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

By the Rev Mr Harry Robertson

Their Origin and Progress in Civilisation
It is well known, that in many parts of Scotland, particularly in the north, every district is inhabited chiefly by some one particular tribe or clan. So it is in this country. The name of Ross prevails in the east, Mackenzie in the west and Munro in the middle district; i.e. in the two contiguous parishes of Kiltearn and Alness, which district or country is commonly called Ferindonald, which name appears to be of very ancient date. Buchanan relates that, about the beginning of the 11th century, King Malcolm II of Scotland feued out the lands in the country to the great families in it, on account of their eminent services in assisting him to extirpate the Danes out of his kingdom. And, according to tradition, it was on that occasion that the country between the borough of Dingwall and the water of Alness in the shire of Ross, was given to Donald Munro, the progenitor of the family of Fowlis, from which all the Munros in this country are descended, and part of these lands were afterwards by the King erected into a barony, called the Barony of Fowlis. From this Donald Munro is lineally descended the present Sir Hugh Munro, Bart. who is the 20th baron of Fowlis, and proprietor of about two-thirds of the lands in the parish of Kiltearn. Under this head, we may observe, that, in ancient times, those tribes or clans who inhabited different districts of the country, looked upon themselves as a different people or nation, united together under their respective chiefs or leaders, who exercised a sovereign and, at the same time a parental, authority over them.

They looked up to the chief as to their common father; he looked upon them as his children, whom he protected as well as governed. That there were constant feuds and conflicts maintained between the neighbouring clans or tribes, is a fact well known. Many circumstances concurred to occasion these conflicts and to support this warlike spirit. In those rude and remote ages when trade and commerce were little attended to, men of an enterprising spirit had no other field for distinguishing themselves but by their superior skill in the use of arms. This induced them to watch for every opportunity of displaying their martial achievements and hence it often happened that the slightest affronts were resented as the greatest injuries, especially from one of a different tribe or clan. And it was not uncommon, for the sake of a mere punctilio, or point of honour, to see the neighbouring clans marching out to battle, and maintaining the bloody conflict till victory was declared on one side. The conflict being over it was usual that the chief or leader bestowed some mark of favour upon those of his followers who had distinguished themselves by their valour. When both sides were wearied out with the fatigues of war there was usually a bond of amity or friendship entered into by their leaders, in which they bound themselves, and their followers, to maintain peace; which deeds were executed with all the solemnity of treaties entered into between two sovereign powers. But, even after the chiefs of the clans became more enlightened and humanised than to encourage the old feuds, they found it no easy matter to restrain the lower ranks among their followers from assassinating their neighbours, and committing depredations on their property. A striking proof of which we learn from a transaction that happened in this part of the country little more than a century ago, when there was a bond of friendship entered into between the families of Seaforth and Fowlis. An old record, which gives a character of Sir John Munro of Fowlis, speaks thus: ‘He lived in good correspondence with his neighbours for there was a mutual condescendence past betwixt Kenneth Earl of Seaforth and Sir John Munro, therein designed John Munro younger of Fowlis, of which the tenor follows: “At Edinburgh the twenty third day of January, javie and sixty one years it is condescended and agreed as follows, that is to say, We Kenneth Earl of Seaforth, and John Munro younger of Fowlis taking to our consideration how prejudicial it hath been to both our families that there hath not been for along time so good a correspondence betwixt us as was befitting men of that conjunction and neighbourhood and of what advantage it wil1 be to us, to live in good correspondence and confederacy one with another, and to maintain and concur for the weal of either, for the which causes We the said noble lord, and John Munro younger of Fowlis, taking burthen on us for our friends, kinsmen, and all others whom we may stop or let, do by these presents bind and oblige us and our heirs faithfully upon our honours to maintain and concur with each other, for the good of both and our foresaids and to prevent as much as in us lies what may be to the prejudice of either of us or of any in whom either of us may be concerned in all time coming, as witness there presents subscribed by us the place, day, month and year above written and mentioned, before these witnesses Thomas McKenzie of Pluscardin, Colin Mckenzie of Pluscardin, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Munro, and Major Alexander Munro Commissar of Stirling. Sic subscribitur Seafort, John Munro.”‘

But notwithstanding this bond of friendship between the chiefs of both clans, it cannot be denied that a good deal of the old sprit discovered itself on various occasions among their followers and adherents, till it was so happily suppressed at the memorable era 1745-6. It is our good fortune to live in an age when we see those whose predecessors in rude and barbarous times seldom met but with hostile intentions, now living in habits of sincere friendship and social intercourse, much to their mutual honour and advantage.

