Until about the close of the eighteenth century smuggling was unknown, or, as we might say, was unnecessary in the locality. Kippen parish, being peculiarly intersected by portions of Perthshire, was placed by an old Act on the North, or Highland, side of the line, and had certain privileges for the somewhat free manufacture of whisky. By a subsequent Act, however, dated 1793, placing the parish on the South side of the line, these privileges were withdrawn, and, as a consequence, an extensive trade in the illicit distilling of whisky was carried on, which was not considered a crime so long as those engaged in it kept clear of the officers of the law.
The Sma' Still and the Sma' Keg
Men of all shades of character were connected with this hazardous occupation, from the lawless ruffian, who would not scruple to commit murder if need be, to the simple-minded cottar, who was incapable of doing any mischief. It is related that many novel and ingenious methods were resorted to by those engaged in the "trade" in getting the product of the "sma' still" conveyed to Glasgow and neighbouring towns without raising suspicion.
At that time a good trade was done by the inhabitants of the parish in supplying those of the City of Glasgow with cartloads of peats, driving them by way of Fintry, Crow Road, and Campsie; and this business afforded one of the mediums of getting the "genuine article" conveyed unobserved. The "sma' keg" was usually placed in the middle of the cart, while the peats were built firmly in the form of a wall around it. Thus equipped, the innocent-looking cottar, driving his horse laden with the fruits of his industry, wended his way to the town unmolested by the Excise officials.
Several daring and exciting incidents, however, took place between the smugglers and the Excise officers at various times about the beginning of the nineteenth century. Excise officials differed materially in their views as to the discharge of their duties: while some were stern and rigorous, and never missed an opportunity of bringing the offenders to justice, others were of opinion that they only deserved to be caught when they did not keep proper hours. The former class were certain, sooner or later, to meet the reward of their temerity at the hands of the smugglers, by being waylaid and thrashed, and in some instances murdered; whereas the latter class fared sumptuously at their hands, in houses kept "het an' reekin'," which simply meant fully stored with meat and drink.
A Man-of-War's Trick
In those days a Mr. Hosie was Excise officer in Buchlyvie, and had charge of the ride district. He was somewhat short built, but was of a proud disposition, and waged war against the smugglers with considerable rigour. Having got information against a notorious smuggler, and not daring to run the risk of apprehending him, he cited him to attend a Sheriff Court to be held in Drymen, with a view to his capture.
Hosie called in the assistance of the men from the Government cutter stationed on Loch Lomond. The sheriff duly arrived, accompanied by a number of county gentlemen, among them being the late Captain McLachlan, of Auchentroig. The smuggler attended, not expecting anything serious; but when about to enter the court-room he observed a number of bluejackets through a slit in the door. Turning the key cautiously in the lock, and slipping it into his pocket, he walked into the court-room.
Mr. Hosie was sitting near the window, and on the smuggler's entry rose to state the complaint. Looking round, the smuggler observed that two officers had taken their places at the door, and, seizing the lower sash of the window, he pulled it to him, and dashed it with great violence over Hosie's head, then vaulted into the road below, and walked quietly away, none daring to follow him. Captain McLachlan exclaimed, "That's a rare man-of-war's trick," while the other gentlemen indulged in a hearty laugh; but Hosie was rather seriously cut, and some difficulty was experienced in getting his head extricated from the broken window frame.
Excise Officers' Dangers
Stationed over the country to assist the regular excisemen were officers, with smaller or larger bodies of assistants, as the necessity of the district might require. These were commonly called "rangers," the chief of whom was an officer of the name of Dougal, who resided in Kippen. He was a very quiet and inoffensive man, but powerful and of a self-reliant nature. He was much liked by the smugglers, and often told them that a smuggler deserved to be taken if he did not keep smugglers' hours.
Mr. Dougal had been repeatedly warned of the threatening character of one of the worst of the class, who resided near the upper part of Arnprior Glen, but he treated these warnings lightly, saying that he was a match for him at any time. Once, when riding between the villages of Arnprior and Fintry, on accidentally looking round, he observed this man priming his pistol behind a dyke on the roadside, which enclosed a dense plantation of fir trees known as "the firs of Kippen." Being at the time unarmed, but possessed of considerable presence of mind, he suddenly dashed his hand into his pocket and took out a small spy-glass. Springing from his horse, he rushed to the place where the smuggler lay concealed, crying, "Come on, I am ready for you, my lad." The would-be assassin, taking the spy-glass for a pistol, fled into the wood, and Mr. Dougal rode on his way to Fintry.
Some short time after this, Mr. Dougal went amissing, and dark suspicions floated about that he had been the victim of foul play. Almost six weeks had passed without any news of the missing ranger, when one day a shepherd on the farm of Muirend, in quest of some lost sheep, was searching a corry or deep ravine close to Boquhan Glen, and discovered the mutilated remains of Dougal. Well-grounded suspicion soon fell upon the man who had openly threatened to murder Dougal, and he was afterwards totally shunned by his former companions, and died a wandering outcast.
A natural tower, composed of a huge mass of red sandstone rock, standing in front of a ravine at Muirend, where Dougal was found, perpetuates his name under the designation of "Dougal's Tower." On the other hand, it is traditionally related that this tower perpetuates the name of Dougall, a Covenanter, who had successfully made use of it as a hiding-place, while being pursued by the dragoons for attending a conventicle or field-preaching at the Gribloch.
The Last of the Race
The last smuggler known to engage in this precarious trade in Kippen parish was the late Daniel MacAllum, Thorntree, who carried on his "sma' still" in a secluded part of the "firs," on the shores of Loch Leggan, but, owing to the vigilant and rigorous laws of the Excise and the heavy penalties imposed, he gave up the practice about the year 1860.