Kilmuir and Logie Easter History

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Kilmuir and Logie Easter History - page 7

Chapter VII - Balnagown and its Lairds 

The name Balnagown might have been bestowed as fitly on certain other tracts of land in the Highlands as on that with which we are concerned in this chapter. It is of Gaelic derivation, meaning " town of the smiths", and must have originated in those remote times when small iron works were common all over the Highlands.

It is known that at least fourteen of these ancient smelting places existed at some period in Ross-shire, one of them being at Fearn and another at Edderton, on the present estate of Balnagown. It does not take much imagination to picture the little townships where the smiths and the smelters attached to the furnaces would dwell, little dreaming of the extent to which the industry would develop in the far future, or of the huge factories that would spring up with their armies of workpeople, when the small furnaces would have entirely disappeared and the name by which their townships were known come to indicate these great stretches of country - mountain and moor, forest and rich farmland - which now constitute the Estate of Balnagown.

It was in 1333 that Hugh, fourth Earl of Ross, gave a charter of the lands of Balnagown to his third son, Hugh, who was the eldest son of the Earl's second marriage with Margaret Graham, daughter of Sir David Graham of Old Montrose. This Hugh, known as Hugh Ross of Rarichies, thus became the first Laird of Balnagown.

The charter of the Balnagown lands was drawn up in the name of both Hugh and his wife, Margaret de Barclay, and about 1368 it was renewed by his brother William, the fifth Earl, and later confirmed by David II. In 1375 "that gift and grant which the late William, Earl of Ross, made to the late Hugh Ross, his brother, of the lands of Balnagown, Achahawyt and Gorty, and of the yearly revenue of four pounds from Tarbet with its pertinents in the Earldom of Ross" was confirmed by Robert II in favour of William Ross, son and heir of the said late Hugh Ross.

At that time the Rosses were the most powerful clan in Scotland, their increase in influence having commenced in the previous century after the downfall of the Morays, the tribe which had previously held the position of pre-eminence in the country.

After the death of the last Earl of Ross, the Lairds of Balnagown became the chiefs of the clan, their principal residence being Balnagown Castle, still one of the most picturesque mansions in the North of Scotland, but at present unoccupied, except by a couple of caretakers. It is for the most part built in the Old Scottish Baronial style of architecture, and a portion of it belongs to probably the 15th century. Part of it was rebuilt towards the end of the 17th century, in the time of David Ross, 13th laird, who was particularly interested in architecture. In 1763 there is a record of its being repaired and thatched, while the most recent part of all was constructed in 1838.

It stands on the banks of the Balnagown River. The beautiful Italian gardens, terraced from the lawns to the edge of the river, were laid out in 1847 according to plans drawn up by the laird and lady of that period.

To artists and lovers of ancient things the interior contains many objects of interest, including portraits by Raeburn. In one of the walls of the dining-room is a recess, pierced at the bottom by a shot-hole, on the sides of which are mural drawings of warlike figures in the garb of the 15th century, which were brought to light in the course of repairs. Above the fireplace of one of the rooms is a lintel of stone, on which are carved three circles. Above the middle circle is A-M-M-F 1680; below it, SOLI - DEO - GLORIA (To God alone be the glory); within it a man in a Geneva hat cloak and bands, holding an open book, on which is inscribed - FEAR-God-in heart-as ye-my-beded. Around the effigy are the words - SERVIRE-DEUM-EST-REG-NARE. (To serve God is to rule.) M-H-M-E-R. In the other circles are escutcheons, one bearing the motto NOB1LIS-EST-IRA-LEONIS (Noble is the anger of the lion.)

Little is known of the history of the Rosses during the fifteenth century or of the lairds of that period - Walter, Hugh and John, father, son and grandson; but we learn that towards the end of it the clan was engaged in a bitter feud with the Mackays, at that time a clan of great strength, and a source of perpetual irritation to the Rosses by their frequent incursions into the Ross domain.

One day a roving band of Rosses came upon a company of Mackays in the Church of Tarbat, and before the latter had time to realise the presence of their enemy, the building was in flames. The Mackays were unable to escape, and were burned to death. The Chief of the Mackays was determined that this deed should be avenged, and on the occasion of the coming-of-age of his son John he mustered the clan, and with the support of the Earl of Sutherland's men, they marched into Strathoykill, the Ross country, slaying and burning as they went. Alexander Ross of Balnagown, who had succeeded his father, the above John, as sixth laird, hurriedly gathered together as many of his men as possible, and meeting the invader at a place called Aldycharrich or Alt Charrais, engaged in battle. The result was the complete rout of the Rosses. Alexander was slain, along with seventeen landed proprietors of the County of Ross. The Rosses never recovered from this disaster, and remained afterwards a clan of no great strength or importance.

