Resolis Folk

Resolis Community Collage
In 2014 Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society received an interesting account, headed The Black Isle, by Mr Jim Mackenzie, of Exeter, detailing his researches into his forebears during a holiday in Ross-shire in 2010.

As his story begins in land surrounding Castle Craig, it is felt that it should be included in the community of Resolis, although the family extends into other communities in the RCHS website.

All photographs courtesy of the author, Mr Jim Mackenzie.

The author at Conan House.

Some of the Folk of Resolis 

The Mackenzies of Castle Craig

In the summer of 2010 I decided to visit the Black Isle in Ross-shire, Scotland in the hope of discovering more about our Mackenzie ancestors. I had already visited Tain on the Easter Ross peninsular, north of the Cromarty Firth, earlier in the year. My article about that sojourn, entitled A Trip to Tain, can be found on the Killecrankie website. Now I wanted to explore the areas where our forebears had been born, lived and died. But I also felt it was also important to return to the land from where many of our ancestors had departed for the last time, many of them forced to do so in order to escape the harsh economic realities of early 19th century Scotland.

The Black Isle is situated on the eastern coast of Scotland very close to Inverness. It was also part of the ancient county of Ross-shire. The first surprise about the Black Isle is that it is not really an island; it is a peninsula situated between the Cromarty Firth to the north, the Beauly Firth to the south and the Moray Firth to the east. The Beauly Firth itself is the eastern outlet of the “Great Glen”, the geologic divide between the southern and northern highlands of Scotland, with Loch Ness at its heart.

The original name for the Black Isle was Ardmeanach and it derived its customary name from the fact that, since snow does not lie in winter, the promontory looks black while the
surrounding country is white. 

During my fortnight holiday I stayed at the small town of Fortrose.  Nearby is Chanonry Point which is a popular spot for dolphin watching. Because the Moray Firth is very narrow at this point the Bottlenose dolphins gather at this spot in the hope of catching the salmon returning t  their spawning grounds further upstream.

Dolphin watchers at Chanonry Point and Fort George on the opposite bank. Look closely and you can see a dolphin fin!

Chanonry Point is also notorious as the execution place of the Brahan Seer. Known in his native Scottish Gaelic as Coinneach Odhar, the unfortunate man had been asked by Lady Seaforth to “see” her missing husband’s whereabouts. When Odhar replied that the Earl of Seaforth was enjoying relationships with one or more women in Paris, instead of paying the customary token of gratitude, she decided to have Odhar burnt in a spiked tar barrel. No doubt a classic case of “shooting the messenger”!

Fortrose Cathedral ruins

Fortrose was also the seat of the former bishopric of Ross, and the old ruined 13
th century Cathedral can be seen in the town.

Castle Craig with Cromarty Firth in the background.

The Bishop of Ross also owned a summer palace, Castle Craig, on the northern coast
of the Black Isle. It was here that I began my quest to learn more about our family history.
Castle Craig, near Cullicudden, in the parish of Resolis, overlooks the Cromarty Firth. 

The farmland surrounding the ruined castle is where my five-times great grandfather James Mackenzie was a ‘tacksman’. This meant he rented the land from the estate owner and sub-let smaller plots to local tenants as well as farming some of the land himself.

During my holiday I visited the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness and found various Mackenzie tenancy agreements from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. By this time the church no longer owned the land, it had become part of the Newhall estate.

The rents payable were a combination of cash and produce such as barley, but it was surprising how small the landholdings were. At a time of great gricultural advancements, in all likelihood this was quite a feudal existence. However it was a truly amazing experience to hold the same documents that had been part of my ancestors’ lives 200 years earlier.

Further research revealed that after James’s death in 1768 the tenancy passed over to his eldest son Thomas Mackenzie. Thomas was the father of Captain James Mackenzie and my four-times great grandfather, also called Thomas. However after Thomas senior’s death in 1816 the tenancy was given to another son called William. William did
not hold the tenancy for too long as it seems he took over another farm in Resolis in 1819. We do not know the exact reason why neither James, William nor Thomas were not prepared to continue with the (probably) hereditary tenancy of the Castle Craig lands, but it is safe to speculate that economics must have played a part in this decision. Much of this early history of the Mackenzies is contained in T
he Chronicles of the Ardcronie Children.

The author inside the ruins of Castle Craig

Four more views of Castle Craig on the northern coast of the Black Isle overlooking the Cromarty Firth.

Very close to Castle Craig is Cullicudden Old Graveyard. It is now very much a ruin and many of the headstones have been lost to time. The weathered patina, to be expected of a cemetery that dates back many hundreds of years, now adds to the haunting and surreal atmosphere. In all likelihood many of our ancestors were buried here, their memorials eroded over the centuries.

Cullicudden Old Graveyard

Also in the proximity of Cullicudden is Kirkmichael. These two smaller parishes merged in the 17th century to form the ‘new’ parish of Resolis. Some more detail about the various parishes of Ross-shire can be found on the Killiecrankie website under the heading Ross-shire parishes and New Statistics Account.

