The 1st Statistical Account

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(Counties of Ross and Inverness - Presbytery of Dingwall Synod 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 Reverend Mr John Downie

Church, School, and Poor
The church was built about 12 years ago. It cost 900L. Sterling, and was then the most elegant and substantial building of the kind in the county. Since that period, some neighbouring parishes affirm they have equalled it at less expence. The manse was built about 42 years ago, and was then the best in the synod. Several others have now out stripped it in elegance and convenience. Captain Kenneth M’Kenzie of Cromarty, representative of the Earls of that name, is patron, This, with several other patronages, was forfeited in 1747, but restored, along with the estate, to the late Lord Macleod, son of the last Earl. The amount of the stipend depends on the price of victual. It consists of 10 chalders of barley. This, together with the glebe, may be estimated at 140L. The decreet of modification and locality is dated in 1719. A clergyman of the Episcopal Church of Scotland resides in this parish. About a fourth part of the people attend his meeting. He has two other places of worship in the neighbouring parishes. When he is absent, his ordinary hearers attend the parish church as punctually as the other parishioners. There are no dissenters of any other denomination. A parochial school is established, and well attended. The Society for propagating Christian Knowledge support a charity school and spinning mistress, both of which are useful. The poor’s roll contains 62. There are no funds in the parish for their support, except the weekly collection, and another more general collection made on the first Sunday of every quarter, when every individual is supposed to contribute his mite. The whole amounts to about 10L. Sterling, and is distributed by the session.


From a roll made up in 1791, there are in the parish 1860 persons, of whom 420 are under 10 years of age. The average of births for the last 3 years, while the present incumbent has officiated, is 40. Of these the Episcopal clergyman baptised 10. The average of marriages is 11. There in no register of burials kept in the parish. The great body of the people is divided into two classes, tenants and cottagers, or, as the latter are called here, mailers. The former amount to 120, who rent from 5L. to 20L a year. Not above two or three pay 30L. The mailers are those poor people who build huts on barren ground and improve spots around them, for which they pay nothing for a stipulated number of years. The proprietor frequently indulges them with tools and feed for the first season. After the first period is expired, these crofts are rented at from 3s to 40s. a year. Every year produces one or more of these new settlers. At present they consist of 248 families, of whom 148 have settled within the last 40 years. From this increase of the cottagers, and the great quantity of improved ground, an increase of the population has undoubtedly taken place within these 20 or 30 years, although there appears to be a decrease upon the whole since 1755, the return made to Dr Webster at that period having been 2456. This decrease can only be accounted for, by the annual emigrations to the south country in harvest, and by the great numbers enlisted into the Highland regiments, at the commencement of the two last wars. The new settlers are not all natives of the parish. Several have come down from the Hebrides, from the west coast, and mid Highlands, when a severe season has destroyed their cattle. This is the reason why the number below 10 years of age is so high in proportion to the births. All the tradesmen in the parish are included among the mailers. They consist of 20 weavers, 1 house carpenter, 3 millers, 15 taylors, 2 masons, 21 brogue or shoemakers. All of them work for the parishioners and immediate neighbourhood. No article is manufactured for exportation. There are also included in the above number 82 widows, 40 of whom are on the poor’s roll. But, though these last have separate huts, they are not included in the above number of families. One excise officer resides in the parish, but no physician, surgeon* or man of law. There are no instances if uncommon longevity. There are many vigorous men of 70, and a very few turned 80, but none who have reached 90.

* There being no villages, and few mechanics who follow sedentary employments, the people work in the open air, and are, in general, lively and healthy, except wen infectious distempers occur as happened in the 1789, when a putrid fever was introduced into a poor family; whence, as from a centre, it spread through this and the neighbouring parishes, thence to the west coast, and at last to the Hebrides, marking its progress with dreadful havoc. The gentry inoculate their children for the small-pox with success, but the great body of the people have not surmounted their religious prejudices against that innovation. The gout and gravel are not known. Rheumatisms are frequent, for which they apply strong spirits to the part affected.

