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Brahan Seer

The Brahan Seer, known in his native Scottish Gaelic as Coinneach Odhar, and Kenneth Mackenzie, was, according to legend, a predictor of the future who lived in the 17th century.

The Brahan Seer is regarded by some to be the creation of the folklorist Alexander MacKenzie whose accounts occur well after some of the events the Seer is claimed to have predicted. Others have also questioned whether the Seer existed at all.

Nevertheless, Mackenzie is thought to have come from Uig (Lewis) on lands owned by the Seaforths, and to have been of the Clan Mackenzie, although both these details are in themselves questioned. He is better known, however, for his connections to Brahan Castle near Dingwall, and the Black Isle in Easter Ross.

He is thought to have used an Adder stone, a stone with a hole in the middle, to see his visions. The Brahan Seer worked for Kenneth Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Seaforth.

As with Nostradamus, who wrote in Provençal, most of his prophecies are best known in translation, which can in itself be deceptive. However, there are no contemporary manuscripts or accounts of his predictions, so it is impossible to verify them. Having become famous as a diviner and wit, he was invited to Seaforth territory in the east, to work as a labourer at Brahan Castle near Dingwall, where he met his downfall.

This move led to an unfortunately unforeseen sequence of events on the Seer's part, leading to his barbaric murder at Chanonry Point, when he was allegedly burnt in a spiked tar barrel, on the command of the Earl's wife, Lady Seaforth. The simple prediction that led to his downfall – that the absent Earl of Seaforth was having sexual adventures with one or more women in Paris – seems likely, but of course was highly outrageous to Lady Seaforth, as it cast her husband in a scandalous light and heaped embarrassment on her.

The Caledonian Canal - "One day ships will sail round the back of Tomnahurich Hill".

This is a remarkable prediction - firstly, there was already a passage for shipping - the River Ness, on the opposite south side of Tomnahurich Hill from today's canal - and the only choice for boats in the Brahan Seer's day. To say that ships would sail round the opposite side of the hill from the river seemed highly illogical to those who first heard the prediction. But the prediction came true. Today the 19th century Caledonian Canal forks off from the River Ness at the eastern head of Loch Ness - which continues its route through Inverness town centre - and heads north-east "round the back of Tomnahurich", exiting into the Moray Firth at Clachnaharry.

Fairburn Tower - "The day will come when the MacKenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions; their castle will become uninhabited and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of the tower."

This apparently heralded the demise of the MacKenzies of Kintail and Seaforth. In 1851, the now-ruined tower was being used by a farmer to store hay, and a cow gave birth in the garret. It is believed that the animal, following a trail of hay, entered the tower, climbed to the top, and got stuck. Both the cow and the calf were taken down five days later, allowing enough time for people to come and see the prophecy fulfilled.

This was one of four prophecies by the Seer regarding Fairburn, at least three of which are reputed to have been fulfilled. The Deaf Seaforth - He predicted that in a few generations, the chieftaincy of the Mackenzies would pass to a man who was both deaf and dumb. All the sons of this chief would predecease him, and thus the ancient Mackenzie line would be extinguished. Following this, a hooded girl from the East would come to claim his possessions, and would kill her sister. They would be able to tell when this was going to happen when all four of the great Highland lairds had some physical defect: one would be buck-toothed, one hare-lipped, one half-witted, and one a stammerer.

This eventually came to pass in the late 17th century. The four deformed lairds were the chiefs of the Chisholms, the Grants, the MacLeods of Raasay, and the Mackenzies of Gairloch. The deaf-mute was Francis, the sole surviving male heir of the Seaforths, who caught scarlet fever at the age of twelve, causing him to lose both his hearing and speech. He later had four legitimate sons, all of whom predeceased him. Afterwards, his eldest daughter Mary, now the heiress of the family, returned from the East Indies to receive her inheritance. She would go on to lose control while driving her sister in a pony trap, causing her to be killed. Bridges over the River Ness: He predicted that when there were five bridges over the River Ness in Inverness that there would be worldwide chaos. In August 1939 there were five bridges over the Ness and on September 1 the same year, Hitler invaded Poland. He said that when there were nine bridges that there would be fire, flood and calamity. The ninth bridge was built in 1987 and in 1988 the Piper Alpha disaster happened.

