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Home > Reports > Reverend William McHardy

The following article is copyrighted to Fenton MacHardy and is published here with his kind permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, for any purpose, without the express written permission of Fenton MacHardy.

Footnoted references are intentionally omitted and may be provided upon request.


Reverend William McHardy,
Priest at Braemar 1804-1809(1)

By Fenton MacHardy

In an attempt to trace the lineage of my great great grandfather, James MacHardy of Ordachoy (1777-c1824), I thought a lead might be found in church records concerning his brother, William McHardy (c1772-1809), priest at Braemar in the early 1800s. This attempt did not result in finding conclusive evidence as to the names of the priest’s (and my great great grandfather’s) father and mother. However, the information gained aroused my interest in William McHardy himself. I believe this information should be shared, hence this short account of his life.

I wrote in February 2001 to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen seeking help. Bishop Mario Conti suggested that I write to Mr. Alasdair Roberts, author of the article “The Chapel at Tornahaish.”(2) Mr. Roberts has been extremely helpful in providing information on the priest William McHardy who, rather confusingly, always called himself William McLeod. Mr. Roberts sent me information gained from clergy letters held in the Scottish Catholic Archives in Edinburgh, and also forwarded two pages from a typescript account of “The Braemar Mission” by Mgr A.S. MacWilliam, held in the Scottish Catholic Archives.

Mgr MacWilliam writes:

Dom Odo Blundell writes of Mr. William McLeod that he was a native of Strathdon and born at Ordachoy in Corgarff, Aberdeenshire (one of his letters written before he returned to Braemar to die is addressed from Ardachoy (sic). . .The date of Mr. McLeod’s birth is unknown but it was probably about the year 1772. He went to the Scots College, Valladolid, in September 1788, was there for ten years and left the college after his ordination to the priesthood in July 1798.(3)

Clearly, William must have shown some evidence of scholarship as a boy, otherwise he would not have undertaken the study of Latin, the usual prerequisite to study for the priesthood. In the brief entry on William in Bishop Maurice Taylor’s book The Scots College in Spain, there is no mention of him attending the Scalan seminary so it can be assumed that he must have studied Latin closer to home: Roberts reasons that most likely he learned it from Rev. Charles Farquharson who lived at Arderg, Braemar.(4)

Mgr. MacWilliam continues:

There is no trace of his whereabouts in the letters of the period 1798 and 1804; and it may be that the disease, which was to cause his death twelve years later, had even then unfitted him for work on the Mission. Only in 1804 is there evidence that he was then at Braemar when an entry in the Braemar baptismal register states that he came to Braemar at the beginning of August of that year i.e. as successor to Mr. James Cattanach.

Mgr MacWilliam digresses at this point to talk about the name McHardy or McLeod.

Another problem is about his name. Invariably and without exception he signed himself “William McLeod”. But all his contemporaries in the northeast, including Bishop Cameron and Mr. Lachlan McIntosh, who were both natives of Braemar, addressed him as MacHardy and never as McLeod. Another variant is “Booty” but it is confined to Alexander Badenoch and William Reid of Park, who were students with him in the college in Spain.

Mgr. MacWilliam then goes on

This is a problem of no consequence, but the problem which faced this young priest on his first charge was only too real. “Mr. Cattanach is suspended”, Lachlan McIntosh, wrote to Bishop Cameron on August 14, 1804, “and remains at Braemar. Mr. MacHardy is appointed for the congregation and those I serve in Deeside. The Bishop meaned to place me in Braemar but Lord Fife had some pretended objection to me. I don’t know where Mr. MacHardy will take up residence…Lord Fife has granted leave to him to abide with Mr. Cattanach in Arderg, but as soon as the Bishop went off he recalled his word”.(5)

