The 1st 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

The First Statistical Account (1790)
On the 25 May 1790, 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.

By the Rev. Mr. Robert Smith.

Name, Extent, Surface, Soils, etc.
The want of access to any particular record makes it difficult to trace, with accuracy, the etymology of the name Cromarty: it is generally allowed to be Gaelic, denoting “crooked bay” and as this interpretation seems natural, it may be concluded a pretty just one. The Gaelic name of the place is Crom Ba, or “crooked bay”, the description of the bay on which the town is situated, having a noble winding curve, evidently favours this etymology of the name. The extent of this parish is from 7 to 8 miles in length, and from 1 to 4 in breadth. It is bounded by the bay of Cromarty on the N.; by the Murray Frith, and the parish of Rossmarkie on the E. and S. The town of Cromarty is built on a neck or point of land, which stretches out on a level with the sea, there being a similar point on the opposite shore extending, in like manner, into the sea, as if to meet it. There are also two points of exactly the same description, a short way up the bay, which, together, occasion the curvature in the appearance of the bay mentioned above. Along the N. side of the parish, and immediately above the town, there is a beautiful verdant bank, extending from the eastern to the western extremity of the parish; the bulk of arable land hangs over this bank, in a sloping manner, and presents one uninterrupted cornfield, without any eminence to intercept the view. To a traveller riding through the parish, by the public road to Inverness, the arable land lies concealed, and the appearance of the country is flat and moorish. The town of Cromarty was formerly a royal Burgh, but was disfranchised by an act of the Privy Council of Scotland, in consequence of an application from Sir John Urquhart, proprietor of the estate of Cromarty, to that purpose. The soil about the town is fertile, of a deep black mould; it is, in general, however, remarkably wet, owing to a hard pan, or rocky substance in the bottom, which prevents the water from sinking beneath the surface. The soil in the country part of the parish is various; it is also, in general, wet, and the labour of the husbandman often much retarded, by consequence, in the spring season.

Natural Curiosities
Of these, this parish is not very productive; it would, however, be a defect in this account were no mention made of a large rock, considerable in height, which is termed “M’Farquhar’s Bed”. What renders this rock remarkable is the grandeur of an arch, which forms a natural bridge under the rock, admitting the waves of the sea to pass out and in with a tremendous appearance. A still more remarkable curiosity than the former, is a cove or cavern, formed in a rock close by the sea, having an entrance sufficiently large to admit an ordinary sized man. From the roof and sides of this cavern, there is a continual dropping of water, some of which falls to the bottom of the cave, but by far the greater quantity is quickly petrified into a white hard substance, with which the roof and sides of the cavern are covered, and make a beautiful appearance. This cavern is quite accessible, and is truly a curious phenomenon.

Climate, and Diseases
The climate is generally more mild in the town and its vicinity than above the bank and in the country. Frost is frequently intense a mile or 2 from the town, when it is little felt immediately around it. The cold is most piercing in this place, when the wind blows from the E., which rushes in as if by a funnel. There are no diseases peculiarly prevalent among the inhabitants. The poorer class have been much distressed at all times for want of fuel, scarce having had access to any other than the scanty supply furnished from the thinning of the fir plantations in the neighbourhood of the town. It is to be hoped that the tax on coals, now to be taken off, will put that comfortable fuel more within the reach of all ranks; it is beyond a doubt, that many of the diseases incident to the lower ranks, were occasioned by the scarcity and high price of proper fuel. The inhabitants are, in general, healthy, and many instances of their living to the age of 80 years, or thereby, might be adduced; an instance or two there have been of the age of 90. The small-pox raged in this place, to a great degree, during the first 3 months of 1792, and proved very mortal; when the infection was caught, in the natural way, upwards of 50 children, during the above period, fell a sacrifice to them. It is, with pleasure, however, to be observed, that the people were never more reconciled to the salutary means of inoculation, than at the above period. Of those who took the disease by the latter, there were 2 only died, and these, by the physician’s account, had other disorders which bore heavy upon them.

Sea-Coast, etc.
There is a considerable extent of sea-coast on the N. and S. E. sides of the parish, not far short of 9 miles; that on the N. is flat, and, after passing the Sutor Bay about half a mile, there is scarce a rock to be met with on either side of the bay. The coast upon the S. and E. is high, being lined all along with a continued rock, elevated in some places, upwards of 250 feet above the level of the sea. There are several fish-boats belonging to the place, and though this be one of the noblest fishing stations that can be, yet, of late years, from the small size of boats made use of, and the extreme timidity of the fishers, this useful article of life has been much less plentiful than was formerly known in this place. What seems to have introduced the use of such small boats was that, till within these last 16 or 20 years, fish was got in abundance within the bay, which is not now the case; they now begin to see the necessity of large boats, and by going out some considerable distance down the Murray Frith, fish are caught in greater abundance, such as cod, haddocks, whitings, flounders, skait, turbot very rarely, and sole; herrings have been caught in great abundance in the bay, but not for several years past. The price of fish has risen more, in proportion, than any other article of life, but still they are the cheapest provision which a family can use, notwithstanding that 1d., about 12 or 16 years ago, would go further in the purchase of this commodity, than 1s. now. *

