Hector Munro: Highland Villain or Fallen Hero? part 1

Brian Symons is a recent graduate of the University of the Highlands and Islands Masters programme in British Studies. He is a ‘serial student’ whose interests and previous degrees span a wide range of cultural studies. Now retired and living in the far north Highlands, his most recent interest has been the impact of the great wealth brought into the Highlands by the nouveau riche returning from service with the East India Company in the 1800s

The imposing Gate of Negapatam stood above its city and port in Madras, India. Its replica is set on the hilltop at Cnoc Fyrish less than twenty kilometres from the Dornoch Firth. A folly built in the nineteenth century by Sir Hector Munro, it was erected to celebrate his military successes in India, to demonstrate his position and immense wealth and to, allegedly, provide employment during its construction for the local population of his Novar Estate.

Gate of Nagapatnam Fyrish

Hector was born in 1726 the son of Hugh Munro, a merchant. He entered military service at an early age and fought against the Jacobites in 1745. It was rumoured that he was captured but escaped. In 1746 the Duchess of Gordon was travelling in Sutherland accompanied only by an increasingly drunken coachman. Twenty year old Hector Munro gallantly ‘rescued’ her and delivered the Duchess to her destination. In appreciation she used her influence to secure Hector a Lieutenant’s commission in a Highland Regiment and so launched the young Highlander on his controversial career and his road to wealth.

As a newly commissioned officer, Hector was despatched to Badenoch with a troop of soldiers to apprehend ‘all disaffected persons in that district’. Munro and his soldiers tracked down the notorious Cameron, known as ‘Sergeant Mòr’ and transported him to Perth where he was executed. Another Jacobite rebel, Ewen MacPherson of Cluny, seemingly evaded Munro and escaped to France, however rumour suggested that Munro knew MacPherson and allowed him to avoid capture.

In 1759 Hector Munro was appointed a major in a newly formed Highland regiment of the private army of the East India Company. The Company, by means of military might, personal and institutional corruption and political manipulation, exploited the Indian continent extracting prodigious wealth for individuals and the British state. The cost of realising such wealth was the constant wars in India involving the East India Company Private Army, local rulers and the French who had also established trading and military bases on the continent.

Arriving in India with his Highland regiment Major Munro quickly established a formidable reputation. His regiment, as in most of the East India Company army, included locally recruited native soldiers attached as Sepoy battalions to the core British contingent. In 1764 unrest and near-revolt arose in these battalions in support of the claim that sepoys received a far smaller share than the British troops of the ‘donations’ made to the army by the puppet Nawab of Bengal. Despite the justice of the sepoys’ claim, Munro chose to quell the unrest by court-martialling and executing twenty-four of the ringleaders by gruesomely blowing them away from guns’.

execution of mutineers at Peshawur

No doubt Munro believed that his approach to discipline contributed to his success in later years at the Battle of Buxar, where he defeated the significantly larger combined Nawab armies (local princes and potentates) of the Mughal Emperor. In recognition, the East India Company instantly promoted Major Munro to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. However as the main part of the Mughal army fled, Munro was infuriated at the loss of substantial booty. He reportedly estimated the value of the jewels at some two or three million, a colossal sum when converted to current value. However one Nawab, seeking to avoid reprisals, promised a settlement of a vast sum of money to reimburse both the Company and the Army, ‘including eight lacs personally to Major Munro’. Munro’s eight lacs at today’s value amount to some twelve million pounds.

Munro had reached an apex of his military career: his battle success was decisive in establishing control of northern India, effectively making the British East India Company the rulers of the richest provinces of India. In 1765 he resigned his command in India and returned to the Highlands. ‘Nabobs’, the label for such wealthy returnees from India, frequently bought estates throughout Britain. Other Highlanders used their Indian money to buy estates in St Kilda, Orkney and Skye.

