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A Highlanders Guns Return Home

March 2024
A Highlanders Guns Return Home

We have recently come into the possession of two MacNaughton guns that belonged to a real Highlander - Robert Stewart Fisher of Balquhidder.

A master shot, chief ploughman, respected sheep breeder, boisterous soldier and accomplished fiddle player, we present the two guns with a fantastic story of their ownership

In the Autumn of 2023 we received an enquiry regarding a couple of MacNaughton guns that were no longer being used and the current owner, the grandson of the original owner, would like to return them to Scotland and the original maker. Both guns had little value due to their current condition, the guns having had a vibrant life, but the specification of the guns certainly provoked interest. By all accounts these looked like competition live pigeon guns, something that no Scottish gunmaker had previously shown any interest in building and certainly not in 1904. Both guns were once the property of Robert Fisher, the first gun purchased by him from MacNaughton’s shop in Perth and the second one acquired later through a close family member.

Robert Stewart Fisher was born on the 6th February 1881 at Ballimore Farm, Balquidder, Scotland. He was the only son of Duncan Fisher and Jane ‘Jean’ Stewart, of Ballimore Farm, and the grandson of John Fisher and Christian MacGregor. The village of Balquhidder lies at the head of Loch Voil, south west of Lochearnhead and west of Strathyre, 43 miles west of Perth. The village is overlooked by the dramatic mountain terrain of the 'Braes of Balquhidder' and the lochs, river, and glens around Balquhidder are steeped in history and closely associated with the MacGregors (Robert’s grandmothers family name).

Balquhidder was also the home of a very significant MacGregor - the archetypal Scottish hero immortalised by Sir Walter Scott, the famous outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor. After his principal creditor, James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose seized his lands, Rob Roy waged a private blood feud against the duke until 1722, when he was forced to surrender. Later imprisoned, he was finally pardoned in 1727. He died in his house at Inverlochlarig Beg, Balquhidder, on the 28th December 1734. The village attracts many visitors from around the world who come to see the final resting place of Rob Roy, in Balquhidder Kirkyard, alongside his wife and two sons. The Fishers of Balquidder were a farming family, firmly rooted in West Perthshire and were very well known for their hospitality, musical ability and sense of fun.

Robert married Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Miller MacRosty on the 1st June 1906 at St Michael's Parish Church in the town of Crieff. The MacRosty family had strong links with Crieff. Bessie’s grandfather, James Innes MacRosty was the Chief Magistrate of Crieff and his family gifted much to the Parish Church and gifted land which is todays MacRosty Park in Crieff. They went on start a family, firstly the birth of twin girls in 1907 and then a son, Duncan Robert ‘Robin’ Fisher in 1908. Tragically, Robert’s beloved wife and twin daughters would die in 1910 from tuberculosis.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Robert joined the 1st Scottish Horse, a Yeomanry regiment of the British Army's Territorial Army, which was head quartered at Dunkeld, Perthshire. The Scottish Horse had been reconstituted as two regiments by the Duke of Atholl, both claiming descent from the original Scottish Horse, a British Army Regiment and a volunteer Regiment in the Transvaal Army, which had been disbanded after the Boer War. The regiments were trained and equipped as dragoons. Coming from Balquhidder, Robert was assigned to D Squadron, making it to the rank of Sergeant.

Perhaps whisky fueled, Robert decided that it was a good idea to gallop into the town square of Crieff and demanded to take over the Drummond Arms Hotel in the name of his Colonel, the Duke of Atholl. It would also be the same Duke who would demote Robert in rank because he told the Duke ‘to go to hell’. Although the Territorial Army was intended to be a home defense force for service during wartime and members could not be compelled to serve outside the country, the outbreak of war soon had the 1st & 2nd Scottish Horse dispatched to fronts in France, Egypt and Turkey (Gallipoli).

Robert was dispatched to France and was deployed until badly wounded at the battle of ‘High Wood’. Bois des Foureaux - ‘High Wood’ is not large, but was of tremendous strategic significance during the Battle of the Somme and was the last of the major woods in the Somme offensive of 1916 to be captured by the British. The British had first tried to take High Wood in July but it would not be until September that it would finally fall, with the aid of tanks, but at a huge cost of lives. Robert was incredibly lucky with his injuries – a bullet hitting his silver cigarette case in his breast pocket, deflected but ripping into his shoulder. He would return from the war and later joined the 6th/7th Battalion, Black Watch.

In the group photo Robert is standing in the middle of the back row

Bessie and Robert outside the front door of Ballimore farm in Balquhidder.

There is absolutely no doubt that Robert was a larger than life character in Perthshire and surrounding counties. Robert was affectionally known as ‘Uncle Bob’ to all friends and family - albeit being a little scary sometimes with his steely blue eyes and the physical strength that none could better when he was on the hill, at the gatherings or in the middle of a sheep pen.

