Teenagers’ Travels: Bootless from Lairg to Cromarty Part 2

Hugh and Walter had walked from Gruids, near Lairg, to the parish of Edderton on their way home from their summer holidays. By the afternoon Hugh’s injured foot was causing him a lot of pain. Then they remembered their cousins had told them about a shortcut through the hills. Hugh wanted home as quickly as possible and Walter “deemed himself equal to anything which his elder cousins could perform”. This may have been the drove road going up from Ardgay to near Kildermorie, or the one which passes by the Aultnamain Inn, now tarmacked over and known as the Struie.


The drove road from Ardgay to near Kildermorie (looking north towards Gruids) where cattle from the Kincardine Market were taken to the big cattle markets in Crieff and Falkirk, then Carlisle and to London. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The boys “struck up the hill-side” and “soon found ourselves in a dreary waste, without trace of human habitation.” Hugh was struggling, light-headed and his vision was going. Walter led him up to a “heathy ridge” just as night was falling. Below them was the “northern sea-board of the Cromarty Firth, and … the cultivated country and the sands of Nigg lying only a few miles below.” They intended to aim for the sands. They knew they were dangerous at certain tides and accidents frequently happened in the fords. Walter could not swim but they decided Hugh would lead the way. But first, they had to get down. “The night fell rather thick than dark, for there was a moon overhead … the downward way was exceedingly rough and broken, and we had wandered from the path.” Hugh was in no condition for stumbling and groping through the “scraggy moor” and “dark patches of planting”. They had just reached a cleared spot on the “edge of the cultivated country” when Hugh “dropped down as suddenly as if struck by a bullet, and, after an ineffectual attempt to rise, fell fast asleep.


The route from Gruids to the point where Hugh collapsed. The black indicates where they actually went, cutting up through the ‘dreary waste’. The blue indicates their intended route through the low lying ground past Tain. The arrows mark where they would have crossed the river by the ferryboat at Invershin, where Hugh’s foot began to really trouble him, and where he finally passed out. Route superimposed on General Roy’s Military Survey from 1747-55. Reproduced with the permission of the British Library, http://maps.nls.uk/index.html

Walter was much frightened; but he succeeded in carrying me to a little rick of dried grass which stood up in the middle of the clearing.” He covered his friend up with the hay and lay down beside him. Walter couldn’t sleep for anxiety and his heart raced when he heard psalm singing in the old Gaelic style coming from a neighbouring clump of wood. “Walter believed in the fairies; and, though psalmody was not one of the reputed accomplishments of the ‘good people’ in the low country … in the Highlands the case might be different”. He sat tight until after the singing stopped. After some time he heard a slow, heavy step. A voice exclaimed in Gaelic and a rough, hard hand grasped the boy’s bare heel. A grey-headed man accused the boys of being gypsies, angry “at the liberty we had taken with his hayrick”. Walter explained. The old man was instantly mollified, and insisted the boys should spend the night in his home. It does not seem likely his hospitality would have extended to them if they had been gypsies after all.


The welcome view of the Cromarty Ferry pier at Nigg. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Hugh was assisted to the cottage, hidden in the clump of trees. An “aged woman” welcomed them. The elderly couple quizzed them as to who they were and the couple realised they knew Hugh and Walter’s maternal grandfather and grandmother and various other relations. Family updates were given and commiserations on misfortunes expressed. Hugh was too ill to take much note of conversation and could only swallow a few spoonfuls of milk. The elderly lady washed his feet, crying over him. Hugh was made of sturdy stuff and after a night’s rest in their best bed he was fit enough to sit in the old man’s cart and driven to the parish of Nigg. They stayed for another day’s rest at a relation’s house there before being taken in another cart to the Cromarty Ferry.

The bootless boys had finally made it home.


Their proposed (blue) route taking them across the dangerous tidal sands. Their actual (black) route from their overnight stay with the elderly couple to a relative’s house in Nigg parish and to the ferry. Reproduced with the permission of the British Library, http://maps.nls.uk/index.html


Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters (Edinburgh: Nimmo, Hay and Mitchell, 1889), 120-122

National Map Library, Roy’s Military Survey of Scotland, http://maps.nls/roy/


‘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/

Captain Rose War Diary Postscript

As a result of viewing the Captain Rose War Diary on the Historylinks website (http://www.Historylinks.org.uk) on 7 February 2011 Mrs Stella Barber (nee Honeyball) contacted the museum seeking contact with the descendants of Captain Rose, who was from Ospisdale. She said that her father, who served in the Cameronians during WW1, was actually holding Captain Rose, trying to move him to safety after he was first injured, when the Captain got the second shot that killed him. Her father was then shot and injured and whilst convalescing in Scotland he was able to write an account of what happened on Oct 22 1914 from his diary.

