Encroachments on our Ancient Language

Recently I was flipping through the Old Statistical Account, written in the 1790s. I was wondering whether a particular individual in Inveran, situated in what I knew was a Gaelic-speaking parish, would have understood English or not. The parish accounts revealed the beginning of a mighty cultural transformation, from one tongue to another.

The minister of Tain did a detailed analysis. He found that the ‘inhabitants of the town speak the English, and also the Gaelic or Erse. Both languages are preached in the church. Few of the older people, in the country part of the parish, understand the English language; but the children are now … taught to read English.’ In rural Rogart, those with English ‘speak it grammatically, though with the accent peculiar to most of the Northern Highlanders.’ So, in the 1790s townspeople were probably bilingual, older country-people were probably monoglot Gaelic speakers, and younger country-people were taught English at school.

Lt Col Sutherland in Gaidhlig

Lieutenant Colonel Alasdair Sutherland (1743-1822) from Braegrudy, Rogart, is buried underneath this rather ostentatious pillar which details his life in both English and Gaelic. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The second (or New) Statistical Account was written in the 1830s and 40s. By then Gaelic was still generally spoken in rural parishes and more and more people could also read it: in Kincardine each family owned a Gaelic Bible and Psalm-book. The minister of Lairg even thought that because they could read, the people now spoke their own language ‘more correctly.’

English was gaining ground. Young people learned at school but a ‘considerable proportion’ of Rogart’s population acquired the language ‘from books, and occasional conversation with educated persons’. They were therefore ‘more easily intelligible to an Englishman than the dialect spoken by the Lowland Scotch’ because their English had only ‘a degree of mountain accent and Celtic idiom’. Some English speakers had settled in the area, but they had not had any effect. These shepherds had moved from the Lowlands as the Sutherland Estate developed commercial sheep rearing operations and could speak only English. Lacking Gaelic must have meant a rather lonely existence. Their families had assimilated and all spoke Gaelic.

Despite the extension of English, the ministers of Lairg and Kincardine felt Gaelic had not lost ground as it was used in everyday and in religious life. The rural parishes which bucked this trend were Creich, where English was used by the majority, and Edderton, where they spoke ‘English less or more perfectly’. It is probably no coincidence that these parishes are close to the towns of Dornoch and Tain.

Intrigued by this change, yesterday evening I took a turn about the town of Dornoch, then drove to Pittentrail before cycling towards Lairg. I wanted to find evidence of Gaelic. There wasn’t much. Most was tokenistic, or connected with names of streets, towns or houses. There was a nice little collection of materials in the Dornoch Bookshop and a poster for traditional music events. When and how did this dissolution of Gaelic happen?

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The towns acted as catalysts for language change. In Dornoch this was dated from about 1810 and in Golspie from the 1790s. It was ascribed to the influx of ‘persons from the south country’ and to the increase in formal education, first in Gaelic then in English. The minister of Dornoch noted this was as much due to Gaelic schools as to English ones. Indeed in the town of Tain it was rare to find a person under the age of thirty who could speak Gaelic.

Tain was a complex parish, or perhaps the minister took a more sophisticated approach to analysing it. The parish was equally divided with Gaelic spoken in the country and in the fishing village of Inver while the town and the ‘higher ranks’ were English speakers. The parish of Dornoch has a similar town/country make-up and it would have been interesting to know if the situation was similar there.

 Language in Tain parish town Country/Inver village
Gaelic only 66 96
English only 100 36

The minister’s numbers indicate most people were bilingual, but he did warn this was not really the case. Presumably most people had a dominant language and could get by in the other.

In the 1840s Gaelic was still the preferred language of the people. Apart from in the town of Tain they used it for communicating with each other and they preferred attending Gaelic church services. However the minister of Dornoch could see what was coming. He expected that the ‘encroachments on our ancient language’ meant that in sixty or seventy years, that is by about 1900, it would be extinct.

He wasn’t far wrong.



Old Statistical Account and New Statistical Account of Scotland. Parishes of Creich, Dornoch, Edderton, Golspie, Kincardine, Lairg, Rogart, Tain. http://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/static/statacc/dist/home

‘Honest’ George Dempster and the Spinningdale Experiment

Katie Louise McCullough is an historian and the Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on the economic and social development of the Highlands and Islands during the Improvement Era. Katie has spent many wonderful trips to Dornoch and the surrounding areas hiking and walking the beautiful countryside with her good pal Elizabeth Ritchie.

