Saturday, 6 March 2010

Donald "The Pilot"

One is always tempted to record any 'reflected glory', albeit two or three times removed, when one is writing about family history. There are a number of stories linked to my paternal grandmother's Scottish Highland Clan history which come into this category, though I have no evidence that she knew of them. She was Margaret McLean who married William McIlhagga in 1892. Her father was Donald McLean, an eldest son, who had been born in 1826 at Portnaluing and lived for the first twenty years of his life on the Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides. One such story has come to light from the neighbouring Isle of Tiree because of the excellent research done recently by Louise MacDougall, and the copyright of any facts or opinions below belong to her, March 6, 2010, She has published the story in a brief and in an extended form and I recommend the longer version. The brief version is as follows:

Donald McLean, a young man from Tiree, achieved local fame as a Jacobite hero in the autumn of 1746 when he was kidnapped by a French ship to serve as the navigator in their risky rescue of Bonnie Prince Charlie who was then a hunted man with a price of 30,000 pounds on his head. Donald agreed to act as their pilot to get them to their secret rendezvous with the Prince in Morven under the condition that they would return him home to Tiree.

The skill of Donald's seamanship was quickly proven by the fact that the Prince, with a retinue of 130 loyal followers, did indeed set sail from Loch nan Uamh on the mainland in the dark early hours of September 20, with Donald and his kidnapped companion, Neil McFadyen, on board.

But when Donald realized that the Prince's course was set, not for Tiree, but directly for France, he and Neil jumped ship under gunfire and managed to escape by boat to the Isle of Coll. Maclean of Coll did aid their escape, but kept the prized boat. By the time Donald arrived back on Tiree, it was clear that he himself was now a hunted man guilty of treason for which the penalty could be death.

Donald avoided capture by hiding in a cave for nine long months, while the authorities harassed his father (Ewen McLean) at home hoping to apprehend "the traitor" by surprise. The rigors of Donald's fugitive life eventually took their toll, and as his health and spirits failed, his father finally convinced him to come home and then took him to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull to surrender.

Though a pardon had just been announced, "The Pilot" was still forced to serve two years in the government militia before his release was arranged by Maclean of Drimnin, an influential and compassionate relative. Donald was quick to return to Tiree where he and Effie McNeill eventually raised a large family with eight known children: Lachlan, Kirsty, Mary, Charles, Katherine, Margaret, Anne and John.

There are many known descendants of Donald "The Pilot" scattered around the world and of course there are many more related people (like myself) who can bask a little in the glory of being associated with a daring rescue of Bonnie Prince Charlie. My great grandfather, also Donald McLean, born on Coll, must have visited the site of his namesake's home at Ruaig on Tiree, from which one can see across to Coll. Indeed my Donald's maternal grandfather was the ferryman who plied between Portnaluing on Coll and the Isle of Tiree. My great grandfather Donald McLean and Donald McLean "The Pilot" were in fact 8th Cousins. Being of the same name, I imagine the story about Bonnie Prince Charlie must have been one my Donald's mother (Flora McKinnon) told her eldest son as he was growing up!

It is of interest that apparently Maclean of Coll kept the boat in which Donald "The Pilot" escaped. This was in 1746. One of the Macleans of Auchnasaul (my line), Allan, was living on Coll in 1776 with his nephew Donald at Totronald. Allan had come from the Small Isles to look after the Laird's Birlinn (his Galley ship) maybe quite some time before 1776. Presumably he was also in charge of any smaller boats in the Laird's possession, including the one he had 'acquired' from Donald "The Pilot". Allan was my 5th Great Uncle.

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