|N E W S F E E D S >>>|
History of Caithness
Pref. 2nd Edition
Memoir of Author
Appendix 2 Roads
App 2 - Superstition
App 2 - Extracts
Caithness In 1887
NOTES TO SECOND EDITION.|
BY T. SINCLAIR, M. A.
PAGE 1.-The Rev. Timothy Pont, A.M.,
minister of Dunnet, in his admirable maps of Scotland, drawn by him
at great fatigue of personal survey, 1608 et seq., makes the
north-western boundary of Caithness to be the river of Halladale up
to Achridigle, thence to the top of Ben Ra, and south towards Morven.
With him Drumholisten was not the low hills now so named beside the
sea, but the range beginning with Ben Ra and running southward. The
encroachment of Sutherland was caused by the purchase of land in
Reay by Sir Donald Mackay of Farr, from the profits of British
levies he raised for the Thirty Years’ War of Germany.—See “An Old
Scots Brigade,” by John Mackay, chiefly compiled from Munro’s
“Expedition,” but having additional original documents. Some
unpublished letters in the British Museum were recently printed
which gives illustrations of Lord Reay’s money affairs. In 1628 he
got this peerage title from his
P. 3.—Road money, under the old system, as appears from a Sandside estate-book of date 1794 to 1800, was charged to the tenants with the rent, the scale of assessment being from 1s 6d for those paying about £1 sterling yearly, to 7s or 8s for those rented at £8 to £10, who were the large farmers of the time. In 1799 there was a charge of 1s up to 5s or 6s, according to rent for the building of Thurso bridge, nominally subscription but practically assessment. Cotters’ service to the land-lord could then be commuted or converted at 3d a day. If a cotter had to give 60 days’ work in the year, and chose in preference to compound for his absence, this meant 15s added to his rent. When he kept a swine, he had to pay 5s a year of rent or fine.
P. 7.—Holborn Head is called by Ptolemy, 140 A.D., in one passage, Orcas; but, as he guessed only of the nortb, there is difficulty in identifying his names with the places. Faro Head in Strathnavernia is mentioned as Orcas or Tarvedrum, Strathy Head was Virvedrum, and Duncansbay Head, Veruvium or Virvedrum or Betubium. Dunnet Head also claims to be the Orcas, from which came the description of the Orkneys as the Orcades. Holborn Head has caves which open at some distance inland like deep shafts, after the manner of the famous ones on the north-west of the chief island of the Shetlands. On the top of the promontory is an obelisk-shaped pillar twelve feet high, commemorating the supposed suicide of Captain Sclater, Thurso, at that part of the sheer cliff. A woman took the fatal leap about this spot. Uttersquoy was the old name of Holborn Head House and property.
P. 9.—The phrase fanum Donati in Cathanesia is to be found in an Elzevir Latin selection from George Buchanan and Camden.
P. 10.—The best of all mermaid stories is that of Miss Mackay, daughter of Rev. David Mackay, Reay. At the beginning of this century, she and two other witnesses saw one in Sandside Bay and her experience was discussed throughout the whole kingdom by the scientific and learned world. The Rev. William Munro, A. M., schoolmaster of Reay and afterwards of Thurso, published the fact of a similar sight in the same quarter by himself at an earlier period. Full details of dates and letters, quoted from the Scots Magazine and other authentic sources, were recently printed.
P. 15.—Agatha, daughter of Hugh Groat of Southdun, married the second laird of Dun, John Sinclair, and Margaret Sinclair of Forss, of the same Duns by her father and mother (who contracted 11th July, 1645), married Malcolm Groat of Warse, whose son was Donald Groat of Warse. There is no reason to doubt the Dutch origin of the family. Hugo De Groot, better known as Grotius, the great European jurist and Latinist, born in 1553, was of Holland; and the London historian of Greece, George Grote, traced himself to the same country. Donald Groat of Warse and John Groat of Duncansbay were Commissioners of Supply in 1702. On 15th February, 1649, Malcolm Groat of Warse was made one of the commissioners on the committee of war in the county.
P. 16.—There is an extraordinary description in Latin of the Pentland Firth in the “New Chorographic Description of the Orkneys,” published in 1654.
