By Professor Hugh M. Begg.
A story which has a firm basis in history but which is in danger of slipping into myth is the visit to Broughty Ferry of Chevalier de Johnstone, aide de Camp to Lord George Murray, as he fled south following the Battle of Culloden. A plaque commemorating the event is now to be found outside the Fisherman’s Tavern in Fort Street. It reads as follows: Near this spot in 1746, the Chevalier de Johnstone, an officer in the army of Charles Edward Stuart, sought help at a local ale house as he escaped the disaster at Culloden. The landlord’s daughters Mary and Jane Burn, aided his escape over the Tay and were commemorated in his memoirs: “If it be my lot to return I shall be at Broughty expressly to see them.” We remember the bravery of all who supported Scotland’s Royal House.
As far as Johnstone’s adventurous life is concerned that is well summarised in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, making passing reference to his stay at Louisbourg, as follows:
Johnstone, james, known as the Chevalier de Johnstone (he occasionally signed Johnstone de Moffatt), army officer; b. 25 July 1719 in Edinburgh, Scotland, son of James Johnstone, a merchant; his mother belonged to a lesser branch of the Douglas family; d. after 1791, probably in Paris, France.
It is known that James Johnstone’s relations with his father were stormy and that he was indulged by his mother, but his early education has not been recorded. He is described as short in stature and slight of build. His youth appears to have been spent wantonly. After a visit to two uncles in Russia in 1738, he resided in London but was forced by his father to return to Scotland in 1740. When news reached Edinburgh in 1745 that Prince Charles, the Young Pretender, had landed in Scotland, Johnstone sped to join his army. Through his relatives he was introduced to Lord George Murray, second in command of the rebels, who appointed him his aide-de-camp. Johnstone moved with the army during the Jacobite uprising and occasionally served as aide-de-camp to the prince. After the battle of Prestonpans (Lothian) in September 1745, Charles granted Johnstone a captain’s commission. The young officer raised some men and joined the Duke of Perth’s Regiment. Following the rout at Culloden in 1746, he escaped north and was concealed by a protectress who seems to have been Lady Jane Douglas, wife of Colonel John Stewart. Johnstone made his way to London in the disguise of a pedlar and then to Rotterdam dressed as a servant in the company of his protectress. In Paris he was introduced to the Marquis de Puysieux, minister of foreign affairs, by influential friends and was granted a pension from funds accorded by Louis XV for Scottish rebels exiled in France.
Despite promises from Puysieux, Johnstone’s captain’s commission was not recognized in France, and he received only an ensigncy in the colonial regular troops of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Although his derogation vexed him, he went to Louisbourg in 1750. He described his life there as purgatory, but he lived comfortably; his servant attended to his material wants and he indulged in reading military history. In the quarrel between Governor Jean-Louis de Raymond and the financial commissary, Jacques Prevost de La Croix, Johnstone sided with the former and was rewarded with an appointment as English interpreter in 1752 and a promotion to lieutenant in 1754.
In June 1758, when Louisbourg was attacked by Jeffery Amherst, Johnstone was stationed on Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island). He escaped to Acadia and was charged with conducting some English prisoners from Miramichi (N.B.) to Quebec. Arriving there in September, he later became aide-de-camp to Lévis. He also served as interpreter and as voluntary engineer for the entrenchments constructed by Lévis between the French camp and the Rivière Montmorency. But when Lévis left for Montreal, Johnstone remained in Quebec as aide-de-camp to Montcalm. Following the siege of Quebec and the death of the general, he retreated with the army. At Île aux Noix from April to August 1760, he escaped to Montreal when the French were forced to abandon the Champlain-Richelieu front. After the capitulation of the city, he returned to Quebec and sailed for France on 16 Oct. 1760.
Johnstone’s role in the momentous events in New France was minor. Although egocentric, he was timid by nature and had made his escape at Culloden by having a younger officer dislodge a servant from a horse. His principal legacy was his memoirs, composed, or at least completed, after his return to France, in which he recounted in ungrammatical French what he had witnessed and heard during his campaigns in Scotland and in New France. Although he sometimes erred in matters of detail and frequently bemoaned his unhappy fate, Johnstone often wrote with shrewd insight and philosophical reflection.
