‘tossed back and fore on the Moray Firth’: a sea voyage in 1805

A teenager from Kildonan, Donald Sage, was a student in Aberdeen. He had walked the whole distance from Tain to Aberdeen to get to university, suffering a collapse at Inverurie, as it was too much for the fifteen year old. At the end of session he needed to get home and decided to travel by sea. Poor Donald’s three-day experience sounds almost as bad as his footsore journey at the start of the session! His account provides a great insight into travel around the north as well as how Sundays were spent and what people ate at sea.

‘I took my passage for Helmisdale, on a salmon-fishing smack, which was in the service of Forbes and Hogarth, who then held the Sutherland rivers in lease from the Marchioness of Stafford … The smack which bore me homewards was the identical one by which my brother sailed to London, but had a different master; Coy had been replaced by a rough fellow of the name of Colstone. I went on board about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and dined before we set sail. Feeling hungry I partook largely of a coarse, greasy dinner at the skipper’s table. It consisted of very fat broth and still fatter meat. Colstone, not content with swallowing the most enormous quantities of clear fat I had ever seen attempted even by a famished mastiff, after all was over greased his face with it, to keep out the cold as I supposed. This sappy dinner, as well as the remembrance of the skipper’s face, served me for a strong emetic during the voyage homewards, which was both tedious and tempestuous. On going out at the pier-head the billows rose ‘mountains high’, and as they rose, both my spirits and my stomach fell. The dinner with its associations presented themselves before me every half -hour, until I became grievously sick, and my very ribs ached again with the pressure of vomiting. The wind blew a hurricane from the west, and in the course of twelve hours we were close on the Sutherland coast, opposite Helmisdale, the place of our destination.’

Helmsdale in the 1920s. Donald spent three days ‘tossed back and fore’ somewhere on the left hand edge of this photo. Photo courtesy of Timespan, Helmsdale.

‘But here again the wind chopped round in our very teeth, and we were for three days tossed back and fore on the Moray Firth in view of the harbour, without being able to enter it. The storm was so violent that even the skipper himself became sick. I was a Sabbath at sea; and although the wind blew contrary, the day was fine. The sailors observed the day with great decorum. There was nothing like social or public worship, but when any one of them got a spare hour, he laid himself face downwards on the floor of the cabin and conned over the New Testament. We left Aberdeen on a Friday, and landed at the mouth of the Helmisdale River on the Tuesday morning thereafter.’

The river as it enters the sea. Map inset from 1815. Image courtesy of Timespan, Helmsdale.

‘I shall never forget the strong and penetrating feeling of joyous safety with which I leaped out of the ship’s boat on the pebbly shore of the river near the Corf-house. Mr. Thomas Houston, now of Kintradwell, met me on the beach, and with him I went to the house of Mrs. Houston, his mother. After a cordial welcome and a hasty breakfast I walked up the Strath to Kildonan, where I found my worthy father [Alexander Sage] engaged in the annual examination of the Parish School. He received me with a father’s kindness, took me into his large embrace, and kissed me before the whole assemblage.’

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica: or parish life in the north of Scotland (Wick, 1889), 134-144.

The Collapsing Church and the Pyramid: Pococke’s Tour Part 4

On the 19th July 1760 Bishop Pococke and his fellow travellers came, from the Dornoch Firth,

a mile through a rich country to Taine pleasantly situated, about a quarter of a mile from the sea. They have here a Manufactury for preparing Flax and for spinning — are mostly Country people and Shopkeepers, and it is but a poor town. I was met at the entrance by the Magistrates and Minister, who would have presented me with the freedom of the borough if I could have staid.

The Bishop would have travelled through this land, at the edge of the ‘Kyle of Dornock’, en route to Tain. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The town officials were clearly excited to have such an illustrious visitor and they gave him a tour around the Collegiate Church before he followed the main road out of the town, towards Fearn.

