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The Northern Highlands in the Nineteenth Century
No. II

There are several items of interest in connection with the year 1808. The first incident recorded is the finding of a silver chain at Torvean by the labourers engaged at the construction of the Caledonian Canal. The chain, it will be observed, was found in the end of 1807, not in 1809 as generally stated. Five such chains have been found in Scotland, and none elsewhere. They are nil now in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh. The Inverness chain is the largest. The original description quoted below says it weighed 104 ounces; Dr Joseph Anderson, the careful and accurate curator of the Museum, gives its weight at 92½ ounces. "Each link," he says, "is a solid bar of silver, hammered round and bent circularly till the ends come close together." A second chain of the same kind has been found at Parkhill, in the parish of New Machar, Aberdeenshire; a third at Whitecleuch, in the parish of Crawfordjohn, Lanarkshire; a fourth at Hordwell, in Berwickshire; and the fifth at Haddington. On two of the chains (ParkhilI and Whitecleuch) are symbols of the kind found on the Sculptured Stones of Scotland. They belong, apparently, to early Christian times. It is, perhaps, worthy of note that the Inverness chain was found "in the side of a large flat cairn." The flat near Torvean was formerly known as Kilvean, the hill and the plain thus taking their name from some early saint.

The winter of 1807-8 was intensely severe. Fodder became very scarce, and many black cattle died. As late as April 29th "the internal parts of the country" were completely covered with snow, and the Highland road was blocked. An examination of the newspaper files shows that the social condition of Scotland was much worse than at present. Cases of theft and robbery were more frequent, and there were two murders at Tain. The military spirit of the country, fostered by the war with France, was very active. Battalions of Militia and Volunteers met at stated times for drill, and underwent careful inspection. Among the most active officers in the North in connection with these local movements were the Hon. Archibald Fraser of Lovat, Donald Macleod of Geanies, Sheriff-Depute of Ross-shire, and Lieut.-Colonel Rose of Kilravock.

It will be seen that the Town Council of 1808 had among its members no fewer than four ex-Provosts—-an unusual distinction, we imagine, even in the period of close burgh corporations. The congregation of the Nairn Parish Church had a narrow escape from serious disaster owing to the unsafe condition of the building, which must have formed a striking contrast to the present handsome edifice. In those days the Northern Meeting was held at a somewhat later date than now, and in October 1808, the Marquis of Huntly, who was a prominent member, rode all the way from Aberdeen to Inverness in less than seven hours. Readers will see what assistance was given to the Royal Academy and the Infirmary by Mr Lachlan Mackintosh of Raigmore, who collected no less than £2811 7s in India for the benefit of these institutions.

Several meetings were held during 1808 to protest against a bill proposing to allow malt to be made from sugar. This, it was feared, would greatly affect the price of barley.

We referred last week to the smacks that plied between Inverness and Leith and Inverness and London. Hugh Miller describes one of the Leith and London smacks as a vessel "with a huge single mast, massive and tall as that of a frigate, and a mainsail of a quarter of an acre." It may be remembered that in 1826 Hugh spent seven days in a voyage north from Leith to Cromarty. He describes them as "days of thick, foggy mornings, clear, moonlight nights, and almost unbroken calms."

From the "Inverness Journal."

January 1.—"Some labourers, while digging in the eastern corner of Torvean,, on the line of the Caledonian Canal, lately discovered a massy silver chain, in the side of a large, flat cairn, about 2 feet below the surface. The chain consists of 33 circular links, formed of a perfectly cylindrical body, half-an-inch thick, neatly joined without solder. They are linked in pairs, each of which is about 2 inches in diameter, except those at the extremities, which are 21 inches. A. link at one of the ends has, since the discovery of the chain, been taken away; but as the remaining one is of the same dimensions with those at the other end, we may conclude that the chain was then entire. Its whole length is 18 inches, weighing about 104 ounces." There were two detached fragments which formed part of a flat and very massy ring, which had been broken after it was found; but from its form, and the appearance of wearing on the outside, it had evidently moved on some bolt. It was neatly channelled round, leaving a prominent astragal on every side. "Both the chain and ring are of excellent workmanship; and whether we attend to the uniform thickness and polish of the links, the ingenuity with which they are joined, or the perfect symmetry of the whole, we cannot but pronounce it to have been the work of an artist of no inconsiderable skill." The Editor adds that it was hinted that other articles bad been found, according to report a ball and bar also of silver; but the labourers kept the matter a profound secret, as steps had been taken to compel the owner of the chain to deliver it up to the Crown. The chain is now in the Antiquarian Museum in Edinburgh.

