Old Statistical Account (1790) Avoch Parish

Avoch and Killen Community Collage
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.

PARISH OF AVOCH (PRESBYTERY OF CHANONRY, SYNOD AND COUNTY OF ROSS)

BY THE REV MR JAMES SMITH

Name, Situation, Extent, etc - In old records, the name is written Avach or Auach. It is commonly pronounced Auch. The most probable derivation is from a Gaelic word, signifying a ford or shallow water. For the bay, opposite to the parish church, being more shallow, the tide flows and recedes farther than in any other part of this side of the Moray Firth, between the bays of Cromarty and Munlochy. This parish is situated in the presbytery of Chanonry, in the synod and county of Ross. It is one of the eight parishes comprehended within the ancient district of Ardmeanach, or the Black Isle, so called, because the whole make a peninsula, of which the greater part continues still black uncultivated moor, though a good deal has been planted and improved of late.

Avoch extends about 21/2 English miles from East to West, and 4 from South to North, and is nearly of a rhomboidal form. It is bounded by the parish of Rosemarky towards the East, by the Moray Firth and that branch of same Firth called Munlochy bay, on the South-East, South, and South-West, by the united parishes of Kilmuir Wester and Suddie, on the West, by Urquhart or Ferrintosh on the North West, and by the united parishes of Cullicudden and Kirkmichael on the North. It marches with these last on the large hill called Mulbuy, which extends nearly the whole length of the Black Isle, from Cromarty to Beauley.

Surface and Soil - This parish consists chiefly of two ridges of hills, of a moderate altitude, and pretty broad on the top, running nearly parallel to each other, in a direction from East to West, with a gently sloping vale on the North side of each, and part of the Mullbuy, formerly mentioned, rising behind all these towards the North. So that it presents, in a manner, three banks or faces to the beneficial influence of the southern sun, and enjoys all the varieties and advantages of hill and dale. The Southern exposures being in general best adapted for corn-farms, the northern for wood, and the valleys for pasture.

Almost every variety of soil is to be met with here. Towards the shore it is light and sandy, as usual, particularly in some of the lower grounds near the bay and sea town of Avoch, where on digging two or three feet deep, a stratum of sea shells has been found in different places. This would seem to indicate that the Firth had once over-flowed those grounds to a farther extent that it ever does now. To the Westward of this, on both sides of the Southern vale, the soil is generally a light loam, or loam mixed with clay, fertile enough.

Farther West, there is a deep rich clay, particularly on that fine extensive bank of the Mulbuy, called Auchterflow. In the Northern vale, there is a good deal of moss, on a tilly or clay bottom, of a bad quality and generally wet, which can scarcely be cultivated to advantage. The hill tops consist chiefly of a black sandy soil, covered with poor short heath, and a few moor stones intermixed, much better adapted for plantations of the Scots fir, than for pasture.

Climate - The air is generally dry and healthy, though comparatively speaking, few of the inhabitants attain to old age. But this seems more owing to their habits of life, than to the climate. No disease can be said to particularly prevalent. Fevers and the small pox have, indeed, at times made considerable ravages. This, however, can be easily accounted for, from the people's want of cleanliness, and their excessive use of spiritual liquors.

Sea Coast - its Advantages and Productions - The Northern part of Scotland derives many advantages from those beautiful arms of the sea, with which it is intersected. Of these the parish of Avoch is not without its share. The firth washing it nearly on two sides, makes the air much more salubrious, without those fogs and that piercing coldness, which the inhabitants of the East coast of Scotland complain of, from the neighbourhood of the German Ocean. It also makes the snows melt sooner in winter, and prevents immoderate heat in summer, by that agreeable and refreshing coolness, which every flowing of the tide sends forth. It affords likewise employment for many of the inhabitants, and adds to the provision of the whole.°

° On one half of the bay of Avoch, from the Craig Burn (which divides this parish from Fortrose and Rosemarky) to the east end of the Seatown of Avoch, the coast is high and rocky. But few of these rocks extend into the sea, so as to be dangerous for boats. And there is for the most part a fine soft beach at the foot of them. From thence to Castletown Point, the shore is flat and sandy. There is good anchorage for shipping, and vessels of from 40 to 100 tons may lie to safety on the Seatown beach, to deliver and receive cargoes, unless there be a strong gale from South or South-East. From Castletown Point Westward to the mouth of Munlochy Bay, the coast is bold and rocky, and there is more depth of water. Along the said bay to the western boundary of this parish, it is generally high, and consists of land and gravel, with some large rocks interspersed.

Even these rocks have turned out advantageous. For in Munlochy Bay there is an excellent quarry of hard reddish freestone, accessible to boats on the water-edge. Out of this quarry almost all of the extensive works of Fort George were built. The late Mr Matheson of Bennetsfield, proprietor of the grounds, let the quarry to Government, or to the undertaker employed by the Government, at the small sum of 10L a year, while that fortification was going on. A cheap contract, indeed, if we consider the immense quantity of material furnished? For 20 or 30 boats, besides several sloops, were completely employed in conveying it.

The quarry is now wrought chiefly for builders at Inverness, who though there be 5 or 6 miles of water-carriage, find this their easiest supply. And two boats of 10 to 11 tons burden each, are almost daily engaged in the business, which, with the quarrying work, yields a pretty good subsistence to eight or ten families in this parish, besides a rent, or profit of about 30L Sterling yearly, to the proprietor. A boat's cargo of the stone fetches at Inverness, 16s to 17s.

The Moray Firth at Avoch, is about four miles broad. And a finer bason is scarcely to be seen in the North. To an observer on this shore it has all the appearance of a beautiful lake. For Chanonry point from the North, and that of Ardersier from the South East, appear like projected arms to clasp each other, and to break off its connection with the sea, while the point of Inverness, and the hills in that neighbourhood, seem to bound it in like manner in an opposite direction. The town of Inverness, at the one end, and Fortrose and Fort George at the other, add much to the landscape. From a boat in the middle of the Firth, opposite to Culloden house and the bay of Avoch, the view is still grander and more embellished.

