A Stalker’s Reward

Hip flask and ghillie’s knife belonging to Donald and Alec Urquhart, stalkers on the Inverewe and Letterewe Estates, acquired by Gairloch Heritage Museum in 2016 with an NFA grant of £200.

Osgood Hanbury Mackenzie (b1842) was the third son of Francis, 12th Laird of Gairloch and founder of the world famous Inverewe Garden. Osgood and his daughter Mairi, who inherited Inverewe and left it to the National Trust for Scotland, employed local families for the garden and to service the hunting, shooting and fishing on the wider estate which was their main source of income. One of those who spent all his life in the hills in their service was Donald Urquhart of Poolewe. In his memoir, A Hundred Years in the Highlands (1921), Osgood referred several times to his ‘old friend’ Donald whom he praised as a valued servant and prolific stalker.

Duncan Urquhart, Stalker Inverewe 001Donald Urquhart of Poolewe

When Donald retired in December 1927 his eldest son Alec was appointed to take his place as gamekeeper on the estate where he remained until 1939. He later worked on the Letterewe Estate for the Whitbread family and the Marquis of Zetland.  Alec’s obituary in 1977 speaks of his uprightness, intelligence and physique and his knowledge of ‘old ways’ and hard work.

Alec UrquhartAlexander (Alec) Urquhart

In the summer of 2016 the opportunity arose for both Gairloch Heritage Museum and the National Trust for Scotland at Inverewe to acquire items associated with the Urquhart family, including photographs, family papers and a signed first edition of Osgood Mackenzie’s book. The two finest objects in the collection, an engraved silver hip flask and a rare ghillie’s knife, cast light on the relationship between the Urqhuarts and their employers.

P1070381Knife made by Holtzapffel & Co, London

The knife, made of spring steel with a nickel coated frame, dates from the First World War period. Its construction is unusual – the sides open laterally through 180 degrees with a hinged latch fastener at the head for holding them firm in both open and closed positions. The maker was the London firm of Holtzapffel & Co which, though best known for tools and lathes, also made high quality gentleman’s accessories. A catalogue entry dating from 1923 tells us that the knife cost 25 shillings, more than the average agricultural worker’s weekly wage.  It is likely to have been a highly valued gift to Donald from his employer.  Ron Flook’s London Knife Book records only four examples of this type of knife.  (The London Knife Book: An A-Z Guide to London Cutlers 1820-1945. London, 2008).

P1070382Sterling silver, glass and crocodile skin hip flask, 1922, made by G & J W Hawksley, Sheffield

While the accompanying hip flask is not particularly rare or unique, it is a very nice example of its kind and well preserved. The flask is made of sterling silver and glass with a crocodile leather skin shoulder mount. The bayonet fit lid and pull-off cup base are of silver with gold-gilt interior. The hallmarks show that the flask was made in 1922 by G & J W Hawksley of Sheffield, silversmiths and manufacturers of dram bottles and powder flasks. It is the inscription and accompanying letter, however, that make this such a wonderful acquisition for the collection at Gairloch. The flask is engraved with the following inscription:

ALEXANDER URQUHART
FROM
HUMPHREY WHITBREAD
IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF
19TH SEPTEMBER 1947
ON
LITTLE BEINN THARSUINN
15ST. 12LBS – 13 POINTS: 15ST. 11LBS – HUMMEL

In the accompanying letter, Whitbread writes of a happy day on the hill during which, with Alec’s help, he bagged a thirteen pointer stag and a very large hummel (an antlerless stag). He feels he will never again have such results and offers the hip flask as a reminder of a remarkable day.

3. Urquhart x 2 + Lord KnutsfordLeft to right: Alec Urquhart, Lord Knutsford and Donald Urquhart with a dead deer

Gairloch Heritage Museum is delighted to acquire these two objects which, with the papers, photographs and other items that accompanied them, represent a relationship of mutual esteem between landlord and tenant.

Dr Karen Buchanan
Curator
Gairloch Heritage Museum

www.gairlochheritagemuseum.org

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