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

The list of the poor in the parish is above 60. In this, however, are included a good number, who, though able to work for themselves, receive small annual supplies, especially when they are known to have young families. These the minister and kirk session endeavour to proportion to their real necessities. Few or none of them travel about to seek charity in other parishes. The fund for their support arises from the weekly collections in the church, which may amount, throughout the year, to between £81 and £91, and a small capital of above £200, laid out at interest, with some rents of seats in the church. In the late hard years they were forced to encroach upon their capital, for the subsistence, not only of their ordinary poor, but of many other families, then reduced to very straitened circumstances. Besides this, there are two mortifications for the poor of Chanonry; the one by Barbara McKenzie Countess of Seaforth, anno 1680, of 17 bolls 2 firlots land rent, under the administration of the ministers of Rosemarkie and Avoch; and the other of 27 bolls, from some lands disponed by Bishop Paterson, and others purchased with money mortified by Sir Alexander McKenzie of Coul, whereof the magistrates are administrators. These are no doubt useful, but would be much more so had they been destined, or could they be regulated, so as to operate as an incitement and reward to industry. John Fowler, Esq., a native of this place, who died last year in Jamaica, has also bequeathed £100 to the poor, and 100 guineas to the academy.

The origin of this institution is a little singular, and will require a particular detail. In the year 1699, Thomas Forbes, bailie of Fortrose, who seems to have been a good and pious man, mortified (sunk) a bond of 1800 merks Scotch, or £100 Sterling, for a salary to a catechist and examiner of the inhabitants, until, by the charitable donations of others, such a sum might be contributed as might produce an annual stipend for a minister of the Established Church, serving the cure in that burgh. This bond was granted to him by Isobel Countess of Seaforth, and, in the deed of mortification, the ministers of Rosemarkie and Avoch are left sole administrators of the fund; John Dallas and Hugh Baillie, then writers in Fortrose, having been nominated during their lifetime only. At what time this money was first received, or how it was applied for many years, there is no evidence to be found. It is certain, however, that the mortification was much neglected, and in danger of being entirely lost. Its recovery was greatly owing to the exertions of Mr Alexander Ray, minister of Avoch, with the assistance of Mr Nicol Spence, then agent for the church, who were forced to raise a process against those principally concerned in it, which began in 1717, and continued till 1731, when they recovered what they could, and got the money settled to bear interest. On the death of Mr Ray, in 1735, the fund fell chiefly under the management of Mr John Wood, late minister of Rosemarkie, who bestowed on it the utmost attention; and, notwithstanding some misfortunes, to which all human affairs are liable, by the power of accumulation, and the care of the administrators, in laying it out to the best advantage, it is now brought up to a capital of about £2,000 Sterling. And, since the year 1746, a small salary of 30s. yearly has been also paid from it to a catechist in the town of Fortrose.

The present administrators, Mr Alexander Wood, minister of Rosemarkie, and Mr James Smith, minister of Avoch, finding the fund in so thriving a state, from their own attention to it, as well as the fidelity and diligence of their predecessors, began to think in what manner they might apply it to the most useful purpose. With a view to this, it occurred to them that it could not be employed better than in the establishment of an academy at Fortrose. To this they were invited much by the healthy situation of the place, free from temptations to vice, and abounding with many fine walks and places of exercise for the students. They saw likewise, that this could be effected, so as fully to answer the intention of the pious donor, and to be productive of the best effects to the community. This institution has been accordingly formed. With the aid of a liberal subscription from the gentlemen of this county, and many others (to the amount of above £600 Sterling), the administrators purchased a new house and garden, in a very agreeable part of the town, commanding a most pleasant prospect, and have built another house in the same square, with excellent rooms for teaching, and other accommodations. One of these houses is destined for the rector, and the other for the teacher of mathematics, and both are very fit for lodging boarders.

In this business the administrators are happy in having the assistance and support of several very respectable gentlemen of the county of Ross, who are named Visitors of the Academy, to observe that the regulations be properly attended to; and each of these has the privilege of sending to it any young man they please, to be educated without paying fees to the masters. The institution is yet in its infancy, but, from a variety of circumstances, there is little doubt of its success. A finer or healthier situation for such a seminary is not to be found in Scotland; and, as there is now a very frequent intercourse by trading vessels, this afford a cheap and easy conveyance to Fortrose from London, Leith, and other principal sea ports, and students who attend here, among many other advantages in point of health, may have the benefit of excellent sea bathing.

The present visitors are, Sir Hector Munro of Novar, K.B.; Francis Humberston McKenzie of Seaforth; Sir Hugh Munro of Fowlis, Bart.; Sir Charles Ross of Balnagown, Bart.; Sir Hector McKenzie of Gairloch, Bart.; Donald McLeod, Esq. of Geanies, sheriff depute of Ross and Cromarty; Charles McKenzie, Esq. of Kilcoy; Kenneth Murchison, Esq. of Tarradale; David Urquhart, Esq. of Braelangwell; and Robert Bruce AEneas McLeod, Esq. of Cadboll. To these, other gentlemen will be added from time to time, who prove benefactors to the academy.