Since the important era of 1746, the trade of Inverness, and of the other towns on this Firth, has been gradually increasing and flourishing. It employs now more than six times the former number of vessels, some of which may be seen here passing and repassing almost ever day.

But the chief benefit of the Firth to this parish, is that of the Fisheries. Here are caught herrings during their season, whitings, flounders, sprats, a few oysters and crabbs, with abundance of mussels, quilks, and small fry for bait. There might be a shell fishing for salmon, near Castletown point. But as the shore is not altogether convenient for drawing the net, it has not been much tried. Some small whales, purpoises, and snipe fish, come up now and then. About 50 years ago, haddock were frequently caught within a mile of Avoch. But they have since quite disappeared. They seem to have retreated Eastward to the wider parts of the Firth, towards Tarbat point and the coasts of Moray and Caithness. Nor have they been got there for several years past in such plenty as before, until this summer (1793) when the fishermen have had good success, and found them again about the mouth of Cromarty Bay.

There is some quantity of seaweed on different parts of the shore. A little of it has at times been burnt into kelp. The neighbouring farmers chiefly use it as a manure for barley. It is very beneficial for this purpose, whether laid on green, or rotted in the dunghill.

Springs Etc - There is a great abundance of excellent springs throughout all this parish. Some of them have a mineral tint, but have not become remarkable for the cure of any diseases. A well, called Craiguck, issuing from a rock near the shore of Bennetsfield is resorted to in the month of May, by whimsical or superstitious persons, who, after drinking, commonly leave some threads or rags tied to a bush in the neighbourhood. But if they derive benefit from this, it would seem to be more owing to their own credulity, than to any effect of the water, which differs nothing in taste or appearance from common.

In the southern vale, there is a fine rivulet, called the burn of Avoch, perhaps the largest in Ardmeanach, which rises mostly in this parish, drives three corn-mills, and empties itself into the sea near the church. It produces the common trout and eel. Its mouth makes a safe harbour or retreat for the fishing boats in time of storm. And here a good species of red trout is taken, from 15 to 18 inches long.

Minerals - A small lake, called Scaddin's Loch, near the eastern boundary of this parish, was drained some years ago. In its bed, a good many peats have been dug, and under them appears a large stratum of shell marle. It is believed, that limestone also might be found, on a proper search, as several pieces of it are to be seen frequently in the channel of the burn. Free stone quarries have been wrought on different grounds, besides that in the bay of Munlochy, particularly, one of a deep red colour on the farm of Arkandeith, out of which it is believed that the cathedral church of Ross at Chanonry was built, many centuries ago, as a considerable excavation has evidently been made, and no other rock of the colour used there, is known in this part of the country.

State of Property - There are five heritors, but only one resides. Sir Roderick McKenzie of Scatwell, Baronet, proprietor of two thirds of the parish.  His seat of Rosehaugh house stands on a beautiful bank, about a mile and a half from the sea, on the north side of the southern vale. It is a modern edifice, substantially built and commodious, and cost between 3000L to 4000L Sterling. It is surrounded by rich fields in good cultivation, all well fenced, and skirted with woods of different kinds, besides these, he has several thriving plantations of fir, in different parts of this, and an extensive valuable property in other contiguous parishes.

On the same bank, about an English mile to the Eastward, is the house of Avoch, belonging to John MacKenzie, Esq where are good grounds, and small patches and rows of ash, birch and Alder. But this house, and that of Bennetsfield, near the South-West corner of the parish, belonging to Colin Matheson, Esq have both been allowed to fall into disrepair, as the proprietors of them reside in other parts of the county.

One of the finest woods here is that called the Craigwood,* near Fortrose, belonging to Mr Ross of Cromarty. It contains most kinds of forest trees, beautifully intermixed, on a rocky bank, by the sea. It was all cut down about 30 years ago, for making palisadoes and fascines to Fort George, when they apprehended a visit from Mons Thurot's squadron. It has since grown up finely from the roots anew.

*This wood makes part of the old estate of Rosehaugh, which belonged to the late celebrated Sir George MacKenzie, King's Advacate. The property is said to have been so named from a small haugh contiguous to the bank, where a great many sweetbriars and wild roses used to grow. The ground having been mostly brought into tillage, they are not now so numerous. On this haugh, along the bottom of the wood, lies the road from Fortrose to Avoch. And there can scarcely be imagined a more delightful summer evening's walk than this, when, on one hand, the Western sun glitters through the trees, the birches send forth their fragrance, and the singing birds serenade you, and, on the other hand, you behold the beautiful bason before mentioned, with vessels and boats plying upon it with cheerful industry. It is said that Sir George MacKenzie was so fond of this walk, and of that on Chanonry point, which stretches out a mile and a half into the sea, covered with short close grass, as smooth and soft as a carpet, that he used to call it rudeness and want of taste in any of his friends or acquaintances to ride on horseback along them. The Right Hon James Stewart Mackenzie, Lord Privy Seal, who succeeded to Sir George's estate in this county, sold the lands of Rosehaugh to the late George Ross, Esq of Cromarty, one of the most spirited improvers hitherto known as Ardmeanach. Mr Ross gave good employment many years to a multitude of labouring people from all the neighbouring districts. But, unfortunately for this parish, he died before he could get his plans of improvement extended so far.

A few years ago, Captain Kenneth Mackenzie of Newtown, another heritor, attempted to enlarge the beautiful scene of the Craigwood, by planting his part of the same bank to the westward. But as the rocks and steepness prevented him from getting proper fences made, his young trees have been mostly destroyed by neighbour's cattle and sheep. Discouraged by this, he turned his attention next to the improvement of his farm, and has, with great expence and labour, made out above twelve acres new land, where never a blade of corn grew before. Industry of this kind is beneficial to one's country, and deserves to be recorded.

