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The Loch Lomond Expedition of 1715

An Episode in the 'Fifteen' - A Raid by the MacGregors into the Vale of Leven

Edited by Peter Lawrie, ©2018
taken from an original account in the Glasgow Herald circa 1922
{Mr Lowe writes in his fearure in The Herald] A description of this affair under the title of "The Loch Lomond Expedition" was published in 1836 by Mr James Dennistoun. The identity of the author is uncertain but he probably took part in the expedition himself as a strong Whiggamore partisan. "The MacGregors", he said, "and the devil are to be dealt with after the same manner". The romantic view of the Highlands had not then arrived.

[The original source used by Dennistoun in 1836 was a contemporary account of the Rising by Patten and quoted in James Rae's Memoirs of the Insurrection in Scotland.

The text below is largely from the newspaper , but I have interpolated additional text in italics from the original which had been omitted from the Herald article.

Rather than create a composite account it is interesting to see the early 20th century journalist's summary of a 19th century account taken from an early 18th century anti-Jacobite book.

Raid from Inversnaid
The MacGregors were as little friendly to the Stewart as they were to the Hanoverian dynasty, but the Earl of Mar who had raised the standard of James VIII at Braemar, was able to persuade Rob Roy, then at the height of his power, to give a general support to the Jacobite cause. The MacGregors and probably Rob Roy with them, were actually present at Sheriffmuir (November 1715) although they played a very minor part. The affair at Loch Lomond occured about a month previously.

On September 25th, the MacGregors without any warning, hurried down Loch Lomond from Inversnaid, and seized all the available boats on the Endrick Water. They next invaded the island of Inchmurrin, and passed thence to the South side of the Loch, going as far South as Bonhill. The Vale of Leven, thinly populated then compared with today, was thoroughly alarmed.

The various parish bells were violently rung, and this demonstration, seconded by the firing of two "great guns" from Dumbarton Castle, was sufficient to scare the invaders back to Inchmurrin. There they helped themselves to cattle and deer belonging to the Duke of Montrose, with whom they lived in constant feud, returned to Inversnaid, where they beached their captured boats, and made off to join the Earl of Mar, or perhaps lie in their vantage ground in Strathfillan. But they soon returned, and mustered in force above Inversnaid at a spot which has been long familiar with visitors to the Trossachs.

Army and small fleet assembled
The Lowlanders, both North and South of the Clyde were now in a state of mingled fear and indignation, and decided that something more than bell-ringing was required. Nothing less than an army and a small fleet was assembled. Paisley raised 120 men, Lord Kilmarnock's estate - he himself was with Mar - along with Ayr, Kilwinning and Stevenston, supplied another 420. Dumbartonshire produced recruits from Kilpatrick, Cardross, Row, and Rosneath. The little army thus collected was posted at Dumbarton and the large houses in the neighbourhood.

Shipping was the next consideration. No fewer than eleven boats, consisting of four pinnaces, three long boats, three "large boats" of Dumbarton, and a "large boat from Newport-Glasgow with two large screw-guns" were assembled at the quay of Dumbarton. Teams of horses were requisitioned to tow this flotilla up the Leven and soon all were safely afloat on Loch Lomond. [the boats were manned by 100 seamen from the ships of war lying in the Clyde]

As many men as possible were stowed on the boats. The remainder were placed under the command of John Campbell of Mamore, who was attended by "a fine train of the gentlemen of the shire". The whole expedition, both afloat and ashore then moved up the loch.

Thunderous gunfire
No attempt was made to surprise the MacGregors in their fastness. There was a great firing from the boats of small arms and "pateraroes (small guns) and the noise echoing among the mountains produced a lively resemblance to thunder."

Firing promiscuously outwith the presence of the enemy is no guarantee of valour, but the narrator entertained no doubts on this subject. They were, he said, brave men who nothing could dishearten, and he applauds the cheerfulness with which they volunteered for the expedition. "They were not forced to it, as the clans are by their masters and chiefs, who hack and butcher such as refuse to go along with them".

