A ‘dutiful relative, attached friend and obliging neighbour’

I have not yet come across a gravestone which notes that a man hit his wife, neglected his children or manipulated his neighbours. We tend to pass over people’s failings when designing permanent memorials. A brief note of names and dates might cover a multitude of sins. It would be wise to take with a bucketful of salt some of the glowing descriptions of men on their headstones. Social conventions, privacy, fear, selective memory and family pride are strong. However what inscriptions are wonderful for, is telling us about ideals, particularly about how men were meant to relate to other people.

William Gray (1787-1866) from Dornoch was apparently a ‘dutiful relative, attached friend and obliging neighbour’. Men were meant to have positive connections with their community, their friends and their family. Together, they epitomised the character of the ideal nineteenth-century man.

An ‘obliging neighbour’

The most common words used to describe how a man was felt about in the wider community were esteemed, respected, admired and, occasionally, honoured or revered. Adam Murray (1818-1893), a man of noted piety from Badninish, a crofting area in east Sutherland, was ‘esteemed by all who knew him’. The monument to James Ellison (d. 1870), a doctor in Tain, was ‘erected as a public testimony of the respect and esteem in which he was held’.

The next most commonly used words are of tenderness: loved, beloved, affectionate or, occasionally, endeared or cherished. William Ross (1807-69) was Dingwall’s ‘beloved physician’; William Melville (1841-72), Dornoch’s schoolteacher, was ‘respected by all who knew him and his kindness to the young endeared to them his memory’.

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Dornoch, from Easter Ross. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

A few inscriptions describe a man’s feelings towards the community. Thomas MacBeath (1782-1859), the catechist at Dornoch Free Church, found affection was reciprocal as ‘his affectionate and faithful discharge of duty endeared him to the congregation’. Alexander Stewart (1794-1847), an influential Cromarty minister, cleaved ‘to his flock with an affection which time seemed to increase’. While I would caution against necessarily believing any inscription, the letters and memoirs of two of Stewart’s flock, Lydia and Hugh Miller, do suggest he was widely liked.[1]

An ‘attached friend’

When a man’s gravestone talks about his friendship, it doesn’t tie him to specific friends. Friendship is treated more as an attribute. It was often paired with an adjective: sincere, steadfast, true, attached, sympathising, faithful. Angus Leslie (1783-1850) of Torboll on Loch Fleet, formerly a lieutenant in the 3rd Sutherland Highlanders, was ‘unwavering in his friendship’. On his death his friends experienced ‘heartfelt sorrow’. Donald Campbell MacDonald (1834-1904) was born in Glenurquhart, but spent forty years ministering to the congregation of Kilmuir Easter. He was a ‘steadfast friend’. Manly friendship was expected to be warm, strong and consistent.

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Torboll Farm is just visible in the distance, in front of the green field. Taken from the Mound, an engineering marvel which Angus Leslie would have witnessed being built. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

A ‘dutiful relative’

Most gravestones commemorate family relationships. Usually they simply list wife and offspring. Being the head of a household was an important marker of manliness. However the longer inscriptions show family meant more than personal status.

The most important attributes of family men were affection and duty. Robert Riddle (1819-1891) in Tain was ‘a beloved husband and kind father’, while the happy Sutherland family in Morness, Rogart, were blessed with Donald (1803-1884) ‘an exemplary husband and parent.’

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Rogart. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Stereotype of Victorian fathers are stern. The evidence of headstones does not bear this out. Donald Sutherland (1815-1854) from Rosskeen was pretty typical, being described as ‘affectionate’. He was only 39 when he died, so it is likely that his wife chose this wording. Sometimes men erected monuments to their own children. They often revealed deep feelings. James Mackintosh, teacher at Dalnabreac, Rogart, commemorated his ‘beloved children’, May and Archibald, who both died aged 20 in the 1860s. Manliness meant more than the fact of parenthood, or the authority derived from it. It was grounded in heartfelt emotion.

As husbands, men were also to be dutiful and affectionate. With the rise in companionate marriage in the early nineteenth century, when spouses were selected based on considerations of the heart as much as of the bank balance, it might be expected that duty words would give way to affection words. There is no sign of this. They exist togehter throughout the century, frequently combined on the same inscription. In Creich, William Calder (1795-1867) was ‘an affectionate & dutiful Husband’. The nature of husbandly duties is not explained, but they probably included material provision, protection and sobriety.

A few men poured out their hearts. In 1823 thirty year old Esther Grant died. She was buried ‘by her ever bereaved husband Alexander MacKay Invershin’.[2] MacKay was eighteen years older than she. He was settled in life and able to afford an expensive table stone. A cynic might note this was a visible symbol of his wealth and status. A romantic might note the poignancy of his inscription. The likelihood that many women died as a result of complications from pregnancy or childbirth may have added shock and perhaps guilt to a widower’s grief.

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Esther Grant, ever-beloved by Alexander MacKay. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

In adulthood, a man did not abdicate responsibility for his birth family. Forty seven year old William Ross, presumably a bachelor, died in 1867. His sister Mary, who may well have lived with him, erected a stone for ‘her affectionate brother’. A good man was expected to continue to be a good son. John MacDonald (1845-98), from Ballinoe, Ardgay, died at fifty three. Again he was probably a bachelor and his mother, with whom he may have lived, noted he was ‘a dutiful son’.

Such public displays of loving and being loved suggest family life was meant to be warm and kindly. A man was expected first to perform his duty towards dependent family members, and then to have the ability to feel and to elicit tenderness from wife, children, siblings or parents. The ideal man also had broader reciprocal relationships of affection and respect with friends, neighbours, a church congregation, or even the whole community.

Nineteen year old Walter Ross from Wester Fearn had little chance to make an impact on the world by his actions. But when he died in 1845, it was by the quality of his relationships that he was remembered. His gravestone reads: ‘in love he lived, in peace he died’.