The rent of land in the country part of the parish, including various customs and services, amounts to from 12s to 23s per acre, according to the quality and exposure. But, in the neighbourhood of the villages of Seatown and Kirktown, it pays in general from 25s to 50s. And here some small spots of garden ground are let at the rate of from 5L to 8L Sterling per acre. These last, however, are generally possessed by seamen, shoemakers, and others, who keep no cattle, and must have a little ground for raising potatoes and greens to their families. Such high rents could not be paid by mere husbandmen.

The total gross rent of parish is somewhat more than 730 bolls victual, and 900L Sterling. The valued rent is 2531L 6s 4d Scots

Agriculture, Etc - Though some parts of the parish have been measured, there is no regular survey or map of the whole. It is believed, however, to contain about 6000 acres. Of these, from 1500 to 2000 may be under cultivation. But the whole produce will seldom exceed 5000 bolls, for among the tenants here, farming is only in the state of infancy. It has emerged but little from the rude practice of their forefathers, a hundred years ago. Their horses, in general, are miserable ponies or garrons, bought at from 3L to 5L Sterling, each. Their cattle are a little better in proportion, but few of their sheep are worth above 5s per head. So bleak and bare, indeed, are the hill tops and muirs, that this parish is very little calculated for sheep pasture. Their implements of husbandry are equally poor, except with a few more careful and industrious men, who, having got better garrons, begin of late to use the light chain plough, with curved mold board, and perhaps a coup-cart or two, or a small wain for oxen on their farm.

Their utensils are coarse, being commonly made by the tenant's own hand, with the help of scarcely any other instrument but the ax and adze, which some of them can use very dextrously.

There is no wheat raised in this parish. The prevailing crops are oats and pease, sown in April, and bear, or bear and barley intermixed, which they commonly sow in May. Since the year 1782, when the crop of oats in this parish failed so much, that scarcely any of them were fit for sowing again, early oats of the Blainsley kind have been sown for the most part on the late farms, particularly by the tenants of Auchterflow, where they answer so well, that farmers in similar situations, over all this country, purchase from them for feed. The harvest begins in general about the 20th August, and ends in October, sooner of later, according to the drought or wetness of the summer, and the exposure of the farms. But on some grounds near the shore, the seasons are perhaps as early as in any corner of Scotland. For here a few tenants sow barley the first or second week of April, and reap it frequently in the end of July, or beginning of August. On these light grounds, a very simple rotation is practised, of barley and a green crop alternately. The green crop is pease or potatoes, for turnips, though a better preparative for barley, have not yet been introduced by the tenantry here.
In the higher and deeper grounds, no regular rotation of crops is followed, except on the heritor's own farms, where a good many of the modern improvements are practised with success.

The great aim of the country tenants, is to raise as much bear and barley as possible, which, finding a ready market with the highland distillers in Ferrintosh and Redcastle, turns out to be most profitable crop. Most of those tenants raise also a little flax. But, as they seldom have ground in proper heart for it, it answers poorly, nor is there a mill in Ardmeanach for dressing it. About 50 years ago, the culture of hemp was practised, to the extent of from 30 to 40 acres in this parish. But since the importation of that article has become more frequent, they do not now sow a third part of the former quantity. More than 100 acres are now planted yearly with potatoes, which, besides preparing the land for barley, are exceedingly useful in their families. Clay is much used over all this country as a manure. They mix it with dunghills in the summer, and spread it out on their light grounds intended for barley in the spring. They imagine it has good effect in keeping out the summer heat and drought from hurting the roots of the corn. It may thus in some measure correct the soil, but the kind of clay used by them, can add little to the vegetable food of plants. But the chief error of these tenants is that they rest little of their grounds, and these only when quite worn out, nor do they sow any grass seeds. This obliges them to send off most of their cattle to remote highland glens for the summer, where they lose many of them, and their growth is much retarded. What a loss must it also be to their farms, to be deprived of the dung of those cattle for about five months of the year?

Such extreme backwardness in the state of farming here is occasioned partly by the tenants' own obstinacy, that they will not follow good example set before them by the gentlemen farmers, partly by their poverty, as a few of them can afford to purchase good utensils or grass seeds, but chiefly by the highness of their rents, the scarcity of servants, and the shortness of their leases, which in few cases exceeds 7, 8 or 15 years. Another bar to improvement is the neglect of winter herding. For from the end of the harvest to the middle of April the tenants' cattle pasture in common. And a man whose farm lies in a warm situation, and being in proper heart produces good foggage, cannot have the benefit thereof to himself, without either perpetual watching or enclosures, which he is not able to afford, but gets almost the substance eaten out of his grounds, by the neighbours' cattle. Until these obstacles, or at least some of them, be removed, there can be little hope of seeing agriculture prosper in this district.

The number of horses in the parish, including garrons, may be about 250, of cattle 480, and sheep nearly 600.

Manufacturers - The principal branch consists of coarse linen and osnabrugs, made entirely of flax raised by the tenants themselves, spun in their hoses, and woven within the parish. This may bring in yearly, from 300L to 500L Sterling, and no foreign material is required, except a few casks of Dutch lintseed. There is also as much hemp raised and manufactured by the farmers, as suffices for sails to the fishing boats. And the wool of the few sheep is all made into cloth and stockings at home for the people's own wear. Among the villagers of Seatown, there is a good manufacture carried on of herring and salmon nets, mostly from foreign hemp. Besides supplying the fishery here, they fell yearly from 150L to 200L value of these to Caithness, Lochbroom, and other fishing stations in the North. There was formerly a flourishing manufacture of shoes, from hides mostly dressed at home, which employed about thirty hands in the smaller villages of Kirktown, Millhill, and Miltown. But the late laws, imposing a heavy license duty on tanners, have operated nearly as a prohibition to this article. Some of the shoemakers have left the place, others have become day labourers. And five or six, who remain at work, have now no apprentices, nor can they make bread by it themselves, owing to the high price of leather.

