Pleasant Gardens and Ruined Cathedrals: Pococke’s Tour Part 3

In 1760 Bishop Pococke was not driving south to Dunrobin along the A9. Rather he would have been following the road, still passable on foot, that tightly hugs the coastline from Brora. He was therefore in an excellent position to see the remains of the broch at Carn Liath (I have omitted his description but it can be found on archive.org. https://archive.org/details/toursinscotland00pocogoog/mode/2up) and the gardens at Dunrobin, as well as the old castle – this being a generation before the current French chateau-style building was erected.

Coming along the coast near a mile to Dunrobin, Lord Sutherland’s castle and house, we were surprized at seeing half-a-dozen families forming so many groupes – viz., the man, his wife, and children, each under a coverlit, and reposing on the shoar, in order to wait for ye tyde to go a-fishing.

The old road just north of Dunrobin Castle, following the coastline where the fishing families were waiting. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

We arrived at Dunrobin, twenty miles from Dunbeath. This castle is finely situated on the end of a hill, which is cut off by a deep fossee, so that it appears on the south side, and next to the sea, like an old Celtic mount. Between it and the sea is a very good garden. The castle did consist of two square towers and a gateway. One tower only remains now, to which the house is built. There are good appartments in it, tho some have been destroyed by fire. The present earl has begun to plant the hanging ground from the house, and proposes to carry it on, which will make it exceeding fine. This castle was built by the first Earl of Sutherland.

A small mile to the north-west is a part called the old town and ye remains of a Pictish castle, which must have been the residence of the Thanes of Sutherland…

…We crossed the ferry at the river [Little Ferry at Loch Fleet] which rises towards Lough Schin, and they say it is most part of the way a fruitfull vale, and so it appeared as far as we could see. We travelled over a sandy head of land, and came to the cross set up there in memory of the defeat of the Danes (when they landed here in 1263) by William, Earl of Sutherland, and Gilbert Murray, Bishop of Cathness.

Remains of a pier on the south side of Loch Fleet, looking up the ‘fruitfull vale’ towards Rogart. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

We came to Domock, which is pleasantly situated on the head of land not far from … the Kyle of Dornock … There is very little trade in this town, and no manufacture but spinning of linnen yarn. The church here is the body of the old cathedral which belonged to the Bishop of Cathness. It seems to be pretty near a Greek cross, tho’ in the eastern part, now uncovered, there are four arches on each side supported by round pillars, with a kind of a Gothic Doric capital. In the body or nave are only three plain Gothic windows on each side; but what is most remarkable is a round tower within jiyning to the south-west angle of the middle part. It is built for a staircase, and is about ten feet in diameter, with geometrical stairs. The bishop’s house is a solid high building, consisting of four floors above the arched offices on which it was built. They show also the dean’s house, and it is probable several other houses now standing near the church did belong to the members of the chapter. These were granted with other parts of the church estate to the Earl of Sutherland. This is a royal burgh, of which they made me a burgess.

Dornoch’s manufacturing energies may not have impressed him, but it seems likely that a fair number of residents probably took in spinning from the gentleman farming a few miles along the road at Cyderhall.

In two miles we passed by Siderhall, a fine situation, now belonging to Lord Sutherland … Here a gentleman carries on a manufacture of flax in order to prepare for spinning; gives it out, and sells the yarn. A mile more brought us to Skibo, the seat of Mr. Mackay, half-brother to Lord Reay, and member of Parliament. It was a castle and country seat of the bishops of Cathness, very pleasantly situated over a hanging ground, which was improved into a very good garden, and remains to this day much in the same state, except that there are walls built, which produce all sorts of fruit in great perfection, and I believe not more than six weeks later than about London.

More flax-growing was in evidence the next day as he continued up the Kyle and when he arrived in Tain he saw where much of it ended up. We tend to assume that people in mid-eighteenth-century rural Scotland were self-sufficient farmers, so it’s interesting to see evidence of commercial flax production.

To be continued…

Petrified Oysters and Rock Grottoes: Pococke’s Tour Part 2

After surmounting the ‘frightfull hill’ of Berriedale and crossing the Helmsdale River in a coble, travelling Bishop Pococke probably started to relax as he entered the ‘beautifull country of Loth’, a parish that today most of us tend to dash through in our cars.

We soon came into the beautifull country of Loth. It is not easy to determine whether it had its name from the ancient Logi, situated here, or from some loughs. Loughs that have been drained, one part being called Lothmore (the great lough), another part Lothbeg (the little lough). A rivulet runs through it, formed by two streams which unite a little higher up. It is a fine narrow strip of arable ground, with several beautifull hillocks near the foot of the hills, and the supposed banks of the loughs are visible. Loughmore was situated towards the sea; Loughbeg is to the south-west. We took some refreshment at the house of Mr. [Robert] M’Cullogh, the minister at Lothkirk. He went with us to Lothbeg, where the banks of the lake are very plain, as well as the outlet that was made at the rocks towards the sea…

An old road running from the church at Clyne to Strath Brora, overlooking the area where Pococke searched for fossils. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

From this place we return’d to the road, and struck out of it again near the house of Clyne to the south-west, to a ridge of very low hills, where there are small quarries of a loose slaty limestone, in which there are petrified large oyster shells, the small Comu Ammonis, the Gryphites, and cockles, also the pecten, of most of which I brought away some specimens.

