned to his lawyer, to whom he tendered a five-pound note in payment of his shrewd advice.
Perhaps the only weakness is an otherwise very strong character was Corry’s love of flattery. He relished the flattering of his abilities. In his Reminiscences of a Highland Parish, Dr Norman MacLeod tells a good story which lays bare this defect: ‘I will close this chapter with a story told of a great sheep-farmer (not one of the old ‘gentlemen’s tenants’ verily!) who had, nevertheless, made a large fortune by sheep-farming, and was open to any degree of flattery as to his abilities in this department of labor. A buyer, knowing his weakness, and anxious to ingratiate himself into his good graces, ventured one evening over their whisky-toddy to remark, “I am of opinion, sir, that you are a greater man than even the Duke of Wellington!” “Hoot, toot!” replied the sheep-farmer, modestly hanging his head with a pleasing smile, and taking a larger pinch of snuff, “that’s too much—too much, bv far—by far.”—then his guest, after expatiating on the great powers of his host in collecting and concentrating upon a southern market a flock of sheep, suggested the question, “Could the Duke of Wellington have done that?” The sheep-farmer thought a, little, snuffed, took a glass of toddy, and slowly implied. “The Duke of Wellington was, nae doot, a clever man—very, very clever, I believe. They tell me he was a good sojer; but then, d’ye see, he had reasonable men to deal with captains, majors, and generals that, could understand him—every one of them, both, officers and men; but I'm no sae sure, after all, if he could manage, say, twenty thousand sheep, besides black cattle, that couldna understand one word he said, Gaelic or English, and bring every hoof o’ them to Fa’kirk Tryst! I doot it, I doot it! But I have often done that.’”
Just one more word to show that Corry was a bit of a wag and fond of a joke. While he was travelling by steamer to Glasgow, a, very pretty young lady came from her cabin, and seating herself on deck, became deeply interested in a, book. Her beauty so fascinated Corry that he could do nothing but look and look at her and admire. A gentleman, observing this, asked Corrie if he would buy her, seeing he admired her so much. Corrry said he would, and asked, ‘What is the price?’ The gentleman took Corry for a poor shepherd who apparently had never been, from home before, and so, resolving to take advantage of his rustic simplicity said she would be his if he would give one thousand pounds, ‘lt's a bargain,’ replied Corry as he put a guinea in the gentleman's hand, and, to the latter’s amazement and confusion, disappeared forward. When the steamer reached Greenock, Corry landed and took train to Glasgow, where he draw a cheque for one thousand pounds, and on the arrival of the steamer at the Broomielaw, he sprang on board, tendered the notes, and claimed the young lady as his. It is not easy to describe the feelings of the gentleman, who vied in vain to explain that he was only joking. Still, Corry insisted that a bargain was a bargain, that he had given him arles to confirm it, and declared he would have the lady. The gentleman, was in a fix, and at last offered to pay two hundred pounds us a ‘rue-bargain,’ which Corry refused, but agreed to say no more about his purchase of the young lady if he would give his shepherds and drovers a dinner in one of the Glasgow Hotels. Accordingly Corry sent fifty of his cattlemen to the Eagle Hotel in Maxwell Street, on the evening named, where they dined sumptuously, and, on Corry's advice, drank nothing but the best liquor and finest champagne. After a glorious night the company left by the early morning boat for Fort-William as proud as lords. You may judge of the gentleman’s surprise when a. bill was presented for nearly one hundred pounds; and so he asked the landlord who the master was who employed so many men. ‘Oh,’ said the landlord, ‘he is the greatest sheep-farmer in the north, and I know him well.’ ‘Well,’ replied the gentleman as he paid the bill, ‘judging from his appearance he looked as if he were not worth a thousand pence instead of a thousand pounds.’ So Corry taught the lesson not to judge a man by his appearance; for Corry was most indifferent as to how he dressed.
To the very end Corry lived a busy, active life. On the morning of his death he walked before breakfast to one of his shepherds, a distance of six miles. After breakfast he rode to the meeting-place of the local Parochial Board, of which he was a useful member. Starting on his homeward journey at three o’clock, he visited some of his flock on the way, and assisted in extricating a few goats from a dangerous position. Thereafter he was seized with illness, and was so bad when he reached home that he had to be lifted off his pony and at once put to bed. Before the doctor arrived Corrychoillie had passed away on the evening of February 16, 1856, in his seventh-sixth year. Corry was twice married. His first family settled in Australia, and followed their father’s example in carving out for themselves a prosperous career. The same has to be recorded of his second family, who settled and prospered, some in New Zealand, in Africa, and at home.




Corriechoillie’s remains were laid to rest at Cille Choirill, near Roy Bridge, Brae Lochaber. His grave is protected by a railing, as probably at the time when he was buried the cemetery was not enclosed by a fence of any description. A headstone bears the following inscription:


In Memory of
John Cameron, Esq.
of Corrychoillie, Lochaber
who departed this life 16th February, 1856
age 75 years
also in memory of
William
His youngest child
who died 21st January, 1863
aged 11 years
Erected by his widow and her family
R.I.P.

He is also commemorated in a 2/4 pipe march entitled ‘Corriechoillie’s 43rd Welcome to the Northern Meeting’ composed by P/M William Ross. Another fitting tribute to one of the greatest drovers and entrepreneurs that the Highlands has ever known.

References:
Alastair Cameron [North Argyll], Our Greatest Highland Drover, John Cameron, “Corrychoillie” (Oban: Oban Times, 1961)
Anon., ‘Obituary Notice’, The Courier (9 Jun., 1856)
Somerled MacMillan, Bygone Lochaber: Historical and Traditional (Glasgow: Privately printed, 1971), 204–05
Rennie McOwan, ‘A Highland Hero: [John Cameron of Corriechoillie]’, The Scots Magazine, vol. 148, no. 1 (January, 1998), pp. 42–49
SSS NB 8, p. 718
SSS NB 10, pp. 900–01
Lindsay S. Turnbull, ‘Corrychoillie: A Highland Character’, Oamaru Mail, vol. XXVII, iss. 8369 (1 Mar., 1920), p. 5

Images:
John Cameron known as Coirriechoillie
Cille Choirill church, Brae Lochaber

No comments:

Post a Comment