Caithness and the Crofters’ War: The case of Clyth Estate, part 2

Valerie Amin recently graduated from the University of the Highlands and Islands with a BA (Hons) in Scottish History.  A native of Caithness, she is particularly interested in the land issues and politics of the 19th century Highlands.  The following continues the story from August’s post and is adapted from her undergraduate dissertation ‘Caithness and the Highland Land Wars, 1881-1886.’

The rent strike on Clyth estate ensured that Caithness was included in the Napier Commission’s inquiry into crofters’ conditions. The Commission came to Lybster Free Church on October 4th 1883. The hearing was full to capacity, with spectators taking a ‘lively interest’ in proceedings. Adam Sharp, landlord of Clyth estate, struggled to make himself heard over the laughter and hisses that greeted his testimony. Indeed Lord Napier was forced to end the hearing following Sharp’s appearance, saying the Commission could not continue ‘amidst a riotous assemblage.’ Unsurprisingly, Sharp refuted his tenant’s allegations that he charged unreasonably high rents.

Magnus Sinclair from Clyth, in his statement to the Commission, summed up very simply what Caithness crofters sought: ‘What we want is our holdings valued by competent local judges, compensation for improvements, and that the land of our country be given to its people to live on at a fair rent.’

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Part of the coastline at Clyth ©Johnston Collection. Used with the kind permission of the Wick Society.

At this stage however, crofters did not yet have the vote. The House of Lords had voted down a bill that would have enfranchised working class men in rural areas. The crofters knew that the only way to achieve these aims was through land reform legislation, and so they resolved to elect a land reformer as the county’s M.P. Caithness crofters took the lead in organising a demonstration to demand voting rights. The demonstration took the form of a protest march through the streets of Wick, the county’s largest town, on the 30th August 1884. Two thousand men, representing the various trades of the county, took part, cheered on by ten thousand spectators. The John o’ Groat Journal reported that ‘Seldom, if ever, in this part of the country has there been such a unanimous burst of enthusiasm in connection with any political event.’ The largest group to march was that of the crofters, led by the ‘men of Clyth,’ who ‘turned out to a man.’ They carried banners with the slogans ‘Clyth Forever’; ‘The Clyth Men are Enemies to Tyrants’; ‘The Lords should Emigrate to the North Pole, as the People can do Without Them’ and ‘Clyth Soil for Clyth People.’ Among the marchers were all the leading figures in the land question agitation. That night, the Groat reported that ‘a gibbet was erected and an effigy, intended, we are informed, to represent the owner of an estate a few miles to the south of Wick, was executed, and the body thereafter consigned to the flames.’ No prizes for guessing the ‘victim’ was Mr Sharp of Clyth!

Gavin Brown Clark photograph

Gavin Brown Clark (1846-1930) by Sir Benjamin Stone, 1898. © National Portrait Gallery http://www.npg.org.uk https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

By the year’s end, the Third Reform Act passed into law, establishing uniform voting rights throughout the country, and enfranchising many crofters and farm servants. The 1885 general election was fought in Caithness on a single issue: the land question. Major Clarence Sinclair, son of the incumbent M.P Sir Tollemache Sinclair, who was the second largest landowner in Caithness, stood for the Liberal Party against Dr Gavin Brown Clark for the Crofters Party. At a meeting in Lybster, Sinclair was told ‘All crofters know that new seed will bring a better return. We have had the House of Ulbster for many years. We need a change.’

On election day in December, crofters battled determinedly through howling winds and drifting snow to get to the polls. Many roads in the county were blocked, but the crofters were not about to give up the chance to have their voices heard. Turnout was high, and Clark beat Sinclair comfortably by 2,110 votes to 1,218, a majority of 892.

The Crofters Holdings Act (Scotland) became law in June 1886 but, condemned as ‘incomplete and unsatisfactory,’ the crofters’ fight was destined to continue. Dr Clark told his constituents the Act was ‘but an instalment of their rights- ten shillings in the pound,’ and they would ‘go on demanding till they got the other ten shillings.’