As we know, this was ludicrously untrue of the clans, but the mere statement reveals to us what barriers of superstition and hatred then separated the Highlands and Lowlands. The author himself, however, was quite able to admire the clansmen when they happened to be on the right side, for when the expedition was joined at Luss by Sir Humphrey Colquhoun, [and James Grant of Pluscarden, his son-in-law] the latter's followers were described in terms of admiration as being "40 to 50 stately fellows in their short hose and belted plaids, armed each of 'em with a well fix'd gun on his shoulder, a strong handsome target, with a sharp pointed steel, of more than half an ell in length, a sturdy claymore by his side, and a pistol or two with a dirk and knife on his belt."

The Colquhouns had good reason to dislike the MacGregors, for they had not forgotten the Glen Fruin massacre. But then every man's hand seemed to be against the MacGregors, with the possible exception of the Duke of Argyll, who on account of his enmity with the Duke of Montrose, lent some countenance to Rob Roy.

The Landing at Inversnaid
On October 13th the party reached "Innersnaat, the place of danger." The little fleet stood across the loch, but before a landing was attempted Captain Clark, who was acting as Admiral, fired one of the "screw guns" from the Port Glasgow boat. He made a lucky hit, for the ball went through the roof of a house on the cliff side, although it did nothing more than dislodge one or two old women.

Were the MacGregors concealed in force on the heights above? If so, a landing force would have run the risk at least as great as that incurred by Captain Thornton in "Rob Roy" at a spot no more than 12 miles distant. However, they resolved to risk it.

[The Paisley men and those of Dumbarton and several other companies to the number of 100 men, with the greatest intrepidity leapt upon the Shore] under the command of two military captains and two Dumbarton magistrates landed and climbed the height so aften scaled in later days by the Trossach coaches. Fortunately for them, the "execrable crew" had disappeared. having been frightened off, so the narrator thought, by the thunderous gunfire of the previous day.

[(They) stood a considerable time, beating their drums all the while, but no enemy appearing, they went away in quest of their boats which the Rebels had seized, and having casually lighted on some ropes, anchors and oars hid among the shrubs, at length they found the boats drawn up a good way upon the land, which they hurried down to the loch. Such as were not damaged they carried off with them, and such as were, they sunk or hewed in pieces.]

After an hour of noisy, but bloodless defiance, the little force withdrew, taking with them the boats which the MacGregors had captured. Next day they were all back in Dumbarton, and so ended the Loch Lomond Expedition, which a biographer of Rob Roy grandiloquently called the "Invasion of Craigroyston".

[At this time the MacGregors were 16 miles away in Strath Fillan where they had joined Stewart of Appin with 250 men, Sir John M'Lean with 400, M'Dougal of Lorn with about 50, and a part of Broadalbine's men, in all making up 2400 men. This force marched upon Inveraray and threatened the Campbell stronghold, but finding it strongly garrisoned under the Earl of Hay, the Duke's brother, they withdrew without having effected anything and dispersed."]

Left in Peace
Quite evidently the beauties of the Loch and the mountains made no appeal to the members of this expedition. They can hardly be blamed for this, when Dr Johnson, visiting the Highlands 58 years later, in the spirit of the modern tourist, seemed quite blind to its natural beauty.

Mountains were in fact then regarded not as objects of beauty at all but as ugly excresences on the fair face of nature. Probably we would take less pleasure to-day in the "bonnie banks" if we knew them to be inhabited by a set of men "utterly infamous for thieving, depredation, and murder" for so our Whig author thought them to be.

Loch Lomond was left in peace for the remainder of the campaign. The MacGregors subsequently made an expedition to Inveraray [see above] and and ultimately found their way to the battle ground of Sheriffmuir (November 13) where they played rather a supine part. Such is, at least, the testimony of Robert Patten, who wrote a History of the Rebellion in 1717, after having taken part therein.

More than a month after Sheriffmuir the chevalier himself landed at Peterhead, "a transient and embarassed phantom", soon to leave again for ever. The curse which had fallen on his unfortunate dynasty spared him even less than his father and his son.
Theodore D. Lowe