Old Statistical Account (1790) Parish of Kilmuir Easter

Kilmuir and Logie Easter 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.

Old Statistical Account (1790) Kilmuir Parish

PARISH OF KILMUIR EASTER, (PRESBYTERY OF TAIN, SYNOD OF ROSS)

By the Rev. MR. JOHN MATHESON.

Name, Extent, and Soil - The Celtic, and original name of this parish, is Cilmoir or Cilmary, Cellamariae, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary; or so called in honour of some lady of that name, by whom it was built and endowed. It is called Kilmuir Easter to distinguish it from another parish within the bounds of the synod of Ross, which, in consequence of an annexation which lately took place, has lost its antient name of Kilmuir Wester, and is now known by the appellation of Knockbain.

The parish lies partly in the county of Ross, and partly in the county of Cromarty. This is the situation of all the parishes within the synod where George, the first Earl of Cromarty, had any property, that nobleman having obtained the privilege of constituting his whole landed property in Scotland into a separate county called the county of Cromarty; and his property being of considerable extent, and in detached portions, it forms a part of many parishes in the synod. This parish is about 10 miles long, and 4.5 broad on an average. It is bounded on the E. by the small river of Balnagown, and by the sands of Nigg, and bay of Cromarty on the S. The situation is truly delightful, having the best cultivated parts of six neighbouring parishes full in view. Beyond these, the eye extends over a prospect of 30 miles, from E. to W. along the Firth, and towards the S.E. a passage opens between the two rocks called the Sutors or Saviours of Cromarty, through which a considerable part of the county of Murray is visible; and all the vessels small and great, that enter into the bay, and anchor in this Portus Salutis are seen from almost every house in the parish, the whole forming one of the richest and most beautifully variegated landscapes in Britain

The soil of this parish is various: along the shore, which is flat, it is generally light and sandy, but in rainy seasons very fertile, and, even in the driest summer, it seldom fails of yielding a sure crop. About a mile from the shore, and almost parallel to it, a sloping bank runs from E. to W. through the whole parish: here both the soil and the climate begin to change, though the bank at its utmost altitude is not more than 30 feet above the level of the sea. In place of the light, warm, and fertile soil below, one meets with a wet, cold, and surly clay, covered with 2 or 3 inches of black mossy earth, and in many places a black pan, hard as iron ore, runs in a stratum of 2 or 3 inches thick in the bosom of the clay, and about 8 or 9 inches below the surface, which in a rainy season keeps the water floating above, prevents early sowing, and sometime starves the seed in the ground. This bank, however, has for the most part been long in cultivation, and is all along covered with corn-fields, or sown grass, which, with a dry spring, and moderate summer rains, produce heavy crops. Behind the bank, and towards the north, a plain of 4 miles long, and from 2 to 3 broad, opens to view, of which about a fourth part is in cultivation, a fourth part is moss yielding peats to the inhabitants, and the other half a barren muir, of much the same soil with that of the above mentioned bank. This plain is terminated on the N. by a range of low hills, cultivated in most places half way up to the top, and, behind these hills, a small part of the parish runs N. several miles in a narrow vale, which yields some corn, and affords good pasture for sheep and black-cattle.

Climate, Diseases, Fish etc. - Within a mile of the shore, which is sandy, the climate is often mild and temperate, while the bank, and the whole tract of ground behind it, is cold and covcrcd with snow. This, however, is only at intervals, in the winter and spring seasons, for the difference of climate is scarcely perceptible during the rest of the year, and it does not appear that it makes any material odds as to the health of the inhabitants. The air, upon the whole, being very salubrious, the people in general enjoy good health, and there are many instances of longevity in the parish.

There are no rivers or fresh-water lakes in this parish, excepting the small river of Balnagown already-mentioned, in which, at certain times of the year, large burn and sea trout arc found, but in good fishing-seasons the parish is plentifully supplied with haddocks, cod, skate, flounders, and cuddies, from the Murray-Firth, carried here in baskets by the fishers of Fearn and Nigg. There is a bed of small cockles within the bounds of the parish, which, in scarce years, has proved very useful to the poor people. In 1782, 40 horse loads have been taken out of it in one day. When herrings appear on the coast of Murray, they sometimes come in to the bay and Firth of Cromarty, and are killed opposite to this parish by the inhabitants, though not in such quantities as to admit of exportation

Little wheat is sown here for market. Gentlemen annually sow no more than is sufficient to supply their own families and the time of sowing it is from the middle of September to the end of November; rye, oats, and pease from the beginning of March to the middle of April; barley, flax, and potatoes from the middle of April till the 20th of May; and turnips from the 15th to the 25th of June. The harvest generally begins about the 20th of August, and, in good weather, the crop is secured by the middle of October.