The imports into this parish consist of salt, iron, hemp, coarse cloths, whisky, a few grocery goods, and coals. The repeal of the duty on coals, will be immense benefit in future years, as there are few peats to be got, and wood sells too high for fuel.

The exports consist of grain, cattle, herrings, and the manufactures formerly mentioned. Besides supplying its own inhabitants, this parish disposes of yearly to the neighbouring distillers, and the burghs of Fortrose and Inverness, from 800 to 1000 bolls bear, and from 200 to 400 bolls of oats, pease, and meal, including what is sent forth of the victual rents. Though the last crops (1792) as deficient in counties farther South, it was so plentiful in general throughout the Eastern half of Ross-shire and Cromarty, that, after serving the people and the numerous stills, those districts have exported six or seven thousand bolls.

Population - If we may judge from concurring traditions, where no authentic record has been preserved, and from a well known fact, that there are a third more dwelling houses now in the parish of Avoch, than in the beginning of this century, the population must have been increased considerably within that period. Yet, by Dr Webster's list in 1755, the population is stated at 1457, and by an accuracy survey made partly in 1792, and concluded spring 1793, the number of living souls was found to be 1380.

The church, which as built in 1670, and was probably made sufficient to accommodate the parishioners, or at least such a number as might be expected to attend public worship regularly about that time, could not, in the way it was then fitted up, contain properly above 400 persons.

No proper record of deaths or burials has been yet kept in this parish, but the average of them is believed not to exceed 30. The register of baptisms and marriages, previous to 1787, appears to have been so carelessly and imperfectly made up, that no conclusions can be drawn from it with any degree of certainty. But of an exact register for five years past, the following abstract may be depended on.

                           B a p t i z e d              Couples        
Year        Males    Females    Total    married
1788           22            19            41              5
1789           23            21            44              6           
1790           25              7            32            11
1791           23            28            51            10
1792           22            18            40            10
Totals       115            93          208            42

Average Baptisms of Males 23, Females nearly 19, Total nearly of Baptisms 42, Marriages 8.

Other circumstances respecting the population, may be gathered from its state, in spring 1793, viz.

Number of inhabited houses or families  - 312
Average of persons in a family - 4
Males in the parish - 622
Females - 758
Total of living souls - 1380
Division of these by their ages: 
Under 10 years - 313
Twixt 10 and 20 - 334
Twixt 20 and 30 - 228
Twixt 30 and 40 - 146
Twixt 40 and 50 - 139
Twixt 50 and 60 - 116
Twixt 60 and 70 - 65
Twixt 70 and 80 - 30
Twixt 80 and 90 - 9

Inhabitants, in the Village of Seatown - 378
Inhabitants, in the Village of Kirktown - 99
Inhabitants, in the Village of Milntown - 80
Inhabitants, in the country - 823
Heritor, residing - 1
Minister - 1
Parochial Schoolmaster - 1
Farmers, or tenants, paying from 20L to 50L Sterling of yearly rent - 32
Farmers, or tenants, paying from 5L to 20L Sterling of yearly rent - 26
Crofters, or tenants, paying from 1L to 5L Sterling of yearly rent - 42
Mailers, villagers, and Fishermen's families, possessing only a house, or house and garden each, rented under 1L Sterling - 209
Able Fishermen of 20, and not exceeding 50 years of age - 42
Shop-keepers - 3
Mason, and 2 apprentices -  3
Quarriers, and Dykers, in the country - 3
House-carpenters, with 2 apprentices - 3
Country Wrights and Coopers - 4
Millers - 3
Blacksmith - 1
Butcher - 1
Taylors - 8
Weavers, with their apprentices, or looms employed - 22
Shoemakers - 9
Quarriers, and quarry boatmen, at Munlochy bay - 10
Widowers - 13
Widows - 68
Married Persons - 444
Of the Established Church - 1362
Episcopalians, who occasionally attend Coull's Chapel at Fortrose - 4
Seceders, who commonly attend the Meeting-houses at Inverness and Nairn - 14

N.B. Of the handycraftsmen specified above, several have small possessions of land, which occupy part of their time, particularly the weavers and shoemakers.

And of the mailers, villagers, and crofters in the country, a good many work in the summer as day-labourers, and some go to the south country for employment during the summer and autumn. Others of them, who have small horses or garrons, earn part of their livelihood, by cutting and bringing down fuel from the moors, to supply the Seatown.

Only one still, of 30 gallons, is wrought in this parish, by a copartnery of the neighbouring farmers, and some of the tenants have shares also in another licensed still, in the adjoining parish of Suddy, or Knockbean.

There is not one surgeon, or attorney, or Roman Catholic, or Jew, or Negroe, or Gypsey, or foreigner, nor any native of England, Ireland, or British colonies, residing at present in this parish.

Fishery - About the end of the last century, there was only one fishing boat here, the crew of which resides in the country. The village of Seatown, which contains at present 93* families, has been mostly, if not entirely, built since that period, and the fisherman there are now equal to any in the north of Scotland, for hardiness, skill, and industry, though their distance from the main ocean subjects them to many inconveniences.

*This number, besides the Fishermen, includes also the families of widows, publicans, boat-builders, and other artificers who reside among them.

From the beginning of October to the middle of March, they commonly fish for herrings in those upper parts of the Firth. Towards the end of March and in April, they go down along the coasts of Moray and Caithness, for cod, skate, and haddocks. In May and June, some of them are engaged by the Northumberland Fishing company to catch lobsters for the London market, on the shores of Easter Ross, about Tarbat-point. The others, during those months, work at the haddock fishing, to supply the towns of Inverness and Fortrose, and the Western part of the Black Isle. About the middle of July, all the able fishermen here go off to Caithness, and Lochbroom, for six or eight weeks, when the herring fishery at those stations is commonly most favourable, and in good years they have been known to bring home from thence, 8L or 10L Sterling each man of nett gain.

