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

By the Rev. Mr David Dunoon, Minister.

The valued rent of this parish, including that of Wester Kessock, annexed, quoad sacra, to Kilmuir Wester, is 1873L. 12s. 7d. Scots. The real gross rent exceeds 2000L. Sterling.

In order to ascertain the comparative population betwixt the years 1755 (when the return was made to Dr Webster) and 1795, it is necessary to observe that its boundaries have undergone considerable alterations, in consequence of a decreet of the Court of Teinds, passed in the 1756, annexing the neighbouring parish of Suddy to those of Killearnan and Kilmuir Wester. The most accurate method will therefore be to compare the returns of the three parishes of Killearnan, Suddy, and Kilmuir Wester, as stated in the 1755, with those of Killearnan and the united parishes of Kilmuir and Suddy.

The exact population of this parish was, in February 1794,


Males, above 7 years of age


Females above 7 years


Males below 7 years


Females below 7 years


The number of souls was, on the above date


As there are many of the inhabitants of this parish of the Episcopal (formerly the Nonjuring) persuasion* by whom it is believed no register is kept, and as a considerable number from other parishes are interred in the burying ground of this one, and vice versa, it is impossible to state with precision the number of births, marriages, or burials. It may, however, be remarked, that from 1st February 1794, to 1st February 1795, there is an increase in that of each beyond any thing recollected. As far as the session register goes* the births have been





































* It includes only those who were baptized by the established minister.

But, through the prevalence of a putrid fever, the burials for the year 1794 have borne a striking proportion.

There are in the parish, paying from 6L. to 60L. rent,





Weavers and apprentice


Taylors and apprentice


Smiths and apprentice


House carpenters, cart and wheel wrights


Millers and servants




Under this head there are few particulars worthy of notice. There are two considerable antient structures, Kilcoy and Redcastle, the manor places of the heritors, which have evidently been built more for defence than for elegance, or comfortable accommodation. The latter (probably thus denominated from the colour of the stones of which it is built) was annexed to the Crown, with the lordship of Ross, anno 1455, has the rights of a burgh of barony, with those of a free port, holding weekly markets, levying tolls and anchorage dues, together with all other baronial privileges, not expressly abrogated by the jurisdiction act, 1748. At the beginning of last century, Redcastle was a place of considerable strength. In the 1646, soon after Montrose was forced, or rather permitted, by Middleton, to raise the siege of Inverness, Rory McKenzie of Redcastle joined him, together with his chieftain and clan, in that remonstrance against the procedure of the Covenanters, for which Seaforth was soon thereafter excommunicated.

In the 1649, the McKenzies, exasperated at the King’s death,* and vowing revenge, projected an expedition to the south. Joining a party of Sutherlands, they, in number about 1500, crossed Kessock and Beauly on Sunday the 3rd May. Coming to Inverness in time of divine service, the ringing of bells was soon succeeded by the noise of drums and bagpipes. The alarmed inhabitants, hastily summoned from church, were obliged to provide the best entertainment. Their guests, however, were so delicately nice, that it was found necessary to bribe their teeth into exercise, by laying on every man’s cover what they called argiod cagnidh, chewing money.

* The writer finds the following lines in an old manuscript, said to have been written by Montrose on the sea beach, with the point of his sword, on receipt of the intelligence of Charles’s fate.

Great, good and just, could I but rate,
My griefs, and thy so rigid fate,
I’d weep the world to such a strain,
As would deluge it o’er again.
But since thy loud tongu’d blood demands supplies
More from Briarus’s hands than Argus’s eyes,
I’ll sing thy obsequies with trumpet sounds,
And write thy epitaph with blood and wounds.

From Inverness they marched through Murray, and, crossing the Spey, encamped near Balvany Castle, the property of the Marquis of Huntly. But amidst the revelry which resulted from considerable plunder, and unsuspecting security, they were suddenly attacked by Colonels Strachan and Kerr, defeated, and almost all made prisoners. Strachan, improving his victory, lent a party to besiege Redcastle, which was garrisoned, in the proprietor’s absence, by his sons and dependants. A Lieut. McBean was sent to summon it to surrender, but he was fired at from the walls, and killed. This so enraged the assailants, that they stormed, took, and burnt it to the ground. McBean’s covenanting friends looking on the McKenzie territory as unhallowed, conveyed his remains to have the privilege of Christian interment among the Fraser’s at Kirkhill, where a flag still covers his grave, bearing this inscription, “Here layes one of David’s Worthies”*

* David Leslie.

