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

Drawn up by the late incumbent, the Rev. Lewis Ross, now minister of Duke Street Church, Glasgow.


The first era to which reference can be made, in the history of this parish, is the tenth and eleventh centuries, in which the Danish invasions took place.

There is a farm on the top of the rock named to this day Ca an righ, the King’s Path, or the King’s Cave; and immediately below this farm at the foot of the rock, is to be seen a cave, named the King’s Cave, and from it, there is a path cut in the face of the rock up to the top, named “the King’s Path”. Half a mile to the north-east of the cave and path, there is a little natural harbour, named Port an righ, the King’s Harbour. Within half a mile of this harbour, there is in the sea a sunken rock about a mile in length, named the King’s Sons.* At Easter Rarichie, near the east end of the parish, there is a detached hillock, said to have been a Danish fort, and it still bears evidence of its having been applied to some warlike purpose, for round the top edge of it there appears something like the remains of a wall or rampart. There is a tradition, which may possibly be connected with the names and localities here noticed, that a daughter of the royal Scandinavian having married the Thane of Ross, was so ill used by her husband, that she ran to complain to her father, and that he and his three valiant sons (whose fate has already been mentioned), and all his mighty men of war, came to avenge the cause of the injured countess.


* This rock is said to have got its name from the circumstance of three sons of the King of the Sea having been wrecked on it, and drowned. Their bodies were afterwards found and buried, one at Hilton, one at Shandwick, and one at Nigg; and there is, at each of these places, a monumental stone, covered on both sides with hieroglyphical sculpture and said to have been erected to the memory of the royal princes. These stones shall be afterwards described.

The next era in the history of this parish, of which there is any account, is the year 1179, when (according to Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, in his Annals of Scotland) William, surnamed the Lion, King of Scotland, caused a castle to be built on the top of the rock fronting Cromarty. The site of this castle may be still distinguished, but nothing more. The object of its erection is said to have been the suppression of robbers, and from this, it is supposed to have got its name Dunscath in Gaelic, Dunskeath in English. The surrounding farm is still called Castlecraig. The Abbey of Fearn was built much about the same time with the Castle of Dunskeath, and thus civil and ecclesiastical power were united to subdue and civilize the wild inhabitants of the country.

Bishops of Ross
From the twelfth till the sixteenth century, there is no land-mark in the history of the parish. But in the latter century, mention is made of the Bishops of Ross, and it would appear, that their Lordships, before and after the Reformation, had a summer residence immediately behind the site of the present church, and that the whole of the parish, with the exception of the estate of Dunskeath, formed a bit of glebe for their convenience, Tempora mutantur. Even till the final extinction of prelacy in Scotland, the parish of Nigg was a mensal charge of the Bishops of Ross, and still all the lands of the parish (with the exception already mentioned) pay bishop rents to the Crown. These amount to about L.200 or L.300 a-year, according to the fiar prices of victual. But some people maintain, that the King does not always get the justice he gives, while others with equal authority affirm that the bishop rents ought not to go into the coffers of the Crown at all, but should be devoted to the promotion of those sacred objects, for which bishops or ministers were first appointed by the sole king and head of the church.

Parochial History
About the middle of the seventeenth century, a Sir Jolm Sinclair, in Caithness, became proprietor of the lands of Culiss and Wester Rarichie. This led to the introduction into the parish, of various individuals of the name of Gunn, from the boundary that separates Caithness from Sutherland. The people of the parish called them “Na Gallich” the Caithness men, and from this casual appellation, arose the name Gallie, which has been for nearly 200 years a common and rather respectable name among the inhabitants. The name is now, however, much on the decrease.

A Hugh Rose of Kilravock, in Nairnshire, married a daughter of the fore-mentioned Sir John Sinclair, and got her father’s lands, in the parish of Nigg, as her dowry. Hugh after Hugh possessed them, till about the middle of the eighteenth century, and as the Gunns had formerly come from Caithness, so did the Roses come from Kilravock, though few of their descendants remain to tell the tale. The lands of Culiss and Rarichie were sold to a gentleman of the name of Ross, who had made a fortune in Poland, and was on that account called Polander Ross. One of the Hugh Roses of Kilravock was sheriff-depute of the counties of Ross and Cromarty in the beginning of the last century, and it was he that instituted the only fair in the parish. Till a few years ago, it was held at Wester Rarichie, but it is now held at Ankerville, commonly on the third Tuesday of November. It is named Hugh’s Fair, in honour of its founder.*

