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Thursday 21 February 2013

John Cameron the Bone-setter

On 29th of January 1951, Calum Maclean recorded from the recitation of John MacDonald, Highbridge, Brae Lochaber, a narrative about a famous local bone-setter called John Cameron. 

Bha duine a’ fuireach ’s an dùthaich seo. ’S e Iain Camaran a bh’ air. Agas bha e sònruite math a’ suidheachadh nan craimhean. Cha robh e gu diubhar dé an craimh a bha cearr oiribh a’s a’ ghualainn, a’s a’ chruachan, às a’ ghlùn na aobrainn na na corragan, shuidhicheadh e iad agas chuireadh e cearst iad. Tha mi a’ smaoineach’ gun robh sin ac(hc)a bho thùs an òige aig an t-seòrsa. Bha athair cho math ris fhéin. Bha iad a’ fuireach ann an t-Sròin. Tha sin glé theann air an àite ’s an d’ rugadh is na thogadh Ailean an Earrachd, a’ fear a thog na Camaranaich.
A nise bha e a’ dol air turas a sìos an Oban. Agas bha Sasannach air a’ bhàta. Fhuair e a mach dé a’ fear a bha seo an Camaranach. Chaidh e thar an robh e agas thuirst e ris gum b’ fhearr leis gun cuireadh e ’s a’ ghualainn e.
“Nì mi sin,” thuirst e. “Cuir dhiot do sheacaid.”
Chuir e dheth an t-seachaid aige agas laimhsich an duine e is thuig e glé mhath nach robh e as a’ ghualainn, gun robh a’ ghualainn aige mar bu chòir dhi a bhith. Agas thug e tionndannadh beag air an lamh aige agas chuir e as a’ ghualainn e.
“Nì thu an grothach a nise. Cuir umat do sheacaid, ’ille.”
Cha b’ urrainn dà an t-seacaid a chur uime. Bha e as a’ ghualainn an uair sin cearst gu leòr. Bha e a’ falabh feadh a sin is e a’ gearan agas e a’ glaodhaich le pian. Chaidh e a nunn thar an robh e agas thuirst e ris nam bitheadh e cho math agas a chur ’s a’ ghualainn e.
“Nì mi sin,” thuirst e, “ach na bi a’ fiachainn ri amadan a dhèanadh dhiom-sa uair ’s am bith na de dhuine ’s am bith ’s a’ Ghaidhealtachd.
Chuir e ’s a’ ghualainn e cho eallamh agas a chuir e aiste e.
Agas shin e dhà fichead not.
“Gabhaidh mi sin," thuirst e. “Is tha mi a’ cur an airigid a tha mi a’ faotainn bhuat, tha mi ’ga chur a dh’ ionnsaigh dìlleachdanan agas luchd-éirce. Agas taing dhut air son an airigid a thug thu dhomh. Agas bidh iad ro-thoilite ’n uair a ruigeas e an dachaidh thar am bheil na creutairean truagha, a tha a' faotainn an airigid seo."
…A nuas a Raineach a thàinig iad, ach ’s ann a mhuinntir Loch Abar a bha na Camaranaich seo. Bha athair cho math ris fhéin. Bha a phiuthar is a bhràithrean. Cha b’ aithne dhomh-sa a phiuthar ach b’ aithne dhomh a bhràthair glé mhath. ’S e Iain Camaran a bh’ air an duine agas ’s e Eoghain a bh’ air a bhràthair. Agas bha mi cho eòlach orra bho’n a bha mi òg. Agas chaochail e anns a naoi ciad diag agas a sia. Agas bu mhór an call e anns an dùthaich gun do thachair sin. Chan ’eil iad ach a’ dol a dh’ ionnsaigh lighichean an diugh agas chan ’eil iad idir cho math air na craimhean a chur cearst agas a bha a seann-duine ud.

