Hò the black crook


29 June 2021

A song by Donald Baillie Researched and sung by Rona MacLeod


Hò the black crook, hè the black crook
Hò the black crook who enslaved our land.

Sellar is in Culmaily
Left like a wolf
Catching and oppressing
Everything that comes in contact with him.

Pity you weren’t in prison
For many years, with only bread and water
And a hard circle of iron
Securely and strongly round your thigh.

If I could have you outside
People holding you down,
I would take out with my fists
three inches of your lungs.

You and your party
Went up to the brae of Rossal
And you set fire to your brother’s house
It went up in flames

When you die
You will not be placed in the ground
But your dung-ridden carcas
will be manure on the surface of a field.

How I chose the song

I wished to find songs from Sutherland because, although I am from Sutherland, I am not familiar with many songs from this area. I used Tobar an Dualchais to look through songs that had been recorded or written in Sutherland. This song attracted my attention because it is about the interesting character, Patrick Sellar. As well as that the song mentions some places I know and that are near me.

The author

There’s not much information about Donald Baillie online but I believe he was from Sutherland because the song is about the clearances that happened in Sutherland and Patrick Sellar was responsible for them. In addition to that I discovered that he had emigrated to Prince Edward Island in Canada. It appears that the song was composed after Patrick Sellar’s court case on 23 April 1816 and therefore Baillie must have been born a good number of years before then.

The song

Hò ’n ceàrd dubh is a satirical song. It is apparent from the words that Donald Baillie loathed Patrick Sellar. He compares Sellar to a wolf, demonstrating how Baillie regarded Sellar as a plunderer. He also mentioned Sellar’s court case and how he wishes he had been imprisoned for many years, receiving only bread and water. It is very apparent in the third verse how Baillie loathed Sellar as he says “I would take out with my fists, three inches of your lungs”.
The song also describes how Sellar set fire to a house in Rossal. At the end he says that Sellar will not be buried when he dies, but that his carcas will be spread over the ground like manure.

Further Information

Culmaily is mentioned in this song. Culmaily is near the town of Golspie where George Granville Leveson-Gower, Duke of Sutherland, lived in Dunrobin Castle. The Duke was involved in the clearances in Sutherland from around 1814 to 1820. His wife, the Countess, worked with Patrick Sellar, Roy and William Young who is named in this song, during the clearances. Sellar and Young worked on a sheep farm in Culmaily and they cleared people from there as well.

Sellar was a lawyer and he and Young had come from Moray-shire in 1808 to work for the Countess. Sellar was accused of murder and setting fire to property because a woman had died a few days after Sellar had set fire to her house while she was still inside. He was not sent to prison.
In Golspie a statue of the Duke stands on Ben Bhraggie, causing some controversy.

Apart from Culmaily, the song also mentions Rossal. Rossal is one of the places from which Sellar evicted people. After the clearances there was no-one left in Rossal, it was just a sheep farm. As well as that it was near Rossal that the woman died after Sellar had set fire to her house.

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