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Sketch of the Civil and Traditional History of Caithness from the Tenth Century

No. 1.


It is a curious circumstance that in the reign of David II. of Scotland, more than five hundred years ago, the weights and measures of Caithness were the standards of Scotland. By a royal ordinance, or Act of that monarch, entitled the "Regiarn Majestatem," it is statuted, "that ane common and equal weicht quilk is called the weicht of Caithness (Pondus Cathaniae) sall be keeped and used be all men in buying and selling within this realm of Scotland." This is a sufficient proof that Caithness, notwithstanding its remote situation, was, at the early period in question, a place of considerable commercial importance. The inhabitants had already begun to apply themselves to agriculture; and at a later period they carried on a regular traffic with Norway and Denmark. Thurso, on account of its safe and excellent roadstead, was the principal sea-port. From it great quantities of malt and meal were annually shipped for the Baltic, from which wood, iron, etc., were imported in return. This is the more remarkable, when we consider how imperfect must have been the system of agriculture, and all the operations connected therewith, at the time. Previous to 1780, there was not a single cart in the whole county of Caithness. "Crubbans," a kind of wicker baskets, were the principal substitutes for carts. Two of these, one on each side of the horse, were hung from a wooden saddle, called a "clibbar," beneath which was a cushion of straw to protect the animal's back. A sort of bags made of straw, called "cazies," were used instead of sacks for holding corn. Two of these, capable, when filled, of containing each half a boll of grain, were fastened to the crook saddle on the back of a garron, and hung down, one on each side of the beast. "Six or seven horses thus loaded," says Henderson in his Agricultural Survey of Caithness, "might be seen going in a kind of Indian file, each tied by the halter to the other's tail, a person leading the front horse, and each of the others pulled forward by the tail of the one before him. After the driver arrives at the destined place, the horses are unloaded, and the halter of the front horse is tied to the tail of the rear horse, by which means they cannot run away, as they can only move in a circle where they stand." Such was the simple mode of carriage before the introduction of the cart into the county.

The old Caithness plough, called the "thrapple plough," was of a very primitive construction. With the exception of the coulter and "sock," it was entirely of wood, with wooden pegs for nails, and it had only one stilt. To this machine four miserable garrons, with perhaps a pair of oxen, were yoked abreast. The person who held the plough had a sheepskin tied round his right thigh, to which he held the stilt to keep the plough steady in its course. A second person pressed his whole weight and strength on the middle of the beam, to keep the plough in the soil; and the third, the driver, walked backwards between the two foremost beasts, leaning his arms on their necks to prevent his falling. The driver was not unfrequently a woman. The price of the thrapple plough was only four shillings; and the quantity of soil it turned up in a day was not much above a quarter of an acre. "The one-stilted plough," says a statistical writer, "though a fertile subject of ridicule, was the ancient plough of Rome, Egypt, and even England."

That Caithness, long before the introduction of the present improved system of husbandry, produced no inconsiderable quantity both of grain and stock, we have the recorded testimony of three intelligent tourists. Brand, who formed one of a deputation sent by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1700 to visit the north, says of Caithness:—"The county is very fertile, abounding with grass and corn, hence yearly there is a great quantity of victual exported, as, anno 1695, there were sixteen thousand bolls embarked, and taken out, for which end it is much frequented by barks from the Forth, Clyde, and other places, for ordinarily, when there is no scarcity or dearth, the meal is sold here at 3 or 4 or at most 5 merks per boll." He then adds,—"The cattle and fish also are to be had very cheap, as good kine often in the shambles, such as the country doth afford, for 3 or 4 shillings sterling, and sometimes they say for 2s; so that, as I have heard some of the more intelligent inhabitants observe, that here is the cheapest market in the world. And the gentlemen can live better here upon 1000 merks than they can do in the south upon 4000 per annum."

"The county," says Pennant (this was in 1769), "produces great quantities of oatmeal; and much whisky is distilled from barley (bere). The great thinness of the inhabitants throughout Caithness enables them to send abroad much of its productions." What Pennant says in regard to the distillation of whisky is fully confirmed by the following extract from the county records:—"At a meeting of the Justices of the Peace, and Commissioners of Supply of the county of Caithness, held at Thurso, 21st May, 1776, it was, inter alia, agreed to discountenance, as far as in their power, the pernicious practice of distilling whisky, so very prejudicial to the morals and the constitutions of the people, there being from eighty to ninety stills in the county, which, at a moderate computation, consume from 100 to 150 bolls of barley each." Before whisky began to be distilled in the county, the great beverage of the people was ale. It may be here mentioned, as a curious statistical fact, that in the year 1668, no less than 1749 bolls of malt were brewed into ale in Caithness—a goodly quantity certainly, considering the limited amount of population at the period in question. The duty charged to the revenue, at 2 merks per boll, was £156 0s 6¾d sterling, which, from the great difference in the value of money, would be nearly equal to £1000 at the present day.

Wright, author of the "Husbandry of Scotland," has the following statement regarding the county, which he visited about the year 1783:—"The inhabitants are reckoned at 25,000, and yet, from the parsimony of the people, and the want of manufactures, there are exported annually about 25,000 bolls bere and meal. In Wick, curing and salting fish is a considerable branch, as also salting and exporting beef. Provisions are cheap and plentiful: beef at salting time a penny per pound; mutton three halfpence. There is a good inn, everything at a moderate rate, and excellent claret for half-a-crown the bottle."

The farms at the period in question were generally small; but one gentleman would seem to have occupied, as middle-man, the whole of Murkle. "Mr Macleod, the Sheriff-Substitute of the county," says Wright, "rents the farm of Murkle, for which he pays £275 of rent. Has under him thirty subtenants, and eighteen cottagers. The rent is paid partly in money, and partly in victual. The cottagers pay of rent from one to two bolls of victual, and perform services—shearing in harvest, for example—which they are obliged to do without any victuals. Here is slavery in perfection, without any alleviating circumstance." When the imperfect state of husbandry at the time is considered, the wonder really is that the county produced so much grain as it did. As has been already observed, the tenantry had only small patches of land; and these were intermingled in the oddest way imaginable— one having a piece here, and another a piece there—in what was called rig-and-rennel, or run-rig. This barbarous custom was originally adopted, it is said, in order to prevent neighbours at enmity from setting fire to each other's fields of corn, and to cause the whole of a township band together to protect their crops and their cattle from the Highland reivers.

As nearly the whole of the rent was paid in kind, the grain exported belonged solely to the proprietors, who had storehouses or granaries for receiving it, When the Earls of Caithness lived in the castle of Girnigoe, they had two large storehouses for this purpose at Staxigoe. These contained four meal-girnels, each capable of holding 1000 bolls of meal; and four lofts, each capable of holding 1000 bolls of bere.

The following account from the Old Statistical History of Caithness, published in 1793, will give some idea of the extent of services, and of the customs, as they were called, which the lairds exacted from their tenants. They tilled, dunged, sowed, and harrowed a part of an extensive farm in the proprietor's own possession. They provided a certain quantity of peats for his fuel, carried feal and divot, thatched a part of his houses, and furnished ropes made of hair and simmons (straw ropes) for that purpose, as well as for securing his corns in the stack-yard, weeded the land, led a certain quantity of midden feal from the common for manure to his farm, mowed and ingathered his hay, the spontaneous produce of the meadow and marshy grounds, and cut down, ingathered, thrashed out in part, manufactured, and carried to market the growth of the farm. Besides these services, the tenants paid vicarage, or small teind, viz., meat, lamb, wedder, poultry, and eggs out of each house, with teind geese and mill gault. Grass farms in the Highlands paid veal, kid, butter, cheese, etc. Tenants on the sea-coast paid a certain quantity of fish (quatil fish, as it was called) and oil out of each boat belonging to them, and carried sea-ware for manuring the proprietor's farm. Amongst other articles of rent, the parsonage or great teind—being the tenth sheaf of the tenant's produce—was also till lately drawn by the laird in some places in the county. Tenants also wintered a beast or more, each according to the extent of his possession; and their wives spun a certain quantity of lint for the proprietor's lady, who likewise had from them a certain portion of wool annually. All these different payments obtained generally in the county of Caithness, previous to 1793.

