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


A Man of Letters

Graham Hannaford completed his MLitt in the History of the Highlands and Islands at UHI in 2015, studying from Australia. He is now embarking on a PhD with Federation University, Australia.

Scattered across the world like autumn leaves on a lawn are place names that suggest the presence of a home-sick Scot. Nova Scotia and Nouvelle Caledonie are well known, as are some on the eastern side of Australia in New South Wales: towns like Glen Innes, Aberdeen or Scone, or the Sutherland Shire in the south-east of Sydney. Others are tucked away in what must have seemed like the great emptiness of the Australian bush, places like Golspie, New South Wales. Golspie today is not even a village, but the road signs still point to it, west of the road which winds from Goulburn over spectacular countryside via Taralga, the Abercrombie River, and Black Springs to Oberon.

“Golspie” was the farm owned by George Murray, a native of Sutherland, Scotland. He was born at Loch Shin near Lairg in 1818 to George Murray and Kate McDonald. The family relocated to Golspie at the time of the infamous Highland clearances. In his new book, Set Adrift Upon the World, James Hunter describes some of the trouble which accompanied the clearance of the people from this area. It is small wonder that the Murrays and most other residents left Loch Shin and moved to places like Golspie where the estate management had decided was to be the new place of settlement.

From the list of male convicts who arrived in the colony of New South Wales on the Moffatt on 30 August 1836 it appears that the 18 year old George Murray (the younger), a Protestant farmer’s boy, was convicted of shop breaking in the Inverness Court of Justiciary on 23 April 1835 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He was described as ruddy and freckled with brown hair and hazel eyes; his distinguishing marks were a horizontal scar over his right eye brow with a scar over the inner corner of the same and with a scar on the back of the lttle finger of his left hand. After various assignments in the colony he met Margaret Cameron, a native of Ardnamurchan, who had arrived in Sydney in 1838 with her parents, James and Catherine, and eight siblings as free bounty immigrants. George and Margaret were given permission to marry and did so in the Presbyterian church in Goulburn in July 1841. They lived first at Strathaird near Taralga where their first child was born in 1842. Their next eight children are recorded as born at houses, their’s or neighbours’, named Strontian, Cutty Cuttgang (or Cutty Gutty-ang), or Lairg. The last child, Ann, was born in 1861 at Golspie, by now the accepted name of George and Margaret’s farm.

Golspie seems to have been the place to which mail for the surrounding farms was delivered. Perhaps it was convenient to the postman’s route, or perhaps Margaret was a kind hostess for postman and neighbours alike, maintaining the long tradition of Highland hospitality. It became common practice for local farmers to append “Golspie” to their addresses and when in December 1872, locals petitioned the Postmaster General of New South Wales for the establishment of a post office it was clear that Golspie was where it was wanted. The petition was supported by the Presbyterian minister in Taralga and the postmasters at Taralga and Fullerton. Against the wishes of the postmasters at Laggan and Tuena, on 8 April 1873 the Postmaster General approved the establishment of the post office. George Murray was offered the position of postmaster at a salary of £16 pa; he commenced duties on 1 May 1873.

After twenty-five years in the position and at the age of 80, three years after Margaret’s death, George tendered his resignation in October 1898. His handwriting was still clear and firm as his resignation letter shows, notwithstanding that the transportation records show that at the time of arrival in the colony he could read but not write.

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Image from National Archives of Australia

On George’s recommendation, his daughter Ann, married but apparently still living at Golspie, was appointed as postmistress. She had been helping George for the past twenty-one years.

Papers in the National Archives of Australia show an ongoing correspondence between Ann and various officials over the allowances which should be paid to her, with Ann suggesting that she would resign if matters were not arranged satisfactorily. By January 1915, she had been paid £19/5/- and in the previous year had earned £3/-/9 for telegraphic and telephone duties. At this time, Ann had to prompt her superiors to pay a promised increase of £2/10/-, threatening that if it were not paid “I shall have to throw up the whole thing”. It was paid. The post office continued to be operated, sometimes by members of the family, until its closure in 1990.

George died on 29 December 1906, at the age of 88, having survived Margaret by some eleven years and nine months. Each died at Golspie and they are both buried in Stonequarry cemetery in Taralga, half a world away from their origins in Sutherland and Ardnamurchan.

