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



According to Dr Webster's return in 1755 the population was


By returns to Sir John Sinclair about 1794


At the last census in 1831


Making an increase since the former Account of


In fact, however, the number of inhabitants actually belonging to the parish, at the time of the last census, must have been considerably greater than that given in. For, by a very correct enumeration, taken by the present incumbent in 1824, in which the name and surname of every individual in the parish are inserted, the number of inhabitants then in the parish was 4747, being 132 more than in the last census, although the population has undoubtedly been gradually and rapidly increasing for a hundred years back.

The discrepancy, however, is easily accounted for, in full consistency with the accuracy of the last Report. For, the act of Parliament of 1830 requiring that the population of the whole kingdom should be taken at one and the same time, it became necessary to return the number of persons then actually within the parishes, rather than the number of persons which fairly belonged to them. And by this means, some hundreds of the parishioners of Lochbroom, away at sea, at the Caithness and deep-sea fishings, and at south-country labouring of various kinds, must have been omitted in their own, and returned from other parishes.


The population returns of 1831 are as follows: viz. males, 2214; females, 240l; total, 4615. Males above twenty years of age, 1065; families,938; inhabited houses, 917; houses building, 6; houses uninhabited, 5; occupiers of land, 572; employed in retail and trade, 96. Average of baptisms for the last seven years, 119; of marriages, 241.

The real population of the parish of Lochbroom, as correctly ascertained in November 1834, is 5206; of which 2546 are males, and 2660 are females.

Character and Habits of the People
There is nothing very remarkable in the appearance, character, or habits of the people. The language generally spoken is Gaelic; but it is evidently losing ground. The people are in general sober and quiet; but when an opportunity occurs, as at a wedding, or even a funeral, it cannot be denied that some of them occasionally exceed the bounds of perfect moderation. They are in general very poor. Their ordinary food consists chiefly of potatoes and fish, and it must be admitted that the strength of body, and daring spirit for which the Highlanders were once justly celebrated, are greatly on the decline. They cannot be entirely acquitted of poaching in game or salmon, nor is the country entirely free from the degrading and demoralizing practice of smuggling whisky. But this is greatly owing to the proprietors or their factors.


The number of acres in the parish, cultivated or uncultivated, has never been ascertained. The black-cattle reared in the parish are small, but hardy. The original small sheep of the country were, about forty years ago, supplanted by the blackfaced, and these are now fast yielding to the white-faced or Cheviot breeds. There is truly little to be said in commendation of the farm-buildings and enclosures of the parish, but the labouring implements have certainly been much improved. When the present incumbent entered on his charge in the year 1808, there were only two coup-carts in the whole parish, and perhaps not one low country made plough. But now, where there is arable land to cultivate, both are universally used.

The principal improvements which have been made in the parish were executed by the late Kenneth M’Kenzie, Esq. of Dundonnell. This gentleman, brother-in-law to the writer, had been for some years abroad and in the army, and succeeded his father, George M’Kenzie, in the year 1816. Being left a free estate:worth L.1600 a-year, and some thousand pounds in money, he soon came home, settled on his property, completely changed the whole system of management which had been previously followed; introduced a superior breed of cattle, for which he had a fine taste; bought valuable horses with corresponding implements of husbandry, and harness; greatly enlarged and improved his mansion-house; built a fine square of offices; enclosed a large piece of ground for a garden, with a wall of stone and lime, ten or twelve feet high, which he laid out in the most tasteful manner, and stocked with a rich variety of fruit trees and bushes, as well as flowering shrubs and flowers; recovered many acres of waste land; opened up the country by new roads; built hundreds of yards of stone dikes; planted millions of firs and hard-wood trees; and in every way beautified and adorned his own romantic little strath. He died at the age of 36, and left no children behind him. *

There are few leases given in this parish, except to the principal sheep-farmers, and these are from fifteen to nineteen years. The farm-buildings and enclosures in the parish, except those at Dundonnell already mentioned, are mean and worthless. The proprietors will lay out nothing on their lands, nor will they allow meliorations to their tenants, even for substantial improvements. The state of the parish, therefore, in regard to improvement, may easily be imagined.