Sources

John O’ Groat Journal

Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Inquiry into the Conditions of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Volume III (1883).

Northern Ensign

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Caithness and the Crofters’ War: The case of Clyth Estate, Part One

After enjoying a bit of a summer break from posting we are back. This week we venture a little to the north of our usual historical stomping grounds – just over the border into Caithness. Valerie Amin recently graduated from the University of the Highlands and Islands with a BA (Hons) in Scottish History.  A native of Caithness, she is particularly interested in the land issues and politics of the nineteenth-century Highlands.  The following blog post is adapted from her undergraduate dissertation ‘Caithness and the Highland Land Wars, 1881-1886.’

The county of Caithness is not normally associated with the Highland land agitation of the early 1880s. However Clyth estate, in the south east of the county, was the scene of a rent strike that brought crofting conditions to national attention in November 1882.

The estate, in Latheron parish, had seven miles of sea coast and extended three miles inland, and was populated mainly by crofter fishermen and their families. There was a significant Sutherland element. In 1802 or 1803, several crofting families from Tongue settled at Clyth and became fishermen. In 1805, following evictions from Strathnaver, more families joined them and, in 1819, after the Kildonan clearances, large numbers of those evicted found refuge at Clyth.

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By 1882, Clyth estate was said to be the most severely rack-rented in Caithness. It had been bought in 1863 by Adam Sharp, a merchant from Moray. The tenants claimed rents had risen by over 50 per cent during Sharp’s ownership.

It was against a background of severe agricultural depression and the land agitation in the western Highlands and Islands that Clyth crofters took action to challenge their landlord over the punitive rents. With their annual rent due on the 27th November 1882, the tenants met in Clyth Schoolhouse and agreed that a deputation would go to see Mr Sharp on rent day, to ask that all the crofts on the estate be revalued before they would pay.

Rent day was stormy, with sleet and snow showers. By noon, over two hundred tenants had gathered outside Bruan Lodge, where Mr Sharp waited. He welcomed the deputation into the parlour, where William Grant of Ulbster laid out the tenants’ grievances.

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Bruan Lodge, taken with owner’s permission. Photo: Valerie Amin.

After listening Sharp retorted ‘If you have resolved to pay no rent, you cannot expect a much better valuation than that.’ The Clyth tenants’ plight had had considerable coverage in the local press, but Sharp described their complaints as ‘mere fiction’ to evoke sympathy amongst outsiders. He dug his heels in, saying ‘I wish you distinctly to understand that anything that may be done will not be in consequence of agitation carried on by you … the proceedings you have adopted have had quite an opposite effect upon me.’

At that, the deputation left the Lodge to relate Sharp’s response to the expectant crowd outside. There was considerable anger on hearing the reaction to their request. Andrew Matheson urged the crowd to ‘resist injustice and tyranny as long as the breath was in their bodies.’ He added ‘If the peace is broken, it will be the landlord’s fault and not ours. We are not able to pay our rents if we have no money.’ It was unanimously decided that no tenant would pay rent that day.

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William Grant of Ulbster, who led the deputation. ©Johnston Collection. Used with the kind permission of the Wick Society.

The Clyth rent strike had a high profile across the country, widely reported in newspapers from London to Dublin to Edinburgh. The case was even brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and used to press for an inquiry into crofters’ conditions.

Meanwhile, the Clyth tenants were split on whether they could continue to withhold rent from the landlord. At a ‘stormy meeting’ the unlawfulness of their position was made clear by George Sutherland, a solicitor involved with the wider Caithness movement for land reform. It was argued that the people of Braes in Skye were benefiting from paying no rent, but Sutherland made clear ‘the people of Braes being isolated, are in a different position from the tenants on the estate of Clyth.’ The leaders of the agitation were accused of ‘having brought them to battle only to draw back,’ but George Cormack, the tenants’ main spokesman, managed to calm the meeting by stressing that as their main aim was to change the land laws, ‘It would not do to be placed in a position which would enable anyone to ask: “How can you speak of the law when ye have already broken it?”’ It was agreed that each tenant would pay what they were able, and the Clyth rent strike ended peacefully.