Mrs Barber was linked with Mrs Carol Haq, grand-daughter of Capt Rose,and she later provided Historylinks with a copy of ‘My Life & Experience in the Army 1906 ….1918’ by her father Arthur Charles Honeyball. With her permission an extract from her father’s account can now be added as a postscript to the War Diary of Captain Rose.

“In the division we were in was the Argyle and Sutherland Hrs. the Middlesex Rgt. and Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and every day each regiment takes it in turns of leading the column. It was 21st October, and the A.+ S.H. were in front, and we were second. That night the Argyles got shelled, they had a few killed and wounded, as also did my regiment. We went into a field and built head cover in case of attack, but the enemy drew off. Early next morning my company was sent out as a covering party, so the company in rear could dig trenches. We went to the front for about 800 yards, and we got to some wire fencing, the enemy opened fire on us, my platoon was on the left of the road, and we got it thick, I shall draw, or rather make a small sketch of our position we went into. We had a good many killed and wounded and the enemy was too strong for us to check their advance, so we had to retire.

“So my platoon retired to a barn about 100 yds away and we placed the wounded behind a hay-stack. Captain Rose told me to stay with the chaps that were wounded and he retired with the company another 100yds further back into a ditch. I bandaged a couple of chaps up that had got shot in the leg, and a chum of mine Sgt Sadler was shot in the abdomen. I done what I could for him, but he succumbed to his wound. I tried to get a message from him but he could not speak. Soon after that, a man named Potter came back and he said that he was sent to look after the wounded, so I went back to where Captain Rose was. We then retired from the ditch for about 50 yds. because the Germans were advancing again and we were not strong enough to hold them, Captain Rose said that he would see where we could retire to next time, and as he looked round he was shot in the back. I, and another young chap that was near, went over to Captain Rose and as I got up my rifle was hit, the stinging sensation made me drop it quick. I thought I was shot in the arm at first, when we got to Captain Rose I asked him where he had got it , he said in the back, as soon as he said that, he got another that killed him. I had got hold of him by the feet, and the other chap had got hold of his shoulders, by the time he got the second shot. And then I got mine through the thigh. I must have fainted after that, because when I came to my senses I was in a ditch and no one seemed near me, and I did not know which way to go. The shots were whizzing overhead, and then there was a lull in the firing, so I thought I would look and see if I recognized anything. I then knew which way to go.

“I was dragging myself along, when I caught sight of a house, so I thought if I could manage to get there I might be alright. So I kept on and it seemed like hours, although the distance was not more than 500 yards from where I was wounded. I got to within 50 yards of the house when I caught sight of some of my regiment in the trenches they had made. When I saw them I said “Thank God” Mr Rooke a young Lieutenant came and helped me up to the house that I was trying to get to, then he called the stretcher bearers and they carried me back to where the doctor was, and even then we were not out of danger, a “Jack Johnson” came over and killed 2 ammunition ponies, also the doctors horse.

“I was wounded at 10am. 22 October, and I left the place where the doctor was about 6pm. I was taken to the Field Hospital for an injection to prevent blood poisoning, from there I was taken to the train at Ballral Station, from there I went to Bologne, from there I crossed to Southampton on the Yacht ‘Albion’ a very nice yacht lent to the government by a Mr Loufler of London. I was taken to Cambridge Hospital Aldershot.

“When I was well enough to be moved I was sent to Thorncombe Military Hospital Bramley Surrey.

“This place is a private house belonging to Colonel Fisher Rowe of the Grenadier Guards, I soon got better and I received 14 days sick furlough.

“I rejoined at the Depot Hamilton on 16th December 1914, and I got light duty for 3 weeks and then sent to this place Nigg,

I think this is all I have to tell you, I hope it will interest one and all, please excuse the mistakes I have made because I am not very good at writing. You will find the sketch on the next page
from yours truly,
Cpl. Arthur Charles Honeyball
3rd Scottish Rifles
Nigg Camp

a) Wood where enemy were
b) Wire fence where my platoon was,, X… I had my section this side
c) The other three sections of my platoon
d) Road
e) Barn, where my company retired to
f) Haystack where the wounded were carried to
g) Ditch
h) Ditch along side of the road (to the house I was making for after I was wounded)
i) The house I was making for
j) The trench where I saw some of my regiment were
k) The haystack to which I was carried, and some of my regiment were
l) The house behind which the two ponies and the doctors horse was killed