Article XXVII written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 8 February 1883 – Part B
|Farm buildings at Braemore|
"Braemore, that quiet and rural township, so secluded and embedded among the hills, was about this time the centre of attraction. An aggravated act of theft had been perpetrated, and caused considerable surprise and commotion among the inhabitants. Placed at a distance of five or six miles from their nearest neighbours and brought up in a state of simplicity and innocence, crime of all kinds was all but unknown."
"The ‘black bothy’ was a well know institution, no doubt, but that was considered but a venial sin, and vice of any kind was very rare. Besides the people were very comfortable, and want was unknown among them, so that there was no excuse for anyone to commit a breach of the eighth commandment. The party guilty of this found crime was the head of a family and had also a bit of a farm. He was apprehended, and tried before the High Court of Justiciary in Inverness where he was sentenced to a term of penal servitude."
"On the return journey to Wick – the mode of conveyance being a spring cart – and while passing Forse, the prisoner asked permission to get down from the machine for a second or two, which wish was complied with. The prisoner, thereupon, leaped over a dyke which ran along the roadside, having the handcuffs on all the while. The officers in charge stood still with the machine, waiting for the return of their prisoner, but after waiting for some time they considered he was rather long in making his appearance, and on looking over the dyke, to their dismay there was no man there. Their prisoner had made his escape. The disappointed officers scoured the country in all directions, but no tidings of the runaway could be found."
"Latterly it was mooted that he had returned to his home and family. The criminal authorities made a raid on the dwelling at midnight, but the prisoner managed to escape from among their fingers, and the police had to return empty-handed. Several attempts were made from time to time to get hold of him, but he always managed to make good his escape. Latterly he took up his abode in a subterranean cave in Ben Nagoviag, half way between Braemore and Berriedale, making occasional stealthy visit to his wife and family, and he was frequently seen by the neighbours. The police did not care to attack him in his mountain fastness, as it was alleged that he was well armed, and the entrance to his mountain home being very narrow and contracted, that he would be in a position to defy anyone who should attempt to intrude. He managed to keep out of the reach of the authorities till the time of his sentence (five years) had expired, after which he returned to his family but shortly afterwards left the place."
A NATIVE OF BADBEA
(To be Continued)
An interesting story. I have not found any records of this incident from the Court at Inverness nor in any newspaper archives.
Without a record it is impossible to know what the crime was but I did find a report of a cattle theft deal that happened between an unnamed Braemore local and some drovers. I suppose a similar incident would be a possibility and it would carry the likelihood of a sentence of penal servitude – five years imprisonment with hard labour.
The spring cart with the prisoner and officers was heading for Wick. Wick has had a jail for centuries. The first town hall and Burgh jail were erected in 1750 in Tolbooth lane. That building was superseded by another town hall and prison in1828. Apparently a row of old stairs from the prison below Bridge Street was somehow connected to a spiral staircase that led to the courthouse.
The escaped prisoner who eventually took up residence in a cave was probably a lot more comfortable there than living in a prison cell underneath the court house. Considering the vigilance with which the police usually hunted down ‘black bothies’ (illicit whisky distilleries) and jailed the owners it seems that they were not that determined to find this particular offender.
|Scaraben near Braemore is a long ridge with three tops. This view looks up the rough terrain that forms the northern slopes of Scaraben's western top. There are probably good places to hide in the hills here.|
Braemore has been a place of habitation and residence for hundreds if not thousands of years.
|Standing Stone, Braemore, looking toward Maiden Pap and Morven|
The place Alexander Gunn refers to as Ben Nagoviag I wonder if it is an alternative spelling for Bienn Nan Coireag a hilly area between Braemore and Berriedale. If I am correct there is a Trig station there.
The Braemore prisoner was not the first prisoner in this district to leap to freedom. In the Dunbeath Strath near to Braemore is a gorge known as the Prisoner's Leap. The rock on the north side is 100 feet high and on the south side 70 feet high. The distance between is 35 feet. The tradition is that in the sixteenth century a powerfully strong man from Braemore, Ian McMormack Gunn was imprisoned in Forse Castle by his enemies, the Keiths. Fear of retribution from other clans prevented the revered McCormack being hanged. Instead, the Keiths set him an impossible task, sure to end in his death, saying they would let him go if he jumped the gorge. Of course the strong man confounded all and jumped the gorge. Various versions of the story have the gorge being wider and higher at the time of the feat while others suggest the opposite must be nearer the truth.
Source: Tales from Braemore, Robert Gunn