*Previously to Kilravock’s marriage with Sir John Sinclair’s daughter, there was an immigration of Roses to this parish, caused by the following circumstance, which tradition still preserves. A laird of Kilravock, it is said, or some gentleman nearly connected with him, and of the same name, had married twice, and three sons of the first marriage had conceived a strong dislike to their stepmother – so strong, indeed, that they barbarously put an end to her existence. The young ruffians immediately made the best of their way across the ferries in order to escape the vengeance they deserved, and though pursuit was instant and zealous, perhaps, it was unavailing. A young maiden, in the first house they entered in Ross-shire, became enamoured of one of the young men, and, by this circumstance, they succeeded in finding friends and protection. Some of their descendants are to be found to this day in the parish of Nigg, families of fishermen, and it is remarkable, that among them there are only three surnames, Ross, Skinner, and M’Leod. The original seat of these colonies was at the foot of the hill, immediately below Dunskeath castle. But there is no plausible tradition as to the time or occasion of their having come to the parish. At Shandwick, in the east end of the parish, there is a colony of fishermen originally from the same stock. Vass, Skinner, and Ross are their most common names.

From the end of the seventeenth century till a few years back, the estate of Meikle Pitculzean was the property of Mr John Frazer, minister of Alness, and his descendants. His son, Mr James Frazer (the author of the celebrated and excellent Treatise on Sanctification, as revealed by Paul in the Epistle to the Romans), possessed it after his father’s death, and, having no children, was succeeded in it by his sister, Mrs M’Arthur. These three worthies deserved a better memorial than the present writer can give of their excellence. Their connection with Meikle Pitculzean brought clansmen to it, and there are consequently thirteen families of the name of Frazer in the present day within the bounds of the parish.

There are two small fishing villages in the west end of the parish, Balnabruach, and Balnapaling, each containing nearly twenty families.

The principal occupiers of the soil at present are, generally speaking, recent immigrants, and the most of their numerous farm-servants are entire strangers. There are few, if any, individuals in the parish whose progenitors were in it two hundred years ago.

Three important events have occurred at various periods since 1694, that have had marked effects on the identity and character of the population. The first of these was the seven years famine betwixt 1694 and 1701. During that awful period, many died of want, the rich became poor, the lands changed their occupants, and the whole face of society was changed. It is to be remarked, however, that notwithstanding the sufferings endured for so long a time, the morals of the people do not seem to have improved in consequence. On the contrary, it would appear that, during a few years after the famine, vices of the most abominable kinds prevailed to an almost incredible degree, as the records of the kirk-session testify.

The second event is the cruel and unchristian settlement of a minister, in the year 1756. The people who had been highly reformed, and elevated in mind and character under the ministry of his predecessor, Mr John Balfour, almost unanimously resisted the settlement for three years, and spent L.500 in law expenses. They subsequently became true Seceders under the ministry of Mr Buchanan from Perthshire, and continued so for a considerable time, and though now the parish church be full, and the parish minister has no reason to complain of want of people, no Christian philanthropist can help bewailing the circumstance that turned away from the church many of the Lord’s people; neither can he cease to deplore the extremities to which many of their descendants have gone, and the blighting influence which division has produced upon the charities of life

The third event is the introduction of the large farm system, about forty years ago. The improvement of the soil was much required at that time, as it still is. But its improvement may be carried on, at an expense of morals and human comfort which no pecuniary advantage can counterbalance. Many families were driven from their homes, a few strangers were introduced in their room, and poverty succeeded in the train of almost all the actors and sufferers in the scene. The writer is passionately fond of improving and beautifying the face of the earth. But he conceives that the earth, though beautiful as the garden of Eden, would be but a waste without moral beauty, and that those proprietors who expel the inhabitants from their properties are depriving themselves of some of the highest enjoyments in life – the luxury of doing good, and the pleasure of being surrounded by a moral, a grateful, and a happy population.

The land-owners are: Charles Cockburn Ross of Shandwick; Sir Charles Ross, Bart. of Balnagown; Robert Mitchell of Bayfield; Hugh Ross of Cromarty; William Murray of Westfield; Mrs Taylor of Nigg and James Taylor, Esq. her husband; and George Ross of Pitcalnie.

The only antiquities in the parish are the two monumental stones already mentioned, the one at Shandwick, the other at Nigg. The stone at Hilton is in the parish of Fearn.

The one at Shandwick is called “Clach a Charridh” the stone of the burying-ground. “Carridh” is the Gaelic word for a burial-place, and it was a mistake, in the former Statistical Account, to call this stone “Clach a Charraig”, the stone of the rock. It is about 3 feet high, 4 broad, and 1 thick. It has been often described and admired by the lovers of antique curiosities. Mr Hugh Miller says, “that it bears on the side which corresponds to the obliterated surface of the other, the figure of a large cross, wrought into an involved and intricate species of fret work, which seems formed by the twisting of myriads of snakes. In the spaces of the sides of the shaft, there are huge, clumsy-looking animals, the one resembling an elephant, the other a lion; over each of these a St Andrew seems leaning forward from his cross, and, on the reverse of the obelisk, the sculpture represents processions, hunting scenes, and combats.” The ground around was, for ages, employed as a burying-place. But it has not been used for that purpose within the last fifty years.

