Fergusson Heir Stolen and The Black Dwarf

Sir Walter Scott - Elshie, The Black Dwarf

Sir Walter Scott – Elshie, The Black Dwarf

A statue of the black dwarf was commissioned by Andrew Clason (who bought Hallyards from the Campbells in 1836) and this is still situated just in front of just in front of the main house.

A statue of the black dwarf was commissioned by Andrew Clason (who bought Hallyards from the Campbells in 1836) and this is still situated just in front of just in front of the main house.

The Black Dwarf, also known as The Black Tinker (C’eard Dubh) is now almost forgotten, a character who was once highly feared, written about by Sir Walter Scott, and played a large part in legends from all across Scotland. The Black Dwarf is known on Islay and there are many stories about him in the Scottish Borders where he would be blamed for what ever mischief befell the sheep or cattle.

In the ballad called ‘The Cowt of Keeldar’ – ” The Black Dwarf was described as a fairy of the most malignant order – the genuine Northern Duergar. But the best account of The Black Dwarf came from just across the Border with the ‘History of the Bishopric of Durham” where it tells of two Northumbrians out shooting deep in the mountainous moorlands which border on Cumberland. They stopped for refreshment in a secluded dell by the side of a stream. After eating one of of the party fell asleep. His friend did not want to disturb him so went for a walk when they came across a being that did not seem to come from this world – it describes him as the most hideous dwarf that the sun had ever shined on. His head was full size, forming a frightful contrast with his height, which was considerably under 4 feet. He had long matted red hair – described to be like that of the pelt of a badger in consistency and the colour a reddish brown, like the hue of the heather bloom. Although small in height, his limbs were very strong. The huntsman stood horrified which offended the dwarf greatly. The dwarf told him he was the king of the mountains and the protector of all wild animals and he shouldn’t treat him with such disdain. The huntsman was humbled and apologised, saying he was ignorant of such things. The Black Dwarf began to talk more and told him that he belonged to a species of beings something between the angelic race and humanity. He also added that he had hopes of sharing in the redemption of the race of Adam. The Dwarf invited the man to visit his home which was near by.  But just at his moment the sleeping huntsman had awoken and had begun calling out for his companion to find out where he was. The dwarf disappeared, maybe not comfortable with more than one person.

It was believed that if the huntsman had accompanied the spirit he would have been torn to pieces or imprisoned for years in the recesses of some fairy hill.


Fergusson of Dunfallandy stolen by the fairies



There is an old Highland legend about how the heir of Dunfallandy was stolen by the fairies and restored to his mother. A few versions of this story exist but this one is based on a retelling of it by Mr. Charles Fergusson, Muir of Ord.

The only son and heir of the Baron Fergusson of Dunfallandy was stolen by the fairies, and, in spite of all endeavours, could not be recovered.

At last the lady of Dunfallandy took it upon herself to visit  the C’eard Dubh – the black tinker – a famous Athole wizard of the day, and a thorough master of the Black Art.   After performing some of his uncanny arts, the Ceard informed her that the young chief of M’Fergus was with the fairies in the famous hill of Dunidea, in Strathardle, the headquarters and stronghold of the Athole fairies, but that nothing could be done for his recovery till next Christmas Eve, when the hill would be open only for an hour or two before midnight, only then could he would try and recover the boy.

To prepare for this, the day before Christmas the Ceard Dubh acquired a long string with a beautiful red apple tied to the end of it.  As well as this,  a large bag full of a pungent preparation, dried before the fire and powdered as fine as snuff.

When the time came he made his way by Loch Broom and Glen Derby, arriving in good time at the famous hill of Dunidea.  His timing was right and he found the hill open and all the fairies dancing to beautiful music, and foremost in the revels he saw the young heir of Dunfallandy.




Dunidea  Hill

Dunidea Hill

Watching his chance, when the child came near the door, the Ceard rolled his red apple in on the floor, which caught the boy’s eye, and he grasped at it ; but the Ceard, pulling the string, drew the apple out, followed by the child till he came within reach of the Ceard, who at once seized him and made off.

The fairies soon missed their prisoner, and, like a hive of angry bees, swarmed out, and pursued the flying Ceard and soon overtook him. But just as they reached him he put his hand in his bag, and, taking out a handful of the powder he had prepared, he threw it up and the wind scattered it in all directions. This stopped the fairies, as they had to stay and gather every particle before they could go farther, which delayed them some time, and gave the Ceard another good start. Again as they reached him he threw another handful, and then went on across Strathardle and up Glen Derby, till at last, just as his supply was almost exhausted, he reached the pass of Atholeford, where the head of Glen Derby opens into Athole, and when once he got across the burn there he was safe, as the fairies could not cross running water that divided two parishes. When he got quit of his angry pursuers, the Ceard went on at his leisure by Loch Broom to Dunfallandy, where he safely delivered the young heir to his delighted parents.’

rontispiece of the Black Dwarf, first published by Thomas Jonathan Wooler in 1817

Frontispiece of the Black Dwarf,
first published by
Thomas Jonathan Wooler in 1817


About Amanda Moffet

I run www.scotclans.com with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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2 thoughts on “Fergusson Heir Stolen and The Black Dwarf

  1. Victoria LB Homan

    Just wanted to let you know how much I love my Friday newsletter! The legends and stories are so interesting! In your travels, do you have any legends or stories about the McLarens, Young, or Boyd’s? Today’s brain teasers were fantastic! I have been compiling your stories and most interesting places for my visit in 2016. You are doing a great job, and love your website! Thanks, Vicki from Alaska

  2. Liz Doyle

    Hi Amanda,

    I enjoyed your article very much and just wanted to tell you that there is a grave near the chapel ruins at Hermitage Castle marked Cout of Kielder. I wonder if that would be the same character you mentioned?

    Keep on writing.


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