The editor of Pococke’s diary explains that what he actually did was employ ‘men to hew out masses of the rock, which he broke, and carried away a large quantity of shells.’ This claim of fairly large-scale excavation was apparently taken from Thomas Pennant’s travel account of 1769, but I can find no trace of it.

From this place we descended to the Brora, where to the west of the bridge is a beautifull natural cave opening to the river. We then went a little way to the south-west, to what is called the Dals, [the Doll] which is a most beautifull bason of a lake that has been drained, with an island in the middle of it. The flat is entirely covered with corn.

The River Brora, with the present village straight ahead and The Doll to the left. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The cave was named as ‘Uai na Calman’. I wonder if anyone knows it? The ‘Dals’ is the Doll, still a rather lovely agricultural area. It is noticeable how often Pococke mentions good arable land. He was travelling at the prime time to see crops flourishing. That strip of good quality land down the east coast – and more patches appearing in what he describes as heath – would have been intensively maintained with manure to support the population. As he headed towards Strathsteven his geological interests resurface.

From that place we came to the sea-cliff, and descending, we afterwards ascended about fifty feet up a steep way to a grotto in the rock, where art has been used in cutting a bench or two, and about three feet higher is an inner appartment, which is worked out in a rough manner, with a large short kind of pillar between the two entrances, and opposite to the northern entrance is a part of it in which one may stand upright. As brambles and weeds grow upon the mouth of the outer cave, they have a beautifull effect, and the view of the fine strips of corn below and of the sea is most delightfull. This was probably the retreat of some hermit.

Does anyone know of this grotto today?

To be continued…

The Frightfull Hills of Berrydale: Pococke’s Tour Part 1

In the summer of 1760 inveterate traveller Bishop Richard Pococke passed down the east coast of Sutherland and Ross-shire. He was particularly interested in geology, fossils and archaeology. For brevity I have removed some of the detailed descriptions of the various brochs and other archaeological remains that he investigated, but you can read them – and his account of the rest of his tour – for yourself on archive.org. https://archive.org/details/toursinscotland00pocogoog/mode/2up

Pococke was one of the early travellers who published his account and it is written in the format of letters to his sister. We join him as he sits in Dunrobin Castle, recollecting his ascent of the Berriedale Braes, an experience familiar to all locals!

Dunrobin, 17th July 1760,

On the 16th the Sheriff and Mr. Sinclair accompanied me, and we travelled to the south mostly over heaths, diversified here and there with several spots of corn. We passed by the remains of a Picts house in which part of the circular wall remains, and in it an entrance stopped up. We came to a beautifull romantic vale, through which a rivulet runs that is formed a little higher by two branches which pass through such vales. They are called Berrydale … We soon reached the foot of those hills, out of which all the rivers rise that run to the east, north, and west.

This famous pass is called the Ord; and Berrydale river is difficult to pass in winter, when the torrent has brought down great stones, which are moved away in the summer to make an easy passage across that stream. The ascent to the Ord is steep, and the road over the steep hill is frightfull to those who have not been used to such kind of roads; but is not in the least difficult, only it is more pleasant to walk rather than ride over some parts of it …

Pococke then approaches what is today the fishing village of Helmsdale. It was then too, but it was not the herring port that we know which was created some decades after this account in order to promote commercial fishing and support the removal of the residents of the Strath of Kildonan.

The castle, destroyed to make way for today’s bridge, would still have been in evidence, and even this stone bridge woud not yet have been built. None of the fine stone houses would have been there. Most likely there was a cluster of stone-built, thatched houses near the river and the shoreline, plus also houses built of less substantial materials like wattle, sticks and clay. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Having passed the principal heights we came to a rivulet called Navidale, which is the bounds between Cathness and Sutherland. We soon after got to Hemsdale, where there is a salmon fishery. Here the tyde being in, we crossed in a coble in the shape of a boat cut in two, and our horses forded over half a mile higher. By this dale there is a pretty good road towards Mowdale, which we passed in the way to Durness.

Mudale is pretty much one house today, however at the time Pococke was visiting it was an important location, home to an influential MacKay tacksman and at various points the poet Rob Donn (b.1714) and John MacKay (b.1690), a well-known hymn writer. What today are not terribly well maintained single-track roads were key routes connecting the south-east of the county with the north-west.

To be continued…

‘Incredible efforts by earnest souls’

Near the back entrance of St Callan’s church, Rogart, and within collapsing iron railings and low stone wall there is a somewhat difficult-to-read insciption on a gravestone for a minister: Alexander MacLeod. Although buried here and born on the other side of the county in Balchladich, Assynt, he is best remembered across the Minch. Everyone of a churchgoing disposition on the Isle of Lewis has heard of him and, only a year or two back, a service was held in the open air at the very location where thousands gathered two centuries ago to hear him preach. Why is a near household name on the island pretty much unknown in a parish in his own county where he was minister for the same amount of time?

MacLeod’s graestone in Rogart and the inscription. (Photos: Elizabeth Ritchie)

In late November it was my birthday and I got to choose where we would spend Saturday. For some time I had wanted to see where Alexander MacLeod had becone so prominent. We managed to get the baby fed, pack the car and reach Uig in enough time for a walk across the sands and back before dark. The old Manse (I don’t know if this is the same building that MacLeod lived in or not – RCHAMS does not have a date) is now a high-end restaurant. Whether it is the same house of not, it was to this site that MacLeod came when he took up the charge in 1824.

