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The Northern Highlands in the Nineteenth Century
No. 2

A striking feature at this time was the want of education in the Highlands, and the efforts that were undertaken to provide means for improved instruction. The Church of Scotland, as usual, took an active part in promoting educational facilities. Principal Baird preached in Inverness, and collections were made in the churches amounting to £60.

In the summer of 1826 a new Parliament was elected. There was distress throughout the country, but in spite of that party spirit had sunk to such a low ebb that interest in the election was very languid. It is curious to be told that "even in some instances burghs are almost advertising for members to represent them." In the county of Inverness, however, the Right Hon. Charles Grant had to face a contest, the opposing candidate being Lord Macdonald. Mr Grant seems to have been regarded as a Whig of rather advanced opinions, and possibly there was also a feeling in some quarters that father and son had held the representation for a sufficiently long period. Readers will be interested in seeing an account of a contested election, held at a time when the electorate was so small. Mr Grant was returned by a large majority, as majorities then went. At the same time his brother, Robert Grant, was elected member for the burghs without a contest.

Locally the year was notable on account of other incidents. The first daily coach was run between Inverness and Perth, there was the introduction of gas light, which had been "partially tried" before the year closed; and there was the memorable storm at the time of the Martinmas market, in which many lives were lost throughout the Highlands


January 4.—A paper circulated by the General Assembly states that the Synods of Argyll, Glenelg, Ross, Sutherland and Caithness, Orkney and Zetland containing 143 parishes and a population of 877,730 persons, are in the urgent need of not less than 250 additional schools. Taking an average of 42 for each school, the Committee calculate that there are 10,500 children under the age of fifteen without the means of education; and the Committee are in fact satisfied that the number is much greater. "If persons of all ages are included, the number of those not taught to read exceeds belief. But how could it be otherwise when more parishes than one are described as not having a sufficient number of schools to accommodate one-tenth of their population? Several are said to be in need of three and four, and one of even six schools; and as to another, an appalling fact is mentioned that it consists of 1000 square miles, and has a population of 4747 souls, and that of these only 395 have learned to read at all."

Ibid.—At a meeting of the Northern Institution a number of articles of archaeological interest were presented. One is described as follows:—"Capital of one of the pilasters which supported the arched way passing from the old wooden bridge of Inverness through Castle Tolmie, found in the course of the road recently opened from the bridge along the north bank of the Ness. Bailie Ferguson."

January 4 and 11.—The two numbers contain notes on Northern towns, the observations of a summer ramble in 1825. There is nothing calling for quotation in the notes, but they may be worth looking at by anyone in search of comparisons. We are told that Fortrose is famed for its "Knights of the Awl," or shoemakers, and Rosemartie for its weavers.

January 18.—A code of legal provisions for improving the condition of slaves was introduced into Trinidad.

Ibid—There had been ten days of intense frost, and abundant skating in London. In Inverness it is noted that "we have neither professor nor amateur in the exhilarating sports of skating or curling." The Highland road from Perth to Inverness was open, while the coaches on the other roads were greatly delayed.

lbid.—Upwnrds of 150 Chisholms and other natives of Strathglass had their usual match at shinty. The match was betwixt the Braes and the Strath. "The Braesmen supported the character for superior activity and expertness which they are said to possess, and though less numerous, carried the day."

January 25.—Intimation of the suspension of the London booksellers, Hurst. Robinson, & Co., which involved the downfall of Constable and the insolvency of Sir Walter Scott.

February 1.—Among the articles presented to the Northern Institution was a cast of the gold rod found at the Leys in 1824, given by Mr Naughton.

February 15.—Excitement aroused in Scotland by the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abolish one pound notes.

February 22.—A meeting of heritors and tenants of houses was held to consider a local Police Bill proposed for the burgh of Inverness. There was a large attendance and a long discussion. In the end the Magistrates withdrew the bill.

March 1.—There is a description of the monument erected to the late Charles Grant, M.P. in St George’s Church, Bloomsbury. The monument was erected by the East India Company as a tribute of respect to the memory of Mr Grant. It is described as one of the largest monuments in any church in London.

March 15.—"We have considerable satisfaction in observing that the project of a constant and daily conveyance by the Highland Road from Inverness to the South, which we have so long and so frequently advocated, is no longer a matter of doubt or difficulty with those who are best qualified to appreciate its possibility and its profits. Two coaches, belonging to separate concerns, are now running between Perth and Inverness three times a-week; and in a short time we find that one of these at least will run on that road every day."

