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Charles Macintosh


Charles Macintosh

Charles Macintosh, the Perthshire naturalist, was born in
1839, in the village of Inver, near Dunkeld; and it is a remarkable fact that, apart from a few days, he lived all his long life (83 years) in the same cottage. It says much for his genius and character that by the time he died, in 1922, his fame had spread far beyond the narrow bounds of his birthplace. He owed much to his parents. His father, who died at Inver in 1867, aged 70, was a man of strong principles and an accomplished organist and violinist, from him young Charles inherited his great
love of music, and his skill as a musician. His mother was deeply religious and well-educated. She wrote letters for illiterate villagers to their absent relations and friends
during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. A writer of the time says: “She reigned like a queen in the remote
hamlet where she resided: revered and beloved by all who knew her.” She taught Charles his letters at an early age, there being no infant schools in those days. A great lover of nature herself, she early fired her young pupil with her own enthusiasm. He began his life-long study of nature by making a collection of ferns found in Inver and district. Mrs. Macintosh died in 1896, at the age of 91.

Charles had two brothers, Tom, who entered the postal service in Edinburgh, and James, a rural postman, who succeeded his father as leader of the Macintosh String Band. There was also a sister who in later years became manageress of the Ben Wyvis Hotel, in Strathpeffer. The first school Charles attended was in a wooden building in
Birnam, and his schooling there was interrupted at 12 years of age when he took a job herding a local farmer’s cattle, there being little wire fencing in those days to protect crops. Sometimes, too, at this time Charles and James would act as “guides” to the local Hermitage.
In 1853, at the age of 14, Charles entered the Royal School of Dunkeld, for two winter terms of six months each. The Rector there then was Mr. Lowe, a keen astronomer, who interested young Charles in his hobby with the aid of a telescope. Charles left school and took a job in a local sawmill; there an accident befell him which changed the course of his life. One day a knot of wood caught the circular saw he was using, and, in a flash, the fingers and thumb of his left hand were cut off.
His career as a sawmiller thus abruptly ended, at the age of 18, he became a postman. For this duty he was paid 12/- per week. His “beat” was from Dunkeld up to where the Tummel and the Tay meet; a beautiful district dominated by the peaks of Ben Vrachie and Ben-y-gloe. His journey was 20 miles a day, six days a week, in all kinds of weather. In 1840, Rowland Hill had introduced the penny post, and in 1843 Sir Robert Peel’s government had decreed that all places which received at least 100 letters per week should have a post office and a free daily delivery of letters. The adhesive stamp in general use at this time was the red penny “Queen’s Head.”

During Charles Macintosh’s 32 years as a postman, postal duties increased and multiplied. Thus in 1870 the Post Office took over the handling of telegrams, and postcards came into use. In 1871 postage on newspapers was
reduced to 1d, and in 1882 the parcel post began. While he carried out his postal duties Charles continued to make natural history observations and to collect specimens. He devoted himself principally to the study of fungi, discovering many rare species, some new to Perthshire, and some new even to Britain! Birds, animals, insects and snails were also studied, and weather-
lore too. Standing stones, hill forts, camps, Roman and native, also attracted his attention.

When the Perth Society of Natural Science was founded in 1867, one of its leaders was Dr. Buchanan-White, who was then engaged in preparing a “Flora of Perthshire.” Charles became friendly with him, and helped him on many occasions with his “Flora.” In return the doctor helped Charles with his nature studies and guided him to acquire suitable books and apparatus. In 1873 Charles was made an associate member of the society, and for some 50 years he continued to help the society in all ways he could, acting as guide to society excursions in the vicinity of Dunkeld and writing “papers” to be read at society meetings. For example: “Notes on the feeding habits of Squirrels”; “Notes on a Stone Cist found at Dalguise”; “On a new species of Fungi found at Inver.”
Once he led a party of botanists from all over Europe to see the “Parent Larches” on the Atholl Estate, the larch tree not being indigenous, but a native of the Tyrolese and Dalmation Alps. in 1738 seedlings were brought home by Mr. Menzies of Culdares, in Glen Lyon. Five were planted in Dunkeld, near the west end of the Cathedral, by James, the second Duke of Atholl. These came to
be known as the “Parent Larches.” One felled in 1908 was 100 feet high and 15 feet in circumference! The fourth Duke of Atholl, known as “The Great Planting Duke,” is said to have covered 15,000 acres of hill country with larch plantations!

In 1890 Charles retired from the postal service owing to ill health brought on by the many drenchings he had received on his postal round. Six years later his mother died, leaving him alone in the little cottage at Inver.
During his retirement he continued his interest in nature study and music. In 1904 he conducted the first excursion of the Junior Section of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science. He was fond of children and they responded wonderfully to him. He also frequently conducted rambles for the senior pupils of Torwood School and the Royal School. On January 5, 1922, he died in his 83rd year, at the home of his brother James in Dunkeld. He was laid to rest in Little Dunkeld Parish churchyard by a large crowd of mourners of all ages.
A distinguished musician, botanist, zoologist, geologist, naturalist, meteorologist, and an antiquarian of no mean repute, he was indeed a man of many parts.

The Perthshire Advertiser of the day says: (He was) “one more example to teach us that he who has neither rank nor riches may yet lead a happy life, and that one may attain to true culture of mind whose schooling is but scant, and whose university was a “but-and- ben” in the little hamlet of Inver.”

To keep his memory evergreen, three memorials were instituted:
1. A granite memorial in Little Dunkeld Parish Churchyard.
2. A memorial tablet affixed to his cottage home.
3. A fund was created to provide nature knowledge prizes to be competed for annually by Perthshire schools.

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