Under the Cosh – Mill of Cosh

Chapter 5 of ‘Deeside Tales’: Under the Cosh – Mill of Cosh
Abergeldy has taken us on quite a journey meeting the good, the great, and the not so great of Scotland, and has reminded us that the happenings of the secluded small glen were still set amidst the political and religious affairs of the country as a whole.

The Cosh is the natural greeting point of the small glen, and forms a flat river basin between the fir covered Creag Ghiubhais (the Sister Hill) and Creag Phiobaidh (Rock Hill of the Piping), both peaks that rise above 450m. Cosh in etymological terms translates as the hollow. That seems to be very fitting indeed, for the Mill nestles in its very own basin as a natural collection point for the little rushing burn.

Mill-of-Cosh1Figure 5.1: Mill of Cosh in the hollow

I have to say that when I first visited the Cosh I felt an unexpected draft of dispirited emptiness. That was an unusual experience for me.

Midnight on the 8th May 1860 and the hollow echo rang deep. Mill of Cosh was to be the reaper of not just meal but also of grim. That night, a twenty-two month old bairn, tottering on his first steps, walked free from his pine-cot. At midnight he was found by his mother – he had tragically fallen into, and drowned in, the adjoining mill-lade. Nothing was ever the same at the Cosh after that, and just ten years later, the father and miller, Charles Leys, left his family behind and sailed aboard the ‘British Monarch’ for Australia. He was never to return and left behind in the hollow his surviving bairns and wife. Truly, that must have been impossibly hard.

Later in this chapter we shall return to the Leys family and explain their claim on Glen Gairn, but for now it is time to explore the first recorded family at the Cosh. Whilst the true history of the Cosh goes back, at least, to the early seventeenth century, the chronicles do not survive. The lightness of the archives has meant that the Crathie biographer has never had it easy, except perhaps for Reverend Stirton, who garnered a mighty tome from all reaches of his parish. However Stirton wrote his account back in 1925 and now, it must be acknowledged, it appeals to few, and sadly it seems to lack in life what it has in volume. As a writer, it is my fear that you might conclude similarly for Deeside Tales.

The first family of the Cosh were catholic, and had their roots in Auchindryne, in Braemar. At one time their Catholic priest was an unrelated Gordon – ‘Peter Gordon.’

The first clue to this family came from an isolated tombstone in Braemar churchyard. That being the tombstone to Margaret Farquharson who died at Mill of Cosh on the first day of April 1812. The tombstone was erected by her son Donald McDonald (1792-1855) who married Jane Gordon, daughter of ‘Camlet John’ (chapter two.)

In memory of MARGARET FARQUHARSON, spouse to DONALD McDONALD, late in Mill of Cosh who died 1st April 1812 aged 63: also CHARLES their son, who died 20th August 1811 ages 26; also 2 sons and 2 daughters who died in infancy, done by their son DONALD McDONALD.


Figure 5.2: The stone to Margaret Farquharson, Mill of Cosh

Margaret Farquharson was daughter of James Farquharson of Auchindryne and came from a wealthy family which held an estate covering more than half of Braemar. Her cousin, Lewis Farquharson, inherited Balnacraig and Ballogie from the Innes family and added that name to his own. This was one of the instrumental relationships that brought the Gordons of Girnoc to Birse.

However, for sometime I have remained curious, as to what brought Margaret Farquharson to Mill of Cosh in the Girnoc. I would suggest a bond between Abergeldy and the Farquharsons, who in years long-by had been fierce rivals in a feudal baronship of upper Deeside. One link however does seem obvious and that was the Catholic determination of both families. The small glen, you must recall, was not a catholic strong-hold and had a rather different community to that of the more ardent catholic reaches of Braemar and Glen Gairn.

Donald McDonald, son of Margaret Farquharson of Auchindryne and later Mill of Cosh, was a well-to-do and able man. His wife Jane, was a Camlet lass, and bonny for it. Their first few children were born at the hollow. The baptisms of two of their children appear in the Catholic Register and tell us that they later lived at Boat of Polholloch (by the old crossing over the Dee) and later still (c1828) at Toldhu in the heart of Glen Muick. Sometime soon thereafter they moved to Birse, under the good auspice of their uncle Lewis Farquharson Innes. They were to honour the laird by calling their son, born in 1835, Lewis Farquharson McDonald. By the time of the 1841 census the family was at Haugh of Sluie.

1823 December 4th
Donald McDonald and Jane Gordon, Boat of Polcholak, a daughter Mary Leith, born 20th ult. Sponsors: Ipse and Miss Mary Leith, Abergeldy.

What is of some interest here is that the Godmother, and namesake, to Mary Leith Gordon was none other than Lady Abergeldy. This close bond has never been explained.