March 29.—"During the last week Scotland has had her full share of attention in both Houses. Besides the appointment of the most impartial Committee, given in our last paper, to inquire concerning the circulation of small notes, on Tuesday week a Committee was appointed, on the motion of the Lord Advocate, to inquire into the state of the Scottish prisons, which his lordship characterised as truly disgraceful."

Ibid.—"A new Masonic Lodge was yesterday consecrated at Dingwall, called the Fingal Lodge. In the absence of Sir G. S. Mackenzie Bart., Provincial Grand Master for Ross-shire, who could not attend on account of indisposition, the Lodge was consecrated by Colin Mackenzie, Esq. of Kilcoy, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, with true Masonic solemnity, assisted by deputations from St John’s Kilwinning Lodge of Inverness and St Duthus Lodge of Tain, headed by their respective Masters, who acted as Provincial Grand Wardens."

Ibid.—The death occurred at Brora on the 18th inst. of Alexander Urquhart, tidesman of the Customs, who is said to have been 111 years old. He was, it was stated born at Tain in 1715. He possessed to the last a faithful memory of certain interesting particulars of the rising of 1745, and had seen many of the leading characters in it, particularly John Roy Stuart. "Honest Sandy," as he is called, was never a soldier, hut he was a sportsman and as deadly a shot as ever took the heather. "Employed in the capacity of gamekeeper to the late Earl of Sutherland, he had frequent occasion to be on the moors with those noblemen and gentlemen who usually resorted to the North to enjoy the sporting seasons. With Baron Norton, Sir John Gordon of Embo, and the late General Wemyss, he was a particular favourite. Many of his anecdotes and repartees on this and other occasions are still remembered, to be laughed at right heartily; for although he was a plain, unassuming sort of man, his mode of conversation was tinctured with a venial kind of bluntness and sarcastic humour peculiar to himself that rendered the aptness of his remarks irresistible and no persons how dignified soever in rank, was exempted from his satire." Urquhart was an expert angler, and would talk with enthusiasm of books, rods, and flies, but he had a great contempt for what was then the modern improvement of gut and sea-weed casting lines. By the interest of Lord Ankerville, he was appointed, about 1780, tide-waiter of the Customs at Inverness, from which he was soon afterwards transferred to Brora. He was superannuated in 1812, with an allowance of £23 a year. "He was a man of very temperate habits - was never known to have been, even once, intoxicated. He would most willingly take one glass of spirits, but no persuasion would induce him to go beyond that, as he always considered one dram his gauge, as he called it, and above that was hurtful. He never complained of iIl health till within the last twelve months of his life. His dress was jnvariably the same: full round-breasted coat, a vest of old-fashioned cut, and a small, flat blue bonnet. A lady once made a present to him of a fine hat, but he considered it such an invasion on the ancient rights of the bonnet that it was laid aside and never used."

April 12.—A correspondent writes to express surprise that there is "neither a stick nor a stone" to mark the site of Culloden Battlefield. Many years elapsed before this want was supplied.

April 26.—On the previous Sunday the Rev. Principal Baird preached in the English (High) Church in support of the scheme for improving the means of religions instruction in the Highlands. The collection in that church amounted to £47 1s, and in other churches to £12 19s— total, £60. Principal Baird was in Inverness for several days, and was presented with the freedom of the burgh - "an honour," says the paragraph, "conferred, we understand, on no individual since it was bestowed on Prince Leopold.

Ibid.—The anniversary of the Northern Missionary Society was held at Dingwall. The collection and contributions amounted to £46 2s 3d.

April 26 and May 3.—The former issue records the death of Sir Hector Mackenzie, Bart. of Gairloch, Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Ross, who expired at Conon House on 22nd April. In the next issue a tribute is paid to his memory. "Hospitality, generous, open, manly friendship, mild unaffected, and what may be termed honest dignity of deportment, accompanied by hearty kindness, distinguished him in a remarkable manner. He took great delight in forwarding the views of others, and was always ready to obey the dictates of benevolence. In public affairs, where he differed from others, he did so in a manner that could not possibly offend." Sir Hector was sixty-eight years of age.

May 3.—At the Inverness County meeting a petition was adopted to the House of Commons praying that the County should not be taxed with the burden of alimenting prisoners, which the Convention of Royal Burghs proposed as an alternative for the better regulation of the Scottish gaols and the due maintenance of the prisoners confined in them. The same meeting adopted resolutions in favour of erecting tolls in the county in aid of assessment. It was stated that the burden of assessment was at that time upwards of 9 per cent. on the net rental of the county.

May 10.—Mr Adam Davidson, writer, was duly admitted procurator in the Sheriff Court of Nairn on Friday, 5th inst.