We passed over a heighth, and came into that fine plain country which extends all the way to Dingwall, and so on to; and in about three miles we came to the Abbey of Fern … Nothing remains but the Church and Chapels adjoyning to it … A most extraordinary accident happened here in the year 1742. There was a sudden hurricane in time of Divine Service, and about 600 Souls in the Church, the Couples all of a sudden gave way, and the roof of Deal slipped off on the North Side, and brought off the outer Casing of the Wall with it for some feet from the top, and the whole roof to the South fell in, the Canopies of the Seats saved them much, but 36 were killed and twelve [other accounts say 8] died afterwards of their fractures and bruises. A great number were stunned and had not the least recollection of what happened. The minister [Donald Ross] whom I saw, was found with his head pinned to the desk by the speaking board over him, and did not recover his senses untill the next day. They heard the Slates tumbling off and looking up, the roof instantly fell without any notice. They built a Kirk close to this, which together with the glebe house and offices took up most of the materials of the old Abbey

Fearn Parish Church, built in the remains of the Abbey. Today’s roof looks fairly secure. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

… I went to Catboll the seat of Roderick McLeod Esqr. I waited on this gentleman who is of the Episcopal Church, & a person of great learning, especially in the Scotch History and Coins, of which he showed me a curious collection, the gold he bought of Keith the nonjuring Bishop. And he presented me with some very valuable Coins in gold and silver: His land is on the highest ground of this Promontory called Tarbotness, and on that spot, he has raised a pyramid of Sods exactly on the model of the Egyptian pyramids; it is on a basis which at a medium may be about seven feet high and forms a terrace, I believe, about two feet wide all round it. It consists of seventeen steps each of them eighteen inches high, and about two feet wide; it is at top about two yards by three, & is one way twenty one yards at the steps. It has been raised by degrees, that is two or three steps every year by his Tennants.

I have never heard of the remains of such a pyramid! Does anyone know of it? It was common in the eighteenth century for part of tenants’ rent to be paid with labour for the landlord. Presumably McLeod diverted some of this labour from any farming or building operations he had to this pet project. I can only imagine what the tenants thought of it!

A little way beyond this hill we came to Ancherville, formerly the seat of one of the name of Ross, who from a very low beginning went into the service of Augustus of Poland, and being the only person who could bear more Liquor than his Majesty, got to be a Commissary, came away with plunder of Churches &c. in the war about the Crown of Poland, purchased this Estate of 100£ a year, built and lived too greatly for it, was for determining all things by the Sabre; and died much reduced in his Finances between twenty and thirty years agoe …

Half a mile more brought us to the house of Duncan Ross, Esqr., at Kindeace, who had met me at Geanies. After we had taken our repast Mr. McLeod of Geanies, and Mr. Mackay took leave, and Mr. Ross went with me to the ferry of Cromartie: from this part we saw Torbut which was the seat of Lord Cromartie, a most charming situation and delightfull place, finely wooded near the Sea.

And so we leave the Bishop, crossing over to the Black Isle and continuing his journey south. I hope you have enjoyed this traverse through the east Sutherland and Ross-shire, only a decade and a half after Culloden. The full account can be read on archive.org https://archive.org/details/toursinscotland00pocogoog/mode/2up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

‘Incredible efforts by earnest souls’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author on her pilgrimage (Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie)

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

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

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

Missionaries in Dornoch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:

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

Communion Tokens: What are they and how were they used?

Ann MacKenzie Vanderwal is a part-time MLitt student with UHI in history and archaeology. She teaches 15 to 18 year olds history, Latin, law and social in Calgary, Alberta. She has a personal knowledge of communion tokens from attending the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland as a child and teenager in Toronto, Ontario where they were used until 1989.

In the Historylinks collection are four little bits of metal that look like square or oblong coins. Although unfamiliar to most today, these are communion tokens which were widely used in Scotland, and around the world by the diaspora, for hundreds of years.

Fig 1

Tokens on a Gaelic catechism. Photo: Ann Vanderwal.

