The Forgotten Door

Chapter 8 of Deeside Tales: The Forgotten Door – The Genechal

It was with very great interest that I read chapter seven of Robert Smith’s book ‘A Queen’s Country’ published in 2000 as it was about a deserted and slateless cottage that had long since stirred my curiosity. My first meeting with The Genechal brought me over the hill of the eagle, from The Camlet. Of course the skylich is not the easiest route, but as a traverse steeped in history, I was determined to find my way by it.

Robert Smith has a way with words that I do not, and I found myself admiring how he embodied the Genechal in prose; the Genechal has a bold, martial ring to it, almost as if it was a stronghold built to guard the hills and moors around it.’ In etymological terms the meaning is rather less prosaic, with a derivation from the Gaelic Seann-choille, meaning the ‘old wood.’ When John Gordon, Laird of Abergeldy, beckoned me to examine more closely the Estate Map of 1806, hanging full length on the wall of the Great Hall, I was curious to find the Genechal. Yet it did not appear on the map, and there was no indication of an old wood. Certainly the skylich path to The Camlet was marked but the only indication of settlement was a faint and amorphic field marking.

Today the wood is an unsympathetic blanket of spruce and the Genechal is smothered and few know of its existence.


Figure 1: The Genechal as it was

Robert Smith in his book teased from the outset: Why, he asked, did this cottar house have two front doors? Well, he presented a rather grand reason; indeed a story all of its own; yet my research, in the dusty basements of Edinburgh, was to offer a less than magnificent story; for at the Genechal there was murder, mystery and mayhem.           


Figure 2: The Genechal over the skylich from the Camlet

The second time I visited the Genechal I took the track by Khantore, I was on bike and the route was overgrown, rutted, lime green with moss, and hampered every few yards by low horizontal conifer branches. I survived such hazards but arrived at the Genechal dripping in sweat. It was an inglorious meeting, and the Genechal I recalled as mighty, looked forlorn and pathetic; slateless, and prised open mercilessly to the elements. It was with sadness that I found myself remembering the forgotten families of Genechal – the ones commemorated on the old stones of Crathie.

In 1841, before the double-doored house was built, there were two cottages at the Genechal; one occupied by a newly pensioned Army Officer Peter Reid, and his family; the other by John Morgan a thirty five year old tailor.

John Morgan came from a long-line of Crathie tailors; his father also John, was born in 1766 and spent his long life supplying the farm-toun folk with new apparel. It was a respected trade with skills passed down from father to son. ‘Genechal John’ met his bride Johanna Cameron in the foothills but together they set up home in the Genechal, and between 1824 and 1841, had eight children with an exact split of four boys and four girls. It seems the Genechal has always down doubles! First two biggins, thakkit clay and rough; then two families; and later, sometime after 1848, a mirror image bothy with double doors.

Queen Victoria built her bothy specially. Her son, Edward Prince of Wales, had always preferred the Abergeldy Estate, and the Genechal sat perfectly on the moor towards the head of Girnoc. It was the perfect picnic point for the shooting parties, and nestled midway between Balmoral and Abergeldy. The cottage was solidly built of local granite to an unusual design. Rather more squat than the traditional north-east farmhouse, it was yet completely symmetrical and in fact composed a perfect mirror of halves: one door for the Queen, and one for the Morgans.

As keepers of the Queen’s bothy the Morgans must have bristled with pride. Yet it brought them mixed fortune, the way that life often does. Like Robert Smith, I found the Genechal a forlorn monument to such a unique past. The double doors now blown-in, and the house rendered merciful to natures recall. Yet I could not help imagining the Queen warming her hands by the fireside as the Morgan children chattered in busy excitement on the other side. Further, I wondered, had their father made them ‘speechal goons’ for the Royal visits and had they enough time to change into them!

The locked door, between the two mirror rooms, was hanging by a hinge, with no hint of the Royal guest it once separated. The Highland Journals of Queen Victoria were edited by David Duff and there appears only one reference to the Genechal, from a shooting party with Albert on the 3rd of September 1849:

‘At a quarter past eleven we drove (the three gentleman going in another carriage) to the road along which we went with Lord Portman the other days, and up a small path, where I mounted my pony, Albert and the others walking. We came to Geannachoil, and Albert was much pleased with the splendid view. The light was most beautiful, but the heat was overpowering and the sun burning.’

This bright September day in 1849, one reckons the silver flask filled with John Begg’s finest, was of much comfort; for the Queen claims to have seen a Witch. There is some dispute where the sighting took place, but I am in agreement with Robert Smith that it was probably around Bovaglia.