Lewis Farquharson Innes (1763-1830) of Balnacraig deserves special mention. He was born in the old castle of Balmoral in 1763. His father Alexander Farquharson was a gentle laird held in affection by all his tenants and ‘at Balmoral he dispensed a true Highland hospitality – all classes being made alike welcome.’ Lewis was never to inherit Balmoral, Inverey, or Auchindryne; as the family estate, on the death of his father in January 1786, passed to his brother James. This was at best unfortunate, as being extravagant in his tastes, James became bankrupt and was compelled to sell Inverey, Auchindryne, and Balmoral, to his neighbour Lord Fife. This trail explains how eventually, half a century later, Balmoral castle was purchased by Albert, Prince Consort from Lord Fife.


Figure 5.3: The old castle of Balmoral from an old print formerly in the possession of the Farquharsons of Balmoral

Lewis Farquharson had none of his brother’s extravagant tastes. He left, with his wife Margaret, for Canada where they lived for some years but returned in 1815 to Deeside when his cousin Lewis Innes died. It was this cousin, having no family of his own, that restored Lewis to a family seat, this time in the parish of Birse. Having acquired the ancient seat of Balnacraig and Ballogie, Lewis Farquharson, out of deepest respect, added the name of Innes to his own. Lewis Farquharson was a tall, singularly handsome man, who always wore Highland dress. He held no bitterness towards his brother James, who had lost Balmoral castle, and all of the once extensive Farquharson estate. Indeed as Stirton put it, Lewis Farquharson-Innes ‘inherited all his father’s kindliness of disposition, and was most considerate as a landlord.’

When Lewis succeeded to Balnacraig, he kindly made sure that his elderly cousins; Father Henry Innes, and Miss Jean, and Miss Betty Innes, were allowed to stay in the old house of Balnacraig. They never forgot this and left Lewis all their private possessions as well as transferring him the right to manage their affairs. Lewis replied ‘I am your most grateful humble servant…..I shall certainly do everything in my power to direct the management of your farm and (as is my duty) ease you of your trouble.’ What forward thinking, for this act was a true fore-runner to the Power of Attorney so commonly called upon by this writer in his day-to-day work.

It was Reverend Stirton who presented a talk in January 1921 on the Innes family of Balnacraig. He had a deep bond with this family and had been left by Mrs Chisholm of Glassburn, last of the Innes family, a number of relics including a little Prayer Book dating from 1685, and belonging to Lewis Innes, Almoner to Queen Mary of Modena, Consort of King James II and VII. Stirton also described how a portrait, and a lock of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s hair, came to the Innes family. Mrs Chisholm recalled:

’Bonnie Prince Charlie’ came safely. It is a true likeness of the Prince; a large, old-fashioned picture I remember so well as hanging in the dining-room at dear old Ballogie, and it now hangs in my drawing-room, near my mother, whose people all fought for him, and some died at Culloden.’

‘The portrait came into our family through Claudia Innes, the Prince having given it to her uncle Lewis. Mr Rule tells me it is probably worth £500.”Mr James Faed, the late well-known Scottish artist, examined the portrait and pronounced it to be one of considerable merit and the work of an Italian artist. The picture is that of a youth in his teens, of fair, open countenance, with large, beautiful hazel eyes and full ruddy lips…’


Figure 5.4: Old Ballogie House from a painting owned by Malcolm Nicol (see footnote)

In reading his manuscript I was struck by the esteem in which Stirton held the ‘tall and handsome’ Lewis Farquharson-Innes. This respect came to Stirton from all the old folk of upper Deeside who he served and visited as parish minister – many of whom recalled the benevolence of Lewis the Laird. Simply, Deeside could not let that whisper of affection dissipate.

I have to say that I feel a similar disposition towards Lewis Farquharson-Innes, for it was he who helped my distant grandfather, Peter Gordon (born at The Camlet in 1793) re-locate from the small glen, to Braeside in Balnacraig. His kindliness saw a family in need, and did not dwell on the circumstances which involved smuggling.

Lewis Farquharson-Innes often attended the annual Gathering at Braemar and was usually encompassed by old Balmoral friends. They addressed him as Innes, but Lewis always said “I am Innes at Ballogie, but I am Farquharson in Braemar.”

It is extraordinary to think that Lewis Farquharson-Innes was the last of any gentry to be born at Balmoral castle. I think that as tribute, to this great and kindly gentleman, that his picture should hang in the Queen’s castle.


Figure 5.5: Lewis Farquharson Innes

In chapter four much was made of the Lady of the manor. Balnacraig presents us another woman of substance in the form of Catherine Gordon. Only two Deeside houses, ‘visited’ by Cumberland’s troops, appear to have escaped destruction during the Jacobite campaign – Balmoral Castle and Balnacraig. It seems the Government Officer felt the decrepit Balmoral was not worthy of pillage (!), whilst Balnacraig was saved from ruin by a clever piece of subterfuge by it’s lady, Catherine Gordon, wife of James Innes of Balnacraig (a Jacobite).

On a very warm afternoon in August, 1746, a party of Hanoverian troops under Captain MacHardy – the officer responsible for the burning of several Deeside mansions – arrived at Balnacraig. It seems certain that Catherine Gordon was forewarned of the soldiers approach, and appreciating that an army marches on its stomach, she prepared a great reception for the visitors, unwelcome as they were.

