Old Statistical Account (1790) Parish of Tarbat

Tarbat 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 for the Parish of Tarbat (1790)

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

PARISH OF TARBAT, (PRESBYTERY OF TAIN, SYNOD of ROSS)
By the Rev. Mr. George Balfour

Situation, Name, and Extent - The whole of the parish of Tarbat belonged formerly to the county of Ross, but, in the year 1693, Cromarty having been erected into a separate jurisdiction, and the property of the Earl of Cromarty in different parishes being transferred to the erected county, the barony of Tarbat, as a part of his estate, was included in that arrangement, and the parish is now almost equally divided between the shires of Ross and Cromarty. It is situated at the eastern extremity of the country, with the sea on every side, except on the W. and S.W. where it is bounded by to parish of Fearn. On the S. and S.E. it has the Moray Firth. At the E. and N.E. another branch of the sea breaks in between Ross and Sutherland, and bounds this parish on the N. The sea, after passing Tarbat-Ness, turns in to the land, and forms a capacious bay, at the S.E. corner of which lies the harbour of Portmaholmack. Immediately above the harbour, the land rises to a considerable height, extends eastward into the sea 3 miles in length, and is not more than half a mile in breadth at the neck which joins the head-land to the body of the parish. From these local circumstances the parish has its name. Tarbat, being a Gaelic word, expressive of the peninsular situation of the place, and its having the appearance, when viewed at a distance, of a body stretched out in the sea and nearly surrounded by it. Tar signifying a Belly or Prominence, and Bat, drowned or immersed in water. The parish is in length 71/2 miles; in breadth it does not in any part exceed 41/2 miles; in circumference it is 191/2 miles, and of that measurement 15 miles belong to the sea coast.

Surface, Soil, &c. - There are no high mountains or high hills in the Parish. Geanies has the most elevated situation of any place belonging to it. There, a rocky precipice to the S. rises more than 20 feet above the level of the sea, and the fields on the N. and N.W. descend with a considerable declivity, a degree of which continues all the way to the north shore, though in most part so gradual as to be scarce perceptible. There are, in some other parts, a few rising grounds, which have a familiar effect, but, in general, the fields are nearly level, or have no inequality but what is rather useful than otherwise. There is a variety of soil; some of a loamy quality, some light with a mixture of sand, or lying upon it, and a part of it, deep with a bottom of hard gravel. There are no lakes or rivers on the parish, but there are number of small lochs or natural ponds, which become dry in summer; and fresh water springs are to be found in every corner, particularly in parts near the sea. One of them at Portmahomack is remarkable for the lightness of its water. At a short distance is another, within flood-mark, which discharges the salt water at ebb, and becomes then free of any brackish taste. It gives the colour of iron to the stones around it, and from this, and some other properties, is supposed to pass through iron ore. There are different other mineral springs in the parish, having the same qualities. Small quantities of salt are found in the summer months, concreted by the heat of the sun, from water left by high tides, in hollow parts among the rocks. The situation of the parish, in an open part of the country and lying in the sea, gives it a most extensive prospect. There are particular stations from which may be seen a part of eight counties, with along range of coast, from Cullen to Fort-George, in the S.E. and S. and from Dunbeath and the Ord of Caithness to the Doun of Creech in Sutherland, in the north.

There are two public roads in the parish running parallel. The one leads straight from Tarbat-Ness to the ferry of Cromarty, and is called the rock-head road, from its being carried along the top of a bank rising above the sea, and rocky in some parts. The other road passes by the church, through the middle of the parish, and leads to the ferry of Invergordon. There are cross roads also, one of which leads to Tain, the head burgh of the county, where a weekly market is held, to which the inhabitants resort. In this and every parish though out the country, the roads, are made most convenient for travelers, from the particular attention given to that branch of police. The work has hitherto been performed by statue labour, and the people have been regularly called upon, for repairing the roads already made, or making new ones, where found necessary. But a plan has lately been proposed, and approved, to have the statute labour commuted, it being left optional to pay a certain rate of money, or to perform the service in person, in terms of the statue.

