The 2nd 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



There are no records, either printed or in manuscript, of the history of this parish. Even the scanty, and often not very agreeable information to be derived from the church session records, is wanting; these repositories of past irregularities having been committed to the flames, soon after the induction of the late incumbent. The only historical event worthy of notice is the plague of 1694, so fatal in the south of Scotland, and which found its way, it is said, the same year to this parish. It raged with unrelenting fury; whole villages were depopulated, and the living were so much wearied with burying the dead that they ceased at last to perform that office at all. *

* Two affecting incidents connected with this terrible visitation are handed down by tradition. One is that, when persons found themselves attacked by the disease, aware that their bodies after death would remain unburied if they did not themselves take some previous measures, so long as they had any strength remaining, they actually dug their own graves, and laid themselves down in them until they expired! Another is that a poor maniac, the only survivor, not only of his own family, but of a whole village, after waiting beside the body of his mother, the last victim of the plague in the place, took up the corpse at last on his shoulders, carried it to a neighbouring village, and left it standing upright against a wall in the parish.


Eminent Men
Eminent characters, in a parish comparatively so remote and obscure, may scarcely be expected; yet they are not entirely wanting, though their honour was not that which “is of this world”. Mr James Fraser of Brae, whose memoirs present us with a simple but vivid sketch of a mind deeply imbued with vital piety, and the force of truth, and which are already so well known to the religious world, was a native of this parish, and the only son of Sir James Fraser of Brae, one of the heritors, and third son of Hugh, seventh Lord Lovat. The house in which he was born in 1639 is still standing, and is occupied at present by a tenant on the estate of Newhall. Several passages of Scripture are carved, in capital letters, on the west gable. This eminent man, from his earliest years almost to the close of his well-spent life, was the object of human malice and persecution, in no ordinary measure.

We willingly assign a place, among the characters now referred to, to the Rev. Hector M’Phail, who was minister of this parish from 1748 to 1774 – a man of primitive simplicity, fervent piety, and most eminently successful in his ministerial labours. His resolution was never to meet any of his parishioners, or indeed any individual whatever, whether high or low, young or old, without opening up to them, and pressing upon their consideration, that ministry of reconciliation with which he was intrusted, and which he had the happy talent of doing in a manner as striking and impressive as it was easy and familiar. Many persons still living, now very old men, recollect well, and better than more recent circumstances, the very words of those solemn and affectionate exhortations which were addressed to them, when children, by this eminent man of God.

The antiquary, though not perhaps to be much gratified, would not be altogether disappointed in his researches into the few relics of ancient times still extant in this parish. On the moors, traces almost everywhere may be observed of ancient encampments, and of monuments of hard-fought fields. A tradition is still current among the people, of a sanguinary conflict fought on the moor which stretches from the place of Resolis to Cullicudden on the north side of the public road to Dingwall, and of another on the north shoulder of the Moile Buidhe at the southern extremity of the parish, and on the south side of the public road to Kessock Ferry; and certainly these moors, thickly covered as they are with tumuli, bear testimony to the truth of the tradition.

About twenty years ago, a large barrow or cairn was opened up by the late Sir Alexander M’Kenzie of Avoch, at the farm of Woodhead in this parish, from which to get materials for building a farmhouse, and in the centre of it was found a rude sarcophagus made up of large flags, containing a quantity of human bones of immense size, which, on being exposed to the air for a very short time, crumbled down to the finest powder.

An earthen tumulus or mound being broken into, at Jemimaville, by Major Munro, to procure gravel for metalling a road, an earthen urn of a very antique form was found in it, and which is at present in the possession of that gentleman. The present incumbent, about two years ago, employed a man to trench a piece of moor on the upper part of his glebe; the circular base of an ancient Pictish house occupied one particular spot, in trenching which a stone vessel was found imbedded in the soil about a foot and a-half below the surface, resembling a cup about four inches in diameter, and three quarters of an inch thick, and made of a piece of hard whinstone. It appears evidently to have been a spoon, a small protuberance on one side intimating where the handle was. This curious relic, now in the possession of the present incumbent, is perhaps as old as the days of Druidism.

