The 2nd Statistical Account

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PARISH OF LOCHBROOM

(PRESBYTERY OF LOCHCARRON, SYNOD OF GLENELG)

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

By the REV. THOMAS ROSS, LL.D. MINISTER.

II. – CIVIL HISTORY

Of the ancient history of this parish very little is known, there being no printed or manuscript accounts of it in existence, so far as the present writer is aware. Yet there have been men of genius and talents connected with it.

Eminent Men
Norman M’Leod (alias Tormaid Ban), the author of the well known song of Caberfeidh, and of many other very popular and highly poetical productions, was a native of this parish, and father of the late minister of Rogart in Sutherland, and of Professor M’Leod, late Regent of the University of Glasgow.

Murdoch M’Leod, (alias Murcha M’Iain ‘Ic Uilliam ) also another poet of great merit, was a native of this parish. He was bred to the Episcopal church, but never took orders, nor obtained a settlement. He was nearly related to the best families in Coigach and Assint, among whom he spent his tinme composing spiritual hymns, which are yet remembered, and held in the highest estimation. A printed copy of them would be an inestimable present to the Highlands.

 

The Rev. James Robertson, from the district of Athole, who was settled minister of Lochbroom, shortly before the Rebellion of 1745, was a man of uncommon strength of body, and firmness of mind, eminently suited to the times in which he lived, and to the state and character of the people among whom he was placed, and highly deserving of being recorded in any annals of this parish.

Mr Robertson was born about the year 1701, and soon after obtaining license as a preacher, was appointed assistant to the Rev. Donald Ross, minister of this parish. On the translation of Mr Ross to Fearn, Mr Robertson was recommended as his successor, by the Duke of Athole, to the Earl of Cromarty, the patron of the parish. His Lordship, however, was so much occupied, at that time, in preparations for the Rebellion which broke out in 1745, that the presentation was not lodged with the Moderator of the Presbytery till after the expiry of six months from the commencement of the vacancy; in consequence of which, the presbytery proceeded on the jus devolutum, and bestowed the living on Mr Roderick M’Kenzie, a native of the parish, and nearly related to several of the heritors. But the influence of the Duke of Athole and of the Earl of Cromarty, at that period, was not to be resisted. The presbytery was obliged to yield. Mr M’Kenzie was deprived of the parish, and Mr Robertson was inducted in his place. He was a powerful and evangelical preacher, and laboured, with much earnestness and zeal, among his numerous and semi-barbarous parishioners, whose grosser delinquencies he had often occasion to visit with the weight of his tremendous arm, as well as with the spiritual weapons of his Christian warfare.

Soon after his settlement, Mr Robertson, while on a visit to his predecessor at Fearn, was present in the church of that parish, a Gothic building, covered with large gray flags in place of slates, when, during Divine service, the roof came suddenly down upon the congregation, throwing out the walls with irresistible force. Mr Robertson remaining unhurt, made directly for the principal door, and seeing the lintel ready to give way, he placed his shoulder under the end of it, and stood in that position till as many of the people as could move, escaped. He then extricated his friend, almost suffocated under the canopy of the pulpit, and a mass of stones and rubbish. For this extraordinary feat of strength, he was always afterwards called “Am Ministeir laidir” – the strong minister.

When the Rebellion of 1745 broke out, he had the misfortune to find that his patron and other heritors were decidedly favourable to the exiled family, by which means, the far greater number of his parishioners, in spite of all his remonstrances, became involved in the guilt of their superiors and landlords. His own loyalty, however, remained unshaken, and by his persuasion and influence many were deterred from throwing off their allegiance.

On the return of the victorious Highlanders from the battle of Falkirk, Lord Loudon, accompanied by Lord President Forbes, abandoned the town and county of Inverness, withdrew to Sutherland, and being desirous to pursue a secret route, through the vast mountains of that county and of Lochbroom, to join the Macdonalds and M’Leods, now wavering in their opinions, and stationed between Skye and the mainland of Lochalsh and Glenelg, aware of the danger of such a journey, through a waste, rugged, and hostile country, and well knowing the steady loyalty, and sagacious zeal of the minister of Lochbroom, he dispatched a confidential messenger to Mr Robertson, bearing dispatches to the commanders of the new levies above-mentioned, intimating his intention of joining them, and the route he was to take, and directing that provisions and accommodations should be furnished for his reception. The messenger delivered his dispatches at the manse of Lochbroom, and Mr Robertson instantly forwarded them by a trusty person, who carried them in safety to the place of their destination.

The news immediately transpired that a stranger from Sutherland had arrived at the manse, and Mr Robertson and the messenger were both arrested, and brought before the commanding officer of a party of Highlanders, stationed near the manse. But here he acquitted himself with his usual coolness and presence of mind, and, after a night’s confinement, was liberated. This bold, but successful, measure, was the salvation of Lord Loudon and his whole corps – perhaps the means of the ultimate triumph of the royal cause.

In a few days after, Lord Loudon, with his detachment, and the Lord President, arrived at Lochbroom, and was hospitably entertained for a night, with all his suite, by this intrepid clergyman. Soon after the battle of Culloden, he waited on the Duke of Cumberland, at Inverness. His Royal Highness received him graciously, thanked him for his zeal and services, and ordered twelve stand of arms to be given to him, to be put into the hands of such persons as he might think worthy of being entrusted with them. He also carried on a regular and confidential correspondence with him, during the whole of his Royal Highness’s stay in the north.

