It brings out in a prominent light the state of the Highlands and the futility of the power of the Government during that period in the North.
As regards several of the forfeited estates which lay in inaccessible situations in the Highlands, the commissioners had up to this time been entirely baffled, never having been able even to get them surveyed.
This was so in a very special manner in the case of the immense territory of the Earl of Seaforth, extending from Brahan Castle, near Dingwall in the east, across to Kintail in the west, as well as in the large island of the Lewis. The districts of Lochalsh and Kintail, on the west coast, the scene of the Spanish invasion of 1719, were peculiarly difficult of access, there being no approach from the south, east, or north, except by narrow and difficult paths, while the western access was only assailable by a naval force. To all appearance this tract of ground, the seat of many comparatively opulent tacksmen and cattle farmers, was as much beyond the control of the six commissioners assembled at their office in Edinburgh, as if it had been amongst the mountains of Tibet or upon the shores of Madagascar.
For several years after the insurrection, the rents of this district were collected, without the slightest difficulty, for the benefit of the exiled Earl, and regularly transmitted to him. At one time a large sum was sent to him in Spain. The chief agent in the business was Donald Murchison, descendant of a line of faithful adherents of the "High Chief of Kintail."
Some of the later generations of the family had been entrusted with the keeping of Ellandonnan Castle, a stronghold dear to the modern artist as a picturesque ruin, but formerly of serious importance as commanding a central point from which radiate Loch Alsh and Loch Duich, in the midst of the best part of the Mackenzie country. Donald was a man worthy of a more prominent place in his country's annals than he has yet attained; he acted under a sense of right which, though unfortunately defiant of Acts of Parliament, was still a very pure sense of right; and in the remarkable actions which he performed he looked solely to the good of those towards whom he had a feeling of duty. A more disinterested hero--and he was one--never lived.
When Lord Seaforth brought his clan to fight for King James in 1715, Donald Murchison and an elder brother, John, accompanied him as field officers of the regiment--Donald as Lieutenant-Colonel, and John as Major. The late Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, the distinguished Geologist, great-grandson of John, possessed a large ivory and silver "mill," which once contained the commission sent from France to Donald, as Colonel, bearing the inscription:--"James Rex: forward and spare not." John fell at Sheriffmuir, in the prime of life; Donald returning with the remains of the clan, was entrusted by the banished Earl with the management or estates no longer legally but still virtually his. And for this task Donald was in various respects well qualified, for, strange to say, the son or the castellan of Ellandonnan--the Sheriffmuir Colonel--had been "bred a writer" in Edinburgh, and was as expert at the business of a factor or estate-agent as in wielding the claymore. [For a short time before the insurrection, he had acted as factor to Sir John Preston of Preston Hall, in Mid-Lothian, then also a forfeited estate, but of minor value.]
In bold and avowed insubordination to the Government of George the First, Mackenzie's tenants continued for ten years to pay their rents to Donald Murchison, setting at nought all fear of ever being compelled to repeat the payment to the commissioners.
In 1720 his Majesty's representatives made a movement for asserting their claims upon the property. In William Ross of Easterfearn and Robert Ross, a bailie of Tain, they found two men bold enough to undertake the duty of stewardship in their behalf over the Seaforth property, the estates of Grant or Glenmoriston, and or Chisholm of Strathglass. Little, however, was done that year beyond sending out notices to the tenants, and preparing for more strenuous measures for next year. The stir they made only produced excitement, not dismay. Some of the duine-uasals from about Lochcarron, coming down with their cattle to the south-country fairs, were heard to declare that the two factors would never get anything but leaden coin from the Seaforth tenantry. Donald went over the whole country showing a letter he had got from the Earl, encouraging the people to stand out at the same time telling them that the old Countess was about to come north with a factory for the estate, when she would allow as paid for any rents which they might hand to him. The very first use to be made of this money was to bring both the old and the young Countesses home immediately to Brahan Castle, where they were to live as they used to do. Part of the funds thus acquired, Murchison used in keeping on foot a party of some sixty armed Highlanders, who, in virtue of his commission as colonel, he proposed to employ in resisting any troops of George the First which might be sent to Kintail. Nor did he wait to be attacked, but in June, 1720, hearing of a party of excisemen passing near Dingwall with a large quantity of aqua vitae, he fell upon them and rescued their prize. The collector of the district reported this transaction to the Board of Excise, but no notice was taken of it.