‘Cruel and distressing rumours’: The strange case of Fighting Mac.

Andy Beaton is a postgraduate student on the MLitt History programme at the University of the Highlands and Islands. He says:’ having lived in the Dingwall area for some years I was aware of Sir Hector Macdonald as a figure in local history. I subsequently became interested in the events surrounding his death and memorialisation during my participation in the British Identities module of my studies.’

About 2pm on Wednesday 25th March 1903 a waiter opened the door of a bedroom on the first floor of the Hotel Regina in Paris. Inside, on the floor beside the bed, lay the body of Major General Sir Hector Macdonald. He was holding a nine-millimetre revolver, a bullet from which was lodged in the right temple of his skull. Macdonald’s face was covered in blood. Death had been instantaneous.[1]

Within hours, the rumour mill was spinning and the world’s media eagerly devouring every detail. Gossip and innuendos concerning his sexuality had been following Macdonald for some time before his suicide. Newspapers, at least, were quick to link the latter to conflicting rumours of an impending court martial.[2]

In Britain – and especially in Scotland – Hector Macdonald was a national hero: ‘the ideal British soldier; the true Highland warrior[3] Macdonald was exceptional in more than one way – he was a very rare example of a Victorian soldier who had risen from the ranks to become not only a general but also a knight of the realm. The son of a crofter from Mulbuie on the Black Isle, nowhere was ‘Fighting Mac’ held in higher esteem than in his native Highlands.

Macdonald’s funeral and interment at Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh were conducted without full military honours at the explicit request of his widow. The public response to his death was unprecedented.[4] The week after his interment saw perhaps as many as 100,000 mourners file past the grave. [5] According to the Inverness Courier ‘probably the majority of the visitors were Highlanders or people connected with the Highlands’. [6] That the mourners were mostly of Highland origin cannot truly be known. However the claim does hint at the extent of Macdonald’s celebrity status there. Floral tributes from Caledonian Societies at home as well as from as far afield as Australia were among the multitude adorning the grave.[7]

In Dingwall, a few miles from his birthplace, Macdonald was, first and foremost, a local hero. Alluding to the controversies already swirling around his death, Reverend J.R. Macpherson urged the congregation to put aside ‘the buried facts and the unknown thoughts’. [8] But neither Rev. Macpherson’s parishioners nor the wider Scottish public had any intention of forgetting Macdonald. Within three months of his death, a committee, headed by no less than the Duke of Argyll, was gathering significant financial support for the construction of a fitting memorial.

In September 1905, the laying of its foundation stone was alone sufficient to attract a crowd of ‘several thousand persons’ to the site on Mitchell Hill, overlooking Dingwall.[9] Speaking at the ceremony, the Liberal MP for Ross and Cromarty, James Galloway Weir, declared that Sir Hector had been ‘driven to his doom by a society clique.’ [10] Weir was voicing a theory – current within days of his death and still held by some today – that the crofter’s son, always an outsider among the public school educated elite of the army, was the victim of a conspiracy to destroy him.

fullsizeoutput_c8b

The Dingwall Memorial. Photo: Andy Beaton.

Not for the first time following the unexpected death of a popular hero, wild theories and urban myths circulated after Fighting Mac’s suicide. He was not dead but had adopted the persona of General Kuroki, leading the army of Imperial Japan against the Russians. Alternatively, as a family friend was apparently told, he had been seen walking along an Edinburgh street. ‘All these, as you can understand, are cruel and distressing rumours’, said his widow, Lady Macdonald, to a Scottish newspaper in 1907.[11]

In 2012, an annual service of commemoration at the Macdonald Memorial was instituted by the Clan Donald Society of the Highlands and Islands. One of the aims of the event has been to keep alive the memory of one of Ross-shire’s favourite sons, whose death brought to a controversial end one of the most remarkable military careers of the Victorian era.[12]

[1] Inverness Courier, 27 March 1903

[2] The Scotsman, 27 March 1903

[3] Edward M Spiers, The Scottish Soldier and Empire, 1854-1902  (Edinburgh, 2006), 206

[4] Spiers, The Scottish Soldier, 206

[5] Spiers, The Scottish Soldier, 206-7

[6] Inverness Courier,  3 April 1903

[7] Inverness Courier, 3 April 1903.

[8] Spiers, The Scottish Soldier, 206-7

[9] Nottingham Evening Post, 25 September 1905

[10] Nottingham Evening Post, 25 September 1905

[11] Aberdeen People’s Journal,  13 April 1907

[12] Ross-shire Journal, 2 March 2017

Advertisements

Paupers and Poverty: Easter Ross Union Poorhouse

Tracy Kennedy is a lecturer in history and politics at Inverness College UHI with a particular interest in poverty, paupers and poorhouses.

