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William M'Combie, eldest son of Thomas M'Combie of Easterskene, and Margaret, daughter of James Boyn, Esq., Aberdeen, was born in Aberdeen in 1802, and was made a free infant burgess of the city in the same year, his father being a magistrate at that time, and magistrates when in office being entitled to have that privilege conferred on their sons born during their magistracy. When a boy of about five or six years of age, he remembers being along with his parents on a visit to his grandfather at Lynturk, and seeing and talking to him not long before he died, which was in 1808. This was in the old house of Lynturk, already mentioned as having been built by his grandfather. When we remember that his grandfather was eighty- eight years of age when he died, and was there- fore born only six years after the death of his grandfather Donald, who did not live to be a very old man, we see that very little is wanting from having the history of the stirring events that took place in the family of the M'Combies in Glenisla and Glenshee between 1660 and 1673, told by a contemporary, and in several cases an eyewitness of them, to his grandson, who in turn could have told them to his grand- son, who is still alive. Or in other words, only a few years were wanting, from the present head of the family being the second who could have received the history of the raid of Crandart in 1669 by direct oral communication from one who was witness of and shared in the conster- William M' Combie of Easterskene nation and wrath in the old Ha' of Crandart amongst the family of M'Comie Mor, when the dastardly outrage became known on that eventful New Year's morning. As it is, it is very remarkable that Mr M 'Combie is but the third to whom the history of events that took place over two hundred years ago may be said to have come, by direct oral tradition, from an eyewitness and participator in them. 1 Mr M 'Combie was educated in Aberdeen, and graduated at Marischal College in 1820. In 1822 he was one of a number of young gentlemen from Aberdeenshire who went to Edinburgh to participate in the rejoicings consequent on the visit of George IV. to Scotland. In 1824, on the death of his father, he succeeded to the estate of Easterskene, and commenced the series of improvements which, continued up to the present time, has wrought a change hard to realise by those unacquainted with the aspect of the estate in 1824. But while busy with improvements at Easterskene, there had arisen 1 Appendix, Note S. 124 The Family of M'Combie. in his mind before this time an earnest desire to investigate, and if possible throw additional light on, the history of his ancestors in Perth- shire and Forfarshire. Up to the time when Mr M'Combie began his researches, the family in Aberdeenshire had little but traditionary re- miniscences of the history of their ancestors. The leading facts, such as their being landed proprietors in Glenshee in Perthshire, and latterly in Glenisla in Forfarshire, and of the feud with the Farquharsons, and the breaking up of the family soon afterwards, were well known to all Donald's descendants in Aberdeenshire. Mr M'Combie remembers hearing the particulars of the fight at the Moss of Forfar from his father and uncles, long before he knew that all the details were preserved in the Justiciary Records. His grandfather William used to deal to a considerable extent in cattle - in fact, was paving the way for his still more renowned son Charles, and grandson William, of Tillyfour, in the same line. His business in that line occasionally took him to Forfarshire, where he met and in time became acquainted with the Earl of Airlie of that time. Lord Airlie was greatly interested when he became aware that this Aberdeenshire farmer was a greatgrandson of the famous M'Comie Mor who had obtained the wadset of the barony of Forter from the Earl of Airlie in the time of Charles I., and had required two Acts of the Scottish Parliament to make him forego his claim of free forestry in Canlochan. So interested was he and pleased with William M'Combie - who, like so many of the descendants of M'Comie Mor, carried proof of the genuineness of his descent in his own massive frame - that he more than once intimated the pleasure it would give him to see the M'Combies once more settled in Glen- isla. All these reminiscences were eagerly gathered and treasured up in the mind of the young laird of Easterskene. And now, after long years of push and progress by Donald's descendants, there was at length one who had at once both the time, and not only the inclination but an enthusiastic desire, to trace back the history of his ancestors. In 1827 he determined to visit Glenisla and Glenshee. Mr Martin, at that time minister of Glenisla, knowing Mr M'Combie to be a descendant of M'Comie Mor, had previously made his acquaintance, and on Mr Martin's invitation, Glenisla manse was made his headquarters. The two weeks he then spent in wandering over the upper end of Glenisla and of Glenshee, . he has always looked back upon as amongst the most interesting and pleasant of his life. Twice since then he