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.
The 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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org