The 1st Statistical Account

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(County of Ross)

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 George Douglas

Situation, Etc
The parish of Tain is situated in the county synod of Ross. It extends, from east to west, 8 miles, and from north to south 2, along an arm of the sea, which, running from the Moray Firth, divides the shires of Ross and Sutherland. The royal burgh of Tain, the capital of the county, lies near the centre of the parish. The name is antient, and, originally, perhaps was written Thane. It is certain that the land adjacent belonged to thanes of Ross, and there is a district of the parish still called Thaneform. The name in Galic is Balduich, which signifies the town of St. Duthas, or Duthac. The ground, in general, is flat, but, towards the west, rather hilly. The hills are partly covered with heath, and partly planted with Scottish pines. The air is dry and salubrious. The soil is various; some deep, and some light, some fertile, and some barren. The seashore, the whole length of the parish, is flat and sandy.

Fishing and Coast
At the eastern extremity of the parish, there is a village called Inver, having 4 boats and 24 men wholly employed in fishing, of which the town and neighbourhoood are chiefly supplied with various kinds of fish, such as cod, skait, flounders and particulary haddocks. Tain, 20 or 30 years ago, was reckoned an exceeding good fish market, but, for some years past, there has been a scarcity of fish on the coast. This occasioned a rise in the price, so that, instead of 20 haddocks (as was the case about 20 years ago), for 1d. only one can now be got, and other kinds in proportion. The present haddocks are much larger than the old ones. It is a great disadvantage to the fishing, that, with an easterly or northerly wind, there is a swelling on the shore at Inver, which prevents the boats going to sea.

There is a sand bank, called the Gizzin Briggs, about 3 miles below the town extending from the Ross to the Sutherland side. On it there is a violent surge, with a loud noise, when the north or east winds blow, and sometimes during a calm in frosty weather, or the approach of frost. This bank is wholly covered at high water, during neap as well as spring tides, but is exposed when the sea is out. This is a channel near the middle through which vessels can, in moderate weather, be conducted safe, by persons acquainted with the ground; but strangers dread it, and it hath been fatal to vessels, particulary about 7 years ago, to a Swedish ship, loaded with wool. This bank, and the shallowness of the water between it and the shore, prevent the fishing boats from coming nearer the town than Inver, which is 4 milesdistant. And in consequence of the badness of the navigation, merchant goods for Tain are often landed at Cromarty, which occasions a land carriage of 7 miles. At the Meikle Ferry (the western extremity of the parish), where the passage boat between Ross and Sutherland lies, there is, at high water, depth sufficient for ships to come close to the land. When the sea ebbs, it leaves below the town, and to the east, a large tract of sand exposed in some places a mile, and in some two.

On this sand, during the spring and part of summer, there are found quantities of mussels, which the people gather and make use of. About the middle of the Firth, 2 miles above the Gizzen Briggs, there is a small bank, the property of the burgh, richly covered with this species of shell fish. Not only do the inhabitants here find a plentiful supply, but also many boats, perhaps 50 or 60 in a season, are loaded for other places. It is remarkable, though cockles be not usually found on this bank, that, in 1783, when there was great scarcity of bread, it afforded, in April, May, and June, immense quantities of them, of an excellent quality, which contributed to the support of multitudes, not only in this parish, but in the neighbourhood. The water has, of late years, made some small encroachments on the land below the town, but, in a plain to the eastward there are more alarming encroachments made, yearly making, by sand blowing. Many acres of pasture and arable ground have been thus covered within the last 10 years, and, where some old people remember dwelling houses and growing corn, nothing is to be seen but sand banks.

Population, Etc
There is no access now to know particularly the antient state of the population of the parish. There are no registers extant farther back than the beginning of the present century. In1755, the return to Dr Webster was 1870 souls. The number of catechizable persons, counting from 6 years old is 1800, of which a list is annually taken. Children under 6 years are left out, but it is supposed there may be of such 300; consequently the total population is about 2100 souls, and the increase, since 1755 about 230. The variation is very small taking any 10 years of the century. The lowest number, during the century, is 42, in 1783; the highest is 84 in 1769. It was 82 in 1721. In no other year of the century does the number amount to 80. The average of marriages is 15. There was no register of deaths kept before 1783, when the act of Parliament, imposing tax upon burials, was thought to require it. The average, since that period, is 28; but, as only those interred in the parish are recorded, and many are carried to neighbouring parishes for burial, the number of deaths might be reckoned from 34 to 36. All the people, with the exception of 2 or 3, are, by profession, of the Established Church. A few years ago, there were 2 or 3 died here past 90. There are none now quite 90, and few 80 to 88. There have been no emigrations from the parish, but several young people go yearly to London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, the West Indies, and North America, some of whom have prospered well, and been of service to their relations. A good many go to the army, chiefly to regiments who wear the Highland dress. Hardly any go to the navy. There are 12 merchants and shopkeepers in the town, and 80 tradesmen and artificers.