Bonar Bridge swept away: According to Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, the Brahan Seer predicted that the bridge over the Kyle of Sutherland at Bonar Bridge would be "swept away under a flock of sheep". On January 29th 1892 the Bridge was swept away by a flood. Eyewitnesses "likened the foam-current to a densely packed flock of sheep".


General Sir Hector Munro, 8th laird of Novar KB (1726 – 27th December 1805) was a British soldier who became the ninth Commander-in-Chief of India (1764–1765). The son of Hugh Munro of Novar, he was commissioned into Loudon's Highlanders in 1747. Hector is said to have received his first commission in the army after helping the Duchess of Gordon, who was found travelling alone in Sutherland. Hector took over from a drunken coachman and brought her to safety, the Duchess later used her influence to procure him a Lieutenant’s commission in the 34th Regiment of Foot. On the regiment's disbandment in 1749 he transferred to the 48th Foot. In 1754 Munro transferred to the 31st Foot, as a lieutenant. Also in 1754, Hector Munro was ordered to Badenoch with three squadrons of Dragoons to apprehend certain rebels in that district, with special instructions to apprehend John Dubh Cameron, better known as "Sergent Mor". Hector Munro successfully captured Cameron after he was betrayed by a local farmer. John Cameron was soon afterwards executed in Perth. Hector Munro was also tasked with capturing Cluny Macpherson, who took part in the Jacobite rising of 1745 to 1746. However Macpherson evaded Munro's grasp and escaped to France. Macpherson tradition is that one day Munro, with a large party of soldiers, surrounded Macpherson's house. With no means of escape, Macpherson dressed himself as a footman or groom, came forward and held Lieutenant Munro's horse while Munro searched his house for him. On return Munro is said to have handed the groom a shilling and then rode off. Another version of the story, however, is that Munro of Novar actually knew Cluny quite well and winked at him as he threw him the grooms fee.

In 1756 Munro was promoted captain in the new 2nd Battalion, which became the 70th Foot in 1758. In 1759 he was appointed major in the newly raised 89th (Highland) Regiment of Foot.

The 89th regiment embarked at Portsmouth for the East Indies in December 1760, and arrived at Bombay the following November. The Duke of Gordon was desirous of accompanying the regiment, but his mother, at the especial request of George II of Great Britain, induced him to remain at home to finish his education.

The 89th had no particular station assigned to it, but kept moving from place to place until a strong detachment under Major Hector Munro joined the army under the command of Major Carnac, in the neighbourhood of Patna. Major Munro then assumed the command, and being well supported by his men, quelled a formidable mutiny among the troops. After 20 Indian soldiers had been executed by Major Munro, and with discipline restored, he attacked the enemy at Buxar, on 23rd October 1764 in what became the Battle of Buxar. Though the force opposed to him was five times as numerous as his own, he overthrew and dispersed it. The enemy had 6,000 men killed, and left 130 pieces of cannon on the field, whilst his majesty’s troops had only 2 officers and 4 rank and file killed. Major Munro received a letter of thanks on the occasion from the President and Council of Calcutta. "The signal victory you gained," they say, "so as at one blow utterly to defeat the designs of the enemy against these provinces, is an event which does so much honour to yourself, Sir, in particular, and to all the officers and men under your command, and which, at the same time, is attended with such particular advantages to the Company, as call upon us to return you our sincere thanks." For this important service Major Munro was immediately promoted to the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel.

Returning home, he was elected, in 1768, as member of parliament for the Inverness Burghs, which he continued to represent for over thirty years, though much of this period was spent in India, where he returned in 1778 to take command of the Madras Army.

Later in 1778 Munro took Pondichéry from the French, but in 1780 in the Second Anglo-Mysore War he was defeated by Hyder Ali at Perambakam near Conjeeveram, and forced to fall back on St. Thomas Mount. There Sir Eyre Coote took command of the army, and in 1781 won a major victory against Hyder Ali at Porto Novo (Parangipettai), where Munro was in command of the right division. Negapatam was taken by Munro in November of the same year; and in 1782 he retired to Scotland.


