Morvern Lines: The stag who shot the stalker

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Mar Lodge Estate, near Braemar on Royal Deeside, has hunting associations going back more than 1,000 years.
It was the largest and most important deer forest in medieval Scotland and popular with several of its kings, who were attracted to it by the quality and quantity of the deer.
The first owners, of whom there are records, were the Earls of Mar who, in 1618, organised a great deer drive for their family and friends. Scores of men and dogs drove hundreds of deer down from the surrounding hills into the Dee valley where ‘fourscore fat deere were slaine with gunnes, arrowes, durks and daggers, in the span of two hours’.
In October 1850, the Duke of Leeds rented Mar Lodge and invited Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Prince Albert to another large drive. A herd of 300 deer passed within a short distance of the royal party but only two were shot.
The ballroom ceiling of Mar Lodge, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, is lined with more than 3,000 stags’ heads and sets of antlers collected on Mar over the centuries and is one of the wonders of the stalking world.
If they could speak, each head would no doubt have an interesting story to tell – but none more so than the stag that shot the man who stalked it!
In 1866, Thomas Powell, a wealthy coal-mine owner from Newport, Monmouthshire, and the first coal-mining millionaire in Great Britain, rented Mar Lodge and took on George Urquhart, a well-known local deer man, to act as his head stalker.
On Friday October 5, George Urquhart, Thomas Powell and two ghillies, John Grant and Peter Macintyre, set off up Glen Geusachan to stalk the face of the 4,236ft Cairntoul, one of the highest hills in the Grampian range to the north of the lodge. About two o’clock in the afternoon Powell shot and wounded a stag which ran towards the boundary of the neighbouring Glenfeshie estate.
Urquhart took the rifle, a double-barrelled, muzzle loader, from Powell and, taking Grant, ran after the stag to head it off. He fired two shots and wounded it a second time. The stag, now weak with the loss of blood, turned and ran downhill past Loch Stuirtaig before coming to rest in the bottom of the steep-sided Allt Luinneag Burn which empties into the River Eidart.
Urquhart reloaded and eventually found the stag still alive. Realising if he killed it where it was it would be difficult to retrieve the carcass, he tried to move it further down the burn by prodding it with the butt of his rifle. The stag lashed out with its hind legs and, in a 1,000 to one chance, struck both hammers which were in the cocked position. So hard was the blow it damaged the safety mechanism allowing one of the hammers to fall onto the percussion cap igniting the charge which, in turn, sent the heavy lead bullet into Urquhart’s upper body.
Without falling, Urquhart said calmly: ‘I am shot.’ He then walked across the burn and collapsed against Grant, who laid him gently on the bank and ran in search of Powell and Macintyre.
Immediately, Powell arrived on the scene he sent Grant off to the nearest house, Geldie Lodge, eight miles away. For the first hour Urquhart was perfectly calm and told Powell and Macintyre what had happened. Gradually he grew weaker and died two and a half hours later – killed by the bullet he had intended for the stag whose blood now mingled with his own in the burn at a spot still known locally as ‘the Dead Man’s Corrie’.
Assistance, in the form of several ghillies and a pony, arrived about seven o’clock in the evening. By then darkness had fallen and a heavy mist covered the broken and rocky ground. Progress was slow, and it was not until two in the morning that they reached Geldie Lodge where Dr Marshall from Braemar, 16 miles away, was waiting with Dr Maclaren, a visiting physician. There was nothing they could do and when dawn came they helped carry George Urqu­hart’s remains home to his unfortunate young wife, who had been waiting anxiously by the door of their cottage for news of her husband.
George Urquhart was buried in St Andrew’s churchyard, Braemar, the following Wednesday and rests under a handsome granite memorial which was probably paid for by Thomas Powell. His funeral
was one of the largest seen in the district for many years.
The unusual circumstances surrounding his tragic death and the fate of his sorrowing widow, pregnant with their first child, created such a wave of sympathy throughout the area, it was reported in many British, American and Australian newspapers.
In due course a son was born and named after his father. Although young George remained in the Braemar area he did not become a stalker. He died unmarried in 1922 aged 52.

 

Iain Thornber

iain.thornber@btinternet.com