The 1st Statistical Account

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(County of Ross - Presbytery of Dingwall - 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

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 Reverend Mr Roderick Mackenzie

Name, Appearance, and Soil
CON-TUIN, the meetings of waves, or Co-an-da-avihin, signifying the meetings of two rivers, whence the island of Contin derives its name.

The appearance of the country is generally hilly and mountainous, the hills in the lower part of the parish, near the place of Contin, been mostly covered with natural wood. There is also a great flat of corn lands, belonging to Colonel Mackenzie of Coul, through which the river Rasay runs, all in flight of the mansion-house of Coul, which lies about 200 yards to the north east of Contin. There is also a great deal of corn lands in the several glens and valleys in the parish. The corn lands, upon the whole, yield pretty good crops, though the soil be but light and shallow.

Air and Diseases
The air is rather moist, but not unhealthy. The diseases are small pox, measles, and rheumatisms; the latter, no doubt, owing to the moisture of the air, and the natives giving up the use of plaiding or coarse flannel next their skin, in place of which they now wear linen.

They are sometimes distressed with fluxes, occasioned by their feeding mostly on potatoes. They are most subject to them in the latter end of spring, and beginning of summer, when the potatoes have a tendency to grow, and when the people have neither milk, meal, nor onions to eat with them. This year, and the last there was a putrid fever, which made prodigious havoc in a place called Strathbran, where it carried off more then two thirds of the inhabitants, and still continues to rage with violence there. It is found to be very infectious, and its having done so much damage in that place is attributed to the unwholesomeness of the air, which has been worse this year then ever, owing to the expensive flat in that strath being repeatedly overflowed in the summer and harvest months, and the stagnated putrid waters sending forth noxious vapours that poison the air.


There are many lakes and rivers, all of which abound with fish of one kind or other, though none draws a price but salmon, being at a great distance from any market town, and of no such consideration as to encourage an adventurer to try what could be made of them. The most remarkable lakes are Loch-Achilty, where the char and silver trout are sometimes found. One thing remarkable to be observed of this lake is that there is no visible running water issuing from it except at the time of high peats, although a great quantity falls into it daily. It certainly discharges itself by subterraneous passages into the river Rasay, to the west of which lies about three quarters of a mile. It is a mile long; in some places very deep. The water is beautifully clear: it has an artificial Island, a place made for safety, where the ruins of a house and garden are still to be seen. The access is by a draw-bridge. The last possessor’s name McLea More, the then proprietor of the lands of the lands of Achilty and Jarvie.

The next is Loch-Lichart, in a line to the west, four miles long, where there is plenty of trout, some weighing four and five pounds. The loch is lined on both sides with a ridge of high hills, covered with oak and birch wood, with some firs, interspersed here and there with green spots for shealing, and at both ends, on each side, pretty extensive flats of corn land. The oak wood on this loch-side sold three years ago for 3601. Betwixt Loch-Lichart and Loch-Bran, on the same waters, are several inconsiderable lakes, all abounding with black and white trout, and Loch-Bran abounds with large pike. Several miles to the west of that is Loch-Chrosk, abounding with trout. To the north-west of Loch-Lichart, four miles distance, lies Loch-Fannich, abounding with fish, is six scotch miles in length; from it issues a small river, called Grudie, which discharges itself into the Cannon, about one mile above Loch-Lichart. All the straths are liable to inundations. The most remarkable ones happened in March 1789; and this very year (1791) the greatest part of the corn lands were twice overflowed this harvest in the course of 20 days, by which the crop was much damaged. There is a very remarkable echo on the farm of Kinellan; it will echo a whole sentence perfectly distinct. It is believed to be unequalled, unless by an echo in Wales, and another in Staffa, the latter of which is of a very different nature.

Animals, Etc.
The parish principally abounds in black cattle, horses, sheep, goats, deer, roe, foxes, wild cats, pole-cats, badgers, and otters. Common fowls of various kinds: turkeys, geese, wild and tame, ducks of different species, swans, maws, gulls, curlieus, cranes, herons, scarss, king’s-fisher, muir-fowl, heath-fowl, plovers, snipes, hawks of various kinds, the black and grey eagles, ravens, rooks, crows, owls. And on the highest hills, tarmagans, migrating birds, lapwings appear in spring, wood-cocks in the latter end of the harvest, cuckoos in April, in May swallows of various kinds, and three kinds of bats, supposed sleeping birds.

In Dr Webster’s list in 1755, the numbers are stated at 1949; at present, there are 2000 above the age of seven years. There is in the parish one woman aged 101 now living, and has the use of all her faculties. There is also an out-pensioner of Chelsea Hospital upwards of 90 years old, who has drawn the pension for 45 years. There are a sufficiency of square-wrights, smiths, weavers, taylors, and shoemakers, for carrying on the work of the parish. Two ferry-men, one over the Rasay at Contin, and another over the Connon, three miles to the west of Contin, at a place called Little Scatwell. All the people are of the established Church except 50 or 60 Episcopalians. Tthe population is on the increase, but is feared will soon decrease, as the gentlemen are encouraging shepherds to come settle on their properties, which must necessarily remove present inhabitants, and force them to go in quest of bread to other countries, as there is no manufactures established here to employ them.

