The Tragic Death of the Rev. A. H. Mackonochie

FRIENDS of humanity, of high and low degree,
I pray ye all come listen to me;
And truly I will relate to ye,
The tragic fate of the Rev. Alexander Heriot Mackonochie.

Who was on a visit to the Bishop of Argyle,
For the good of his health, for a short while;
Because for the last three years his memory had been affected,
Which prevented him from getting his thoughts collected.

’Twas on Thursday, the 15th of December, in the year of 1887,
He left the Bishop’s house to go and see Loch Leven;
And he was accompanied by a little skye terrier and a deerhound,
Besides the Bishop’s two dogs, that knew well the ground.

And as he had taken the same walk the day before,
The Bishop’s mind was undisturbed and easy on that score;
Besides the Bishop had been told by some men,
That they saw him making his way up a glen.

From which a river flows down with a mighty roar,
From the great mountains of the Mamore;
And this route led him towards trackless wastes eastward,
And no doubt to save his life he had struggled very hard.

And as Mr Mackonochie had not returned at dinner time,
The Bishop ordered two men to search for him, which they didn’t decline;
Then they searched for him along the road he should have returned,
But when they found him not, they sadly mourned.

And when the Bishop heard it, he procured a carriage and pair,
While his heart was full of woe, and in a state of despair;
He organised three search parties without delay,
And headed one of the parties in person without dismay.

And each party searched in a different way,
But to their regret at the end of the day;
Most unfortunately no discovery had been made,
Then they lost hope of finding him, and began to be afraid.

And as a last hope, two night searches were planned,
And each party with well lighted lamps in hand
Started on their perilous mission, Mr Mackonochie to try and find,
In the midst of driving hail, and the howling wind.

One party searched a distant sporting lodge with right good will,
Besides through brier, and bush, and snow, on the hill;
And the Bishop’s party explored the Devil’s Staircase with hearts full of woe,
A steep pass between the Kinloch hills, and the hills of Glencoe.

Oh! it was a pitch dark and tempestuous night,
And the searchers would have lost their way without lamp light;
But the brave searchers stumbled along for hours, but slow,
Over rocks, and ice, and sometimes through deep snow.

And as the Bishop’s party were searching they met a third party from Glencoe side,
Who had searched bracken and burn, and the country wide;
And sorrow was depicted in each one’s face,
Because of the Rev. Mr Mackonochie they could get no trace.

But on Saturday morning the Bishop set off again,
Hoping that the last search wouldn’t prove in vain;
Accompanied with a crowd of men and dogs,
All resolved to search the forest and the bogs.

And the party searched with might and main,
Until they began to think their search would prove in vain;
When the Bishop’s faithful dogs raised a pitiful cry,
Which was heard by the searchers near by.

Then the party pressed on right manfully,
And sure enough there were the dogs guarding the body of Mackonochie;
And the corpse was cold and stiff, having been long dead,
Alas! almost frozen, and a wreath of snow around the head.

And as the searchers gathered round the body in pity they did stare,
Because his right foot was stained with blood, and bare;
But when the Bishop o’er the corpse had offered up a prayer,
He ordered his party to carry the corpse to his house on a bier.

So a bier of sticks was most willingly and quickly made,
Then the body was most tenderly upon it laid;
And they bore the corpse and laid inside the Bishop’s private chapel,
Then the party took one sorrowful look and bade the corpse, farewell.

The Death of Mr Mackonochie

When we announced the death of Mr. Mackonochie in The Times of yesterday the sad circumstances attending the event were not known in London. Rumours of an accident had indeed reached the ears of his friends at St. Alban’s Church, but they were rumours only, and no definite information had been received such as might have been made public. Mr. Russell, one of the curates of St. Alban’s, Holborn had at once made a hasty journey to Scotland, and on his arrival sent the following telegram from Ballachulish, which was received in London yesterday evening :—

“He went Thursday morning to walk to head of loch, ten miles off, with two dogs, deerhound and terrier. Snowstorm came on and darkness, lost trail, wandering miles up into mountains, lay down, dogs watched two days and nights; would not let searchers approach. Found 17 miles from home, head frozen into snow. Hat off. Lies in Bishop’s chapel; no trace of suffering upon face. I start early to-morrow as no boat to-night. Arrive at Euston early Wednesday. Will telegraph exact time from Oban to-morrow. Bishop tied here by duty, greatly regrets cannot come.”

