Elizabeth Barbour MacBean

Elizabeth would be a worthy subject for cultural historians, with her goliath of a grandfather, whose celebration in song by Lord Byron she might have sung in her New Town drawing room the year it was published. She was also an interesting figure Scottish economic history, her father a casualty of the collapsing clan system, and her husband a successful administrator of the feudal system which replaced it.

Lived
1780 - 31 March 1856
Origin
Tearie or Teary, near Forres
Father
Donald MacBean. He was the son of the famous Major Gillies 'Mor' MacBean, six feet four and a quarter tall and of prodigious strength, who when assailed by a party of dragoons at Cullodon slew thirteen of them before they killed him. This heroic end was commemorated in verse by Lord Byron (see below). Gillies was a brewer and probably the innkeeper at Dalmagerry, the younger brother of William MacBean of Kinchyle. Donald inherited Kinchyle from his uncle. In 1757 he obtained a commission in Simon Fraser's Regiment serving in America. The estate was hopelessly embarrassed, however, and the men in whose charge he had left it were obliged to sell it before he returned in 1763. He was afterwards captain in the 10th foot, but left the army, married, and in 1780 lived at Teary or Tearie near Forres. (4)
Mother
Anne Mackintosh, daughter of James Mackintosh, Woodend (afterwards of Kyllachy)
Address
42 Castle Street (numbered 26 North Castle Street until 1811). In 1818 they moved to 18 Great King Street.
Religious views
Their monument at St John's has a quotation from Isaiah 60 v.20, 'The days of thy mourning shall be ended'.
Chapel connection
1809 (baptism)
Married on
22 October 1796
Spouse
Coll MacDonald
Children
Isabell, Lilias, Henry, James, Charles, Susan, Duncan (1809), Elizabeth (1811, m.Charles Neaves), Marjory Cameron (1816), Margaret (m. Mr Downing)
Connections
Elizabeth and her sister Marjory (and their children) appear to have been the only descendants of Gillie MacBean who were alive when the song was published, so it is quite conceivable she was involved in its production. Byron had a much closer connection with another Charlotte Chapel member, also from the Morayshire coast, Mary Duff, who lived a few doors up the road from Elizabeth in Castle Street.

Gillies MacBain, by Lord Byron (1815)

This poem was first published in 1817, set to music by John Clarke Whitfield in Twelve Vocal Pieces. According to Whitfield it was 'written expressly for this work by Lord Byron.' (5)

The clouds may pour down on Culloden's red plain,
But their waters shall flow o'er its crimson in vain,
For their drops shall seem few to the tears for the slain,
But mine are for thee, my brave Gillies MacBain!

Though thy cause was the cause of the injur'd and brave;
Though thy death was the hero's and glorious thy grave,
With thy dead foes around thee, pil'd high on the plain,
My sad heart bleeds o'er thee, my Gillies MacBain!

How the horse and the horseman thy single hand slew!
But what could the mightiest single arm do?
A hundred like thee might the battle regain;
But cold are thy hand and heart, Gillies MacBain!

With thy back to the wall, and thy breast to the targe,
Full flashed thy claymore in the face of their charge;
The blood of their boldest that barren turf stain,
But, alas! -- thine is reddest there, Gillies MacBain!

Hewn down, but still battling, thou sunk'st on the ground -
Thy plaid was one gore, and thy breast was one wound;
Thirteen of thy foes by thy right hand lay slain;
Oh! Would they were thousands for Gillies MacBain!

Oh! loud, and long heard, shall thy coronach be,
And high o'er the heather thy cairn we shall see;
And deep in all bosoms thy name shall remain,
But deepest in mine, dearest Gillies MacBain!

And daily the eyes of thy brave boy before
Shall thy plaid be unfolded; unsheathed thy claymore;
And the white rose shall bloom on his bonnet again,
Should he prove the true son of my Gillies MacBain!

Sources

  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Register of The Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet ed. Ronald K. Will (Edinburgh, Clark Constable, 1983)
  4. A.M.Mackintosh, The MacIntoshes and Clan Chattan (Edinburgh, printed for the author, 1903) p.347, 488-9
  5. Jerome J. McGann (ed), Lord Byron, The Complete Poetical Works vol.3 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981) p.473 (he calls the composer 'John Clarke' but 'John Clarke Whitfield' is correct)

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