Article XIV written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign 30 June, 1881 - Part D
The Highland Ferryman by William Dyce (1806 – 1864 )
“I wonder whether the ferrymen I once crossed over with were lineal descendants of these murderers; for when about halfway across, one of them took up a heavy piece of wood which lay in the boat, and without the least provocation, or any previous warning, threatened to break the heads of all the passengers, four in number. It was not a very safe place to begin a fight, and while the four of us could have easily overcome the two of them, we rather preferred peaceable means, which was not at all appreciated by the wild ferryman, who brought down his formidable bludgeon into rather uncomfortable proximity to our heads."
"What mania seized the fellow that caused him to act in this way, and his companion acquiesced in all he did, we could not divine. They did not appear to be drunk, or, as far as we could see, under the influence of liquor; and whether they expected to exhort money from us as a ransom for our lives, or not, I cannot tell; but one thing is certain, if that idea entered their calculations, they were sadly disappointed. We might, and would have defended ourselves to the very last, had any of our number been actually assaulted; but, while the aspect of affairs looked truly serious, there were no blows given."
"Ferry-men, as a rule, were (I do not say are, for it is now about forty years since I crossed these ferries) a very rude, illiterate and wicked class of men; but I have no doubt, and would fain hope at least, that the present men are much improved.”
A Native of Badea - To be continued.
To close this article Alexander Gunn indignantly relates a bad experience he once had with a couple of ferrymen. Ferrymen were the backbone of travel in the Highlands for hundreds of years and it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that the life of a ferryman was often miserably cold and wet, as well as being constantly at the mercy of wind and tides. It’s no wonder that some took to warming themselves with whisky. While there are probably hundreds of stories of bad-tempered and drunk ferry-men I rather like Dyce’s portrait of a Highland Ferryman, who has his bottle sure enough, but looks trustworthy and calm.
Back to the Miekle Ferry disaster - these two pictures made me reflect.