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The Northern Highlands in the Nineteenth Century

The first number of the INVERNESS COURIER was issued on the 4th of December 1817. We have the prospectus of the paper before us, dated 31st October of the same year. It is entitled "Prospectus of a newspaper to be published weekly at Inverness, and to be called ‘The Inverness Courier’ and General Advertiser for the Counties of Inverness, Ross, Moray, Nairn, Cromarty, Sutherland, and Caithness." This is the full title still borne on the front page, except that the name of Cromarty is placed earlier in the list. At the time when the paper was projected there was strong party feeling in the burgh, springing, not from politics, but from local questions on which the older paper, the Journal, expatiated at great length and with much vehemence. The promoters of the Courier announced that they stood "upon open, neutral, independent ground," and that they were "resolved to speak their own minds boldly, and afford to others the means of doing so likewise, on every subject of public interest, under no other restraint than those imposed by a regard for personal feelings and for the rules of decorum and good taste." In discussing measures of national policy the prospectus promised that the new paper would "neither be fiercely intemperate nor tamely indifferent." The policy thus foreshadowed was very fairly carried out. On national questions there was little to choose between the two organs. Both supported the Government and the Constitution (the latter word in those days was in frequent use), but their tone was moderate and by no means reactionary. The following paragraph from the prospectus sets forth the chief aims of the promoters of the Courier —

"In the columns of the Inverness Courier will be found the political events of the times—the debates of the senate—proceedings of the courts of justice—remarkable occurrences throughout the civilised world—naval and military intelligence— commercial and agricultural lists and reports, and all the other ordinary contents of a newspaper. But the interest and variety of its provincial news will form its distinguishing feature—The earliest and most correct intelligence on local subjects will be assiduously collected from all parts of the country; and the assistance which the Projectors are offered encourages them to promise largely in the department of Original Communication. They are solicitous to direct the attention of their countrymen to the investigation of the history and antiquities of the Northern Counties.—Much also remains to be said in delineation of the local scenery of this mountainous district; and the change of manners has been so rapid and so marked during the last century, as to present a fine field for striking description and interesting anecdote. The Mineralogy of the country has been very imperfectly explored. Occasional insular notices on this subject may draw the attention of scientific persons, and: lead to very important and beneficial results—To such communications the columns of the Courier shall be always open. Useful inventions in the arts and sciences will be regularly noticed, and early selections from new, popular, and expensive works will be frequently given. The Projectors further pledge themselves freely to administer, and impartially to apply, salutary remedies for the correction of public abuses, with a solicitude proportioned to the extent and urgency of the evil."

In May 1881 an Inverness man, the late Sir W. P. Andrew, Chairman of the Scinde, Delhi, and Punjaub Railway, contributed some reminiscences regarding the establishment of the paper. He stated that as a boy at school he well remembered hearing that the Courier was resolved on one evening after supper in his father’s house in Church Street. He was sure that Mr Ferguson, afterwards Provost, was of the party, and he thought also Mr Innes, of the Grocery. "The paper was for many years printed and published over Ettles’s shop in the High Street, in a house the property of my father, which afterwards was mine. The first editor was Mrs Johnstone, the author of several novels, such as ‘Elizabeth de Bruce,’ ‘Clan Alpin,’ and ‘Meg Dods’ Cookery Book,’ &c. This lady afterwards edited Tait’s Magazine. Mrs Johnstone was assisted in her labours by her husband, an old schoolmaster and good grammarian. As a boy it was my fortune to be boarded with them." From the first the paper had a literary character, and in its early issues there are long reviews of Scott’s novel "Rob Roy," then newly published. The late Dr Carruthers did not become editor until 1828, rather more than ten years after the paper was started.

The Courier in its early years consisted of four pages, five columns in each or twenty in all. The page was four inches shorter than the present size. The price per copy was sevenpence, the same as its contemporary at the time, though the original price of the Journal was sixpence. Thursday was selected as the day of publication for the Courier, and the imprint was as follows :—‘Printed and Published (for himself and other proprietors) by W. Ettles, bookseller, Inverness, to whom all communications are to be addressed. Orders will be received by Mr Sievwright, Edinburgh, and Messrs Newton & Co., Warwick Square, London. Price £1 12s per annum credit, and £1 10s when paid in advance."