There is a good deal of flax and potatoes raised, many acre sown with grasses, and some wheat and rye, but the principal crops are, barley, oats, and pease. The two last are sown in March and April; barley, from the last week of April to the last week of May. In a year ordinarily favourable, harvest begins about the middle of August, and ends about the middle of October. The corns raised might be sufficient for bread to the inhabitants, but often gentlemen export all their victual rents, and the people of the town get supplies from neighbouring parishes.

Price of Provisions
Beef, mutton, veal, pork, butter, and cheese, are imported, and the prices of them double of what they were 40, or even 30 years ago. Butcher meat sells from 2d to 3d, sometimes higher, per pound; butter from 10s to 12s per stone; cheese, from 4s to 6s; hens, cocks, and ducks, from 3d to 6d each. There is less variation in the prices of victual. Barley and oat meal fell now from 14s. to 16s. and have been generally at the same rates for the last seven years, and indeed from 1770 to 1780. Twelve shillings is reckoned no bad contract price for 7 or more years; the highest given is 13s. 4d. About 40 years ago, fish were plentiful and cheap, but now they are scarce and advanced in the price.

The inhabitants of the town speak the English, and also the Gaelic or Erse. Both languages are preached in the church. Few of the older people, in the country part of the parish, understand the English language, but the children are now generally sent to school, and taught to read English. The names of places are, partly Scottish, partly Gaelic, some expressive of the local situation, as being on an eminence or in a hollow, or on a muir;,by the wood, or by the water side, and some indicating the names of antient possessors.

The land rent is about 1200 bolls and 800L. Sterling. The rent of houses in the town is about 650L. Sterling.

Stipend. Etc.
The benefice is 120 bolls of victual, half barley, half oat meal, with 4L. 15s. Sterling, as fixed in 1718; besides a glebe, manse, and garden, worth about 12L. per annum. There are 15 heritors in the parish. The Crown is patron.

The church was built about 400 years ago. The mason work, being all ashler, is still entire and firm. It had a new roof about 40 years ago. There is a statue of St. Duthus in the west gabel. A little below the town, there are the remains of a chapel called by his name, having the gabels, the north side wall, and part of the south, standing. To this place reported, that King James IV, in the way of penance, traveled on foot from Falkland, with uncommon expedition, resting only a short while at the monastery of Pluscardine near Elgin. There is a tradition that soon after this royal visit, the edifice was burnt by a party of the McKays, who were in pursuit of some persons obnoxious to them, that fled for shelter to this sanctuary. There are no other vestiges of religious houses in the parish, except about 3 miles to the east of the town, at Lochslin, where there are some remains of a small chapel. The manse was built in 1720, and has had some reparations several times since.

Landed Property and Farms
The numbers of heritors is 15, of whom Mr. McLeod of Cadboll is the principal, in point of property, and Lord Ankerville the greatest resident proprietor, at least occasionally. Property has been rather fluctuating. There are not above three whole family predecessors had land here a century ago. Thirty years purchase is reckoned a good price for lands, but there are instances of small parcels near the town, sold for 50 years purchase, and upwards. The farms in the parish are generally small. There are 60 farmers, besides 150 mailers or cotters. Most of the lands near the town are inclosed, some with stones, some with ditch and hawthorn.* These lands let at 20s. to 30s. per acre. Open fields, at a distance from the town, let at from 10s. to 15s.

*Mr. Baillie of Little Tarrel, one of the heritors who resides near the town has a farm particularly well inclosed, and in good order. This farm was naturally unfertile, and when in the hands of tenants gave poor returns, but Mr. Baillie having resided on it for near 30 years, and paid attention to its improvement, by draining, sowing grasses, and a rotation of other meliorating crops, it now produces excellent crops of every kind.