Improvements - It is computed that 300 acres of muir ground in this parish have been brought into culture in the last 25 years, partly by mealers, encouraged by the proprietors, and enticed to build huts on the muir, in the vicinity of peats and turf, partly by the more substantial farmers who, as they proceed to inclose their farms, trench the barren ground within their lines, and partly by the proprietors, who have set the example before their tenants. The late Admiral Sir John Lockhart Ross added 45 acres of muir ground to the
policy round the family seat, a great part of which now yields good corn and grass. At the expence of L.10000 sterling, laid out in trenching, building, fencing, etc in the course of 25 years he has greatly beautified the face of the country, and made Balnagown one of the most desirable seats in the north. Immense tracks of ground, at proper distances from the house, are covered with very thriving plantations of fir, or forest trees, most of which were planted by his immediate predecessor, and of which his family now begin to reap the benefit. Sir Charles Ross draws upwards of L.200 annually from his fir wood in this parish. Within a mile of the house of Balnagown, towards the S. and near the shore, lies New-Tarbat, the principal seat of the Earls of Cromarty; this place, once the pride of Ross, both for situation and policy was during the forfeiture of that family, not only neglected but dismantled of its principal ornaments, the largest forest trees ever seen in this country were cut down, and sold to a company at Leith; much of the ground within the policy was parcelled out in lots to disbanded soldiers and sailors, and the most elegant and best finished house in the three counties was allowed to fall into ruins. The place however promises in a few years hence to recover its antient beauty and grandeur. The late Lord McLeod, immediately upon the restoration of his estate, began to extend and inclose the policy, planted many thousand forest and fir trees, which are now in a thriving condition, and built a superb house upon a modern plan, which, in point of elegance and accommodation, is inferior to few seats in Scotland. What was left unfinished of his lordship's plans are now carried on with attention and taste by Captain Kenneth McKenzie, his successor, and representative of that honourable family.

Farms and Rent - The disproportion of farms in this parish is very great, some renting 50, some 100, and some 150 acres, while others possess no more than from 3 to 12. By an union of farms that lately took place, many of the small tenants were obliged to retire to the waste grounds, a limited portion of which is assigned to each of them by the proprietors: here they plant potatoes, and, by industry and perseverance, bring two, three, or more acres to culture, in the course of seven years, during which time, they sit rent free, excepting a small acknowledgement in hens and eggs.

There is no other encouragement given them, excepting an advance of 20s. to assist them in building a house, the value of which they must leave on the ground when they remove; and, if they continue in possession after 7 years are expired, they pay, some less and some more, for every acre in cultivation.

The valued rent of the parish is L.2691 Scotch; the real rent does not much exceed L.1400 sterling. The land next the shore lets at 20s. per acre, and near the village of Milnton 30s. and upwards is paid for small lots, but more remote from the shore, the farmers, on an average, pay no more than 15s per acre. The proprietors begin to see the advantage of granting leases to their tenants, and to convert the half of the victual rent into money, at 14s. per boll, including customs and services.

Number of proprietors, etc. - There are 6 proprietors; 3 either occasionally or constantly reside in the parish; 15 small feuars in the village of Milntown, most of whom have no more than a quarter of an acre each; 17 larger, and about 40 smaller tenants; and a great number of new settlers, paying from 5s.to 20s. rent each. There are 4 shop-keepers, 3 distillers, 2 masons, 4 cartwrights, 1 cooper, 6 house-carpenters, 4 blacksmiths, 1 carpet weaver, 2 flocking-weavers, 15 common weavers, 10 taylors, 10 shoe-makers and 20 lime-makers. The parish is well situated for carrying on manufactures of different kinds, but no plan has been hitherto adopted that seems promising of success in that way. Mr John Montgomery, merchant in Milntown, has introduced the spinning of flax among the people and has been pretty successful for 30 years in that branch, so that all the women, old and young, are become dexterous at the spinning wheel, and have greatly increased their yearly income by it. A stocking manufactory has lately introduced to the parish, under the patronage of Sir John Lockart Ross, which did not meet with that encouragement which might be expected. It is now carried on solely by Mr. Montgomery, who seems to think that it will not prove a profitable trade in this country for some time.