Neil Miller Gunn (8th November 1891 – 15th January 1973) was a prolific novelist, critic, and dramatist who emerged as one of the leading lights of the Scottish Renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s. With over twenty novels to his credit, Gunn was arguably the most influential Scottish fiction writer of the first half of the 20th century (with the possible exception of Lewis Grassic Gibbon, the pen name of James Leslie Mitchell).

Like his contemporary, Hugh MacDiarmid, Gunn was politically committed to the ideals of both Scottish nationalism and socialism (a difficult balance to maintain for a writer of his time). His fiction deals primarily with the Highland communities and landscapes of his youth, though the author chose (contra MacDiarmid and his followers) to write almost exclusively in English rather than Scots or Gaelic but was heavily influenced in his writing style by the language.

Neil Miller Gunn was born in the village of Dunbeath, Caithness. His father was the captain of a herring boat, and Gunn's fascination with the sea and the courage of fishermen can be traced directly back to his childhood memories of his father's work. His mother would also provide Gunn with a crucial model for the types of steadfast, earthy, and tradition-bearing women that would populate many of his works.

Gunn had eight siblings, and when his primary schooling was completed in 1904, he moved south to live with one of his sisters and her husband in St. John's Town of Dalry, Kirkcudbrightshire. He continued his education there with tutors and sat the Civil Service exam in 1907. This led to a move to London, where the adolescent Gunn was exposed to both the exciting world of new political and philosophical ideas as well as to the seamier side of modern urban life. In 1910 Gunn became a Customs and Excise Officer and was posted back to the Highlands. He would remain a customs officer throughout the First World War and until he was well established as a writer in 1937.

Gunn married Jessie Dallas Frew in 1921 and they settled in Inverness, near his permanent excise post at the Glen Mhor distillery. During the 1920’s Gunn began to publish short stories, as well as poems and short essays, in various literary magazines. His writing brought him into contact with other writers associated with the budding Scottish Renaissance, such as Hugh MacDiarmid, James Bridie, Naomi Mitchison, Eric Linklater, Edwin Muir, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and George Blake.

Blake and George Malcolm Thomson were the founders of the Porpoise Press, whose mission was to re-establish a national publishing industry for Scotland, and they became Gunn's publisher until their absorption by Faber and Faber in the mid-1930’s. The first novels Gunn published were The Grey Coast in 1926 and The Lost Glen in 1928. During this period, Gunn was active in the National Party of Scotland, which formed part of what became the Scottish National Party.

Following the publishing success of Highland River (for which he was awarded the 1937 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction), Gunn was able to resign from the Customs and Excise in 1937 and become a full-time writer. He rented a farmhouse near Strathpeffer and embarked on his most productive period as a novelist and essayist. Butcher's Broom and The Silver Darlings are historical novels dealing with the Highland Clearances. Young Art and Old Hector and The Green Isle of the Great Deep are both fantasies based on Scottish folklore. Gunn's later works in the 1940’s and into the 1950’s became concerned with issues of totalitarianism.

Gunn's final full-length work was a discursive autobiography entitled The Atom of Delight. This text showed the influence which a reading of Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery had upon Gunn. His utilisation of these ideas was not so much mystical as providing a view of the individual in a "small self-contained community, with a long-established way of life, with actions and responses known and defined". He took the playing of fiddle reels as an example: "how a human hand could perform, on its own, truly astonishing feats - astonishing in the sense that if thought interfered for a moment the feat was destroyed". This thought-free state could be a source of delight.

Gunn is commemorated in Makars' Court, outside the Writers' Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Selections for Makars' Court are made by the Writers' Museum; the Saltire Society; the Scottish Poetry Library. The Neil Gunn Trust was established in 1986, and in October 1987 a monument to the writer was unveiled on the Heights of Brae, Strathpeffer.