The idea of communion tokens was first conceived by John Calvin in 1560 as a way to know who was a member of the church (permitted to participate in communion) and who was not. The idea was rejected in Geneva but embraced by French Huguenots and in Presbyterian Scotland. In 1562, the Kirk of Scotland’s General Assembly decided that communion should only be held in each church between two to four times a year, making the opportunity to participate in this important aspect of Christian life even more treasured.

Communion developed into a series of services labeled the ‘communion season starting on Wednesday or Thursday and concluding on Monday. Customarily, on Saturday, members who attended the service would go to a church elder to receive one of these tokens. The elder would not only check to ensure they were indeed on the roll of members but might refuse a member a token if their recent behaviour was felt to not reflect proper Christian behaviour. Saturday was also the opportunity for people to become members. The minister and elders would meet potential members individually and ask them a series of questions to determine their knowledge of essential doctrines. Each applicant also related their personal testimony which would include their conversion experience. Those who were felt to be genuine received a token and their names were recorded on the communicant roll.  Since communion was only held in some areas twice a year, it was very common for members of one church to visit another church to take communion more frequently. In such a case, their own minister or elders gave a token to the member who could use it to show their admissibility.

Dornoch 1789

Dornoch token from 1780 (or perhaps 1789) Photo: Ann Vanderwal.

After the sermon on Sunday, or the Sabbath, the minister ‘fenced the table’. He warned those whose heart was not in the right state to refrain from coming forward, even if they had obtained a token. Each member or visitor presented their token to the elder at the front of the church and could then take a seat at the communion table. Most communions had visitors from many other areas resulting in a ‘mixed-bag’ of tokens.  Some had a number stamped on them because there were too many people for the number of tables available and each group would come forward when their number was called. Serving everyone could take an entire day, even with visiting ministers to help. The communion season was often scheduled to coincide with the full moon to make it easier for everyone to see their way home.

New tokens were made when the old supply started to run low, an updated design was wanted or there was a fear that unused tokens had fallen into unapproved hands. Early tokens were made by the local blacksmith, but firms such as Crawford’s of Glasgow began to produce them commercially. Most congregation’s tokens were unique. The earliest have one or more letters to identify the congregation and perhaps the date. As time went on, more information was included such as the minister’s name, a Bible verse and perhaps a graphic such as a burning bush. The majority were in English but there are tokens from Lewis, Harris and St Kilda in Gaelic. In 1843 at the Disruption the Free Church made stock tokens but individual congregations quickly had their own made.

Carloway token

Free Church token from Carloway, Isle of Lewis. Photo: ‘Carloway, Lewis Token, post-1843’, Hunterian Museum, GLAM-7412, http://collections.gla.ac.uk/#details=ecatalogue.73351  (accessed 02.04.19).

Tokens began to fall out of use in Scotland in the 1800’s when they were replaced with paper cards but some congregations continue to use them up to the present. Wherever immigrants or missionaries from Scotland went, they took the idea of tokens with them. One minister, John Geddie, from Aberdeenshire moved to Pictou, Nova Scotia and then continued on to Vanuatu in the South Pacific as a missionary. He took some Pictou tokens with him but once a congregation was established in Vanuatu, he created tokens for them in the local language while conforming to the style popular in Scotland at the time. These pieces of lead or tin might be small but they tell a fascinating tale of an idea that Scots treasured for centuries and took with them around the world.

Free Church 1843 back

Bible verse encouraging self-examination on the back of a Free Church stock token from 1843. Photo: Ann Vanderwal.

Further Reading

Burns, T., Macgregor, J. and Brook, A., Old Scottish Communion Plate (Edinburgh: R & R Clark, 1892).

Brooks, A. ‘Communion Tokens of the Established Church of Scotland: Sixteenth, Seventeen and Eighteenth Centuries’, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 41 (Edinburgh, 1907). p 453-604.

