In the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion, Lachlan Rose, a gamekeeper, owned a croft at Newtonmore. When his son Sandy – one of a family of 10 – was caught poaching on the Blair Atholl estate, the duke thought it would be judicious to have the Roses working for him.
So three of Lachlan’s sons, Sandy, Aeneas and William, became the first generation of Roses employed by the new hunting estate – variously over the years as deerstalkers, keepers, masters of hounds, pipe majors and dancing instructors.
My great-grandfather, David (Dancy) Rose, was one of the 11 children of Alexander Rose, dancing master and tailor from Auchindoir, and Sophia Gordon Rose.
Davy worked as a ghillie in the Alford area in his early years, but soon made a name for himself as a dancer at the highland games. He and his wife, Annie Dunn from Inintyre, Leochel-Cushnie, lived at Knocks Cottage, Ballater, and had 13 children.
According to his lengthy obituary in the People’s Journal in February 1925, _“his dancing skills soon attracted the attention of Royalty and during his career he taught Highland step dancing to the King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, the Prince of Wales, Princess Mary, Princes Albert, Henry and George, Princess Victoria, Princess Patricia, Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Connaught.
“On the occasion of the Ghillies’ Ball at Balmoral, he was m.c. It was his duty to dance first with the Queen and introduce her partners to her.”_
At some time in the years before he became personal ghillie to King George V on the Balmoral estate, Davy built the Kettledrum Restaurant in Ballater, which later burned down.
My mother, Isabella Wilson (née Littlejohn) spoke often of her beloved grandparents. This excerpt comes from a small book of her stories, Herrin dinna get tae Heaven.
“My Grandad Rose was well-known all over Donside and Deeside, as he taught dancing. He made his own fiddle – a long, narrow one which fitted into his coat pocket – and he often played as he danced.
“When the royalty had foreign guests they used to bring them up to The Knocks to see my grandparents and their lovely garden.
“Between teaching dancing, playing the fiddle, wood-carving and making his own furniture, I don’t know how Grandad found time to keep such a beautiful garden. He used the water from a nearby burn to turn a miniature millwheel in his rockery, which was made of quartz stones and cairngorms from the hills.”
Davy, it was said, knew every corrie of Lochnagar. One of his proudest possessions was a telescope presented to him by King George V. Out stalking on the hills, the king took a long shot at a stag which carried ‘a very fine head’. The stag bounded off, and was not to be seen.
The next day, Davy, certain that it had been shot, searched the corries and found it lying dead. In gratitude, the king handed Davy his own spyglass. Other gifts from the king included a stalking knife bearing the feathered crest of the Prince of Wales, and an inscribed watch. This was the watch which was to record the moment of Davy’s death.
For many years Davy danced at the Gatherings, but his finest performance was the jubilant dance of triumph over the antlers of a stag shot on the hill. His grandson, George Rose, a fine piper and dancer, taught me it over swords when I was a child.
At one ghillies’ dance at Balmoral Castle, King Edward said to Dancy, “Keep them dancing till they can dance no more”.
Dancy shook his head ruefully, and pointed out that the ghillies had to be up early for the morning shoot.
“Then we’ll do nothing in the morning,” said the king, generously.
That custom held good for many a long day; never again was there stalking the morning after a ghillies’ ball.
When one of the princes asked Davy how quickly a stag could be gralloched, he replied that three minutes was a very good time. They were standing beside a grassed stag, so the prince suggested that he should time Davy.
Davy gralloched the stag in forty-six seconds.
On one occasion Dancy rowed three queens across Loch Muick: Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, and the Dowager Empress of Russia.
“I didn’t think much of it at the time,” he mused, “but I wonder how history would have been changed if the boat had sunk.”
When visitors to the castle went to Glenmuick, the laden picnic hampers would be brought by pony. The stalkers would row out on to Loch Muick and encircle a bay with nets, then in the glow of evening they would bring in their catch of fish to be roasted by the loch side, to the sonorous strains of a lone piper.
Not all of the visitors were welcomed by the stalkers. One arrogant young German refused to listen to advice, saying that he had been brought up shooting and fishing and needed no instruction.
It soon became obvious, though, that the young upstart was a dangerous liability. He made himself even more unpopular when, on missing a deer, an easy shot, he blamed the stalker.
The visitor had a litany of complaints – particularly about the food – and the quality of the coffee, which offended his refined palette.
Dancy apologised profusely, and said that he personally would make the visitor’s coffee for the rest of his stay.
My mother’s cousin, well-known naturalist Ronnie Rose, takes up the story.
“The gentleman was reassured, convinced that he had impressed this manservant of his superior position.
“For the next two days he could be seen scurrying between one peat hag and the next, between sorties to the hill to try to shoot a red deer stag. By the Thursday, he excused himself from the castle and caught a train south.
“When the stalkers met in the pub at the end of the week, they mentioned to Davy his good fortune in having got rid of the awkward mannie early.
“Davy sipped his whisky, and said wryly: ‘Weel, he micht hae been an expert on deer, but he’s nae expert on coffee, because I’ve gien him twa full tablespoons o’ castor oil in his coffee every day since Monday’.”
Dancy drowned in the Dee one stormy night in February 1925. He was in the habit of crossing the river he knew so well on stepping-stones, but, according to family lore, might have been less than sober after an evening with his cronies.
The night he died, Dancy was last seen in Ballater at eight o’clock, when he bid farewell to his friends. He had fished every pool of the Dee, and often waded the river for a near cut to the Knocks, but the February wind was snell and the water was high.
When he did not come home, Annie imagined that he had stayed over with relatives in Ballater because of the gale.
After four fruitless days of searching, Dancy’s sons and Police Sergeant Duguid found his body in the Dee, at the edge of the Ballater golf course, in a turmoil of sand and stones washed downstream in the storm. He had a bad head wound, which caused them to think he had lost his footing; his watch, given to him by the king, had stopped at 8.15, just quarter of an hour after he left Ballater.
Perhaps we do Dancy an injustice, but I know he was fond of a dram, and was once seen trying to get his horse and trap up the steps over a footbridge on the Dee. After that occasion, he ruefully told Annie that the Sunday kirk bells had been reproaching him, ‘Go home, go home, drunken Davy Rose’.
I still come across people whose parents were taught by Dancy. One old lady who lived in Great Western Road, Aberdeen, told me how she and her elder sister used to walk several miles to be taught dancing at The Knocks.
She smiled as she related the words of my great-grandmother, who gave the girls a glass of milk when they arrived, breathless.
“Sit doon ye a while afore ye maun dance.”
In my childhood a portrait of David Rose hung in the Victoria Hall at Ballater. I would love to see it again; that, and the long pocket fiddle which he made.
Dancy Davy Rose is buried, with Annie, at Tullich.
Rosalind (Lindy) Cheyne was given her name in memory of the Roses.Tweet
This is an article from the June 2012 edition of Leopard Magazine. To read much more like this every month, subscribe to Leopard Magazine.