P. 18.—For the story of Gow read
Scott’s “Pirate,” Peterkin’s “Notes on Orkney,” ” Mackay’s “History
of the Mackays,” “John Gow, the, Pirate,” in the Newcastle
Chronicle, “The Newgate Calendar,” Tudor’s “Orkney and Shetland,”
Chamber’s Journal for January 1853, and “Services of Heirs for
Scotland.” Henderson, in his “Caithness Family History,” gives the
beat account of the pirate’s sweetheart, Kate Rorison or Gunn,
afterwards Mrs Gibson, Stroma, the Gibsons being related to the
Earls by marriage. Gow was a native of Scrabster or Stromness, and
was hanged in chains at Execution Dock on the Thames, August 11th,
1725, with seven of his crew. A tragic sea-tale of the present
reign, was that of Captain Johnson of Dunnet. He shot and stabbed to
death five or six of his officers and
P. 21.—The laird of Halcro, South Ronaldshay, in the seventeenth century had a good yearly return from feeding cattle on the largest of the Pentland Skerries of which he was proprietor.
P. 23.—For details about castles, especially those on Sinclair’s Bay, see “The First Contest for the Earldom” in Northern Ensign.
P. 27.—In Pont’s map of 1608, Loch Calder is Loch Orient, from a house of this name on its south side.
P 28.—Seven distinguished Edinburgh Caithness students, twenty years or more ago, secretly named themselves the Corriechoich Brotherhood, after the valley near Morven. This may have biographic and perhaps historical interest. See p. 30 infra, lines 8 and 9.
P. 29.—The bridge is drawn in one of Cordiner’s books published 1780. It was not erected in 1761 when Bishop Pococke was in Berriedale. In the register of Privy Council of 1566, there is an account of lively doings at Berriedale Castle, then one of the homes of Lord Oliphant. Five Sutherlands, with accomplices, had slain Alexander Ison in Lapok, and several others, on 27th August, 1565, burning the house of Andrew Bain in Easter Cyth. Earl George, as justiciary, called upon them to underlie the law. They were put to the horn, in other words, sold out, but fled to Berriedale Castle, and defended themselves against the law. The Earl took the place by storm, but complained to the Privy Council that Lord Duffus secretly sent Sutherlands of his kin, who retook the castle by surprise and then held it. The Council ordered it to be delivered to Laurence, the Lord Master of Oliphant, within ten days, on pain of being declared rebels and at the horn. Alex. Sutherland of Duffus was specially charged. The Sutherlands about that time complained to the Council of the slaughter and mutilation of their kinsmen by Earl George on the plea of exercising justice. See p. 115 infra for what seems to have been a different version of the earlier stage of that which turned out to be a long feud between the Sinclairs and Sutherlands, the latter aided by their relatives the Murrays and Gordons of Sutherlandshire.
P. 30.—In 1608, Wick, judging from Pont’s map, was divided into four rather straggling groups of buildings, the smallest nearest Proudfoot Point, and the two largest opposite an island in the river. The The church stood in the fourth group, which was also somewhat large. On the east side of the church the road went, which crossed by a bridge to Newton. The whole town was less than a mile in length. It would take a volume to do justice to the history of the burgh, the materials being unusually plentiful. Its records from 1660, opening with the quaint introductory, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” are now being published, and give much insight into the town’s past. The relations of the Ulbster family to the Provostship are in the yet unpublished portion, and especially Harpsdale’s doings, James Sinclair, Thrumster House. The proposal of the inhabitants to John of Ulbster to become hereditary provost, in 1723, accepted by him, is a curious and lengthy document. He was to recover the Hill of Wick for them from the Dunbars of Hempriggs, pay the town’s debts, set burghers up in trade, &c. In the “Acta Parliamentorium,” the burgh’s rights are printed, but it seems to have been for long periods unaware or deprived of them. Among the members it sent to the Scottish Parliament the name of Alexander Manson of Bridgend, in 1694, is notable. His daughter, Sydney, married Lythmore, one of the Barrack family, and their son, Robert Manson Sinclair of Bridgend, Watten, played a large part in town and county affairs during middle of last century. The fullest recent account of Wick is in the “Ordnance Survey Gazetteer of Scotland,” which has a cut of the town’s seal. Gough’s “Topography” gives references to Macfarlane’s “Geographical Collections,” in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh; "A Geographical Description of Canisbay and Wick, by Mr Sinclair of Hempriggs, in 1724,” (from whom Henderson quotes) ; and “A Description of Wick by its minister, the