We have followed the file of the Journal to the close of 1817, and do not think it necessary to cull extracts from the Courier for the month of its issue during that year. We begin with 1818, and hope in due time to bring index and annals down to the end of the century.

From the "Inverness Courier."

January 1.—A report is given of the proceedings on the retirement of Sir William Grant, who had with distinction filled the office of Master of the Rolls for over sixteen years. Sir William was born at Elchies, on the banks of the Spey, in 1752, and died in 1832. His father James Grant, was a small farmer in Morayshire, and afterwards became Collector of Customs in the Isle of Man. On the death of his parents, William was taken care of by his uncle, a wealthy London merchant. He was educated at the Elgin Grammar School at King’s College, Aberdeen, and at the University of Leyden, and afterwards passed for the English Bar at Lincoln’s Inn. He represented the County of Banff in Parliament from 1796 to 1812. "Grant was one of the few lawyers who made a great reputation in the House of Commons." (See Dictionary of National Biography).

Ibid.—The occupier of a small farm in the County of Nairn was tried before a Justice of Peace Court, for an assault on a poor woman, a neighbour whom he believed to be guilty of bewitching his son. The father tried to counteract the supposed witchcraft by "scoring the woman above the breath," in this instance scratching her forehead with a pin. "In consideration of certain circumstances," which are not mentioned, the Justices limited the penalty to a fine of £2, with expenses, intimating that in future they would punish with rigour all such "absurd and unlawful practices."

Ibid.—Mr Mackinnon of Corry and Colonel Macdonald of Lynedale had erected two distilleries in Skye. The size of each still was 100 gallons. About the same date a seizure of malt and whisky was made in Kintail, the officers destroying at least £150 worth of wash and utensils.

January 8.—"We learn that the building of the piers at the Ferry of Invergordon will be carried into effect during the season. The estimated expense is little more than £1000."

January 15.—A paragraph describes improvements which had been effected on the Inverness Harbour. Previously the Harbour would not admit loaded vessels of a size above 130 tons burthen. It was now capable of admitting ships of 400 or 500 tons. From subsequent paragraphs we gather that the notice refers to the Thornbush pier.

Ibid.—"Government has lately granted £500 in aid of certain funds contributed and collected by the gentlemen of Skye in behalf of the starving population of that island. It ought to be mentioned to the honour of that worthy patriot and friend of the poor, Charles Grant, Esq., that to his indefatigable exertions and personal representation to Lord Liverpool, the poor of Skye are chiefly indebted for this last and most seasonable supply."

Ibid.—It is stated that a mine of plumbago or graphite had been discovered in Glenstrathfarar. It was situated in a schistose rock close to the Farrar, and several tons of it had been turned out the previous summer.

Ibid.—"On the 24th ult., died Mrs Fraser, aged 103 years. She was born in Lochaber, but has resided in Kilmarnock for more than forty years. Her maiden name was Christina Maclachlan; and what is most singular, her Highland pride would never allow her to learn one word of English."

January 22.—Violent gales created great damage. The bridge at Torgoil over the Morrison had been broken down, and it is stated that felled trees, belonging to a Greenock Company, to the number of 10,000, had been swept down by the river to Loch-Ness. In a previous issue it was reported that Aberdeen had lost 24,000 tons of Shipping by the gales.

Ibid—"Alexander Brodie, Esq., father to the Marchioness of Huntly, died on the morning of the 15th inst., at his house in South Audley Street, Grosvenor Square, London."

January 29.—It is stated that the fund raised in Inverness for the relief of the unemployed during the winter of 1816 and 1817 amounted in subscriptions from individuals and donations from public bodies to the sum of £513. No fewer than 185 persons, with families dependent on them, were employed by this fund, and at the same time public improvements were effected. "Elegant and commodious roads have been made on both banks of the river; and extensive footpaths have been formed which certainly add much to the comfort and to the health of the inhabitants."

