“We would rather go to prison” – Denominational problems and Clyne School Board

Alison McCall continues her investigation of the school board records of east Sutherland.

In 1877 the Clyne School Board minutes recorded that “some parents have expressed their willingness to go to prison rather than place their children under Mr Myron’s instructions.”

Morris Myron was headmaster of the recently opened Brora Public School. Within his profession he was highly respected, having chaired teachers’ committees and published a new style of school register. The average attendance during the first two years the school was opened was thirty four. The roll at the school (which could hold 250 pupils) had dropped to just twenty. Parents made their own educational arrangements with unqualified teachers and with Miss Sutherland’s girls’ school.

Why were the parents so strongly opposed to Mr Myron that they were willing to take their children out of school, risking fines and imprisonment?

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Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser, 25 June 1861

The first task of each School Board created after the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 was to carry out a census of all school aged children in the district. In Clyne there were 303 children between the ages of five and thirteen. 284 lived within the vicinity of Brora, which had three existing schools, two run by the Established Church and the Free Church plus a girls’ sewing school. There was also a school at Doll, two miles distant from Brora, founded by the Glasgow Auxiliary Gaelic School Society. The furthest pupils lived twelve miles away from Doll, and the School Board saw no option other than supplying an itinerant teacher for them.

The School Board proposed to amalgamate the Brora and Doll schools, making Mr Myron, the Established Church school teacher, headmaster on a salary of at least £100 p.a. Mr Baillie, the Free School teacher, would be deputy on a salary of at least £80 p.a.

The minutes do not explain what happened next, but clearly this plan was not acceptable. The parents at Doll claimed their children could not be expected to walk two miles to school in winter. The Board then proposed it should become an infant school, under a female teacher, with the older children walking into Brora. The Doll parents rejected this also.

More complicated were negotiations over the amalgamation of the two church schools. The difficulty appears to have been inter-denominational or political, though the minutes are silent on this. The School Board, which was chaired by Joseph Peacock, the Duke of Sutherland’s factor, favoured the Established Church. The majority of parents were members of the Free Church. By 1876 the parents of the children attending the Free Church school were refusing to send their children to be educated by Mr Myron. They made allegations of drunkenness, then of cursing, and latterly accusing him of carrying on an adulterous relationship with ‘the woman MacKay’. Alas, it has not been possible to identify ‘the woman MacKay’. The Board referred the matter to the Sheriff at Dornoch, who found the allegations wholly unfounded.

‘The ordeal through which the respondent has had to pass has been most trying, but he has come successfully through it, and the Sherriff-substitute now ventures to hope that the future relations between the School Board and the respondent, nothing will arise to show that the latter’s usefulness as a teacher has been in any way impaired by what has taken place under the present proceedings.’ (Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 22 Nov 1876)

Mr Baillie, the Free Church teacher, was officially ill during this time. He apparently suffered ‘severe attacks of bronchitis, aggravated by constitutional weakness and undeserved annoyance.’ In 1896 a newspaper article on his shell collection mentioned his love of cricket and golf, which casts doubt on his ‘constitutional weakness.’

 

Despite their assertion that they were prepared to go to prison, no parents did. Both Mr Myron and Mr Baillie suffered as a result of the dispute, but the main losers were the school children of Brora, whose education was seriously disrupted at a time when educational provision for children throughout Scotland was steadily improving.

‘Honest’ George Dempster and the Spinningdale Experiment

Katie Louise McCullough is an historian and the Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on the economic and social development of the Highlands and Islands during the Improvement Era. Katie has spent many wonderful trips to Dornoch and the surrounding areas hiking and walking the beautiful countryside with her good pal Elizabeth Ritchie.

