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

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. Urquhart

Origin of name, Situation, Etc.
The parish of Rosskeen does not furnish much room for statistical investigation. The name seems to be derived from the Gaelic word Coinnea, signifying a meeting or junction, and Ross-coinnea may denote the place, where the districts of Easter and Wester Ross join (which is at the wester boundary of this parish) and where the inhabitants might occasionally assemble. It is centrical in point of distance bewixt the two royal burghs of Tain and Dingwall. The parish belongs to the presbytery of Tain, and synod of Ross. Its extent, so far as it is inhabited, may be from the shore to the hills, about 10 measured miles, and its average breadth about 6.

Surface and Soil
The lower part of the parish, which extends along the firth of Cromarty, and for 2 miles back, lies on a gentle and easy ascent to the bottom of the first hills. The soil varies, being partly gravelly and light, partly loam, and some a deep and strong clay.

A hill called Knock-Navic, or the cold Hill, divides the lower from the Highland part of the parish. In the higher parts, the arable land is wet and spungy; the soil light, and more adapted for pasturage than for the plough. Beyond the higher arable ground, and inhabited glens, there is a very considerable tract of mountains, fit for no other purpose, than the summer pasturage of a few black cattle, which, perhaps, might be converted with much advantage into sheep walks.


About 60 years ago there were no plantations of any kind within this parish, and no natural woods, excepting about the place of Ardross. But since that period, by the continued attention of Sir William Gordon, and his son, Sir John Gordon of Invergordon, a very extensive, well wooded , and beautiful place, has been formed about Invergordon castle, now the seat of Mr. McLeod, of Cadboll. The estate of Milncraig has also had very extensive plantations made upon it, and a considerable farm about the house, has been effectually inclosed and subdivided. There are other considerable plantations of the Scottish fir, in a very thriving condition, on other properties within the parish.

A circumstance, which well merits notice in an account of this kind, is that the parish is peculiarly fortunate in the means of future improvement, from a most extensive and rich bed of shell-marle, of above 70 acres extent, which lies in the middle of the lower district, on the property of Munro of Culrain, is of easy access, and can be procured at the pit, ready thrown out, at 3d. per boll. Its fertilizing quality has been amply proved on the farm of Milncraig, in its neighbourhood; but, from the strange and unaccountable prejudices of the lower class of people, to any species of innovation on their own plan of management, it is, as yet, in very little request. ‘Tis pity that some skilful farmer of spirit,from those districts where marle is much used, did not take some of the capital farms in this neighbourhood. While he enriched himself, he might teach others how to add considerably to the means of their subsistence, and to the improvement of their country.

The population of the parish, as returned to Dr. Webster in 1755, was 1958 souls. There are now in it 1400 examinable persons above, and 300 under 6 years of age. The births are, at an average, from 40 to 50 per annum. No accurate account of deaths and marriages can be given. The number of inhabitants has of late been much increased by a species of cottagers, here called meallers, who build a small house for themselves, on a waste spot of ground, with the consent of the proprietor, and there are ready to hire themselves out as day-labourers. At their spare hours, they trench and improve small bits of the muir around them, which they first plant with potatoes and afterwards sow with grain. Though their improvements, taken individually, are trifling and slow, yet in the aggregate, they amount, in a course of years, to something considerable. They pay hardly any consideration to the landlord, during the life of the first settler. But, upon the whole, it is observed that, from their labour and the industry of their wives and children, they live more comfortably, than those in a supposed superior class, and enjoy perfect independence.

Lands in general are let in this parish, from 10s. to 12s. per acre of arable, though, on some situations, near the shore, they draw from 15s. to 20s. and 21s. In the heights of the parish, the value is not ascertained by the acre, but by the joint judgement of the tenant and landlord.