Haddow, E., ‘Communion Tokens, Vanatu’ in Jacobs, K., Knowles, C. and Wingfield, C. (eds), Trophies, Relics and Curios? (Leiden: Sidestone Press, 2015), p. 171-208.

Shutty, M., Communion Tokens: A Guide for Collecting Scottish, Canadian and United States Tokens (Shelbyville: Wasteland Press, 2013).

Landscapes of Power I: A Monumental Geography

Post by Elizabeth Ritchie, lecturer at the Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands.

I didn’t know there was a memorial to James Loch. When I came to teach at the University of the Highlands and Islands I was instructed to prepare a course on the Clearances. I objected that I didn’t know anything about the Clearances. But I was the nineteenth-century historian and I allegedly specialised in the Highlands, so there was no way to wriggle out of it. And so I learned about the Clearances, particularly as they pertain to Sutherland, and I became familiar with names like that of James Loch, the head factor and the boss of the much hated Patrick Sellar, who designed and implemented the development of commercial agriculture, the removal of the people, and their replacement with sheep, with all of the long-resonating consequences for the economy, ecology, culture and psyche of the region and its diaspora. So my friend Annie, who has written a book on the Sutherland estate, (Annie Tindley, The Sutherland Estate 1850-1920: Aristocratic Decline, Estate management and Land Reform, Edinburgh University Press, 2010) was a little shocked to hear that, in all my bikes and hikes, I had never come across the memorial to one of the chief architects of Sutherland as it is today.

For two afternoons in January he became the pretext for walks around the woods of Dunrobin. As I made a circuit back to the castle where I had left my car, I realised I was walking a triangle: a triangle of monuments each of which spoke of the power of the people of Dunrobin to shape the landscape and the lives of the people within it.

The most obvious and most maligned is, of course, the gigantic and authoritative statue to the first duke of Sutherland on the summit of Beinn Bhraggie. Visible for dozens of miles around it is the focus for all historic discontent, yet survives the periodic attacks of chisel or spray can. Dunrobin Castle itself, with its fairytale Loire-like turrets, whitely protruding from trees and coast is another highly visible declaration of rulership, even moreso in the days when the approach to Sutherland was mainly by sea.

But in my wanderings I discovered two more monuments and recalled a third. I realised that the positioning of all these objects of stone was more than the accumulation of one-offs. They constitute a geography of power which marked ownership and authority, visibly by placement or by text. Directly west of the castle, framed by the gateway arch, is a classic Victorian statue to the second duke, with an inscribed pedestal. He overlooks the highways of road and rail, his robed back to Dunrobin Mains farm and his confident gaze rests on the spiky castle roof.

Jan - Dunrobin 004

My woodland searches finally took me to my intended objective of James Loch’s memorial. A four-posted marble canopy accessed by stone steps sits oddly in forest. The poetic inscription declares that he often loved to come to this place to survey the view. The only view now is of tree trunks and deep ruts of heavy machines. But, sometime after 1858 when he died, this tiny hilltop monument permitted him to posthumously sweep his eyes over the territory he had commanded. A superficial reading of the sentimental plaque suggests it is merely a memorial to a fond old chap, but it does not take much reading between the lines to realise that it was paid for, and possibly designed and its position chosen, by the ducal family.

Jan - Dunrobin 005

I thought the monumental geography took the form of a squashed triangle, about four miles by one, until I remembered an outlier. But an ostentatious, looming outlier, arguably the most ancient and important building in the north of Scotland: Dornoch Cathedral. Eleven miles to the south of Dunrobin, the medieval edifice’s rebuilding was financed by the Duchess of Sutherland in 1824. The very structure is a monument to her wealth and influence, even if you happened to miss the gigantic twin marble plaques and the inscribed floor-stone at the very front of the church.

