22nd January 1732

Lady Grange is abducted and taken prisoner

Rachel Chiesley wed James Erskine, but it wasn’t a happy marriage. She was said to have been abusive to both himself and their children, and eventually she accused him of disloyalty to the government of the day, of which she had proof in the form of a letter.

Incriminating letter

An extensive retelling of the story of Lady Grange in the Falkirk Herald of 23 July 1874 explains that her husband “had carried on some intercourse with Jacobites disaffected to the Government, and this the lady had it in her power to make known, and which, if revealed, would at least have compromised his position as a judge.”

While visiting London for a work commitment, James Erskine had “sent an account of his procedure to his wife, including some reflections on Sir Robert Walpole, who had thwarted him much, and been of serious detriment to the interests of his family. This document she retained, and she threatened to take it to London and use it for her husband’s disadvantage…”

Lady Grange kidnapped

Not long after she made this threat, Erskine arranged for her to be kidnapped and taken to Falkirk, where she was held prisoner for the best part of a year. This was just the beginning of her trial, though. Her confinement, without access to fresh air or even natural light, was detrimental to her health, and when her captors started to worry that she might die, they eventually moved her.

The journey took several days, but she ended up on the Monarch Isles with Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat, living the same kind of life as her captors. She was still wearing the clothes in which she’d been kidnapped and was provided with no new ones for years to come.

Taken to St Kilda

Desolate though her time on the Monarch Isles might have been, worse was yet to come. In summer 1734 she was on the move again – this time to Hirta in the St Kilda archipelago, where she lived in a stone storage hut roughly 20 by 10 feet (seven by three metres). Her only comfort was likely to have been that which was provided by a minister who brought flour to her hut and wrote down the story of her kidnap and incarceration.

By the end of 1740 – when she was into the eighth year of her abduction – news of her location was known to the Lord Advocate, but although he said he would “follow out a course to restore her to a seeming liberty and a comfortable life” (as quoted in the Morning Post of 23 March 1906), no effort was made to bring her back.

Few supporters

Perhaps this is not surprising, as Lady Grange appears to have been unpopular in several quarters. That same issue of the Morning Post reported that “the lady’s violent abduction was common talk, yet the law never stirred; was not her husband noble, a judge, and a man of power and of many backers?”

From St Kilda, Lady Grange was further transported to Skye, and here she died in May 1745, having never regained her freedom. She is buried at Trumpan.



Other events that occured in January

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