It was not the end of the crofters’ fight however. The agitation entered a new phase: a determined drive to elect a land reformer as the county’s M.P.

More on that next month.

Sources

John O’ Groat Journal

Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Inquiry into the Conditions of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Volume III (1883).

Northern Ensign

Landscapes of Power I: A Monumental Geography

Post by Elizabeth Ritchie, lecturer at the Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands.

I didn’t know there was a memorial to James Loch. When I came to teach at the University of the Highlands and Islands I was instructed to prepare a course on the Clearances. I objected that I didn’t know anything about the Clearances. But I was the nineteenth-century historian and I allegedly specialised in the Highlands, so there was no way to wriggle out of it. And so I learned about the Clearances, particularly as they pertain to Sutherland, and I became familiar with names like that of James Loch, the head factor and the boss of the much hated Patrick Sellar, who designed and implemented the development of commercial agriculture, the removal of the people, and their replacement with sheep, with all of the long-resonating consequences for the economy, ecology, culture and psyche of the region and its diaspora. So my friend Annie, who has written a book on the Sutherland estate, (Annie Tindley, The Sutherland Estate 1850-1920: Aristocratic Decline, Estate management and Land Reform, Edinburgh University Press, 2010) was a little shocked to hear that, in all my bikes and hikes, I had never come across the memorial to one of the chief architects of Sutherland as it is today.

For two afternoons in January he became the pretext for walks around the woods of Dunrobin. As I made a circuit back to the castle where I had left my car, I realised I was walking a triangle: a triangle of monuments each of which spoke of the power of the people of Dunrobin to shape the landscape and the lives of the people within it.

The most obvious and most maligned is, of course, the gigantic and authoritative statue to the first duke of Sutherland on the summit of Beinn Bhraggie. Visible for dozens of miles around it is the focus for all historic discontent, yet survives the periodic attacks of chisel or spray can. Dunrobin Castle itself, with its fairytale Loire-like turrets, whitely protruding from trees and coast is another highly visible declaration of rulership, even moreso in the days when the approach to Sutherland was mainly by sea.

But in my wanderings I discovered two more monuments and recalled a third. I realised that the positioning of all these objects of stone was more than the accumulation of one-offs. They constitute a geography of power which marked ownership and authority, visibly by placement or by text. Directly west of the castle, framed by the gateway arch, is a classic Victorian statue to the second duke, with an inscribed pedestal. He overlooks the highways of road and rail, his robed back to Dunrobin Mains farm and his confident gaze rests on the spiky castle roof.

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My woodland searches finally took me to my intended objective of James Loch’s memorial. A four-posted marble canopy accessed by stone steps sits oddly in forest. The poetic inscription declares that he often loved to come to this place to survey the view. The only view now is of tree trunks and deep ruts of heavy machines. But, sometime after 1858 when he died, this tiny hilltop monument permitted him to posthumously sweep his eyes over the territory he had commanded. A superficial reading of the sentimental plaque suggests it is merely a memorial to a fond old chap, but it does not take much reading between the lines to realise that it was paid for, and possibly designed and its position chosen, by the ducal family.

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I thought the monumental geography took the form of a squashed triangle, about four miles by one, until I remembered an outlier. But an ostentatious, looming outlier, arguably the most ancient and important building in the north of Scotland: Dornoch Cathedral. Eleven miles to the south of Dunrobin, the medieval edifice’s rebuilding was financed by the Duchess of Sutherland in 1824. The very structure is a monument to her wealth and influence, even if you happened to miss the gigantic twin marble plaques and the inscribed floor-stone at the very front of the church.

The physicality, through their design and placement, of these monuments speaks authority. An authority positioned over several generations, though all harking back to the lives of the first duke and duchess, and the times in which they permanently changed the landscape and the lives of the folk of Sutherland. At least these monuments did speak authority until we took to blindly whizzing along the A9 in cars, before a small forest grew up around Loch’s vantage point, and before we stopped going to church.