Disadvantages and Proposed Improvements
This parish is too narrow a field for industry in its present situation. Hence the people are idle for a considerable part of the year, especially in winter. The proprietors are sensible of the various disadvantages arising from this source, and that the establishment of a manufacture would be the only remedy. But no person has as yet been hardy enough to engage in such an enterprise. It is, indeed, an object only for a Company, endowed with the spirit of adventure, who would lay their account with loss for some time, till the people had learned the business, and become sensible of its benefit. But, if local situation and numbers of hands would induce such a Company to establish a manufacture, perhaps there is no station in Scotland more inviting for a settlement of that kind. There are 9 or 10 parishes, among which this occupies a central position round the heads of the Friths of Dingwall and Beauly, within sight of each other, containing, at a moderate computation, 15,000 inhabitants, with a well peopled country for upwards of 20 miles eastward, towards Cromarty and Tain. The borough of Dingwall, and the village of Beauly, at the head of their respective friths, are at the distance of 9 miles only from each other, either of which, or both, would be convenient stations. The communication is easy, and the roads good in every direction. The rich corn country of Moray and East Ross are within a few hours sailing by either Frith. Were such a manufacture established numbers from the Highlands and Western Isles would flock to it, rather than attempt crossing the Atlantic. This is not a matter of conjecture or mere probability. There is a daily intercourse between this country and the west coast. Severals from that quarter come down annually to settle on the waste grounds. They feel themselves within reach of their relations and the sepulchres of their fathers. But they would come more readily, if to their considerations were added the prospect of living more comfortably by their industry. The only local obstacle to an establishment of this kind is the scarcity of fuel. Here one cannot help again execrating the partial (and it may even be added, iniquitous) tax on coals imported to the north, which operates as a dead weight on every attempt towards improvement. It is hoped, however, that this grievance will be soon alleviated, by the extensive plantations of firs laid out within these last 30 years, and every year enlarged. It has been already observed that the mode of farming amongst the common people is far from being improved, and it may be farther remarked that there seem to be local obstacles to improvement which manufactures only can remove, by introducing riches. The tenants alledge that they cannot afford the expence of inclosing their lands, or of paying interest for inclosing them, and, even if they were inclosed, they say, they cannot lie out of their ordinary crops so long as would be necessary to put their farms in the modern rotation. Again, foreign manure cannot be had for improvement at such a price as the tenant can afford. Gentlemen who use lime for building, and manure, find it cheaper to bring it from Sunderland, than from any part of Scotland, yet it costs them from 10d. to 1s. per boll, at the ship’s side. Neither is there any marl within reach. Thirlage* is also complained of as a bar to improvement. When estates are thirled to the mill of another heritor, the proprietors of the thirled estates growl at another man’s without contributing to the expence. One mill only of this description is in this parish. There are two others, belonging to two different heritors, to which their own estates only are thirled. It seems to be a general wish that an equivalent were projected, under the eye of the legislature, for abolishing this species of vassalage.

*THIRLAGE is an obligation over the possessors of lands to manufacture all their corns at a certain mill; and seems to have originated with the great barons, with a view of exacting, for their own use, a stipulated portion of the produce of the soil, whether it was possessed by their own immediate tenants, or given away in feu to their vassals. The exaction is called multure, and is a real rent, reserved to himself by the superior This rent, on some estate, amounts to the 12th, on others to the 16th 20th, or 24th part of the unground corn; besides about the 48th part of the meal after grinding. Mills and multures have been conveyed like other property. The conveyance includes grena crescentia, sometimes are included invecta et illata, and whatever tholes fire and water on the estate. Use and wont is also said to constitute a right, without any written document.

The miller’s dues, or the wages for labour, are a separate article, consisting of a certain quantity of meal instantly paid out of every boll (as formerly measured in ascertaining the multure), both to the head miller and his substitute. For this payment, the millers not only grind the corn but support the machinery. Often the head miller pays a rent to his landlord for his place. The multure and miller’s dues are so heavy, that on some estates, they amount nearly to the value of the land rent.

A sense of religion and decency prevails among the people in general. One man only, within the memory of tradition, was convicted of a capital crime, and suffered for it about 50 years ago. No doubt, such an number engaged in distilling spirits has a tendency to corrupt the morals, but the bad effects of this trade are less discernible than might be feared. Where the effects worse than they are, there is a fatal necessity of continuing the distillery until some other manufacturer be established in its stead, whereby the people will be enabled to find money to pay their rents. The worst effect of the great plenty of spirits is that dram shops are set up almost in every village for retail, where young and idle people convene and get drunk. These tipling huts are kept by such only as are not able to pay a fine, or procure a licence. They are the greatest nuisance in the parish. It is a pity that no effectual mode has as yet been projected for suppressing them.

Gaelic is the vernacular language of the whole parish, except in gentlemen’s families. Several of the inhabitants read the English Bible, and can transact business in that language, but they, as well as the bulk of the people, prefer religious instruction in Gaelic, and therefore are at pains to read the Gaelic New Testament, and Psalm Book, &c. The names of the places are uniformly Gaelic, expressive of their situation, or of some circumstance which struck the fancy of the original inhabitants. Some names of places recall to view the family economy of the great Barons, while the feudal government subsisted in its full vigour. The wages of their menial servants and tradesmen seem to have been paid in land. Hence we find the Smiths Croft, the Arrow-maker’s the Bow-maker’s, the Walker’s, the Cook’s, the Baker’s, the Piper’s, the Fiddler’s Croft, &c. Of these there are, in this parish, Balnagown, the town of the smiths; Teanafile, the residence of the fiddle; and Cruitach, the field of the harp, or harper’s field. All the above names, and more from the same origin, are to be found near ancient seats.

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