In Spinningdale, on the north side of the Dornoch Firth, stand the remnants of a cotton mill. It was built from 1792-4 by the Balnoe Company for the agriculturalist and politician George Dempster, Esq. of Dunnichen (1732-1818), owner of the Skibo estate, and his Glasgow partner David Dale. The men raised over £3000 for the mill, largely from Glasgow businessmen. It was part of a broader plan for social and economic development in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that championed the provision of employment and poverty relief rather than clearance and turning over land to sheep walks.

cotton mill at Spinningdale

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

As an MP Dempster had a reputation for incorruptibility, gaining him the sobriquet of ‘Honest’ George. He brought his honesty and hard work to his development interests. Dempster was part of a network of improvers centred on the Highland Society of London (est. 1778) and its sister society the Highland Society of Scotland (est. 1784). Key players in these societies formed a subsidiary company the British Fisheries Society (Dempster was a director of the HSS and BFS) in 1786. In order to provide employment, the BFS established planned fishing villages in the western Highlands and Islands, an area noted by these men for its “underdevelopment.” Colleagues found within these networks blamed slow economic development and poverty on the Whiggish improvers of the early- and mid-eighteenth century who blamed Highlanders for their own poverty. In contrast, Dempster and like-minded friends felt the solution was not in raising great numbers of sheep but, as Sir John Sinclair argued, “by the introduction of arts and agriculture. The first will increase the number and wealth of the people; the latter will augment the quantity of the production of the soil, both for the maintenance of people and cattle. But neither arts nor agriculture can prosper, unless the inhabitants are secure in the tenure, by which they occupy the spots on which they live.” And so, Dempster and his colleagues came up with plans to build homes and transportation links, provide suitable local employment, and reduce or freeze rents until people got on their feet.

The Spinningdale mill was intended to provide employment for people from the nearby parish of Criech and its environs, including the Pulrossie estate, owned by Dempster’s brother. Local people lived off the sale of cattle and grew some potatoes and corn. Some considered this to be “hardly sufficient to maintain the families of the tenants,” resulting in difficulty paying rent and outmigration. Young men and women often temporarily migrated to the south: some “got high wages, and returned in winter to their parents, or relations, somewhat in the stile [sic] of gentlemen, and were a burden on their friends the whole winter, until they set out again in spring.” Some did not return; possibly marrying, dying, emigrating, or being “picked up by recruitment parties.”

cotton mill

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Emulating the fishing villages built by the BFS in the 1780s (Ullapool, Stein, and Tobermory), two villages were lotted on the Skibo estate: Criech and Spinningdale, in preparation for new housing. A warehouse was also built to hold goods for export. The Dornoch Firth was considered ideal for cotton manufacturing as it was damp and had access to transportation, the firth being “navigable for 24 miles [and] vessels of 50 tons burden can land their cargoes at this place,” and Spinningdale had a nearby burn for water power. Unlike many other landowners in this period, Dempster chose to freeze rents until manufacturing took off and people were placed in their new homes. This plan was intended not only to bring wealth to Dempster through rent, and to investors through profits, but also to raise the standard of living of inhabitants who “will enjoy perfect security, as occupiers of land. That those advantages will lead them gradually to better their houses, to improve their lands, and to alter their own condition in every respect for the better.”

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Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Unfortunately, this ambitious plan was a failure. Unable to coax locals to work in the factory with regularity (they were otherwise engaged in seasonal work; lambing, harvesting, peating, or searching for higher-wage work in the south) the mill did not turn a profit. A fire gutted the factory in 1806 and it was not rebuilt. Though the mill was a failure, Dempster’s plan reveals the benevolent intentions of some landowners who sought to attract local workers to planned towns with the provision of employment and infrastructure rather than clearing people on to crofts leaving the best land for sheep and cattle, a system designed to build wealth only for the landowner. Lotted towns and villages like those built by the British Fisheries Society, and many others, including Creich and Spinningdale, were intended to create employment and to reduce poverty for common Highlanders, eliminating the need to leave home in search of a better life.

Sources:

MS00126 George Dempster Papers Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

Sir John Sinclair, Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799) Vol 8 Criech, County of Sutherland.

