Friday, 30 March 2018

Lyell's Boulder

One of the greatest local luminaries is Sir Charles Lyell (1797 to 1875), who essentially established geology as an academic field of study and introduced a number of theories that are now the bedrock of the discipline. Lyell was a contemporary and friend of Darwin, and one of the first heavyweight academics to lend credence to Darwin's "Theory of Evolution". Lyell was accorded the honour of being buried in Westminster Abbey as I detail here.

Sir Charles Lyell

When I say local, I mean ne plus ultra local: Sir Charles Lyell owned the plot of land where Balintore Castle now stands, prior to the sale of the Balintore Estate to David Lyon.

I had the story told to me by my friend Andrew, that just before dying Lyell insisted on being taken for one last time to a boulder on top of Meams Hill just to the north of Kirriemuir, which I regularly drive past. Andrew and I have often pondered climbing the hill to find it.

Apparently, the boulder was some remnant of ice-age transport that proved that an ice age had actually occurred. Lyell crawled from his carriage on all fours, almost blind by this stage, just so he could touch the stone.

Anyhow, upon recent interrogation by a local historian it transpired that I had no idea where Andrew got his information. Anyone with an interest in history should check their sources, so I checked back with Andrew. The Lyell story can be found in the 'Regality of Kirriemuir' by Alan Reid, 1909. The book was limited to a print run of 650 copies, after which the printing plates were destroyed. I include photographs of the two pages that tell the tale below:

Lyell's boulder story: part 1 of 2

Lyell's boulder story: part 2 of 2

Comte de Berteux

My favourite Balintore Castle shooting tenant is the Comte de Berteux (1834-1913), who leased the building for a number of seasons.  I know about 1887 due to an entry in an American society magazine "Truth" and he was also in residence  between 1893 and 1896, as his name appears in this Scottish Post Office Directory for the period.

This just predates the shooting record of a previous blog entry, which is a shame as it would have been nice to cross-reference the historical records.

Anyhow there is no doubt that the French count, from the 1866 caricature below by Antoine Bisetsky, was the very definition of a playboy, strutting around just like one of the many cock pheasants he must have shot at the castle. He was a race-horse owner, a member of the English Jockey-Club and a friend of Edward VII. With Balintore only 30 miles away from Balmoral, I am seeking evidence of a visit by Edward to Balintore. 

the younger Comte de Berteux

Below is a later 1903 cartoon of the Gordon Bennett (upper right), and the count (lower left) by Georges Goursat (1863 – 1934). The count may be considerably older but his profile is unmistakable. To have known the notorious hell-raiser Gordon Bennett (1841-1918) who owned the New York Herald and was one of the fabulously wealthy elite of the Belle Époque, is a sure sign our count was a bad boy par excellence!

the older Comte de Berteux

By now, dear reader, I hope you are as enamored of Count Léon Tresvaux de Berteux of Balintore Castle as I, and hopefully you will remain on first name terms: "Blog reader, Léon; Léon, blog reader".

Friday, 23 March 2018

Balintore's Victorian Spreadsheet

Those of you who think the spreadsheet began around 1979 (in the era of VisiCalc) are urged to read on.

Scans of historic Balintore Estate documents have recently fallen into my hands, and these constitute a meticulously-kept and continuous record, in spreadsheet form, of game-bagged at the estate between the years 1896 and 1928.

Monarchs may have come and gone (Victoria, Edward VII, George V); wars may have come and gone (Second Boer War, WWI, Irish War of Independence); and the Downton Abbey supernova may have waxed and wained (1912-1926); but nothing interfered with the shooting season at Balintore or the accurate recording thereof. The copperplate, to my eyes, betrays the same diligent hand at work throughout.

My understanding is that a single shooting tenant would rent out the castle and the estate for the entire season, and the "Remarks" column of the tables suggests this is the case as it presumably contains the name of the tenant for that year. I am particularly fond of the 1922 tenant: a delightfully named Colonel Courage.

I was unfamiliar with the term "Blackgame", but apparently this is the Black Grouse which the numbers indicate is much rarer than the more familiar Red Grouse.