Measurement, Manure, Natural Productions, &c. - There is no general map of the parish, but, according to separate plans made of the different estates, it contains 5081 acres; of which, 2998 are arable, 66 out-field, 643 pasture, 1135 muir, 82 moss, and 166 planted. The muir ground, which bears so great proportion to the arable, not with standing the appearance of poverty in its present neglected state, might, by inclosing, mixing the different soils by trenching, and laying on lime, be turned into good arable ground, and brought to yield profitable crops; of this, there is sufficient proof from what is done by the cottars in these spots on which they sit down, and an experiment on a larger scale has been made lately, and with success, by Mr. Macleod of Geanies, on a piece of this kind of ground of about 40 acres, which are now improved into fields of corn and grass. The muir grounds where not fit to be improved for these purposes, might be rendered useful by inclosing and planting them with fir and other timber so much wanted in this place, which there is every reason to think would grow here as in other parts near the sea. The thriving plantations begun some years ago by Mr. Macleod of Geanies on his waste ground, and to which he is making yearly additions, may, it is to be hoped, call the attention of the gentlemen of property in the parish to this object. The arable ground yields barley, pease, oats and rye. Half is generally laid down with barley, or bear, and the ground is prepared by covering it alternately with sea weed and dung, with a mixture of black earth and gravel, this last being ground useful to firmness to the soil rendered open by the frequent use of sea weed.

In different parts, near the sea, are banks of shells which, to naked eye, have the appearance of coarse dark coloured sand. Mr. Wright, in his progress through the country, viewed those banks, and recommended the use of the shells as a manure. They were tried, but the trial not succeeding, probably through a failure in the management, a second attempt has not yet been made. At the bottom of some of the mosses, marle has been discovered. That found at a place called Meikle Tarrel is of the richest quality, and has been used for some years past by the farmer there, much to his advantage. Mr Macleod of Geanies has also considerable quantities of rock and pit marle on different parts of his property. In two farms, some of the fields lie on a stratum of stone of a red colour, which when dug up, is soon dissolved by the sun and weather, and when spread on the ground, is found to have a powerful effect meliorating the soil and crops. On a few of the farms, oats are the principal crop; pease were sown in large quantities, and the returns were profitable, but that part of the crop has now failed for many years. Potatoes have happily come to supply the deficiency. There is not a farm, or small croft, a part of which is not laid out in cultivating this useful root. It would be difficult to ascertain the extent of ground employed for this purpose, or the quantities raised yearly, but both must be very considerable, as they are used in every family, and constitute the principal support of some of them, during nine months of the year.

The sowing of grass and turnip feeds, is another improvement in agriculture which begins to take place in the parish. Mr Macleod of Geanies set also the example in this, by laying large fields under green crops. Having his ground inclosed gives him great advantage for this, and every other improvement in farming; but the farmers have become sensible of the benefit of sowing grass in the open fields, and, of late, considerable quantities of clover and rye-grass have been laid down in this manner, which there is reason to think will become a more general practice.

The number of farms in the parish, including those occupied by principal farmers and their subtenants, is 59. The number of ploughs is 94, commonly drawn by 6 or 8 oxen, and a few on the smaller farms, by horses and oxen. The quantity of barley sown yearly is calculated to be 774 bolls; of oats 1056 bolls; and of pease and rye 290 bolls.

Rent - The valuation of the parish, as it stands in the access books, amounts to L.4421. 10s. 10d. Scotch. The real rent, as paid in barley, and from a few farms partly in barley and partly in oat meal, amounts to 2352 bolls, which, converted at 12s. the boll, is equal in money to L.1411. 4s sterling. There is a money rent besides, of L.340. 4s. 10d. sterling, which, added to the former, makes the whole rent to L.1751. 8s. 10d. Sterling. Oat meal is now always received and paid away by weight, and 9 stones the common standard of the country for a boll, and, where meal is mixed, as in the rent paid from mills, 121/2 stones are put to a boll. One farmer pays his rent in money, at a conversion of 10s. the boll; another farmer pays the half of it at a conversion of 11s. Some of the farms, where the soil is richest, are let at the rent of 30s. the acre of arable ground; some of them pay from 20s. to 26s. or from 15s. to 20s. and other farms are set at 10s. and under, but, at an average, the rent may be calculated at 11s. 9d. the acre of arable ground. The muir and pasture lands are not comprehended in this estimate; they are considered appendices of the farm, but, being open and common to every one throughout a great part of the year, the farmer can count very little on this profits from them.