Seeking social status, Munro successfully campaigned for election to Parliament as Member for Inverness Burghs. He remained the MP for over thirty years having purchased the estate of Muirtown, Elgin, to meet the electoral residency qualification. His home and primary estate was, however, that of Novar, close to Alness. It was here he began the process of modernisation and ‘improvement’.      (To be continued)

Sources:

The Lawes or Standing Orders of the East India Company 1621 (Farnborough: Gregg International Publishers Limited, 1968)

Anon., ‘The Extraordinary Black Book, Chapter XII: East-India Company’, in The Extraordinary Black Book: (Usually Called the ‘Reformer’s Bible’), ed. by ‘The Original Editor’ (London: Effingham Wilson, 1831), pp. 350–76

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)

Devine, T. M, and John M MacKenzie, ‘Scots in the Imperial Economy’, in Scotland and the British Empire, ed. by John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine, Oxford History of the British Empire–Companion Series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 227–54

Gardner, Brian, The East India Company: A History (London: Hart-Davis, 1971)

Keay, John, The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company (Scribner, 1994)

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)

Mackenzie, Alexander, ‘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 ; New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008)

‘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;

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

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Between 1813 and the 1830s the Mi’kma’q people of what became Earltown in Colchester County, Nova Scotia, faced an influx of colonists. These Sutherland families, many evicted multiple times from their rented homes and farms back home, hungered after security and were attracted by the possibility of outright ownership offered by the British government. Over the years they logged the forest, selling the timber, and transformed it into farmland. The ash from burning the logged areas provided abundant crops the first year, giving the impression that the area was more fertile than it actually was. These farms gradually cut off the Mi’kma’q from access to fishing and hunting grounds but provided stability and prosperity for Sutherland people. George Patterson’s 1877 account describes the early years from the perspective of the settlers’ descendants.

“The first settlers were Donald Mclntosh and Angus Sutherland, who took up their residence in the unbroken forest in the year 1813…”

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To Scottish eyes the Nova Scotian landscape is still dominated by “unbroken forest”, but the  vast majority of this is second growth as trees have reclaimed much of the land cleared of old growth. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

“Of the early settlers, nearly all came from … Rogart, Lairg and Clyne. There were families from Inverness, two or three from Ross, and three or four from Caithness. All the original settlers spoke the Gaelic language, and it is still generally used by their descendants. Indeed, it is more generally spoken in Earltown than in any part of Nova Scotia proper. Still it received some admixture of others, for while it had old soldiers who, in the Highland regiments, had gone through the Peninsular War, and at least one who had fought at Waterloo, it at the same time had a foreigner, who had been in the same battle under Napoleon, and the two, instead of being ready to embrace as brothers, were rather disposed to fight their battles over again.”

“Like all who take up their abode in the woods, the first settlers had many difficulties to encounter. They were for years without a grist mill. During that time they got their grain ground partly by the handmill, and partly at a grist mill at the West Branch River. As there were no roads to the West Branch, and they had no horses, they were compelled to carry their grain on their backs to and from the mill, over a rough track. John McKay, known as the miller, put up the first grist mill, at a fall fifty feet high … The mill-stones … were taken from the West Branch, a distance of fourteen miles, on a drag hauled by 36 sturdy Highlanders…”

Cnoc na Guidh, W Earltown

Taken from the now vacant farm of Robert MacKay “Dubh” on Cnoc Na Guidh, West Earltown. The valley below and surrounding hills were settled in 1821 by Joseph Gordon’s emigrants from Strathbrora. Photo: Glen Matheson

 

South View from Spiddle Hill

Farms of people from Urachyle, Strath Brora. Photo circa 1900 from the Haskett-Smith Collection. With thanks to Glen Matheson.

“The early settlers were strong, industrious and economical. They were poor at first, but with great perseverance, they made themselves comfortable homes. There are men in Earltown to-day, who settled forty years ago in the woods without a guinea in their pockets, who have fine houses, large barns, excellent farms and considerable sums at interest.”

[It should be noted that it was very difficult for the poor to emigrate: transporting a family and supporting them for the first year before harvest is very expensive. It is most likely that the settlers used up their resources in the process of emigration. Until the assisted emigrations of the mid-nineteenth century it was the middling sort who could afford to emigrate and the impoverished were trapped in Scotland.]

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“fine houses, large barns, excellent farms”. The reconstructions of eighteenth-century buildings at Fortress Louisbourg give a good sense of the homes of well-established Highland colonists. Photos: Elizabeth Ritchie.