‘Albert was turned back by the sudden appearance of an old woman who, looking like a witch, came through the wood with two immense crutches and disturbed the whole thing. Albert killed the roe just as she was coming along and the shot startled her very much. She was told to come down which she did, and sat below in the glen, motionless, having covered her head with her handkerchief. When two of the beaters came down and were told to take up the roe, they first saw the old woman, and started, and stared with horror – which was very amusing to see.’

It was the Morgan bairns greatest fear; not the sniping spirit of Katy Rankin’ Abergeldy’s Witch – but the beast of the Camlet. You see in their childhood days they used to hike the steep skylich as route to theGirnocSchool. But they did so warily, for as the came over the Eagle cliff they knew the territorial and snorting Camlet Bull was waiting for them. He was a fearsome beast with nae liking for children!

Two of the Morgan sons, John and James, entered the Queen’s service at Balmoral, but it was the elder of the two that had the prestigious role as her personal Gamekeeper for a year short of forty. Like John Brown, he is remembered by the Queen on a Crathie tombstone, with twelve lines of verse. James, his brother, is depicted as a man of swarthiness in the series of Clansmen portraits commissioned by the Queen, wearing kilt of Balmoral tartan, and standing against a background that looks suspiciously like the view from Genechal. In 1871 James Morgan ‘left’ the employment of Prince and Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein following a ‘misunderstanding,’ and returned to Queen Victoria’s service, first acting as gillie, later as footman, and finally as Livery Porter.

I have to say that I find it difficult to imagine James, the burly son of Genechal, finding home in civilized Frogmore, serving the Queen’s second youngest. It was never going to work, and Schleswig-Holstein dismissed the burly Scot with Germanic authority. Obviously Queen Victoria did not agree as she immediately took James back into her service at Balmoral. She had, it seems, a softness for the Genechal family.

It is sad to note, that in 1890, the Morgan brothers, both now in the lodges at Balmoral, died within days of each other. No wonder the Queen recorded in verse her dear friends ‘the Morgans of Genechal.’

At 7pm on the 16th of January 1867, John Morgan, the father died, he was just sixty two but the circumstances of his death have been lost as he had no medical attendant. I found this a surprising situation as his son, the Gamekeeper for the Queen, was present. This situation did not arise again, for when ‘Widow Morgan’ died at the Genechal thirteen years later, she was attended in her last illness, by the Queen’s Personal Physician; Dr Alexander Profeit. He treated her for death-bed asthma with her last gaspless breaths taken at the Genechal.


Figure 3: James Morgan, the burly son of the Genechal

Dr Alexander Profeit (1834-1897) was appointed first as Surgeon, and later Commissioner to Queen Victoria at Balmoral. He was born in Nethertowie, Strathdon in 1834; the son of a farmer and after graduating in Medicine returned to Donside to serve its upper reaches. Alexander was a close aide of the Queen and became, as well as her personal physician, factor to the Estate. The Queen corresponded with him freely, and trusted him so deeply, that she judged it safe to disclose personal matters, including John Brown her beloved Highland Servant. When Dr Profeit died at Balmoral in January 1897 he had served his Queen for twenty-two years. His final illness was in good part due to cirrhosis of the liver as he was awfully fond of Lochnagar’s stoneballs! (see chapter nine)

In the attic of Craiggowan, in an old tin-box, Dr Profeit had preserved three hundred letters written personally to him by the Queen. He wished them kept private, but his son George saw Profit not just in name, and in 1905 he wrote to Edward King of Britain, asking for a huge sum of money in return for the letters. The King was blackmailed for his mother’s secrets. Sir James Reid recorded the moment:

At 3pm George Profeit came and delivered over to me a tin box full of the Queen’s letters to his father Dr Alexander Profeit about John Brown, for which he has blackmailed theKing’.

Sir James Reid handed over immediately the letters to a grateful monarch. There wereover three hundred of them, many, as he noted in his diary `mostcompromising’.

Sir James Reid might have been in the contest, but it is my inclination that Dr Profeit was the true forerunner of the Queen’s trusted ‘Physician-in-Ordinary.’ His influence was wide on Deeside (and beyond) and it is recorded he had time for everybody, from lowly parishioners, destitutes, to those of the Landed families within whom he freely mixed. The Queen clearly loved his Scottish couthieness, styled as it was on the braes of Nethertowie, and in Dr Profeit she felt she had a trusted friend.