State of the Poor
There are about 130 names on the poor’s list of feeble, aged persons, among whom there is annually distributed about 20L. Sterling, collected in the church, there being no other funds for their support, except a small croft, mortified by a gentleman about the beginning of this century, that pays 3 bolls of yearly rent, and the interest of 40L. Sterling lent by the kirk-session. The poor of this parish do not, as is customary in other places of the country, receive any benefit from bells and mort cloths used at funerals, the magistrates and town council, for time immemorial reserving to themselves these emoluments.

Situation of the Parish in 1783
In 1783, besides victual sent by government for supply to the poor, the gentlemen in the town and neighbourhood contributed liberally. With the money collected, there was bought a quantity of excellent pease, of which a cargo, through the kind attention of a north country gentleman, in Glasgow, was brought from the Baltic, and sold at the Meikle Ferry in this parish. These pease, and the government bounty, were given not only to the poor, who ordinarily receive alms, but likewise to farmers, cottagers, and tradesmen.* Through favourable succeeding seasons, and the indulgence of landlords, the people are recovered from the calamitous effects of that disastrous period, and none of its arrears now remain unpaid.

Of late, several old houses that were ruinous have been rebuilt in the town, and several new ones built. The humour for building is prevailing. Mr. McLeod of Geanies, 3 years ago, feud several acres of ground, lying to the east of the town, on which several houses have been built, and are now building. This ground was separated from the town by a deep hollow, through which a rivulet runs; over it there is a handsome bridge, of one large arch, erected, which cost about 80L. Sterling, the expence being defrayed by the burgh, and Mr. McLeod. The entrance to the town, by this new bridge from the east and south is much more commodious now than formerly. Of an extensive muir, lying to the south-west of the town, the property of the burgh, several hundred acres have of late years been given in feu, paying, for a limited time 6d. and 1s. the acre. Some of this ground hath been plowed and trenched, so as to produce corn and grass. The greatest part is planted with pines, of which there is a thriving appearance.

There is a flourishing school in the town of Tain. Mr. George McKenzie is master, and the number of scholars is 52. He teaches English, Latin, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, and geography. Besides a dwelling house, he has 300 merks salary, and the quarter fees, which are good, and vary according to the different branches of education. The magistrates give 50 merks annually to a man who teaches English and writing to the lower sort. He hath likewise the perquities belonging to the offices of precentor and session clerk. Besides, he gets 6L. Sterling for teaching a Sunday evening school, founded 3 years ago by Lady Ross-Baillie of Lamington and Balnagown. Her Ladyship not only pays the master’s salary, but hath furnished the scholars, whose number is between 70 and 80, with proper books. There is one of the Society’s schools for propagating Christian Knowledge in the eastern part of the parish. The teacher is allowed 12L. per annum from the Society, and is furnished by the parish with a house, a garden, and a cow’s grass. About 30 scholars attend him.

*It is remarkable, that in spring and summer 1783, there were cockles, a species of shell fish, found on the sea shore here, in greater quantities, and of superior quality, than ever were known before or since, which contributed not a little to the support of the poor.

Miscellaneous Observations
There six dealers in the town, licensed to sell spiritous liquors and ale, and one of them has a wine licence. The people, in general, are sober. About 30 cottages have been built in the country part of the parish, whithin these 10 years, and 20 houses in the town, some of them 2 and 3 stories high. There is also an elegant mason lodge, the building of which cost 500L. Sterling. The roads and bridges are kept in good repair. The statute labour is exacted in kind. There are 12 merchants and shopkeepers in the town, 80 tradesmen and artificers, besides 20 in the landward part of the parish. Masons and wrights receive from 10d. to 16d. per day; taylors rather less; labourers in husbandry, from 6d. to 1s. according to the occasion. A man, in harvest, receives 1s. per day; a woman 6d. without victuals. Men servants, maintained in the family, receive, per annum, from 50s. to 3L. for wages; women about half as much, besides shoes. About 40 years ago, the men did not get above 30s. a year, and the women in proportion.

At that period, labourers in agriculture and manufactures, got only from 4d. to 6d. per day, without victuals. Peats, turf, wood, heath, and whins (or furze), which are all found in the parish, are chiefly used for fuel. Coals, mostly imported from England, have also been used of late. The only manufactures carried on here, are the spinning of flax, and the tanning of leather. It is generally believed that a thread factory might succeed.