A Coastal Tour

By the time he journeyed through the Highlands in 1790, John Geddes was fifty-five years old. He was a well-travelled man. Born in Banffshire, he went to Rome aged fourteen to train for the priesthood. Ten years later the young intellectual, now au fait with Enlightenment thinking and the doctrine of Pope Benedict XIV, was ordained and sent back to Banffshire to run the seminary at Scalan. A decade in Spain preceded high appointment in Lowland Scotland. Around the time Bishop Geddes was asked to contribute articles for the fourth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he took a tour through the north. He was keen on long distance walking, which he did in Spain as well as Scotland. He would say his breviary or plan a sermon, writing observations in a notebook, and talking to anyone he encountered. Over three June days he travelled from Dingwall to Berriedale, commenting on the homes of the gentry; developments in land use; inns and the scenery. Apparently Dornoch was ‘a very sorry village’ but it had a good inn! He notes a ‘small fisher town of earthen cottages’ named Port Leich, between Invergordon and the now deserted Tarbert House. This is now the prettily-named Barbaraville which has a stony beach but no sign of boats!

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John Geddes would have found the big enclosed fields and the view across to the Nigg yard a bit different to his view across the Cromarty Firth in the 1790s. The fishing industry which he observed is gone, replaced by the oil extraction and renewables industry. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

26th: After leaving Dingwall saw the Earl of Cromarty’s Pyramid in the churchyard. [This part of the churchyeard is now Tesco’s car park but hte pyramid can still be seen.] Tulloch belongs to a Mr. Davidson, a pleasant house on the side of an eminence; passed by the gates of Foulis, Sir Hugh Monro’s; came on to Drummond and there breakfasted, learned that Sir Alexander Monro’s mother lived in the neighbouring house, and that her daughters, Mrs. Hay and Mrs. Shaw, were with her; deliberated whether I should go to them or not; determined not, that I might not be detained or give them reason to wonder what was carrying me to the North. Saw Novarre, General Monro’s seat, situated on the side of a hill with a view of the Firth of Cromarty and a good deal of planting about the place, came along the Firth to the East of me, having a view of the town of Cromarty not far from the mouth of the Firth on the East side at the foot of one of the hills that form the entrance; dined at Invergordon; continued my walk along the Firth to Port Leich a small fisher town of earthen cottages; saw Tarbet House, a fine modern building erected by the late Lord McLeod and now in the possession of his cousin, Captain McKenzie; passed near the house of Balnagown, where its master, Sir John Lockhart Ross, had lately died; came by a moss-road to Tain, a town well-situated on the south side of the Firth of Dornoch; on the door of the church has been placed as appears, not long since a bass-rilievo of a priest in his sacerdotal robes, which seems to have been a tombstone; received a letter from Mr. Robertson here; lodged in a Mrs. Sutherland’s.

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Even in ruins Tarbet House exudes Georgian elegance, its simple lines almost obscured by ivy and trees. Although this building must have been quite a contrast to the fishermen’s houses in Port Leich, it certainly challenges stereotypes of the eighteenth-century Highlands being remote, underdeveloped and backward. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

27th: Walked along the South side of the Firth of Dornoch, a fine piece of water; passed by Tarlogie or Ankerfield, Lord Ankerfield’s seat; passed by an old Castle on the Firth; passed what is called the Meikle Ferry; saw up the Firth toward Loch Shinn; turned to the right and walked along the North side of the Firth of Dornoch, once the seat of the Bishop of Caithness, now a very sorry village. The Cathedral has been a good church; the present market-place is the burial-place in the middle of the town without any walls. Breakfasted in Lesly’s, a good inn, and remained there, it being Sunday, until after two o’clock; wrote to Bishop Hay and to Mr. Robertson; read newspapers; walked on to the Little Ferry, where the boat-house being on the North side I was detained a good while; came on to the Kirktown of Golspie, where I took a refreshment, and thence proceeded to an inn called the Milk-house [Wilkhouse Inn – see post from 25 February 2013], having passed under the Castle of Dunrobin, beautifully situated on a rock.

