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



The following is the population of the parish, at different periods, within-the last fifty years:-

In 1791 it amounted to 1616

In 1801


In 1811


In 1821


In 1831


The decrease in the period between 1791 and 1811 was mainly owing to the enlistment of numbers of the young men in the 42nd Regiment, under the command of their countryman, the late Sir Hector Munro of Novar. Between 1811 and 1821, a new system of farming was introduced, which sufficiently accounts for the extraordinary falling off in the numbers. In 1821, when, according to the annual increase of 25, the population should have amounted to 1800, it was found to be only 1454, shewing a falling off to the number of 346 persons. 

During that period, numbers of small tenants were ejected in order to make way for farmers from the south, possessed of some capital, who, by their superior management, were able to afford higher rents. The more elevated districts of the parish, which were altogether unsuitable for cultivation, were converted into sheep-walks; and numbers were thus deprived of all means of subsistence, and driven to seek in a foreign land for the shelter and protection which were denied them in their own. The right of landlords, however, to manage their properties according to their own pleasure, no one will pretend to doubt.

As no material changes have occurred since 1831 to affect the ordinary increase, the population at present (1839) must amount to rather more than 1800. Of these about 500 reside in the village of Evantown, and the rest in the country. The yearly average of births for the last seven years is about 40; of deaths, 15; and of marriages, 9. This last average has continued unaltered since 1702. The annual number of deaths should properly be no more than 12, hut the average for the last seven years has been raised to 15, by the great mortality in 1834 and 1837. In the former of these years, the number of deaths was 23, and in the latter no fewer than 28 died, chiefly old and sickly persons, who were cut off by influenza.

During the last three years, there have been 4 illegitimate births in the parish.

Character, &c. of the People
The language generally spoken is an impure dialect of the Gaelic; but it is rapidly losing ground. In the more Highland parts, it is better understood than English, but in the low parts and in Evantown, both languages are spoken indifferently. The Gaelic School Society, by establishing schools throughout the country, have done much to eradicate the language. This may appear paradoxical; but it is actually the case. Those children that had learned to read Gaelic found no difficulty in mastering the English; and they had a strong inducement to do so, because they found in that language more information suited to their capacity and taste, than could be found in their own. English being the language universally spoken by the higher classes, the mass of the people attach a notion of superior refinement to the possession of it, which makes them strain every nerve to acquire it; and it is no uncommon thing for those who have lived for a short time in the south, to affect on their return, a total forgetfulness of the language which they had so long been in the habit of using. The people are very temperate in their habits, and as most of the working people receive their wages only twice a year, they cannot have that command of money which would allow them any improper indulgence. They are extremely hospitable. However poor their own fare may be, they are anxious to have something good to offer a stranger; and thus a person entering one of their houses would scarcely believe that, with such apparent plenty, the inmates were probably struggling at the time with extreme poverty. This feature in the Highland character arises, it is to be feared, not so much from a principle of benevolence as from a love of ostentation, and a spirit of independence, which has sometimes exercised the wit of their more refined neighbours in the south, under the name of “Highland pride”. Their dress differs very little from that of the peasantry throughout the country generally. The kilt and trews have been long since laid aside, and the south country dress universally adopted.

Many of the superstitious notions, once so abundant in the Highlands, still continue to linger here; but they too, like their expressive and poetical language, are fast retreating before the tide of improvement which has set in from the south. It is only in the very remote districts that ghosts are ever seen, and fairies are now known only by name. The belief in witchcraft, however, still continues deeply rooted. In former times, when families, owing to distance and other circumstances, held little intercourse with each other through the day, numbers were in the habit of assembling together in the evening in one house, and spending the time in relating the tales of wonder which had been handed down to them by tradition. A singularly wild story of this kind, which was just on the eve of being entirely forgotten, has been preserved by Mr Miller in his “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland”. (Pages 216, 222)


The number of acres in the parish, which are either cultivated or occasionally in tillage, may be estimated at about 3000. The extent under natural pasture is unknown. It is believed that very little more could, with any prospect of profit, be added to what is already cultivated; and indeed, much of what is now in cultivation would turn to more advantage, if kept in pasture. There is an undivided common between the properties of Fowlis and Inchcoulter, containing about 600 acres. A very considerable portion of the parish was about the middle of last century planted with firs, larch, ash, elm, oak, and other trees, suited to the climate. Many of these trees, particularly the fir plantations, were cut down a few years ago on the Fowlis property, and proved a source of much profit to the proprietor. Some of the hard-wood had attained to such a growth as to be fit for the purposes of ship-building, and two ships were built and launched on the property. In other parts of the parish, there are some thriving plantations, which have not yet attained their full growth.

Rent of Land
The rent of arable land varies, according to the quality, from £1 to £2:5s. per acre.