They generally return in September, to prepare for the season at home, which, owing to the small depth, and clearness of this firth, begins only about the autumnal equinox, or a fortnight thereafter. The same causes oblige the fishermen, for the most part, to delay their work here till evening or night, as the herring are caught in much greater numbers, than during the day. In good seasons, it is not uncommon for each boat to bring in the quantity of from 18 to 25 barrels in one night. When the shoal comes up in the end of June or beginning of July, the herring prove generally best, and most plentiful.

In winter 1786-7, besides those used at home, five or six thousand barrels were cured here for exportation, and several sloops also were dispatched with full cargoes of unpacked herrings for Dunbar, and other towns on the east coast. Since that period, the success in general has been poor at this station, little more than what served to supply the neighbouring country, except in spring 1792, when about 1100 barrels were exported. Last winter, the herrings were uncommonly scarce. And the present season, 1793-4, though is promised well in autumn, has turned out but indifferently. There are not now (in February) 200 barrels packed.

The herring found here are seldom so large as those caught in Caithness, and Lochbroom, which makes it necessary for the men to provide a different set of nets of a smaller mesh and depth, than what they are use at the former stations. Nor have any buildings as yet been erected at Avoch, for curing them in the red manner. The quantity of herring sufficient to pack a barrel when cured, is sold here fresh, at from 3s to 5s 6d according to quality and the demand. And the middle-sized, when fat, are reckoned much nicer, and more delicate eating, than larger ones, though they do not fetch so good a price at the London and other markets, being not accounted so fit for exportation to hot climates. But, if our best hands, at all the different stations in the north and west of Scotland, were provided with large and commodious busses, so that they could go out and continue fishing in deep water, and cure their herrings on board, in the same expeditious and careful manner that the Dutch do, this business might soon become much more advantageous to Great Britain than at present, and our fish become as saleable abroad as theirs! And the weaker and more indifferent hands would at same time, find the better employment in continuing to catch for ordinary consumption at home, from the smaller shoals, which now and then come near to our shores, in the manner that all the hands do at present*

*The Messrs Falls of Dunbar, were, for many years, the principal adventurers in the herring fishery here, and from them the Avoch men met with very good encouragement. Since the unfortunate failure of that old and respectable house, the Northumberland or Beadnel Fishing Company have taken up part of this business, in which an established company, with a good capital, have a far better chance of success than small adventurers, who cannot afford to lay in a proper stock of salt and barrels, much less to keep them unused in favourable seasons. At this station, indeed, the herring fishing, on the present plan, has been found, for some years past, to be but a precarious concern. One successful winter tempted many of the neighbouring shopkeepers to embark in it, and those who did so with borrowed money, have mostly become bankrupts since. To secure the important national benefits of this trade, every reasonable encouragement should be given to both the fishermen and curers.

The fishing boats here are of a small size, their keel being only 26 or 27 feet in length, the mouth from 30 to 32 feet long, and 10 feet wide. The depth is so proportioned to these dimensions, as that they may sail well, and may carry, besides the crew and their fishing tackle, 3 or 4 tons safely. Six of these boats, wrought by seven men each, for the white fishing, two or three smaller ones or yawls, occupied by old men and boys, belong to the place. During the herring season, they fit out a good many more, as four men, with a boy to steer, serve this purpose, and they then hire some additional hands from the country. When the season here proves successful, the fishing boats of Nairn, Delnies, Campbeltown, and Petty, join them, and some likewise from Easter Ross, Cromarty, Rosemarky, Fortrose, and Kessock, so that, even in this upper part of the Firth, 60 or 80 herring boats, containing above 300 men, may be seen at times, plying together on the same stream. But such crowds are thought to be rather prejudicial to the business, in clear shallow water like this, as the herrings often suddenly disappear from them, and it is strongly suspected, that a multitude of boats and nets tends to frighten them away.

The quantity of canvas carried by the Avoch men, and some others in this neighbourhood, is very much disproportioned to the small size and burden of their boats. The length of the mast is generally above 30 feet. On this they hoist an immense oblong sail, containing 80 square yards, or 700 square feet of cloth. And they carry a foresail besides, on a pole at the boat stem, of the same oblong form, but only a tenth part of the size of the other. Their skill and alertness in setting and reefing those sails according to the wind and weather, and the course they mean to pursue, are wonderful. Several gentlemen of the navy have expressed their surprize at this, and declared, that they have seldom seen common fishermen carry so great a proportion of sail, or manage it more dextrously on any other part of the British coasts. Yet there have only been four Avoch men drowned by their boats oversetting, since the fishery first began here. But, as they continue gradually to enlarge those sails, without increasing the boats in proportion, it is to be feared that such accidents may become more frequent among them. For there is undoubtedly, a ne plus ultra in this as in all other human attempts.

In justice to the active enterprising spirit of those honest men, we may add, that three of the Seatown crews having engaged in spring 1791, to fish for several months on the coast of Northumberland, coasted it in their little open boats the whole way from Avoch to Beadnel, without either chart or compass, and returned home in like manner, with no other accident, except splitting one of their sails. A long voyage this for so small craft to undertake, if we consider the different windings of the coast, which they must necessarily follow! What a pity, that such men have not been regularly taught navigation, nor got larger vessels to manage, for there is not a single sloop belonging to the place.

The former inconvenience may now be obviated by the academy lately established at Fortrose, which affords them an easy and near opportunity of getting their children better instructed than heretofore. And if, along with this advantage, Providence be pleased to favour them with three or four good fishing years in succession, it is more than probable that some of the more careful and spirited young men may be persuaded to unite and improve their gains, in fitting out two or three small busses, or proper freighting sloops for this craft, of 50 to 60 tons each, which could occasionally be navigated by fewer hands than any of their present boats. Such sloops might be employed to good advantage every herring season on the bounty, and during the other months they would find abundant encouragement in carrying out cargoes of grain, when it can be spared, and bringing home coals, salt, lime, and other necessaries, to supply the increasing demands of this part of the country.