In Spinningdale, on the north side of the Dornoch Firth, stand the remnants of a cotton mill. It was built from 1792-4 by the Balnoe Company for the agriculturalist and politician George Dempster, Esq. of Dunnichen (1732-1818), owner of the Skibo estate, and his Glasgow partner David Dale. The men raised over £3000 for the mill, largely from Glasgow businessmen. It was part of a broader plan for social and economic development in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that championed the provision of employment and poverty relief rather than clearance and turning over land to sheep walks.

cotton mill at Spinningdale

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

As an MP Dempster had a reputation for incorruptibility, gaining him the sobriquet of ‘Honest’ George. He brought his honesty and hard work to his development interests. Dempster was part of a network of improvers centred on the Highland Society of London (est. 1778) and its sister society the Highland Society of Scotland (est. 1784). Key players in these societies formed a subsidiary company the British Fisheries Society (Dempster was a director of the HSS and BFS) in 1786. In order to provide employment, the BFS established planned fishing villages in the western Highlands and Islands, an area noted by these men for its “underdevelopment.” Colleagues found within these networks blamed slow economic development and poverty on the Whiggish improvers of the early- and mid-eighteenth century who blamed Highlanders for their own poverty. In contrast, Dempster and like-minded friends felt the solution was not in raising great numbers of sheep but, as Sir John Sinclair argued, “by the introduction of arts and agriculture. The first will increase the number and wealth of the people; the latter will augment the quantity of the production of the soil, both for the maintenance of people and cattle. But neither arts nor agriculture can prosper, unless the inhabitants are secure in the tenure, by which they occupy the spots on which they live.” And so, Dempster and his colleagues came up with plans to build homes and transportation links, provide suitable local employment, and reduce or freeze rents until people got on their feet.

The Spinningdale mill was intended to provide employment for people from the nearby parish of Criech and its environs, including the Pulrossie estate, owned by Dempster’s brother. Local people lived off the sale of cattle and grew some potatoes and corn. Some considered this to be “hardly sufficient to maintain the families of the tenants,” resulting in difficulty paying rent and outmigration. Young men and women often temporarily migrated to the south: some “got high wages, and returned in winter to their parents, or relations, somewhat in the stile [sic] of gentlemen, and were a burden on their friends the whole winter, until they set out again in spring.” Some did not return; possibly marrying, dying, emigrating, or being “picked up by recruitment parties.”

cotton mill

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Emulating the fishing villages built by the BFS in the 1780s (Ullapool, Stein, and Tobermory), two villages were lotted on the Skibo estate: Criech and Spinningdale, in preparation for new housing. A warehouse was also built to hold goods for export. The Dornoch Firth was considered ideal for cotton manufacturing as it was damp and had access to transportation, the firth being “navigable for 24 miles [and] vessels of 50 tons burden can land their cargoes at this place,” and Spinningdale had a nearby burn for water power. Unlike many other landowners in this period, Dempster chose to freeze rents until manufacturing took off and people were placed in their new homes. This plan was intended not only to bring wealth to Dempster through rent, and to investors through profits, but also to raise the standard of living of inhabitants who “will enjoy perfect security, as occupiers of land. That those advantages will lead them gradually to better their houses, to improve their lands, and to alter their own condition in every respect for the better.”

cotton mill I

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Unfortunately, this ambitious plan was a failure. Unable to coax locals to work in the factory with regularity (they were otherwise engaged in seasonal work; lambing, harvesting, peating, or searching for higher-wage work in the south) the mill did not turn a profit. A fire gutted the factory in 1806 and it was not rebuilt. Though the mill was a failure, Dempster’s plan reveals the benevolent intentions of some landowners who sought to attract local workers to planned towns with the provision of employment and infrastructure rather than clearing people on to crofts leaving the best land for sheep and cattle, a system designed to build wealth only for the landowner. Lotted towns and villages like those built by the British Fisheries Society, and many others, including Creich and Spinningdale, were intended to create employment and to reduce poverty for common Highlanders, eliminating the need to leave home in search of a better life.


MS00126 George Dempster Papers Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

Sir John Sinclair, Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799) Vol 8 Criech, County of Sutherland.

