Sir George MacKenzie (1)

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X:1 T:Sir George Mackenzie’s [1] M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel B:Niel & Nathaniel Gow – Fourth Collection of Strathspey B:Reels (1800, p. 11) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:A f|{f}e2 cA ~d2 fd|{f}e2 cA dBBa|{f}Te2 cA d3=g-|f>ded cAA:| ^g|(f/g/a) ec e2 eg|{fg}a2 ec fBBg|{g}a2 ec (e2 e>)(=g|f)ded cAA^g| (f/g/a) ec e2 eg|{fg}a2 ec fBBg|{g}a2 ec e2-e>(=g|f)ded cAA:|]



SIR GEORGE MACKENZIE [1]. AKA - "Sir George MacKenzie of Coul." Scottish, Reel (cut or whole time). A Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Surenne): AAB (Anderson, Gow). Composed by Niel Gow (1727-1807). The title honors Sir George Steuart MacKenzie (1780-1848) of Coul, 7nd Bart., a landowner who came into possession of his Ross estates in 1796, at a time of great economic and agricultural change in the Highlands of Scotland. He was a learned man, a mineralogist, geologist, and agriculturalist. He made experiments with the hardness and inflamibility of diamonds, and extensively explored the geology and botany of Iceland. Unfortunately, MacKenzie came to regard the small subsistence tenants of Rogie to be a hindrance to improving the Highland economy, an opinion he expanded upon in his book A General View of the Agriculture of Ross and Cromarty (1813). They refused to switch to sheep-herding and clung to their oxen, with the result that Sir George had the majority removed from his estates in 1808, the year that he introduced Cheviot sheep. Coul said of the landless tenantry: “They live in the midst of filth and smoke. That is their choice. They will yet find themselves happier and more comfortable in the capacity of servants to substantial tenants than in their present condition.” On the other hand, Sir George was wont, as Justice of the Peace for his region, to be lenient when the circumstances suited him. He could overlook some illegal distilling: “We know and we feel, that when we inflict even the lowest penalty directed by law, if the tenant be able to pay he will not pay his rent.” He married Mary MacLeod, a daughter of the sheriff of Ross-shire, in 1803, and the couple had nine children. They lived at Coul House, on the eastern bank of the Blackwater.

A Freemason and a science dilettante, MacKenzie later became passionately interested in phrenology (the ‘science’ of determining character traits by the contours of the skull) and, in 1820, published a volume called Illustrations of Phrenology. He later gave papers defending phrenology when the practice was attacked at the Royal Society. Osgood MacKenzie, writing in his book A Hundred Years in the Highlands, gives the following anecdote:

Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch invited Sir George Mackenzie of Coul, Mackenzie of Dundonnell, Mackennzie of Letterewe and Mackenzie of Kernsary to join him in an expedition to repress the Gille Dubh [black fairy]. These five lairds repaired to Loch a Druing armed with guns with which they hoped to shoot the fairy. Most of them wore the Highland Dress with dirks at their side... They spent the night at Loch a Druing, and slept in John Mackenzie's barn where couches of heather were prepared for them. They went all through the woods, but they saw nothing of the Gille Dubh!

MacKenzie also dabbled in writing, producing a play for the Edinburgh stage based on his travels in Iceland. It was called Helga, and is the story of a lover’s triangle. It was roundly derided by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe in his letters, and evidently quickly disappeared from public view.

Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Anderson (Anderson's Budget of Strathspeys, Reels & Country Dances), c. 1820; p. 2. Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 314. Gow (Fourth Collection of Strathspeys & Dances), 2nd ed., originally 1800; p. 11. Surenne (Dance Music of Scotland), 1852; p. 137.

Recorded sources: -



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