Carolina Oliphant lived from 16 August 1766 to 26 October 1845. She was a collector and writer of songs and ballads whose work is considered by many to be second only to that of Robert Burns. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Carolina was born at Gask House near Dunning in Perthshire. The Oliphants had owned estates in the area since the 1200s. Both her mother and father came from strongly Jacobite families. Carolina's father, Laurence Oliphant, had gone into exile for a time after the Battle of Culloden, and had his lands confiscated by the Government: they were later purchased by sympathetic relatives. Her mother's family, the Robertsons of Struan, had forfeited their lands for the same reason (and regained them in the same way).
The family's Jacobite sympathies extended to the naming of their children. Carolina (the female equivalent of Charles) was named after Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Carolina had three sisters and two brothers, and Laurence Oliphant tried to ensure that all his children were educated as well as possible.
As a young woman Carolina became known, because of her beauty, as the Flower of Strathearn. She also started writing poetry and replacing the - often very crude - lyrics of traditional country songs with lyrics she had written. Some of these she gave a strong Jacobite slant to help keep up the spirits of her ailing father and her uncle, the clan chief of the Robertsons of Struan. Among her Jacobite pieces were the songs "Wha'll be King but Charlie?" "Charlie is my darling," "The Hundred Pipers," "He's owre the Hills," and "Bonnie Charlie's noo awa". Other songs such as "The Rowan Tree" and "The Pentland Hills," and the poem "The Auld House" simply recorded her feelings about the Scottish countryside.
On 2 June 1806, Carolina Oliphant, at the age of 41, married her second cousin, Major William Murray Nairne, and they moved to Edinburgh, where they lived until his death in 1830. Carolina kept her poetry and songwriting secret from her new husband, and adopted the pseudonym of "BB", short for Mrs Bogan of Bogan, when her work appeared as part of a major collection published in Edinburgh under the title of The Scottish Minstrel between 1821 and 1824. Carolina even tried to keep her true identity secret from the collection's editor, R.A. Smith.
In 1824, titles forfeited by Jacobites after the 1745 Jacobite uprising were restored, and William became Baron Nairne, with Carolina becoming Baroness or Lady Nairne. After William died in 1830, Carolina travelled widely with their disabled son, who had been born in 1808. He died in Brussels in 1837, and Carolina returned to Gask House in 1843, dying there on 26 October 1845 at the age of 79.
The year after her death, Carolina's sister published a posthumous collection of Carolina's verse and song, entitled Lays of Strathearn, and for the first time she was publicly identified as the author of the 87 songs and poems included. Carolina is not nearly as well known as she should be, or as well known as many of her songs. This owes much to the need she felt to keep her writing secret during her life so it did not interfere with her position in society.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".