It’s Complicated … The Relationship of William Murray and Girzel Grant: Part 2

Glen Matheson was raised in a rural area known as Earltown in northern Nova Scotia. This Highland community was settled predominately by people from the eastern parishes of Sutherland. Many of Glen’s ancestors lived in Strathbrora, Strathfleet and Fleuchary as well as in the Lochbroom area. Glen has been researching the emigrants from Sutherland to Nova Scotia and beyond for over four decades. However his passion is the stories of the early settlers of his home community. He maintains a blog at earltown.com where one will find several connections to the cleared settlements of Sutherland.

The story of William Murray and Girzel Grant took a fateful twist on August 16th, 1809. Grace decided to attend a market fair in Tain along with many from Sutherland. This was an opportunity to sell her surplus cheese and butter outside of her immediate area. It was also a social outing, a break from the tedium of farm life. It was a popular event: a crowd of over 100 people arrived at the northern pier to board the small ferry boat at Meikle Ferry. The ferry across the Dornoch Firth substantially shortened the journey to and from Tain. The boat was overloaded due to the negligence of the ferry operator and the ferry sank midstream. Ninety nine people perished. Many of the remains washed up on shore in the days following. Neither Grace nor her remains were ever seen again. She did not ‘have so much as a grave linen to cover her remains at last’.

Meikle Ferry. Picture courtesy of Historylinks Image Library.

Meikle Ferry. Picture courtesy of Historylinks Image Library.

It would appear that William accepted God’s Will and continued his duties. In 1810 a document shows that he received ten pounds from the charitable relief fund for survivors provided by donors as far away as India and South Africa.

Meikle Ferry Disaster Relief Fund. Grissel Grant is named about half way down the page. Image courtesy of Historylinks Image Library.

Meikle Ferry Disaster Relief Fund. Grissel Grant is named about half way down the page. Image courtesy of Historylinks Image Library.

Within four years William married a younger lady named Margaret. The routine resumed. William continued with his duties in Creich. Around 1813 William and Margaret had a daughter. They named her Grace. It’s complicated…

Out of this complicated relationship between William and Grace had issued at least six children. We have no information on three daughters, Grace and two Marys. One of the Marys likely died young. The remaining three children emigrated to northern Nova Scotia and were among the early settlers of their respective communities. With them went few material possessions however their father’s love of all things holy sustained them in the unfamiliar forests of North America. It is not surprising that several of his descendants were clergy and many were pillars in the offices of the church.

Robert Murray, their son, was born in 1783 and emigrated to Pictou in 1819. He obtained a ticket of location for a land grant in the new settlement of Earltown in the Colchester District. This was an extensive area almost entirely settled by families from East Sutherland. In 1821 he married Mary Sutherland “Ballem” of Craigton, Rogart. She had emigrated to Earltown in 1819 with her brothers. As there were many Murrays in this part of Nova Scotia, they were known as the Valleys, Robert’s land being located in a narrow valley.

William and Grace’s daughter Janet married Alexander MacIntosh of Evelix in Dornoch. They and their infant daughter Grace emigrated to Pictou in 1812. They settled at Elmfield near Roger’s Hill or Ben Na Mhathanach to the Gaels. Two of their grandsons were prominent Presbyterian ministers, Rev. John Murray in Cape Breton and Rev. James Murray in Ontario. Several other clergy in both the Presbyterian and United Churches descend from this couple.

Janet Murray McIntosh. Image from Rev. John Murray, History of the Scotsburn Congregation, Pictou County (1925)

Janet Murray McIntosh. Image from Rev. John Murray, History of the Scotsburn Congregation, Pictou County (1925)

Their son Donald spent a few years in the British Cavalry. He married Margaret Campbell of Cyderhall and settled on a croft at Rearquhar. He lost the croft due to insolvency in 1831 but managed to secure passage for his family to Pictou. He obtained land near Earltown at a place called Loganville. His farm was on a lofty perch overlooking the coastal plains in northern Nova Scotia. The hill was known locally as The Craig and Donald’s descendants have been known as The Craigs ever since. A grandson, Rev. George Murray, served for many years as a missionary in Trinidad.

William and his second wife Margaret remained in Scotland. They appear to have had two daughters. One married a Campbell and the other, Grace, married John Munro, a pensioner of the 78th Regiment. Their son was William Munro. He continued the family tradition of religious leadership becoming a Precentor and Elder in the Free Church of Tain.

William Murray died April 4th, 1825, his body rests somewhere in eastern Sutherland and his spirit went forth in hope of a glorious resurrection. Grace’s earthly remains repose somewhere in the North Sea and her spirit went forth…

It’s complicated.