“The inhabitants at that time were all connected with the Church of Scotland, but for several years they were without a minister. In consequence of this, persons sometimes carried their children to Pictou, a distance of twenty-five miles, to be baptized. They were occasionally visited by a minister of the Church of Scotland, and on such occasions it was not uncommon to see him baptize twenty or thirty children at once. Rev. W. Sutherland was the first minister who settled at Earltown. He was never called or inducted into the congregation, but remained ministering to a few who adhered to him till his death. The Rev. Alexander Sutherland, of the Free Church of Scotland, was the first minister who was called by the people, and ordained in the place. He was settled in the year 1845. Though the people were for years without a minister, they did not forsake the assembling of themselves together. There were among them men eminent as Christians, intimately acquainted with the truths of religion, and able to express themselves in a manner fitted to edify others. “The Men”, as they were called, held meetings regularly each Sabbath in the several parts of the settlement, and were the means of maintaining vital godliness among the people.”

Sources:

George Patterson, A History of the County of Pictou, Nova Scotia (New Glasgow, 1877), 277-9.

With thanks to Glen Matheson whose research pointed me to the connections between east Sutherland and Earltown, and whose comments increased the accuracy of the post. And with thanks to Dr Sharon Weaver who introduced me to the delights of Nova Scotia.

‘Induced to emigrate’: from Clyne to North Carolina

In 1774 elderly William Gordon made a life-altering decision. Despite having farmed all his life at Wynmore in the Parish of Clyne upon lands belonging to William Baillie of Rosehall, he decided that his final years would be lived out in North Carolina. He was born about 1705. He may have attended school for a few years, but he probably spent most of his childhood herding cattle and learning men’s work on the land rented by his father, and by his grandfather before him. Sometime in his twenties he married. He had six children, but we only know the names of Alexander and John. Alexander, not necessarily the oldest, was born in 1735, when William was about thirty. As the lads grew, he apprenticed one to shoemaking and another to weaving. Alexander married, at about the age of thirty, a Margaret MacLeod and provided the Gordons with two grandchildren. First a girl, born in 1766, then a boy born two years later. Margaret died, possibly giving birth to this George. Alexander remarried, a woman by the name of MacAskill.

In the ensuing years William saw many changes. Among the families of the chiefs cash became more valued than the prestige of fighting men or in the rentals given in vast mounds of butter, cheese and meat. Chiefs became landlords as they began to consider the value of the land and the relationship between themselves and the farmers as purely commercial. Wynmore was on a parcel of land which, according to William Gordon, ‘often changed Masters, and that the Rents have been raised on every Change’. Under the landlord, latterly Mr Baillie of Rosehall, Wynmore was rented by a tacksman ‘at a very high Rent’. This cost, plus the profit of the tacksman, was passed on to the tenants. William complained that the ‘Possession for which his Grandfather paid only Eight Merks Scots he himself at last paid Sixty’.

Clyne road a (2)

Local research has failed to discover the location of Wynmore. Recently this group retraced the route of the old road from the church at Clynekirkton near the coast to Strath Brora. Wherever William and his family lived, it is likely that they used this road at some stage in their life, possibly regularly. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

People from Sutherland had been emigrating to the Americas from the 1730s. First they were recruited to a military colony in Georgia, but by the 1770s they, along with other Highlanders from Argyll and Skye, were flocking to Carolina. There the Cherokee people had been somewhat subdued and lands were available for the taking. Gaelic-speaking farming communities spattered the map of the colony.

The decision to emigrate was not an easy one. Ellmers has theorised that migration generally requires five factors and a trigger. Most of these were discernible in William’s decision. There was structural stress in the society and economy in which he lived and this, according to his comments on rent, was a stress that he was experiencing. There had to be an opportunity to leave: this was provided for William by a letter from his Carolina-based sons inviting him to join them. A person must have a risk-taking personality. This may or may not have been the case: I rather suspect that in cases of group or chain emigration, this element is not so necessary. Lastly, there must be a removal of social constraints against migration. Considering the popularity of emigration in the 1770s, and its history in the area for several generations, this seems likely. Then there was usually a trigger. In William’s case this came in the winter of 1771-2. That winter was a terribly harsh one. Many of his cattle, the staple crop whose sale provided them with their annual income, permitting them to pay their rent and buy the needful, died. The cold and the length of the winter probably meant they ran out of feed and the beasts expired from hunger. It is possible that William and his wife were already seriously considering travelling with his daughters in law and grandchildren to join John and Alexander. Altogether he decided that ‘his Circumstances were greatly reduced not only by the rise of Rents but by the loss of Cattle’. He was elderly and lame and declared that it was ‘indifferent to him in what Country he died.’

