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. Charles Calder Mackintosh, Minister.

* Drawn up by Mr William Taylor


The burgh of Tain serves as a market-town, not only for this parish but for the whole surrounding district, and for a considerable part of Sutherlandshire; and to this it seems to owe its existence and prosperity, little trade being carried on, save for the purposes of home consumption. Among the irregularly built towns of the north of Scotland, it used to be remarked for irregularity; for every man seems to have placed his house, just as happened to suit his private convenience. The same character still attaches to it, though in a less degree. The streets have been gradually straightened, and many of the more unsightly edifices pulled down, though a principle of order is by no means even yet predominant in the construction of new ones. The town is neither lighted, nor supplied with water; for, though its gross revenue averages L.500, the other claims of expenditure in general exhaust the whole.

There are no villages in the parish besides Inver, which contains merely a fishing population.

Means of Communication
The parish is well supplied in all directions with public roads, which together amount to twenty miles in extent. A mail coach passes daily from and to Inverness, and proceeds north to the Meikle Ferry, and a mail gig runs daily between Tain and Bonar. There has been established lately another daily coach to Inverness, which, in consequence of its lessened fares and more convenient hours, has even already increased the number of stage travellers, and which accordingly has every prospect of success. The bridges, of which there are a considerable number, on account of the numerous streamlets, are generally kept in good repair, and so, in general, are our stone fences. There are now almost no hedges, so much has the Scottish taste, in this respect, prevailed beyond even what we perceive it to have done, of old.

Ecclesiastical State
From the charter of Charles II it appears that Tain was formerly a collegiate charge, though this would appear not to have continued beyond the times of Episcopacy. It is now, however, anxiously wished by many that some such arrangement should again be brought about, as the almost equal division into Gaelic and English hearers, each class demanding attention equal to what a single congregation would require, renders the field of ministration too arduous for any single clergyman. St Duthus’ church, though now vacated, might, it is believed, at a moderate expense, be rendered a commodious place of worship for the Gaelic congregation. The new church was built in 1815, and is situated at the eastern extremity of the town, pretty near the centre of the parish. It was designed to accommodate 1200, and, though not constructed on the best acoustic principles, is, upon the whole, tolerably suitable. In St Duthus’ church, all the sittings were free; in this church none are free. The average rent is 3s. The manse, a handsome building, a short distance above the town, was erected in 1824. The glebe attached is of the legal extent of four acres, worth about L.1. 10s. per acre yearly. The stipend is 18 chalders, half barley and half oatmeal, payable by the fiars prices of the county. There is always a catechist in the parish, who has L.3. 10s. of salary from the session-funds with what gratuities he may receive from the families he visits. The late catechist (who has died since this account has been commenced) enjoyed, in addition, for the last few years of his life, an annuity of L.7. 10s. from the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge.

All the families in the parish, with the exception of 3 or 4, attend the Established Church. There may be, besides, 2 or 3 individuals who attend a Secession chapel in a neighbouring parish.

Religious and Charitable Associations
There are no societies for religious purposes belonging exclusively to the parish, though it is a chief seat of several. The Northern Missionary Society, which is intended to embrace in its range the shires of Inverness, Ross, and Sutherland, was established in 1800, and meets annually at Tain, Inverness, and Dingwall. The late Rev. Dr Mackintosh of Tain, who was, until his death in 1831, its valued secretary, and the late Rev. Alexander Fraser of Kirkhill, were the originators of the institution. The annual subscription of 10s. 6d. is the condition of membership. The yearly contributions from the Tain district average from L.70 to L.80, of which sum probably more than L.30 are from the parish itself. The Easter Ross Ladies’ Missionary and Bible Society, established in 1818, meets annually at Tain, its collections average near L.30; half the sum may be considered as the contribution of this parish. The ladies usually devote about L.6 of it to local objects, such as the education of the children of the poor. There is also a Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick, established about seven years ago, of which the annual subscriptions amount to about L.12. In addition to all the above, and exclusive of the poor funds to be afterwards mentioned, the church collections for religious and charitable objects, may average L 50.

The parish is supplied with the means of education, to almost as great an extent as could be desired. Besides the parochial school, there is an academy, established in 1813, erected and liberally endowed by subscription; two female day and boarding schools, one supported by the burgh funds, and the other private; two private English schools; a private class for young children of both sexes; and a Gaelic Society school; in all eight, and all, except the last, situated in the town. The number taught to read under five years of age are, 49 males, 40 females; the number from five to fifteen, 253 males, 144 females; the number taught to write, 148 males, 76 females. The instruction given in the parochial school consists chiefly of English reading, writing, and arithmetic, and there are in general several Latin and Greek scholars. The schoolmaster’s salary is L.44, 10s., with school-fees as follows, viz., for teaching English, 2s. per quarter; with the addition of writing and arithmetic, 3s. 6d.; with book-keeping, 4s.; and any of the above, with the addition of mensuration or the languages, 7s. The school fees may amount to L.25 or L.28 per annum. At the academy, there is a rector who teaches arithmetic, geography, mathematics, and natural philosophy, and, for the last purpose, he is provided with an excellent philosophical apparatus. There is also a teacher of the languages, namely, Latin, Greek, and French, and a teacher of English reading, grammar, and writing. At the boarding-schools, the usual female accomplishments are taught. The Society school has been established chiefly for behoof of the village of Inver, which is wholly a Gaelic population, and which is, besides, at an impracticable distance from the town.

