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1992 Index Bulletins Index

Caithness Field Club

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Geoff Leet

Big George Watson and I determined to establish the origin of the triangular stone built into the gable of a modern byre at Murkle. On the stone can be discerned a rough cross, inside a rougher circle. We planned to photograph the stone using oblique light to reveal more markings, and to do this at the dead of night with the aid of a spotlight to attain a variety of angles of illumination.

Murkle had a Nunnery and many graves have been found, but it also was the residence of the 8th Earl of Caithness, who dwelt there with his mistress, Mrs Angus and their sons until 1726, when Pirate Gow, who had been the Earl's garden boy, shot up the house with his cannon. Mistress Angus would not stay near the coast, so the house was abandoned. The triangular stone could come from either the Nunnery or the Earl's residence.

Tony Bradford lent us his super-torch, and in July '91, George and I went on a daylight reconnaissance. We found a concrete ramp to mount the camera and selected a suitable lens. We then sought the residents of the adjacent house, not now associated with the farm, and explained our nocturnal intentions. Mr Blumfield had not lived there long, so the Nuns, the Earl, the Pirate and the triangular stone were news to him. The stone we could show him, and he generously presented us with a 22lb cannon ball from his garden; surely one of Pirate Gow's calling cards! This will be displayed in Thurso Museum.

True darkness is difficult in July, but the photographs clearly showed the Sinclair coat of arms, (the cross being the quarterings) single ships in the bottom right and top left, and rampant lions in the two quarters. Half of the date, 16.. supports the left base, but rest of the date on the right side cannot be discerned. Similar Sinclair arms are very well preserved and displayed on a gravestone at Westray, the date in that case being 1676. See figure 1.

Pirate Gow's further career was brief and is found in our Club publication "Pirate Gow", a good read.

The 8th Earl ultimately made arrangements for Mrs Angus and the sons, mostly as factors, and married a suitable heiress.

The Sinclair Gravestone At Westray

Published in 1992 Bulletin