How the poor people contrived to live under all these burdens is not a little surprising to us at the present day. The condition of the slaves in America and the West Indies was infinitely preferable, And yet, as the balance of happiness is pretty nearly equal in all conditions of society, we have no reason to think that they were without their own share of the comforts and enjoyments of life.

Some sixty or seventy years ago comparatively little corn was grown in the Highlands of Caithness, the inhabitants thereof having chiefly devoted their attention to pasturage and the rearing of cattle. They kept a number of cows, and made considerable quantities of butter and cheese. These valuable products of the dairy were usually manufactured in the summer season, at what was called the sheilings, that is, places affording abundance of common hill pasture, and frequently situated a good many miles distant from their own habitations. This seems to have been quite a common practice also with the peasantry in Norway, and other hilly countries. The author of the Agricultural View of the County gives the following graphic account of the Caithness sheilings:—"About the 20th of June, the housewife and maid set out with the milch cows, perhaps from ten to twenty in number, to the sheilings, where a booth or cabin was previously prepared for their reception; another for the milk vessels, and a small fold to keep the calves from the cows during the night. There they passed a complete pastoral life, making butter and cheese, and living on curds and cream, or a mixture of oatmeal and cream, seasoned with a glass of whisky before and after meals, dancing on the green, and singing Gaelic songs, to the music of which, at milking time, the cows listened with apparent attention and pleasure. Here they remained for a month or six weeks at least, while there was good pasture for the cows." Potatoes were introduced into the county about the year 1754, and for some years after were cultivated only in the gardens of the better classes. From 1760 till 1786 the tenantry planted a few of them annually in what were called "lazy beds." Regarding this valuable esculent there is the following curious note in Chambers's Traditions of Edinburgh: "There was long, as we have been told by a very venerable personage; a prejudice in Scotland against the potato for two reasons—1st, That it was a species of the night-shade; 2d, That it was a provocation to incontinence!"

During the latter half of the last century, and even down to about 1809, the handicrafts in Caithness were in a state of primitive simplicity. Shoemakers and tailors Were itinerant, and were fed and lodged by those who employed them. The farmer generally found both the leather and the cloth. The leather, which was tanned by himself, cost very little; and the whole family were furnished with "brogues" at the rate of twopence per pair, and with shoes at from one shilling to one shilling and sixpence per pair. Farmers and their servants wore also in the labouring season a kind of half-boots, called "rillens," made of untanned horse or cow leather, drawn together round the foot by throngs, and with the hairy side out. For clothing, every farmer and cottager had a small flock of sheep of the native breed. "These," says the local writer [Henderson's Agricultural Survey of the County.] from whom we have already quoted, "annually supplied a fleece or two of good wool, which the gudewife and her family carded and spun into yarn either for blankets or blackgrays, (a kind of broad cloth,) or for Highland tartan for the wear of the family. When the web was returned from the weaver it was washed in warm water, and if it was necessary to full it, that operation was thus performed: The house door was taken off the hinges, and laid on the floor; the web was then laid on it hot out of the water; then three or four women sat down around it on a little straw at equal distances, and all being ready bare-legged, by the signal of a song, each applied her soles to the web, and they continued pulling and tumbling it on the floor with their feet until the web was sufficiently fulled; then it was stretched out to dry, and was ready for the family tailor or for sale, as the case might be."

No. 2.—Page 3.

The first attempt at road-making on a large scale in Caithness, was by the late Sir John Sinclair, who called out the statute labour of the district to form a road or tract from the hill of Bein Cheilt, across the moss or bog called the Causeway Myre, towards Thurso.

The calling out the inhabitants to perform the statutory service of six days' work at roads was found so unprofitable and oppressive, that an Act (33 Geo. III., cap. 120) was obtained in 1793 to commute the statute labour into a money payment by occupants of lands, at the rate of 30s sterling for every £100 Scots of valuation held by them, by cottagers and the inhabitants of towns at the current rate of wages for the six days' work. This would produce about £500.

In 1803 an Act (43 Geo. III., cap. 80) was passed, appropriating £20,000 for that year towards making roads and bridges in the North of Scotland, "whereby its fisheries may be encouraged, and the industry of the inhabitants greatly promoted." It being provided that one-half the cost of the roads and bridges shall be paid by the county or district.

In 1806 an Act (46 Geo. III, cap. 138) was passed, authorising the making six roads in the county of Caithness, of which one-half was to be paid by the Parliamentary Commissioners under the previous Act of 1803, and the other half by the county. Of these six roads, one only, that from the Ord to Wick, and thence to Thurso, and known as the Parliamentary Road, was made under this Act—half the cost, amounting to £16,437 9s 9d, having been paid by the owners of lands throughout the county. The bad harvests of 1816 and 1817 prevented the other five roads in the Act from being made at that time, and no adequate provision was made for roads in the county until 1830, when an Act (11 Geo. IV., cap. 102) was obtained to provide for the proper repair of the old roads, and the making of new ones by an assessment on owners and occupiers of lands amounting to about £1500 a-year, exclusive of the commutation on occupiers of cottages and inhabitants of towns. Under this Act, 137 miles of roads were made, and the communications throughout the greater part of the county opened up. The assessment on occupants under the Act (1830) was found to be adequate for the future maintenance of the roads, if expended, over all the leading lines without the limitation of districts and parishes, but there were not funds sufficient to pay off the money borrowed to make the roads. To provide a sum sufficient to pay off the debt in twenty-one years, the proprietors of land agreed to double the assessment payable by them, and an Act (1838, 1-2 Vict., cap. 79) was got to effect this, and to place 137 miles of the leading lines of roads under the management of the Commissioners for the repair of Highland roads, as the only means of partially consolidating the roads and parishes into one trust.

In 1859 the Act of 1838 expired, and with it a large proportion of the funds.

An Act (1860, 23-24 Vict., cap. 201) has been obtained laying a uniform assessment on the real rent of all lands and heritages in the county, payable half by owners and half by occupants; consolidating all the funds and roads into one trust and system of management, and giving power to remove tolls when a fair and adequate substitute for the revenue they produce shall have been provided.

Under this Act, in addition to the former, road trustees being proprietors, one or more tenant farmers are elected by each parish.

To provide for the maintenance of the Parliamentary roads in the Highlands and in Caithness, an Act was passed in 1819 appropriating to that purpose the sum of £5000, to be paid annually by the Barons of the Exchequer in Scotland, and requiring the balance in each county to be assessed on the proprietors of land and of houses in the county and burghs, according to the returns of rentals for the property tax in 1814.

The whole of this assessment in Caithness fell on the landward heritors, there being at that time no owner of house property in the towns who was assessed for income tax, and hence the towns, at that time so insignificant, have been raised to their present property and importance, by means of communications between themselves and with the South, to which they have up to this date contributed nothing.

