Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in CaithnessSir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty

The First Statistical Account (1790)

On the 25 May 179, Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness wrote to over nine hundred Parish ministers throughout Scotland asking them to contribute to a Statistical Inquiry by answering as best they could,a series of one hundred and sixty-six Queries respecting each Parish.

The First Statistical Account of Alness

The following is a transcription of the actual Account of the Parish of Alness from the first or old Statistical Account of Alness.


By the Rev. Mr. ANGUS BETHUNE, Minister.

Origin of the Name - Alness signifies the Promontory, a headland of the brook or river, being compounded of the words Auilt, brook, or Amhain, river, and Ness, a headland.which is the termination of many names of places where there is a headland or promontory. The name corresponds with the situation of the parish, which stretches along a river, formerly called Averon, but now known by the name of the Water of Alness, and terminates in a narrow point or promontory.

Situation, Extent, Soil and Produce - The parish is situated in the county of Ross, and belongs to the presbytery of Dingwall and Synod of Ross. It is of a very irregular form; in some parts not above two miles, and in others more than four miles broad. It is 12 miles long, extending from Alness point, to the shore of the frith of Cromarty, its south-east boundary, a considerable way into the more highland parts of the country. In the lower part of the parish, lying contiguous to the sea, and about two miles upwards, the ground is mostly arable, and of various qualities. The soil, however, is generally light, and though it seldom produces luxuriant crops, yet when the farmers are industrious, their labour is rewarded by a middling return of oats, barley, and pease, and abundant crops of potatoes; and there can be little doubt, if the farms, which are almost all open-field, were inclosed, and a different mode of farming adopted from that generally practised in this part of the country, but the soil would produce at least a third more grain than it does at present. The higher parts of the parish, lying beyond a ridge of hills which conceals them from the eye of the traveller on the public road, consist of straths or glens, producing some bear and black oats, but chiefly adapted for pasturage, and in which a considerable number of black cattle, and some small horses, are reared. Adjoining to these straths are two beautiful fresh-water lochs or lakes, which have a pleasant effect to the eye, and abound with a variety of trout. Each loch is about two miles long, and nearly a mile broad. Higher up the country, and beyond these lochs, is a very extensive tract of rich heath, affording pasture in the summer time, not only to the graziers in the braes, but for the oxen and young store of the farmers in the lower part of the parish and neighbourhood, who, not having sufficient pasture of their own, must send their cattle to feed for the summer months to these grazings.

Sheep-farming has been lately introduced on these higher grounds, extended heaths, and some of the glens; but the plan, however justifiable in itself, and on the part of the proprietors, was unpopular, because it occasioned the removal of the native proprietors of these farms and grazings, and excited a disorderly and tumultuous spirit among the country-people, which it became necessary by legal and forcible means to suppress. This gave rise and rapid circulation to a report, as injurious as it was groundless, that the proprietors treated their poor tenants with oppression and cruelty. In justice, however, to the proprietors of this parish, who have let any part of their estates for sheep-farming, it is proper to assure the public, that such tenants as had been removed from their possessions for that purpose, were otherwise provided in farms by these gentlemen, either on their own estates, or on some others in their vicinity; and that to this humane object they paid every attention in their power, feeling themselves particularly interested in, and solicitous for, the accommodation of the few tenants whom, with a view to encourage the introduction of sheep-farming, they had found it necessary to remove.

Heritors of the Parish - The proprietors of the parish are General Sir Hector Munro of Novar, K.B.; Captain Duncan Munro of Culcairn; Captain Hugh Munro of Teaninich; Miss Mackenzie of Inchcoultar; and Andrew Munro of Lealdie. Of these, General Sir Hector Munro and Captain Hugh Munro of Teaninich have their family seats, and are resident in the parish.

The place and family-seat of Novar has been highly cultivated and improved by Sir Hector Munro, at a very great expence, and with much and approved taste. It is indeed a great and a finished place, the most complete in the north, and the admiration of all travellers to this country. It is, too, very advantageously situated, considerably elevated above the frith, not a mile distant from it, and commanding a full and extensive view of the neighbouring country, and of the bay and headland of Cromarty - objects greatly admired for their singular beauty.

