Hector Munro: Villain Highland Nabob or Highland Hero? (part 2)

Brian Symonds continues his exploration of Ross-shire man, Hector Munro.

Hector Munro, the hero of Buxar, now wealthy and with social status as an MP, was seemingly established comfortably in his Highland Novar estate. However in 1777 he chose to return to India as Commander-in-Chief of the East India Army. Perhaps Munro lost heavily in the major financial crisis following the Scottish Ayr Bank failure in 1772, and the resulting financial embarrassment created the need for him to once more forsake the Highlands.

In his new position Munro presided over wars with the Indian rulers and the French. He personally commanded the forces which in 1778 stormed and captured the strategically important French base at Pondichéry. This victory was so important for Britain that Munro was awarded a knighthood. The newly ennobled Sir Hector Munro, still officially MP for Inverness Burghs even when in India, re-established his financial standing from prize money.

However, in 1780 his fortunes changed. He failed to send assistance to beleaguered East India troops during the campaign against a prince of southern India. As a result the Company lost the whole Carnatic region to the local rulers and the French and destroyed his reputation. It was considered the worst defeat suffered by the British in the eighteenth century. Munro resigned his command and returned to London but was greeted with the news that he had been dismissed from the East India Company in disgrace.

Hector Munro

Trouble followed him north in 1782. The old established landowners were uneasy with the nabobs, those nouveau riche who returned from India with their controversial wealth. This was particularly so when they use it to ‘build grand houses, improve traditional land ownership and to buy political position’.

Once resettled, Munro turned his attention to Novar. There he continued to court controversy. He is said to have found Novar ‘a very inferior property, with poor soil but well adapted for the growth of timber’. He began modernising the management of the estate and initiated improvements to the house and surrounding area, including the construction of the folly of the Gate of Negapatam. Reputedly he spent some £120,000: at current value representing the startling sum of some thirteen million pounds.

Novar House

It is claimed that Sir Hector’s estate improvements and his folly gave much-needed employment to local men. Paradoxically, he also pioneered the introduction of sheep which displaced populations. He also engaged in other profitable enterprises such as the introduction of larch as a commercial timber crop. The resulting clearances and loss of traditional tenure systems that sustained local communities created high local unemployment and poverty while ultimately provoking widespread resistance by tenants. Sir Hector Munro was ‘a man with considerable experience in India of quelling troublesome natives’ and who still maintained his status as the Colonel of a Highland regiment so. He therefore: ‘ordered certain companies of the regiment to Novar, where they dispersed the people and took some of the ringleaders prisoners’. They were subsequently tried at the Justiciary Court sitting at Inverness, and sentenced to transportation for life.

Brahan Seer

Motivation for Munro’s pursuit of estate modernisation might be found in the sheer disparity of the gain from his exploits in India and the traditional income from his Highland estate. An early year in India easily secured him £20 000, a sum equal to thirty eight years of income from his unmodernised Highland estate.

Munro continued to prosper through family connections within the East India Company. His nephew, Captain Alexander Munro, was killed in India and left Sir Hector his possessions. In a letter dated 9th June 1779 this was itemised as ‘three chests of Treasure containing as per Invoice & Bill of Lading inclosed Silver Argots Twenty Seven Thousand and Twenty Seven Rupees’.

Despite the apparent inhumanity he displayed in his military career and his seeming callousness in his management of Novar Estate, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the family misadventures that accompanied his sojourns to India. Whilst he never married he had three sons and a daughter, not all by the same mother. Munro lost his seventeen year old son in 1792, a cadet in the East India Company’s military service: ‘I heard a roar like thunder, and saw an immense royal tiger spring on the unfortunate Munro, who was sitting down: in a moment his head was in the beasts mouth and he rushed into the jungle with him’. A second son, who joined the East India Company as a Writer in 1796, died aboard ship in 1814 on the journey home. His third son, also seventeen and also a cadet in the East India Company service, was killed in 1804 by a shark in the Bay of Bengal. It is not clear what became of his daughter but she may have joined Munro at Novar. Sir Hector Munro died at Novar House during Christmas of 1805: a local man, sometimes hero and sometimes villain.