From Fyrish to Bedlam: Migration, Assimilation and the Monro Family in Early Modern London

Dr Allan Kennedy is Lecturer in History at the University of Dundee. His research focuses on the social and political history of early modern Scotland, with a particular interest in the seventeenth-century Highlands, Scottish migration to England, and the reign of Charles II.

Probably born near the family lands of Fyrish, Easter Ross, in 1648, Alexander Monro was for most of his life solidly successful. A cleric and academic by trade, he was made principal of Edinburgh College in 1685, and looked poised to be named a bishop by James VII shortly thereafter. But James’s overthrow in the ‘Glorious’ revolution of 1688-91 changed everything. Monro was a convinced Episcopalian, and he could not abide the rigidly Presbyterian settlement that took root in Scotland. So he left, settling in London and spending the remainder of his life – he died in 1698 – writing Episcopalian propaganda for London’s printing presses, all the while dreaming about returning home, if only to die peacefully on his native soil.

If Alexander Monro was always a reluctant exile, the same could not be said about his children, especially his son, James, with whom began a story of remarkable migratory success. James Monro (1680-1752) trained as a physician, not unusually for England-based Scots, but where he stood out was in his specialisation in mental health.  He quickly became eminent in the field, so much so that, in 1728, he secured appointment as attending physician at Bethlam asylum (popularly known as ‘Bedlam’), England’s oldest and most prestigious institution for the treatment of ‘lunacy’. It was a role that allowed Monro’s name to become a byword for the mad-doctoring trade, as well as providing him with a web of clients and associates that lent both social cache and significant material wealth. By the time he died in 1752, this offspring of a penurious Scottish exile had transformed himself into one of the richest and most famous professionals in England.

Where James Monro led, his eldest son, John, followed. Well-educated, and possessed of the social and cultural graces expected of an English gentleman, John Monro (1716-91) followed his father as attending physician at Bethlam, likewise becoming a nationally respected mad-doctor, recognised by Parliament as an expert in the field and, towards the end of his life, consulted, albeit apparently informally, over the appropriate treatment for George III during the first of the king’s bouts of madness in 1788-9. But John outdid his father by progressing from merely consulting for London asylums to actually owning them; he controlled institutions at Brooke House and Wood’s Close by the 1780s, all the while continuing to direct the medical regime at Bethlem. If James Monro had established his family’s claim to leadership in the treatment of lunacy in England, John Monro emphatically confirmed and expanded this pre-eminence. And it persisted, too: Monro’s two immediate successors at Bethlem were his son and grandson, eventually stretching the family’s dominance over the most famous lunatic asylum in Britain to nearly 130 unbroken years.

Bethlam

image from: William Maitland, The History of London (London, 1739)

But what is really interesting about the Monro family is not so much what they did or what they achieved, but more what their experience can tell us about the assimilation of Scottish migrants in early modern England. The Monros integrated into English society rapidly and thoroughly, and their ability to do so, apparently without provoking any meaningful resistance on account of their Scottish roots, was partly down to their own attributes. They were, after all, well-educated, well-connected, comparatively affluent, and Anglophone, all of which helped them avoid some of the common hazards facing migrants. But the Monros’ assimilationist trajectory also underlines some important truths about the society around them. Firstly, it demonstrates that the Scottish community in London, of which Alexander Monro at least was a self-conscious part, occupied something of an optimum. They were sufficiently well-developed to offer a ready-made support-network for Scottish newcomers, while not being so all-encompassing as to encourage permanent ghettoisation. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it suggests that England itself was reasonably open to immigrants, so long, at least, as they were economically active and had skills that were of benefit to England.

