After listing all of the tenants in the Market, the Inverness Courier noted that:
“All the tenants above-mentioned have lost their effects. A few of the tradesmen succeeded in securing their books, but otherwise but little was saved. Messrs A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers, who, with praiseworthy promptitude, opened new premises in Union Street, yesterday morning, lost a valuable and faithful dog. He had been left in charge of the premises, and although an effort was made to get him to leave, he refused to quit, and was consequently burned to death at his post.”
“…the howl of a dog
could be distinctly heard
amid the roar of the flames…”
The Northern Chronicle has a harrowing description of A. & D. Macdonald’s unfortunate dog:
“While the fire was raging in the market, the howl of a dog could be distinctly heard amid the roar of the flames. It turned out to be the property of Messrs A. & D. Macdonald. It appears that it had been part of his duty during the previous eight years to keep watch over his masters’ premises from Saturday till Monday, and it is said he was so sagacious an animal that he knew well when the Saturdays came round, and when closing time was drawing nigh he indicated in a manner which was not to be mistaken that they should not forget to leave him his portion of food and water. On other occasions he would visit the farm, sometimes travelling by the public road, but more frequently by train, and he was never known to mistake the railway station.”
The Scottish Highlander, drawing extensively on Courier reporting, but adding important details, also mentioned the ill-fated dog:
“Messrs A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers, lost a valuable and faithful dog. He had been left in charge of the premises, and although he came out once, he immediately returned and a second effort was made to get him to leave, he refused to quit, and was consequently burned to death.”
The Highland News does not mention this incident at all.
These three short extracts contain everything we know about the market dog, now commemorated in the market with a plaque and resurrected through the miracle of Augmented Reality. He has also appeared in several stories in today’s local newspapers. Understandably we would like to know more, so taking on the role of Ancestor Detectives we have researched the farmer and butcher who owned the dog and are now trying to trace any descendants who may be able to add more details to the story. At the moment we do not know the name of the dog, or his breed, but he was clearly a faithful and intelligent dog, who took his responsibilities seriously.
From the Northern Chronicle we learn that he had been left in charge of a butcher’s shop in the market for 8 years, from closing time on Saturdays until Monday mornings. He knew when it was a Saturday and he knew when closing time approached, making it clear that his masters should not forget to leave him food and water.
Why did he not escape from the inferno? According to the Scottish Highlander, he did come out once, but immediately returned to his post, so we know that the dog was not chained up in the shop he was guarding. Macdonalds’ butchers shop was close to the Academy Street entrance, so the dog could have escaped. However, it was a scene of noise and confusion, with terrifying fire and debris all around, hundreds of spectators outside, and panic everywhere.
“…he was a Gaelic-speaking dog…”
One possibility is that he was a Gaelic-speaking dog. This is not as strange as it sounds – it is commonplace for Gaelic-speaking farmers to train their sheepdogs with Gaelic commands. By tracing Alexander Macdonald in the Census records, we know that he was a Gaelic speaker, born in Glenmoriston, so perhaps his dog would only have responded to Gaelic commands.
We have to thank the market dog for the key clue in tracing Alexander Macdonald. From the reference in the Northern Chronicle to a railway station near the family farm, that gave us a chance to narrow the search, looking in the records for Alexander Macdonalds who lived near Inverness and also near a railway. An Alexander Macdonald in Kirkhill parish seemed a likely possibility, and, sure enough, a “farmer and butcher” of that name lived at Balintore Farm, in Inchmore, near the Bogroy Inn, south of the village of Kirkhill and not far from the former railway halt at Lentran. From that information we have been able to trace his Glenmoriston ancestry and of course his Kirkhill family – he was married with five sons, one of whom has left descendants. His brother and co-owner of the market shop, was Donald Macdonald. Investigations are ongoing!
Extract from 1901 Census
The Courier also mentions that A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers, had, “with praiseworthy promptitude” opened up new premises on Union Street within a day of the fire. This was at 33 Union Street, still in use as retail premises. Although A. & D. Macdonald continued trading in the market after it was rebuilt, they also continued trading on Union Street well into the 1950s.
“…the ludicrous things
that some persons will do
when labouring under excitement…”
We may never know why the faithful dog died at his post, but we do learn from newspaper accounts that there was widespread chaos and panic during the fire. The Northern Chronicle gives an example of the effects of stress in emergency situations:
“To give an idea of the ludicrous things that some persons will do when labouring under excitement, it appears that a messenger who was sent for the railway fire engine thought that the smartest way to accomplish this errand was to rush to the telegraph-office, and ask the operators there to telegraph for it.”