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.


Name, Extent, and Soil
The Celtic, and original name of this parish, is Cilmoir or Cilmary, Cellamariae, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary; or so called in honour of some lady of that name, by whom it was built and endowed. It is called Kilmuir Easter to distinguish it from another parish within the bounds of the synod of Ross, which, in consequence of an annexation which lately took place, has lost its antient name of Kilmuir Wester, and is now known by the appellation of Knockbain.

The parish lies partly in the county of Ross, and partly in the county of Cromarty. This is the situation of all the parishes within the synod where George, the first Earl of Cromarty, had any property, that nobleman having obtained the privilege of constituting his whole landed property in Scotland into a separate county called the county of Cromarty; and his property being of considerable extent, and in detached portions, it forms a part of many parishes in the synod. This parish is about 10 miles long, and 4.5 broad on an average. It is bounded on the E. by the small river of Balnagown, and by the sands of Nigg, and bay of Cromarty on the S. The situation is truly delightful, having the best cultivated parts of six neighbouring parishes full in view. Beyond these, the eye extends over a prospect of 30 miles, from E. to W. along the Firth, and towards the S.E. a passage opens between the two rocks called the Sutors or Saviours of Cromarty, through which a considerable part of the county of Murray is visible; and all the vessels small and great, that enter into the bay, and anchor in this Portus Salutis are seen from almost every house in the parish, the whole forming one of the richest and most beautifully variegated landscapes in Britain


The soil of this parish is various: along the shore, which is flat, it is generally light and sandy, but in rainy seasons very fertile, and, even in the driest summer, it seldom fails of yielding a sure crop. About a mile from the shore, and almost parallel to it, a sloping bank runs from E. to W. through the whole parish: here both the soil and the climate begin to change, though the bank at its utmost altitude is not more than 30 feet above the level of the sea. In place of the light, warm, and fertile soil below, one meets with a wet, cold, and surly clay, covered with 2 or 3 inches of black mossy earth, and in many places a black pan, hard as iron ore, runs in a stratum of 2 or 3 inches thick in the bosom of the clay, and about 8 or 9 inches below the surface, which in a rainy season keeps the water floating above, prevents early sowing, and sometime starves the seed in the ground. This bank, however, has for the most part been long in cultivation, and is all along covered with corn-fields, or sown grass, which, with a dry spring, and moderate summer rains, produce heavy crops. Behind the bank, and towards the north, a plain of 4 miles long, and from 2 to 3 broad, opens to view, of which about a fourth part is in cultivation, a fourth part is moss yielding peats to the inhabitants, and the other half a barren muir, of much the same soil with that of the above mentioned bank. This plain is terminated on the N. by a range of low hills, cultivated in most places half way up to the top, and, behind these hills, a small part of the parish runs N. several miles in a narrow vale, which yields some corn, and affords good pasture for sheep and black-cattle.

Climate, Diseases, Fish etc.
Within a mile of the shore, which is sandy, the climate is often mild and temperate, while the bank, and the whole tract of ground behind it, is cold and covered with snow. This, however, is only at intervals, in the winter and spring seasons, for the difference of climate is scarcely perceptible during the rest of the year, and it does not appear that it makes any material odds as to the health of the inhabitants. The air, upon the whole, being very salubrious, the people in general enjoy good health, and there are many instances of longevity in the parish.

There are no rivers or fresh-water lakes in this parish, excepting the small river of Balnagown already-mentioned, in which, at certain times of the year, large burn and sea trout arc found, but in good fishing-seasons the parish is plentifully supplied with haddocks, cod, skate, flounders, and cuddies, from the Murray-Firth, carried here in baskets by the fishers of Fearn and Nigg. There is a bed of small cockles within the bounds of the parish, which, in scarce years, has proved very useful to the poor people. In 1782, 40 horse loads have been taken out of it in one day. When herrings appear on the coast of Murray, they sometimes come in to the bay and Firth of Cromarty, and are killed opposite to this parish by the inhabitants, though not in such quantities as to admit of exportation

Little wheat is sown here for market. Gentlemen annually sow no more than is sufficient to supply their own families and the time of sowing it is from the middle of September to the end of November; rye, oats, and pease from the beginning of March to the middle of April; barley, flax, and potatoes from the middle of April till the 20th of May; and turnips from the 15th to the 25th of June. The harvest generally begins about the 20th of August, and, in good weather, the crop is secured by the middle of October.