To my eyes this looks like an early C19th building, but if anyone knows more precisely when it was built, I would be pleased to know. I am sure that the Lewis Presbytery Records would say, but I have not been able to access them. (Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie)

When he arrived he was rather appalled at the religious state of things. One elder allegedly prayed for there to be a shipwreck so that they could gather the materials that would be washed ashore. MacLeod felt that the people did not have a grasp of the basics of the Christian faith and decided that there should therefore be no more communions or baptisms until that was remedied. MacLeod got to work preaching the core gospel message from the pulpit, he encouraged learning the catechism, led prayer meetings and promoted family worship within the home. There was stiff opposition among some but others, across the island, were drawn to the teaching.

‘Uig became the centre of attraction, not only to the people of that parish, but also to the whole population of Lewis. Incredible efforts were made by earnest souls in all parts of
the island to be present at the preaching of the Word, even on ordinary Sabbaths. Men, and even women, travelled from Ness, Back, and Knock, distances of from twenty to forty miles, to Uig Ferry from Saturday till Sabbath morning to overtake the boats for church, which often required to leave very early on account of head winds, and the distance to be travelled by sea, which cannot be less than ten or twelve miles.’ (Worthies, p. 227)

The large building behind is the manse and the people would have gathered on the hillside behind to hear MacLeod speak. (Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie)

After four years of teaching MacLeod felt that people could take part in these sacraments with understanding so he prepared for a communion season. These were multi-day events culminating in the dispensing of bread and wine. All over Scotland people would come from considerable distances to attend these. They enjoyed the intellectual stimulation, the sociability, and the spirituality. It was common for over a thousand people to participate, so they often took place outside. A minister might select a natural amphitheatre so the people could range them selves around and hear him. There is such a site in Rogart, just behind the Free Church, and there is another well-known one in Ferintosh on the Black Isle where occasional services are still held. There was often a preaching box which kept the minister and his Bible dry and sheltered from the wind. There’s a great example of one of these outside the old church in Edderton, and there is also one in the museum at Pairc, on Lewis. In Uig the heritage society board indicated that MacLeod would have preached from beside the wall of the manse, with the people gathered on the hillside behind.

Duncan MacAskill, current minister of Carloway Church of Scoltand, demostrates the use of the preaching box in Pairc. (Photo: Duncan MacAskill)

What had been happening in the parish was really quite remarkable. Many people had profound spiritual experieces and were fired with enthusiasm for a revived faith. People’s whole way of life altered, with consequences to the present day. One memoir records that ‘between the intervals of public worship, and after it was over, especially on communion occasions, every retired spot for miles around would be occupied by a secret worshipper, wrestling with God for the blessing on his own soul and that of others. It was quite common for one, who wished to be entirely alone with the Hearer of prayer, to be under the necessity of travelling miles into the moor or mountain to find a place of complete secrecy beyond the sight and sound of anxious pleaders at the throne of grace. It sometimes happened that an earnest one spent the whole night in the solitude of the moorland in communion with God, unconscious of the outward circumstances or situation until the morning sun appeared in the sky.’ (Worthies, p.228)

The author on her pilgrimage (Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie)

While these sorts of scenes were common in the twenty years he was in Uig, they did not follow him when he moved briefly to Lochalsh, and then for another two decades to Rogart. So the man who was at the centre of a lasting religious and cultural shift in Lewis and is remembered two centuries after his work there, is pretty much unknown in Rogart.

Sources: D. Beaton, Diary and Sermons of the Rev. Alexander MacLeod of Rogart (formerly of Uig, Lewis) with Brief Memoir (Inverness: 1925) available online at: http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/islandspirituality/1925-Alexander-Macleod-Uig-Dairy-Sermons.pdf

J. Greig, Disruption Worthies of the Highlands (Edinburgh: 1886) available online at: https://uigchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/1886-Alexander-Macleod-Uig-Disruption-Worthies.pdf

‘Wanted Down Under’ – The Prequel

Graham Hannaford has recently gained his PhD from Federation University, Australia. His thesis explored the impact of emigration advertisements on Scots. He has a Dornoch connection, having gained his Masters from the Centre for History at the University of the Highlands and Islands and has visited the town several times.

If you have been following the many episodes of the TV series Wanted Down Under which explores the attractions of Australia for Brits, it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the concept is far from new. The following advertisement, which appeared on page 1 of the Inverness Courier of 14 March 1848, was only one of many in the nineteenth century, and later, seeking to recruit Scots willing to move to the colonies.

FREE EMIGRATION BY GOVERNMENT TO NEW SOUTH WALES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA, AND THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE.

ALL Persons desirous of availing themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them, are requested to apply to Mr ANDREW RUTHERFORD, GOLSPIE, who will forward to the applicants the proper Form of Application, with a list of such regulations as they will have to conform to. None need apply but Agricultural and Farm Servants, or persons connected with country work, such as Shepherds, Miners, Country Mechanics, Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights, and Carpenters. The most desirable applicants are YOUNG MARRIED COUPLES, with few, or without Children.

YOUNG SINGLE WOMEN, of established respectability, who, though not employed as servants at present, but are desirous of becoming such in the Colony, may apply.

ANDREW RUTHERFORD,

Agent to her Majesty’s Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners.

Golspie, 23d February 1848.