To promote and encourage such a scheme, would unquestionably be the interest of both gentlemen and traders on both sides of this Firth; as good seamen, having their home, or residence of their families here, could (ceteris paribus) afford to serve the neighbourhood on easier terms than strangers, besides that, a great part of the money, which these districts must necessarily pay for such freights, would thus remain and circulate at home. There is likewise another important consideration, that cargoes would be exposed to less hazard of loss or damage, under the care of seamen so well acquainted with most of the different harbours, rocks and sand banks, in this long and tedious Firth. No less remarkable are the inhabitants of this thriving village in general, for their industry and diligence. They manufacture, of the best materials they can procure, not only their own fishing apparatus, but also a great quantity of herring and salmon nets yearly, for the use of other stations in the North and West Highlands. From Monday morning to Saturday afternoon, the men seldom loiter at home 24 hours at a time, when the weather is at all favourable for going to sea. And the women, and children, besides the care of their houses, and, the common operations of gathering and affixing bait, and of vending the fish over all the neighbouring country, do a great deal of those manufactures. Some of their families also cultivate from a rood to half an acre of potatoes yearly for their own supply; and others, whose children are more advanced, raise and dress, for the herring nets, good quantity of hemp. Even the aged and infirm employ themselves as busily as they can at making baiting hooks, and mending nets, so that, except for a few days about Christmas, or on the occasion of a fisher's wedding, there are none but little children idle in the whole Seatown. And this their industry turns out to good account; for they bring up and provide for their families decently in their sphere. They pay honestly all the debts they contract in the country, and, considering the number of widows, and fatherless, and of infirm and aged persons among them, very, few of this village, except in cases of great emergency, are found to solicit the assistance of either public or private charity.

Wages and price of provisions - The following comparative state, founded on good information, will shew the advance on some essential articles of this nature, within 60 years past, in this district, viz.

Common amount In1734:
Wages of an able ploughman, or farm servant, per annum, sterling -  £1.13.4
Wages of a Female servant - £0.13.3
Wages of a day labourer, per diem, finding his own victuals - 4d
Wages of a journeyman mason, ditto - 11d 
Wages of a journeyman wright, ditto - 8d
Wages of a taylor, ditto - 5d

Common amount in 1794:
Wages of an able ploughman, or farm servant, per annum, sterling - £4.4/-
Wages of a Female servant - £1.10/-
Wages of a day labourer, per diem, finding his own victuals - 9d
Wages of a journeyman mason, ditto - 1s.10d
Wages of a journeyman wright, ditto - 1s.3d
Wages of a taylor, ditto - 9d
 
Common amount in 1734:
Oatmeal, per boll, 9cwt., 9 stone or 144lbs Amsterdam weight 2.3 - 8s10d
Barley, or bear, per boll, (Linlithgow measure) - 9/-
Potaoes per peck, (ditto 2 streaks) - not then sold
Beef and veal, per lb (Amsterdam weight) - 1d
Good Mutton, per do. do. - 3s4d
Pork, per do. do. - 1d
Ducks, each - 3d
Chickens, each - 2d
Eggs per dozen - 3s4d
Haddocks, per dozen - 1d
Butter per stone (of 21lbs Amsterdam weight) - 5/-
Cheese, per do. - 1s8d
Salt per peck, (Linlithgow meal measure or 14lbs Amsterdam weight) 7d

Common amount in 1794:  (description as above)
Oatmeal - 16/-
Barley - 18/-
Potatoes - 6d
Beef and veal - 21/2 d to 3d
Good Mutton - 3d
Pork - 2d to 21/2d
Ducks - 8d
Chickens - 4d to 6d
Eggs per dozen - 11/2d to 2d
Haddocks, per dozen - 9d
Butter, per stone - 12/-
Cheese - 5/- to 5s6d
Salt - 1s6d 


Within the above period, the establishment of a garrison at Fort George and the flourishing state of Inverness, by greatly increased the demand, have tended to raise the price of most kinds of provisions here. Considering however the high rents now paid by the farmers, and the progressive advance on everything else, those present rates, on the whole, cannot be reasonably complained of, except by such persons as have had narrow limited incomes, with no opportunity of improving them. One necessary article, salt, for home consumption, has, indeed, been uncommonly scarce and high priced for some months, over all the north of Scotland; but for this, it is hoped, that the wisdom of Parliament will soon provide a remedy. And the late repeal of the duty on coals carried coastways, though the advance on freight of such a bulky article, prevents the benefit being so sensibly felt at present, must when the war is over, be acknowledged a great relief, to a district so poorly provided with other fuel as this.

Roads and Bridges - Not only in this parish, but over the whole of Ardmeanach, the roads have, for many years past, been as well attended to, and kept in as good repair, as in any part of Scotland, where turnpikes are not established. At most places, where highways meet or intersect each other, direction-posts have been fixed and kept up. In a country, where many of the inhabitants cannot speak to a stranger in English, the importance of these is obvious. Part of one road here, 'twixt the Seatown of Avoch and Fortrose, being liable to frequent incroachments of the sea, proves exceedingly troublesome and expensive. A substantial repair to that, and a few small bridges, are the principal things of this nature now wanted in the district. The county of Ross, last year, established a commutation of the statute labour within their bounds, with a view, no doubt, to improve those matters of police still farther, by hiring able hands with the money and keeping steady surveyors over them. The rates charged are 1s. 6d. yearly from each man, liable to the statute work; and 2s. 6d. more from the tenants, for the strength of each plough. These rates may be thought hard by some poor people, who have little ready money to command, and would rather give their work in the moderate way it used to be exacted. But every judicious farmer or well employed mechanic, who considers the importance of a long summer day for carrying on his own work or improvements at home, will think it much more expedient to pay them. Whether this scheme, however, on the whole, shall more effectually promote the public good than the former, the county will be better enabled to judge, after some years experience.

