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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin
April 1984 - Volume 3 - Number 7

R. MacCallum

I received a letter last month from a William Munro of Gretna seeking information about the family if any of a relation, Murdoch Mackay, who worked as a weaver in Thurso prior to 1820. (The letter 'Is published below). It recalled many similar letters which appear from time to time in our local press, e.g. N. J. Judd of Auckland, N.Z. , wrote asking for information about James Gordon who sailed from Wick on the John Henderson c.1870, and settled on Campbell Islands, some 400 miles to the south east of South Island. Another letter, from William Aitken of Norfolk, England, mentioned his great great grandfather James Reid, master of a whaling vessel and who was lost on the ill- fated Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in 1845. Mr. Aitken asked after the descendants of James Reid's youngest daughter AIexandrina, who married a John Wilson and lived in Argyle Square, Wick, in 1871.

It might help these and future enquirers if members of the Field Club who have an interest in their family trees, let the editor have a synopsis of their research. Probably one of the best pieces of research is the very fully documented record of the origin, spellings and genealogies of families bearing the name Ryrie in Scotland and Australia. It was compiled in the 1950s by the late Kenneth Ryrie and is now in the possession of his sisters, Margaret and Janet Ryrie, 56 Duncan Street, Thurso.

Other family trees known to me are.

1 . BRCWN/SCORGIE The pedigree of Laurence Ollason Brown whose father hailed from Fetlar, Shetland, and whose mother was a Houston from John o' Groats, Caithness. Also the pedigree of his wife Margaret E. Scorgie, whose father was a native of Aberdeen and whose mother was a Horne from lnverurie. Address: The North House, John o, Groats.

2. HCUSTON/HAM The pedigree of Anne L. Houston, St. Magnus, John a' Groats, daughter of Magnus Houston, John o' Groats mill, and his wife Ann Ham of Canisbay (including her connection with the Sinclairs of Aukengill and the Dunbars of Wick).

3. MACKAY Dr. Eric Mackay's grandfather was John Mackay of Geiselittle (born 1795) who married lsabel Morgan of Holburnhead. John Mackay moved to Westray after the death of his wife and there married Williamina Stout, a native of Fair Isle. Dr. Mackay's address is Shenaghan, Checkbar, Nigg, Aberdeen.

4. MAC CALLUM/MCQUATTIE The pedigree of Robert Ericsson MacCallum, son of Robert Clark MacCallum and Mary Hunter McNicol of Glasgow, with Swedish, Aberdeenshire, Renfrewshire and Dumbartonshire connections. Also that of his wife Helena Young McQuattie whose parents, David McQuattie and Mary Graham Sneddon, had Perthshire, Fife and Sutherland roots. Address. 6 Burnside, Thurso.

5. LEVIACK Miss lsobel Milne, Hood Street, Wick, is actively gathering material on the Huguenot family L'Eveque who with other refugees mode their way to Scotland in the late sixteenth century.

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20 Annan Road,
Carlisle CA6 5DG

Dear Mr. McCallum

I have been advised to write to you in an effort to solve a problem to do with the old history of Thurso, in which, I was informed, you were interested.

I am in my seventy second year and since retiring as a Principal Nursing Officer some six and a half years ago, have been persuaded to make out my Family Tree for the benefit of my grandchildren at present living in Toronto.

In this respect I have been able to go back to about 1720 when one Alexander MacKay was born in the Parish of Farr, grew up there and married a local girl called Jean MacGregor. Sometime during their married lives they moved to the Parish of Reay in Caithness.

They had two of a family that I know of, the elder David MacKay, believed to have been born in Farr, but no date available, the younger, William MacKay, born in Reay on 26.9.1735.

I am descended from David but for the purpose of this letter I am more interested in William's descendants.

William married a Catherine Campbell and they had a family in Reay only two of whom I have any knowledge. One Murdoch MacKay, the elder, and the other James MacKay.

Murdoch become a weaver to trade and lived in Thurso where he "married" a Catherine Campbell also; he later married one Christine Finlayson, a hemp spinner in Thurso, and a native of Latheronwheel on9.2.1821.

Murdoch and Catherine had a family of eight between 1799 and 1815 inclusive: there was no family to the second wife.

Their youngest, AIexander MacKay, born in Thurso on 24.11.1815 became the father of "MacKay of Uganda", the engineer, missionary and explorer of Uganda.

Weavers, I believe, had to be licenced in order to practice their trade, and I was wondering whether any of these weaver lists had survived in the Records of Thurso.
If so, it might be possible for me to establish how long Murdoch practised as a weaver there. Certainly between 1798 and 1821.

The date of his giving up weaving in Thurso would approximate the date when he and Christina moved to a small croft at Lower Smerral, Latheronwheel. This croft was, until Murdoch moved in, occupied by his Uncle David MacKay. That too, would give me the approximate date of David's death.

As a matter of interest Murdoch's parents, William MacKay and Catherine Campbell, together with all their family, except Murdoch, emigrated to Pictou in Nova Scotia early in October 1807, in the Rambler - mentioned in John Prebble's book on the Highland Clearances, page 189, where he says that the ship carried 130 emigrants. Lloyds of London and sources in Halifax, Nova Scotia, gave a different figure- 240 passengers and 8 of a crew.

The Rambler was caught in a storm and wrecked near the Bay of Bulls on St. Paul's lsland, a small uninhabited island off the Cope Breton group, on 28th October 1807.

All the passengers were drowned, with the exception of three, a man, a youth and a girl of eight years of age.

Five of the crew got on shore, one of whom died shortly after. They built a shelter of rocks from the shore and lived on shellfish and seaweed until sited by a passing ship and eventually were landed in Halifax, on, or the day before., Xmas Day, 1807.

Of the three passengers who survived, the girl (name unknown) later married a Mr. Gunn in Nova Scotia- the youth was James MacKay - brother to Murdoch - and he later married one Eleanor Sutherland of Dornoch, Sutherlandshire, and they obtained a grant of land - 240 acres - in Nova Scotia in 1811I. They both died there in 1840.

The third survivor was one James Campbell, a crofter and qualified blacksmith from Reay, and probably a brother of William's wife, Catherine Campbell, and therefore uncle to James.

Nothing is known of William and Catherine's family, all of whom drowned with their parents, except Murdoch who stayed at home and James, who survived the wreck.

But, I'm afraid, I am boring you will all this, and all to ascertain whether the name of Murdoch MacKay is listed as a weaver in Thurso, and if so, when it appeared and when it disappeared from such a list.  Murdoch was born c. 1776, exact date not recorded. Neither is his date of "marriage" to Catherine Campbell known.

My grandmother used to say that he was not married in any Church but by an itinerant preacher of the Rechabite Religion who was 'touring' Caithness at the time. All his children were baptised in the Established Church in Thurso, however, so perhaps Catherine had second thoughts later.

Thanking you in anticipation of a reply at your convenience. I am,

Yours sincerely,

William Munro.