In the admission records for the Easter Ross Union Poorhouse are details for one Margaret Macleod. Margaret, from Tain, was 15 when admitted on the 1st November 1850 and ‘in good health’. She was discharged in November 1852 after gaining employment as a servant. There is no information as to why Margaret entered the poorhouse, and none about how she felt about her admission.

Before the Poor Law Act (Scotland) 1845, parish relief in Scotland was controlled and distributed by the church. The Act created the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor, a statutory body to monitor the condition of the poor. Poorhouses became common: between 1850 and 1868 the number rose from twenty-one to fifty. By the late nineteenth century, many towns had at least one. Opened in 1850, the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse was at the start of that wave.

Construction began south of Tain in Arthurville in 1849.

Map of Tain PH

1871 map showing the location of the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse.                                                  Permission for use of image granted by Peter Higgenbottom http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Scotland/UnionsScotland.shtml

It was the first poorhouse to be built in the Highlands since the Act and could house up to 160 inmates. It was available for ten parishes: Edderton, Fearn, Kilmuir-Easter, Kincardine, Lochbroom, Logie-Easter, Nigg, Rosskeen, Tain and Tarbat.

Construction costs, and fees for the architect, Andrew Maitland, were originally estimated at £1,750 but the final bill was £2,524. The Board of Supervision issued rules and regulations for construction and management as they were determined that poorhouses should meet demand and be of a good standard. Indeed, these plans of Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse show a striking similarity to others built during this period.

Diagram of PH

                                         Plan of the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse                                       Permission for use of image granted by Peter Higgenbottom http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Scotland/UnionsScotland.shtml

 

Some of the first inmates included Sarah Ross and John Ross. They do not appear to have been related. Sarah was 83 and from Fearn. She was noted as being ‘rather infirm’.  Sarah left at her own request in July 1852. John, from Edderton, was 70 when admitted and was recorded as being ‘infirm’. He died there a year and a half later, from retention of urine. By the end of 1850, 55 people had been admitted, 36 females and 19 males. The youngest was 2, and the oldest 83. Most were either school age or elderly with 79% of men and 81% of women falling into these categories.

Not all Easter Ross people granted such ‘indoor relief’ accepted it. There was a general fear of entering the poorhouse throughout the United Kingdom. Life in the poorhouse was severe, families were often split up, and it bore social stigma.

It was generally cheaper to keep paupers in the poorhouse than provide ‘outdoor relief.’   A daily rate per pauper was calculated to cover items like food, fuel and soap. This, plus any medical expenses, was charged to the relevant parish. An 1852 report made by a Mr Peterkin for the Board of Supervision on the Easter Ross Poorhouse stated that:

… to the allowances of the [48 paupers] who have supported themselves without parochial relief, for two quarters and a half, a sum would be given equal to £59 19s. whereas, the expense of the paupers in the poorhouse, for maintenance and general expenses for three quarters, amounted to only £58 8s 1 1/4d.

While the Board of Supervision recommended a suitable diet, the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse followed a stricter menu of potatoes, oatmeal, and some vegetables: ‘there is no meat used for any purpose’.  Tain Museum states that the poorhouse followed an entirely vegetarian diet and that the food was ‘… grown on land (eventually amounting to 21 acres) owned by the Easter Ross Union.’

After 1930, the poorhouse became the Arthurville Poor Law Institution and was later a council-run home for the elderly. The buildings have now been converted to residential use.

Sources

Easter Ross Poorhouse [2017].  Workhouses.org  http://www.workhouses.org.uk/EasterRoss/ (accessed 01/08/2017)

Higginbottom, P., The Workhouse Cookbook (Stroud: The History Press, 2008).

Inverness Heritage Centre,  Easter Ross Poorhouse Records, CRC/8/5/1.

Levitt, I., Government and Social Conditions in Scotland 1845-1919 (Edinburgh: Blackwood, Pillans and Wilson, 1988).

Levitt, I., Poverty and Welfare in Scotland, 1850-1948 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988).

Meals fit for a pauper [2017]. Old Scottish

http://www.oldscottish.com/blog/category/poorhouses (accessed 27/08/2017).

Easter Ross Union Poorhouse (Arthurville) [2008].  Tain Through Time

http://www.tainmuseum.org.uk/imagelibrary/picture/number406.asp (accessed 17/09/2017).

