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 earliest census of the population is that procured by Dr Webster in the middle of the last century.

It was then


Population in 1801


Population in 1811


Population in 1821


Population in 1831


There are three fishing villages, which contain 420 souls. All the rest of the population are more or less connected with agriculture, and even the fishers spend a considerable part of their time in raising potatoes.

The number of landed proprietors is seven in all; of these three reside in the parish, and there is no rental under L.350.

The people are not remarkable for any personal qualities. But it may be observed of the fishermen, that though their marriages are, and have been from time immemorial, confined to themselves, like those of the royal families of Europe, they are in general a fine-looking set of men, and give no evidence of deterioration in any way. Rheumatism and scrofula are, however, common among them.

There are no blind, nor deaf and dumb persons in the parish. The only fatuous individual is a well-known one, named Angus, a native of Sutherland, who has been for many years a favourite residenter in the kind mansion-house of Nigg. He is a curiosity in his way, preferring a halfpenny to a shilling, delighting in solitary rambling among the tombs, incapable of comprehending one abstract idea, and yet a perfect pattern of innocence, devotion, and love to all that is good.

During the last three years, there were 3 illegitimate births in the parish.

The Gaelic* language is that generally spoken; but the English has made rapid progress of late. There is nothing peculiar in the habits of the people. On Sabbath days they are all well dressed, and on other days their dress corresponds with their employments. Though their lot in the world be not of the most enviable description, in as far as bodily comforts and intellectual improvement are concerned, they exhibit a moral character superior, perhaps, to that of any other parish which can be named. During the last twenty years, not an individual connected with the parish has been suspected of a felonious action. The people generally read the Bible and have family worship, and few of them seem altogether indifferent about the ordinances of religion. The parish became noted, betwixt the years 1740 and 1750, for an effusion of the Holy Spirit along with the preaching of the Word, under the ministry of Mr Jolm Balfour. A chosen generation then appeared, men of God and of prayer. There were a Donald Roy and an Andrew Roy, a John Noble and a Nicholas Vass, and others, whose names may be forgotten on earth, but whose record is on high. Vital godliness prevailed – the day and house of the Lord were revered – the commandments of God were obeyed, and the character of the people afforded a wonderful contrast to the common abominations that characterized the preceding generation. The records of the kirk-session for the thirty years succeeding 1705, while they afford abundant evidence of the zeal and faithfulness of ministers and elders in checking vice of every description, are disgusting in the extreme, as exhibiting a frequency and a grossness of vice among the people, which the succeeding generation would shudder to contemplate. And yet, be it added, the favourable change was produced by the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon the Heaven-appointed means, which an authoritative ministry and eldership were indefatigable in employing. Be it added, further, with shame and sorrow, that many of the present descendants of the “chosen generation” already mentioned, are busily employed in endeavouring to subvert those institutions which were the means of bringing their fathers from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan into the kingdom of God.

*The Gaelic of the parish is not classical, though it cannot be said to be bad. As from time immemorial, there have been occasional immigrations from various parts of the north of Shetland, the language of the people has been modified, and consequently their Gaelic and English have little of a peculiar provincialism in them.


There are about 2500 acres in tillage; 1000 which might be profitably cultivated, but now lying waste; 100 acres in undivided common, and 1000 under fir wood. The full-grown wood is sawed and sold in the neighbourhood, or shipped to Caithness. The thinnings are sent to Newcastle as coal props. The woods, however, are but of secondary consideration.

Rent of Land
The average rent of arable land is about L.1.15s. per acre. At Castlecraig, an ox may be grazed during five months of the summer and harvest, for L.1. A milch cow, however, is charged double. A full-grown ewe may be grazed for the year for 5s., though it can hardly be said that sheep are taken in for grazing.

Ploughmen get each per annum a house; from 7 to 10 barrels of coals (equal to from 10 to 15 imperial measure ); 6 bolls of oatmeal (each 9 stones Dutch weight); 5 bolls of potatoes (each boll being in bulk equal to 2 quarters of wheat); a Scotch pint of skimmed milk (equal to an English quart) every day of the summer and harvest; and from L.6 to L.7 of money. A thrasher with the flail gets, per boll of wheat, 1s.; of barley, 10d.; and of oats, 9d. A day-labourer gets ls. per diem. Masons build for Ll. 6s. per rood, the materials being provided. Carpenters, smiths, tailors, shoemakers, &c. make the best bargain they can with their employers, and it is not believed that their average daily income can exceed 2s. The most of then would be very glad to compound for ls. 6d. if they got constant employment. The clothes used are generally bought in shops. The old weavers have given up their trade.

