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

By the Rev. David Carment, AM, Minister.

Historical Notices*

*Sheep Insurrection, 1792
In summer 1792, some sheep-farmers in the parish of Alness took upon themselves to poind, for an alleged trespass, the cattle of the Ardross tenants in this parish. The people collected in a body, in order to release the cattle, alleging that they were wrongously poinded, as the hills in question, on which their cattle were pasturing, had, from time immemorial, belonged to, and were in possession of, the tenantry of Ardross and Strathrusdale. The sheep-farmers rather imprudently met the people with fire-arms, supported by their shepherds and servants, but they were instantly disarmed by the people of Ardross. An old man still living, a man then in the prime of life, and of great strength and stature, was the principal instrument in closing instantaneously with, and disarming the shepherds, before they could use their fire-arms, even if so inclined. The gentlemen shepherds were thus compelled to submit to the people, and to liberate the cattle. In the month of July of that year, and soon after the above affray had taken place, at a wedding in Strathrusdale, as the people’s minds were irritated by the recent occurrence, and as the sheep-farming system was progressing in every corner of the North Highlands, and the people driven year after year from the fields of their fathers, their minds were exasperated at what they deemed oppression, and thus were ready to adopt any course, however violent, which they foolishly thought would rid them of sheep and sheep-farmers.

It was therefore resolved at this wedding, that messengers should he dispatched to every corner of the country, to raise the war-cry against sheep and sheep-farming. The people were easily excited in such a case, and they collected in great numbers, and were driving the sheep out of the country, when, after reaching the parish of Alness, they were met by a party of the 42nd Regiment, from Fort George, when they were compelled to disperse and seek safety in flight. Several of the persons concerned were apprehended afterwards, and tried before the Circuit Court at Inverness, in September 1792. There is one striking feature in this case, characteristic of a Highland mob, which strongly exemplifies their high moral principles, even when excited and roused by oppression to an illegal act; no sheep was injured, no lamb was hurt, by overdriving.

In September of the year 1675, Mr McKilligen, formerly minister of Fodderty in Wester Ross, celebrated the communion at Obsdale, in this parish, in the house of the Lady Dowager of Foulis. “There assisted him,” says Wodrow, “Mr Hugh Anderson, minister of Cromarty, and Mr Alexander Fraser, minister at Teviot, afterwards at Abbotshall.” There was, it appears, on this occasion “such a plentiful effusion of the spirit, that the eldest Christians there declared they had not been witnesses to the like.” The ministers engaged in this solemnity experienced a remarkable preservation, for a party of soldiers was sent by Sir Roderick McKenzie of Findon, to apprehend Mr McKilligen, who had rendered himself particularly obnoxious to those in power. “Expecting he would have dispensed the sacrament at Alness, the place of his residence, the party came thither, upon the Lord’s day, and missing him, they fell a-pillaging his orchard, which kept them so long, that before they could reach Obsdale, the forenoon’s work was over, and upon notice given, the ministers retired. After the party went off, the ministers and people met again in the afternoon, and had no more disturbance.” An old natural fir tree still marks the spot, and it is worthy of note, that the traditional account preserved in the parish of this event, accords in every particular with that given by Wodrow.

Eminent Men
William Macintosh, the author of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and other literary works, was born at Newmore, in this parish, in the year 1738. He was the son of Lachlan Macintosh, a descendant of the family of Macintosh of Balnespick, in Badenoch, and of Macpherson, of the same family as Sir John Macpherson, at one time Governor of India. This branch of the family of Macintosh had, however, been for some time settled in Ross-shire, and in Alness church-yard, the graves of John Macintosh and Janet Montgomery of Kiltearn his spouse (the grandfather and grandmother of William Macintosh) are still to be seen. William went, when young, to the West Indies, where he realized a considerable property, but shortly after his return to Europe, about 1775, he embarked for the East Indies, where he resided for several years. He published a very amusing account of his travels and adventures in the East, which is remarkable as originally propounding, and foretelling the ultimate adoption of, almost all the theoretical views and precepts which have subsequently been carried into practice by various British statesmen in the administration of our East Indian possessions. This work was published in English anonymously, by Mr Macintosh; and it is probably owing to this circumstance, that his name has failed to be associated, as it deserves, with the more enlightened views which have, from time to time, been adopted in the government of our eastern possessions. In the French translation of Mr Macintosh’s Travels, his name, however, appears, and he is fully recognized as the author of the work. It is on this circumstance, that Mr Macintosh’s claims to public notice chiefly rest. On his return from the East, Mr Macintosh took up his abode in the south of France, but, on the breaking out of the French Revolution, his house was attacked and sacked by the republicans, and the same fate awaited him at Avignon, in the Pope’s states, where he had sought refuge, when the French forces invaded Italy. The cause of this hostility is not known, but it is not a little remarkable that when Napoleon visited Erfurth, in 1808, he found Mr Macintosh, then far advanced in years, residing in Eisenach in Saxony; and the immediate result was his arrest and incarceration in a dungeon, till such time as the Corsican had departed from Germany. Mr Macintosh was, however, seized, in consequence, with an illness, which terminated his life in 1809.