The stone in the churchyard of Nigg is very similar to that at Shandwick, though not so large. It now stands fixed to the eastern gable of the church, but it stood near the gate till about the year 1725, when it was thrown down by a remarkable blast of wind, which, at the same time, threw down the belfry of the church, and broke the bell. The top, like the pediment of a portico, is of a triangular shape. On the one side of this upper compartment are two priest-like figures, attired in long garments, and furnished each with a book. They incline forward, as if intent on reading and devotion. Betwixt them, is a small circular table, which may represent an altar, and above it there is the representation cf a dove in the act of descending to carry away the sacrifice offered. It has a circular cake in its bill. Under the table, two dogs, of large size and ill-boding appearance, seem restrained by the priestly incantations of the human figures from executing their hellish purposes. Under the triangular top, and on the same side with the hieroglyphics already mentioned, the surface contains the figure of a cross beset with serpents. The spaces above and below the arms of the cross are divided into rectangular compartments of mathematical exactness.These, according to Mr Hugh Miller’s account, “are embossed into rows of circular knobs, covered over as if by basket-work, with the intricate foldings of myriads of snakes; and which may be either deemed to allude to the serpent and apple of the fall, thus placed in no inapt neighbourhood to the cross; or to symbolize (for even the knobs may be supposed to consist wholly of serpents) that of which the serpent has ever been held emblematic, and which we cannot regard as less appositely introduced – a complex wisdom or an incomprehensible eternity. The hieroglyphics of the opposite side are in lower relief, and though the various fret work of the border is executed in a style of much elegance,the whole seems to owe less to the care of the sculptor. The centre is occupied by what, from its size, we may deem the chief figure of the group; it is that of a man attired in long garments, caressing a fawn; and directly fronting him, there are the figures of a lamb and a harp. The whole is perhaps emblematical of peace, and may be supposed to tell the same story with the upper hieroglyphic of the reverse. In the space beneath, there is the figure of a man furnished with cymbals, which he seems clashing with much glee, and that of a horse and its rider, surrounded by animals of the chase, while in the upper part of the stone, there are dogs, deer, and armed huntsmen, and surmounting the whole, an eagle or raven.” So far Mr Miller’s description. The present writer has nothing to add, except that he considers the cross side of the stone as intended to emblematize the fall and salvation of man; and the reverse side to represent the the Scandinavian heaven. It is well known that the belief of all ages and countries, has been, with respect to the future world of happiness, that its inhabitants are employed with full delight in those exercises and pursuits which constituted their enjoyment in the present. The barbarous Scandinavians were no exception to this general rule. Even the most enlightened Christians have the same belief with respect to themselves. If they delight in serving and praising God on earth, they hope to be for ever happy in the same employments above.

The only relics of antiquity, known to have been dug up in the parish, may be described in Mr Hugh Miller’s words: “Not more than sixty years ago, a bank of blown sand, directly under the northern Sutor, which had been heaped over the soil ages before, was laid open by the winds of a stormy winter, when it was discovered that the nucleus on which it had formed, was composed of the bones of various animals of the chase, and the horns of deer. It is not much more than twelve years since, there were dug up in the same sandy tract two earthern urns, the one filled with ashes and fragments of half-burned bones, the other with bits of a black bituminous-looking stone, somewhat resembling jet, which had been fashioned into beads, and little flat parallelograms, perforated edgewise, with four holes apiece. Nothing could be ruder than the workmanship. The urns were clumsily modelled by the hand, unassisted by a lathe; the ornaments rough and unpolished, and still bearing the marks of the tool, resembled nothing of modern production, except perhaps the toys which herd-boys sometimes amuse their leisure in forming with the knife.” One of the urns is now in the possession of James Taylor, Esq. of Nigg. In the brow of the north Sutor, fronting Cromarty, there was once, according to tradition, a wondrous gem, which occasionally in the night season emitted a light more brilliant than the zeolite of Iceland, or the carbuncle of the Wardhill of Hoy. But it has long since disappeared, and not a crown in Europe seems to possess it.

Modern Buildings
The only building worthy of mention is the mansion-house of Bayfield. It was built about forty-five years ago, and no house in the country can exceed it in point of comfort. But it has an awkward appearance, owing to the door fronting the north, and the naked and unimproved appearance of the surrounding grounds.

Parochial Registers
The session records of the parish commence on 17th December 1705. They have not in general been well kept, and some of them were accidentally burnt, many years ago. They consist of three volumes. There were sessional records of an older date, but they have been lost.

Parish of Nigg continue reading

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