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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

VI. The Highlands

33. Highlanders, 1771

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1Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) was a British naturalist and antiquary. In 1767 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1771 he published A Tour in Scotland, 1769, which was highly successful and which was followed in 1774 by an account of another journey in Scotland, in two volumes. In 1778 he published A Tour in Wales and in 1782 The Journey from Chester to London. In 1790 he published Some Account of London, which went through a large number of editions.

2Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland, 1769 (1771), London: 1772, p. 175-177.

  • 10 The Jacobite rebellion of 1745. See introduction to chapter 2, p. 19.

It will be fit to mention here the method the Chieftains took formerly to assemble the clans for any military expedition. In every clan there is a known place of rendezvous, styled Carn a Whin, to which they must resort on this signal. A person is sent out full speed with a pole burnt at one end and bloody at the other, and with a cross at the top, which is called Crosh-tairie, the cross of shame or the fiery cross; the first from the disgrace they would undergo if they declined appearing; the second from the penalty of having fire and sword carried thro’ their country, in case of refusal. The first bearer delivers it to the next person he meets, he running full speed to the third, and so on. In the late rebellion10, it was sent by some unknown disaffected hand thro’ the county of Breadalbane, and passed through a tract of thirty-two miles in three hours, but without effect.

The women’s dress is the kirch, or a white piece of linnen, pinned over the foreheads of those that are married, and round the hind part of the head, falling behind over their necks. The single women wear only a ribband round their head. The tanac, or plaid, hangs over their shoulders, and is fastened before with a brotche; but in bad weather is drawn over their heads. I have also observed during divine service, that they keep drawing it forward in proportion as their attention increases; insomuch as to conceal at last their whole face, as if it was to exclude every external object that might interrupt their devotion. In the county of Breadalbane, many wear, when in high dress, a great pleated stocking of an enormous length, called ossan. In other respects, their dress resembles that of women of the same rank in England: but their condition is very different, being little better than slaves to our sex.

The manners of the native Highlanders may justly be expressed in these words: indolent to a high degree, unless roused to war, or to any animating amusement; or I may say, from experience, to lend any disinterested assistance to the distressed traveller, either in directing him on his way, or affording their aid in passing the dangerous torrents of the Highlands: hospitable to the highest degree, and full of generosity: are much affected with the civility of strangers, and have in themselves a natural politeness and address, which often flows from the meanest when lest expected. Thro’ my whole tour I never met with a single instance of national reflection! their forbearance proves them to be superior to the meanness of retaliation: I fear they pity us; but I hope not indiscriminately. Are excessively inquisitive after your business, your name, and other particulars of little consequence to them most curious after the politicks of the world, and when they can procure an old newspaper, will listen to it with all the avidity of Shakespear’s blacksmith. Have much pride, and consequently are impatient of affronts, and revengefull of injuries. Are decent in their general behaviour; inclined to superstition, yet attentive to the duties of religion, and are capable of giving a most distinct account of the principles of their faith. But in many parts of the Highlands, their character begins to be more faintly marked; they mix more with the world, and become daily less attached to their chiefs; the clans begin to disperse themselves through different parts of the country, finding that their industry and good conduct afford them better protection (since the due execution of the laws) than any their chieftain can afford; and the chieftain tasting the sweet of advanced rents, and the benefits of industry, dismisses from his table the crowds of retainers, the former instruments of his oppression and freakish tyranny.


10 The Jacobite rebellion of 1745. See introduction to chapter 2, p. 19.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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