Sources:

HAC D538/J/3, ‘Will and Letter, Dated 25th July 1778 Calcutta, from Claude Alexander to Major Genl. Hector Munro’

‘The Son of Sir Hector Munro, Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman on Board the Shaw Ardasier, off Saugur Island’, Derby Mercury, 11 July 1793

Bryant, G. J., ‘Munro, Sir Hector (1725/6–1805/6)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19546&gt;

Cain, Alex M, The Cornchest for Scotland: Scots in India (National Library of Scotland, 1986)

Cregeen, Eric, ‘The Tacksmen and Their Successors: A Study of Tenurial Reorganisation in Mull, Morvern and Tiree in the Early Eighteenth Century’ Scottish Studies, 13 (1969), 93–144

Edwardes, Michael, The Nabobs at Home (Edinburgh: Constable, 1991)

Grosjean, Alexia, ‘Return to Belhelvie, 1593-1875: The Impact of Return Migration on an Aberdeenshire Parish’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

Harper, Marjory, ‘Introduction to Emigrant Homecoming’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

Mackenzie, Alexander, History of the Munros of Fowlis: With Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name: To Which Are Added Those of Lexington and New England (Inverness: A. & W, Mackenzie, 1898)

MacKillop, Andrew, ‘The Highlands and the Returning Nabob: Sir Hector Munro of Novar, 1760-1807’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), pp. 233–61

McGilvary, George K., East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, International Library of Historical Studies, 54 (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008)

‘Measuring Worth – Purchasing Power of Pound’ <https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk/&gt; [accessed 13 March 2018]

‘Members Biographies: Munro, Hector (1726-1805), of Novar, Ross’, The History of Parliament <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/munro-hector-1726-1805&gt;

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Hector Munro: Highland Villain or Fallen Hero? part 1

Brian Symons is a recent graduate of the University of the Highlands and Islands Masters programme in British Studies. He is a ‘serial student’ whose interests and previous degrees span a wide range of cultural studies. Now retired and living in the far north Highlands, his most recent interest has been the impact of the great wealth brought into the Highlands by the nouveau riche returning from service with the East India Company in the 1800s

The imposing Gate of Negapatam stood above its city and port in Madras, India. Its replica is set on the hilltop at Cnoc Fyrish less than twenty kilometres from the Dornoch Firth. A folly built in the nineteenth century by Sir Hector Munro, it was erected to celebrate his military successes in India, to demonstrate his position and immense wealth and to, allegedly, provide employment during its construction for the local population of his Novar Estate.

Gate of Nagapatnam Fyrish

Hector was born in 1726 the son of Hugh Munro, a merchant. He entered military service at an early age and fought against the Jacobites in 1745. It was rumoured that he was captured but escaped. In 1746 the Duchess of Gordon was travelling in Sutherland accompanied only by an increasingly drunken coachman. Twenty year old Hector Munro gallantly ‘rescued’ her and delivered the Duchess to her destination. In appreciation she used her influence to secure Hector a Lieutenant’s commission in a Highland Regiment and so launched the young Highlander on his controversial career and his road to wealth.

As a newly commissioned officer, Hector was despatched to Badenoch with a troop of soldiers to apprehend ‘all disaffected persons in that district’. Munro and his soldiers tracked down the notorious Cameron, known as ‘Sergeant Mòr’ and transported him to Perth where he was executed. Another Jacobite rebel, Ewen MacPherson of Cluny, seemingly evaded Munro and escaped to France, however rumour suggested that Munro knew MacPherson and allowed him to avoid capture.

In 1759 Hector Munro was appointed a major in a newly formed Highland regiment of the private army of the East India Company. The Company, by means of military might, personal and institutional corruption and political manipulation, exploited the Indian continent extracting prodigious wealth for individuals and the British state. The cost of realising such wealth was the constant wars in India involving the East India Company Private Army, local rulers and the French who had also established trading and military bases on the continent.

Arriving in India with his Highland regiment Major Munro quickly established a formidable reputation. His regiment, as in most of the East India Company army, included locally recruited native soldiers attached as Sepoy battalions to the core British contingent. In 1764 unrest and near-revolt arose in these battalions in support of the claim that sepoys received a far smaller share than the British troops of the ‘donations’ made to the army by the puppet Nawab of Bengal. Despite the justice of the sepoys’ claim, Munro chose to quell the unrest by court-martialling and executing twenty-four of the ringleaders by gruesomely blowing them away from guns’.

execution of mutineers at Peshawur

No doubt Munro believed that his approach to discipline contributed to his success in later years at the Battle of Buxar, where he defeated the significantly larger combined Nawab armies (local princes and potentates) of the Mughal Emperor. In recognition, the East India Company instantly promoted Major Munro to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. However as the main part of the Mughal army fled, Munro was infuriated at the loss of substantial booty. He reportedly estimated the value of the jewels at some two or three million, a colossal sum when converted to current value. However one Nawab, seeking to avoid reprisals, promised a settlement of a vast sum of money to reimburse both the Company and the Army, ‘including eight lacs personally to Major Munro’. Munro’s eight lacs at today’s value amount to some twelve million pounds.