Alexander's son, David, was the next laird, seventh in the line. His first wife was Helen Keith, daughter of the Laird of Inverugie, described as "ane guid woman". She died in May 1519, and David married Margaret Stewart, who, like most people then, could not write. A receipt from her, dated 1546, has been preserved - "Ye relict of umqll. David Ross of Balnagown to her grandsone, Thomas Stewart, taksman of my conjunct fie and tierce lands of Balnagown for the soum of twa hundred merks.... In witness heirof becaus I could not wreit it myself I haif causit ye notar underwritten subscrive yir putis wit my hand at ye pen. At Edinburgh ye twenty twa day of Marche ye yeir of God 1546 befoir yir witnes."

David's death had occurred in 1527. His son, Walter, succeeded him, who, however, was slain at Tain the following year. His wife was Marion, daughter of Sir John Grant of Grant.

Little is known to the credit of their son Alexander, who next entered into possession.

In 1569 he and other lairds signed a bond, in which they swore to serve and obey as "becumis, dewtifull subjects the maist excellent and michtie Prince, James the Sext, be the grace of God, King of Scottis, oure onelie Soverane Lord . . . affirming and swering solemptlie upon our faythis and honouris, to observe and keip this our declaration and plane profession and every point thairof be God himself and as we will answer at his generall jugement."

But from Alexander such a declaration was valueless. Fearless and utterly unscrupulous, he entered on his career of destruction and outrage, raiding lands, destroying mansions, getting agreements drawn up in his favour by force, in utter disregard of law and justice.

From time to time certain persons became surety for his good behaviour under penalty of large sums of money.

John Campbell of Calder and James Scrymgeour of Dudhope, Constable of Dundee, were among those who undertook this onerous duty under penalty of £10,000, but Alexander refused to be bound, and continued his career of lawlessness. The result was that a decree was brought against those two men, and payment demanded of the said £10,000, failing that their "gudes and geir" would be arrested and their lands confiscated to the value of the sum agreed upon.

In 1580 a complaint was made to Sir William Murray of Tullebardin, knight, comptroller, by tenants of Alexander, that they had been so "herreit and wrakkit" by him that they were unable to pay their taxes, and if some action was not taken to put a stop to this treatment they could not guarantee to pay anything in the future.

There was a complaint also by Thomas, Commendator of Fearn, of "barbarous cruelties, injuries and intollerable oppressions and bludesched" committed by Alexander on his tenants, some of whom from fear of their lives yielded to any demand he was pleased to make. Others were obliged to leave their homes, and were unable to pay the commendator any "maill or dewitie they being compellit to mak payment thairof to the said Alexander" and were forbidden by him on pain of their lives to answer or acknowledge the said Commendator. He in turn was therefore unable to support himself, his wife and family, or to discharge his obligations.

Alexander, on being summoned to answer these charges, failed to appear, and was denounced as a rebel.

For some time he was confined in the Castle of Tantallon, but later released, and in 1592 he died at Ardmore, and was buried at Fearn.

He was married twice. His first wife was Janet, daughter of John, third Earl of Caithness, by whom he had a son, George, who succeeded him, and a daughter Catherine. His second wife was Katherine, daughter of Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail, who bore him two sons - Nicolas, first of Pitcalnie, and Malcolm.

In 1496, about a century before the time of Alexander, an Act was passed in which it was ordained that the sons of barons and freeholders should send their eldest sons and heirs to school, "fra thai be auct or nyne zeries of age" and to remain there "quhill they be competentlie foundit and have perfite Latyne."

The object of this early example of compulsory education was a worthy one, namely, that those who became sheriffs and judges might have sufficient knowledge to administer justice. The penalty for neglect of this Act was twenty pounds.

Whether as a result of this law, or because, in spite of his discreditable conduct in other respects, Alexander realised the advantages of education and wishing his son to benefit from them, he sent George, his eldest son and heir, for a period to attend the University of St Andrews.

Evidence of this remains in receipts received by him for certain payments for board, etc. The originals are still in existence.

"I maister Johne Douglas, Rector of ye university of Sanct Andros, grantis to have ressavit fra Thomas Smyt (Smith) stewaird to ye laird of ballnagown ye soume of thretty twa libs tway schillings in complet payment of ye burd of George Ross soune to ye said laird for all ye tyme remaint student wt. me . . . nynt day of Januar ane thousand fif hundreth thrie scoir sevin zeirs."

The maister Johne Douglas mentioned here was in all probability he, described as Provost of the New College of St Andrews, who was associated with John Knox in the drawing up of a national scheme of education.

Another receipt is in the following terms:

"The savinteen day of Februar ye yeir of God 1566 yeirs I Andrew Watsoun, Stewart in ye New College of Sanct Androw, grants me to have resavit fra . . . Maister Thomas Ross . . . on behalf of Alexr Ross of Balnagown, for ye thrie quarters boyrd of George Ross his son . . . twentie sevin punds witnesses George Ross, Johne Chalmers and James Tago."

On the other side of the document is inscribed, "Heir follows ye money yt said Thomas Ross left wt. Androw Watsoun. Item to buy tway sarks wt. ij neipkyrus XXXIV sh. Item to by ij pair shone ane pair gluves and ane coird to ane bonat 14 sh. iiijd. Item for ane pound of candill XVI. sh."