Cabbages, turnips, potatoes, and various kinds of garden stuffs. Fir trees, planted and natural, oak, birch, elm, alder, sauchs of different kinds, mapple, mountain ash, plains, beech, several remarkable large ones at the place of Coul, and fruit trees of various kinds. There is a sufficiency of corn grown for supporting the inhabitants, but owing to the number of distillers of whiskey, of which there are no less than three distilleries in this parish, there are imported annually about 300 bolls of barley from neighbouring parishes, of Contin principally from Easter Ross. About 50 acres are in sown grass on the mains of Coul, and a few acres on another farm. The farmers have seldom sowed any (except a few pounds in their gardens), nor can they be prevailed upon to do it, though they have got long leases from Colonel Mackenzie of Coul (19 years) to encourage them to raise grass; and the soil is found to be admirably calculated for it, yielding from 200 to 300 stones the acre. Colonel Mackenzie has not imposed one shilling of additional rent upon his whole property in this parish. They begin to sow oats and rye in February, but, in most places, in the latter end of March, and whole of April. Barley is sown by the beginning of May, and finished by the 12th of June, notwithstanding of which, the harvest is much earlier than in any of the neighbouring parishes, and was safely ingathered even this very year by the end of October. There is great plenty of shelly marl now discovered in the Loch of Kinellan, upon the estate of Coul, and the proprietor, at his own expence, has so far drained the Loch, as to have easy access to the working of the marl, and the tenants have full liberty to take from it whatever quantity they please for the use of their lands. The Lake is also surrounded with stone-marl, which has been found by the farmers there to meliorate the ground very much. This Lake lies five miles to the west of Dingwall. There is lime stone also found on the Coul property, but difficult to work. There was this year discovered on the property of Mr Mackenzie of Strathgarvie (a minor) a rich lime-stone quarry, which could be easily wrought, and to great advantage, there being plenty of peats and wood close by the quarry. The proprietor of the quarry has close by it betwixt 300 and 400 acres of arable ground admirably calculated for lime, on which property there are no less, at present, than 50 or 60 families, without any industry, or anything to support them, but what corn they are able to raise from there fields, which sets now about 7s. 6d. the acre. The quarry lies close by Lochmalin, about 12 miles to the west of Dingwall.

Miscellaneous Observations
The Gaelic and English Languages are both spoken in the parish, but Gaelic chiefly. All names of villages and places are derived from the Gaelic. The rental of the parish is between 1300L. and 1400L. The salmon fishing sets at about 20L.

Church and poor – The minister’s stipend is 1000 merks, and one chalder of victual, and the glebe would set at 7L. Sterling. The King is patron. The number of heritors is 9, none of whom reside in it. There are only 10 poor people who receive charity. The most indigent of them get a weekly supply from the session. The annual amount of the contributions for the relief of the poor, in the parish church, seldom exceeds 40s. There is a small legacy left to the poor of the parish by a Mrs St Clair, who died at Jamaica, a native of this parish, daughter to Mr Aeneas Morrison minister of Contin, and which, owning to mismanagement, only amounted to 84L. although she bequeathed them 100L.

Provisions sell reasonably: beef and mutton, from 2d. to 3d. a pound; veal and lamb, from 3d. to 4d.; pork, 2d.; hens, never above 4d. each; butter, 6d. the pound; cheese, 2d.; barley, 15s. and 16 s. the boll; oats, the same, having one fifth more in the measure. Common day labourers receive 6d. per day; carpenters and masons from 1s. to 6d A common labourer having 6 bolls of meal, 3L. Sterling of wages for the year, with one fourth acre potatoe ground, is able to support himself, a wife, and two children. Men servants commonly get from 3L. to 4L. wages in the year; and woman servants, from 30s. to 2L. The fuel consists of peat, wood, heath, whins, and broom. Peats fell at 6d. the small cart.

Character of the People
The people, in general, are sober, and very economical, but averse to industry, never working but from necessity. The rising generation are rather fond of gay clothing, the manufacture of other countries, which exhausts all their substance, and keeps them constantly poor. There is no manufacture in the parish. The people are generally very contented with their situation, and have the neccessaries of life in abundance. They are perfectly honest, and religiously inclined. Their condition might be easily made better, were there any manufactures established amongst them; a linen or woollen one would answer extremely well. The woman would be made industrious by this means. There is plenty of fine soft water in this place, for washing, and bleaching, and whitening linen cloth, and there plains of any extent required for forming a bleachfield, into which water might be brought at trifling expence; besides, such is the quality of the water, that one fourth of the expence of soap, &c. would be saved.

The best arable land in this parish sets at 14s. 6d. the acre, and the lowest at 2s. 6d. The farms in this parish are from 100L. to 2L.; for the most part they are from 15L to 8L. There is not an inclosure in the parish, but those on the Mains of Coul. The people are averse to inclosures, as they wish to have all kinds of pasture in common. The situation of the parish, in 1782 and 1783, was truly deplorable, and no doubt many of the poorer sort must have died from want, were it for the timely supply of corn sent by government to this country. One remarkable circumstance to be observed was, that although these years produced little or no corn, they were particularly favourable for the growth of grass, which yielded immense quantities of milk, the principal support of the inhabitants; and the kind providence of God was very remarkably seen towards the poorest sort, in causing the sheep and goats, the only cattle they had, to yield greater quantities, and more fruitful milk, than they were ever known to do before, or ever since. Another favourable circumstance for the inhabitants was that there was a great demand for cattle (the stable commodity of the parish) and that they sold at a higher price.

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