has gone over the same ground. In these later expeditions he was accompanied at one time by his brother, Mr J. B. M'Combie - at another time by Dr Taylor, minister of Leochel-Cushnie, who was well skilled in antiquarian lore. At the time of Dr Taylor's visit, he made out with considerable certainty the ground plan of the mansion house of Crandart erected by John M'Comie in 1660. On each occasion Mr M'Combie found much to interest him, and met with local gentlemen willing to help him in his researches. late Mr William Shaw, Finnegand, entered with great zeal into the matter, and to him Mr M'Combie was indebted for many interesting facts in the history of the M'Combies, both historical and traditional. The late Mr Thomas' Shaw, Little Forter, Glenisla, on Mr M'Combie's first visit was very friendly and attentive, and by him Mr M'Combie was led to study the etymology of the Gaelic names of places, with the result that more than one Gaelic scholar has been with difficulty persuaded that Mr M'Combie could not speak Gaelic. It is rather strange, too, that Mr Shaw, his first preceptor in the etymology of Gaelic names, was also unable to speak Gaelic. Mr J. B. M'Combie was from the first an active assistant in the search for documentary evidence regarding the history of the family, and little by little much that hitherto rested on tradition in the family was established as historically correct. The record of the great double trial M'Comies v. Farquharsons, Farquharsons v. M'Comies, was a grand find; so also were the two Acts and Decrees of the Scottish Parliament settling the dispute between Lord Airlie and John M'Comie as to Canlochan. The search after authentic records of his ancestors was no transient pursuit, but has con-tinued throughout a long life.
In 183 1, Mr M'Combie married Katherine Ann Buchan Forbes, eldest daughter of Major Alexander Forbes of Inverernan. This lady was a Forbes by descent on both sides, her mother being a daughter of Duncan Forbes Mitchell, Esq. of Thainston, second son of Sir Arthur Forbes of Craigievar. In 1832 a son, Thomas, was born. In the same year was built the present handsome mansion-house of Easterskene, and a short time previously Mr M'Combie had succeeded to the barony of Lynturk, on the death of his uncle Peter. For about three years, therefore, from the birth of his son, it seemed as if nothing was wanting to his happiness and good fortune. But such remarkable felicity rarely lasts long in this world. In 1835 the first blow came in the death of his wife, and six years later the death of his son seemed for a time to have left life almost a blank. Both wife and son lie side by side in the churchyard of Skene, and the following epitaph closed for ever in this world the record of two lives, in whom for a season were placed the brightest hopes : " Within this enclosure are interred the remains of Katherine Ann Buchan Forbes, the wife of William M'Combie of Easterskene and Lynturk, and daughter of Major Alexander Forbes of Inverernan, who died on the 1 6th day of April 1835, in the 26th year of her age ; and of their son Thomas, who died on the 15th of September 1841, in the 10th year of his age."
From this period Mr M'Combie gave his time almost exclusively to the management of his estates, which we now proceed to describe. The estate of Easterskene lies wholly in the parish of Skene, the mansion-house being about 9 miles west from Aberdeen, about 4^ miles south of the Don, and about 6 miles north of the Dee. The length from north to south is fully 2 miles, the breadth from east to west about 1% mile. The estate is bounded on the north by the lands 1 130 The Family of M'Combie. of Skene and Kinellar, on the east by the lands of Achronie and Kirkville, on the south by the lands of Cairnie and Skene, and on the west by the lands of Skene. The elevation ranges from under 300 ft. above sea-level on the north side of the Loch of Skene, to a little over 700 ft. on the summit of the wooded height south-east from Drumstone. When Mr M'Combie succeeded to the estate, much of the low ground was an unreclaimed swamp, while much of the higher ground was a bare heather moor. Now it may safely be said that there is not a square yard of waste ground on the estate, all being either in a course of rotation, in pasture, or under wood. The farms from south to north, all with good houses and well fenced, are Lochhead, South Bank, Howemoss, Millbuie, North Bank, and Drumstone. The main road from Aberdeen to Alford and Strathdon passes through the south end of the estate. From this a branch goes north to Kirkton of Skene, from near which the east avenue leads to the mansion house. From Kirkton of Skene a road joins the main road near Lochhead. From the main road again, another strikes north by the Free church and school, and north-west by South Bank and Line of Skene. From this again, a little above the school, a branch goes past the home farm of Easterskene, below which the west avenue strikes off to the mansion-house. This road is continued past the home farm by Howemoss, Millbuie, and Drumstone, being a thoroughfare to Kintore and the right bank of the Don eastwards from Kintore.