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Strath Brora. A well-populated and intensively farmed region of the parish in the eighteenth century. Much of the area now given over to heather would have supported cattle and other livestock and perhaps crops of oats and barley also. This open landscape was very different fro the woodlands that he would find in North Carolina. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

His family were important to him in these last years. Despite his stated indifference, his testimony suggests a tension. His two sons in Carolina ‘wrote encouraging him to come there’, he declares he ‘was induced to emigrate for the greater benefit of his Children’. Their persuasion, combined with declining circumstances at home, and his realistic assessment of his age, lameness and dependency, amounted to a decision to go. Like many migrants he was motivated by a concern for his children’s future. He hoped ‘his Children would earn their Bread more comfortably elsewhere’. There is no mention of his other four children, whether they were still alive, or still in Clyne. But he was also concerned about facing his old age. The prospects for the elderly and disabled were not good. The poor relief role of the church would prevent him from starving, but in the absence of a welfare state only the care and provision of family would keep maintain a reasonable standard of life. Not only does he hope his sons ‘may get bread for themselves’ but hopes this will ‘be a help to support him.’ Doubtless he was also fond of his sons, their wives and his grandchildren, and preferred, like many grandparents, to follow them around the world to enjoy their company as much as for pragmatism.

William and his wife, two daughters in law and their children sailed from Thurso to Wilmington, North Carolina, on the Bachelor of Leith on 30 May 1774. It seems that by 1775 Alexander, and presumably the rest of the family, was living in Iredell County, in the Piedmont region, where the flatlands meet the mountains. They probably settled on land which he and his brother had secured before sending for their parents and wives.
 

Sources:

For discussion and application of Ellmers’ thesis to Highland emigrants: Amanda Epperson, ‘It would be my earnest desire that you all would come’: Networks, the Migration Process and Highland Emigration’ The Scottish Historical Review 88.2 (October 2009), 313-331.

‘Report of the examination of the emigrants from the counties of Caithness and Sutherland on board the ship Bachelor of Leith bound for Wilmington, North Carolina (1774)’ in Viola Root Cameron, Emigrants from Scotland to America 1774-1775: Copied from a loose bundle of Treasury Papers in the Public Record Office, London (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1965)

http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/h/e/s/Sharon-A-Hester/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0270.html

The Shipping News

This month’s post comes from Graham Hannaford, former student at the Centre for History at UHI and current PhD student at Federation University, Australia.

Imagine being on this ship: “Three hundred Ross-shire emigrants sailed in her, but she got no further than Plymouth. There her rotten hold filled with water and she was declared unfit. Her passengers … were put ashore”. The ship was the Asia and the quote is from John Prebble’s. The Highland Clearances. He continues “and all record of what happened to them is lost”.[1]

But it isn’t lost. On 10 July 1840 the John O’Groat Journal published a letter from Andrew Ross, a house carpenter and joiner. He wrote from Port Macquarie in New South Wales:

We sailed from Cromarty on the 17th September, 1838, aboard the ship Asia. On the 18th we experienced a severe gale of contrary wind, in consequence of which our ship became very leaky, so much so that it required the utmost exertions of both the crew and emigrants to keep her afloat, as she was making from four to six feet water in the hour. In this state we were battered about till October 13th, when, by the providence of God, we anchored in Plymouth Sound. In a few days after, the ship was brought into her Majesty’s dock, at Davenport [sic], to be repaired. In the meantime, we were removed to a comfortable hulk.* After getting a thorough repair, as we expected, the ship came out of dock, and, to our great surprise, she still leaked a great deal of water. Seeing this, we petitioned Lord Glenelg for another ship, and each of the emigrants signed a declaration to the effect that we would not proceed in the Asia; this was the cause of our long delay. The ship, however, being found, on inspection to be sea worthy, we had to proceed, which we did by leaving Plymouth on the 22d of January. We performed our voyage in four months and three days. We did not see a speck of land from the day that we left Lizard Point, in Cornwall, until we saw the head-lands of Sydney. What is remarkable none died on the voyage from England to this place, although no less than eleven children died on the passage from Scotland to England.