George does not seem to have been far behind his father in recklessness and utter disregard of law and order.

In 1589 there was a complaint by James Dunbar of Tarbert that George had been building certain dykes and marches on the lands of Kindeis, the property of Dunbar, and in l592, Johne Ros, in Edinburgh, complained that George, with his brothers Nicolas and William, and other sixty accomplices, had taken him captive with violence and detained him in Balnagown Castle against his will.

In the same year George Ross and his father were accused of the slaughter of certain subjects, and of assisting the fugitive Earl Bothwell over the ferries of Ardersier, Cromartie and Dornoch.

Four years later, Hector Munro of Assynt accused him of stealing his cattle, while in 1603 he was summoned for laying waste lands, destroying "hained" grass and pasturage, and stealing salmon, corn, cattle and other goods.

To one and all of these charges he failed to answer, and was denounced as a rebel.

George Ross owed sums of money to various individuals, and was in arrears with his taxes, decrees for the discharge of these debts being constantly served on him, but without result.

George married, first, Marjory, daughter of Sir John Campbell, by whom he had one son, David, who succeeded him, and four daughters. His second wife was Isobel, daughter of Angus McIntosh, who survived him, and took as her second husband Mr John Munro, minister of Tarbat. Some trouble followed over the possession of "ane tack of the miln of Balnagoune," which had been left to her by George without the consent of the heir, and the miller had some difficulty in obtaining the necessary warrant to carry on his business. On becoming a widow for the second time, Isobel married as her third husband, Mr McCloyde of Tallaster.

No member of the Balnagown family made more of a stir, not only in Ross-shire, but all over the country, than George's sister Katharine, who was the principal figure in one of the most famous trials for witchcraft in the sixteenth century.

She was the second wife of Robert More Munro of Foulis, who possessed extensive lands in Ross, Sutherland and Inverness, and whose family was of great antiquity. He represented Ross in the Parliament of 1560.

The "contract matrimoniall" is dated 1563, and reads as follows:- "Alexr Ross of Balnagown taking burden for Katrine his dochter and Robert Munro of foulis his aires . . . (bot-without) ony impediment of consanguinitie or affinitie . . . sall . . . obtein sufficient dispensation . . . sall infeft . . . said Katrine and her aires . . . landis of Contulie . . . mylle of ye samyn . . . Meikle Dawan . . . to be holden of . . . queen's majestie." Then follows signatures of witnesses and of both Alexander Ross and Robert Munro.

A receipt dated 1568 reads- "I Robert Munro of Fowlis . . . resavit pay . . . Robert Munro my servand . . . four scoir punds and pay Alexr Sutherland twenty. . . . . .in name and behalf of Alexr Ross of Balnagown and in pairt payment of my tochir geir that I suld have pay the said Alexr - afoir yir witnesses Robert Munro, vicar of Urquhard, Sir John Sidserf and Donald McCuloich bishopis sone."

"Robert Munro of Foulis"

Robert Munro and Katherine had seven children - George, John, Andrew, Margaret, Janet, Marjory and Elizabeth. By his first marriage with Margaret Ogilvy, of the house of Findlater, there were two sons, the elder being Robert, who succeeded him on 4th November 1588, as sixteenth baron, and the second, Hector, who on 7th October 1589, succeeded Robert. There were also three daughters - Florence, Christian and Catherine.

It was, perhaps, natural that Katherine Ross should wish that her own children should take precedence of her stepchildren in the inheritance of the lands of Fowlis, but this was not legally possible. She was prepared, therefore, to resort to any means to bring it about. Another of her ambitions was that a marriage might take place between the young wife of her stepson, Robert, and her brother George of Balnagown, who was already married to Marjory Campbell. This also in spite of obstacles, she determined to effect. With this object she entered into a compact with certain individuals believed to possess supernatural powers, to remove those who stood in the way of her desires, by means of witchcraft and poisoning. Several unsuccessful attempts were made, but ultimately the plot was discovered. Some of the conspirators were arrested, and on the 28th day of November 1577, in the Cathedral Kirk of Ross, two at least of her accomplices - Cristian Roys Malcolmsone and Thomas McKean - were tried, and, having confessed their guilt, were "brint for saim".

Lady Foulis took fright, and fled to Caithness, but was brought back by her husband, and it was not until 1590, two years after her husband's death, that she was arrested, the trial taking place in Edinburgh before the Supreme Criminal Tribunal of Scotland.

The "dittay against the Pannell" was a lengthy one. The main charge was of plotting against the lives of Robert Monro "thane apperand of Fowlis" and Marjory Campbell, "spouse to George Rois of Balnagown". In collaboration with her hired accomplices she was accused of making two images of clay, the one representing the young Laird of Fowlis, and the other the lady of Balnagown. Two elf arrow heads were then shot at these images by Katherine and her accomplices with the object of effecting the death of the originals.