Exhausted by the heat and thirsty after their march, the Red Coats halted before the house. Captain MacHardy then addressed himself to Catherine saying he had come for her husband, reported to be disaffected against His Majesty King George II. He demanded to see Innes and being told he was from home, searched the house. MacHardy then read the Indictment against Innes and the Order for burning Balnacraig. In reply, Catherine Gordon pointed out that her son Lewis was the owner of the property, not her husband, and if the house was burnt, the Government would be held responsible as no Indictment stood against the owner of Balnacraig. This created a problem for MacHardy and Catherine Gordon suggested they have some refreshment.

The Captain and his men were royally feasted and before long the cellars were emptied of their whisky, wine and beer, and when the Red Coats eventually took their leave, they staggered off, as one eye witness records – ‘dredfa fu’ –the rear being brought up by a very intoxicated sergeant wearing a clay pig on his head! One of the most interesting spectators of this unorthodox military display was James Innes himself. He had quietly emerged from his hide out to watch the fun.

Thus Balnacraig was saved from destruction and the old house stands to this day.


 Figure 5.6: Balnacraig House saved by Catherine Gordon

When I last visited Balnacraig House it was surrounded by scaffolding, the owners, Malcolm Nicol and his wife, in consultation with Historic Scotland were attempting to right a wrong. Many generations ago the original lime finish had been replaced with a hard, dense, and impermeable cement harl coat. As a consequence a number of defects had become apparent. These included moisture entrapment within the walls, internal dampness and decay of timbers such as joist ends and internal lintols. The solution, that was felt to be most sympathetic, technically sound, and aesthetically acceptable, was to reinstate the traditional lime harl coat. This has now been completed and the restored Balnacraig House is beautiful once again, but more importantly has a breathable rendor negating the terribly destructive effects of trapped moisture.
I have strayed far from the hollow. The Cosh Mill should not be forgotten that easily. Let us recap how we got this far: the first notable family of the Cosh were the McDonalds. They had a strong catholic faith and had descent from the Farquharsons of Auchindryne. At the Cosh, their son Donald met Jane Gordon, a Camlet lass; and a few years after getting married they moved to the parish of Birse. It is almost certain that Lewis Farquharson-Innes was instrumental in all this.

The Cosh tombstone in Braemar Churchyard to Margaret Farquharson is rather solitary, and forlorn, in a bluish cast of marble, but is within the shadow of a far more celebrated individual – ‘Auld Dubrach.’ This man deserves his place in history, but very few people know much about him. His name was Peter Grant and he was the very last surviving Jacobite soldier of the ’45.

Peter Grant was born a crofter’s son the year before the 1715 Jacobite Rising, in his father’s croft at Dubrach near to the village of Braemar. Peter grew up to be a tailor to trade. In 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart arrived on the shores of Glenfinnan on Loch Shiel in an attempt to put a Stuart back on the throne. Many highlanders were sympathetic to the Stuart cause, and Peter Grant was one of them. He joined the Monaltrie’s regiment of the Jacobite Army as a Sergeant Major, took part in various engagements and was decorated for bravery at the Battle of Prestonpans. He then took part in Culloden and though he survived the battle he was taken prisoner to Carlisle Castle. But Peter Grant managed to somehow escape and he found his way north, back to Deeside.

He had to lie low for many years, and there was no record of him being recaptured, even though he had a price on his head. He even managed to return to his former trade as a tailor. This says a lot about the people of the Braemar area, not all of whom had Jacobite sympathies. Whatever side they had supported, they looked after their own. In later years he married a girl, many years his junior, from the village of Braemar. Her name was Mary Cummings, and apparently Peter made her christening bunnet after her birth! She bore him a son and a daughter.

In the summer of 1820 two wealthy gentlemen were walking the Glen Lethnot hills when they met Peter by chance. By then he was known as Auld Dubrach, after the croft he resided in. They were astonished to find out that he had fought in the ’45 Rising, and was in exceptional health for his age. He invited the gentlemen into his cottage and recalled the events and experiences of being a soldier in the Jacobite army for them. He even showed them how to use the broadsword! The two men were so taken aback at the exploits of Auld Dubrach they decided to do something to comfort him in his advancing years. A petiton was raised and he was presented to King George IV in Edinburgh. When he was introduced to King George, the ruling Monarch exclaimed:“Ah, Grant, you are my oldest friend”, to which Auld Dubrach replied:

“Na, na, your majesty, I’m your auldest enemy.”

Auld Dubrach died in his son’s home at Auchendryne on the 11th of February 1824 at the incredible age of 110 years, as the last surviving Jacobite of the 1745 Rising. Over three hundred people attended his funeral and it is said that an anker (about 4 gallons) of whisky was consumed before the coffin was lifted. At the graveside a piper played the Jacobite tune, “Wha widna fecht for Charlie’s richt?”A stone tablet was erected over his resting place and was suitably inscribed:

“The old, loyal Jacobite was at peace. He had kept faith with those whom he thought were his rightful Monarchs all of his life, a hero and man of honour to the last.”

