Old Statistical Account (1790) Parish of Lochbroom

Lochbroom 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.
The following is a transcription of the actual Account of the Parish of Lochbroom from the First or Old Statistical Account of Lochbroom (1790).

PARISH OF LOCHBROOM (County of Ross - Presbytery of Lochcarron - Synod of Glenelg)

By the Reverend Mr Roderick Macrae, Missionary Minister in the parish of Applecross
Origin of the Name - Lochbroom takes its name from a river, which runs through a considerable tract of this parish, called Meikle Strath, and an area of the sea, into which this river falls. In Gaelic the river is called Braon, and the country around it Lochbraon. But as this would not sound too well in English, it was thought proper to change it into Lochbroom.

Situation and Extent - The western boundary of this parish is washed by that part of the Atlantic Ocean, which divides the island of Lewis from the mainland of Scotland. The exact length and breadth of it cannot be easily ascertained, as it is of a very irregular figure, being uneven in many places by several small areas of the sea. Some have computed it at 36 miles long, and 20 broad.

Surface, Rivers, Lakes, and Fish &c. - The far greater part of this parish consists of wild uncultivated mountains and hills, abounding with rocks, moss, and heather.But these tracts are not altogether useless, as they serve as pasture to a great number of black cattle. There is, however, a great deal of arable lands in which they usually raise pretty rich crops. These fertile spots are for the most part close by the seaside; from which they extend, in some places, in the form of long valleys, to the distance of two computed miles and upwards, such as the Meikle and little Straths, Strath-Cainard, &c. Besides these places, which usually produce rich crops both of corn and grass, there are a few good glens, wholly detached from the sea, which are also pretty fertile. In these straths and glens, and different other parts of the parish, there are woods of various kinds; particularly fir, birch, ash, and alder. There are also some rivers and fresh-water lakes, which furnish some trout and salmon. And, upon the whole, the surfaceof this parish yields an agreeable variety of hill and dale, wood and water, corn and grass.

Soil, Produce, and Cultivation - The soil, though fertile, is not in general deep, but rather light and jingly. The crops consist of barley, oats, and pease, together with a great quantity of potatoes. They seldom begin to sow till towards the latter end of April, and sometimes the barley is not wholly laid down till the middle of June. The harvest however, is commonly pretty early; and, excepting some bad years, the crop is usually all gathered in by the middle of October. The chief implements of husbandry are the plough and the crooked spade; they sometimes, however, use common spades and pick-axes. The manure most used is seaweed, which is got in considerable quantities on the adjacent shores. They also make a few compound dunghills; and some of the more substantial of the farmers use a small quantity of shelly sand, of which there is a large bank towards the northern extremity of the parish. From this place it is carried in vessels and open boats, according to the conveniency and circumstances of the users of it. They sometimes bring it, after landing, in creels or baskets on horseback, from the distance of two or three miles; and, notwithstanding this trouble, they often find that it repays their labour; for it produces exuberant crops out of lands that were formerly thought good for nothing. The virtue of it, however, does not continue above five or six years; and at the expiration of such a period, from the time of laying it on the ground, they are obliged to leave the lands ley for a certain number of years; commonly three or four. During this interval, the ley lands yield very good grass.

Climate and Diseases - The air of this, as well as that of the neighbouring parishes, is somewhat damp and moist; which is chiefly imputable to their near vicinity to the Atlantic Ocean. The rains are much more frequent and heavy in these corners than in the lower and interior parts of this kingdom; and often prove a prodigious obstruction to the farmers, in the labouring and harvesting seasons.They always come on with the westerly winds; and when it blows in a contrary direction, the weather is usually fair. Notwithstanding its wetness, the climate is not unhealthy, and many of the inhabitants live to a good old age; a few of them, however, complete 100 years. The people are not subject to any epidemical distempers; but, in spring 1791, they were visited by a most malignant fever, which swept away great numbers of them.

Population - The population of this parish has increased greatly within these forty years. The present number of souls is about 3500. The return to Dr Webster in 1755 was 2211. Therefore, an increase of 1289.

Heritors and Rent - The land rents are about 1700 L Sterling. There are five proprietors,viz. Mr Mackenzie of Cromarty, Mr Mackenzie of Dundonnel, Mr Davidson of Tulloch, Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Coul, and Mr Mackenzie of Achilty. Mr Mackenzie of Dundonnel is the only proprietor who resides in the parish.

