Old Statistical Account (1790) Parish of Lochcarron

Lochcarron 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.

Lochcarron History

Old Statistical Account of Lochcarron Parish (1790)

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


Name, Extent, Soil, &c. - This parish derives its name from a Loch or arm of the sea, into which the river Carron falls. Carron, or Caramhuin, which, in the Gaelic, signifies the 'winding stream', takes its rise in the heights of the parish, from a lake, called Loch Scavan. A little above this loch, there are two burns, the one falls into Loch Scavan, the other goes to the burn of Lubgargan, and falls into the sea at Dingwall. It forms another loch at Bellanocra, within 4 miles of the sea. In this loch, as well as in the other, there is a small island, where MacIan, when proprietor of this part of Lochcarron, had a house and garden. There is a good salmon-fishing upon the Carron. This parish is bounded on the W. by the sea. It is upwards of 14 miles long, and 5 or 6 broad, a beautiful highland country. The soil in some parts is deep and clayey, in others, sandy and light. The manures made use of are sea-ware, shelly-sand and lime. The implements of husbandry are the plough and the crooked spade. The crops raised, are oats, barley and potatoes, and some pease. Seed-time is in April and May. Harvest in September and October.

Population, Rent, Heritors, etc. - The return to Dr Webster in 1755, was 771 souls. The number at present is 1068. There are 3 heritors: Mackenzie of Applecross, the principal heritor, augmented the rents last year. There are 9 weavers, 3 or 4 tailors, 1 smith, 3 wrights 1 public-house, 4 dram houses, 4 gardeners, 1 Popish wife, and 1 Episcopalian. The rest are of the Established Religion.

Stipend, School, Poor, etc. - The church was built in 1751. It was formerly called the Great Church of Lochcarron, and it was so, compared with other Highland kirks. The manse was built in 1778. The stipends are 1000 merks Scots, and 60 merks for communion-elements. The glebe was reckoned worth 60 merks Scots. It is worth more. The King is patron. In the parochial school are taught English, writing, arithmetick, Latin and Greek. The number of scholars is between 20 and 30, the salary 200 merks Scots. There are 20 merks Scots yearly for the poor, by mortification. The yearly collection in 1783 may have been L.4 or L.5. the yearly collection for these 6 years past has been upwards of L.6 or L.8. It is sometimes more, sometimes less. The number of poor, upon an average, is between 20 and 30.

Long Leases - The greater part of the people of Lochcarron have lately got leases for 25 years. This has excited a spirit of industry and improvement. They are now building comfortable houses, and turning their lands to the best advantage. The great error, however, of the Highland farmers is overstocking. If they kept only two cows for every three they do at present, they would improve their breed of cattle, and be in no danger of losing them by severe winters or springs. Three bad cows will devour more grass and straw than two good ones, but will never fetch as good a price from any drover. The price of cattle was very high for some years past. A Highland cow would sell for L.5 or L.6, and sometimes for L.7 Sterling. If this be a good cause for augmenting the rents, it is to be hoped, that proprietors will see that the fall of the price of cattle, when that happens, is a good cause for diminishing them again.

Diseases - The most common diseases in this parish are rheumatisms and fevers. These distempers, it is very likely, arise from cold, and from improper feeding. A Highlander will sit for a whole day in wet shoes, and sometimes in wet cloaths.

In 1791, there was a remarkable herring-fishing in this loch. During low water, the children of Kirktown went often to the Strand, and carried lapfulls of herring with them. The people fed entirely on fish. They were visited by a fever. Their blood was vitiated. When they were let blood in the fever, it had the appearance, when it congealed, of the blood of a boiled pudding, or of an ugly kind of jelly. Their breath smelled strong of fish. In proportion as they fed, sorberly or voraciously on the herring, the fever was more or less severe. Such as lived mostly on fish, and other strong food, suffered dreadful agony. The poor people, that mostly lived upon water-gruel, suffered very little. There are many instances of longevity in the parish. There have been likewise instances of some old couples in this parish, who have felt the sweet passion of love, after passing their grand climacterick. Their union has given rise to some curious anecdotes and verses, which would move the risible muscles, even of a cynick philosopher.

Gaelic Poets - Lochcarron has produced some good Highland poets. William Mackenzie, and Alexander, his brother, composed good Gaelic songs. Some of their poems are to be found in Macdonald's collection. John, their brother, was equally good, and from the specimens we have of their poetry, we may say, it is cause of regret, that more of their verses were not committed to writing, both on account of the language and sentiment. The thoughts are just and natural, and the language, for the most part, beyond the reach of criticism. There have been likewise other poets in Lochcarron, who have composed verses, that are far from being despicable. And indeed many of them would have given the highest pleasure to the greatest admirers of Homer, Virgil, or Milton, had they heard and understood them. Gaelic is the language of descriptive poetry. It is strong, nervous and comprehensive. No language can do greater justice to the finest feelings of the human heart.