No. 3.—Page 12.


These Inventories are in the possesssion of the Clerk of Supply of Orkney.

1. John Grot, son to Hugh Grot, 1496.—Charter from William De St Claro, Earl of Caithness, to John Groat, son to Hugh Groat, of one penny land in Duncansby, paying therefor yearly tres modios Brasii at Martinmas. Dated at Girnigoe Castle, 14th March, 1496.

2. William Groat, younger, 1507.—Charter from William Oliphant and Christian Sutherland, his spouse, to William Groat, younger, of his halfpenny land in Duncansby, for the payment of five shillings Scots at two terms. Dated the 12th May, 1507.

3. John Groat, 1515.—Precept of Sasine by Jo. Sinclair, Earl of Caithness, for infefting John Groat in ane penny land in Dungsby. Dated at Nose, 5th Oct., 1515.

4. John Groat, 1515.—Sasine in favors of John Groat of ane penny land and miln in Duncansbay, proceeding on a precept of Sasine from John, Earl Caithness, to him thereanent. Sasine dated 12th Oct., 1515.

5. William Groat, 1515.—Sasine to William Groat in a farthing land in Dungsby, proceeding on a precept from John, Earl Caithness. Sasine dated 12th Oct., 1515.

6. Walter Grot, son of William Grot, 1521.—Precept of Sasine, John, Earl Caithness, for infefting Mr Walter Groat, son and air of umquhile William Grot, in a farthing land in Dungsby. Dated 28th Sept., 1521.

6-2. William Grot, son to John Grot, 1521.—Precept of Sasine by Andrew Oliphant of Berrydale, and Superior of the fourth part of Caithness, to William Groat, son to John Grot on the land in Duncansbay called the penny land, dated at Auldwick, 22d Nov., 1521. The Precept proceeds on a Charter formerly granted.

7. John Groat, 1523.—Precept of Sasine, Jo. Sinclair, Earl Caithness, for infefting Jo. Groat in one penny land in Dungsby conform to a Charter granted yr anent. The precept is dated at Girnigoe, 22d Oct., 1523.

8. Donald Groat, 1536.—Sasine in favor of Donald Groat on the lands of Skirsary, upon a precept of sasine granted to him by Pat. Mowat of and Freswick, relative to a disposition granted by him to the said Donald mentd in the said precept. The Sasine is dated 16th July, 1536.

9. John Groat, eldest son of William Groat, 1540.— Precept of Clare Constat, George, Earl Caithness, in favours of Jo. Groat, eldest son and heir to William Groat, for infefting him in a farthing land in Duncansbay, dated at Mey, 8th March, 1540, before witnesses. These honest men, John Sinclair of Dun, Walter Mowat of Rattar, Malcolm Groat of Warse, and another honest man, Mr Jo. Dunnot, Rector of Cannasby, and seul oyrs.

10. Hugh Groat, 1540.—Charter dated 11th March, 1540, granted by Hugh Groat, portioner of Duncansbay, with consent of Mariot Bane, his spouse liferentrix thereof, in favours of William Bane, in Papingo of a fourth part of his two-penny land, called in the Charter unam obolatam, in Duncansbay, with his whole part of the field called Stamster, for the payment of a penny blench.

11. Gilbert Grot, son of William Grot, and Hugh Grot, 1543.—Instrument of Resignation by Mr Gilbert Grot, son and apparent heir of William Grot, in favours of Hugh Grot his brother, of two-penny land in Dungsby, in the hands of Laurence, Lord Oliphant, as Superior thereof, dated 24th, May, 1543.

12. Donald Groat and his son John Groat, 1547.—Disposition on parcht, Be Dod Groat in Duncansbay, in favour of his son John Groat, of his halfpenny land in Skirsary, for the payt of 65 mks, contained in the Reversion of the said lands to Pat. Mowat of Bagirholly, Superior thereof, and of his twopenny land in Cannasbay, for the payment of a 100 mks to the Earl of Caithness, Superior, as contained in the Reversion thereof. Dated at Dunnet, 5th August, 1547.

13. John Groat, son of Finlay Groat, 1549.—Precept of Clare Constat from Geo., Earl Caithness, to John Groat, son to Finlay Groat, for infefting him in the ferry-house and ferry, and 20 feet round about the said house. Dated at Wick, the day of Nov., 1549.

14. William Groat, 1557.—Precept of Sasine, Laurence, Lord Oliphant, for infefting William Groat in ane Octo land in Dungsby, as contained in a Charter granted to him thereanent. The precept is dated 7th June, 1557.

15. Hugh Groat, 1557.—Charter, the Master of Oliphant to Hugh Groat and the heirs procreat betwixt him and Catherine Ratter, his spouse, on the land in Duncansbay called the penny land, and another penny land there, making two penny land for the yearly payt for the land called the penny land, Ten Sh. Scots, and for the other penny land a penny blench. Dated at Auldwick, the 11th June, 1557.

16. Precept of Sasine on said Charter, dated 11th June, 1557.

17. Sasine on Charter and Precept of Sasine, No. 15 and 16, dated 16th June, 1557, under the subscription of Jo. Stevenson, N.P.

18. John Groat, 1557.—Precept of Sasine from Laurence, Master of Oliphant, for infefting John Groat in ane halfpenny land, called unam obolatam, in Dungsby, as contained in a Charter granted thereanent. The precept is dated at Auldwick, 12th June, 1557.

19. William Groat, son of Finlay Groat, 1557.— Charter from the Master of Oliphant, dated at Auldwick, 12th June, 1557, in favors of William Groat, son to Finlay Groat, upon ane Octoe of land of Duncansbay, for the yearly payment of 15 pennys Scots at two terms in the year.

20. John and Finlay Groat, 1576.—Charter, John Groat, portioner of Dungsby, to Finlay Groat on a farthing land in Dungsby, and the heirs male of his body, which failing to the said John and the heirs male of his body, paying therefor yearly, three pecks with two cops and half a cop bear, dated at Dungsby, 15th Nov., 1576. [There is in the possession of G. Petrie, a discharge by Malcolm Groat of Tankerness, to his guid friend Jon Grot of Dongsby of all maills and duties of ane penny land, with the pertinents and the mill of Dongisby, which the said John had in tack, and assidation of the said Malcolm. Dated at Dungasby, 11th Mch, 1570.]

20. Sasine thereon, dated 16th Nov., 1576.

21. Hutcheon Groat, 1572.—Letter of Reversion from Malcolm Groat of Tankerness to Hutcheon Grot of Dungsby, for redemption of ane halfpenny land in Dungsby, and his haill part of the field called Stemster, disponed by the said Hutcheon to the said Malcolm, by payt of 40 Sh. Scots in the Kirk of Cannasbay, or in his house of heritage in Dungsby, upon any day 'twixt the sun-rising and down-passing of the samen, dated at Dungsby, 30th August, 1572.

22. Hugh Groat and John Groat, his son, 1589.— Charter of Resignation.—Laurence, Lord Oliphant, to Hugh Groat in Duncansbay, and Marion Mowat, his spouse, and longest liver in liferent, and John Groat, younger eldest son, and the heirs male of his body, which failing to his nearest and lawful heirs male and assignees, qt'soever of his land in Duncansbay called the Pennyland, and also of one penny land more in said town extending to two penny land, which formerly belonged to the said Hugh Groat holden of the said Lord Oliphant, paying yearly for the penny land 10 Sh. Scots, and for the oy'r penny land a penny blench with Scat and S to the Cathedral Church of Kirkwall as use is. Dated at Auldwick, 29th January, 1589.