He was a very well-known figure in the West Perthshire sheep farming community and was recognised through-out the country as an expert on Blackface Sheep, frequently called upon to judge the blackface section at shows, including the Royal Highland Show. At the sheep sales in Stirling he would stand with his shepherds' crook raised above the auctioneer's head telling him not to let them go at a price he thought not enough. His likeable personality made him a popular figure and his fellow sheep farmers looked forward to his sense of fun and antics.

He was by all accounts an excellent shot with both shotgun and rifle - winning prizes for both, including a clock from the Balquhidder rifle club and also medals for ploughing. His success always influenced and celebrated by a wee dram or two or three. On one occasion he told his terrified housekeeper that he was fed up of feeding her hens, so he sat outside the henhouse door and instructed her to throw them out one by one when he shouted ‘pull’.

Bob was an accomplished fiddle player and it was once remarked at a recital he was better than the revered Scott Skinner, and together with his sister playing the piano, there was no way one could not learn to dance. Also a very keen curler, the ice was never broken until the brother curlers had a ‘sook’ from ‘Bob’ Fishers well-filled flask.

When Roberts’ mother died in the 1930, he moved across from Balliemore to Edra Farm in the Trossachs, a sheep farm overlooking loch Katrine, and he lived there until his death on the 8th September 1955, aged 74. He was laid to rest in Balquidder Churchyard and his funeral was one of the biggest held in area for many years.

The Guns Then And Now

James MacNaughton, the renowned Edinburgh gunmaker, had opened a concession in Perth in 1894, after buying out the business of David Crockart, gunmaker, at 44 George Street. Perth was very much regarded the gateway to the highlands and the last stop by train for many an avid hunter heading north, in pursuit of fur, feather or fin. This shop was managed by James’s second son, Alan, who was a trained gunmaker and had moved to Perth to oversee the retail business there. Some repairs were conducted in Perth but the main MacNaughton gun making activity was still conducted in Edinburgh. The Perth shop accounted for a large number of stock-item sales for fishing and shooting but it was a short lived venture with the shop being sold back to David Crockart’s son, David Bisset Crockart in 1907. We can only speculate why MacNaughton sold up on his prosperous branch in Perth - James MacNaughton had died in 1905 leaving his son, David, in charge of the whole business. James’s wife, Isabella, died in 1907 and James other gunmaker son, Duncan, suddenly died in 1908. Perhaps Alan was instructed to return to Edinburgh to support his remaining brother in running the Edinburgh business.

MacNaughton No. 2748 was ordered by Robert Fisher from MacNaughton’s shop in Perth and delivered in 1904. Robert resided in the village of Balquidder in Perthshire and MacNaughton’s would have been the nearest proper gunmaker to visit, avoiding a lengthy trip to Edinburgh to visit other potential gunmakers.

The gun ordered was a plain boxlock non-ejector gun with 30 inch barrels. What was very unusual is the barrels had a 3/8in wide rib and it was chambered for 2 ¾ inch cartridges and heavily choked, all the traits of a ‘pigeon gun’. Competitive pigeon shooting was not a sport in Scotland and certainly MacNaughton’s (or any other gun maker in Edinburgh) were never called upon to build such guns.

Robert needed a gun to ensure he could shoot competitively. There was great rivalry between the local districts of Glenartney, Comrie, Crieff and Killin at the Clay Pigeons. Robert would represent Glenartney, and with the aid of a wee dram, be very successful at taking the trophies home. The gun was used extensively and repairs were undertaken periodically, eventually the bores were deemed unrepairable and the gun was re-barreled in 1933 by David Blisset Crockart, a gunmaker in Perth. The new barrels actually made by Holloway & Son of Birmingham who had made the original gun for MacNaughton. Again, these new barrels sported a wide rib and tight chokes and 2 3/4in chambers.

MacNaughton guns No. 2908/9 were purchased by Captain James Millar Macrosty in 1907. James was Robert’s brother-in-law, the brother of Bessie. We can only speculate that Robert and James met up at various family shoots and discussed gun specifications etc. and so it would be no coincidence that James would purchase guns three years later that were the same specification as Roberts – boxlock non-ejectors, 30 inch barrels, 2 ¾ inch chambers and heavily choked. These two guns were also made by Holloway & Son of Birmingham for MacNaughton.

It appears that James Macrosty kept No. 2909, and his younger brother, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Macrosty, took possession of No. 2908. When Sandy passed away in 1951, Duncan Robert ‘Robin’ Fisher inherited the farm which the gun came with. It is believed that Robin passed the gun onto Robert Stewart Fisher at Edra and when he died in 1955, both guns No. 2748 and No. 2908 returned to Robin. By this time, Robin was managing Marlands Estate, which is situated near Horsham in West Sussex and both guns were pressed into use against the pigeon’s and for general pest control. Robin’s eldest son learned to shoot with these guns and eventually inherited them on Robin’s death in 1988. A further thirty years of game and clay pigeon shooting followed and a decision was finally taken by the Fisher family to retire the guns in 2023 and return them to Scotland – ‘its what grandad would have wanted’.

The guns will now go through a sympathetic restoration and go on display in the Dickson Heritage Collection in Dunkeld.