Character of the People, and State of Religion among them - About 60 years ago, the inhabitants of this parish, it is said, had not reached any considerable height of civilization. This, with their strong and almost invincible prejudice against Whig ministers, as they called them, made the situation of a clergyman at that time very disagreeable. A wise Providence, however, which always raises fit instruments for carrying forward its plans of mercy towards men, sent among them Mr Aeneas Sage, a man of an undaunted spirit, who did not know what the fear of man was.* He had, however, the fear of God, and great zeal for the good cause in its highest perfection. He was the determined enemy of vice, and a true friend to the gospel.

*The people were so barbarous, that they attempted to set fire to the house he was boarded in, at a time when there was a meeting of clergy there. Such usage made it necessary for him not only to make use of the sword of the Spirit, but likewise to have recourse to the arm of flesh. He was a true soldier in every sense of the word. For some time he had the oversight of the parish of Applecross as well as Lochcarron. There was a wicked fellow in Tosgag, who kept a mistress in the same house with his lawful married wife. When Mr Sage went to see him, Malcolm Roy drew his dirk; Mr Sage drew his sword, and the consequence was that Malcolm Roy turned his mistress off. Mr Campbell, Seaforth's factor, sent him once a challenge upon the morning of a Lord's day. Mr Sage knew his own situation, and accordingly accepted the challenge. He went out with his claymore, and no sooner did he begin to draw it our of the scabbard, than Mr Campbell made a pair of heels, and did not look behind him for some time.

He was very hospitable and benevolent. He was warm and affectionate in his friendship, and perfectly sincere in his professions. A gentleman who had the misfortune to be concerned in the late rebellion, came to see Mr Sage, as he was going to leave the country. Mr Sage made him an offer of his purse. Although the gentleman did not accept of this offer, he always retained a grateful sense of Mr Sage's friendship. He was subject to sudden starts of passion, and this was this great weakness; but this very circumstance was subservient to the gospel. He struck terror into vice; and by enforcing the discipline of the church, and composing differences among the people, he reduced them to a state of civilization. He ploughed up the fallow ground, plucked up many of the thorns and weeds, and made it easier for his successors to sow the good seed. He laboured for 47 years among them, and his labours were eminently countenanced by his Lord and Master. Sinners were brought under a concern for their salvation and their language was that of the jailor, "What shall we do to be saved?" Mr Sage did not build with untempered mortar, he did not make them believe that an outward course of decent behaviour would bring them to heaven, though they were strangers to a work of the Spirit. He preached the doctrines of the new birth, the corruption of human nature, and the necessity of the influences of the Divine Spirit, to break the power of sin in the soul. The effects were correspondent. People did not then reckon themselves to be good Christians, because they abstained from such actions as exposed them to the lash of the law. They were persuaded that they must have a principle of grace in the heart before they could please God. This made them not to rest satisfied till they experienced the power of religion upon their souls.

They were warm Christians, and such as made a public profession, evidenced their sincerity by a suitable practice. They were animated with love to God, and to their fellow men. Kenneth Mackenzie, one of his first converts, used to kill a cow in the scarce time of the year, which he divided among the poor. The rest of the professors of religion in Lochcarron were equally zealous of good works in conformity to their circumstances.

Mr Sage's character is inscribed upon his grave-stone in these words: "He fought the good fight of faith, and finished his course; exclaiming with the Apostle Paul, for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." A carnal minister may say with Balaam of old: Let me die the death of Mr Sage, and let my latter end be like his. His successor, Mr Donald Munro, lived but a short time among them. He was an agreeable man, and preached the gospel in its purity. As Mr Sage made the parish very orthodox, the people seem to think, that they have at least as much religion as their neighbours. They seem to have a strong attachment to religion, and yet they would be the better for a little more. They appear willing at times to hear what they shall do to inherit eternal life. They are hospitable, charitable, engaging, and obliging. Although many of them do not dislike the present world, it cannot be said that they have entirely forgot the next, but it must be owned that very few of them would refuse a dram if it was offered them. There is a great appearance of religion in Lochcarron, and as the fire of God's word is hereafter to try every man's work, there is cause to hope that some of it will bear the trial. There is one opinion, however, which may of them entertain, and which, indeed, is not peculiar to this parish alone, that a Popish priest can cast out devils, and cure madness, and that the Presbyterian clergy have no such power. A person might as well advise a mob to pay no attention to a merry Andrew, as to desire many ignorant people to stay from the priest. The most effectual antidote against this delusion is to lay before them some of the most laughable of the Popish miracles.

Seasons - The seasons are always wet in this place, but within these few years they seem to be turning worse. Every thing almost is reckoned a sign of rain. If there be a warm or hot day, we shall soon have rain, if a crow begin to chatter, she is calling for rain, if the clouds be heavy, or if there be a mist upon the top of the hills, we shall see rain. In a word, a Highlander may make any thing a sign of rain, there is no danger he shall fail in his prognostication.