23. John Groat, grandson of John Groat, 1590.— Sasine in favour of John Groat in Dungsby, oye and heir to John Groat, elder there, proceeding on a precept of Clare Constat from Laurence Lord Oliphant for infefting him in a halfpenny land, called unam obolatam ferrarum de Dungsby, which belonged to the said Jo. Groat, elder, his grandfather —dated 16th November, 1589. The Sasine dated 6th June, 1590.

24. Hutcheon Groat, 1593.—Letter of Reversion from William Groat of Tankerness (in Orkney), to Hutcheon Groat of Duncansby, for redemption of ane halfpenny land in Duncansbay, and a part of the field called Stemster disposed by the said Hutcheon Groat to the said William for payment of .£24 Scots at any time in the Kirk of Cannasbay, and upon any day 'twixt the sun-rising and down-passing thereof. Dated 30th August, 1593.

25. Hugh Groat, 1595.—-Charter from Hugh Groat, feuar of 2d land in Duncansbay, and John Groat, his eldest son, with consent of Marion Bane, his spouse, to George Sinclair of Mey, and James Sinclair, his second son, and the heirs male of his body, which failing to John Sinclair, his third son, and the heirs male of his body, whilks failing to the said George Sinclair, his heirs and assignees whatsome'r, of three farthing land of their lands in Duncansbay, paying therefor yearly to the Lord Oliphant, superior, of 10 Sh. Scots if asked allenarly. Dated 26th September, 1595. N.B.—A nott: signs for them with three subscribing witnesses.

26. John Groat, son of umql. Hutcheon Groat, and Adam Groat, brother of John, 1603.—Charter in English, Jo. Groat, lawful son and heir of umquhil Hutcheon Groat, portioner of Duncansby, to Adam Groat, his brother-german, his heirs and assignees qt'soer bearing and retaining the sirname of Grot and nane other, all and haill these his proper two penny land in Duncansbay, holden of the Lord Oliphant, and paying therefor yearly to the said Jo. Groat and his heirs of ane penny blench and 10 Sh. and one penny Scots to the superior, at the usual terms redeemable for the pay't of the sum of . Dated at Kirkwall, 18th Nov., 1603.

27. Adam Grot and John Grot, brothers, 1606.—"Sasine wrot on paper" in favours of Adam Grot proceeding on a Charter, granted to him by John Grot, his eldest brother, portioner of Dungsby of his two penny land in Dungsby, then in the possession of the said Adam and Donald Grot of Warse. The Sasine is dated the 11th August, 1606. Reg'rat in the Books of the Sheriffdom of Inverness and Cromarty, at the Chanonry of Ross, upon the 21st of said month of August.

28. Donald Groat to John Groat, son of unql. Finlay Groat, 1607.—Charter, Donald Groat of Warse, and portioner of Dungsby, to John Groat, lawful son and apparent heir of umquil Finlay Groat, portioner of Dungsby, and the heirs male of his body, which failing to return to the said Donald Groat and his heirs male on his farthing land in Dungsby, formerly disponed by John Groat, his father, to the said Finlay Groat, and was at the date of the Charter possessed by John Groat, Finlay's son paying therefor yearly three pecks, two cops, and half a cop of bear at Marts. yearly, in name of feu farm. Dated 2d Jan., 1607.

29. John and Adam Groat, brothers, 1612.—Ane Instrument taken by Jo. Groat, agt. Adam, his brother, upon Adam's surrendering one of the two penny lands to him, in consequence of the reversion mentioned in the Charter Wo. 26. Dated the said instrument, 21st Feb., 1612.

30. Malcolm Groat of Warse, 1617.—Liferent Sasine in favours of Marion Doul, spouse of Malcolm Groat of Warse, on the one penny land of Warse and Smiddies, and one penny land in Duncansbay. Dated the day of July, 1617.

31. John Groat, son of Finlay Groat, 1626.—Sasine in favours of Jo. Groat, son to Finlay Groat in Duncansbay, proceeding on a precept of Clare Constat granted by Jo., Bishop of Caithness, for infefting the said John in ane tenement in Wick, ex boreale parte ejusd. Sasine dated 27th day of 1626, and reg'rat.

32. Malcolm Groat, 1656.—Sasine, Malcolm Groat, the late ferryman's father, upon his land in Duncansbay. Dated 20 and 26 days of Jan., 1656.

Note.—John Groat.—The ferryman referred to here was probably John Groat described as "the Ferryman" in a document belonging to about the same date as the Inventory in which No. 32 is entered.

32a. Malcolm Groat and Donald Groat, his son, 1642. —Inhibition.—Malcolm Grant, and Marion Doul, and Donald Groat, his son, agt. Sir William Sinclair and Sir James, his son, for not implementing the Contract upon the lands of Wares, 1642.

33. John Groat Finlayson. — Inhibition. — Jo. Groat Finlay's son, being the late ferryman's grandfather, agt. Sir James Sinclair of Cannasbay, and Sir William Sinclair of Cadboll, his father, proceeding upon and contract of sale of Jo. Harper's D. land in Duncansby, by them in favours of him. No date.

Note.—The John Groat above mentioned is the same referred to in No. 28 as Finlay's son.

Malcolm Groat of Wares, mentioned in No. 32a, had a son Donald, who appears to have been succeeded by Malcolm Groat, whose son, George Groat, on 16th March, 1715, disponed all his lands in Duncansby, and in the Parish of Latheron, together with the ferry-house, ferry, and ferry-boats of Duncansby, and lands pertaining thereto, to Malcolm Groat, his son and his heirs male; whom failing, to other parties of the name of Groat, mentioned in the Deed, and their heirs male respectively. The Disposition does not appear to have been recorded.

Malcolm Groat, last mentioned, became embarrassed, and on 1st August, 1741, a fitted account, showing an arrear of £8,352 17s 8d Scots, of Teinds and other duties due by him, was subscribed by him and by Mr William Sinclair [This Mr Sinclair of Freswick was the second son of John Sinclair, fifth laird of Rattar. It was he whom the band of Caithness thieves had plotted to rob and murder. His memory is still fresh among the inhabitants of the district in which he resided. He would appear to have possessed great astuteness and force of character, and was altogether a person of much local celebrity in his day.] of Freswick, and an. obligation was annexed thereto, binding Mr Sinclair to accept of £4,000 Scots in full payment of said arrear, for which a Bond was granted of the date of the account by Malcolm Groat to Freswick. The original Disposition and the fitted account, both on stamped paper, are in my possession.

Clerk of Supply.

9th October, 1860.

No. 4.—Page 36.

The oldest extant valuation of the county is dated in 1707. It was subsequently amended and revised at various intervals, and in 1760 and 1798 the valuation stood as follows:—

At Whitsunday, 1860, the valuation on real rent stood thus:—

The amount of real rent of the county in 1814, upon which property tax was levied, was £29,484 14s 10d.

No. 5.— Page 91.


1. William Sinclair, Chancellor, grandson of Henry Sinclair, the first of that name, Earl of Orkney, was invested with the Earldom of Caithness in 1455.

2. William, second son of the Chancellor—his father having resigned the earldom in his favour—became Earl in 1476. He fell at Flodden in 1513, and was succeeded by his son John.

3. John was killed at the battle of Summerdale, in Orkney, in the year 1529, and was succeeded by his son George.

4. George died in 1583, and was succeeded by his grandson George, son of John, Master of Caithness, who died in prison at Girnigoe in 1576.