Rutherford eventually acted on his own advice and emigrated with his wife to Australia, both of them ending their days in Melbourne.[1] He was also politically astute for his time, having subscribed half a guinea to the fund for the monument to the late first Duke of Sutherland.[2]

The advertisement made it clear that only agricultural workers and associated tradesmen were wanted by the promoters of the government emigration scheme. These were the categories of employees which had been sought for many years by those with large land holdings in the colonies. Married men were sought since these tended to be more stable in work and behaviour than bachelors who were inclined, it was believed, to waste their earnings and time on drinking. Wives were also believed to be useful in the role of hut keepers supporting shepherds.

A shepherd’s life in Australia, South Australia, 1864 [picture] / W. R. Thomas, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-151835623/view

It is worth noting that the offer of passage was being made to those willing to migrate to the Cape of Good Hope, to South Australia and to New South Wales itself. In doing so, for those hesitant about the voyage, the Cape would have been more attractive and so too, to a lesser extent, would be the voyage to South Australia which was shorter than going all the way to Sydney.

The ongoing imbalance in the genders in the colony was reflected in the announcement that young single women willing to work as servants were also wanted. This was an issue which had been flagged over many years and was still without adequate resolution by the middle of the nineteenth century. Good marriage prospects awaited those seeking a husband.

It is clear from this advertisement that the emigration commissioners viewed conditions in the Cape colony as being similar to those in Australia, probably with the aim of moving surplus population out of Britain as much as finding the workers sought by the colonies. But it is also apparent that work was available for those willing to undertake it on the pastoral stations in New South Wales, whether as shepherds or in the associated trades necessary for operating large properties.


[1] https://www.bayanne.info/Shetland/familygroup.php?familyID=F55730&tree=ID1.

[2] James Loch, Memoir of George Granville, late Duke of Sutherland K.G. (London: S. Woodfall, 1834), 69.

Missionaries in Dornoch

In early October 1797 a small group of men rode in to Dornoch from the north. They had spent the last few months touring the north east, the Orkneys and Caithness. But these were not tourists. They were missionaries, enthusiastic and determined to share their Christian faith with the local population. Although Scotland had been Christian for many centuries, the men felt that for most people this did not deeply affect their deepest beliefs and ways of life. Their missionary impulse was part of the eighteenth-century ‘heart-felt’ Evangelical Christianity which had already swept North America, England, Wales and swathes of Scotland. One of the men was James Haldane, one of two brothers from a wealthy Stirlingshire family. They were both converted as young men who, their plans to become missionaries abroad stymied, developed a passion for evangelism in the north of Scotland. The institutional church at the time was very wary of itinerant preachers, particularly ones who were willing to criticise local ministers. They were also wary of the ‘enthusiastic’ religion of evangelists like John Wesley, George Whitefield and the Haldanes.

Haldane and Aikman would have crossed at Little Ferry, possibly landing at this pier, as they travelled south. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Haldane recorded in his diary that, accompanied by Mr. Aikman, they entered

Dornoch, the county town, where they heard a melancholy account of the state of religion. But whilst the people were without the blessing of a preached Gospel, it was comforting to hear of the good done at prayer-meetings, instituted about the time of the Revolution of 1688.

The minister at the time was John Bethune. He was a renowned classical scholar but did not meet the Haldane party’s standards. It may well be that Bethune had a more intellectual style of preaching than was acceptable to the Evangelicals who wanted an emphasis on the message of salvation and spiritual experience. Despite this perceived inadequacy of preaching in church, there was clearly a community of local people who nurtured their faith through fellowship meetings. These appear to have been common throughout the district and it’s fascinating to hear this account of how ordinary people practiced their faith.

They originated at a time when much of the power of godliness was experienced. They generally met at first in the minister’s house, or in some private house in the parish. The parochial fellowship meetings are now all so numerous, that they meet in churches. The minister acts as moderator. He begins with singing, and then prays. In many places, especially if the meeting be thin, he reads a portion of Scripture, and explains it. He then asks if any person has a question, or a case of conscience to propose for the consideration of those who are to speak at the meeting. A passage of Scripture is then mentioned, and a question proposed from it, relative to experimental [today we would use the word ‘experiential’ – i.e. the personal experience of faith] religion, by some person present. The moderator elucidates the passage, and states the question as intelligibly as possible. The speakers then deliver their sentiments with an earnestness suited to the importance of the subject, and the moderator collects their different ideas, corrects anything that may be improperly stated, and gives his own opinion. The man who proposes the question never speaks to it. In many places there is a prayer offered up about the middle of the service. One of the speakers prays after the service is over, and a psalm is sung. Occasions of this nature are highly and deservedly valued by the people. In many places, we understand they are the chief means of maintaining and carrying forward the work of Christ. It is here also worthy of particular remark, that until within these few years that some ministers have discountenanced them, it was the practice of a great part of the north country to hold public fellowship meetings on the Friday previous to the administration of the Lord’s Supper. Experienced Christians here discoursed freely of the manner of the Lord’s dealing with them, and we are enabled often to speak much to the comfort and edification of their weaker brethren.

It is often assumed that clergy were very controlling of the people but here we can see that while the minister offers some teaching and chairs the meeting, there was considerable input and direction from the participants. There was a balance of prayer, singing, reading of the Bible and discussion. However, some ministers obviously felt that the meetings challenged their control over their congregation, and tensions had arisen which became more pronounced over the next few decades. These ‘old Scottish fellowship meetings’ impressed the Haldanes and their colleagues and this type of social worship inspired some of the practices they promoted through the Baptist and Congregationalist movements. The Friday meetings before communion are still practiced by many Presbyterian churches in the Highlands and Islands to this day.