In order to ascertain with accuracy the population of this parish, a survey was made between the beginning of January and the middle of March 1791 from which we are enabled to give the following account of that important article.

Number of houses, or smokes


Number of souls


Number of males


Number of females


Under 10 years of age


From 10 to 20


From 20 to 30


From 30 to 40


From 40 to 50


From 50 to 60


From 60 to 70


From 70 to 80


From 80 to 90


Married persons of both sexes


Unmarried women from 18 to 50


Unmarried men past 20


Unmarried women past 50






From the foregoing list it appears first that many of the inhabitants of the parish live to what may be reckoned old age; sadly that the number of females far exceeds that of males; and sadly that the number of widowers is but small, while the number of widows is so great as must excite compassion in every feeling breast. If the number of houses or smokes shall appear considerable let it be conserved that most of them are miserable huts and that some of them are only inhabited by a poor solitary widow or by a single man who works for day wages wherever he can find engagement. At different periods of time the population of this parish has varied much, which can be rarely accounted for. We learn from good information that about the beginning of this century there were nearly as many inhabitants of this parish as there are at present. This fact seems to be further established by some old session registers of baptisms and marriages between the years 1700 and 1728, extracts of which are subjoined. It is to be regretted that there are several chasms in those records which prevents our giving the extracts so completely as might be wished, but to show clearly that the population here had gradually diminished between the years 1740 and 1770 lists are given of the baptisms and marriages celebrated about that period viz. from 1747 to 1752. The diminution of the number of inhabitants then can be very rationally accounted for. That martial spirit which has been a distinguishing characteristic of the Munro led persons of every rank and description in the parish to fly to arms as soon as the trumpet sounded the alarm of war. By this means the flower of the young men of Kiltearn were scattered abroad in all countries that have been the seat of war during that period; in Flanders, in Germany, in the East and West Indies and in America; besides several hundreds have gone as recruits to the Scots Brigade in Holland which establishment was at that time one of the chief fields of preferment for young gentlemen of family. It is no wonder then that a country which for a long time had been a nursery for the army should in a course of years decrease considerably in population. But at the peace of 1763 such numbers both of officers and private soldiers flocked home to their native country that the population is sensibly increased since that period. And to this that the various buildings and improvements which have been carried on in this neighbourhood within twenty years has induced many labourers and artificers to settle among us and considerably increased the number of inhabitants.

The following lists extracted from the session records will fully illustrate what has been advanced above by giving a view of the population at three several periods, viz. At the beginning of the century, about the middle of it and at the present time.

List during the first period

1702 from January 6 to September 17

33 baptisms, no record of marriages

1724 during the whole year

42 baptisms, 8 marriages

1725 during the whole year

30 baptisms, 8 marriages

1726 during the whole year

18 baptisms, 4 marriages

1727 during the whole year

21 baptisms, 19 marriages

List during the second period.


23 baptisms, 8 marriages


25 baptisms, 7 marriages


27 baptisms, 7 marriages


28 baptisms, 12 marriages


26 baptisms, 9 marriages


25 baptisms, 10 marriages


154 baptisms, 53 marriages

Yearly average,

nearly 26 baptisms, 9 marriages

List during the third period


31 baptisms, 9 marriages


34 baptisms, 11 marriages


34 baptisms, 7 marriages


34 baptisms, 7 marriages


40 baptisms, 8 marriages


36 baptisms, 8 marriages


45 baptisms, 15 marriages

Yearly average, 

nearly 36 baptisms, 9 marriages, 27 burials

Though no public register of the burials has been kept here, yet from memorandums kept by private persons and the said information we could obtain on the subject, there is every reason to believe that the above is a correct statement for the last seven years.

Parish of Kiltearn continue reading

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