*These improvemeuts had contributed to involve Dundonnell deeply in debt. His younger brother, and heir-at-law, was in such circumstances as rendered it impossible for him to clear the estate, or to retain it. It was settled past him, but burdened with a legacy to the eldest son of the heir, and still larger provisions to the numerous children of a favourite sister, of more than sufficient amount to exhaust the surplus value of the whole property. But this apparent disinheritance of the heir roused the indignation of the friends of the family, which operated powerfully on the characteristic attachment of the poor Highlanders; and outrages were committed of an atrocious character – fire-raising, destruction of property, brutal mutilation of cattle, and even deliberate attempts on life. Part of the settlements of the deceased were then made the subject of reduction by jury trial, and were reduced, and the heir was reinstated amidst much rejoicings. The heir, however, became immediately bankrupt. The estate was brought to the hammer for payment of the previous debts, and of an annuity of L.500 a-year to the widow, when it appeared that there was not surplus enough to pay the legacy bequeathed to the the sister or her children, at least during the widow’s lifetime, and the lands, with all their improvernents and embellishments- have passed by purchase to an intelligent stranger.

The herring fishery has been already noticed. There are salmon killed on the rivers of Ullapool, Meikle and Little Broom, and Greenyard.

There is no manufacture of any consequence carried on in this parish. Even the manufacture of kelp, which was once a source of considerable profit, is now discontinued, since the duty on barilla was taken off, and the raw material is used only as manure for the land.

There is no navigable river in this parish, nor any foreign trade carried on with it; and there are but two or three small sloops at the port of Ullapool, which ply between that place and Greenock, Liverpool, and Ireland.


There is no market-town in the parish, nor any nearer than Dingwall, at the distance of about forty-five miles from Ullapool. There is a foot-runner, who carries the post letters twice a week from Dingwall to Ullapool, but no turnpike roads, or rail-roads, or public carriages, or canals, and but one village, viz. Ullapool, the harbour of which, though srnall, is in tolerable repair.

Ecclesiastical State
The parish church is situated at the head of the Big Loch, at the distance of about thirty-five miles from the extremity of the parish, in one direction, and of twenty-five miles from the extremity in another. It was built in the year 1817, and. is now (May 1835) undergoing a repair, in consequence of a panic which seized the congregation about four years ago, causing a rush to be made to the doors and windows, by which many were crushed and bruised, though none killed. The alarm was given, not from any defect in the church, but by the scream of a person seized with epilepsy, yet such was the effect of the shock on the nerves of the people, that many of them could not be prevailed upon to enter the church again, unless it should undergo a repair. It affords accommodation for 1200 sitters. All the sittings are free.

The manse was built in 1811, and is now under repair.

The extent of the glebe is not well ascertained, being connected with a piece of ground given by the family of Seaforth to the church. The whole consists of an extensive piece of a very steep and rugged hill, at the foot of which the present incumbent has cleared and brought into culture about a dozen acres at an immense expense, which they will never repay to him. The rest is let to small tenants or crofters, who labour the ground with their own hands and feet, by means of a certain implement called the cas-chrom, and for which they pay a precarious rent.

The amount of stipend is 18 chalders, one-half barley, and one-half meal, the former, however, being one thirty second part, and the latter, one-ninth part per boll, less than the county measure; and the fiars prices being always considerably lower tban the ordinary retail prices of the county, particularly to a person who cannot afford to purchase a great quantity at once, the living is apparently more valuable than it is in fact.

There is one Government church in the parish, situated in the village of Ullapool, but no chapel of ease nor missionary. And it will astonish the reader to hear that, in this enormous parish, there is only one catechist, who receives only the paltry sum of L.7 a-year from the Committee for managing his Majesty’s munificent Bounty of L.2000 a-year.

There is no Seceding, nor Episcopalian, nor Roman Catholic, nor dissenting chapel of any denomination, in this parish. All the parishioners are of the Established Presbyterian church, and firmly attached to its doctrines, discipline, and government. The church is generally well attended in time of Divine service, and the number of communicants in the parish is above 400.

The writer of this has no distinct recollection of the sums which his parishioners may have, on an average of years, collected for religious and charitable purposes, but he is quite sure that they have not been behind their neighbours in deeds of charity and benevolence.

There are no societies for religious purposes established in the parish. In a parish so extensive, so scattered, and so difficult, no such societies could meet sufficiently often for any useful purpose.

The total number of schools in the parish is 8; one parochial school, and seven supported by various charitable societies. In the parochial school, there are taught, Gaelic and English reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin, Greek, and mathematics. The master’s salary is L.34. 4s. Sterling, with the legal accommodations. The school fees may amount to about L 6. He has also L.3. 6s. 8d. as precentor and session-clerk – all too little for a man of liberal education.

Of the whole population of the parish, only 1496 can read or write in any language, and many of these very imperfectly indeed, while 3710 can neither read nor write; and it is to be lamented, as well as confessed, that many of the people are not sufficiently alive to the benefits of education. They make general professions of regard to the means of instruction, when destitute of them; but when these means are put within their reach, the sacrifice is small indeed which many will make to give their children the benefit of them.