But there is another, even more interesting thing about the Monro odyssey. As the generations passed, the Monros became progressively less Scottish, cutting most material links with their homeland (James Monro, for example, had sold off all his Scottish lands by the 1710s) and demonstrating precious little cultural connection. But there is no evidence that they attempted to replace this identity with any sense of ‘Britishness’. Instead, they underwent a process of thorough Anglicisation, marrying English spouses, joining English clubs, reading English books, and cultivating English friendships.

What this middle-ranking, professional family tells us, then, is that ‘Scottishness’ in the eighteenth century may have been much more easily shed as an identity than accepted historical narratives, which tend to emphasise the tenacious clannishness of the Scots, might imply. Simultaneously, while it is perhaps tempting to view the Monros’ journey from Fyrish to London as a microcosm of the emergence of ‘Britishness’, the reality is much more straightforward. You did not need to construct an innovative ‘British’ identity to succeed as a Scot in England. Instead, you could opt simply to become English.

Further reading

K.M. Brown and A. Kennedy, ‘Becoming English: The Monro Family and Scottish Assimilation in Early Modern England’, Cultural and Social History, forthcoming.

Andrews and A. Scull, Undertaker of the Mind: John Monro and Mad-Doctoring in Eighteenth-Century England (London, 2001)

S. Nenadic (ed.), Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century (Lewisburg, 2010)

An American patriot, the Countess and the Clearances

When researching his recent book, ‘Set Adrift Upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances’ (published by Birlinn), James Hunter came across an intriguing possibility which he blogs about here.

Could one of 1820 London’s up-market drawing-rooms have seen the Countess of Sutherland come up against a clearance critic in the shape of a US ambassador? The possibility arises from the family background of William MacKay who’s to be met with in Memorabilia Domestica, the memoirs of Donald Sage, a Sutherland minister. There Sage writes of how, as he preached in the open air at Langdale just prior to the 1819 clearance of Strathnaver, his ‘eye fell upon’ MacKay’s ‘venerable countenance’. ‘I was deeply affected,’ Sage goes on, ‘and could scarcely articulate the psalm’.

This was not just because Sage was close to MacKay whom he knew as ‘Old Achoul’. In what was being done to MacKay, then in his late nineties, by the Countess of Sutherland and her employees, Donald Sage saw something emblematic of what he called ‘the extinction of the last remnant of the ancient Highland peasantry of the north’.

As indicated by the title given him by Donald Sage, William MacKay, who could trace his ancestry to his clan’s medieval founders, spent much of his life at Achoul to the east of Loch Naver in what today’s been designated as Wild Land Area 35. Evicted from Achoul in 1807, he’d moved in with his daughter and son-in-law at Grumbeg on Loch Naver’s other shore. Now Grumbeg too was to be cleared and William was en route for Caithness where he’d die, aged 99, in 1822.

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From Grumbeg and looking across Loch Naver to Achoul. Image: Cailean MacLean, Skye.

Might William have wished in 1819 that, half a century earlier, he’d joined those members of his family who then emigrated to America? The opportunity to do so must have been there in 1772 when George MacKay, William’s cousin, made it possible for some 200 people to quit Sutherland for Wilmington, North Carolina, aboard the Adventure, a ship George had chartered. Among the Adventure’s passengers was William MacKay’s younger sister, Elizabeth, sailing for Wilmington with her second husband, Archibald Campbell and their ten children.

From Wilmington the Campbells moved inland to settle at Crooked Creek in Mecklenburg County – near the present-day city of Charlotte. There, when America’s Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, the Campbells – unlike most newly arrived immigrants from the Highlands – took the patriot, or anti-British, side. Two of George and Elizabeth’s sons, Alexander and Donald, died in the fighting that followed. Those men’s younger brother, George, just three when the family left Sutherland and not old enough to join future US president George Washington’s Continental Army, took no part in the struggle for American independence. But he made clear where his sympathies lay by adopting ‘Washington’ as a middle name.

Nor was the self-styled George Washington Campbell’s hostility towards Britain to cease when, having trained as a lawyer and having moved across the Appalachians to Tennessee, he went into politics. Representing Tennessee first in the House of Representatives and later in the US Senate, Campbell was a leading backer of America’s 1812 declaration of war on the United Kingdom – serving as President James Madison’s Secretary for the Treasury during much of the ensuing conflict.

