Flying the Red Cross flag and protecting the local economy: Dunrobin and the Sutherland estate in wartime

Neil Bruce considers another aspect of wartime in the Highlands when temporary hospitals were established to increase the capacity of the health service. In World War One, Dunrobin Castle was ‘re-purposed’: initially envisaged as a major surgical hospital, it provided convalescence care until devasted by fire. Neil also looks at how the estate maintained the income of those of its employees who enlisted, a precursor to the job retention scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic, concluding with a final comparison between lockdown in early 2020 and wartime restrictions.

Around noon on Sunday, 13 June 1915, fire broke out within the Duke of Sutherland’s northern seat, Dunrobin Castle. News spread worldwide: within two days, Melbourne’s Argus reported ‘the fusing on an electric wire’ had caused its partial destruction.[1] An off-duty nurse, woken by the smell of smoke, raised the alarm and the estate’s fire brigade turned-out.[2] Realising flames threatened the oldest part of the building, Fire-master Horne, the estate’s architect, instructed the roof be cut to prevent fire spreading.[3] Newspapers reported that wounded soldiers were evacuated to safety.[4]

Dunrobin Castle

Two days following the declaration of war in 1914, the Duke offered Dunrobin to the Admiralty as a naval hospital and his yacht, ‘S Y Catania’ to transport the injured there. The castle was initially designated as the North Sea Fleet’s central surgical hospital.[5] In what today might be called a ‘whole system approach’, the Duke advertised for volunteer nurses and doctors as its staff.[6] However, wartime exigencies soon resulted in Dunrobin receiving both army and naval personnel to convalesce.[7] Within a month, ‘Catania’ was armed and on active service with the fleet, captained by the Duke with the rank of temporary Lieutenant-Commander, RNR.[8]

The Duke encouraged his estate employees to enlist, pledging that their pre-war income would be ‘made up’ if their service pay was lower.[9] This appears to have been influential in encouraging individuals to ‘join the colours’: eight months after war broke-out the Northern Times reported that the Duke had ‘paid hundreds of pounds’ to those on active service.[10]

Local efforts to save the castle’s occupants and contents were reinforced by the 2/5th Seaforth Highlanders, camping nearby.[11] Inverness burgh fire brigade arrived by special train, joining Ardross estate’s fire engine, Cromarty’s naval fire brigade and a party landed from a destroyer.[12] Lieutenant Liddell, leading the Seaforths sustained deep cuts when the roof gave way and he fell through a skylight.[13] The Sutherland’s family physician, Dr Simpson gave Liddell first aid, subsequently treating him at nearby Lawson Memorial Hospital.[14] Two naval men, Petty Officer Jones and  Able Seaman Reynolds, fell from a fire escape: they and an unnamed corporal, a wounded patient suffering smoke inhalation, were also admitted to hospital.[15] Alerted by telegraph, the Duke, Duchess and family members who were elsewhere on the estate, returned to find the fire had taken hold.[16]

The castle’s ‘new wing’, built between 1845 and 1851, was destroyed in ten hours.[17] When its tower collapsed, the large Red Cross flag which had ‘bade defiance to the flames’ fell.[18] After the fire was finally doused the following morning, insurance assessors were on site to assess the full extent of the damage to the building and its contents.[19] Dunrobin’s role as a hospital in World War One was over: a new ‘new north wing’ was built between 1917 and 1919.[20]

Photo: Permission given by photographer.

When World War Two broke out in 1939, the castle resumed its hospital role.[21] In August 1942, the Duke of Kent’s body was brought there: he and all, bar one onboard an RAF Sunderland plane which crashed near Dunbeath were killed. His body was ‘dressed’ by nursing staff and the local doctor, Dr Bertie Simpson, whose father attended to those injured during the fire in 1915.[22] The arrival and departure of the Duke’s body, and subsequent ‘flying’ visit of King George VI to the castle’s hospital were cloaked in official secrecy.[23]

Through this series of posts, what has been striking are the similarities between official and other responses during wartime and the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. In each instance, governments regulated the lives of individuals and community life for the common good, potentially curtailing their rights, liberties, wellbeing and incomes. The success of the respective regulations in force is measurable by the extent the population observed or attempted to circumvent them. One noticeable difference in March 2020 when ‘lockdown’ began, though, was that rural communities led government and other official bodes in actively discouraging those who sought remoteness. In the Highlands this created de facto ‘protected areas’, very different to those officially imposed in wartime.

[1] Argus (Melbourne, Australia), 15 June 1915, 7. Newspapers worldwide reported the fire, including the New York Times, 14 June 1915, 16 and the Colonist (Nelson, New Zealand), 15 June 1915, 5. The Press Association and other London-based news agencies telegraphed the story. The Tasmanian Daily Telegraph headed its article ‘General War Cables’ which suggests it had past official scrutiny, Daily Telegraph, 15 June 1915, 5.

[2] Northern Times, 19 June 2015, One hundred years ago: 17 June 1915, accessed 8 September 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The patients were taken to an hotel in Golspie. The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. Within a day, soldiers were transferred to the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V. A. D.) hospital at Ivybank, Nairn. The Scotsman, 17 June 1915, 9.

[5] Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1914, 3; The Scotsman, 7th August 1914, 6. The Northern Times carried the same story on 13 August, from Read All About It! The Highlands and Islands during World War One project accessed 7 September 2020.

[6] Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1914, 3. Volunteer medical staff were invited to contact the Duke at 35 Parliament Street, London, S W. He also encouraged those with ‘country houses’ on the East and South-East coasts, and around London to obtain expert advice as to how they could be made suitable as hospitals and for convalescence. The Scotsman, 8 August 1914, 9.

[7] John O’Groat Journal, 26 March 1915, reported the arrival of 19 soldiers from Scottish regiments, to recuperate under the care of ‘two professional nurses … and several local ladies’, from Read All About It: The Highlands and Islands during World War One project accessed 25 September 2020.

