The 2nd Statistical Account

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(Presbytery of TAIN, SYNOD 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


* Drawn up by Mr George Dunoon, Parochial Schoolmaster of Tarbat.

Remarks on the Agricultural state of the Parish since the year 1798
At the commencement of this period, the parish of Tarbat may be said to have been among the farthest back in the county, with respect to modern husbandry. There was neither grass, turnips, nor wheat sown in any part of the parish, except at the place of Geanies and a little at Bindal. All farming implements were of the rudest description. The only carts to be seen, except at the place above-mentioned, were what are called tumblers, or basket carts. The plough had almost no iron about it, and the usual price for making one was two pecks of oats, the materials being always furnished by the farmer. It was generally drawn by from ten to fourteen oxen, cows, or horses, with the whole family in attendance; and in the case of small crofts with the united cattle, ploughmen, and drivers of two or three families, whose deafening clamours may be faintly conceived by those who disturb the inhabitants of a well stocked rookery. The corn-stacks were generally three in number: one for the laird, one for seed and sale, and one for family use; the barn was filled in the first place. In the case of the larger farms, a stack sometimes consisted of as much as sixty bolls of bear, with twenty of pease on the top and was never thatched, the pease being considered sufficient protection from all injury.

There were no roads in the parish, nor any harbour on the coast at which grain could be shipped. The village of Portmaholmack, in which there are at present 400 souls, consisted the of three houses and two storehouses for receiving rents, which were all paid in oatmeal and bear.

The peasantry were a quiet, decent, industrious people ready to learn, and of exemplary sobriety, honesty and piety. Their dress, which was very simple, was almost all home-made. In reference to which, it may be worth while mentioning, that, even at church, when, in their best robes, they had among them, except those who came from the place of Geanies, only six hats, and an equal number of printed gowns; yet they always appeared clean and respectable.

At a later stage in the period above-mentioned, a harbour was built at Portmaholmack, and a herring-fishery established there, which, though it is to be regretted that they be justly charged with having caused a declension in the morality of many of those who are occupied there about, are in other respects, a very considerable advantage to the parish. The harbour, from its centrical position, affords great convenience to farmers shipping grain; and the herring garbage, when mixed with earth, is found an excellent manure.

In the year 1798 the farm of Mickle Tarrel in the parish was taken on a nineteen years’ lease by a farmer who had studied the most approved system of agriculture in East Lothian. The farm, which then consisted of about 250 acres of arable land, was occupied by several small tenants whose lands were in a state of wretchedness, and their houses afforded accommodation for neither man nor beast.

This farmer brought with him horses and implements of husbandry of the very best description from the south, as also farm servants of his own training. This was the first introduction of modern husbandry to this part of the country, from which the introducer obtained the name of Farmer George. In bringing his system into practice, he had at first to contend with many deep rooted prejudices. Even the proprietor could not then understand how his interests were to be promoted by encouraging his tenants. In the first place, a dwelling house was to be built, as also a suitable set of offices, houses and a thrashing-mill, and a garden, &c enclosed. All this was done at the farmer’s expense, without any assistance from the proprietor, and at an outlay of L.1500. The soil being good, and the new system bringing it into favourable operation, the farmer soon began to reap the reward of his expense and labour, and in the seventh year after his entry, he had the satisfaction of obtaining for his wheat and oats the highest price in Mark Lane, circumstances which dissipated the opposition of prejudice, and raised up a spirit of imitation.

In the year 1802, Mr Archibald Dudgeon, a native of East Lothian, took the neighbouring farm of Arboll, which he still occupies. He likewise brought with him a choice assortment of farming implements from the same county, as also horses and farm servants. The latter did not remain long, though with an excellent master, and with whom some of his present servants have been for upwards of thirty years. Next, Mr Macleod, the Sheriff of the county, seeing the good effects of the new system, got a grieve from East Lothian, and commenced farming on the some principle. About the same time, Mr Mackay purchased the lands of Little Tarrel, now Rockfield, and commenced extensive and judiciously conducted improvements in a very spirited manner. On the farm of Wester Geanies, the property of Aldie, a great deal was also done.

The example was followed by several other farmers, and soon became general in the country, and the war prices giving encouragement to the exertions of agriculturists, the spirit of improvement went on with unabated vigour.

At the close of the war, Captain Rose returned to the farm of Bindhill, in which he succeeded his father and, converting his sword into ploughshare, commenced farming on the new system with great spirit and success, which he has continued to the present date. And he has now the satisfaction of seeing the subject of his labours and improvements confirmed into the hands of his son-in-law, Mr Chisholm, by a new lease of nineteen years granted at this term; who, it is confidently hoped, will uphold that benevolent and highly respectable character which the House of Bindal has hitherto maintained.

