Ne Obliviscaris – Duncan Beaton Never Forgets Campbell History

Growing up as a Campbell in Scotland, there is a reticence, awkwardness, even embarrassment of revealing your surname in certain parts of our nation.  The reason, the Massacre of Glencoe, which occurred on 13th of February 1692 when the Campbells murdered the MacDonalds as they lay in their beds.  The clan chief, 33 men, 2 women and 2 children were killed, although most of the MacDonalds escaped into Glencoe, but it was into harsh winter weather.

This folklore casts infamy on the Campbells to this day.  However, the actual history of the events is more complicated, wrapped up in the return of Charles II and the Glorious Revolution, the subsequent power struggle for religious supremacy in Scotland and England, strict military codes of obedience, and state politics.  As Duncan Beaton points out in his interview with us on ‘Sue and Johnny – Everything and Anything’.

            ‘There were much larger massacres before and after 1692, with other clans and it was a time when religion and politics led to violence to resolve disputes.’

            The heinous crimes that the government forces did that day, typified the Campbell’s total disregard for Highland hospitality. The Parliamentary Commission into the events published in 1694 concluded that it was ‘murder under trust’.

The result of these killings over 300 years ago can still cause antagonism.  Before we moved to Argyll, Sue and I had a break in the Highlands.  We stopped at the Visitor Centre in Glencoe, which is excellent and has a good coffee shop, and then had lunch at the Clachiag Inn.  This is a regular stop for climbers, walkers and tourists and provides a reasonably price lunch round a roaring open fire.  It has cask ales and live music during the summer. However, as we entered the hotel, there was a sign below the reception desk warning ‘No Hawkers or Campbells.’   When we finished the meal, Sue went to the bar to pay the bill.

            ‘That was a bit close,’ she said as we walked out of the Inn.

            ‘Eh?’ I replied.

            ’I just had enough cash to pay for the lunch,’

            ‘Why didn’t you use our credit card?’ I asked.

            ‘They would have known we were Campbells; I didn’t want to get into any trouble!’

            I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not proud of my surname, or my heritage, far from it.  In fact, it has opened doors for me.

            I used to work for Baxters Food Group, responsible for all production.  This required a lot of international travel to our plants in Europe, Australia, and North America.  Baxters, for those that don’t know, make soup.  On this occasion I was travelling on British Airways business class to New York to get a connection to Montreal.   As I settled in my seat, the steward approached me.

            ‘Mr Campbell, you’re travelling through to Montreal today, it’s a long trip.’

            I nodded.

            ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking,’ he asked,’ are you part of the Campbell’s soup family?’

            I paused, realising that he had somehow confused ‘Baxters soup’, which was a family business,  with the famous American brand, ‘Campbells soup’.

And for the life of me, and I don’t know why, even to this day, I said, ‘yes.’

‘But I don’t really like people knowing.’ I whispered putting my finger to my lips.

            He gushed at me, ‘well sir, we would like you to join us in first class.’

            The champagne flowed for six hours, and I was waited on hand and foot.  I still laugh at the thought that there is a cabin crew somewhere in the world, who still think they met a billionaire heir to a food fortune.  Yes, I love my surname.

            Duncan confirmed that he’s a Campbell but also a Macdonald during our chat, which seems an obvious signal, that we should regret the horrors of the past but put it to the side.  Duncan talked at length of Campbell history and his work in the archives at Inveraray Castle.  His detailed knowledge of each line of the Campbells is mesmerising, as is his ‘ken’ of his own family tree.

 As Duncan says,’ you have to watch what you say about people around here, as we are all related one way or another!’

 We discussed whether it was primary and secondary sources that he used to write articles in the Journal of the Clan Campbell Society

‘It’s a mixture of both, but when I get a new history, I read the bibliography and footnotes to uncover more sources.  I’ve written over 200 articles since 1983.  But I started off with John Prebble all those years ago.’ 

And so did I, his books on the Highland Clearances and Glencoe: the story of the Massacre were my first serious books on Scottish history.  I’m currently reading ‘The Campbells 1250 – 1513’ by Stephen Boardman.  The book is a rich and lively account of the steady rise of the Campbell Clan. 

I feel honoured that I’m a Campbell.