The parish produces much more corn than is sufficient for the support of the inhabitants. The victual rents are sold yearly, to be carried to other parts of the kingdom, or used in the country, by distillers, and those living in towns, or the Highlands.

Cattle, Horses, and Sheep - There are in the parish 1176 black cattle, including milch cows, &c., 573 horses, 208 sheep. Only a few of the black cattle are reared here, the greatest part being purchased at the different fairs held in this county, and in Sutherland, in October and November. After some years' work, when they begin to fail in their strength, they are sold to the drover, or butcher, sometimes at a higher price than that for which they were first bought. The horses bred in the country are mostly of a small size, but hardy and fit for the drudgery to which they are first put. Many of the farmers in this and other parishes of the low country, now repair to the markets in Moray and buy larger horses, which cost from L.6 to L.13. The sheep are also of a diminutive kind, but by being pastured on the shore-grounds become fat, and fetch a good price. A larger breed has been lately introduced into the Highlands, and a few of them are brought down to this and other parts of the country.*

* The expence of a married servant, including meal for maintenance, his fees and other allowances may be fairly estimated at L.10 per annum. The unmarried servants are commonly maintained in the farmer's house, and the stated fees and other perquisites may be rated at L.4 yearly for a man, and half that sum for a female servant.

In this and other parts of the country, the harvest is generally cut down by a fixed number of reapers, in proportion to the extent of the farm. They are hired for the season and paid either in corn, or money, as they chuse. A man has 20s or the value of it; 15s is the common allowance given to woman reaper. They are either maintained in the family by their employers, or have some additional allowance for their maintenance. It has now become more frequently the practice to call a number of reapers as the corn ripens, to dispatch the work and prevent loss by the weather. They are paid at the rate of 6d or 8d per day.

The ordinary hire of a labourer for farmer work is 8d. per day, and for garden work, cutting peats and mowing grass 1s. Ditches, dykes and trenching are paid by measurement, and cost as follows: ditches 2d., single stone dykes 2d, double 31/4d, and mud fences 31/2d the yard, trenching L.4. Sterling the acre.

Boats, Fisheries, and Harbours - There are 12 boats belonging to the parish, of that number two are mostly employed in carrying freights. Some of them belong to people who fish occasionally, and require no more then two or three hands to work them. There are five fisher-towns on different parts of the coast. The proprietors of the ground furnish a new boat every seven years, to be upheld by the crew, and are entitled to a fifth part of the fish caught, or of their gains of what ever kind, but their dues are now mostly converted into money. The larger boats pay annually L.4 sterling and the smaller L.3. Every species of gray fish is to be found on the coast, and a great variety of shell fish. From a trial made at an expence of the gentlemen of property in the parish, it appeared that, with the necessary tackle, ling, holybet and turbot might be had in abundance. Some old people remember a cod fishing at Portmaholmack, where the beaches for drying the cod are still to be seen. This year, 1792, a lobster fishing was begun, and carried on very successfully, partly by Messrs. Selby and Cresswell of London, but mostly by a respectable society, under the firm of the Northumberland fishing company. In the course of the season, from March to July, more than 50,000 lobsters were caught at Tarbat-Ness, and near it, and from first to last, 28 vessels touched at the point to receive the lobsters, and carry them to market. The charters of one property in the parish convey a right to a salmon fishing, but if any such did ever actually exist, it has been so long discontinued, that there is no remembrance of it. However, salmon are sometimes seen springing out of the water, near the shore, but, there being no rivers to invite their stay, it is probable they only take a short rest her, in proceeding to or returning from the rivers and lochs in the Highlands, where they leave their spawn.
The variety of fish upon the coast, occasions it to be frequented by seals, porpoises and whales. A large one of the spermaceti kind was in the year 1756 stranded on the rocks to the west of Portmaholmack. It measured 63 feet in length, and yielded a great quantity of spermaceti and blubber. The otter is sometimes surprised at land in his lurking places, and is valued for his skin.*