The Community of Inveran

Last night I was driving back from Ullapool to Dornoch. I took the north road: slightly shorter and faster, though narrow and through a sparsely populated landscape, described as ‘wilderness’ or ‘wild land’ by many. It wasn’t always so desolate. One place, Inveran, overlooking  the Kyle of Sutherland epitomises this. Today there are a few houses and a power station, but two hundred years ago it was far more lively.

On a key east-west route, it was well known to cattle drovers and migrant labourers. The cluster of five or six houses shown on General Roy’s 1746 map were separated from its twin township, Invershin, by a narrow stream, the Allt na Ciste Duibhe. In 1776 a visitor described the ‘pleasant prospect: the rich banks of the firth, crowded with farms, and animated with all the appearances of industry; small vessels sailing up and down; people busy for preparing and unloading them; fishermen attending their nets; the ferry boats ready at a call.’[1]

May - Lewis lambs and winkles 039

‘The rich banks of the Firth’           Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Despite stereotypes of pre-Clearance Highlanders these were no impoverished peasants. The Inveran men were joint tenants: Donald MacKay, his brother in law John Bethune, Alexander Bethune, Alexander Ross, and Andrew MacLeay. In summer they grazed black cattle on the shieling grounds on the low hills, rearing them for the southern markets. They grew barley, oats and potatoes on the infield.[2] Donald owned at least one horse. The men had multiple sources of income. Donald was a ‘housewright’, or joiner; Alexander Ross was the blacksmith; Alexander Bethune was a merchant at Inveran and nearby Linsidemore; John operated the ferry.[3] Both the Bethunes were entrepreneurs who dealt in large amounts of money: in 1814 a decreet of Cessio Bonorum was issued against Alexander by his creditors; and John not only raised but dealt in cattle.[4] He was arrested in 1815 for failing to repay a local man a substantial loan of £150.[5] Family economies also depended on women’s labour. As well as fieldwork, animal care and working at the peats, women earned cash and provided sustenance by processing food, especially making butter and cheese, and by spinning.[6]

We know how one household was organized. Bessy MacKay and her father Donald lived alone, however they could not manage alone. Twelve year old Mary Matheson from nearby Invercharron came to work as a servant, and late in 1812 John, son of Donald’s brother George, was sent from Tullichgriban, Strathspey.[7] There was no social distance: Mary moved into Bessy’s bed when cousin John was added to the household. The four worked and lived together. Like most of the middling sort in Scotland’s north, the MacKays lived in a longhouse, the thatched roof supported by wooden crucks inbuilt to the walls of interlayered stone and turf.[8] The lower section was usually reserved for livestock but Donald also used it as his workshop. The middle room had a central fire, wooden chests and a trunk. There was probably also a dresser for their crockery and some chairs. The beds were in a room beyond, set apart by a wooden door.[9] Inveran’s residents lived in fairly spacious houses and had developed a relatively diversified local economy encompassing commercial cattle raising and trading, housebuilding, blacksmithing, ferrying, midwifery, arable farming and doubtless the sale of butter, cheese and eggs.[10] This mitigated the possible economic calamities of a crop failure or a downturn in the cattle trade.

Gaelic - Dornoch, Rogart 015

Goats, rarely enumerated, were an essential source of meat and dairy. These wild ones in nearby Rogart are enjoying the produce of a field at Morvich Farm.           Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The 1810s were a time of social, economic and cultural flux. Townships like Inveran, operating a semi-subsistence, semi-commercial economy, thickly scattered low-lying parts of the Highlands. However new estate policies which prioritized the higher rentals of commercial sheep farming threatened this. Over the next few decades, communities near Inveran – Gruids, Achness, Kildonan, Culrain – vigorously resisted efforts to evict them, although with only temporary success. Religion, although also in flux, was a powerful social and cultural force. Sutherland had been strongly influenced by Evangelical Presbyterianism, partly due to the revivals of the previous century. It remained a formative influence. A key issue for Evangelicals was patronage, whereby landowners selected the parish minister. Problems were exacerbated when the man was a Moderate rather than an Evangelical. This hit Creich parish in 1813 when Murdo Cameron was presented. A significant portion of the congregation revolted. Protests through church channels failed and they elected to separate. For the next forty years they met at a home in the winter and in the shadow of Migdale Rock in the summer.[11]

May - Lewis lambs and winkles 041

Linside, jsut upriver from Inveran, where Alexander Bethune had one of his shops.               Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Driving west these days, reaching Inveran heralds the quiet and ‘remote’ section of the journey. Next time you pass through, consider the service industries, the commercial use of the river and the land, the manufacturing, and the political activism of two hundred years ago, when the glens were full of the hustle and bustle of life.

