New Statistical Account (1840) Parish of Tarbat

Tarbat Community Collage
Raeburn Portrait (Exhibition Guide)
Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty

The Second Statistical Account (1834 - 1845)

The New (or Second) Statistical Account of Scotland built on the previous work carried out by Sir John Sinclair for the First Statistical Accounts by including the knowledge of local doctors and schoolmasters. The Second Statistical Accounts were published between 1834 and 1845.

New Statistical Account for the Parish of Tarbat (1840)

The following is a transcription of the actual Account of the Parish of Tarbat from the second or new Statistical Account for Scotland.


* Drawn up by Mr George Dunoon, Parochial Schoolmaster of Tarbat.


Boundaries, &c. - The parish of Tarbat occupies the eastern promontory of the shire of Ross, being bounded on the south and east by the Murray Frith, and on the north by the Dornoch Frith, and terminating in a narrow point called Tarbat Ness, on which an elegant lighthouse has lately been built.

From the want of woods and enclosures, the parish presents rather a naked appearance.

Soil - The soil is generally light, a great deal of it being sandy, but a considerable proportion of most of the large farms is a deep black loam, capable of bearing all ordinary farm produce; and the lighter lands in rainy seasons also give good crops of turnips and grass, from sea-ware, which the neighbouring shores supply in great abundance.

A variety of caves occur along the shores of the parish some occupied for many months together by bands of tinkers.


Antiquities - There is, above the village of Portmaholmack, a green hill, called Chapel Hill, where there was discovered, on levelling the ground for new buildings, a number of human bones deposited within rough flags of freestone. There is a beautiful piece of masonic work in the Churchyard, called the Dingwall's Tomb.

On the north side of Tarbat Ness, at a creek called Port Chaistel, are the ruins of an old castle, overhanging the sea, and cut off from the land by a deep ditch, and beside it, on the Black Moor, is the vestige of a Roman camp, near the site of the lighthouse as a land-mark.

The Castle of Balconie is a most ancient building and perhaps the largest and the most entire now in Ross-shire. It is said to have been built by the Earls of Ross. But the last inhabitants were the Earls of Cromarty, and Alexander Mackenzie of Ardloch Assint, brother to the late Earl George Mackenzie of Cromarty. It has not been inhabited by any respectable family for 200 years.

Fragments of what is said to have been a Danish cross are to be seen scattered among the graves in the church-yard and a low green mound, adjoining the eastern gable of the church, is still pointed out as the site on which it stood.

Several chests, composed of rough freestone flags, were dug up a few years ago, at a place in the neighbourhood of Portmaholmack, by labourers employed in levelling the ground for new buildings. Each chest contained an entire skeleton, of a size unusually large and, from the position of the bones, it appeared that the bodies had been doubled. A number of small copper coins, all of Charles I., together with a lady's ring encircled with the inscription, Finish my desire, rudely executed, were discovered about twenty years ago in a garden near Balconie Castle. The ring is now in the possession of George Mackenzie Ross, Esq. of Aldie, and is said to be of considerable value.

Parochial Registers - The only parochial registers extant are a book in which the minutes of the kirk-session are kept, and another in which births and marriages are recorded. The earliest entry in the first is in the year 1750, and in the second, 1801. These books have been regularly kept.


  Valued Rent Real Rent
Geanies L.1834. 7. 6  
Mackay of Rockfield L.  234. 0. 0  
Mackenzie Ross of Aldie L.  322.10. 0 L  202.10. 0
Macleod of Cadboll L.2138. 3. 4 L.2030.12. 7
  L.4529. 0.10  

Mansion-House - The house Geanies is the only mansion house in the parish.


Amount of population in 1801 - 1343
Amount of population in 1811 - 1379
Amount of population in 1821 - 1825
Amount of population in 1831 - 1809
No. of families, engaged in agriculture - 588
No. of families engaged in Trade, manufactures, or handicrafts - 246
No. of families otherwise engaged - 70

Plantations - The plantations in this parish consist of the common Scots fir, elm, ash, beech, and, though capable of being rendered congenial, by draining, to the growth of alder, poplar, and willow, nothing has as yet been done in that way of improving them, excepting in the estates of Geanies and Rockfield, in consequence of which, the eastern part of the parish has but a very bare and bleak appearance.

The various sorts of timber of which the plantations consist are all planted, and of fifty or sixty years standing. So diminutive are the trees in point of size, in consequence of not having been properly attended to, that the average produce of thinning and felling for the last four years amounted only to L.127 per annum. The average produce of gardens and orchards may be estimated at L.20 per annum.
The only kind of insect known here which is not common to any other part of the country, is a small insect, particularly hurtful to fruit trees. It is covered with a white downy kind of moss, and fastens in hordes round the stems, particularly of pear and apple trees, causing the leaves attached to the fruit stems, which they sometimes ascend to and fasten on, to fall off, and so discolouring the bark as to give it a very unhealthy appearance.

