The 1st Statistical Account
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PARISH OF LOCHBROOM
(County of Ross - Presbytery of Lochcarron - Synod of Glenelg)
Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty
By the Reverend Mr Roderick Macrae, Missionary Minister in the parish of Applecross
Advantages and Disadvantages, &c. –
It is a very great advantage to the people here to be so near the sea. The herring fishing not only contributes much to their support, but also helps them to pay their rents. Still, however, they are in general rather poor, and think the land-rents too high. The oppression of the landholders is a general complaint in the Highlands; and the consequence is that great numbers of the people are forced to emigrate to America, while others go to service in the low countries and manufacturing towns. And thus the population of these corners is not near so great as might be expected in such an extent of territory. Another circumstance, which is unfriendly to population, is the engrossing of farms for sheep walks. This mode of farming has been introduced lately into some parts of this parish, and proved the occasion of reducing to hardship several honest families, who lived tolerably happy on the fruits of their industry and frugality. Whoever would wish to see the population of this country flourishing, should do all in their power to put a stop to the sheep traffic, and to introduce manufactures among the people. Whole districts have been already depopulated by the introduction of sheep; so that, where formerly hundreds of people could be seen, no human faces are now to be met with, except a shepherd attended by his dog.
It has been said, however, that these people who were dispossessed of their farms, can live much more comfortably in the manufacturing employment, than ever they could do before. But would they not be still more happy, if manufactures were introduced among themselves ?* And is it not a matter of importance to the nation to encourage population in the Highlands, as well as in other parts of the kingdom? Besides their inconveniencies, many of the people of Lochbroom are at a loss for the means of religious instruction, though they have got a clergyman in the village, and are besides furnished with three catechists from the committee for the royal bounty. In such an extensive parish, there ought to be no fewer than 4 clergymen, in order to afford the benefit of Christian worship and public instruction to the whole body of people. In their present state many of them do not hear so much as one sermon in a year, which is also the case with different parts of some neighbouring parishes. In Lochbroom it is a striking circumstance to see crowds of people coming for christenings and marriages from a distance of several miles, both by sea and land, in the time of boisterous and rainy weather. +
* There was a Lint Manufacturing Station established here, some time ago, by the Board of Trustees for fisheries and manufactures. While this work continued it was of great service to this parish, but it has been long since given up. The house, where the superintendent lived, stands at the end of the Meikle Loch, and could be repaired at a small expence, so as to be occupied again.
+ The clergyman of the village could perform these good offices, to such of them as are contiguous to him. But it is a pity that the minister of the parish should be so fondly tenacious of his dignity, as to deny this indulgence.
Proposed Improvements –
If this parish were divided into 4 districts, each of them would form a sufficiently extensive and populous charge for one clergyman. Coigach would comprehend two of these districts; one of which would be confined to Ullapool and its environs, consisting of upwards of 1000 souls. The Aird of Coigach would form another district, which is separated from the Ullapool district, by an extensive track of moss, mountains, and rocks. In this district there are upwards of 600 souls; and some of the tenants there, with the concurrence of the proprietor, made lately a very laudable attempt to obtain a mission from the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, in which we are sorry they did not succeed. The Society, though possessed of ample funds, think it necessary to stipulate for their missions terms and conditions which the Highland proprietors are so unwilling to comply with, that few of them are likely to take place. It has been said, and not without reason, that the society’s great funds would be more productive of good and extensive effects if they settled their missions independently on any stipulations with the proprietors of estates; as in this case, the people immediately reaping the benefit of a mission, would furnish the incumbent with the more necessary accommodations, such as a dwelling-house and a place of worship; that with regard to a glebe, which is the principal obstruction, it should never be insisted on as a necessary condition for the establishment of a mission. In some cases, a missionary would not occupy a glebe though he had it, and, in most places, if he was disposed to keep a few cattle, he could always, for a little rent, obtain grants for them, either from the tenants or the proprietor; and that according to the present mode of settling missions adopted by the Society, those places that have most need, have least chance of being provided with them. The Society, however, must have good reasons for their proceedings, though it is to be regretted that the effects should thus, though contrary to their intention, retard the object they have in view to promote. The enlightening of these benighted corners, for whose improvement and happiness the pious intended their liberal bequests, is an object of such importance, that it were to be wished matters could be settled on a more favourable footing. It is hard indeed, that if a poor ignorant set of people, in an obscure corner, have the misfortune to be under a niggardly or a poor proprietor, that does not care a farthing for their souls or bodies further than to get his rents, they should suffer on that account, and be deprived of the blessings which their more feeling Christian brethern intended them. The 3rd district of Lochbroom might comprehend Little Strath, Strathnafailg, the Laich, &c. and would also stand in need of a mission. It contains about 880 souls. The 4th, and the last district, might comprehend the rest of this parish, viz. Meikle Strath, and other places contiguous to the parish church, which consist of about 950 souls.