5. George having survived both his son and his grandson, died in 1643, and was succeeded by his great-grandson George.

6. This George being encumbered with debt, and having no male issue, sold his title and estates to John Campbell of Glen-orchy. He died in 1676. The title was disputed by George Sinclair of Keiss, a descendant of the fifth Earl by his second son, who ultimately obtained the earldom.

7. George of Keiss, now Earl of Caithness, died unmarried in 1698, and was succeeded by his second cousin, Sir John Sinclair of Murkle.

8. John, died in 1705, and was succeeded by his son Alexander.

9. Alexander, died in 1766 without male heir, and was succeeded by William Sinclair of Rattar, who was lineally descended from Sir John Sinclair of Greenland and Rattar, second brother of the fifth Earl.

10. William of Rattar, died in 1782, and was succeeded by his son John, Lord Berriedale, a major in the army.

11. John, died unmarried in 1789, and was succeeded by Sir James Sinclair of Mey, the ninth in lineal descent from George Sinclair of Mey, youngest son of the fourth Earl.

12. James, died in 1823, and was succeeded by his son Alexander.

13. Alexander, died in 1855, and was succeeded by his son James, the present Earl, and the fourteenth of the Sinclair family who have inherited the earldom of Caithness. His Lordship was elected one of the Representative Peers of Scotland in 1858.


Quarterly—1st azure, a ship at anchor, her oars erected in saltyre within a double tressure counterfloured or; 2d and 3d or, a lion rampant, gules; 4th azure, a ship under sail, or. And over all a cross engrailed, dividing the four quarters, salt. Crest on a wreath, a cock proper, two griffins armed and beaked, or. Motto—"Commit thyself to God."




Forss, 13th November, 1860.

Dear Sir,

I send you Pedigree of the Sinclairs of Forss, who are descended from David Sinclair of Dunn, cousin-ger-man to the Earl of Sutherland, whom, when a minor, he rescued from falling into the hands of the Earl of Caithness, and placed under protection of Lord Huntly, for which "valuable service" the Earl of Sutherland gave him the lands and mill of Forss and Baillie. The Sinclairs of Dunn (not South-dunn) settled in Caithness about the time Henry Sinclair was created Earl of Orkney (in 1379), and held the lands of Dunn previous to the earldom of Caithness (1455), and until 1745, when the then possessor, having been baulked by his mother in keeping an engagement to join the Stuart family, shot himself, and the property was sold. The younger brother had gone into business and made sufficient to retrieve it, but was drowned in the river of Thurso, at the place called "Sinclair's Pool," when attempting to ride across it from Thurso East.

I have not been able to trace how David Sinclair was connected with the Earl of Sutherland, but there is no doubt of the fact, as the charter bears to be to David Sinclair of Dunn, "our cousin by consanguinity."

Yours truly,


Mr J. T. Calder.


David Sinclair of Dunn acquired Forss by gift from John, the fifth Earl of Sutherland, in 1560. He had three sons:— 1, Alexander; 2, William; and 3, Henry.

William Sinclair of Forss, second son of David Sinclair of Dunn, had two sons. David, eldest, married Janet Murray, and died without issue.

Alexander, second son, succeeded his father infeft in 1607; married Margaret, daughter of Sinclair of Mey, and had two sons. David, the eldest, infeft in 1628, died without issue. George, second son, married—1st, Jane, daughter of William Sinclair of Dunn; 2d, Mary, daughter of Sinclair of Murkle. He had, by first marriage, Margaret, who married Malcolm Groat of Warse; by second marriage, John, married—1st, Janet Sutherland of Giese; 2d, Barbara, daughter of John Sinclair of Batter; 3d, Elizabeth, daughter of Murray of Pennyland. He had, by first marriage, George of Forss, who died without issue; John, eldest son by second marriage, succeeded his brother, was minister of Watten in 1733, married Esther Sinclair, daughter of Sinclair of Olrig, and had an only son, Alexander of Forss, who died unmarried, and was succeeded by his uncle, James of Holborn-head.

James Sinclair of Holborn-head, afterwards of Forss, succeeded his nephew, Alexander, and married a daughter of Robert Sinclair of Giese. He had three sons—Robert of Freswick; William, a surgeon in the army, died unmarried; and James. Captain Robert Sinclair of Freswick died without issue.

James of Forss married Joanna M'Kay, daughter of Big-house, issue four sons and five daughters; was succeeded by his eldest son.

James Sinclair of Forss, married Jessie, eldest daughter of W. S. Wemyss of South Dunn, and had issue, James and other sons.

William Sinclair, physician in Thurso, fourth son of John of Forss by second marriage, married Barbara, daughter of Robert Sinclair of Giese, advocate, and had a son, William Sinclair of Freswick, by second marriage.

No. 6.—Page 92.

(From the Bannatyne Miscellany.')

This Testament is dated 15th November, 1456, at Roslin Castle, the seat of the testator's son-in-law, William, Earl of Orkney, afterwards created Earl of Caithness, and at that time one of the most affluent and powerful of the nobility of Scotland. The lady, Dame Marjory Sutherland, who is mentioned in it, was the second wife of the Earl of Orkney; and their issue branched out into the families of the Sinclairs, Earls of Caithness, the Lords Sinclair of Herdmanston, and the Sinclairs of Roslin. She had usually been considered as the daughter of Alexander, eldest son of John, ninth Earl of Sutherland, until Lord Hailes, in his Additional Case for Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, proved her real parentage by referring to the following Testament. At the close of the seventeenth century, Father Richard Augustine Hay, Canon of St Genevieve, Paris, and Prior of St Pieremont, compiled the "Genealogie of the Sainte Clairs of Rosslyn;" and among other original deeds which he had in his possession, and transcribed, was the following Testament. Father Hay's MS. Collections are preserved in the Advocates' Library; and the portion that contains the Genealogy of the Sinclairs was published at Edinburgh, 1835, small 4to, in a volume edited by James Maidment, Esq., Advocate. The original Instrument containing the following Inventory and Testament (along with a large number of Roslin Charters), having recently been discovered in private hands, it was thought advisable to insert it in the present volume, in a more accurate form than it appears in Father Hay's Collections. It is written upon a large sheet of parchment, attested in the usual form by two Notaries Public. As the deed itself mentions, it was sealed by the granter; but the seal is now lost, and the parchment partially soiled, so that the writing in some parts is not very legible.

The titles of the parties having been prefixed, the Testament proceeds:—

In the Fyrst, xxiiij oxyn in Catheness; Item, in ky iiijxx young and ald, wyth Ennyn Prest in Blenser, wythoutyn caluyfs; Item, in Tursburst[er], wyth Bulan, xx ky; Item, wyth his son in Clanok, xx ky; Item, wyth Aytho Faurchar-son, xl ky; Item, xxiiij fra the smyth wyth Makboyenauch or Faurchar Donaldon; Item, xl schep in Tursbuster wyth Poyl Colanson; Item, sex rydyn horss in Dunbeth; Item, sex horss in Turbuster, and iiij rydyn horss; Item, xij merys and stagges; Item, in utensil and domycyl, xx markis; Item, in grangeys, xxiiij chaldyr of beyr, xxxv chaldyr of atis.

Item, in Sillier, sex hundreth markis, and iiijxx of poundis, tharof with Sir James in Werk twa hundreth poundis in sex peny grotis, wytnes Sir John of Strabrok. Item, wyth the Abbot of Feyrn, a hundreth pundis of sex peny grotis, and four score of pundis of bonath grotis, wytnes Donald Brontuch. Item, a hundreth pund wyth myself.

