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

Heritors, Rent and Farms
There are six heritors or proprietors of land in this parish and the two most considerable of them reside constantly in it; one resides occasionally and the remaining three live upon other parts of their property. About 60 years ago there were more than twice the present number of heriters but these were chiefly cadets of the family of Fowlis who had at different periods derived their possessions from that family; and when those small heritors had been obliged to sell off their lands they have reverted by purchase to the original proprietors. The valued rent of the parish is £3149. 9. 6 Scots; the real rent is about £11599 Sterling. Formerly the great part of the rent was paid in victual but a good deal of the victual is now converted. It is not easy to say what the rate of conversion is, being different on the properties of the several heritors. In stating the rent of the parish we have set no value on the extensive plantations of growing timber which must bring a considerable revenue to the proprietors in a few years and may probably be estimated at £30,000 As the greatest part of the lands in the parish have been measured by surveyors we can give a pretty exact account of the number of acres of arable ground which are reckoned to be about 2250 exclusive of woodlands and pasture ground that has never been cultivated. 

The lands have let at various prices, some acres at 20s, some at 17s, 15s, 12s, 10s and none below 8s; but as the arable and pasture grounds, both in the high and low districts of the parish, are usually let to tenants in the lump without distinguishing the value of each acre; the above estimate is but conjectural, though founded on the best information to be had. One third part of the whole land in the parish is now in the possession of the proprietors and has been occupied by them for several years past; but it is the prevailing opinion in this country that gentlemen of fortune and landed property rather lose than gain by extensive farms. No doubt much depends upon their being fortunate in getting skilful, active and faithful overseers. All the gentlemen’s farms are at present managed either by natives of the south of Scotland or by persons bred to farming there. It may therefore be expected that the same implements of husbandry and the same rotation of crops will be found on those farms which are under their management as we see in Fife or East Lothian, except when a different mode of farming is pursued to gratify the views of the proprietor. The next in rank to the heritors are the better sort of farmers, who may be thus classed:

Tenants paying about £80 rent


Tenants paying about £40 rent


Tenants paying about £30 rent


Tenants paying about £20 rent


Tenants paying from £20 to £10


Tenants paying from £10 to £3




The principal farmers mentioned above keep good cattle and farming utensils; and of late years they sow some clover and rye-grass seeds, as well as their landlords. They are also ambitious to have their farms properly enclosed, on reasonable terms; but the other classes of tenants consider enclosures as a grievance, and would rather partake of everything in common. Their cattle are also of an inferior size; and they never sow grass seeds; but, instead of this, when their land is exhausted by a repeated succession of crops, they allow it to lie lea or untilled for two or three years; during which time they pasture it till it gets a turf again; and then till and sow it with oats, and leave another piece of ground lea in its turn. It is no wonder that these farmers should have poor returns from their lands, for nothing but scanty crops can be expected from such wretched management. Another class of people still remains to be mentioned, who, though they cannot be strictly called farmers, are so in part, as they occupy one, two, or three acres of ground. These are commonly called cottars, i.e. cottagers, or mailers, and often hold of the principal farmer. They do not depend on farming for their entire support, being, in general, artificers, mechanics, or day-labourers; and these last do more justice to their lands, and rear better crops on their small lots than the poor tenants do on larger possessions. We shall not attempt to give the exact number of all the cottars and mailers in the parish; but of such of them as are artificers and mechanics, together with their apprentices, the following is a complete list.





Masons and Slaters




Joiners and Coopers
















We may observe that, as the above number of mechanics cannot be supported to find constant employment in the parish, they work occasionally in the neighbourhood, and employ their leisure hours in cultivating their small lots of land, where potatoes are always the staple crop. Among such a number of farmers as we have described, there must be various methods of culture. On the farms of the better sort, it is common so see two strong horses yoked in the plough, under the management of a single ploughman, or six oxen yoked in successive pairs, which require a driver. Others, again, join two horses and two oxen, believing that the sprightliness of the horses will carry forward the oxen with more alacrity. But the poorer tenants yoke in one plough, horses, oxen, and cows, promiscuously, which often exhibit a miserable spectacle, and clearly shows that they are more solicitous to increase the number, than improve the quality of their cattle. Within a dozen years, an improvement has been introduced, which deserves to be peculiarly attended to, as it has answered all the good purposes that were expected from it, viz., the oxen are now harnessed by many farmers in the same manner as horses, which they work in the plough; the consequence is that the animal draws with more power, and also with more seeming ease to itself, than when it was yoked by the neck. And, to prevent any inconvenience arising from the horns of the ox in putting on the collar, there is a strap and buckle used, by which the collar opens and shuts. The prevailing opinion seems to be in favour of labouring with oxen rather than horses, which are liable to so many accidents, and a certain loss in the end; but it has fared with this, as with many other just maxims, it is more readily assented to in speculation than reduced to practice. There are about 10 oxen wains now in this parish, besides 30 coops or box carts, drawn by two horses, employed by the proprietors and principal farmers. About twenty years ago, there were scarcely half that number. There are near 100 ploughs of all sorts, but many of them very light and trifling. Besides the carts now mentioned, there are about 300 small rung carts, as they are called, which are employed in leading home the fuel from the moss, and the corn to the barn-yard. These carts have, instead of wheels, small solid circles of wood, between 20 and 24 inches diameter, called tumbling wheels. It is also very common to place a coarse, strong basket, formed like a sugar loaf, across these small carts, in which the manure is carried from the dung-hill to the field. These kinds of carts are called Kellachys; and are not only used in this district, but over all the north country. To form some idea of the state of farming in this district, we subjoin the following abstract of the manner in which the ground is laid down, together with the proportions which the several crops bear to each other.