Sir James Reid, himself a local north-east lad, had grown up in thevillage of Ellon, the elder son of the village doctor James Reid. He was nearly a generation younger than Dr Profeit, but was brought to him because of his brilliance at MedicalSchool, graduating as he did from Aberdeen as Gold Medalist and as the most distinguished scholar of his generation. On the 8th of June 1881, Dr Reid had an interview withthe Queen at Balmoral, three days later he went to London to see SirWilliam Jenner, the Queen’s Physician-in-Ordinary, to whom forthe next 10 years he was responsible. At the age of 31 ‘this Scot of humble origin was catapultedinto a position of the utmost importance.’

An admirer of the couthie lilt of the Doric, the Queen was delighted to appoint a north-east lad, who retained his distinct accent, but having spent some time in Vienna was also fluent in German. What a perfect incarnation to meet her household needs. Dr Reid, brilliantly quick of mind, and charming with a cosy wit, took easily to his position and must have learned much from Jenner, and it wasn’t long before the Queen beseeched him to ‘enliven her dreary dinners.’ When Sir William Jenner became ill, and was forced to retire,the Queen, instead of looking for a successor from among theeminent medical men of the day, chose her personal medical attendantto succeed Physician-in-Ordinary.

The story of Dr Reid has been brought vividly alive by Lady Michaela Reid, in her book ‘Ask Sir James,’ and represents as true an account as you will find of the Royal Household. The book was the result of five years of painstaking study of Sir James’ diaries, scrapbooks, and letters. It was an unrecorded archive with not even the separation of the Genechal chimney between it and the truth!

Like Dr Profeit before, Sir James enjoyed unparalleled intimacy with the Queen, during the last years of her life. It is fascinating to note that, despite such trust placed upon him, Dr Reid was never allowed to see the Queen undressed, or approach her with a stethoscope. Nevertheless he was summoned by her four or five times a day, and was trusted with her worries from within, and without the Royal Household. At a time when opium addiction was a curse of the genteel society (Laudunum) it was Dr Reid who was responsible for persuading Princess Christian to give up her addiction; he also had to cope with John Brown’s alcoholism, as well as informing his unruffled royal employer about her Indian secretary’s gonorrhoea.!

According to Lady Reid, Queen Victoria wouldopen her heart to Dr Reid in conversations varying from whetherdogs had souls and an after-life to her hatred of Gladstone,and her son Alfred’s drunkenness. When she was approached with variousqueries her reply as often as not was `Ask Sir James’. She could alwaysrely upon him to provide the right answer and smooth over any difficulties. Even when he was on holidaythe Queen wrote frequently to Reid giving a detailed accountof her movements, bowels and otherwise.’


Figure 4: Ask Sir James. The go-between

On the 25th March 1883, eighteen months after Reid had arrived at Court,John Brown awoke with erysipelas of the face and was `quitehelpless all day’. Reid noted that by the evening of the 26th March,Brown was worse and suffered from delirium tremens. On the 27th, March Reid wrote to his mother `Brown is dead. The Queen is in a greatway about it.’ Reid signed the death certificate.

There was another Dr Reid in Crathie living and practicing at Ballater, of the name Alexander, and he appears on the 1841 and 1851 census. He married in January 1851, a Glenmuick lass called Jane Clark and then left to return to his parish home Templeton in Kildrummy. As far as I have been able to establish, he has no relationship to Sir James.

Ballater had at least two doctors in the mid nineteenth century, in the years before Royalty made their presence felt upon upper Deeside. Dr Sheriffs was one of them and had more charisma than is decent with the finest carved face in the district. As for Sir James and her Majesty they would have choked at the mention of his name, for Dr Sheriffs, you will discover, had no ‘dreary’ dinner parties.

Dr William Sheriffs was a cousin of the Lunatic Asylum Keeper in Aberdeen yet it is unlikely he tred its corridors as I once did, for William Sherriffs was a man of the country; gallant, tall and utterly forthright. In truth few glimpses of his character have survived, but his great-great granddaughter Brenda Brown said of him ‘I am a direct descendant and can confirm that all the males in the family – my father, grandfather and great grandfather, also my one male cousin, all had striking features and I have no doubt that William Sherriffs was the same and with him being a figure of some authority in Ballater the ladies may well have found him to be irresistible.’

