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Historic Scottish Storm

The accounts were most dismal; the country was a charnel-house. The first day he brought us tidings of the loss of thousands of sheep, and likewise of the death of Robert Armstrong a neighbour shepherd, one whom we all well knew, he having but lately left the Blackhouse to herd on another farm. He died not above 300 paces from a farm house while at the same time it was known to them all that he was there. His companion left him at a dike side, and went in to procure assistance; yet, nigh as it was, they could not reach him, though they attempted it again and again; and at length they were obliged to return, and suffer him to perish at the side of the dyke. There were three of my own intimate acquaintances perished that night. There was another shepherd named Watt, the circumstances of whose death were peculiarly affecting. He had been to see his sweetheart on the night before with whom he had finally agreed and settled every thing about the marriage; but it so happened in the inscrutable awards of providence, that at the very time when the banns of his marriage were proclaimed in the church of Moffat, his companions were carrying him home a corpse from the hill.

It may not be amiss here to remark that it was a received opinion all over the country, that sundry lives were lost, and a great many more endangered by the administering of ardent spirits to the sufferers while in a state of exhaustion. It was a position against which I entered my vehement protest, nevertheless the voice of the multitude should never be disregarded. A little bread and sweet milk, or even a little bread and cold water, it was said, proved a much safer restorative in the fields. There is no denying that there were some who took a glass of spirits that night, that never spoke another word, even though they were continuing to walk when their friends found them. On the other hand, there was one woman who left the children, and followed her husband's dog, who brought her to his master lying in a state of insensibility. He had fallen down bare-headed among the snow, and was all covered over save one corner of his plaid. She had nothing better to take with her when she set out than a bottle of sweet milk and a little oatmeal cake, and yet with the help of these she so far recruited his spirits as to get him safe home, though not without long and active perseverence. She took two little vials with her, and in these she heated the milk in her bosom. That man would not be disposed to laugh at the silliness of the fair sex for some time.

It is perfectly unaccountable how easily people died that night. The frost must certainly have been prodigious; so intense as to have seized on the vitals of those that overheated themselves by wading and toiling too impatiently among the snow, a thing that is very aptly done. I have conversed with five or six that were carried home in a state of insensibility that night who never would again have moved from the spot where they lay, and were only brought to life by rubbing and warm applications, and they uniformly declared that they felt no kind of pain or debility, farther than an irresistible desire to sleep. Many fell down while walking, and speaking, in a sleep so sound as to resemble torpidity, and there is little doubt that those who perished slept away in the same manner. I knew a man well whose name was Andrew Murray, that perished in the snow on Minchmoor, and he had taken it so deliberately that he had buttoned his coat and folded his plaid, which he had laid beneath his head for a bolster.

James Hogg, 1770-1835.

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