Item, in Clethyng, a goun of Dowa blak furryt wyth funyeis; Item, a goun of Inglys broun, furryt wyth funyeis; Item, a syd goun of Dunde gray; Item, a rydyn goun of Dunde gray; Item, a goun of broun gray to the smal of the leg; Item, a doublat of blak satan; Item, a doublat of blak semys lethyr; Item, a doublat of fustyan, and a cot of greyn; Item, a hud of Ynglys broun, and an uthir of Scottis blak; iij payr of scheytis in Tayn, and iij payr wyth myself; twa blankatis; twa coveryngis. Item, in to Tayn, iij kystis full of gere, and al my charteris, wyth the Abbot of Feyrn; Item, a kyst in Dunbeth, wyth part of geir; Item, a fethyr bed wyth Sir Wiliam Monelaw; Item, a compt burd, a bouster, a nopsek, a furryng of quhyt, and a Primar buk; Item, in Werk, a kyst, wyth diuers thyngis tharin. Hec sunt Debita que sibi debentur.

In the Fyrst, thre hundreth wedeys of yrn, that I lent to the Byschop of Catheness, bourous Alexander Malcum Saulsons son, and Wiliam of Devan, conjunctly and seuerly. Item, xx lib. of siluer that I lent to the said Bischop, for the quhilkis I haf Tom Mudy and Wat of Carnegeys obligaciouns; Item, xij lib. the said Bischop tak of myn fra Donald Clerk at the markat; Item, my fee the said Bischop is awand me sen he fyrst enteryt, that is to say yerly xx lib. Item, Alexander the Crounaris son aw me for the tend of Dail Thurro, and the byrun, wyth uthyr gudis that he tuk of myn, that cummys to iiijxx of markis and mair. Item, Henry the Crounaris son aw me for tendis and ky that he tuk of myn xl markis and mair, as vetail wes sauld in the countre that tym. Item, al my dettis of Catheness and Suthyrland, as they ar wrytin in my compt bukis. Item, the Earl of Suthyrland tuk of my gold, silver, jeoullys, clething, fermys, mal, yrn, and uthir gudis, mair than a thueand pundis, quhat fyrst, quhat last, atour his lettres and fell and bodylyk athis, befor natable witnes, the quhilkis I have to schaw for me. Item, the Vicar of Tayn had my meel that I left in myn ynns in Tayn, and all the beir that I had grouand in Tayn. Item, Master Wiliam of Ross aw me x markis that I lent hym, borouys Alexander Mychelson, Donald Maktyrysson, and Henry Donald Begson. Item, a hundreth pundis that I lent to Sir Androu Tulaych umquhil Chantour of Murray, for the quhilkis I have my Lordis of Ross oblygacion and my Lord of Orknays; tharof wes payd to me xx lib. be my Lord of Ross. Item, Nycol of Tulauch, John of Hauyk, and Eduard of Tu-iuach aw me xx lib., the quhilk I have thar oblygaciones of, for the Ersden of Orknay. Item, the Erle of Huntle aw me for xviij chaldyr of bere and thre chaldyr of quheyt, and a hundreth wedy of yrn, the quhilkis bere and quheyt I sold to Rychard of Ruthyrfurd for half a mark ilk bol of bere, and the quheyt for viij s. the bol, and ilk wedy of yrn for ij s.; Item, xl lib. aucht me be the said Erle of Huntle that I lent hym, for the quhilkis I have twa obligaciones of hym under his seil patent. Item, the Lard of Loranstone, my sister son, aw me iiijxx of lib., for the quhilkis I have his obligacion, and xxiiij s. for xiiij wedy of yrn, bourth Alexander Froyg. Item, Master Walter Idyl aw me fourty markis. Item, Henry Bannermays ayrs iij lib. Item, Theman of Abirden ij chalys; Item, a chalys in my kyst in Tayn. Item, John Bullok v lib. of the ald dettis, and xij lib. for a hundreth wedy of yrn. Item, the Lord of Hyrdmanston xx lib., the quhilkis gif he payis nocht fal ryn apon the Landis of Noss. Item, Sanderis Frog aw me xxviij s. Item, Sir Androu Wyschart aw me aucht pundis. Item, Huchon Alexanderson aw me for his wyfis hosttend bayth of siluer, gold, corn, horss, ky, oxyn, jeoullis, and uthyr gudis. Item, the Lard of Tuleuard aw me vj lib. that I lent hym. Item, Makyntoys aw me iiijxx lib. of my malls of Clauyetharn, that tym that I had the thryd of Murray, and Wat Tomson of Inuerness, John Makyntagart, and Thorn Angusson, borouss for the said iiijxx of pundis.

Hec sunt Debita que debet.

In the Fyrst, to the Vicar of Werk for tendis a mare; and til Eduardis barnys iiijxx of lib., outtakand fa mekle as I have payt til Kenyouch his son.

I, Alexander of Suthyrland of Dunbeth, seyk in body, hayl in mynd, makis my Testament in this maimer. In the fyrst, I gif my saul til Almychti God of hevyn, and til his blessit modir the gloriouss Virgyn Mary, and til al the haly company of hevyn; my body to be gravyt in the College Kyrk of ane hie and mychti Lord, Wilyam Erle of Catheness and Orknay, Lord Sinclar, &c., in Rosslyng, ner quhar hymself thinkis to ly, quhar the said Lord Erle thinkis spedful. Item, I gif and I leyf til a prest to sing perpetualy for my saul in the said College Kyrk x pundis of anual rent yeirly; that is to say, vj markis and vj s. of anual rent that I had fra Robyn Gray of Leyth, of the quhilkis vj markis thar lyis fifty s. worth yeirly in Louranston besid Leyth, and xx s. of the Landis of Leyth in the self, the quhilkis wes the said Robin Grays, and xxvj s. yerly of the lands wes James Taylouris lyand in the Canongayt: And gif it happynys the said landis to be quyt out, I gif and