The physicality, through their design and placement, of these monuments speaks authority. An authority positioned over several generations, though all harking back to the lives of the first duke and duchess, and the times in which they permanently changed the landscape and the lives of the folk of Sutherland. At least these monuments did speak authority until we took to blindly whizzing along the A9 in cars, before a small forest grew up around Loch’s vantage point, and before we stopped going to church.

An American patriot, the Countess and the Clearances

When researching his recent book, ‘Set Adrift Upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances’ (published by Birlinn), James Hunter came across an intriguing possibility which he blogs about here.

Could one of 1820 London’s up-market drawing-rooms have seen the Countess of Sutherland come up against a clearance critic in the shape of a US ambassador? The possibility arises from the family background of William MacKay who’s to be met with in Memorabilia Domestica, the memoirs of Donald Sage, a Sutherland minister. There Sage writes of how, as he preached in the open air at Langdale just prior to the 1819 clearance of Strathnaver, his ‘eye fell upon’ MacKay’s ‘venerable countenance’. ‘I was deeply affected,’ Sage goes on, ‘and could scarcely articulate the psalm’.

This was not just because Sage was close to MacKay whom he knew as ‘Old Achoul’. In what was being done to MacKay, then in his late nineties, by the Countess of Sutherland and her employees, Donald Sage saw something emblematic of what he called ‘the extinction of the last remnant of the ancient Highland peasantry of the north’.

As indicated by the title given him by Donald Sage, William MacKay, who could trace his ancestry to his clan’s medieval founders, spent much of his life at Achoul to the east of Loch Naver in what today’s been designated as Wild Land Area 35. Evicted from Achoul in 1807, he’d moved in with his daughter and son-in-law at Grumbeg on Loch Naver’s other shore. Now Grumbeg too was to be cleared and William was en route for Caithness where he’d die, aged 99, in 1822.

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From Grumbeg and looking across Loch Naver to Achoul. Image: Cailean MacLean, Skye.

Might William have wished in 1819 that, half a century earlier, he’d joined those members of his family who then emigrated to America? The opportunity to do so must have been there in 1772 when George MacKay, William’s cousin, made it possible for some 200 people to quit Sutherland for Wilmington, North Carolina, aboard the Adventure, a ship George had chartered. Among the Adventure’s passengers was William MacKay’s younger sister, Elizabeth, sailing for Wilmington with her second husband, Archibald Campbell and their ten children.

From Wilmington the Campbells moved inland to settle at Crooked Creek in Mecklenburg County – near the present-day city of Charlotte. There, when America’s Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, the Campbells – unlike most newly arrived immigrants from the Highlands – took the patriot, or anti-British, side. Two of George and Elizabeth’s sons, Alexander and Donald, died in the fighting that followed. Those men’s younger brother, George, just three when the family left Sutherland and not old enough to join future US president George Washington’s Continental Army, took no part in the struggle for American independence. But he made clear where his sympathies lay by adopting ‘Washington’ as a middle name.

Nor was the self-styled George Washington Campbell’s hostility towards Britain to cease when, having trained as a lawyer and having moved across the Appalachians to Tennessee, he went into politics. Representing Tennessee first in the House of Representatives and later in the US Senate, Campbell was a leading backer of America’s 1812 declaration of war on the United Kingdom – serving as President James Madison’s Secretary for the Treasury during much of the ensuing conflict.

CAMPBELL,_George_W-Treasury_(BEP_engraved_portrait)

By The Bureau of Engraving and Printing – Restoration by Godot13, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33915326

By 1819, when his mother’s brother, William MacKay, was being evicted from the second of the two Strathnaver homes he’d been forced to abandon, George Washington Campbell was in St Petersburg as US ambassador at the court of Tsar Alexander I. From St Petersburg, Campbell corresponded with his Scottish relatives – among them Donald MacKay, one of the ambassador’s Strathnaver kinsmen, then serving with the British Army’s 42nd Regiment (the Black Watch) in Ireland.

