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



Market-Town, &c.
There is no market-town in the parish; and the nearest is Dingwall, at the distance of six miles. There is one village, called Evantown, containing about 100 houses, and a population of about 500. This village, which had no existence thirty years ago, is built upon a waste piece of land, and differs from all others in the country, by its regular and neat appearance.

There are two fairs annually held in it, on the first Tuesdays of June and December; but, since the general introduction of shops into all the villages, they are not well attended.

Means of Communication
The means of communication enjoyed by the parish are very considerable. Ever since 1819, the mail-coach passes north and south through it daily; whilst there are, for the greater part of the year, smacks sailing to and from Leith, London, and Newcastle, principally in the corn, wood, and coal trade. The great line of Parliamentary road runs along the shore through the breadth of the parish, and communicates with the northern parts by means of excellent county roads.

In the more remote parts of the mountainous districts, the roads are so wretchedly bad as scarcely to deserve the name. The Parliamentary line passes over two neat and substantial bridges, one at the east, and the other at the west end of the village of Evantown. There are no harbours in the parish; but there are two or three situations where they might very easily be erected, and where vessels of considerable burden could conveniently load and unload.

Ecclesiastical State
The church is situated on the coast, near the south-east end of the parish, and is distant about twenty miles from its north-west boundaries. The situation is particularly inconvenient for the attendance of the people. At the time when churches and manses were first built in this country, the small spots in cultivation lay principally along the shore, and this may account for the inconvenience of situation. At any rate, more attention seems to have been paid to the comfort of the minister than to the convenience of the people. Even that, however, has failed to be secured; for a clergyman who is in the habit of visiting his parish will find the labour of that duty greatly increased. The present church was built in 1791, and is a neat and very commodious, building, quite sufficient for the accommodation of the people.

It contains 78 pews, 786 feet in length, which, at the rate of eighteen inches for each sitter, would give accommodation to 524. More than 700, however, can find room with comfort, if necessary. No rents are taken by the heritors for the seats; and there are some forms exclusively devoted to the use of the poor. These can accommodate about 60 persons.

The manse was originally built in 1762, and was repaired and much enlarged in 1806. It is a very commodious building, containing several large and airy rooms, with all the necessary offices and out-houses attached in excellent repair. The extent of the glebe is about 9 imperial acres arable; but a considerable portion of it consists of land redeemed from the sea by the present incumbent. This part is always subject to encroachments by the sea and river; and the embankments require constant repairs. The grass glebe consists of one acre of very little value, separated from the rest of the glebe by the Skiack, and of a few detached pieces of carse ground covered at high water by the tide. The stipend consists of 16 chalders or 256 bolls, half oatmeal and half barley, for which the heritors pay according to the fiars’ prices in the county of Ross. [Fiars – the prices of grain legally struck or fixed for the year at the Fiars’ Court so as to regulate the payment of stipend, rent, and prices not expressly agreed upon.] All the ministers were settled by a popular call until 1770. Mr George Watson was, soon thereafter, settled by a Crown presentation; as were also his two successors.

There is one chapel connected with the United Secession in the village of Evantown. The minister is one of three paid by that body for preaching in Highland districts, and receives a salary of £80. Without such aid, no minister could live upon the voluntary support of the people, their earnings being barely sufficient to support their own families. The chapel can contain 400; but only about 170 attend regularly: and of these only two or three families are really Seceders. The average number of communicants in the Established Church is 28; and of these 14 are heads of families.

There are two schools in the parish: the parochial school at Drummond, and an unendowed school in the village of Evantown. In the former, the following are the branches taught, and the quarterly fees, as settled by the heritors in May 1838, viz. English reading, 2s., with grammar, 2s. 6d., with arithmetic and geography, 3s. 6d.; Latin and Greek, 4s. The schoolmaster’s salary formerly consisted of 1 chalder barley, 2 bolls meal, and 100 merks, but in 1828 it was fixed at £30, with a garden. The yearly amount of the fees is about £20. The heritors furnish the legal accommodations. The number of the young between six and fifteen years of age who are unable to read or write, cannot be precisely ascertained; but in the neighbourhood of the parish school, they are very few. By far the greater part of the people can read the Scriptures, and the few who cannot are aged people, who had no opportunity of learning in their youth. Were one to form a judgement from the small number attending the schools, it might be thought that the people are not in general alive to the benefits of education; but a closer view of the subject will lead to a very different opinion. Such is the general poverty that the parents find it necessary to employ those of their children who can do any work, to earn something for their maintenance: and it is only in winter, when no out-door employment is to be had, that the children can attend school at all. Smal1 though the expense of education be, it could scarcely be expected that a poor man, with £6 a-year, could clothe himself, a wife, and perhaps half-a-dozen children, and have any surplus to bestow on the education of his family. There are, it is true, some noble instances of parents submitting to the greatest sacrifices and privations in order to educate their children, and widows have been known to spend the day in hard toil, and the greater part of the night in spinning or knitting, with this laudable object in view. Such instances, however creditable to these individuals, cannot but indicate some defects in a system which requires such sacrifices, and presents such obstacles to the education of the poor. There is at least one-half of the population so distant from the school that the attendance of the children is rendered quite impossible: and two additional schools are in consequence required; one more, indeed, is absolutely necessary.