Valuation and Rent - The valued rent of the parish is L.2891 Scots, and the real rent about L.1200 Sterling. The rent has not been much increased of late, sheep-farms excepted, which have been considerably augmented. No additional rent has been laid on the tenants of Novar estate since it came into the possession of Sir Hector Munro, nor for some time before that period. A laudable example to other proprietors, and highly deserving of imitation, and a certain method of securing the inviolable attachment and affection of the tenants.

Population - The number of persons now living in this parish is 1121; of these, 800 are examinable, or above seven years of age.

Abstract of the baptisms, marriages, and burials, for the four years immediately preceding the 1st of January I795:

Years            Baptisms     Marriages      Burials
1791                     30                 11                 10 
1792                     27                   5                    8
1793                     31                   9                  11
1794                     28                   8                  13

The population is rather on the increase, the population in 1755 amounting to 1090; the difference only 31.

Previous to the admission and settlement of the present incumbent, which took place in September 1771, the ministers of this parish since the Revolution were: Mr John Fraser, Mr Daniel Mackilligan, and Mr James Fraser, all worthy and excellent men, and successful preachers of the Gospel. The last, in particular, was a clergyman of profound erudition as well as piety, and distinguished for great ability and acuteness in sacred criticism.

State of the Church, &c. - The church was rebuilt 15 years ago, and neatly finished. It still continues to be a decent and comfortable placc of worship. A new manse, superior to the generality of ministers' houses, has been built two years ago; and so cordially were the heritors disposed to grant such good accommodation, that no application was made to the presbytery for their interposition. The stipend is 128 bolls of victual, L.36, 1Os. Sterling in money, with an allowance of L.5 Sterling for communion-elements; and as the minister feels, so he cannot help expressing, much gratitude to all the heritors, who, far from opposing his getting an augmentation of stipend, voluntarily concurred in his application to the Court of Teinds.

State of the Poor - The number of poor upon the roll of the parish is considerable, being above 70 persons. The fund for their partial support and relief arises from the weekly collections, which will amount to about L.20 Sterling per annum, and the interest of L.124, a late donation by pious persons connected with the parish. Since the year 1774, General Sir Hector Munro of Novar has ordered a very liberal and charitable bounty of 12 bolls oat- meal to be annually distributed among the poor of the parish, which frequently proves a very seasonable supply,* and it is owing to the stated and exemplary attendance of the residing heritors on public worship, that the weekly collections amount to the sum already mentioned, which is far superior to the collections of neighbouring country parishes. One instance this of the many happy effects, of which the regular attendance of the higher ranks, on the sacred institutions of religion, would be productive.

* Psalm xcii. 9.

Schools - There are three schools in the parish. A parochial school near the church, in which 60 children are usually taught. The schoolmaster's salary is 200 merks Scots; but his income, including his appointments of session-clerk and precentor, together with the emoluments of the school, will be above L.20 Sterling. In the higher parts of the parish, there are two schools established by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge; one for instructing children in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and another for teaching young girls spinning, sewing, and knitting stockings. In both, there are about 60 boys and girls generally taught.

Ores - On the property of Andrew Munro of Lealdie has been discovered an iron ore, which, from appearances, seems to be of considerable extent. It is also of a rich quality. A sample of it, which has been sent to the Carron Company, at their own desire, produced 75 lb. iron per cwt. The rock is of easy access, but is three miles distant from the shore. It may, however, at some future time, become a source of considerable benefit to the proprietor.

Character of the People - The people are naturally judicious and acute, possesing considerable vigour of mental faculties. They are also, on the whole, industrious and sober, and, with a few exceptions, of good morals. They abstain carefully from profane swearing, and rarely utter an oath. To the Sabbath they pay a sacred regard; many of them are devoutly disposed, and seem to feel deep impressions of religion on their hearts. They all belong to the Established Church, and discover no particular propensity to fanatical sectarism. It must be confessed, however, that some of them do not distinguish as they ought, between the means and the end of religion; an error not uncommon where religion is most professed.

Language - The Gaelic or Erse language is generally spoken by the country people, and is their native tongue. The English, however, has made very considerable progress in the parish for 20 years back, owing to the benefit received from the number of schools planted in it much about that time. The heritors and higher ranks seldom speak Gaelic, but some of them understand it so well, as to be able to converse with such of their tenants as have no English.

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