Munro had reached an apex of his military career: his battle success was decisive in establishing control of northern India, effectively making the British East India Company the rulers of the richest provinces of India. In 1765 he resigned his command in India and returned to the Highlands. ‘Nabobs’, the label for such wealthy returnees from India, frequently bought estates throughout Britain. Other Highlanders used their Indian money to buy estates in St Kilda, Orkney and Skye.

Seeking social status, Munro successfully campaigned for election to Parliament as Member for Inverness Burghs. He remained the MP for over thirty years having purchased the estate of Muirtown, Elgin, to meet the electoral residency qualification. His home and primary estate was, however, that of Novar, close to Alness. It was here he began the process of modernisation and ‘improvement’.      (To be continued)

Sources:

The Lawes or Standing Orders of the East India Company 1621 (Farnborough: Gregg International Publishers Limited, 1968)

Anon., ‘The Extraordinary Black Book, Chapter XII: East-India Company’, in The Extraordinary Black Book: (Usually Called the ‘Reformer’s Bible’), ed. by ‘The Original Editor’ (London: Effingham Wilson, 1831), pp. 350–76

Bryant, G. J., ‘Munro, Sir Hector (1725/6–1805/6)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19546&gt;

Cain, Alex M, The Cornchest for Scotland: Scots in India (National Library of Scotland, 1986)

Devine, T. M, and John M MacKenzie, ‘Scots in the Imperial Economy’, in Scotland and the British Empire, ed. by John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine, Oxford History of the British Empire–Companion Series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 227–54

Gardner, Brian, The East India Company: A History (London: Hart-Davis, 1971)

Keay, John, The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company (Scribner, 1994)

Mackenzie, Alexander, History of the Munros of Fowlis: With Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name: To Which Are Added Those of Lexington and New England (Inverness: A. & W, Mackenzie, 1898)

Mackillop, Andrew, ‘The Highlands and the Returning Nabob: Sir Hector Munro of Novar, 1760-1807’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), pp. 233–61

McGilvary, George K., East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, International Library of Historical Studies, 54 (London ; New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008)

‘Members Biographies: Munro, Hector (1726-1805), of Novar, Ross’, The History of Parliament <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/munro-hector-1726-1805&gt;

A landscape of the imagination: Kildonan and the classical world

When Donald broke free from his classroom, he did not see the smoking thatched longhouses, the goats tied to their stakes, the bustle of women churning, washing and shouting after children. What he saw were the glories of the ancient world.

Alexander Sage had sent his boys to the parish school, but was unimpressed with the education on offer.[1] The minister set aside his library, equipping it with his study chair and a large table close to the window. There he guided Donald and Aeneas through English reading, grammar and arithmetic. Donald was delighted when his father announced he was to begin Latin. Alexander ‘pulled out the table drawer and showed me a new copy of Ruddiman’s Rudiments which he had purchased the week before at Brora’.[2] ‘With my father I read Cordery’s Colloquies, Cornelius Nepos, Caesar, Sallust, Ovid, Virgil, Livy, and Horace, and along with these I was so carefully instructed in the rules of Watt’s Latin Grammar that I shall not forget them as long as I live.’ From that study window the boys could see the hills, woods and dips of the Strath of Kildonan. It was this landscape which brought into three dimensions the events of Greek and Roman history and legend.

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There are remnants of longhouses around the millpond. The manse is to the right. The round hill on the far right is the most obvious contender for being Torr-buidh, being so distinctive, though it bears no name on current OS maps. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

‘I attached a locality to all the various incidents recorded by the classic writers of Greece and Rome, placing them in the midst of the scenes around me. The place or township of Kildonan, with the tenants’ houses grouped around, resembled a village. The round knoll, Torr-buidh, rose in the centre; on the east was the schoolhouse, with a green plat in the front of it. When therefore I first became acquainted with Greek and Roman story, local associations began immediately in my mind to stand connected with persons and events … The esplanade before the old schoolhouse was the Forum; there the popular assemblies met, there the Tribunes vetoed, there the infamous Appius Claudius seized Virginia’

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Just to the east of the knoll which I have proposed as Torr-buidh, there is another high point upon which I discovered the stone founds of a small rectangular building (just visible in the foreground). Down slope is indeed a green area, perhaps Donald’s Forum. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The Roman poets, too, had their peculiar localities. Ovid’s “Daphne in laurum” his “Io in vaccam,” and many more of his fantastic scenes, I laid among the steeps of Craig-an-fhithiche, or the hazel groves of Coille-Chil-Mer.

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About a mile further up the Strath is Coille Cill a’Mhuire which still boasts native species. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The scenes of Virgil’s Eclogues – Tityrus cottage and flocks, and his entertainment, for his expatriated guest and countrymen Meliboeus – my fancy laid at the foot of Tigh-an-Abb’; Damoetas and Menalcas’ singing match I placed on the summit of Craig-an-Fhithiche, whilst the heifers, calves, goats and kids, contended for as the prize, browsed on the neighbouring steep of the Coire-mor.