Yes there can be no doubt that Dr Sherriffs was irresistible, for in three different parishes, by four different lasses, he had seven illegitimate children. Although he was enumerated as a Widower on the 1851 census that was surely a cover, for he was never married. Yet Dr Sherriffs was a man shrewd in his investments, and owned nearly all of Gerrard Street in Aberdeen as well as all the best feus in Ballater. Dr Sherriffs had the ladies seem of Deeside falling at their knees for his charm. He is the flawed hero of classic literature that we so like to read about. It is good to know that Brenda, his great-great-grandaughter has forgiven him, just as the good folk of Ballater did back a century ago, but has since acknowledged, that ‘successive generations had higher moral standards!’

Letters belonging to Dr Sherriffs survive and in one he writes to the father of his latest conquest giving a pitiful attempt to explain how Ann Forbes came to be pregnant by him; the letter concludes “honestly, I don’t know how this has happened.” And a man trained in anatomy – one has to laugh! No wonder he left Kincardine O’Neill for Ballater, my only surprise is that he did not trek further!

Dr Sherriffs, could not resist his own biology and Ann Forbes, Jane Grant and Helen McLaughlin, (and surely others) he sired a legion of illegitimate bairns. Nearly one in every glen! In every case, before the Kirk Session, Dr Sherriffs shouldered his responsibility and offered to give ‘every satisfactory security for the aliment and maintenance’ of said children. When Dr Sherriffs died in 1857 he left the estate of a multi-millionaire, and asked that all his property, goods and chattel be rouped. He divided his estate evenly amongst his scattered polygenes, and on his death-bed added a codicil to acknowledge two further illegitimate sons, Kenneth and Alexander, leaving them his ‘Grand houses in Gerrard Street, Aberdeen.’

As I stated Dr William Sherriffs was the cousin of the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum Keeper, though the exact nature of their consanguinity remains unclear. The Archives of the Aberdeen Asylum are an untouched goldmine rich in poignancy of forgotten and deeply personal stories. No other Institution in this land has extant records from such an early period. Dr Sherriffs saw all walks of life in his Asylum, from the impoverished syphilitic, with madness brought on by General Paralysis of the Insane (GPI), to the florid Mania in the days after childbirth. One poor gentleman, an Aristocrat called Thomas William Bailey was urgently admitted to the Asylum in the summer of 1872. He had just returned from Aga in India and was candescent with emotion, and had been for three years, since the death of his wife to ‘sun-stroke’ three years before. He never recovered and died in the Asylum in 1901. The stories of the Asylum carry sadness that betrays the oft said and glib, ‘Good Old Days.’

One of The Keeper’s patients was a young woman called Margaret Gordon who was incarcerated into his Asylum and, apart from one week, never to leave.  On a dark December morning of 1860, thirty year old Margaret with ‘ruddy complexion and dark skin’ was sectioned. Dr Reid had to travel all the way from Ballater to Milntown of Aucholzie and was followed later that day by Dr Jamieson of Hutcheon Street, Aberdeen. Poor Margaret had broken down after the still-birth of a child 10 weeks earlier, which was followed by a bout of scarletina. She was a fretful skeleton of a woman pacing excitably and morbidly suspicious of all those around her. It was noted that she was hallucinating and lashing out at her family. She was disrobed and had been fleeing naked amongst the hills all around.

The Asylum had no cure, but restrained the flailing and feeble Margaret; then bled her and purged her of melancholic humor. Six months later, in late May 1861 ‘being far advanced appearance in a state of pregnancy she was removed by friends in a somewhat excited condition.’

Within that following week Aucholzie saw turmoil and Dr Reid was called out once again from Ballater. Margaret was so deranged that she was ripping her clothes off, and had tried repeatedly to drown herself in the mill-dam. Her eyes were noted to be vacantly staring and her countenance hostile, believing that all her family, including her husband William Coutts, were all dead. Under a further Certificate, written in Dr Reid’s own hand, she was admitted back to Dr Sherriffs Asylum. Two weeks later, on the 14th of July 1861 she delivered in the Asylum a still-born child. Margaret spent the rest of her life in the Asylum. She died an emaciated skeleton of a woman having suffered cancer eating her stomach. Her misery was put to an end aged 61 years.  It is a heartbreaking story in itself, but further accursed when you realize that when Margaret was first admitted to the Asylum in 1861 she left behind four daughters aged between 3 and 9 years.

Margaret Gordon was herself an illegitimate child born in February 1829, the daughter of John Gordon of Ley of Lickley and Barbara Robertson. The Robertson family always protected poor Margaret, especially her uncle the Reverend William Robertson of Aboyne, and whilst the Gordon phoenix remained in the fire, Margaret’s great uncle was Donald Gordon (1678 -1776.) I have yet to find a Donald Gordon who did not have a connection to the spirit trade, and this Donald was to be no exception, for his finely etched Logie tombstone carries a charming epitaph raised by his nephew William Gordon, Vintner in Dundee.