Johnstone’s later life was less eventful. He was retired from the Marine service with a pension of 300 livres in 1761 and the following year was made a knight of the order of Saint-Louis. He lived in Paris but visited Scotland in 1779 to settle personal matters. By 1790 his pension had been increased to 1,485 livres, and in 1791 he successfully petitioned the assembly for 500 livres for losses incurred during the Jacobite rebellion. Johnstone’s adventures were the inspiration for the character of Maxwell in the Canadian novel entitled The span o’ life: a tale of Louisbourg and Quebec, written by William McLennan and Jean Newton McIlwraith and published in New York and Toronto in 1899.
Turning to the Broughty Ferry connection, that narrative is best told by Chevalier de Johnstone himself in his own inimitable fashion. It appears in his autobiographical Memoir of the Forty five first published posthumously in 1834. His story throws astonishing light not only on the Scotland of these turbulent times but also the character and attitudes of the man himself:
There is a small town, called Forfar, one of the most famous for Presbyterian fanaticism, and the inhabitants had lately signalised their holy zeal by contributing to arrest Colonel Ker. Samuel informed me that we should be obliged to pass through this infernal town, as there was no other road to Broughty, a village on the shore of the first arm of the sea, where all the roads to the south centre.
About nine o’clock in the morning, being within a distance of half a league from the ferry, without knowing as yet how I could pass it, to whom I should apply for assistance, or where to find an asylum till a favourable opportunity should present itself for crossing over, I asked Samuel if he knew of any gentleman in the neighbourhood of Broughty, not hostile to the House of Stuart, but who had not been in our army. “That I do,” said Samuel; “here is the castle of Mr. Graham, of Duntroon, who answers precisely to your description. His two nephews were in your army, but he remained quiet at home, without declaring himself”…... Mr. Graham joined me accordingly without delay. I told him who I was, and earnestly entreated him to procure me a boat in order to pass the ferry at Broughty, as from his vicinity to it, he must certainly be acquainted with all the inhabitants on whom any reliance could be placed. He replied, that it would give him the greatest pleasure to have it in his power to be useful to me;…. and after a thousand apologies for not daring to take me to his castle, on account of his servants, of whose fidelity he was not assured, he told me that he would instantly send to Broughty for a boat. He asked me, at the same time, what I wished for breakfast. I answered, that, after passing seventeen days with Samuel upon oatmeal and water, he could send me nothing that could come amiss, and to which I should not do justice from my appetite. He left me, and soon after sent me his gardener, in whose fidelity he could confide, with new-laid eggs, butter, cheese, a bottle of white wine, and another of beer. I never ate with so much voracity; I devoured seven or eight eggs in a moment, with a great quantity of bread, butter, and cheese.
Mr. Graham returned to the inclosure; but finding me drowsy he soon left me, with an assurance that he should immediately send to Broughty, to engage boatmen to transport me to the other side of the Frith, in the course of the night. It was then about eleven o?clock in the morning, and delightful weather, in the month of May: having dismissed Samuel, with a gratification beyond his hopes, I lay down among the broom, which was at least four feet high, and slept till one o’clock, when I was agreeably woke by Mr. Graham, with the pleasing intelligence that he had engaged boatmen to carry me across the Frith, about nine o’clock in the evening.
Mr. Graham asked me what I wished to have for dinner, enumerating to me the various good things in his house, all of which appeared exquisite to one who had undergone such a rigorous Lent at Samuel’s. Among other things, he mentioned a piece of beef, and I begged he would send me nothing else…
Mr. Graham returned immediately after dinner, bringing with him a bottle of excellent old claret, which we drank together, and after which I felt myself sufficiently strong and courageous to attempt any thing. He then communicated to me the arrangements which he had made. At five o’clock precisely, I was to climb over the wall of the inclosure, at a place which he pointed out to me, where I should see the gardener with a sack of corn upon his back, whom I was to follow at some distance, till he entered a wind-mill, when an old woman would take the place of the gardener, whom I was next to follow, in the same manner, to the village of Broughty, whither she would conduct me. Mr. Graham kept me company till four o’clock, when he took his leave, after embracing me and wishing me success. I regulated my watch by his, that I might be exact in the appointment with the gardener.
I had still an hour to remain in the inclosure, which, in my impatience, appeared extremely long and tedious. I kept my watch constantly in my hand, counting every minute, till the hand touched five, when I began to follow the directions of Mr. Graham. I had no difficulty in discovering the gardener, with the sack of corn on his back, but I was very much at a loss to distinguish the right old woman, among three or four who happened to pass by the mill at the very moment the gardener entered it, and I did not know, therefore, whom I ought to follow, till mine, seeing my embarrassment, made a sign with her head, which I understood perfectly well. As soon as we arrived at the top of the hill, above the village of Broughty, she stopt (sic) to inform me that she would go by herself to see if all was ready, and enjoined me to wait for her return in the road where she left me.