Population - It is certain that the number of inhabitants in this parish is triple what it was 50 years ago. This increase is ascribed to the great extent of improveable waste ground in the parish, the easy access to fuel, and the encouragement given by proprietors and tenants to day-labourers: these inducements led many emigrants from the Highland parishes to settle here. And, in the year 1763, the commissioners for managing the annexed states settled 40 families of disbanded soldiers and sailors at once in the parish, allowing to each a house and three acres of arable land, expecting that in process of time these families would prove a nursery for the army and navy, but, in the course of 10 years, there remained in the parish no more than 2 families of these strangers, all the rest having deserted their lots, which are now occupied by a more industrious set of people.

Population is daily on the increase. Fifty new houses have been built in the last four years, and there is not one uninhabited house in the parish. By an accurate list taken in April last, there were then living in the parish, 1975 persons, of whom, there were

Under 10 years of age - 450
Between 10 and 50 - 900
Between  50 and 70 - 581
Between  70 and 80 - 35
Between  80 and 90 - 7
Between  90 and 100* - 2
Total 1975
The return to Dr Webster, in 1755, was 1095

* A sea-faring man died last spring in the parish, who, though he did not know with certainty the year that gave him birth, yet, from remarkable aeras and events remembered by him, it was easy to determine that he surpassed 100 years of age. He had a faint remembrance of the famine that prevailed in Scotland in the close of the last century, and saw a common coffin with hinges upon it, made on purpose for burying the people that perished on the highways for want of food. He was 65 years an elder of this church.

Abstract of the Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, for 6 years preceding 15th October 1790:

Year Baptisms Marriages Burials
1784 40 7 54
1785 46 10 28
1786 44 10 41
1787 42  8 25
1788 45  8 38
1789 53  9 32
Totals 270 54 218
Average 45  9 36

The great disproportion that appears in this abstract arises chiefly from the many emigrant families that settle yearly in this parish. The great number of burials in 1784 was occasioned chiefly by the small pox; since that period, the people have been persuaded to practice inoculation, and they have experienced the happy effects of it.

General Character of the People - The people are sober, regular and industrious, though it is to be lamented that there are many among them whose morals are corrupted by having too easy access to spirits, there being upwards of 30 tippling houses in the parish, and only one principal inn, an evil that (in the opinion of many) might in a great measure be prevented, were the proprietors to make the retail of spirits an irritancy in all the leases they grant, as nothing would contribute more to introduce sobriety among the people, than to have the number of whisky retailers circumscribed. Three retailing houses in the parish would be more than sufficient to answer all the necessary demands of the public. But it deserves to be remarked, that, not withstanding the free use of spirits among the people, few feuds and quarrels are heard of in the parish.

Church, Schools and Poor - The church was built anno 1621. The stipend has lately received an augmentation, and, with a glebe improved by the present incumbent at a great expence, is, communibus annis, equal to L.100. The family of Cromarty have been always acknowledged the undisputed patrons. There are two schools in the parish, the one supported by the heritors, the other by the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge. The parochial school has no more than 100 merks Scotch for salary, which, with all the school dues and emoluments, are not sufficient to provide the teacher with the common necessaries of life. The Society allow L.13 sterling to the teacher employed by them. There are upwards of 120 children taught at these schools, and the happy effects in the manners and morals of the people appear every year more and more conspicuous. The Celtic is the prevailing language, but there are very few under 30 years of age in the parish who do not speak that and English. The average number of poor who now receive alms is 100. The sum distributed annually among them seldom exceeds L.15 sterling. This sum arises partly from the weekly collections, and partly by a small sum established in plentiful years, and which lately received an addition of L.24 sterling, the donation of the deceased Mrs Fraser of Pitcailzien. The greatest part of the money, under the management of the session, is appropriated to the relief of poor persons confined to the bed of sickness. The poor, who are able to travel from door to door for their subsistence, have no more allowed them than what will purchase a pair of shoes once in the year.*