Prices of Provisions, and Wages - Every article almost has of late risen in price.Oat meal, upon an average, sells at17s. per boll; barley meal at 14s.; barley at 18s.; oats at 16s. Beef is 2d. per lb., mutton the same; hens 4d. and sometimes 6d. each eggs 2d. per dozen; butter 12s. per stone; cheese 4s.; salmon 111/2d. per lb. fresh; herring 7s. per barrel, including all expences previous to packing. A good ploughman gets 4 L Sterling in a year, together with his maintenance; a woman servant 20s;. a herd 20s.; and a day-labourer 9d. per day without victuals.

Villages and Fisheries - The British Society have fixed one of their villages here, at a place called Ullapool. The Society began to build some houses in this place, in summer 1788; and private persons have been ever since adding to the number annually; so that in this village there are now about 71 houses, of which 35 are slated; the rest are thatched with turf, fern roots, and heathers. The principal inducement to settle in this village is its advantageous situation for the herring fishing, which indeed is very great; being placed on a lake that has long been remarkable for the finest herring; and holding a centrical situation with respect to the best fishing lakes on the west coast, both south and north of it. The herring commonly set in for Lochbroom, and some neighbouring lakes, in the month of July, and often continue till spring. They sometimes, however, do not remain long at a time but great shoals of them come at different periods of the same season, and go away again in a few days thereafter.They are always caught in the night-time, and the darker the night is, the better for the fishers, provided it be free of rain. In this village there is a red-herring house, where they cured last year 500 barrels fine red-herring. There are other two fishing houses of an older standing, in the neighbourhood of Ullapool; one at Isle Martin, about 4 or 5 miles north of Ullapool. This house was erected, about 20 years ago, by a company of Liverpool gentlemen, who keep an overseer there during the fishing season, every year, and they have often reaped considerable profit from this trade. The other house of this kind is at Isle Tanera, a little distant to the north of Isle Martin, which was erected, in the year 1785, by a London company and a Mr Roderick Morison from Stornoway, a man of extensive mercantile talents, who was undertaker for the building, and afterwards became manager for the company. During his superintendency, the fishing proved a lucrative branch of business for the company, but he died in summer 1791, and soon after the company was dissolved, and the house and appendages sold to a Mr Macdonald from the Isle of Sky. This gentleman has not had time to make much of the fishing as yet, but, in so favourable a situation for that business, it is not to be doubted, but he will soon experience the same good success with his predecessors. The herring cured in this country are sent to different markets, most frequently to Leith and Greenock, where they fetch high prices. Some are likewise exported to Ireland, where they usually sell to great advantage. There is salmon fishing, close to the village, on the river of Ullapool. There are also two salmon fishings in the parish, one at Inverlael, and the other at Meikle Gruinard. But the quantity of fish, cured at all these three places taken together, is usually little more than the two last.

Roads and Bridges - There was an excellent road betwixt Ullapool and Dingwall, commenced in summer 1792, and it is now nearly finished; so that, where lately nothing could be carried but in creels on horseback, carts and carriages can now travel with the greatest ease and expedition. This road consists of 38 miles, and has cost government about 4500 L including bridges, of which there must be a good many in its course. We are informed that similar roads are to made to different other parts of the Highlands, which are indeed highly necessary. Perhaps a few cross roads would be also proper, particularly one from Ullapool to Pollew, which lies about 30 miles south-west of it. And if this road was further extended from Pollew to Lochcarron, by the shortest cut that could be contrived, it would be of vast service to the West Highlands in general, as an easy communication would, by that means, be opened from one parish to another, and the good effects of such a road would not only be felt all the way from Lochbroom to Glenelg, but would also extend further, to Sky and the Lang Island. Another cross road from Ullapool to Assint, on the north, would be likewise very useful.