Drumstone, on the high ground on the north of the estate, receives its name from the stone on which the laird of Drum rested on his way to the hard- fought battle of Harlaw in 1411, and took a last look backwards to the lands of Drum, with a presentiment that he would never see them again. The stone forms a sort of natural chair, and has always been an object of interest to Mr M'Combie, who many years ago had " Drum's Stone, Harlaw, 1411," inscribed on it. Besides the farms mentioned, most of the village of Kirkton of Skene is on Easterskene, with various tradesmen, and a blacksmith's shop at Millbuie, and a sawmill at Lochhead. Reserving notice of the home farm in the meantime, we come to the mansion house, a handsome building in the Elizabethan style, surrounded by beautiful and well kept policies, the whole having a southern aspect. The situation is delightful, the view truly magnificent. To the south and west the Loch of Skene, with the woods of Skene and Dunecht, make a fine foreground, backed by the Hill of Fare. Farther west, the Forest of Corennie, and Benriachaille overlooking Tillyfour, and beyond these the mountains overlooking Cromar, conspicuous amongst them the massive crown of Morven ; then to the south the Grampians, beyond the valley of the Dee, with Mount Battock and Clochnaben, and the lesser heights sloping gradu- ally to the North Sea, - form a prospect of which the eye never wearies. As one emerges from the woods surrounding the lawn on the west, the Mither Tap of Bennachie, with the wooded heights of Cairn William, are seen to the north- west shutting in the vale of Alford. As you ascend to Drumstone the prospect on all sides enlarges, until on the summit you command the rich valley of the Don stretching away by Kintore and Inverurie, beyond which lies the district of the Garioch. From here, too, Callievar, beyond the vale of Alford, the Tap o' Noth, the Buck of the Cabrach, and in the dim distance Ben Avon, are seen. To the east and north-east the view is circumscribed by the hills of Brimmond, Elrick, and Tyrebagger ; but even with this slight draw- back the panorama is one of rare beauty and grandeur. The barony of Lynturk is about 24 miles by road west of Aberdeen. On the north side it is within 3 miles of the river Don in a direct line, on the south side it is within 7 miles of the Dee. The length from east to west is fully 4 miles, the breadth from north to south is over 1 mile. The surrounding estates are: on the north, Carnaveron, Tillychetly, and Tonley ; on the east, Tonley ; on the south, Tillyfour ; and on the west, Craigievar, the estates of Craigievar and Lynturk forming the whole of the parish of Leochel before its union with Cushnie. The area of both estates is about 2200 acres, all of which may be said to be either arable or under wood, except a small piece of moss. The elevation varies from under 600 ft. above sea- level on the west along the Leochel burn, to slightly over 1000 ft. on the top of the wooded height south of the mansion-house. A fringe of unreclaimed marshy ground at one time al- most surrounded the estate of Lynturk ; but now, except the small piece of moss between Upper Farmton and Little Lynturk, the whole is arable or under wood. The farms are : on the north, Lower and Upper Farmton, and two at Little Lynturk ; on the west, the farm and inn of Mug- * garthaugh, and Bridgend ; on the south, Clay- mill, Drumdaig, and Buffle ; on the east, the home farm of Lynturk. About half a mile south of the mansion-house is the school of Lynturk, endowed by the late Peter M'Combie, Esq. of Lynturk. The handsome U.P. church . and manse, between Little Lynturk and Muggart- haugh, was built in place of the old church Buffle, where a Secession congregation existed in the time of William M'Combie, the grandfather of the present proprietor. There is also a black- smith's shop and joiner's shop east and west of Little Lynturk.