[8] Northern Times, 17 September 1914, from Read All About It! The Highlands and Islands during World War One project; Dear, I., The Royal Yacht Squadron 1815-1985, Appendix 2: Members’ yachts and their use in the First World War. accessed 25 September 2020. The Duke’s captaincy was temporary, prior to his taking-up an army commission.

[9] Northern Times, 100 years ago (22 April 1915), 24 April 2015, accessed 24 August 2020. The Northern Times referred to both ‘every man in his employment’, and the ducal family’s employees: it has not been possible to confirm whether female employees were compensated for any detriment to their take-home pay.

[10] Ibid.

[11] It was reported that 800 soldiers and 200 locals were involved in fighting the fire and recovering property. The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. Liddell was an ordained Church of Scotland minister who had joined-up four months previously. The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[12] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7; The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6, 9. The Guardian advised that both Inverness and Ardross fire brigades arrived on the same train, whereas The Scotsman reported the Ardross fire engine arrived separately.

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. The newspaper called Liddell, ‘Wilde’.

[15] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7; The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[16] The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 3.

[17] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7.

[18] The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[19] Ibid; estate papers relating to the fire and rebuilding of the castle are within the Sutherland estate papers, National Library of Scotland, Acc.10853, (661 – 699). Many antiques and pictures which were saved suffered water damage, Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7.

[20] Sir Robert Lorimer’s firm was employed to undertake the redesign work. See University of Edinburgh, Special collections, Coll-27 (Gen.1963/58), Papers of Sir Robert Stoddart Lorimer, Files on Dunrobin and Woodhall / Juniper Green, Edinburgh.  

[21] accessed 27 September 2020; accessed 27 September 2020.

[22] Caithness at war: week 156, 24-30 August 1942, accessed 29 September 2020; Jean Cameron, People’s War, BBC Scotland, 21 September 2005, accessed 29 September 2020.

[23] Jean Cameron, People’s War. The Duke’s body was placed in a locally-made coffin and escorted to Dunrobin’s own railway station by hospital staff and those patients fit to walk.

Kincraig House

Hamish Mackenzie OBE, was born in 1937, graduated from Oxford, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and held senior executive positions in industry. In retirement in Ross-shire he has been President of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the U.K., played a leading role in the Tain & Easter Ross Civic Trust and chaired Tarbat Community Council, and he continues to research local history. During lockdown he published A Highland Legacy: the Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World. The book tells the story of a family of architects who designed an astonishing range of buildings across the Northern Highlands in Victorian and Edwardian times. It brings to life the people who commissioned them, some of whom left footprints on the sands of time, others long since forgotten but interesting in their historical context, and it explains the social, religious and political factors that underpinned their demand. An earlier book, Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke, 1833 (about the efforts of the first Duke of Sutherland to incorporate the area between Tain and Tarbat Ness into his empire) is available from the Tain & District Museum.

The prosperity of estate ownership reached its high water mark in or around the early 1870s, but it was soon to be hit by a prolonged agricultural depression. Out of a total population of 80,955 in Ross-shire and Cromartyshire in 1871 a mere 49 people owned land representing 67% of the gross annual value for the twin counties, and, reflecting the lower rental values in Wester Ross, 90% of the land area.[i] In the countryside the heritors [landowners] still played a prominent role in local affairs and enjoyed considerable social prestige. Their status was, fortunately for architects like A. Maitlands & Sons of Tain, frequently reflected in a desire to improve and often to ‘baronialise’ [convert to the Scottish Baronial style] their ancestral homes.

One of the most distinctive examples of the Maitlands’ work is Kincraig House, near Invergordon – Scottish baronial in style, white-harled and highly visible from the present A9.[ii] Its present eye-catching appearance reflects the dramatic transformation that baronialisation could achieve.

Kincraig Castle Hotel, Invergordon, Monday 07, October, 2019. Image by: Malcolm McCurrach | © Malcolm McCurrach 2019 | New Wave Images UK | Insertion and use fees apply | All rights Reserved. | | 07743 719366

Permission to use image received – further details can be obtained from the author or the editor of this blog.

In recent times Kincraig House has become a hotel and it is now a popular and well-respected venue. One earlier hotelier tried to raise its profile by calling it the Kincraig Castle Hotel and describing it as the former seat of the chiefs of the Clan Mackenzie. Though the name has stuck it was never a castle, and it had no direct connection with any chief of the clan. The Mackenzies of Kincraig were a ‘cadet’ branch which descended from a sixteenth century Mackenzie clan chief, and at the time he commissioned Andrew Maitland in 1872[iii] the 27 year old Captain Roderick Mackenzie with his 1,086 acres was only fourteenth among the largest Mackenzie landowners in the twin counties of Ross-shire and Cromartyshire.

The captain’s inheritance included a mansion house, built around 1800, with wings at the rear, perhaps used as farm offices, close to each side but not attached. This is shown both in the first 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map and in a photograph taken before the Maitland alterations.[iv] To-day the original mansion house, given a steep crow-stepped gablet flanked by conical-roofed bartizans on the southern elevation, forms the central portion of the enlarged house. The additions include crow-stepped projecting wings at each side, a round tower with a conical roof at the south west corner and a gabled bay with a new main entrance in a hoodmoulded Tudor arch on the west elevation.

Improving his mansion house may have put some strain on Roderick Mackenzie’s finances, and the situation seems to have been aggravated by the agricultural depression. The inventory on his death in 1889 suggests that he was on thin ice financially. His heritable estate was burdened by loans of £6,680, and his personal estate showed a deficiency of £2-13s-8d. He owed his tenants money for farm buildings, and shortly before the work on Kincraig House he had borrowed from the marriage settlement of his wife Georgina, known as Georgie. They had no children and the widowed Georgie became liferentrix. The Maitlands were engaged during her occupancy to design farm buildings for the estate at Broomhill in 1890 and Tomich in 1896 and further additions and improvements to Kincraig House itself in 1901.