Donald Gordon died 1776 aged 98 years:
Altho’ this tomb no boasted tittles keep

Yet silent here the private virtues sleep;

Truth, candour, justice, altogether ran

And formed a plain, upright, honest man.

No courts he saw, nor mixt in publick rage,

Stranger to all the vices of the age;

No lie, nor slander did his tongue defile –

A plain old Britton free from pride and guile.

Near five-score years he number’d ere he died,

And every year he number’d he enjoy’d.

This modest stone, which few proud Marbles can,

May truly say, Here
 lies an honest man;
Ye great whose heads are laid as low,

Rise higher if ye can.


Figure 5: Dr Haldane (far right) served Crathie and Bridge of Allan. He stands next to Dr Alexander Paterson

It is almost time to return to the Genechal and the Morgan family, but I cannot let go a curious coincidence.

In my Stirlingshire village, there is a grand house on the Hill called ‘Viewforth’, which is to me magisterial in the way it purveys the carse of Forth below. To discover it was the home and surgery of Dr Haldane was extraordinary to me and I would never view it again without reflecting on the life of Crathie’s best surgeon. It was on the lawns of Viewforth, that Robert Louis Stevenson played roly-poly whilst the doctor was away serving Deeside.

Dr Haldane has engendered a kindred state in me because of the similarity in our life pathways – and that despite the passing of generations. Dr Haldane graduated in Arts in Edinburgh, as did I; and we both also ventured into Medical Science; I graduated as a doctor in Aberdeen and Dr Haldane in Glasgow. I do hope you can forgive the narsicsm of this muse but I have the need to express such shared venture. With our two homes; Deeside and Bridge of Allan, our two degrees and our span of two centuries, Dr Haldane and I must be considered cousins! It was delightful then to meet his grandson Ian G. Stewart, Retired Professor of Economics, and feel in him the charm of his grandfather long before. Speaking to Ian I could sense the affectionate counsel of his grandfather who had tended my own grandfather as a boy weak with scarletina. Ian then fished around in an old drawer and pulled out a dusty photograph. There before me, rather resplendent in horse-drawn carriage, was Dr Haldane outside Viewforth with his children, including Ian’s mother greeting his arrival home.


Figure 6: Dr William Haldane in a carriage outside Viewforth, Bridge of Allan

Sunday 15th  April 2007

Dear Sharon,
I wanted to tell you of an unexpected connection with
the past. As you know I was researching the Surgeons of our  upper reach for ‘Deeside Tales.’ I have done quite well in tracing several, however one doctor stands out for a special reason.

The doctor in question is William Haldane (1847-1914) he served as doctor on upper Deeside for quite a number of years before returning to his home village of Bridge of Allan. Incredibly he has thus served both my father’s family (from Crathie) and my mother’s family (from Bridge of Allan). I then discovered that Dr Haldane died in one of Bridge of Allan’s finest Mansions called ’Viewforth’ – it has an unrivalled view over the Carse to Stirling Castle. It is now a Nursing Home and must be worth 2 million!

Forgive me revelling in this connection. It is a bit of fun really – nobody else will have the slightest bit of interest! The first doctor in Bridge of Allan was my forebear Dr John Stewart Rutherford (1808-1849). He was involved in the Burke and Hare body-snatcher shenanigans and took to a ship to escape the scandal. He renamed to Bridge of Allan two years later (1822) but died of cholera in 1849. The next doctor in Bridge of Allan was Dr Alexander Paterson (1822-1898) – he was our best village character and his hobby was collecting natural-history artefacts, curios and orchids. Dr Alexander Paterson had the skull of Darnley, a piece of Sir William Wallace’s fetters, a fragment of Robert the Bruce’s coffin and the key of Loch Leven Castle! His vast collection was housed in a special museum built by a rich Bridge of Allan benefactor. Dr Haldane was bom in the house next to Dr Paterson. A generation younger, William Haldane, must have seen Dr Paterson as his true role-model.

Several reminders of Dr Paterson survive to this day! The Museum Hall of course (my mother saw ‘The Beatles’ play there before it was shut due to subsidence – it now lies empty), the Paterson Clock and a large portrait of the man himself with flowing white locks down to his shoulders!

So it was that William Haldane brought me home – in more ways than one!

