Looking back…

It seems I’m not alone in tracking down the story of the stalker killed by the stag (John Maclennan). Ronnie Ross very kindly passed on details of a gentleman in Oban who wrote to him late last year enquiring about the story, also passing on some further information and a photograph (reproduced here).

Photograph above is entitled “Gralloching* a Royal at Loch Rosque, shot by Sir Arthur Bignold”.

Below see two scans of the Game Book for 1896 - the bottom page showing the same scene, and although you can’t see it here, there is a note from the artist (W. L. Muir) that says “The Fallen Monarch - taken from a photo”

Compare and note the artistic licence used in respect of the landscape...

*Gralloching: removing the stomachs and entrails in the field.

The gentleman in question was looking for information about the memorial to the stalker, I have sent him links to our website where he’ll see the recent photographs provided by the Seligman family – at the time of preparing this article I’d not heard back from him, but I’m hoping we can exchange information, which I will, of course, include here.

The further information, mentioned above, comes from a book published in 1927 entitled Hunting and Stalking the Deer, and within the chapter ‘Notes on the Habits of Deer’ the following is reported:

A stalker at Lochrosque in the ‘eighties had a nasty adventure. Duncan Fraser by name, he was digging potatoes in an enclosure in which was kept a tame stage. Hearing a noise behind him, he looked round to see the beast charging him. So close was the animal that he had no time to turn, and received a severe blow in the back, the horns passing on each side of his body under his arms. He fell forward clutching the horns, of which he dared not let go.

There were some cottages about three hundred yards off, and he yelled for help with all the power of his lungs. For a long time no one paid any attention, those who heard his cries saying afterwards that, though they heard them they did not think they were of any consequence!

For over half and hour Fraser remained struggling with the stag in this terrible position, and eventually, help arriving, the beast was driven off with sticks. The man was terribly knocked about and was in bed for six weeks as a result of injuries he sustained.

Two years later this same stag killed a stalker. The case is well known. His battered spy-glass and broken stick were found beside by his body, showing that he had put a good fight for his life. The stag knew him well, as he was accustomed to feed it; but, as has been remarked before, deer seem incapable of displaying any affection for their benefactors.

The people in the district turned out and shot the stage, building a large cairn on the spot. Trees we planted there, and the place was afterwards hidden by the plantation.

The photograph shows Sir Arthur Bignold and a stalker – we can only surmise that this stalker is John Maclennan.

Sir Arthur Bignold was born in July 1839, the 13th son of Sir Samuel Bignold, who was at one time Mayor of Norwich (and in turn was son of Thomas Bignold, the founder of Sun Insurance, Norwich – five generations of the Bignold family are linked to Norwich, and the company which was to become Norwich Union).

The Duke of Wellington was his god-parent.

He was educated at Cambridge, spoke five languages (he was fluent in Gaelic) and went on to be a Member of the London Stock Exchange, a founding member of the Kennel Club, a Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Sir Arthur undertook many ‘good works’ around this part of the Highlands, and was in fact President of the Ross and Sutherland Benevolent Society as well as a magistrate of Ross and Cromarty, a Freeman of several burghs, and Chief of the Gaelic Society.

He married Mary in 1866, and had the church at Lochluichart built in her memory.

In 1885, they moved to Scotland and acquired the forest and lodges of Strathbran, Lochrosque and Cabuie. (The lodge at Cabuie disappeared below the waters of Loch Fannich, when it was dammed in the 1950’s).

Even today these estates are being reported as follows “...Lochrosque, Cabuie and Nest of Fannich have some of the most challenging stalking grounds in Scotland, especially as there are a number of punchbowl-like corries which demand great skill in order to complete a successful stalk.”

Sir Arthur had obviously done his homework, to ensure that his new estates would provide a challenge for stalkers.

Standing for Parliament in 1900 he was, until 1910, the MP for the burghs of Wick, Cromarty, Dingwall, Dornoch, Kirkwall and Tain.