As they left Dornoch they would again have taken the ferry, just in front of where today’s road bridge can be seen. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Having left Dornoch, where the Gaelic was so generally spoken, that the people did not understand English, they came to Tain, where they found the people highly favored, being blessed with a zealous and faithful minister of the Established Church, who is the fifth of that character, in immediate succession. This was Angus Mackintosh who had just been become their minister earlier that year. After preaching at Tain, Milton, Invergordon, and Drummond, they arrived at Dingwall, where they preached, both in the street and in the Town-hall, and then crossed the Ferry, and by the Lord’s good hand upon us, arrived in safety at Inverness, in the afternoon of the 18th October.

Source:

Alexander Haldane, Memoirs of the lives of Robert Haldane of Airthrey, and of his brother James Alexander Haldane (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1868), p.172-3.

Two clan chiefs: defending the realm and the impact of travel restrictions on the Highlands in 1916

Neil Bruce continues his consideration of how access to the Highlands and Islands was restricted during the two world wars. The situation faced by authorities to defend the realm in 1916 has some semblance of similarity with 2020, albeit for very different reasons.

On 10th October 1916 Fraser Alexander MacKinnon appeared in Inverness Sheriff Court charged with entering the railway station ‘without lawful authority or permission of the relevant military authorities in contravention of the orders of the Deputy-Commandant of the North of Scotland special military area.[1] MacKinnon was an unlikely lawbreaker: 68 years old, he was usually given the nomenclature ‘Mackinnon of Mackinnon’, his clan’s 35th chief.[2] The region’s Depute-Commandant responsible for upholding Defence of the Realm Regulation 29b was Lieutenant Colonel Donald Cameron of Locheil (25th chief of clan Cameron).[3] Mackinnon’s solicitor successfully argued that the charge was irrelevant as both the station and its environs were within the ‘prescribed area’.[4]

Access to the north of Scotland had become restricted on the 25th July.[5] The special military area included Inverness and the mainland north and west of the River Ness, Loch Ness and the road from Invermoriston Pier to Kyle of Lochalsh.[6] There was considerable military presence in Inverness, with the commandant’s officer in Hamilton Street, ‘vulnerable points’ throughout the area were guarded and the navy patrolled the Caledonian Canal.[7] Inverness was described as a ‘continental frontier station’ which would-be passengers could only reach if the railway company had sight of the required permit.[8]

Everyone over 16 other than serving military, dockyard employees and local residents needed a permit.[9] In practice, locals also had to apply and obtain a pass as the commandant could require them to carry one ‘authenticated by a Chief Constable’.[10] The introduction of controlled movement was generally smooth, though locals unable to prove their identity attempting to enter Inverness could only leave on production of a duplicate national registration card obtained from the chief constable. One unintended consequence was that islanders were initially unable to board ferries to the mainland if they could not show identification.[11]

Those who wished to travel to the military area had to follow a strict procedure to obtain a permit-book, providing a photograph, personal details, address and description of any distinguishing marks. The applicant’s details required to be validated by two British subjects who were householders. They had to apply to the local commandant, stating the purpose and length of their visit, and the name and address of the British subject with whom they were to stay. Permits were checked on entry to the military area.[12] Police in Aberdeen and the ‘county constabulary’ quickly exhausted their supply of identification cards as people anticipated their need when travelling from the east by train.[13]

The introduction of restrictions prevented freedom of travel. Newspapers, though, expected that Locheil ‘with his intimate knowledge of the district as an asset’, would enforce the regulations ‘tactfully and with a minimum of friction.’[14] He used his powers judiciously, finding a temporary solution to enable islanders to travel. Within a month of restrictions being in force, he arranged with the railway companies that those who had an urgent need to visit the area could purchase a ticket and travel to Inverness if in possession of a telegram from himself permitting entry. The traveller was expected to report on arrival at Inverness railway station to have the required official permit book completed and authorised.[15]

During World War Two the strictness of the permit application process and its then administration from London caused Inverness County Council to call for it to be relaxed because of the impact on ‘hotelkeepers, farmers and crofters’ seasonal incomes. Locheil, the council’s convener, commented that when he had been in charge during the previous conflict, he could issue permits whereas his then successor did not have the same power.[16] In his civil office, Locheil commented that as  control of the area was of national importance, losses should not be shouldered by ‘one of the poorest Districts in the British Isles’.[17]

Then as now authorities acted to protect lives and society. However, restrictions have implications: earlier this year islanders could only travel to the mainland in emergency situations and implementing two metres social distancing on ferries limited the number travelling. Businesses were forced to close to limit transmission of Covid-19 and protect the NHS: then as now, the impact on seasonal tourism and related enterprises, and the wider community caused considerable concern, threatening their economic wellbeing.


[1] The Scotsman, 11 October 1916, 6.

[2] The Times, 28 February 1947, 7.

[3] Locheil had been invalided home that May from the Western Front from command of the 5th battalion of Cameron Highlanders he’d raised in 1914, Herald Scotland, 17 August 2015, The Times, 12 October 1951, 6.

https://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/13600601.calling-descendants-of-cameron-highlanders/ accessed 14 June 2020; The press regularly described Locheil as commandant of the special military area.