* Of land animals, the fox has his den amongst the rocks, and lives mostly on shell-fish, though sometimes he makes excursions in search of game, and to commit depredations on the farmer's poultry. The hares are numerous in the parish, and remarked for their swiftness; when the snow lies on the ground they retire to the shores as a places of warmth and shelter. Of game birds, patridges are in great numbers in the parish, though kept down by the hawk and kite, and other birds of prey, as well as the sportsman. The green plover or lapwing comes early in the spring, and quits the country again in the months of July and August. The swallow and cuckoo come in summer, and disappear in the middle of harvest; when these birds take their departure, numerous flocks of curlews, mountain plovers, wild geese and swans return with their young ones from the hills and lochs, where they had hatched and reared them in the summer months. The various kind of the wild duck do not remove from this place, but are inhabitants of the marshes and shores during the whole year.

There are upon the different sides of the parish six harbours, and a number small creeks. Of the harbours, Portmaholmack is the only one fit to receive vessels of any considerable burden, the rest being merely landing places for open boats. There was a stone pier built there, at the expence of the first Earl of Cromarty, which now, through time and neglect, lies in ruins. The want of this pier has, within these forty years, occasioned the total loss of three vessels, and as many more were, from the same cause, stranded on the shallows in the frith, and not got off without much damage and expence. From a survey lately made it appears that, at full sea with a spring tide, there are thirteen feet of water at the pier head, and 9 feet with a neap tide. Ships driven by easterly storms could with ease pass Tarbat-Ness and lie here in safety, the situation of the harbour giving it shelter from every wind which might hurt. There is not in the N. part of Scotland, and what is called the low country, a place better calculated than Portmaholmack, if so well, for a fishing station, from the convenience of its harbour, its nearness to the sea where the fish is to be found, proper ground adjoining whereon to erect houses, and plenty of excellent free-stone at hand to build them. From the increase of trade, and the establishment of manufactures in this and the neighbouring county, vessels have occasion to proceed more frequently than formerly through the frith, to Tain, Dornoch, and other parts on the coast, which adds to the importance of Potmaholmack as a place for those vessels to run into when over taken by storms. The late Sir John Gordon, who was then the proprietor, had an intention of asking the aid of government, for repairing and enlarging the pier, and plans of the work, and estimates of the expence were made out. Further progress in the affair was prevented by the death of that worthy gentleman, but the reasons still exist in their full force, nor could a few hundred pounds of the public money be laid out on a work more useful and more necessary. *

* There are five caves on the coast, the entry to one of which is so low that to get in one must creep on all fours; within there is a spacious apartment, having around it natural bench of stone. The entry to another resembles a stately porch, which stands at the distance of several feet from the rocks, and from this entry there is a covered way to the body of the cave, which runs a considerable length, and has three apartments, one behind another arched at the top like a fault, through which the water oozes, and in time of frost hangs from the roof in a number icicles.

At the northmost point of Tarbat is a creek accessible to a boat at highwater. There is a tradition of a fort, built here on a small mote within the creek, having the sea on each side. No vestiges remain of the building, both the mote and a narrow neck or causeway which led to it from the land being now covered with grass, but it is easy to trace the foundation of a wall of considerable extent, which defended it on the landside. The creek retains the name of Port-Chastril, or Castlehaven, and, from it, the first Earl of Cromarty, assumed one his titles of nobility, and transferred that name to the old family seat, Tarbat, which is now in the maps of this part of Scotland marked Castlehaven. This fort might be intended to repel the Danes and Norwegians, who formerly so often infested the coast, or as a place of security from the predatory incursions of the natives in those uncivilized times, when it was customary for the head of one clan with his follower, to break into the territories of another, with every act of hostility.

The parishes of Nigg, Fearn and Tarbat lie in a direct line betwixt Dunseath, or Dunsheath-Ness at the west, and Tarbat-Ness, where Port-Chastril lies, at the east, and both forts, from their situation, would easily protect these and the other adjacent parishes, which, from their fertility, were most liable to be attacked by plunderers. And the etymology of the Gaelic word Ether-Dovur, or Eddir dha Mhuir, is exactly descriptive of the situation of the fort at Tarbat-Ness, which stood on a narrow point betwixt two seas. If this account shall be rejected, it will be difficult, by tradition or any other way, to find a place where in to fix the castle of Ether Dovur.

