History Scotland

DEVON, DROVES AND JACOBITES

In May 1811, John McInnes and two assistants headed south from Skye with a drove of 90 cattle. There was, of course, nothing unusual about this, and with the Napoleonic Wars in full swing, cattle prices were at a premium. But this drove was different, destined not for the great Scottish tryst at Falkirk, nor the fattening fields of Norfolk, nor even the butchers’ knives at Smithfield. McInnes was instead embarking upon on an arduous 43-day trek, covering some 650 miles, to the remote south-west of England. The final destination: Arlington estate in Devon.

This was clearly no speculative venture. Someone in Devon wanted a herd of highland cattle and employed McInnes to deliver the beasts personally. But why? Agricultural improvement, not least regarding livestock, was in full swing, and with England pioneering many of the larger improved breeds, it seems unlikely that the small highland cattle of that time would be a desirable addition to the southern gene pool.

The families

The origins of this extraordinary drove may in fact stretch back many decades into more troubled Jacobite times. The Chichesters were among the most substantial Devonshire landowners. A catholic family, they had flirted with Jacobitism around the time of the 1715 rising, and though not actively involved in later years, underlying sympathies may have remained. John Chichester, who had inherited Arlington estate in the 1720s, had lost his first wife in 1763 and was seeking a new bride, both to help with the estate and provide an heir – though finding a suitable partner from the dwindling ranks of catholic gentry in England was perhaps proving difficult.

600 miles to the north, near Spean Bridge in Lochaber, lived Donald Macdonald, tacksman of Terndriech (aka Tynedrish/Tirnadrish/Tirindrish). One of the leading clan gentry of the Keppoch Macdonalds or Macdonells (the two forms then being interchangeable), he also was a catholic, though a much more ardent Jacobite than the Chichesters had ever been. Indeed, Macdonald of Terndriech reputedly fired the first shots of the 1745 rising at the skirmish of Highbridge, becoming a popular and respected officer in Prince Charles Edward’s army on the long march south and subsequent retreat back north. Captured after

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