The 2nd Statistical Account

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PARISH OF CROMARTY.

(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. ALEXANDER STEWART, MINISTER. *

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

III.— POPULATION.

Ancient Inhabitants and early Trade of the Parish.—Though, from the older names of places in the parish, it is evident its original population, like that of the neighbouring districts, was Celtic, the inhabitants about a century ago were so exclusively lowland that there was no Gaelic service performed in its church. The character of the people, too, their dress, personal appearance, habits, and the sirnames common among them, identified them with their country folks of the south. They were the descendants, we may infer, of some such lowland colony as James VI. planted in the Isle of Lewis with the intention of civilizing the wild natives; and the facilities for trading afforded by the admirable harbour of the place would, it is probable, have directed their choice. The Scotch seem at a very early period to have been a seafaring people. We learn from Heron, that, prior to the reign of Robert the Bruce, they exported wool and salmon from the southern ports of the kingdom into Flanders and France ; and in charters of lands bordering on the sea the spoils of stranded vessels were either granted or reserved with much care,—a proof that shipwrecks were no unfrequent occurrences.

Inverness and Cromarty, which seem to have been united by charter, appear to have shared at a remote period in the trade of the south. In the museum of the Northern Institution, there is an ancient custom-house seal or cocket of the united burghs of Invirnis et d Chrombhte, supposed to belong to the reign of Robert II. There were laid open, in trenching a piece of ground in the eastern part of the town about ninety years ago, several ranges of vaults, apparently intended for store places, which must have belonged to our earlier merchants ; and of a collection of little pieces of copper coin which were dug up at different times in our fields and gardens, I have found that two-thirds were Scotch, and the remaining third French. And it seems improbable that the north country trader of the obscure period to which these remains belong, could be of other than lowland extraction ;—his contemporary, the Highlander, was only conversant with the dirk. Cromarty seems to have sunk almost entirely during the seventeenth century ; a dark era of distress and depression to Scotland ; but it rose almost immediately after the Revolution ; and early in the reign of Queen Anne, when it drove an extensive trade in herrings, there were five large vessels connected with it, as the property of its wealthier merchants. But it again experienced a reverse. Like many of the trading towns of Scotland, it suffered from the Union ; the sudden failure of its herring fishery completed its ruin; and so low had it fallen before the year 1730, that a single shopkeeper, who was not such literally, for in the summer season he travelled the country as a pedlar, more than supplied the inhabitants. It began, however, about thirty years after to emerge yet a third time, under the impulse of that general spirit of improvement, which, since the suppression of the last rebellion, has operated throughout the kingdom; and the population, which has become much less exclusively lowland than formerly, has been steadily on the increase ever since. The breaking up of the feudal system first introduced habits of comparative industry into the Highlands ; the breaking up of the small farm system has scattered many of the people over the low country, to avail themselves of these habits, as labourers, fishermen, or mechanics ; and so large a proportion of this class has fallen to the parish of Cromarty, that it was found necessary, about fifty years ago, to build and endow a Gaelic chapel, which is now attended by a congregation of at least 500 persons. The population of the parish in 1801 amounted to about 2413. It had increased to 2900 in 1831. Fully three-fourths of the latter number are inhabitants of the town. 

During the last three years, there were about 6 illegitimate births in the parish.