Rev. James Oliphant, in 1726.” See infra p. 210. Mr Oliphant also wrote of Thurso, Olrig, Bower, Watten, and Reay. Mr Oliphant had a son who was minister of Bower. The old and new “Statistical Accounts” give much interesting information of Wick, published, the first from 1790 to 1799, and the second in 1845. The parochial register begins in 1701, and makes, up to 1820, three volumes. The Wick register, though more than fifty years later in beginning than the oldest in the county—the invaluable one of Thurso—is fruitful of historical matter. The ministers of Wick since the Reformation were—Andrew Philp, before 1567; Thomas Keir, before 1576; Alex. Mearns (reader), Thomas Pruntoch, John Annand, before 1636; David Allardyce, in 1638; John Smart, in 1638, ejected 1650, and afterwards minister of Dunnet; William Geddes, in 1659, ejected in 1675, restored in 1692. William Geddes published several poems, one of these under the quaint title, “The Saints’ Recreation upon the Estate of Grace.” Patrick Clunas, in 1676, who died in 1691; Charles Keith, in 1701, dying in 1705; James Oliphant, in 1707, who died in 1726; James Ferme, 1727, dying 1760; James Scobie, 1762, dying 1764; William Sutherland, in 1765, dying in 1816; Robert Phin, 1813, dying 1840; and Charles Thomson, placed the same year, who compiled the interesting account of Wick in the “New Statistical Account of Scotland.” This list is given chiefly to compare some of the names with those in the Burgh Records, several of the ministers’ descendants being citizens, and sometimes not the most reputable.
P. 33.—Of Pulteneytown it must be enough here to say that “Jack” Sinclair, sister’s son of Major Innes of Thrumster, has the credit of building its first house, his energetic temperament having taken him besides into millwright, carpentering, and other work, in which he employed seven or eight men.
P. 35.—Lybster has perhaps most interest as being the home of the Sinclairs of Lybster for two centuries, the first of them being John, bailie of Latheron, son of John Sinclair of Assery and Scrabster, a son of Sir James Sinclair of Murkle. Lieutenant-General Sinclair of Lybster was, last century and the beginning of the present, one of Sir John of Ulbster’s earnest coadjutors in advancing the agriculture of the county. He sowed wheat in 1806 experimentally. (See Henderson’s “View.”) This appeared in a London newspaper:—“On 6th May, 1884, at 3 Dunham Terrace, Westbourne Park, London, Isabella, widow of Jeffrey Amherst Sinclair, Surgeon-General, Bombay Medical Service.” Jeffrey, who appears to have been the last of the Lybsters was one of the heirs of entail of the estates of the Ulbster family in a summons of declarator by the late Sir George for the Court of Session, of date 19th June, 1839. The elder brother, Frederick Temple, was also a possible heir, failing nearer relations. John Sinclair of Lybater was an heir in the original entail of 1709, as well as John Sinclair of Assery.
P. 36.—In his “Antiquities and Scenery of the North of Scotland,” published 1780, the Rev. Charles Cordiner has a description and cut of Oldwick Castle. It was discussed by antiquarians with respect to its masonry as a transition between such buildings as Dundornadilla, Coningsburgh Castle, near Doncaster, and the Scottish baronial castle. Its possessors for the longest time—the Oliphants—have a good historian, Dr. Joseph Anderson; and in Caithness and State records their names and doings occur continually. The Privy Council Register (which see) has several striking passages about them which are of county interest. In 1569, Lord Oliphant was in Wick on 27th July, after a dinner with Thomas Weir, when the Master of Keith’s men, to twenty-four, set up a quarrel, and his lordship got with difficulty to Auldwick. He sent his servants back to protect Weir, whose house was besieged by sixty persons, but they were shot at “by seven bowmen standing in arrayed battle at the market cross of Wick.” A fight followed, and John Sutherland was slain, and many wounded. Next day, John, Master of Caithness, and the Sutherlands, besieged Auldwick for eight days, till Weir and others were taken for the Earl to put them to an assize. John Sutherland was grandson to Catherine, daughter of Bishop Sinclair of Caithness, brother of one of the earls. (See Anderson’s “Oliphants.”) In his contributions to the Celtic Magazine, G. M. Sutherland has references to this and various other incidents to the lives and affairs of the Oliphants; and “Origines Parochiales Scotiæ” gives abundant details about their properties. Lord Oliphant of 1549 got from Mary, Queen of Scots, the ward and nonentry—in other words, the rent—of Shurery, Brawlbin, Skaill, Borrowston, and Lybster, which the Crown had held for 120 years, namely, since the death of Ranald, Lord Cheyne. Their Wick and other lands were also large.
