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


*Drawn up by the Rev. Donald McRae, Minister of Poolewe.


Eminent Men
This parish has been as fortunate as most of its neighbours in being the birth-place and residence of eminent characters, but the only person whom I shall at present mention, is William Ross, the celebrated Gaelic bard. This individual was born in the parish of Strath, Isle of Skye, in the year 1762. After receiving as liberal an education as the school of Forres at that time could afford, he was appointed parochial schoolmaster of Gairloch, when about twenty-four years of age. In that situation, he continued four years. He died in his twenty-eighth year, and his remains are deposited in the churchyard of Gairloch. “As a writer of Gaelic songs” (to quote from a short memoir prefixed to a Collection of his Songs, published four years ago) “William Ross is entitled to the highest praise. In the greater number of his lyrics, the bard leads us along with him, and imparts to us so much of his own tenderness, feeling, and enthusiasm, that our thoughts expand and kindle with his sentiments. Without going beyond the bounds of ‘verity and truth’ it may be affirmed that his poetry, more perhaps than that of most writers, deserves to be styled the poetry of the heart – of a heart overflowing with noble sentiments, and with sublime and tender passions.”


The land-owners of the parish are: Sir Francis Alexander McKenzie of Gairloch, Bart.; Sir George Stewart McKenzie of Coul, Bart.; Duncan Davison, Esq. of Tulloch; James Alexander Stewart McKenzie, Esq. of Seaforth; and Hector McKenzie, Esq. of Letterewe.

Parochial Registers
There were no parochial registers kept in the parish previous to the year 1802; since that period, they have been regularly kept.


Character of the People
The ancient population of this parish, as far back as the oldest living inhabitants can remember, was comparatively rude and uncultivated. There are now living in the parish some who remember the time when there was only one, or at most two Bibles in the parish, besides the minister’s. What, in such a state of things, could be expected of the manners of the inhabitants? Yet these same individuals will unhesitatingly affirm that people were more generous and more noble-minded at that period, than they are now.


In 1801


In 1811


In 1821


In 1831


The causes of the increase are various, and too numerous to be mentioned here. Among these, however, may be mentioned the habit of early marriage, and the system of letting the land in lots. The lot of lands this year in the possession of one family may, before twelve months are over, be divided into three equal portions – in other words, three distinct families live upon the produce of it.

The yearly average of births for the last seven years


The yearly average of marriages for the last seven years


No register of deaths kept in the parish.

The average numnber of persons under 15 years of age


Betwixt 15 and 30


...............30 and 50


...............35 and 70


Upwards of 70


The number of proprietors of land of the yearly value of L.50 and upwards


The number of bachelors upwards of 50 years of age


The number of widowers upwards of 50 years of age


The number of unmarried women, upwards of 45 years of age


The number of families


The number of inhabited houses


The number of houses now building


There are only 4 blind individuals within the bounds of this parish; 10 fatuous persons; and 6 deaf and dumb; 4 of the latter belong to one family, and 2 to another.

Language, &c.
The language generally spoken is the Gaelic. I am not aware that it has lost ground within the last forty years.

Some young men, indeed, who have received a smattering of education, consider they are doing great service to the Gaelic by interspersing their conversation with English words, and giving them a Gaelic termination and accent. These corrupters of both languages, with more pride than good taste, now and then introduce words of bad English or of bad Scotch, which they have learned from the Newhaven or Buckie fishermen, whom they meet with on the coast of Caithness during the fishing season. The Gaelic, however, is still spoken in as great purity by the inhabitants in general, as it was forty years ago.

The houses of the people in general, have but one outer door, and as they and their cattle go in by that one entrance – the bipeds to take posssession of one end of the house, and the quadrupeds of the other – it cannot be expected that a habitation common to man and beast can be particularly clean. Some of the people, indeed, are now getting into the way of building byres for their cattle, contiguous to their dwelling-houses, and it is acknowledged, even by the most indolent, that a great improvement is thus effected. It is hoped that the practice may soon become more general. When the young people go to kirk or market, few appear more “trig or clean”, and a stranger would hardly be persuaded that some of them lived in such miserable hovels. When a girl dresses in her best attire, her very habiliments, in some instances, would be sufficient to purchase a better dwelling-house than that from which she has just issued.

The people are in general contented with their situation and circumstances. If they have a lot of lands, grass for two or three cows, and fishing materials, they seldom have any further objects of ambition. Owing to the means of education not being commensurate with the increase of population, the intellectual character of the people does not keep pace with their moral and religious character. They are naturally a shrewd, sensible, steady sort of people. With a few exceptions, they are of good moral character. They seldom quarrel among each other; and when they have any differences, these are generally settled by the proprietors or factors. A law-suit is seldom heard of from this parish.

When I advert to their religious character, I am constrained to acknowledge my fear that their knowledge of the truths of our holy religion is more of the head than the heart. The form of godliness is not so much wanting as its power. I do not mean, however, that in this respect the people of this parish are not on a parity with those of the neighbourhood.

Smuggling was carried on to a great extent in this parish some years ago, but is now very much on the decrease; indeed, while there is a vestige of such a demoralizing practice remaining, there can be but slender hopes of moral improvement. It may be mentioned to the honour of one of the heritors, that he has erected a licensed distillery, for the sole purpose of giving a death-blow to smuggling on his estate.

Parish of Gairloch continue reading

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