Returning to the Mill of Cosh, we have there, in the early 1800’s, Donald McDonald and Jane Gordon with their first two children. By 1830 they had relocated downstream to Birse. In 1835 their last son, Lewis Farquharson McDonald, was born. Two years later Donald and wife Jane appear in the affairs of the Potarch.


Figure 5.8: The Potarch Inn where the McDonalds of Cosh enter affairs

Whatever you may think, in writing this, I am most conscious that I should not lose narrative to detail, yet of that, I well realise, I am already guilty. I am, after all, a Gordon! But with the following little escapade into Potarch, it is hard not to be enticed into a mesmerizing circle of friends all centring around one industry – the spirit trade! Later in this book (chapter nine) we shall explore a few more of the Inns, and of course Lochnagar Distillery.

Coilacreich Inn on the north Deeside road gapes into the small glen, yet it is perhaps the least accessible. In truth the folk of the small glen had their home-produced liquor and drank within their farm-toun bounds. Make no mistake about this, liquor was all about. Perhaps it was a drop of the ‘naftie’ the explained the introduction of wee Georgina Gordon to Potarch?

Birse Parish Registers:
April 30th 1848
Margaret Duncan unmarried woman in Potarch had a bastard child baptized named Georgina. Witnesses: Alexr Duncan her father and Mrs George Hunter, father was Francis Gordon Crathie.

Why you ask is the appearance of this wee, illegitimate baby girl, of any significance, and why include her on a chapter that purported to deal with the Cosh? Well the Duncan family, helmed by Alexander Duncan the Potarch Innkeeper, and his wife Jane Rattray, had a family group of eight children. Well, the witnesses to the birth of a Duncan child, were none other than our Cosh McDonald’s – Donald McDonald and his wife Jane Gordon (of the Camlet). The Birse Kirk Sessions revealed more detail and identified the father of Georgina as Peter Gordon.

Birse Kirk Session 13th February 1848

Church of Birse. Session being met.
Compeared Margaret Duncan, a young unmarried woman dau of Alexr Duncan Potarch and declared that she had brought forth a child in uncleanness and delated Peter Gordon lately residing in Potarch and presently at Aboyne as the father of it. She was admonished and dismissed for the sin. The Kirk Officer was ordered to summon said Peter Gordon to appear before the Session and answer to said charge. Session closed.

This Gordon father disappeared in the scandal. His true origins will never be known, but note that the original Parish entry states he was from Crathie. It seems inconceivable that he was not of the small glen! The clues are all there: Jane Gordon of the Camlet as a witness; and Mrs George Hunter (mother-in-law to Camlet.)

The Duncan family had true misfortune. In April 1849 the mother, Jane Rattray died. Within a year, and before the following spring, Alexander Duncan the father, patriarch and Innkeeper was also dead. The eight bairns were now all orphans. A tombstone in Crathie Churchyard reminds us that this family were not originally from Birse, indeed their seat was Belnakyle, a long lost farm-toun that once stood in the environs of Balmoral estate. It is interesting to note that Alexander Duncan, the Potarch Innkeeper, was born at Belnakyle in 1794. His father was Alexander Duncan and his mother (just to add to that inextricability) was a Gordon – Rebackah Gordon.


Figure 5.9: The Potarch always popular

It is time to leave this detail behind. However I believe little Georgina has highlighted the strong links between the small glen and Birse, and that both the Farquharson family, and whisky, were instrumental factors in that bond!

In all three Camlet bairn’s domiciled the Cosh. They were all children of Camlet John:

1. Firstly, as rehearsed above, there was Jane Gordon and her husband Donald McDonald.
2. Secondly, there was John Gordon and his wife Mary Downie, who had their only two sons, John and James, born there in 1822 and 1826 respectively. These boys went on to farm Lynvaig for all of their days.
3. Thirdly, there was Joseph Gordon the eldest son of Camlet John, born at the Camlet in 1782. Joseph married circa 1806, Nicolas Gordon, youngest daughter of Bovagli.’ Together they had eight children though two were lost in infancy.

Much of the remaining chapter shall be spent telling the fascinating story of Joseph Gordon and his family. Two of his daughters Elspet, and Helen, emigrated after 1850 to Australia. Joseph was Miller at the Cosh during the years following the enlightenment when the understanding of farming practice underwent unparalleled development; with the liming of land, multure with clover, and the winter fattening of cattle with turnip. In Joseph’s time the twal-ousen plough became an historic artifact. As a miller, Joseph was dependent on the Abergeldy tenants and the successful cropping of land. The terrible harvest of 1782 had not been forgotten and the small glen in particular, was ever prone to severe inclemency.

According to Dr Sedgwick ‘the miller was often disliked – because he had to be paid, often in kind,’ there was no other choice for the farmers of the glen: grain had to be ground at the Cosh, and a mill multure had to be paid. Both the Abergeldy laird, and Joseph Gordon, the miller, gained. However there must be serious doubts that this could explain Joseph’s relative prosperity. Donald Whyte was prompted on discovering Joseph’s legacy to state that he was ‘industrious and frugal.’ Joseph, on his death in March 1858 left an estate worth £443.17s.9d.