[4] The Scotsman, 11 October 1916, 6. MacKinnon won on a narrow legal point: the sheriff told a perplexed procurator fiscal that Mackinnon had not been properly advised which section of the order he was being charged under. The fiscal questioned whether the sheriff regarded the railway station as not covered under the relevant section of the order to which the latter replied he had ‘no opinion’ on its validity.

[5] The Scotsman, 24 July 1916, 3, 4.

[6] Pulling, A.(ed), Defence of the Realm manual (London, 1917), 535-536.

[7] Royle, T., ‘The first world war’, in E. M. Spiers, J. A. Crang & M. J. Strickland (eds), Military History of Scotland (Edinburgh, 2012), 506; Carter, H., The control of the drink trade: a contribution to national efficiency, 1915-1917 (London, 1918), 133.

[8] The Scotsman, 18 July 1916, 4; The Guardian, 22 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/22/uk-quarantine-plan-what-will-it-mean-for-travellers

[9] The Scotsman, 24 July 1916, 3, 4. Residents of Inverness, Ross, Elgin or Nairn were those ordinarily resident from 4th August 1914.

[10] Inverness Courier, 25 July 1916.

[11] The Scotsman, 26 July 1916, 6.

[12] The Scotsman, 24 July 1916, 4.

[13] The Scotsman, 26 July 1916, 6.

[14] The Scotsman, 18 July 1916, 4; Inverness Courier, 25 July 1916; Strathspey Herald, 27 July 1916.

[15] Glasgow Herald, 9 August 1916, 6. Checks on travellers were much more rigorous than for passengers arriving in the UK in June 2020 who were required to provide the address they would self-isolate for 14 days, with a one in five likelihood of being checked by Border Control. Herald Scotland, 8 June 2020, 4; http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2020/169/made  accessed 10 June 2020.

[16] The Scotsman, 3 May 1940, 9.

[17] Ibid.

A Man’s Place

There’s a lot of talk today about identity: gender identity, sexual identity, national identity. Identity strikes at the heart of who we feel we are, but it is also shaped by the mores of the day, so it’s possible to study it historically.

Alexander Forbes from Rogart clearly had a strong Christian identity. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

A few avid followers of this blog might vaguely recall a couple of posts on gravestones and how they could be used to think about people’s identity. Well, out of that research I wrote a much longer piece for ‘Genealogy’ journal on how places helped to form a man’s sense of identity in the nineteenth century.

One type of place-based identities I discuss is an identity which is bound up in the British Empire. A superb example here of a family from Golspie Tower who relocated and developed strong identities grounded in Canada West (now Ontario), Yorkshire and Australia. These were the key things that Donald and George Sutherland wanted noted about them and their sister on the gravestone which they paid for. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The article just got published this past week so I enclose a link here for anyone who might be interested. Feel free to skip the literature review and methodology (or indeed any other part!) There are a good few examples from Dornoch, Golspie, Rogart, Ardgay, Tain and surrounds. It has been great fun justifying my enjoyment of wandering around graveyards while trying to figure out something about what went on in the minds and hearts of people from a very long time ago.

Here’s the link: https://www.mdpi.com/2313-5778/4/4/97

Who can resist a wander around a graveyard on a sunny evening? Creich, with the Dornoch Firth in the background. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Can anyone identify the graveyard in the header – at the top of this post?

The Beauly barrier, the women of Ross and the bogus telegram: World War Two Highland lockdown

In his second blog post about the impact of government decisions on Highland life during wartime, Neil Bruce considers the impact of the introduction of permits required to enter the region during World War Two.

In 1940 Robert Michie was sentenced to a £2 fine or 10 days imprisonment at Inverness Sheriff Court for circumventing the army’s Beauly barrier which controlled the north road.[i] North and west of the Firth of Lorne and Great Glen had been officially designated as the North of Scotland protected area in the ‘interests of defence or the efficient prosecution of war’ on 11 March 1940. [ii]  Restricting access in wartime resonates with 2020, when rural communities to protect themselves, warned would-be visitors, second home owners and others to stay away during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Forest of Birse, April 2020

Photo: Neil Bruce

The Highlands became a military-controlled zone.[iii] North-bound travellers’ credentials were checked at key points including Inverness railway station, the Kessock ferry and buses from Fort William.[iv] Those bound for the Northern Isles required a transit visa from Inverness’s military control office.[v] Adult residents needed permits to prove their identity if stopped, and proof of residency leaving or entering the area. In Inverness, almost immediately, ‘thousands’ queued to obtain permits from police headquarters.[vi] Residents from enemy countries required a specific permit and had to adhere to strict regulations: forgetting to report to their local police station before overnight curfew, Italian ‘aliens’ Enrico and Antonio Pizzamiglio were each fined £10.[vii]

Visitor permits were issued by military offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. Initial confusion and delay ensued: applications required both parents’ nationality and countersignature by a J. P. or someone-else of ‘respectable status’.[viii] The protected area covered 40% of Scotland, but the government initially rebuffed suggestions local registrars or police could issue permits, claiming security was ‘predominant’.[ix] Democracy came second to military authority: the government candidate in the Argyllshire by-election, a non-resident serving officer, still required a permit.[x] Holidaymaker Jessie Macleod freely crossed the Beauly barrier several times before being found to be without permit. Her defence that she believed her identification card was sufficient proof did not prevent a 10/- fine.[xi] Irishman John P. McGovern, a farm labourer in Caithness for 11 years received more leniency, remanded in custody while Wick police obtained the necessary military permit.[xii] A son was only allowed to attend his father’s funeral having ‘pulled certain very important wires which are not given to all men to reach.’[xiii]

