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

IV Industry

There are in the parish, shoemakers-26; masons-9; boatcarpenters-4; wrights-11; tailors-14; sailors-5; innkeepers-5; blacksmiths-5; cartwright-l; weavers-6; wheelwrights-2; wool-carder-1; pensioners-5; diker-1; gardeners-3; saddler-l; butcher-1; merchants-5; accoucheur-l; sail-maker-1; baker-l; sawyers-4; corn-dealer-1; millers-2; gamekeeper-l; fiddler-1; piper-1.

Fisheries.–At one time there was only one fishing-boat in Avoch, the crew of which resided in the country, now there are nine, manned by l0 men each, regularly employed in haddock and whiting fishing along the Sutherland and Caithness coasts. After supplying their own families, and the families around Avoch, they take the surplus to the Inverness market, a distance of about five miles. About the middle of July, Avoch sends forth no less than thirtyfive boats for the herring-fishing at Caithness, (two went last year to Aberdeen), for the space of six or eight weeks. Some years have crowned our fishermen’s perilous labours with great success and prosperity, some of them have returned to their homes with L20, others with L30, others with L40, and others with L50 of clear gain. 

While other years again such is the uncertainty attendant upon all human undertakings few if any of our fishermen are able to cover the necessary expenses. During this season the fishermen and their families have been exposed to no inconsiderable hardships, for in consequence of the incessant tempests, by which so many valuable lives and property on different coasts of the empire have been lost, the fishermen were prevented from going to the haddock and whiting-fishing for the space of twelve weeks, and, were it not for the flounders which are caught nearly opposite to the village, many families would have been destitute indeed. It is perhaps, not unworthy of notice, that the first fishing after the tempests abated is reported to have been not only the most seasonable, but the most successful for the last forty years.

Agriculture.–Part of this parish has not recently been surveyed, consequently the exact extent cannot be given, but the following will be near the truth: Rosehaugh contains 4929 acres, 26 poles imperial, of which 2056 acres, 3 roods is arable; 1344 acres, 20 poles improveable; 1340 acres, 3 roods, 24 poles planted or to be planted, and 187 acres, 1 rood, 21 poles waste. Avoch contains 933 acres, and Bennetsfield 336 acres. Total 6198 acres, 26 poles.

Rent.–The average rent of arable land in this parish may be estimated at L1, 3s. per imperial acre.

Improvements.–This parish has improved immensely in its agricultural aspect since the former report of it was published. Then the horses and cattle were described as being small, and the implements of husbandry scanty and imperfect. Now the horses and cows are in general of a very good stamp and breed, and by the art and skill of our handicraftsmen, the implements of husbandry are abundant and effective. When the last report was drawn up, there was no wheat raised in this parish, but now, it is raised on the three estates; and not many years ago a field of wheat on the estate of Rosehaugh yielded thirteen returns, and last year a field of wheat on the estate of Avoch might have vied in luxuriance and quality with any field in the Lothians. A regular rotation of cropping, on the most approved of four-shifts system, is almost universally observed. Liming is very generally practised, and in most cases with eminent success. It is not out of place to mention here that turnips are now extensively cultivated; and on several farms they are sown with bone manure, and eaten off by sheep; the-effects of which have heen at once profitable to the farmers, and advantageous to the soil.

On the estate of Rosehaugh, which comprises more than two thirds of the parish, the leases recently expired, in consequence of which little improvement, comparatively speaking, was effected for some years previously. But the proprietor has got a new survey and divisions of the lands, by which the possession in ” rung” which was very common, has been abolished, and the extent of the farms regulated and economized to suit one, two, or more pairs of horse labourings within distinct and convenient boundaries. And when granting new leases of nineteen years endurance, over the whole lands, the reclaiming and rendering thoroughly arable all the improvable waste ground was conditioned for, and the tenantry, now secure of their holdings, are going on with spirit and activity. And when the belts and clumps of planting which the proprietor has reserved, and is now enclosing, are completed, the district will assume a different and much more highly improved appearance.

V. Parochial Economy

Market Town —The nearest market-town to Avoch is the royal burgh of Fortrose, about a mile and three-quarters distant.

Means of Communication.–There is a turnpike road through the southern district of the parish, which leads to Fort George Ferry on the east, to Kessock Ferry on the south-west, and to the royal burgh of Dingwall on the north-west. The toll lets at L67 yer annum. In the year 1829, when such appalling devastations were committed by the floods in the north of Scotland, the bridge of Avoch was entirely swept away. The burn having for some days assumed the appearance and the power of a mighty river. A new bridge was speedily erected with a higher arch. It and all the other bridges and parapets are kept in good condition.