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The Presbyterian section of the Stonequarry Cemetery in Taralaga, with the Roman Catholic section beyond. (Photo: Judith Matthews)

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Headstones of George and Margaret Murray (Photo: Judith Matthews)

Thanks to Mrs Judith Matthews, historian, of “Fairview”, Golspie New South Wales for checking facts and supplying photos.

This is an updated version of the original item posted on 14 March 2016. With thanks to Barbara Kernos for alerting the writer to the convict records concerning the young George Murray.

National Archives of Australia, NAA: SP32/1, Golspie Post Office file 1872 – 1971
James Hunter, Set Adrift Upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2015) pp. 332-3
Golspie (New South Wales) Progress and Landcare Association, History of Golspie, privately printed 2005
Northern Times, ‘How Cutty Gutty became Golspie, New South Wales’,5 March 2009, http://www.northern-times.co.uk/Opinion/Letters/How-Cutty-Gutty-became-Golspie-New-South-Wales-5638.htm (Extensive efforts to contact the writer of this letter to the Northern Times to check facts have been unsuccessful)
Northern Times, ‘The man who put Golspie on the map – in New South Wales, 4 June 2009, http://www.northern-times.co.uk/Features/The-man-who-put-Golspie-on-the-map-ndash-in-New-South-Wales-6141.htm
Australian Cemeteries http://www.australiancemeteries.com/nsw/mulwaree/stonequarry_taralga_gndata.htm

‘Successful and prosperous’: The Middling Years of William Keith, Golspie (part 2)

Thirty five year old William Keith had taken up the job as minister at Kildonan in 1776. This easy-going man’s life of salmon fishing, sermon preparation, good food and company was augmented by marrying seventeen year old Isabella Grant. He probably got to know her when he was assistant at Fearn, as her father was minister of Nigg. Their first three children, Peter, William, and Margaret, were born at the manse in Kildonan. But by 1787 the living at Golspie was vacant. Keith applied personally to the Countess of Sutherland and the young family moved to the coastal village. There William and Isabella’s brood grew: Sutherland, George, Elizabeth, Anne, James, Sophia then Lewis were added to the nursery. The Keiths were now settled. William would stay in Golspie for the next 29 years. Apart from his writing the statistical account for the parish, we know a few things about his life in Golspie in decades of profound change for the region. We know that in 1794 he was down in Edinburgh at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, because he co-signed a letter to the King supporting the war against the French. We know that back home he pursued his role as community leader: in 1801 he wrote to the Justice of the Peace recommending the removal of the parish fox hunter, a man so inefficient that he had managed only to kill one fox in the last year, and that with the assistance of forty volunteers! And we know that there was heartbreak. He and Isabella lost a total of six babies, including six month old Anne in 1793. They also lost three adult sons. In 1803 nineteen year old William died in Bengal. Although he was probably with the British army, death by disease was more likely than by military action. In 1808 George died, again at the age of nineteen. Between these two, in 1805, twenty four year old Patrick died in Berbice, a part of South America that is now in Guyana.

Map of Dutch Guiana and of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba 1781. By http://maps.bpl.org [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Map of Dutch Guiana and of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba 1781. By http://maps.bpl.org [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Patrick’s business in the British Empire was even more sinister than young William’s. Berbice was a slave colony. Many Highlanders were involved in the slave economy of the Caribbean. Not all were plantation owners: there were merchants, doctors and managers as well as tradesmen. It seems Patrick was a plantation manager. David Alston of Cromarty has done enormous work on these people and has made his research available on his website http://www.spanglefish.com/slavesandhighlanders/ He suspects that Patrick was the man who managed Lord Seaforth’s Brahan plantation. Seaforth’s secretary, Peter Fairbairn, says Keith had been in the colony from at least early 1803 before he ‘quitted at a moments notice’ in October 1804 and went ‘to the East Coast to conduct a task gang’. Sutherland Keith seems to have followed his elder brother across the Atlantic. By 1819 we know that he owned six slaves and three years later he had ten. He died in Berbice in 1825 at the age of thirty eight.