Peter Fraser: (28th August 1884 – 12th December 1950) was a New Zealand political figure who served as the 24th Prime Minister from 27th March 1940 until 13th December 1949. He assumed the office nearly seven months after the outbreak of World War II and remained as head of government for almost ten years. Considered by historians as a major figure in the history of New Zealand Labour Party, he was in office longer than any other New Zealand Labour Prime Minister and is to date the fourth longest serving Prime Minister. A native of Scotland, Peter Fraser was born in Hill of Fearn, a small village near the town of Tain in the Highland area of Easter Ross. He received a basic education, but had to leave school due to his family's poor financial state. Though apprenticed to a carpenter, he eventually abandoned this trade due to extremely poor eyesight – later in life, faced with difficulty reading official documents, he would insist on spoken reports rather than written ones. Before the deterioration of his vision, however, he read extensively – with socialist activists such as Keir Hardie and Robert Blatchford among his favourites.

Becoming politically active in his early teens, he was 16 years old upon attaining the post of secretary of the local Liberal Association, and, eight years later, in 1908, joined the Independent Labour Party. In another two years, at the age of 26, after unsuccessfully seeking employment in London, Fraser decided to move to New Zealand, having apparently chosen the country in the belief that it possessed a strong progressive spirit. He gained employment as a wharfie on arrival in Auckland, and became involved in union politics upon joining the New Zealand Socialist Party. Fraser worked as campaign manager for Michael Joseph Savage as the Socialist candidate for Auckland Central electorate. He was also involved in the New Zealand Federation of Labour, which he represented at Waihi during the Waihi miners' strike of 1912. He moved to Wellington, the country's capital shortly afterwards. Savage went on to be Fraser's predecessor in office as the nation's first Labour Prime Minister.


King Macbeth of Scotland reigned from 1040-1057 and was the last Celtic monarch. There was only one native uprising against him and that was led, understandably enough, by Duncan’s father. After this had been dealt with the realm was peaceful enough for Macbeth to go on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050. Contrast this with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his demise after much murder and mayhem. This is not to say that everything went smoothly for King Macbeth. In 1054 he had to fight against an invading force from Northumberland led by Duncan’s son, Malcolm. He defeated Malcolm on this occasion but in 1057 he was not so lucky and died on the battlefield. Malcolm’s victory was not immediate as Macbeth’s supporters made his son Lulach king and continued their resistance. However within a few months Lulach was decisively defeated and Malcolm became King Malcolm III. This was the beginning of the Canmore dynasty in Scotland and also the beginning of Macbeth’s bad name. The Canmore dynasty exalted Duncan at the expense of Macbeth and his Celtic connection. Macbeth increasingly became portrayed as the villain of the piece, a tradition that was to find its fullest expression in Shakespeare’s play.

Shakespeare based his Macbeth on the real King Macbeth of Scotland recorded in Holinshed’s Chronicles. Holinshed’s King Macbeth was naturally a different character from Shakespeare’s, although there were many similarities. Both were prepared to kill to become king, and their victim was in both cases Duncan. The original Macbeth became king after killing his cousin Duncan I at Bothgowanan (1034-1040) He believed he had a legitimate claim to the throne according to Scottish tradition, whereas Shakespeare’s Macbeth was persuaded by three scary witches that he should be king and was therefore on much more shaky ground.


James Ramsay MacDonald: (born in Lossiemouth 12th October 1866 – 9th November 1937) was a British statesman who was the first Labour Party Prime Minister, leading a Labour Government in 1924, a Labour Government from 1929 to 1931, and a National Government from 1931 to 1935. Historians credit MacDonald, along with Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson, as one of the three principal founders of the Labour Party.


Major General Sir Hector Archibald MacDonald, KCB, DSO (4th March 1853 – 25th March 1903), also known as Fighting Mac, was a distinguished Victorian soldier. The son of a crofter, MacDonald left school before he was 15, enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders as a private at 17, and finished his career as a major general, "one of only a few British Army generals who rose from the ranks on his own merit and professionalism." He distinguished himself in action at Omdurman (1898), became a popular hero in Scotland and England, and was knighted for his service in the Second Boer War. Posted to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) as Commander-in-Chief of British forces, he committed suicide in 1903 following accusations of homosexual activity with local boys.