[1] C. Cordiner, Antiquities and Scenery of the North of Scotland, in a Series of Letters to Thomas Pennant (1780), 65-6.

[2] First Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. 8 (Edinburgh, 1791-99), 367, 369.

[3] His name appeared in connection with a building project in 1782. Cited by M. Bangor-Jones to J. Whamond, 29 May 2007, ROSSGEN-L Archives, Rootsweb Geneaology.

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/ROSSGEN/2007-06/1181031302 (accessed 25 June 2014)

[4] NRS, CS32/8/46 Decreet of Cessio Bonorum, Alexander Bethune, merchant, Inveran v his creditors 11 Feb 1814. ‘A voluntary surrender of goods by a debtor to his creditors. It did not amount to a discharge unless the property ceded was sufficient for the purpose, but it secured the debtor from personal arrest. The creditors sold the goods in satisfaction, pro tanto, of their claims.’ H. Chisholm, ed.”Cessio Bonorum“. Encyclopædia Britannica 5 (11th ed.) (Cambridge, 1911), 768.

[5] Private Collection of N. Lindsay, Dornoch Jail Records 1813-40: A Transcription, 23 June 1815.

[6] Rural women’s roles are detailed in A. Fenton, Scottish Country Life (Edinburgh, 1976), 47, 52-81, 131, 151-179. A survey of women’s tasks in 1790s Sutherland can be found at: http://statacc.blogs.edina.ac.uk/2015/02/09/the-working-lives-of-ordinary-scots/  (accessed 9 February 2016) Sheep tended to be women’s responsibility in eighteenth-century Sutherland. H. Morrison cited in R. Clarke, Two Hundred Years of Farming in Sutherland (Kershader, 2014), 31. Insufficient research has been conducted on the Highlands, but a semi-flexible gendering of work was common in western countries. N. G. Osterud, Bonds of Community: The lives of Farm Women in Nineteenth-Century New York (Ithaca & London, 1991), 139, 150, 153.

[7] It is likely John was a middle son of George MacKay and Ann Watson. There is a sufficient gap in the baptism records between Lewis (1787), James (1790), and William (1796), Donald (1799), Donald (1801) for a John who was ‘about eighteen or nineteen’ in early 1814. A headstone in Duthil Churchyard transcribed by Alison Mitchell in Pre 1855 Monumental Inscriptions: An Index for Speyside (1975, 1992) reads: ‘G McKay & A W his spouse who d at an advanced age in 1823 and also their chn int here except Jas d Salamanca Spain 5.10.1812, surviving ss Lewis & D McKay smiths ed. With thanks to genealogist, Ellen Sutherland.

[8] Pre-Clearance dwellings varied regionally, but those of the tenants usually included at least one bedroom, a living room, and a byre. For example, H. Fairhurst, ‘Rosal: a deserted township in Strath Naver, Sutherland’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland, 100, (1967-8), 135-169.

[9] In terms of material wealth, the MacKays were fairly typical tenants. Less furniture is recorded here than at the Munros’ longhouse a few miles north at Gruids. In their best room were chairs, table, a chest of drawers, a large box-bed, and a small, well-filled bookcase. H. Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters (Edinburgh, 1889), 95-6. Excavations at Caen, Kildonan, confirm homes were stocked with purchased goods such as mocha-ware from Staffordshire. Pottery sherds from Caen are displayed in Timespan Museum, Helmsdale. Excavation catalogues: LCN13 172/209, LCN13 199/209. Tacksmen, such as Gilbert MacKenzie, Invershin, sometimes lived in large two-storeyed houses, with multiple bedrooms, a parlour and dining room, all carpeted and opulently furnished. NRS, CS96/3960 Gilbert McKenzie, merchant, Invershin 1811-1813.

[10] It is probable that merchant businesses such as that of Alexander Bethune operated similarly to general stores in colonial British North America, by purchasing local goods on credit and selling imported goods. The role of merchants, credit and commerce in the Highlands has barely been touched, with the exception of Taylor’s discussion of the commercial importance of cattle droving. D. Taylor, The Wild Black Region: Badenoch 1750-1800 (Edinburgh, 2016). A study testing Douglas McCalla’s thesis in the Highlands and Islands would be very beneficial. Douglas McCalla, “Retailing in the Countryside: Upper Canadian General Stores in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Business and Economic History 26:2 (1997), 393-403.