Broughty is situated at the foot of a hill, on the sea-side, and is not visible till we reach the top of that hill, from which the road descends obliquely to the village. The sun was just going down when the good woman left me; and having waited more than half an hour for her in the road, my impatience induced me to quit the road and advance five or six paces into a ploughed field, to approach the brink of the hill, where I lay down in a furrow, in order that I might perceive her as soon as she began to ascend the hill on her return. I had not been above five minutes there, watching for the old woman, when I heard a movement, and saw a head, which I took, at first, for hers; but having distinguished the head of a horse, I lay down, as before, flat on the ground, with my face towards the road, where I saw eight or ten horsemen pass in the very place which I had quitted. They had scarcely passed when the old woman, who followed them closely, arrived, quite out of breath. I immediately rose and approached her. “Ah!” said she, in a transport of joy, and trembling as if she had a fit of the ague,—“I did not expect to find you here.” I begged her to calm herself, and take breath, not knowing at first what she alluded to; but as soon as she had somewhat regained her composure, she explained to me the cause of her alarm. She said, that the horsemen whom I had seen pass, were English dragoons, who had been searching the village with such strictness, and making use of such threats, that they had frightened the boatmen whom Mr. Graham had engaged to carry me over, so that they absolutely refused to perform their engagement. I censured her a little for her imprudence and thoughtlessness, in not acquainting me that the dragoons were in the village; for I had not only run the risk of being carried off by this detachment, if I had not, by mere chance, quitted the highway, where she told me to wait for her, but I was tempted several times, from my impatience at her stay, to go down to the village; which I should certainly have done, if I had known the situation of the alehouse in Broughty, or could have found it without asking for it from door to door: I should thus have thrown myself into the lion’s mouth, through the folly and stupidity of this woman, who nearly brought me to the scaffold. What situation is so distressing as that in which our lives depend on the discretion of weak people! She told me that, on entering the public-house to find the boatmen, she was so much alarmed, on seeing it filled with soldiers, that she lost all presence of mind, and no longer knew what she was about.
At a time when I began to think my escape half secured by the certain passage of this arm of the sea, the refusal of the boatmen was a dreadful disappointment to me. I entreated the old woman to conduct me to the house where the boatmen were but she had no inclination to return, and excused herself, as she said it was quite useless to go, for the boatmen had been so intimidated by the menaces of the soldiers that they would not carry me over that night for all the money in the world; and concluded by informing me, that my wisest plan was to return to Mr. Graham’s, who would find means to conceal me till the following night, when the boatmen would have recovered from their alarm. I could not endure the idea of measuring back my steps; and when I reflected that I was now on the shore of that very arm of the sea which had caused me so much uneasiness, and to arrive at which had been so ardently desired by me; that it was the most difficult to pass, on account of its proximity to the mountains, and the detachments of dragoons who were constantly patrolling in its vicinity; and that if I were so disposed I could overcome this difficulty,—I became more and more determined to advance, hoping to gain them over either by money or by fair words. I therefore assured the old woman that a more favourable opportunity than the present could never occur, as the dragoons, having discovered no trace of any rebels, would not think of examining the village a second time the same night. At length she yielded to my entreaties, and consented, though with some repugnance, to conduct me to the village.
As soon as I entered the public-house, the landlady, who was called Mrs. Burn whispered in my ear that I had nothing to fear in her house, as her own son had been in our army with Lord Ogilvie; this I considered as a very good omen. She immediately pointed out to me the boatmen who had promised to Mr. Graham to transport me to the other side of the Frith. I applied to them immediately, but found them trembling and alarmed at the threats of the soldiers. All my offers, my prayers and solicitations were of no avail; and having employed half an hour in endeavouring to persuade them, to no purpose, I perceived that the two daughters of Mrs. Burn, who were as beautiful as Venus, and the eldest of whom was hardly eighteen, were not objects of indifference to the boatmen, from the glances they bestowed upon them from time to time. I therefore quitted the stupid boatmen and attached myself to these two pretty girls, with the view of gaining them over to my interest, and availing myself of their influence with the boatmen, as a mistress is naturally all-powerful with her lover. I caressed them, I embraced them, the one after the other, and said a thousand flattering and agreeable things to them. Indeed, it cost me very little to act this part, for they were exceedingly beautiful; and the compliments I paid them were sincere, and flowed from the heart. As I had resolved to sleep at Mrs. Burn’s, in case I did not succeed in crossing the Frith, I dismissed the old woman.