Kirkmichael ruins

[RCHS note:  see Kirkmichael Trust to learn how these ruins have been completely transformed.]

Kirkmichael and the surrounding churchyard is a ruin, but it is set in an incredibly serene
setting. Just north of the Cromarty Firth is the Easter Ross peninsula where the Royal Burgh of Tain can be found as well as the more industrial town of Invergordon, now very
much linked to the North Sea oil industry.

East of Resolis is the historic town of Cromarty. This where the famous Scottish writer Hugh Miller lived and wrote his renowned works about Scottish life. His house and birthplace can still be visited, as can his monument in the town cemetery. Above the town is a headland known as the ‘Sutor of Cromarty’ which offers a 360° view of the Black Isle, the North Sea and the Cromarty and Moray Firths.

View towards the North Sea from the Sutor of Cromarty

However the highlight of my visit was seeing Conan Mains, the farm where my three-times great grandfather Thomas Mackenzie was the miller in the early 1800s. Conan Mains was built in 1822 by the baronet Sir Hector Mackenzie. The farm was built next to Conan House the ancestral home of the Mackenzies of Gairloch, who are not related to our branch of the Mackenzies. Whilst photographing the farm from the road I met the current owner John Mackenzie who very kindly gave me a tour of Conan Mains. He explained that he was descended from the original owners, but the baronetcy had been lost to another branch of the family due to the primogeniture laws. However John had inherited the house and estate from his mother and continued to run the farm, but with only a team of seven compared with the dozens of workers who would have been found on the farm in the 1800s.

John explained that his family had swapped 30,000 acres of land on the west coast of Scotland for 3,000 acres of land here next to the Conon River. Whilst the family still own land at Gairloch, Conan House has been their principal residence since 1688.

I had been informed at the Highland Archive Centre that all Mackenzies were originally from the west coast of Scotland. But, during the time of the Reformation, the reigning king had asked many of the Mackenzies, known for their loyaty, to move to the Black Isle in order to help impose law and order over Catholic rebels. As a reward for their service the king gave them land, no doubt seized from those he had considered to be disloyal.

This would partially explain why the name Mackenzie is the most popular surname in the area.  However, as John explained, whilst
this is true, in Gairloch itself probably about 90% of the people would answer to the name Mackenzie!

The imposing entrance to Conan Mains built in 1822

As the tour of the farm continued John showed me the lade which had once powered Thomas Mackenzie’s flour mill. The mill no longer exists, but in the outbuilding now standing on the site of the former mill some of its structures can still be seen. However once we had passed through this building I made the most glorious discovery imaginable – the original millstone lying discarded next to a tree. Along with the lease of the farm at Castle Craig, these items had provided me with remarkable tangible links to our ancestors.

Conan Mains farm.

Conan House

Detail on the cupola showing the inscription S.H.M.KB (Sir Hector Mackenzie
Knight Baronet) 1822.

Jim Mackenzie with Thomas Mackenzie’s millstone.

My three-times great grandfather Thomas Mackenzie was a forty-one year old widower when he married Barbara Clark in 1819. They had eight children including my great, great grandfather Charles Mackenzie born in 1822. ‘Charley’ Mackenzie was a great friend of his cousins William Innes and John Innes Mackenzie, two of Captain James Mackenzie’s twenty-one children. Some of their adventures are mentioned in The Chronicles of the Ardcronie Children, which also provides a brief account of Thomas Mackenzie’s life as a miller.

After Thomas’s retirement they moved to a house called Smithfield in nearby Ferintosh. Thomas died in the 1850s and Barbara died in 1872.  harles Mackenzie became a teacher and taught at Fearn School, near Tain, for a short while. One of his pupils, as mentioned in
The Chronicles, was the youngest son of Captain James Mackenzie, Campbell Ross Mackenzie. Charles subsequently moved to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute where he taught English at one the town’s senior schools. Charles then obtained a position as a schoolmaster in Sunderland, in the north of England. This point in time marked the departure of my family from our ancestral home of Scotland. As with his cousins who had emigrated to Australia, Canada and the United States, this must have been a heart wrenching decision for Charles. However the harsh economic realities of Scotland at the time probably left them with no other choice.

In Sunderland Charles married Frances Hannah Gabriel, a fellow teacher, in 1858. They had three children, the youngest of whom was my great grandfather James Mackenzie, born in 1868. Charles died on January 1st 1880, nine days after his 57th birthday. James became a manager at the General Post Office for its then pioneering telephone division. His older brother, also called Charles, was the co-owner of a coal exporting company in the north of England called Mackenzie and Phylson. In some earlier research on the UK censuses I discovered that Charles’ occupation had been wrongly described as a ‘coal porter’. Perhaps the transcriber had become confused between exportation of minerals and the writing of contemporary Broadway songs!