I was unable to find William Keith's grave, however this is the Golspie church that he preached in. (Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie)

I was unable to find William Keith’s grave, however this is the Golspie church that he preached in. (Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie)

In 1811, after the death of three sons, William lost Isabella, at the age of forty nine. He lived on another five years before Sutherland was required to pay for a tombstone to commemorate the life of his seventy six year old father, in the graveyard of St Andrew’s church, Golspie. William Keith was an unexceptional man but whose life epitomised a changing Scotland and the international connections of Highlanders. Born just before the country bitterly divided itself over Bonnie Prince Charlie’s claim to the throne, in middle life he became a pillar of the establishment, supporting King and Country during the ructions after the French Revolution. He was concerned more with social status and the gentle pleasures of life than with the radical religious revivals affecting the Highlands. In this ordinary man’s pursuit of career, family and betterment for his children he tests the stereotype of the Highlander as insular and impoverished. He had studied at two of Europe’s great universities, Aberdeen and Edinburgh; he would have been fluent in Gaelic and English, was at least competent in Greek and Latin, and perhaps had a smattering of modern European languages; he took up jobs in various parts of his home region as well as several hundred miles away in Argyll; his daughters married locally and in London; and his sons took advantage of the financial benefits the British Empire offered to white men in places as far apart in India and the Caribbean. This very ordinary, middle class family, based in Golspie two hundred years ago, was better travelled and with more world-wide connections than many of us today!

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Vol 7, p 87-8.
Principal Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, (Edinburgh: James Dickson, 1794), 17. [available on googlebooks]
National Archives of Scotland, JP32/7/5/48, William Keith and John Polson, Golspie, to justice of the peace in Accounts, affidavits and letters concerning payments for the killing of foxes and eagles in Strathnaver, the parishes of Lairg and Farr, the Reay and Skibo estates and other places in the county, including details of claimants names, the time and place of killing and the animals’ ages. April 28 1801.
NAS Papers of the Mackenzie Family, Earls of Seaforth (Seaforth Papers), Letters from Peter Fairburn, Seaforth’s secretary, GD46/17/26 cited in http://www.spanglefish.com/slavesandhighlanders/

Poverty and Poor Relief

This week’s blog is submitted by Graham Hannaford who is studying from his home in Australia for his Masters in ‘Highlands and Islands History’ at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

 It’s never much fun being poor but in the Highlands of the mid-nineteenth century, things were really grim. Queen Victoria was reigning over an empire on which the sun never set, but many of her subjects in her beloved Scottish Highlands were barely surviving, living in terrible conditions.

The old and new poor laws in Scotland attempted to avoid starvation in the population. There was no expectation that any relief provided would be generous and it is clear that both before and after 1845 when new laws came into being providing for relief for the poor, many, including in the Highlands, lived in circumstances which can only be described as appalling. There was an expectation that people should provide for themselves by their own labour and if that failed, families took responsibility; only when all else failed did parishes take over care, being required to raise the money needed to take care of their own paupers. While we might sometimes view the events as being a long time ago, 1845 was within the lifetime of my own great-grandfather.

The Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland provide detailed parish reports completed through responses to a long list of questions. According to the Old Accounts (1790’s), in the parish of Dornoch, potatoes became a principal food source by about 1758, with at least some of the population subsisting on them for up to two thirds of the year. In addition, of an estimated population of about 2600 in the parish, some 80-100 were on the Poor Roll but there was no regular fund for their support except that raised in the Sunday collections in church and occasional small fines levied on delinquents. Such collections amounted to only about seven pounds sterling per annum, and from that figure some salaries were paid. The next Statistical Account for Dornoch, forty years later, lists a population of about 3400, with much of the increase ascribed to the tendency to marry young. Some 120-130 persons at this time were receiving parochial aid, with about £70 available for distribution among them; the lowest amount provided to a pauper was 6 shillings, the highest 25.

Further up the coast in the parish of Golspie, Rev William Keith reported for the Old Account that of the approximately 1700 population, 100 were on the poor list; but with a net amount of about £8 to distribute among them, no one individual could expect much help. Forty years later, Rev. Alexander MacPherson reported for the follow-up survey that the population had fallen to 1149, with the decrease having arisen “from a powerful cause, which has been, for the last 40 years,  in full operations in all the Highlands of Scotland” – the Highland clearances. On average, 60 persons received some poor relief, amounting to about 8 shillings each, and some meal, but none could survive entirely on this aid. When we look at the situation in these two parishes, we can see why the central government enacted new Poor Laws in 1845 in an attempt to try and provide some improvements.

