The 1st Statistical Account

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(County and Synod of Ross - Presbytery of Chanonry)

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. Alexander Wood, Minister

An exact enumeration of the inhabitants of the parish was made out last spring. From the loss of some of the old registers, and the negligence of the people in registering the births of their children, the baptisms cannot be stated with perfect accuracy. No register of burials has been kept in the parish, but as its situation is uncommonly healthy,* these rather fall below the ordinary proportion. In most years, the births of males and females are nearly equal, but upon the whole the males are most numerous. All the inhabitants are of the Established Church, excepting one or two families in the town of Chanonry, who are of the Episcopal persuasion.

*In the memory of the present minister, within little more than 20 years 10 persons have died in the parish, aged 90 and upwards; 3 are now living 90 years old, and about 30 between 70 and 80. One vigorous old man of 87 put off his wig last year, and has now a set of venerable grey locks. He was in Edinburgh at the hanging of Captain Porteous, which, he says, he well deserved, as a sweetheart of his was wounded by the firing.

The statement, therefore, for 1793, stands thus:

Number of examinable persons


Number of souls at and below 7 years of age


Total number of inhabitants


The return to Dr Webster, in 1775, was




The town of Chanonry contains


The town of Rosemarkie contains


The country part of the parish contains


Annual average of births




Annual average of marriages




Proprietors, great and small




Merchants in the towns




Shoemakers and their apprentices *




Weavers and their apprentices *












*It has been remarked, that for ages past, the greater part of the inhabitants, of the lower class, in Chanonry, have been shoemakers, and, in Rosemarkie, weavers, and they commonly train their children to the same occupations. The shoemakers not only furnish shoes for the parish, but carry a parcel weekly for sale to Inverness, though they complain that the tanners enjoy almost all their profits. The weavers are constantly employed in working linen, a considerable quantity of which is sold at the two annual fairs, which circulates a good deal of money in the place. They raise and manufacture the flax themselves from which the linen is made.

Heritors and Rents
The principal heritors are: Alexander Ross, Esq. of Cromarty; the heirs of Abraham Lesly, Esq. of Findracy; Sir Roderick McKenzie of Scatwell, Bart.; Andrew Millar of Kincurdy; Roderick McKenzie of Flowerburn; and about the burgh, Seaforth; the heirs of the late Sir Alexander Grant of Dalvey, Bart.; Duncan Forbes of Wellfield; and about 14 other small heritors, who are possessed of burgage lands and tenements. None of the principal heritors reside in the parish. The total valued rent is £3753. 13s. 4d. Scotch; the real rent is about 1350 bolls of grain, and above £500 Sterling in money. About the burgh, lands are rented from 30s. to 40s. per acre (though not inclosed), and, in the country, good arable ground draws from 15s. to 20s.

The town of Rosemarkie, though not large, is of considerable antiquity. It was erected into a royal burgh by Alexander King of Scotland; which of them is not specified, but it was probably Alexander II. About a mile to the west of it stands the town of Chanonry, so called from its being the chanonry of Ross, where the bishop formerly had his residence, and which is now the presbytery seat. It was united to the burgh of Rosemarkie by a charter granted by King James II, anno 1444, under the common name of Fortross, now softened into Fortrose; which charter was ratified by King James VI, anno 1592, and confirmed in a still more ample form by the same monarch in the year 1612. These charters bear that it was to be “entitled to all the privileges, liberties and immunities, granted to the town of Inverness”. Fortrose is then spoken of as a town flourishing in the arts and sciences, having been at that time the seat of divinity, law and physic, in this corner of the kingdom*.

*About 6 years ago, a parcel of silver coins were found in a small cairn of stones, in a moor, about a mile from Rosemarkie. They were mostly shillings of Queen Elizabeth, with a mixture of other coins, and particularly some beautiful ones of James I and Charles I of different sizes. It is probable they were deposited there in the time of the civil war, and may have been brought to the country by the gallant Marquis of Montrose, or some of his followers. Most of them are in the possession of Mr Wood, the minister of the parish. About 200 more silver coins were found lately, in a massy copper jug of an antique form, in digging up the foundation of an old house at Chanonry. They were coined in the reign of Robert King of Scots, and are nearly of the size of a British shilling.

Court Hill
Above Rosemarkie there is a circular hill, quite level on the top, which seems to have been artificial. It has been always called the Court Hill. In ancient times it was probably the place where courts were held, for the administration of justice.

Cathedral etc
Only a small part of the ancient cathedral* now remains. This seems to have been a wing that ran from E to W, with an arched roof, about 100 feet in length and 30 in breadth. It had communication, by entries or porches, with the main body of the cathedral. It was preserved and repaired by some of the bishops, since the Restoration, as a place for public worship; but now it has gone much to decay,** and as the roof is in danger of falling in, it is quite deserted. It is still used as a burial place by the McKenzies, and other old families in this country. No inscriptions are to be found about it worth notice, excepting one on a large old bell, now hung in a small modern spire. It bears the name of Mr Thomas Tulloch, as bishop of Ross, and declares the bell to have been “dedicated to the most holy Mary and the blessed Boniface,*** Anno Domyny 1460”. There are some stone coffins in niches**** by the inside of the wall, with figures of the bishops in their canonicals, elegantly cut in stone, but they are much defaced by time, and no name or year is to be seen on them. In the direction of the main body of the cathedral at the E, and detached from its remains, stands a house that was probably a vestry. It contains a vault below, with a strong arched roof, now converted into a prison, and the upper part of it, lately repaired, is the Council Chamber of the burgh.

