Duncan MacDonald Caithness Equilibrist 

This etching, made from a broadside on Duncan Macdonald, hangs in the Wick Carnegie Library. MacDonald was a Scottish refugee from the Jacobite troubles who fled to Paris and became a world-renowned equilibrist. The etching was made after a drawing by Louis Philippe Boitard. It shows Macdonald balancing on a wire, at his feet jack-boots, balancing on his right foot a wheel, a dish, a tray with 15 glasses, and a glass sphere; with his left index finger holding up a chair and a dog; balancing with his nose a sword, a pipe and two eggs; with his right hand playing a French horn and a trumpet, while underneath the wire sword blades are pointing upwards.

See this awesome detailed etching in the window of the Wick Carnegie Library

See this awesome detailed etching in the window of the Wick Carnegie Library

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Glass engraving on the window in the library
Duncan Macdonald of the Shire of Caithness Gent the celebrated Scottish Equilibrist.

Excerpt from the John O’Groats Journal 12th April 1957

At a meeting of Caithness Library Sub-Committee on Friday, Dr F. W. Robertson, county librarian, informed the member that Mr James Robertson, architect, Glasgow, a native of Keiss, had gifted to the museum a photostatic copy of an 18th century broadsheet, showing a famous equilibrist, Duncan Macdonald, who was a native of Caithness. Submitting the copy for inspection by the members, Dr Robertson said: “This is a very rare sheet. I doubt if any modern man could perform this feat of balancing. Mr Robertson has given so many gifts to the library and we are indebted to him.” The sub-committee unanimously agreed to record their appreciation of the gift.

This reproduction of the photostat of the engraving from the original drawing gives the artist’s impression of Macdonald performing his famous act. Underneath the following report appeared in the broadsheet.

Refugee in France
This gentleman (who performs on the slack wire what neither Caratha the Turk, or any other would presume to attempt in that surprising art) being unhappily involved in the late Rebellion was obliged, with several of his countrymen, to fly to France as a place of refuge, and as he danced perfectly well, flattered himself that talent would subsist him as he was then destitute, but found there to his great disappointment few persons in that class who even got a comfortable subsistence, the French being more inclined to re-establish their Marine, than encourage a set of useless caperers, and England, the only happy climate for those volatile geniuses, where they wallowed in luxury. Necessity then prompted him to turn to equilibrist, being kindly assisted by nature with an extraordinary gift of agility, the success for which this print exhibits, whereby he is rendered capable of gaining a genteel subsistence, and enabled to remit proper sums to his distant wife and six children.

The Act
Imprimis with a pair of French post boots, under the soles of which are fastened quart bottles with the necks downwards, he exhibits several feats of activity on the slack wire, after which he poises a wheel on his right toe, on the summit of which is placed a spike whereon is balanced by the edge of a pewter plate; on that a board with fifteen wine glasses; at the top, a glass globe with a wheaten straw erect on the same, he fixes a sharp-pointed sword on the tip of his nose, on the pummel of which he balances a tobacco pipe, and on the bowl two eggs erect; with his left fore-finger he sustains a chair with a dog sitting in it, and two feathers kept erect, on the nobs and to show his strength of his wrist there are two weights of 100 each, fastened to the feet of the chair, after which a French horn and trumpet are brought him, both which he sounds distinctly at the same instant two different tunes, the one being the “Banks of Tweed,” the other not proper to mention, as a proof of his certainty not falling he places on the stage, under the wire, several sword-blades with the points upwards.