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Tigh an Ab, and the fields where Donald imagined Tityrus’ flocks grazing. Presumably in the 1790s it would have been under oats and barley. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

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The steep of the Coire Mor, now bracken covered rather than populated by livestock. A hillside marked Cnoc a’ Choire Mhòir is easily found on the map, although the name seems to have slipped from the summit (presumably spot height 394). However that there is no neighbouring Craig an Fhithiche suggests either that names have dropped off the map (or have never been included), or that places bore more than one name, not all of which have survived. Surrounding hills go by Beinn Dubhain; Tom na h-Iolaire; Creag Druim nan Rath; Cnoc Salislade. I suspect spot height 326, above Creag Dhearg is the most likely contender. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

I began the Georgics, with their antique lessons on husbandry, at the very time that my father’s man, Muckle Donald, made his first bold attempt to plough the Dalmore, which for fifteen years had not been under cultivation. With a plough and harness scarcely less primitive than that with which Virgil himself might be familiar in his boyish days at Cremona, Muckle Donald turned up the green sward of the Dalmore, sowed it with black Highland oats, and finished it off with a scrambling sort of harrowing. This was in the month of May, and whenever I was done with my Virgil lesson, I became a constant attendant of Muckle Donald at his toil in the field. His team, three Highland horses and a cow, [which] groaned most piteously while the ploughshare, pressed down by the hands of two attendants … opened up the furrows.

There, as he watched the ‘tilling, sowing, harrowing, and ultimate growth, ripening, and reaping of the Dalmore crop of oats’ he gained his first understanding of agriculture and fixed on that grassy flatness by the river the lines of Virgil he found so beautiful.[3]

It takes a stretch of the imagination today to re-place in this near-deserted spot, the people of the 1790s as they sowed, harvested, built, wove, distilled, played, fought, cooked, sang and joked. But in the 1790s, in the midst of it all, one boy transformed that lived-in landscape into quite another: a landscape of his classical imagination.

 

[1] The teacher, Donald MacLeod, was from Tain and had originally been a pedlar. He had ‘a very grim visage and a long beard, and, with a leathern strap in his hand, he predominated in stern rule over a noisy assemblage of tatterdemalion, cat-o’-mountain-looking boys and girls.’

[2] All from Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica: or parish life in the north of Scotland (Edinburgh: Albyn Press, 1975).

[3] Georgics I, 43-46.

Oliver Cromwell’s Northern Garrisons

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 focus on the seventeenth-century Highlands.

In September 1650, the Scottish army, fighting in the name of Charles II and led by the veteran general David Leslie, was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell and his smaller English invasion force at the battle of Dunbar. More defeats followed, until, in the climactic development of the civil wars that had been raging across the British Isles since 1639, Scotland eventually found itself conquered and unwillingly incorporated into the republican state known as the ‘Commonwealth’, which Cromwell would eventually come to rule under the nearly-but-not-quite-royal title of ‘Lord Protector’.

Throughout the 1650s, the Commonwealth’s power in Scotland depended ultimately on military force, and for that reason England flooded its northern neighbour with troops. At the height of the military occupation around 1656, Scotland was home to more than 4,000 resident soldiers, plus several thousand more serving in the field army. Many of these men were housed in large garrisons-cum-fortifications at places like Edinburgh, Stirling, Ayr, Inverness and Inverlochy, with complements that could exceed 1,000. But the countryside, especially in the Highlands, was also peppered with smaller garrisons, some of which were only maintained for a short period. These might house around 100 troops, but sometimes as few as twenty, and tended to be set up inside existing castles or fortified houses. Examples of these miniature strongholds in the far north included Cromarty, Tain, Lovat, Redcastle and Brahan.

Sutherland was more fortunate than some Scottish locales, since the government regarded many of its major landowners, like the Gordons of Sutherland and the Grays of Arbo, as relatively trustworthy – so much so that it was happy in 1656 to have Lord Strathnaver temporarily store a consignment of weapons bound for regional garrisons in his home of Dunrobin Castle. Apparently the thought that the future earl of Sutherland might use these weapons for disloyal purposes never occurred!

Citadel Inverness

There is a debate as to whether this is a remnant of the 1650s. Some have suggested it might be part of an eighteenth-century ropeworks. But the clock tower is at least on the site of the Inverness Citadel! Theories about where the stones for Cromwell’s fort were ‘borrowed’ from are intriguing too – Fortrose Cathedral, Kinloss and Beauly Priories being often mentioned, but also Greyfriars Kirk in Inverness and St. Mary’s Chapel. Ormond Castle in Avoch may also have been a source of cut stone. The last might indicate an awareness of it’s potential symbolic value as a rallying point, due to it’s association with Andrew De Moray. Photo: David Worthington.