The average charge for summering cattle, one, two, three, and four years old, may be stated at 15s., £1, £1:10s, and £2; and wintering, from £1 to £1:10s; but this must of course greatly depend on the feeding. The charge for grazing a full-grown sheep is from 2s. to 3s. a year. [To convert to present day currency: there were 12 old pence to 1 shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. Therefore 6 old pence, shown as 6d., = 2 new pence, and 1old shilling, shown as 1s., = 5 new pence.]

The following are the wages usually given to farm labourers and country artisans: a ploughman for yearly wages gets a house, £6 in money, 6 imperial bolls of meal, 6 bolls of potatoes, 10 barrels of coals, and a pint of milk for one half of the year, in all about £18. Maid servants are paid from £3 to £4 a year. A mason gets about 2s. 6d., and a cartwright 1s. 6d. a day. A sawyer gets ls. 8d. for the hundred feet; and a slater 14s. the rood for laying on slates. An iron plough costs £3, and a coup-cart from £8 to £10. (1 boll = 6 imperial bushels, an imperial bushel = 2219.36 cubic inches.)

The common breed of sheep in the parish is the black-faced or aboriginal sheep of the country, or sometimes crosses from them. In various parts, other kinds from the south, particularly Cheviots, have been introduced; but on the hill grazings, the black-faced are found to answer much better. On the low grounds, Cheviots are usually fed by gentlemen for their own tables or for the butcher. The common breeds of cattle are the Ross-shire and Argyllshire. The former are now kept only by some of the poorer people, and are usually small in size and very inferior. Ayrshire cattle were, for a considerable time, kept by gentlemen for their own dairies; but they were nowhere kept for the rearing of farm stock. Mr Sim, of Drummond, in this parish, was the first to introduce them on a large scale, and they were found to answer exceedingly well. This gentleman lately introduced some pure short horns, which, when their good qualities are become sufficiently known and duly appreciated, may be expected in time to be universally adopted through the country. Agriculturists are now generally beginning to see that it is more for their advantage to improve the quality, than to increase the number of their cattle.

The usual duration of leases is nineteen years. This period is considered quite long enough to afford the tenant the utmost security of reaping any profit which may arise from his outlays. The system of agriculture which has been pursued for many years back is very superior. No pains or expense have been spared in doing all manner of justice to the soil; and the consequence is that the crops raised are always equal, and often superior to any in the country. The most common crops raised are, wheat, barley, oats, and some peas. Turnip husbandry has of late years received a great deal of attention; as the general adoption of bone manure enables farmers to sow a greater quantity, which are used in winter for feeding hogs or for fattening stock for the south country markets. Draining and inclosing have been carried on very extensively, and in some cases very judiciously. Large embankments were made, some years ago, at Newton and at Balcony, and a considerable tract of land, formerly quite unprofitable, was thus redeemed from the sea, and rendered fit for the purposes of agriculture. The principal improvements which have been made, were usually at the expense of the tenants, without the prospect of any remuneration from the proprietors.

The late Mr Fraser, of Inchcoulter, a gentleman of great taste, expended large sums in the improvement of his property. He divided it into moderately sized farms, well fenced and enclosed. On all these farms, he erected steadings which are highly ornamental to the country, and very convenient for the tenantry. Thrashing mills are now erected on most of the farms, and, where that is practicable, they are driven by water. There are, at present, nine of them in the parish, and five of them are driven by water. The first flour mill in the country was erected in 1821, by Mr Sim. It is driven by the water of the Skiack. Besides the flour mill, this water drives one meal, two barley, and three saw mills. There are also meal, flour, barley, and carding mills on the Aultgraad.

The average gross amount of raw produce raised in the parish, as nearly as that can be ascertained, may be stated as follows:

Produce of grain of all kinds, whether cultivated for the food of man, or the domestic animals


Of potatoes, turnips, beet, &c


Of grass, including natural, pasture, and cultivated grass


Gardens and orchards




Miscellaneous produce


Total yearly value of raw produce raised


Of course, this can only be regarded as an approximation, but it is believed to be very near the real amount. It is usually calculated that the gross produce of a property should be thrice the rental; and it will be seen that the above amount bears very nearly that ratio to the estimated real annual value of the land.

The valued rent of the whole parish is £3149. 9s. 6d. Scots. The real value in 1791 was estimated at £1500 Sterling; in 1810, at £3068. 8s. 5d..; and at present (1839), it is about £5300.

There is no manufacture carried on to any extent. Even the home-made Stuffs, which the peasantry used to wear, are now nearly discontinued, as they find it cheaper to purchase than to manufacture them. In many respects, it is very desirable that a manufacture of some kind should be established in the village of Evantown, where there are so many unemployed children, who might thus be enabled to assist their parents in providing for their support.

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