28th: Travelled along the coast, seeing the hills of Murray and Banffshire, meditating and reciting my Breviary; fell in with a Mr. Hutchison, Lieutenant of a man-of-war from Musselburgh, who came with me to the inn of Helmsdale, where I got breakfast; passed the Ord, a very steep road, and entered Caithness; passed by Navidale and took refreshment at Ansdale, where I saw the daughter of James Sutherland, who was first with Mr. Elliot, and afterwards in partnership with Corri in the music-shop; came over a hill and saw Braemore, the Pap of Caithness and other high hills being in view on my left; came over another hill and down on Berrydale, where two waters meet, and their two vallies and the rising ground between them form a most beautiful scene; dined at Berrydale in Henderson’s; passed over two hills and came down on Dunbeath, leaving the castle on my left. Here were Mr. Mathison and Mr. McGhegan, the Irish traveler whom I had seen at Edinburgh; conversed with them.

John Geddes continued his journey as far as Orkney. Not long after the tour, his health deteriorated. He suffered from rheumatism and high blood pressure, having a series of strokes. Latterly his right side became paralysed and he dictated his literary output. Geddes died on 11th February 1799 in Aberdeen after two years of helplessness, cared for by fellow priests.

Sources:

With thanks to David Taylor for pointing me to this source.

David Alston, Ross and Cromarty: A Historical Guide (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1997)

William Anderson, ‘Bishop John Geddes: Journal Ambula Coram Deo, Part Second’, The Innes Review, 6.2, (1955), pps 46-68.

William Anderson, ‘The Autobiographical Notes of Bishop John Geddes’, The Innes Review, 18.1, (2010), pps 36-57.

Frank A. Kafker and Jeff Loveland, ‘Bishop John Geddes, the First Catholic Contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 30.1, (2007), pps 73–88.

Suffrage in East Sutherland and Easter Ross

Susan Kruse is a long-time tutor with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) in the Highlands. Over the last seven years she has been working with WEA classes to uncover the story of Highland Suffrage, including most recently a focus on eastern Sutherland. She also runs community heritage courses with Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH). Last month she lectured on this topic to the Dornoch Heritage Society.

The story of the women’s suffrage campaign in the Highlands deserves to be better known! A Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) project has shown how active and vibrant the campaign was throughout the Highlands, using the evidence of suffrage newsletters and local newspapers.

There were two main phases: the first from 1868-1874 and then again between 1907 and 1914. In the first period, Jane Taylour and Agnes McLaren from Edinburgh made two Highland tours, speaking at Dingwall, Inverness, Wick, Thurso, Invergordon and possibly Tain. In their wake local committees formed to gather petitions in support of suffrage.

This activity seems short-lived. There is no evidence of suffrage activity between 1874 and 1907 in the Highlands. From 1909 there were frequent tours, most from speakers of the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), but also the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

In September 1909 Emmeline Pankhurst of the WSPU toured the southern Highlands, where the NUWSS, especially Helen Fraser, inspired the formation of a number of affiliated local societies. Mrs Pankhurst countered with the militant message, speaking at Tain amongst other places. This was followed a year later by a tour of the northern Highlands, with a stop at Dornoch. According to Votes for Women, the WSPU newsletter, the hall in Dornoch was overflowing – but the Northern Times did not bother to report the meeting. Here, as in the rest of the Highlands, the militant message did not appeal, and no WSPU societies formed in the Highlands, although there were individual members.

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Lady Frances Balfour ‘on tour’ in Dornoch. Published in Common Cause 19 September 1913. (Used with permission of WEA.)

Far more influential were NUWSS speakers. In September 1909 after an NUWSS tour, a society formed in Tain and was active until World War I. In October 1909 Chrystal Macmillan and Miss Campbell Smith toured on behalf of the Scottish University Women’s Suffrage Society, including Dornoch, Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale. After their talk in Dornoch a local NUWSS society formed with Miss J. Gibson as secretary.