P. 37.—The most important record in writing belonging to Thurso seems to be its parish register, at Edinburgh, which ought to be printed, for greater safety of preservation and for the use of investigators into county facts. As the largest town north of Inverness for centuries, it must have had much written burghal and legal record. In print it has had abundant notice, in particular from Sir Robert Gordon in his “Genealogical History of the House of Sutherland,” and Mackay in his “History of the Mackays.” For convenience of being near the centre of affairs, the earls had Thurso East Castle erected. There is a good notice of the town in the “Ordnance Survey Gazeteer of Scotland.”
P. 40 (a).—The founder of the Miller Institution, Alexander Miller, was the son of Daniel Miller, Skinnet farm, and Janet Sinclair, daughter of Patrick, tacksman of Giese, who died in 1807, aged 77, an illegitimate son of Alexander, Earl of Caithness. She was born in 1769, and died in 1801. Her son died some years ago, leaving, it was said, a quarter of a million; but this could be easily authenticated by reference to wills.
P. 40 (b).—The bridge of Thurso is said to have been built by Robert Tulloch, master mason, son of John Tulloch and Christina Sinclair, of the Ulbster family of Brims, whose daughter Elizabeth was baptized 15th April, 1759. John came from Orkney before 1737, the date of his first marriage, to be factor to Alexander, Earl of Caithness (Lord Hemer), who died in 1765. He held the position twelve years. Robert was married to Christian Gunn, in Halkirk, on 1st January, 1796. His brother James was father of Professor John of Aberdeen and five ministers. Their mother, an early widow, brought them up with difficulty at Achrascar, near Achinabest, and they got their education at Reay under the Rev. William Munro, A.M., afterwards schoolmaster of Thurso. A third brother, John, was a Caithness schoolmaster. Robert’s sons were John, also a county teacher, and Murdoch. The late Principal Tulloch was said to be descended from a brother of the earl’s factor.
P. 41.—For mysterious stories, Professor George Sinclair of Glasgow University, appointed 1672, in his “Satan’s Invisible World Discovered,” may be mentioned. The work has a preface of Sinclair genealogy. See Sir Walter Scott’s introduction to “Woodstock,” where the Professor is called the “approved collector” of ghostly tales. Unfortunately, Thurso has, from one fact, the credit of having had too much belief in the supernatural. Margaret Gilbertson, in Ourton, Lythmore, was killed by a Thurso crowd as a witch in 1718. The horrid tale is told in great detail by Mackay in his “History of the Mackays,” his informant, Bailie Paterson, having had the legal proceedings in his possession. The Rev. T. F. Thistleton Dyer, in the Gentleman’s Magazine of May, 1882, states that there was a judicial inquiry held in Thurso on the point of witchcraft, at the instance of a William [or Hugh] Montgomery, Scrabster, who had been “reduced to a remarkable condition by the gambols of a legion of cats [drinking his ale, etc.] His man-servant affirmed that the cats spoke amongst themselves. Montgomery attacked them with broadsword and axe. Two old women died immediately, and a third lost a leg, which, having been broken by a stroke of the hatchet, withered and dropped off.” No doubt it was the third who, after being dragged to court, was done to death by the witch-hunting mob, the others dying from age, and not from blows. The most civilised parts and individuals of the globe had been long lost to the delusion that the devil gave his direct services to some people. One of the Caithness tests of such communion was that when asked to say Paternoster or the Lord’s Prayer, they invariably said “Our Father which was in heaven.”