There are on the confines of this parish astonishing numbers of these, some of them of uncommon magnitude. The servants of a neighbouring proprietor, when lately taking away the stones of one for an inclosure, found a stone coffin in the centre. This, with several other circumstances, evidently mark them as indexes of the ferocious spirit of ancient times. The most considerable were probably gathered in memory of the chieftains or those who had been most illustrious for deeds of valour. Curidh mi clach ar do chaarn; I shall add a stone to your cairn, was, among the Highlanders, the valedictory expression of gratitude or esteem.

There is one Druidical temple, Cairn-Irenan, formerly mentioned, probably the most complete in this country.
To the south-east of Redcastle, about 400 yards within flood-mark, there is a cairn of considerable dimensions. Many of the stones, notwithstanding their collision through the violence of the tide, still bear the marks of art, and indicate the existence of a considerable building at some very remote period. There are several cairns of this description in the Frith, about the origin of which even tradition is silent. Were there any vestiges of tumuli on which they could have been built, or any other circumstances which should indicate the eligibility of the sites on which they are placed, we might be induced to look on them as temporary asylums from the predatory incursions of rude and barbarous tribes; but none such exist. Urns have been found in one of them, which, with other circumstances, induced Dr Campbell* to be of opinion that the Romans must have been thus far north. The cairns he supposes of Danish origin. An ingenious countryman** has gone farther, and supposes that a considerable part of the area which is dry at ebb tide, but covered with from 2 to 16 feet water when it flows, being at least 10 square miles, must have been inhabited.

* Polit. Survey, vol. I p.217

** Mr. Fraser, minister of Kirkhill No. 2 Philosoph. Trans. I cannot recollect the precise number, it may be about 250.

Whatever may have been in this, the proximity of this arm of the sea is of very considerable utility to this and the neighbouring parishes, as, exclusive of the facility with which coals, lime, wood, and other necessaries are conveyed, it furnishes a variety of fish, and particularly herrings, in their season, which have been sometimes sold 100 for 1d. Sprats, sandals, shrimps, flounders, and other small fishes are taken during summer and harvest in what we call yares, a contrivance so common as not to require description.

There are 7 licensed stills, of 30 gallons each, in this parish, yielding an annual revenue of 315L., but consuming a very considerable proportion of the produce. It is much to be regretted that the price of ardent spirits has not risen in this part of the country, in proportion to the advance of tax. The distillers, having in general no capital, are frequently under a necessity of selling their whisky at a considerable disadvantage, and the number who are thus situated, supply our confined market so abundantly, that those who are possesses of capitals cannot avail themselves of them by a retention of the commodity, until the advance in price should yield a reasonable profit. Of consequence, while barley sells, as it now does, at a guinea per boll, the price of the gallon is only 3s. and it is actually retailed in our dram houses at 3s. 8d. which is no more than it sold for before the last additional 50 per cent. was levied on each still. Hence it is evident that that tax has no effect in rendering spirits more inaccessible to the lower ranks and that it is principally, if not altogether, paid by the distiller out of his profits, not by the consumer; how far he is able to afford this will be seen thus:

The quantity of barley allowed to be distilled by each possessor or a 30 gallon still is 188, so that 4 bolls, the quantity usually distilled at a time, pay about

L.0.19. 0

The price of barley may be averaged at 19s. being for this quantity

L.3.16. 0

Fire, without including carriage for 3 or more miles

L.0.10. 0

Candles, bandages, tear and wear of distilling utensils

L.0.05. 0

Attendance for 8 days and 8 nights, carriages to and from mills, expence of malting, the kiln drying etc. valued at

L.0.10. 0

Total expence

L.6. 0. 0

The average produce of each 4 bolls is highly rated at 9 Scotch, or 36 English gallons, and the average price equally so at 13s. 4d. per Scotch, or 3s. 4d. per English, say 6L. The refuse for cattle may be worth 5s. which is in fact the only profit to be derived from distilling in this country.