George Macintosh, the younger brother of William, who was also born at Newmore, was destined by Providence to distinguish himself in a different field of exertion. In early life, he settled as a merchant in Glasgow, where he married a lady of the name of Moore, sister of Dr Moore, the author of Zeluco and other literary works of eminence, and the aunt of the celebrated General Sir John Moore. Mr Macintosh soon became conspicuous for industry and intelligence in the line of his business, and zealously devoted his talents and exertions to the promotion of those branches of manufacture, in which chemical science constitutes a distinguishing feature. He established in Glasgow the manufacture of’ a species of orcella or orseille, called cudbear, and introduced into Britain the branch of trade known as the Turkey or Adrianople red dye, and which has subsequently exerted so powerful an influence on our calico-printing and cotton-spinning establishments. But in treating of this his native parish, and that, too, a Highland parish, it is to Mr Macintosh’s devotion to the cause of the Highlands and of Highlanders, which continued to animate and distinguish him through life, that the mind naturally reverts. The introduction of the improved system of farming into the Highlands, and in particular the system of sheep farming, soon opened, though indirectly, a field for the exercise of Mr Macintosh’s beneficence and philanthropy. It is known that the emigration on an extensive scale, which resulted as a natural consequence from this change in Highland agriculture, was attended with sufferings, on the part of the emigrants, calculated to excite the sympathy even of indifferent observers. Numbers of the expatriated Highlanders flocked to Glasgow, where Mr Macintosh’s bountiful assistance was never denied them, and where his counsel and advice,(of more value, probably, than mere pecuniary donations) were in addition tendered with equal willingness and zeal. In obtaining for his destitute countrymen occupation in the walks of commercial and manufacturing industry, both in his own employment, and in other and distant situations, he was equally indefatigable and successful. In the midst of these events, the war resulting from the French Revolution commenced, and Glasgow, under the influence of Mr George Macintosh, became the scene of recruiting for the army on an extensive scale, from amongst the numbers of the Highland emigrants. His correspondence, which is still preserved, indicates no less his kindly anxiety for the real welfare of his countrymen, than it does a high tone of public spirit and patriotic feeling; but what is perhaps equally gratifying, it demonstrates, as expressed by many public functionaries, and individuals of rank and character, that the government of the day was sensible of the services which he rendered to his country, and duly appreciated the same. When war recommenced in 1803, it was mainly through his exertions that the Glasgow Highland Volunteer Regiment was raised and organized, and when, about this time, the regiment of Canadian Fencibles, then stationed in Glasgow, evinced symptoms of mutiny, Mr Macintosh, at the desire of General Wemyss, then commanding the district, hastened to their quarters, and addressed the soldiers in their native tongue, the effect was electrical, that the corps, in the instant, returned to their duty.

“With such authority, the troubled host he swayed.”