Roberts provides further enlightenment on Mr. Cattanach’s suspension and on William McHardy’s predicament. A clergy letter reveals that Mr. Cattanach had been charged with making his housekeeper pregnant. McHardy’s assessment of the situation was: “Poor unfortunate man, he has had two children- he has done more harm to the Catholic religion than any other of his coat since the reformation, and should be removed from Braemar forthwith.” Powerful people, however, felt otherwise. A letter from a priest at the Aquhorties College reads, “Mr. Cattanach has been suspended, yet by some unaccountable manoeuvre on his part, or in order to please Lord Fife, Bishop Chisholm allowed him to remain in the country (i.e. district) and to continue in his house and farm on condition of admitting his successor Mr. Mccardy (sic) to live with him. But Lord Fife and his factor are said to have declared against this arrangement, and forbidden the entrance to Mr. Mccardy on pain of exclusion to both. He is, I am told, to take up his abode during the winter in a country hovel and with a family several miles from his chapel.”

Continuing with Mgr. MacWilliam’s typescript

Homeless, his predecessor still in the country, and in favour with the congregation, the Laird an unfriend, Mr. Badenoch felt that “Booty’s post is too hot for him”.(6)

Some further light is brought to bear on the problems McHardy faced by an entry he wrote in the Braemar Catholic baptismal register. After the heading “A list of those I baptized since I came to the Mission of Braemar about the beginning of August, 1804”, he goes on “not having this book in keeping for the first two years, incurred some disorder in setting down of the names.” He then lists the names of 20 people he baptized between 1804 and 1808. It is likely that Mr. Cattanach retained the “book” during this period, as a listing of secular priests in the register shows Mr. Cattanach as having served the Mission from 1794 to 1806. This two year overlap, 1804 to 1806, must not have been an easy time.

Returning to Mgr. MacWilliam’s account, he writes that

In a later letter he (i.e. Mr. Badenoch) was to say “Poor Booty is not considered as quite fit for the charge, but there is no complaint against him and he is left there because they (the Highland bishops) have none to send in his place, and his ignorance of Erse (i.e. Gaelic) would render him unfit to serve in any of these missions except these two” (i.e. Braemar or GlenGairn). . . .but whatever Mr. McLeod’s deficiencies may have been, he can have done nothing calculated to cause scandal, as between 1806 and 1808, he only figures in letters in the context of remittances received from the Quota Fund. Later they were to describe him as a very sick man. “Our McLeod is in Castletown of Braemar, though agoing fast in a consumption.” On March 7, 1809, the invalid wrote to Mr. Charles Maxwell, the procurator, that he had been so much reduced by winter that he could scarcely hold a pen.

At that point, in early spring, he must have undertaken a journey to Corgarff to visit his brother and family, and one might guess, also to visit the site of the chapel being built at Tornahaish, which was to open later in 1809.

“Poor Booty, it seems”, wrote William Reid to Bishop Cameron, “has returned from Corgarff to Braemar. He takes himself to be dying and wishes to close his eyes and lie in his own mission.” Just a month later, on June 3, 1809, his short and uncomfortable tenure of the Braemar mission was ended by his death. “Much and justly regretted.”

A further reference to William McHardy, alias McLeod, is contained in an 1866 family history that includes the Auchallater McHardys. Through the marriage in 1803 of Ann McHardy of Auchallater to James MacHardy of Ordachoy, the Ordachoy family is also included. This history, entitled “The McHardy Family Tree”, includes a footnote which reads:

This James McHardy of Ordachoy (1777) had an uncle named William who was a Priest at Corgarff, Tornahaish, was also at Braemar and some are still living of whom he baptized: Alister McHardy’s son of Auchallater (William) was named after him and baptized by him; and he was Godfather to William Lamont, Linn of Dee and was also named after him. He is a strong adherent to the McLeod McHardy and his name is still to be seen in the Catholic Directory as McLeod McHardy (Revd.) and usually signed his name William McLeod.(7)