It will be asked, Why then so many distilleries? For these reasons: distilling is almost the only method of converting our victual into cash for the payment of rent and servants; and whisky may, in fact, be called our staple commodity. The distillers do not lay the proper value on their time and trouble, and of course look on all, but the price of the barley and fire added to the tax, as clear profit; add to these the luxury of tasting the quality of the manufacture during the process.

A very beneficial alteration in the distillery law would be a more frequent renewal of licences; suppose 6 months instead of 12. As it now exists, the distiller becomes bound for 45L. for a 30 gallon still, from the 1st December to the 1st December, let the prices of barley and spirits be what they may; of course, he is under the necessity of continuing to distil, however exorbitant the first, or cheap the last. This has two bad consequences, when a crop is unproductive, it raises the price of meal on the one hand, and renders spirits a dangerous drug on the other. The above alteration, without injuring the revenue,* would, in a great measure, prevent both. The price of spirits would find its level in proportion to that of grain, and the mean of intoxication would not offer itself to the lower ranks, with such pernicious facility as it now does in consequence of a glutted market.

*Any possible injury to the revenue could arise only from the diminution of the quantity, and of course the consumpt of ardent spirits. By the law, exportation is not permitted; and consequently, however much the market may be overstocked, the inhabitants of this district of country are literally compelled to drink the superabundance.

The only firing in this parish is a yellow spongy moss, now almost entirely exhausted, and the wretched turf pared off the common. Newcastle coals are used by those who can afford the outlay of cash, together with burn wood and peats, subjecting such a family as the incumbent’s for a fire in a room and a kitchen, and occasionally in bed rooms, to an annual heavy expence of from 10 to 14L.*

* We have hitherto, from the advance in freight, seamen’s wages, etc experienced very little benefit from the suppression of the partial Red-head tax.

Several circumstances indicating the existence of coals have occurred in different parts of this country, but a peculiar disadvantage which prevents discoveries of this kind is that the persons who are best qualified to make them, and who are of course employed, are in general, notoriously interested in crushing the attempt. Until some man of skill and spirit shall be induced, by a participation of the profits, or otherwise, to make proper experiments, we shall probably remain as we are, in the want of this essential comfort of life.

Under this head, it is pleasing to remark that the progress, in some particulars, has of late been rapid. To Mr Grant of Redcastle the succeeding generation will be much indebted for his extensive plantations of oak, larch, planetree, ash elm, and Scotch fir, fenced by at least 20,000 yards of an inclosure; but, however great the exertions of individuals may be, a bar has hitherto presented itself to the general improvement of the country, in an extent of unappropriated muir, perhaps the most considerable in Great Britain. It is lamentable to observe that the peninsula formed by the Firths of Beauly and Dingwall (commonly designed the Black Isle) contains, it is believed, from 30 to 40 square miles, abundantly capable of improvement by agriculture or planting, which still continued in their natural state, not worth one penny per acre, yet a continual source of jealousy betwixt the coterminous proprietors. It is the more so, as the propriety of a division is admitted on all hands as the power of the Court of Session, under the act 1695, to carry it into effect is undoubted, and as nothing is wanting but co-operation.

Some of the proprietors are now induced to look to the well known philanthrophy of the Agricultural Board, for that effectual interference for carrying this very desirable object into effect, which might prove tedious, vexatious, and irksome, to any private individual. It would be an object highly deserving of their attention, which, without subjecting them to a shilling of expence, would most materially contribute to the good of their country.

Ecclesiastical State
The present incumbent was admitted assistant and successor to his father on the 3rd March 1790, in consequence of a sign manual from the Crown, and a presentation from Kenneth McKenzie, Esq, the representative of the family of Cromarty. He inclines to believe that the right of patronage belongs to the latter.