May 17.—The Inverness Auxiliary of the Inverness Bible Society held its fourteenth annual meeting on the 10th inst. The total amount of funds accounted for by the treasurer was £281 18s 9d. This, however, included a balance of £77 19s 3d brought forward from last year, a legacy of £20, and a sum of £30 11s 3d, realised from the sale of Scriptures.

Ibid.—A circular from the Excise Office set forth that in consequence of the extent and audacity with which a band of smugglers who had established themselves in Glen-Naughty and other glens in that quarter of Aberdeenshire were carrying on their operations and resisting the Revenue officers, the Earls of Aboyne and Fife, Sir Alexander Leith, and other proprietors, had instructed their agents, bailiffs, and ground officers to render every assistance to the officers of revenue in destroying their smuggling utensils, and burning the huts or bothies in which they carried on their operations; also to dismiss any tenant who was concerned in illicit distillation, and to take measures for preventing itinerant smugglers from cutting or providing a stock of peat. These measures were recommended to the consideration of land-owners in the Highlands.

May 24.—At a special county meeting held on the 19th inst. resolutions in favour of imposing tolls were reaffirmed by a majority of 41 to 14.

May 31.—At the General Assembly on 22nd May, a petition was presented from parties in the counties of Ross and Cromarty praying the Assembly to take measures to enforce the regular celebration of the Sacrament in the different parishes in these counties, and to prevent the clergymen doing so during the periods of seed time and harvest. The memorial stated that it had not been the practice to celebrate the Communion regularly in various parishes in the counties of Ross and Cromarty; that in one parish it had been omitted for seven years; and that in many it was unusual to celebrate.

June 7.—Parliament was dissolved on the previous Thursday, 1st June. An editorial article says "A large portion of his Majesty’s Ministers and of his Majesty’s Opposition think so much alike upon most subjects of general interest that a desire for the triumph of any particular principles as between these parties will now hardly suffice to render either very strenuous in their exertions to secure seats for their adherents. Accordingly we find very few places in which contests are expected, and even in some instances burghs are almost advertising for members to represent them."

Ibid.—A daily coach between Inverness and Perth began to run on the 6th inst. It was called the Caledonian Coach, and started from the Caledonian Hotel at five in the morning. "The enterprising spirit," we are told, "of a few private individuals has accomplished what has hitherto been deemed by many to be altogether impracticable, and accordingly we have now an opportunity of journeying from this town to the Metropolis of Scotland, a distance of 160 miles, in the short space of 24 hours, including four hours’ rest at Perth."

June 21.—The election for the burgh of Hedon, in Yorkshire, took place on the 12th inst., the successful candidates being Colonel Baillie and Mr Villiers. "Colonel Baillie," says the paragraph, "is a gentleman of some property in the County of Inverness, and a director of the East India Company." The Inverness property was the estate of Leys.

June 28.—The Inverness Sheep and Wool Market was held the previous week. There was great apprehension that prices would be very low, "lower than they were for the last thirty years," but this fear was not realised. The price of wool was as good as it was in 1822 and 1824, and much better than it was in 1823. The prices of sheep were nearly as in 1820, which was an excellent market, and higher than from 1821 to 1824. The market, however, was very stiff as sellers did not care to submit to a substantial reduction from the rates of 1825. "A good deal of interest was excited on the second day by the decision of a sweepstake of £10 for tips, between Mr Sellar of Morvich and Mr Laidlaw, Knockfin. The tups were the best in the respective stocks of these gentlemen and were shown fleeced and unfleeced. The judgment was in favour of Mr Sellar, who very liberally extended the greater part of his winning in a ‘go' of claret."

Ibid.—The Hon. Colonel F. W. Grant of Grant was unanimously re-elected M.P. for the County of Moray at Elgin on Monday last. Colonel Grant gave a splendid entertainment in the afternoon to a numerous body of gentlemen, freeholders, &c., in the County Hall of Elgin.

July 5.—"Inverness District of Burghs. The election of the Member of Parliament for this District of Burghs took place at Fortrose on Monday last, the 3rd curt., when Robert Grant, Esq. of Lincoln’s Inn, London, was unanimously elected." This is the full report of the election for the burghs in the file of the above date. Robert Grant, was a younger brother of the Member for the County.

Ibid.—Sir J. W. Mackenzie of Scatwell was re-elected Member for Ross-shire. Sir Hugh lnnes of Lochalsh, Bart., was for the fourth time elected member for the Northern Burghs without opposition.—The Hon. Alexander Duff, brother of the Earl of Fife, was chosen member for the Elgin Burghs.