Moreover, Sutherland was, from an English perspective, sufficiently remote that the government tended not to see much point in lavishing too much attention on it. Indeed Thomas Tucker, an official dispatched by the Commonwealth authorities to survey Scotland’s ports and coastal trade in the 1655, remarked that the county so inconsequential that ‘it was never thought worth the charge of appointing [a customs] officer’. At the end of previous year, George Monck, the Commonwealth’s commander-in-chief in Scotland, had airily declared that the gentlemen of Sutherland should look to themselves to defend the shire from rebels and trouble-makers, an injunction that would have been inconceivable for more southerly parts of the country,

Consequently, Sutherland was never subject to such intense military occupation as, say, Lochaber or northern Perthshire, two zones of persistent English concern. Instead, the county’s military supervision was generally entrusted to two permanent garrisons in nearby shires – Castle Sinclair in Caithness, the principal English presence in the far north, and Inverness, the most consistently important stronghold in the whole of the Highlands. Nonetheless, ephemeral petty garrisons did exist in the area, and we know that, in 1658 for example, English troops were being housed at both Skibo and Helmsdale. In Helmsdale, interestingly, the English presence was responsible for introducing a new religious group – the Baptists – to Sutherland for the first time.

Helmsdale1

Cromwell’s soldiers would have been stationed at Helmsdale Castle, the site of which is marked by the large concrete block on the right hand corner. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Helmsdale2

The castle was in a strategically significant place, guarding where the River Ullie connected the Moray coast to the Sutherland interior straths where most of the population lived. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The primary reason for siting English garrisons in Scotland, including the far north, was security – having soldiers on-hand to face down resistance to the republican regime. But across the country, the garrisons also developed a broader remit, becoming, in effect, the primary nodes of local governance for a regime that, understandably given its alien, repressive nature, found it difficult to trust native people or institutions. This trend was certainly observable in the Sutherland area, where, for example, the commanders of both Inverness and Castle Sinclair were regularly loaded with tax-collecting, thief-catching and arbitration jobs alongside their usual brief of keeping the region quiescent. On one occasion, the garrison at Inverness even took the lead in surveying a potential silver mine located approximately in the Dornoch area, which it was thought might do wonders for the local economy.

In common with the rest of Scotland, the northern Highlands lost the bulk of its occupying presence after 1659, initially as troops were siphoned off to help secure order in England in the run-up to the restoration of Charles II, and then as a consequence of the restored king’s drive to eradicate all memory of the Cromwellian interregnum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, local disorder often followed, and in the Sutherland region powerful families like the Mackenzies, Gordons, MacLeods and Rosses jostled, sometimes violently, for position. Maybe, in these chaotic early years of the Restoration, the English military occupation of the 1650s – foreign, certainly, but not nearly as oppressive for Sutherland folk as for many others – might not have seemed quite so bad.

Sources:

  • Clarke Manuscripts, volumes XLV-XLIX (Worcester College Library, Oxford)
  • C.H. Firth (ed.), Scotland and the Protectorate: Letters and Papers Relating to the Military Government of Scotland, from January 1654 to June 1659 (Edinburgh, 1899)
  • F. Dow, Cromwellian Scotland (Edinburgh, 1979)
  • D. McCormack, ‘Highland Lawlessness and the Cromwellian Regime’ in S. Adams and J. Goodare (eds.), Scotland in the Age of Two Revolutions (Woodbridge, 2016), 115-34
  • R.S. Spurlock, Cromwell and Scotland: Conquest and Religion 1650–1660 (Edinburgh, 2007)

‘Taking up their abode in the woods’: from Sutherland to Nova Scotia

Image

Between 1813 and the 1830s the Mi’kma’q people of what became Earltown in Colchester County, Nova Scotia, faced an influx of colonists. These Sutherland families, many evicted multiple times from their rented homes and farms back home, hungered after security and were attracted by the possibility of outright ownership offered by the British government. Over the years they logged the forest, selling the timber, and transformed it into farmland. The ash from burning the logged areas provided abundant crops the first year, giving the impression that the area was more fertile than it actually was. These farms gradually cut off the Mi’kma’q from access to fishing and hunting grounds but provided stability and prosperity for Sutherland people. George Patterson’s 1877 account describes the early years from the perspective of the settlers’ descendants.

