The 1st Statistical Account

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PARISH OF AVOCH

(PRESBYTERY OF CHANONRY, SYNOD AND COUNTY OF ROSS)

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

By the Rev. Mr. James Smith

State of Property – There are five heritors, but only one resides. Sir Roderick McKenzie of Scatwell, Baronet, proprietor of two thirds of the parish. His seat of Rosehaugh house stands on a beautiful bank, about a mile and a half from the sea, on the north side of the southern vale. It is a modern edifice, substantially built and commodious, and cost between 3000L to 4000L Sterling. It is surrounded by rich fields in good cultivation, all well fenced, and skirted with woods of different kinds, besides these, he has several thriving plantations of fir, in different parts of this, and an extensive valuable property in other contiguous parishes.

On the same bank, about an English mile to the Eastward, is the house of Avoch, belonging to John MacKenzie, Esq where are good grounds, and small patches and rows of ash, birch and Alder. But this house, and that of Bennetsfield, near the South-West corner of the parish, belonging to Colin Matheson, Esq have both been allowed to fall into disrepair, as the proprietors of them reside in other parts of the county.

One of the finest woods here is that called the Craigwood,* near Fortrose, belonging to Mr Ross of Cromarty. It contains most kinds of forest trees, beautifully intermixed, on a rocky bank, by the sea. It was all cut down about 30 years ago, for making palisadoes and fascines to Fort George, when they apprehended a visit from Mons Thurot’s squadron. It has since grown up finely from the roots anew.

*This wood makes part of the old estate of Rosehaugh, which belonged to the late celebrated Sir George MacKenzie, King’s Advacate. The property is said to have been so named from a small haugh contiguous to the bank, where a great many sweetbriars and wild roses used to grow. The ground having been mostly brought into tillage, they are not now so numerous. On this haugh, along the bottom of the wood, lies the road from Fortrose to Avoch. And there can scarcely be imagined a more delightful summer evening’s walk than this, when, on one hand, the Western sun glitters through the trees, the birches send forth their fragrance, and the singing birds serenade you, and, on the other hand, you behold the beautiful bason before mentioned, with vessels and boats plying upon it with cheerful industry. It is said that Sir George MacKenzie was so fond of this walk, and of that on Chanonry point, which stretches out a mile and a half into the sea, covered with short close grass, as smooth and soft as a carpet, that he used to call it rudeness and want of taste in any of his friends or acquaintances to ride on horseback along them. The Right Hon James Stewart Mackenzie, Lord Privy Seal, who succeeded to Sir George’s estate in this county, sold the lands of Rosehaugh to the late George Ross, Esq of Cromarty, one of the most spirited improvers hitherto known as Ardmeanach. Mr Ross gave good employment many years to a multitude of labouring people from all the neighbouring districts. But, unfortunately for this parish, he died before he could get his plans of improvement extended so far.

A few years ago, Captain Kenneth Mackenzie of Newtown, another heritor, attempted to enlarge the beautiful scene of the Craigwood, by planting his part of the same bank to the westward. But as the rocks and steepness prevented him from getting proper fences made, his young trees have been mostly destroyed by neighbour’s cattle and sheep. Discouraged by this, he turned his attention next to the improvement of his farm, and has, with great expence and labour, made out above twelve acres new land, where never a blade of corn grew before. Industry of this kind is beneficial to one’s country, and deserves to be recorded.

The rent of land in the country part of the parish, including various customs and services, amounts to from 12s to 23s per acre, according to the quality and exposure. But, in the neighbourhood of the villages of Seatown and Kirktown, it pays in general from 25s to 50s. And here some small spots of garden ground are let at the rate of from 5L to 8L Sterling per acre. These last, however, are generally possessed by seamen, shoemakers, and others, who keep no cattle, and must have a little ground for raising potatoes and greens to their families. Such high rents could not be paid by mere husbandmen.

The total gross rent of parish is somewhat more than 730 bolls victual, and 900L Sterling. The valued rent is 2531L 6s 4d Scots

Agriculture, Etc – Though some parts of the parish have been measured, there is no regular survey or map of the whole. It is believed, however, to contain about 6000 acres. Of these, from 1500 to 2000 may be under cultivation. But the whole produce will seldom exceed 5000 bolls, for among the tenants here, farming is only in the state of infancy. It has emerged but little from the rude practice of their forefathers, a hundred years ago. Their horses, in general, are miserable ponies or garrons, bought at from 3L to 5L Sterling, each. Their cattle are a little better in proportion, but few of their sheep are worth above 5s per head. So bleak and bare, indeed, are the hill tops and muirs, that this parish is very little calculated for sheep pasture. Their implements of husbandry are equally poor, except with a few more careful and industrious men, who, having got better garrons, begin of late to use the light chain plough, with curved mold board, and perhaps a coup-cart or two, or a small wain for oxen on their farm.