There were in the parish six of those houses called castles, which towards the end of the last and the beginning of this century were inhabited by antient and respectable families. One of them belonged to the Sinclairs of Dunbeath. The ruins of another stand a monument of the taste and grandeur of former times. The old name was Tarbat Castle, and Ballone, from a marsh behind it. It stands above the sea, and upon the very limits of the property, as if intended to prevent incroachments.

Population Table
Number of souls in 1755 - 1584
Number of souls in 1792 - 1370
Males - 638
Females - 732
Under 6 years of age - 198
Under 6 years of age - Males - 97
Under 6 years of age - Females - 101
Between 70 and 80 - 14
Between 80 and 90 - 8
Between 90 and 100 - 1
Families or houses - 300
Widowers and widows - 72
Farmers - 59
Male servants - 140
Female servants - 118
Fishermen - 41
Millers and Wrights - 11
Weavers - 12
Shoemakers - 12
Taylors - 11
Smiths - 5
Masons - 2
Heritors resident - 1
Heritors non-resident - 4
Marriages from 1st October 1784 to 1st of August 1792 - 89
Births from 1st October 1784 to 1st of August 1792 - 328
Deaths from 1st October 1784 to 1st of August 1792 - 248

One cause of the decrease of the number of inhabitants is uniting different farms into one, a practice undoubtedly inimical to population; another cause is the loss of some fishermen at sea, the removal of others from the parish, and that some crews were suffered die out, without having their places supplied. But what chiefly contributes to the decrease of the inhabitants, is a yearly emigration to the south of young people who never return.

There is now living in the parish a female dwarf, aged berwixt 30 and 40, who measures only 34 inches in height; there is no other deformity about her.

Diseases, Climate, and Fuel - There are no diseases peculiar to the parish from climate or any other cause, but there have been instances of more than ordinary mortality from epidemical distempers spreading over the country, and making their way hither. The fevers now most common are of the nervous and putrid kinds. A species of the latter is distinguished by the name of the yellow fever, so termed because as soon as the patient expires the body becomes of that colour. The small-pox is the disease which has proved most fatal to the rising generation; its effects were particularly calamitous in 1756, when it carried off 75 children. In 1768 it cut off 46, and 38 since the month of October last (1791). Some families at those different periods lost their whole children. Inoculation when tried failed only in one instance, and there are families in the place in which there was not an instance of recovery until this method was taken; not withstanding which, the people still retain a strong prejudice against it, seem deaf to all arguments used to show its lawfulness and expediency as a mean which providence has blessed for saving thousands of lives.

The air here is very pure, there is little rain in summer, because there are no mountains to condense or break the clouds; during that season, the breezes from the east serve to allay the heat and refresh the spirits through the day, and bring dews, which promote vegetation, in the night.
The parish labours under a considerable disadvantage, from the scarcity of peats and other fuel. The privilege of the scanty mosses in the parish is restricted to a few families living on the properties to which they belong, and the far greater part of the inhabitants are left to make the best shift they can for this necessary article of life, and put to a great expence of time and money in purchasing and getting it carried home; a circumstance hurtful to the farmer, by taking him off the work of his farm, and which renders the condition of the poorer sort very uncomfortable during the winter and spring seasons, and proves in general a great check to industry. They begin now to use coals from Newcastle, and find this the easiest way of supplying themselves and for some time past a cargo from that place of 500 or 600 barrels, is annually delivered in the harbour of Portmaholmack, at 1s 11d or 2s each. They could be had much lower, but for the high duty laid upon coals carried to the north of the Red Head.

Ecclesiastical State, and Poor - Tarbat was one of the mensal churches belonging to the Bishop of Ross. The bishop was patron, and had what remained of the tiends, after the share allowed by him to the person employed to perform the duties of the pastoral office. At the revolution the King became patron, and the Earl of Cromarty obtained from the Queen Anne a gift of the patronage , which has now devolved upon Mrs Urquhart of New-hall. The church was built in 1756, and the manse in 1707. By a decreet of locality anno 1708, the stipend was modified at nine chalders, payable equally in bear and oat meal, with the vicarage or small tithes. There was a new decreet anno 1781, by which no alteration was made in the victual, but 300 merks Scotch, of money stipend, were appointed, and the vicarage tithes made over to the heritors. The living at the ordinary conversion may be estimated at L.90 sterling, including a small glebe of four acres. From the state of the free tiends, there is a large fund for augmentation. The estate of Tarbat, which is nearly the half of the parish, pays no share of the victual stipend. The reason of that exemption when the former decreet passed, was a long lack of tiends obtained from King William by the first Earl of Cromarty, which is now run out.

