The 1st Statistical Account

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(Presbytery of Chanonry. Synod and County 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

The First Statistical Account (1790)
On the 25 May 1790, Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness wrote to over nine hundred Parish ministers throughout Scotland asking them to contribute to a Statistical Inquiry by answering as best they could,a series of one hundred and sixty-six Queries respecting each Parish.

By the Rev. Mr David Dunoon, Minister.

Situation, Name, and Extent
It is bounded on the west by the Parish of Urray; on the north by a range of common, dividing it from Ferrintosh; on the east by Kilmuir Wester and Suddy; and on the fourth by the Firth of Beauly, along which it is pleasantly situated.

The origin of the name is uncertain. Tradition makes the burying ground, which gives it to the parish, to be that of Irenan, a Danish prince, who fell in battle on its confines, where cairn Irenan still exists. The greatest length, from north-west to south-east is about 5 miles, and the greatest breadth about 2. It is wholly the property of two residing heritors, Mr Grant of Redcastle, and Mr McKenzie of Kilcoy.

In this there is a considerable variety. Light loam, gravel, and deep blue clay, are to be found on the same farm. Some fields are covered with small stones in remarkable abundance; 100 cart loads have been thrown off an acre, yet on the next plowing, a similar source of amusement has presented itself to the farmer. A considerable track covers a remarkably thick stratum of reddish free-stone, which extends almost due north to the Firth of Dingwall. It is easily hewn, and, when properly selected, very eligible for buildings of any description.

Several small veins of wilks, and other shells, are found. There is neither marle nor lime stone, nor have the effects of either (with very immaterial exception) been hitherto tried on the soil. This will lead the reader to infer, that the state of


Agricultural Improvement is backward in the extreme. Of this a just idea will be formed when it is mentioned, that although about 2000 acres are in culture, there is not a two horse plough in the parish, and very few, iron included, worth above six or seven shillings, those of the proprietors excepted. The farms are almost entirely under a constant succession of corn crops, barley and oats alternately, a very small extent being altogether for pease, and an inconsiderable proportion, which exhausts a large share of the manure of the year, appropriated for potatoes. The farmers have no inclosures, and of course consider the vicinity of any as an intolerable grievance, so that their fields from autumn, until the briar appears in April, are one undistinguished common, through which horses, oxen, and sheep range promiscuously.

To a person unacquainted with the circumstances of the country, this statement will appear unaccountable; he will look on the inhabitants as labouring under obstinate prejudices, or stupidly incapable of learning the beneficial systems of others, but to neither of these causes is it to be attributed. 1st. The proprietors do not appear to have looked on the introduction of the modern system of farming, as an object adequate to (what they conceived) the unpleasant necessity of granting long leases, to the tax on their properties of an increased melioration, as well as the inducement which they would probably require to hold out to improving tenants in a diminution of the rent. No man of this description can commence his operations on a proper scale, without a capital equal to at least 5 years rent, for reasons obvious to every person in any measure acquainted with husbandry; and no man, who is in possession of a capital to this extent, will be induced to take a farm, unless he can have the prospect of a comfortable maintenance, and full melioration for his expenditure in building and improvements. The rent that can be afforded by such a farmer must of course be proportionally low, as the sum which he advances on entering as the value of his stocking (say, the necessary horses, farming utensils, &c.) together with the probable requisite expenditure, are high; because he has to add the annual interest of these, being at least 8 per cent. to his rent. It is therefore evident, that the difference betwixt the value of melioration, expenditure, and stocking, necessary for the present mode of conducting husbandry, and the value of those as requisite for effectual introduction of the more generally approved system, must be altogether against the proprietors. This difference is very considerable.

Let us view both in a few particulars, as in their probable consequences affecting the lands in this parish. First, by the present system of farming, it is believed that the full melioration does not exceed two-thirds of the rent, say (for the sake of even numbers), 1400L. the interest of which is an annual tax on the different properties of 70L. But by the modern system, 3 years’ rent for melioration will be requisite, say 6300L. raising the tax to 315L. per annum.
Farther, by the present system, the different operations of husbandry are principally carried on by oxen. Horses are (I believe with very few exceptions) used for conducting the modern system. Suppose that 200 horses may be able to labour what is now done by 600 oxen. Suppose the value of the necessary stocking to be thus much the same, calculating each pair of horses as equal in value to 6 oxen, say 24L. which, for the above number, supposed necessary for the purpose of husbandry in this parish, is 2400L. which in this parish would be near 40 per cent. of the rent.