This Dornoch society appears to have fizzled out. When we next hear of a suffrage tour, by Mrs Abbott in May 1912, the talk at Dornoch led to the formation of a new society, with Mrs Arthur as president, as well as a short-lived society in Bonar Bridge. The tours and work of Mary Bury of the NUWSS led to the formation of more in summer 1913, at Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale. These, as well as Dornoch, were active until World War I.

There was real support for suffrage in the area. The Dornoch Society alone in May 1914 had 63 paid up members (Northern Times 28 May 1914). The colourful Mrs Hacon was involved, as well as Margaret Davidson, both featuring in previous HistoryLinks blogs. But most accounts stress the non-militant nature of the Highland suffrage movement. Despite extensive research the only militant activity we have discovered was the disruption of the Prime Minister’s golf at Dornoch. Strangely he was staying at Oversteps, the home of Mrs Hacon, a committed suffragist. Thanks to research by Ellen Lindsay we know several women in the area protested in a  less violent way either refusing to give their name during the 1911 census, or providing false information.

As elsewhere, suffrage campaigning ceased with the start of World War I. Many societies threw their energies into war work, including volunteering at the Scottish Women’s Hospitals.

The research is still in progress, but has identified a number of activities and people involved in the area. Information can be found in binders of research submitted to Dornoch, Golspie, Helmsdale and Brora libraries. Thanks to the WEA course members Morag Black, Anne Coombs, Ellen Lindsay, Nick Lindsay, Penny Paterson and Morag Sutherland, with additional information from Sue Higgins and members of Gospie Heritage Society, and to the HLF for funding the project. New information, photographs or memories are always welcome – please send to Susan Kruse at highlandsuffrage@gmail.com.

The Ceilidh house at Gruids

The flickering of the fire picked out the creases in the old man’s face. He had their attention now. The room was crammed. The usual codgers from the Barony of Gruids had gathered in the Munro house for story-telling, just like in the days when he was young. His childhood friend had finished recounting one of the clan feuds of the district and the elderly man was deciding which epic tale of Ossian and the Fionn he would fill the rest of the evening with.

In the far corner he could just about make out his old friend Munro, the smoke from the central hearth misting above his head as he sat in his low wooden chair. In age he was shorter now than when they took to hill and river with gun and rod, but still a solidly built man, his grave face hiding a cheerful temperament. Never one for idleness, although his son now largely ran the farm, he still worked as a factor for the proprietor of Gruids. The old man chuckled as remembered the wild youth of half a century before. Even in those days when dancing at wakes as well as weddings was common, he had been legendary. He had once even persuaded a new widow to take the floor in a strathspey beside her husband’s corpse. When everyone else failed he roguishly remarked in her hearing, ‘that whoever else might have refused to dance at poor Donald’s death wake, he little thought it would have been she.’

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A chair of the type common in Sutherland. Doubtless the Munro household would have made and used such chairs. Part of the Historylinks Dornoch Museum collection. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie

William, the eldest lad, sat beside the patriarch. The gathering was in honour of him, the fortune-earning merchant son home for a visit from the south. Rumour had it he was worth fifteen hundred pounds a year. For weeks the old man had seen the string of visitors, most who never normally set foot in the Munros’ home, resurrecting faint ties of friendship. It was such a strain that poor Mrs Munro had called on her sister from Cromarty to help with the catering. Young Mrs Miller looked delicate, but she had apparently walked the thirty miles from Cromarty with that boy of hers in two days.