P. 42 (a).—The first Lord Reay’s brother, John of Strathy, had Dirlet till his death in 1645. (See the “Dairy of Samuel Pepys” for a discussion of second sight in which he and others of the locality figured.) There is a burying-ground at Dirlet sacred to the Gunns. (See “A History of Dirlet Churchyard,” in Northern Ensign, by Dr. William Gunn, Futuna, New Hebrides; and also an eloquent passage on it, written in 1834, by the Rev. John Munro, the second of the name, of Halkirk, in the “New Statistical Account.”)
P. 42 (b).—Captain Henderson’s “Agricultural View of Caithness” published in 1812, gives much information. The rent of the county in 1702 was not much above £3000 sterling. He describes the manufacturing scheme of 1788 at Thurso, linen, rope, and tanning; the building of Sarclet by Captain Brodie, designated Brodie’s Town on the plan; and the trade to the east in corn, and also a trade to the West Indies from Thurso. In 1810 there were 250 straw-plaiters in the town. Ten years before its population was 1952, and Wick 1749. The Crown lands were let on the lease to 1809 at £80 sterling. Tacksmen used to pay £200 to £800 to the proprietors, and sublet to the tenants Of natives of the south who aided the development of the county, John Paterson, Borlum, ought to be mentioned, even though in Highland clearance literature he ranks with the Lochs and Sellars of sheep-raising notoriety. He was born at Oxnam, Boxburghshire, in 1780, and came a poor shepherd to Caithness in 1804. Becoming sheep-manager and then factor for Major William Innes of Sandside, he lived in his service, mostly at Borlum House, forty-one years. He died at his farm of Skinnet in 1853, leaving £39,000 of money, besides the stocked agricultural and sheep-farms of Downreay, Skaill, Borrowston, Lybster, Skinnet, Melness, Armadale, and others in Caithness and Sutherland. His evictions about 1810 in West Caithness were numerous, but his energy tended much to the development of the natural resources of the county. The very original business faculty he had did not come down in so large a measure to his descendants. Of the numerous and valuable recent improvements by other than native intellect, those of W. Reid Tait, factor for Sir Robert Sinclair’s estate of Isauld and Murkle, have been remarkable.
P. 47.—As patriotism of the Stornoway and Lapland kinds can become unscientific, it may be useful to add that the Rev. James Hall, in his book, published in 1807, gives quite as harsh an account of the emaciated people and poor food of the county then as Chambers does of the scenery to 1831.
P. 48.—The allowance was £5 Scots per day while attending Parliament. Sir George Sinclair of Clyth, M.P., charged the barons and freeholders of the shire, in his will, at this rate for the session from 26th June to 23rd September, 1706, “with eight days coming and eight days going,” £515 Scots altogether. For the session of 1703-1704 four landlords were charged £92 Scots each, others having probably paid.
P. 49 (a).—About the tumuli or tullochs of Caithness, see the “Archæologia Scotica,” Samuel Laing’s tractate on Caithness skeletons, and the learned works of Dr. Joseph Anderson. A Latin description of Ulster, in Ireland, during the early period of English conquest, shows the Celts there to have had somewhat similar community homes of the circular form.
P. 49 (b).—The treaty of St. Clair,
on the river Epte, France, in 912 eve Rollo the dukedom of Normandy.
It is certain that this St. Clair, as well as the more important one
near St. Lo, was given, after the manner of the period, to a near
relative, who thence took the local surname now known as Sinclair.
The Lord of St. Clair who fought at the battle of Hastings in 1066,
and the “Romance of Rollo” says, “overthrew many of the English,”
may have been French, but it is much more probable that he was
Norse, like William the Conqueror himself, his near relation also by
marriage. The Rev. Alban Butler, in his “Lives of the Saints,” gives
the origin of the name:—“St. Clarus was an Englishman by birth, of
very noble extraction. He was ordained priest, and leaving his own
country, led many years an angelical life in the county of Vexin, in
France. He often preached the truths of salvation to the
inhabitants, and died a martyr of chastity, being murdered by two
ruffians employed by an impious and lewd lady of
P. 53.—See the paper in the transactions of the Society of Antiquaries, by the Rev. Alexander Pope, A.M., of Reay, on the horse shoe circle of standing stones at the loch of Stemster, who has astronomical theories about them. It was printed recently in the Northern Ensign.