George MacDonald, Men of Sutherland (1937, 2014)
Rev. Donald Munro, Records of Grace in Sutherland (1953)
Rev. John Murray, History of the Scotsburn Congregation, Pictou County (1925)
Personal communication, Dr Elizabeth Ritchie, March 2015

Bessy and John, Part 3: Gossip and Secrets

Today’s thin scatter of houses down the upper Firth mean a stretch of the imagination is required to recreate the busyness of farming, dairying, trading and socializing that characterised life in the series of townships edging the river in the early nineteenth century.  There were lots of people, and they pretty much all knew each other.  It would have been difficult to keep an affair like Bessy and John’s private.  It would have been difficult even to keep an attraction private.  Even before the Kincardine Market in November 1813, a rumour that Bessy was pregnant was flying around.  Somebody told Isobel Munro, the midwife and she passed it to on Christian Ross from Inveran, another midwife, who had already heard the gossip.  This might have been idle gossip between friends, or Isobel might have been ensuring that the person best placed to help was aware of a delicate situation.  The midwives might have been wondering if Bessy would approach them for help.  It is likely that they had some knowledge of abortifacient plants or herbs.  Perhaps Bessy did not know about this possibility or perhaps her embarrassment, denial or worry prevented her from approaching them.  A month or two later, when Bessy’s pregnancy was probably showing, Isobel Munro mentioned the situation to Bessy’s aunt, also called Bessy.  Aunt Bessy was married to John Bethune, tenant at Inveran and the township’s ferryman.  She later said that at ‘the latter end of last winter she heard a report of her niece Bessy MacKay being with child but as such reports are often circulated without foundation [she] paid no attention to it.  Nor did she ever speak to Bessy MacKay upon the subject.  Nor did she ever suspect that such was the case.’  Whatever Isobel Munro’s motivation in discussing the case with her, Aunt Bessy decided to treat it as idle gossip.  The women of Inveran and Invershin watched and talked about Bessy’s changing body but none initiated a conversation with her.  Bessy knew that they knew, having ‘reason to believe that the said Isobel Munro as well as other women in the neighbourhood suspected her being with child although none of them ever spoke to [her] upon the subject’.  Her aunt’s deliberate ignorance and local women’s reticence left the young couple isolated.

ImageInveran, taken from the raised ground where the houses were and looking across the arable land famred by the MacKays.  From the collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Perhaps waiting until there could be no doubt about the matter, it was a long time before she told John.  He had already figured it out.  Bessy was probably hoping that her growing signs of pregnancy could be attributed to something else.  This was not unreasonable.  Women often did hard manual labour which, combined with seasonal food shortages, could cause amenorrhea.  Medical conditions such as boils or swellings in the stomach might go unchecked for a long time, also producing symptoms of pregnancy.  Lynn Abrams’ study of Shetland showed that some unmarried women who failed to acknowledge their pregnancy did so because the father had abandoned them or because they had been sexually assaulted.  These were not the case for Bessy.  But other reasons Shetland women concealed their pregnancy may have been motivations for Bessy: if John didn’t marry her, as a single mother she was less likely to marry.  A hasty wedding early in the pregnancy was the obvious solution.  She was perhaps unsure whether he would marry her, or perhaps did not really want to marry him.  She may simply have been in denial, hoping the whole situation would resolve itself.  Or she may have realised that a fully developed child born six months or so after the wedding would not necessarily offer a solution to the second problem that she faced: church discipline.

In 1814 the Church of Scotland still had a role in community regulation.  The Kirk Session, made up of the minister and of elders drawn from the local community, functioned as a small court.  They sometimes prosecuted cases such as theft, but more often they focused on issues of sexual morality: usually fornication and adultery.  The Kirk Session did this to ensure that fathers provided financially, but they were also concerned to punish people found guilty of sex outside of marriage.  Sometimes this involved a fine which went into the Poor Relief fund for the parish, but it often also involved ritual humiliation.  Offenders, male and female, were required to sit at the front of the church for a certain number of Sundays.  The thought of sitting at the front of Creich church in front of family, friends and strangers was a fearful thought, perhaps especially for a young person like Bessy.

Whether due to denial, fear or confusing symptoms, Bessy didn’t tell John until ‘some weeks before her delivery’.  After that she then ‘repeatedly mentioned her situation’ to him.  Whatever they discussed together, they did nothing.  On the morning of 11th February 1814, a Friday, the problem could no longer be ignored.