“The first settlers were Donald Mclntosh and Angus Sutherland, who took up their residence in the unbroken forest in the year 1813…”

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To Scottish eyes the Nova Scotian landscape is still dominated by “unbroken forest”, but the  vast majority of this is second growth as trees have reclaimed much of the land cleared of old growth. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

“Of the early settlers, nearly all came from … Rogart, Lairg and Clyne. There were families from Inverness, two or three from Ross, and three or four from Caithness. All the original settlers spoke the Gaelic language, and it is still generally used by their descendants. Indeed, it is more generally spoken in Earltown than in any part of Nova Scotia proper. Still it received some admixture of others, for while it had old soldiers who, in the Highland regiments, had gone through the Peninsular War, and at least one who had fought at Waterloo, it at the same time had a foreigner, who had been in the same battle under Napoleon, and the two, instead of being ready to embrace as brothers, were rather disposed to fight their battles over again.”

“Like all who take up their abode in the woods, the first settlers had many difficulties to encounter. They were for years without a grist mill. During that time they got their grain ground partly by the handmill, and partly at a grist mill at the West Branch River. As there were no roads to the West Branch, and they had no horses, they were compelled to carry their grain on their backs to and from the mill, over a rough track. John McKay, known as the miller, put up the first grist mill, at a fall fifty feet high … The mill-stones … were taken from the West Branch, a distance of fourteen miles, on a drag hauled by 36 sturdy Highlanders…”

Cnoc na Guidh, W Earltown

Taken from the now vacant farm of Robert MacKay “Dubh” on Cnoc Na Guidh, West Earltown. The valley below and surrounding hills were settled in 1821 by Joseph Gordon’s emigrants from Strathbrora. Photo: Glen Matheson

 

South View from Spiddle Hill

Farms of people from Urachyle, Strath Brora. Photo circa 1900 from the Haskett-Smith Collection. With thanks to Glen Matheson.

“The early settlers were strong, industrious and economical. They were poor at first, but with great perseverance, they made themselves comfortable homes. There are men in Earltown to-day, who settled forty years ago in the woods without a guinea in their pockets, who have fine houses, large barns, excellent farms and considerable sums at interest.”

[It should be noted that it was very difficult for the poor to emigrate: transporting a family and supporting them for the first year before harvest is very expensive. It is most likely that the settlers used up their resources in the process of emigration. Until the assisted emigrations of the mid-nineteenth century it was the middling sort who could afford to emigrate and the impoverished were trapped in Scotland.]

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“fine houses, large barns, excellent farms”. The reconstructions of eighteenth-century buildings at Fortress Louisbourg give a good sense of the homes of well-established Highland colonists. Photos: Elizabeth Ritchie.

“The inhabitants at that time were all connected with the Church of Scotland, but for several years they were without a minister. In consequence of this, persons sometimes carried their children to Pictou, a distance of twenty-five miles, to be baptized. They were occasionally visited by a minister of the Church of Scotland, and on such occasions it was not uncommon to see him baptize twenty or thirty children at once. Rev. W. Sutherland was the first minister who settled at Earltown. He was never called or inducted into the congregation, but remained ministering to a few who adhered to him till his death. The Rev. Alexander Sutherland, of the Free Church of Scotland, was the first minister who was called by the people, and ordained in the place. He was settled in the year 1845. Though the people were for years without a minister, they did not forsake the assembling of themselves together. There were among them men eminent as Christians, intimately acquainted with the truths of religion, and able to express themselves in a manner fitted to edify others. “The Men”, as they were called, held meetings regularly each Sabbath in the several parts of the settlement, and were the means of maintaining vital godliness among the people.”

Sources:

George Patterson, A History of the County of Pictou, Nova Scotia (New Glasgow, 1877), 277-9.

With thanks to Glen Matheson whose research pointed me to the connections between east Sutherland and Earltown, and whose comments increased the accuracy of the post. And with thanks to Dr Sharon Weaver who introduced me to the delights of Nova Scotia.

‘Induced to emigrate’: from Clyne to North Carolina

In 1774 elderly William Gordon made a life-altering decision. Despite having farmed all his life at Wynmore in the Parish of Clyne upon lands belonging to William Baillie of Rosehall, he decided that his final years would be lived out in North Carolina. He was born about 1705. He may have attended school for a few years, but he probably spent most of his childhood herding cattle and learning men’s work on the land rented by his father, and by his grandfather before him. Sometime in his twenties he married. He had six children, but we only know the names of Alexander and John. Alexander, not necessarily the oldest, was born in 1735, when William was about thirty. As the lads grew, he apprenticed one to shoemaking and another to weaving. Alexander married, at about the age of thirty, a Margaret MacLeod and provided the Gordons with two grandchildren. First a girl, born in 1766, then a boy born two years later. Margaret died, possibly giving birth to this George. Alexander remarried, a woman by the name of MacAskill.