In June 1901, at Lochluichart Parish Church, Mrs Mary Bignold was laid to rest, after suffering from a long illness. The Minister at the time, Rev. W. L. Wallace Brown, of Alness, spoke at the funeral, of her, as follows: She was so courteous, kind and generous, to the humblest as well as to the highest, with whom she was associated, and a true helpmeet to her talented and greatly respected husband.

He later added: Nowhere in the Highlands of Scotland will you see better cottages than these which Mr and Mrs Bignold build for their people. The old low, black huts with their small windows have given place to healthy, comfortable slated houses.

Between them they certainly made a difference to the lives of those in their employ it seems. And, today, some of those ‘comfortable slated houses’ can still be seen in and around this community.

In July 1903, he purchased Northcote House and grounds, Wick, which he gifted to the people of Wick to be used as a cottage hospital, in memory of his late wife.

He was knighted in 1904, and in 1906 was the only Conservative to be elected north of Edinburgh.

He remarried, in 1906. In the same year received the Freedom of the City of Kirkwall, whereupon he gifted a public park.

He never possessed a motor car, he disliked them, and it was only in his last few years that he found he could easily shoot, and fish by their aid - that was the only time he was persuaded sit in one.

In 1890 (according to the Game Book of that year) Sir Arthur shot at 10st 2lb stag at Fannich, and next to the entry was recorded “This stag swam out into Loch Fannich with Byron on his back…” – Byron was one of the estates faithful dogs, well trained in stalking. Later on it records Byron being ill and being patiently treated, the writer was very much concerned about his loyal companion. When the dog died a touching obituary was written, I can only assume by the stalker. The books are meticulous in detail, and at the end of each season records the total game ‘bagged’. The two scans here record the end of the 1890 season.

Sir Arthur Bignold died in 1915, and is buried at Achanalt.

There’s much, much, more to write about, I had intended to include lots of the lovely anecdotes this time about Irene, the Marquesa de Torrehermosa, and her infamous Alvis cars, but I shall save them until next time.

However, I will leave you with one little snippet about Irene (who was, from all reports a most remarkable person, and reading of her ‘adventures’ I have no doubts about that at all).
Here is an account of one of the famous feuds with her neighbours. There was a dispute about the shooting of a fine stag between herself and Major Simon Turner, who at that time owned Fannich Lodge.

The Fannich stalker turned up with a knife in the Strathbran deer larder and the Strathbran stalker had a narrow escape. Simon and Irene did not speak for years after this incident.
However, they did meet at a local drinks party at some point, and were both rather the worse for wear. They stared each other out and eventually Irene said “Alright, you stupid old fool, you can have your damned head when I die.”

Years later, at Irene’s funeral Simon Turner arrived saying “I want my head”

Thanks once again to the Seligman family allowing me access to all this wonderful information - it’s been a great pleasure and privilege for me. I’d like to thank Jim who accompanied me this time around, and spent nearly six hours patiently scanning as I wrote up my notes .

Also, my grateful thanks to Donny Hogg who was most kind to us the day we visited Strathbran (and who I know to be a fountain of further information…)

This month I shall be meeting with Mark Seligman to visit the stalker’s monument, and hopefully take a few more photographs.

Until next time...

The Lochrosque Game Books are beautifully illustrated, here’s a page showing the castle, and the then track alongside the loch.

The artist (W. T. M) seems to be a regular guest of Sir Arthur, filling many pages of the game books with wonderful depictions of life on the estate in the late 1800’s.
As yet I’ve not found his/her signature in any of the ‘guest/visitor’ books, or noted as a participant of the stalk, but I shall keep looking and endeavour to find out more about this person.

COPYRIGHT STATEMENT: Please note that all scans have been undertaken with the kind permission of the Seligman family and copyright therefore belongs to them. Please do not reproduce any item contained in any of my articles, past, previous or present relating to Strathbran, Sir Arthur Bignold, or Lochrosque without first asking permission of the family. This can be done via this newsletter to email address achnasheenandgarve@gmail.com - I will be happy to pass on all requests.

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