In later life that boy described his uncle’s house as a ‘low, long, dingy edifice of turf’ which ‘lying along a gentle acclivity, somewhat resembled at a distance a huge black snail creeping up the hill.’ Dingy with lack of light perhaps, but the six milk cows shifting and chewing behind the wattle wall betrayed the Munros’ comfortable circumstances. Beyond where the company circled around the open hearth, was a further room split for privacy into small, dark bed-rooms. Further was a closet with a little window, assigned to the Millers. And at the extremity was ‘the room’. Built of stone with a window and chimney, it had chairs, table, a chest of drawers, a large box-bed, and a small but well-filled bookcase. While William the merchant was home, this was his.

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Gruids, south of Lairg. The area is now crofted, but when young Hugh Millar visited the Munros the land was laid out in infield/outfield, farmed for grain and cattle by tenants and joint tenants like his aunt’s family. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie

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This longhouse did not belong to the Munros as it is set on top of a small hill, unlike Hugh Millar’s description. However they would have known the people who lived there. The house was similar in that it clearly shows at least two living spaces and a byre for housing the cattle. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie

Next to William, leaning close to the central hearth to get the light, was Hugh, carving those little snuff boxes he liked to give his friends. Despite spending every daylight hour building his father a barn, he couldn’t keep his hands still. And big George, the mason and slater, home also to see his brother. For all his reading of books and the English poetry-writing he had picked up when working in the south, the old man knew what George really loved was hearing the ancient tales by the fireside. On a stool, poking at the peats, was the other Hugh, the Cromarty schoolboy. He had no Gaelic, but George had been muttering translations all evening. The lad might enjoy the story about the Fion who were despised by the women of the tribe as, being only fifteen feet tall, they could not leap across the Cromarty or Dornoch Firths on their spears. The danger of telling any of these stories was that it was likely to call forth a lecture from William on the ongoing controversy as to how genuine or otherwise were the published ‘translations’ of Ossian. James MacPherson claimed to have gathered the stories at firesides, passed down by word of mouth since time immemorial. But detractors maintained he had fabricated the lot. William had the nature of a teacher and young Hugh was the current target. When not out exploring the countryside, the boy was expected to master the key thinkers in the debate, and then learn Gaelic. Well, if he were learning about the old stories out of modern books, then he should also experience them the way they were meant to be told. An active lad like him, what would he like? Yes, the lecture would be risked, and the boy would hear of when jealous Fingal tried to eliminate the handsome hunters by sending them after the monstrous wild boar with the poisonous bristles.

Source:

Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters (Edinburgh: Nimmo, Hay and Mitchell, 1889), chapter 5.

“Want of shoes and clothing” – Truancy in East Sutherland

Alison McCall has delved further into the late nineteenth-century history of the region, drawing on archival sources and family knowledge.

Six times between 1885 and 1890 William MacLeod, a cooper and crofter who lived at Marrel, Helmsdale, was summonsed to appear before the School Board in regard to the truancy of some of his children. In 1888 he explained to the Board that his children could not attend school as he was unable to provide them with shoes and clothing.

William and his wife, Mary Bruce, had ten children born between 1872 and 1889. One, Johan, died in infancy and one, Hector, was handicapped from birth and remained incontinent into adulthood. The eldest, Williamina, had left school to work as a domestic servant before the summons started, but the next three, James, Betsy and Jane were frequently absent. In addition to the difficulty in clothing his children, William kept Jane off school to assist her mother. Elsewhere in Scotland, School Boards made vigorous efforts to address to problem of lack of clothing and footwear. Aberdeen organised collections of second hand children’s clothes, which could be made available to poor families. This was less feasible in rural East Sutherland, which had a smaller pool of middle class donors. Dundee provided clothing grants. “Parish boots” (children’s boots, marked at the heel to identify them as such, and which pawnbrokers were forbidden to accept) were widely available in other parts of Scotland. But in East Sutherland William MacLeod was not alone in struggling to clothe his children for school.

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Marrel, where the MacLeods lived. Photo belongs to Alison McCall.