I assigne the mone to my Lord Erle of Orknay and Catheness, &c, and til his ayris, to by fa mekle anual as the mone extendis to. Item, I gif a hundreth lib. to my Lord Erle to by ix markis of land or of anual, to fulfil furth the said feft-ment: And gif it happynys that the said sex markis vj s. of anual may nocht be bruikyt be law to the feftment of the said Chappellan, I ordan myn executoris and myn ayris, to fulfill to the said Lord and the said College, vj markis worth of anual, in als convenable a place, or else als mekle mone as wil by als mekle anual in als gaynand places: And gif it happynys at the said hundreth pundis wil nocht by the ix markis worth of land or anual, I ordan myn executoris to gif als mekle mar to the said Lord Erle as fulfill the ix markis worth of land forsaid or anual; and the said Lord to ger the said Chappellan incontinent syng for my saul as he wil answer befor God. Alsua, I gif and I leyf a hundreth poundis of mone that the Abbot of Feyrn hafis in kepyn, to the byggyn and reparatioun of the said College Kyrk, and the said Lord to by me throuch stane to lay upon myn grave. Item, I gif and I leyf of the landis of Ester Kyndeiss yeirly, til a prest to syng for me, and the Lady my wif in to the Chanonre of Ross perpetual; the quhilkis vj markis fal be tan up be myn ayris or assigneis, and fal be payd at twa usual termes of the ycr, that is to say, Witsonday and Mortymes, to the said Chappellan. Item, I gif and I leyf to the Chanonis of Feyrn for a Mess, wyth not of the Requiem, to be done dayly for my saul perpetually, vj markis of usual mone of my landis of Multayth and Drumnern, and falyeand of thame of my landis of Dunbeth, to be delyverit at twa termes of the yer, as is befor said, to the said Chanonis be myn ayris or assigneis. Alsua I gif and I leyf to my son, Master Alexander of Suthyrland, Ersden of Catheness, the twa hundreth pundis that Sir James of Werk hafis in kepyn of myn, my said Son passand for me in pilgrimage to Sant Peter of Borne, and to do the thyngis for me and my saul that I have chargit him under confessioun, as he will answer befor the hyeast Juge upoun the day of Doum, as he wes oblist to me. Item, I gif and I leyf to be brynt in wax in the day of my sepultur viij stan. Item, I ordane thrie .eln of brayd clayth to wynd me in. Item, xviij pennys til ilk prest that cummys to myn erdyng and says Messe for me, and ij s. to thame that cummys ofer, and vj d. til ilk an that redis the Salter for me. Item, I ordane xxx Trentallis to be said for my saul, of the quhilkis viij in the Chanonre of Ross, iiij in Feyrn, iiij in Tayn, iiij in Dornouch, iiij in Kinloss, and vj in Orknay. Item, I gif and I leyf to my Lord the Erle of Ross xl lib., xviij chalder of bere, the bol sald for half a mark, thre chalder of quheyt, the bol sald for viij s., and a hundreth wedy of yrn, the wedy sald for viij s., the quhilk the Erle of Huntle aw me, of the quhilk I have his obligacioun of xl lib., and the bere, quheyt, and yrn, he tuk fra my childyr in Abyrden. Item, I gif to my Lord Erle of Ross, xl lib. of it at Makyntoyss aw me, he beand gud lord, manteynar, supplear, and defendar to my barnes executoris and assigneys, and all my kyndmen and servandis, and to supple my executoris in the gettyn of my dettis. Item, I gif and I leyf to my Lord Erle of Catheness and Orknay, and Marjory my douchtir, and to the barnys gottyn and to be gottyn betuix thame, the thusand lib. that the Erle of Suthyrland hes of my, and is awand me, or quhat at may be recoveryt tharof. Item, I gif, I leyf, and assignys to the barnes gottyn and to be gottyn betuix my said Lord Erle of Catheness and Orknay, &c, and my douchtir Marjory, al the landis that I have in wedsettyng of the said Lord Erliis wythin the Erledom of Catheness, togidder wyth al the rycht and clame of wedsettyng that I have and had to the landis of Noss, wyth the pertinents, and to the landis of Turbuster, wyth the pertinents; the maylls and profitts of the said landis to remain to the use of my said Lord and Douchtiris barnys, ay and quhil thay be quyt out be thame or thair ayris that layed thaim to me; and quhat tym at the said landis be quyt out the mone to be disponyt and turnit to the use and profyt of the said barnys, the quhilkis I have made my assigneys to the said landis, males, and mone, as my letter of assignatioun mar fermyllie proports in the self. Item, I gif and I leyf and assigneys to my son Robert, half the landis of Jaxton, and half Skaldouthmure, liand in the Meyrnys, quhil at he be payd apon a day as the letter of reversione proportis of the some. Item, I gif and I assigne to my son Nycolace, Dallyanye and Berydal, quhil he be payd of the some of xviij markis, and thre yeris maie bygane. Item, I gif and assigne to my son Edward al my landis of Catouch and Broenach, quhil he be payd of the some as the letters of reversion proportis. I leyf and assigneis to the said Edward, Gillyecallom-gil and Strabrora, quhil he be payd of the some as the letters of reversion proportis. Item, I gif and assigneis to my son John, the landis that I have in wedsettyng of the Medylton, in the Meyrnys, and xl s. worth of land yerly that I suld have of the Lard of Kynnard, quhether the said John wil have it in Kynnard, or of the bord-land of Skelbow, quhil the said John be payd as the letters of reversion proportis. Item, I gif and assignes to Donald Bruntouch half the aylhous of the tour of Gouspy, quhil he be payt of samekle as it drawys to. Item, I gif and assignes to my douchtir Marion al the lave of my landis that I have undisponyt upone, and sa mony ky, ald and yong, as I have wyth Aytho Faurcharsone, or wyth Mackay Benauch, and sa mony ky as scho aucht to have of Wiliam Polsonys ky. Item, I leyf til Kateryn of Chaumer, and Elynor my douchtir, xxx ky. Item, Kateryn my douchtir xii ky and xl lib. of it at the Lard of Louranston aw me, I gif, leyf, and assignes til her marriage. Item, to Jonet, my douchtir, xvj ky. Item, to Marjory, my douchtir, xxiiij ky. Item, I gif, levys, and assignes to my son the Ersden, all the ky that I have in Clanok, and my gray hors, the quhilk ky and hors wes gevin and sald to hym ij yeris sen, for the quhilkis I put this in his awn place in kepyn for the froytis that I tuk of his benefice. Item, I geve and I leyf to the Crounar a horss. Item, to Robert, Nycolace, Edward, and John, my sonnys, ilk ane of thame a horss. Alsua I geve and I leyf to my Lordis the Bischopis of Orknay and Ross, the remanant of the hundreth lib, that I have thair obligaciones for, ilk ane of thame fyndand a prest for me to syng ij yeris, and for the layf to gar do for my saul, as thay will answer befor God, as sum tyme I trustit in thame. Item, I leve xl lib. to the Lord of Loranstoun, of the some he is awand me. Item, I leve to Kateryn of Chaumer, the aucht pundis quhilk is the Ersden of Orknay aw me, and the xx lb. that Nycol of Tulauch, John of Hawyk, and Edward of Tulauch, aw me. Item, I gif to Donald Bruntouch, iij ky and a mere; Item, to Will Baxter, iij ky; Item, to the Shera a kow; Item, to Safe, v s.; Item, to the wyf at kepis me, v s. Item, I leyf al my clethyng in to the disponyng of my son and executour the Ersden of Catheness, to dispon thame as I chargit him. Item, I gif and I leyf to my said Lord Erle of Catheness and Orknay, xl pundis of the bonage grottis at the Abbot of Fern has of myn, and fyfty lib. worth of my corn, catel, and uthyr gudis and dettis that are aucht to me in Catheness and Orknay, that are undisponit upon, for his gud Lordschyp done to me, and for to be done to my barnes, executouris and assigneys, and for the expenses that he has made upon me, ann in my querelj. Item, I gif and leyfs to my son the Ersden, xl lib. of the bonage grottis that the Abbot of Fern has of myn, and fyfty lib. worth of my corn, catel, dettis, and uthyr gudis that I have in Catheness and Orknay that are undisponit upon, he to be gud trayst and helplyk freynd til his Moder, Brotheris, and Sisteris, and to do and fulfyll certane thyngis quhilkis I com-mandyt him to do for my sayd Lord Erle as they bayth knawys. Item, I gif and I leyf ane of the chalys that Theman has to the College Kyrk of Roslyng; Item, I gif the tother chalys that Theman has to Sant Mawnis altar in Kyrkwayl, and the said chalys to be giltyt. Item, quhat gold, joells, or uthyris gudis that I have nocht expremit in my Testament, na nocht disponit on befor my discesse, or foryet in ony mannys handis or kepyn, I will and I ordane that my said Lord Erle of Catheness and Orknay, and my son the Ersden of Catheness, dispone upon the said gold, joellis, and uthyr gudis be thair dis-cresciounes for my saul, and uthyr wayis as thay think spedefull. Item, I gif and I leyf to the Bischop of Catheness and to the reperacione of Sant Gilbertis Kyrk, al my fee that he is awand me sen he was fyrst Bischop, except xl lib. Item, I gif and I leyf to the said Bischop to syng for my saul and to confyrme my Testament xx lib. Item, I gif and I leyf my croys of gold to Marjory my dochtir, and at sche ger do a tren-tall of messis for my saul. Item, I gif and I leyf my sylvar collar to Sir Gilbert the Haye, and he to say for my saul x Salteris. The lave of al my gudis expremyt in my Testament that I have nocht disponyt upon, I put in the disposicion of myn Executouris, quhilkis I ordane a venerable fadir in Crist Fynlay Abbot of Feyrn, Master Thomas Louchmalony Chan-cellar of Boss, Master Alexander of Suthyrland my son Ersden of Catheness, and Alexander of Stratone Lard of Loranston my sister son, that thay dispone upon the forsaid guidis as they will answer befor the Hee Juge on the Day of Doum. In wytnes of the quhilk thyngis my seil is toset to thys present Testament, the day, yeir, place, and wytnesses before writyn. And to the mar certificatione and wytnessyng, I procuret the signes and subscriptiones of twa worthy men, Master Thomas Thorbrand and Sir Robert Halywell publyc notaris, etc. The attestation of the witnesses, in Latin, follows.

