Glass Remembered … Goshen’s Story

The last case of smuggling in Glass was in 1888 when James Smith was tried for distilling at his croft called Craigdorney.  Many visitors to Glass paid tribute to the excellence of “Goshen’s” dram but he had to be careful.  On one occasion a gauger disguised as a tramp, called on Goshen seeking food.  Being a hospitable man, the crofter invited the man to step inside for a plate of soup, but also alert to the Excise ruses, he quickly noticed the superficial covering of dirt on the tramp’s smooth hands and was in no doubt as to the true identity of his visitor.  Therefore when the man suggested that a dram would be more than acceptable Goshen replied that he was dead against the taking of alcohol and pointed out that a bowl of hot soup was far more beneficial than any whisky.

Goshen might have gone on long enough – although his illegal activities were causing resentment among local spirit dealers – had it not been for a most extraordinary set of circumstances.  A prominent public figure had sampled some of Goshen’s whisky while a guest of the Grants of Beldorney Castle and on his return to London in the course of an after dinner speech he recounted that he had lately returned from a part of Scotland where he had drank whisky of a quality unrivalled by anything for sale in the whole of London.

Unknown to the speaker, the gentleman sitting on his immediate left was a high ranking official of the Excise Dept. who lost no time in engaging him in conversation when he sat down.  By judicious questioning the official gradually got all the information he required to initiate an investigation into Goshen’s activities and by the end of the evening the latter’s fate was as good as sealed.

Arrangements were made with the Grantown and Kingussie Preventive staff to assist and on Tuesday 13 March 1888 Messrs Waite and Gurney the supervisor and officer of Inland Revenue in Huntly made their way to Glass where they met their Speyside colleagues and travelled to a point near Beldorney Castle where they searched the surrounding hills and woods.

Nothing being found they regrouped and made directly for Craigdorney and “stormed” Goshen’s stronghold.  Under Mr Waite’s direction the party searched the house from floor to roof and at length came on a still and still-head concealed between the ceiling and the roof, among some lumber.  On being questioned Goshen could hardly believe that such strange and unfamiliar pieces of furniture could have been found in his humble and peaceful dwelling, but wonder grew to astonishment when, searching further, the officers found two sacks of ground malt ready for immediate use.  This was at once destroyed.

Examination of the outhouses and stockyard failed to uncover anything of importance, although every little cask, jar or bottle in the house testified to the “soul that had lately inhabited them”.   Making a more extensive sweep round the house the officers soon came upon a rudely constructed bothy – well concealed from view and here were found other utensils necessary for distillation, including mash-tub, fermenting barrel, which contained three gallons of stale sour wash and the worm in tub.

A little burn – most essential of all the distillers requisites – ran past the bothy having been diverted from its true course by about twenty yards.  Everything was destroyed except the wash-tub, worm, still and still-head. Which were conveyed for safety to Beldorney Castle, the residence of the nearest Justice of the Peace.  Search was continued all the way from Craigdorney to the Ardwell Inn where the party stayed the night, but without success.

The still would hold nearly twenty gallons and the mash-tub about forty gallons which gives some idea of the operation, which in its latter days, had become a haunt for Sunday drinking among the men in Glass.

Goshen was tried at Keith on 17 April 1888.  As there was no real defence to offer, his lawyer portrayed him as a feeble old man in poor circumstances and it was largely due to these extenuating circumstances that he got off with a £10 fine.

James Smith (Goshen) died at Craigdorney 9 May 1892 at the age of 85; a man who became a legend in his own lifetime.


1. You can read more about Goshen in Goshen’s Epilogue – by clicking here

2. Apparently The Cabrach, Mortlach and to a lesser extent Glass were notorious smuggling districts.  Even after the Excise Act of 1823 when distilling was licensed Glass was distilling 384 gallons of whisky in 1826.   Smuggling still went on with some wild affrays between the Excise and the smugglers.

3. 29th May 1805:  There was a spate in the Deveron and 12 ankers of whisky were lost twixt Inverharroch and the Church of Glass.

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