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



Family of Munro of Fowlis Tradition relates, that when Malcolm II feued out the lands of the country to those families who had assisted him in extirpating the Danes, the country between the burgh of Dingwall and the water of Alness was assigned to Donald Munro, and from that circumstance received the name of Ferindonuil, or Donald’s land. Part of these lands was afterwards erected into a barony, called the Barony of Fowlis. From Donald Munro is lineally descended the present Sir Hugh Munro, Bart., who is the twenty-ninth baron of Fowlis, and proprietor of about two-thirds of the lands of the parish. This family has, at different times, produced individuals whose military talents reflect the highest honour on their country and name. In comparatively later times, many of them distinguished themselves by their firm adherence to the principles of the Reformation, and their devoted attachment to the House of Hanover. Buchanan mentions that, among those who assembled at Inverness to assist the unfortunate Queen Mary, were the Frasers and Munros, “who were esteemed among the most valiant of the clans inhabiting those countries”.

In the war carried on by Gustavus Adolphus against Ferdinand II there were so many of the name of Munro, that, among the officers of that name who served in that war, there were 3 generals, 8 colonels, 5 lieutenant-colonels, 11 majors, and above 30 captains, besides a great number of subalterns. Sir Robert Munro, the grandfather of the present Baronet, was a man who would have done honour to any age or country; being distinguished alike for the highest military talents and the most unaffected piety. When still a very young man, he served for several years in Flanders under the Duke of Marlborough, and there formed an intimacy with the celebrated Colonel James Gardiner. His father, also called Sir Robert, was still living at the breaking out of the Rebellion in 1715; and, though quite blind, actively exerted himself to support the Royal cause in the north. The Earl of Seaforth sent him word, that “he was now designed to execute what he had long determined, to set King James on the throne”, and at the same time demanded his arms. Sir Robert returned answer, that “what arms he had were for the use and service of King George, whom he would defend while his blood was warm”. Retaining a sufficient number to guard his own residence, he sent the rest of his people to unite with a body of the Sutherland Royalists at Alness bridge, where the whole encamped under the command of his son. They detained the rebels in the north, under Seaforth, from joining the main army of the insurgents at Perth for two months, and, as Mar was afraid to cross the Firth without this reinforcement, time was given for the adoption of those measures which afterwards frustrated that unfortunate attempt. Sir Robert served his country in various capacities for many years, and for thirty of them was a member of the British Parliament. In 1740, he passed over a second time into Flanders; and at the battle of Fontenoy, fully supported the character which he and his men had formerly acquired. The Elector Palatine, through his envoy at the British Court, tendered his thanks to the King for the excellent conduct of this regiment, “which,” says he, “was owing to the care of Sir Robert Munro, their lieutenant-colonel; for whose sake,” he adds, “he should always pay a regard to a Scotsman for the future”. But it would be impossible to do any thing like justice to the character of this great man in a short sketch like the present. He ended his life at the battle of Falkirk. He had been shortly before promoted to the command of a regiment, which, unlike his brave Highlanders at Fontenoy, deserted him in the moment of attack, and left him enclosed by the enemy. From a letter of his son, Sir Harry, to President Forbes, it appears that he, for a while, fought single-handed with half-a-dozen of their number, and slew two or three, until one of them, seeing no prospect of overcoming the grey-headed hero by fair and open means, discharged a pistol-shot into his groin, and thus ended the life of a hero and a Christian.

(“An old companion in arms, one day, when describing the closing scene in the life of his almost idolised chief, after pouring out his curse on the dastards who had deserted him started from his seat, and grasping his staff as he burst into tears, exclaimed, in a voice almost stifled by emotion, Ochon! Ochon! had his ain folk been there!” Miller’s Scenes and Legends, p. 424)

It is much to be regretted that no one duly qualified has been found to undertake the biography of this eminent man, for it may be safely affirmed, that few ever led a more useful life, or transmitted a more unsullied name to posterity, than the late Sir Robert Munro. His son, Sir Harry, was an excellent classical scholar, and at his death left ready for publication a large critical work on Buchanan’s Psalms, which met with the highest approbation from the celebrated Ruddiman. Having gone to Edinburgh for the recovery of his health, he died in 1781.

At the west end of the church, is buried the late Sir Hector Munro, of Novar, K.B., who, after spending much of his life in active military service, and acquiring the highest distinction as a brave and intrepid soldier in various parts of the world, passed the evening of his days in improving his estates and ameliorating the condition of his tenantry.