Ibid.—It is recorded that 57 men out of 534 men were ballotted to serve in the Militia for the town and parish of Inverness.

January 8.—Proposal to establish a corn market in Inverness.

January 15. - Advertisement of a woollen factory formed at Inverness, under the firm of Mackenzie, Gordon, & Co. It had already manufactured broadcloth and other fabrics.

Ibid.—Foreign vessel wrecked at Rue Rhea. Gairloch, and 4 out of a crew of 8 drowned. The vessel was laden with oil and oranges, and was supposed to have been driven round from the West of Ireland.

January 22—It is noted that at a meeting of the Highland Society in Edinburgh, the Duchess of Gordon was elected a member without the ordinary form of ballot. "The Society adopted this mode of election as on former occasions, being a mark of its approbation of ladies of high rank coming forward in support of the institution."

Ibid.—The estate of Rosehall, in Sutherland, having being lately purchased by Lord Ashburton, his lordship was planning making extensive improvements, such as laying out waste ground for plantations. He was also about to erect a chapel in lieu of a ruinous old kirk, for the accommodation of the poor inhabitants residing in that distant part of the parish of Creich.

Ibid.—The following paragraph appears from a correspondent in the Long Island:—"The ship Hamilton, of Greenock, Captain Gilchrist, is arrived at Lochmaddy, in North Uist, in 25 days from Halifax, which place she left on 30th November. The Hamilton is bound for Greenock with a valuable cargo of prize goods, consisting of coffee, tea, and sugar; she carried dispatches for Government from Admiral Berkeley and General Hunter at Halifax, which were immediately landed at the Post-Office, with several hundred private letters, and forwarded by the Uist packet."

January 29.—Died, at Bengal, on Sunday, the 20th July 1807, Alex. Gray, Esq., M.D., Surgeon on the Bengal Establishment. "From his first entrance into the Company’s service, Dr Gray was remarked for his faithful and assiduous discharge of his duties. He died possessed of large property, chiefly vested in Government security. The principal part of his fortune, amounting to 3 lacs of rupees, is after the payment of five legacies devised for building a church and endowing an hospital at Elgin."

February 8.—The lands of Dalcrombie and Letterchullin purchased by Sir William Fraser of Ledclune for about nine thousand guineas.

February 12.—Another notice of the loss of the emigrant vessel, the Pampler of Leith, reported in a previous issue. It was believed that many of the emigrants were from the parishes of Farr, Lairg, Creich, and Rogart, in Sutherland. The writer adds—"The diminution of the inhabitants of our island is at all times a subject of regret, and the annals of our country cannot point out a period when the emigration of our brave Highlanders would have been more regretted than the present, when recruits for our standing army and Militia are so hard to be found. From 30 to 40 guineas is, we understand, the common bounty paid to substitutes in this and in most of the counties of the Kingdom." In a subsequent issue it is stated that the emigrants were not from Sutherland but from Caithness. "No person from Sutherland emigrated to North America for the last two years, excepting about two or three families from the Reay district, who wantonly left the county and safely arrived in the western hemisphere." The largest amount given in Sutherland for a substitute was stated to be £20.

Ibid.—The Inverness Farmer Society set on foot a subscription for the purchase of a stallion to improve the breed of horses.

Ibid.—Heavy snow-storm; 3 women perished, one near Beauly, one in Strathdearn, and one in the neighbourhood of Ullapool.

Ibid.—Died, at Pittsburgh, 20th November 1807, Alexander Addison, "one of the most eminent counsellors at the western bar." He was son-in-law to the Rev. Mr Grant, of Elgin.

February 19.—Editorial note—" Owing to the late very heavy fall of snow, which we understand is to the depth of 5 feet in many parts of the road between Edinburgh and London, we have had no mails from the latter place for these 3 days past, nor have any arrived at Edinburgh; a circumstance almost unprecedented, and which has considerably lessened the sum of our intelligence in an unusual degree."

February 26.—A prisoner sentenced to transportation for forgery nearly effected his escape from Inverness jail by making a hole in the back wall of the prison. The fall of rubbish excited attention, and prevented the escape.

March 4.—A woman, named Catherine Munro, murdered in her house at Tain. A reward of 10 guineas was offered by the Magistrates of Tain for the arrest of the supposed murderer, a cartwright named Macgregor. [This proved to be a libel on poor Macgregor.]