Ibid.—"Mr Lewis Bayne, officer of Excise, lately discovered a private still in Abriachan under very singular circumstances. It was in a vault excavated in a rock which formed the foundation of a house. The floor of the apartment above it was paved, and likewise covered with a bed of clay to the depth of 18 inches, to prevent noise. The entrance was from the stank or gutter of an adjoining byre. The smoke was conveyed into the common chimney of the house." Mr Bayne made his way to the spot by digging and boring, and among other utensils found a tun capable of containing 400 gallons.

Ibid.—A daring theft is reported from Auchterawe, near Fort-Augustus. Two men, "said to be from the western extremity of Lochaber," drove off at midday 101 sheep from the farm, and marched openly with them through Fort-Augustus on the high road to Fort-William. They stopped for refreshments at the Inn of Laggan, where a person who knew the sheep’s marks suspected them, and, plying them with whisky, sent a messenger to the shepherds. At the last moment the thieves, though without their spoil, made their escape in a way sufficiently remarkable. "An individual of their own clan or name, which we forbear to mention, having learned their embarrassment, contrived to join their company, and shortly afterwards ‘accidentally’ snuffed out the candle. Amid the darkness and confusion which ensued the thieves took the liberty to withdraw."

February 5.—"An amusing petition has been presented to the Magistrates and Town Council of Inverness, signed by almost sixty boys attending Raining’s School, in which the petitioners deeply deplore some blunders lately committed in their attempts to entertain the congregation of the English Church with a tune after the forenoon service. They attribute their failure to the want of music books, and therefore earnestly pray to be supplied with them. We understand this humble request has been granted, and the Church Treasurer has been instructed immediately to furnish the number of books required."

Ibid.—Typhus fever was at this time making great havoc in Forres. There had previously been a severe outbreak in several parts of Ireland.

February 19.—Died at Torbreck, on the 13th inst., in the 76th year of her age, Mrs Ann Russell, wife of Alexander Fraser, Esq., of Torbreck. The paragraph speaks in very high terms of her piety and kindness.

February 26.—On Tuesday, 17th, as persons were employed clearing the ground for a new church at Dunfermline, the coffin and bones of King Robert Bruce were discovered. The discovery created much interest.

March 5.—There is a notice of the death of Mr Dempster of Dunnichen, who represented the Angus-shire Burghs during many Parliaments, and was known as "The Independent Member" of the House of Commons. After his retirement from Parliment, Mr Dempster resided for several years at his brother’s residence of Skibo, in Sutherland. His efforts were directed to the agricultural improvement of the district, He erected two cotton mills at Spinningdale, on the Dornoch Firth. They were, however, too remote to be successful.

March 12.—An extract from a Parliamentary paper gives an account of the progress made with the roads in Sutherland, some of which were completed and others approaching completion. A special paragraph describes the works at the Mound. and the difficulties which had been encountered and overcome.

Ibid.—"Colonel Grant of Grant, besides making a considerable deduction from the rents of his tenants, has on a large scale supplied the district with which he is more immediately connected with meal, which has been sold out to the tenants at prime cost. The cruel advantage which in seasons of scarcity is sometimes taken of the inhabitants of inland districts is but too well known. We therefore welcome every opportunity of paying our slender tribute of sincere admiration to those Highland proprietors who, like Colonel Grant in the present instance, consider the case of the poor." Sir Æneas Mackintosh of Mackintosh and other proprietors gave about the same time large reductions of rent. On the whole, however, matters seemed to be improving.

Ibid.—A large vessel, the Minerva, of New York, put in at Ullapool in a disabled state, and was there destroyed by fire. In less than three hours £150,000 worth of goods was consumed. "Fragments of silk and goods of all descriptions were washed ashore from the wreck."

