The 2nd Statistical Account

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Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness (Image taken from Raeburn painting) with background of west coast outline

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty


* Drawn up by Mr Hugh Miller, Author of “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland.”

It is supposed that a considerable number of acres in the upper part of the parish might be profitably added to the cultivated land.

The arable part of the parish towards the east is laid out into fields inclosed by fences of stone or hawthorn ; and the offices of the various farms in this direction consist of those square-looking stone and lime erections, which always indicate the introduction of the modern system of agriculture. But in passing towards the west, we seem as if retrograding from the present to the middle of the past century ; we find the surface broken into irregular map-like patches, divided from each other by little strips and corners of land not yet reclaimed from the waste ; and the steadings are composed of straggling groups of cottages built of undressed moor-stones, and covered with turf. In most instances, rows of gnarled and time-wasted elms form an accompaniment to these groups, as if to connect them more thoroughly with the past, by reminding us that the present occupants are growing old under the roofs which sheltered their grandfathers.

Number of acres:

cultivated or occasionally in tillage, is about,


constantly waste or in pasture


under wood,


The improved system of agriculture was first acted upon in Cromarty, on a scale sufficiently extensive to render it advantageous, by a Mr George Middleton, a gentleman from England, who settled in the parish about forty years ago. It had been introduced into the place by a spirited proprietor (of whom more anon) nearly twenty years before.

Mr Middleton erected the first thrashing mill seen in this part of the country, and exported the first wheat ; for it is a singular fact, that, forty years ago, there was not a field of this grain reared in the parish, though it now forms the staple of its agriculture, and one of the chief exports of its trade. The difficulties which of late years have borne so heavily on our farmers, have done much towards the general introduction of the modern system. In the universal struggle with high rents on the one hand, and very low prices on the other, all have striven to restore the balance destroyed through the reduction in the value of their produce, by adding to its amount; and the observation and experience of a full quarter of a century have convinced even the most prejudiced, that there is but one set of means through which the necessary amount can be obtained. During the last ten years every farmer in the parish has reared and exported wheat ; but the inevitable effects of over-production have already become apparent ; the value of this grain is fast sinking below even that of oats and barley, and a consequent change of system must necessarily ensue.

The lands of the parish, with the exception of a few little patches, are divided between two proprietors, Hugh Rose Ross, Esq. of Cromarty, and Captain George Mackay Sutherland of Udale. The extensive and beautiful estate of the former contains nearly 6500 acres, of which 1800 are arable, and the rest under wood and pasture. The highly cultivated property of the latter gentleman, one of the most beautiful in this part of the country, contains about 500.
The rental of the parish is estimated at about L.3300.

Trade, Manufacture, Fishery.—
About the year 1T65, the estate of Cromarty was purchased by Mr George Ross, a gentleman of superior talents and singular energy of character, who had realized an immense fortune in England as an army agent. He owed his first advancement in life to the patronage of the celebrated Lord Mansfield ; and the redoubtable Junius, who spared no one out of respect to his lordship, alludes to him in one of his letters in no very friendly spirit, as “George Ross, the Scotch agent.” And justly might the satirist have accused him of a true Scotchman-like attachment to his country. No one ever did so much for this northern part of it, or pointed out with more statesman-like sagacity its hitherto neglected resources. He furnished the town, at a great expense, with an excellent pier ; established in it a manufactory of hempen cloth, which has ever since employed about 200 persons within its walls, and fully twice that number without; built a brewery, which at the time of its erection was the most extensive in the north of Scotland ; and first set on foot a trade in pork for the English market, which, for the last twenty years, has been carried on by the traders of the place to an extent of from about L.15,000 to L.20,000 annually. None of his various projects seem to have been entered into with an eye to personal advantage ; and though all of them were ultimately found to be benefits conferred on the country, not one of them proved remunerative to himself. The Gaelic chapel, already referred to, and the town-house, a neat substantial edifice, with a large hall in the upper storey, and a prison in the lower, and surmounted by a dome furnished with a clock, were two of his gifts to the place. There is but one branch of trade connected with Cromarty, whose history is not comprised in that of this patriotic and generous proprietor. The herring fishery, which in the reign of Queen Anne furnished its only staple, was so successfully prosecuted about twelve years ago, that more than 20,000 barrels were exported in one season ; but of late years the fish seem almost to have deserted the frith, and many of the fishermen, in consequence of a series of expensive and ill remunerated exertions, have sunk into abject poverty

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