There is a parochial school near the church, and a convenient house lately built for teacher and scholars. The salary is L.5 Sterling in money from the heritors, and 8 bolls of barley from the farmers, and this with the other emoluments may be estimated L.16 per annum. There are no dissenters in the parish, except three families who have lately come from a part of the country in which a seceding meeting house is established, but they occasionally attend the established church. Gaelic being the common language of the people, the greater part of religious service on Sundays is performed in that language. Many of the inhabitants are taught to read English, and some who cannot read, understand a little of it in common conversation, but in general they prefer Gaelic.*

* There were three chapels in different parts of the parish; a part of the walls of one of them remains, which was built, as is said, by Dunbar of Tarbat, and is still pointed out by the name of Dunbar's chapel. Of another, which was situated on the shore to the east of the old castle of Tarbat, there is nothing left but some rubbish and stones piled up, or used as a wall to a piece of ground laid out for a garden in trenching of which human bones are frequently thrown up. Near it, there is a plentiful spring of water, which continues to bear the name of Tabair Mhuir, or Mary's Well. The rock above is covered with ivy, and at the foot of it a small cave or grotto is shewn as the abode of the priest. The Gaelic name of the place, Teampul Eraich, the place at which the people assembled for worship, preserves the memory of what it once was.

The number of poor standing at present on the parish roll is 110. Few of these are mendicants. Widows, fatherless children, and orphans left destitute, servants and labourers laid aside with age or sickness are received into the number, and have a small pittance given them at an annual distribution made of the money arising from the ordinary collections in church on Sundays, and from the parish mortcloths and bells, amounting commonly to about L.16 or L.17 sterling. Extra-ordinary collections amounting, to 2, 3, or L.4 sterling are sometimes made for the relief of persons in circumstances of peculiar distress. There is no other fund for the poor but a charitable donation by the first Earl of Cromarty, from a part of his property in the parish, which bears the name of the mortified lands, and is exempted from the payment of cess and other public burdens. The charity paid from these lands is 36 bolls barley, 121/2 bolls of which belong to this parish, and the remaining part to the parishes of a Fodderty, Kilmuir and Loggie Easter. It was intended for the relief of decayed farmers and other in indigent circumstances, living on the estates which belonged to the noble donor, in this, and the other parishes now mentioned, in 1686.*

* The spring of the year 1782 fails to be noticed for a scarcity of provender, and the ruin of many families, both in the Highlands and low country, by the loss of their cattle, as the consequence of that scarcity. I t was occasioned by a rainy and late harvest, and a long continued frost and snow during the winter and part of the spring, and at last rose to such a height, that in the working season, neither straw nor hay could be had for any money. This parish shared in the common calamity, and some farmers were necessitated to quit their farms and reduced to poverty. But these losses were forgotten in the miseries that followed them in the year 1783, from the failure of the crop of the preceding year, and a real want of bread for the use of man. The want commenced early in the Highland parts of the country, and in January of that year (1783) many came down to this and other parishes of the low country, on search of provisions for their families; as the season advanced, their wants, and numbers increased, and multitudes from the heights of both Ross and Sutherland might be daily seen traversing the different parishes, supplicating supplies of meal or corn, in any quantity, for their money; and a pitiable case it was to see persons young and otherwise vigorous in this condition, having hunger and distress of mind pointed in their countenances. The price of corn rose from 15s to 20s and 21s, and at length to 26s., 28s. and 30s the boll. The late Admiral Sir John Ross and some other gentlemen of property in the county, touched with the general distress, ordered corn brought from other places to be given out amongst their people in small quantities, according to their families, to be paid when they should be in better condition. Upwards of 12,000 bolls were imported from the east country to Inverness by means of Messrs Falls of Dunber and others, and scattered over the different northern counties; and his Majesty's paternal care, and the attention of Ministers, should be remembered with gratitude, in sending at different times cargoes of barley, pease and flour to be distributed amongst the indigent in several parishes, at the discretion of the ministers and elders. But for those supplies, disorder and rapine would have prevailed, and the poor, rendered desperate by famine like so many hungry wolves, would have broke loose, and laid hands on whatever they could find. The aid of government then afforded this parish amounted to 36 bolls, which were distributed at different times amongst householders in straits, to the number of 415, and proved a most seasonable relief.