* The Vigo.

The children who died on the voyage were aged between 6 months and 10 years old, and included Charles Smith, age 10, who drowned at Devonport. News of the ship’s condition had reached Sydney. On 11 March 1839, the Sydney Herald reported that “it was probable that the passengers would be forwarded by another vessel”. However, it noted on 13 May 1839 in its “Shipping Intelligence” the ship’ arrival three days before. The arrival was also recorded by the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser which added that the nine births since the ship left Plymouth made “the number arrived two less than the ship sailed with”.

Tales of conditions on emigrant ships to the New World, frequently tell of privations and hardship. Many of these troubles resulted from disease, poor preparation for the voyage, or bad weather such as the Asia encountered. Lucille Campey has studied the emigrant ships in detail and, despite the legends of ‘brutal captains, leaky ships’ and ‘slave trade’ conditions, concludes that these are unrepresentative.[2] While travelling in steerage was deeply unpleasant, at this time most people lived in what we would consider overcrowded and unsanitary conditions so life below decks would not have come as a surprise.[3] More than one vessel never reached its destination and of those which did, it was rare to arrive with the entire original passenger manifest intact.

Sydney Cove 1839

Sydney Cove, 1839 / [watercolour by] F. Garling. Courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Call number ML316, IE3176743 (out of copyright)

In the fifty years since the arrival in New South Wales of the First Fleet, Sydney Harbour had become a bustling port, receiving ships from around the world. This would be the sight which greeted the Asia when it eventually reached port in May 1839. The Asia had been and remained a familiar visitor to Sydney, bringing cargoes of convicts to the colony in 1820, 1824, 1827, 1828, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1836, 1837, 1840, 1841 and 1847. Very few convicts are recorded as having died on any of the voyages.

Andrew Ross’ letter home concluded with the sad news that “all those who came from Dingwall are very far scattered. I cannot give any account of them. The nearest of them is 200 miles distant from me”.

Sources

  • John Prebble, The Highland Clearances (Penguin, 1976 reprint)
  • Lucille Campey, After the Hector: The Scottish Pioneers of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, 1773-1852 (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 2004)
  • John O’Groat Journal and Weekly Advertiser for Caithness Sutherland Orkney and Shetland 10 July 1840
    Reproduced with the kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
  • “Free settler or felon”: data base of Hunter Valley ancestors https://jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php
  • Sydney Herald 11 March 1839 and 13 May 1839 (accessed trove.nla.gov.au 20 February 2018)
  • Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser 13 May 1839 (accessed trove.nla.gov.au 20 February 2018)

[1]    John Prebble, The Highland Clearances (Penguin, 1976 reprint) pp. 198-9

[2]    Lucille Campey, After the Hector: The Scottish Pioneers of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, 1773-1852 (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 2004), pp. 165, 181.

[3]    Lucille Campey, The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 2004), p. 153.

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

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

Tuesday 17

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

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

Wednesday 18

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

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

Thursday 19

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

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

Friday 20

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

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

Saturday 21

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

Sabbath 22

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

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

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

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

Monday 23

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

Tuesday 24

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

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

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

Wednesday 25

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

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

Thursday 26

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

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

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

The Community of Inveran

Last night I was driving back from Ullapool to Dornoch. I took the north road: slightly shorter and faster, though narrow and through a sparsely populated landscape, described as ‘wilderness’ or ‘wild land’ by many. It wasn’t always so desolate. One place, Inveran, overlooking  the Kyle of Sutherland epitomises this. Today there are a few houses and a power station, but two hundred years ago it was far more lively.