[11] G. Macdonald, Men of Sutherland (Dornoch, 1937, 2014), 71; D.M.M. Paton, ‘Brought to a wilderness: the Rev. David MacKenzie of Farr and the Sutherland clearances’, Northern Scotland, 12 (1992), 85.

Encroachments on our Ancient Language

Recently I was flipping through the Old Statistical Account, written in the 1790s. I was wondering whether a particular individual in Inveran, situated in what I knew was a Gaelic-speaking parish, would have understood English or not. The parish accounts revealed the beginning of a mighty cultural transformation, from one tongue to another.

The minister of Tain did a detailed analysis. He found that the ‘inhabitants of the town speak the English, and also the Gaelic or Erse. Both languages are preached in the church. Few of the older people, in the country part of the parish, understand the English language; but the children are now … taught to read English.’ In rural Rogart, those with English ‘speak it grammatically, though with the accent peculiar to most of the Northern Highlanders.’ So, in the 1790s townspeople were probably bilingual, older country-people were probably monoglot Gaelic speakers, and younger country-people were taught English at school.

Lt Col Sutherland in Gaidhlig

Lieutenant Colonel Alasdair Sutherland (1743-1822) from Braegrudy, Rogart, is buried underneath this rather ostentatious pillar which details his life in both English and Gaelic. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The second (or New) Statistical Account was written in the 1830s and 40s. By then Gaelic was still generally spoken in rural parishes and more and more people could also read it: in Kincardine each family owned a Gaelic Bible and Psalm-book. The minister of Lairg even thought that because they could read, the people now spoke their own language ‘more correctly.’

English was gaining ground. Young people learned at school but a ‘considerable proportion’ of Rogart’s population acquired the language ‘from books, and occasional conversation with educated persons’. They were therefore ‘more easily intelligible to an Englishman than the dialect spoken by the Lowland Scotch’ because their English had only ‘a degree of mountain accent and Celtic idiom’. Some English speakers had settled in the area, but they had not had any effect. These shepherds had moved from the Lowlands as the Sutherland Estate developed commercial sheep rearing operations and could speak only English. Lacking Gaelic must have meant a rather lonely existence. Their families had assimilated and all spoke Gaelic.

Despite the extension of English, the ministers of Lairg and Kincardine felt Gaelic had not lost ground as it was used in everyday and in religious life. The rural parishes which bucked this trend were Creich, where English was used by the majority, and Edderton, where they spoke ‘English less or more perfectly’. It is probably no coincidence that these parishes are close to the towns of Dornoch and Tain.

Intrigued by this change, yesterday evening I took a turn about the town of Dornoch, then drove to Pittentrail before cycling towards Lairg. I wanted to find evidence of Gaelic. There wasn’t much. Most was tokenistic, or connected with names of streets, towns or houses. There was a nice little collection of materials in the Dornoch Bookshop and a poster for traditional music events. When and how did this dissolution of Gaelic happen?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The towns acted as catalysts for language change. In Dornoch this was dated from about 1810 and in Golspie from the 1790s. It was ascribed to the influx of ‘persons from the south country’ and to the increase in formal education, first in Gaelic then in English. The minister of Dornoch noted this was as much due to Gaelic schools as to English ones. Indeed in the town of Tain it was rare to find a person under the age of thirty who could speak Gaelic.

Tain was a complex parish, or perhaps the minister took a more sophisticated approach to analysing it. The parish was equally divided with Gaelic spoken in the country and in the fishing village of Inver while the town and the ‘higher ranks’ were English speakers. The parish of Dornoch has a similar town/country make-up and it would have been interesting to know if the situation was similar there.

 Language in Tain parish town Country/Inver village
Gaelic only 66 96
English only 100 36

The minister’s numbers indicate most people were bilingual, but he did warn this was not really the case. Presumably most people had a dominant language and could get by in the other.

In the 1840s Gaelic was still the preferred language of the people. Apart from in the town of Tain they used it for communicating with each other and they preferred attending Gaelic church services. However the minister of Dornoch could see what was coming. He expected that the ‘encroachments on our ancient language’ meant that in sixty or seventy years, that is by about 1900, it would be extinct.

He wasn’t far wrong.

 

Sources

Old Statistical Account and New Statistical Account of Scotland. Parishes of Creich, Dornoch, Edderton, Golspie, Kincardine, Lairg, Rogart, Tain. http://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/static/statacc/dist/home

Wilkhouse; Whelkhouse; Tighe na Faochaig

Submitted by Grace Ritchie – an enthusiastic volunteer.