Poor and Parochial Funds
The average number of persons receiving parochial aid is about 101, and the average sum allotted to each per year is from 2s. to 5s. The annual amount of contributions for their relief is about L.21, of which about L.16. l3s. are collected at the church doors, and L.5 are the interest of L.100 left as a legacy to the poor. There is no other regular mode of procuring funds for the poor, except by fines imposed upon persons proved guilty of adultery, fornication, &c., part of which goes to pay the session-clerk and the beadle; and in the most clamant cases of distress, the heritors have always resisted an assessment, which cannot be enforced without law expenses.There is a strong disposition among the poor to refrain from seeking parochial relief, which they consider as in the lowest degree degrading.

There is no prison in the parish; nor is there any fair held there. The number of tippling-houses, particularly about UIlapool, is considerable, and their effects on the morals of the people, pernicious.

The fuel chiefly used is peat, procured frorn mosses, which in many places are nearly exhausted, or so far removed from the townships, that, if the labour of providing it could be converted into money, at any reasonable rate, it would be much cheaper to burn the best of Newcastle coal than the worst of Lochbroom peat.


The difference betwixt the present state of the parish, and that which existed at the time of the last Statistical Account, in regard to the implements of husbandry and mode of cultivating the soil, has been already noticed. The difference is no less striking in the price of provisions and wages. At present, a boll of oatmeal, of the same measure as then, will fetch L.1. 4s.; a boll of oats, L1; of barley, L.1. lOs. Butter fetches from 12s. to L.1. ls. per stone, according to the quality; and cheese 8s. per stone. A good ploughman gets from L.6 to L.9 a-year of wages; a woman from L.1. 5s. to L.1. lOs. in the half year, with shoes; and a day labourer will hardly think himself well paid by ls. 6d. without victuals.

The first and greatest improvement of any country, in a worldly point of view, is to have it well opened up by good roads and bridges. Of this improvement, not one parish in Scotland stands nearly so much in need, as the parish of Lochbroom. Above forty years ago, a road was constructed at a great expense from Dingwall to Ullapool, which, being a new thing in the Highlands, astonished the natives not a little. But the line chosen was so absurd, and the execution so wretched, that the road has been, for many years back, not only useless, but dangerous, to foot-passengers and riders on horseback, and to wheel carriages almost impassable, while several of the principal bridges are carried away, or threatened with being so, or deserted, from the original line of road being changed. A new road, therefore, with the requisite bridges, of which there has been much talk of late, would be an immense improvement, both for the heritors and population of Lochbroom. To talk of manufacturing or agricultural improvements to any considerable extent without these, is vain and visionary. Even if a hand manufacture, on the smallest scale, were introduced, which would enable the females of the parish, by any employment suitable to their sex, to purchase Newcastle or Liverpool coal for fuel to their families, instead of degrading their persons, and often losing their lives, by carrying peats upon their backs, from almost exhausted mosses inaccessible to horses or to carts, it would be an unspeakable benefit to the country.

In a moral point of view, the great improvement needed is additional means of religious instruction. On this subject, the people at the two extremities of the parish, viz. Coigach, containing a population of 1975, and Laigh, containing a population of 1187 souls, have lately presented very strong petitions to both Houses of Parliament representing their melancholy state of almost total destitution, and imploring the interposition of the Legislature in their behalf. And it must be allowed, indeed, by all, that in a parish which, if divided into four, with ministers and churches at the most convenient stations, would leave many of the parishioners at the distance of ten, twelve, and even fifteen miles, of rugged road, from any place of public worship, there is need of Legislative interposition. The voluntary scheme will not suit here.

But, whatever effect these applications may have in procuring churches and clerical teachers for the parish of Lochbroom, it can never be satisfactorily accounted for, that, out of the large amount of Royal and lay Bounty contributed annually for the religious and moral improvement of the Highlands, so very small a proportion should find its way to this enormous parish. The parish, it is true, has been highly favoured with schoolmasters for the instruction of youth by the Gaelic School Society, and by the General Assembly Committee, since the latter commenced their labours. But of catechists, the description of teachers of all others the best calculated to be useful to the grown up inhabitants, many hundreds of whom are so involved in ignorance as to be incapable of deriving benefit from a continued discourse, the minister, after innumerable applications for many years, has been able to obtain only one, of ten that are required, and for that one he could only procure L.7 of a yearly salary! The gentlemen who have the management of the Royal Bounty, and of the funds of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, may suppose that their money is better employed in paying missionaries and schoolmasters than catechists. But I again aver, and without any fear of successful contradiction, that, in such parishes as Lochbroom, and others in similar circumstances, no teachers, in connection with the parish ministers, are so much calculated to be useful as well chosen catechists.

May 1835.

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