Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Chased by a mob - John Porteous

This short extract from a book called Historical and Traditional Sketches of Highland Families, and of the Highlands by John Maclean records an incident in the life of John Porteous, one of the ministers of Ross-shire mention by John Kennedy in his book about religious life in Ross-shire.

‘The Rev. John Porteous. This eminent divine was born in Inverness in the year 1704, and was presented to the united parishes of Daviot and Dunlichity about the latter end of the year 1730.

‘The first place he preached at was Daviot, and although no obstruction was offered by those of that district of the parish, yet he was but coldly received. Next Sabbath-day, when he was to preach at Dunlichity, just as he was entering the church he was not a little surprised to be assailed with a shower of stones, and to his astonishment, he perceived upwards of fifty females, headed by a virago named Elspet Maclean, coming towards him with their aprons tied round their waists, in which were deposited a goodly supply of the article which slew Goliath.

‘Such unexpected treatment caused Mr Porteous to stand for a moment in suspense; but seeing the women approaching close to him shaking their hands, and also hearing their generalissimo Elspet vociferating, “Let us kill the Whig rascal,” at the same time issuing orders to her followers, he judged it the safest course to take to his heels. He ran down the strath towards Daviot, with Elspet and her lawless force in full chase after him, every now and then exclaiming, as she discharged a stone, “Another throw at the Whig minister.”

‘Fortunately for him, he could lay no claim to what is alleged of some of our London aldermen – he being a tall but slender person, which no doubt enabled him to outrun his pursuers, particularly for the first three miles, that is, to Tordarroch; at which place, on a little knoll, the curate of the district was holding forth to a large assemblage, and, as ill-luck would have it, Mr Porteous in his flight had to pass hard by this congregation, from whom a large and formidable accession, headed by Rory Macraibart the tailor, joined Elspet’s corps, but much to the credit of the curate he vehemently denounced their proceedings.

‘The reverend fugitive had now to redouble his exertions to escape with his life, and the chase was continued regardless of running streams, which presented no impediment to Elspet and the tailor’s fairy bands, until they came near Daviot. It is not a little remarkable that, although the stones were flying like hail around him, only two or three of the enemy’s balls struck him, the effects of which were no way serious.

‘His pursuers having desisted from following him further, he sat down at the roadside to draw breath, and no doubt to return grateful thanks to Providence for the wonderful and hairbreadth escapes he had made that day – a day never to be effaced from his mind. While he was thus musing, a pious venerable man came up who sympathised with him very much. In the course of their conversation, Mr Porteous said, “Well, well, one thing I will say, that seven generations shall pass away before the people of Daviot and Dunlichity will have a minister who will please them.” This prediction was fulfilled to the very letter.

‘About the year 1732, and after Mr Porteous had remained upwards of a year in his father’s house, he got a presentation to the parish of Kilmuir-Easter, in the Presbytery of Tain, where he met with a far different flock to that of Daviot and Dunlichity, and where he was the honoured instrument of much good. By his sound reasoning and advice he tended greatly to suppress the spirit of rebellion in 1745-46, and along with Lord President Forbes he was constantly urging upon the young Earl of Cromartie to take no part in it. Lord Lovat hearing of Mr Porteous’s influence in Easter-Ross, and suspecting the cause of the Earl’s backwardness in embracing the Pretender’s cause, was constantly despatching his confidential valet, Donald Cameron, with letters to him requesting him not to listen to any suggestions, but to stand firm, as he (Lord Lovat) was to get a dukedom, and was perfectly satisfied that the same title would be conferred on him also.

‘Mr Porteous never married, and it was supposed the cause lay in the conduct of the fair sex at Dunlichity. He lived to a good old age, and died greatly lamented by all who knew him. He was cousin to the notorious Captain Porteous whom the mob in Edinburgh hanged in the Grassmarket.’

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