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 John Urquhart

Name, Situation, Surface, Soil, etc.
Fearn is evidently derived from the arn or alder tree, in Gaelic Fearnn, as there were many of these trees growing in Mid-fearn, in the Parish of Eddertown, in this neighbourhood, where the foundation of the abbacy was in the 12th century first laid, and intended to be built. But the churchmen in those days finding the land there confined, and not so fertile as they would incline, desisted from their purpose, and got a new bull from the Pope, for building the abbacy, where it now stands in a fertile and extensive plain of good land. It was founded here by Farquhard, or Farquhar, first Earl of Ross, in the reign of Alexander II. The parish is of no great extent, being only 2 English miles in length, and nearly of the same breadth. It is bounded on the S. by the Parish of Nigg; on the W. by Loggie (Easter); on the N. by Tain; on the E. and S.E. by Tarbat and the Murray frith. It is situated within the county of Ross, in the Presbytery of Tain, and in the Synod of Ross. The soil is a deep loam in the centre of the parish, about the abbacy-church. The loans of Fearn to the S. and the lands of Allan to the W. are a deep clay; the N. and E. is gravelish; the S.E. and S. is light and sandy. The face of the Parish is nearly flat, with the exception of a few eminences, that are generally laboured, called, by way of distinction, hills. About three-fourths are arable, the rest partly green, and partly covered with heath. The air is generally dry and wholesome, but the climate has varied much of late years, especially since 1782. Fevers are the most general diseases among the common people, and, for the most part, at some particular seasons prove mortal, especially to those advanced in years.


Lakes, fish, etc.
The loch of Eye is above 2 miles long and about half a mile broad. No fish are to be seen in it but eels; some of them have been got of a good size, weighing 4, 5 and 6 pounds. From this loch proceeds the water to the mills of Fearn, and in its course forms 2 lesser lochs, in one of which there is moss and green plots in which ducks, teals and speikintares (which last are like sea-gulls, but of a smaller size) hatch their young and which the swans and wild geese frequent a great part of the winter and spring. The Murray frith lies to the S.E. of this Parish. The coast for about a mile is flat and sandy, on which the fishing town of Balintore lies, and Hilltown, another fishing town about a mile to the east of it; there it is rocky and high for about a mile more. The fish caught are chiefly haddocks, whitings, cod and red codlings, skate, cuddies, a few mackrel and flounders, dog-fish, lobsters, crabs, etc. About 20 or 30 years ago, there were great quantities of all the above kinds, and sold very cheap: 120 haddocks for a peck of oats, and 160 for a peck of bear, or 6d. and other fish in proportion, but for 7 or 8 years past, fish has been scarcer, and consequently very high priced. Last year and this also, haddocks sold for 1d. each, and even at 1½d. and 2d. for the largest. It is true that the few they get now are much larger than those taken when they got great quantities, but these they had near the shore, and might be, and were taken there twice and thrice a-day; but now they seldom get them, and must go farther for them, some-times the length of Helmsdale in Sutherland. The greatest number of haddocks and cods used to be had in winter, and first of spring, and most whitings, codlings, flounder and cuddies, in summer and harvest. They are caught with nets, and used to be sold chiefly in the parish, and at Tain. Sometimes they went with boat-loads of fish to Dingwall, Inverness, etc. The sea-weed is used on the coast for manure.

There is a soft freestone at Pitkery, of an inferior quality, in the east end of the parish, but little used; a pretty good freestone at Balintore; a good deal of it used for building; but at Cadboll, in the rocky part of the coast, there is a remarkable good freestone, little inferior to any in Scotland.

Quadrupeds and Birds
We have hares, foxes, rabbits, eagles, hawks, ducks, teals, partridges, owls, ravens, rooks, plover, gray plover, with migratory birds, as the swallow and cuckoo, swans and wild geese etc. The swallow and cuckoo appear about the beginning of summer, the latter departs early in August, and the former in September. The gray or wild geese appear about the end of August, and continue through the parish, and especially at the loch of Eye, till the end of April, when they depart, to hatch their young ones in the West Highlands. The swans appear about the end of October and continue about the loch of Eye, the south loch running from it, almost all the winter and spring, except when a great frost locks up the loch from them.

