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August 18th 1829

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The story of Sir David Baird

David Baird was born in East Lothian in 1757, one of fourteen children. When he was eight, his father died and the family moved to Gordon House, close to Edinburgh Castle. David was fascinated by the soldiers parading on what is now the Esplanade. As a pupil it is said that “he possessed restless and athletic habits and an aversion to schooling.”  It was no surprise that when he was fifteen, he decided to make his career in the army.

He was sent to India with the 71st Highlanders and took part in the battle of Pollilore where he was captured. He spent the next two years chained to a sepoy which occasioned the famous remark from his mother, “God pity the chiel wha’s chained to oor Davy,”  He survived this ordeal and returned to India seven years later as a Lieutenant-Colonel, and at his own request, took part in the storming of Seringapatam where he had been earlier imprisoned.

From India, he went to Egypt and helped to expel the French. During a period of relative quiet he devised a somewhat unusual means of keeping his troops occupied. “Large fatigue parties consisting of a thousand men were sent out daily with a view to removing Cleopatra’s Needle to the banks of the Nile and thence to England.” 

After some difficulties the Needle was dragged to the river but it proved impossible to manhandle it on board a vessel. It was eventually left offshore lying on the ground.

Sir David, as he became in 1804, continued to traverse the world. In 1805, he helped to capture Capetown; 1807 he took part in the seige of Copenhagen. The next year he was in Spain where he took over the seige of Corunna after the death of Sir John Moore. He lost an arm in the battle. A grateful country rewarded him by creating him a baronet and awarding him the Order of the Bath.

He was now fifty-one and two years later, he married Miss Campbell Preston, heiress to Fernden, near Crieff. In his usual energetic fashion he commissioned a tower to be added to their residence and thereafter the estate became known as Ferntower. He still remained active in the army and was appointed Commander in Chief of the Army in Ireland until he retired in 1822. He died on August 18th 1829 as a result of a riding accident sustained the previous year.

Lady Baird was also a formidable personality and fully justified his remark that he could command ten thousand men but could not command one woman. She decided to erect a suitable memorial to Sir David on the estate.

She chose as the site Tom a’Chasteil, a flat topped hill which was reputed to be where the Earls of Strathearn had had their castle. Here she had erected a replica of Cleopatra’s Needle, 84 feet 2ins high, composed of blocks of Aberdeen granite. The foundation stone was laid on May 11th 1832 and was attended by three thousand people, a tribute to the popularity of the man.

The obelisk was struck by lightning in 1878 and was only saved from collapse by the sum of £400 collected locally to pay for the necessary repairs. More recently Perth and Kinross District Council found it necessary to spend more money on the upkeep of the obelisk. Baird’s Monument may be seen from the Crieff-Stirling road about two miles out of Crieff. It can be approached by an attractive pathway through the woods.

It is a most striking, if ugly, edifice.

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