Hector MacDonald was born on a farm at Rootfield, near Dingwall, Ross-shire, Scotland. He was, as were most people in the area at the time, a Gaelic speaker and in later life went by the name 'Hector of the Battles'. His father, William MacDonald, was a crofter and a stonemason. His mother was Ann Boyd, the daughter of John Boyd of Killiechoilum, Whitebridge, and Cradlehall, near Inverness. Hector's brothers were the Rev. William MacDonald Jr., known as 'Preaching Mac', Donald, John, and Ewen. At the age of 15, MacDonald was apprenticed to a draper in Dingwall and then moved on to the Royal Clan Tartan and Tweed Warehouse in Inverness, an establishment owned by a Mr. William Mackay, but did not enjoy the tedium of the job.

On 7th March 1870 MacDonald joined the Inverness-shire Highland Rifle Volunteers, and in 1871 enlisted in the 92nd Gordon Highlanders at Fort George. He rose rapidly through the non-commissioned ranks, and had already been a Colour Sergeant for some years when his distinguished conduct in the presence of the enemy during the Second Afghan War led to his being offered either a Victoria Cross or a commission in his regiment; he chose the latter. This was an extremely rare honour (7th January 1880).

He served as a subaltern in the First Boer War (1880–81), and at the Battle of Majuba Hill, where he was taken prisoner, his bravery was so conspicuous that General Joubert gave him back his sword. In 1885 he served under Sir Evelyn Wood in the reorganization of the Egyptian army, and took part in the Nile Expedition of that year. In 1888 he became a regimental captain in the British service, but continued in Egyptian service, concentrating on training Sudanese troops. In 1889 he received the Distinguished Service Order for his conduct at the Battle of Toski and in 1891, after the action at Tokar, he was promoted substantive major.

During the Mahdist War MacDonald commanded a brigade of the Egyptian army in the Dongola Expedition (1896), and subsequently distinguished himself at Abu Hamed (7th August 1897) and Atbara (8th April 1898).[7] At the Battle of Omdurman (2nd September 1898) the British commander, Lord Kitchener, unwittingly exposed his flanks to the Dervish (i.e., Mahdist) army. MacDonald swung his men by companies in an arc as the Dervishes charged and by skillful manoeuvring held his ground until Kitchener could redeploy his brigades. When the fight was over MacDonald’s troops had an average of only two rounds left per man.

After Omdurman MacDonald became a household name in Britain. He was promoted to colonel in the British Army, appointed an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria, and received the thanks of Parliament and a cash award. His fame was especially high in his native Scotland: on 12th May that year, described as "one of the heroes of Omdurman," he was entertained to luncheon by the council of the City of Edinburgh, and many Scots felt that MacDonald, and not Kitchener, was the true hero.

In October 1899 MacDonald received the temporary rank of Brigadier-General and was seconded to command a military district in India, but on the outbreak of war in South Africa he was in December ordered there to command the Highland Brigade, under Lord Roberts and Kitchener, Roberts' Chief of Staff. He arrived in Cape Town on 18th January 1900 by the transport Dwarka, and six days later assumed command of the Highland Brigade stationed at Modder River. While in South Africa he took part in the Paardeberg, Bloemfontein and Pretoria operations, and in April 1901 was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) for his services.

He returned to the United Kingdom in May 1901, but soon left for India where he had been appointed to command the South District Army, and was in command of in Belgaum district, near Madras. In early 1902 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of British troops in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) with the temporary rank of Major-general whilst so employed, and he arrived there and took up the command on 26th March 1902.

Historian Ronald Hyam comments that "Ceylon furnished MacDonald with a lethal combination of a military command which was inactive and uninteresting, and a community of boys who were interesting and very active." He ruffled the feathers of the civilians by forcing the unkempt and ill-disciplined local militia, most of them the sons of British planters, to show more spit and polish; he deeply offended the Governor, Sir Joseph West Ridgeway, when he yelled at him to get off the parade ground; and compounded the process of alienation by declining the social invitations of the British community and consorting instead with the locals. Rumours began circulating that he was having a sexual relationship with the two teenage sons of a Burgher named De Saram, and that he was patronising a "dubious club" attended by British and Sinhalese youths. Matters came to a crisis when a tea-planter informed Ridgeway that he had surprised Sir Hector in a railway carriage with four Sinhalese boys; further allegations followed from other prominent members of the colonial establishment, with the threat of even more to come, involving up to seventy witnesses. Ridgeway advised MacDonald to return to London, his main concern being to avoid a massive scandal: "Some, indeed most, of his victims ... are the sons of the best-known men in the Colony, English and native", he wrote, noting that he had persuaded the local press to keep quiet in hopes that "no more mud" would be stirred up.

