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

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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…”

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Those directly on the coast or on lake shores could use water transport but after river-side lots were occupied, settlers appropriated land deeper into the forest. Photos: Elizabeth Ritchie.

“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.

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‘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’.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

Fields of blood: Ross and Sutherland during the 1715 Jacobite Uprising

Lorna Steele is Community Engagement Officer at the Highland Archive Centre,  Inverness.  Her remit involves working with school and community groups, hosting tours and events and using the archival collections to inspire learning, creativity and experiences.  More about Lorna, and the work of the Highland Archive Centre, can be found at  https://www.highlifehighland.com/highland-archive-centre/.

1715 – Highlanders rally to the cause on both sides of the Jacobite divide! Government-supporting clans march south through Sutherland while Jacobite supporters amass at Alness, the two sides confronting each other in the heart of Easter Ross…

The 1715 Jacobite uprising was one of a chain of events caused by religious conflict across Europe. The fear of a controlling Catholic monarch had led to the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688, establishing a Protestant monarchy and leaving the supporters of the deposed King James, the Jacobites, in despair.

James II receiving the news of the landing of the Prince of Orange, 1688. GB0232D6437

James II receiving the news of the landing of the Prince of Orange, 1688.  GB0232/D643/7 – In the public domain

After an initial rising in 1689 the fever of Jacobitism calmed, although unrest still ruled. The Act of Succession, passed in 1701, meant Catholics were  barred from taking the throne and 1707 saw the Union of the Parliaments under Queen Anne’s reign. A bankrupt Scotland, who had seen the union as a potential way out of debt, quickly became unhappy with their perceived inequality and unrest began to spread.

The death of Queen Anne without an heir in 1714, brought matters to a head. The throne passed to her third cousin, George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, overlooking all Catholic claimants in between (the exiled King James VII and II had died by this time and the claim was made by his son James, later known as the Old Pretender). Jacobites across the British Isles saw this as an opportunity and plans were immediately made to return the Stuarts to the throne. The new King George I made the mistake of overlooking John Erskine, Earl of Mar, for a role in office. This gentleman, pride severely dented, took up the cause of the Stuarts, establishing himself as the leader of the Jacobites in Scotland.

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James II receiving the news of the landing of the Prince of Orange, 1688.  GB0232/D643/7 – In the public domain

Many in the Scottish Highlands were quick to join Mar. Some areas were Catholic or Episcopalian, however there were also those who feared the return of the Catholic kings. James’s standard was raised at Braemar on 6th September 1715 and frenzied activity on both sides immediately ensued. Powerful families such as the Munros of Foulis and the Forbes of Culloden supported the Hanoverian king. Equally prominent MacKenzies of Seaforth, Mackintoshes and others declared their loyalty to the exiled Stuarts. Jacobite support was more widespread than at any other time. Its downfall, and the failure of the rising, was largely due to the ineffectual and militarily incompetent Earl of Mar.

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Claims for losses sustained during the rebellion.  GB0232/PA/IB/M/11/1 – Image: Highland Archive Centre

The ’15 was largely fought in the Lowlands and England, however events in Easter Ross were perhaps decisive. There was a notable standoff between the Earl of Sutherland and the Earl of Seaforth. Sutherland had returned to Dunrobin Castle on 28th September 1715, to take up his role of supreme commander of loyalist forces in the north. He immediately mustered Hanoverian supporters to march south. By 5th October they had reached Alness, where they were joined by Rosses, Munros and Mackays. This combined force would attempt to prevent Seaforth’s Jacobites from marching to support the garrison which had seized Inverness. However Seaforth’s MacKenzies were soon reinforced by a force of 3000-4000 MacDonalds, MacLeods and McKinnons. They marched on the Earl of Sutherland’s men.  Around 9th October they passed the Heights of Fodderty and Brae before marching through Swordale and Glenglass and forcing Sutherland’s men to retreat.

This skirmish (and detours to raid the houses of Hanoverian supporters such as Munro of Foulis) delayed the Earl of Seaforth to such an extent that he was two months late joining Mar’s army –delay that likely contributed to the failure of the rising.

The 1715 Rising drew to a final conclusion across the country around the 13th November. The Battle of Sheriffmuir showcased Mar’s lack of military skill. The advantage of higher numbers was wasted and although the battle itself was inconclusive it successfully halted the Jacobite advance. In England, the Battle of Preston ended disastrously for the Jacobites and the Jacobite garrison in Inverness surrendered their hold on the town. Apart from a few smaller conflicts, the rising had effectively collapsed.

The 1715 Rising is now often overshadowed by the ’45, but these events had direct implications for the Jacobite cause. It is interesting to note the prophetic words recorded in the Dornoch Presbytery minute book in January 1716.