The Education (Scotland) Act 1872 made it compulsory for all children between the ages of five and twelve to attend school. However, education can only truly be compulsory if the authorities have the means to enforce it. Each School Board was obliged to appoint a Default Officer to report on truant children, and both Clyne and Kildonan School Boards did so. However, endemic poverty hampered the ability to enforce attendance. Of the first eight parents summonsed to appear before Clyne School Board, in 1874, three cited lack of clothing. The next year various parents were unable to clothe their children sufficiently for school in winter. In June 1886, such was the level of absences, that the Kildonan School Board decided to summon only those parents whose children had been absent over twenty times (i.e 10 days, as mornings and afternoons were marked as one attendance each) in the month of May. In 1888 children’s attendance was still frequently irregular, but there were no really serious cases. Children were absent due to sickness, stormy weather and want of shoes. It is telling that absence due to lack of shoes was not seen as serious. In 1891 James Sutherland’s daughter had to gather wilks (whelks) to feed the family instead of going to school. As late as 1899, labourer’s son Donald Matheson, had no shoes.

The ambivalence about summonsing the parents of non-attending children meant other means of persuasion were tried. In 1885 in an attempt to “save the Board the disagreeable necessity of summoning them” two ministers, the Rev Mr MacRae and the Rev Mr Fraser stated that they would urge upon the parents from the pulpit to send their children to school.

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James MacLeod. As a child he was unable to attend school because of lack of shoes and clothing. Here he is with his wife, Catherine MacDonald, in Helmsdale probably in the 1940s. Photo belongs to Alison McCall.

In East Sutherland, School Boards were sympathetic but unable to effectively counter the problems. Many members had experienced poverty themselves and understood the problems faced by struggling parents. Indeed William MacLeod, whose children lacked clothes in the 1880s, was cited to appear before a School Board of which his brother-in-law was a member. Unfortunately for the school children of East Sutherland, it would appear that the Act which was supposed to guarantee compulsory education did not effectively extend to the poorest families.

Post script: James MacLeod, who missed school through want of clothing became a railway engine driver. He made every effort to ensure his own children were educated, making sacrifices to enable his daughter Mary Bruce MacLeod to train as a teacher at Moray House. She in turn encouraged her granddaughter, the present writer.

A Man of Letters

Graham Hannaford completed his MLitt in the History of the Highlands and Islands at UHI in 2015, studying from Australia. He is now embarking on a PhD with Federation University, Australia.

Scattered across the world like autumn leaves on a lawn are place names that suggest the presence of a home-sick Scot. Nova Scotia and Nouvelle Caledonie are well known, as are some on the eastern side of Australia in New South Wales: towns like Glen Innes, Aberdeen or Scone, or the Sutherland Shire in the south-east of Sydney. Others are tucked away in what must have seemed like the great emptiness of the Australian bush, places like Golspie, New South Wales. Golspie today is not even a village, but the road signs still point to it, west of the road which winds from Goulburn over spectacular countryside via Taralga, the Abercrombie River, and Black Springs to Oberon.

“Golspie” was the farm owned by George Murray, a native of Sutherland, Scotland. He was born at Loch Shin near Lairg in 1818 to George Murray and Kate McDonald. The family relocated to Golspie at the time of the infamous Highland clearances. In his new book, Set Adrift Upon the World, James Hunter describes some of the trouble which accompanied the clearance of the people from this area. It is small wonder that the Murrays and most other residents left Loch Shin and moved to places like Golspie where the estate management had decided was to be the new place of settlement.

From the list of male convicts who arrived in the colony of New South Wales on the Moffatt on 30 August 1836 it appears that the 18 year old George Murray (the younger), a Protestant farmer’s boy, was convicted of shop breaking in the Inverness Court of Justiciary on 23 April 1835 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He was described as ruddy and freckled with brown hair and hazel eyes; his distinguishing marks were a horizontal scar over his right eye brow with a scar over the inner corner of the same and with a scar on the back of the lttle finger of his left hand. After various assignments in the colony he met Margaret Cameron, a native of Ardnamurchan, who had arrived in Sydney in 1838 with her parents, James and Catherine, and eight siblings as free bounty immigrants. George and Margaret were given permission to marry and did so in the Presbyterian church in Goulburn in July 1841. They lived first at Strathaird near Taralga where their first child was born in 1842. Their next eight children are recorded as born at houses, their’s or neighbours’, named Strontian, Cutty Cuttgang (or Cutty Gutty-ang), or Lairg. The last child, Ann, was born in 1861 at Golspie, by now the accepted name of George and Margaret’s farm.