In London MacDonald "was probably told by the king that the best thing he could do was to shoot himself". Lord Roberts, now commander-in-chief of the Army, advised him to go back to Ceylon and face a court martial to clear his name. (There was no question of a criminal trial as MacDonald's alleged offence was not illegal in Ceylon.) MacDonald left London for Ceylon. Meanwhile, Ridgeway, coming under increasing pressure in the Legislature, revealed that "serious charges" had been laid and that the general was returning to a court martial. MacDonald, reading this in the morning newspaper over breakfast in his hotel in Paris, returned to his room and shot himself.

The suicide of the famous war-hero caused great public shock. Now made public was the discovery that MacDonald had a wife and a son. In 1884, aged 31, he had secretly married a girl of fifteen. They had seen each other only four times in the subsequent nineteen years. (Lady MacDonald died in 1911; MacDonald's son became an engineer and died in 1951.) MacDonald's funeral was held in secret at Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, but 30,000 people turned up to pay their last respects. In the weeks following thousands more from all over the world came to say farewell, James Scott Skinner wrote a tune in his honour called Hector the Hero, and Robert W. Service wrote his poem "Fighting Mac".

The case file "was almost certainly destroyed as a precaution immediately after his suicide"; a Government Commission released a report on the tragedy on 29 June 1903:

In reference to the grave charges made against the late Sir Hector MacDonald, we, the appointed and undersigned Commissioners, individually and collectively declare on oath that, after the most careful, minute, and exhaustive inquiry and investigation of the whole circumstances and facts connected with the sudden and unexpected death of the late Sir Hector MacDonald, unanimously and unmistakably find absolutely no reason or crime whatsoever which would create feelings such as would determine suicide, in preference to conviction of any crime affecting the moral and irreproachable character of so brave, so fearless, so glorious and unparalleled a hero: and we firmly believe the cause which gave rise to the inhuman and cruel suggestions of crime were prompted through vulgar feelings of spite and jealousy in his rising to such a high rank of distinction in the British Army: and, while we have taken the most reliable and trustworthy evidence from every accessible and conceivable source, have without hesitation come to the conclusion that there is not visible the slightest particle of truth in foundation of any crime, and we find the late Sir Hector MacDonald has been cruelly assassinated by vile and slandering tongues. While honourably acquitting the late Sir Hector MacDonald of any charge whatsoever, we cannot but deplore the sad circumstances of the case that have fallen so disastrously on one whom we have found innocent of any crime attributed to him.

"Fighting Mac" remains a national hero in Scotland. A 100 ft high memorial was erected above Dingwall in 1907, as well as another memorial at Mulbuie on the Black Isle, near where MacDonald was born. In March 1911, the Ashburton Guardian reported that MacDonald had been seen in Manchuria, and another report that a non-commissioned officer who had served with MacDonald in India and Egypt had seen him breakfasting at the Astor House in Shanghai two years earlier. Conspiracy theories emerged after his death. It was rumoured that he had staged his suicide and had defected to Germany, taking up the identity of General August von Mackensen after the real Mackensen was supposed to have died of cancer. During the First World War the German High Command attempted to capitalise on his continuing popularity among Scottish rank and file in the British Army by fostering the rumours that MacDonald was von Mackensen.

Over a century after his death it is widely asserted by his many modern supporters that the crofter's son was the victim of a conspiracy by the British Establishment, motivated by jealousy and snobbery, with the allegations of homosexuality a total fabrication. Yet MacDonald's sexuality had been a concern to his superiors even before Ceylon. In 1900 Roberts and Kitchener had discussed rumours of an involvement between Sir Hector and a Boer prisoner in South Africa, and two years later Kitchener mentioned his uneasiness over the General's behaviour while posted in India. It is possible that attitudes within the British Army hierarchy were influenced by his status as an outsider, the son of a Scottish crofter. There were comparable rumours about other commanders, including "Chinese" Gordon and Field Marshals Montgomery and Auchinleck, but they were protected by the loyalty of their staff; only MacDonald was required to face a court martial. A clergyman at the time commented: "Had he been the son of a duke, an easier way of escape could have been made for him."