Parochial Ministers
Besides the Fowlis family, there have been several individuals, of considerable eminence in various departments, connected with the parish. One Donald Munro, minister of Kiltearn, and contemporary with Buchanan, furnished that historian with much information respecting the Highlands and isles, of which he was archdeacon, and is characterised by him as a pious and learned man. The ministers of the parish, as far back as is known, were Messrs T. Hogg, J. Gordon, Hugh Campbell, William Stuart, Andrew Robertson, George Watson, Harry Robertson, D.D. The present minister is Mr Thomas Munro. Mr Hogg was settled in the parish in 1655, but was obliged to leave it at the Restoration to make way for an Episcopal minister. He was one of five ministers in the synod who refused to conform, and was consequently subjected to a harassing persecution. After a tedious imprisonment in the Bass [i.e. Bass Rock prison in the Firth of Forth] he at length obtained his liberty, and retired to Holland, where his learning and piety acquired for him the greatest esteem. He appears to have united the most sincere and ardent piety to a strength of mind which no prospect of suffering could daunt. At a period when, to all appearance, his affairs were desperate, when he was obliged to fly from his parish and people without any prospect of ever seeing them, he declared, with the most assured confidence, that there should be such a revolution as happened afterwards, and that he should return to his charge at Kiltearn. And so it was. In consideration of his eminent worth, and as a sort of reparation for his sufferings, King William appointed him one of his chaplains for Scotland. He did not, however, live long to enjoy his honours and ease; for, exhausted by a long course of fatigue and suffering, he died in 1692. At the entry to the south-west door of the church, his grave is marked by a plain stone, which bears the following singular inscription: “This stone will witness against the people of Kiltearn, if ever they bring-in an ungodly minister here.” (The Episcopalian minister settled in the parish upon Mr Hogg’s ejection was a Mr John Gordon, who met with so much opposition, that the then laird of Fowlis, Sir John Munro, called for his adherence to the cause, the Presbyterian mortar-piece, refused to pay him any stipend.)

No historical events of any importance have, of late years, happened in the parish. The feuds which used at one time to cause so much bloodshed, are now happily unknown; and till very lately, the communication with the south was so imperfect, that the events which agitated the other parts of the kingdom, had always become matters of history, before the natives of the north had received any intelligence respecting them. It is only when events immediately affect a people’s own interests that they fairly excite them; but even in a case of this kind, the inhabitants of a rural district are so scattered, that any temporary excitement soon passes away from want of the assurance and confidence inspired by members and union. Towards the end of last century, when sheep began to be generally introduced into the north, and numbers of the tenantry were ejected to make way for them, the minds of the people were so excited by witnessing such frequent instances of what they conceived to be wanton oppression and cruelty, that numbers of them assembled, and collecting together all the sheep in Sutherland and the north-eastern parts of Ross-shire, drove them in one mass as far as Kiltearn, when they were dispersed by a party of the 42nd Regiment, then stationed at Fort George, under the command of Colonel Sir Hector Munro. Several of the rioters were apprehended and tried at Inverness; two of them were sentenced to transportation, but afterwards escaped from jail.

The land-owners of the parish are five in number; Sir Hugh Munro of Fowlis; H. A. J. Munro of Novar; Captain E. B. Fraser of Balcony; Simon Mackenzie of Mountgerald; and Duncan Davidson of Tulloch; all of them, except Captain Fraser, non-resident in the parish. Two of them, Novar and Tulloch, though proprietors in this parish, have their residences in the neighbouring ones. It is much to be regretted, indeed, that absenteeism is become so very common throughout the whole country, and in too many cases, not even that.

…. Mansions once
Knew their own masters,
Now the legitimate and rightful lord
Is but a transient guest.

The people are remarkably sensible to any kindness shewn them, particularly by a countryman; and the presence of a landlord, by furnishing a stimulus to good conduct and honourable exertions, could not fail to be productive of the most beneficial results.

In all quarters of the parish were found, at one time, numbers of cairns or heaps of stones, usually covering a grave rudely formed of large flat stones. It has been conjectured that the object in collecting these heaps, was to protect the dead bodies from wolves, bears, and other ravenous animals which formerly infested the country. But this can scarcely be admitted for a probable explanation; for in that case these cairns would necessarily be much more numerous than they are, or several bodies would be deposited in each. This, however, is not found to be the case. There is reason indeed to believe that many of them owe their origin to a very different cause. The original cultivators of the soil, being ignorant of any better mode of getting rid of the stones which impeded their agricultural operations, collected them into those heaps, which have since furnished matter for so much valuable antiquarian disquisition. To the west of the House of Clyne, there was some time ago a very remarkable relic of former times, but which has lately been removed in the course of some agricultural improvements. It was supposed to have been at one time a Druidical place of worship. The following is Dr Robertson’s description of it in the old Statistical Account: “It consists of a single row of twelve large stones placed upright, and so disposed as to form two ovals, which are joined to each other. The areas of these ovals are equal; they are 13 feet from east to west, and 10 feet in the middle from north to south. At the west end of one of them is a stone, which rises 8 feet above the surface of the earth; the other stones are from 4 to 6 feet long. There is also, in the middle of this oval, a flat stone, which was probably the altar; it seems to have stood formerly at the east end, but has been thrown down by some accident. Distant about three paces from the eastern oval, is a circular hollow, said to have been a well of considerable depth, but it is now filled up; its diameter at top is 8 feet. These ovals are situated on the top of an eminence, round which are marked out three concentric circles; one at the bottom, another 28 paces above the former, and the third 12 paces higher, immediately surrounding the ovals. The circumference of the first is 80, of the second, 50, and of the third, 35 paces.” There are still remaining the ruins of five chapels and burying-places; and in the neighbourhood of one of them, near the shore, may be traced the site of the manse or minister’s house. In some of the graves which have been dug up, were found small earthen pitchers; and this circumstance, along with the extreme smallness of the graves themselves, appears to furnish a strong confirmation of the opinion, that our ancestors were in the habit of burning their dead, and depositing their ashes in these rude urns.

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