The Cromartie Obelisk
Attribution: unknown (Greenhill street in Dingwall looking North)
The Cromartie obelisk
The current Cromartie Monument is situated within the car park to the south of St Clement’s church. A strange place for a monument, let alone a tomb, but on reflection a rather suitable place for the clever and worldly 1st Earl of Cromartie who was buried there on the 23rd of September 1714, nearly a month after his death. He was a leading Scottish figure of his day: Secretary of State for Scotland and Lord Justice-General and having been in public office for 60 years he retired back home to Ross and Cromarty to die at the grand age of 84.
The present obelisk dates from 1921, built by the then Countess of Cromartie after the original was demolished in 1920. The original was a thinner and taller version, erupting from level ground with no trace of ornamentation surrounding it. This 65ft version was affected by the earthquake in 1800 and subsequently developed a pronounced lean which eventually led to its demolition.
It used to be called ‘The Pyramid’ by locals and such was the lack of external information that all memory and evidence that the 1st Earl was actually buried there had long been forgotten. Folklore suggested that the supposed vault was to the west of the obelisk where some of the older inhabitants had witnessed a local boy getting his head stuck within the iron gate that guarded the vault. It was also reported that it took a blacksmith from Inverness to remove the gate from the lad’s head, no Dingwall tradesman being up to the task!
However the mystery was satisfactorily resolved on the 19th August 1875. Since there was no external evidence of any kind and the ground surrounding the obelisk was absolutely level, the dig was started on the west side where the story of the gate and the unfortunate boy originated from. Despite a deep trench, nothing was found which led credence to the story that the 1st Earl had been buried next to his beloved second wife, Margaret, The Countess of Wemyss, in the Wemyss vault. However, a second trench excavated to the south of the obelisk discovered four wooden coffins and a lead one nearest to the obelisk which had his name and date of death inscribed on it. Within this lead covering were a further pair of wooden coffins in excellent preservation with the original velvet still partially intact. His skeleton measured 6ft 2ins and corresponded to contemporary descriptions of him. This disinterment happened on the 10th of September and was undertaken on behalf of the family who wished to settle the matter once and for all. All was replaced as before and there is now a modern flower bed and surrounding wall protecting the immediate environs of the obelisk.
We are now left to find the identity of the four other bodies. The 1st Earl’s immediate forbears were all buried in the nearby churchyard but he had in his lifetime enclosed about two-thirds of an acre to the south (now the car park), in the centre of which he constructed the obelisk. It is entirely possible his first wife Anne is there and other relatives too but currently nothing is known.
[Research by David and Sandra Macdonald of Dingwall resulted in excavation of the car park in 2014 to reveal the site of Dingwall’s Viking parliament or ‘Thing’. When time permits, RCHS will add details.]