It was a warm day in early summer when I walked along the old drove road at Kintradwell, between the railway line and the sea. I sat down for a rest on a low stone wall beside the track and listened to the murmur of the sea on the sand. Soon I became drowsy and I fell into a reverie.

I thought I heard the faint drone of distant cattle and, close by, the scrape of hooves on the cobbled floor of a byre. Dogs began barking and the lowing of cattle became more insistent as they jostled to drink at a pond behind me. The sound of children playing could be heard above the clanking of harnesses and the neighing of horses. Men’s voices rose in argument.

I became aware of a single storey house beside me. It was well made, the stones being held together with mortar, and had three windows with glass panes, two in front, overlooking the sea, and one in the gable. Unlike the usual old houses, it was roofed with slates, and a stout wooden door, strengthened with iron nails and strips of iron, secured the entrance.

On the door sill, and sitting round the paved entrance, sat a group of drovers, laughing loudly and joking as they smoked their clay pipes and teased boiled winkles out of their shells with pins before throwing them in a heap at the corner of the house. Above them hung a board announcing WILKHOUSE  INN.

Suddenly the door opened and a burly man rushed out shouting angrily. He had in his hand a small cauldron which had contained his dinner, now a burnt mess. In his fury, he took a pick-axe and proceeded to smash it into several pieces on the roadway outside! The inn-keeper’s wife came bustling out, trying to placate him and chattering soothingly all the while.

May - Wilkhouse Dig (12)

Volunteers Grace Ritchie and DJ MacLeod point out the join between the plastered main room was divided from an unplastered room. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie

Through the open doorway, and beyond the thick door-sill slabs, could be seen the clean sandy floor of the interior, the tidy best parlour with its white plastered walls and its fire burning brightly at the gable hearth. Facing the door was a small panelled room and, to the right, the main parlour – the general rendezvous for all comers of every sort and size. A group had gathered round the fire-place in this gable and drovers and other travellers were standing round the fire and sitting on the paved area in front it, relaxing in its warmth while their dinner cooked in a new cauldron next to the bread oven, with its gently rising dough. “What’s for dinner tonight then?” asked Angus, “Is it to be broth and cold meat with eggs, new cheese and milk like last time I was here? Or will it be salmon from the river or spare ribs or beef or maybe chicken?”

As they warmed themselves, the cook busily sharpened his knife on the large upright stone at the side of the blackened fireplace, and the conversation turned to items that some of the travellers had apparently mislaid recently. Murdo had lost his belt buckle and was asking for twine to hold up his breeks; Donnie’s button had pinged off; Angus had lost some small change; the inn-keeper’s wife couldn’t find her thimble or her bone double-sided comb and Ian had apparently mislaid both his pistol and his bag containing shot!

May - Wilkhouse Dig (8)

The site of the fire is visible, as are the scratched marks in the fireplace. To the left was an oven. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Soon the meal was ready. The table was set with a rich assortment of colourfully decorated glazed china plates and bowls, with jugs and glass bottles for ale. Glassed clinked, plates clattered, dishes were scraped and “mein hostess” bustled about attentively, talking all the while and seeing to the needs of her clients.

The aroma of peat smoke drifted past, the clamour was subsiding, the cattle were lying down for the night, the bairns were abed in the adjoining house and the soft murmur of the sea made itself heard once more. It was the harsh cry of a gull that roused me. I stumbled to my feet aware of a strange dislocation of time and space. Surely something had been happening just here, just now…

May - Wilkhouse Dig (18)

Reclining on the flagstone – the doorway to Wilkhouse Inn with the sandy floor still evident. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Continuing my journey, I soon reached Brora, where I called in on a long-standing friend. I told him of my day dream. “Och,” said he, “that’s the very same as those archaeologists found when they were excavating the ruins of Wilkhouse in May 2017. You must have drifted back in time, man! Maybe it was a day dream – certainly it was a dream come true!”

Note: Although a certain amount of poetic licence has been used in the above, all the items mentioned (and many more) were actually found at the Wilkhouse site during the dig there. Acknowledgement is made to “Memorabilia Domestica: Or Parish Life In The North Of Scotland (1899) by Donald Sage for lifting a few of his phrases from Page 108 of the reprint of his second edition, published by John Menzies & Co, Edinburgh 1899. The dig was organised by Clyne Heritage Society and GUARD.

‘The improvidence of the poor’

In 1830 the Kirk Session of Dornoch considered themselves ‘well acquainted with the improvidence of the Poor’. That April they met to discuss an unexpected windfall. Alexander Ross, a merchant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, had left a hundred pounds to be distributed among the poor of his native parish. Should they divide it into tiny amounts and hand it out as per his will, or should they keep it ‘till a time of scarcity of human food should occur’?