Ecclesiastical State.–The parish church is very conveniently situated, on the southern side of the parish, close to the village, in which nearly one-half of the whole population reside. There are none of the parishioners residing at a much greater distance from it than three miles. It was built in the year 1670, new roofed and enlarged in the year 1792, and the ceiling was lathed and plastered in the year 1833. It is at present upon the whole in a pretty comfortable state of repair, and affords accommodation for more than 600, some of the seats are the property of private individuals. The remainder in general belong to farms on the estates of the heritors, for which no payment is exacted. The manse was built in 1822, the extent of the glebe in detached parts amounting to 5 acres, 3 roods, 16 poles, 2 yards imperial, and may be valued at L2 per acre. The stipend- amounts to 93 quarters, 1 boll, 2 firlots, 3 quarts of barley, and to 159 cwt 108 Ibs. of oatmeal, payable at the rate of the fair prices. The average for the last seven years is L260. The annual allowance for communion elements is L8, 6s. 8d. There is one Dissenting place of worship in the village, erected in the year 1819. It is an Independent chapel in communion with the Congregational Union of Scotland. The minister is paid by the seat rents and weekly collections at the chapel door. The number of families and persons of all ages attending the Established Church and the Dissenting chapel is always very considerable. The average number of communicants in the Established Church is 93. The number of Dissenting or Seceding families is 46.

Education.–There are two schools in this parish, the parochial school and one supported solely by school fees. The branches of education taught in the parochial school are, English reading, grammar, Latin, Greek, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, and navigation. In the voluntary school, English reading, writing, and arithmetic are taught. The parochial schoolmaster’s salary is L30, and the school-fees, which, from the poverty of the people, are ill paid, may amount to something between L20 and L30. He has the legal accommodations. The general expense of education may be estimated at 6d. or 8d. per month.

Friendly Society.–There is one Friendly Society in this parish established in the year 1830, the objects of which are, by means of assessment and quarterly subscriptions, to form a fund for defraying the funeral expenses of members and of their wives, and to insure a certain allowance to supply the wants of invalid members and widows.

Poor and Parochial Funds.–The number upon the poor’s roll at present is 100. Two distributions are made from the funds in the course of the year, in January and in July. The average sum allotted to each at these periods is 3s. But intermediate allowances are always made, when required, to meet as far as possible all pressing exigencies. The annual amount of church collections for the relief of the poor averages L20 Sterling. The stock at present is L160. In the year 1728, Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Scatwell, Bart mortified 900 merks Scots, (which sum now yields L2, l0s. per annum,) the annual interest of 600 of which was to be distributed among the poor of the parish, and the interest of the remaining 300 was to be given to a catechist, in terms of the deed of mortification.* It may not be out of place-indeed it is but an act of justice to the charitable to record here, that several handsome sums have been contributed to said poor’s stock at different periods, from different sources. A legacy of L30 was be queathed by the late incumbent, the Rev. James Smith, in 1830. A donation of L50 was made on the 20th June 1835, by Sir James W Mackenzie of Scatwell, Bart, on which day his son arrived at majority; and in November 1838, a handsome donation was made by James J R Mackenzie, Esq. younger of Scatwel1, on his marriage with the Right Honourable Lady Anne Wentworth Fitzwilliam. In addition to all this, the principal heritor, Sir James Mackenzie of Scatwell, Bart, makes a present to the poor of the parish of six bolls of meal, on the 20th June the birth-day of his son, and the same quantity in February to the poor on Rosehaugh estate. On the 14th February 1839, a considerable quantity of coals was distributed among the poor by Alexander Mackenzie, Esq of Avoch, on his arriving at majority.

* As no catechist is required in this parish, this sum is given to the parochial teacher, to aid in remunerating him for his unwearied exertions in teaching a Sabbath evening school where, to keep up a spirit of emulation, a prize is awarded every six weeks.

Inns.–There are six inns in the village, yet such is the temperate and peaceable deportment of the people, that rarely, indeed, are irregularities or excesses heard of. The proprietors, with a real regard for the morals of their tenantry, do not grant license even for a single inn or alehouse in the landward part of the parish.

Fuel–This parish is amply supplied with coals from Newcastle, which at present are selling at 10d. Per cwt. They are delivered at the pier of Avoch, which is a most substantial and commodious erection, and is not only of essential benefit to the fishermen, but to the district at large, as it facilitates the exportation of grain and wood, and the importation of coal, salt, lime, and bone dust. The district is indebted for this incalculable advantage to the patriotic exertions of the late Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Avoch. From the poverty of the inhabitants, however, the fuel principally used in the landward district of the parish is turf, and in the village brushwood, which is carried in bundles by the fishermen’s wives and daughters almost daily from plantations in the neighbourhood.

February 1840.