The 1st Statistical Account

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(County and Synod of Ross, Presbytery of Tain)

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

The First Statistical Account (1790)
On the 25 May 1790, Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness wrote to over nine hundred Parish ministers throughout Scotland asking them to contribute to a Statistical Inquiry by answering as best they could,a series of one hundred and sixty-six Queries respecting each Parish.

By the Rev. Mr Alexander Macadam

Name, Extent, Surface, Soil
The meaning of the word Nigg or Neig,as it was formerly written, is uncertain.Some suppose that it is a corruption of the word Niuc or Nook, and that this parish is so called, because it lies in a corner of the country; but there is no great ground for this supposition, as there are few, if any, instances of the Gaelic names of places being corrupted, especially in those parts where the Gaelic continues to be the living language of the country. The more probable opinion is that it is a Celtic term, expressive of the peninsular situation of the place, it being almost surrounded by water; and what, in some measure, corroborates this opinion is that the parish of Nigg, in the shire of Kincardine, is exactly similar in situation to this Parish. The parish of Nigg is above 5 miles long, and in some places between between 2 and 3 broad. It lies from S.W. to N.E. On the S.E. it is bounded by the Murray frith, on the S. and S.W. by the bay and frith of Cromarty. In the S.E. side of the parish, there is a hill, commonly called the hill of Nigg, which rises at a place called Shandwicke, and extends about 5 miles along the shore of the Murray frith, terminating at a place called Dunskeath, nearly opposite to Cromarty. Some parts of this hill are now covered with large plantations of firs in a thriving condition, other parts are let out in grass pasture cattle. The face of the hill, hanging over the Murray frith, is, in some places, covered with grass and heath, abounds with medicinal herbs, where, some time ago, a number of goats were kept, whose milk from that circumstance, was remarkable for its good qualities in restoring health. But a great part of the face of the hill is rocky, and accessible only to the birds of the air. 

The eagle, all the different kinds of hawks, build their nests in these rocks, some of which are several hundred feet in height. In them also great flocks of cormorants and other sea-fowl take up their residence, in there from Caithness and the Northern Isles, whither in the summer season they repair to hatch their young. On the declivity of this hill, and exposed to the north, lies a considerable part of the arable grounds of this parish and which are reckoned to the best quality, being a rich loam, with a clay bottom. At both extremities of the parish, the soil is light and sandy. During the winter season, a great part of the parish is wet, occasioned by the rains, which falling on the hill and distilling through the earth, ooze forth in springs in many parts even of the arable grounds. Towards spring these dry up, and feed-time generally commences about the 10th of March. In the one end of the parish they begin to sow barley in the beginning of April, in the other end they begin not till about the middle of that month. During the spring months vegetation is rather slow, owing to the strength of the soil, and its northerly exposure; but when the influence of the sun becomes more powerful, vegetation is rapid, and the harvest seldom fails to be early. It generally commences about the 20th of August, and is finished about the 10th of October.

The usual crops raised in this parish are barley, which is of the best quality, oats, pease, rye, and potatoes; wheat also has been attempted with some success, but for want of inclosures, and because what is sown in the spring does not fill and ripen to perfection, some who have attempted raising wheat, have discontinued it, finding a barley crop almost equally profitable, and far less scourging to their fields. The generality of farmers being poor and having no leases, never venture to make improvements in agriculture, or to deviate from the mode practised by their forefathers. There is a great number of horses, but, a few excepted,they are of a very trifling and diminutive kind. The farmers keep a great flock of black cattle, which they employ in tilling their grounds; but it is supposed that they shall soon be obliged to adopt a differerent method, because great part of the Highlands, where their cattle were wont to be grazed in the summer season, are now converted into sheep farms, the number of which is still increasing. Some time ago, there was a considerable number of sheep in this parish, but at present there are very few; the grounds on which they were pastured being laid under plantations of fir, to the no small loss to the farmers in general, who are by this means deprived of many advantages which they derived from that useful animal, such as the best of manure for their fields, clothing for their households, and some help annually to pay their rents. The valued rent of the parish is L.4205. 11s Scotch. The real rent, that of mills included, amounts to above 2000 bolls, partly barley, partly meal. On some farms, the rent is paid in kind, and on some others the victual is converted onto money, from 10s. 6d. to 13s. 4d. the boll. The rent of the land varies, according to the quality of the soil. The lands of the best quality are let at 2 bolls an acre. And what is most remarkable, the rent of a considerable part of these lands has not been augmented for 200 years back, and yet at present it is as high as the land can possible bear. There are 9 proprietors in the parish, none of whom reside in it at present.*

*Price of Labour
The stated wages of the day-labourers, are from 6d to 8d a day. The amount of the wages of farm servants, cannot be easily ascertained; for though their fee is inconsiderable, yet they have a great deal of perquisites which make the whole of what they receive to amount to from 12 to 14 bolls of victual annually. The servants being generally married, and having families, prefer receiving their wages chiefly in victual. A capital defect in the mode of farming practised in this parish is, that they employ too many servants. Maid servants receive of wages from L.1. 6s. to L.1.12s. annually. All other tradesmen are paid by the piece of work which they execute in it at present.

According to Dr Webster’s report, the number of souls was then 1261. The popoulation is rather on the decrease, owing to the union of farms, and several places where cottages once stood, being now inclosed and planted. At present, the examination rolls of the parish contain 933 souls, in which are inserted all who are 6 years of age and upwards. From the average number of births, those under 6 years of age, supposing them all to live, cannot amount to 200 more. The principal part of the inhabitants is employed in husbandry. In this parish there are 4 blacksmiths, 8 wrights, 2 coopers. 7 millers, 12 weavers, 9 tailors 12 shoemakers, 1 flax-dresser and 31 fishermen. This last class or men have, for 6 years past, subsisted themselves and families chiefly by raising crops of potatoes, the fish on the coast having mostly left it. This circumstance has occasioned a considerable advance in the price of that necessary article of life, so that what 10 years ago could be purchased for 5d. will now cost 2s.6d. The average number of births is something above 20. The number of deaths cannot be ascertained with precision; because, of those buried in this church-yard, the greater part is from the other parishes in the vicinity. The number of marriages is about 6 annually.

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