Antiquities - At the ferry town of Strom, are the remains of an old castle. It belonged once to the Macdonells of Glengary, who were proprietors of part of Lochcarron. There were quarrels between them and the family of Seaforth. The consequnce was that Seaforth, with some difficulty, dispossessed them.*

*The history of the siege of Castle Strom, as it is related in a manuscript history of the Mackenzies, and in possession of several people in Ross-shire, is literally as follows: "Lord Kenneth of Kintail, in spring 1609, gathered considerable forces, and besieged the Castle of Strom in Lochcarron, which at first they held out very manfully, and would not surrender it, though several terms were offered, which Lord Kintail seeing and not willing to lose his men, resolved to raise the siege for the time. But the defendants were so unfortunate, that all their powder was destroyed by the women they had within, having sent them out under silence of night to draw in water out of a well that lay just at the entry. The silly women were in such fear, and the room they brought the water to so dark, for want of light, still as they came in, they toomed the water in a fatt, missing the right one, wherein the few barrels of powder they had lay, but on the morrow, when the men came for more powder, having spent what they had the day before, finds their barrels of powder floating in the fatt so they began to rail and abuse the women, which Duncan MacIan vic Illichallum, being as yet prisoner there, and hearing being ---- in the house, having given his oath and promise he would never come out by the door, till he were either ransomed or relieved, this they forced him to do to save his life. So going with the keepers to the wall head, and perceiving his countrymen packing their baggage, like to quite the siege, he threw his plaid on him that stood next him, loups down on a dunghill near the entry, and rising as soon as possible, he made for the camp. The man that stood by him, as he louped, cried after him, said you have lost much of your louping; he asked what it was? he said you have lost the two Clanranalds by it. He answered in the Irish parish, I take my being here at this time in pledge of that; so comes where his master was and tells all as it stood with these in the castle, whereupon he renewed the siege. The defenders, knowing their weakness was disclosed by Duncan, who had louped, whereof he was lame till his dying day, they begged quarters for their lives, which was granted them, with all their baggage, Lord Kintail presently causes blow up the house with powder, which remains there in heaps till this day. He lost only at the siege but two Kinlochew men. Andrew Munro of Teachnover was also wounded, with two or three others. And so dissolved the camp."

There has been likewise an old building at Tomaclare, and another at Lagadum. Whether these houses were places of defence, or only light-houses to acquaint the country people of danger in case of sudden invasion from their enemies, we cannot say. There are several such buidings upon the west coast. Near the place of Attadale are two caves. The country people call them Uagh ashoil, the stranger's cave. It seems to have been the dwelling of some robber, who lived upon plunder and carnage. There has been a burying place near this cave, and a place of worship in times of Popery or Paganism.

Miscellaneous Observations

About 40 years ago, there was a lint manufacture in Lochcarron. If there were an woollen manufacture established here, it would employ a great number of idle hands, and might prevent emigration. All the common tenants upon the shore towns are fishers. Every town has 2 or 3 boats, or more, according to the number of tenants. They go out with their boats, and kill several kinds of fishes with the hand line, but the principal favourite is the herring. Many of the poor people live for several months upon herring and potatoes. With this humble fare, they are cheerful and thankful, and when they take it with sobriety, and qualify it by drinking water gruel after it, it proves wholesome food. God Almighty often receives the tribute of thanksgiving for his homely fare, when those who live upon the luxuries of the earth forget the hand that feeds them. Improvements are thriving and going forward in the Highlands. We wish that we could say that religion was improving likewise. May God revive his own work, and pour a spirit of grace and supplication upon all ranks and descriptions of people.*

*It is impossible, it seems, to breath the air of Lochcarron, without acquiring a taste, if not a talent for poetry, of which the minister has sent the following specimen, under the name of "Statistical verses", with which he concluded his account.

1. This same statistical account,
Is sent to please Sir John,
And if it be not elegant,
Let criticks throw a stone.

2. We have not fine materials,
And our account is plain,
Our lands and purling streams are good,
But we have too much rain.

3. In Humbay there's a harbour fine,
Where ships their course may steer,
Such as are building villages,
Might build a village here.

4. From Castle Strom there is a road,
Straight down to Kessock Ferry,
And by this road the men of Sky
Do all their whisky carry.

5. Of old the fox killed sheep and goats,
But now the fox we kill;
The huntsman gets four hundred merks.
And whisky to his will.

6. Our girls are dress'd in cloak and gown,
And think themselves quite bony;
Each comes on Sunday to the kirk,
In hopes to see her Johny.

7. A drover, when the sermon's done,
Will ask the price of cows,
But the good honest Christian,
Will stick to gospel news.

8. The breach of Sabbath day is here,
Cause of regret and sorrow,
All worldly things should then give way,
And be discussed the morrow.

9. We call for tea when we are sick,
When we want salt we grumble,
When drovers offers are not brisk,
It makes our hopes to stumble.

10. Now good Sir John, it was for you
I gather'd all my news,
But you will say that I forgot
To count the sheep and cows.

11. Of these we have a number too,
(But then, 'twixt you and I),
The number they would never tell,
For fear the beasts should die.

12. Sir John send word, if you are pleas'd
With what I here rehearse,
Perhaps 'twere better had I told
My story all in verse.

13. The Parson has no horse nor farm,
No goat, nor watch, nor wife,
Without an augmentation too,
He leads a happy life.

14. I wish you health and happiness,
And may you live in peace;
And if you would be truly great,
Then plead and pray for Grace.

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