Another charge was of making "ane stoup-full of poysoint new aill" devised for Hector, the Laird's brother, "his bairnis, the haill sonis of vmqll Johne Monro of Urquhart, Hucheoune Monro of Assent, Andro Monro of Newmore, and the remanent of the speciall of their kynne", so determined was she to make a complete clearance of all possible claimants to the estate. This "aill", however, was spilt, but a still ranker poison was ordered. Again the potion miscarried, this time through the messenger who had been entrusted with it falling a victim to his curiosity. In order to discover its composition, he tasted it and died,the vessel being broken and its contents spilt.

The "cuik" at Balnagown Castle - Johne MoLaren - was also one of Katherine's confederates, and was induced to administer to the Lady of Balnagown "rattoun" poison to be mixed with "ane kiddis neir". The victim, although not immediately succumbing to the effects of this diet, developed a lingering illness, from which she never recovered. The indictment contained many other charges of a similar nature, but in spite of the evidence, a packed jury, composed of dependents in the families of Munro and Ross, all of an inferior rank to the accused, declared her innocent of the "haill poyntis of the dittay". Thus the guilty woman was acquitted.

On the death of George Ross in 1615, he was succeeded by David, his son by his first wife, Marjory Campbell.

David married, first, Lady Mary Gordon, second daughter of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, "a vertuous and comely lady of ane excellent and quick witt." She died in 1604, and was buried in Dornoch. David subsequently married Lady Annabella Murray, daughter of John, Earl of Tullibardine.

David must have been a more peace-loving and law-abiding subject than his father and grandfather, for only one instance of his disobeying the law is recorded. That is in 1613, when he is fined the sum of £1000 for being concerned in resetting some members of the clan Macgregor, in spite of the fact that in the previous year his father, on the principle, perhaps, of setting a thief to catch a thief, had been appointed to a Commission at Invemess for trial of resetters of the Macgregors.

During his time the estates were heavily encumbered. His creditors were continually pressing for payment, and threatening to "apprise his lands" and incarcerate the person of his son David, who was then a minor.

On the grounds that this procedure would interrupt his education, the Government was petitioned to give the boy protection from arrestments on account of his father's debts, until he reached the age of seventeen years.

This was granted, and, later, the protection extended to cover his time in Edinburgh, where he went to study philosophy.

On the death of his father in 1632, he succeeded to the estates, having just attained his majority. His wife was Marie Fraser, eldest daughter of Hugh, Lord Lovat. She died at Ardmore on 22nd December 1646.

In 1635, Lord Lovat was cautioner for David that he keep the peace as chieftain of his clan.

Along with Sir John Mackenzie of Tarbat, David received a commission to apprehend Papists. He also acted as one of the Ross-shire representatives on the Commission of War from 1643 to 1646. He was a supporter of the Royal cause, and fought at Worcester in 1651, where he was taken prisoner, and then sent to the Tower, where he died on 29th December 1653.

He had been unable to free the estate from its burdens, and on several occasions while he was a prisoner in the Tower, soldiers were quartered on Balnagown for default of taxpaying. His two children, David and Alexander, were kept mostly in Tain and Sutherland.

In 1648, 1650 and 1651 there are records of complaints being lodged against David Rosse of Balnagown for non-payment of maintenance, and the Lords grant warrant to the Captain of his Majesty's Lifeguard and Governors of the Captain of his Majesty's garrisons to quarter parties of horse or foot upon him until he pays what is due.

After his death conditions did not improve, and in 1655 there is a note of items supplied to the troops quartered on the estate, as follows:-

"Item at severall tymes to the horsemen payit for their quarteris ryding money and all they receavit of me for deficiencie, 98 merks. Item payit for thrie furnished beds to the six horsemen qlk quarterit on Balnagown his rent at 33 m. 6s. 8d. the bed is 100 mks. . . kidds, capons, henns and eggs gevin to the trouperis."

The neighbouring Estate of Milntown suffered similar treatment. As might be expected, this system of obtaining payment of taxes due to the Government was often abused by the military, and complaints were frequent of unlawful plundering by the soldiers, and of poor people of the estate having to supply "bedding, ale and candle who are not able to furnish fyre to mak readie meat and brew drink for our selfis."

David, the thirteenth laird, who proved to be the last of his line, was born on 14th September 1644, so that he was only nine years old when his father died, and it was four years later before he entered into his possessions. David, son of Pitcalnie, acted as his guardian.

He married Lady Anne Stewart, daughter of James, Earl of Moray. The marriage contract was dated 10th April 1666. They were childless, but David had several illegitimate children.

It is recorded that in 1668 he gave part of Oxgate lands of the Drum of Fearn to John Ross, mason in Balnagown, and to Margaret, his wife, one of whom, it is not clear which, being his illegitimate child. John Ross died before 1717, and his wife before 1741, having had an only son, David, who predeceased his father, and three daughters. The eldest daughter married James Ross, a tailor in Fearn, who in 1717 purchased the portions of the other two daughters. He died in 1738, leaving three daughters, Francis, Elspeth and Enphemia, who inherited his property. The above James Ross, however, owed money to Bailie Donald Ross, of Tain, and in payment of this debt these lands were ceded to him by the above heirs.