Image of ruins of Dornoch Cathedral, From Remarkable Ruins and Romantic Prospects by Charles Cordiner (published 1788). Image courtesy of Am Baile

Image of ruins of Dornoch Cathedral, From Remarkable Ruins and Romantic Prospects by Charles Cordiner (published 1788).  Used by permission of Am Baile

“The Presbytery of Dornoch taking to their serious consideration the tokens of God’s displeasure against this land which are evident by the unnatural rebellion raised in it by a popish and Jacobite malignant faction in favour of a popish pretender in occasioning an intestine war in this our native land which has raged now for a considerable time and yet continues the evil that it hath produced and still threatens to our holy religion and civil liberties; the probability of its leaving our land desolate and a field of blood if not supressed; look on it as a judicial stroke from God upon the land for the abounding sins thereof…”

Their chilling prediction that the issue tearing the country apart would yet lead to Scotland being left “desolate and a field of blood” would be fulfilled on Culloden’s field thirty years later.

The Pennie Collection

Victoria Whiteford is a third year student studying Scottish History and Theology with the University of the Highlands and Islands. In her free time she volunteers for the history department.

When I was asked by the History department of the University of the Highlands and Islands whether I would be able to help catalogue the Pennie Collection, I jumped at the chance. Dr Pennie of Scourie left his books and papers about Sutherland to the people of the area. I didn’t think the task would take me too long, as there were roughly 2 shelves of books and a couple folders of miscellaneous pamphlets. However I was, quite happily, mistaken.

The beautifully maintained collection includes fantastic sources and information which any historian would love to access, including historical accounts and analyses of local events: a myriad of topics from the last 300 years or so. The intense specificity of some is quite unbelievable. Personal favourites of mine include ‘The Ancient Tollbooths of Dornoch’ by H.M. MacKay and ‘Pre-1855 Tombstone Inscriptions in Sutherland Burial Grounds’ by A. S. Cowper and I. Ross. Now, these may seem obscure, however they are highly enlightening and engaging pieces of work.

Pennie Collection 060aThe Pennie Collection covers multiple genres, not just tollbooths, which include a wealth of archaeological, natural historical, biographical and poetic topics. These accounts provide a wonderful vision of Sutherland throughout the centuries.

The first text that really piqued my interest was ‘Gloomy Memories of the Highlands of Scotland’ by D. MacLeod. The title itself is extraordinary as it immediately dismisses the romantic view of the Highlands. This book was a cutting and insightful riposte to Harriet Beecher Stowes’ ‘Sunny Memories’ written in an epistolary format. The author’s irritation and heartbreak at losing his native place in the world embraces every aspect of this set of letters.

Another favourite is the three volumes of ‘The Sutherland Book’ by W. Fraser. These collections of original documents are named individually as ‘Memoirs’, ‘Correspondence’, and ‘Charters’ and were published in 1892. The volumes contain a selection of the Sutherland Estate papers and illustrate with incredible detail the everyday aspects of life in the Highlands. I have already earmarked these as possible sources for my future dissertation.Pennie Collection 050a

While cataloguing the books I had to find out as much information as possible about them to make them accessible. I found several quirky texts. One of these was J. Loch’s ‘Memoir of the First Duke of Sutherland, K. G.’ While I was discerning the publisher I discovered it quite blatantly stated, ‘NOT PUBLISHED’. Now, to my eyes, this was a fully published, printed, bound book. I discussed it with Dr. Iain MacInnes at the Centre for History and he informed me that it must have been self-published. As it was written in 1834, the author must have had money behind him and been thoroughly enthralled by the subject matter. I later discovered that James Loch was one of the chief factors of the Sutherland Estate at the time of the Clearances. That such information can be gleaned from something typically inconsequential is both endearing and enlightening.

The Pennie Collection also comprises a wonderful array of pamphlets and miscellaneous material including travel guides. The travel guides are a wealth of information not only for what they say about the areas, but also for the local advertisements which show what contemporary businesses were seeking to gain from tourism. There are also sales brochures for Sutherland estates with the exact acreage and land use detailed. The Pennie Collection includes multiple maps, archaeological studies, geological reviews, court transcriptions, contemporary local business valuations and rates, contemporary laws and their punishments, and many more.

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Photos: Elizabeth Ritchie

It was a privilege and joy to handle all of these texts individually and to discover the wealth of information available at our fingertips. If anyone is interested in viewing this collection then contact the Centre for History Department in Dornoch: history@uhi.ac.uk

‘Amidst wreaths of snow’: travelling and preaching in East Sutherland

Had you been travelling from Rogart to Lairg on Wednesday afternoon on the 18th January 1843, you would have passed two riders, heads bowed to protect themselves from ‘wreaths of snow’. They were Hector Allan, minister of Kincardine, and John MacDonald, minister of Urquhart in the Black Isle. They were men on a mission, on the first of their two trips to convince the people of Sutherland to support the planned secession of the Evangelical wing from the Established Church of Scotland. There had long been disagreement about the level of control the state or landed proprietors had over the church. Over the previous ten years the issue of patronage, when a landowner rather than the congregation appointed a minister, had become the focal point of the contrasting theology and priorities of Evangelicals and Moderates. To prepare for the secession, emerging leaders of the future Free Church sent out men to explain to and win over the people. What follows below is Hector Allan’s diary of one of these trips.

Tuesday 17

Arrived at the manse of Kincardine to breakfast, and preached that day at Creich (Rev. Murdo Cameron’s), and addressed the congregation on the important objects of the present mission. The people very attentive and apparently deeply interested.