* The average price of barley, meal, and pease, for the last 15 years may be rated, communibus annis, at 12s 6d. per boll. During that period, victual was sold in this parish for 9s. and 10s.; in other years it was sold for 12s. and frequently for 15s. per boll of 9 stones; oats sold from 10s. to 12s. per boll; potatoes for 8s. and some years for 10s. per boll. The average price of beef, mutton, pork, and veal, from the beginning of October to the first of January, is 3d. for those of the best, and 2d. halfpenny for those of inferior qualities. During the rest of the year, butcher meat, except mutton, gives higher prices. Fresh butter sells for 8d. per lb. 16 ounces; salted butter in casks for 12s. per stone; common cheese 4s. and cheese of a superior quality 5s. and sometimes 6s. per stone: the price of a good hen is 6d., a duck 8d., a chicken 2d., eggs 1d. per dozen

The wages of labourers are in proportion to the strength and skill of the persons employed. Some men get 8d while others receive no more than 6d. per day. The wages of women, especially in harvest, are of late years increased from 4d. to 6d. per day, out of which they furnish their own provisions. The day's pay of a mason, carpenter, and slater, is from 1s. 2d to 1s. 6d. per day. Shoemakers, taylors, and weavers, make their own price, there being no standard in the parish to regulate the value of this work. Domestic and farm servants have, at an average, L.3 per annum. Out-servants are allowed L.3 wages, and 6 bolls meal for maintenance, together with so much arable land, rent-free, as is sufficient to provide 7 or 8 bolls of potatoes, a free house, garden, and peats: all which is computed to be worth L.12 per annum, a sufficiency in this country to enable a careful, sober man, with the assistance of a virtuous wife, to live more comfortably than many of the farmers, and to rear a family of children till they are of age to work for their bread.

Mode of Cultivation - There arc 84 ploughs in the parish, most of them of the old Scotch construction, and well adapted for the stony ground. The proprietors, and first rate farmers, use the English plough, drawn by two horses, and, if the land be stiff, two oxen are commonly yoked after the horses. If the season is favourable, most of the strongest land is ploughed in the months of October, November, and December. The rotation commonly observed of late by the principal farmers, is to sow barley and grass seeds after the land has been prepared by green crops, and, after resting for two or three years, the same field is ploughed up again in the month of August, with a rich foggage, which in a great measure supplies the want of manure, and yields the first year a good crop of barley, the next a crop of oats, and the third year, a crop of pease, potatoes, or turnips, which prepares it for laying down again with barley and grass seeds. By this mode, the land is always kept clean, and in good condition. But it must be remarked that, though this be the the most approved plan, few in the parish have hitherto followed it. The people in general, however, begin to see the advantage of sowing grass seeds, and of adhering to a regular rotation of crops and it is very probable that the practice will prevail universally in the course of a few years. The sheep farming lately introduced into this country will soon compel the people to sow considerable quantities of grass seeds. Formerly, they got most of their cattle grazed on the neighbouring hills, at the rate of 18d. per head, for 4 or 5 months of the year: these hills are now covered with sheep, and the low country farmer must reduce his flock of black-cattle in proportion to the grass he can raise annually upon his farm.

Produce - The vegetable productions of the parish have already been specified. About two-thirds of the barley is distilled in this and the neighbouring parishes into whisky, and nearly the same proportion of oats and oat-meal is bought up by commission, and carried to market, so that the produce of the parish is much more than sufficient for the consumpt of the inhabitants. With respect to animal productions, it is computed that there are about 800 black-cattle, 300 horses, and about 900 sheep in the parish. A third of the black cattle are what is commonly called here, true Highlanders; the rest either have been introduced into the parish from Fife and Aberdeen, or are a cross between these and the Highland bull: these last are by far the best cattle in the parish, and by all appearance will prevail. The breed of horses has been greatly improved of late years, but the small hardy Highland breed are still preferred by persons who have but small lots of land, because they are easily supported. The sheep are all of the small country breed, except for a few large ones kept by gentlemen within their policy. The deer, in winter and spring, visit the heights of this parish. There are many foxes and hares, and some badgers and otters. Most of the sea-fowls known in Scotland frequent the shore in great numbers, particularly in stormy and severe winters. In the inland and Highland parts of the parish, there is a great variety of game, muir-fowl, black-cock, wood-cock, wood-pigeon, curlew, plover, etc., but though all these are inhabitants of the parish, it is proper to observe, that there are not many of each kind.*