From what is known of David it is quite evident that he was a person of somewhat weak intellect, much under the influence of his wife, a capable, strong-minded woman, to whom he deferred in all matters connected with the business of the estate. She in turn was under the domination of the Presbyterian clergy, particularly Mr William Stewart, of Kiltearn, and Mr Daniel Macgilligan, formerly of Kilmuir, later of Alness.

On account of all his father had done and suffered in the Royalist cause, David had been granted a pension of £200 a year by Charles II. Therefore his sympathies at the time of the Revolution might be expected to be more on the side of James II. than on that of his rivals, but he had plenty of astuteness when his own safety was concerned, and seeing how events were shaping, he had no hesitation in joining the supporters of William and Mary.

A few months later he received a letter from Major-General Mackay, acting for the Revolution Convention, in which, in one long sentence, he, as commander-in-chief of King William's forces, expressed his confidence in David's help and in his support of the Protestant religion, inveighed against the Papists as betrayers of their country, and declared that, under William and Mary, he expected all the advantages "accompanying the government of princes zealous of God's glory and the interest of his true Church, and just and equitable towards their subjects, whereof if you be pleased by letter to assure me I shall labour to improve it to the most advantage of you and your family, as far as lyes in my power. . . . .tho' I am in a manner a great stranger to the country , . . not ignorant that your concurrence with us is of great weight having the command of numberous friends and a considerable following allwayes reputed prety forward men, and if such in causes of less importance much more may it be expected in this which comprehends the safety of all that ought to be sacred and deare to all Protestant Christians. . . . all be at stake if these kingdoms were recovered by popish forces out of Ireland and France for King James . . . if I can be serviceable to you . . . be freely persuaded of what lyes in the power of. . . .

"H. Mackay, Edr 12 Apprile 1689."

In that year David was appointed Governor of Inverness, but there is some difference of opinion among his contemporaries as to how he acquitted himself in this position. Some assert that he held the post only for a few days, that he deserted his Government, and stole away in the night time when he heard that an army in command of Sir James Leslie was within a few days' march of the town. Others deny this, and maintain that he was held in great respect in Inverness, that he was no coward, but a brave, resolute man, and that he remained at his post as Governor of Inverness until relieved by an order from General Mackay.

There is, however, some reason for believing that he was decidedly lacking in force of character and self-reliance, that among his social equals he was an object of amusement, and that the boys and idlers of Inverness were in the habit of following him up and down the streets to jeer at hirn. He had sufficient astuteness, however, to keep in favour with whatever Government happened to be in power.

In private life he showed conscientiousness and a sense of duty regarding his obligations as laird, superior to many of his contemporaries among the neighbouring landowners. He kept his property in good repair, and undertook more than his share as heritor of the upkeep of Kilmuir Easter Church. He also had a cultured taste in architecture, and largely rebuilt Balnagown Castle.

There is a contract, dated 1699, between David Ross of Balnagown and John Ross, mason in Pitmaduthie, to repair Balnagown Bridge, in which John Ross, mason in Pitmaduthie . . . "binds . . . himself as principall meason to caus hew as many sufficient hewn stones . . . as will serve a stone pend (arched or vaulted passage) clost without cupples to the Bridge of Balnagown where it is pitt founded, and that the cost of the said pend shall be according to the rule of airt in hight and goodness and approven be John Ross before the making of the centires for the sd. pend and for the wholl meason work of the said bridge . . . John Ross oblidges him for the laying and hewing thereof and to uphold in its full integritie, on his own charges, for . . . nynetein yeares after . . . 1700 . . . dammage if any happin to be repaired out of . . . my gods and geir leaft be me . . . David Ross oblidges him . . . lead stones for the sd. hewen work to the bridge end . . . and to pay . . . for hewing twentie punds Scots for each sex scoir eylers (?) and essler wark . . . and to caus build a centrie for the sd. pend . . . For John Ross his care. . . .ane hundreth merks as master and overseer besyds his monthly wadges . . . begin immediately in order God willing to be readie for laying the 1st of March. . . Laird furnishing all material . . ." Both sign. From this one gathers that in 1699 there was a good stone bridge there, and apparently the approach at one end had got undermined, and was to be renewed by a dry arch carrying the road.

Unfortunately, David seems to have been in continual financial straits, and to have lived in constant dread of being arrested for debt. To tide him over his difficulties he received a loan of 36,000 marks from his brother-in-law, the Earl of Moray. Further sums he obtained from Mr Duff, Provost of Inverness, and others, to whom for security and payment of the loans he presented a "locality of victual and salmon."

His affairs would have been in a still more unsatisfactory state were it not for his wife, who had plenty of commonsense, and whose business ability was of a high order. Her rule over him was entirely a beneficent one, and the value of David's share in the directing of public affairs was certainly enhanced through her guidance. Her letters to him during his absences from home show that, in spite of his feebleness of character and his frequent infidelities, she had a deep affection for him and an appreciation of the kindness and consideration shown by him to her.