Ibid—Kenneth Macrae, late of the 76th Regimen, appointed Deputy Paymaster-General to the Island of Jamaica and the Leeward Islands. He had served 30 years in the army, 25 of them in India, and "though only a lieutenant-colonel," commanded a brigade at the Siege of Bhurtpore. On two occasions he commanded storming parties, for which he received the thanks of Lord Lake.

Ibid.—The following note may be quoted:— "Through the multiplicity of other matters, we have hitherto overlooked giving an idea of a rural feast provided on the last of the holidays, old style. Cattle fetching little or no price, and fodder very dear in the extreme, it occurred to the proprietor of Beaufort that it would not be amiss to draw back his countrymen to the habit of eating some flesh with their food, and washing it down, in the convivial hour, with Lune Laiter, strong ale, instead of ardent spirits. He had a fat bullock roasted on a wooden windlass for a spit, and gave his tenants Inverness strong ale to wash it down. The roast took 18 hours in preparing, and nearly 500 persons of all ages and both sexes partook of this substantial feast. The bagpipe and the fiddle organised the happy scene, and they parted in good humour, and several matches for life took place in consequence."

March 11.—The Highland road, which was during the winter completely blocked up by snow, is now open to travellers. [There was a time of sharp frost after this without snow, and then another snow-storm.]

Ibid.—Advertisement of the first carrier going beyond Dingwall. His name was Donald Ross, and he was to proceed as far as Tain.

March 18.—The road from Golspie to the Ord Hill and County of Caithness begun.

Ibid.—In the House of Commons, Mr Charles Grant brought in a bill for commuting the statute labour in Inverness-shire.

Ibid.—Died, at Lossiemouth, on Friday, the 11th curt., at the advanced age of 89, Lady Gordon, relict of Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun.

March 25.—The cartwright, John Macgregor, who was supposed to have murdered Catherine Munro at Tain, was himself found murdered in a wood. It seems that he was known to possess some money, and was watched and murdered while out of town. "After this the perpetrators proceeded to his house in Tain, which they plundered of his money, &c., and it would appear that while in the act of so doing they were discovered by Catherine Munro, who lived under the same roof with Macgregor, and whom it is supposed the wretches also dispatched by strangling to escape detection." Two persons residing in the Hill of Tain, were arrested on suspicion for the double murder.

April 29.—It is noted that there is great distress throughout the Highlands and Morayshire on account of want of fodder for cattle, due to the uncommon severity and length of the past winter. Black cattle and sheep were dying by hundreds. A Morayshire correspondent states that no less than 47 carcases of cattle which had been thrown into the Spey were carried down at one time. "Nor," adds the Editor, is there any prospect of immediate relief, the internal parts of the country being completely covered with snow." The Circuit Court was held the same week at Inverness, and the Judges had to go home by Aberdeen, as the Highland road was blocked with snow.

May 6.—Mr Cockburn of Kincorth drowned in the River Findhorn by attempting to cross too near the quicksands. His companion and neighbour, Mr Bezeck, was saved with difficulty. "Mr Bezeck was fortunately enabled to keep his head above water, and in this situation, endeavouring to support his friend in his arms, he remained for about two hours, when some fishermen, who heard his cries, came to his relief. Every means used to restore Mr Cockburn to life proved ineffectual, and he was interred at Nairn on Sunday afternoon."

Ibid.—Died, at Fort-George, on Wednesday last, the Hon. James Stuart, Lieutenant-Governor of that place.

May 20.—William Freemantle elected M.P. for the Northern Burghs in room of Major-General Mackenzie, who had become member for Sutherland.

Ibid.—Continued reports of the losses caused by the severity of the winter. It was reported from Latheron, in Caithness, that no less than 184 black cattle, besides horses, had died of want. This, however, could not be ascribed altogether to the severity of the season, "but chiefly to the ruinous practice of over-stocking, which has too long prevailed among Highland farmers."

May 27.—Advertisement asking for vouchers from creditors "of the deceased Lewis Cuthbert, Esq. of Castlehill, in the County of Inverness, some time merchant in Jamaica, and all and sundry persons whatsoever having claims against the said estate of Castlehill or proceeds thereof."

June 3.—Meeting in Edinburgh to concert measures of relief for distress in the North. Vessels had sailed from Leith and Berwick under convoy for Kirkwall, laden with provisions and meal. "It is greatly to the honour of the Magistrates of Inverness and the heritors of the County that from their attention to the wants of the public, the inhabitants have hitherto been abundantly supplied:; we also learn with satisfaction that along the West Coast the effects of scarcity have not been much felt, it being chiefly confined to the counties of Sutherland and Caithness."