And the translation goes something like this:

There was a man who stayed in this district and his name was John Cameron. He was especially skilful at bone-setting. It made no difference which bone was out of place whether in the shoulder, the hips, the knee or ankle that he couldn’t put right. I believe that such folk have this skill from their youth. His father was just as good as him. They stayed in Strone, a place very close to where Allan Cameron of Earracht, who raised the Cameron Highlanders, was born and raised. Now he was going on a journey down to Oban and there was an Englishman on board. He found out who this Cameron was and he went over and said to him that he would wish his shoulder to be dislocated:
“I’ll do that,” he said. “Remove your jacket.”
He removed his jacket and he checked the man and he knew full well that his shoulder wasn’t dislocated, that there was nothing wrong with his shoulder. So he gave the man’s hand a little twist and he dislocated his shoulder.
“You’ll manage now. Put on your jacket, laddie.”
He couldn’t put his jacket on as his shoulder was dislocated. He was moving around complaining and crying with pain. He went over to him [Cameron] and asked him if he would be so good as to mend his shoulder.
“I’ll do that,” he said, “But make sure that you never try to make a fool of me again or any other Highlanders.
He put his shoulder back as quickly as he had dislocated it.
He then handed forty pounds to him.
“I’ll take that,” he said. “And I’ll give the money that I’m taking from you to the orphans and the poor. And many thanks to you for the money. And they’ll be very pleased to get the money when those poor creatures reach home.”
…They came down from Rannoch but these Camerons were [originally] Lochaber folk. His father was just as good as him. He had a sister and brothers. I didn’t know his sister but I knew his brother well. He was called John Cameron and his brother was Ewen. And I’ve known them since I was a youth. He died in 1906 and it was a great loss to this district. These days they just go to the doctors but they’re not so good at setting bones as that old man was. 
To put the above historical narrative and translation into some kind of context, the Rev. Donald Masson, writing at the end of the nineteenth-century, offers a few insights into how bone-setting was situated into the domestic medicine of the Highlands only a few generations before John Cameron’s time. Given the scarcity of qualified doctors in remote areas and that they could be rather expensive, then it is all the more conceivable that local people with a knowledge of medicinal remedies or cures would have been sought after for their ability to offer relief at a reasonable cost: 

Bone-setting, of course, was practised in the Highlands as elsewhere. The art was not altogether mere rule of thumb; for the bone-setters had their secrets, jealously guarded, and with much care handed down from sire to son. Nor were they so entirely ignorant of the human skeleton as some modem critics would have us believe. Looking back on my own experience, as the patient, long ago, of more bone-setters than one, I can see that they had a firm hold of two sound principles of treatment. (1). In manipulating an ailing limb, they keenly watched the  patient's features and movements for every indication of pain; rightly, as I think, taking such indications as pointing to the real  seat or cause of his hurt or trouble. In the case of old adhesions, whether of long dislocated joints or of misfitted fractures, the key to treatment might thus be hopefully looked for. (2). Their second great principle was simplicity itself, but yet it was a most powerful adjuvant of their restorative manipulation. It was this:  by locking the knee or the elbow they greatly increased the length and the power of the lever with which they worked. I well remember how thus an old dislocation of the shoulder, which had baffled more than one regular practitioner, was speedily righted by the bone-setter. Very gently at first he took the ailing arm in his brawny grasp; with keen eye intently fixed on the patient’s features, and with the dislocated limbs extended as to lock the elbow, he gently and tentatively moved it slowly to right and left, upwards and downwards: a twinge and a cry from the patient: a pause, and some deep thinking on the part of the operator: manipulation resumed, and the same twinge or cry again: then, with knit brows, and putting forth all his great power of brawny muscle, while his left hand steadied the patient’s elbow, the bone-setter made one sudden wrench, and the thing was done. With a “click,” the head of shoulder bone was back in its socket.

Rev. Donald Masson, ‘Popular Domestic Medicine in the Highlands Fifty Years Ago’, The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. XIV (1887–88), pp. 298–313
SSS NB 9, pp. 833–35

Dislocated Shoulder


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