Manufactures, Minerals, Fuel &c. - No manufactures have taken place here as yet, except a spinning one, which is carried on upon a very small scale, by two of the settlers at Ullapool, merely for the purpose of furnishing employment to a few idle hands. A manufacture on a large scale, that could employ a great number of people, is vehemently desired. Some think that a soap manufacture would be much to the purpose, but the general voice is in favour of a woollen one. In either case, however, they look up to the British Society for assistance, as private adventurers will undertake nothing of that kind that is likely to be productive of any extensive effects. It were therefore earnestly to be wished that the society and such other patriotic gentlemen, as have an influence in the direction of public measures, would take this matter under consideration, and promote the establishment of some useful manufacture for the advancement of the infant village, which will otherwise be in danger of dwindling into nothing again. Though the fishing be as yet the principal, it would not long be the only inducement to settle at Ullapool, if effectual measures were taken to encourage settlers. This place is possessed of many of those natural advantages, which are required to the formation of a good manufacturing town. Here is an excellent harbour, where a great number of vessels can lie safe at anchor, as well as load and unload. There was a good quay built in it of late, and the entrance to it is safe and easy. Here are also several hundred acres of very good soil, which are parcelled out in lots or feus by the society, has gardens and other useful purposes to the settlers. Some of it is inclosed and subdivided in this way already, to a very great purpose. A few of the settlers have made some very fine gardens, where they rear pot-herbs and various useful roots. Adjoining to this is a large track of pasture ground, which will support a number of cattle for them. Here is also abundance of stones for building, and lime-stone too at a little distance; besides the advantage of plenty of fuel from a number of good peat mosses, which are contiguous to every farm, and almost inexhaustible; and a river, which might be of great service in moving machinery. To all these advantages we may add, that, if agriculture were encouraged, and habits of industry diffused among the people by men of skill and influence, many parts of Lochbroom could be made a good corn country.

Harbours, Shipping, &c. - Besides the harbour at the village, already mentioned, there are so many other harbours in Lochbroom, that it would be tedious to enumerate them. These are chiefly to be found on both sides of the Meikle and Little Lochs, and along the coast of Coigach. There are 6 vessels belonging to Ullapool, which, together with 4 or 5 more belonging to the fishing stations at Tanera and Isle Martin, employ about 40 seamen. There are no fixed ferries here, but one is much needed betwixt Ullapool and the opposite side of the lake.

Mineral Springs - There is a mineral spring at Leckmelm, about 2 miles east of Ullapool, which is thought to be of a very salubrious quality. Perhaps it may hereafter be found to contain powerful virtues, though no pains have as yet been taken to ascertain them. Some medical gentlemen, who happened to pass that way, were of the opinion that it would be serviceable in consumptive cases. There is another minerals spring upon the glebe, but little or no notice has been taken of it.

Church, &c. - There is a pretty good church here, which was built several years ago. It was lately repaired and elegantly seated at the expense of the heritors. The money stipend is 91 L Sterling, and the glebe is worth about 30 L a year. There is besides a large track of ground mortified for the benefit of the church, worth 20 L a year. So that this living in all is worth 141 L Sterling a year. The present incumbent is Mr Alexander Stronach, Mr Mackenzie of Cromarty is patron. There are no funds for the poor, but what arise from the weekly collections, which in this parish are very trifling, in some years scarce ammounting to 4 L, at the parish church. And when to this are added a few small collections taken up in other parts of the parish, the sum will still be very low.

Schools - The parochial schoolmaster has an salary of 12 L a year. He is a man of very good abilities, and has been preceded by a series of men who were sufficiently qualified for their business. But still it is to be regretted that the school is of no great benefit to the inhabitants. This is partly to be ascribed to a stupid indifference in the generality of the people, with regard to the want of due encouragement from those who should be ready to promote the improvement of the people in this way. It is a general and well founded complaint that schoolmasters meet with too little encouragement in most places. It is certainly a grievance which merits redress, that men of liberal education, so laboriously and usefully employed in the service of the public, should labour for such a small pittance as the generality of schoolmasters salaries are. There are two Society schools in this parish, one at Ullapool, and the other at Little Strath. That at Ullapool has a salary of 25 L a year, and is usually attended by a good number of scholars, commonly 40 and upwards. The teacher, Robert Monro, has been formerly ordained preacher every Sunday, besides teaching through the week. The school at Little Strath has a salary of 12 L a year, and is also pretty well attended.