Figure 5.10: The Mill of Cosh (Quoch) – ‘the hollow’ – as it appeared on Innes 1806 map

The true reason that we know much about Joseph of Cosh is that his eldest son John Gordon (1807-1876) became a Mormon. It seems that John had been inspired by visiting American Elders, who had come to Scotland to preach the gospel. John, and his wife, Jessie, ‘gladly accepted their message’ and in Arbroath in September of 1849 were baptized members of The Mormon Church. So five years before his death, Joseph Gordon, witnessed the wholesale conversion of his son, and his son’s family.

It has been recorded within the family, that one day, sometime in 1852, a lady with two small girls was passing, and seeing Nicolas Gordon, the wife of Joseph Gordon (who would have been 73 at this time) in the garden, asked if they might come in and rest. The lady was wearing a brown merirec dress, and a white bonnet trimmed with brown ribbon. The little girls both wore dark dresses with full skirts reaching to the tops of their high shoes, and dark poke bonnets. There was a large pot of broth on the hearth which was shared with the guests. The lady praised it, and asked for the recipe. When they were leaving, the lady very graciously said she had enjoyed herself, and Nicholas Gordon learned that she had entertained Queen Victoria and two royal princesses!

Though the names of the princesses have not been preserved in this tale, there is a good probability they may have been her fifth child, Princess Helena, who would have been six, and her sixth child, Princess Louise, who would have been four. If this is correct, Queen Victoria would have been 33. Her seventh child, Prince Arthur, would, at age two, be too young for such a walk, and it would be another year before she gave birth to her eighth child, Prince Leopold, in 1853.


Figure 5.12: Queen Victoria and Princesses Helena and Louise in 1852

Auld Joseph never met the Queen, but she would, one imagines, have marvelled at his Highland dress, as recalled in the moving story of his death by his granddaughter:

“Sometime in February 1858 and Joseph Gordon was now quite old, but still walked to Arbroath to visit his son John and family. On this particular journey he wore his kilt and a tartan of Gordon plaid and a very large Glengary bonnet of dark blue woolly cloth, with bindings and streamers of black ribbon about two inches wide and a fur sporran, from which he would give the children pennies. The children held him in great awe, and every time he put his hand in the pouch, each of the several children would wait anxiously to see who would get the penny.

John was pleased to see his father, and presented him with a pair of new shoes, of which he was very proud. Shortly after his arrival he became very ill, and wished to go home. He was too ill to go alone, so John procured three donkeys and mounted his father on one, his wife, Jessie, on the second, and took the third one himself so they could begin their journey.

They rode a long distance, and then the way became too steep, even for the donkeys, so while John was making arrangements for the care of them until his return, Joseph started up the mountain alone. The way was steep, and there was plenty of snow. He carried two staffs for climbing, and he tied the new shoes to one of them to make the carrying easier.

As John and Jessie followed him up the trail they could see that he had become very tired or ill, and after standing the staff with the shoes on upright in the snow, he would lie down to rest with the other staff beside him. Then he would get up and stagger on again, for shorter and shorter distances. They finally overtook him and assisted him the rest of the way home. It proved to be his last illness.

Within a year of his death his son John left with his family for Zion. Joseph would not have approved – he felt that the gospel zeal of the Prophets had stolen his son, and converted him from plain Presbyterianism. I find myself imagining auld Joseph chastising the prophets as he undertook his arduous trek to visit his grandchildren in Arbroath. The irony presents itself that Joseph, on his death, left such a rich legacy, shared out amongst his bairns, that he undoubtedly helped finance his son’s emigration to Utah.

John Gordon and family, except for his two oldest sons who refused to go, embarked for America from Liverpool on the 7th April 1859. The vessel on which they traveled was the William Tapscott under the charge of Captain Bell. Nearly nine hundred passengers were crammed aboard. John took with him his second wife Jessie Bissett and his seven youngest children, including Kitty, aged three years, and Mary, just seven months


Figure 5.12: The William Tapscott which took the Gordons and nine hundred others to New York

John Gordon was fearless and determined. He had a resilience built of The Camlet. He was born there in 1807 and spent his entire childhood on the farm. So what sort of bairn had the Camlet sired? John Gordon somehow garnered an education well beyond the rudimentary norm, but he also had flair and ability. In his thirties, he was elected a Burgess of Forfar, and was a prominent citizen of that town. John Gordon also had the reputation of being a very studious man. It has been said of him that he was ‘always studying something.’ He was interested in short-hand, and stenography, and became very proficient in it. He was, at one time, a court stenographer.

Little Jessie, aged nine years, remembered many things about that ten week trip, like the sickness amongst the women and children, the death and burial of someone while at sea; and a bad storm that delayed the ship many days. Like the other children, she had a ‘pankin,’ a flat tin cup, suspended from a string around her neck, from which she both ate and drank. She was given a spoon at meal time, and no other dishes were necessary. Her best dress was black, with trimmings of black piping, and the skirt hung about to her shoe tops. She wore a black poke bonnet with a black and white ribbon tie under her chin. This ribbon also circled the crown and hung down in streamers at the back.