But whatever confidence was placed in this excellent man, and whatever favours he was entitled to ask for his important services to his King and country, he employed all, not for the aggrandizement of his own family, but for the benefit of his deluded, though often obstreperous and ungrateful, parishioners. When the trial of these unhappy men, who were taken prisoners in 1746, came on, Mr Robertson set out on a journey of 700 miles, to London (an arduous undertaking at that time), at his own private expense, that he might use all his influence in their behalf. He arrived while Hector Mackenzie, a retainer of the Earl of Cromarty, and a respectable man, was on his trial, and to his unspeakable mortification, in spite of all his interest and exertions, Mackenzie was condemned. But the “Ministear Laidir” was not thus to be put off. He went directly to the Duke of Newcastle, and earnestIy entreated his intercession with the Sovereign, for mercy to the condemned criminal. The Duke received him favourably, and satisfied him with a fair promise that the man’s life would be spared. He was, however, soon alarmed, by a hint from some of his friends, that such promises by the Duke were not always to be relied on, and worked his honest way again into the presence of his Grace, where he earnestly renewed his intercession. The Duke, to get rid of his importunity, renewed his prornise, with the offer of his hand. The minister grasped his hand in his own awful fist, and gave it such a squeeze, that his Grace in agony, exclaimed,”Yes, yes, yes! Mr Robertson, you shall have him, you shall have him”. This promise was not to be forgotten, and the man was saved.

During many of the subsequent trials, Mr Robertson was employed as interpreter, in the taking of the evidence of witnesses, in which capacity, from his intimate knowledge of the Highland character, and of the arts which had been practised upon his people, he was able so to direct the course of the examination, that he both served the cause of truth, and the best interests of the country, and rescued many a victim of folly and delusion from a violent and ignominious death.

While thus detained in London, Mr. Robertson one day, in crossing the Thames in a boat, was assailed by a loud voice from a hulk then lying in the river, with these words, in the Gaelic language, viz. “O! a Mhaisteir Seumas, am bheil thu’ g’am fhagails’ an so?” “O! Mr James, are you going to leave me here?” Mr Robertson, instantly recognizing the speaker, answered, “Ah! a Dhonuil, bheil cuimhn agad air la na biodaig?” i.e. “Ah ! Donald, do you remember the day of the dirk?” The despairing culprit replied, “Och a Mhaisteir Seumas, is olc an t-aite cuimknachan so” i.e.”Oh ! Mr James, bad place of remembrance is THIS.” The conversation ceased. The speaker was a Donald Mackenzie, a bold and powerful man, well known to Mr Robertson as a quondam parishioner. The ruffian had, a few years before, come to the minister for baptism to a child, which, as he was grossly ignorant, was inflexibly refused. The fellow, after repeated refusals, till he should exhibit some suitable qualification, resolved to extort by force, what he could not obtain by solicitation, prevailed on a neighbour of his, another rude and athletic Highlander, to accompany and assist him in this unprincipled attempt. ‘l’hey found the minister at some distance from the manse, when Donald renewed his suit for baptism to his child. But after a short examination, he was found as unqualified as ever, and positively refused. Upon which, the two fellows laid violent hands on the minister, swearing that they would never let him go till he would comply with the request. A desperate struggle ensued, and Donald, perceiving that the minister was stronger than himself and his neighbour drew his dirk, and inflicted a deep wound on Mr Robertson’s right arm, notwithstanding which, he beat the two, and sent Donald home again to study his catechism

The day of retribution for the violence of the dirk was come, and Mr Robertson, in the true spirit of his holy calling, lost no time in employing all his influence in favour of the desponding criminal. His exertions were attended with success. Poor Donald received a free pardon, returned home to his native country, and lived for many years, the most attached and grateful parishioner of his reverend benefactor. It may be added, that Mr Robertson returned to his parish, and to the most grateful and admiring affections of his people of all ranks, among whom he lived for nearly thirty years after, in the zealous, diligent, and successful discharge of his ministerial duties.

Soon after the battle of Culloden, a squadron of King’s vessels, under the command of one Ferguson, appeared off the coast of this parish, and dropped anchor in Loch Ceannard. A strong party landed there, and proceeded up the strath, as far as the residence of Mr M’Kenzie of Langwell, who was married to a near relative of Earl George of Cromarty. Mr M’Kenzie got out of the way; but the lady was obliged to attend some of her children, who were confined by small-pox. The house was ransacked, a trunk containing valuable papers, and among them a wadset of Langwell, and Inchvennie, from the Earl of Cromarty, was burnt before her eyes, and about fifty head of black-cattle were mangled by their swords, and driven away to the ships. Similar depredations were committed in the neighbourhood, without discrimination of friends or enemies, during eight days that they remained upon the coast.

Land-owners
The landed proprietors of the parish are the Hon. Mrs Hay M’Kenzie of Cromertie; Mr Davidson of Tulloch; Mr M’Kenzie of Dundonnell; Sir George M’Kenzie of Coul; and Captain Fraser of Balnain. None of these reside within the parish. Neither are there other families of any note residing in it. They all possess land to the yearly value of L.50 and upwards.

Parochial Registers
There are no parochial registers within the parish, further back than the year 1808, the date of the present incumbent’s induction.

Antiquities
There are many of the drystone circular buildings called Duns, in this parish, but there is no tradition of their origin or use.

Modern Buildings
There is nothing, under this head, worth noticing, except the parish church, which was built in 1816-17. It is an excellent house, seated for 1200, but capable of containing nearly 2000 sitters. The manse was built in 1812, and is in great need of repair. There is a very comfortable mansion-house on the property of Dundonnell, greatly enlarged and improved by the late proprietor, Kenneth M’Kenzie.

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