There are few sheep in the parish, and these consist of Southdown, Cheviot, and the small country kind. In the rocks of Castlecraig, there are upwards of 100 goats, feeding on the herbs, which no other quadruped can approach. There is little attention paid to the rearing of black cattle. In the end of harvest, the farmers buy young Highland stock to eat the straw in winter and spring; and when summer arrives, they commonly sell them, if they can procure remunerating prices. Great milkers are not to be found. Fresh butter sells at 9d. per lb.; cheese at 6s. per stone, and warm milk at 3d. per Scotch pint. The parish was noted (not many years since) for the abundance and excellence of its barley. Now, however, there is little barley raised. It was no uncommon thing for the barley to weigh 56lb. the bushel, and when distilled, to give 3 Scots gallons (24 English quarts) per boll, of good whisky. Chevalier barley has been introduced within the last twelve months, and promises to become a staple article of produce. Angus and potato oats are quite common, and the Hopetoun oats are coming into fashion. Wheat, however, is the farmer’s main stay, and the quality of it is in general excellent, as its quantity is great. But it must be observed that, owing to the high rents, the low price of wheat of late years, and the little demand for other kinds of farm produce, the land has been too much scourged by wheat crops. A four-shift rotation is common, and even a three-shift. Beans are much attended to now by high and low.

A good deal of lime and sea-ware are used as manure. Multitudes of fishers and others are much occupied from the middle of April till the middle of May, in providing sea-ware and planting potatoes. In the beginning of June, they gab them, and two or three weeks afterwards they take away the weeds. Then they hoe them twice, and in the month of October raise them. The people pay from L.3 to L.4 per acre, besides manure and labour to the tenants for potato land. A few years ago, they were induced to raise potatoes in great quantities, in order to feed swine for the market. But now the price of pigs is so low that comparatively few are reared. Turnips of all kinds are quite common, and bone manure is partially used for them with much success. The horses are generally of a superior breed, and well fed. Draining, trenching, and embanking have been carried on to a considerable extent. About eighteen years ago, a large embankment was formed at the side of the sands on the Bayfield estate, and 120 acres of land reclaimed. But the embankment was not properly constructed at first, though the expense was great, and consequently it is now fast giving way. There are many drains, and some of a large size, but many more are required. The leases are commonly for nineteen years. The farms vary in size from 30 to 400 acres. One farmer has three farms containing in all about 1000 acres. There are other five farms of 200 acres each, and two farms of 100 each. The most of the rest are on a smaller scale. The farm-buildings are in general good, particularly at Nigg, where there is an excellent square of offices, built by the late proprietor. There are four thrashing-mills driven by water – one at Nigg, one at Bayfield, one at Culiss, and one at Pitcalnie. There are three meal-mills. But they seldom have water in summer or harvest, and the multure payable is so high, that they are avoided as much as possible by those who are not thirled to them.

The principal obstacles to agricultural improvement are the following, viz.

1st, The two largest estates are strictly entailed under rather peculiar conditions, and consequently the encouragement given to improving tenants is on too limited a scale. Getting as much rent with as little outlay as possible, is the principle that guides the management.

2nd, Some of the estates have been for many years under judicial factors, who are restricted to the letter of instructions arbitrarily and perhaps injudiciously given.

3rd, Some of the farmers made and saved money in very favourable circumstances many years ago, while prices were high, and now they go on in the ordinary way, careless about improvements.

4th, The roads have been much neglected. Thousands of pounds have been taken from the parish of Nigg to make and repair roads in the parishes of Tarbat and Fearn, the three parishes being constituted into one district, and the heritors of Tarbat and Fearn taking care of their own interests to the neglect of the parish of Nigg.

5th, There is no encouragement given to cottars to build and improve. Their comfort has been too much neglected, and their superiors seem to have forgotten how useful cottars might be rendered in cultivating waste ground, if properly directed and encouraged.

6th, There is no market for hay, nor much demand for fat cattle, consequently the land is not allowed to lie long enough under lea.

