The kidnapped judge’s wife held captive on St Kilda

Lady Grange, who was banished from Edinburgh by her husband and held captive for eight years on St Kilda. PIC: Wikimedia.

Lady Grange, who was banished from Edinburgh by her husband and held captive for eight years on St Kilda. PIC: Wikimedia.

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The letters are beautifully written but tell of the darkest anguish of an Edinburgh aristocrat kidnapped in the dead of night on her husband’s orders and banished to St Kilda for eight desperate years.

The correspondence of Lady Grange is a startling insight into a vile episode of 18th Century Scotland and exposes the abuse of power of her husband, James Erskine, the Lord Justice Clerk, and his henchmen.

The letters written by Lady Grange during her captivity on St Kilda. PIC: Special collections/Edinburgh University Library.

The letters written by Lady Grange during her captivity on St Kilda. PIC: Special collections/Edinburgh University Library.

Some believe Erskine agreed to expel his wife amid fears she was to claim the judge, later made a MP, was a Jacobite supporter and had knowledge of French manoeuvres into Scotland.

The plot to remove her from Edinburgh and banish her to the remotest spot of the Outer Hebrides was aided by several clan chiefs, including Lord Lovat, head of Clan Fraser of Lovat, also known as “the Fox” due to his double dealings between the State and the Stuarts.

Others claim her banishment was an extreme reaction to toxic domestic situation and had nothing to do with the political leanings of Erskine.

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A cleit on Hirta, similar to the one where Lady Grange was kept. PIC: Creative Commons.

A cleit on Hirta, similar to the one where Lady Grange was kept. PIC: Creative Commons.

Lady Grange was known as a drunk with a violent temper, her own children hiding from her in the street on occasion, with relations becoming particularly acrimonious following revelations of her husband’s affair with an Edinburgh coffee shop owner.

What is known is that Lady Grange was abducted from her lodgings in the capital on January 22 1732, two years after her marriage had broken down.

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One letter, held by Edinburgh University, describes in brutal detail how she was beaten and seized from her home by a group of men including Roderick McLeod, writer to the signet and several servants of Lord Lovat.

Lord Grange, James Erskine, Edinburgh judge and co-conspirator in his wife's abduction. PIC Wikimedia.

Lord Grange, James Erskine, Edinburgh judge and co-conspirator in his wife's abduction. PIC Wikimedia.

One letter, written on January 20 1738 and marked St Kilda, said: “They threw me down upon the floor in a barbarous manner. I cried murther, murther (murder), they stopped my mouth. I pulled out the cloth and told Rod McLeod I knew him.”

Lady Grange claimed in the letter that her hair and her teeth were “torn out” by the mob.

She added: “Rod ordered to tie down my hands and cover my face with a cloth and stoppd (sic) my mouth again.

“They had wrestled so long with me that it was all that I could do to breath.

“Then they carried me down stairs as a corpse.”

First she was carried to a field in the north of the city in a sedan chair and then taken on horseback, tied to one of her captors, to Polmaise near Falkirk where she was kept in a cell-like room for several weeks.

From there, the journey north began, with the help of members of Clan Fraser along the way, including Sandy Fraser, the “most cruel ruffian in her escort”.

First the group stopped at Balquiddher in Perthshire. She spent time at the derelict Castle Tioram on Loch Moidart, according to accounts, before being moved on to Heisker, also known as the Monach Isles.

She lived here in isolation for two years before being moved in June 1734 to St Kilda. Here she lived in a tiny stone cleit, now recorded as Cleit 85, on Hirta.

Lady Grange, in a further letter, described Hirta as a “vile, neasty (sic), stinking poor isle.

“I was in great miserie in the Heisker but I’m 10 times worse her,” she wrote.

Her cleit had a earthen floor, rain ran down the walls and in winter snow had to be scooped out in handfuls from behind the bed.

While primitive, Lady Grange had a “girl to wait upon her and was supplied with provisions” according to a historian for Clan McLeod.

It has also been said she drank as much whisky as she could and wandered the island in a state of utter despair.

“Imagine all the misserie and sorrow and hunger and cold and hardships that I have suffered since I was stolen,” she wrote on January 20 1738 to her lawyer Thomas Hope of Rankeillor.

Some accounts have suggested that she managed to get two letters to Edinburgh after they were smuggled off the island by minister Roderick MacLennan.

Hope received his letter around two years after it was written and pushed for a warrant to search St Kilda. His attempt was blocked in the courts.

At his own expense, Hope paid for a sloop with twenty armed men on board to go to St Kilda.

But the rescue boat arrived too late - Lady Grange had already been moved from the island, presumably after attention was drawn to Hirta by Hope’s court bid to find her.

Lady Grange died on Skye , where she was moved to in 1742. She died four years later on May 12 1745 aged 64.

Just as she had two lives, Lady Grange had two deaths. She was “decently interred” shortly after her death at a churchyard at Waternish but for some unknown reason, a second funeral was held at Duirnish some time thereafter, where a crowd gathered the watch a coffin filled with turf and stones put to rest in the ground.

James Erskine went on to marry Fanny Anderson, the owner of the Haymarket coffee shop, and those accused as being part of the plot long denied their involvement.

Lord Lovat denied he knew anything of what happened to “that damn woman” but did make his feelings about Lady Grange quite clear.

He said: “If I had contrived and assisted and saved my Lord Grange from that Devil, who threatened every day to murder him and his children, I would think no shame of it before God or man.”