The Second Statistical Account

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Parish of Avoch

(Presbytery of Chanonry Synod 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. James Gibson, Minister

II Civil History

Eminent Characters.–The celebrated Scots historian, priest and Lord of Session, Chambers of Ormond, was born in this parish about the year 1530. He was proprietor of Castleton and Ormond Hill, which gave title to Douglas, Earl of Ormond. Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh resided in this parish, and had very extensive possessions in it and its vicinity. These are now principally the property of the families of Scatwell, and Avoch, and Bennetsfield.

The Chief Land Owners.–There are three land-owners: First, Sir James W. Mackenzie of Scatwell, Baronet, Lord Lieutenant of the county. His seat of Rosehaugh House stands on a beautiful bank about a mile and a-half from the sea, an elegant modern edifice, substantial and commodious. It is surrounded by rich fields in high cultivation, well fenced, and skirted with woods of different kinds. He served for some time as Paymaster of the 55th Regiment, in the West Indies. Subsequently, he represented the county of Ross in Parliament for three successive Parliaments, a period of nine years, without opposition.

He married Henrietta Wharton Mackenzie, sister of the late General John Mackenzie of Suddie, who met a ‘death of glory’ on the field of Talavera. An elegant monument is erected in St Paul’s, commemorative of his bravery as a soldier, and his high accomplishments as a gentleman. The second land-owner is Alexander Mackenzie, Esq of Avoch. He is at present qualifying for the Euglish Bar. He is the son of the late spirited and enterprising Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who, among many other important discoveries in North America, discovered the river which bears his name. The House of Avoch, whose beautiful site was admired by every passer by, was burned in the year 1838, while it was rented by General Sir Donald Macleod, H E I C S. The third land-owner is John Matheson, Esq of Bennetsfield. He holds the rank of captain, in the 78th Regiment. He long served his King and country in foreign parts. He is the chief of the ancient clan Matheson. He is now resident on his own estate in this parish on a beautifully romantic spot near Munlochy Bay.

Parochial Register.–There is a parochial register regularly kept. The earliest entry in the oldest register of this parish, which was by no means regularly kept, is dated 1727.

Antiquities.–Almost the only antiquities in this parish are the site of the ancient Castle of Avoch, and the ruins of an old tower, called Arkendeith. The former occupied a detached rocky knoll, about 200 feet above the level of the sea, which juts out from the eastern corner of the hill of Castletoun, which forms the northern promontory of the Bay of Munlochy, and at the distance of about a quarter of a mile west from the modern village of Avoch. This knoll is now called “Ormond” or the ” Lady Hill” and its steep sides and smooth summit are bedecked with a green velvety coat of grass, enriched by the lime and rubbish of the ancient buildings, and which marks it out to the eye in the midst of the adjoining heathy grounds. The eastern and more accessible slope is traversed by three breastworks of earth, with ditches behind them, and the summit, which is naturally divided into two irregular areas, extending together to about half an acre of ground, was covered with buildings formed of stones, cemented by shell-lime, exceedingly hard, from which encircling walls proceeded round the whole upper crest of the rock, and down a slight opening or ravine on the south side, along which the principal approach was formed, and which, from the accumulation of rubbish at the top and bottom, seems to have been guarded by a barbican and outertower, with, in all likelihood, a regular portcullis and gate-way.

But few historical reminiscences exist of this castle. Mr Fraser Tytler, in his History of Scotland, Vol ii. page 65, mentions that Sir Andrew Moray, ” a Lord,” as described by an ancient chronicler, ” of great bounty, of sober and chaste life, wise and upright in council, liberal and generous, devout and charitable, stout hardy, and of great courage,” sinking under the weight of age ” and worn out by the constant fatigues of war, retired to his castle at Avoch, in Ross, where he soon after died. Winton states that he was buried at Rosemarkie, about the year 1338. Subsequently the castle passed into the hands of the Earls of Ross; and on the forfeiture of the earldom in 1455, we find among the castles then annexed to the patrimony of the Crown, mention made of the House of Innerness and Urquhard on Loch Ness, and of “Annache (Avoch) Edderdail, callyt Ardmanache.” And this annexation in the time of James II. was repeated and confirmed by the whole Parliament on the 1st July 1476, in favour of James III, who afterwards, on the 29th January 1487, created his second son Duke of Ross, Marquis of Ormond, and Earl of Edirdal, otherwise called Ardmanache; from which period the lordship of Ardmanache, or the Black Isle, was generally considered as part of the patrimony of the King’s second son. (See the Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, Thomson’s folio edition, VoLii.pp.42, 113, and 181.)

In the annexation in 1455, Redcastle, with the lordship of Ross pertaining thereto, is also particularly mentioned.

Thus the origin of the term Ormond’s Mount, as applied to the site in question, admits of easy explanation, that of “the Lady Hill” probably results from local tradition having confounded this site with that of some religious edifice. Like the Cathedral of Fortrose, and many other buildings along the margin of the Moray Firth, the Castle of Avoch was most likely razed to the ground by the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, and the stones of it transported to form part of his great citadel or fort at Innerness.