The estate passed in 1918 to Roderick’s nephew William Martineau, a scion of a sugar refining dynasty. William (later Sir William) appears to have carried out further work to Kincraig House, said to have been completed in 1923. The Dictionary of Scottish Architects entry for the house suggests that he employed the leading Highland architect Alexander Ross and his son John Alistair Ross. But what the Rosses did for Martineau is uncertain – did it include the white harling? and did it include any part of the Scottish baronial features we see to-day? Whatever the answer it is likely that the bulk of the baronialisation is a result of the Maitlands’ involvement.[v] One thing we do know is that when the Macleods of Cadboll, the largest land owners in the Invergordon area, disposed of their estates after the Great War Martineau bought the Invergordon Castle estate. He then demolished the castle, built in 1873 on a site occupied since the fifteenth century, in order, it was rumoured, to improve his view from Kincraig House.

[i] Author’s calculations based on the Report of the Land Ownership Commission 1872-3, NRS GD149/560.

[ii] Historic Environment Scotland LB15044, Highland HER MHG16341.

[iii] Inverness Advertiser, 2nd July, 1872.

[iv] The photograph is on a postcard marked Macpherson’s Series 158, reproduced in the online Invergordon Archive. It is  said to be dated 1907 (presumably from the date stamp on the back), but there is reason to believe that Macpherson’s postcards sometimes showed historical rather than contemporary views.

[v] Map evidence seems to be non-existent. The Ordnance Survey does not appear to have fully re-surveyed Kincraig House between the first 25” to the mile edition and the second half of the twentieth century.

The Dornoch banker who had his fingers in the till

Hamish Mackenzie OBE, was born in 1937, graduated from Oxford, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and held senior executive positions in industry. In retirement in Ross-shire he has been President of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the U.K., played a leading role in the Tain & Easter Ross Civic Trust and chaired Tarbat Community Council, and he continues to research local history. During lockdown he published A Highland Legacy: the Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World. The book tells the story of a family of architects who designed an astonishing range of buildings across the Northern Highlands in Victorian and Edwardian times. It brings to life the people who commissioned them, some of whom left footprints on the sands of time, others long since forgotten but interesting in their historical context, and it explains the social, religious and political factors that underpinned their demand. An earlier book, Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke, 1833 (about the efforts of the first Duke of Sutherland to incorporate the area between Tain and Tarbat Ness into his empire) is available from the Tain & District Museum.

In the last three decades of the nineteenth century the towns in which A. Maitland & Sons of Tain operated saw an acceleration in the rate of construction not just of new public buildings but also – reflecting a wider level of prosperity – of commercial buildings. The most prominent of these were banks. The architectural historian John Gifford remarks that ‘rapid expansion of the banking system during the nineteenth century quickly established the rule that a bank in any prominent town should have the character of a public building’.[i] Bank agents, many of whom also practiced as solicitors, were important members of the local community. They often acted as factors for local estates, and they played a key role in the finances of local business. As well as extending and improving several bank branches, the Maitlands designed three new ones. Two were for the Aberdeen based North of Scotland Bank, which later became part of the Clydesdale Bank. The first of these, in 1872, was in Invergordon High Street.[ii] The other, recently closed, and one of the most charming buildings in the burgh, was in Market Street, Tain in 1878.[iii]  The third had a curious early history.

Photo – Lynn Mahoney

On the other side of the Meikle Ferry Dornoch was emerging from the doldrums. Until 1868 the Dukes of Sutherland had been Provosts, but in that year the first (moderately) democratic elections were held. The middle classes slowly began to flex their muscles. The later years of the nineteenth century saw a rising prosperity, fuelled particularly by the attractions of the golf course. This was to lead to several commissions, particularly for houses, for the Maitlands. It also led to another expanding bank, also Aberdeen based, the Town & County Bank, opening a branch in Dornoch. In 1889 the bank appointed as joint agent John Mackintosh, a farmer at Proncy, three miles from Dornoch. Mackintosh seemed to be highly respectable: he was a total abstainer and lived an unostentatious life, and he became commander of a company of Volunteers, Clerk of the School Board, and a county councillor. But, unbeknown to the bank’s directors, Mackintosh was soon embezzling their customers’ money.

Photo – Lynn Mahoney

Mackintosh’s fellow joint agent was a Dornoch solicitor, John Leslie. Leslie served for ten years as captain of the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, and was said to have been responsible for an important step in 1886 when the services of the legendary golfer Old Tom Morris were secured and the course was extended to 18 holes. In 1893, whilst Mackintosh’s fraud remained undetected, Leslie decided to build new premises in Castle Street, the main entrance to the town. A. Maitland & Sons produced plans and sought tenders for a new classical style building.[iv] Inside were bank offices, which Leslie let to the Town & County Bank, and law offices and living accommodation for himself and his family. Elizabeth Beaton describes it as a ‘plain, somewhat conventional bank building, the symmetrical two-storey front enhanced by simple pilastered doorpiece and tri-partite (three-light) ground floor windows’.[v] John Leslie, who had become Sheriff Clerk of Sutherland, died in 1900 and John Mackintosh then became sole agent.

Photo – Lynn Mahoney

There was great excitement in Dornoch in March 1908 when Mackintosh was arrested and committed to Inverness Prison. In May he pleaded guilty in the High Court of Justiciary to having embezzled a total of £1,753-2s-6d between 1889 and 1907. In mitigation his counsel asserted that in regard to at least half of the deficiency Mackintosh had not personally fingered a penny of the money. A number of customers had overdrawn accounts. The bank had strict rules and had instructed him that certain customers should not be accommodated. In order to oblige them, however, Mackintosh had honoured cheques and bills drawn on their accounts and had met these by paying into their accounts money taken from other customers. Mackintosh might have expected a sentence of penal servitude (imprisonment with hard labour), but the Lord Justice Clerk, apparently impressed by this Robin Hood argument and perhaps also by Mackintosh’s colonelcy in the Volunteers, sentenced him to only 15 months imprisonment.

Like the North of Scotland Bank, the Town & County Bank later became part of the Clydesdale Bank, but the Dornoch branch no longer operates. The building, now listed,[vi] and the first in a series of dignified premises flanking the approach to the centre of Dornoch, is now a bed and breakfast establishment.

The building when it was the Clydesdale Bank in the 1960s. Image Courtesy of Historylinks Image Library.