At the time of Dr Webster’s report, the numbers were 1898. It appears that the population of the parish has increased considerably since the 1742, there being at least a fourth more people in it now than when the church fell at that period, yet they have neither increased or diminished any thing to speak of for these 20 years past. On the last day of April 1791, there were in the parish about 1600 persons, of whom were –

Under 10 years of age


Between 10 and 20


Above 20, unmarried


Widowers and widows






Of whom there are


From 50 to 60, years old


From 60 to 70, years old


From 70 to 80, years old


From 80 to 90, years old

Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, for the last 8 Years:








































Yearly average

may be




if the register was complete. There was no register kept here preceding 1783, when there was an act of Parliament for taking a small duty of 3d. for every baptism, marriage and burial registrated in any parish. This act is rather defective in that it does not oblige each parish to registrate; from which defect not only many parishes but, as is said, some counties, such as Sutherland, keep no register at all in any of their parishes; and even where such registers are kept, those that do not incline to registrate, and pay 3d. are not obliged to registrate at all. There are 10 heritors or proprietors, 2 of whom only reside. The inhabitants are generally farmers and cottagers, or crofters, except those afterward mentioned. Besides the fishermen, there are 16 weavers with 5 apprentices; 13 tailors with 4 apprentices; 14 shoemakers with 4 apprentices; 3 smiths with 3 apprentices; 5 joiners or wrights with 3 apprentices; 2 coopers; 2 masons; 1 turner or wheel-wright; 1 merchant; and 8 millers; all of whom are employed in working for the inhabitants of the parish, and not in manufacturing articles for sale. All are of the Established Church except about 6 families of Seceders. There may be 380 houses; 30 new ones within these 10 years, and about 12 pulled down. At an average each family contains 4 or 5 persons, and each marriage produces from 5 to 7 children. There are only 3 small towns or villages and about 100 persons in each. In the village of Fearn are 2 mills, (formerly the Abbot’s*), paying 12 chalders of rent yearly; also 6 farmers; 1 distillery of whisky; 1 merchant’s shop; a turner’s shop; and a public house, selling drams, etc. The village of Hiltown consists chiefly of fishermen. There are 3 fishing boats in it, with 6 men in each. That of Balintore also consists of fishermen, with 3 fishing boats and a coble. There are 3 houses in which drams are sold.

* The Abbot’s income behoved to be very considerable, as his lands and thirlage now amount to above L.900 Sterling.

Wages and Prices
A farmer’s servant receives 6 bolls of oat and bear meal, for his meat, 2 bolls, 3 firlots of bear or oat meal, for his wages, and 6s. or 8s. for shoes, with 1 boll for the produce of his ashes, together with a certain quantity of ground to raise potatoes on, which helps nearly to maintain himself and his family for half a year, if his wife is industrious. They can live comfortably, and bring up their children decently. A single lad in the house, gets from L.2 to L.3 a year; female servants get from L.1 to L.1. 10s; the day’s wages for husbandry are 1s. a day without, or 6d. with meat; women, at 6d. or 3d. with meat; other work, and handicraftsmen, are generally paid by the piece. Beef and mutton sell at 2½ d. the pound, and in spring, and beginning of summer, at 3d. and 3½d.; veal at 3½d. pork at 2½d and 3d. the pound; hens at 6d. ducks at 6d. chickens at 2d. and eggs at 8, 10, 12, for 1d. according to the season; butter at 6d. 7d and 8d. the pound of 21 ounces.