Of the fortalice or tower of Arkindeith but the lower or dungeon story remains. It is situated close by the farm-house of that name, on the hill side, a little way above the offices of Avoch. It evidently belonged to a castellated mansion of no great antiquity, erected, perhaps, by some of the clergy, who are known to have held independent possessions in this parish, exclusive of the glebe lands; or by some of the Bruces of Kinloss, a family who are specially mentioned in the printed retours for the seventeenth century, (161l-18) as having held the lands of ” Muireal-house and Arkindeuch.”
* In the departments of Geology and Antiquities, Mr Gibson begs to acknowledge his great obligations to George Anderson Esq., Solicitor, Inverness.

III. Population

The amount of the population of this parish in 1831 was 1956 – males, 906; females, 1050. The amount of population this year, (1839) is 1936. The decrease has been occasioned by the removal of several families where farms have been enlarged for the sake of improvement.

 The No of the population in Avoch, Henrietta town – Geddeston Kirkton, is 936
 in the landward part of the town 1000
 Total 1936
 The yearly average of births for the last seven years, is 50
 of deaths 20
 of marriages 14
 The average number of persons under 15 years of age  684
 from 15 to 30 476
 30 to 50 463
 50 to 70 269
 above 70 44
 Total 1936
 Families employed in agriculture 83
 in trade 80
 in fishing 80
 All other families not comprised in the three preceding classes180
 Total families 423
 Married men 265
 Widowers  25
 Bachelors  27
 Married women 268
 Widows 74
 Spinsters  40
 Belonging to the Established Church 1036
 Episcopalians 18
 Independents, the precise number is not ascertained. 
 Baptists 6
 Communicants 93
 Natives of the parish 1390
 Scotch 533
 English 9
 Irish 1
 Foreigners 3

The number of illegitimate births in the parish during the last three years is 2.
The only proprietors of land of the yearly value of L50 and upwards are the three heritors. The number of families is 423. The number of inhabited houses is 323, and apartments, 96. There are 9 insane persons, 2 blind, 5 deaf and dumb in this parish.

Language —The English language is spoken by all the families, with the exception of one or two who have recently emigrated from Highland parishes. The game peculiar to the fishermen of this parish is throwing a ball, weighing-about four pounds, to test their strength and dexterity. It is only practised during the new-year holidays, 0. S. The competition is often kept up with great keenness, and uniformly with good humour. Not unfrequently the ardour of the competitors carries them miles along the turnpike-road before the palm for strength and dexterity is yielded.

Habits and Character of the People.–The ordinary food of the peasantry at their meals is oatmeal porridge, and potatoes and fish. They are certainly destitute of many comforts; yet they seem, upon the whole, contented with their situation and circumstances. The general character of the people is decidedly moral and religious; yet it is remarkable how few in these regions are communicants.

Superstitions.–When a fisherman’s marriage takes place, there is a superstitious practice, which never fails to be observed, even in these enlightened days, with the view, it is said, of setting at defiance the power of witchcraft, and it is this: When the bridegroom’s party arrives at the church door, the best man unties the shoe upon the left foot of the bridegroom, and forms a cross with a nail or a knife upon the right side post of the door. The shoe of course remains untied till next morning. While many admit the absurdity of this relic of superstition, no one has had the hardihood yet to move for its abolition.

The fishermen here generally marry at an early age, and seldom select a bride above nineteen years. The marriage is solemnized in the church, on a Friday, but never before 12 o’clock. On one occasion there were three marriages to be solemnized on one day. The friends of the parties, as is usual, waited upon me previously to engage my services. I assured them I should be at their command; and requested them to fix upon a convenient hour for the three parties to be married at once. The friends of the parties looked grave-shook their heads-said nothing. I was entirely at a loss to divine what was meant by this sudden gravity of countenance, the shaking of the head, and the profound silence, and begged them to assign me their reason for this mysterious conduct. After some delay, and hesitation, and reluctance upon their part, I was given to understand, that if the three parties were to be married at once serious consequences might ensue, for there would be a struggle made by each party to get first out of the church, believing, as they did, that the party that should get out first would carry the blessing. To prevent such serious consequences as might ensue, under such circumstances, and these consequences might, perchance, prove far more serious than the mere tearing of gowns and caps and coats, (and these their best of course,) I offered to marry the parties in succession. But next came the question of precedence a delicate and difficult point, at all times to settle, at least to settle to every one’s satisfaction, a point which they all acknowledged they were unable to settle and that is not to be wondered at, for they knew that each party wished to be married first. How then were we to get out of this second difficulty, became the question. After a cool and deliberate, and I can assure the parties, an impartial view of the subject, I thought fit to propose, that the party first contracted should be married first. The proposition was at once agreed to unanimously. The friends of the parties to be married went home perfectly satisfied with the arrangement. The three parties were married on the same day in succession. But let it be remembered that special care was taken that no party should meet any of the other parties either going to or returning from the church. Why ? Because it would be unlucky.