MacDonald is often said to have been the model for the soldier who appeared on the label for Camp Coffee.


A contemporary of MacDonald was Pipe-Major George Findlater VC (1872-1942) who was shot in both ankles yet continued playing as the Gordon Highlanders stormed the Heights of Durgai, in India (now in Pakistan), in 1897. He was awarded the VC for his bravery by Queen Victoria the following year. Although he hailed from Turriff in Aberdeenshire he has been commemorated with Fighting Mac at regular commemorative services at the MacDonald Tower in Dingwall.


Hugh Miller (10th October 1802 – 23rd /24th December 1856) was a self-taught Scottish geologist and writer, folklorist and an evangelical Christian. Born in Cromarty, he was educated in a parish school where he reportedly showed a love of reading. At 17 he was apprenticed to a stonemason, and his work in quarries, together with walks along the local shoreline, led him to the study of geology. In 1829 he published a volume of poems, and soon afterwards became involved in political and religious controversies, first connected to the Reform Bill, and then with the division in the Church of Scotland which led to the Disruption of 1843.

In 1834 he became accountant in one of the local banks, and in the next year brought out his Scenes and Legends in the North of Scotland. In 1837 he married Lydia Mackenzie Falconer. In 1840 the popular party in the Church, with which he had been associated, started a newspaper, the Witness, and Miller was called to be editor in Edinburgh, a position which he retained till the end of his life.

Among his geological works are The Old Red Sandstone (1841), Footprints of the Creator (1850), The Testimony of the Rocks (1857), Sketch-book of Popular Geology.

Miller held that the Earth was of great age, and that it had been inhabited by many species which had come into being and gone extinct, and that these species were homologous; although he believed the succession of species showed progress over time, he did not believe that later species were descended from earlier ones. He denied the Epicurean theory that new species occasionally budded from the soil, and the Lamarckian theory of development of species, as lacking evidence. He argued that all this showed the direct action of a benevolent Creator, as attested in the Bible – the similarities of species are manifestations of types in the Divine Mind; he accepted the view of Thomas Chalmers that Genesis begins with an account of geological periods, and does not mean that each of them is a day; Noah's Flood was a limited subsidence of the Middle East. Geology, to Miller, offered a better version of the argument from design than William Paley could provide, and answered the objections of sceptics, by showing that living species did not arise by chance or by impersonal law.

In a biographical review about him, he was recognized as an exceptional person by Sir David Brewster, who said of him: "Mr. Miller is one of the few individuals in the history of Scottish science who have raised themselves above the labors of an humble profession, by the force of their genius and the excellence of their character, to a comparatively high place in the social scale."

For most of 1856, Miller suffered severe headaches and mental distress, and the most probable diagnosis is of psychotic depression. Victorian medicine did not help. He feared that he might harm his wife or children because of persecutory delusions. Miller committed suicide, shooting himself in the chest with a revolver in his house on Tower Street, Portobello, on the night of 23rd/24th December 1856. That night he had finished checking printers' proofs for his book on Scottish fossil plants and vertebrates, The Testimony of the Rocks. Before his death, he wrote a poem called Strange but True. A shocked Western world mourned him, and his funeral procession was among the largest in the memory of Edinburgh residents. He is buried in the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh. His is a very simple red granite monument on the north boundary wall, close to the NW corner.

Miller's death was very tragic, and his life brief, but he left a heritage of new discoveries of several Silurian sea scorpions (the eurypterid genus Hughmilleria was named in his honour), and many Devonian fishes, including several placoderms (the arthrodire Millerosteus also honoured him), described in his popular books. Though he had no academic credentials, he is today considered one of Scotland's premier palaeontologists.

Miller's second daughter, Harriet Miller Davidson was a published poet who married a clergyman after her father's suicide. She moved to Adelaide where her husband was a minister and she published poems and stories in both countries about temperance and of daughters left by inspirational fathers.

There is a bust of Hugh Miller in the Hall of Heroes at the Wallace Monument in Stirling. His home in Cromarty is open as a geological museum, with specimens collected in the immediate area; a week-end event at the site in 2008 was part of celebrations marking the bicentenary of the Geological Society of London.