Course of the tide, and Sea-Weed
There is a very strong tide flows in and out between the Sutors, and it is remarkable that the sea has made considerable encroachments on the E. end of the town, and falls in on the W. There is tradition among the inhabitants, that the ground on which the old town of Cromarty stood, being towards the E., is now wholly under water, and there are strong presumptions to favour the tradition in part. It is well known, that what was formerly called the western extremity of the town, is now the eastern; neither are there any houses to the E. of the old cross of Cromarty, which is generally supposed to have been placed about the centre of the old town. But what tends to confirm this tradition most of all is that many of the inhabitants now living have seen several small tracks of garden ground, which are now either cut away, or covered by the sea. A storm from the E. covers the shore of this place with great quantities of sea-ware, which provides excellent manure of itself, and answers well as a mixture in the dunghill. The quantity of kelp made on the shore, does not exceed 10 tons annually.

Sutors Bay and Harbour
The Sutors of Cromarty, so generally known, are two promontories jutting out into the sea, considerably elevated above its level; the one on the N. side of the entrance to the bay, and in the county of Ross, the other on the S. side in the county and parish of Cromarty. The body of water between the Sutors, is about a mile and a half in breadth, and forms the grand entrance to the bay of Cromarty.+ There is the finest anchorage ground that can be (after passing the Sutor) for several miles up the bay. There is a vast depth of water on both sides, almost close to the shore; and such withal is the favourable and smooth state of the shore, on both sides, that were a vessel driven from her cables, and cast ashore, there would be little or no damage incurred; such instances seldom happen, and without any material injury to the vessel. Such is the vast extent of sea-room in this bay, and such the capacious description of its length, depth, and breadth, that almost the whole of British Navy might, with the greatest safety, ride within the view of this place. Accordingly it is remarkable, that in all violent easterly storms, when no vessel can venture to look into any port of the E. coast of Scotland from the Firth of Forth northwards, all vessels, thus situated, flock into this bay as a place of safety. Upwards of 30 vessels, at a time, have repeatedly been driven up here, and found shelter from the storm. There was a most commodious quay built here, in the year 1785, partly at the expense of Government, and partly that of Mr. George Ross, late proprietor of the estate of Cromarty. It receives vessels of 350 tons burden, and furnishes a smooth landing place for the ferry-boat, in the most boisterous weather. The present proprietor of the lands of Cromarty, in concurrence with the other trustees who are appointed, by act of parliament, to attend to the support of the quay, have it in contemplation, to build a pier upon the opposite shore, in order to procure a smooth landing to the ferry-boat upon the Ross-shire side. Such a scheme, when carried into execution, will be greatly in favour of this place, insomuch, that scarce any weather will prevent the course of the ferry-boat between the two counties of Ross and Cromarty. The safety of this ferry may be judged of, when no accident has been known to have happened upon it in the memory of man.

* Haddocks are in season from the month of May to February; cod, from February to the month of June; flounders fall off in the harvest months; skait and whitings are found good at all seasons. All the kinds of fish, except herrings, are generally taken by bait. Cromarty finds market for the greater proportion of fish caught by our fishers. It frequently happens that several of the boats go up to Dingwall, where the bay terminates, and there find a ready market for their cargoes. It may not be improper to observe here, that this place labours under a great disadvantage from the want of a weekly meatmarket, which proves very inconvenient for small families. Beef is sold, when cheapest, at 2d. the pound; it advances in the spring season to 3d. and 4d. Mutton much about the same price; pork somewhat lower. A good fowl is never below 6d. Butcher meat of all kinds is generally very ill to be had during the spring season, and until the latter end of July.

+ The etymology of the name Sutor, is uncertain. In a curious, though whimsical, production written by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, it is asserted, I know not upon what authority, that these promontories were named by the Greeks extnpos, and that from this they retain the name Sutors. Other derivations might be fought out, but so fanciful as scarce to merit notice, as indeed there is great scope for imagination on such subjects. Sir Thomas Urquhart’s account of the matter so far accords with the description of the bay of Cromarty, that, when a vessel, of whatever size or burden and in the most boisterous storm that blows, gets once and fairly within the Sutors, there is no safer riding in the world. Other causes, however, conspire to entitle this bay to the name of Portus Salutie, as Buchanan terms it.

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