[Murdo Cameron was no Evangelical, indeed when he was put in place in 1813 by the proprietor most of the congregation left and met for the next thirty years at Migdale Rock. Despite this, he seems happy for Allan and MacDonald to promote their views.]

Wednesday 18

Proceeded in the morning to Lairg. Mr. M’Gillivray received us kindly. Preached in his church to a crowded audience. After which explained the position of the Church and her present prospects.

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Strathfleet, on a day less blighted by wreaths of snow, from Aberscross. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Thursday 19

Proceeded through Strathfleet amidst wreaths of snow, just on the wane, to Rogart. Called at the manse; Mr. Mackenzie, minister, from home. Preached in the open air in a corner of the parish of Dornoch, indenting his parish, and near his church, to an audience of about fifteen hundred, who seemed to listen with deep attention and interest. Immediately after the addresses, the work of signing commenced — a worthy and venerable elder (John Sutherland, above ninety) having led the van. That evening proceeded to Rhives, where we were most kindly received by Mr. and Mrs. Gunn.

[It was vital to have the consent of the parish minister before preaching. The trick of preaching just within one parish with the neighbouring people over the boundary in theirs was often used when permission was refused. The ‘signing’ refers to a paper signed by those committing themselves to the cause of the Free Church.]

Friday 20

Took a trip to Clyne and Loth to make arrangements for future operations, and returned in the evening to our good quarters at Rhives, after having settled to preach on Saturday at Helmsdale, and Sabbath at Clyne. Had a meeting in the evening with the elders of Golspie. Were led to expect the minister of Golspie’s pulpit, but had a note of refusal from him next morning.

[Alexander MacPherson of Golspie was clearly less open-minded than Murdo Cameron]

Saturday 21

After an early breakfast, started for Helmsdale, where a congregation of fourteen or fifteen hundred were waiting us. Preached in English and Gaelic, and addressed them in each of these languages. The audience here also deeply interested in the business of the day. Returned in the evening to Clyne manse, and were concerned to find Mr. Mackay laid up in consequence of a severe accident.

Sabbath 22

Preached in the churchyard (Clyne) to an immense congregation, not under three thousand. Spent the evening chiefly with Mr. Mackay at his bedside.

[While the numbers seem incredible, Evangelicalism was strong locally; preaching fulfilled a function of intellectual stimulation for people who spent most days in manual labour; and John MacDonald was an incredibly popular and charismatic preacher.]

outside service at Edderton Church, possibly around 1870, in the foreground the minister is preaching from a shelter called a preaching ark. Tain & District Museum and Clan Ross Centre

Outside service, probably a communion, at Edderton Church (neighbouring parish to Dornoch and Kincardine) taken in about 1870. Massive gatherings of people for outside services were part of a long tradition, but became symbolic of the stoicism of the Free Church in the immediate post Disruption years where many congregations lacked denied buildings. Permission to use photo granted by Tain Museum: from an album given to the museum by Miss Rosa Ross.

Monday 23

In consequence of previous notice, the people assembled in order to an explanation of the position of the Church. Not less than two thousand five hundred were present, several of whom were from neighbouring parishes. Marked attention given to the sermons and addresses. Returned in the evening to our hospitable friends at Rhives.

Tuesday 24

Not having had permission to preach in Golspie, met with the people in the open air on the Links, where a commodious and comfortable, tent was erected for us, and where the greater part of the parishioners were present … In the evening, at Rhives, fixed our plans for visiting Assynt and Stoer…

[The Rogart and the Golspie people met in the open air. Note this was mid-January! They were keen.]

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The lumps and bumps of Golspie links, much now occupied by the golf course but which in January 1843 were used for Allan and MacDonald’s mass tent meeting, can be seen just beyond the January-sodden fields of Culmailly Farm. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Wednesday 25

After parting with our good friends at Rhives, who entertained us most kindly, and cheerfully accommodated crowds of people from the neighbourhood, who came there to attend family worship every evening, we proceeded to Dornoch, where we had previously arranged with Mr. Kennedy to preach. Arrived to breakfast. Preached in the open air to upwards of two thousand, and after addressing them in Gaelic at considerable length, preached in English in church to a respectable audience, and addressed them also on the object of our mission.

[Reading the Bible together, singing and praying was a common daily practice among Evangelical families. It was usually led by the male head of household. When John MacDonald went on tour he often attracted many people who wanted to hear him take family worship.]

Thursday 26

… to Kincardine, where a large congregation were assembled for sermon. Had here also another opportunity of addressing the Creich people … This was deemed necessary and seasonable on account of reports having reached us that evil-designed individuals had been attempting to pervert the minds of the people, and the many well-disposed amongst them expressed themselves well pleased that these misrepresentations were met and obviated.

[An intriguing hint here about opposition to the Evangelical cause – something often ignored in religious accounts of the Highlands.]

The snow-defying efforts of Hector Allan and John MacDonald were well rewarded. Many folk ‘came out’ in May 1843, and the Free Church took strong hold in east Sutherland. 

‘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.

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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