On a key east-west route, it was well known to cattle drovers and migrant labourers. The cluster of five or six houses shown on General Roy’s 1746 map were separated from its twin township, Invershin, by a narrow stream, the Allt na Ciste Duibhe. In 1776 a visitor described the ‘pleasant prospect: the rich banks of the firth, crowded with farms, and animated with all the appearances of industry; small vessels sailing up and down; people busy for preparing and unloading them; fishermen attending their nets; the ferry boats ready at a call.’[1]

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‘The rich banks of the Firth’           Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Despite stereotypes of pre-Clearance Highlanders these were no impoverished peasants. The Inveran men were joint tenants: Donald MacKay, his brother in law John Bethune, Alexander Bethune, Alexander Ross, and Andrew MacLeay. In summer they grazed black cattle on the shieling grounds on the low hills, rearing them for the southern markets. They grew barley, oats and potatoes on the infield.[2] Donald owned at least one horse. The men had multiple sources of income. Donald was a ‘housewright’, or joiner; Alexander Ross was the blacksmith; Alexander Bethune was a merchant at Inveran and nearby Linsidemore; John operated the ferry.[3] Both the Bethunes were entrepreneurs who dealt in large amounts of money: in 1814 a decreet of Cessio Bonorum was issued against Alexander by his creditors; and John not only raised but dealt in cattle.[4] He was arrested in 1815 for failing to repay a local man a substantial loan of £150.[5] Family economies also depended on women’s labour. As well as fieldwork, animal care and working at the peats, women earned cash and provided sustenance by processing food, especially making butter and cheese, and by spinning.[6]

We know how one household was organized. Bessy MacKay and her father Donald lived alone, however they could not manage alone. Twelve year old Mary Matheson from nearby Invercharron came to work as a servant, and late in 1812 John, son of Donald’s brother George, was sent from Tullichgriban, Strathspey.[7] There was no social distance: Mary moved into Bessy’s bed when cousin John was added to the household. The four worked and lived together. Like most of the middling sort in Scotland’s north, the MacKays lived in a longhouse, the thatched roof supported by wooden crucks inbuilt to the walls of interlayered stone and turf.[8] The lower section was usually reserved for livestock but Donald also used it as his workshop. The middle room had a central fire, wooden chests and a trunk. There was probably also a dresser for their crockery and some chairs. The beds were in a room beyond, set apart by a wooden door.[9] Inveran’s residents lived in fairly spacious houses and had developed a relatively diversified local economy encompassing commercial cattle raising and trading, housebuilding, blacksmithing, ferrying, midwifery, arable farming and doubtless the sale of butter, cheese and eggs.[10] This mitigated the possible economic calamities of a crop failure or a downturn in the cattle trade.

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Goats, rarely enumerated, were an essential source of meat and dairy. These wild ones in nearby Rogart are enjoying the produce of a field at Morvich Farm.           Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The 1810s were a time of social, economic and cultural flux. Townships like Inveran, operating a semi-subsistence, semi-commercial economy, thickly scattered low-lying parts of the Highlands. However new estate policies which prioritized the higher rentals of commercial sheep farming threatened this. Over the next few decades, communities near Inveran – Gruids, Achness, Kildonan, Culrain – vigorously resisted efforts to evict them, although with only temporary success. Religion, although also in flux, was a powerful social and cultural force. Sutherland had been strongly influenced by Evangelical Presbyterianism, partly due to the revivals of the previous century. It remained a formative influence. A key issue for Evangelicals was patronage, whereby landowners selected the parish minister. Problems were exacerbated when the man was a Moderate rather than an Evangelical. This hit Creich parish in 1813 when Murdo Cameron was presented. A significant portion of the congregation revolted. Protests through church channels failed and they elected to separate. For the next forty years they met at a home in the winter and in the shadow of Migdale Rock in the summer.[11]

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Linside, jsut upriver from Inveran, where Alexander Bethune had one of his shops.               Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Driving west these days, reaching Inveran heralds the quiet and ‘remote’ section of the journey. Next time you pass through, consider the service industries, the commercial use of the river and the land, the manufacturing, and the political activism of two hundred years ago, when the glens were full of the hustle and bustle of life.

[1] C. Cordiner, Antiquities and Scenery of the North of Scotland, in a Series of Letters to Thomas Pennant (1780), 65-6.

[2] First Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. 8 (Edinburgh, 1791-99), 367, 369.

[3] His name appeared in connection with a building project in 1782. Cited by M. Bangor-Jones to J. Whamond, 29 May 2007, ROSSGEN-L Archives, Rootsweb Geneaology.