The interest of this sum, sunk in a stocking of oxen, may be 6 per cent per annum

L.40. 0. 0

The interest of the same sum, sunk in a stocking of horses, is at least 10 per cent per annum

L.240. 0. 0

The smith and ferrier's charge cannot be under 10s for each horse per annum

L.100. 0. 0

Suppose the consump of oats to be a peck per week for each horse at an average of, i.e. 3 bolls 1 firlot per annum, or 650 bolls for the above number, valued at 12s per boll

L. 390. 0. 0

In all

L.730. 0. 0

From this take as above

L.140. 0. 0

The supposed difference betwixt the expence of labouring with horses, and that of labouring with oxen, is

L.590. 0. 0

Ditto betwixt that of melioration, as above stated, is

L. 245. 0. 0

So that these two articles, which are moderately rated, make a clear annual balance against the proprietors, of

L. 835. 0. 6


We have a number of small horses, even by the present system of farming; but these are maintained at a considerable expence; and it is presumeable, that any losses to which they subject the farmer, is more than compensated, in general, by the number of supernumerary cattle which he is able to rear.

Add to these, the very material difference in the expenditure for farming utensils, manures, and improvements, the material deficiency in the article of manure, together with the prodigious public loss* which would result from the universal adoption of the modern plan of using horses instead of oxen.

*Note – An 100 oxen must, one year with another, be sold and slaughtered out of 600.

These circumstances show that the introduction of the more approved plans of husbandry would not, in a pecuniary view, be so advantageous to the proprietors as might at first be imagined. And, indeed, it is a well known fact that very distant as farms in this part of the country most unquestionably are from improvement, yet that from the inconsiderable necessary expence of an intrant tenant, the average rent of some of them equals that of some in the country of Essex.

But other circumstances have contributed to that backwardness in agricultural improvement, too evident in this and the neighbouring parishes.

Before any persons can be induced to deviate from established practice, they must have access to observe the superior advantages of a new system; they must have the prospect of reaping the fruits of that system by long leases; and also (as already observed) a sufficient stock to enable them to persevere until their farms are brought to proper heart.

The farmers of this parish have never had the advantage of the first of these. It is true, the proprietors have occasionally introduced the improvements of modern husbandry, but from the efforts of proprietors as examples, the peasantry never will act. These generally improve more for pleasure than profit. If fond of a country life, their expenditure in hedging, inclosing, trenching, with a thousand et ceteras, is endless. I have known the first crop, of little more than half an acre, cost the improving proprietor above 20L. How can a poor tenant imitate this? He will laugh at what he considers the enthusiasm that leads to it, and it will rivet his prejudices against improvement.

An intelligent actual farmer, whose bread depends upon his industry, and who is little removed from their own sphere in life (the Hugh Reoch, mentioned in the very ingenious statistical account of Alloa), is the man who will most essentially contribute to introduce an alteration of system, and a spirit of improvement into any district. His neighbours will observe, and are, in very few instances, so blind to their interest, as if able, not to imitate his exertions.