During the last twenty years, about 16 boats have been annually employed in the herring fishing in various parts of the Moray Frith. The herring fishing season is confined to the dog-days. The expense of boats, nets, &c. has been great, and, though perhaps each man may have, in favourable seasons, averaged above L.20 of profit, it is questionable how far the herring fishing has been in reality a benefit to the parish. It is true, indeed, that many of the fishermen were enabled by their success, occasionally, a few years since, to build nice cottages, and improve their furniture (and there was abundance of need), but the ordinary fishing for haddocks, cod, &c. was a good deal neglected, debt was in many cases incurred, high ideas were raised, and now there is a lamentable degree of poverty, in consequence of the almost total failure, for some years back, of the herring fishing on this part of the coast.

There are stake-nets for salmon at Dunskeathness, but their success is not great, and few lament the failure. The rent is said to be L.5.

The average gross amount of raw produce raised in the parish may be as follows:


Grain of all kinds

10800 0 0

Potatoes and turnips

2240 0 0

Cultivated hay

1250 0 0

Grazing cattle and sheep

830 0 0

Gardens and woods

240 0 0


1000 0 0


16380 0 0

There are about 32 large and small boats in the parish. The larger are used for the herring, and the small for the ordinary fishing.


Market Towns
Cromarty and Tain are the nearest market towns. The former is separated from the parish by the Ferry, about a mile broad, and the latter is six miles distant from the part of the parish that is nearest to it. Cromarty and Parkhill are the post-offices.

Ecclesiastical State
The parish church is not more than four miles from any extremity of the parish. It appears to have been built in 1626, but it has received several repairs, more especially in 1725 and 1786. It affords legal accommodation for 425 persons, and all the sittings are free, though formally divided among the heritors. The manse was built about 1758, and repaired frequently since. The glebe is 41 acres, and worth L.10 of rent. The stipend is 15 chalders, half meal half barley. There are upwards of 11 chalders of vacant teinds. There is a dissenting chapel of the United Associate Synod connexion. The minister’s salary is said to be L.120, besides innumerable perquisites, and is paid out of the seat-rents and collections at the door. The chapel does not give any thing to support the poor.

It is impossible to state with accuracy the number of families that attend either the Established Church or Dissenting meeting-house, as families are in many instances divided. 160 families may, however, be mentioned as belonging to the parish church, and 120 to the Dissenting meeting-house. 74 is the average number of communicants of the Established Church, of whom there are 18 male heads of families. The collections for the poor vary from L.10 to L.12 a-year. About L.16 may be contributed otherwise to religious and charitable objects.

There is one parish school, which is not well situated for the population, though it is near the centre of the parish. There is likewise a female school endowed with. L.5 a-year by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and there are two unendowed schools. None of them is well attended. The parochial schoolmaster’s salary is L.34, and the amount of school fees less than L.5. He has the legal accommodations. The school fees in all the schools vary from ls. to 3s. 6d. per quarter. But they are seldom well paid, the parents being in general very poor, and many of them perhaps ignorant of the value of education to their children.

Poor and Parochial Funds
62 persons receive each from 4s. to 10s. in the year. There is no fund, except L.20 left by the late Mrs Gair of Nigg. The heritors have of late been induced to give L.30 a-year to the poor. There seems no indisposition on the part of the poor to take. The kirk-session does not take any concern in the division of what is called the poor’s money.

The only fair in the parish is Hugh’s Fair, held in November, for general purposes. It is dying away very fast.

There are 3 small inns, which are in many cases an accommodation to traveilers, but otherwise they are no blessing.

Coals from Newcastle are the principal fuel for the more opulent and the farm-servants. But whins and broom, and such other fire-wood as can be found, constitute the fuel of the greater part of the population. Coals cost about ls. per imperial barrel,and their quality is seldom good.


lst, The tenants do not now, as they did (not many years since) occupy the greater part of the summer in cutting and carrying-home peats and turf from the mosses of the parish of Loggie.
2nd,There has been a great improvement in the comfort of the houses, and in the dress and habits of the people.
3rd, A great many strangers have taken up their abode here, while many former residenters have vanished.
4th, The farms are now on a different plan from that on which they formerly were, and the system of farming has been quite changed.

Revised September 1836.

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