Yours aye, Peter

Dr Haldane was good friends of Gilbert Farie, the village’s rather peculiar Apothecary. Gilbert was seasoned in every way yet not one of his own remedies could satisfy his needs. In his fifties he was caught on peeping with a spy-glass on the good ladies of the village. The village Elders carried him bodily to the Bridge over the Allan water where they suspended him upside down until he repented. Robert Louis Stevenson was also a frequent visitor to Farie’s the Chemist, still in business today as Strathallan Pharmacy. A visit with the chemist proved to be a traumatic experience for young Robert Louis, writing in 1880 that he was ‘a terror to me by day and haunted my dreams by night….’ Edward Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde is based on Farie.


Figure 7: Robert Louis Stevenson, Gilbert Farie, and Jekyll and Hyde

Dr Haldane was personally selected by the Earl of Fife for the post as Deeside’s Surgeon. Perhaps the doctor’s physicality helped, as he was immense, and this was said to be in keeping with his character ‘big-bodied, big-brained, and big-hearted.’ The Girnoc track was taken by him many times a year tending the poor cotter-folk of my father’s family. In my mind I picture him traversing the zig-zag sweep on horse back, broad-shouldered and knight-like, on the way to The Camlet’s rescue.

Anybody that knows me well has heard my pathetic lament that first surfaced in a letter to an aunt in her 99th year. You see Aunt Ena told me how she had enjoyed my visit to Hill of Orchard her home and that she reckoned as busy doctors and parents that my wife Sian and I should get well returned. Ah, but not like pop-stars she mused and laughed. I thought in that moment of Dr Paterson and his protégé. They were village stars, celebrities, successful collectors and philanthropists. ‘Do you know Aunt Ena,’ I said these Doctors, with their flowing locks, had Streets named after them – not to mention Clocks and Fountains!’


Figure 8: Dr Paterson clock, Bridge of Allan

Aunt Ena could always remind me of what is important, and nobody was more eloquent. Memories fade and street names representless; as is the aspiration of money.

‘I am almost as I was when you saw me, if perhaps, slower and smaller! Lack of mobility is the drawback to any more active interests, but at 98½ one has to realise that even engines wear out. On my Census form I have put a tick at ‘good’ for health! So many of my friends of following generations have problems which I have escaped and I count my blessings.’

You may be surprised to learn that I did not struggle to think of a present for a 99 year-old. I knew exactly what I wanted for Aunt Ena – something for her Orchard Hilltop. The choice was simple – Christopher Lloyd’s unsurpassed Well Tempered Garden. Sadly before the book was opened Aunt Ena had passed on. Her engine had simply worn out

Do not forget completely Robert Smith’s glowingrecall, yet it is bloody violence that really returns us to the Genechal. A new week had begun for the Morgans on Abergeldy’s braes and the evening of Monday the 28th July 1886 should have been just like any other summer night. Margaret Morgan awaited anxiously the return of her husband John James Calder who worked at Dallyfour as Sawmiller for Abergeldy. Yet the Genechal’s doors were not to hear his knock that night. Fretful hours passed, and Margaret, overtaken by darkness waited vigilantly for husband John. It was 8amthe following morning on her way to Balmoral, and just out of the Genechal wood, that Margaret made the grim discovery. Lying dead in the heather, by the side of the track, was her husband John. Rigor mortis had set-in and the birds of prey hovered opportunistically above.

John’s body was taken by carriage to Aberdeen where a post-mortem was performed by Dr Mathew Hay The cause of death of 38 year old John Calder was reckoned to be ‘effusion of blood within the head compressing the brain the result of violence applied to the head probably through misadventure.’

Curiously no investigation appears to have followed, certainly no extant records can be found, and there is no mention anywhere of precognitions. Conspiratorial minds might wonder if Queen Victoria pulled a blanket over her dear Balmoral. ‘It would not do,’ to have a Murder on the edge of one’s Estate. However, more likely, the misadventure was brought about by a drunken stooshie. Stoneballs after all could do that!

We shall never know the truth – Queen Victoria’s door has kept tightly hold of its secrets.

The murky happenings of the Genechal returned my mind to Crathienaird and a young twenty year old lad called Robert ‘Robby’ McIntosh. It is worth closely studying the aerial photograph of Crathienaird for it conveys, through the stane rickles and crop marks, an impression of a once busy fairm-toun. Indeed if you went back to Robby McIntosh’s time, the early nineteenth century, it literally bustled like no other fairm-toun on Deeside.

Robby McIntosh was executed on Thursday the 31st of May 1822 in Aberdeen’s first double execution since 1752. He had been found guilty of the murder of his forty year old fiancée Elizabeth Anderson who was pregnant by him. He had cut her throat from ear to ear. His gallows companion 45 year old William Gordon, a fishing net maker from Aberdeen, had mortally stabbed his wife through the femoral artery with a sharpened poker.


