Sometimes, one comes across dead admirals in unexpected ways and unexpected places. This was definitely the case during our recent road trip back from Orkney, where we’d been during the Jutland commemorations. On our journey north, my ‘significant other’ – the ‘LadyQJ’ of my Twitter feed – spotted a sign for a pottery whose products she particularly likes, but the pressure of catching the ferry on time meant we had to postpone a detour until the return journey. On the way to the pottery in question, though, I spotted a Historic Scotland sign for Fearn Abbey, and as I’ve never been able to resist such temptations, I made sure we went to have a look. This turned out to be an interesting place in its own right, a former Premonstratensian monastery that was once much frequented by the Kings of Scots; the abbey church was retained by the local parish, only to suffer a spectacular disaster on a Sunday in 1742, when the roof collapsed during a service and killed 36 members of the congregation. But the real find was up at the east end, possibly relocated there from a different position within the church – a spectacular memorial to Admiral Sir John Lockhart Ross (1721-90). Not only was it a dead admiral, it was one whom I’d actually written about, albeit in an essay that never saw the light of day. Born as John Lockhart, he became one of the star frigate captains of the Seven Years’ War, but the death of the last of his brother in 1760 made him Laird of the Ross-shire estate of Balnagown Castle – today owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed – although an entail compelled him to add the surname of Ross. (He later inherited his family’s baronetcy too, despite having been the fifth son.)
Lockhart Ross returned to service during the American War, being promoted rear-admiral in 1779 and flying his flag in the ill-fated Royal George during the ‘Moonlight Battle’ of 1780. He died as vice-admiral of the Blue. However, he is best known, not for his naval service, but for having been the landlord who introduced sheep farming to the Scottish Highlands. Although Lockhart Ross personally treated his tenants with scrupulous fairness and, indeed, much kindness, others did not, thereby triggering the ‘Highland Clearances’. Anyway, here’s his memorial!