In the ensuing years William saw many changes. Among the families of the chiefs cash became more valued than the prestige of fighting men or in the rentals given in vast mounds of butter, cheese and meat. Chiefs became landlords as they began to consider the value of the land and the relationship between themselves and the farmers as purely commercial. Wynmore was on a parcel of land which, according to William Gordon, ‘often changed Masters, and that the Rents have been raised on every Change’. Under the landlord, latterly Mr Baillie of Rosehall, Wynmore was rented by a tacksman ‘at a very high Rent’. This cost, plus the profit of the tacksman, was passed on to the tenants. William complained that the ‘Possession for which his Grandfather paid only Eight Merks Scots he himself at last paid Sixty’.

Clyne road a (2)

Local research has failed to discover the location of Wynmore. Recently this group retraced the route of the old road from the church at Clynekirkton near the coast to Strath Brora. Wherever William and his family lived, it is likely that they used this road at some stage in their life, possibly regularly. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

People from Sutherland had been emigrating to the Americas from the 1730s. First they were recruited to a military colony in Georgia, but by the 1770s they, along with other Highlanders from Argyll and Skye, were flocking to Carolina. There the Cherokee people had been somewhat subdued and lands were available for the taking. Gaelic-speaking farming communities spattered the map of the colony.

The decision to emigrate was not an easy one. Ellmers has theorised that migration generally requires five factors and a trigger. Most of these were discernible in William’s decision. There was structural stress in the society and economy in which he lived and this, according to his comments on rent, was a stress that he was experiencing. There had to be an opportunity to leave: this was provided for William by a letter from his Carolina-based sons inviting him to join them. A person must have a risk-taking personality. This may or may not have been the case: I rather suspect that in cases of group or chain emigration, this element is not so necessary. Lastly, there must be a removal of social constraints against migration. Considering the popularity of emigration in the 1770s, and its history in the area for several generations, this seems likely. Then there was usually a trigger. In William’s case this came in the winter of 1771-2. That winter was a terribly harsh one. Many of his cattle, the staple crop whose sale provided them with their annual income, permitting them to pay their rent and buy the needful, died. The cold and the length of the winter probably meant they ran out of feed and the beasts expired from hunger. It is possible that William and his wife were already seriously considering travelling with his daughters in law and grandchildren to join John and Alexander. Altogether he decided that ‘his Circumstances were greatly reduced not only by the rise of Rents but by the loss of Cattle’. He was elderly and lame and declared that it was ‘indifferent to him in what Country he died.’

Clyne road a (8)

Strath Brora. A well-populated and intensively farmed region of the parish in the eighteenth century. Much of the area now given over to heather would have supported cattle and other livestock and perhaps crops of oats and barley also. This open landscape was very different fro the woodlands that he would find in North Carolina. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

His family were important to him in these last years. Despite his stated indifference, his testimony suggests a tension. His two sons in Carolina ‘wrote encouraging him to come there’, he declares he ‘was induced to emigrate for the greater benefit of his Children’. Their persuasion, combined with declining circumstances at home, and his realistic assessment of his age, lameness and dependency, amounted to a decision to go. Like many migrants he was motivated by a concern for his children’s future. He hoped ‘his Children would earn their Bread more comfortably elsewhere’. There is no mention of his other four children, whether they were still alive, or still in Clyne. But he was also concerned about facing his old age. The prospects for the elderly and disabled were not good. The poor relief role of the church would prevent him from starving, but in the absence of a welfare state only the care and provision of family would keep maintain a reasonable standard of life. Not only does he hope his sons ‘may get bread for themselves’ but hopes this will ‘be a help to support him.’ Doubtless he was also fond of his sons, their wives and his grandchildren, and preferred, like many grandparents, to follow them around the world to enjoy their company as much as for pragmatism.

William and his wife, two daughters in law and their children sailed from Thurso to Wilmington, North Carolina, on the Bachelor of Leith on 30 May 1774. It seems that by 1775 Alexander, and presumably the rest of the family, was living in Iredell County, in the Piedmont region, where the flatlands meet the mountains. They probably settled on land which he and his brother had secured before sending for their parents and wives.
 

Sources:

For discussion and application of Ellmers’ thesis to Highland emigrants: Amanda Epperson, ‘It would be my earnest desire that you all would come’: Networks, the Migration Process and Highland Emigration’ The Scottish Historical Review 88.2 (October 2009), 313-331.

‘Report of the examination of the emigrants from the counties of Caithness and Sutherland on board the ship Bachelor of Leith bound for Wilmington, North Carolina (1774)’ in Viola Root Cameron, Emigrants from Scotland to America 1774-1775: Copied from a loose bundle of Treasury Papers in the Public Record Office, London (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1965)

http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/h/e/s/Sharon-A-Hester/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0270.html

The Shipping News

This month’s post comes from Graham Hannaford, former student at the Centre for History at UHI and current PhD student at Federation University, Australia.