"My Dearest Heart," she writes on 7th June 1686, from her Castle of Balnagown, "I reseved your letter by the Chanrie post with the shous you sent me lykways yours by Strathnaver's man I reseved, with the box and things inclosed they are verie pritie and well sented the lemons and chesnets I reseved and I love chesnets verie weill . . hartie thanks my dearest love, and good experience confirms me that you are not unmindful of me. . . . Your kindness is my greatest earthly comfort, and my dearest dear I pray the Lord reward you for I shall never be abell to doe it by the confusions that are, and is expected in Edr. troulay I imagine ther is bot litill satisfacksion to be had by being there and if what is feared goe through as is designed those that is not in Edr, will find the smart of it . . . if ever ther was time to be earnest with God Almightie shour this is it the Lord bless you with much of his saving greas grant it may be his gloire you may mainely aime at ought . . . cheirfullay to submit to whatever the Almightie treist us with . . . My Dear Heart the wether is so cauld and ranie that no peats is yet easen in Ross bot if they can win in to the mose . . . begin this wick. I shall give them bear out of the barne . . . Alexr. Lammie should pey. Its like non of it will be gotten out of his hand this year. . . . I meet with troubill enough in small matters. . . . I was last week in Westray causing clip my wethers, and notwithstanding of my often sending both my word and wret to McCoulahan to have a cair to haine the grass for your horses yet I found it had not been hained. . . . God keep you in health and bring you saif home my dearest life your most affectionate wyff while I breathe.


"(P.S.) Dearest remember me to my nephie Frank since I can not wret to him bot tell him he shall be most welcome to me."

The letter fills two folio pages, and she continues on a third:- "Dear heart, I pray remember to buy two locks having a brass handle . . . which will shut and open without delay.... My life is melancholy and lonlay and has many to troubill me but non to comfort me save God alon. . .. You may judge whether I doe not long for your company yet I dare not complean . . . convinced it is necessitie keeps you from me. . . . God give me to be content. I have now wretn more than I believe you will get weill rede. The blessing of the Lord Almightie be with you and to the last I continow . . . Your most affectionate wyff to Death.  A. STEWART."

As early as 1685, when there seemed no prospect of Balnagown's leaving a son to succeed him, the succession was being discussed by interested parties. Lady Anne naturally favoured her own family and actually succeeded in having some rights to partial succession drawn up in favour of her nephew, Francis, second son of the Earl of Moray, but as the elder brother died, and consequently Francis became the heir-apparent to the Earldom of Moray, dissatisfaction arose in the Ross family at the idea of the lands of Balnagown becoming an appanage of the Earldom of Moray. Francis, on his part, does not seem to have pushed his claims to any extent, although it was said on his behalf that the loan of 36,000 marks to Balnagown from the Earl of Moray was in respect of his son's ultimate succession. This was denied, of course, by the rival party.

About the year 1694 a new claimant appeared in the person of William, Lord Ross, whose family, the Rosses of Halkheid, had been enobled in 1501, and who claimed to have sprung from the same stock as the Rosses of Balnagown. Lord Ross seems to have resembled David in respect of being rather a turncoat in his political sympathies. He was an ardent persecutor of the Whigs, but at the Revolution went over to their side. Then he plotted to restore King James, ultimately supporting William and Mary. These facts were used by his opponents to prejudice his claims to the Balnagown lands.

In order to ingratiate himself with Lady Anne, who looked with anything but favour on his claim, he offered to procure for her the title of Countess. He pointed out the advantage it would be to the Presbyterian cause if he had an interest in Balnagown, and argued that the fact of his bearing the name of Ross should weigh in his favour. No stone was left unturned by him to further his cause. Mr Stewart, minister of Kiltearn, was induced to use his influence, which was considerable, with Lady Anne, in his behalf, in return for which Lord Ross undertook to serve him on any occasion. Eventually Lord Ross came to an agreement with the Earl of Moray, and, in return for a large sum of money, Francis resigned his rights, and Lord Ross got a disposition and taillie of the estates.

Encouraged by this success, he made a further claim to obtain a grant of the Earldom of Ross, which would have made him the feudal superior of many of the heritors of the shire of Ross. Lord Cromartie, whose estate adjoined Balnagown, was greatly indignant, and in a letter referred to "all the fidling of this hot-headed fool in that, having made of late a new kind of purchass in Ross of a reversion of David Ross of Bellnagowan lands . . . he must therefore be successor to and will needs be Earle of Ross, who is indeed one of the first Earles in Scotland and hade great superiorities." Mainly owing to Lord Cromartie's opposition, Lord Ross was unsuccessful in obtaining the desired grant.

Soon afterwards, for reasons which do not appear, he resigned in favour of his brother, General Charles Ross, and by the time some of the deeds were signed, David was on his deathbed.

He died on 17th April 1711, and was buried in Fearn Abbey. An eye-witness tells that the burial was "very throng" and the grandest he ever saw, that most of the gentlemen of the neighbouring counties were present, and two or three thousand were in arms.