Their utensils are coarse, being commonly made by the tenant’s own hand, with the help of scarcely any other instrument but the ax and adze, which some of them can use very dextrously.

There is no wheat raised in this parish. The prevailing crops are oats and pease, sown in April, and bear, or bear and barley intermixed, which they commonly sow in May. Since the year 1782, when the crop of oats in this parish failed so much, that scarcely any of them were fit for sowing again, early oats of the Blainsley kind have been sown for the most part on the late farms, particularly by the tenants of Auchterflow, where they answer so well, that farmers in similar situations, over all this country, purchase from them for feed. The harvest begins in general about the 20th August, and ends in October, sooner of later, according to the drought or wetness of the summer, and the exposure of the farms. But on some grounds near the shore, the seasons are perhaps as early as in any corner of Scotland. For here a few tenants sow barley the first or second week of April, and reap it frequently in the end of July, or beginning of August. On these light grounds, a very simple rotation is practised, of barley and a green crop alternately. The green crop is pease or potatoes, for turnips, though a better preparative for barley, have not yet been introduced by the tenantry here.
In the higher and deeper grounds, no regular rotation of crops is followed, except on the heritor’s own farms, where a good many of the modern improvements are practised with success.

The great aim of the country tenants, is to raise as much bear and barley as possible, which, finding a ready market with the highland distillers in Ferrintosh and Redcastle, turns out to be most profitable crop. Most of those tenants raise also a little flax. But, as they seldom have ground in proper heart for it, it answers poorly, nor is there a mill in Ardmeanach for dressing it. About 50 years ago, the culture of hemp was practised, to the extent of from 30 to 40 acres in this parish. But since the importation of that article has become more frequent, they do not now sow a third part of the former quantity. More than 100 acres are now planted yearly with potatoes, which, besides preparing the land for barley, are exceedingly useful in their families. Clay is much used over all this country as a manure. They mix it with dunghills in the summer, and spread it out on their light grounds intended for barley in the spring. They imagine it has good effect in keeping out the summer heat and drought from hurting the roots of the corn. It may thus in some measure correct the soil, but the kind of clay used by them, can add little to the vegetable food of plants. But the chief error of these tenants is that they rest little of their grounds, and these only when quite worn out, nor do they sow any grass seeds. This obliges them to send off most of their cattle to remote highland glens for the summer, where they lose many of them, and their growth is much retarded. What a loss must it also be to their farms, to be deprived of the dung of those cattle for about five months of the year?

Such extreme backwardness in the state of farming here is occasioned partly by the tenants’ own obstinacy, that they will not follow good example set before them by the gentlemen farmers, partly by their poverty, as a few of them can afford to purchase good utensils or grass seeds, but chiefly by the highness of their rents, the scarcity of servants, and the shortness of their leases, which in few cases exceeds 7, 8 or 15 years. Another bar to improvement is the neglect of winter herding. For from the end of the harvest to the middle of April the tenants’ cattle pasture in common. And a man whose farm lies in a warm situation, and being in proper heart produces good foggage, cannot have the benefit thereof to himself, without either perpetual watching or enclosures, which he is not able to afford, but gets almost the substance eaten out of his grounds, by the neighbours’ cattle. Until these obstacles, or at least some of them, be removed, there can be little hope of seeing agriculture prosper in this district.

The number of horses in the parish, including garrons, may be about 250, of cattle 480, and sheep nearly 600.

Manufacturers – The principal branch consists of coarse linen and osnabrugs, made entirely of flax raised by the tenants themselves, spun in their hoses, and woven within the parish. This may bring in yearly, from 300L to 500L Sterling, and no foreign material is required, except a few casks of Dutch lintseed. There is also as much hemp raised and manufactured by the farmers, as suffices for sails to the fishing boats. And the wool of the few sheep is all made into cloth and stockings at home for the people’s own wear. Among the villagers of Seatown, there is a good manufacture carried on of herring and salmon nets, mostly from foreign hemp. Besides supplying the fishery here, they fell yearly from 150L to 200L value of these to Caithness, Lochbroom, and other fishing stations in the North. There was formerly a flourishing manufacture of shoes, from hides mostly dressed at home, which employed about thirty hands in the smaller villages of Kirktown, Millhill, and Miltown. But the late laws, imposing a heavy license duty on tanners, have operated nearly as a prohibition to this article. Some of the shoemakers have left the place, others have become day labourers. And five or six, who remain at work, have now no apprentices, nor can they make bread by it themselves, owing to the high price of leather.

