Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My ancestor ... the royal postman


I have to say that I didn’t really expect to find many tales amongst the smalltown history of my un-newsworthy Scottish forebears. So I was a surprised and delighted to come upon the one that follows.

Explanation: Andrew Morrison, agricultural labourer, of Merklands estate, Kirkmichael, was the grandfather of Annie Morrison Anderson. He and his wife Ann née Ferguson bred freely and I have to their debit Andrew (1819-1893), James (1822-1901), John Albert (1823-1885), William (1825-1891), Annie’s father Alexander (1827-1874), Betsy (1831-1909), Donald (1832-1912), Jean (1835-1906), Francis (1837-1915) and Marjory (1843-?).
The children worked variously as farm workers, farm and hostelry servants, and James and Francis became shoemakers, while William swapped laboring for tailoring before going blind. Jean married Peter McLaren, stone-dyker, and took in blind William, and bachelors James, Donald and Francis, in their retirement, took over Kirkmichael Post Office, Marjory became Mrs James Cameron while Betsy remained single … but they didn’t really make the news, except when young Francis got arrested for poaching.
Until 1912….

‘Death of Veteran Postillion Who Drove Queen Victoria

By the death of Donald Morrison, at Ballintuim in his 78th year, Strathardle has lost one of its links with past times.

Donald was born at Merklands estate and had been a tenant on Ballintuim for 60 years, retaining his tenancy even when he was working elsewhere.  He  started his career as a ploughman, and then, after a short time as coachman at Ballintuim, he went to Mr [Robert] Grant, Spittal Hotel, [Glenshee] as postboy.

Spittal of Glenshee
These were the palmy days of posting, and Donald, sharing in the general success, became leading postillion. From the Spittal he went to Braemar (the Invercauld Arms) as first postillion, and in this position frequently drove Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, King Edward (then Prince of Wales), and other members of the Royal Family.

Invercauld Arms
It is related that on one occasion when driving Queen Victoria their route lay over a ford, the river being in high flood.  The Queen was a little nervous, and anxiously inquired at Donald, who always rode the wheel horse, if there was any danger?  He was busy guiding his horses through the rushing waters, and shouted back, ‘No, it’s abs-o-lutely safe, your Majesty’.   
Speaking afterwards to a friend, he explained, ‘Her Majesty might hae kent it was a’ richt whan I was there’.

During the time he was at Braemar, Donald stayed at Ballintuim during the winter, and returned to Braemar in the early spring for the posting.

A colonel who was a well-known traveller on the North road, but could never get a conveyance to go fast enough for him, one day near the end of the season strolled into the Invercauld Stables and inspected the stud, on which, by the way, Mr Fisher, the lessee, rather prided himself.  ‘ No’, said the colonel, ‘you don't have one horse there fit for a gentleman's carriage; but I must take what I can get, as I have to go to the Spittal, and quick's the word’.

Mr Fisher called Donald aside and implored him to take the impatient colonel at his best speed.  "It's near the end of the season, and you can take your time coming home".  Donald conferred with his mate, the postillion on the leaders and they determined that they would beat all records in this particular run over the Cairnwell.  The upward journey to the watershed was taken in good time, and, the summit reached, the horses were put to their top speed.

Cairnwell, the highest road in Britain
Down the Devil's Elbow they raced without slackening speed.  The coach rattled and sway, but the skill of the riders and good luck kept the coach on the roadway.  Just when the bottom corner was reached the colonel shouted to his postillions, ‘Cautious here, men!’  This was joy to the hearts of the postboys, who had never before heard of the doughty colonel called for caution.

The original 'Devil's Elbow'
A quarter of a century ago Donald retired.  His wants were not extravagant, and his years of positing had yielded him many douceurs.  Since then he lived there, and really enjoyed life in his quiet way, ‘nor wished to change his place’.  A cheery personality, he will be long missed by many friends around Ballintuim.’

Sigh. I knew there had to be an intrepid horseman somewhere in my ancestry! Before me, that is.

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