March 19.—Application was made to the Court of Session to reduce the election of the Town Council of Inverness. The petitioners objected to the election on the ground that three of the members of Council were not eligible under the "set" or constitution of the burgh, as they were "neither trafficking merchants nor maltmen." Questions affecting the elections in Edinburgh and Aberdeen were at the same time before the Court.

Ibid.—"On Tuesday se’enight, one of the men employed in cutting a road through the ruins of the Castle of Dingwall, the stronghold of the Earls of Ross, found a massive gold ring set with a single large diamond. It was discovered six feet beneath the surface, and within three feet of the foundation of the outer wall of the building. Although it bears no inscription, it may be inferred from the workmanship that it was made in an age when the arts were in their infancy. The diameter is 9-10ths of an inch within, and one inch when measured over."

March 26.—There is a summary of an interesting paper read at the Royal Society of Edinburgh by Mr Thomas Dick Lauder of Relugas (or Lauder Dick, as he was called at this time), on the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy. The writer concluded that the roads were formed by lakes that had sunk to different levels, and he advanced hypotheses as to the nature of the barriers. The idea of an ice barrier had not occurred at this time.

Ibid.—An advertisement shows that the estate of Sanquhar at Foress was at this time known by the name of Birdsyards.

Ibid.,—A large meeting assembled at Tain and formed a Highland Society for the counties of Ross, Cromarty, and Sutherland. Those who attended the meeting were "clad in the complete costume of their respective clans."

April 2.—Abriachan again figures as a notorious place of smuggling. The Excise officers found a number of illicit utensils in a cavern, and two stills in an adjoining birch wood. They were attacked by the people rolling down stones from the rocks, and a party of armed men had to he sent to the top for their protection.

Ibid.—A paragraph quoted from the "Courant" says :—"Last year Government sent down corn to the distressed Highlanders in Inverness and its neighbourhood, but being entirely destitute of mills for grinding it, they were under the necessity of returning the corn. A few horizontal wind-mills will, soon pay for themselves, and their singular and extensive usefulness will be speedily and powerfully experienced. They would cost from £100 to £200 each, according to size."

Ibid.—A public meeting was held at Inverness, Mr Fraser of Relig in the chair, to express their confidence in Provost Robertson and their indignation at attacks made upon him in certain newspaper letters and paragraphs.

Ibid.—"Married, on the 29th March, at Heighinton, in the County of Durham, Duncan George Forbes, Esq. of Culloden, to Sarah, daughter of the late Rev. Joseph Walker, of Lanchester."

April 9.—"The whole population of this county was so effectually drained by the late war that females had gained a predominating and threatening ascendency in the scale of society. A mechanic in Campbelltown, near Fort-George, has done much to restore the equilibrium—having lately christened his ninth son in succession, all of whom are in life."

Ibid.—A letter in this issue mentions several interesting facts. There were two hemp manufactories in the town, and one woollen factory, which produced tartan stuffs only. The other had been given up for some years. Five vessels were employed in the London trade. There were three printing offices in the town.

April 16.—A heavy and protracted snow-storm had been experienced in the Highlands during the winter and spring. A paragraph in this issue says that "the loss of sheep on Highland farms has been latterly beyond calculation."

April 23.—"Died, at Delnies, near Nairn, on the 3rd inst. in the 104th year of his age, John Reid, supposed to be the oldest soldier in his Majesty’s dominions, having entered the service in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots 88 years ago." There is a notice of this veteran in our notes of 1811. He fought at Dettingen, Fontenoy, Culloden, at Waal in Holland, and under Wolfe at Quebec. "At the peace of 1763 he was honourably discharged from the Royal Scots, and was appointed to the Independent Company of Invalids at Fort-George. About this time, being nearly 70 years of age, he took to himself a helpmate, by whom he had a family of sons and daughters, whom he brought up in habits of virtue and industry; three of his sons survive him, who are all in the army: his youngest, a young man of great promise, is a sergeant in the 93rd or Sutherland Highlanders. Reid was a native of Fordyce, in the county of Banff; was of middle size, well made, and of an open and prepossessing countenance; his judgment, naturally vigorous seemed no ways impaired with age; and his memory, though heedless of ‘modern saws and instances,’ was more retentive than that of most men at half his age.’ It is stated that his strength was such that in spite of his great age, he scarcely passed a day without walking three or four miles, and to the day of his death he was able, without the aid of glasses, to read his Bible. The writer of the notice suggests that the people of Nairn and Fort-George should place a stone over the aged soldier’s grave.