The imports into this parish consist of salt, iron, hemp, coarse cloths, whisky, a few grocery goods, and coals. The repeal of the duty on coals, will be immense benefit in future years, as there are few peats to be got, and wood sells too high for fuel.

The exports consist of grain, cattle, herrings, and the manufactures formerly mentioned. Besides supplying its own inhabitants, this parish disposes of yearly to the neighbouring distillers, and the burghs of Fortrose and Inverness, from 800 to 1000 bolls bear, and from 200 to 400 bolls of oats, pease, and meal, including what is sent forth of the victual rents. Though the last crops (1792) as deficient in counties farther South, it was so plentiful in general throughout the Eastern half of Ross-shire and Cromarty, that, after serving the people and the numerous stills, those districts have exported six or seven thousand bolls.

Population:- If we may judge from concurring traditions, where no authentic record has been preserved, and from a well known fact, that there are a third more dwelling houses now in the parish of Avoch, than in the beginning of this century, the population must have been increased considerably within that period. Yet, by Dr Webster’s list in 1755, the population is stated at 1457, and by an accuracy survey made partly in 1792, and concluded spring 1793, the number of living souls was found to be 1380. The church, which as built in 1670, and was probably made sufficient to accommodate the parishioners, or at least such a number as might be expected to attend public worship regularly about that time, could not, in the way it was then fitted up, contain properly above 400 persons. No proper record of deaths or burials has been yet kept in this parish, but the average of them is believed not to exceed 30. The register of baptisms and marriages, previous to 1787, appears to have been so carelessly and imperfectly made up, that no conclusions can be drawn from it with any degree of certainty. But of an exact register for five years past, the following abstract may be depended on.
 YearsBaptized Couples married
  Males Females Total 
 In 17882219415
 In 17892321446
 In 17902573211
 In 179123285110
 In 179222184010
 Totals1159320842

Average Baptisms of Males 23, Females nearly 19, Total nearly of Baptisms 42, Marriages 8.

Other circumstances respecting the population, may be gathered from its state, in spring 1793, viz.

 Number of inhabited houses or families  312
 Average of persons in a family  4 11/20
 Males in the parish  622
 Females ……………  758
 Total of living souls  1380
 Division of these by their ages
 Under 10 years  313
 Twixt 10 and 20  334
 Twixt 20 and 30  228
 Twixt 30 and 40  146
 Twixt 40 and 50  139
 Twixt 50 and 60  116
 Twixt 60 and 70  65
 Twixt 70 and 80  30
 Twixt 80 and 90  9
 Inhabitants, in the Village of Seatown  378
 Inhabitants, in the Village of Kirktown  99
 Inhabitants, in the Village of Milntown  80
 Inhabitants, in the country  823
 Heritor, residing  1
 Minister  1
 Parochial Schoolmaster  1
 Farmers, or tenants, paying from 20L to 50L Sterling of yearly rent  32
 Farmers, or tenants, paying from 5L to 20L Sterling of yearly rent  26
 Crofters, or tenants, paying from 1L to 5L Sterling of yearly rent  42
 Mailers, villagers, and Fishermens families, possessing only a house, or house and garden each, rented under 1L Sterling  209
 Able Fishermen of 20, and not exceeding 50 years of age  42
 Shop-keepers  3
 Mason, and 2 apprentices   3
 Quarriers, and Dykers, in the country  3
 House-carpenters, with 2 apprentices  3
 Country Wrights and Coopers  4
 Millers  3
 Blacksmith  1
 Butcher  1
 Taylors  8
 Weavers, with their apprentices, or looms employed  22
 Shoemakers  9
 Quarriers, and quarry boatmen, at Munlochy bay  10
 Widowers  13
 Widows  68
 Married Persons  444
 Of the Established Church  1362
 Episcopalians, who occasionally attend Coull’s Chapel at Fortrose  4
 Seceders, who commonly attend the Meeting-houses at Inverness and Nairn  14
NB Of the handycraftsmen specified above, several have small possessions of land, which occupy part of their time, particularly the weavers and shoemakers. And of the mailers, villagers, and crofters in the country, a good many work in the summer as day-labourers, and some go to the south country for employment during the summer and autumn. Others of them, who have small horses or garrons, earn part of their livelihood, by cutting and bringing down fuel from the moors, to supply the Seatown. Only one still, of 30 gallons, is wrought in this parish, by a copartnery of the neighbouring farmers, and some of the tenants have shares also in another licensed still, in the adjoining parish of Suddy, or Knockbean. There is not one surgeon, or attorney, or Roman Catholic, or Jew, or Negroe, or Gypsey, or foreigner, nor any native of England, Ireland, or British colonies, residing at present in this parish.