Agriculture, etc
The valued rent of the parish is L.4037.12.11 Scots; the real rent, about 2200 bolls. The rent of the land is 10s., 15s. and even L.1 the acre. The principal crops are oats and barley, a considerable quantity of peas, and some rye, with a few beans, and a little wheat, about 50 or 60 acres of clover and rye-grass, but little flax or hemp. Oats and peas are sown from the middle of March to the end of April; barley, from the end of April to the end of May. There is little wheat here, and what is, is generally sown together with rye in October; potatoes, from the end of March to the end of may, of which above 1000 bolls are raised annually. The Harvest begins generally about the end of August, and ends, in good years, about the middle of October. There are about 800 oxen, and it is believed 500 horses, of the small Scots or Highland kind, though the few gentleman in the parish, use horses of a better size. There may be 150 milk cows; about 1000 sheep of the small Scots kind, their wool neither coarse nor very fine. There may be about 450 swine sold annually from this parish, to Tain, Cromarty, Fort George, and Inverness, at various prices; the smaller kind from 8s., 10s., 15s., to L.1, and the larger from L.1 to L.2. 10s. There may be about 200 oxen bought into this parish annually, and about 250 oxen and cows sold yearly at Whit Sunday and Martinmas. There are 140 ploughs, generally 6 oxen in the plough; some use 8, several use 4 oxen and 2 horses. It is the old Scots plough that is used, with a few exceptions. But little of the parish is inclosed. The produce is much greater than is sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants; above two-thirds of the whole is exported out of the parish, in oats and oat-meal, to Cromarty, Inverness, and Leith. But the barley is partly distilled in the neighbourhood, in Ferintosh, and the adjacent country. Monopoly of farms has taken place here, there being instances in this and the neighbouring parishes of individuals farming what was formerly possessed by 4, 6, 8, and 10 tenants. There are little or no perennial services performed by any tenants or under-tenants in this parish. There were several days of servitude about 20 or 30 years ago, such as manuring and ploughing the master’s farm for 2 or 3 days in the spring, cutting down his corns, and leading his peats and turf, for as many days, but all these are now converted.

Stipend, School, and Poor
The living consists of 128 bolls of barley, with 100 merks Scots, for small teinds, and 100 merks for communion elements, with a manse and glebe of about 5 acres. The King is patron. A part of the old abbey church was repaired at a considerable expence in 1772, and is now used again as the place of worship. The manse was built a considerable time before the Revolution, and was raised and repaired once and again; the last reparation was in 1782. The state of the school is but indifferent. The school master has only 1000 merks Scots from the heritors, and the only perquisite is L.20 Scots from the session, as precentor and session-clerk, with a trifle he receives for each marriage and baptism. The encouragement being so little, we sometimes want one altogether. Some boys or girls, in their parents houses, begin to teach for a trifle of quarter payment. There may be about 100 scholars among them all. The number of poor is 45. The annual sum expended for their relief, is L.10 Sterling, produced by the collections in the church, and in the interest of a small sum appropriated for them. There are not destitute poor, or such as do not work generally for themselves; but many of them, being old and sickly, get in proportion to their need. But they are chiefly supplied by the charity and benevolence of the gentry and farmers of the parish. There are not above 6 on the roll, who at any time beg in or out of the parish. Lady Anne Stewart, spouse to Baron David Ross of Balnagown, mortified 3000 merks Scots for the issue of the religious poor, within the presbytery of Tain, and left the ministers of it patrons of said fund. Their interest of it is divided once in the 2 years, and the different parishes in the bounds get in proportion to the character of the religious poor in each, so far as is will go; some parishes 30, some 40, some 50 merks at each division. Sometimes one parish will get more, sometimes another; but no designed for beggars, but for aged and reduced people of a good character. And the people on the list in each parish, get some 5, some 10, some 15, or more merks, as they are judged deserving, as far as it will go, for life.