July 12.—There is a full report of the proceedings at the election of a member for the County of Inverness, the first contested election that had occurred for a long time. Opposition to the Right Hon. Charles Grant, Vice-President of the Board of Trade had been threatened for some time. Colonel Baillie of Leys, Macleod of Macleod, and Lord Macdonald of the Isles had all announced their intention of coming forward. The first two, however, retired, and the contest lay between Mr Grant and Lord Macdonald. At noon on the 7th inst. the free-holders assembled in the Court-house in Bridge Street, but the public interest being intense they adjourned to the High Church. Colonel F. W. Grant, M.P., was appointed Chairman. The church was crowded. "The front seats of the gallery were graced with the presence of several high-born and elegantly dressed ladies"; the large pew "technically called the Latron" was occupied by the Chairman, the candidates, and a few friends; and Glengarry took possession of the precentor’s box. The applications of new claimants to be placed on the Voters’ Roll occupied a large part off the proceedings. Every case was argued by Counsel. "Their contentions lasted from about two o’clock on Friday afternoon until nine on Saturday morning"; and by this time the ladies in the gallery had gone home, and many of the freeholders were asleep. The latter, however, wakened up when the next stage began. Sir Ewen Cameron of Fassfern, who was in his 87th year moved the election of the Right Hon. C. Grant as Member for the County. Mr A. N. Macleod of Harris seconded the motion. Macleod of Macleod, after explaining how he had seen it his duty to retire from his own candidature, nominated Lord Macdonald, which proposal was seconded by Mackintosh of Mackintosh. Both candidates then spoke. The poll showed 49 votes for Mr Grant and 10 for Lord Macdonald; the latter being further supported by 14 whose votes were tendered but rejected. Mr Grant was supported by the great majority of Highland Chiefs and gentry, whose confidence in himself he spoke of with natural pride. He afterwards entertained a company of 140 to dinner. Lord Macdonald also entertained a considerable party, and the rivals exchanged deputations and drank one another’s health.

Ibid.—A. general meeting of the Inverness Gas and Water Company was held in the Town Hall. Provost Robertson of Aultnaskiach was elected Chairman, and the following directors were appointed :—Mr Maclean, land surveyor; Dr Nicol; Mr Macandrew, solicitor; Mr Smith of Dalmore; Mr Grey, merchant; Dr Alexr. Macdonald; Mr Maclead of Parkhill; Mr Edwards, solicitor; Mr Simon Fraser, merchant; and Convener Williamson. The buildings for the gasometer were reported as being nearly completed, and a considerable quantity of gas piping had arrived.

July 19.—There is an article on the distress prevailing throughout the country. "It appears from the newspapers of the Midland and Northern Counties of England, as well as those from the South and West of Scotland, that the number of persons out of work is daily increasing; and neither poor rates nor charitable contributions will long suffice to support the immense numbers now dependent on them." The effect of the Corn Laws was warmly discussed.

July 26.—Lord Francis Leveson Gower was elected Member for the County of Sutherland.

August 16.—"The number of distinguished and fashionable personages who have this year visited the Highlands of Scotland has been beyond all precedent....Every shooting-box in the Highlands, far and near, is now filled with sportsmen of all ranks and conditions, from the highest-sounding aristocratic titles down to the pleasure-hunting Cockney." In most of the cases mentioned, however, it in evident that the Highland proprietors were entertaining guests.

September 6.—"Ministers have done themselves infinite honour by resolving on their own responsibility to open the ports for the immediate admission of foreign oats, oatmeal, rye, pease, and beans, on payment of the following duties: —Oats, per quarter, 2s; oatmeal, per boll, 2s 2d; rye, pease, and beans, per quarter, 3s 6d. This measure, which secures the subsistence of the poor, at a period of apprehended scarcity, is founded on information laid before his Majesty, by which it appears that the home average price of oats, pease, &c., exceeded that at which, by Act of Parliament, the importation of foreign wheat was allowed; that the crops of oats, pease, and beans of the present year had failed to a considerable extent; and that a deficiency in the potato crop was apprehended in many parts of the United Kingdom. These considerations, joined with the actual distress of the times, have induced Ministers wisely to adopt this measure for the relief of the people.

September 20.—The Rev. Charles Bayne sometime minister at Fort-William, was on Wednesday, 13th inst. admitted to the pastoral charge of the Parish of Fodderty, vacant by the death of the Rev. Mr Mackenzie.