Figure 8.8: Crathienaird farmtown in cropmarks (Vertical photograph taken 1992 by RCAHMS)

McIntosh’s courage seemed to forsake him on the scaffold and a glass of water was brought to him by his Executioner. This was all witnessed by a buzzing mob of breathless whisperers, indeed the largest crowd Aberdeen had ever seen. After completing his private prayer with his minister, the Reverend Charles Gordon of Braemar, McIntosh stepped forward and mounted the drop and at 20 minutes past three, was ‘launched into eternity.’ The sufferings of his scaffold partner, William Gordon, terminated most quickly, but owing to the rope having been improperly placed, McIntosh struggled considerably and convulsed for some minutes. It was an awful end and the crowd shouted in an angry display of ‘disapprobhation.’

Robby McIntosh had committed a barbaric murder. He was employed by Donald Symon as a Farm Servant at Crathienaird and had formed there an intimacy with a woman of the name of Lizzy Anderson who was twice his age. Lizzy resided with her 85 year old mother in a Crathienaird house next door to the Gordons. On a Sunday night in October 1821, Lizzy had come into her mother’s house and had sat down beside her to read her Bible by the fireside, when a voice called her out. Soon after this, Lizzy’s mother heard a ‘sair skirl,’ which she knew came from her daughter, and which ‘went to her heart.’ Being frail she could not rise and fell asleep. The next morning Lizzy’s mangled body was found by the neighbour Helen Gordon, lying on the floor in front of the bed. Her throat had been cut from ear to ear and the bed was drenched in blood. Lizzy’s mother awoke with Helen’s shriek ‘Is that you Lizzy?’ she shouted, but Helen had fled to get her brother Thomas. In the meantime however, the invalid and paralysed mother contrived to crawl out of her bed, and got to the other end of the house, where she found her daughter lying murdered.

This was Crathienaird’s darkest day. Within days of the Murder, but not before she had given her precognition statement, Lizzy’s mother died – it was an inglorious and tragic end to two generations of Crathienaird women – one at the hands of a murderer the other from a broken-heart.

A letter was found in Lizzy’s chest signed by Robby McIntosh in which he promised to make her his wife:

‘Hear is my faith and promise to you, Elizabeth, that I will be as good as promise gin the time appointed. I tak God in witness, I will be your lawful husband.’

Dr Andrew Robertson surgeon in Bridgend of Crathie was summoned and arrived that Monday morning to inspect the body of Lizzy. He found a large incision or wound in her neck dividing the windpipe and the gullet and the vessels on the left side had been cleanly cut through to the bone. He concluded that life must have been immediately extinguished. A later post mortem found that Lizzy was pregnant with a baby of 8 to 10 weeks in gestation.

Many witnesses came forward to establish that McIntosh, in the days before Lizzy’s murder had been courting another woman and that he had endeavoured in vain to make Lizzy give up the letter which he had written to her. Duncan Stewart’s evidence was damning for he said that eight days before Lizzy’s murder, McIntosh had said that his intimate relations with her would ‘soon be over;’ asked what he meant, McIntosh told him ‘You’ll soon hear.’

Another witness, Peter Grant, confirmed he was a friend of McIntosh and recollects having lent him a razor on the wedding day of a mutual friend, but McIntosh never returned it. On the Sunday of the murder, McIntosh had been in the company of John MacDonald, and had taken a razor out of his pocket and asked him if it was sharp. It was. Some hours later, but before nightfall, a Braemar woman spotted McIntosh returning home with his sleeve heavily blood stained. A coat was later found hidden behind a peat-stack near McIntosh’s home, somebody had tried to wash off the blood stains. The distinctive white ‘fustian’ coat was quickly identified as McIntosh’s.

When Lizzy’s body was found Mrs Symon took Robby McIntosh aside and spoke to him ‘O’ Robby what is this you have done? Lizzy Anderson in the Bush is murdered and they are alleging you have done it,’ and Donald Symon gave him what wages were due (four pounds) and told him to go away to Auchallater, and that ‘from the town of Crathienaird he must go.’

When McIntosh was apprehended, there was a scratch, as if made by a razor, on his cheek below his left eye.

