Tuesday, November 11, 2014

William McEwan Gamekeeper

North east of Boch Ailean at Leac Gilong
Source: Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 148. With permission
"On a slope so steep that it seemed incredible they could have been cultivated by the plough, lay the little strips of fields. Potatoes and corn were growing to the extreme verge of the cliffs – the very sight making one feel nervous: one rock being pointed out as the spot where, only a short time before, a keeper named McEwen met a dreadful death by falling into the sea beneath while endeavouring to reach the eyrie of an eagle."
Source: A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness. Northern Ensign, January 13, 1881

The Duke of Portland Buys Langwell

Norfolk Chronicle & Norwich Gazette Aug 22, 1857
In Scotland at the turn of the nineteenth century there were substantial changes in land use, with the establishment of large sheep farms and the accompanying removal of traditional crofters off the land. For a while the sheep farms brought increased returns for the landowners but by the middle of the century many sheep farms were being offered for sale and advertised as potential hunting and fishing estates. The Langwell Estate at Berriedale in Caithness had been converted to sheep farming by Sir John Sinclair, then sold to James Horne, and to the Duke of Portland in 1857. 
Gamekeepers were employed by landowners to prevent poaching (considered a serious crime), control predators and monitor the health and abundance of the wildlife on the estate.
The following story published in 1857 showed Mr McEwan as a Gamekeeper in Ausdale in 1857. The Ausdale farm and moors were part of Langwell. Benjamin Hall was probably a Factor managing Ausdale

William and Janet McEwan and Family

William McEwan came from a family of gamekeepers in Perthshire. His father Duncan was a Gamekeeper before him. William had married Janet (Jessie) Kinnear in Perthshire in 1840. Their daughter Jessie was born about 1846, son William about 1849 and son Archibald about 1851 all in Perthshire. Daughter Agnes was born in 1858 and son James in 1860 both in Berriedale, Caithness.

1861 Census

The 1861 census shows the McEwan family all living in Ausdale.

1871 Census

In the 1871 census daughter Jessie and son William have left home.  Son Archibald is now a Gamekeeper in Ausdale along with his father. William is found in the Wick parish in a cottage in Keiss as a Gamekeeper to his Grace the Duke of Portland.  I have not traced daughter Jessie.
1871 Census Ausdale

1881 Census

At the 1881 census Janet is now a widow but is still living at Ausdale as her son James has a position as Gamekeeper there.  Archibald is  Deer Forester in Aultibea, part of Langwell. I have not traced daughter Agnes.
1881 Census Ausdale

1881 Census Aultibea

Death of William McEwan Gamekeeper

Boch Ailean Southern Tip
Source: Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 148. With permission
The cliffs near Berriedale are notorious and very dangerous. They vary in height from several hundred feet to over six hundred feet above sea level. Sea birds of many species have long lived in nests on the cliffs. Their eggs were gathered for food and the birds themselves were also eaten by those families unfortunate enough to be forced to live in rocky hamlets near the cliffs.
One of the jobs of a Gamekeeper was to engage in vermin control. Rat populations not only thrived on sea bird eggs but they also took the eggs of other ground nesting bird species that were very popular with hunters. Rats could decimate the grouse population in a season - a state of affairs that did not go down well with the hunting fraternity. William McEwan was examining his vermin traps by the edge of the Berriedale cliffs when he fell.
There are several newspaper records of the accident. The media use the name Malcolm McEwan but his formal death records use his correct name William McEwan

Sunderland Daily Echo. May 17, 1876

Frightful Death of a Gamekeeper

 A gamekeeper, named Malcolm McEwan, in the employment of the Duke of Portland, has met his death, in a frightful manner, at Ousdale, in Caithness. While engaged in trapping in the face of a rock, he lost his footing and fell to the base, a distance of several hundred feet. The body was mangled in
a sickening manner. Death was instantaneous.

Death William McEwan. 1876

There are two formal death records for William McEwan. The first was issued within a week of his death. The second from the Register of Corrected Entries was issued about a year later with verified detail: The cause of death was given: Falling accidently from Bogallian Head, a cliff about six hundred feet above the level of the sea, whilst examining Vermin traps on the edge of the cliff. Body found mangled at foot of the cliff.

William McEwan had worked trapping vermin for years and would have been conscious of the risks. He would have been instantly horrified when he missed his footing. Whether he fell down through the air or bumped along past the rocks and sea birds nests, the fall of six hundred feet was long enough for him to know exactly what was happening. How ghastly. Thankfully William’s death was instantaneous. William’s body was found at 7 pm on a May evening. 

Inver Hill just north of Boch Ailean
Source: Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 148. With permission
Janet probably had that anxious feeling women get when husbands who work alone in dangerous environments are late home. She would have alerted the Langwell staff and a search party went out maybe by both land and sea and found William's body. Son Archibald signed his father’s death certificate. With three sons all Gamekeepers Janet probably experienced concern many times more in her life. Janet died in 1895.
William and Janet along with their son Archibald, who had remained at Aultibea until his death in 1914, are buried in the New Berriedale cemetery. A headstone marks their grave.
Berriedale Church and Berrriedale 'new' cemetery

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