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/ROSSGEN/2007-06/1181031302 (accessed 25 June 2014)

[4] NRS, CS32/8/46 Decreet of Cessio Bonorum, Alexander Bethune, merchant, Inveran v his creditors 11 Feb 1814. ‘A voluntary surrender of goods by a debtor to his creditors. It did not amount to a discharge unless the property ceded was sufficient for the purpose, but it secured the debtor from personal arrest. The creditors sold the goods in satisfaction, pro tanto, of their claims.’ H. Chisholm, ed.”Cessio Bonorum“. Encyclopædia Britannica 5 (11th ed.) (Cambridge, 1911), 768.

[5] Private Collection of N. Lindsay, Dornoch Jail Records 1813-40: A Transcription, 23 June 1815.

[6] Rural women’s roles are detailed in A. Fenton, Scottish Country Life (Edinburgh, 1976), 47, 52-81, 131, 151-179. A survey of women’s tasks in 1790s Sutherland can be found at: http://statacc.blogs.edina.ac.uk/2015/02/09/the-working-lives-of-ordinary-scots/  (accessed 9 February 2016) Sheep tended to be women’s responsibility in eighteenth-century Sutherland. H. Morrison cited in R. Clarke, Two Hundred Years of Farming in Sutherland (Kershader, 2014), 31. Insufficient research has been conducted on the Highlands, but a semi-flexible gendering of work was common in western countries. N. G. Osterud, Bonds of Community: The lives of Farm Women in Nineteenth-Century New York (Ithaca & London, 1991), 139, 150, 153.

[7] It is likely John was a middle son of George MacKay and Ann Watson. There is a sufficient gap in the baptism records between Lewis (1787), James (1790), and William (1796), Donald (1799), Donald (1801) for a John who was ‘about eighteen or nineteen’ in early 1814. A headstone in Duthil Churchyard transcribed by Alison Mitchell in Pre 1855 Monumental Inscriptions: An Index for Speyside (1975, 1992) reads: ‘G McKay & A W his spouse who d at an advanced age in 1823 and also their chn int here except Jas d Salamanca Spain 5.10.1812, surviving ss Lewis & D McKay smiths ed. With thanks to genealogist, Ellen Sutherland.

[8] Pre-Clearance dwellings varied regionally, but those of the tenants usually included at least one bedroom, a living room, and a byre. For example, H. Fairhurst, ‘Rosal: a deserted township in Strath Naver, Sutherland’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland, 100, (1967-8), 135-169.

[9] In terms of material wealth, the MacKays were fairly typical tenants. Less furniture is recorded here than at the Munros’ longhouse a few miles north at Gruids. In their best room were chairs, table, a chest of drawers, a large box-bed, and a small, well-filled bookcase. H. Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters (Edinburgh, 1889), 95-6. Excavations at Caen, Kildonan, confirm homes were stocked with purchased goods such as mocha-ware from Staffordshire. Pottery sherds from Caen are displayed in Timespan Museum, Helmsdale. Excavation catalogues: LCN13 172/209, LCN13 199/209. Tacksmen, such as Gilbert MacKenzie, Invershin, sometimes lived in large two-storeyed houses, with multiple bedrooms, a parlour and dining room, all carpeted and opulently furnished. NRS, CS96/3960 Gilbert McKenzie, merchant, Invershin 1811-1813.

[10] It is probable that merchant businesses such as that of Alexander Bethune operated similarly to general stores in colonial British North America, by purchasing local goods on credit and selling imported goods. The role of merchants, credit and commerce in the Highlands has barely been touched, with the exception of Taylor’s discussion of the commercial importance of cattle droving. D. Taylor, The Wild Black Region: Badenoch 1750-1800 (Edinburgh, 2016). A study testing Douglas McCalla’s thesis in the Highlands and Islands would be very beneficial. Douglas McCalla, “Retailing in the Countryside: Upper Canadian General Stores in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Business and Economic History 26:2 (1997), 393-403.

[11] G. Macdonald, Men of Sutherland (Dornoch, 1937, 2014), 71; D.M.M. Paton, ‘Brought to a wilderness: the Rev. David MacKenzie of Farr and the Sutherland clearances’, Northern Scotland, 12 (1992), 85.

Wilkhouse; Whelkhouse; Tighe na Faochaig

Submitted by Grace Ritchie – an enthusiastic volunteer.