Explanation of some of the old phrases and contractions in the above document:—

"Wedeys of yrn," measures of iron; "Bourth," cautioner; "throuch stane," flat tomb-stone; "stan," stone; "trentallis," masses for the dead; "xxiiij," fourscore; "Ersden," Archdeacon; "unam obolatam," one halfpenny; "oy"," others; "croys of gold," cross of gold.

No. 7.—Page 106.


1595. Sept. 15.—The "scholars and gentlemen's sons" of the High School of Edinburgh had at this time occasion to complain of some abridgement of their wonted period of vacation; and when they applied to the Town Council for an extension of what they called their "privilege," only three days in addition to the restricted number of fourteen were granted. It appears that the master was favourable to their suit, but he was " borne down and abused by the Council, who never understood well what privilege belonged to that charge. Some of the chief gentlemen's sons resolved to make a mutiny, and one day the master being on necessary business a mile or two off the town, they came in the evening with all necessary provision and entered the school, manned the same, took in with them some fencible weapons, with powder and bullet, and renforcit the doors, refusing to let [any] man come there, either master or magistrate, until their privilege were fairly granted." —Pa. Anderson.

A night passed over. Next morning, "some men of the town came to these scholars, desiring them to give over, and to come forth upon composition, affirming that they should intercede to obtain them the license of other eight days' playing. But the scholars replied that they were mocked of the first eight days' privilege, .... they wald either have the residue of the days granted for their pastime, or else they wald not give over. This answer was consulted upon by the magistrates, and notified to the ministers; and the ministers gave them counsel that they should be letten alone, and some men should be depute to attend about the house to keep them from vivres, sae that they should be compelled to render by extremity of hunger."—H. K. J.

A day having passed in this manner, the Council lost patience, and determined to use strong measures. Headed by Bailie John Macmoran, and attended by a posse of officers, they came to the school, which was a long low building standing on the site of the ancient Blackfriars' Monastery. The Bailie at first called on the boys in a peaceable manner to open the doors. They refused, and asked for their master, protesting they would acknowledge him at his return, but no other person. " The bailies began to be angry, and called for a great jeist to prize up the back door. The scholars bade them beware, and wished them to desist and leave off that violence, or else they vowed to God they should put a pair of bullets through the best of their cheeks. The bailies, believing they durst not shoot, continued still to prize the door, boasting with many threatening words. The scholars perceiving nothing but extremity, one Sinclair, the chancellor ["Chancellor of Caithness" was merely a titular office, which was kept up some time after the Reformation.] of Caithness' son, presented a gun from a window, direct opposite to the bailies' faces, boasting them and calling them huttery carles. Off goeth the charged gun. [The bullet] pierced John Macmoran through his head, and presently killed him, so that he fell backward straight to the ground, without speech at all. [Patrick Anderson's History, MS. He adds—"I was at the time by chance an eye-witness myself."]

"When the scholars heard of this mischance, they were all moved to clamour, and gave over. Certain of them escaped, and the rest were carried to prison by the magistrates in great fury, and escaped weel unslain at that instant. Upon the morn, the said Sinclair was brought to the bar, and was there accused of that slaughter; but he denied the same constantly. Divers honest friends convenit, and assisted him." [Hist. K. Ja. 6.] The relatives of Macmoran being rich, money offers were of no avail in the case: life for life was what they sought for. "Friends threatened death to all the people of Edinburgh (!) if they did the child any harm, saying they were not wise that meddled with the scholars, especially the gentlemen's sons. They should have committed that charge to the master, who knew best the truest remedy, without any harm at all."

Lord Sinclair, as head of the family to which the young culprit belonged, now came forward in his behalf, and, by his intercession, the King wrote to the magistrates, desiring them to delay proceedings. Afterwards, the process was transferred to the Privy Council. Meanwhile the other youths, seven in number, the chief of whom were a son of Murray of Spainyie-dale, and a son of Pringle of Whytbank, were kept in confinement upwards of two months, while a debate took place between the magistrates and the friends of the culprits as to a fair assize, it being alleged that one composed of citizens would be partial against the boys. The King commanded that an assize of gentlemen should be chosen; and, in the end, they, as well as Sinclair, got clear off.—From Chambers's "Domestic Annals of Scotland."

Dr Steven's account of this affair, in his history of the High School, differs from that of Chambers's in some particulars, but in the main they agree. The Doctor says, that some days before the autumnal recess, the boys had been very disorderly, and that the head master, Hercules Rollock, required his outmost exertion to maintain discipline.

Bailie Macmoran was the wealthiest merchant of his time in Edinburgh, but exceedingly unpopular with the inhabitants, from the circumstance that he exported victual to the Continent. He had been at one period a servant of the Regent Morton, and afterwards what is called a messenger, or sheriff's-officer. His house is still standing in Riddel's Close, in the Lawnmarket. In May, 1598, the town of Edinburgh gave an entertainment in it to the Duke of Holstein, the Queen's brother, at which the King and Queen were both present. The room where the Duke was banqueted is now used as the Mechanics' Library.

There is another circumstance which, in a local point of view, imparts an additional interest to this unfortunate affair of young Sinclair of Mey and the Edinburgh bailie. In the "Origines Parochiales Scotia" it is stated that, in 1624, John Macmoran was served heir to his father, James Macmoran, merchant-burgess of Edinburgh, in a yearly revenue of £411 6s, from the lands and baronies of the earldom of Caithness, including the lands of Clyth and Greenland. Although the book to which we have referred says nothing about the relationship of the parties, there seems to be little doubt that the two Macmorans, father and son, here mentioned, were the immediate descendants, or at least near relatives, of Bailie John Macmoran who was shot by Sinclair of Mey. How the revenue was acquired is not said. But, as the Earl of Caithness of the period had a host of creditors in the south, it is highly probable that he had borrowed money from the first John Macmoran, or his immediate heir, and, in way of repaying the loan, had mortgaged or pledged a portion of his property for the yearly sum of £411 6s.

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