The Woodcock is by far the rarest bird. I know it is shot in Glen Quarity to this day, and that Italians seem to be the keenest to do so. There are assuredly many disappointed Italians. I can only assume that this small bird must be disproportionately delicious.

I once dined in a restaurant called "La Bécasse " in Nice. I was unfamiliar with the word so I looked it up.  Not only is Bécasse the French word for Woodcock, but it also means "the hunt" so synonymous must the activity and the bird be to the continental mind.

A scientific training rendered it impossible for me not to graph the data. Given the radically different numbers for the different species, the data was best displayed by grouping the game types into three separate graphs: the "most shot"; the "least shot" and the ignominious "middlingly shot".

The spreadsheet may be found here, and the infinitely scalable SVG file for the graphs may be found here. The scanned historic tables are appended below, followed by the three graphs and finally followed by the Python code to produce the graphs.

numbers bagged 1896 to 1906

numbers bagged 1907 to 1917

numbers bagged 1918 to 1928

import pandas
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
coloured source produced by
pygmentize -O full,style=emacs -f html -l python -o analyse_spreadsheet.html

def safe_integer_conversion(arg):
        return int(arg)
        return 0  # if no integer is in the cell return 0

csv_name = '/home/david/Documents/qt_code/shooting_spreadsheet/Shooting Spreadsheet - Sheet1.csv'

df = pandas.read_csv(csv_name)
x = list(map(safe_integer_conversion, df["Date."]))

colours = [ "blue", "red", "brown" , "green", "yellow", "black", "orange", "cyan", "magenta", "gray"]
omit_columns = ["date", "total"]
colour_index = 0

use_columns= [col for col in list(df) if not any([o in col.lower() for o in omit_columns])]
column_average = {}
for col in use_columns:
    data = list(map(safe_integer_conversion, df[col]))
    column_average[col] = sum(data) / len(data)

number_of_graphs = 3

items = list(column_average.items())
sorted_items = list(reversed(sorted(items,key = lambda a: a[1] )))
items_per_graph = int(1.0 + (len(sorted_items) / number_of_graphs))

plt.suptitle("Game Killed on Balintore Estate")

colour_index = 0
for figure in range(number_of_graphs):
    item_slice = sorted_items[figure * items_per_graph:(figure + 1) * items_per_graph]
    group = [ e[0] for e in item_slice ]
    subplot = 100 * number_of_graphs + 10 + figure + 1
    plt.ylabel("number killed")
    for col in group:
        y = list(map(safe_integer_conversion, df[col]))
        colour = colours[colour_index % len(colours)]
        game = col.replace("-","").replace(".","")
        l1, = plt.plot(x,y, 'o-', label=game, visible=True, color=colour)
        colour_index = colour_index + 1

Thursday, 22 March 2018

1963 Balintore Gamekeeper Terms and Conditions

Forget your free gym membership, and free medical insurance: if you want the ultimate "terms and conditions" of employment, then may I refer you to the 1963 "letter of offer" sent to engage the Balintore Estate gamekeeper. 

The letter speaks for itself, but I can't resist itemising at least a few of the perks: a terrier allowance; a retriever allowance;  an un-roadworthy Landrover; 2/3 of a suit annually; and free electricity as long as it comes from the water turbine plant at Balintore and not the electrical mains for which the gamekeeper would have to pay personally.

There is anecdotal evidence that the castle's turbine was still operating in the 1980's, but it is great to see from the historical record that it was definitely up and running in the 1960's.

The letter was sent on the 18th Feburuary 1963 to Mr. Neil McLean by R.P. Thorburn, the estate factor, on behalf of Lord Lyell (1939-2017) who only died relatively recently. I got hold of the letter via a friend of Balintore, Jerry Singer, via Mr. McLean's son, who apparently would be very happy for it to appear in the blog. Everyone in the chain has my deep gratitude.

letter page 1: Balintore gamekeeper terms and conditions
letter page 2: Balintore gamekeeper terms and conditions

was speaking to the current Balintore gamekeeper only yesterday. I will have to ask if his terms and conditions still have the same charm. In 1963, Mr. McLean, if it is in any doubt, could not resist this charm onslaught and did accept the position.