The administrators will require about £300 more to complete their plan in finishing the buildings, purchasing mathematical instruments, and making up a decent library, which they hope yet to be supplied with by the liberality of the public. They find that this business occupies much of their time, and has been attended with no small personal trouble, but this they will not regret, if it turns out, as they expect, for the general utility. The rector teaches the Greek, Latin, English and French languages; the second master, arithmetic, book-keeping, geography, all the branches of mathematics, navigation, perspective drawing, etc.; and a third master is employed for initiating children in the elements of the Latin and English languages, writing and arithmetic.

It is somewhat remarkable that in this, as well as the neighbouring parishes of Cromarty and Avoch, the ministers preach only in English, which is the common language of the people, and it has been remarked by travellers that even the lower sort of them pronounce it with ease and propriety. In this parish no Gaelic is to be found, but among a few servants who come from the Highlands; and they soon acquire the English by their residence here. From this, it should seem, that these parishes were not originally peopled with natives of these northern regions, but by persons who came by sea to settle here, invited by the pleasantness and fertility of the country. Among these, there has probably been a mixture of Danes.

Eminent Men
Sir George McKenzie of Rosehaugh, that eminent statesman and able lawyer, passed a part of his time at Fortrose, and had a particular attachment to it, on account of its delightful walks and prospects. Dr George McKenzie, too, the laborious compiler of The Lives of the most eminent Writers of the Scotch Nation, resided here, in an old castle belonging to the Earl of Seaforth, and lies interred in the tomb of that family in the cathedral. And Dr James McKenzie, who writes The Art of preserving Health is said to have been for some time employed in teaching the grammar school of the burgh.

It is to be regretted that the state of improvement, in this and the neighbouring parishes, is still so far behind, though most of the heritors have set a good example to their tenants. This proceeds from different causes. The principal one is the want of leases, sufficiently long to encourage the people to improve their farms. What inducement can a farmer have, to be at any extraordinary pains in improving his possession, by inclosing, raising turnips, sown grass, etc. when, at the expiration of a short tack, he must either pay an additional rent, or be deprived of all the fruits of his toil and industry? Another serious grievance, to the farmer, is the scarcity of servants, and the increase of their fees. The young fellows, for the most part, either go into the army, or travel to the south, where they meet with better living, and higher wages. It is certain, however, that every man has naturally a strong attachment to his native place, which makes him very unwilling to abandon it. Surely, then, it must be the interest of all concerned to induce the people to remain at home, by every reasonable encouragement. This will always be found the most effectual method.

Circumstances attending the Scarcity in 1782-83 – In this country, the crops in a great measure failed in 1782 and 1783, which were remarkable hard for the farmers. Yet none here, at that time, were supposed to have died of real famine. The white pease and other grain from England, on the event of the pease, afforded a most seasonable supply to many poor families. One thing remarkable was, that in these years, severe as they were, fewer were sick among the parishioners than have been observed before or since, which may in a great measure be attributed to their being unable to spend their money in drinking spiritous liquors, and thus being obliged to live soberly. Another good effect proceeded also from this temporary scarcity: that various kinds of grain having been then imported, from England and other countries, they were sown in various soils, and on different farms, and according to the goodness of the produce, they were preserved and continued in the country. The early oats were particularly distinguished, which, upon late farms, are found to be of the greatest benefit. This has rendered those farms far more valuable than they were formerly.

Farming Society
It gives pleasure to the writer of this to observe that, within these few months, a society has been formed, under the name of the Ross-shire Farming Society, of which he and some other clergymen are members, that promises to be of service to the county. It consists already of above 50 members, who have contributed a sum of money for the public benefit, and as it is proposed to branch it out into several committees, it will probably prove more extensively useful. In a little time, it may excite a spirit of emulation among the practical farmers, who will thus have an opportunity of communicating to one another their observations and experiments, which may be the means of introducing valuable improvements. Now that the duty is taken off the coals imported to the north, this will tend much to forward the views of the society, and facilitate the operations of the farmers.

Proposed Improvements
The parish of Rosemarkie is exceedingly well situated, for a manufacture of coarse linens or Osnaburghs, which might be carried on here to great advantage. To this branch the inhabitants are already much accustomed. The price of spinning is cheap; on which account flax and tow are brought here from Aberdeen, to be given out to spin, and the yarn returned by the merchants to their correspondents, being allowed a certain rate for commission. A good deal of flax is raised in the parish, which would no doubt be increased, but for want of a lint mill to dress it. It would be of considerable service to the people to have a proper one erected, by encouragement from the trustees for improvements and manufactures, or by any of the proprietors.

Ale Houses
There is every reason to complain of the number of obscure tippling houses, in this as well as the adjacent parishes. These have the most baneful effects in injuring the health, wasting the substance, and debauching the morals of the people. Many, by haunting them too often, bring ruin on themselves and their families. It is much to be wished that some effectual course were devised and put in execution to crush them.

The minister, however, has the satisfaction to say that the inhabitants of the parish, in general, especially those of the better sort, are sober and industrious, moderate in their principles, and decent in their conduct; and free from those contrasted notions and religious prejudices which are still so prevalent in more northern parishes, and some other parts of Scotland.

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