The receipts granted by the two doctors who attended David during his last illness are preserved:-

"From Surgeon William Frogg:
"Received from James Wilson, in Balnagown, by an order to him, from Lady Balnagown, four bolls meal,1 mean oatmeal. April 1711, and that for my attendance to the laird, February and March preceding his last sickness. I say February and March 1711. As witness my hand at Apidald, the 9th day of February 1712 years."  "(Signed) Will. Frogg."

Another from George Cuthbert, doctor of medicine:

"I, George Cuthbert, doctor of medicine at Inverness, grant me to have received from Lady Anne Stewart,. Lady Balnagown, five guineas, being called out of Inverness to see the Laird of Balnagown on his deathbed; I say received from the said Lady Anne, after Balnagown's death, the said five guineas, the-day of April 1711 years. In witness thereof have written and subscribed these presents at Kessock, the 29th day of January 1714 years.

"(Signed) Geo. Cuthbert."

The funeral charges are heavy:

"29th May 1711. William Duk carpenter New Tarbat for coffins etc, £180 . . . Wm. Kerr painter in Nairne for Scuthins and Branches, £306. William Frogg chirurgeon in Milltown .... embowellingand sheer cloath £120. Thomas Fraser, Inverness baking cookery . . . flour . . . turkis £126 . . . T. Robertson, Inverness . . . clarett. Brandis and bottles £386 . . . half hoghead of sack £96. . . . John McKay Inverness . . . spiceries sweetmeats etc . . . £253. Murnings from Edinburgh £204 .... paper, wacks etc. for writing funeral letters £351 etc."

Certain of these items have reference to the custom of these times when a death occurred, of all those connected in any way with the deceased expressing their grief by weeksof feasting at the expense of the relatives of the departed. From the cost some idea of the lavish scale in which this was: done may be learned.

General Charles Ross succeeded David as laird. He died at Bath on 5th April 1732, leaving no issue, and the estates passed to his grand-nephew, the Honourable Charles Ross, son of George, 13th Lord Ross. In a letter from London to his factor, dated February 25, 1742, regarding some matters connected with the business of the estate he remarked- "I set out for Flanders very soon. What to do the Lord knows." He was killed at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. His father, George, 13th Lord Ross, suceeded him, followed in 1754 by his brother William.

Lord Ross was disinclined to spend any money on the estate beyond what was necessary, while his son remained unmarried.

"I own to you freely," he wrote in 1746, to William Baillie, his factor, "That if my son does not marry soon . . . I would grudge every expense about Balnagown . . . if it was to go out of my family I should be a loser by it." Again, in 1752, he wrote in the same strain:- "That enclosure about Balnagown may be very useful in time, but I would have ye young man marry before he lay out any more money there."

In spite of the persuasions of his father, however, William died a bachelor in 1760. The estate, after some litigation, passed to his cousin, Sir John Ross Lockhart, who was the son of Grizel, daughter of William, 12th Lord Ross, and niece of General Charles Ross, who acquired the estates in 1732. His father was Sir James Lockhart of Carstairs. His claim to the estates was confirmed by the House of Peers in February 1756, and his name changed from Ross Lockhart to Lockhart Ross.

Sir John was a good type of laird according to the standard of that period, anxious that his estate should be run on the most progressive lines. He studied the latest ideas in agriculture, and in 1763 imported an English farm manager to Balnagown, in order to effect improvements by introducing some of the farming methods of the South. By trenching, building, fencing, he reclaimed forty-five acres of muir ground, adding it to the policies round the Castle. He laid down plantations of fir, and in twenty-five years made Balnagown one of the most desirable seats in the North of Scotland.

Eager to help, according to his lights, in any scheme which seemed likely to benefit the community in general, he gave his support to the linen industry, carried on for many years in the parish, and to a stocking factory in Milntown. He also took an active interest in the construction of the East Coast road from Beauly to Dingwall, and from there to Tain, which was being engineered about the time he came into his inheritance.

He was one of the pioneers in sheep-farming in the North At the time he succeeded to the estate of Baluagown the general opinion was that no sheep could survive a severe winter in the Highlands, but Sir John held that the climate of the lower levels of Ross-shire was as mild as any part of Scotland. He had observed that the same varieties of corn ripened there when properly cultivated, and the same fruits as in the low parts of Perthshire. He therefore concluded that as the hills of Ross were not higher than those of Perthshire they were likely to be quite suitable for rearing the same kind of stock, and determined to make the experiment.

In this he encountered more than ordinary difficulties, for at that time a great proportion of Highland property was divided up into farms and leased, the tenants reserving for themselves as much land as would support their horses and milk cows during the four months of summer and autumn dividing up the rest and sub-letting it. When these leases expired Sir John did not renew them, and the farmers made no demur, as it had not been a very profitable arrangement for them. The sub-tenants, on the other hand, were indignant.

