Struan’s Farewell to the Hermitage

T

he thirteenth chief of Clan Donnachaidh, Alexander Robertson (1668 – 1749), is remembered today as “The Poet Chief”. At age 18 he abandoned his studies at St. Andrews University to assume the duties of chief following the death of his father. An ardent supporter of the Stuart family, he distinguished himself militarily in the Highland Rising in 1689 and was out in the 1715 and 1745 campaigns. Unfortunately, his loyalty to the losing Jacobite cause resulted in the confiscation of his estates and years of exile in France. Many of his poems exist today in a rare collection entitled “Struan’s Poems” published shortly after his death in 1749. Some of the surviving copies show evidence of pages having been snipped out...a Victorian reaction to the naughty subject matter for which he was well known. While not considered a great poet by critics of the day, a few of Struan’s works deserve recognition.

One such is “Farewell to the Hermitage”, a poem written to and for his beloved Hermitage just before leaving Scotland for his exile in France. Struan was fiercely loyal to the Jacobite cause, and thus references to “Murderers”, “Traitors”, “Wretch”, etc., described the British forces. The “worthiest Prince of human kind”, of course, refers to the Stuarts. In the poem, Struan personalizes the so-called “Silver Well” which supplied water to the Hermitage, referring to it as “Argentinus” and my “Lovely Fountain”. He drinks a toast to the well and the well toasts him back, adding a promise to “pour out arsenick” if any opponent tries to drink from it.

The well was re-discovered by clan members in 2003 and cleared of debris. Located downhill from a mica-bearing cliff, it once again flows with the silvery flecks for which it was named. The exact location of the Hermitage has never been found, having been burned to the ground by the British.

Struan’s Farewell to the Hermitage, Sitting on the top of Mount Alexander (Alexander Robertson, 13th Donnachaidh Chief 1668-1749)