There was other suspicion about ‘wires’ being pulled. Lord Redesdale and daughter Deborah Mitford’s visit to their Argyll island was contrasted with ‘legitimate and loyal persons’ inability to obtain permits.[xiv] Secretary for War, Anthony Eden defended Redesdale’s ‘valid reason for finding it desirable and necessary to reside there during part of the year’: seeing no ‘reasonable grounds for disquiet throughout Scotland.’[xv] Minister for Security and Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson responded that the island was ‘visited periodically by the police’, though he had no grounds ‘for prohibiting the present inhabitants from living there’.[xvi] In spring 2020 echoes reverberate when officials told citizens to stay at home, then ignored the same instruction; and elsewhere, police visited Lismore following concerns about a non-resident’s arrival.[xvii]

Tourism was ‘killed almost stone dead’ in 1940.[xviii] Slow issue of visitor permits brought sparse Eastertime trade.[xix] The Scotsman encouraged readers not to worry about food restrictions or petrol rationing, but was apprehensive that the bed and breakfast, and other tourist businesses built-up by that ‘modern regiment’, the ‘women of Ross’, could continue.[xx] Would-be visitors with permits intent on a summer Highland ‘staycation’ were prevented from ferry or rail travel without warning.[xxi] Shooting and fishing tenants could not obtain permits.[xxii] The government refused to compensate sporting estate owners, hikers or ‘holidaymakers of the humbler sort’ for losses incurred.[xxiii] Pressed why permit offices were instructed not to grant permits if the reason given was ‘holidays’, Anthony Eden replied cryptically, ‘There may be reasons which I would rather not refer to in public.’[xxiv] Those included an expected imminent invasion: defensive works were under construction to thwart an advancing enemy.[xxv]

Sign in Finzean, Lockdown 2020

Photo: Neil Bruce

Then as now, individuals circumvented the rules in force: in 1941, determined to holiday on Skye, James McLachlan arranged to receive the telegram, ‘Fanny seriously ill; come at once’. Permit granted and his deception discovered, he was fined £3 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.[xxvi] Though with very different origins, responses in wartime and to viral threat involved taking control of individuals’ lives to effect immediate change for the greatest impact and collective good.


[i] Northern Chronicle, 24 April 1940, A newspaper scrapbook history of Inverness, 1939 to September 1940: a year at war, http://www.scalan.co.uk/oldinverness/inverness/Invern33.gif accessed 13 April 2020. Michie from Markinch, arrived in Inverness believing his permit to work in Invergordon was being arranged. When he found it was not, he proceeded on the north road. The maximum sentence was a fine of £100 or 3 months imprisonment; The Scotsman reported an unnamed Fifer reached the Square in Beauly, disembarking from a bus before it reached the barrier: he was reported to the military, having asked someone how he could avoid the barrier. The Scotsman, 20 April 1940, 7; The barrier, across Station Road, five yards south of the Phipps Hall, was closed at 10pm each evening. The army also occasionally patrolled the surrounding countryside to prevent unauthorised entry. Harrison, H. W., compiler, The village of Beauly: parish of Kilmorack: a study of the history and demography of the village of Beauly, 1700-2000 (Kilmorack, 2001), 200-201.

[ii] Parliament passed legislation enabling the designation of protected places or areas the week before the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, The Times, 29 August 1939, 16; Scotsman, 27 February 1940, 7.

[iii] Coastal areas had stricter controls of access. Manchester Guardian,6 April 1940, 4.

[iv] The Scotsman, 12 March 1940, 5; 26 March 1940, 5.

[v] The Scotsman, 12 March 1940, 5. Entry to the Northern Isles required a special military permit.

[vi] Ibid. The local registrar issued 5,000 applications the day before when the protected area came into force.

[vii] Northern Chronicle, 29 May 1940, A newspaper scrapbook history,   http://www.scalan.co.uk/oldinverness/inverness/Invern38.gif accessed 13 April 2020. Italian men between 17 and 60 had to report daily to a police station, could not use personal transport and were curfewed from 8pm to 6am.There were only four Italians resident in Inverness who were naturalised British citizens and 17 others were regarded as aliens; The Scotsman, 4 April 1940, 7.

[viii] The Scotsman, 28 February 1940, 7; 30 March 1940, 10.

[ix] House of Commons, 17 April 1940. 

[x] The Times, 25 March 1940, 8.

[xi] Northern Chronicle, 17 July 1940, A newspaper scrapbook history, http://www.scalan.co.uk/oldinverness/inverness/Invern33.gif accessed 13 April 2020. She had travelled by train from Inverness without challenge, having only her ticket checked.

[xii] The Scotsman, 18 May 1940, 7. The same court sentenced fellow countryman Charles McLaughlin 30 days imprisonment as he could not pay his £5 fine. McLaughlin had a permit to work in Invergordon, but, finding no accommodation available, decided to travel to Orkney, being was arrested en route.

[xiii] The Scotsman, 6 April 1940, 11.

[xiv] The War Cabinet had previously refused Lord Redesdale’s request that he take another daughter, Unity Mitford, with him because of expected public outrage and the precedent it would set. National Archives, CAB 65/6/4, War Cabinet, 59 (40), 4 March 1940.