* The only remains of antiquity that stood in this parish, were last year removed. In the place of Delny, once a principal seat of the Earls of Ross, stood the ruins of a Romish chapel on a pleasant bank, surrounded with graves. This spot has been deserted as a burying place for many years, and the present farmer (not adverting to the impropriety of such a measure) carried away all the stones to build his farm houses, and the rubbish to meliorate his land, and ploughed up the burying ground with an intention to make it an addition to a corn field. The present incumbent, having heard of this species of sacrilege, visited the spot, and found it covered with the bones of the dead, turned up with the plough. The indelicacy of his conduct was represented to the farmer, and he was persuaded to collect the reliques, and to deposit them again in the earth, and he solemnly engaged to draw lines round the sacred spot, to erect a stone in the middle with a suitable inscription, to sow down the spot with grass seeds, and never more to disturb the manes of his fathers.

In the vicinity of this chapel there is an eminence called Cnoc an tagairt, or Priesthill. Near this place stood the remains of a cross, at the extremity of a small village. Thither all the people belonging to the barony of Delny, which comprehended a great part of the county of Ross, resorted once in the year, to pay homage to their superior, here also the barons held their criminal courts; and, if tradition can be credited, the punishment inflicted upon criminals was to hang the men and drown the women. Corresponding to this tradition, there is a hill within a computed mile of Delny, called Cnoc na croich, or Gallows-hill; and on the summit of this hill there is a circular pool of water, many fathoms deep, called Peul a bhaidh, or the Drowning-pool.

In the year 1751, as labourers were digging a bank of earth near the village of Milntown, they found four stones standing erect in the earth, and forming a circle. Here the men looked for a treasure, and, after having with much attention opened the earth, they found a human skeleton, sitting in an erect posture, on a seat seemingly made for that purpose. Many credible persons now living authenticate this as a fact known to themselves. Tradition says, that several persons have been buried alive in this and the neighbouring parish, by the direction of a cruel and arbitrary landlord, who was proprietor of these lands in the beginning of last century.

Till of late years, little barrows or tumuli in the parish, were avoided by the people with particular caution. The tradition regarding them is that the plague had once made great ravages in this country, and that all that had died of this disease were buried under these tumuli. Such was the terror of the people for the plague, that they would not so much as tread upon one of them, or suffer their horses or carriages to touch them. So late as 1768, one of these tumuli, not much larger than a cart load of earth, was left an impediment on the middle of the road, at the principal entry of the village of Milntown, and no argument could prevail on the inhabitants to remove it. At length, a certain person who wished to undeceive the people, and cure them of their prejudices, undertook to remove this little barrow, and, while he was thus displaying his courage, the whole inhabitants of the village surrounded him, dissuading him from the dangerous undertaking, and looking every moment for his falling down dead before them: he lives, however, to this day, after removing and reducing the ground to the level of the road. From that period little regard is paid to these tumuli: some of them have been opened, but nothing found worthy of remark.

Miscellaneous Observations
There are 3 public roads in the parish, running parallel, and nearly at equal distances from one another. These have been hitherto kept in good repair by the statute-labour, but it is proposed to convert the statute-labour into money, and, if that plan is adopted, time will discover whether it will, or will not, prove advantageous to the inhabitants and to the public. There are three bridges in the parish. Two of them are built over the water of Balnagown, the other over a river into which the sea flows at stream tides, and which, before this bridge was built in 1789, proved very inconvenient to travellers.

There is an extensive level bed of shells, of diverse kinds, in the sands of New-Tarbat and Nigg, chiefly the property of the family of Cromarty, and manufactured into lime by persons trained up to the business from their infancy. There are 20 men, with their wives and children, who are employed in this trade. At full sea, they go from the shore in boats, cast anchor over the bed of shells, and remain there till the sea ebbs, then all hands begin to dig up the shells and freight the boats, and they are ready by the time of flood to return to the shore: this is attempted only in the summer season. The lime manufactured from these shells is reckoned an excellent cement for building, and is peculiarly adapted for plaistering, and finished work. There are 8 boats in the parish, 5 of which are employed in the lime trade for 3 or 4 months: during the rest of the year, they either fish on the neighbouring coasts, or are employed in carrying corn and peats to the opposite shore.

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