The journey across the ocean was a very long, tiresome one. But in spite of it all, there were many interesting things that happened. One of them was the rescue of a young girl by the name of Mary Madden, who was found in the ocean floating on some wreckage. She and her sister had embarked for America together, but the ship upon which they had taken passage, was shipwrecked. The sister was drowned, and Mary was rescued by the crew of the William Tapscot. Mary, while in her terror-stricken condition, was warmly taken into the family circle of John and Jessie Gordon. So good were they to her and so attached did she become to them, that she requested that they adopt her. They did not do so but, on arriving in New York they made sure that she was safe and well. Within a year she was happily married

One of the first things John Gordon did after arriving in New York was to become a citizen of the United States. His declaration of Intention was sworn on the 3rd of November 1860. Thus the ‘Camlet loon’ became an American, and willingly, left the distant small glen hardships behind.

The family lived in New York for two years. During this time everyone toiled, early and late, and saved every penny that could be spared to finish their journey to Utah, ‘the Land of Promise.’ At last everything was in readiness and the family boarded the train in New York, for Florence, Nebraska.


Figure 5.13: The train that took the Gordons to Nebraska: a hard journey of eleven days.

Little Kitty was about five years old at this time, and just when the train would begin to slow down for a stop, her father would tell her to pull on the arm of the seat. She would brace her little legs, and pull until her breathing would-become laboured and her little face as red as cherries. At about this time the train would stop and the innocent Kitty would really believe she had stopped the train. Then about the time it was to start again, her father would tell her to push and she would push, and push and push, and finally get the train started again. Kitty really believed it was up to her to stop and start that train! There isn’t a great deal of difference in fathers, regardless of what time they lived! John was no exception, and was still a boy at heart. This was impish Camlet fun, in a loon, that like his little daughter had never traveled on such a mechanical fire-breathing beast before!

It took them eleven days to reach their destination. Since they had nothing to eat, but dry food, they were sick by the time they arrived. They stayed in Florence for six weeks whilst they made preparations to join one of the wagon trains for the final trek across the plains

The desert trek was started on Independence Day 1861 and was headed by Captain Horn. It was to match, in days, the transatlantic crossing. Each person was assigned to a certain wagon, and was expected to remain in and with that wagon all the way. There were 16 people to each wagon and the cost was 41 dollars per person and half price for children. All who were able had to walk, and only those too old, or too young, or otherwise handicapped, could ride. They camped out on the grass and lived in tents, while their diet consisted of beans, black bread, and salt pork. They had a few potatoes at first, but these soon gave out.

John Gordon, age 54, walked every step of the way and even Jessie, now 13, said she could not recall riding any. Little Kitty, aged six, said the only time she got to ride was when Captain Horn would take her up on his horse with him and give her tired little legs a rest. Each of the older members of the family took turns carrying baby Ellen. The trip was made in the hottest part of the year. They suffered greatly from heat and thirst. John’s oldest children would get so desperately thirsty that they would often stoop down and drink water that had accumulated in the cow or buffalo tracks.

John Gordon nearly lost his life during this trek. The rule of the day was that every able-bodied man should walk. John, being very independent, was determined to obey orders. When they came to the Green River, he proceeded on, contrary to the advice of the Captain, and waded out into the river, rather than ride a wagon. He lost his footing, and was washed out into the deep water. He would have drowned had it not been for quick action on the part of captain Horn. Later the family liked to boast that he walked every step of the way from Florence, Nebraska, to Utah, and swam all the rivers, which ‘really impressed the grandchildren.’

John Gordon was an accomplished stonemason, and not only did he build the family home in Tooele, where they settled after Grantsville, but also many of the municipal buildings in the town. By this time the Civil War had been fought and was over, and the country was in the throes of a great depression. Prices were very high and even plain flour sold for 12 dollars a cwt. Apparently John Gordon would think nothing of walking all the way to Salt Lake City to carry home a bag of flour on his back.


Figure 5.14: The Town Clerks of Tooele in 1874

Through nothing but determination and sheer hard work, John Gordon eventually owned about three half blocks of property in Tooele. Edna Richardson, his granddaughter, recalled that when, as a little girl, she used to skip and run that he called her ‘fleet foot.’ Apparently he spoke in a tongue that was broad Scots. It is somehow rewarding to think of John Gordon, and his touch of Camlet Doric, in far-off Tooele!

It was through John Gordon that Camlet hit the world-wide map. In 1873 he submitted his family for baptismal endowment and in doing so listed his family back to his great-grandparents. It confirmed, that the founding parents of The Camlet, were from Balindory in Glenmuick, namely Peter Gordon and Barbara Leys. This was a missing piece of the puzzle and made sense of a lot; the brother of Peter in Balindory, being ‘Wardhead Nathaniel’; and their father, almost certainly, John Gordon of Drumnettie in Glenbuchat. The farm of Drumnettie is on the estate of ‘Lost.’ It is funny, surely, that ‘Lost’ solved the Camlet, when the seven Professors of Aberdeen, could not!