Ambassador Campbell, then, is likely to have known at least something of Strathnaver’s clearance. This raises an intriguing possibility stemming from Campbell’s movements in 1820 when, on his way home from St Petersburg, he spent several weeks in London. While there and while meeting with a number of British politicians and aristocrats, might he have found himself in the same company as that prominent fixture on the capital’s social scene, Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland and Marchioness of Stafford?

What might Lady Stafford have said on meeting with this American statesman and diplomat? And how might Campbell have responded? Perhaps, one hopes, with words to the effect that he was glad to have the opportunity to learn why the countess had found it necessary to twice evict his uncle.

***

William MacKay of Achoul’s ancestry can be traced in The Book of MacKay, put together by Angus MacKay and published in Edinburgh in 1906. George Washington Campbell’s papers, including some correspondence with his Scottish relatives, are held by the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. The fullest account of Campbell’s life is George Washington Campbell: Western Statesman, by W. T. Jordan, published in Tallahassee in 1955.

Holy Hugh: Of Fields and Fellowship

This is part 2 of our short series on the life and times of Sheriff Hugh MacCulloch who is memorialised just outside Dornoch.

In a field at Proncy, by the A9 near the turn off to Dornoch, there is a stone. It is a memorial to Hugh MacCulloch. When he is remembered today it is usually as the most eminent victim of the 1809 Meikle Ferry Disaster. But in his time, he was best known as an ‘eminent Christian’.

MacCulloch Memorial - Feb 2019

This month the Memorial has been encased in a box by Dornoch Academy students guided by DJ MacLeod (Autonomy Youth Services). This is to aid preservation. The field behind is where people met together to worship, led by Hugh MacCulloch. Photo: DJ MacLeod.

He came from the professional class of the eighteenth-century Highlands. His father was a writer (a legal role) and a bailie of the burgh of Dornoch. At some early point in his upbringing he experienced ‘saving impressions’ of ‘divine truth and divine agency’. His relationship to Christian faith was more than weekly attendance at church, more than dutiful Bible reading. He had a personal commitment to and experience of God. As he grew, he spent time with other committed believers who mentored, encouraged and challenged him.

After studying law at university, he married a Miss Sutherland. Born in 1765 Christian was daughter of the minister in Dornoch (John Sutherland). Hugh presumably knew her as a young person, or perhaps met her on visits to his parents. They had ‘a considerable family’. Hugh established himself in his career and was given the role of Sheriff-Substitute of Sutherland. The family settled in Dornoch.

As a devout man, Hugh MacCulloch had responsibility for the spiritual well-being of his household. That meant anyone living, or visiting, under his roof. The Directory for Family Worship, passed at the General Assembly of 1647 instructed heads of families to conduct ‘communion with God’, morning and evening. The family was critical in establishing and maintaining protestant culture. In this ideal, the family was a ‘seminary’, a patriarchal household where the father was meant to gently, firmly and wisely lead wife, children and servants in godliness. Donald Sage recollected that ‘family worship was regularly observed morning and evening’ when he was a lodger with the MacCullochs in 1801. The Directory indicated they should begin with prayer for church, nation and family members. Then scripture was read, ensuring everyone understood the passage. This practice was far from uniquely Highland or even Scottish. It developed within many reformed traditions throughout Europe and North America.

On Sunday evenings, things were a bit different. Then Hugh ‘examined all the inmates of his household on their scriptural knowledge, concluding with an exposition of the chapter which he had read.’ While it is easy to assume this was a bit grim and oppressive, the event attracted the neighbours. There is no reason that it couldn’t be conducted with fun, or some intellectual sparring and competition. It is quite likely that the neighbours came along because they could not read and therefore could not hold family worship themselves very easily. The language used was Gaelic, but a few of the neighbours did not speak it. Donald particularly recollected that was so for John Hay, a mason. Hugh therefore gave the concluding prayer partly in one language and partly in the other. He called this ‘a speckled prayer’.

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The memorial and the field in the opposite direction! Photo: DJ MacLeod.