Before Scotland’s New Poor Law of 1845 it was not the nation state which was responsible for social care, but the church. This was a continuation of the ‘parish state’ instituted after the Reformation. This power and responsibility was vested in the hands of elders, a group of local men esteemed for their ability, piety or, sometimes, their status. They, along with the minister, met regularly as the Kirk Session to perform two functions, one moral and one economic. After the Reformation the church diligently attempted to make everyone conform to Protestant religious standards. Their pursuit of people committing sexual offences (usually fornication or adultery) is best known, but until the eighteenth century they also tried to enforce Sundays as a day of rest and church-going, and endeavoured to keep a lid on drunkenness, violence, gossip and other anti-social behaviours. Apart from some revitalisation of the power of the Kirk Session connected with nineteenth-century religious revivals, by 1830 the main business was financial: collecting and disbursing the Poor Roll.

Halifax9

Halifax: where Alexander Ross of Dornoch made his money. Still plenty of trading going on at this strategically important spot, just below the Citadel, where the Bedford Basin empties into the Atlantic. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The Dornoch minutes from 1830 detail specific arrangements for handing out the money before the clerk gushed his ‘high respect for the memory of the benevolent Testator, who left such a substantial testimony of his attachment to his native Parish’. However the bequest ended up being a bit of a disappointment. After corresponding with Angus Ross, the Glasgow-based brother of the deceased Alexander, it became apparent they would only be sent the sterling equivalent of £100 in Halifax currency, amounting to £78.5.4. The Session ‘judged it to be their wisest plan to submit, as they could not afford to litigate the point’. The duplicity seemed to release them from any sense of obligation in following the precise conditions of the bequest. Instead they felt

they should best answer the Testator’s benevolent intentions by depositing the above sum in a Bank (the interest annually to be divided among the poor) till a time of scarcity of human food should occur, when they should have this money to draw upon to purchase meal for them: for the session, are so well acquainted with the improvidence of the Poor, that though the whole sum were distributed among them at once – which would not be more to each than 10/- or 12 shillings, they would be the next year as much in want as if they had not received a sixpence of it: – whereas, by reserving it, as the Kirk Session have done, for a time of great scarcity, it will prove the means of seasonable relief to them.

Maggie Dempster

Older folks like Maggie Dempster, a fisherwoman from Embo, were particularly at risk of falling into poverty when they could no longer work. This was especially the case for women who tended to be lower paid and were less able to save money. This picture was taken in 1870. Photo: Historylinks Image Library. Ref: 2009_059  No: 7724 

A perusal of some of today’s newspapers would quickly reveal contemporary examples of such ‘victim-blaming’ of society’s most disadvantaged. The elders assumed the difficulties of all 139 people on the poor roll were, fundamentally, an issue of inadequate character rather than the consequence of ill-health, poor wages, lack of secure employment, clearance policies, the abandonment of a spouse, or any other number of possibilities. Despite such lack of insight, the elders endeavoured to manage the resource to best effect. Their forward planning was justified seven years later when the clerk noted rather smugly

That time is now arrived when there is every appearance of a great scarcity of human food, in this Parish and though the Country generally. The Session therefore, intend to draw on this Legacy to purchase meal for the Poor to meet their wants in the ensuing summer. The example of the Kirk Session, in this case, may also serve for a precedent to those who may succeed them in the management of the Poor’s funds.

The incident hints at a lot: that the well-known Highland emigration of the nineteenth century included well-to-do merchants as well as cleared crofters; that Highland migrants, like most, maintained personal, economic and emotional links with their country of origin; that the 1837 famine affected the east Highlands as well as the west; and that the church, for all its lack of insight into structural reasons for poverty, tried to be wise in their responsibilities.

Sources:

Highland Council Archives, CH2/1588/1/2, Dornoch Kirk Session Minute book containing collections and distributions of Poor’s Money 1843-1849

John MacAskill, ‘It is truly, in the expressive language of Burke, a nation crying for bread’: the public response to the highland famine of 1836-1837’ Innes Review, (Autumn 2010), 61.2, p169-206.

The Female Innkeepers of Cromarty

Theresa Mackay, who lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, completed her MLitt History of the Highlands and Islands (with distinction) in 2016. This culminated in writing a piece of original research on female innkeepers that won the 2016 Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman prize and is slated to be published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies next year. Theresa now teaches at Royal Roads University and will be starting her PhD at the University of Victoria (BC) this autumn continuing her work on women’s history in the Highlands and Islands.  