The estate of Lynturk is surrounded by a good road, with branches where necessary to the various farms. The greater part of Lynturk is fine strong land, some of the land on Bridgend so long farmed by Mr M'Combie of Tillyfour being of exceptional fertility, Mr M'Combie having reaped 13 quarters of oats per acre one year off the southern slope of the field on which the stackyard stands. There is much fine wood on Lynturk, and a sawmill has long existed in connection with the home farm. A good deal of the home farm is in pasture, there being an annual let of parks. As men- tioned before, besides the modern mansion-house - a plain two-storey building set in an amphithe- atre of woods, plantations, and groups of fine old trees - there is the house of Mr M'Combie's grandfather, and another built on the site of the old castle of Lynturk. On the east side of Lynturk, on the burn that, rising on the extreme east of Tillyfour, flows between Lynturk and Tonley for some distance, is a small but pictur- esque cascade known as the Linn of Lynturk, in connection with which there is a traditionary Lady of the Linn.
Although there are many fine views from various points on Lynturk, there is nothing to compare with those from Easterskene, the wall of mountains encircling the vale of Alford bounding the view almost on every side. Returning to the home farm of Easterskene, we find that here, as at Lynturk, part of it is kept in grass. Several of these grass parks are let annually, and have an unrivalled reputation for the quality of the pasture. One field which has been over forty years in grass, situated in the corner between the roads leading south and west from the Kirkton of Skene, has been let at the extraordinary rent of £9 per acre, which is be- lieved to be the highest rent ever given in this country for a grazing not in the immediate vicinity 1 Appendix. Note T. William M'Combie of Easterskene. 137 of a town, if indeed it has been equalled under any circumstances. The home farm of Easterskene has for between forty and fifty years been the home of a herd of polled Aberdeen-Angus cattle, second in fame in Aberdeenshire only to that of Tillyfour. The Easterskene herd was founded in the beginning of the forties, a prize-winner at the Highland Society's show having been bred at Easterskene as early as 1845. Since then animals from the herd have gained the highest honours, time after time, at the Highland Society, the Royal Northern, and local Agricultural Societies' shows. The Easterskene herd has been conspicuous especially for the excellence of its bulls - Alaster the Second having beat the celebrated Fox Maule from Portlethen, that Mr M'Combie of Tillyfour declared to be " one of the best polled bulls ever exhibited." Caledonian II. and Taurus were Highland Society winners ; and Paris II., after winning at the Royal Northern and Highland Society shows, was sold before he was two years old for 150 guineas. Mr M'Combie sent winners in the 1 3 8 The Family of M' Combie. Heifer classes at Highland Society's shows in 1869, 1873, and 1875, while Mr M'Combie of Tillyfour bought many prizewinners from Easter- skene. So recently as December 1886, Mr M'Combie, with his Black Beauty of Easterskene heifer, bred and fed at Easterskene, obtained first prize in the polled cow or heifer class, and prize as Champion Scot both at Birmingham and London. The herd is as strong and flourishing as ever at the present time, and is the oldest established herd of note in Aberdeenshire.