Character and Manner of Living - The people are in general honest, sober, and well disposed. At their burials and marriages, however, they too much adhere to the folly of their ancestors. On these occasions they have a custom of feasting a great number of their friends and neighbours, and this often at an expense, which proves greatly to the prejudice of poor orphans and young people; although these feasts are seldom productive of any quarrels or irregularities among them. With regard to their food, fish and potatoes constitute the principal part. For most years the product of the soil does not afford them a sufficient supply of meal, and they usually buy a considerable quantity, and that often at a very high rate, from vessels which are sent by meal-mongers to the country.

Advantages and Disadvantages, &c. - It is a very great advantage to the people here to be so near the sea. The herring fishing not only contributes much to their support, but also helps them to pay their rents. Still, however, they are in general rather poor, and think the land-rents too high. The oppression of the landholders is a general complaint in the Highlands; and the consequence is that great numbers of the people are forced to emigrate to America, while others go to service in the low countries and manufacturing towns. And thus the population of these corners is not near so great as might be expected in such an extent of territory. Another circumstance, which is unfriendly to population, is the engrossing of farms for sheep walks. This mode of farming has been introduced lately into some parts of this parish, and proved the occasion of reducing to hardship several honest families, who lived tolerably happy on the fruits of their industry and frugality. Whoever would wish to see the population of this country flourishing, should do all in their power to put a stop to the sheep traffic, and to introduce manufactures among the people. Whole districts have been already depopulated by the introduction of sheep; so that, where formerly hundreds of people could be seen, no human faces are now to be met with, except a shepherd attended by his dog.

It has been said, however, that these people who were dispossessed of their farms, can live much more comfortably in the manufacturing employment, than ever they could do before. But would they not be still more happy, if manufactures were introduced among themselves ?* And is it not a matter of importance to the nation to encourage population in the Highlands, as well as in other parts of the kingdom? Besides their inconveniencies, many of the people of Lochbroom are at a loss for the means of religious instruction, though they have got a clergyman in the village, and are besides furnished with three catechists from the committee for the royal bounty. In such an extensive parish, there ought to be no fewer than 4 clergymen, in order to afford the benefit of Christian worship and public instruction to the whole body of people. In their present state many of them do not hear so much as one sermon in a year, which is also the case with different parts of some neighbouring parishes. In Lochbroom it is a striking circumstance to see crowds of people coming for christenings and marriages from a distance of several miles, both by sea and land, in the time of boisterous and rainy weather. +

* There was a Lint Manufacturing Station established here, some time ago, by the Board of Trustees for fisheries and manufactures. While this work continued it was of great service to this parish, but it has been long since given up. The house, where the superintendent lived, stands at the end of the Meikle Loch, and could be repaired at a small expence, so as to be occupied again.

+ The clergyman of the village could perform these good offices, to such of them as are contiguous to him. But it is a pity that the minister of the parish should be so fondly tenacious of his dignity, as to deny this indulgence.

Proposed Improvements - If this parish were divided into 4 districts, each of them would form a sufficiently extensive and populous charge for one clergyman. Coigach would comprehend two of these districts; one of which would be confined to Ullapool and its environs, consisting of upwards of 1000 souls. The Aird of Coigach would form another district, which is separated from the Ullapool district, by an extensive track of moss, mountains, and rocks. In this district there are upwards of 600 souls; and some of the tenants there, with the concurrence of the proprietor, made lately a very laudable attempt to obtain a mission from the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, in which we are sorry they did not succeed. The Society, though possessed of ample funds, think it necessary to stipulate for their missions terms and conditions which the Highland proprietors are so unwilling to comply with, that few of them are likely to take place. It has been said, and not without reason, that the society's great funds would be more productive of good and extensive effects if they settled their missions independently on any stipulations with the proprietors of estates; as in this case, the people immediately reaping the benefit of a mission, would furnish the incumbent with the more necessary accommodations, such as a dwelling-house and a place of worship; that with regard to a glebe, which is the principal obstruction, it should never be insisted on as a necessary condition for the establishment of a mission. In some cases, a missionary would not occupy a glebe though he had it, and, in most places, if he was disposed to keep a few cattle, he could always, for a little rent, obtain grants for them, either from the tenants or the proprietor; and that according to the present mode of settling missions adopted by the Society, those places that have most need, have least chance of being provided with them. The Society, however, must have good reasons for their proceedings, though it is to be regretted that the effects should thus, though contrary to their intention, retard the object they have in view to promote. The enlightening of these benighted corners, for whose improvement and happiness the pious intended their liberal bequests, is an object of such importance, that it were to be wished matters could be settled on a more favourable footing. It is hard indeed, that if a poor ignorant set of people, in an obscure corner, have the misfortune to be under a niggardly or a poor proprietor, that does not care a farthing for their souls or bodies further than to get his rents, they should suffer on that account, and be deprived of the blessings which their more feeling Christian brethern intended them. The 3rd district of Lochbroom might comprehend Little Strath, Strathnafailg, the Laich, &c. and would also stand in need of a mission. It contains about 880 souls. The 4th, and the last district, might comprehend the rest of this parish, viz. Meikle Strath, and other places contiguous to the parish church, which consist of about 950 souls.