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By The Bureau of Engraving and Printing – Restoration by Godot13, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33915326

By 1819, when his mother’s brother, William MacKay, was being evicted from the second of the two Strathnaver homes he’d been forced to abandon, George Washington Campbell was in St Petersburg as US ambassador at the court of Tsar Alexander I. From St Petersburg, Campbell corresponded with his Scottish relatives – among them Donald MacKay, one of the ambassador’s Strathnaver kinsmen, then serving with the British Army’s 42nd Regiment (the Black Watch) in Ireland.

Ambassador Campbell, then, is likely to have known at least something of Strathnaver’s clearance. This raises an intriguing possibility stemming from Campbell’s movements in 1820 when, on his way home from St Petersburg, he spent several weeks in London. While there and while meeting with a number of British politicians and aristocrats, might he have found himself in the same company as that prominent fixture on the capital’s social scene, Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland and Marchioness of Stafford?

What might Lady Stafford have said on meeting with this American statesman and diplomat? And how might Campbell have responded? Perhaps, one hopes, with words to the effect that he was glad to have the opportunity to learn why the countess had found it necessary to twice evict his uncle.

***

William MacKay of Achoul’s ancestry can be traced in The Book of MacKay, put together by Angus MacKay and published in Edinburgh in 1906. George Washington Campbell’s papers, including some correspondence with his Scottish relatives, are held by the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. The fullest account of Campbell’s life is George Washington Campbell: Western Statesman, by W. T. Jordan, published in Tallahassee in 1955.

Parlours and Sofas: Houses, Status and the Emerging Highland Middle Class

This is part 3 of our short series on the life and times of Sheriff Hugh MacCulloch who is memorialised just outside Dornoch.

Prior to the Clearances, most people (with the exception of the poor and the aristocracy) lived in longhouses. With thick walls of stone and turf, roofed with heather or reed thatch, they gave warmth and shelter to families and livestock. Most were furnished with home-made chairs, benches, chests, and maybe shelves, beds or a bookcase, alongside the spinning wheel and the central fire. People with more money and power, tacksmen and ministers, were however beginning to emulate southern counterparts with two-storey houses of stone, mortar and lime. Their very design not only marked these families out as prestigious, but created a sense of class division and promoted the networks which were so vital to advancement in marriage and the professions.

In the little capital town of Sutherland, Dornoch, Hugh MacCulloch was an important man. As Sheriff-Substitute for the County he lived in the civic centre, close by the court and next to the cathedral ruins, part of which served as the parish church. ‘His house was situated to the south of the town, and at the foot of what was called the Vennel, a small pathway leading from the churchyard.’ This house ‘of an antique cast’ may not have been new but it displayed MacCulloch’s status as a man of status. It was organised for genteel entertainment and networking. ‘The parlour or dining-room had three windows, and on its wall hung several prints. In the north-west corner of the room and near the door, stood a handsome eight-day clock – a present which the Sheriff had received from the Sutherland Volunteers, of which he was Major. A large sofa stood on the opposite side, near the fire-place.’ The house was also a place of work. The Sheriff’s ‘study was a small room upstairs … crammed with books and papers.’

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1783 map of Dornoch. Presumably McCulloch’s house was one of those in the bottom right hand corner of what is shown on the map. Image: Historylinks Museum.

Two floors of attics topped it off. In November 1801 twelve- and fourteen-year-old Donald and Aeneas Sage arrived to lodge. ‘Mrs. MacCulloch showed us to our bedroom. It was at the top of the house, an attic above an attic – a dreary, cold place, having all the rude finishings of a coarse loft.’ Rude perhaps, but when the Sheriff returned that evening ‘he received us with the most fatherly kindness’.