From the traditional account of St Boniface annexed, there is ground to think the present parish church had its foundation laid by him. In repairing it, anno 1735, in a vault, under a very ancient steeple, there were found some stone coffins of rude workmanship, one of which might probably contain the bones of this venerable apostle. To perpetuate his memory, we have here an annual market, called St Boniface Fair, and a well of excellent water is also distinguished by his name. Nay, what is still more, the seal of the old cathedral is yet preserved, and used as the public seal of the burgh, with this inscription, in Saxon characters + SCAPITULI SCOR***** PETRI ET BONEFACII DE ROSMARKIN. St Peter stands on it with his keys, and Boniface with his crook, in capital order.

*Though the Bishop of Ross was originally styled Episcopus Rosmarkiensis, the cathedral church stood in the town of Chanonry, in a spacious square. Here the bishop resided, with a number of his clergy, so that there is scarce a house in the burgh, of any great value, but was formerly a manse belonging to some of the chapter, as appears by the ancient charters and infestments. The episcopal see was founded by David I King of Scotland, but there is no certain account at what period the cathedral was built, though it is said to have been a fine one, with a lofty steeple. Bishop Leslie also takes notice of the palace, which stood at a little distance from the houses of the canons, and he represents it, in his time, as a splendid and magnificent building.

**It is highly probable that this cathedral, at the Reformation, had suffered the fate of many others, though it be a current tradition in the place that the greater part of it, together with the bishop’s palace, already mentioned, was pulled down in the time of Oliver Cromwell. By his order, the stones were carried by sea to Inverness, about the distance of 8 miles, for erecting a fort there, called Cromwell’s Fort, whereof the ditch and ramparts are still discernible. No chartulary belonging to the bishopric has been found in Scotland. It is probable that Lesly, the last Popish bishop of Ross, and the zealous advocate for the unfortunate Queen Mary, when he was forced to go abroad, carried all the writs of the diocese with him, either to France, or to Brussels, where he died, and where these parchments may still be mouldering in dust and solitude.

***The favourite saint and patron of the place, by every ancient monument, appears to have been St Boniface. This is quite a different person from St Boniface, archbishop of Mentz, consecrated by Pope Gregory II, and erroneously supposed, by some of our Scotch writers, to be the same with the other. The history of our saint, according to tradition, is simply this. In the year 693, or, as others say, about the year 697, Boniface, an Italian, a grave and venerable person, came to Scotland, to make up our acquaintance with the church of Rome. He built, to the memory of St. Peter, a church where he landed, at the mouth of a little water, betwixt the shires of Angus and Mearns, erected another church at Felin, a third at Restennoth, and a fourth at Rosemarkie, where, being taken with the pleasantness of the place, he thought fit to reside, and was buried there. Bishop Lesly speaks of Rosemarkie as decorated with the relicts of the saint, and the very ancient sepulchres and monuments of him and his parents; whence it would seem that he had brought his parents from Italy with him, in this pious expedition.

****Besides this famous saint, tradition reports that there was buried in this place a Danish chief, of a large size, who fell in battle fought in the Mull Buy, an extensive moor about 3 miles distant. There are, indeed, evident marks of graves and battles, and some huge piles of stones, in digging among which several stone coffins have been discovered. In this moor, it is probable, the inhabitants of the country fought the Danes, after they had landed at Cromarty. In the churchyard, too, lies the body of Andrew Murray, a very brave man, regent of the kingdom in the reign of David II, who, after defeating the English in many battles, and quieting the state of the nation (according to Buchanan), having gone to the north, to take a view of his possessions there, died in 1338 and was buried at Rosemarkie.

*****This seems to be a contraction for SANCTORUM.

Church etc
The minister’s stipend is 6 chalders and 8 bolls of bear, and 3 chalders of meal. But with respect to the payment of it, there are some things a little uncommon. Above 2 chalders are drawn in teind sheaves, or in kind, from the lands about the burgh, which, when the decreet of locality was passed in 1716, was beneficial to the incumbent; but the tenants, for many years, having turned at least a fourth part of the lands into potatoes and grass (from which the minister receives nothing), his living is thus diminished. He has likewise, on account of these drawn teinds, a valuation in the parish of £104 Scotch, by which he pays cess, and is burdened with a proportion of the expense of kirk and manse, and schoolmaster’s salary. This he reckons a hardship, and as the drawing of the teind from the fields is very troublesome and disagreeable, for this and other reasons, he has been obliged to apply to the Court of Session, to have these teinds paid in another manner, and his living put upon a better and more certain footing than it now is.* Kenneth McKenzie, Esq. of Cromarty, is reckoned patron of the parish. The present manse was built in 1756, on a rising ground, directly opposite to Fort George, and commands a fine extensive prospect of the Murray Frith, Inverness, Nairn, and the adjacent country. It is just about to be repaired, and is surrounded with the glebe, consisting of about 4 Scotch acres. The church stands about a quarter of a mile distant, in the town of Rosemarkie, on a dry bank of sand, near the sea shore. It was built upon the old plan, uncommonly long and narrow, which is very disagreeable to the preacher, but when the present roof fails, it is hoped the heritors will have it rebuilt, in a more proper and commodious form.

*The present minister succeeded his father in 1775. He has 10 children, 4 sons and 6 daughters.

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