But the agricultural state of this parish will farther be accounted for, when it is mentioned that leases are, with very few exceptions, unknown. The farms on the most considerable property have for many years been held only from year to year. The longest lease recollected, with the exception of the life-rent of one small farm, is 10 years, and very few have exceeded 5. What inducement does this present for improvement? How can that man embark in any plan for ameliorating his farm, who knows that he only hangs out a bait for the grasp of avarice, and that ingenuity and industry tend only to ruin him? It is to be hoped that the more enlightened policy of the southern counties will soon be more generally adopted in ours, and that the proprietors will delight in receiving ” he blessing” of them that are ready “to perish”; the just recompence gratefully paid to the lord of their manor, by industrious, flourishing, useful members of society, and accompanied, let it not be thought of little value, by their prayer for his enjoying the blessing of the Lord of lords. From the above statement it will be inferred, and with justice, that the farmers in this parish, and indeed throughout this country, are, in general, poor; so much so, that although leases should be granted, it would take some considerable time before they possibly could adopt an improved system of husbandry. What! will a mere theorist in farming exclaim, is not one system of husbandry as easily followed as another? Does not the modern system require fewer servants, and less feed; and does it not yield more luxuriant crops? Let all these be granted; but what this reasoning is to a poor tenant, the following facts will tend to illustrate. By the present system, it requires the utmost exertion of his industry, and an almost uninterrupted succession of crops, to pay his rent and servants, and afford a maintenance, very sober indeed, to his family. It may be affirmed, that on a farm of 30 acres, 2l. per annum has not been cleared, at an average, by any one farmer, for 20 years, by farming alone. Let us suppose a man in this predicament, from observing the success of others, anxious to lay a fifth part under grass, say 6 acres; before he can possibly do this an inclosure is necessary, which, if built by the proprietor, exhausts, by the payment of 7 per cent. interest, the supposed, or rather real average, profit. Let him, however, persevere to manure this properly, he starves the rest of his farm.

The grass is notwithstanding sown at an extra expence of 20s. per acre, and cut the second year; but when he calculates profit and loss, he finds a deficiency of 24 bolls, the usual average produce of 6 acres; the same the second year of the improving aera, 48 bolls and 6L.; so that before he can experience the benefit of a grass crop, his corn yard may be probably sold to the highest bidder. It will be asked, why not sell the grass at 6d. per stone? For the best of all reasons, because he has no market. This is not mere theory, it is founded on fact; and the circumstances are mentioned merely for the purpose of pointing out to speculatists in farming the almost insurmountable difficulties which must be encountered by poor men, whose backwardness in ameliorating their farms they are too often disposed to ascribe to ignorance, indolence, and obstinacy. Let not the generous heart, therefore, load them with invective, or treat them with severity, for thinking once and again before they enter on measures which, however sensible they may be of their good effects when persevered in, may eventually prove their ruin. To the benevolent mind, on the contrary, it will afford pleasure gradually to lay open to their view what may be most conducive to their benefit, to stimulate their exertions by suitable encouragement, and to see them contented and happy in the possession of these comforts which are suited to their sphere in life. To this mode of conduct, it is to be hoped that the farmers in this parish may have the comfort of looking forward. It is with much pleasure mentioned that the present proprietors offer premiums to encourage the industrious; pay the expence of small temporary inclosures, to enable them to experience the utility of sown grasses; and allow melioration for comfortable houses. A number of farms have undergone judicious divisions of from 20 to 60 acres each. Customs and carriages have been converted; run ridges have been abolished; and, it is not doubted, that proper leases will be given to those who discover a wish to improve. Nor will they experience that this treatment of their inferiors will run in opposition to their interest. The above mentioned division of the farms they will find particularly beneficial. From the too prevalent practice of uniting small farms, it is confessed that a proprietor may have his rents collected with somewhat less trouble, and his property may be brought with more rapidity to its utmost value; but this plan is certainly objectionable, for two reasons of indisputable importance. 1st, suppose the mode of farming the same, it is clear that the occupier of 30 acres, being the actual labourer, is able to pay a higher rent than can be afforded by those who employ servants at extravagant wages, and are often, through their negligence or villainy, exposed to imposition and considerable losses. The different operations of husbandry are performed on farms of this extent, not by the careless menial, but by the united exertions of a family, happy in themselves, and each feeling an interest in acting his part. But, 2dly, in a national view, the consolidation of farms is still more seriously objectionable. Its effect is immediate depopulation. It compels the poor aborigines, “Patriae fines et dulcia linquere arva”, to emigrate, friendless and unprotected, to other countries, or to crowd into towns, with the view of grasping at the casual sources of earning their pittance, which may occur.

“Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade,
A breath can make them as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroy’d, can never be supply’d.
Their best companions, innocence and health,
And their best riches, ignorance of wealth.”

[Goldsmith’s Deserted Village]

Were it possible to introduce the improvements of modern husbandry on farms of the above extent, just sufficient to occupy the attention, and incourage the exertions of the actual labourer, aided by his family (and possible it surely is by degrees), that point, it is conceived, would be attained, which would happily combine humanity with public utility, and the real interest of the proprietors with the happiness of thousands of their fellow creatures.

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