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The White Rose of Gask

Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne, poetess extraordinary, was born in the Auld Hoose of Gask, on the banks of the River Earn, on August 16, 1766. She was third in a family of four girls and two boys. Her mother died when she was eight years old, leaving her upbringing to her grandmother and father. Her father was a staunch Jacobite, who had taken a prominent part in the 1745 rebellion.

After Culloden, and a period of enforced exile abroad, he returned home to Gask, where he continued to display his Jacobitism at every opportunity. In honour of the Young Pretender, he named a daughter Carolina and a son Charles. And in the prayer book he gave to Carolina he pasted over the names of the reigning royal family slips of paper on which had been written the names of the exiled Stewarts.

In course of time, when his eyesight began to fail and he had to have the news read to him, if there was any reference to King George or his Queen, the reader was instructed to use the initials K and Q only! Carolina was thus brought up in an atmosphere of Jacobitism, so when she began to “cultivate the art of poetry” in 1787 it was natural that her political talent was at first turned to the writing of Jacobite songs, such as “Charlie is my Darling,” Will ye no’ come back again ?“ “Wha’ll be King but Charlie ?“ and a dozen others, all written years too late to inspire the followers of the Bonnie Prince.

Meantime the developing beauty of the young poetess earned for her locally the name “White Rose of Gask” (a title also emblematic of her Jacobite sympathies!) In later years she became the “Flower of Strathearn.”

In 1802, Carolina chanced to visit a fair at Aberuthven, where she purchased a book of “somewhat coarsely written Scots songs and ballads.” And this suggested to her the task of “refining our Scots minstrelsey.” Providing verses of her own for the tune she liked became the main occupation of her later years.

For a long time she succeeded in modestly concealing her song-writing activities, with the result that some of her best poems were attributed to other writers of the day, writers such as Robert Burns, James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott. Later, when her songs were being published in Edinburgh, she signed them with the clumsy non-de-plume “B of B,” and took care to visit her publisher dressed improbably as an old lady!

One of the best of her later songs was “The Land of the Leal.“ It was followed by the quaintly humorous “Laird of Cockpen, “John Tod,” “The Auld Hoose” and many others. Of “The Auld Hoose” Maxtone Graham says: “It is not the old house ( Gask: it is the house of dreams, the shrine of memory of all that is most dear in the wistful association of youth immortalising the countless lost homes of the world.

On June 2, 1806, Carolina was married to her cousin, Major Nairne, in the library of the new house at Gask. (There was or child of the marriage—William Murray, born in 1808.) The major was appointed Assistant Inspector General of Barracks in Scotland and, as such, with his wife, he took up temporary residence in the State apartments of Holyrood House, in Edinburgh.

Later, when King George IV visited the city, they had to move out. Perhaps as a result of this royal visit the Nairne title, “barn of goods or gear,” was happily restored to the rightful heir - Carolina’s husband.

There was, however, a family tradition that one of Lady Nairne own songs, “The Attainted Scottish Nobles,” had been sung to the king, and had influenced him to make the gesture.

After 24 years of happy married life, Lord Nairne died in Jul 1830 “unconscious of the fact,” says Drummond, “that his heir the husband of Carolina Oliphant would act more effectively carrying his name down to future generations than all the prestige that belonged to a peer of the realm.”

Carolina’s later years were clouded by the death of her son while they were travelling abroad. She returned at last to Gask, to spend the remainder of her days there.
She died on October 26, 1845, 100 years after Bonnie Prince Charles had been an honoured guest of her grandfather at Gas
k.

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