When you turn the central heating up or pull your favourite armchair a bit nearer the fire this January you might ponder one of the cruellest acts carried out on the locals of Perthshire by a military force -the burning of Strathearn by Jacobite Highlanders!
On the 300th anniversary I posted a piece I wrote about it online and to be honest I got a lot of stick from pro Jacobite supporters, especially from the USA. Many refused to accept it had taken place. I feel it’s wrong to pick and choose which bit of history will be remembered and which will be conveniently swept under the carpet. The fact is the Jacobites, often the victims of terrible atrocities during the civil wars in the late 17th early – mid 18th centaury, burned the towns and villages between Dunblane and Perth.
The Jacobites and a Government army fought an indecisive battle on the Sheriffmuir 13th of November 1715 and on the same day another Jacobite army was being defeated at Preston. With the defeat of the Jacobites in England, the Government was sending reinforcements north. The Jacobite forces based in Perth realised the Government army would soon be strong enough to advance towards them, so on the night of the 24th of January 1716, 600 highlanders headed to Auchterarder. Their orders were to enforce a scorched earth policy to deny advancing Government troops stores and shelter. Auchterarder was put to the torch. Cold, scared and miserable, the inhabitants made their way to the church, which escaped the flames. It was stated that two woman died. One ran back into her blazing house, trying to get some clothes for her children, and the other was pregnant refusing to leave her home. She
was beaten to death.
The highlanders then made their way to Blackford and set fire to the houses there. A Jacobite horseman saw a little girl lying shivering and sobbing in the snow. He bent down, picked her up and took her to the home of James Maitland, a Jacobite supporter. There she was given food and a seat by the fire. Maitland House still stands in Stirling Street Blackford, one of only two houses spared by the highlanders.
On the 26th 350 men arrived in Crieff. The locals knew what had taken place in Auchterarder and Blackford and were terrified. Ludvik Drummond was an officer in the Jacobite Army, he was also the local factor and he told the residents that he had no orders to burn Crieff. Much relived the population took the highlanders in. A Captain named Cameron and his men were quartered in a house owned by a
man called Caw. Cameron and Caw were up late drinking and talking as Cameron’s men lay sleeping. Suddenly, at a pre allocated time, Cameron finished his drink, walked to the door and woke his men with the words “Torch the place!” Soon the whole of Crieff was ablaze. Before they left Crieff,the bridge across the River Earn was partly demolished.
Two nights later the villages of Dunning and Muthill were destroyed. In one Dunning house an old woman set fire to some damp straw as the highlanders approached. Seeing smoke billow from the windows and door they assumed it to be on fire and passed by. ‘The Straw House’ still stands in Kirk Wynd in the village. In Dunning a Thorn Tree was planted as a memorial to the burning of the village. Beside
the Thorn Tree is a plaque to the events that took place in January 1716 (not 1715 as the plaque states). When the manse of Muthill was burned the minister complained that his mother in law was dragged from her deathbed and tossed into the snow by the highlanders.
It was not just the villages that suffered; farms and isolated houses were also destroyed, in what was a heartless and eventually pointless act. As the Government forces grew stronger the highlanders simply left Perth and melted back into their mountains while the Jacobite leaders, King James VIII and The Earl of Mar, fled overseas.