Ibid.—Died, on Thursday se’enight, in the 76th year of his age, Colonel James Fraser of Belladrum; much and greatly regretted.

June 10.—At the examination of the Inverness Academy a Gaelic oration was recited "which to the admirers of Celtic literature afforded peculiar pleasure."

Ibid.—Among the bills to which the Royal assent was given on Friday, the 27th ult., was "An Act for building a bridge over the River Ness, at Inverness, widening certain streets, improving the present harbour, extending the Royalty, supplying the inhabitants with water, regulating the police, and lighting the streets of the said burgh."

Ibid.—The Northern Association of gentlemen farmers and breeders of sheep, met at Beauly on the previous Friday, and appointed office-bearers, Hon. A. Fraser of Lovat being President, and the Vice-Presidents Sir Charles Ross of Balnagown and Donald Macleod of Geanies. Premiums were given for bulls for improving the breed of black cattle. Sheep markets were held at this period at Beauly and Fort-William.

June 17.—Notice of a successful Milch Cow Market, held for the first time by the Inverness Farmer Society.

July 8—Great distress on the West Coast of the counties of Inverness and Ross from the want of provisions. It would appear from this that the information given in a previous paragraph was imperfect.

August 26 and September 2.—Two versions of a curious story of a man who walked out of the prison of Dingwall, but afterwards surrendered. The prisoner had been a schoolmaster at Contin, and was accused of housebreaking and theft. At the Circuit Court in September he was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation.

September 9.—The fifth anniversary of the Badenoch and Strathspey Farming Society was held at Pitmain and Kingussie on the 1st. A dinner party, presided over by the Marquis of Huntly, was followed by a ball. Among the ladies present were the Duchess of Manchester and her daughter, Lady Jean Montague; Mrs and Miss Grant of Arndilly and Mrs Macpherson of Belleville.

Ibid.—The Nairnshire Volunteers, through Capt. Davidson of Cantray, presented Lieut.-Colonel Rose, their commandant, with an elegant sword, value 40 guineas.

Ibid.—A wherry from North Uist, with four men and cattle, wrecked a short time previously on the island’ of Heiskar. Three of the men were drowned, and all the cattle except one. A cow survived three days, and the fourth man kept himself alive by sucking her blood. On the cow dying, the man supported himself on the animal’s tongue till he was rescued on the fifth day.

Ibid.—Died, on Monday last, universally regretted, Mr Ebenezer Young, teacher of Latin in the Inverness Academy.

September 16.—The new bridge over the Ness at the Merkinch was now completed. This was long known to us as the Black Bridge.

September 23.—Election of Convener and Deacons of the Incorporated Trades. The following were chosen—Thomas Fraser, Convener of Trades and Deacon of the Wrights; George Phenick, Weavers; Donald Macdonald. shoemakers; Donald Macbean, Taylors; Donald Mactavish, Hammermen.

Ibid.—Yesterday was married at the Episcopal Chapel here the Rev. Dr Griffith, Master of University College, Oxford, to Miss Ironside, daughter of the late Rev. William Ironside, and sister to Mrs Grant of Rothiemurchus.

Ibid—Died, in the province of Guzerat, on the 13th of October 1807, Lieut. Simon Fraser Robertson, of the 8th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry, third son of Arthur Robertson, Esq. of Inches.

Ibid.—"Died, at Littletoun of Ardersier, on Monday last, in the 95th year of his age, Andrew Allan, farmer, a truly worthy and honest man, of a cheerful and contented mind, remarkable for his regularity and early rising; and until a few days before his death was never known to be confined to bed by sickness or by any other cause whatever."

September 30.—Thomas Gilzean re-elected Provost of Inverness. The Council included four former provosts—Phineas Mackintosh, John Mackintosh, Alexander Mackintosh, and James Grant. Sir Archibald Dunbar of Northfleld was elected Provost of Nairn, and a number of county gentlemen in Nairn and Morayshire were on the Council.

Ibid.—Rejoicings at Portree to celebrate the defeat of Marshal Junot at Vimiera. Great guns were fired, tables "with excellent liquor" placed on the terrace by orders of Lord Macdonald, and the vessels in the harbour, to the number of nearly 60, hoisted their flags. In the evening the town was illuminated.