In the midst of this useful and honourable career, Mr Macintosh was snatched from society in the summer of 1807. On his return from a journey into England, he was seized with illness at Moffat, where he expired in the sixty-ninth year of his age. His ashes repose at a distance from those of his fathers, in the cathedral burying-ground at Glasgow, in the tomb of the ancient family of Anderson of Dowhill, from which his wife was descended. On Sunday, the 9th of August 1807, as a tribute of respect to Mr Macintosh’s memory, the gentlemen of the Highland Society, and of the Gaelic Club of Glasgow, preceded by the Lord Provost and Magistrates, and the boys of the Highland Society (one of the numerous charities which had flourished through his bountiful aid and protection) walked in procession to St Andrew’s Church in Glasgow, where an excellent and an appropriate sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr Ritchie, from the text, 112th Psalm, verse 2, “He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor, his righteousness endureth for ever, his horn shall be exalted with honour.”

Mr George Macintosh left, with other children, a son Charles Macintosh, who still survives. He is also a merchant in Glasgow, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. In the walk of chemical manufactures, his reputation is perhaps second to no individual in Europe. He is the inventor of the process for water-proofing fabrics, by the application of Indian rubber.

The principal heritors are the Duke of Sutherland; M’Leod of Cadboll; M’Leay of Newmore; Hugh Rose Ross of Glastullich and Cromarty; and M’Kenzie of Kin- craig.

Parochial Registers
The registers of births and marriages both commence in 1781, and have been regularly kept.

Under this head it may be mentioned that, in a field a little to the west of the church, there is a singular upright stone, somewhat in the form of an obelisk, called Clach a Mhearlich, i.e. the thief’s stone, which is evidently of very ancient date. Though in the midst of an arable field, it is most religiously preserved, no attempt being made to remove it, or alter its position. None even of the oldest inhabitants are acquainted with any distinct tradition, respecting its origin or intention, but, from the name, it is conjectured that some noted robber was buried beneath it. A few years ago, there were found, on the farm of Miln-craig, in a bank of red gravel, about eight feet below the surface, two stone coffins. They contained, we believe, nothing but a few bones. There are in this parish a number of cairns. Many of them have been greatly diminished in size by the stones of which they were composed being taken away, and used in the erection of dikes, and other buildings. Some of them have been, by this means, gradually removed entirely. There is a very large one in the neighbourhood of Loch Achnacloich. It is surrounded by an outer circle, composed of stones, a few yards asunder, and measuring in circcumference 130 yards. All around, there is a great number of tumuli, but none of them have, so far as we know, been opened. In effecting some improvements, a few years ago, on the farm of Ardross, it was found necessary to remove one of these cairns, but the people had a tradition that “the plague was buried under it” and refused to touch it, and it was with no small diffiiculty that they were at length induced to assist in its removal. On the summit of a wooded hill called Knock Navie, there is a cairn named Carna na Croiche, i.e. the cairn of the gallows. The tradition connected with it is that some men who were travelling, being weary and faint with hunger, as they passed Achnacloich, stopped and asked the woman who had charge of the laird’s dairy for some cheese and milk to allay their hunger, offering at the same time to pay for it. She, however, refused to give it, upon which, the men took it, laid down money for it, and went away. The women immediately informed the laird of the circumstance, who being a man of a fierce and savage disposition, sent after the travellers, brought them back and hanged them on the spot now marked by the cairn. In some of the cairns which were removed, sculls and bones of a very large size were found. One of these cairns bears the name of Carna nam Fiann, i. e. the cairn of the Fingalians. There are, also, several small enclosures, which appear to have been places of sepulture. The most perfect of these is of an oblong form, about twelve or fourteen feet long, and two or three feet in breadth. It consists of a large and massive flat stone placed upright at the head, while on either side, there are three or four similar stones placed in a line, but none at the foot. It was, we believe, originally roofed over, the entrance being at the open end, but it was, several years ago considerably injured by some masons, who wished to obtain the stones for building a house in the vicinity. There is no tradition connected with it: it is too old for tradition.

Modern Buildings
We have few, if any, very modern erections which are worthy of notice. Invergordon Castle, a fine building, was some years ago destroyed by fire. The walls are still standing, but no attempt has been made to repair it, and the family reside in one of the wings. It is surrounded by very beautiful and extensive pleasure grounds. There is a new, large, and very complete mill at Dalmore, which contains a flour-mill, barley-mill, meal-mill, thrashing-mill, and saw-mill. There is also a saw-mill on the banks of the river Alness, which cuts annually a very considerable quantity of wood.

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