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The Bailie’s Great Adventure
Grant vs Fife


(1) In the beginning of the week in which Taylor was carried off, Bailie Peter Nicholson sent for Joseph Collie, Merchant in Elgin. He wanted Collie to go and speak to him at his house, or to drink tea there.

Nicholson told Collie another Town Councillor would either go off or be off before the election of a delegate. He urged Collie to go over to the Fife party, or consent to be carried off.

On the Wednesday before Taylor was carried off, Nicholson sent a message to Collie requesting he meet him on the Crofts at the south side of Elgin to speak with him late in the evening, after it got quite dark. Collie suspecting Nicholson wanted to ensnare him and to put him in the way of being carried off, refused to go and meet Bailie Nicholson at the Crofts but consented to go and speak with him at his own house.

In consequence of another message, Collie that evening went to Nicholson’s house. On his going into the parlour, Mrs Nicholson retired leaving the two Town Councillors alone. Nicholson pressed Collie very hard either to go over to the Fife party or be carried off. Collie was asked whether he would prefer being carried off from his own shop or his own house. Nicholson said a carriage would wait him at McKenzie’s Inn.

Wanting to stave off the business, Collie said he would consider it and give Nicholson an answer in two days. At the same time, Collie observed the business might occasion a prosecution. Nicholson replied Collie could put the prosecution into the hands of Alexander Brown, Writer in Elgin. Brown was then Lord Fife’s political agent and Nicholson said he, Brown, would trifle with it and put it off.

At this time, Collie had no earthly intention of going away but to carry on the farce with Nicholson, Collie said supposing he were away he would like to know what was going on in Elgin in his absence. Nicholson said he would write Collie but Collie observed his address would be seen at the Post Office. Nicholson then said he would address him by a false name and put a particular mark in the back of the letter.

They then parted and at the end of two days, in the forenoon of Friday, Nicholson sent a note written in pencil to Collie inquiring if he had yet made up his mind. Collie replied no, an ambiguous answer meaning either he had not made up his mind or he refused to go away.

  Joseph Collie was then a single man and no person lived with him but Susan Errach, an old woman, his Housekeeper. This woman was in the habit of going to Nicholson’s shop to buy goods.  
  That week, when she went to his shop Nicholson accosted her about her master. Nicholson told Errach the salvation of Elgin depended on the bailie. Susan Errach said she hoped Collie was in no danger, Nicholson replied that depended on the bailie himself.  
  This woman carried several messages betwixt Nicholson and Collie. In particular, she carried a message from Nicholson requesting Collie to meet him at the Crofts near Elgin at a late hour.  

On the Friday night, Joseph Collie saw several groups of men about his own shop he believed, in order to carry him off. In consequence he went to Grant Lodge for refuge. While at Grant Lodge, Collie received a message not to move or go home, Robert Dick, one of the Grant councillors, had been stolen.

(2) At this time there were six Incorporated Trades of Elgin: Hammersmiths, Glovers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Weavers and Squarewrights and at the time of the political struggle, the convener of the Incorporated Trades was Alexander Dick of the Tailors. Each trade had its own Deacon: Deacon of the Incorporation of Hammersmiths was James Dick; of the Glovers, James Culbard; of the Tailors, Robert Dick; of the Shoemakers, Alexander McIver; of the Weavers, Alexander Falconer; and of the Squarewrights, James Cattanach.

Patrick Duff, Writer in Elgin and Town Clerk was also Clerk to some of the Incorporated Trades of Elgin. At this time, he was Clerk to the Hammersmiths, Glovers, Weavers and Squarewrights. He had been Clerk to the Tailors from 1782 to 1819. It is not known if he was also Clerk to the Shoemakers. Probably as direct consequence of his particular involvement in the political warfare in the interests of the Grant party, he lost some of these positions.

On 20th March he was dismissed as Clerk to the Hammersmiths to be replaced by Alexander Brown. On the 6th June 1820 he was likewise dismissed as Clerk to the Glovers also to be replaced by Alexander Brown. James Thomson had replaced Duff as Clerk to the Tailors in 1819. No information is at hand about the Shoemakers. On 1st April 1820 the Weavers resolved Duff be no longer Clerk and they appointed James Thomson in his place. Later in the year, Alexander Brown replaced Duff as Clerk to the Squarewrights.

(3) A slight somewhat similar in character a short time before resulted in the loss of the burgh of Inverurie to the Kintore interest.

(4) The Earl was admitted to at least two of the Incorporated Trades. On the 3rd April 1818 the Shoemakers created the Earl of Fife as a member of their craft. On the 30th May 1818, he was admitted a member of the Squarewrights.

(5) On 7th February, King George IV was proclaimed at the Market Cross of Elgin. On this occasion, the Earl of Fife ordered a roasted ox, two hogsheads of porter and two hundred loaves of bread for the people of Elgin. In addition, he directed thirty bolls of meal to be given to the poor of the town.

(6) The Earl of Fife came to canvass Elgin on Wednesday, 23rd February but stayed only a few days. He returned to Elgin, or rather to Oldmills near Elgin, on Tuesday, 2nd March and remained till the Wednesday after the abduction. On that day he went away in the afternoon, immediately after seven councillors had carried through an election in his favour for Major A F Tayler of Monaughty as their delegate. This meeting was subsequently declared irregular or illegal, there being no majority of the Town Council present.

At this time, William Young, John Lawson, Alexander Cowie and Alexander Brown were seen together every day. These gentlemen and some others in McKenzie’s Inn held a meeting on the forenoon of Friday, 10th March. The plan of seizing and forcibly carrying away one or more of the Grant councillors was there firmly adopted. There was also a meeting at the offices of James Thomson, Writer in Elgin.

  Alexander Cowie, Writer in Keith, was a person who owed more than one official situation to the friendship and interest of Lord Fife. At the time of the election, Cowie was very active about Elgin lending his assistance and advice to the Earl’s other agents.  
  In the course of the week in which Taylor was carried away, Cowie was seen at Inverness. He is thought to have gone there to draw the money necessary for putting the projected plans of the Fife party into execution. If a lump sum of money had been drawn at Banff, Elgin or Forres it could have been traced by the Grant party and it might be brought home to the Fife party as a circumstance connected with the abduction of Taylor.  
  Inverness was considered to be a place unconnected with and unsuspected by either of the parties so it was thought the safest channel through which to obtain the necessary supply of money the men who carried off Taylor must have got.  
  On the day on which the bailie was carried off, the accused were seen sporting bunches of notes. At the time of the stealth, John Watt, one of Lord Fife’s factors at Nethercluny of Mortlach was on a visit at Oldmills. Also present was John Lawson Jr., who transacted a good deal of money matters for Lord Fife. The money may have been given away through Watt or the young Lawson.  
  Mr Cowie was seen walking on the Exchange in Elgin early in the morning of 11th March at the very time when Robert Dick was seized.  

These gentlemen are thought to have sent for some of the Trades of Elgin and told them stealing one or more of the Grant councillors was the only means by which the election could be secured. They recommended the Trades to carry this measure into execution. Of the Trades, present at this meeting was James Cattanach, Alexander Anderson youngest, William Brander, James Grant, James Farquhar and Bailie Peter Nicholson.


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