[i] John Gifford, Highlands and Islands, Pevsner Architectural Guides, The Buildings of Scotland, Penguin Books, 1992, p. 68.

[ii] Inverness Advertiser, 11th March, 1872, Highland HER MHG21245.

[iii] The plans are held by Historic Environment Scotland, RCD/36/1-4.

[iv] Inverness Courier, 6th June, 1893.

[v] Elizabeth Beaton, Sutherland, An Illustrated Architectural Guide, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, 1995, p.33.

[vi] Historic Environment Scotland LB24635, Highland HER MHG16970.

Dornoch and Barrow’s Castle

Hamish Mackenzie OBE, was born in 1937, graduated from Oxford, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and held senior executive positions in industry. In retirement in Ross-shire he has been President of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the U.K., played a leading role in the Tain & Easter Ross Civic Trust and chaired Tarbat Community Council, and he continues to research local history. During lockdown he published A Highland Legacy: the Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World. The book tells the story of a family of architects who designed an astonishing range of buildings across the Northern Highlands in Victorian and Edwardian times. It brings to life the people who commissioned them, some of whom left footprints on the sands of time, others long since forgotten but interesting in their historical context, and it explains the social, religious and political factors that underpinned their demand. An earlier book, Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke, 1833 (about the efforts of the first Duke of Sutherland to incorporate the area between Tain and Tarbat Ness into his empire) is available from the Tain & District Museum.

The years 1870 to 1905 are regarded as one of the boom periods for Scottish domestic architecture, a period characterised by growth in the building of villas. Northern burghs and towns saw extensive development, particularly on the pastoral fringes. A number of factors led to this demand. One was the emergence of a new breed of client – men sufficiently successful in their profession or business to be able to afford the services of an architect, and sometimes the widows or unmarried daughters of such men. Another was the attraction of moving to the Highlands, particularly to burghs like Tain and Dornoch with golf courses and opportunities for social life and cultural events. Highland architects like A. Maitland & Sons of Tain met this demand by designing villas in a variety, and sometimes a mixture, of styles. Perhaps the most interesting mixture was in Dornoch.

A modern historian of Dornoch notes that ‘the 1890s saw a wide range of developments that transformed and modernised the burgh … an increasing number of inhabitants applying to the Dean of Guild for permission to extend existing properties or to construct new ones, and incomers to the town building their own holiday homes. … Dornoch was now attracting families of considerable wealth and status.’[i] The result was the building of several architect designed houses mainly on what was then the periphery of the old burgh, notably in what are now known as Evelix Road and Cnoc-an-Lobht. Many of these were designed by A. Maitland & Sons of Tain, who advertised in 1888, 1891, 1894 and 1895 for tenders to build new houses, and in 1896 and 1900 to effect alterations and additions to Burnside.

The Northfield in it’s context of the older town and the newer developments.
Image from Historylinks Archive Cat No:  | 2007_092_005 | Picture No: 4331
Monochrome postcard, from the Basil Hellier collection, showing the Burghfield House Hotel. The card is entitled Northfield, the property’s former name. The reverse of the card has a London address, and a Dornoch postmark of 10 Au 06, over a green Edward VII half-penny stamp.

Their most significant commission was in 1896, when the Maitlands advertised for tenders for building ‘a large residence’ in Dornoch for Mr J.J. Barrow.[ii] John James Jerome Barrow, to give him his full name, came from Derbyshire. His family had owned the largest collieries in the county and had developed iron foundries. They had sold the business in 1863 to the Staveley Coal and Iron Company, in which they became substantial shareholders. John Barrow, born in 1829, was a director of various railway companies, but his Staveley dividends enabled him to lead the life of a gentleman with sporting interests. He had a London house in Hyde Park Gardens and an estate of 100 acres at Holmewood, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. By 1891 he had taken a lease of Dornoch Castle from the Duke of Sutherland. The Castle, to-day a hotel, was then ‘the only shooting lodge in the kingdom which can boast of being situated not only within a Royal burgh, but in the very heart of a County town … the County Buildings are adjacent and a Sheriff Court is regularly held. The shootings in connection with it cover an area of 9,000 acres and there is much variety of game’.[iii] Barrow and his family entered into the life of Dornoch. He became a J.P., and was known as a major benefactor, and his wife Dorothea was particularly associated with the Dornoch Golf Club, of which Barrow himself, a keen golfer, had been one of the promoters.

Burghfield Hotel, Dornoch in 1900
Historylinks Image Archive Cat No:  | 2007_092_001 | Picture No: 3223
Monochrome postcard, from the Basil Hellier collection, showing the Burghfield Hotel. The card is titled Northfield, the original name of the Burghfield.

By 1896 Barrow wanted his own residence, and he chose to erect what became the most prominent building on the Dornoch skyline. The site he chose for Northfield – or ‘Barrow’s Castle’ as the irreverent called it – was in an elevated position on Cnoc-an-Lobht, from which it was highly visible from the centre of the town. At the heart of the building was a conventional Victorian villa. It was made even more visible by a Scottish baronial square tower, surmounted by a round turret. The juxtaposition of these two elements looks odd. The architectural historian John Gifford remarks that ‘the unadventurous domesticity’ of the building is ‘badly jolted by a very martial tower’.[iv] This must have been what their client wanted, but one wonders whether Barrow’s architects were happy with the instructions he gave them.

John Barrow died in 1903, and is commemorated in a stained-glass window on the south wall of the nave in Dornoch Cathedral. After his death Dorothea continued to spend time at Northfield. She sold it in 1921 to the immensely wealthy newspaper tycoon Lord Rothermere, who renamed it Burghfield House and used it to entertain the great and the good of the inter-war years. Rothermere also carried on an extensive correspondence with Adolf Hitler (who entertained him at the Berghof), Göring, Goebbels and Ribbentrop. Some of it must surely have emanated from Dornoch – though Rothermere did not return the Führer’s hospitality at Burghfield House. Rothermere died in Bermuda in 1940, his reputation in tatters after his toadying letters to Nazi leaders had been exposed in a sensational court case.

The property has retained the name Burghfield in its subsequent history as a hotel and as an outpost of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

[i] Michael Hook, A History of the Royal Burgh of Dornoch, Historylinks Museum, Dornoch, 2005, p.108.

[ii]  Ross-shire Journal, 24th January, 1896.

[iii] Evening Telegraph, 4th May, 1891.

[iv] John Gifford, Highlands and Islands, Pevsner Architectural Guides, The Buildings of Scotland, Penguin Books, 1992, p. 570.

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

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 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…

‘Wanted Down Under’ – The Prequel

Graham Hannaford has recently gained his PhD from Federation University, Australia. His thesis explored the impact of emigration advertisements on Scots. He has a Dornoch connection, having gained his Masters from the Centre for History at the University of the Highlands and Islands and has visited the town several times.

If you have been following the many episodes of the TV series Wanted Down Under which explores the attractions of Australia for Brits, it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the concept is far from new. The following advertisement, which appeared on page 1 of the Inverness Courier of 14 March 1848, was only one of many in the nineteenth century, and later, seeking to recruit Scots willing to move to the colonies.


ALL Persons desirous of availing themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them, are requested to apply to Mr ANDREW RUTHERFORD, GOLSPIE, who will forward to the applicants the proper Form of Application, with a list of such regulations as they will have to conform to. None need apply but Agricultural and Farm Servants, or persons connected with country work, such as Shepherds, Miners, Country Mechanics, Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights, and Carpenters. The most desirable applicants are YOUNG MARRIED COUPLES, with few, or without Children.

YOUNG SINGLE WOMEN, of established respectability, who, though not employed as servants at present, but are desirous of becoming such in the Colony, may apply.


Agent to her Majesty’s Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners.

Golspie, 23d February 1848.

Rutherford eventually acted on his own advice and emigrated with his wife to Australia, both of them ending their days in Melbourne.[1] He was also politically astute for his time, having subscribed half a guinea to the fund for the monument to the late first Duke of Sutherland.[2]

The advertisement made it clear that only agricultural workers and associated tradesmen were wanted by the promoters of the government emigration scheme. These were the categories of employees which had been sought for many years by those with large land holdings in the colonies. Married men were sought since these tended to be more stable in work and behaviour than bachelors who were inclined, it was believed, to waste their earnings and time on drinking. Wives were also believed to be useful in the role of hut keepers supporting shepherds.

A shepherd’s life in Australia, South Australia, 1864 [picture] / W. R. Thomas, National Library of Australia,

It is worth noting that the offer of passage was being made to those willing to migrate to the Cape of Good Hope, to South Australia and to New South Wales itself. In doing so, for those hesitant about the voyage, the Cape would have been more attractive and so too, to a lesser extent, would be the voyage to South Australia which was shorter than going all the way to Sydney.

The ongoing imbalance in the genders in the colony was reflected in the announcement that young single women willing to work as servants were also wanted. This was an issue which had been flagged over many years and was still without adequate resolution by the middle of the nineteenth century. Good marriage prospects awaited those seeking a husband.

It is clear from this advertisement that the emigration commissioners viewed conditions in the Cape colony as being similar to those in Australia, probably with the aim of moving surplus population out of Britain as much as finding the workers sought by the colonies. But it is also apparent that work was available for those willing to undertake it on the pastoral stations in New South Wales, whether as shepherds or in the associated trades necessary for operating large properties.


[2] James Loch, Memoir of George Granville, late Duke of Sutherland K.G. (London: S. Woodfall, 1834), 69.

The Beauly barrier, the women of Ross and the bogus telegram: World War Two Highland lockdown

In his second blog post about the impact of government decisions on Highland life during wartime, Neil Bruce considers the impact of the introduction of permits required to enter the region during World War Two.

In 1940 Robert Michie was sentenced to a £2 fine or 10 days imprisonment at Inverness Sheriff Court for circumventing the army’s Beauly barrier which controlled the north road.[i] North and west of the Firth of Lorne and Great Glen had been officially designated as the North of Scotland protected area in the ‘interests of defence or the efficient prosecution of war’ on 11 March 1940. [ii]  Restricting access in wartime resonates with 2020, when rural communities to protect themselves, warned would-be visitors, second home owners and others to stay away during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Forest of Birse, April 2020

Photo: Neil Bruce

The Highlands became a military-controlled zone.[iii] North-bound travellers’ credentials were checked at key points including Inverness railway station, the Kessock ferry and buses from Fort William.[iv] Those bound for the Northern Isles required a transit visa from Inverness’s military control office.[v] Adult residents needed permits to prove their identity if stopped, and proof of residency leaving or entering the area. In Inverness, almost immediately, ‘thousands’ queued to obtain permits from police headquarters.[vi] Residents from enemy countries required a specific permit and had to adhere to strict regulations: forgetting to report to their local police station before overnight curfew, Italian ‘aliens’ Enrico and Antonio Pizzamiglio were each fined £10.[vii]

Visitor permits were issued by military offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. Initial confusion and delay ensued: applications required both parents’ nationality and countersignature by a J. P. or someone-else of ‘respectable status’.[viii] The protected area covered 40% of Scotland, but the government initially rebuffed suggestions local registrars or police could issue permits, claiming security was ‘predominant’.[ix] Democracy came second to military authority: the government candidate in the Argyllshire by-election, a non-resident serving officer, still required a permit.[x] Holidaymaker Jessie Macleod freely crossed the Beauly barrier several times before being found to be without permit. Her defence that she believed her identification card was sufficient proof did not prevent a 10/- fine.[xi] Irishman John P. McGovern, a farm labourer in Caithness for 11 years received more leniency, remanded in custody while Wick police obtained the necessary military permit.[xii] A son was only allowed to attend his father’s funeral having ‘pulled certain very important wires which are not given to all men to reach.’[xiii]

There was other suspicion about ‘wires’ being pulled. Lord Redesdale and daughter Deborah Mitford’s visit to their Argyll island was contrasted with ‘legitimate and loyal persons’ inability to obtain permits.[xiv] Secretary for War, Anthony Eden defended Redesdale’s ‘valid reason for finding it desirable and necessary to reside there during part of the year’: seeing no ‘reasonable grounds for disquiet throughout Scotland.’[xv] Minister for Security and Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson responded that the island was ‘visited periodically by the police’, though he had no grounds ‘for prohibiting the present inhabitants from living there’.[xvi] In spring 2020 echoes reverberate when officials told citizens to stay at home, then ignored the same instruction; and elsewhere, police visited Lismore following concerns about a non-resident’s arrival.[xvii]

Tourism was ‘killed almost stone dead’ in 1940.[xviii] Slow issue of visitor permits brought sparse Eastertime trade.[xix] The Scotsman encouraged readers not to worry about food restrictions or petrol rationing, but was apprehensive that the bed and breakfast, and other tourist businesses built-up by that ‘modern regiment’, the ‘women of Ross’, could continue.[xx] Would-be visitors with permits intent on a summer Highland ‘staycation’ were prevented from ferry or rail travel without warning.[xxi] Shooting and fishing tenants could not obtain permits.[xxii] The government refused to compensate sporting estate owners, hikers or ‘holidaymakers of the humbler sort’ for losses incurred.[xxiii] Pressed why permit offices were instructed not to grant permits if the reason given was ‘holidays’, Anthony Eden replied cryptically, ‘There may be reasons which I would rather not refer to in public.’[xxiv] Those included an expected imminent invasion: defensive works were under construction to thwart an advancing enemy.[xxv]

Sign in Finzean, Lockdown 2020

Photo: Neil Bruce

Then as now, individuals circumvented the rules in force: in 1941, determined to holiday on Skye, James McLachlan arranged to receive the telegram, ‘Fanny seriously ill; come at once’. Permit granted and his deception discovered, he was fined £3 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.[xxvi] Though with very different origins, responses in wartime and to viral threat involved taking control of individuals’ lives to effect immediate change for the greatest impact and collective good.

[i] Northern Chronicle, 24 April 1940, A newspaper scrapbook history of Inverness, 1939 to September 1940: a year at war, accessed 13 April 2020. Michie from Markinch, arrived in Inverness believing his permit to work in Invergordon was being arranged. When he found it was not, he proceeded on the north road. The maximum sentence was a fine of £100 or 3 months imprisonment; The Scotsman reported an unnamed Fifer reached the Square in Beauly, disembarking from a bus before it reached the barrier: he was reported to the military, having asked someone how he could avoid the barrier. The Scotsman, 20 April 1940, 7; The barrier, across Station Road, five yards south of the Phipps Hall, was closed at 10pm each evening. The army also occasionally patrolled the surrounding countryside to prevent unauthorised entry. Harrison, H. W., compiler, The village of Beauly: parish of Kilmorack: a study of the history and demography of the village of Beauly, 1700-2000 (Kilmorack, 2001), 200-201.

[ii] Parliament passed legislation enabling the designation of protected places or areas the week before the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, The Times, 29 August 1939, 16; Scotsman, 27 February 1940, 7.

[iii] Coastal areas had stricter controls of access. Manchester Guardian,6 April 1940, 4.

[iv] The Scotsman, 12 March 1940, 5; 26 March 1940, 5.

[v] The Scotsman, 12 March 1940, 5. Entry to the Northern Isles required a special military permit.

[vi] Ibid. The local registrar issued 5,000 applications the day before when the protected area came into force.

[vii] Northern Chronicle, 29 May 1940, A newspaper scrapbook history, accessed 13 April 2020. Italian men between 17 and 60 had to report daily to a police station, could not use personal transport and were curfewed from 8pm to 6am.There were only four Italians resident in Inverness who were naturalised British citizens and 17 others were regarded as aliens; The Scotsman, 4 April 1940, 7.

[viii] The Scotsman, 28 February 1940, 7; 30 March 1940, 10.

[ix] House of Commons, 17 April 1940. 

[x] The Times, 25 March 1940, 8.

[xi] Northern Chronicle, 17 July 1940, A newspaper scrapbook history, accessed 13 April 2020. She had travelled by train from Inverness without challenge, having only her ticket checked.

[xii] The Scotsman, 18 May 1940, 7. The same court sentenced fellow countryman Charles McLaughlin 30 days imprisonment as he could not pay his £5 fine. McLaughlin had a permit to work in Invergordon, but, finding no accommodation available, decided to travel to Orkney, being was arrested en route.

[xiii] The Scotsman, 6 April 1940, 11.

[xiv] The War Cabinet had previously refused Lord Redesdale’s request that he take another daughter, Unity Mitford, with him because of expected public outrage and the precedent it would set. National Archives, CAB 65/6/4, War Cabinet, 59 (40), 4 March 1940.

[xv] Ibid; House of Commons, 6 August 1940.

[xvi] House of Commons, 11 July 1940; 18 July 1940.

[xvii] accessed 24 April 2020; accessed 28 April 2020; accessed 10 April 2020; accessed 14 April 2020; Herald Scotland, 18 April 2020, 4..

[xviii] The Scotsman, 18 October 1940, 3. Flora, Mrs Macleod of MacLeod told Inverness County Council it was important all parts of the country were prosperous.

[xix] The Scotsman, 23 March 1940, 8.

[xx] Manchester Guardian, 7 March 1940, 6; The Scotsman, 22 March 1940, 9; 9 April 1940, 11.

[xxi] The Scotsman, 26 August 1940, 4.

[xxii] Sporting tenants were described as ‘people, who go, for so many months at a time, annually, to live in another part of the country.’ The Scotsman, 3 September 1940, 7.

[xxiii] The Scotsman, 3 September 1940, 7. Some estate owners achieved rates reductions at valuation appeal courts: in Ross and Cromarty, the County Clerk questioned why ratepayers should ‘suffer’ because the government had created a protected area. The Scotsman, 20 September 1940, 3. 20-25 shooting lodges were identified as suitable for occupation by evacuee children if needed. The Scotsman, 3 May 1940, 9.

[xxiv] The Scotsman, 7 August 1940, 4.

[xxv] See Barclay, G., If Hitler comes: preparing for invasion: Scotland 1940 (Edinburgh, 2013).

[xxvi] The Scotsman, 1 August 1940, 6.

Lloyd George, the ‘King’s pledge’ and liquor control in the Cromarty Firth

Current events, which include restrictions on travel across the country, prompted Neil Bruce to study how governmental decisions affected life in the Highlands during the two world wars of the twentieth century. In this post, he focuses on liquor control in the North of Scotland during World War One. Neil is a graduate of the MLitt Highlands and Islands History programme at the Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands.

On 1st April 1915, two Cromarty men were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour at Tain Sheriff Court for buying sailors alcohol, making them ‘less efficient’.(1) No April fool, it reflected official concern that drink was seriously damaging the war effort. Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George claimed it was ‘doing more damage to us than all the German submarines.’(2) The government in 1915 and 1917 seriously considered effectively nationalising the licenced liquor trade, literally ‘lock, stock and barrel’.(3) In 2020, though, shops with alcohol licences were classed as ‘notable exceptions’ when others were instructed to close to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).(4)

Newspapers reflected considerable disagreement about whether drink was hindering war efforts. Temperance advocates and shipbuilding employers demanded its prohibition.(5) The Cabinet failed to get opposition support to increase alcohol taxes. Lord Kitchener joined King George V’s pledge that he and his household would abstain for the duration of the war, but it was not generally supported.(6) Lloyd George’s proposal to spend £68 million to buy the breweries and public houses met with unsurprising resistance from the temperance movement.(7)

The government decided to take control of the sale and supply of alcohol to ensure ‘national efficiency’. It set-up the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) with absolute powers to designate alcohol control areas where there were naval, military, munitions and other war functions.(8) Within a year it controlled all the Highlands and Islands. No spirits could be sold during the weekend in Inverness-shire and Ross and Cromarty’s western mainland, islands and ‘all arms of the sea and water between’.(9) In Caithness and Sutherland spirits sales were prohibited except for medicinal purposes: other liquor could only be sold between 12 noon and 2:30 pm, and 6 to 8 pm on weekdays.(10)

In April 1916, the board bought all the public houses and hotels around the Cromarty Firth, including Cromarty and Invergordon, to ensure naval operations remained efficient.(11) It closed 19 licensed premises, kept 39 open under its management, and only permitted off-sales from two of the four licensed grocers. To prevent smuggling into service quarters and vessels, weekly lists of all off-license sales were provided to the naval base. Service canteens did not stock spirits and civilians who bought servicemen liquor would be fined.(12)

Lloyd George and the Cromarty Firth 1

Lloyd George and the Cromarty Firth 2

Henry Carter, The control of the drink trade: a contribution to national efficiency, 1915-1917 (London, 1918), facing 134.

In September 1916, the board met representatives from Highland counties and burghs, naval, military, local and licensing authorities in Inverness to hear about the controls’ effectiveness.(13) The armed services and chief constables of Caithness, Inverness, Inverness-shire, Nairn-shire, Ross-shire and Sutherland reported reductions in drunkenness.(14) The Dornoch, Thurso and Wick provosts demanded spirit sales be consistent to stop an illicit whisky trade: spirits were being smuggled into prohibited areas and online, or at least on railway lines, parcels were being sent by train and post.(15) Liquor control threatened the viability of seasonal hotels in Inverness-shire and Sutherland, while the Inverness provost wanted methylated spirit consumption stopped.

The press highlighted the role whisky played in daily life. One reported the ‘consumption of ardent spirits’ was a social habit in the Highlands’.(16) Another quoted an old man: ‘more than half the pleasure of a dram lies in having a friend to share it with.’(17) Those able to buy whisky found it watered down by 10% on the board’s instructions.(18) When German submarine warfare hit food imports in 1917, beer production was threatened. The government reduced its strength by half rather than see morale plummet, though it became dispiritingly nicknamed government or Lloyd George’s beer.(19)

The government’s challenges during wartime and the current crisis bear some comparison. During both it assumed powers over individuals’ ‘normal’ lives and protected essential services, particularly necessary industrial production. In 2020, measures included bolstering the economy, designating essential workers, and financially supporting employers and employees. In 1915, it created a board with unfettered powers over liquor, including direct control of Cromarty and Invergordon’s retail trade. In invoking restrictions on citizens, government expected compliance in the common good, and in return needed to maintain morale. The king ‘cracked open’ a bottle of brandy on Armistice day 1918, but Highlanders had to wait six months before any liquor control regulations were lifted.(20) We do not know, yet, how long current regulations might remain in force.

1 The Scotsman, 1 April 1915, 8. One man was imprisoned for a month, the other for 15 days. 2 Manchester Guardian, 1 March 1916, 6. 3 See Turner, J., ‘State Purchase of the Liquor Trade in the First World War’, Historical Journal, vol. 23, no. 3, 589-615; 4 accessed 31st March 2020. 5 Lloyd George, D., War memoirs of David Lloyd George, vol. 1 (London, 1938), 194-196. 6 The Scotsman, 1 April 1916, 7; 6 April 1916, 4. 7 Lloyd George, War memoirs, 196-197. 8 Duncan, R. R. G., ‘Panic over the pub: drink and the First World War’, unpublished thesis (University of St Andrews, 2008), 129. 9 The Scotsman, 22 March 1916, 6; 13 February 1917, 7. 10 The Scotsman, 20 June 1916, 4. Licensed premises could open at 5:30 am to supply food and ‘non-exciseable’ drink: Local variations were also permitted. Carter, H., The control of the drink trade: a contribution to national efficiency, 1915-1917 (London, 1918), 141; 155. 11 Ash, M., eds. J. Macaulay & M. A. Mackay, This noble harbour: a history of the Cromarty Firth (Edinburgh, 1991), 203, n 112; Carter, The control of the drink trade, 175. 12 The Scotsman, 13 February 1917, 7. 13 The Scotsman, 30 September 1916, 7. 14 Ibid. 15 The Scotsman,13 February 1917, 7. 16 Ibid. 17 The People’s Journal, 27 September 1915, quoted in Duncan, Panic over the pub, 144. 18 The Scotsman, 13 February 1917, 7; Duncan, Panic over the pub, 146. 19 Duncan, Panic over the pub, 238-9, 261-262; Lloyd George, War Memoirs, 790. 20 Duncan, Panic over the pub, 261-262; 268; Lloyd George, War Memoirs, 790; The Scotsman, 12 April 1919, 10.

A Craftsman in Rogart, Glasgow and London: The Life and Times of William Murray, 1796-1867

Post by Lloyd Pitcher, former Head of History at Bomaderry High School, History Presenter at Shoalhaven University of the Third Age, Nowra, New South Wales, Australia. Lloyd can be contacted at

William Murray was a highly regarded carver and gilder in Glasgow, Scotland. His funeral card described a substantial person: ‘a Citizen of Glasgow for upwards of 45 years’. When I first looked at this card, it was among some papers in a box, passed to my father by his mother, and to her father by his sister in Scotland. No-one in the family had connected the information in the box.

After many years of research, the information in the box is now connected. On 26 October 1795, an entry was made in an old Parochial Register of Proclamations of Banns and Marriages for one Duncan Murray, ‘Soldier in Drummond’s Regiment of Fencibles’ and Barbara Sutherland, daughter of Alexander Sutherland, ‘Soldier in the First Battalion of Breadalbane Fencibles, at the Gaelic Chapel in Perth, Scotland. The resident minister of the Chapel, Duncan McFarlane conducted the marriage ceremony.

A fencible was a soldier belonging to a British militia which could only be called up for service on home soil for the duration of a war, to free up regular soldiers for overseas duty. This force was especially necessary in Scotland, which had no substantial militia until 1798. Beginning in 1793, fencibles were initially formed by landowners – often descendants of the old clan chiefs. The term is derived from Middle English and means ‘fit or suitable for defence.’


The centre of the parish of Rogart, from near the church. Photo: Robin Pitcher, 2012.

William was born to Duncan Murray and Barbara Sutherland on 2 September 1796 in the parish of Rogart in Sutherland, 85 kilometres north of Inverness. His mother was only twenty when he was born. William Murray was baptised on 23 October 1796 at Torbreck of Morness, Rogart. Of his childhood, his siblings and his early years, nothing is known until his marriage to Margaret McCallum in Bridgetown, Glasgow in 1821.

William and Margaret had eight children, six of whom survived. The family lived in a substantial mansion in Glasgow. Evidence shows William Murray to a very successful carver in wood, making high quality furniture. One item which recently appeared for auction described his highly detailed work. ‘The rectangular sienna marble top above a deep relief carved border, the moulded and panelled frieze decorated with paterae and cartouches, the tapering legs of architectural form and with corinthian capitals, the panels filled with bellflower pendant chains, and joined by moulded stretchers, the scrolled trees enclosing suppressed balls.’

A Fine William IV Gilt Pinewood Center Table

wm label on pinewood table

William IV pinewood marble-top table with provenance and authenticity label attached. Image courtesy Neal Action House, New Orleans USA.

In 1849, Margaret Murray passed away. William married Ann Ewing of Londonderry, Northern Ireland in 1851. Perhaps this was a catalyst for three of William’s sons to leave Scotland. In 1852 Archibald and Hugh made for the gold fields of Ballarat, near Melbourne, Australia. There is no evidence they ever returned. Son William travelled to the West Indies and New York, later settling in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1881 William visited his family in Scotland and returned to New Orleans. In 1855 Margaret Anne married China tea clipper captain, Donald MacKinnon, from the Isle of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. They had three children and for a time lived not far from William and Ann in London. Son Duncan and daughter Christina remained single.

Captain MacKinnon Medallion

Wax portrait of Captain Donald MacKinnon. Portrait restored by The Scottish Conservation Studio. Reproduced by kind permission of An Iodhlann, Isle of Tiree.

William Murray suffered severely from bronchitis. This was a genetic family predisposition which continues among descendants to the present day and which is referred to as ‘the Murray chest.’ By 1865, William and Ann had moved from Glasgow to 2 Seymour Terrace, Loughborough Road, Brixton, London. The belief was the London air was ‘softer’ compared with the air of Glasgow and would be better for William’s health. In an 1865 letter to his son Archibald in Sydney NSW, William Murray wrote that he had sent ‘a small specimen of his handywork of former days. It is a small plaster model of a likeness of William’s uncle, Dr [Adam] Sutherland, in Scotland.’

William's uncle, Dr Adam Sutherland

Plaster of Paris casing of Dr Adam Sutherland, William Murray’s uncle, sent to William’s son Archibald in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Photo: Lloyd Pitcher.

The years 1865 to 1867 were productive for William. During his convalescence from bouts of bronchitis he made wax and plaster of paris models. Models to be sent overseas were made in plaster of paris as wax models could distort in the heat.

By 1867, William and Ann had relocated to 13 Fairfield Place, Bow. But London air is still very cold in winter and in 1867, the bronchitis from which William suffered so severely eventually overwhelmed him.

As far as can be determined, William Murray’s grandchildren in Scotland had no children of their own. William never saw any of his seven grandchildren living in Australia. They all married and had families of their own. William Murray’s antipodean descendants are today scattered all over Australia.

From his beginning in Rogart, William Murray is remembered today as a successful carver in wood and as a citizen of Glasgow, Scotland. His six children lived very different lives from his own. Three left Scotland and two never returned. From 1852 to 1867, he never again saw them. It is fortunate some of the letters he wrote have survived to the present and enabled his descendants to gain insights into the life and times of William Murray. 

Sideboard carved by William Murray

Centrepiece of William Murray's sideboard

Sideboard, and closeup of the centrepiece, carved by William Murray circa 1860.


Lloyd Pitcher The Life of William Murray 1796-1867: Carver and Gilder, Citizen of Glasgow (Vincentia: New South Wales, 2018)

An Iodhlann, Tiree’s Historical Centre. (accessed 18 July 2019) (accessed 21 July 2019) (accessed 21 July 2019)