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March 12th 1741

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The mystery of Elizabeth Dewar's child

A minute from the Kirk Session of Glenisla records that in March 1741 “a child was found exposed in this parish.”  No one had any knowledge of such a child being born in Glenisla. Enquiries were made in the neighbouring parishes of Alyth, Kirkmichael and Lintrathen but without any success. What particularly concerned the Kirk Session was the expense involved in looking after the child. Eventually a levy of £8 quarterly was made on the whole parish for his maintanance.

As time passed interest in the case died down until nearly four years later a woman came into Glenisla saying that she was looking for a young girl who had run away. However she also expressed an interest in the exposed child and was taken to Duncan Murray’s where the child was. The woman took him up, gave him a half penny and a piece of bread and expressed such tender concern for him as occasioned Duncan Murray’s wife to say “I wish you be not reckoned his mother after you are away.”  The woman was then more reserved in her behaviour towards him. She stayed with the Murrays overnight before returning to Alyth. It was also said that she was “seen in the company of Charles Fraser either coming or going from this parish.” 

With this new information the Session, believing Charles Fraser to be the father, wrote to him requesting him to reimburse them to the extent of £10 stirling and either take away the child or pay for its further maintenance. By such action they promised that more drastic measures would be avoided. Charles Fraser ignored both the invitation and the threat.

The session also wrote to the minister at Logierait “desiring him to cause secure Janet or Elizabeth Dewar.”  In due course a reply was received. “Having communicated yours of the 14th to Mr Ferguson of Moulin, he assured me that the person you are in quest of is not Janet but Elizabeth Dewar, her sister, who, as he was told did at Michael Day last threaten to make discovery of the whole affair, and for that reason he believed she might be easily persuaded to do it now. We went to her and finding her in dress ready to go off did closely interrogate her. She confesses that she was in Strathardle about the 23rd of March, but denied being in Glenisla, but gave no distinct account of her proceedings. . . . Upom enquiry we found that she had been alarmed from Strathardle and that the proceedure of your Kirk Session caused someone concerned to direct her out of the way.”  She was going to Perth and then on to her brother in Glasgow. “If anyone wanted to accuse her let them come to her. It is said that Elizabeth Dewar brought forth her child in 1741 in Glenfernate in the parish of Kirkmichael.” 

Now that the mother of the child was known to be Elizabeth Dewar the session acted against Charles Fraser and a warrent was obtained for his arrest and confinement at the Tollbooth in Perth. Fraser at this time was working at Soilarzie an estate near Bridge of Cally. The Session wrote politely to the laird to the effect that “if he would be so good as to give us a few days warning before the end of his harvest, we would delay executing the warrent for apprehennding the said Fraser till that time.”  They received a dusty reply from the laird who “had laid down his resolution that whatever servant had served him honestly, as Fraser had done, he should not connive against him; and that Fraser was to go to the Braes of Atholl if he were not at liberty to stay with him.”  By this time there was the little matter of a rebellion and the session “judged it proper to delay this affair till Providence should order matters into greater peace and quiet.” 

Providence did indeed take a decisive hand in the case. March 9th 1746 “It being reported that the exposed child died on the 13th February last there was given for his coffin £1 Scots and for a refreshment for those who carried the corpse, fourteen shillings.” 

It was a sad end to the affair and as so often happens in these occasions there were a number of unanswered questions. Why was the minister of Kirkmichael unaware that one of his flock had brought forth a child? Why was the exposed child brought to Glenisla in the first place, a district with which Elizabeth Dewar was not in any way familiar? Did someone in Glenisla know Elizabeth bearing in mind the fact that the child was placed in an area where it was likely to be discovered before it suffered from exposure? And was Duncan Murray, who also came from Atholl more involved in the affair than he had admitted to the session?

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