The 1st Statistical Account
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PARISH OF LOCHCARRON
(COUNTY OF ROSS, SYNOD OF GLENELG, PRESBYTERY OF LOCHCARRON)
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.
By the Rev. Mr LACHLAN MACKENZIE
Name, Extent, Soil, &c. –
This parish derives its name from a Loch or arm of the sea, into which the river Carron falls. Carron, or Caramhuin, which, in the Gaelic, signifies the ‘winding stream’, takes its rise in the heights of the parish, from a lake, called Loch Scavan. A little above this loch, there are two burns, the one falls into Loch Scavan, the other goes to the burn of Lubgargan, and falls into the sea at Dingwall. It forms another loch at Bellanocra, within 4 miles of the sea. In this loch, as well as in the other, there is a small island, where MacIan, when proprietor of this part of Lochcarron, had a house and garden. There is a good salmon-fishing upon the Carron. This parish is bounded on the W. by the sea. It is upwards of 14 miles long, and 5 or 6 broad, a beautiful highland country. The soil in some parts is deep and clayey, in others, sandy and light. The manures made use of are sea-ware, shelly-sand and lime. The implements of husbandry are the plough and the crooked spade. The crops raised, are oats, barley and potatoes, and some pease. Seed-time is in April and May. Harvest in September and October.
Population, Rent, Heritors, etc. –
The return to Dr Webster in 1755, was 771 souls. The number at present is 1068. There are 3 heritors: Mackenzie of Applecross, the principal heritor, augmented the rents last year. There are 9 weavers, 3 or 4 tailors, 1 smith, 3 wrights 1 public-house, 4 dram houses, 4 gardeners, 1 Popish wife, and 1 Episcopalian. The rest are of the Established Religion.
Stipend, School, Poor, etc. –
The church was built in 1751. It was formerly called the Great Church of Lochcarron, and it was so, compared with other Highland kirks. The manse was built in 1778. The stipends are 1000 merks Scots, and 60 merks for communion-elements. The glebe was reckoned worth 60 merks Scots. It is worth more. The King is patron. In the parochial school are taught English, writing, arithmetick, Latin and Greek. The number of scholars is between 20 and 30, the salary 200 merks Scots. There are 20 merks Scots yearly for the poor, by mortification. The yearly collection in 1783 may have been L.4 or L.5. the yearly collection for these 6 years past has been upwards of L.6 or L.8. It is sometimes more, sometimes less. The number of poor, upon an average, is between 20 and 30.
Long Leases –
The greater part of the people of Lochcarron have lately got leases for 25 years. This has excited a spirit of industry and improvement. They are now building comfortable houses, and turning their lands to the best advantage. The great error, however, of the Highland farmers is overstocking. If they kept only two cows for every three they do at present, they would improve their breed of cattle, and be in no danger of losing them by severe winters or springs. Three bad cows will devour more grass and straw than two good ones, but will never fetch as good a price from any drover. The price of cattle was very high for some years past. A Highland cow would sell for L.5 or L.6, and sometimes for L.7 Sterling. If this be a good cause for augmenting the rents, it is to be hoped, that proprietors will see that the fall of the price of cattle, when that happens, is a good cause for diminishing them again.
The most common diseases in this parish are rheumatisms and fevers. These distempers, it is very likely, arise from cold, and from improper feeding. A Highlander will sit for a whole day in wet shoes, and sometimes in wet cloaths.
In 1791, there was a remarkable herring-fishing in this loch. During low water, the children of Kirktown went often to the Strand, and carried lapfulls of herring with them. The people fed entirely on fish. They were visited by a fever. Their blood was vitiated. When they were let blood in the fever, it had the appearance, when it congealed, of the blood of a boiled pudding, or of an ugly kind of jelly. Their breath smelled strong of fish. In proportion as they fed, sorberly or voraciously on the herring, the fever was more or less severe. Such as lived mostly on fish, and other strong food, suffered dreadful agony. The poor people, that mostly lived upon water-gruel, suffered very little. There are many instances of longevity in the parish. There have been likewise instances of some old couples in this parish, who have felt the sweet passion of love, after passing their grand climacterick. Their union has given rise to some curious anecdotes and verses, which would move the risible muscles, even of a cynick philosopher.
Gaelic Poets –
Lochcarron has produced some good Highland poets. William Mackenzie, and Alexander, his brother, composed good Gaelic songs. Some of their poems are to be found in Macdonald’s collection. John, their brother, was equally good, and from the specimens we have of their poetry, we may say, it is cause of regret, that more of their verses were not committed to writing, both on account of the language and sentiment. The thoughts are just and natural, and the language, for the most part, beyond the reach of criticism. There have been likewise other poets in Lochcarron, who have composed verses, that are far from being despicable. And indeed many of them would have given the highest pleasure to the greatest admirers of Homer, Virgil, or Milton, had they heard and understood them. Gaelic is the language of descriptive poetry. It is strong, nervous and comprehensive. No language can do greater justice to the finest feelings of the human heart.