September 27.—The Northern Meeting was held on the previous week, and included races at Dunancroy. Note is taken of the fact that the dinners, which were held as usual on each of the three days, were attended by gentlemen only. "We believe that this year was the only one, since the Meeting was instituted in 1788, at which the ladies did not appear at the dinner." No reason is assigned for their absence. A service of silver plate was presented to Mr Fraser of Culduthel for his long and valuable services as secretary of the Meeting.

Ibid.—Dr Robertson of Aultnaskiach was re-elected Provost of Inverness.

October 11.—" We understand that George Cumming, Esq., London, late representative in Parliament for this District of Burghs, has, in the most liberal manner, on retiring from that distinguished situation, presented the town of Nairn with an elegant eight-day clock, of the most superior machinery. This recent mark of the worthy member’s attachment has been duly appreciated by a community whose interests had uniformly received his most assiduous attention."

October 18.—It is stated that the Right. Hon. William Dundas, Lord Register of Scotland, has been elected Provost of Tain.

October 25.—The Right Hon. Charles Grant, Member for the County of Inverness, and his brother, Robert Grant, Member for the District of Burghs, were presented on the 21st inst. with the freedom of the town of Forres.

November 1.—At a meeting of the Northern Institution, it was announced that Mr John Anderson, W.S. author of the History of the Frasers, and one of the secretaries of the Society of Antiquaries, was the winner of the gold medal presented by Sir George Mackenzie of Coul, for an essay on the State of Society and Knowledge in the Highlands in 1745, and the Progress made to the Present Day. Sir George was present, and presented the medal to Mr Anderson, delivering at the same time an address which is spoken of in high terms.

November 29.—On Friday the 24th inst. a disastrous snow-storm occurred, the effects of which were long remembered. About seven in the morning a furious gale burst out, accompanied by thick falling snow and occasional showers of sleet. "The Martinmas Market, which held here that day, was the means of leading many persons from home, and the town was more crowded than could have been expected from the state of the weather. During the whole of that day and the following night the storm continued unabated, and even in town it became a matter of peril to pass from one house or street to another. As little or no business could be done in the streets, many people resorted in groups to the shelter afforded by the closes in town, and others to the public houses, and it is to be feared that to the necessarily prolonged visits of the people to these places of entertainment, several of the accidents of that night must be ascribed. The loss of lives of people venturing home from the town to their places of abode in the country is variously estimated: there is a certainty however, that no fewer than 11 or 12 perished in the vicinity of Inverness. A man and a woman were found dead next morning near Castle Stewart, and two other persons died on the road from this town to Nairn. A woman of the name of Grant, although accompanied by a sister, who could offer her little help expired at the bridge of Moniack, within a short distance of her own home. Two young men who left town for Strathdearn in the evening were found in a state of exhaustion by the wayside, and died shortly thereafter while under the hands of some kind friends who were administering to their relief. Two men (Alexander Fraser, a labourer, and Peter Cameron, a weaver) were found dead, the former near Cuidrash and the latter near Ardedrean, in the hill between Urquhart and the Aird; a woman and her son, a boy of fifteen years of age, were likewise found dead at Duntemple near the Church of Boleskine, and within 2(k) yards of their own door. Thus there is the certainty of eleven persons at least having perished that evening. A tailor of the name of Fraser, from Garnabeg, in Urquhart, left Abriachan on Friday for his own house, and has not since been heard of. Two of the shepherds on the farm of Borlum, near Fort-Augustus have likewise been missing since Friday and it is feared that these last must be added to this melancholy list of deaths. Many were found on the roads in an exhausted and powerless condition; but by the kind ministrations of passers by and neighbours, they have providentially recovered." The coaches between Aberdeen and Inverness were delayed many hours by the storm; one gave up the attempt to make its way. To the North the roads were clearer, although the mails had to be carried across the Ord of Caithness on horseback. The storm, having begun on Friday morning, abated somewhat on Suturday; Sunday was comparatively clear, but still intensely cold and boisterous; "even Monday and Tuesday were days on which no person who could stay in the house would be seen out."

December 6.—A continuation of the account of the storm states that the loss of lives from the borders of Aberdeenshire and Perthshire was ascertained to be at least twenty-six, and there were a few people still missing. Besides that, more than twenty vessels had been wrecked, among these sixteen in the Moray Firth. There was great loss among sheep. Many trees had also been blown down.

Ibid.—The gas light was now ready for use in town, and had been partially tried, giving universal satisfaction. Arrangements were made by which the town was to have about seventy public gas lamps, besides twenty of the old stamp maintained in the suburbs and remote lanes.

December 27.—There is a record of the death of the Rev. John Ross, who had gone out as leader and pastor of an English colony planted by the Columbian Agricultural Association. Ross had an active and varied career on the London press before he undertook this Mission.

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