It is computed that 300 acres of muir ground in this parish have been brought into culture in the last 25 years, partly by mealers, encouraged by the proprietors, and enticed to build huts on the muir, in the vicinity of peats and turf, partly by the more substantial farmers who, as they proceed to inclose their farms, trench the barren ground within their lines, and partly by the proprietors, who have set the example before their tenants. The late Admiral Sir John Lockhart Ross added 45 acres of muir ground to the
policy round the family seat, a great part of which now yields good corn and grass. At the expence of L.10000 sterling, laid out in trenching, building, fencing, etc in the course of 25 years he has greatly beautified the face of the country, and made Balnagown one of the most desirable seats in the north. Immense tracks of ground, at proper distances from the house, are covered with very thriving plantations of fir, or forest trees, most of which were planted by his immediate predecessor, and of which his family now begin to reap the benefit. Sir Charles Ross draws upwards of L.200 annually from his fir wood in this parish. Within a mile of the house of Balnagown, towards the S. and near the shore, lies New-Tarbat, the principal seat of the Earls of Cromarty; this place, once the pride of Ross, both for situation and policy was during the forfeiture of that family, not only neglected but dismantled of its principal ornaments, the largest forest trees ever seen in this country were cut down, and sold to a company at Leith; much of the ground within the policy was parcelled out in lots to disbanded soldiers and sailors, and the most elegant and best finished house in the three counties was allowed to fall into ruins. The place however promises in a few years hence to recover its antient beauty and grandeur. The late Lord McLeod, immediately upon the restoration of his estate, began to extend and inclose the policy, planted many thousand forest and fir trees, which are now in a thriving condition, and built a superb house upon a modern plan, which, in point of elegance and accommodation, is inferior to few seats in Scotland. What was left unfinished of his lordship’s plans are now carried on with attention and taste by Captain Kenneth McKenzie, his successor, and representative of that honourable family.

Farms and Rent
The disproportion of farms in this parish is very great, some renting 50, some 100, and some 150 acres, while others possess no more than from 3 to 12. By an union of farms that lately took place, many of the small tenants were obliged to retire to the waste grounds, a limited portion of which is assigned to each of them by the proprietors: here they plant potatoes, and, by industry and perseverance, bring two, three, or more acres to culture, in the course of seven years, during which time, they sit rent free, excepting a small acknowledgement in hens and eggs.

There is no other encouragement given them, excepting an advance of 20s. to assist them in building a house, the value of which they must leave on the ground when they remove; and, if they continue in possession after 7 years are expired, they pay, some less and some more, for every acre in cultivation.

The valued rent of the parish is L.2691 Scotch; the real rent does not much exceed L.1400 sterling. The land next the shore lets at 20s. per acre, and near the village of Milnton 30s. and upwards is paid for small lots, but more remote from the shore, the farmers, on an average, pay no more than 15s per acre. The proprietors begin to see the advantage of granting leases to their tenants, and to convert the half of the victual rent into money, at 14s. per boll, including customs and services.

Number of proprietors, etc.
There are 6 proprietors; 3 either occasionally or constantly reside in the parish; 15 small feuars in the village of Milntown, most of whom have no more than a quarter of an acre each; 17 larger, and about 40 smaller tenants; and a great number of new settlers, paying from 20s. rent each. There are 4 shop-keepers, 3 distillers, 2 masons, 4 cartwrights, 1 cooper, 6 house-carpenters, 4 blacksmiths, 1 carpet weaver, 2 flocking-weavers, 15 common weavers, 10 taylors, 10 shoe-makers and 20 lime-makers. The parish is well situated for carrying on manufactures of different kinds, but no plan has been hitherto adopted that seems promising of success in that way. Mr John Montgomery, merchant in Milntown, has introduced the spinning of flax among the people and has been pretty successful for 30 years in that branch, so that all the women, old and young, are become dexterous at the spinning wheel, and have greatly increased their yearly income by it. A stocking manufactory has lately introduced to the parish, under the patronage of Sir John Lockart Ross, which did not meet with that encouragement which might be expected. It is now carried on solely by Mr. Montgomery, who seems to think that it will not prove a profitable trade in this country for some time.


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