Saturdays were busy for the Sheriff-Substitute. Each Saturday he went the mile or two out of town to Pronsy. There, in what is now a field, he met with other committed Christians for a ‘fellowship meeting’. At these meetings people prayed together, they sang, they heard the Bible read and someone often preached. In all likelihood much of this was done by Hugh, probably with assistance from other local men. Donald Sage later claimed that ‘it was these occasions of Christian intercourse with his fellow-citizens, which they found peculiarly edifying, that embalmed his memory in the hearts of the survivors [of the disaster].’ Outdoor meetings were quite common in this period, particularly among Evangelicals who had a Moderate minister who they felt did not meet their spiritual needs. Some ministers were fine with this, others felt it undermined their authority. Some local Evangelicals removed themselves from the churches of Moderate ministers and met on Sunday mornings by themselves, but Hugh MacCulloch did not do that. Indeed his Saturday meetings may have been an attempt to dissuade people from such a schism. However, in church he did make it clear when he was uncomfortable with the preaching. ‘He was a regular attendant at church; as, though Dr. Bethune’s doctrine seemed to him to be dry enough, he, unlike others equally eminent for piety with himself, would not on that account become an absentee, all the more that he held a public office. He did not fail, however, by his restlessness of manner, to indicate when he was not being edified.’

Hugh MacCulloch was remembered as a pretty ordinary judge. His administration of justice was ‘free indeed from all sorts of corruption, but it was defective in regard to clear views of civil and criminal law.’ However, it was his ‘eminent piety and Christian fellowship’ which ‘enshrined his memory in the hearts of all who knew him.’

Sources:

The Directory for Family Worship, Assembly at Edinburgh, 24 August 1647, Sess. 10. Act for observing the directions of the General Assembly for secret and private worship, and mutual edification; and censuring such as neglect family-worship. A copy can be found on http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_standards/index.html?mainframe=/documents/wcf_standards/p417-direct_fam_worship.html

Janay Nugent, ‘“The mistresse of the family hath a special hand”: family, women, mothers, and the establishment of a “godly community of Scots”’, in Stuart Macdonald and Daniel MacLeod (eds), Keeping the Kirk. Scottish Religion at Home and in the Diaspora (Guelph, 2014), 39-62.

Andrew Cambers and Michelle Wolfe, ‘Reading, family religion, and Evangelical identity in late Stuart England’, The Historical Journal 47.4 (2004) 875-896.

Gerald F. Moran and Maris A. Vinovskis, ‘The Great Care of Godly Parents: Early Childhood in Puritan New England’, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 50.4/5 (1985), 24-37.

Hugh MacCulloch and the Dornoch Firth

This week work begins on the Sheriff MacCulloch Memorial Project. Historylinks was recently awarded £1100 by Museums and Galleries Scotland to restore the memorial stone. The Museum is working with young people from Dornoch Academy in this project. See facebook for more information and photos. The next few blog posts will consider the life and times of Hugh MacCulloch.

It must have been hot that day. The lads maybe exploded out of school, shouting and throwing their bags. They might have taken off, chasing each other across the common grazings, past what is now the airstrip, that separated Dornoch from the ‘cockle ebb’, the sands on the north shore of the firth. Stripped off, they tiptoed, plunged into the chilly water, splashing and swimming, salt stinging their eyes. It’s wide at high tide, and at low tide sand banks appear, sometimes giving the impression that you could wade across. But between these banks there are fast flowing channels. Hugh’s efforts quickly took him out of his depth, and he sank. The other boys maybe thought at first that he was messing about, but he didn’t bob up again. They shouted an alarm and several men who were working nearby dashed into the sea. He had been in the water some time and it was an apparently lifeless body they pulled out. The men applied ‘judicious treatment’ and he choked back into life.