In less than half an hour my two beauties were entirely in my interest, and each of them made a vigorous assault on her sweetheart, making use of all manner of prayers and entreaties, but with as little success as I had had. The fear of these stupid animals was more powerful than their love. The beautiful and charming Mally Burn, the eldest of the two, disgusted, at length, and indignant at their obstinacy, said to her sister, “O, Jenny! they are despicable cowards and poltroons. I would not for the world that this unfortunate gentleman was taken in our house. I pity his situation. Will you take an oar? I shall take another, and we will row him over ourselves, to the eternal shame of these pitiful and heartless cowards.” Jenny consented without hesitation. I clasped them in my arms, and covered them, by turns, with a thousand tender kisses. I thought, at first, that the generous resolution of these girls would operate upon their lovers; but the unfeeling cowards were not in the least moved. They preserved their phlegm, and allowed the charming girls to act as they pleased, without being in the smallest degree affected by their conduct. Seeing the obstinacy of the boatmen, and wishing to take advantage of the offer of my female friends, I immediately took the two oars on my shoulders, and proceeded to the shore, accompanied by my two beauties. I launched the boat, and, as soon as we had all three entered, I pushed it into deep water, and taking one of the oars myself, I gave the other to one of the girls, who was to be relieved by the other, when she found herself fatigued. I experienced, on this occasion, the truth of the maxim, that every kind of knowledge may be useful. While I was in Russia, where parties of pleasure on the water are frequent, I used sometimes to amuse myself with rowing; little thinking then that I should one day be obliged to row for my life.
We left Broughty at ten o’clock in the evening, and reached the opposite shore of this arm of the sea, which is about two miles in breadth, near midnight. The weather was fine, and the night was sufficiently clear, from the light of the stars, to enable me to distinguish the roads. My two beauties landed with me, to put me in the highway that leads to St. Andrews; and I took leave of them, deeply affected with their generous sentiments and heroic courage, experiencing a sensible regret on quitting them, when I thought that perhaps I should never see them more. I embraced them a thousand times by turns, and as they would not consent to receive any pecuniary gratification, I contrived to slip ten or twelve shillings into the pocket of the charming Mally, who was one of the most perfect beauties nature ever formed, with an elegant shape, and possessed of all the graces of her sex. Under any other circumstances, they would have tempted me to prolong my stay in their village; and if fortune had ever permitted me to return to my native country, I should certainly have gone to Broughty, for the express purpose of visiting them.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, glosses over one vital milestone in the life of the Chevalier. Johnstone was captured and brought before James Murray after at the siege of Quebec in 1859 in which Scottish soldiers, notably the Fraser Highlanders played a prominent role. While recognising the Chevalier’s commitment to the French cause Murray, later to be Governor of Quebec, no doubt bore in mind Johnstone’s service to his name sake in the Jacobite rebellion. In any event, giving more weight to his Scottish blood than his current adopted nationality, Murray permitted Johnstone to leave for France without penalty.
Returning to the plaque outside of the Fisherman’s Tavern in Fort Street, it concludes: “ We remember the bravery of all who supported Scotland’s Royal House”. This last sentence signifies an emotional attachment to the tartan Scotland of myth. It avoids the question of whether the patrons of the Fisherman’s Tavern, let alone the citizens of Broughty Ferry, wish to be associated with the aspirations of Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart to be King of the unified nations of Great Britain and Ireland. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings to rule without Parliament or, indeed, any other assistance. He was deceived by the advisers of Louis1V into opening a second front in the hostilities between France and England and in that venture proved himself to be a military novice and an incompetent. In later life, despite his presence on biscuit tins the world over, he has been revealed as a lecherous, drunken cuckold. So much, then, for the last representative of Scotland’s Royal House.
As for the Chevalier’s promise -“If it be my lot to return I shall be at Broughty expressly to see them”- that came to nothing. Although his life had been saved by a fellow Scot and the fact that he did return on occasion to Scotland to deal with his family affairs, there is no record that Chevalier de Johnstone aka James Johnstone aka Johnstone de Moffatt who announced himself as “Aid-de-camp to Lord George Murray, Assistant aid-de-camp to Prince Charles Edward, Captain in the Duke of Perth’s regiment, and afterwards an officer in the French service” ever did return to Broughty Ferry.
Professor Hugh M Begg