In his seventieth year, the resilient John Gordon of Tooele, was felled. Apparently his big toe got frost-bite, became infected, and this subsequently led to his death. That was the fall of 1876. Edna his granddaughter remembers her last sorrowful goodbye:

‘Grandfather sat near the door step with his chin on his cane. Mother asked me when we were half way to the gate if I had kissed him goodbye. I said no and she told me to go back and do it. I wanted to but was sort of self conscious I guess. Mother didn’t insist so I didn’t do it, but my conscience troubled me because he looked so sad.’

Having dealt with the passing of John Gordon it is time to leave Tooele behind, however I hope you agree that it was worth sharing the story of that transatlantic journey from far off Camlet. Regardless of your religious determination, you must agree that John Gordon should be regaled for leading his family with such stoicism.

Back at the Cosh, Nicolas the grandmother continued to send out whatever money she had to Zion. She was so selfless, that she died penniless in her ninetieth year in ‘reduced circumstances.’ The mill was then run by her son-in-law Charles Leys. This returns us to where this chapter came in.

The mill wheel stopped turning on the night of the 8th of May 1860. Most cruelly Charles Leys, and his wife Jane Gordon, had lost their third toddler in no more than a handful of years. The circumstances were awful; the poor wee bairn had drowned accidentally at midnight in the mill lade. That grief has transcended the generations and haunts the Cosh yet. It is visceral and biting. The hurt never left Charles Leys and the Cosh became a most sorrowful home. One can understand that this was why, a few years later, Charles Leys left his family behind and emigrated to Australia alone. His surviving daughter, Elizabeth Gordon Leys, stayed behind with her mother at the Cosh. Her job was to look-after her mother – the black widow. She did well, for Elizabeth lived into her hundredth year. She died the year I was born.

Sometimes stories from the past come back for a reason and when my dear friend, and fellow ‘Deeside Detective,’ wrote to me about her trip to north west Victoria I was left to ponder this. Sharon Jameson wrote an extraordinary piece about the town of Birchip and her footsteps in the past just curled off the page in bristling heat. Birchip was the adopted home of lonely Charles Leys.

Charles Leys arrived in Australia in December 1870 on board ‘British Monarch,’ following route of four of his brothers, and a sister who had already chosen Victoria as her new home. Charles left behind in the small glen his wife Jane Gordon, and two young daughters, Margaret aged 10, and Elizabeth aged 5. He was never to see them again.

Birchip is a sleepy country-town in north-west Victoria. It hovers in the heat of the past, with a long wide main street and sun-parched verandahs. You can probably imagine the arrival to the town, on a crisp-dry plain of straightness:

‘From Warracknabeal to Birchip is sixty-two miles of straight road. There are no bends, no rises and falls in the countryside to distract the driver’s attention from the endless broken white line down the centre of the bitumen.”

It is impossible not to wonder what Charles Leys made of this his new homeland? No scenic contrast could be greater than to his small highland den in Deeside. All of Charles siblings had settled in Talbot but Charles chose a solitary life as a shepherd on a Birchip farm. He was there for 25 years, and was seemingly befriended by few, apart from the proprietors of the Birchip Licensed establishments! Yes Charles was fond of his liquor, and perhaps having abandoned his family, it was the only comfort. When he died his liver was swollen double and rotten through drink.

It is fascinatingly grim to record that Charles, a native of the cold, was to succumb to heat. In fact in an alcoholic stupor, on a September night of 1899, Charles collapsed in his fire grate, and was horribly burnt alive. The Birchip Constable of Police gave the following statement:

‘On the morning of the 12th inst I received information about the death of Charles Leys. I proceeded to the Gap reserve about 5 or 6 miles from Birchip and found in a hut the body of the deceased. The body was fully dressed and way lying on face downwards on the right side. The right hip was in the edge of the fire. The garments and flesh were burnt. There was no appearance of a struggle. The saucepan near the fire contained stew and deceased had apparently fallen down when taking it off. Nothing in the hut was disturbed. I had the body conveyed to Honaus Hotel and arrangements made for inquiry and burial. I communicated with his friends at Evansford and received a reply from them stating they could not be present but that they would pay six pounds on account of burial.’

Ostracized by his siblings, Charles Leys died a pauper, and was buried in an unmarked grave. It seems only the hotelier, and police constable, attended his funeral. When he died he only had the 13/6 owed to him in wages – he had drunk the rest!

Sharon Jameson, ‘Deeside’s true friend’, revisited Charles Leys in 2007. It was a calling from the grave, and a story shared privately, between two correspondents across the world. On leaving lonely Birchip, having been the first visitor to the grave of Charles Leys, Sharon looked up to the signpost on the dirt-track which she was following, and the signpost told her she was on ‘Leys Road.’ Sharon was moved to shed a tear.