Sown with oats, about

1000 acres

Sown with barley

500 acres

Sown with pease

120 acres

Sown with clover and rye grass

300 acres

Sown with potatoes

140 acres

Sown with turnips

30 acres

Sown with wheat

30 acres

Sown with beans

10 acres

Sown with flax

6 acres

Sown with rye

20 acres

Sown with leas

94 acres


2250 acres

The average returns form the above are very inconsiderable. The barley yields only about 5, and the oats 4 returns. Hence, even in the best years, the parish can spare very little corn for the market. The reason why flax and wheat are so little cultivated in the parish, is the want of mills to manufacture these articles.

Price of Labour and Provisions
The wages paid to servants engaged in domestic employments vary according to the circumstances of their masters; but the wages of those servants who are employed in the labours of the fields can be more easily ascertained. Of these last mentioned, some eat in their master’s house, but by far the greatest number live in cottages of their own, and receive 6 bolls of meal instead of board, and £3 Sterling of wages annually. This is the average rate for ordinary ploughmen and carters. From this rule, however, there are many exceptions. A ploughman who excels sometimes get £5 or £6 wages, and 8 or 10 bolls of meal. Besides the above, every man servant has the privilege of planting about half a boll of potatoes for his own use, rent free. The usual wages of female servants in farmers houses is from £1. 4. 0 to £1. 1. 10 yearly. The common method of managing the harvest work is to hire a certain number of shearers for the harvest quarter, proportioned to the size of the farm: This is the old custom. The men get about a boll and an half, and the women a boll of meal, instead of meat and wages, during the harvest season. But the active and intelligent part of the farmers begin to see the inconvenience of the above practice, because, while they are confined to a few hands, they may lose by one stormy day as much as would defray the whole charges of cutting down the crops. Hence, they now hire their shearers for the day, and increase or diminish their number according to the state of their crops. This is evidently the more rational plan of the two. The men receive 7d. per day, and the women 6d. The price of mowing hay is usually from 2s. 2d. to 2s. 6d. per acre. Day labourers receive for ordinary work 6d. per day all the year through, and something extraordinary if their labour is harder than usual. They are more willing, however, to work by the piece; and then they will earn, perhaps, 1s and upwards per day. Trenching ground about 18 inches deep, if it be free from roots and stones, costs 4d. the rood of 6 yards square; but, if the soil is rugged, and hard to work, it costs 8d. The price of grain meal, and all sorts of provisions, has been gradually advancing for several years, and is not likely to fall. Perhaps the average price of barley and oat-meal, for 20 years past, has been about 14s. per boll. This observation, and what follows respecting the price of provisions, holds true with regard to a considerable part of the county of Ross, as well as the parish of Kiltearn.

Nothing can give a better idea of the advanced price of provisions, than the following comparative view of the price of some necessary articles of living in 1760 and 1790.



Boll of barley or oatmeal



Highland cow

£1.16. 0

£3. 0. 0

Beef and mutton per lb.


2.5d to 3d

Fowls each


4d to 5d

Stone of butter, of 21 lb.


12s to 14s

Stone of cheese


4s to 5s

The above advanced price of provisions musts be sensibly felt by persons whose incomes are stationary, and who have not means of improving them.

There is little difference as to the method of providing for the poor in the several parishes of this county, but what arises from the largeness or smallness of the funds appropriated for that purpose. It is truly matter of regret that no proper and effectual scheme has ever been devised among us to provide for the poor. At present they chiefly submit by begging from door to door, not only in the respective parishes to which they belong, but over all the county; and it would seem hard to prohibit them from begging, as they have no alternative but to starve. The weekly collections made in the churches are very inadequate to the purpose of supporting the poor in any of our parishes. In this parish, the collections never exceed L.8 or L.10 Sterling yearly. About L.6 arises from charitable mortifications, which, added to the above, makes the whole fund for the poor about L.15. After paying the session-clerk, and some other officers of the church, there remains only about L.10 Sterling, which is distributed once a year among the most indigent persons of the parish by the kirk-session, in presence of the heritors. But how small a relief can this afford, when there are usually above 100 persons upon the poor’s list here, who have every claim to charity that indigence and infirmity can give them? Nor will it appear surprising that the poor’s roll in this place should be so large, when it is recollected that there are 96 widows in it.

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