 

[1] Letter cited in Elizabeth Sutherland, Lydia: Wife of Hugh Miller of Cromarty (East Lothian: Tuckwell, 2002), 50-51; Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters (Edinburgh: Nimmo, 1869), 371, 409.

[2] His death in 1861 is then commemorated in near identical script, but the form of words leaves little doubt that the stone is contemporaneous with Esther’s death and a particularly careful mason of the 1860s was then employed to engrave his end. It is therefore probable that these words were selected by MacKay himself.

Place, Identity and Dead Men

Highland men do not suffer from lack of stereotypes. According to anti-Jacobite propagandists they were barbaric; according to Walter Scott they were noble; and according to Diana Gabaldon, they were rugged and sexy. I have always enjoyed exploring graveyards, but recently I wondered if the headstones could tell me something about how Highland men thought of themselves. Indeed they can! I have identified how men’s identities were based on religious faith, on their emotional relationships, on their social status, and on place.[1]

Other than his name, dates, and family, the most common detail on men’s gravestones is where he was from. By the nineteenth century the clan system was long gone. However, men continued to have strongly localised identities, associated with kin and with place.

On the west coast of Lewis, when the old graveyard at Cladh Mhuire was extended the new site was arranged geographically. Each village was allocated two rows, marked by a concrete post. Even in death people were kept within their community and continued to belong to a particular place.

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Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

This is uncommon in such recent graveyards which, like at Proncynain just outside Dornoch, are usually laid out chronologically. Each new burial takes the plot beside the previous one. Communal groupings are more common in older graveyards. This is often not obvious. In Bragar, a few miles south of Cladh Mhuire, the stones are clustered by village, though here there are no signs. In Kincardine, Sutherland, close inspection reveals the same. In the south east corner are the people from Invershin, and near them the folk of Gledfield. Further back are those from Greenyards.

In mixed Protestant-Catholic regions, the spatial organisation of graveyards reflects communal religious identities. On An t-Eilean Uaine, Loch Sheil the Catholics are buried on the Moidart side of the island and the Protestants on the Argyll side.[2] In Ardmichael cemetery, South Uist, Protestants are buried to the west and Catholics to the east.[3]

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Ardmichael, South Uist. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

So far, the place-based identities displayed in graveyards are communal and apply as much to women or children as to men. However when an inscription connects an individual with specific places, this seems to be peculiar to men.

The stones of some men use locations to trace a life story or a career. Rev. Donald MacIntyre (1782-1869) was for nine years ‘missionary of the Braes of Lochaber, for one year assistant in the parish of Creich, and for twenty five years incumbent of Kincardine.’

Most men were clearly associated with one specific settlement, farm or estate in the mind of the community. This was often noted alongside their occupation: ‘Thomas MacKenzie, Shandwick Inn’ (1846-96); ‘Walter Watson, plasterer, Clashmore’ (1859-97). Other inscriptions suggest a man’s deep knowledge of a particular piece of land: John Munro (1779-1820) was tenant at Blairich, Rogart; and George MacKay (1816-73) crofted at Bogrow, Edderton. For some men this close association came through their professional life. Gamekeepers, factors, groundofficers and shepherds took up employment in adulthood. Thomas Herbert (1832-80) was gamekeeper at Alladale, and Robert Sutherland (1791-1841) was grieve at Dunrobin Farm, near Golspie. It was through length of years and the intimate use and organising of the landscape that they became identified with it, shaping their self-identity and their identity within the community.

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Alladale. Thomas Herbert chose a challenging place to live out his life as a gamekeeper. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Other men had multigenerational connections with a place. Farmers’ inscriptions invariably included the name of his farm. In Easter Ross Alexander Anderson (1809-71) was ‘farmer, Nonikiln’, and John Ross (1777-1867) was ‘late farmer, Achnahanat’. Such men were often known locally by the name of the farm. While this was a convenient way to distinguish people with common personal names, it also reveals a cultural attitude about land and people. Individual men existed only for decades, whereas farms endured.

Tacksmen were similar. Hugh MacIntyre (1797-1881) was ‘tacksman of Culrain Mains’ and James France (1778-1840) held the tacks of Annat and Groam near Inverness. Such a man drew his identity from his social status, his membership of a local family, his authority over the residents of the tack, and his association with that piece of land. Holding a tack was part of the old system of clanship, so his and his family’s connection with that land was embedded deeper in time than that of the plasterer and the gamekeeper, even the farmer.

Despite the mobility of the nineteenth-century, part of Highland masculinity was a deep identification with the places they were from, where they lived, where they worked, and which they shaped.

[1] Few historians have considered masculinity in a Highland context. In terms of ordinary men rather than the gentry, Lynn Abrams has explored the role of inter-personal violence in Highland masculinity while Rosalind Carr and J.E. Cookson have touched on how Highlanders used the military to achieve the ‘independence’ which was foundational to manhood. Lynn Abrams, ‘The Taming of Highland Masculinity: Inter-personal Violence and Shifting Codes of Manhood, c.1760–1840’, The Scottish Historical Review, 92.1, (2013), 100-122; Rosalind Carr, ‘The Gentleman and the Soldier: Patriotic Masculinities in Eighteenth-Century Scotland’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 28.2, (2008), 102-121; J. E. Cookson, ‘Early Nineteenth-Century Scottish Military Pensioners as Homecoming Soldiers’, The Historical Journal, 52.2 (June, 2009), 319-341.

[2] Alasdair Roberts, Chapels of the Rough Bounds: Morar, Knoydart, Arisaig, Moidart (Mallaig: 2015)

[3] https://canmore.org.uk/site/9898/south-uist-ardmichael-burial-ground