October 7.—The congregation in the Parish Church of Nairn on the previous Sunday were alarmed by a loud crash, which seemed to portend the fall of the building. "It is impossible to convey an idea of the scene of terror and confusion that instantly ensued. The access to the fishers’ loft, which is by one door only, was immediately choked by people in their endeavour to escape from the threatened calamity, which induced several persons in the front of the loft to throw themselves down to the ground pews in hopes of getting out with greater expedition. The consternation was further agitated by the hearing of a second crash. Those next the windows broke immediately through them, and nothing was heard but the most piercing shrieks, mixed with the groans of numbers who were trodden down and were suffering under weight of pressure of the crowd." No lives were lost, but many were severely injured.

Ibid.—Splendid ball and supper given at Fort-George on 23rd September by the 74th or Assaye Highland Regiment to celebrate the anniversary of the battle of Assaye.

October 14.—Report of Northern Meeting and Hunt, with which the meeting was then associated. The Duchess of Gordon and the Duchess of Manchester were present. "On the days appointed for enjoying the sports of the field, the hounds were well attended and had excellent sport. The dinners and balls were also well attended, particularly on Friday, when the convivial powers and marked attention of Lord Huntly were unremittingly and most successfully exerted to increase the pleasure of the company; exertions the more extraordinary as the Marquis had in the beginning of the week attended the Shooting Club at Aberdeen, and rode on Friday morning from thence to Inverness, a distance of about 105 miles, in less than 7 hours, having 8 relays of horses on the road. Lord Seaforth, with his usual politeness and attention, presented the company with a brace of excellent fat bucks."

Ibid.—Advertisement of 99 years’ leases to be granted in Plockton, Lochalsh, lately erected into a burgh of barony.

October 21.—Advertisement of Sir William Cumming Gordon, Bart., inviting fishermen to settle and form a village at Cummingstown, one mile east of Burghead.

Ibid—Death of Alexander Macrae, Kintail, alleged to be the oldest man in Scotland. Age put at 120 years.

November 18.—"Sir Samuel Hood and his lady passed through this place on Friday last from Brahan Castle, on their way to London. The Magistrates of Inverness, desirous of testifying their respect for the deservedly celebrated character of this gallant officer, waited on the Admiral, and presented him with the freedom of the town."

Ibid.—.Account of the opening of the Bridge of Dunkeld on November 7th. The foundation-stone was laid in June 1805.

Ibid.—Died, at Kingussie, on Sunday, 6th inst. Mrs Margaret Macpherson, wife of Colonel Duncan Macpherson. "Few characters ever possessed more dignified simplicity of manners, united with pure affections and religious sentiments." She was a daughter of Cluny of the ‘45, and the paragraph speaks highly of the cheerfulness and even tempered spirit which endeared her to a wide circle.

Ibid.—The number contains an account of the meeting of the Directors of the Royal Academy and Managers of the Royal Infirmary. Provost Gilzean presided, and Mr Grant, the late Provost, laid before the meeting a letter from Mr Lachlan Mackintosh of Raigmore, lately of Calcutta, with a list of subscriptions which he had procured in India for the more liberal support of the Academy and Infirmary. The total amount came to £2811 7s. Raigmore himself was the largest subscriber, £150, and the next was General Macdonald, £125.

November 25.—Died, on the 22nd ult., at Ruxley Lodge, Surrey, James Grant, Esq. of Redcastle, in Ross-shire.

December 16.—"Died here on the 27th ult., in the 71st year of his age, Mr James Alves, a portrait painter of eminence, and brother of the late Doctor Alves. His life was singularly good, recluse, and inoffensive, and his death much regretted. He went abroad when young to improve himself in the fine arts, and studied eight years in Paris, and other eight years in Rome.’

December 30.—The Highland Society of London suggest the establishment of a branch in the Highland Capital. They also urge the establishment of a Chair of Celtic Literature in one of the Scottish Universities, and the giving of encouragement to the teaching of Gaelic in schools. They further suggest the establishment of a National Academy of Pipe Music, and propose the name of Lieut. M’Crummen [so the name is spelt] as Professor. They think the Government should do something, as pipe music was necessary for the Highland regiments. "It is in the power of his Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief to comply with the wishes of the Society, by promoting Lieut. M’Crummen from half-pay to a higher and permanent rank in the garrison of Fort-Augustus or of Fort-William, which to him would be equivalent to a salary, on being made Professor of the establishment. Mr M’Crummen is the last of the celebrated race of pipers of that name; he is skilled in the theory and practice of the ancient pipe music, and is now in the vale of years."

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