To be continued…

National Archives of Scotland, AD14/14/13, Child Murder, Creich, 1814

Lynn Abrams, ‘From Demon to Victim: The Infanticidal Mother in Shetland, 1699-1899’ in Twisted Sisters: Women, Crime and Deviance in Scotland since 1400, Yvonne Galloway Brown and Rona Ferguson, eds, (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 2002)

Locating medieval lordships in Sutherland

This week Dr Alasdair Ross from the University of Stirling is our guest blogger.  Alasdair is Senior Lecturer in Medieval and Environmental History.  His research interests include historic units of land assessment in northern Europe so for this week’s blog Alasdair has  considered this issue along the north bank of the Kyle of Sutherland. 

Sutherland was separated from Caithness at the beginning of the thirteenth century by the Scottish crown and members of the de Moravia family were thereafter quickly elevated to the status of earls of Sutherland and bishop of the diocese of Caithness. The core of the earldom demesme lands at this time seem to have been located in the south-east of Sutherland. One part of these properties is referred to in charters as Ferincoskry (Fearann Coscraigh – Coscrach’s land) which is thought to have comprised a large part of the parish of Creich; another two parts consisted the lands of Ferenbeuthlin’ and Skibo (the latter assessed at six dabhaichean [davochs]). In 1971 Barrow argued that Ferenbeuthlin’ and Ferincoskry were different names for the same stretch of land but this suggestion surely cannot be sustained. Even allowing for some scribal error the second elements of each place-name are wildly different.

A number of different sources are quite clear that Ferincoskry comprised the majority of lands in the parish of Creich that directly bordered upon the province of Ross, extending northwards along the River Oykell as far north as Glencasley and beyond to the boundary with Assynt. This extensive lordship had been granted to the earls of Ross by King Robert I between 1306 and 1329 (though it is never explained why these lands had been taken away from the Sutherland earls at that time) and was later piecemeal granted out to different families. The first of these, a charter dated 28 May 1450 specifies that both Olsbustule (Ospisdale) and Innerwyrcastelaye (Invercassly), at opposite ends of the parish of Creich, lay in Farnacoskyre. A second charter of 10 January 1464 states that Crechmor, Spanegydill, Davacharry, Pladd and Pulrossy were all part of the land of Fernacostrech. To these can be added the lands of Inveran, Lemsetmoir, Lemsetbeg, Altesbeg, Altes mor, Acheness, Swordale, Migdale, Creichmore, and Little Creich from various sources. According to the available evidence then, it very much looks as though Ferincoskry was an elongated area of lordship that lay along most of the north bank of the Dornoch Firth and the River Oykell to its junction with Glen Cassley, and then westwards to the summits of Conval (987m) and Ben More Assynt (998m) on the boundary of the parish of Creich with Assynt, perhaps a total of seventeen dabhaichean. Essentially, it gives every impression of having been a massively important frontier lordship. It is just a shame that we do not know how old it actually is.

But according to the surviving evidence Ferincoskry cannot have comprised the whole of the parish of Creich because the eight dabhaichean of Auchinduich, Auchnafearn, Invershin, Knocken, Ardinch, Tutointorroch, Glenchasley, and Dauchallie are never associated with it in any surviving source. This, however, may just be an accident of survival since written medieval records for Creich are exceedingly rare. Ferincoskry itself as an early unit of lordship may also be more nuanced that we have previously realised. That part of it which lay to the west of the River Shin possessed a separate identity and was regularly variously referred to as Chilis, Slishchells, and Slishchewlis. One dabhach containing the same suffix, Daauchelis / Daawchelis / Deawchelive, remains unlocated but on the balance of the available evidence is most likely to have been an alternative name for Inveran (itself a half-dabhach).


Looking towards Ferincoskry from the Province of Ross.  Photo from collection of Alasdair Ross.