Climate and Longevity
The climate varies in different parts of the parish; it is often mild and temperate, and all kinds of farm work can be carried on in the lower part of the parish, when, in the heights, these operations are interrupted by hard soil, or a fall of snow. It is, however, upon the whole, a healthy parish, and many instances occur of great longevity. There are at present many inhabitants, both male and female, above 80 years of age, and what is remarkable, there are 3 members of the session, whose combined ages amount, at this time, to 260 years.

The parochial school has been built near the Ness of Invergordon, which affords the village there another advantage. It is, however, far from being centrical, and is, from that circumstance, much less attended than otherwise it would be. The school house, and accommodation for the teachers, are sufficiently commodious. The schoolmaster’s salary is about L.15 per annum, which, with perquisites usually attached to the situation, makes it worth about L.25 per annum.

The number on the poors list is 70, which are divided into classes, according to the degree of their respective necessities and the very small fund allotted for their relief is divided quarterly amongst them. In this parish, there is hardly any fund, but the collections made in the church, after performance of divine worship, and as very few, indeed, of the heritors reside in the parish, this seldom exceeds L.10 per annum, from which there is a deduction of L.2. 10s. sterling to the session-clerk, and a very considerable one for bad half-pence collected, so that the share of each poor person must be very small.

The state of the poor’s funds, in the generality of the parishes in the north of Scotland [remainder omitted by processor]

Patron, Etc
The Earl of Cromarty was patron of this parish, before the forfeiture in 1746. The present incumbent was settled on a royal presentation in 1783, before the restoration of the annexed estates took place. Captain McKenzie of Cromarty, cousin german, and heir of the late Lord McLeod, is now the patron. The manse is a modern one, and together with the kirk, kirk-yard dyke, its offices, and the parish school, were all put in complete repair in the years 1780, 1781, and 1782. Very few country parishes have their public buildings in neater, or more complete order. The value of the living depends, in some degree, on the price of grain, as it consists of 80 bolls of bear, and L.50 sterling of money. There are two small glebes, one adjoining the manse, of 4 English acres of good and fertile soil; the other is contiguous to the ruins of an old kirk, called Nonekill (or the cell or temple of St. Ninian), and consists of above an acre and a half, in 3 different divisions, which are let by the minister to a tenant in the neighbourhood.

Miscellaneous Observations
The Gaelic language is universally spoken by the country people in this, as well as all the other parishes of this presbytery; but it is worthy of remark that, though that languages does not seem to be losing ground in this parish, many more read and understand the English language, than did some years ago, a circumstance which is to be attributed to the Society’s schools, which have been endowed in the height of the parish.

There are unbounded tracts of excellent peat moss in the higher, and some mosses of considerable extent in the lower district of the parish. No species of manufacture has as yet found its way to this part of the country, though few situations are to be found so well adapted for their introduction.

There is a village of some extent upon the Ness of Invergordon, on a dry heathy beach, where vessels of 100 tons burden can lye with safety most seasons of the year, and receive or deliver their cargoes close to the shore.
Services of tenants are in general converted, at the rate of one sixteenth part of the annual land rent. The rents in general are paid in kind, or in bear or barley, and oat meal, with kains or customs.

The rent of the parish may be about L.2000 sterling, converting the boll of bear and meal at 12s.

The spinning of linen yarn is carried on to a considerable extent, though, it must be said, with very little advantage to the people, or to the country, it being done by commission from more southern districts, whither the yarn is transmitted to be wove, or otherwise manufactured; so that by passing through so many hands, each of whom must have small profit, little can be afforded to the spinners, who, though expert and industrious, do not earn above 2 1/2, or at most, 3d. a day, from their labour. But this perhaps may be soon altered, as Mr. McLeod, the proprietor of the village above mentioned, is willing to encourage settlers, for that purpose, and gives perpetual feus of ground, sufficient for a house and small garden, on moderate terms. They may also have as many acres of land in lease as they may find it convenient to cultivate. Coals and lime are brought to their door by sea. Peat, and timber for building, are to be had on moderate terms, nigh at hand. So that very few situations, indeed; in the North of Scotland, seem better adapted for a manufacturing village, than the Ness of Invergordon.