Poor and Parochial Funds
The average number of persons receiving parochial aid, for some years back, amounts to 63. At present, there are 57 on the roll. This reduction in the number has been partly occasioned by the great mortality among the aged and poor in the spring of 1837, and partly by a regulation adopted by the heritors and session in that same year, which has the effect of preventing all who can do anything for their own maintenance from applying for relief. This regulation requires of all who wish to be placed on the roll, to sign a disposition in favour of the kirk session, leaving all their effects to the poor after their lawful debts are paid. When a husband or wife is admitted, the effects continue in the possession of the survivor till death, when they fall to the session. The poor are divided into three classes. Those in the first class (at present containing 14) receive 8s. a year, the second class of 13 receives 6s.; and the third class, comprising chiefly those who can do something for their own support, contains 30 persons, who receive 3s. If any of the funds remain after this, they are given away in small donations to a few indigent persons who are not on the roll. The money thus distributed arises from various sums mortified, at different periods, by natives of the parish for the benefit of the poor, which at present amount to £400, laid out at 5 per cent; and from the church collections, which for the last seven years average £4. 11s. together with mortcloth dues and other small sums, in all amounting to about £28. The sum at the disposal of the session for distribution, after deducting clerk’s salary, &c. usually exceeds £17. The miserable pittance thus allowed to each in the year, scarcely exceeding the weekly allowance of an able-bodied pauper in England, is totally inadequate to the relief of their distress. The greatest misery and want prevail in consequence, to an extent that would seem incredible to those who have not actually witnessed them. It is no uncommon thing for an unmarried female or lonely widow, who has survived all her friends, to live in a wretched hovel, without fire, bed-clothes, or food, in the depth of winter. Such a state of things in a country abounding with all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life, indicates a defect somewhere. One undoubted cause of the evil may be found in the low wages of labourers, which are barely sufficient to support a life of drudgery and toil, without enabling them, though they were so inclined, to make provision for an old age of misery and want. There is no assessment of the parish by the session for the relief of the poor; but some provision is absolutely necessary.

Those who can contribute any thing for their own support, manifest the greatest reluctance to receive aid from the parish, and regard it as highly degrading; but it is to be feared that this praiseworthy feeling is fast losing ground. It could scarcely be expected, indeed, that a spirit of independence could long resist the effects of absolute want and misery.


It now remains only to mention briefly a few of the more striking differences betwixt the present state of the parish and that which existed at the time of the former Statistical Account. Since 1791, when the former Account was written, the face of the parish has physically undergone a very striking change. At that period, the low grounds were divided into small farms occupied by tenants, none of whom paid rent to the amount of £100. There were only two, indeed, who reached £80. These small farms have now been thrown together and improved, so as to afford rents of £300, £600, and even £700; and the land, instead of presenting a few detached spots, occasionally under crop, is now divided into large and highly cultivated fields. But it will be unnecessary to say any more on this subject, as the principal improvements have been noticed under the head ‘Industry’.

The houses of the peasantry, some years ago, were merely wretched hovels themselves, their cattle, pigs, and poultry living under the same roof. At present, there are many neat and comfortable cottages in the country, and well built houses in the village.

It is not in the physical appearance alone of the parish, that a change is visible. Those who are old enough to remember the former period declare, without exception, that a change for the worse has taken place in the moral character of the people. Some ascribe this to the increase of villages throughout the country: others, laudatores temporis acti, are disposed to ascribe it to the gradual deterioration which this world has physically and morally undergone since men began to record their opinions of the times in which they lived. Whatever discrepancy there may be in the causes assigned, there is but one opinion as to the fact, that vice and immorality are now more common than formerly. The poverty and degraded state of the lower classes appear to furnish the only rational explanation. In the former state of the parish, many occupied that respectable rank in society which is now confined to a few. These felt an interest in maintaining a good character, and their conduct had a beneficial influence on all immediately under them. There are, however, few or no breaches of the law which require the interference of the magistrate; and only one case of criminal prosecution has been known to occur since the beginning of this century, and even that one was not of an aggravated nature.

In ancient times, before those useful members of society the legal functionaries had effected a lodgement in the vicinity (for happily none have yet been induced to settle in the parish), it would appear that when any misdemeanour was committed, they adopted a more expeditious process than the modern one for bringing the offender to justice. (A very striking example of the glorious uncertainty of the law was lately furnished in this parish; for a process that commenced in 1706 about marches between Cromertie and Fowlis, was carried on with various success, until it was finally settled by judicial arbitration in 1833.) A dispute having arisen at the beginning of the seventeenth century between the Baron of Fowlis and the Laird of Tulloch, about the boundaries of their estates at a part where they were conterminous, the matter was referred to arbiters, and witnesses were called and examined on the disputed ground. There was a large stone, which was alleged by the one party to lie in the line of the march. One of the Tulloch witnesses stepped upon the disputed ground, and declared that he was ready to swear that the ground on which he stood belonged to Tulloch. Either his manner of expression or his known character excited suspicion. The other party seized upon him, pulled off his shoes, and actually found that, to avoid all possibility of perjuring himself, he had taken the precaution, before leaving home, to line the soles of his shoes with earth from the Tulloch garden. There was no tedious trial by jury. The poor wretch was immediately dragged to the stone and his ears cut off either upon or beside it; and from this circumstance, it has ever since borne the name of clachnacluais, or the stone of the ear.

August 1839.

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