The Hugh Miller Trail starts at a small car park on a minor road just past Eathie Mains, about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Cromarty, and leads about 1 mile (1.6 km) down a steep slope through woodland to the foreshore at Eathie Haven on the Moray Firth, where Miller began collecting fossils. It was here that he found his first fossil ammonite, in Jurassic rocks. The haven was originally a salmon fishing station, and a former fishermen's bothy, open to the public, has a display board about the geology of the area and Miller's fossil discoveries.

The BP-operated Miller oilfield in the North Sea was named after Hugh Miller.


Mohamed Abdel Moneim Al-Fayed: (born 27th January 1929) is an Egyptian business magnate. Fayed's business interests include ownership of Hôtel Ritz Paris and formerly Harrods Department Store, Knightsbridge. In 1972, Fayed purchased the Balnagown estate in Easter Ross, Northern Scotland. From an initial twelve acres, Al-Fayed has since built the estate up to sixty five thousand acres. Al-Fayed has invested more than £20 million in the estate, restored the 14th century pink Balnagown Castle, and created a tourist accommodation business. The Highlands of Scotland tourist board awarded Al-Fayed the "Freedom of the Highlands" in 2002, in recognition of his "outstanding contribution and commitment to the highlands."

At the time he owned Harrods he set up the Shin Falls Visitor Centre where some Harrods goods were available to buy. Unfortunately the Centre was burned to the ground as a result of an electrical fault in 2014.


James Monroe: (April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was the fifth President of the United States, serving between 1817 and 1825. Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States and the last president from the Virginian dynasty and the Republican Generation. Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Monroe was of the planter class and fought in the American Revolutionary War. Foulis Castle has been the ancestral home of the Munro Clan Chiefs for over 700 years and is where the family of President James Monroe, the 5th President of the US originated.


James Munro VC: (Born at Nigg 11th October 1826 – Died in Inverness 5th February 1871) was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

He was 20 when he joined up, and by 1854 he was a sergeant serving in the Crimean War. Eighteen months later, his regiment went to India and in 1857 Munro was promoted to colour sergeant. James Munro received his medal from Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle in 1860, two years after he was discharged due to illness caused by his wounds. Munro was about 30 years old, and a colour-sergeant in the 93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders), British Army during the Indian Mutiny when the following deed took place at Lucknow, India for which he was awarded the VC: “For devoted gallantry, at Secunderabagh, on the 16th November 1857, in having promptly rushed to the rescue of Captain E. Walsh, of the same corps, when wounded, and in danger of his life, whom he carried to a place of comparative safety, to which place the Sergeant was brought in, very shortly afterwards, badly wounded.”


Sir William Alexander Smith (27th October 1854 – 10th May 1914), the founder of the Boys' Brigade, was born in Pennyland House, Thurso, Scotland. He was the eldest son of Major David Smith and his wife Harriet. He and his siblings formed a family of three sons and one daughter. As a boy, William Smith was educated at the Miller Instituition, known as the “Thurso Academy”.

Following his father's death, his family moved to Glasgow. In early January 1869, William Smith became a pupil in a private school, The Western Educational Institution, more widely known as “Burns’ and Sutherland’s School”. In this first and only term there, he took seven prizes. His time in the institution was short-lived as he ended his school days late in May, at the age of fourteen and a half. Nonetheless, Smith did not cease his education altogether. His writings in a notebook indicated that he continued to take French classes after joining his uncle's business.

In October 1869, a few days before he became fifteen, William Smith entered his uncle’s business. Alex. Fraser & Co. were wholesale dealers in “soft goods”. Smith was commissioned into the Rifle Volunteers in 1877 and promoted to Lieutenant later the same year. He also became a Sunday School teacher. It was a combination of these two activities that led him to start the Boys' Brigade on 4th October 1883 at Free Church Mission Hall, North Woodside Road, Glasgow. In 1909 he was knighted by King Edward VII for his services to children. He also eventually reached the rank of Major in the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers.

He died on 14th May 1914 in London. He was buried in Glasgow. There is a memorial stone in honour of him in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, and in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh.