History of Childhood Exhibition II – Wartime Dornoch

My name is Lynne Mahoney and I am the Curator at Historylinks Museum in Dornoch. The museum’s vision is ‘Keeping the Dornoch Story Alive’ and part of my job is to research and curate new exhibitions in the museum. Exhibitions here at the museum are always a collaborative affair with input from the museum committee, volunteers and the local community.

In our first blog we looked at schooling and it was also clear that the lives of children during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were laden with responsibilities. Of course in rural communities these responsibilities carried over into the twentieth century but more modern memoirs of children in Dornoch reveal an altogether different experience. There is more of a sense of ‘childhood’ in their accounts.

I particularly enjoyed my conversations with Lorna Currie who grew up in Dornoch during World War Two and was delighted when she gave permission for her memoir to be used in the interpretation of the exhibition. Most of the toys we have on exhibition are from the twentieth century and it was wonderful to be able to link Lorna’s words with the objects on display.

Lorna Currie had just started primary school when the Second World War was declared on 3rd September 1939. At just five years old life suddenly changed for Lorna and her brothers. The Government introduced a rationing system monitored by the Ministry of Food that ensured fair distribution of food stuffs. Children were given a priority allowance for milk and eggs and had their own identification cards, gas masks, and clothing coupons. A child’s ration of sweets was two boiled sweets or two squares of chocolate per week and children were issued with their own ration book for sweets.

Fruit and vegetables were not rationed but were often in short supply because they came from oversees. In response to shortages, the Government ran a ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. The scheme encouraged people to grow their own produce and Lorna remembers the garden at her home producing vegetables, including tomatoes and rhubarb. They had fruit bushes, an apple tree and a cherry tree and made jam and bottled fruit and kept hens. Lorna still lives in Dornoch and her memories prompted the museum’s Young Curators Club to ‘Dig for Dornoch’. Although not the same as a war, today’s children are living through a time that will significantly impact on their lives. It felt important to link the experiences they were living though today with the past. Growing their own vegetables and fruit in a time of national emergency is helping them develop skills for a sustainable future and they will be sharing their produce with the local community. The project was made possible by Highland Seedlings and Fearn Free Food Garden who donated seedlings and compost.

Lorna’s family did not have an air raid shelter but if they heard planes overhead, they would sit under the kitchen table for protection. During air raid practice at school the children assembled in the central corridor and lay down with their gas masks beside them. The practice was regarded as a welcome diversion from lessons and good fun! Despite the war, Lorna’s memories of childhood are filled with the joy of freedom.

Lorna Currie in the Guides 1947. Lorna is in the middle of the back row.
Photo: Historylinks Museum DNHHL 2011_062_12

Things were very different for children living in the city and, in audio recordings from Historylinks Archive, Bill Grant recalls walking with his father beside the River Clyde in Glasgow with German bombers overhead targeting the river and shipyard. Bits of shell were hitting the pavement and Bill said that at eight years old he did not understand the extent of what was happening, only that someone was trying to kill them.

Just a few days after war was declared, Operation Pied Piper was introduced. The project saw over three million children from all over Britain relocated to protect them from the threat of bombs. They took very few of their own possessions with them and they left their homes and families, often not knowing who they were going to be living with.

Bill was evacuated to Proncy near Dornoch to live with an uncle and aunt. One afternoon in September 1942 he was listening to the radio with his aunt when he heard an unusual sound over Proncy. A plane engine was stuttering in the in the distance and from their front door they heard a huge crash and saw an explosion about forty metres away from the house. The flames were thirty feet high, and Bill raced out of the house to meet the Farm Grieve, Kenny Mackay. Together they went to the site where the plane had crashed and saw a man covered in flames. He was sent back to the house for blankets and then helped Kenny to wrap the pilot in them to extinguish the flames. Using the blankets, they pulled the man clear and he was taken to hospital in Golspie where he died of his wounds.

The written and recorded memories of Lorna and Bill give us a much clearer picture of life for children in wartime Dornoch. Just like John Matheson and Donald Sage from our first blog, their words contain the power to transport us back in time and give us a glimpse of the past from the first hand experiences of those who lived it.

Historylinks is open 7 days a week from 10.30am to 4pm until the end of October.

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…

The Frightfull Hills of Berrydale: Pococke’s Tour Part 1

In the summer of 1760 inveterate traveller Bishop Richard Pococke passed down the east coast of Sutherland and Ross-shire. He was particularly interested in geology, fossils and archaeology. For brevity I have removed some of the detailed descriptions of the various brochs and other archaeological remains that he investigated, but you can read them – and his account of the rest of his tour – for yourself on archive.org. https://archive.org/details/toursinscotland00pocogoog/mode/2up

Pococke was one of the early travellers who published his account and it is written in the format of letters to his sister. We join him as he sits in Dunrobin Castle, recollecting his ascent of the Berriedale Braes, an experience familiar to all locals!

Dunrobin, 17th July 1760,

On the 16th the Sheriff and Mr. Sinclair accompanied me, and we travelled to the south mostly over heaths, diversified here and there with several spots of corn. We passed by the remains of a Picts house in which part of the circular wall remains, and in it an entrance stopped up. We came to a beautifull romantic vale, through which a rivulet runs that is formed a little higher by two branches which pass through such vales. They are called Berrydale … We soon reached the foot of those hills, out of which all the rivers rise that run to the east, north, and west.

This famous pass is called the Ord; and Berrydale river is difficult to pass in winter, when the torrent has brought down great stones, which are moved away in the summer to make an easy passage across that stream. The ascent to the Ord is steep, and the road over the steep hill is frightfull to those who have not been used to such kind of roads; but is not in the least difficult, only it is more pleasant to walk rather than ride over some parts of it …

Pococke then approaches what is today the fishing village of Helmsdale. It was then too, but it was not the herring port that we know which was created some decades after this account in order to promote commercial fishing and support the removal of the residents of the Strath of Kildonan.

The castle, destroyed to make way for today’s bridge, would still have been in evidence, and even this stone bridge woud not yet have been built. None of the fine stone houses would have been there. Most likely there was a cluster of stone-built, thatched houses near the river and the shoreline, plus also houses built of less substantial materials like wattle, sticks and clay. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Having passed the principal heights we came to a rivulet called Navidale, which is the bounds between Cathness and Sutherland. We soon after got to Hemsdale, where there is a salmon fishery. Here the tyde being in, we crossed in a coble in the shape of a boat cut in two, and our horses forded over half a mile higher. By this dale there is a pretty good road towards Mowdale, which we passed in the way to Durness.

Mudale is pretty much one house today, however at the time Pococke was visiting it was an important location, home to an influential MacKay tacksman and at various points the poet Rob Donn (b.1714) and John MacKay (b.1690), a well-known hymn writer. What today are not terribly well maintained single-track roads were key routes connecting the south-east of the county with the north-west.

To be continued…

Caithness and the Crofters’ War: The case of Clyth Estate, part 2

Valerie Amin recently graduated from the University of the Highlands and Islands with a BA (Hons) in Scottish History.  A native of Caithness, she is particularly interested in the land issues and politics of the 19th century Highlands.  The following continues the story from August’s post and is adapted from her undergraduate dissertation ‘Caithness and the Highland Land Wars, 1881-1886.’

The rent strike on Clyth estate ensured that Caithness was included in the Napier Commission’s inquiry into crofters’ conditions. The Commission came to Lybster Free Church on October 4th 1883. The hearing was full to capacity, with spectators taking a ‘lively interest’ in proceedings. Adam Sharp, landlord of Clyth estate, struggled to make himself heard over the laughter and hisses that greeted his testimony. Indeed Lord Napier was forced to end the hearing following Sharp’s appearance, saying the Commission could not continue ‘amidst a riotous assemblage.’ Unsurprisingly, Sharp refuted his tenant’s allegations that he charged unreasonably high rents.

Magnus Sinclair from Clyth, in his statement to the Commission, summed up very simply what Caithness crofters sought: ‘What we want is our holdings valued by competent local judges, compensation for improvements, and that the land of our country be given to its people to live on at a fair rent.’

JN25114B043_Cliffs near Bruan[14701542]

Part of the coastline at Clyth ©Johnston Collection. Used with the kind permission of the Wick Society.

At this stage however, crofters did not yet have the vote. The House of Lords had voted down a bill that would have enfranchised working class men in rural areas. The crofters knew that the only way to achieve these aims was through land reform legislation, and so they resolved to elect a land reformer as the county’s M.P. Caithness crofters took the lead in organising a demonstration to demand voting rights. The demonstration took the form of a protest march through the streets of Wick, the county’s largest town, on the 30th August 1884. Two thousand men, representing the various trades of the county, took part, cheered on by ten thousand spectators. The John o’ Groat Journal reported that ‘Seldom, if ever, in this part of the country has there been such a unanimous burst of enthusiasm in connection with any political event.’ The largest group to march was that of the crofters, led by the ‘men of Clyth,’ who ‘turned out to a man.’ They carried banners with the slogans ‘Clyth Forever’; ‘The Clyth Men are Enemies to Tyrants’; ‘The Lords should Emigrate to the North Pole, as the People can do Without Them’ and ‘Clyth Soil for Clyth People.’ Among the marchers were all the leading figures in the land question agitation. That night, the Groat reported that ‘a gibbet was erected and an effigy, intended, we are informed, to represent the owner of an estate a few miles to the south of Wick, was executed, and the body thereafter consigned to the flames.’ No prizes for guessing the ‘victim’ was Mr Sharp of Clyth!

Gavin Brown Clark photograph

Gavin Brown Clark (1846-1930) by Sir Benjamin Stone, 1898. © National Portrait Gallery http://www.npg.org.uk https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

By the year’s end, the Third Reform Act passed into law, establishing uniform voting rights throughout the country, and enfranchising many crofters and farm servants. The 1885 general election was fought in Caithness on a single issue: the land question. Major Clarence Sinclair, son of the incumbent M.P Sir Tollemache Sinclair, who was the second largest landowner in Caithness, stood for the Liberal Party against Dr Gavin Brown Clark for the Crofters Party. At a meeting in Lybster, Sinclair was told ‘All crofters know that new seed will bring a better return. We have had the House of Ulbster for many years. We need a change.’

On election day in December, crofters battled determinedly through howling winds and drifting snow to get to the polls. Many roads in the county were blocked, but the crofters were not about to give up the chance to have their voices heard. Turnout was high, and Clark beat Sinclair comfortably by 2,110 votes to 1,218, a majority of 892.

The Crofters Holdings Act (Scotland) became law in June 1886 but, condemned as ‘incomplete and unsatisfactory,’ the crofters’ fight was destined to continue. Dr Clark told his constituents the Act was ‘but an instalment of their rights- ten shillings in the pound,’ and they would ‘go on demanding till they got the other ten shillings.’

Sources

John O’ Groat Journal

Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Inquiry into the Conditions of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Volume III (1883).

Northern Ensign

Caithness and the Crofters’ War: The case of Clyth Estate, part 1

After enjoying a bit of a summer break from posting we are back. This week we venture a little to the north of our usual historical stomping grounds – just over the border into Caithness. Valerie Amin recently graduated from the University of the Highlands and Islands with a BA (Hons) in Scottish History.  A native of Caithness, she is particularly interested in the land issues and politics of the nineteenth-century Highlands.  The following blog post is adapted from her undergraduate dissertation ‘Caithness and the Highland Land Wars, 1881-1886.’

The county of Caithness is not normally associated with the Highland land agitation of the early 1880s. However Clyth estate, in the south east of the county, was the scene of a rent strike that brought crofting conditions to national attention in November 1882.

The estate, in Latheron parish, had seven miles of sea coast and extended three miles inland, and was populated mainly by crofter fishermen and their families. There was a significant Sutherland element. In 1802 or 1803, several crofting families from Tongue settled at Clyth and became fishermen. In 1805, following evictions from Strathnaver, more families joined them and, in 1819, after the Kildonan clearances, large numbers of those evicted found refuge at Clyth.

digimap_roam (1)

By 1882, Clyth estate was said to be the most severely rack-rented in Caithness. It had been bought in 1863 by Adam Sharp, a merchant from Moray. The tenants claimed rents had risen by over 50 per cent during Sharp’s ownership.

It was against a background of severe agricultural depression and the land agitation in the western Highlands and Islands that Clyth crofters took action to challenge their landlord over the punitive rents. With their annual rent due on the 27th November 1882, the tenants met in Clyth Schoolhouse and agreed that a deputation would go to see Mr Sharp on rent day, to ask that all the crofts on the estate be revalued before they would pay.

Rent day was stormy, with sleet and snow showers. By noon, over two hundred tenants had gathered outside Bruan Lodge, where Mr Sharp waited. He welcomed the deputation into the parlour, where William Grant of Ulbster laid out the tenants’ grievances.

P1050792

Bruan Lodge, taken with owner’s permission. Photo: Valerie Amin.

After listening Sharp retorted ‘If you have resolved to pay no rent, you cannot expect a much better valuation than that.’ The Clyth tenants’ plight had had considerable coverage in the local press, but Sharp described their complaints as ‘mere fiction’ to evoke sympathy amongst outsiders. He dug his heels in, saying ‘I wish you distinctly to understand that anything that may be done will not be in consequence of agitation carried on by you … the proceedings you have adopted have had quite an opposite effect upon me.’

At that, the deputation left the Lodge to relate Sharp’s response to the expectant crowd outside. There was considerable anger on hearing the reaction to their request. Andrew Matheson urged the crowd to ‘resist injustice and tyranny as long as the breath was in their bodies.’ He added ‘If the peace is broken, it will be the landlord’s fault and not ours. We are not able to pay our rents if we have no money.’ It was unanimously decided that no tenant would pay rent that day.

JN42783P219_Wm Grant[14701541]

William Grant of Ulbster, who led the deputation. ©Johnston Collection. Used with the kind permission of the Wick Society.

The Clyth rent strike had a high profile across the country, widely reported in newspapers from London to Dublin to Edinburgh. The case was even brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and used to press for an inquiry into crofters’ conditions.

Meanwhile, the Clyth tenants were split on whether they could continue to withhold rent from the landlord. At a ‘stormy meeting’ the unlawfulness of their position was made clear by George Sutherland, a solicitor involved with the wider Caithness movement for land reform. It was argued that the people of Braes in Skye were benefiting from paying no rent, but Sutherland made clear ‘the people of Braes being isolated, are in a different position from the tenants on the estate of Clyth.’ The leaders of the agitation were accused of ‘having brought them to battle only to draw back,’ but George Cormack, the tenants’ main spokesman, managed to calm the meeting by stressing that as their main aim was to change the land laws, ‘It would not do to be placed in a position which would enable anyone to ask: “How can you speak of the law when ye have already broken it?”’ It was agreed that each tenant would pay what they were able, and the Clyth rent strike ended peacefully.

It was not the end of the crofters’ fight however. The agitation entered a new phase: a determined drive to elect a land reformer as the county’s M.P.

More on that next month.

Sources

John O’ Groat Journal

Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Inquiry into the Conditions of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Volume III (1883).

Northern Ensign

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.

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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.

Grumbeag03

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.

Zebras and Maharajas in Strathcarron

Iain Thornber of Glensanda Estate (Morvern) contributes a fascinating insight, first published in Morvern Lines in April 2017, then in Am Bratach in October 2018.

Lady Meux (pronounced ‘Mews’) from Alladale near Bonar Bridge was probably one of the most flamboyant and interesting characters ever to come to Ross-shire. When her contemporaries were plodding over the moors on dumpy Highland ponies, Lady Meux was driving herself around in a four-wheeled carriage drawn by a pair of zebras.

Lady Meux was born Valerie Langdon in 1847. She was the daughter of a Devon butcher and worked as an actress and a banjo-playing barmaid before marrying Sir Henry Meux, 3rd baronet (1856-1900). According to her obituary in the New York Times, she met Sir Henry while performing in Brighton. Some sources give another slant to her career, although in her defence Lady Meux maintained: ‘I can very honestly say that my sins were committed before, and not after marriage’.

The colossal Meux wealth came from brewing. Henry’s father, the 2nd baronet, married into the Marquess of Ailesbury’s family (later styled Aylesbury), in Buckinghamshire. Needless to say they were not enamoured by the arrival of this flamboyant cuckoo in their midst and, typical of the unpleasant snobbery of the time, shunned Henry, as he was in trade, and Valerie because of her background. Thumbing her nose at them all Valerie made her indifference known by regularly driving past the Ailesbury’s fashionable London house with her zebras. She also sat for James McNeil Whistler — an American and one of the most acclaimed and expensive society painters of the day.

Lady Meux in pink by James McNeil Whistler

Lady Meux in Pink by James McNeill Whistler

Lady Meux and her husband improved and enlarged Theobalds, their property in Hertfordshire, by adding an indoor roller-skating rink and a swimming pool. At her request Henry bought Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar (one of the eight gates that surrounded the old city of London) and rebuilt all 400 tons of it as a new gateway to Theobalds. There, in its upper chamber, Valerie allegedly entertained guests including the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.

Bitten by the Victorian bug for Highland life and scenery, Sir Henry and Lady Meux took a lease of Alladale, which at the time was one of the best-known deer forests in Scotland. It belonged to Sir Charles Ross, inventor of the famous Ross rifle, who lived at nearby Balnagowan Castle, now owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed of Harrods fame. In 1360 Alladale was called ‘Freevater’ or Walter’s Forest, after one of Sir Charles’s ancestors who was killed at Bannockburn. Here Henry and Valerie provided stalking, fishing and grouse shooting for their friends on a grand scale.

After Henry’s death, when he was only forty-four, Alladale was taken by the fabulously wealthy Maharaja Holkar of Indore who brought such a large entourage with him that an extension had to be added to the rear of the lodge to accommodate them. Undeterred by widowhood, Lady Meux continued to enjoy life to the full, and well she might, inheriting an income of £240,000 a year from her husband’s estate. She owned a string of race horses, entering them under the assumed name of ‘Mr Theobalds’, and won the Derby in 1901. She collected ancient Egyptian artefacts. The legendary Egyptologist, Wallis Budge, published a catalogue of more than 1,700 of her items including 800 scarabs and amulets. She wanted to leave the entire collection to the British Museum, but the trustees declined the bequest because, she said, they were apparently idiots and it was sold.

Sir Henry and Lady Meux at Alladale

Sir Henry and Lady Meux at Alladale. Image courtesy of Lowewood Museum.

Valerie didn’t always fritter away her husband’s money. During the Boer War she was so impressed by the heroics of the British army at the Battle of Ladysmith in 1899 that she bought six twelve-pounder naval cannon and sent them out to South Africa. When Sir Hedworth Lambton, the commander of the naval brigade at Ladysmith, returned to London, he called on Lady Meux to thank her for her generosity. She was so taken by his charm that she made him the chief beneficiary of her estate on condition that he took the surname Meux (she and Sir Henry had no children). When she died on 20 December 1910, he changed his name and inherited Theobalds and a substantial interest in the Meux Brewery.

Alladale Lodge, home of Sir Henry and Lady Meux

Alladale Lodge. Photo: Iain Thornber.

Although the Meuxs, the Maharaja and the distinguished guests disappeared down the glen decades ago, there is still a quixotic aura about Alladale. The estate now belongs to Paul Lister, heir to the MFI furniture fortune, who courted controversy by turning it into a wilderness reserve intended for wolves, bears and other large predators. Since 2003 a million trees have replaced most of the wild red deer and talk of a huge 50,000 acre, Colditz-style compound has drawn criticism from neighbours, hill-walkers and lawyers as it could contravene principles of open access. From inside wooden stockades a few moose and angry European bison, glare and stamp their feet at passers-by but the howl of the wolf and the growl of the grizzly bear has yet to be heard on the braes; gone too from the lodge stables are the zebras and Lady Meux’s stylish high phaeton.

Hector Munro: Villain Highland Nabob or Highland Hero? (part 2)

Brian Symonds continues his exploration of Ross-shire man, Hector Munro.

Hector Munro, the hero of Buxar, now wealthy and with social status as an MP, was seemingly established comfortably in his Highland Novar estate. However in 1777 he chose to return to India as Commander-in-Chief of the East India Army. Perhaps Munro lost heavily in the major financial crisis following the Scottish Ayr Bank failure in 1772, and the resulting financial embarrassment created the need for him to once more forsake the Highlands.

In his new position Munro presided over wars with the Indian rulers and the French. He personally commanded the forces which in 1778 stormed and captured the strategically important French base at Pondichéry. This victory was so important for Britain that Munro was awarded a knighthood. The newly ennobled Sir Hector Munro, still officially MP for Inverness Burghs even when in India, re-established his financial standing from prize money.

However, in 1780 his fortunes changed. He failed to send assistance to beleaguered East India troops during the campaign against a prince of southern India. As a result the Company lost the whole Carnatic region to the local rulers and the French and destroyed his reputation. It was considered the worst defeat suffered by the British in the eighteenth century. Munro resigned his command and returned to London but was greeted with the news that he had been dismissed from the East India Company in disgrace.

Hector Munro

Trouble followed him north in 1782. The old established landowners were uneasy with the nabobs, those nouveau riche who returned from India with their controversial wealth. This was particularly so when they use it to ‘build grand houses, improve traditional land ownership and to buy political position’.

Once resettled, Munro turned his attention to Novar. There he continued to court controversy. He is said to have found Novar ‘a very inferior property, with poor soil but well adapted for the growth of timber’. He began modernising the management of the estate and initiated improvements to the house and surrounding area, including the construction of the folly of the Gate of Negapatam. Reputedly he spent some £120,000: at current value representing the startling sum of some thirteen million pounds.

Novar House

It is claimed that Sir Hector’s estate improvements and his folly gave much-needed employment to local men. Paradoxically, he also pioneered the introduction of sheep which displaced populations. He also engaged in other profitable enterprises such as the introduction of larch as a commercial timber crop. The resulting clearances and loss of traditional tenure systems that sustained local communities created high local unemployment and poverty while ultimately provoking widespread resistance by tenants. Sir Hector Munro was ‘a man with considerable experience in India of quelling troublesome natives’ and who still maintained his status as the Colonel of a Highland regiment so. He therefore: ‘ordered certain companies of the regiment to Novar, where they dispersed the people and took some of the ringleaders prisoners’. They were subsequently tried at the Justiciary Court sitting at Inverness, and sentenced to transportation for life.

Brahan Seer

Motivation for Munro’s pursuit of estate modernisation might be found in the sheer disparity of the gain from his exploits in India and the traditional income from his Highland estate. An early year in India easily secured him £20 000, a sum equal to thirty eight years of income from his unmodernised Highland estate.

Munro continued to prosper through family connections within the East India Company. His nephew, Captain Alexander Munro, was killed in India and left Sir Hector his possessions. In a letter dated 9th June 1779 this was itemised as ‘three chests of Treasure containing as per Invoice & Bill of Lading inclosed Silver Argots Twenty Seven Thousand and Twenty Seven Rupees’.

Despite the apparent inhumanity he displayed in his military career and his seeming callousness in his management of Novar Estate, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the family misadventures that accompanied his sojourns to India. Whilst he never married he had three sons and a daughter, not all by the same mother. Munro lost his seventeen year old son in 1792, a cadet in the East India Company’s military service: ‘I heard a roar like thunder, and saw an immense royal tiger spring on the unfortunate Munro, who was sitting down: in a moment his head was in the beasts mouth and he rushed into the jungle with him’. A second son, who joined the East India Company as a Writer in 1796, died aboard ship in 1814 on the journey home. His third son, also seventeen and also a cadet in the East India Company service, was killed in 1804 by a shark in the Bay of Bengal. It is not clear what became of his daughter but she may have joined Munro at Novar. Sir Hector Munro died at Novar House during Christmas of 1805: a local man, sometimes hero and sometimes villain.

Sources:

HAC D538/J/3, ‘Will and Letter, Dated 25th July 1778 Calcutta, from Claude Alexander to Major Genl. Hector Munro’

‘The Son of Sir Hector Munro, Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman on Board the Shaw Ardasier, off Saugur Island’, Derby Mercury, 11 July 1793

Bryant, G. J., ‘Munro, Sir Hector (1725/6–1805/6)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19546&gt;

Cain, Alex M, The Cornchest for Scotland: Scots in India (National Library of Scotland, 1986)

Cregeen, Eric, ‘The Tacksmen and Their Successors: A Study of Tenurial Reorganisation in Mull, Morvern and Tiree in the Early Eighteenth Century’ Scottish Studies, 13 (1969), 93–144

Edwardes, Michael, The Nabobs at Home (Edinburgh: Constable, 1991)

Grosjean, Alexia, ‘Return to Belhelvie, 1593-1875: The Impact of Return Migration on an Aberdeenshire Parish’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

Harper, Marjory, ‘Introduction to Emigrant Homecoming’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

Mackenzie, Alexander, History of the Munros of Fowlis: With Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name: To Which Are Added Those of Lexington and New England (Inverness: A. & W, Mackenzie, 1898)

MacKillop, Andrew, ‘The Highlands and the Returning Nabob: Sir Hector Munro of Novar, 1760-1807’, in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, ed. by Harper. Marjory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), pp. 233–61

McGilvary, George K., East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, International Library of Historical Studies, 54 (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008)

‘Measuring Worth – Purchasing Power of Pound’ <https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk/&gt; [accessed 13 March 2018]

‘Members Biographies: Munro, Hector (1726-1805), of Novar, Ross’, The History of Parliament <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/munro-hector-1726-1805&gt;