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SOME CENSUS SIDELIGHTS ON VICTORIAN
CAITHNESS: PART II
The previous article described some patterns of internal migration between sample sections of four Caithness parishes as revealed in the 1851 census. The sections studied comprised 40 households in Bower, 63 in the Brough area of Dunnet, 42 in the Achater-Forsie-Assery area of Halkirk and 43 households in the Auckingill area of Canisbay.
Among other questions I wanted to note the extent to which husbands and wives had been born in the same parish. Demographers have suggested that spouses originating from different parishes are a useful indicator of the strength of internal migration.
The effect of singling out household heads and their wives for this purpose was, however, to bring about a rapid reduction in the population available for study. Although the words "Household Head" tend to evoke the idea of a Victorian patriarch, a substantial minority of households in these parishes did not fit this picture of a household headed by a married man. Deducting this minority left fewer than 60% of households overall with a married man as head, in Bower these amounting to only just over half and in Dunnet to rather under half.
Despite this disadvantage, these reduced figures could still be used to make some comparisons between the parishes. This showed a contrast between Canisbay, where nearly all spouses had been born in that parish, and the other three parishes, where more than half the spouses had been born in parishes different from each other.
This would appear to reflect Canisbay's geographical situation, with two coastal areas limiting interaction across boundaries and, to that extent, it confirmed findings set out in Part 1 concerning Canisbay's adult population as having the lowest internal migration figures.
Further analysis of those households which did not have a male married head revealed several variations in household composition. In Dunnet eight women were described both as married and as household heads. Six of these were listed as "seaman's wife" one as a "shipmaster's wife" and one as an "agricultural labourer's wife". If their husbands, who were presumably absent because of their work, had been at home, then the Dunnet proportion of "normal" households would have been closer to that in the other parishes.
However, even without these eight Dunnet wives, approximately one-quarter of all households in the sample sections were headed by women, mainly widows but with a few in each parish headed by a single women. Widowers heading households were less frequent than widows but the number of unmarried men household heads approximated to that of unmarried women over the four parishes combined.
The average size of these households, as elsewhere in Britain at that time, was around five persons. This often included those listed as house or farm servants but in these four parishes, such individuals were generally shown to he related to the household head, most usually as son or daughter but sometimes as brother, sister, grandchild, cousin or mother.
Actual household size varied considerably. The largest were in the farming areas of Halkirk and Bower which had respectively five and two households with more than 10 persons. The largest Halkirk household contained 16 which included some non-related servants.
Over the sample sections of the four parishes together, 18 household heads were living alone and 21 were in two-person households. These small households were mainly interspersed among larger ones but there were sometimes clusters of one or two-person households. For instance, at the Achater-Forsie boundary in Halkirk six small households contained between them four men, the youngest a 55 year old Army Pensioner, and five women including two aged 80. On Bowertower Hill four neighbouring households contained three women aged 81, 73 and 65 each living alone, as well as a widower aged 79 with a 35 year old daughter.
Some widows were described as farmer's or crofter's widow; others might be listed as farmer or crofter in their own right, sometimes with the presence of a son or daughter implying shared tasks or an extra source of income. One Canisbay household head was a farmer's widow aged 99; she had a 63 year old daughter living with her listed as a herring net maker.
Herring net making appeared elsewhere in the coastal areas as a female occupation. A 70 year old woman in Bower and a 67 year old woman in Dunnet were listed as knitters and a few young girls were described as dressmaker or seamstress. The more unusual title of midwife occurred in Dunnet, designating the 49 year old wife of a 55 year old farm labourer; he himself, unusually had a previous job listed as "formerly shepherd". Could it be perhaps that, with a wife needing a well populated area to carry out her work, he had less incentive to remain in an occupation that might often entail residence in remote places?
One household in Dunnet was headed by a widow aged 80 with a daughter, aged 51, designated as "crofter", while the household also contained - presumably temporarily - a female aged 50, described both as "visitor" and as "begging from Wick", such an itinerant would likely need overnight accommodation, especially in March when the census was taken.
Widowers' households generally contained a daughter acting as housekeeper, occasionally a daughter-in-law and once a 23 year old granddaughter, with a 2 year old child, keeping house for her 85 year old grandfather. In Halkirk a rare all-male household was headed by 50 year old widower who was a quarry labourer, with a 60 year old brother and a 14 year old nephew comprising the other members; perhaps the widower's wife might have died not long before and no new wife or housekeeper had yet to be found. Unmarried male household heads often had sisters as housekeepers while two younger farmers in Halkirk and Bower had mothers in this role.
Quarry labouring featured as an occupation in Halkirk and Dunnet. Only the Canisbay section contained joiners, four of them, some possibly able to work in nearby Wick. All areas had a shoemaker while Bower and Dunnet had a tailor. Dual occupations abounded including seaman/crofter, fisher/crofter, crofter/weaver, fisherman/farmer, miller/farmer, weaver/farmer. Two of Bower's four masons were also farmers and two of Dunnet's masons were also crofters while one mason, more adventurously, doubled as an innkeeper.
Less common occupations included a farmer's son, living with his parents in Bower aged 25, who was described as an egg dealer. Also in Bower a mole catcher, aged 60, was a lodger in a widow's household; she could not say where he had been horn and he was presumably out at work, the enumerator recorded his birthplace as not known, it would likely not be in Caithness or someone would have surely volunteered some information. A 91 year old household head in Dunnet, with an 82 year old wife and a 78 year old widowed lodger, was a Chelsea Pensioner. His early army service must have been well back in the Eighteenth Century.
Despite the evidence of considerable mobility between parishes in 1851 some surnames still clustered in different areas. The sample section of Halkirk showed its Highland connections, having nearly one quarter of households headed by a MacKay, with Campbell, Henderson, MacDonald and Manson appearing four times each, and Elder, Gunn, Keith, Sinclair and Sutherland twice. At the opposite corner of the county Bain was the most frequent name in the Canisbay section, accounting for about one in six household heads, followed by Nicolson occurring four times, Dunnet, Geddes and Gunn three times, Begg, Miller, Mowat and Steven twice. The Bower section had fewer predominant surnames among household heads, Miller appearing four times, followed by Bremner, Campbell, Clyne, Dunnet, Finlayson and Manson twice each. In the Brough section Dunnet the names Budge, Simpson and Skinner each accounted for about one in twelve of the household heads, with the surname Dunnet itself interestingly appearing here as well as in Bower and Canisbay and sharing second place with Rosie and Sutherland, followed by Allan, Charleson, MacKay and Shearer each occurring twice. Other distinctive Caithness names such as Baikie, Banks, Bremner, Brims, Bruce, Coghill, Cormack, Corner, Oal (Auld), Tait, Taylor, Sandison and Watters occurred less frequently in these sample sections.
Fifty-five years later, W.L Manson used voters' registers to list the surnames of household heads in 1906. (published in "The County of Caithness", edited by John Horne, 1907). Mackay then emerged as still the predominant name in Halkirk parish while nearly all the other names noted here occurred at least 14 or more times in Caithness as a whole. Manson added: "In another century or two it is likely that there will be still fewer outstanding features in such a list, if anyone takes the trouble to compile it." With computers now available maybe some one will try.
This article was first published in Caithness Field Club Bulletin March 1990