This will be a memorable era in the history of this country and it is already marked by the people in their calendar, with the epithet of the Black Year. One agreeable circumstance attended so much misery, that nor a single person died merely of famine, though diseases followed, which cut off many, whose constitution had been enfeebled by what they suffered at that period. The case was different during a scarcity which prevailed in this country in the summer of the year 1741. Many were then found dead on the highways and in the fields; and others, through long fasting, expired as soon as they tasted food. But the planting of potatoes in the field was not at that time known in this country; in place of importation the rents paid in corn were a great part of them carried out of the country, till the mob put a stop to this, by breaking up a sloop laden with oat meal for Greenock; and the calamity, how ever heavily felt in this corner, was not so general as to draw the notice of government or bring public aid.

Miscellaneous, Observations - There are only two public houses in the parish, and these little frequented but by strangers. Industry is not confined to the work of the farmer without doors, but within also. The mistress of the house and the other females are employed in preparing webs from the wool and lint raised on the farm, partly for family use, and partly for ale, and there is scarce a house inhabited by the inferior class of people, in which does not go on spinning of hemp or flax, given out by persons employed for the manufactures of sail cloth and linen yarn established at Cromarty and Inverness. The expence of supporting a family has, within these forty years, risen to more than double what it was before that period. Meal of every kind draws nearly three times the money for which it could have been purchased, and fish has risen in a still higher proportion. A shilling is paid for what till very lately could have been got for a penny. The increase of the expence of clothing is still more considerable, and more heavily felt by persons in the middle and lower ranks of life, who, to appear decent, and comply with the fashion of the times, must have recourse to the shop, and distribute the greatest part of their income and earnings among the merchants, for fineries in dress not known to their fathers.* The lands of the parish hold of the crown. The district to the east of Portmaholmack was of old called the forest of the Earl of Ross, and continues to pay L.40 Scotch of crown rent; a sum which, though now a mere trifle, might, in those times when the boll of corn was converted at half a merk Scotch, be the real rent of a tract of ground which at present yields the proprietor near L.400 sterling yearly. There are lands in the parish which held of the bishop of Ross and Abbot of Fearn. Some of the lands most contiguous to the parish of Fearn are by the country people called by the name of the Abbeachd, i.e. Abbey lands, and, it is probable, made a part of the revenue with which the abbacy was endowed by its founder Ferchard Earl of Ross. They are still astricted to the mills of Fearn, and the people occupying them obliged to carry their corns thither to be grinded. One gentleman, Mr. Macleod of Geanies, lately bought off that vassalage, and has erected mills on his own property, to accommodate himself and his people. The most material defects in the management of farms seem to be, 1st, suffering the grounds to run out by constant tillage, and not recruiting or keeping them clean, by fallowing or resting; 2d, employing a superfluous number of working cattle and servants which runs away with the greatest part of the profits. But there is reason to expect that the modern methods of husbandry may soon be introduced universally into the country as they are already adopted by gentlemen of property and the more wealthy and knowing class of farmers. At Tarbat-Ness, and around it , and in almost every corner of the parish, there is an inexhaustible fund of free stone, easily wrought, durable and of a beautiful colour.

* Corn, the staple commodity of this part of the country, has risen considerably within these 40 years, but not in an equal proportion with other things. Barley and oat-meal, which before 1750 were often sold by contract at 8s. and 9s. the boll, bring now frequently from 12s. to 14s. But cattle, great and small, have advanced in their price, in the proportion of 3 to 1. A sheep which before the 1746 never went beyond 2s 6d. fetches now from 6s. to 8s. and if of a larger size, from 10s. to 14s; and a milch cow, or ox for work, for which 35s or 40s. would have been then reckoned a high price, cannot now be bought for less than L.4. or L.5 Sterling.

1792

Return to home page
Terms & Conditions     © Ross and Cromarty Heritage