When I visited Urquhart Old Churchyard, unlike my experience at the Resolis cemeteries, I managed to find a number of headstones of our ancestors still standing, and with readable inscriptions. Whilst I could not find Thomas Mackenzie’s
grave I did find that of his wife, my three-times great grandmother Barbara (Clark) Mackenzie. She was buried with her parents Charles and Ann (Mckintosh) Clark, her brothers Donald and Charles Clark, and one of her daughters Katherine Mackenzie who died in 1926 in her ninety-fifth year. Close by was the grave of another of her daughters, Barbara Mary (Mackenzie) Macdonald.

The Chronicles of the Ardcronie Children, on page 35, Barbara is mentioned in a letter that William Innes Mackenzie received from her youngest son William Macdonald.  In the letter, William Macdonald gave an account of their life in Scotland as one the few families to remain in the old country.

The grave of Barbara (Clark) Mackenzie, her parents, her brothers and her daughter.

Samuel Ridley Mackenzie also met Barbara on his travels to Scotland in 1909 as mentioned in his article A Visit to Ardchronie Ross-shire and the Mackenzie Country.

Barbara was married to a 
carpenter called Lewis Macdonald and they had three children Thomas, Barbara Ann and the above mentioned William. Barbara Mary (Mackenzie) Macdonald died in 1916 and was buried with husband Lewis and son Thomas in Urquhart. Her daughter Barbara Ann Macdonald married James Fraser from Dingwall. ‘Frasers of Dingwall’ was a very well established saddlery business based in Dingwall High Street. Barbara Ann and James Fraser had ten children and their youngest son, Dr Francis Charles Fraser, CBE, was a curator at the Natural History Museum in London. He was an expert in the field of Cetology, the study of whales and dolphins. Dr Fraser was the scientific advisor who helped to create the renowned life-size Blue Whale model in the Natural History Museum. He also had a dolphin named after him;  the Sarawak Dolphin is jointly known as the Fraser Dolphin.
The aforementioned William Macdonald, as noted by Samuel Ridley Mackenzie during his visit, had been a Customs Commissioner in Shanghai. His only son Dr Alistair Mitchell “Derrie” Madonald was an eminent Paediatric specialist in Glasgow who was also a founder member of the Paediatric Pathology Society.

The graves of Lewis, Barbara Mary and Thomas Macdonald (left) and Alexander Cameron (right)

Nearby was also the headstone of another ancestor, Alexander Cameron, husband of Katherine Mackenzie. Katherine was the sister of Captain James, William and Thomas Mackenzie. Alexander also featured in The Chronicles of the Ardcronie Children. He was the Gaelic speaking curmudgeon, mentioned on page 34, who chased away young Charley and John Innes Mackenzie after they had tried to use his colt’s tail to make fishing lines! 

Ardcronie farm sign.

Part of the former Ardcronie farm overloking the Dornoch Firth.

No trip to our Scottish homeland would be complete without a visit to the site of Ardcronie farm near Kincardine. But as Samuel Ridley Mackenzie pointed out in his A Visit to Ardchronie, even back in 1909 there was scant evidence of the former farm’s existence. Now the only indication of its location is a modern house on the site called Ardchronie. Across the main road is a strip of land that abuts the Dornoch Firth. According to Samuel’s account this formed the lower third of the farm and as he observed then, it was rocky and wooded. It is difficult to imagine how this sloping piece of land could have been used for cultivation, though it is set in a very picturesque location.

Further along the road is the Kincardine Old Church. The church isno longer in use but the graveyard is very well maintained. It is here that Captain James Mackenzie was buried in 1844. In all likelihood his second wife Grace Innes was also probably buried
here, as well as their children that predeceased them. Unfortunately I was unable to locate their final resting places.

Samuel Mackenzie was able to find his grandfather’s grave in 1909 but in the intervening century many of the gravestones have become covered in lichen or the lettering has weathered away. But it was a thought provoking experience to follow in the footsteps of both Captain James and Samuel Ridley Mackenzie.

Kincardine Old Church and graveyard

So as my holiday drew to a close and I started the long journey back to London, I reflected back on my fortnight in the Scottish Highlands. It had been a truly fascinating experience to see the ancestral home of our forebears. To see the places where they were born, where they had lived, where they had worked and where they had finally been laid to rest. And some day I hope to return. 

Jim Mackenzie

Some of the Ross-shire locations also visited by Jim Mackenzie:

Cromarty.  The street shown, 'The Paye', was the original road into Cromarty.

Cromarty harbour.  This small town paid a very important part in the First World War as it was situated at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth where the Grand Fleet lay at anchor.

Dalmore Distillery, Alness, founded by the Mackenzie brothers.

Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, home of the Chief of Clan Mackenzie.

William Macao

In September 2017 Mr Barclay Price approached RCHS seeking assistance with his research into the first Chinese man to come to Scotland, in the 1770s. Following conclusion of his findings he gave permission to reproduce the lecture he gave on behalf of Edinburgh World Heritage on the life of William Macao.  RCHS is grateful to Mr Price for this intriguing history.

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