Fisheries - The herring-fishing commences about the middle of July, and continues till September. The fishing ground lies off Tarbat Ness, at the distance of about five miles, and is taken by certain landmarks. Curers engage their boats during the months of November and December, and give a bounty of from L.5. 5s. to L.8. 8s., varying according to the skill of the fishermen, to each of the different crews at the time of engagement, and each boat receives in May an advance of about L.10, to assist in making the preparations for sea. The number of boats engaged in fishing for the curers at the different stations in this parish, last season, was about 100; and the average take of each boat was 105 crans, exclusive of many hundreds of barrels carried off in carts to various parts of the country. The total number of boats employed in fishing on the coast last season, is said to have been about 300. The haddock and cod-fishing continues from the close to the commencement of the herring-fishing season. The number of salmon taken annually is very inconsiderable. Lobsters and several other kinds of shell-fish are found in great numbers from May till August, and sold to vessels employed in collecting them for the London market. The fishermen are, in general, industrious and frugal in their habits. Many of them have good houses, and there are a few comparatively wealthy. The only vessel belonging to the place is the property of a fisherman. She is quite new, and cost L.700.

Remarks on the Agricultural state of the Parish since the year 1798 - At the commencement of this period, the parish of Tarbat may be said to have been among the farthest back in the county, with respect to modern husbandry. There was neither grass, turnips, nor wheat sown in any part of the parish, except at the place of Geanies and a little at Bindal. All farming implements were of the rudest description. The only carts to be seen, except at the place above-mentioned, were what are called tumblers, or basket carts. The plough had almost no iron about it, and the usual price for making one was two pecks of oats, the materials being always furnished by the farmer. It was generally drawn by from ten to fourteen oxen, cows, or horses, with the whole family in attendance; and in the case of small crofts with the united cattle, ploughmen, and drivers of two or three families, whose deafening clamours may be faintly conceived by those who disturb the inhabitants of a well stocked rookery. The corn-stacks were generally three in number: one for the laird, one for seed and sale, and one for family use; the barn was filled in the first place. In the case of the larger farms, a stack sometimes consisted of as much as sixty bolls of bear, with twenty of pease on the top and was never thatched, the pease being considered sufficient protection from all injury
There were no roads in the parish, nor any harbour on the coast at which grain could be shipped. The village of Portmaholmack, in which there are at present 400 souls, consisted the of three houses and two storehouses for receiving rents, which were all paid in oatmeal and bear.
The peasantry were a quiet, decent, industrious people ready to learn, and of exemplary sobriety, honesty and piety. Their dress, which was very simple, was almost all home-made. In reference to which, it may be worth while mentioning, that, even at church, when, in their best robes, they had among them, except those who came from the place of Geanies, only six hats, and an equal number of printed gowns; yet they always appeared clean and respectable.

At a later stage in the period above-mentioned, a harbour was built at Portmaholmack, and a herring-fishery established there, which, though it is to be regretted that they be justly charged with having caused a declension in the morality of many of those who are occupied there about, are in other respects, a very considerable advantage to the parish. The harbour, from its centrical position, affords great convenience to farmers shipping grain; and the herring garbage, when mixed with earth, is found an excellent manure.

In the year 1798 the farm of Mickle Tarrel in the parish was taken on a nineteen years' lease by a farmer who had studied the most approved system of agriculture in East Lothian. The farm, which then consisted of about 250 acres of arable land, was occupied by several small tenants whose lands were in a state of wretchedness, and their houses afforded accommodation for neither man nor beast.

This farmer brought with him horses and implements of husbandry of the very best description from the south, as also farm servants of his own training. This was the first introduction of modern husbandry to this part of the country, from which the introducer obtained the name of Farmer George. In bringing his system into practice, he had at first to contend with many deep rooted prejudices. Even the proprietor could not then understand how his interests were to be promoted by encouraging his tenants. In the first place, a dwelling house was to be built, as also a suitable set of offices, houses and a thrashing-mill, and a garden, &c enclosed. All this was done at the farmer's expense, without any assistance from the proprietor, and at an outlay of L.1500. The soil being good, and the new system bringing it into favourable operation, the farmer soon began to reap the reward of his expense and labour, and in the seventh year after his entry, he had the satisfaction of obtaining for his wheat and oats the highest price in Mark Lane, circumstances which dissipated the opposition of prejudice, and raised up a spirit of imitation.

In the year 1802, Mr Archibald Dudgeon, a native of East Lothian, took the neighbouring farm of Arboll, which he still occupies. He likewise brought with him a choice assortment of farming implements from the same county, as also horses and farm servants. The latter did not remain long, though with an excellent master, and with whom some of his present servants have been for upwards of thirty years. Next, Mr Macleod, the Sheriff of the county, seeing the good effects of the new system, got a grieve from East Lothian, and commenced farming on the some principle. About the same time, Mr Mackay purchased the lands of Little Tarrel, now Rockfield, and commenced extensive and judiciously conducted improvements in a very spirited manner. On the farm of Wester Geanies, the property of Aldie, a great deal was also done.