Lord Meadowbank at the High Court Trial summed up all the evidence to the jury in a speech which lasted an hour and forty minutes. The Jury however, needed only brief minutes to make their collective decision, and McIntosh was found guilty of Murder. Lord Meadowbank then addressed the unhappy man in a speech of the‘most impressive and affecting nature’ and warned him of expressing any hope of mercy. During his confinement, it was said that McIntosh was sullen and untroubled by the burden of his guilt and a week before he was due to be executed he made an attempt to escape jail. On the Tuesday of that final week he signed a declaration which he took with him to the Scaffold and there put in the hands of the Lord Provost:

‘It would ill become such a sinner, such a scandalous sinner as I have been, to presume to offer advice to the meanest creature on earth; but from the bottom of this frightful dungeon, if groaning under the weight of these enormous irons, which have kept me riveted to the stone floor for six long weeks, whilst death, ignominious death, with all its horrors and appalling circumstances has, day and night and night and day, been staring me broad in the face – if situated thus, I could be permitted to raise my thrice wretched voice, I would say to all, and young people in particular “Look to my sad sad misfortunes, consider my untimely end, and learn wisdom’
Aberdeen Jail 29th May 1822 Robert McIntosh


On Thursday morning, McIntosh received the sacrament of the Eucharist from the Reverend Charles Gordon. On that day, his aged father, who had gone to London for the purpose of endeavouring to get a remission of the order to have his son’s body given to Dr Skene and Dr Ewing for Public Dissection at MarischalCollege. He returned in time to hear his son lead out to the Scaffold while the 51st Psalm was chanted solemnly. It was his last farewell.

Kaleidoscoping through time, on the best part of two centuries, I came to study anatomy using the preserved bones of McIntosh. Uncannily, the doctor who instructed me over the corpse was none other than Dr Skene. That was how McIntosh bones, Crathienaird, and Dr Skene taught me anatomy. History, I am sure you must agree, does indeed have the most curious ways!


Murder has had me stray from Genechal’s path, yet this, Crathienaird’s dark secret, surely beckoned to be told in ‘Deeside Tales.’ Robert Smith in his chapter on Genechal painted a wonderfully evocative account of the MacDonald family of the Genechal – the family who followed the Morgans. I am not going to commit his work here for reprint but urge you to read his tribute to a scholastic and Christian family who worked for the Queen. In the series of photographs below you can see old Granny MacDonald seated outside the Genechal with her Bible in hand. Prim, pretty and serene is her daughter Christine standing outside the two doors. The image preserved is of plain country folk of utter respectability – yet they knew, that with the Genechal, that had not always been so, for the house had been attainted by the last of the Morgans.


Figure 8.11: A picture of genteel Victorian hospitality. The McDonald family.

I feel uncouth sharing this next story with you and hope you will forgive any unintentional glibness in the telling. You may be glad to know it is the last story of the chapter.

I will pull no punches, for the harlot of Crathie was undoubtedly Margaret Morgan (1844 – 1906.) Yet I find myself having much sympathy for her, not for her waywardness but for the vulnerability of her being. Nobody now recalls Margaret and that saddens me. She was the youngest child of John Morgan and Johanna Cameron and had it not been for the 1881 census return I may have passed her by. My eye was first drawn to the fact that she was alone as the head of The Genechal household. I quickly realized that her mother Johanna had died the year before after attendence by the Queen’s personal Physician Dr Profeit. However scanning down the Genechal children I immediately assumed some error by the Enumerator, for each child had a different surname.

I had no intention of besmirching Margaret and her weans, but I did wish to understand Genechal.

1881 – Genechal (in Gaelic – Geannachoil)
Margaret Morgan, age 37 years, head, formerly Laundress, born Crathie 

James Petrie, 12 years, son, scholar, born Crathie 

John Ross, 8 years, Son, scholar, born Crathie

Mary Kennedy, 2 years, daughter, born Crathie

My discovery was stark: Margaret Morgan had three children born to three different fathers and none in wedlock. Did the Queen know? Did mother Johanna hide the truth till the day she died? I think the likely answer to both suppositions is yes! The first son, James Petrie, was born in 1868, his father was John Petrie; the next son was John Ross, born in 1872, his father was Peter Ross; the last child was Mary Kennedy born in 1872, her father was the bachelor William Kennedy of the Camlet. The bull did have a son after all!

Perhaps now you can understand my teasing introduction at this chapter’s outset – that other door had another purpose – to hide a den of night trade. I shall say no more, but surely the Queen was ‘not amused.’

In 1883 Margaret at last found wedlock. John James Calder, her husband, as we have heard, was murdered just outside the Genechal in the high summer of three years later. Somebody it seems was looking for the guilty pleasure from behind that second door and John Calder would not have that. Oh no.

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