In the early nineteenth century innkeeping was one way women in the Highlands and Islands could provide for themselves and their family. Whether managing a landlord’s inn or opening their own dwelling, they were entrepreneurial in their approach to offering food and shelter to travellers looking for temporary accommodations. Not simply providing a home-away-from-home, they were managers of complex hospitality operations that were pivotal to the economic health of their rural community.

The number of inns and places that accommodated travellers increased significantly at this time since navigating the Highlands and Islands was made easier with the establishment of transportation infrastructure such as bridges, canals and public boat routes from the south. In Ross and Cromarty, over a thirty-five year period the number of inns grew from zero to more than forty-two as a result.[1] In response to an increasing number of visitors needing shelter and new inns being built by landlords capitalizing on their estates, women commercialized their domestic skills and became managers of complex hospitality operations. In Cromarty, Mrs. Sutherland and Elizabeth Cormack managed commercial inns during this time.

Cromary Arms Inn

It seems likely that todays ‘Cromarty Arms Inn’ is the same building as either the New Inn or the Cromarty Inn. Perhaps someone with local knowledge can help? Photo: http://www.cromartyarms.com/

In 1809, Mrs. Sutherland’s husband left for the army. Deciding to take on the New Inn, a role she had at least once before, she embarked on a plan to upgrade furnishings with the help of her friends. In addition, she hired a man to help with the stabling and feeding of guests’ horses and placed an advertisement in the paper to attract business to her establishment.[2] A change in relationship status, including the departure of male relatives for work or death of a partner, was often the shift that opened the door to innkeeping as a viable and socially acceptable way for women to support themselves and their families.

The retirement of her brother, John, was the change that resulted in Elizabeth Cormack taking charge of the Cromarty Inn in 1824. Like her counterpart, Mrs. Sutherland, the role was not new to Elizabeth as she had already managed the inn for many years, despite John being the acknowledged innkeeper. Now “resum[ing] the business on her own account”, including managing the “stock of [the best] Spirituous and Malt Liquors,” Elizabeth made efforts to improve the premises. She had repairs made to the house and stables and furnished the building with feather beds and “counterpanes” (bedspreads). The improvements were done in preparation for receiving travellers from the “London Vessels” arriving to see local tourist sites gaining popularity, including the hill of Cromarty and the cavern, Macfarquhar’s Bed. [3] Only lasting four years in charge, Elizabeth died in 1828 and eight months later her inn’s furniture was sold at auction. [4]

IMG_5221

Cromarty Harbour was only forty years old when Elizabeth Cormack was running her inn. Presumably the visitors took small boats from the ‘London vessels’ to this harbour to land. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Overseeing renovations, hiring employees, marketing and managing suppliers were just some of the tasks that female innkeepers did that extended their role beyond the stereotypically domestic. It put them firmly into the position of business manager which resulted in agency and status. The economy of the early nineteenth-century Highlands and Islands was far more diverse and vibrant than we tend to assume, and female innkeepers such as those in Cromarty, played a vital part.

 

[1] This assumes all existing inns were reported, and reported correctly, in the sources. It is likely numbers were higher especially since the terms “pub” and “alehouse” sometimes meant “inn”. As well, some reports grouped these terms together, as in “X number of inns and alehouses” making the precise number of inns alone, unclear. The New Statistical Account of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1845) Vol. 14., p. 37, 67, 98, 106, 113, 140, 156, 164, 168, 243, 279, 300, 359, 394, 398.

[2] Inverness Journal, “New Inn Cromarty” 7 July 1809, p. 1. From Am Baile; article ID 8592. The notice says “she has taken the Inn again” (italics added) which suggests this was not the first time she had managed the inn. It also notes wanting to serve “passengers” which may refer to travel by coach or sail boat.

[3] ibid., “Cromarty Inn” 23 April 1824, p. 3., article ID 8594. See also “John Cormick Vintner in Cromarty” 29 June 1810, p. 1., article ID 8593. Ibid, “Cormack, Elizabeth, innkeeper Cromarty” 3 October 1828, p. 3., article ID 3068. Ibid., “Sale of Household Furniture at Cromarty” 24 April 1829, p. 1., article ID 8595. Ibid., “Cormack’s Inn Cromarty” 28 August 1807, p. 1., article ID 8591.

[4] ibid, 3 October 1828, p. 3., article ID 3068. Ibid, 24 April 1829, p. 1., article ID 8595.