Ibid.—"Died, at Inverness, on the 7th inst., Alexander Fraser, Esq., merchant, who in the various connections and transactions of trade, in all the social and domestic relations, throughout a long and active life, uniformly supported the character of a consistent, practical Christian." The paragraph goes on to speak in unusually high terms of Mr Fraser’s piety and good deeds.

Ibid.—"We beg to inform a correspondent that no inhabitant of this town is liable to toll on either of the bridges of the Ness." Apparently, however, outsiders paid toll.

Ibid.—A correspondent gives a summary of part of the contents of Burt’s Letters, of which an edition had recently been published. The correspondent, comparing the Highlands in 1818 with their condition in Burt’s time, scarcely a hundred years before, says—"From Edinburgh to Inverness and from Inverness to John O'Groat’s House, it is now possible to travel without crossing a ferry or fording a river, or even encountering a descent where the necessity of using a drag chain is required." Besides the roads executed m the various counties in virtue of their respective road Acts, the great lines of communication had been undertaken and executed at the joint expense of Government and of the Highland proprietors. "By the last report of the Commissioners it appears that under the Act 44 George 3 Cap. 75, they had nearly finished 950 miles of new roads and 1100 bridges, at an expense of about £427,500 sterling—one-half of which was contributed by the Government and the other half by the Highland proprietors. Of this immense sum, about £138,358 14s 2d was laid out on the County of Inverness alone."

April 30.—The anniversary of the Medical Society of the North was held on the 27th inst. Its affairs were in a prosperous condition. A professional library and a fund for the erection of a building to accommodate the Society were commenced; and a scale for the guidance of the public in settling accounts was adopted. The following gentlemen were elected office-bearers for the ensuing year —President—P. Macarthur, Esq., Delnies; vice-presidents—N. Smith, M. D., Forres; William Kennedy, M.D., Inverness; Alexander Macdonald, M.D., Inverness. Council—J. Robertson, M.D., Inverness; J. E. Gray, do., Inverness; M. Bethune, surgeon, Inverness; M. Bethune, do.; J. Inglis Nicol, secretary.

Ibid.—At the Circuit Court on the 28th, two men from Rothiemurchus were tried on a charge of having murdered Alexander Robertson, late ensign in the Royal Westminster Middlesex Militia. It appears that a party dined at Dell, and afterwards adjourned to the Boat-house of Rothiemurchus, where they drank whisky toddy and indulged in a good deal of horseplay, which ended in a series of scuffles. The deceased received a blow on the temple which caused him to reel, and inflicted a wound from which blood proceeded. He walked three or four miles the same night, and several the following day; but then took to his bed, and died after lingering for five weeks. The question was whether there was any instrument in the hand of the man who inflicted the blow. Apparently there was not. He was, however, convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to 14 years’ transportation. The report gives no evidence of any kind against his companion, and he was unanimously acquitted. Another curious case at the same Court was that of a man from Ross-shire, charged with the crime of attempting to induce a physician to enter into a conspiracy to administer poison to his wife. The accused pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 9 months’ imprisonment in the jail of Tain. A man accused of sheep-stealing failed to appear, and was outlawed. The presiding Judge, Lord Gillies, expressed his regret that sheep-stealing was now becoming alarmingly frequent, and he declared that if any persons were convicted of the crime the highest penalty of the law would be inflicted. He said that at the Aberdeen Circuit a young man, found guilty of sheep-stealing, had been condemned to death, although he was but 17 veers of age. This sentence was actually carried into effect.

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