The improvements which thus, in all quarters, made such rapid progress in regard to the soil, were kept pace with by those which respected the external features of the farms. Taking a view of the parish at the present period, we see the tenantry all live in comfortable well-furnished houses, with excellent accommodations for their corn and cattle. And on all the larger farms, thrashing-mills, one impelled by wind, and another by steam, and others by from four to six horses. In short, the parish of Tarbat is well farmed as any part in the north, and the farmers are highly respectable, intelligent, and hospitable.

The largest farms in the parish run from 150 to 350 acres, and the rents from L.1. 15s to L.2 per acre. The system pursued here is the five and six course; the four has been tried, and, on the farm of Mickle Tarrel, long practised with success.

The country not being pastoral, the farmers here do not rear many cattle or sheep. They keep what is called a flying stock, which, after being well wintered on turnips, are sold at the early markets. Mr Archibald Dudgeon, at one time, had a stock of excellent Highland cows, which he selected from the purest breed in the country. He continued them for a good many years, always allowing them to suckle their calves, and that as long as they chose, by which means, and every other attention to breeding, he raised such a stock as have returned him L.20 for three-year-olds. From their very high feeding, however, they lost some of those qualities which are esteemed in Highland cattle. Yet they still maintained their full beauty of symmetry. Mr Dudgeon may be said to be the only farmer in the parish who has always on hand a large stock of cattle, and these always well selected and high fed. He also feeds off a great number wedders on turnips for the southern markets.

Of late years, the store-farmers have been in the habit of sending down their hogs to the low country, where they take turnips at from L.4 to L.5 per imperial acre, according to the quality. Sometimes, they are let at so much per head per week, generally seven farthings, but the former arrangement is preferred by most farmers. In regard to the turnips, the ordinary practice is that one-third is drawn for the cattle in the farm-yard, and the remainder eat off by the sheep.

That the breeding of stock is comparatively but little followed up in this quarter, is owing to its being found less profitable, in consequence of the distance from market, &c, not that the climate or soil is ungenial, nor the farmer deficient in the art, which has been sufficiently proved on the farms of Arboll and Mickle Tarrel. Of the former we have already spoken on this head, and of the latter we shall only mention that, at a sale there in the year 1824, there were sold a horse for L.84, a son of his, rising four years old, for L.52. 10s., and a saddle mare for L.52.10s., a Highland fat cow for L.25, a Highland bull for L.50, and another for L.40, and for an ox, six years old, that had been fed three years, L.75 were offered. And on one occasion, the farmer refused L.100 for his riding pony.

With regard to farm-servants, the system introduced at the commencement of modern husbandry, and practised ever since, on almost all large farms, is what in East Lothian is called the hind system, and which, it may be observed, is, in most improved districts in Scotland, considered the best, both as regards the interests of the farmer, and the morality and comfort of the servants.

Manufactures –
There are two branches of hemp manufacture carried on in the parish, viz, weaving and spinning; weaving by 6 men and 3 boys, and spinning by 300 women. The factory is connected with the establishment of Mackintosh, Grant, and Co. Inverness.

The number of vessels that cleared here outwards, since the 1st November 1839 till the 1st November 1840, was 112. The amount of their tonnage 6896. The quantity of grain exported at Portmaolmack for London, Leith, and Liverpool of crop 1839, was 3003 quarters of different kinds.


Ecclesiastical State
The whole of the population belong to the Established Church, with the exception of three families of Seceders, who have only recently come to the parish. Stipend, 16 chalders, half meal half barley. The glebe, with garden, consists of 6 acres 2 roods. The manse was built in 1806. It is undergoing some repairs at present, and receiving an addition.

There are at present three schools in the parish: the parochial school, an adventure school, and a Gaelic school, supported by the Gaelic School Society. The parochial school master has the medium salary, L.30. He is allowed L.2 in lieu of a garden, and the average amount of fees received by him is L.7. No fees are paid by the children attending the Gaelic school. The teacher’s salary is L.25.

Poor –
A bequest of L.100 to the sick and aged poor of her native parish of Tarbat was lately made by Miss Margaret Macleod of Geanies. Average number of poor in the permanent roll for three years, 1835-36-37, 96. Amount distributed, L.17; whereof from church collections, L.12, from mortifications, mortcloths, dues, &c. L.5.

December 1840.

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