So where was Ferenbeuthlin’? A charter of 1235 specifies that Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ lay between Skibo and the lands in the east of Creich which bordered upon Ross:

[…] scilicet de tota terra de Skellebolle et de Fernbeilldyn et pretera de tota terra que jacet inter dictas terras de Skellebolle et de Fernbeilldyn et diuisas de Ros uersus occidentem […]

[…] namely the whole land of Skellebolle (Skibo) and Fernbeilldyn and also the whole land lying between the said lands of Skellebolle and Fernbeilldyn and the marches of Ross to the west […]

Clearly, this charter indicates that Skelleboll and Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ lay to the east of those unspecified lands in Creich that bordered upon Ross. Since Ferincoskry included the lands of Acharry, Ospisdale, Fload, and Pulrossie, all of which were located immediately to the west of the boundary between the parishes of Creich and Dornoch, Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ must have been located in Dornoch parish itself and may even have included the town. Beyond this, it is currently impossible to state precisely which dabhaichean to the immediate west of Skibo lay in Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ and the place-name itself seems to have disappeared shortly thereafter. For what it is worth, an oral record dating to the nineteenth century records the place-name Tornabuchaillin, where the second element may be the same as that of Ferenbeuthlin’, was recorded near the dabhaichean of Proncy, between Skelleboll and Ferincoskry.

‘Downtown Dornoch’ 1801

Today, when you walk around the square in Dornoch the scene is quiet.  There is the lovely cathedral, the green, and the golden sandstone buildings.  However Donald Sage, a schoolboy in 1801, recalled how lively ‘downtown Dornoch’ could get!

“The public fairs of this little county town made a considerable stir. From the Ord Head to the Meikle Ferry, almost every man, woman, and child attended the Dornoch market. The market stance was the churchyard. Dornoch was what might strictly be called an Episcopalian town; and the consecrated environs of the Cathedral was just the place which the men of those days would choose, either for burying their dead or holding their markets. The churchyard therefore became the only public square within the town. The evening previous to the market was a busy one. A long train of heavily-loaded carts might be seen wending their weary way into the town, more particularly from Tain, by the Meikle Ferry. The merchants’ booths or tents were then set up, made of canvas stretched upon poles inserted several feet into the ground, even into graves and deep enough to reach the coffins. The fair commenced about twelve o’clock noon next day, and lasted for two days and a half. During its continuance, every sort of saleable article was bought and sold, whether of home or foreign manufacture. The first market at Dornoch that we attended took place six weeks after our arrival at the town. The bustle and variety of the scene very much impressed me. The master gave us holiday; and as my brother and I traversed the market-place, pence in hand, to make our purchases, all sorts of persons, articles, amusements, employments, sights and sounds, smote at once upon our eyes, our ears and our attention. Here we were pulled by the coat, and on turning round recognised, to our great joy, the cordial face of a Kildonaner [Donald’s home was in Kildonan]; there we noticed a bevy of young lasses, in best bib and tucker, accompanied by their bachelors, who treated them with ginger-bread, ribbons, and whisky. Next came a recruiting party, marching, with gallant step and slow, through the crowd, headed by the sergeant, sword in hand, and followed by the corporal and two or three privates, each with his weapon glancing in the sunlight. From one part of the crowd might be heard the loud laugh that bespoke the gay and jovial meeting of former acquaintance ship, now again revived; from another the incessant shrill of little toy trumpets, which fond mothers had furnished to their younger children, and with which the little urchins kept up an unceasing clangour. At the fair of that day I, first of all, noticed the master perambulating the crowd, and looking at the merchants’ booths with a countenance scarcely less rigid and commanding than that with which he was wont invariably to produce silence in the school.

Another incident of my schoolboy days at Dornoch was a bloody fray which took place immediately after the burial of Miss Gray from Creich. The deceased was of the Sutherland Grays, who about the beginning of the last century, possessed property in the parishes of Creich, Lairg, Rogart, and Dornoch. She came down from London to the north of Scotland for change of air, being in a rapid decline, but did not survive her arrival at Creich longer than a month. Her remains were buried beside those of her ancestors in the Cathedral of Dornoch. The body was accompanied by an immense crowd, both of the gentry and peasantry. In the evening, after the burial, there was a dreadful fight. The parishioners of Dornoch and those of Creich quarrelled with each other, and fists, cudgels, stones, and other missiles were put in requisition. The leader of the Creich combatants was William Munro of Achany. I sat on a gravestone, at the gable of the ruined aisle of the cathedral, looking at the conflict. Broken heads, blood trickling over enraged faces, yells of rage, oaths and curses, are my reminiscences of the event. Dr. Bethune narrowly escaped broken bones. As he was walking up to obtain ocular demonstration of the encounter, he was rudely attacked by two outrageous men from Creich. They threatened to knock him down; but some of his parishioners, coming just in time, readily interfered, and his assailants measured their length on the highway.”

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica or Parish Life in the North of Scotland [freely available online at archive.org if you want to read more]