In the continuing hunt for any and all information related to Raasay, I stumbled across a rare and possibly unique account of the island from the early 19th Century. The Saturday Magazine was a weekly British magazine published from 1832 to 1844, set up and sponsored in part by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). Keen to ‘improve the aesthetic standard of working people’, the magazine was aimed at working men keen to educate themselves in matters of the world, technology, nature and science. In this issue, published exactly 180 years ago today, readers were treated to a fantastical and exotic depiction of Brochel Castle, adapted from an engraving of William Daniells famous 1818 painting.
Below, you can find scans of the front and inside page that contains the article on Brochel and other parts of Raasay. While it may not offer much new information on the castle, it does give us some interesting descriptions on the size of the structures:
“The Castle consists of two stories, with a kind of attic; the rooms are very small, excepting one, which is supposed to have been the kitchen, and two others, eleven feet square and as many in height, which contain chimneys. In a small open court in the centre, there was originally a well, for the supply of the garrison. The whole of the building is now in a very dilapidated state, the roof itself having fallen in some years back.”
The mention of a small courtyard and well is also described in Boswell’s visit to the castle in the 1770s, but the dimensions of the buildings are somewhat unique to this article. We can guess by the remains of the shape of each tower, but the mention of specific dimensions in feet is something I personally have not come across before, and will help us build a better picture of what Brochel once looked like. What more is the mention of the “attic”- does this refer to the (now demolished) tallest tower? Possibly it is the “nursery” tower that Boswell mentions (presently the tallest remaining tower), or it may be that the two “stories” are distinguishing between the lower courtyard buildings and the higher rock plataeu and tallest towers.
The article goes on to mention the last resident of the castle was during ‘the reign of James the Sixth of Scotland, when it is said to have been occupied by John Garble’. This is Iain Garbh or “Mighty John”, one of Raasay’s most famous chiefs, whose death in 1671 prompted the MacLeods to move permanently to their residence in Clachan.
There is also mention of a “Roman Catholic chapel” on the island;
“At a short Distance, on the north side of the castle, are the ruins of a Roman Catholic chapel, in the sanctuary of which it is reported enormous human bones are to be found, very far surpassing in size those of the present race of mortals. The truth of this story, however, only rests on popular belief.”
This can only be a reference to medieval remains of St Moluags found in Clachan, as they mention the famous human remains that Boswell talks of in his own account of the chapel. However, it is interesting that the location of the chapel seems to be so incorrect. It could be that they are confused with the chapel that once existed in the north of Rona, but the description seems to imply this chapel actually lies directly on the north side of the castle, possibly amongst the houses that were once surrounding Brochel. If we are to treat and use this account as a source of information, it must considered: did the writer ever actually visit Raasay? As well as Boswell and Johnson, others had visited and described Raasay by the time this had been written. It would not be impossible to imagine that a magazine looking for content simply drew from various sources, sometimes incorrectly, in creating this account of Raasay and Brochel. Could it be this was simply lifted from various sources and accounts from other magazines and publications?
The previously mentioned publishers of The Saturday Magazine may provide some insight. The Scottish branch of The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) was formed by royal charter in 1709 as a separate organisation to the SPCK with the purpose of founding schools “where religion and virtue might be taught to young and old” in the Scottish Highlands and other “uncivilised” areas of the country thus countering the threat of Catholic missionaries and growing Highland Jacobitism. It was these anti-catholic movements, as well as the ransacking of Raasay by Government troops after Culloden that probably led to St Moluags being stripped of all Catholic vestiges and being reduced to the ruinous state we find it today. There were a number of SSPCK schools and missionaries on Raasay and Rona, and it’s not too far of a stretch to suggest that sources and accounts from these missionaries are what The Saturday Magazine drew upon when writing about Raasay.
Below, you can find the full scans of the first two pages of the Magazine that detail Brochel castle and Raasay. You can also find a full text-only version transcribed below.
The island of Raasay is one of the small islets of the group of the Hebrides, or Western Islands of Scotland; it is situated between the island of Skye and the mainland; in length it is about twelve miles, and from two to five in breadth. The curious ruin represented in the engraving is on the eastern coast of the island and presents one of the most remarkable specimens of the strong-holds of the ancient chiefs of the Hebrides. The view of the mountain-scenery of Scotland, from the precipitous rock on which this castle is situated, is splendid in the extreme. The rock on which it stands is nearly round, and the area on which the building is erected is not more than seventy feet square, and about forty feet in height, resting, however, on another rock of larger dimensions, which is about sixty feet from the level of the sea. The latter rock is of that species called pudding-stone, from the various materials of which it is formed; it appears to be of volcanic origin, is extremely hard, but, when cut and polished, presents a very beautiful and remarkable appearance, containing a rude resemblance of trees and mountains. In this part of the isle there are several rocks of the same kind, one of which, in the immediate vicinity of the castle resembles an old and ruinous wall; it is from five to eight feet thick, and forty long, and in many laces is covered with ivy.
The castle consists of two stories, with a kind of attic; the rooms are very small, excepting one, which is supposed to have been the kitchen, and two others, eleven feet square and as many in height, which contain chimneys. In a small open court in the centre, there was originally a well, for the supply of the garrison. The whole of the building is now in a very dilapidated state, the roof itself having fallen in some years back.
The last account of its being tenanted is in the reign of James the Sixth of Scotland, when it is said to have been occupied by John Garble, a predecessor of the present Laid of Raasay. he was distinguished as a man of uncommon strength, and, among other instances of it, which have been commemorated by tradition, is that of his having lifted a large round stone, still to be seen in the middle of the island; the weight of which is so great that two strong men can scarcely move it.
At a short distance, on the north side of the castle, are the ruins of a Roman Catholic chapel, in the sanctuary of which it is reported enormous human bones are to be found, very far surpassing in size those of the present race of mortals. The truth of this story, however, only rests on popular belief.
The steep precipices with which this little island is surrounded, render the neighbourhood of the coast very dangerous to children and to guard against accidents of this nature, a simple but necessary precaution is adopted by those inhabitants who live in the neighbourhood of the rocks. When the women have occasion to go from on their various avocations, the tether their children like lambs to some heavy stone, leaving them, of course, no greater circuit than is consistent with their safety.
Large beds of freestone are found in Raasay, and among its natural curiosities may be noticed a petrified spring. The chief produce on which the inhabitants depend for their greater subsistence are black cattle, sheep and goats. The coasts also abound with fish.