Antiquities and Curiosities
There are several Druidical temples in this parish. The abbacy is one of the most ancient buildings here. It is said to have first made up of mud. The principal part of it was 99 feet in length, within walls, 251/2 feet in breadth and the walls 24 feet high above the ground. The place of worship before the Reformation, but ever since, until October 1742 when, on a sudden, in the time of worship the roof fell in. There were 36 persons killed instantly, by what fell in of the roof and slate, on that melancholy occasion; 8 more died soon after. The castle of Lochlin, in the N.E. corner of he parish, is another remarkable building. It is said to be of 500 years standing. It stands upon an eminence, about 1 mile N.E. of the loch Eye, and about 6 miles E. from Tain, and is indeed one of the most conspicuous objects in this country. It was certainly built as a place of security against sudden incursions in the days of violence. Its shape resembles 2 figures, nearly square, joined together by the corners, in which junction there is a stair-case to the top. The lesser one, which looks towards the W. being about 20, and the greater, which looks towards the E. about 38 feet square. The castle is 60 feet high. It is fortified with 3 large turrets, of which one stands upon the lesser square, and 2 upon the greater. These turrets are each of them capable of holding 3 or more men with ease, and in each of them are 5 small round holes, of about 4 inches diameter, with 3 larger above them, of a quadrangular form. The latter, it is imagines, were intended for the sentries or watchmen to see through, and the others for shooting of arrows. The outer door of the kitchen was made of strong bars of iron, as thick as an ordinary man’s leg, and the windows were closed with small grates or twisted stentions of iron, so that it may be readily supposed that it was almost impregnable at the period in which it was erected. There is another very ancient castle, that of Cadboll, equally old, if not older than either the abbacy or the castle of Lochlin. There are little remains of it now, but 2 or 3 vaults. There is a very singular and remarkable tradition concerning this castle, that though it was inhabited for ages, yet never any person died in it; and may of those who lived in it, as they longed for death, especially Lady May, who resided there about 100 years ago, being long sick, and longing for death, she desired to be brought out of her castle which at last was accordingly done, and no sooner did she come out of it, than she expired!

The principal disadvantage under which this parish labours is the scarcity of fuel. The common people burn turf, a few peats, and some heath, carried from the distance of 8 miles, there being little or no moss in the parish, but that adjacent to the loch of Eye, and it is generally so over flowed with water, by a servitude of the mills of Fearn, that the proprietor can seldom get any peats out of it. The few heritors, and the better sort of farmers, now burn coal. But it is of the greatest disadvantage to the parish, to want fuel, or not to get coal at an easy rate, for it costs generally 2s. 2d. the barrel, and the farmers and cottagers spend all the summer, and a part of the harvest, in procuring some bad turf.

Eminent Men
It said by some that the famous lawyer, Sir George Mackenzie, King’s Advocate in King Charles II’s time, was born in the castle of Lochslin, but there is no certainty of it. Farquhar, the first Earl of Ross, and founder of the abbacy, was buried in this parish, as were several others of the Earls of Ross. There is an area in the abbacy, appropriated for a burial place for all of the name of Ross, almost all of whom in the north bury there. General Charles Ross of Balnagown, who was advanced to the highest military honours, and who had a principal hand in 2 very bloody wars against the King of France, for the liberty of Europe, under the auspices of William and Anne, was buried here. This man was equally famous for the arts of peace and war. He died at Bath, in the 66th year of his age, 1732. There is also buried her, the valiant and brave Admiral Sir John Ross of Balnagown.

Miscellaneous Observations
The people are sober, regular, decent, and industrious; they are also generous and humane. Their condition, however, might be ameliorated considerably, could they have coals imported duty free, and some heavy multures removed, which hinder the improvement of land, and checks any attempts for the establishing of manufactures. None are obliged to leave the parish for want of employment. Some few inlist yearly as soldiers. Many inlisted in the General Fraser’s regiment, and many also in the 73rd, and some in the 42nd and 75th regiments. The people are generally healthy and robust, and rather above the common stature.

The common people speak the Gaelic language, though many of them now understand the English. The names of places seem to be wholly derived from the Gaelic, and are expressive of their situation, occupation of the inhabitants, quality of the soil, &.