Ancient Buildings
The only remains of ancient buildings are the ruins of Castlecraig or Tigh na Craig (the house of the rock) at the west end of the parish. It is built on the edge of a precipice close by the shore of the Cromarty Frith, and was originally surrounded by a wall which might be about twelve or thirteen feet high, but the fragments of which now only remain to the north, east, and west of it. Only a single wing of the building is now standing, and evidently the oldest part of it, as, like many other castles in the north of a similar description, it received additions at different times.

Session Records &c.
The lay members of the session are eight in number, all regularly ordained as elders. The parish is divided into districts, and an elder appointed to officiate in each district, all of whom give in regular reports to the session. The register of births and marriages has been regularly kept from the year 1748. A register previous to that period evidently did exist, but only a few leaves of it remaining, its contents were carefully transcribed into the present register. A very elegant and massy service of plate, consisting of two handsome silver communion cups, and a large silver flaggon, was lately gifted to the session by the late Mrs M’Leod of London, a native of this parish, daughter of the late Mr Urquhart of Kinbeachie, a venerable and truly pious and excellent person. The session records have been duly kept only since the induction of the present incumbent in 1822. Previously, and for the space of forty-seven years, there was neither a regularly constituted session, nor, of course, any records whatever, the books containing the minutes of session before that period having been burned.

Heritors – Improvments
The united parish is divided among nine heritors, three of whom only are resident. The rest either do not reside in it at all, or visit it only occasionally. Colin M’Kenzie, Esq. of Newhall, is patron of the parish, and proprietor of about the one-half of it.

The number of acres imperial in the parish cannot be exactly stated. The property is occupied chiefly by small tenants having farms not exceeding 40 or 50 acres. There are only three large farms, the largest not exceeding 130 acres. Much of the latter is waste land, capable of improvement either by trenching or planting, but which has been suffered to remain in this state in consequence of the property having been long encumbered with debt, and in the hand of trustees for the behoof of the creditors. The present proprietor, though in easy circumstances, is advanced in life and unmarried; and the estate, being strictly entailed, passes after his death, into the possession of a distant relation, circumstances which prevent him from projecting any improvements whatever. The mansion-house is a chaste and elegant modern building. The present proprietor has built a very commodious and handsome square of office-houses, with which he has burdened the heirs of entail.

The next property in point of extent is that of Poyntzfield. The present proprietor is George Gunn Munro, Esq. This estate may be about one-fourth of the extent and rental of the parish. The policies around the mansion-house were much improved by the first proprietor of the name of Munro, upwards of half a century ago, by trenching and planting. The trees have since attained to a great size, and are a very great ornament. Major Munro, since his accession to the estate, has very much added to those improvements. There is only one farm of any extent occupied by a tenant. The remaining part of the estate is in the hands of small tenants and crofters. The other properties in the parish are those of Braelangwell, belonging to Duncan Davidson, Esq. of Tulloch, a small property once highly improved, but of late much neglected; Drimcudden, another small property lately improved, and at present in the hands of the Trustees of the late Donald M’Kenzie, Esq. of Newhall, consisting principally of church lands, and paying a heavy rent to the Crown; Kinbeachie, the property of Thomas Urquhart, Esq. who has also much improved the lands, and intends soon to build a handsome mansion-house upon them; East Culbo, the property of Dr M’Kenzie, occupied until very lately by small tenants, but all of whom are now removed, and the whole property thrown into a large farm, which Dr M’Kenzie has highly and judiciously improved by trenching and planting; Woodhead, a small farm occupied by a tenant and crofter, the property of Lady M’Kenzie of Avoch;* West Culbo, a part of the estate of Sir James W. M’Kenzie of Scatwell, Bart. on which no improvements have been made; Gordon’s Mills, a part originally of the estate of Newhall, the property of John M’Leod, Esq. On all these properties the tenants are rack-rented, and the old rule of meliorations, so great a bar to agricultural improvement, is rigidly adhered to; by that rule, the incoming tenant at entry pays to the outgoing tenant a sum of money, being the valuation of the dwelling-house and farm-steading, and it not infrequently happens that the houses are valued at a very high rate when they are so ruinous as scarcely to be habitable.

* The late Sir Alexander M’Kenzie, her husband, began to improve this property about fifteen years ago, but since his death nothing further has been done.

United Parish of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden continue reading

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