The Leys family occupies a fondness in the heart of the writer. At one time they formed the beating heart of Glen Gairn – but now they are all gone. Like the small glen the ruined cotter-houses tell the story of an inexorable clearance. The Leys family all stem from the patriarch Francis Leys of Inverarder, and his wife Mary Gordon. His weathered tombstone was described in chapter three. One son, Thomas Leys, established his family at Torran near Richarchie, whilst another son, Alexander Leys (c1765-1847) settled at Sleach. A further son Charles Leys was a blacksmith at Ballachlaggan (Glen Fearder) and had the most interesting family of all. His grandson was John Brown, the personal Highland Attendant of Queen Victoria.


Figure 5.15: Sleach home of Alexander Leys (Invercauld map)

Sleach is a special place. Always remote it has clung on to its history like tattered rags in the wind. One day I will tell the story behind this, the ‘elbow of the Gairn;’ it deserves that.

The sadness of the Leys was redirected towards caring, and the Cosh Mill, in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, became a home for the poor and the invalid. Although not officially recognized, it was to become the poorhouse of the small glen. Between 1870 and 1890 there was about a dozen old folk who saw out their days on the peaceful Cosh meadow – with the trickling rushing burn as their dearest companion.

After the Leys, Cosh Mill was tenanted by Alexander McPherson, who relocated his family from Kirkstyle in Glen Gairn. His wife Fanny Grant was from Richarkie. In all, three generations of Alexander McPherson; father, son and grandson, acted as the miller at the Cosh.

Willie Downie remembered the first Alexander McPherson (1837 -1921):

‘McPherson wis aboot the last one that had the mill up there (Kirkstyle, in Glen Gairn) they came doon tae Girnoc tae the Mill of Cosh (pronounced Hosh). I mind fa’n I wis a little loon he used tae dae cairtin and the like o that and he used tae go through the ford at Abergeldy tae keep the right of way ye know at Torgalter yonder. He was going to go through it ye see to keep the right of way.’

Sometime between the Great War and WWII the Mill of Cosh was badly burnt and grandson McPherson passed the missives over to ‘a lad called Reid.’ The Mill was rebuilt, and put back into working order but apparently it did very little after that. John Robertson of the Spittal, recalled the last working days of the mill:

‘I was often there when it was rinnin. The dam was away out the Girnoc. The dam was opened on a wire connected to a chain wrapped around a drum. It was a fair sized dam at one time but to look at it noo it’s nothing. The whole things grown in, there’s trees growin in it noo. They took the water oot the Girnoc to supply it. They just used the dam tae top up the Girnoc fan the mill wis workin.’

Having wandered all around the Cosh I have found that the old topography is almost impossible to interpret. The main lade is still obvious, but there is no sight of subsidiary channels, or of the dam. All have been enveloped by the downy grace of a native copse of birch, where thoughts of grindingly large mill mechanisms seem vaguely ridiculous. Once again nature has worked her wonder and the mark of man has all but been removed.

In the last few years I have penned, to and fro, letters to a new young friend of the Girnoc. This lad’s name is Alistair Repper and aged 15 years he set about studying the small glen for his Duke of Edinburgh award. Alistair was to prove himself as a truly worthy ‘Deeside Detective.’ He has explored the glens of upper Deeside, retraced the old cotter-towns, spoke to folk with childhood stories, and garnered from all quarters folklore of true local fascination. In Glen Gairn, Alistair, is one of just a handful to have found the remains of an old ‘black bothy.’ It seems even after one hundred years he had out-gauged the Guager. For that Alistair must get our heart-felt applause!

In chapter four mention was made of the ‘mysterious and shadowy’ Joseph Gordon of Birkhall who went into hiding after the 45’ rebellion. For sometime now, I have wondered if Joseph went to the small glen to hide after first living overseas. It was Alistair Repper who suggested that Joseph might have hidden in a secret cave to be found near the hollow, in a gully on Creag Ghuibhais. It would seem fitting that the ‘Sister Hill’ should embrace Joseph, as long as the ‘Hill of the Piper’ (sitting opposite) did not announce his presence!

Long has the Cosh wheel stopped turning but let us not finish on a sad note, for it is so good to know, that while ever young ones like Alistair Repper have an interest, the Girnoc and the other Deeside glens will never be empty!

4 Replies to “Under the Cosh – Mill of Cosh”

  1. hello , my grandfather ‘s great uncle was john mackenzie , queen victoria ‘s forester , born at bridge of invercauld in 1814. On his grave stone in Crathie kirkyard it gives his wifes name as Catherine Gordon of Bovaglie . Does anyone know who her parents were or where this fits into bovaglie story ? John mackenzies parents also buried Crathie were Donald and Margaret.. I understand that James – Johns brother that I descend from married a Janet or Jean Ferguson from Glen Muick. If anyone has any information on Mackenzies or Fergusons I would love to hear. Kenneth kenneth@kennethtopp.com

    1. Hi Kenneth,
      It is some time since I looked at all the Gordons in Deeside. Perhaps best if I invite you to my ancestry tree where you might find links that I have forgotten aboot.

      aye Peter

  2. Great family history information, thank you for sharing! I am descendant of John Gordon, and love reading stories such as these about my ancestors. John sounds like a resilient man for sure!

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