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Shells of cockles can still be found at the ‘Cockle Ebb’. Hugh probably went bathing at this spot, though probably not on the sort of dull January day this was taken! The view here is towards the site of the Meikle Ferry, where many years later he breathed his last. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Hugh MacCulloch related this story many times. And when he told it to a young lodger in 1801 he said ‘if God were to give him his choice of deaths, he would choose drowning, for … he felt as he was in the act of sinking, and when the waters were rushing in at his mouth and nostrils, as if he were falling into a gentle sleep.’ His wish was granted. Eight years later and about four miles above that very spot on that very firth, he was, with many others, drowned.

In 1809 Hugh was probably in his fifties. He was a well-respected man, the retired Sheriff-Substitute of Sutherland and known for his honesty and piety, if not his brilliance in law. On August 16th Hugh decided to attend the Lammas Fair in Tain. He left his house in Dornoch that morning and crossed the ferry. Later, rumours spread that the men who loaded the evening ferry had been drinking. Donald Sage, that young lodger, later recorded the story in biblical style: ‘When he came to the Meikleferry, late in the day, the shore was crowded with people returning home from the market. On his arrival they all made way for him, and he was, quickly seated at the stern of the wherry; but afterwards the multitude pressed into the ferry-boat – the more earnestly, as they would thus have the privilege of crossing in the same boat with the Sheriff. Apprehensive of the issue, Mr. MacCulloch turned away at least two score of them from the boat. There still remained on board, however, too many for safety. It was a dead calm, and the wherry was pushed off from land. But when it had nearly reached the middle of the ferry, and the deepest part of it, the boat gave a sudden jerk, the water rushed in, and, with the exception of two or three who escaped by swimming, the whole of those on board sank to the bottom and perished. About 70 persons were thus drowned. This fearful event took place during the darkness of night … and created a deep sensation all over the country.’

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Tain, from the Cockle Ebb. Low tide. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The tale of how Hugh’s body, among the last to be found, was discovered, reveals the mysticism which was part of Highland Evangelical Christianity. It is also reminiscent of saints’ stories in the Catholic tradition, where bodies which do not decompose prove saintliness. Donald Sage explained that the ‘particular spot where it lay under the flood was discovered in a dream. A fellow-Christian and an acquaintance, deeply affected by his death, dreamed of his departed friend. In the dream the Sheriff appeared, spoke of his sudden call to the other world, and told him where his earthly remains lay, adding that, whilst the fish of the sea were permitted to mangle at their pleasure the bodies of his fellow-sufferers, they were restrained from putting a tooth upon his, which would be found entire. The dream was realised in every particular.’

How the catastrophe of the Meikle Ferry impacted south-east Sutherland is reminiscent of the impact of the loss of the Iolaire on the Isle of Lewis 110 years later. In both, a small community lost many of its most active in one appalling moment. The response to the sudden needs of families bereft of the husbands, mothers, sons, wives, fathers, daughters who traded at Tain that day was to set up a fund. Monies poured in from people with local connections all over the world. Even donations from the profits of West Indian slave plantations ended up in the pockets of grief-stricken families. Hugh MacCulloch’s wife and his daughter, Chirsty, long survived him, and benefited from the Meikleferry Fund.

The Dornoch Firth which, in the years following the Jacobite Rising saw the birth of a boy named Hugh; which provided cooling, but dangerous waters for his youthful play; which was crossed every time the mature man travelled south on business or pleasure, eventually claimed that life. But its chill depths preserved him, casting him up in the place the visionary spoke of, so he could be buried in the way his family wanted.

Sources:

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica, chapter 9.

Walter Scott (ed), ‘Dreadful Accident at the Meikle Ferry’, The Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809, 248.

N.B. Brian Munro has since unearthed a document (The Meikle Ferry Disaster Fund Book) in the Highland Archives which is far more contemporary than Sage’s memoirs and seems to state quite clearly that the accident took place ‘in the forenoon’ when people were on their way to the Lammas Fair, rather than returning from it. That does not, I think, remove any of the interest or importance of Sage’s analysis of the event and its impact, but shows how the details of narratives can shift.