The example was followed by several other farmers, and soon became general in the country, and the war prices giving encouragement to the exertions of agriculturists, the spirit of improvement went on with unabated vigour.
At the close of the war, Captain Rose returned to the farm of Bindhill, in which he succeeded his father and, converting his sword into ploughshare, commenced farming on the new system with great spirit and success, which he has continued to the present date. And he has now the satisfaction of seeing the subject of his labours and improvements confirmed into the hands of his son-in-law, Mr Chisholm, by a new lease of nineteen years granted at this term; who, it is confidently hoped, will uphold that benevolent and highly respectable character which the House of Bindal has hitherto maintained.
The improvements which thus, in all quarters, made such rapid progress in regard to the soil, were kept pace with by those which respected the external features of the farms. Taking a view of the parish at the present period, we see the tenantry all live in comfortable well-furnished houses, with excellent accommodations for their corn and cattle. And on all the larger farms, thrashing-mills, one impelled by wind, and another by steam, and others by from four to six horses. In short, the parish of Tarbat is well farmed as any part in the north, and the farmers are highly respectable, intelligent, and hospitable.

The largest farms in the parish run from 150 to 350 acres, and the rents from L.1. 15s to L.2 per acre. The system pursued here is the five and six course; the four has been tried, and, on the farm of Mickle Tarrel, long practised with success.

The country not being pastoral, the farmers here do not rear many cattle or sheep. They keep what is called a flying stock, which, after being well wintered on turnips, are sold at the early markets. Mr Archibald Dudgeon, at one time, had a stock of excellent Highland cows, which he selected from the purest breed in the country. He continued them for a good many years, always allowing them to suckle their calves, and that as long as they chose, by which means, and every other attention to breeding, he raised such a stock as have returned him L.20 for three-year-olds. From their very high feeding, however, they lost some of those qualities which are esteemed in Highland cattle. Yet they still maintained their full beauty of symmetry. Mr Dudgeon may be said to be the only farmer in the parish who has always on hand a large stock of cattle, and these always well selected and high fed. He also feeds off a great number wedders on turnips for the southern markets.

Of late years, the store-farmers have been in the habit of sending down their hogs to the low country, where they take turnips at from L.4 to L.5 per imperial acre, according to the quality. Sometimes, they are let at so much per head per week, generally seven farthings, but the former arrangement is preferred by most farmers. In regard to the turnips, the ordinary practice is that one-third is drawn for the cattle in the farm-yard, and the remainder eat off by the sheep.

That the breeding of stock is comparatively but little followed up in this quarter, is owing to its being found less profitable, in consequence of the distance from market, &c, not that the climate or soil is ungenial, nor the farmer deficient in the art, which has been sufficiently proved on the farms of Arboll and Mickle Tarrel. Of the former we have already spoken on this head, and of the latter we shall only mention that, at a sale there in the year 1824, there were sold a horse for L.84, a son of his, rising four years old, for L.52. 10s., and a saddle mare for L.52.10s., a Highland fat cow for L.25, a Highland bull for L.50, and another for L.40, and for an ox, six years old, that had been fed three years, L.75 were offered. And on one occasion, the farmer refused L.100 for his riding pony.

With regard to farm-servants, the system introduced at the commencement of modern husbandry, and practised ever since, on almost all large farms, is what in East Lothian is called the hind system, and which, it may be observed, is, in most improved districts in Scotland, considered the best, both as regards the interests of the farmer, and the morality and comfort of the servants.

Manufactures - There are two branches of hemp manufacture carried on in the parish, viz, weaving and spinning; weaving by 6 men and 3 boys, and spinning by 300 women. The factory is connected with the establishment of Mackintosh, Grant, and Co. Inverness.

Navigation - The number of vessels that cleared here outwards, since the 1st November 1839 till the 1st November 1840, was 112. The amount of their tonnage 6896. The quantity of grain exported at Portmaolmack for London, Leith, and Liverpool of crop 1839, was 3003 quarters of different kinds.


Ecclesiastical State - The whole of the population belong to the Established Church, with the exception of three families of Seceders, who have only recently come to the parish. Stipend, 16 chalders, half meal half barley. The glebe, with garden, consists of 6 acres 2 roods. The manse was built in 1806. It is undergoing some repairs at present, and receiving an addition.

Education - There are at present three schools in the parish: the parochial school, an adventure school, and a Gaelic school, supported by the Gaelic School Society. The parochial school master has the medium salary, L.30. He is allowed L.2 in lieu of a garden, and the average amount of fees received by him is L.7. No fees are paid by the children attending the Gaelic school. The teacher's salary is L.25.

Poor - A bequest of L.100 to the sick and aged poor of her native parish of Tarbat was lately made by Miss Margaret Macleod of Geanies. Average number of poor in the permanent roll for three years, 1835-36-37, 96. Amount distributed, L.17; whereof from church collections, L.12, from mortifications, mortcloths, dues, &c. L.5.

December 1840.

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