It was a warm day in early summer when I walked along the old drove road at Kintradwell, between the railway line and the sea. I sat down for a rest on a low stone wall beside the track and listened to the murmur of the sea on the sand. Soon I became drowsy and I fell into a reverie.

I thought I heard the faint drone of distant cattle and, close by, the scrape of hooves on the cobbled floor of a byre. Dogs began barking and the lowing of cattle became more insistent as they jostled to drink at a pond behind me. The sound of children playing could be heard above the clanking of harnesses and the neighing of horses. Men’s voices rose in argument.

I became aware of a single storey house beside me. It was well made, the stones being held together with mortar, and had three windows with glass panes, two in front, overlooking the sea, and one in the gable. Unlike the usual old houses, it was roofed with slates, and a stout wooden door, strengthened with iron nails and strips of iron, secured the entrance.

On the door sill, and sitting round the paved entrance, sat a group of drovers, laughing loudly and joking as they smoked their clay pipes and teased boiled winkles out of their shells with pins before throwing them in a heap at the corner of the house. Above them hung a board announcing WILKHOUSE  INN.

Suddenly the door opened and a burly man rushed out shouting angrily. He had in his hand a small cauldron which had contained his dinner, now a burnt mess. In his fury, he took a pick-axe and proceeded to smash it into several pieces on the roadway outside! The inn-keeper’s wife came bustling out, trying to placate him and chattering soothingly all the while.

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Volunteers Grace Ritchie and DJ MacLeod point out the join between the plastered main room was divided from an unplastered room. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie

Through the open doorway, and beyond the thick door-sill slabs, could be seen the clean sandy floor of the interior, the tidy best parlour with its white plastered walls and its fire burning brightly at the gable hearth. Facing the door was a small panelled room and, to the right, the main parlour – the general rendezvous for all comers of every sort and size. A group had gathered round the fire-place in this gable and drovers and other travellers were standing round the fire and sitting on the paved area in front it, relaxing in its warmth while their dinner cooked in a new cauldron next to the bread oven, with its gently rising dough. “What’s for dinner tonight then?” asked Angus, “Is it to be broth and cold meat with eggs, new cheese and milk like last time I was here? Or will it be salmon from the river or spare ribs or beef or maybe chicken?”

As they warmed themselves, the cook busily sharpened his knife on the large upright stone at the side of the blackened fireplace, and the conversation turned to items that some of the travellers had apparently mislaid recently. Murdo had lost his belt buckle and was asking for twine to hold up his breeks; Donnie’s button had pinged off; Angus had lost some small change; the inn-keeper’s wife couldn’t find her thimble or her bone double-sided comb and Ian had apparently mislaid both his pistol and his bag containing shot!

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The site of the fire is visible, as are the scratched marks in the fireplace. To the left was an oven. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Soon the meal was ready. The table was set with a rich assortment of colourfully decorated glazed china plates and bowls, with jugs and glass bottles for ale. Glassed clinked, plates clattered, dishes were scraped and “mein hostess” bustled about attentively, talking all the while and seeing to the needs of her clients.

The aroma of peat smoke drifted past, the clamour was subsiding, the cattle were lying down for the night, the bairns were abed in the adjoining house and the soft murmur of the sea made itself heard once more. It was the harsh cry of a gull that roused me. I stumbled to my feet aware of a strange dislocation of time and space. Surely something had been happening just here, just now…

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Reclining on the flagstone – the doorway to Wilkhouse Inn with the sandy floor still evident. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Continuing my journey, I soon reached Brora, where I called in on a long-standing friend. I told him of my day dream. “Och,” said he, “that’s the very same as those archaeologists found when they were excavating the ruins of Wilkhouse in May 2017. You must have drifted back in time, man! Maybe it was a day dream – certainly it was a dream come true!”

Note: Although a certain amount of poetic licence has been used in the above, all the items mentioned (and many more) were actually found at the Wilkhouse site during the dig there. Acknowledgement is made to “Memorabilia Domestica: Or Parish Life In The North Of Scotland (1899) by Donald Sage for lifting a few of his phrases from Page 108 of the reprint of his second edition, published by John Menzies & Co, Edinburgh 1899. The dig was organised by Clyne Heritage Society and GUARD.