Imagine being on this ship: “Three hundred Ross-shire emigrants sailed in her, but she got no further than Plymouth. There her rotten hold filled with water and she was declared unfit. Her passengers … were put ashore”. The ship was the Asia and the quote is from John Prebble’s. The Highland Clearances. He continues “and all record of what happened to them is lost”.[1]

But it isn’t lost. On 10 July 1840 the John O’Groat Journal published a letter from Andrew Ross, a house carpenter and joiner. He wrote from Port Macquarie in New South Wales:

We sailed from Cromarty on the 17th September, 1838, aboard the ship Asia. On the 18th we experienced a severe gale of contrary wind, in consequence of which our ship became very leaky, so much so that it required the utmost exertions of both the crew and emigrants to keep her afloat, as she was making from four to six feet water in the hour. In this state we were battered about till October 13th, when, by the providence of God, we anchored in Plymouth Sound. In a few days after, the ship was brought into her Majesty’s dock, at Davenport [sic], to be repaired. In the meantime, we were removed to a comfortable hulk.* After getting a thorough repair, as we expected, the ship came out of dock, and, to our great surprise, she still leaked a great deal of water. Seeing this, we petitioned Lord Glenelg for another ship, and each of the emigrants signed a declaration to the effect that we would not proceed in the Asia; this was the cause of our long delay. The ship, however, being found, on inspection to be sea worthy, we had to proceed, which we did by leaving Plymouth on the 22d of January. We performed our voyage in four months and three days. We did not see a speck of land from the day that we left Lizard Point, in Cornwall, until we saw the head-lands of Sydney. What is remarkable none died on the voyage from England to this place, although no less than eleven children died on the passage from Scotland to England.

* The Vigo.

The children who died on the voyage were aged between 6 months and 10 years old, and included Charles Smith, age 10, who drowned at Devonport. News of the ship’s condition had reached Sydney. On 11 March 1839, the Sydney Herald reported that “it was probable that the passengers would be forwarded by another vessel”. However, it noted on 13 May 1839 in its “Shipping Intelligence” the ship’ arrival three days before. The arrival was also recorded by the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser which added that the nine births since the ship left Plymouth made “the number arrived two less than the ship sailed with”.

Tales of conditions on emigrant ships to the New World, frequently tell of privations and hardship. Many of these troubles resulted from disease, poor preparation for the voyage, or bad weather such as the Asia encountered. Lucille Campey has studied the emigrant ships in detail and, despite the legends of ‘brutal captains, leaky ships’ and ‘slave trade’ conditions, concludes that these are unrepresentative.[2] While travelling in steerage was deeply unpleasant, at this time most people lived in what we would consider overcrowded and unsanitary conditions so life below decks would not have come as a surprise.[3] More than one vessel never reached its destination and of those which did, it was rare to arrive with the entire original passenger manifest intact.

Sydney Cove 1839

Sydney Cove, 1839 / [watercolour by] F. Garling. Courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Call number ML316, IE3176743 (out of copyright)

In the fifty years since the arrival in New South Wales of the First Fleet, Sydney Harbour had become a bustling port, receiving ships from around the world. This would be the sight which greeted the Asia when it eventually reached port in May 1839. The Asia had been and remained a familiar visitor to Sydney, bringing cargoes of convicts to the colony in 1820, 1824, 1827, 1828, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1836, 1837, 1840, 1841 and 1847. Very few convicts are recorded as having died on any of the voyages.

Andrew Ross’ letter home concluded with the sad news that “all those who came from Dingwall are very far scattered. I cannot give any account of them. The nearest of them is 200 miles distant from me”.

Sources

  • John Prebble, The Highland Clearances (Penguin, 1976 reprint)
  • Lucille Campey, After the Hector: The Scottish Pioneers of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, 1773-1852 (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 2004)
  • John O’Groat Journal and Weekly Advertiser for Caithness Sutherland Orkney and Shetland 10 July 1840
    Reproduced with the kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
  • “Free settler or felon”: data base of Hunter Valley ancestors https://jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php
  • Sydney Herald 11 March 1839 and 13 May 1839 (accessed trove.nla.gov.au 20 February 2018)
  • Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser 13 May 1839 (accessed trove.nla.gov.au 20 February 2018)

[1]    John Prebble, The Highland Clearances (Penguin, 1976 reprint) pp. 198-9

[2]    Lucille Campey, After the Hector: The Scottish Pioneers of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, 1773-1852 (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 2004), pp. 165, 181.

[3]    Lucille Campey, The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 2004), p. 153.