Some comments arising out of this footnote: It is much more likely that William the priest and James of Ordachoy were brothers rather than uncle and nephew as their births were within about five years of each other. More importantly, Lachlan McIntosh, priest in the combined parish of Glengairn and Corgarff, and a contemporary who knew William McHardy, refers to “the apostate brother”(8), and this must have been James who became a Protestant. Concerning Charles’ 1866 reference to William McHardy as priest at Corgarff, Tornahaish, it is possible that William assisted Lachlan McIntosh during the period 1798 to 1804 (although the Church appears to have no record of his whereabouts), but if he did, it would have been from his family home, Ordachoy, which served as a place of Catholic worship prior to 1804. In this connection, it is worth noting that in 1963, Major William MacHardy, a great great grandson of James and Ann of Ordachoy, and then resident at Ordachoy, said that Catholic services had, in the past, been held by the cornyard at Ordachoy, and that when he was a child, this area was considered “out of bounds for the children of the family.”(9) The chapel at Tornahaish was not in general use until late in 1809 after his death so he could not have preached there.

Returning to Mgr. MacWilliam’s typescript, although there is no doubt that William McHardy left for Valladolid from his family home, Ordachoy in Corgarff in 1788, it is doubtful that his parents lived there at the time of his birth around 1772. The Corgarff Old Parish records show that a series of other families lived at Ordachoy prior to 1787 when there is a record of a McHardy birth. It is likely that William’s family arrived there not long before that date when William was a teenager. Although little is known about the family prior to 1803, the best guess is that they came to Corgarff from Deeside. In conversation in 1963 with David MacHardy (c1890-1975) of the Bungalow, Corgarff, who was a great grandson of James MacHardy and Ann of Ordachoy, he said that oral family history had the family arriving on foot, walking from Deeside with their possessions.

William McHardy’s strong adherence to the name McLeod also lends strength to the possible tie with Deeside because of accounts that Deeside McHardys descended from McLeods, probably archers, who came to the Braes of Mar in the days of Malcolm Canmore (reigned 1058-93) and made their home there. The story of the change of name to McHardy is a little fanciful, involving a William Tell-like tale.(10) Although it is tempting to think that this ancient connection might have been the reason for William McHardy always signing himself as McLeod, another possibility has recently come to light.

A recent search of the LDS transcript of Braemar Catholic baptisms found that a James MacHardi and Margaret Grant at Auchallater (formerly of Tomnanraw), had a son born in 1753 who was baptized as Alexander MacHardi, alias McLeod. (11)

The Jesuit priest who performed the baptism was a William McLeod, priest at the Braemar Mission in 1752-53. Undoubtedly, Alexander McLeod’s alias was in honour of this priest. It was not unusual for parents to give their sons first names after priests, however, no other examples were found in the Braemar baptismal register of the use of a priest’s surname as an alias. It seems more than a coincidence that a generation later, William McHardy was baptized with, or assumed the same alias as Alexander MacHardi, alias McLeod. It seems very likely that he was a member of that same family, most probably a grandson of James MacHardi and Margaret Grant of Tamnanraw and that, in preparing to enter the priesthood, he assumed the name McLeod in honour of Rev. William McLeod and Alexander MacHardi, alias McLeod.

This relationship cannot be confirmed as an examination of the Braemar Catholic baptismal register, held in the Scottish National Archives in Edinburgh, confirms a gap in baptismal registrations from 1762 to 1804. An entry in the register between the names of Rev. Kenneth McKenzie, who served starting in 1756 and Rev. William McLeod (McHardy) who served starting in 1804, notes that the mission appears to have been served at intervals by Rev. John and Rev. Charles Farquharson. A further entry notes that Rev. Charles Farquharson, who died in 1799, served the Braemar mission for many years. If the Farquharsons or others who might have conducted baptisms during this period kept records, they have not found their way into the Braemar baptismal register. It is a great shame that this gap in the baptismal records occurs at this particular time because there was a large population of Catholics in Braemar during this period. Gandy states that there were between 700 and 800 Catholics there in 1763. (12)

So although the names of Rev. William McHardy’s father and mother, and a record of his baptism, have not been found, it is hoped that this account gives some substance to the life of William McHardy, and will help to secure his niche in the annals of early 19 th century upper Donside and Deeside.


Unpublished work © 2002, Fenton MacHardy
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