Sir John took one of these farms into his own hands, and put a stock of sheep on it, brought from the Lothians. He also imported shepherds from that district to look after the flock. These men were looked upon by the former small tenants as intruders, and subjected to many annoyances.

The losses of sheep, from the depredations of the people and from mismanagement, were enormous.

The opposition to Sir John's scheme came not only from the people of his estate who had been dislodged from their holdings, but from the farmers, who attributed his want of success to the climate. But he refused to yield, and succeeded ultimately in proving that it was possible for sheep when properly treated to live in the mountains of Ross during the severe seasons.

He had entered the Navy in 1735, at the age of fourteen, and rose to be Vice-Admiral.

As a commander he had a reputation for great courage and ability. It was said that in the course of fifteen months, when in command of a frigate, the Tartar, he captured in the Channel with this single ship, nine of the enemy's ships of war, several being of superior force.

For several years he was Member of Parliament for the county.

His wife was Elizabeth Baillie, heiress of Lamington, eldest daughter of Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President of the Court of Session.

He died in 1790, at the age of sixty-eight. An eloquent funeral sermon, the manuscript of which has been preserved, was preached by the Rev. John Matheson, who was minister of Kilmuir at the time.

In glowing terms he spoke of his great physical courage and his success as a commander in the Navy, of his faith in God's providence, and his deep reverence for the things of the spirit. Referring to his many acts of kindness, he said, "That the poor and indigent have been often and liberally supplied from his family there are many grateful witnesses now in my hearing."

He was succeeded in the estates by his eldest son, Sir Charles Ross, Lieutenant-Colonel of the 37th Regiment, educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford. He followed in his father's steps by representing the County in Parliament. In 1807 he was elected Provost of Tain.

He died in 1814, survived by his widow, Lady Mary Ross, who was a daughter of the Duke of Leinster.

Lady Mary was interested in education. She had a full realisation of its value, and did not consider it a monopoly of the upper classes, as so many in her position did at that time, but an advantage that should be enjoyed by all classes. Determined, therefore, to bring its benefits, as far as ahe could, within reach of those less fortunate than herself, she started a school for girls on the estate, which was carried on for many years. She not only paid the salary of the teacher and all other expenses connected with the school, but provided the clothing of the girls.

Lady Mary died at Bonnington, County of Lanark, on 28th September 1842, having survived her husband for twenty-eight years.

Her son, Sir Charles Frederick Augustus Lockhart Ross, born 1812, succeeded his father as seventh baronet.

His first wife, Elizabeth Joanna Baillie, daughter of Colonel Robert Ross, 4th Dragoon Guards, whom he married in 1841, died in 1848, aged 32, and in 1871 he married Rebecca Sophia Barnes, whose son, Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart Ross, the present representative, and the last of his line, born 4th April 1872, succeeded to the estates on the death of his father in 1883.

Educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, he held a commission in the 3rd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, and during the South African War was Captain in the Lovat Scouts. He invented a rifie, which was used by the Canadian forces in the Great War.

On attaining his majority, he married Florence Winifred Berens. In 1897 the marriage was dissolved, and in 1901 he married Patricia Ellison, of Kentucky, U.S.A. This marriage was dissolved in 1930.

Sir Charles has made his home in America, and in 1931, before the District of Columbia Supreme Court, when denying certain claims against him in connection with the dissolution of his marriage, he is reported to have stated that he no longer owned land in Scotland.

So the Castle stands silent and deserted, save for a couple of caretakers, and seems to wear an air of mournful dignity, as it looks down on the once trim lawns, where now the grassgrows rank and high, and on the old trees whioh throw their shadows on avenues almost hidden beneath a flourishing crop of weeds, while deep in their tombs the old lairds, descendants of the powerful Earls of Ross, lie sleeping, careless of the changes the years have wrought. And the seasons pass, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, for one generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever.


0ld Statistical Account of the Parish
New Statistical Account of the Parish
Register of Ministers
Religious Life in Ross by Rev John Noble
Minute Book of the Particular Register of Sasines for the Shires of Inverness, Ross, Sutherland.
Sasines 1781 - 1864
Register of the Privy Council of Scotland
Origines Parochiales Scotiae
Kilmuir Easter Church Session Records
Old Ross-shire and Scotland from Balnagown Documents by W McGill
Church Life in Ross and Sutherland, 1688-1914 by Colin Macnaughton
Place-names of Ross and Cromarty by Prof. W J Watson
The Northern Highlands in the Nineteenth Century by James Barron
The Earls of Ross and their Descendants by F Neville Reid-Fraser's Earls of Cromartie
King James's Secret from the Warrender Papers
Pitcairn's Criminal Trials
Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland by J Macdonald
Transactions of the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club
Records of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
Papers relating to the Forfeited Estates
Grant's Burgh Schools
Report of the Commissioners on the Elementary Schools of Scotland, 1864
History of Education and of the Old Parish Schools of Scotland by Alex. Wright
Antiquary Notes by Charles Fraser-Mackintosh
Iron Industry in Scotland by W J Macadam
Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland by Hugh Miller















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