The lands in this parish do not yield near one half of the crops they produced 20 or 30 years ago, owing to the cold seasons. Since the year 1781, there has been nothing like a good crop among us; no peas, especially, came to any account since. It is now indeed idle, and appears fabulous, to relate the crops raised her 30 or 40 years ago. The seasons were formerly so warm that the people behoved to unyoke their ploughs as soon as the sun rose, when sowing barley; and persons yet living, tell, that in travelling through the meadows in the loans of Fearn, in some places drops of honey were seen as the dew on the long grass and plantain, sticking to their shoes as they walked along in a May morning; and also in other parts their shoes were oiled as with cream, going through such meadows. Honey and bee-hives were then very plenty, which, since the year 1782, are like to be wholly lost, and extirpated out of the country. Cattle, butter and cheese, were then very plenty and cheap. There are people yet living in this parish, who have bought young oxen for 15s. 19s. and L.1, which would cost L.4 Sterling each; good butter sold at 2s. 6d. and 3s. the stone; cheese at 10d. the stone; and victual at 2s.6d. the boll. Some of the abbots of Fearn’s victual was only valued at half a merk Scots the boll; and a gentleman in this parish, about or within 30 years ago, had a process for getting the current price for some of the abbot’s teind-bolls, which was brought before the House of Lords, and he lost it, being fixed at the old price of half a merk the boll. In the years 1782 and 1783, victual got up to an enormous height, hitherto unknown in this country, being sold from 24s to 28s the boll. The poor were partly relieved by the wisdom and generosity of the Barons of Exchequer, who sent 300 bolls of victual to the Sheriff of this county, to be distributed gratis among the poor of the different parishes, as the first relief; and another vessel with so much, to be sold at a cheaper rate than any other in the county; of both which, this parish got their proportion, which was seasonable relief. And Providence was kind in those days of scarcity, in providing plenty of fish from the sea, so that not only the ordinary fishermen caught abundance, and sold them to the poor until next crop grew up, but many poor people joined, got different cobles, and caught a quantity of cuddies, red codlings, and flounders, near the shore; also an extraordinary quantity of fine cockles was had near Tain, on this side of the Dornoch frith, which was almost a miraculous supply and support to this and all the neighbouring parishes; so that hundreds of men and women, with their horses, were seen daily coming home with great burdens and loads of the best cockles, in such abundance as they never appeared before nor since. Many boat-loads were carried to distant places. No one died for want in this parish. But in the year 1740, in the lime scarcity, many starved.

There is no kind of manufacture established here, but there is a good deal of hemp spun yearly, from the manufacture at Cromarty, which will circulate L.400 Sterling. There will also be drawn about L.150 Sterling yearly, for spinning lint. The people have become much more extravagant in their clothing and apparel, of late years buying these chiefly from the shops, whereas formerly they only wore their own country-made cloth. The farmers have never yet recovered the distress of 1782. Many of them were reduced thereby. Luxury has crept in among all ranks since 1746, and all articles are now advanced in price. For instance, servants could buy a pair of shoes in those days for 10d. which now cost them from 2s.6d. to 3s. a pair. In this parish, the people are far from market. There is no demand ordinarily for the victual here, until all is sold, not only in the southern counties, but even in the western part of this same county; and the tenants being in straits for money at Martinmas, often sell the few bolls they can dispose of, at 10s; they seldom get more for it till Whitsunday, which is the time the price generally rises. Since the seasons have varied so much, and turned so cold, they are at a great disadvantage for want of grass, which might be cut down by scythes, now a day’s yield but a very scanty pasture for any cattle or sheep. The average rent of farms was 16, 20, and 25 bolls, the greater ones 30 and 35 bolls each, with a very few exceptions of 40, 45, and 50 bolls. But now several have farms of 70, 80, 120, and 130 bolls, so that the number of farmers is diminishing, which, together with the annual emigration from the parish, is the reason that the population has not increased for several years. Several young men and women go annually to service from this, especially to Cromarty, Inverness, Moray, and Aberdeen shires, and some to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, and some of the colonies; some young men after and some before they have learned any handicraft. Property in land cannot be said to be often changing, except in a few instances. It is to be observed, that as there is an union of farms, so is there of estates in this parish; one heritor possessing what 2, 3, and 4 possessed 30 or 40 years ago. The last crop was generally the scantiest in quantity, especially as to the quality of the barley since 1782, owing to the cold summer and harvest. So that, in one word, the only means whereby the condition of the people could be ameliorated, next to better seasons, would be for the Legislature to allow coals duty free.


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