Character of the People, and State of Religion among them –
About 60 years ago, the inhabitants of this parish, it is said, had not reached any considerable height of civilization. This, with their strong and almost invincible prejudice against Whig ministers, as they called them, made the situation of a clergyman at that time very disagreeable. A wise Providence, however, which always raises fit instruments for carrying forward its plans of mercy towards men, sent among them Mr Aeneas Sage, a man of an undaunted spirit, who did not know what the fear of man was.* He had, however, the fear of God, and great zeal for the good cause in its highest perfection. He was the determined enemy of vice, and a true friend to the gospel.
*The people were so barbarous, that they attempted to set fire to the house he was boarded in, at a time when there was a meeting of clergy there. Such usage made it necessary for him not only to make use of the sword of the Spirit, but likewise to have recourse to the arm of flesh. He was a true soldier in every sense of the word. For some time he had the oversight of the parish of Applecross as well as Lochcarron. There was a wicked fellow in Tosgag, who kept a mistress in the same house with his lawful married wife. When Mr Sage went to see him, Malcolm Roy drew his dirk; Mr Sage drew his sword, and the consequence was that Malcolm Roy turned his mistress off. Mr Campbell, Seaforth’s factor, sent him once a challenge upon the morning of a Lord’s day. Mr Sage knew his own situation, and accordingly accepted the challenge. He went out with his claymore, and no sooner did he begin to draw it our of the scabbard, than Mr Campbell made a pair of heels, and did not look behind him for some time.
He was very hospitable and benevolent. He was warm and affectionate in his friendship, and perfectly sincere in his professions. A gentleman who had the misfortune to be concerned in the late rebellion, came to see Mr Sage, as he was going to leave the country. Mr Sage made him an offer of his purse. Although the gentleman did not accept of this offer, he always retained a grateful sense of Mr Sage’s friendship. He was subject to sudden starts of passion, and this was this great weakness; but this very circumstance was subservient to the gospel. He struck terror into vice; and by enforcing the discipline of the church, and composing differences among the people, he reduced them to a state of civilization. He ploughed up the fallow ground, plucked up many of the thorns and weeds, and made it easier for his successors to sow the good seed. He laboured for 47 years among them, and his labours were eminently countenanced by his Lord and Master. Sinners were brought under a concern for their salvation and their language was that of the jailor, “What shall we do to be saved?” Mr Sage did not build with untempered mortar, he did not make them believe that an outward course of decent behaviour would bring them to heaven, though they were strangers to a work of the Spirit. He preached the doctrines of the new birth, the corruption of human nature, and the necessity of the influences of the Divine Spirit, to break the power of sin in the soul. The effects were correspondent. People did not then reckon themselves to be good Christians, because they abstained from such actions as exposed them to the lash of the law. They were persuaded that they must have a principle of grace in the heart before they could please God. This made them not to rest satisfied till they experienced the power of religion upon their souls.
They were warm Christians, and such as made a public profession, evidenced their sincerity by a suitable practice. They were animated with love to God, and to their fellow men. Kenneth Mackenzie, one of his first converts, used to kill a cow in the scarce time of the year, which he divided among the poor. The rest of the professors of religion in Lochcarron were equally zealous of good works in conformity to their circumstances.
Mr Sage’s character is inscribed upon his grave-stone in these words: “He fought the good fight of faith, and finished his course; exclaiming with the Apostle Paul, for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” A carnal minister may say with Balaam of old: Let me die the death of Mr Sage, and let my latter end be like his. His successor, Mr Donald Munro, lived but a short time among them. He was an agreeable man, and preached the gospel in its purity. As Mr Sage made the parish very orthodox, the people seem to think, that they have at least as much religion as their neighbours. They seem to have a strong attachment to religion, and yet they would be the better for a little more. They appear willing at times to hear what they shall do to inherit eternal life. They are hospitable, charitable, engaging, and obliging. Although many of them do not dislike the present world, it cannot be said that they have entirely forgot the next, but it must be owned that very few of them would refuse a dram if it was offered them. There is a great appearance of religion in Lochcarron, and as the fire of God’s word is hereafter to try every man’s work, there is cause to hope that some of it will bear the trial. There is one opinion, however, which may of them entertain, and which, indeed, is not peculiar to this parish alone, that a Popish priest can cast out devils, and cure madness, and that the Presbyterian clergy have no such power. A person might as well advise a mob to pay no attention to a merry Andrew, as to desire many ignorant people to stay from the priest. The most effectual antidote against this delusion is to lay before them some of the most laughable of the Popish miracles.