Golspie seems to have been the place to which mail for the surrounding farms was delivered. Perhaps it was convenient to the postman’s route, or perhaps Margaret was a kind hostess for postman and neighbours alike, maintaining the long tradition of Highland hospitality. It became common practice for local farmers to append “Golspie” to their addresses and when in December 1872, locals petitioned the Postmaster General of New South Wales for the establishment of a post office it was clear that Golspie was where it was wanted. The petition was supported by the Presbyterian minister in Taralga and the postmasters at Taralga and Fullerton. Against the wishes of the postmasters at Laggan and Tuena, on 8 April 1873 the Postmaster General approved the establishment of the post office. George Murray was offered the position of postmaster at a salary of £16 pa; he commenced duties on 1 May 1873.

After twenty-five years in the position and at the age of 80, three years after Margaret’s death, George tendered his resignation in October 1898. His handwriting was still clear and firm as his resignation letter shows, notwithstanding that the transportation records show that at the time of arrival in the colony he could read but not write.

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Image from National Archives of Australia

On George’s recommendation, his daughter Ann, married but apparently still living at Golspie, was appointed as postmistress. She had been helping George for the past twenty-one years.

Papers in the National Archives of Australia show an ongoing correspondence between Ann and various officials over the allowances which should be paid to her, with Ann suggesting that she would resign if matters were not arranged satisfactorily. By January 1915, she had been paid £19/5/- and in the previous year had earned £3/-/9 for telegraphic and telephone duties. At this time, Ann had to prompt her superiors to pay a promised increase of £2/10/-, threatening that if it were not paid “I shall have to throw up the whole thing”. It was paid. The post office continued to be operated, sometimes by members of the family, until its closure in 1990.

George died on 29 December 1906, at the age of 88, having survived Margaret by some eleven years and nine months. Each died at Golspie and they are both buried in Stonequarry cemetery in Taralga, half a world away from their origins in Sutherland and Ardnamurchan.

Hannaford 2

The Presbyterian section of the Stonequarry Cemetery in Taralaga, with the Roman Catholic section beyond. (Photo: Judith Matthews)

Hannaford 1

Headstones of George and Margaret Murray (Photo: Judith Matthews)

Acknowledgements:
Thanks to Mrs Judith Matthews, historian, of “Fairview”, Golspie New South Wales for checking facts and supplying photos.

This is an updated version of the original item posted on 14 March 2016. With thanks to Barbara Kernos for alerting the writer to the convict records concerning the young George Murray.

Sources:
National Archives of Australia, NAA: SP32/1, Golspie Post Office file 1872 – 1971
James Hunter, Set Adrift Upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2015) pp. 332-3
Golspie (New South Wales) Progress and Landcare Association, History of Golspie, privately printed 2005
Northern Times, ‘How Cutty Gutty became Golspie, New South Wales’,5 March 2009, http://www.northern-times.co.uk/Opinion/Letters/How-Cutty-Gutty-became-Golspie-New-South-Wales-5638.htm (Extensive efforts to contact the writer of this letter to the Northern Times to check facts have been unsuccessful)
Northern Times, ‘The man who put Golspie on the map – in New South Wales, 4 June 2009, http://www.northern-times.co.uk/Features/The-man-who-put-Golspie-on-the-map-ndash-in-New-South-Wales-6141.htm
Australian Cemeteries http://www.australiancemeteries.com/nsw/mulwaree/stonequarry_taralga_gndata.htm