Here may be seen the ruins of several old fortifications. But the traditions concerning them are so various and doubtful, that nothing certain can be determined with regard to their original. In an Island on the south-westof this parish, may be seen two large caves, one on the north side of the island, and the other on the south. It is said to have been inhabited by a Popish priest, who used to shift his quarters from one cave to another, as the weather directed. It still retains the name of Priest Island.
ADDITION TO VOLUME
Parish of Lochbroom
Additional Communications, from the Rev. Roderick M’Rae.
That the Highlands may be improved in several respects, appears evident upon a little reflection. They may be improved in agriculture, in manufactures, and in fisheries. But, as a necessary preliminary to these improvements, the making of proper roads and bridges, so as to open an easy communication betwixt the Highlands and the Lowlands, and from one part of the Highlands to another, is an object which merits the attention of the legislature. With this view, the roads leading to Pollew and Lochcarron, as they are the channels of conveyance to the west coast and the Hebrides, ought to be formed upon the same plan with the Lochbroom road, where carts and horses can now travel with the greatest ease and expedition, either by night or by day. These other roads are by no means less worthy of notice. After paving the way thus far for improvements, in order to encourage agricultural exertions, landholders ought to give their tenants longer leases than usual, suppose twenty years or upwards. Nothing discourages a tenant more than a short lease. In this case, he reasons with himself, that too great exertions in improving his farm might be a mean to augment his rents, before he tastes the fruits of his labours, or to tempt his neighbour to outbid him at next set, not far distant. As a further inducement to agricultural improvements, perhaps it might have a good effect if the landholders should, after the laudable example of the Highland Society upon a large scale, each upon his own estate, distribute among his tenants some little premiums for improving a spot of ground here and there. Furnishing them with tools and instruments of husbandry might also be to some purpose. As to fisheries, I have long been of the opinion, that a village consisting merely of professional fishers could never exist in the Highlands. Their success in fishing is perfectly precarious, and, even if it were otherwise, they are at a distance from markets. But if the soil was cultivated, so as to furnish the necessaries of life upon easy terms, and the manufactures set up in proper situations, inhabitants of various descriptions would flock in from all quarters, and would in all probability in the course of a few years form populous and flourishing villages. In such a state of things, there would not be wanting abundance of persons to prosecute the fishing, with the utmost vigour, of their own accord. In the meantime, I must observe, that an alteration on the salt laws is much required. They seem to be rather strict and intricate for the present state of the Highlands. The extension of useful knowledge, also, would have a happy tendency to rouse the Highlander to attend to the means of improving his country. For this purpose, schools and missions ought to be established in as many situations as possible. From want of these means of instruction, the present state of the Highlands is truly deplorable, and it is rather unfortunate that the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge should have adopted regulations which stand as a bar to the benefits of the institution. Schools of industry, as for spinning, sewing, net-making, &c. should likewise be established.
I wish you could get some schools established at Derrynafuaran. One for literature, and another for the other useful purposes just now mentioned, would much improve the poor people here. It is a hard case if the Society at Edinburgh refuse to concur with you in so laudable an undertaking.
If the Pollew road was made the establishment of a packet boat betwixt Torridon and the isle of Sky, it would be of much benefit to this coast and the Western Isles. The road betwixt Torridon and Kinlochew should also be repaired, if not wholly new-modelled. Even as it stands, it must be owned to be of great service, not only to your own tenants, but also to their neighbours. It seems to be one of the best improvements ever attempted in this country.
By promoting the improvements suggested above, the state would be strengthened, the landholders would be benefited, and the situation of the Highlanders themselves rendered much more comfortable.