The stipend of Kilmuir Wester, and Suddy, and that of this parish are precisely the same, being nine chalders and one boll of bear, three chalders and three bolls oat meal, and ninety eight pounds nine shillings and eight pennies Scotch money. It is, however, marked by these peculiar circumstances, that the lands of one heritor do not pay a boll more than they did anno 1695, nor those of the other proprietor more than in the year 1721; and, however paradoxical it may appear, the last is in fact considerably the gainer by the quantum of stipend payable by his property. It was purchased at a judicial sale; a full fifth of the property, or what is the same thing, of the rent, was previously struck off by the Court of Session as teind. While the purchaser was under the necessity of taking a tack of the free teind, he was of course not a shilling in advance for the exhausted part, (i.e.) for the lands paying stipend. But while the living remains, in statu quo, the minister’s portion of the property, (may not this name be given it on paper?) bears its proportion of a considerable augmentation of rent, suppose 20 per cent.

The glebe may be about 6 acres arable and pasture. The names of two villages in the parish, Chappletown and Spittal,* corroborating some confused traditions, indicate the existence of two religious houses at some remote period, one dedicated to a Popish Saint, the other belonging to the Knights of Malta. There are at present none of the Roman Catholic persuasion, nor any who profess to differ from the established church, the Scotch Episcopals (who are rather more than a fourth part of the number of inhabitants) excepted.


We have no parochial assessment for their support. There are, at an average, 35 on the roll, who, for several years, have only had the scanty weekly collections distributed among them, seldom amounting to above 5L. when session clerks and officers’ dues are deducted; 150L. belonging to the poor of this parish were given to the late proprietor of Redcastle on personal security; his property was sequestrated, and judicially sold, anno 1789; and while these creditors who had heritable bonds were all paid, principal and interest, and such as accepted of them, liquidated penalties, the widow and orphan have not, for many years, received a penny of either, and are now involved in a process of ranking, of which the termination and result are yet uncertain.

The poor of the two neighbouring parishes are in the same predicament, which is mentioned as a caveat against overstrained delicacy in the requisition of proper security, by all who are intrusted with the management of public funds; and particularly by those who act for the indigent and the destitute. The number of itinerant poor has undergone a very pleasing decrease of late, by the introduction of a branch of the Inverness hemp manufactory. An agent distributes hemp to be spun for sail-cloth, and pack-sheeting, furnishing an easy employment even to the aged and infirm, by which they can earn from 2d. to 6d. per day. What renders this of peculiar utility to them is that as they are not restricted in time, it does not prevent their attention to other necessary business; they can occupy, in spinning, those hours which would otherwise pass in idleness, and stimulas to exertion is found in immediate payment on performing their engagements with fidelity.

Manners of the People
These have, during the currency of the last 40 years, undergone a very pleasing alteration. The generality of the inhabitants were then ignorant in the extreme, and much disaffected towards our civil and ecclesiastical establishments. As a striking instance of this the following circumstance is mentioned. The late incumbent was settled minister of this parish in May 1758; he, 8 months thereafter, publicly intimated, after sermon, his intention of catechising the inhabitants of a particular district on the following Tuesday, but, on going to the house which he had fixed on as the place of meeting, not above three miles from the church, he found a convention of only a few old women. Having never before seen their minister they appeared much agitated, telling him, however, that he might have saved himself the trouble of coming to their town as they had no whisky. They retired, one by one, and alarmed the neighbourhood, by saying that a strange Exciseman had just come to such a house. Since that period the change is striking; the assiduity of the minister, in the discharge of his parochial duties, was attended with much success; his exertions were, as he has often gratefully acknowledged, powerfully aided by the introduction of a school* (supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge) at which from 60 to 90 children have been taught gratis. The house of God is now attended with regularity and devotion; they have learned, not indeed the chearless refinements of modern Philosophy, but in the perusal of the gospel of peace, to find a healing balm to sooth and to comfort them under the pressure of all the calamities of life.

May they increase in those virtues which are pure, peaceable, gentle, of good report, and easy to be intreated!

* The very inadequate salary payable to the parochial schoolmaster is much against the parish; it is only 8L. 6s. 8d. The office of schoolmaster has been vacant from Martinmas because no qualified person can be got to accept it. What a pity it is that the pecuniary reward of a description of men, among the most useful in society, should exceed only, in a mere trifle, the wages of a common hireling.

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