[xv] Ibid; House of Commons, 6 August 1940.

[xvi] House of Commons, 11 July 1940; 18 July 1940.

[xvii] https://twitter.com/jasonleitch/status/1244199165095284736 accessed 24 April 2020; https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/05/scotland-chief-medical-officer-seen-flouting-lockdown-advice-catherine-calderwood accessed 28 April 2020;  https://www.obantimes.co.uk/2020/04/10/marks-spencer-chairman-dismisses-rumours-family-travelled-to-lismore/?mc_cid=478d795889&mc_eid=156180a7ba accessed 10 April 2020; https://www.obantimes.co.uk/2020/04/14/police-visit-lismore-property-over-lockdown-concerns/?mc_cid=153442b327&mc_eid=156180a7ba accessed 14 April 2020; Herald Scotland, 18 April 2020, 4..

[xviii] The Scotsman, 18 October 1940, 3. Flora, Mrs Macleod of MacLeod told Inverness County Council it was important all parts of the country were prosperous.

[xix] The Scotsman, 23 March 1940, 8.

[xx] Manchester Guardian, 7 March 1940, 6; The Scotsman, 22 March 1940, 9; 9 April 1940, 11.

[xxi] The Scotsman, 26 August 1940, 4.

[xxii] Sporting tenants were described as ‘people, who go, for so many months at a time, annually, to live in another part of the country.’ The Scotsman, 3 September 1940, 7.

[xxiii] The Scotsman, 3 September 1940, 7. Some estate owners achieved rates reductions at valuation appeal courts: in Ross and Cromarty, the County Clerk questioned why ratepayers should ‘suffer’ because the government had created a protected area. The Scotsman, 20 September 1940, 3. 20-25 shooting lodges were identified as suitable for occupation by evacuee children if needed. The Scotsman, 3 May 1940, 9.

[xxiv] The Scotsman, 7 August 1940, 4.

[xxv] See Barclay, G., If Hitler comes: preparing for invasion: Scotland 1940 (Edinburgh, 2013).

[xxvi] The Scotsman, 1 August 1940, 6.

Cholera and the discovery of poverty in Sutherland, part 3

As our current epidemic subsides in this country, here are some final thoughts from Malcolm Bangor-Jones on cholera in Sutherland.

Dr Ross provided further details of conditions in the parish of Rogart. The cottages were “by far the strongest and best built of any we fell in with, and better finished in every respect their furniture is excellent and well kept and in not a few of them we found Grates, both in their Rooms and Kitchens. The people seem to want none of the ordinary Comforts of Life, their Barns were full of Corn, and their Stores inside their houses were equally well appointed as few of them were without their meat Barrels of Beef mutton or pork and some had part of them all. And as to Potatoes they admit if it were possible to preserve them, that they have a stock sufficient for two years Consume. Let me assure you that in many of the houses we saw in and about Rogart, no Gentleman, let his Rank be what it may, but might find himself comfortable for a night.”

On the other hand in the Strathfleet end of the parish they found “many poor widows and old maids in destitute circumstances, and such was the primitive simplicity of those poor Creatures, that rather than expose their wants they borrowed Blankets and Bedcovers from their neighbours, to make what they wished, a decent appearance on that day.” There had been many cases of typhus in Strathfleet that winter – the deaths had been mainly of the more elderly. Possibly this was accounted for by the mild winter.

There was, however, much going on in Strathfleet in terms of its improvement. Dr Ross was not impressed by the crofters in the parish of Dornoch who were “the most useless set of Rascals I know.” Gunn also reported that while there had been very great improvement around the lower part of Birichin, Fleuchary, and Astel they were behind their neighbours in other parishes. He suggested that “the people, perhaps from being nearer the Dornoch law; are more stiff necked, & want the energy of the other Parishes.” George Gunn “threatened & scolded them where I saw occasion for it”. As John Ross, the catechist, was among the worst Gunn promised him a summons of removal “which will have the effect of shewing him & others that we are in earnest.”

Once word got out hundreds of applications for assistance from ‘needy people’ were received. Some argued that the landlords should be assessed. However, an alliance of large farmers and factors managed to ensure that assistance would be provided by way of a voluntary charitable contribution from tenants and landlords. By mid March about £450 had been raised in the east of Sutherland. Mr Dempster did not contribute but instead established a soup kitchen for the poor on his own property and distributed a considerable quantity of flannel and blankets.

Patrick Sellar drew attention to the increase in the number of whisky shops over the previous decade. The distillers had “set up agents and creatures in every Corner; and, one’s servants can scarcely go to Church on Sunday without being entrapped into one of these poison stores. It is in vain that we give meal to feed the hungry if such an agency of poverty, disease, and death be left in full employment against us.” The county agreed that measures should be taken to limit the number of tippling houses. It was also agreed that supernumerary dogs should be got rid of – no aid would be given to anyone who unnecessarily kept a dog.

These measures did not stop cholera coming to Sutherland later that year. Nor is it is easy to determine whether there was a long-term impact on the standards of cleanliness. Certainly a boost may have been given to the improvement of housing.

However, the systematic inspection of every dwelling – possibly unique – did highlight the depth of poverty amongst sections of the population, especially the aged. This was to come to the fore when evidence was gathered by the Poor Law Commission in the early 1840s.