There should be a good many Lochaber axes in the country however, though not in Lochaber. We wonder if such a thing as a "Jeddart staff" could be had to-day in its proper locality? We recollect that during Her Majesty's first visit to Scotland in 1842, when she was received by such a splendid gathering of the Clans at Dunkeld, there was a company of a hundred men, commanded by the Honourable Captain James Murray, brother of Lord Glenlyon, the biggest men that could be got in Athole and the surrounding districts, all armed with Lochaber axes, and a very fine sight they were as they poised and swung about their ponderous and terrible weapons. We were then but a boy at school, just entering upon our teens, but the appearance of these kilted giants, with their dreadful battle-axes, is as fresh and vivid as if, since that bright and beautiful September noon, hardly thirty days had elapsed, instead of upwards of thirty years. We doubt, however, if the Lochaber ax, so called, as seen at Dunkeld on the occasion referred to, and as usually shown in our collections of weapons, is at all a true representative of the ancient arm so formidable in many a dour conflict in the hands of the Camerons, Macmartins, Macmillans, and the Macphees of Lochielside, Glenarkaig, and Glenlochy, and of the Macdonalds of the Braes, and Mackenzies of Lochlevenside.
The weapon as now shown is decidedly too big, too ponderous and unwieldy ever to have been used in actual fight. Only a Clan Samson or Clan Goliath, and all of them of ancestral stature and strength, could hope to wield such an arm in the heat and hurry of conflict with anything like dexterity and ease. Like the immense two-handed "Wallace" style of sword that is sometimes shown to you as having been the favourite weapon of some celebrated warrior of the middle ages and subsequent centuries, but which it is simply impossible that any mere men could ever have wielded with effect in actual fight, the modern Lochaber axe too gigantic for use, and must have been manufactured, a big pattern of a lesser weapon, merely for parade and show. That a weapon of the kind, however, once existed, and was a favourite arm with the men of Lochaber, is unquestionable, and a truly formidable weapon it must have been. With a crescent face to cut with, it had a hook at the back by which horsemen could be caught hold of and dragged from their saddles, to be despatched at leisure as they lay helpless upon the ground. The shaft was necessarily of considerable length, about six feet, of ash or other tough wood, and of no greater girth than a common hay-fork handle. The shaft of the modern weapon, however, is between seven and eight feet long, and of a girth that an ordinary hand does not suffice to grasp. The axe proper, too, or head of the arm usually shown as a Lochaber axe, is nearly twice the weight of that of the older and more business-like weapon. An Indian tomahawk with a six-foot shaft, or a mediæval knight's battle-axe with a six-feet handle, such as that with which the Bruce cleft the skull of Henry de Bourne at Bannockburn, would probably be nearer to the pattern of the original Lochaber axe than the ridiculously big and cumbrous modern article. You remember the scene in Scott's Lord of the Isles -
"Of Hereford's high blood he came,
As motionless as rocks, that bind
Onward the baffled warrior bore
A real Lochaber ax-head we have seen, never the complete weapon properly shafted, though surely real and genuine specimens of the old and famous war-arm must be found in some of our museums. At what period the Lochaber axe ceased to be carried as a battle-arm by the Highlanders it is impossible to say; probably soon after the general introduction of fire-arms into the northern half of the kingdom, for it was certainly not used in the '45, nor, so far as we know, in the '15, nor even in the wars of Montrose; so that for upwards of two hundred years at least it has not been used in actual combat.