Language - Although most names of places, and many surnames of persons here are evidently derived from the Gaelic, the inhabitants, in general, of this and the two neighbouring parishes, of Rosemarky and Cromarty, understand and use the English language. They speak it also more purely, and with less of a provincial accent or drawl, than those of many southern counties in Scotland. Hence some have supposed them to be the descendents of a colony brought from some distant part of the kingdom, especially as the common people in all the contiguous parishes around speak mostly in Gaelic, and two thirds of them understand no other tongue. Whereas, in this parish, there are only six or eight families unacquainted with the English language, and three fourths of the parishioners use it in common. Nor has any Gaelic been preached in the church of Avoch since the beginning of this century, although one or two of the ministers understood it perfectly, and could deliver their sentiments in that language with fluency. The prevalence, however, of the English language in this corner, may be more easily accounted for, from the more frequent intercourse of its inhabitants by both sea and land, with those of the southern provinces.

The patronage of this parish belongs to Miss Brodie of Lethen. The stipend, including an augmentation lately decreed, consists of six chalders, part barley, part meal 46L. Sterling, money, 6L. of conversion for the vicarage and fishtiends; and 5L. more for communion elements. The glebe, in three separate spots, all arable, measures nearly six acres.

The church was new roofed, and otherwise improved in 1792. The manse, built in 1672, has undergone several reparations since, and is now a comfortable lodging. The ministers, since the Restoration of Presbytery, and dates of their settlements, have been:

1712-13 - Mr Alexander McBean, afterwards minister at Inverness.
1716 - Mr Alexander Ray, who died here in 1735
1736 - Mr Alexander Fraser, translated in 1755 to Inverness.
1756 - Mr Thomas Simpson, who died here in 1786.
Sept 1787 - Mr James Smith, the present incumbent.

The minister of Avoch is co-administrator with the minister of Rosemarky, of the fund which pays the masters salaries in the academy at Fortrose; and of some lands bequeathed by a late Countess of Seaforth, for the support of the poor in same burgh.

The parochial school of Avoch is attended by about 50 scholars. The master's salary, payable by the heritors, is 6L. 13s. 4d. Sterling. His wages and emoluments, as session clerk and presenter, may, communibus annis, amount to 3L. more. He teaches English, Latin, Writing, Arithmetic, Book-keeping, and Church music. But the fees from his scholars, as the tenantry in general are not able to afford much, will seldom exceed 10L, Sterling. So that this office is scarcely worth 20L. a year.

There is a sewing school for girls in the Kirktown, and two or three small schools in different corners of the parish, for initiating young children to read, but they have no salaries.

A Sunday school, on a proper plan, and a spinning school, for teaching young girls to work at the two-handed wheel, would both be found exceedingly useful institutions in such a populous parish as this, and where the linen manufacture stands much in need of improvement.

State of the Poor, &c - There are about 40 indigent persons now on the roll. The funds for their relief are the interest of 33L. 6s. 8d. Sterling, bequeathed by the late Sir Kenneth McKenzie of Scatwell in the hands of his own family the interest of about 50L. more under the session's management; and the public voluntary contributions in church, which last, at an average of three years bygone, amounts to 8L. 11s. 4d. Sterling yearly. All these funds, however, can afford but a scanty help to each.

A crew of the firemen having been accidentally drowned in 1792, left seven widows and a good many dependents, some of them in most pitiable circumstances. One young girl, in particular, who at 19 years of age, had been married only seven months before, was, by this unforeseen accident, bereaved at once of her husband ! her father ! her brother ! and was left big with child, and in debt! On this melancholy occasion, it was found necessary to ask some charitable assistance from other places. And a liberal supply was obtained, adequate to their more immediate needs. For, besides what was collected within the bounds of this presbytery, the following contributions from different quarters, mostly unsolicited, were remitted to the kirk session for relief of those unfortunate people, and have all been distributed among them, viz.

From the town and neighbourhood of Inverness - Sterling 32L 5s 0d
From some gentlemen of Nairn-shire, and Fort George - 6L 5s 6d
And a collection made in the parish church of Alness - 5L 1s 8d

The distress of the widows having thus been mitigated, particularly until such of them as had been left pregnant were delivered, and nursed their infants, they have almost all now returned to proper habits of industry, sufficient to support themselves and their families. Such examples, it is hoped, will not be thought misplaced in this record, because they not only, in their measure, do honour to human nature, but may tend to encourage others to "do likewise" in similar cases!

The deficiency of crop 1782 was severely felt in this parish, except by some farmers near the shore. But from the great quantities of corn then imported, and the seasonable supply sent by Government for the poor, it is not believed, that any person here died then of want. And the more industrious tenants have since completely recovered from the effects of that year, upon their little stock and credit.

General Character of the Inhabitants - The parishioners here are mostly of a middle size, strong and healthy, and capable of enduring a good deal of fatigue and labour. There may be 8 or 10 men among them six feet high, and very few dwarfs or deformed persons are to be seen.

The inhabitants of the country part are generally but in poor circumstances. Hence they feel many straits in bringing up their families. This with the scarcity and increased wages of servants, obliges some of them to put their children to hard work rather too soon; even the greater farmers, who, as they raise bread for many others, should have it in their own power to live pretty comfortably in their sphere, enjoy here but few of the comforts, and none of the luxuries of life; except, perhaps, in the use of spirituous liquors, to which both they and the fishermen have become of late too much addicted. This has taken place almost entirely of that wholesome strengthening beverage, good beer, which their fathers harmlessly quaffed. The present generation are, indeed, better clothed, but they eat less and coarser bread, and have, perhaps, less ready money. Their houses also, are for most part miserably dirty, smoaky, and meanly furnished. But, as they have little acquaintance with any better condition, so long as they can make a stretch to pay their rent and their debts they appear contented with their own. Their moral character is, in general, good, if we except only a few vices and failings, to which their straitened situation exposes them. They are honest and industrious, faithful to their master or landlords, and attached to their King and Country. As to religion, the greater part of them appear serious and devout, and regularly attend on public worship and ordinances. In most parishes here, it is not uncommon for several thousands of people to assemble, from all corners of the country, on a sacramental occasion.