In the management of the home farm of Easter- skene, Mr M'Combie, in both farming and breeding, has shown an example that ought to be followed by every landed proprietor who has the welfare of his tenantry, and in a wider sense the good of his country, at heart. There is no attempt at a style of farming beyond a tenant's means, which can only discourage men of moderate capital. .The bogs and heathery moors have been reclaimed by degrees at moderate cost. The fine crops grown at Easterskene are raised by means and processes within the reach of every intelligent enterprising farmer. The fine breeding herd has not been got together by buying right and left fancy animals at fancy prices, a method resorted to by many landed proprietors, who form herds not by their intelligence and skill as breeders, but by the length of their purses, a system gen- erally beyond a tenant's means. The Easter- skene herd has been formed from what was ordi- nary materials at first, by careful management, with the result that although fancy animals at fancy prices have gone out from Easterskene, few, if any, have been brought in ; the method in this case being within a tenant's means, and the result of a nature to encourage a tenant to follow the method. All this has been done under Mr M'Combie's own immediate superintendence. He knows, in much the same way as his tenants do, the trials, difficulties, fears, hopes, and rewards of the far- mer's life. Farming with him has not been taken up in a spirit of dilettanteism, but has been an earnest practical pursuit. If, as a practical farmer, Mr M'Combie has been an example to other landlords, much more has he been an example to be followed as a land- lord. No lawyer factor, a class who have been and are one of the greatest evils in the agricultural life of this country, not even a landsteward, comes between Mr M'Combie and his tenants. In the rare cases where a tenant and he cannot agree as to the value of a farm, an impartial arbiter is called in. The result is that only in very exceptional cases is there a change of tenant other than by succession. You look in vain in the newspapers for "eligible farms to let on the estates of Easterskene and Lynturk." Where, as in the case of Mr M'Combie, a landlord lives on his estates in the midst of his tenants, and knows the life of every tenant, as every tenant knows the life of his landlord, a feeling of mutual trust and friendship springs up, in which the unity of interest of landlord and tenant becomes a living present fact, at work all the year round, and not a remote abstract idea to be brought forth once a- year in after-dinner speeches at agricultural shows and now and again at election times, or once or twice in a lifetime at marriage or coming-of-age rejoicings. Country people see now and again, often at long intervals, a flag displayed from the top of the country seat of the laird, by which it is understood that he is there in person. This has for long been a " sign of the times," upon which much might be said, and which is having results in these latter days. If at Easterskene the display of a flag was made when the laird was absent for more than a day, the sight of the flag indicating his absence would be rarer than that indicating the presence of most others.
While thus making his duties as a landlord the main business of his life, Mr M'Combie has given much of his time to public duties. He has been a Justice of the Peace for the long period of about sixty years, and is one of the only two remaining freeholders of the county, being enrolled as long ago as 1825. He was also for many years chairman of the parochial board of Skene, retiring only a year or two ago, much to the regret of every one on the board. As was to be expected, the Volunteer movement received his hearty support. Although when the movement originated he was about sixty years of age - a time of life when most people are thinking of retiring from active work - yet, when in his sixty-fifth year, he undertook the command of the 3d Aberdeenshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, and held the captaincy until 1870. He was exceed- ingly popular with his men and brother officers, and when nearly seventy years of age stood as straight as any in the ranks, and was the tallest man in his company of nearly 100 volunteers. In private life Mr M'Combie is highly esteemed as one of the most amiable and hearty of men, full of genial humour and wit. His store of anecdotes, illustrative of the social life of Aber- deenshire in the end of last century and the beginning of the present, is unrivalled, and it is a great pity that a collection of these anecdotes has not been made for preservation, as many of them will soon be altogether lost, being known to few of the present generation even in the districts . where they originated. Mr M'Combie has all life been a great reader, and the collection of books at Easterskene, especially those relating to Scottish history, antiquities, and old lore in general, was declared by the late Mr Jervise, author of the ' History of Angus and M earns,' &c, who occasionally visited at Easterskene, to be the best private collection he knew of. Mr M'Combie is an enthusiast in Scottish music, and an excellent judge of it, and has a fine collection of old strathspeys, many of them in MS., and very rare. He loves to recall the powers of the late Mr James Strachan, the famous Drumnagarrow, who used to be the leading player at the Easterskene balls many years ago. Mr M'Combie has all his life been a stanch supporter of athletic sports, and over twenty years ago capital games were held at Lynturk and Muggarthaugh. For a good many years past games have been held at Easterskene, where the leading athletes of the present time, Donald Dinnie, George Davidson, and Kenneth M'Crae, have appeared; and we happen to know that any of them, when opportunity offers, would go to Easterskene in preference to most places, if for nothing else than to show their respect for Mr M'Combie, as one who has so hearty an appreciation of and interest in manly men and manly sports.