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.


Name, Extent, etc
This parish had its name originally from a very small loch, near the church and the south of Flowerdale, and so close by the shore that the sea at high tides covers it. The etymology of it is abundantly clear, and signifies in the Gaelic language a short contracted loch.

The parish of Gairloch is situated in the county of Ross, in the preybytery of Lochcarron, and synod of Glenelg. Its length is no less than 32 miles English, and its breadth about eighteen.

This country resembles many other parts of the Highlands of Scotland. The valleys are surrounded with hills, that afford good pasture to different kinds of cattle. As the parish abounds in hills and mossy ground, the arable parts of it are consequently but of a small extent. When the season is favourable, the crops are by no means bad, yet they scarcely serve the inhabitants above seven or eight months. The potatoes the farmers plant, and the fish they catch, contribute much to their support. This country, and all the west coast, are supplied in the summer with meal, by vessels that come from different ports at a distance, such as Caithness, Murray, Peterhead, Banff, Aberdeen, Greenock, etc.; and, at an average, sell the boll, consisting of eight stones, at 16s. and when provisions are high, at 18s. and upwards.


Rivers and Antiquities
There are many rivers in this parish, but no bridges nor passage but by horses, and therefore, when these rivers overflow their banks, which often happens in the winter and spring seasons, and sometimes even in summer, travellers are detained, and are exposed to delays, and additional expenses. There are two large rivers near the east end of this parish, which meet and run into one at Kenlochew, which in the Earse language imports the Head of the Loch-River. These two rivers empty themselves into Loch-Mari. This loch again is 12 computed miles in breadth, and more in some parts than a mile in breadth. There are 24 small islands in it, which are beautified with fir trees, and a variety of other kinds of’ wood; in one of these islands there is an ancient burying place, called Island-Mari, where the people on the north side of the loch still contine to bury their dead. There is a well in it of fabulous quality, the water of which has been found, for ages past, very serviceable to many diseased persons. The remains of a Druidical temple is like-wise to be seen in this small island.

Gairloch has been for many ages famous for the cod-fishing. Sir Hector McKenzie of Gairloch, the present proprictor, tends to market annually, upon an average, between 30,000 and 40,000 cod, exclusive of the number with which the country people serve themselves. Gairloch has also from time immemorial been remarkable for the herring-fishing. The coast of this parish abounds in very safe harbours for vessels of all dimensions.

Oats and barley are sown in this country. Some of the gentlemen sow a small quantity of pease, which when the harvest is warm and dry, yield profitable returns; our time of sowing oats, black and white, is commonly from the middle of March to the end of April, within which period we also plant potatoes; we sow barley from the beginning of May to the 10th of June; our latest barley is seldom the worst part of the crop, when the summer proves warm and showery. Our harvest commences about the end of August, and the crop is gathered in about the 10th of October. Our crop frequently suffers much from shaking winds, attendant with heavy cold rain, about the autumnal equinox.

No peculiar local distemper of any kind is prevalent in this parish. Fevers are frequent; sometimes they are of a favourable kind; at other times they continue long, and carry off great numbers. An infectious and putrid fever, early in winter last, made its way from the north over a long tract of different countries, and proved fatal to many.

There were in this parish in the year 1774, of examinable persons about 2000. And from that period to the present, there is an increase of 200 souls, and upwards. In Dr Webster’a s report the number was 2050. There are few people in the parish at the age of 85 and 87. Two died lately who arrived at the age of an 100 years.

Character of the people
They are in general sober, regular, industrious and pious. They have always been remarked and esteemed for their civility, and hospitality to strangers.

In the great extent of this parish, as has been already observed, there is no school but the parochial, by which means the rising generation suffer much, and are wholly neglected, having no access to the benefit of instruction. There are only two catechists, who have their appointments partly in the skirts of this and partly of the two neighbouring parishes.

All the people of every denomination are of the established church; there are no Dissenters, Seceders, nor any other kind of sect whatever in the parish. The church of this parish has stood more than a century, but has for some years past been in a ruinous situation, and was therefore taken down this summer, and a new elegant church is building. There are three places of public worship in the parish, exclusive to the church, viz. Kenlochew, Chapel of Sand, and the croft of Jolly. The church and manse are at the distance of six English miles from each other. The manse is very near the shore on the north of the church, and supposed to be in the centre of the parish. The value of the living, exclusive of the glebe, and including the expense allowed for communion elements, is only L.58. 6s. 9d. There are five heritors in the parish; viz. Sir Hector McKenzie of Gairloch, Baronet; John McKenzie of Gruinord; John McKenzie of Letterew; Roderick McKenzie of Kernfary; and Colonel McKenzie of Coul, who is at present in the East Indies; all the rest reside in the parish.

The land-rent cannot be ascertained with accuracy. It may probably be about L.1700 per annum.

The number of poor in this, as well as in many other Highland parishes, is daily increasing. There are 84 upon the kirk-session roll, besides some other indigent persons, who, though not inrolled, yet are considered as objects of sympathy. They have the annual collections made in the church, with the interest of L.20 distributed amoung them. The collections upon an average are about L.6. 7s. 0d.

The Gaelic is the prevailing language in this, as well as in several other corners on the west coast, where the people have no opportunity of learing English.

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