The people are in general very anxious to secure for their children the best education their circumstances will permit. It has been remarked, that notwithstanding, or perhaps more correctly, in consequence of the facility afforded by the academy for attaining what is usually termed a finished education, the number of boys from the parish who pursue their studies at the university is not increased, but rather diminished. The knowledge acquired here is generally deemed sufficient for those who do not intend to embrace a profession demanding a college curriculum. It is not easy to tell how much of any improvement in the conduct of the people may be owing to the increased facilities of education; that a higher tone of thinking has been communicated seems certain, and the degrading vices, such as drunkenness, appear, among the respectable classes, to have much decreased.

There is a library attached to the academy for the use of the pupils. More than one library, parochial and circulating, have from time to time been set on foot, but, from bad management, they have dwindled away. There is a public reading-room maintained, at which several newspapers are received.

Friendly Societies
Of these, there are three, namely, the Guildry Society, the Friendly Society, and the Mason Lodge. The first has existed since 1738, and is designed chiefly as a widow’s fund; the entry-money is L5, the quarterly subscription 1s., and the annuity granted to the widow (or to the children, until the youngest reach the age of twelve) L.5. The second was established about twenty-five years ago, chiefly among the operative classes. It assists the impoverished members in sickness and old age, and inters them at death. The Mason Lodge, which embraces only free-masons, has acted for above seventy years on a similar principle.

Poor Funds
The average number of persons receiving parochial aid, is about 145, among whom about L.70 is annually divided. In addition to this, the sum of L.5 is yearly entrusted to the kirk-session from the estate of Macleod of Cadboll for behoof of the poor; the interest of L.300 is distributed by the executors of the late George Murray, Esq. of Westfield; and a sum of L.500 has been left by a Mr Robertson, that its interest may be yearly applied at Christmas for the relief of reduced householders. Unfortunately, the reception of public charity is by very few considered a humiliating circumstance, chiefly, perhaps, in consequence of a munificent annual donation which used to be given by a benevolent gentleman of the name of Ross, residing in London, to be distributed among his poor namesakes. The result was an influx into the parish from every quarter of those (not a few) who could lay any claim to the title of Ross.

There is one prison in the parish, which serves for the whole surrounding district, and has of late been used for the greater part of Ross-shire. In 1836, the prisoners for poaching and breach of excise laws were 16; for theft, 7; for defrauding of creditors, 1; for assault, 9; for homicide, 2; in all, 35. Of these, but 3 belong to the parish, viz. two for theft, and 1 for assault; and of these 3, NOT ONE is a native. We mention the circumstance particularly, as showing a moral character rarely to be met with in towns of an equal size. The walls of the prison are strong, yet it has been broken through. The principal insecurity arises from the want of an inclosing wall. The management of the jail is not very good. The prisoners receive their allowance of aliment in money, and are permitted to purchase with it what they please, with the exception of ardent spirits. There are no special means employed for preserving their health, so that it not infrequently happens that some are released on the ground of dangerous distempers contracted in jail. The magistrates of the burgh have the government of the prison.

Of these, there are three principal ones still held in the parish, which, though at one time of great importance, having been resorted to by dealers from all quarters, with every variety of goods, have now degenerated into comparatively insignificant markets for country productions. They are held at Midsummer, Lammas, and Michaelmas. The two first are now useful, chiefly, as established resorts of farmers and labourers, respectively to hire, and to be hired for the harvest work. The rapid decline of these fairs is a matter of gratification to every sober-minded individual, since they used formerly to be, and to some extent still are, scenes of abominable drunkenness and riot.

The inns and alehouses in the town amount to 16; in the rest of the parish to 3. Here, as everywhere else, there have been complaints of the pernicious effects of the large number of these houses upon public morals, and accordingly, they have been of late considerably restricted by the functionaries.

That generally used, except by those persons in the parish who reside near the peat mosses, is English coal, at the rate of about 1s. 8d. per barrel (the herring barrel is the measure still employed). It is found cheaper than peat used alone, though of it, too, a large quantity is almost daily brought into the town for sale, in small carts, chiefly from the neighbouring parish of Edderton, and is purchased to be used along with the staple fuel. A coal storehouse is at present in the course of erection.


In comparing the present state of the parish with that which existed at the time of the last Statistical Account, a very striking advance in almost every department may be perceived. The most important change, however, seems to be that of language. That from the peculiar situation of the Highlands of Scotland, the change is a necessary one, and that by it the avenues of knowledge are being opened up, and the power of doing good proportionally increased, may readily be allowed; but no Highlander watching the process in its immediate effects can look on it without regret. The stream of traditionary wisdom descending from our forefathers has been interrupted in its flow; the feelings and the sentiments of a race, distinguished for high feeling and noble sentiment, will not transfuse themselves into a foreign tongue; and the link of connection between the present and the past generations has been snapped. The prejudices and superstitions of the Highlander are indeed perishing along with his better characteristics, but even this will not be contemplated with unmixed satisfaction by those who believe that there are prejudices that elevate, more than they darken the mind. Before now, the Gael was debarred from fame, because he could speak only an uncultivated, though copious and nervous tongue; now, he may chance as effectually to be debarred, because the fountain of Highland prejudice and Highland enthusiasm has been checked and rendered turbid at its source, and it may be long ere its inspiring waters renew their ancient flow. Still the change, we have said, is a necessary, and will in the end be a beneficial one, and the sooner, therefore, it be accomplished now, perhaps the better.

August 1837.

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