A correspondent gives the following further particulars:— On Wednesday last Mr. Mackonochie walked up Loch Leven side and evidently enjoyed it, for on Thursday morning he said he intended to take a much longer walk. He left at 5 o’clock, having a deerhound and a terrier with him. He passed Kinlochmore-lodge about noon and was seen by one of the keepers going in the direction of the bridge. As he did not return to Aultshellach-house in the evening some alarm was felt, and a party was sent as far as Kinloch to make inquiries, but nothing was known beyond that he had been seen passing at noon. The night was very stormy. On Friday a large party from North Ballachulish, accompanied by the Bishop of Argyll, went up and, accompanied by all the shepherds and keepers, searched the hills in all directions, continuing the search all night and up to 2p.m. on Saturday, when they were about to give up the search in that part of the forest. But as Hugh McColl and Duncan McColl, jun., of Kinloch, were crossing a wire fence they noticed the deerhound sitting beside a snow wreath in a hollow close to the fence, and on going over they found the body lying in the hollow and the two dogs beside it. The Bishop and the rest of the party were hailed and arrangements were made for carrying the body home from the glen. It appears that Mr. Mackonochie, after passing Kinloch, had gone along the road six miles, and when darkness set in he must have lost the road, for he had gone about a mile and a half off the path up the hillside, and, having come to a wire fence, he evidently had followed it until he came to the hollow, which was surrounded by a heavy wreath of snow, over which he could not go. The hollow was very much trampled, apparently by Mr. Mackonochie walking round and round, until, becoming exhausted, he lay down with his hand under his head. When found, the head and shoulders were covered with snow. The body was taken to Aultshellach-house that evening and will be removed to England.

The Times, 20th December 1887

Further Reading


Wikipedia Article

Related Gems

Comments (7) »

  1. Roy Baker
    In the year 2012, on the 17th day of September at 8:45 pm

    Although I’ve got the Collected Poems of William McGonagall, I have never read this poem before. I read it aloud to my wife and we both enjoyed it. He tells a good story and keeps the audience on tenterhooks until the end. Will they find the Rev. Mackonohie alive? One has to read the poems aloud in a dramatic voice to get the best effect. Thank you for bringing this poem to my notice.
    Roy Baker

  2. Angie
    In the year 2013, on the 8th day of November at 2:03 pm

    Well! This is a surprisingly poignant poem. You can tell from the gloomy tone of the work that there will be a sad ending, but somehow you hope that there won’t be, because the Alzheimery Rev. Mackonochie seems so real, and you can feel for the searchers in their hopeless task. Well done Mr McGonagall, this is one of your best ones, and for all the right reasons this time!

  3. Angie
    In the year 2013, on the 8th day of November at 2:11 pm

    I have just read the Wikipedia article as mentioned above and gosh, is it depressing! Poor Rev. Mackonochie. You think of McGonagall characters as being rather figures of fun, but the Rev. was very real and very persecuted by the church heirarchy for his high-church views. No wonder his mind went.

  4. Kim
    In the year 2014, on the 22nd day of March at 9:47 am

    Having walked much in the Lochaber region, summer and winter, I have passed the monument and cross at NN 264613 beside the Allt an Inbhir stream when travelling between Kinlochleven and Loch Chiarain. Only recently have I deciphered the lichen-encrusted text and was able to search for information about Mackonochie. I have stayed at Alltshellach House whilst undergoing winter ML training and assessment and McGonagall’s poetry (and Times excerpt) links these places, and memories, and completes another circle for me.
    McGonagall frequently accompanies me to bothies in the Highlands however I had not come across this before.
    Thank you.

  5. In the year 2016, on the 24th day of April at 8:51 am

    […] McGonagall, poetry’s answer to Florence Foster Jenkins, brings to mind another of his works, The Tragic Death of the Rev. A. H. Mackonochie, a.k.a. “the martyr of St Alban’s (Holborn)”, on account of his prosecution and […]

  6. In the year 2021, on the 17th day of August at 2:17 pm

    […] a priest at St Alban, Holborn, Alexander Herriot Mackonochie, one of the few clergy to have been immortalized by the poet William […]

  7. In the year 2023, on the 12th day of May at 1:54 pm

    […] The Diocese of London local calendar for 15 May 2023 includes Andrew Heriot Mackonochie, Priest, 1887, a.k.a. “the martyr of St Alban’s” and one of the few clergy to be immortalized by William Topaz McGonagall, The Tragic Death of the Rev. A. H. Mackonochie. […]

Leave a comment