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

By the Rev. Mr. Robert Smith.

The Cromarty hempen cloth manufacture was erected in 1773 by the late proprietor, and several other country gentlemen, and is now carried on by a company of merchants in London. The fabricks, which are chiefly designed for cotton and coal bagging, are, in general, for exportation, and very little made use of in Scotland. The buildings for this business are large and extensive beyond any for the same purpose in Britain. Within the walls, there are about 200 people employed, men, women, and children, among whom there is a weekly circulation (exclusive of overseer’s wages, and incidental expenses) of about 37L. Sterling; to those who spin in their own houses, in town and parish, there is a weekly circulation of 4L. To those who spin in the adjacent parishes, there is a weekly circulation of 9L. Sterling, making in all the sum of 30L. Sterling, circulated weekly, over the country from this manufacture, of 2600L. Sterling annually.

Among these is to be mentioned the old castle of Cromarty, which stood hard by where the present house is built, but came nearer to the slope of the bank. It was pulled down by the late proprietor, in the year 1772, and several urns were dug out of the bank, immediately around the castle, composed of earthen ware; there were also several coffins of stone. The urns were placed in flags of stone, which formed a square around them, and a flag covered them. When the labourers touched these urns, they immediately mouldered away, nor was it possible to get up one of them entire; they contained the remains of dead bodies, which seemed to have been burnt almost to ashes, before they were put into the urns; some small parts of the bones, which were not reduced to ashes, had the appearance of having been burnt by which means they were preserved from mouldering. The coffins of stone contained skeletons, some of which wanted the head: others, having it, were of a very uncommon size, measuring 7 feet in length. On a bank, to the E. of Cromarty House, there stand the remains of a place of worship, called St. Regulus’s Chapel; probably it was the family chapel of the Urquharts. From an ancient record, the subjoined accounts of St. Regulus is taken.*

About 3 miles to the S. of this place, there is a very distinct appearance of a camp in the figure of an oblong square supposed to have been a Danish camp. At one corner of it there is the appearance of a number of graves, which makes it probable that many must have fallen in some attack upon it. It is generally conjectured that the Danes were wont to land at this place, and that the inhabitants of the country met them in a large moor, called Mullbuy, where they often fought, as graves are to be traced distinctly, for several miles, in different parts of it. About a mile from the encampment, there is a very large collection of round stones, and hard by it a smaller one; some of the stones of a great size, which must have cost great labour in gathering it, It is beyond a doubt that these stones were collected by the people, after battles fought in the moor, in order to cover the graves of their heroes and chief captains, and to stand as monuments upon the ground where they lay; what serves to confirm this account is, that stone coffins have been found on the spot, containing the bones of such heroes .+

Miscellaneous Observations
There is a considerable alteration in the dress of the people of late years. English cloths and those of Scotch manufacture are now much worn by all ranks, and printed cottons have become a very general dress among house-maids and others, who were wont to be clothed with coarse woollen stuffs of home manufacture. The trade of this place has hitherto been but very insignificant, notwithstanding of its many and superior local advantages. All the vessels trading from London, Leith, and Aberdeen to the northern counties generally land at this place first, and take their departure from it to these different quarters.  The quantity of goods landed for this place, is proportionally small; but there is a great increase in the quantity sent to other quarters around, of late years. The London traders alone annually carry to the four northern counties, value to the amount of at least 1000,000L. Sterling.#

*”It is reported that one, Regulus, a Grecian having in pursuance of orders given him a vision, put out to sea in company with some of his colleagues, carrying the arm-bone, 3 fingers, and 3 toes of the Apostle St Andrew in a little box; and after they had long suffered under horrid storms of ill-weather, being cast into that part of Fife, now called St. Andrew, without any thing saved but relicks. Hergustus, king of the Picts, entertained them nobly, and, at their desire, erected a church, which, to this day, bears the name St. Rule from Regulas, upon whom that prince bestowed his own place, with lands adjacent. This is said to have happened about the 7th century.” Buchanan also speaks of the same St. Regulus, under the article Fanun Reguli of the Nomenclatura Latino Vernaculo. It is not improbable that form of his canons regular were placed in the chapel here, as they had been in the cathedral of St. Andrew’s. There are the remains of another chapel in the country part of the parish.

+ Sir Thomas Urquhart’s account of this matter is to follow purpose, leaving it to the reader to give it what credit he may think fit. Speaking in genealogical table of Astioremon, one of the forefathers of the Urquhart family, and whom he makes grandson of Alcibiades the athenian, he goes on to observe, “That in the year before Christ 361, this Astioremon, by killing the ontlandish king Ethus, first king of the Picts, in a duel, before the face of both armies, gained the great battle of Farnua, fought within a mile of Cromarty: the relicks of that strange king’s trenches, head quarters and castramentation of his whole army being, to this day, conspicuous to all that pass by.” Thus far Sir Thomas. Whatever be in this account, the farm town which, according to him, gave name to the battle. Is still called Farnass and within a few gunshots of where the encampment was.

# There is a custom-house boat stationed here, having a master and six men under his command; from all I can learn, smuggling in these quarters is knocked in the head. It would be wrong to omit mentioning here a grievance much and justly complained of, it is shortly this: that the officers of the custom here are instructed from the custom-house to stop all boats freighted with victual, however small the quantity, unless a regular clearance or permit for such boat is sent and obtained from the custom-house at Inverness. From this practice, any of the inhabitants of this country who may have occasion to send but 12 bolls of barley across the Frith, up to Inverness, or any of the neighbouring creeks, are under the unaccountable hardship of detaining their boat until the return of an express from Inverness, which lies 30 miles distance from many quarters of the country; and, even from this place, the expense incurred by such a procedure, including the officers’ fees, which amount to 11s. or 12s., and paying the express, will be nothing short of 16s. or 18s. This is mentioned that the grievance, if not sanctioned by law, as is strongly suspected, may be checked and a stop put to any longer continuance of it.


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