Only some fragments of the documentary records of poor relief have survived to today. However, below is a copy of a 3 July 1874 receipt for payment by Donald MacKay of Badninish of parochial assessment levied. The document survives in our own Historylinks Museum collection. It is interesting to see that poor relief and schools were the major beneficiaries of the rates this year, while public health was apparently sufficiently funded from elsewhere.


The Statistical Accounts of Scotland can be found online here: http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/ 

For a modest subscription fee you can access lots of great associated resources as well as the keyword search facility.

Donald’s Journey Part 2

Not long ago we left twelve year old Donald Sage in the inn at Kintradwell, eating meat, eggs and cheese on his way to the school in Dornoch.  After he, his brother, his father and their servant Tam had filled their bellies they unhitched their horses and set off towards Clyne manse, just north of Brora.  The arrived in the evening and

“Mr. Walter Ross and his kind wife received us with great cordiality. Mrs. Ross was a very genteel, lady-like person, breathing good-will and kindness. To her friends by the ties of affection, amity, or blood, her love and kindness gushed to overflowing … After breakfast next morning we proceeded on our journey. After having passed the Bridge of Brora there soon burst upon our sight Dunrobin Castle, the seat of the ancient Earls of Sutherland, the view of which from the east is specially imposing; and here I may remark in passing, that the present excellent public road which runs through the county of Sutherland was, at the time I speak of, not in existence. In lieu thereof was a broken, rugged pathway, running by the sea-shore from the Ord Head to the Meikle Ferry, and at Dunrobin, instead of going to the north of the castle as the present line does, it descended to the sea-side, passing about two miles to the east of the castle right below it, and so round by the south.

ImageImageThe “broken, rugged pathway, running by the sea-shore from the Ord Head to the Meikle Ferry” as it is today. [photos belonging to Elizabeth Ritchie]

The building filled me with astonishment. The tower to the east, surmounted by its cupola, the arched entrance into the court, and then the simply elegant front looking out on the expanse of the Moray Firth, which rolls its waves almost to the very base, were to me an ocular feast. The garden too, on the north side of the road, over the walls of which towered the castle in ancient and Gothic magnificence, was another wonder. I was perfectly astonished at its extent. It stretched its south walls at least 300 yards along the road, and at each of its angles were rounded turrets, which gave it quite an antique appearance, in strict keeping with the magnificent edifice with which it was connected.

The village of Golspie lies about a quarter of a mile to the west of the castle, close by the shore, and, as we advanced, the first object we saw was the manse, near which, on approaching it, we noticed walking towards us a low-statured, middle-aged man, dressed in a coarse, black suit, and with a huge flax wig of ample form. My father and he cordially recognised one another, and I at once discovered this venerable personage to be Mr. William Keith, minister of Golspie. We did not stop, but proceeded on our way to Embo, and reached the north side of the Little Ferry house at about two o’clock.

As we dismounted, and every necessary preparation was made by the boatman to get us over, I felt a good deal alarmed.  Except when crossing the Helmisdale river in a cobble some years before, I had never been in a boat or at sea; and I was particularly frightened at the idea of being a fellow-passenger with my father’s large horse and our own lesser quadrupeds, lest they, participating in my own fears, might become unruly and swamp the boat.  Matters went on, however, better than I anticipated; the horses, after remonstrating a little, were made to leap into the boat, and, with my heart in my throat, I followed my father and brother, and took my place beside them in the bow of the wherry.  As we moved off I was horror-struck, on looking over the edge of the boat, to see the immense depth of the Ferry.  It was a still, clear winter’s day, and I could distinctly perceive the gravelly bottom far below.  I could see, passing rapidly in the flood, between me and the bottom, sea-ware of every size and colour.  The star-fish intermingled with the long tails of the tangle which by the underswell of the sea heaved up and down, and presented the appearance of a sub-marine grove, retaining its fresh look by the greenish colour of the sea-water.”

Donald, the young landlubber, survived his experience unscathed.  The excitement of the ferry crossing and the astonishment of the glories of Dunrobin Castle filled his mind as they continued their trek towards Embo House where they were to lodge for the night.