Antiquities - Here may be seen the ruins of several old fortifications. But the traditions concerning them are so various and doubtful, that nothing certain can be determined with regard to their original. In an Island on the south-westof this parish, may be seen two large caves, one on the north side of the island, and the other on the south. It is said to have been inhabited by a Popish priest, who used to shift his quarters from one cave to another, as the weather directed. It still retains the name of Priest Island.

Vol. X.


Parish of Lochbroom

Additional Communications, from the Rev. Roderick M'Rae.

That the Highlands may be improved in several respects, appears evident upon a little reflection. They may be improved in agriculture, in manufactures, and in fisheries. But, as a necessary preliminary to these improvements, the making of proper roads and bridges, so as to open an easy communication betwixt the Highlands and the Lowlands, and from one part of the Highlands to another, is an object which merits the attention of the legislature. With this view, the roads leading to Pollew and Lochcarron, as they are the channels of conveyance to the west coast and the Hebrides, ought to be formed upon the same plan with the Lochbroom road, where carts and horses can now travel with the greatest ease and expedition, either by night or by day. These other roads are by no means less worthy of notice. After paving the way thus far for improvements, in order to encourage agricultural exertions, landholders ought to give their tenants longer leases than usual, suppose twenty years or upwards. Nothing discourages a tenant more than a short lease. In this case, he reasons with himself, that too great exertions in improving his farm might be a mean to augment his rents, before he tastes the fruits of his labours, or to tempt his neighbour to outbid him at next set, not far distant. As a further inducement to agricultural improvements, perhaps it might have a good effect if the landholders should, after the laudable example of the Highland Society upon a large scale, each upon his own estate, distribute among his tenants some little premiums for improving a spot of ground here and there. Furnishing them with tools and instruments of husbandry might also be to some purpose. As to fisheries, I have long been of the opinion, that a village consisting merely of professional fishers could never exist in the Highlands. Their success in fishing is perfectly precarious, and, even if it were otherwise, they are at a distance from markets. But if the soil was cultivated, so as to furnish the necessaries of life upon easy terms, and the manufactures set up in proper situations, inhabitants of various descriptions would flock in from all quarters, and would in all probability in the course of a few years form populous and flourishing villages. In such a state of things, there would not be wanting abundance of persons to prosecute the fishing, with the utmost vigour, of their own accord. In the meantime, I must observe, that an alteration on the salt laws is much required. They seem to be rather strict and intricate for the present state of the Highlands. The extension of useful knowledge, also, would have a happy tendency to rouse the Highlander to attend to the means of improving his country. For this purpose, schools and missions ought to be established in as many situations as possible. From want of these means of instruction, the present state of the Highlands is truly deplorable, and it is rather unfortunate that the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge should have adopted regulations which stand as a bar to the benefits of the institution. Schools of industry, as for spinning, sewing, net-making, &c. should likewise be established.

I wish you could get some schools established at Derrynafuaran. One for literature, and another for the other useful purposes just now mentioned, would much improve the poor people here. It is a hard case if the Society at Edinburgh refuse to concur with you in so laudable an undertaking.

If the Pollew road was made the establishment of a packet boat betwixt Torridon and the isle of Sky, it would be of much benefit to this coast and the Western Isles. The road betwixt Torridon and Kinlochew should also be repaired, if not wholly new-modelled. Even as it stands, it must be owned to be of great service, not only to your own tenants, but also to their neighbours. It seems to be one of the best improvements ever attempted in this country.

By promoting the improvements suggested above, the state would be strengthened, the landholders would be benefited, and the situation of the Highlanders themselves rendered much more comfortable.

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