The 1st 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

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. ANGUS BETHUNE, Minister.

Origin of the Name
Alness signifies the Promontory, a headland of the brook or river, being compounded of the words Auilt, brook, or Amhain, river, and Ness, a headland.which is the termination of many names of places where there is a headland or promontory. The name corresponds with the situation of the parish, which stretches along a river, formerly called Averon, but now known by the name of the Water of Alness, and terminates in a narrow point or promontory.

Situation, Extent, Soil and Produce
The parish is situated in the county of Ross, and belongs to the presbytery of Dingwall and Synod of Ross. It is of a very irregular form; in some parts not above two miles, and in others more than four miles broad. It is 12 miles long, extending from Alness point, to the shore of the frith of Cromarty, its south-east boundary, a considerable way into the more highland parts of the country. In the lower part of the parish, lying contiguous to the sea, and about two miles upwards, the ground is mostly arable, and of various qualities. The soil, however, is generally light, and though it seldom produces luxuriant crops, yet when the farmers are industrious, their labour is rewarded by a middling return of oats, barley, and pease, and abundant crops of potatoes; and there can be little doubt, if the farms, which are almost all open-field, were inclosed, and a different mode of farming adopted from that generally practised in this part of the country, but the soil would produce at least a third more grain than it does at present. 

The higher parts of the parish, lying beyond a ridge of hills which conceals them from the eye of the traveller on the public road, consist of straths or glens, producing some bear and black oats, but chiefly adapted for pasturage, and in which a considerable number of black cattle, and some small horses, are reared. Adjoining to these straths are two beautiful fresh-water lochs or lakes, which have a pleasant effect to the eye, and abound with a variety of trout. Each loch is about two miles long, and nearly a mile broad. Higher up the country, and beyond these lochs, is a very extensive tract of rich heath, affording pasture in the summer time, not only to the graziers in the braes, but for the oxen and young store of the farmers in the lower part of the parish and neighbourhood, who, not having sufficient pasture of their own, must send their cattle to feed for the summer months to these grazings.

Sheep-farming has been lately introduced on these higher grounds, extended heaths, and some of the glens; but the plan, however justifiable in itself, and on the part of the proprietors, was unpopular, because it occasioned the removal of the native proprietors of these farms and grazings, and excited a disorderly and tumultuous spirit among the country-people, which it became necessary by legal and forcible means to suppress. This gave rise and rapid circulation to a report, as injurious as it was groundless, that the proprietors treated their poor tenants with oppression and cruelty. In justice, however, to the proprietors of this parish, who have let any part of their estates for sheep-farming, it is proper to assure the public, that such tenants as had been removed from their possessions for that purpose, were otherwise provided in farms by these gentlemen, either on their own estates, or on some others in their vicinity; and that to this humane object they paid every attention in their power, feeling themselves particularly interested in, and solicitous for, the accommodation of the few tenants whom, with a view to encourage the introduction of sheep-farming, they had found it necessary to remove.

Heritors of the Parish
The proprietors of the parish are General Sir Hector Munro of Novar, K.B.; Captain Duncan Munro of Culcairn; Captain Hugh Munro of Teaninich; Miss Mackenzie of Inchcoultar; and Andrew Munro of Lealdie. Of these, General Sir Hector Munro and Captain Hugh Munro of Teaninich have their family seats, and are resident in the parish.

The place and family-seat of Novar has been highly cultivated and improved by Sir Hector Munro, at a very great expence, and with much and approved taste. It is indeed a great and a finished place, the most complete in the north, and the admiration of all travellers to this country. It is, too, very advantageously situated, considerably elevated above the frith, not a mile distant from it, and commanding a full and extensive view of the neighbouring country, and of the bay and headland of Cromarty – objects greatly admired for their singular beauty.

Valuation and Rent
The valued rent of the parish is L.2891 Scots, and the real rent about L.1200 Sterling. The rent has not been much increased of late, sheep-farms excepted, which have been considerably augmented. No additional rent has been laid on the tenants of Novar estate since it came into the possession of Sir Hector Munro, nor for some time before that period. A laudable example to other proprietors, and highly deserving of imitation, and a certain method of securing the inviolable attachment and affection of the tenants.

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