Marriages, in this place, are generally conducted in the stile of penny weddings. Little other fare is provided, except bread, ale, and whisky. The relatives, who assemble in the morning, are entertained with a dram and a drink gratis. But, after the ceremony is performed, every man pays for his drink. The neighbours then convene in great numbers. A fiddler or two, with perhaps a boy to scrape on an old violincello, are engaged. A barn is alloted for the dancing; and the house for drinking. And thus, they make merry for two or three days, till Saturday night. On Sabbath, after returning from church, the married couple give a sort of dinner or entertainment to the present friends on both sides. So that those weddings, on the whole, bring little gain or loss to the parties.

As superstitious prejudices begin to wear out, the practice of inoculation for the small pox gains ground considerably here, though it is not so successful as in other parts, owing to many of the parents not following the surgeon's prescriptions; and giving ardent spirits to their children, even during the height of the disease.

At common funerals, in this district, the corpse is preceded by the parish officer tolling a hand bell. The pall or mort-cloth is of plain black velvet, without any decoration, except a fringe. An immense crowd of both sexes attend. And the lamentations of the women, in some cases, on seeing a beloved relative put into the grave, would almost pierce a heart of stone.

The inhabitants of Seatown live more comfortably than of the country. And they begin now to build neat commodious houses, which cost above 20L. Sterling, each. Among the fishers, it usual for both sexes to marry at, or under 20 years of age. And of several of their families; there are four generations now living in the place. Their women are, in general, hardy and robust, and can bear immense burdens. Some of them will carry a hundred weight of wet fish a good many miles up the country. As the bay is flat, and no pier has yet been built, so that the boats must often take ground a good way off from the shore, these poissardes have a peculiar custom of carrying out and in their husbands on their backs, " to keep their men's feet dry" as they say. They bring out, in like manner, all the fish and fishing tackles, and at these operations, they never repine to wade, in all weather, a considerable distance into the water. Hard as this usage must appear, yet there are few other women so cleanly, healthy, or so long livers in the country.

During the last war, 13 Avoch men were pressed into the Royal Navy, and though most of these served Admiral Parker's own ship in his dreadful engagement with the Dutch off the Dogger Bank, as well as in other actions, not one of them was hurt by the enemy. Their regular and good behaviour was acknowledged by all their officers, and eleven of the number returned home in 1783, with a good many guineas each of saved money. Mr Dundas's late regulations for the punctual pay of seamen, will be very beneficial in this respect, and will encourage them to enter much more readily than before. The greatest hardships now, is leaving their families, as they commonly marry at such an early period of life, and are all happy and contented with their situation and circumstances at home

Means by which their Condition could be meliorated - If the British Society for improving and extending the fisheries, or the Hon. Board of Trustees for fisheries, manufactures, and improvements in Scotland, would, over and above the bounties now allowed by Government, grant some premiums to actual fishermen for a few years at the different herring stations in the North; to three or four, at least, of the herring boats at each station, whose crew, consisting of a fixed number, and within a limited time of every season, should catch and deliver the greatest quantities of good herrings to the curers. This, it is believed, would excite much emulation among the hands, and be attended with many beneficial consequences. A pier, sufficient for boats and small sloops, would render this station much more commodious and safe than at present, and could be built for a moderate sum. And, if the bounds of the Seatown were extended, by throwing a bridge over the burn, and proper security given the men by way of feus or otherwise, for building good houses on a regular plan along the adjoining shore. From the increase of their families, it is more than probable that the extent and population of this thriving village would be doubled within 50 years hence.

Antiquities - The foundations still remain of a large old castle or Fortalice, on the top a little hill near Castletown-point, about 200 feet above the level of the sea. This mount is called by some, Ormondy hill, and tradition gives the name of Douglas Castle to the ruin. It covers an oblong space, about 350 feet long and 160 feet broad, divided into a good many apartments, which had been strongly built of coarse red quarry stone and lime, with a sosse on one side, and the appearance of bastions towards another. From its peculiar situation, and apparent strength of the works, it may have been early defended before the invention of artillery. There are several traces of old encampments on different moors in the parish. A trench or row of large human bones was lately discovered, a good way beyond the boundary of the present burying ground. And there are several long stones in the church-yard, of a hard close texture, with antique figures of spears, arrows, and stars, carved upon them in alto relievo. All these may be vestiges of the conflicts of the Northern Clans, or of defences against the Danes, and other foreign invaders from this Firth. But no authentic history or tradition, worth mentioning, is now extant concerning them.

As to the country part of the parish, though the farms are, in general, too highly rented, considering the present mode of husbandry here, yet, if the heritors would be persuaded to give their more active and best stocked tenants, leases for 38 years, or for 19 years and a life, at the present rents, with some encouragement to inclose their grounds and build better steadings; and taking the tenants bound to have always a third part of each farm under grass, and to keep their cattle at home during summer, and to winter herd, the face of the country would be improved, the example followed by others, the condition of the tenantry amended, and the present security and future interest of the landlords promoted. The more effectually to bring about those so desireable objects, thirlage should be abolished, by parcelling out the present rent of each miln proportionably upon the different farms bound to it; and the use of lime and marle, under proper restrictions, should be introduced and encouraged among the farmers.

As the linen manufacture seems to be the most agreeable, and best adapted to this parish, a good lint mill, on the burn of Avoch, would both save a great deal of valuable time which the inhabitants now spend in dressing their flax by the stock and hand method, and would tend much to promote the farther cultivation of it. Machinery for striking pot barley, could be included under the same roof at a small expense, and would probably be well employed by both the country and the neighbouring towns. To these hints, we shall only add, that to suppress in future the swarm of unlicensed tippling houses, and to have only four or five proper persons, duly licensed, for retailing whisky and beer, within this parish, would be found productive of most happy consequences to the morals of the people and the public good.

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