Donald and Aeneas might have been a bit frightened and homesick, but a large stone house was familiar. Their parents, Isabella and Alexander, lived in the Kildonan manse, the house provided for the minister, some three days walk to the north-west. Their home rose tall on the fringes of the cluster of their neighbours’ longhouses. Like the MacCullochs’, their ground floor was occupied by a parlour, bedroom, and a closet. Upstairs were a dining-room, bedroom, and another closet. It also had an attic with two garrets: one a bed-room, the other a storeroom for lumber. Unlike upper class houses there was no wallpaper. Walls were ‘cat and clay, plastered over with lime’, finished with white-wash which came off on everything that touched it. Outside the main house were two low buildings with turf roofs, one containing the nursery, kitchen and byre, and the other, a barn and stable. Like the Sheriff’s house, this building was more than a family home.

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The manse at Kildonan in 2018. Image: Elizabeth Ritchie

One reason ministers were provided with spacious houses was so they could provide hospitality. When Hugh MacCulloch came to investigate a riot in the heights of Kildonan in October 1801, he stayed at the manse. Donald recollected: ‘On the evening of his arrival … he was drenched almost to the skin, as it had rained heavily through the day; he especially required dry stockings, and he preferred putting them on at the kitchen fireside … he took particular notice of me, and asked me many questions about my progress in learning, particularly in Latin. He was much pleased with my answers, and said that, if my father would send my brother and me to school at Dornoch, he would keep us for three months in his own house.’

In the years before the clearances, it is possible to see the emergence of a distinct middling, professional class in the rural Highlands through their houses. As elsewhere in Britain they began to mark themselves out with homes in non-indigenous styles, partly built with materials not available locally. Specialised rooms provided spaces for professional men to work with books and papers; promoted privacy; and separated domestic life from hospitality. Parlours and dining rooms, rather than a shared domestic space where family and visitors were cooked for, ate and entertained alike, meant domestic rituals were formalised, and visitors were separated into those catered for in the kitchen or formally entertained in the parlour. Spare bedrooms made providing hospitality to travelling gentlemen easy. So along with the new houses were built the networks which promoted the careers, marriages and opportunities for the families who lived in them.

Sources:

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica, chapter 9

Ideas about homes, respectability and the rising middle class particularly inspired by Catherine Hall and Leonore Davidoff, Family fortunes: men and women of the English middle class 1780-1850 (London, 1987, 2002).

Holy Hugh: Of Fields and Fellowship

This is part 2 of our short series on the life and times of Sheriff Hugh MacCulloch who is memorialised just outside Dornoch.

In a field at Proncy, by the A9 near the turn off to Dornoch, there is a stone. It is a memorial to Hugh MacCulloch. When he is remembered today it is usually as the most eminent victim of the 1809 Meikle Ferry Disaster. But in his time, he was best known as an ‘eminent Christian’.

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This month the Memorial has been encased in a box by Dornoch Academy students guided by DJ MacLeod (Autonomy Youth Services). This is to aid preservation. The field behind is where people met together to worship, led by Hugh MacCulloch. Photo: DJ MacLeod.

He came from the professional class of the eighteenth-century Highlands. His father was a writer (a legal role) and a bailie of the burgh of Dornoch. At some early point in his upbringing he experienced ‘saving impressions’ of ‘divine truth and divine agency’. His relationship to Christian faith was more than weekly attendance at church, more than dutiful Bible reading. He had a personal commitment to and experience of God. As he grew, he spent time with other committed believers who mentored, encouraged and challenged him.

After studying law at university, he married a Miss Sutherland. Born in 1765 Christian was daughter of the minister in Dornoch (John Sutherland). Hugh presumably knew her as a young person, or perhaps met her on visits to his parents. They had ‘a considerable family’. Hugh established himself in his career and was given the role of Sheriff-Substitute of Sutherland. The family settled in Dornoch.