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

Rogart and the Society for Gaelic Schools

One of the aims of the Reformation was that people should read the Bible for themselves. In Scotland the Reformers intended that every parish should have a school. This plan failed because of insufficient money, too few teachers, and because Highland parishes could be enormous so most children could not walk to school each day. Various charity schools tried to fill the gaps, but there were not enough of them and many taught only in English even though the children spoke Gaelic. In 1811 a group of Edinburgh philanthropists decided to create the Edinburgh Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools.

The main aim of the SSGS was to spread Evangelical Christianity through teaching Gaelic speakers, especially children, to read the Bible in their native language. The Society provided education in townships which were far away from schools or churches. If a community was interested, they had to build a schoolhouse before the Society would send a teacher. The teachers were funded by donations and stayed for two or three years. The school taught reading alone. There was no writing, arithmetic or other subjects. This was because the ESSGS was primarily a missionary society. They wanted people to be able to read the Bible.

Seventeen years after the SGSS began, it established a school in Rogart parish, in the little township of Knockarthur. The first we know of it is when the ministers of Rogart and Golspie, John MacKenzie and Mr. McPherson, inspected the school on 15th March, 1828. There were 139 pupils on the roll!  94 of these were present for the inspection, 37 of whom were adults. The SSGS was happy to teach anyone who came along: adult or child. At the inspection, the students showed the ministers what they could do. Some read the New Testament, like the man who was “seventy five years of age, has been twice married, and had in school with him two of his family by his first wife, and four of his family by his second.” Other pupils could recite parts of the Bible. The schools were also very keen on teaching students to memorise. This is a teaching method which is out of fashion nowadays because often people can memorise material without understanding it. However, two centuries ago the culture of ordinary people was an oral culture, very much based on memory. One of the main forms of entertainment was gathering in each other’s houses in the evenings and spending the time making ropes, knitting, spinning or doing other odd jobs while telling long narrative stories and singing. John Mackenzie wrote “A great number repeated portions of Scripture committed to memory, with accuracy that was pleasing.” So by encouraging pupils to memorise Scripture, teachers like George Gordon in Rogart were evangelizing in a way which was meaningful to the people.

The Rogart folk were hardly unaware of Christianity. Their minister explained that “the people in this part of the country have long been familiar with the Scriptures, as translated to them, from the English version, by persons who could read. This, I need not observe, could not always have been very correctly done.” He went on to explain why, unlike some ministers who saw the schools as a threat to their authority, he was such a keen supporter. “By Gaelic Schools the Gaelic version will be brought into general use; and thus a more accurate knowledge of the Scriptures will be attained.”

By 1828 the school was popular, but at first it wasn’t. Initially there

was a prejudice against Gaelic schools which has now disappeared. The old begin to see that they may still be able to do what they but lately never expected – to read the word of God … I am glad to find that the School is regarded as an important benefit by the people of the district; I trust it may, by the blessing of God, prove such to them.

Indeed enthusiasm was spreading. John Mackenzie wrote to the Society explaining that just down the hill, in the neighbouring district of “Morness, there are several heads of families who cannot read, and who entreat me to express their desire to your benevolent and useful Society, to send them a Teacher.” He explained that most of the “scholars at Knockarthur are young children; and the greater part of them will be kept out of school, during Summer and Harvest, herding cattle.” While the Knockarthur children were working, in Morness “a number of grown-up persons, and some far advanced in life, would make an effort to attend, at least for some hours in the day, during those seasons.” By December 1828 there were 73 on the school roll at Morness. Attendance at the school declined in the autumn as the harvest was brought in. By winter, a good number of adults came along, but fewer than expected. However, the school was successful enough to still be in operation in 1830. Indeed Mackenzie reported that year that “there are several persons who come from the neighbouring parishes, and board themselves, in order to enjoy the privilege of attending the School.”

I have cycled around Knockarthur. There is no obvious location for the school, however there is a collection of ruins at the crossroads which I like to imagine might be its remains, although, of course, it could be anywhere! In St Callan’s churchyard, however, there is a grave of a family who lived in Knockarthur at the time the school was present. In all likelihood they attended the classes. The ESGSS is not a well-known organisation but it had a significant impact on the educational and spiritual lives of ordinary Highlanders in the midst of the social and economic upheavals of the clearances. Other nineteenth century missionary organisations might have done well to learn from the cultural sensitivity of the Gaelic Schools, and their efforts at providing socially appropriate methods to promote Christianity. Rogart was not the only place to have ESSGS schools in east Sutherland, but more of that at another time!