52 in 52: Week 9
A gamekeeper is a person who manages an area of countryside to make sure there is enough game for shooting, or fish for angling, and who actively manages areas of woodland, moorland, waterway, or farmland for the benefit of game birds, deer, fish, and wildlife in general. Gamekeepers are often employed on large estates, tasked with ensuring that the lord of the manor’s hunting excursions are successful.
My great-great grandfather was a gamekeeper in Perthshire, Scotland. Adam Gordon was born in 1829 in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. Around 1854, Adam became the gamekeeper at Braco Castle, pictured below as it looks today.
Braco Castle is located 6 miles north of Dunblane and 2 miles northwest of the village of Braco. The castle was built in the 16th century as a tower house and was owned by the Bishop of Dunblane. Sir William Graham owned the estate in the 1600s, and General David Graham, who died in the 1790s, was the last of the Grahams to stay at Braco. Ownership of the castle then passed to the Smythe family. Today, it is privately owned.
Adam and his wife, Catherine McMinn (pictured below), lived in the gamekeepers’ cottage on the grounds of the castle. They raised eight children here, six boys and two girls. (Adam, David, Joseph, James, Henry (“Harry”), Mary, Margaret, and William.)
Adam remained the gamekeeper at Braco Castle until his death in 1894. The job then passed to his youngest son, William Glennie Gordon (b. 1872). (Pictured below) Tragically, William died at the age of 25 at Braco. On a Friday afternoon in July of 1897, he had gone out with his dogs onto the grounds of the estate. By evening, neither he nor the dogs had returned, so a search was undertaken. William’s body was found on Saturday in the castle’s reservoir. The dogs were found lying by William’s clothes on the banks of the water. It was surmised that William had gone swimming, gotten a cramp, and drowned.
William was not the only one of Adam’s children to follow in their father’s footsteps. Son James was also a successful gamekeeper.
James was born in 1862 in Braco. By 1885, James was in Ireland, and by 1899, he was the head gamekeeper at Curraghmore, the estate of the Marquis of Waterford, the same Waterfords of Waterford crystal fame.
In 1899, James and his family suffered the devastating loss of his second-oldest son, James, Jr. There was a hunting party on the estate of Curraghmore, and after a day of shooting, one of the younger boys wanted a turn with the gun. Finally given permission, he was handed the weapon. Somehow, the gun discharged, shooting James, Jr., age 12, in the left leg. All efforts to save him were in vain, and he died that evening due to blood loss. Perhaps it is due to this incident that James, Sr., left Ireland and accepted a position with Sir Philip Henry Brian Grey-Egerton. Baron Grey-Egerton’s estate, Oulton Hall, was located in Little Budworth near Tarpoley, Cheshire, England. Tarpoley is approximately 30 miles southeast of Liverpool.
In 1937, Baron Grey-Egerton died, and James retired. He remained in Little Budworth until his death in 1943. Oulton Hall no longer exists. It was destroyed by fire in 1926, and the grounds were hit by bombs in 1940 during World War II. The grounds where the estate once stood are now used as a car racing circuit.
The trail of gamekeepers does not end there, however, as James’ oldest son, Adam, followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, and also became a gamekeeper. Adam, known as “Gordon”, was born in Ireland in 1885. In 1899 at the age of 14, Gordon left home. Whether this was before or after the death of his brother in a shooting accident is not known. In any event, Gordon took a position as an apprentice taxidermist in Dublin. After two years, he left his position and became an apprentice falconer, and two years after that, he went to work on the estate of the Duke of Portland at Welbeck Abbey. In 1909, Gordon was employed as an assistant keeper in Windsor and in 1912, he became the gamekeeper for Thomas Duncombe, Lord Helmsley, at Duncombe Park. Adam Gordon died in England around 1975 and is still highly regarded as an expert in falconry.
In the UK today, there are about 5,000 gamekeepers employed on a full time basis, and these individuals play an important role in shaping the British countryside, through their sympathetic land management. Three generations of Gordons are part of this proud tradition.