As a devout man, Hugh MacCulloch had responsibility for the spiritual well-being of his household. That meant anyone living, or visiting, under his roof. The Directory for Family Worship, passed at the General Assembly of 1647 instructed heads of families to conduct ‘communion with God’, morning and evening. The family was critical in establishing and maintaining protestant culture. In this ideal, the family was a ‘seminary’, a patriarchal household where the father was meant to gently, firmly and wisely lead wife, children and servants in godliness. Donald Sage recollected that ‘family worship was regularly observed morning and evening’ when he was a lodger with the MacCullochs in 1801. The Directory indicated they should begin with prayer for church, nation and family members. Then scripture was read, ensuring everyone understood the passage. This practice was far from uniquely Highland or even Scottish. It developed within many reformed traditions throughout Europe and North America.

On Sunday evenings, things were a bit different. Then Hugh ‘examined all the inmates of his household on their scriptural knowledge, concluding with an exposition of the chapter which he had read.’ While it is easy to assume this was a bit grim and oppressive, the event attracted the neighbours. There is no reason that it couldn’t be conducted with fun, or some intellectual sparring and competition. It is quite likely that the neighbours came along because they could not read and therefore could not hold family worship themselves very easily. The language used was Gaelic, but a few of the neighbours did not speak it. Donald particularly recollected that was so for John Hay, a mason. Hugh therefore gave the concluding prayer partly in one language and partly in the other. He called this ‘a speckled prayer’.

MacCulloch Memorial 2 Feb 2019

The memorial and the field in the opposite direction! Photo: DJ MacLeod.

Saturdays were busy for the Sheriff-Substitute. Each Saturday he went the mile or two out of town to Pronsy. There, in what is now a field, he met with other committed Christians for a ‘fellowship meeting’. At these meetings people prayed together, they sang, they heard the Bible read and someone often preached. In all likelihood much of this was done by Hugh, probably with assistance from other local men. Donald Sage later claimed that ‘it was these occasions of Christian intercourse with his fellow-citizens, which they found peculiarly edifying, that embalmed his memory in the hearts of the survivors [of the disaster].’ Outdoor meetings were quite common in this period, particularly among Evangelicals who had a Moderate minister who they felt did not meet their spiritual needs. Some ministers were fine with this, others felt it undermined their authority. Some local Evangelicals removed themselves from the churches of Moderate ministers and met on Sunday mornings by themselves, but Hugh MacCulloch did not do that. Indeed his Saturday meetings may have been an attempt to dissuade people from such a schism. However, in church he did make it clear when he was uncomfortable with the preaching. ‘He was a regular attendant at church; as, though Dr. Bethune’s doctrine seemed to him to be dry enough, he, unlike others equally eminent for piety with himself, would not on that account become an absentee, all the more that he held a public office. He did not fail, however, by his restlessness of manner, to indicate when he was not being edified.’

Hugh MacCulloch was remembered as a pretty ordinary judge. His administration of justice was ‘free indeed from all sorts of corruption, but it was defective in regard to clear views of civil and criminal law.’ However, it was his ‘eminent piety and Christian fellowship’ which ‘enshrined his memory in the hearts of all who knew him.’

Sources:

The Directory for Family Worship, Assembly at Edinburgh, 24 August 1647, Sess. 10. Act for observing the directions of the General Assembly for secret and private worship, and mutual edification; and censuring such as neglect family-worship. A copy can be found on http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_standards/index.html?mainframe=/documents/wcf_standards/p417-direct_fam_worship.html

Janay Nugent, ‘“The mistresse of the family hath a special hand”: family, women, mothers, and the establishment of a “godly community of Scots”’, in Stuart Macdonald and Daniel MacLeod (eds), Keeping the Kirk. Scottish Religion at Home and in the Diaspora (Guelph, 2014), 39-62.

Andrew Cambers and Michelle Wolfe, ‘Reading, family religion, and Evangelical identity in late Stuart England’, The Historical Journal 47.4 (2004) 875-896.

Gerald F. Moran and Maris A. Vinovskis, ‘The Great Care of Godly Parents: Early Childhood in Puritan New England’, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 50.4/5 (1985), 24-37.