P. 57.—It would be a pity to destroy so keen a source of amusement as fairy tales by stating that the green folks are only embodiments of what poets think of vegetation. Shakspeare, with Bottom, the weaver, straying in the greenery to meet Titania and the rest of the gay company, is of this opinion in “Midsummer Nights’ Dream.”
P. 64.—As the earlier history of Caithness is nearly all taken from the “Orcades” of Torfæus, published 1697, and the “Orkneyinga Saga,” it is enough to say that there is an English translation of the former from Latin, as far as connected with Caithness, in an appendix to Pennant’s “Tour,” by the Rev. Alexander Pope of Reay, while Dr. Joseph Anderson has translated the Saga for English readers. Sweyn, the viking, is the ancestor of the Swansons, who are by no means destitute of his courage; and they are therefore blood relations of the equally daring, or, as Sir Robert Gordon said, desperate Gunns. It is an anomaly that the latter, being of purely Teutonic stock, should have been thought a clan, even though they did for most part speak Gaelic.
P. 74.—One of the earliest notices of Assery, after that by Torfæus, is by a MS. in Stirling’s Library, Glasgow, giving a list of donations to the Church :—“ In 1533, Henry Rattray of Pitf . . . . to the kirk of Caithness, the mill of Forsie, and £20 out of the mill of Assery or Baluny."
P. 79.—It was in Brawl Castle that “Mr” John Sinclair, the first of the line of Ulbster, usually did his teaching duties. He calls himself in an agreement with his brother Patrick, of date Girnigo, 10th Feb., 1603, “pedagogue to William, Master and Fiar of Caithness.”
P. 85.—See “National Dictionary of Biography,” article “Baltroddi,” a bishop of Caithness, for the Bishop’s castle and some of its associations.
P. 92.—The chief authorities on the history of the Gunns are Sir Robert Gordon in his genealogical history; Rev. Charles Thomson of Wick, in the “New Statistical Account,” through aid of the MSS. of Dr. Patrick Brodie Henderson ; the late John Henderson, W.S., in his “Caithness Family History;” Mr G. M. Sutherland in the Celtic Magazine; Mackay in his “History of the Mackays;” George Sutherland Taylor of Golspie in the “New Statistical Account;” and William Mackenzie of Inverness in his “History of the Macdonalds.” Their battles, first with the Keiths, then with the Macivers and Abrach Mackays, and lastly with the Sinclairs, have had many historians. Rev. Alexander Pope of Reay, in his appendix to Pennant’s “Tour,” has notes of them. There is no mention of the Gunns in the “Acta Parliamentorum” till 1647, which shows that they had small ruling importance. “Alexander Gun of Calelnan” is put on the Committee of War for Caithness and Sutherland that year.
P. 102.—Torfæus gives an account of the investiture by King Haco of Henry Sinclair, baron of Roslin, to the principality of the Orkneys in 1379. One writer says that Ernegol Swanson was temporary governor or titular earl before him. He is now said to have been the first historic discoverer and coloniser of America. See the story of his Venetian admirals, the ducal Zenoes in Hakluyt’s “Voyages.” It is noticed in Pinkerton“s “History of Scotland.” Henry, his son, was guardian to James I. of Scotland. For the Roslins see Father Hay’s MS. (printed by Maidment); Van Bassan’s MS., the Danish Schiern’s “Life of Bothwell,” Nisbet’s “Heraldry,” Wallace’s “Orkney,” Douglas’s “Baronage,” Nisbet’s “Appendix,” aided by Hearn’s “Antiquities of Great Britain,” Crawford‘s “Lord Chancellors,” the Peerages of Burke, Foster, Walford, and Collins, with many other works. Mrs Pffeifer had a long poem in the Contemporary Review of 1879 on The Prince’s Pillar, the Roslins wearing a royal coronet for the Orkney and Shetland Isles. Principal Campbell of St Andrew’s and Oxford has also written verse on Roslin. The literature, both English and foreign, on the subject is endless. Billings is one of the fullest authors on the architectural and free-mason topics, the Roslins being the hereditary heads of Scottish freemasonry till William Sinclair, Scott’s model for the Douglas of “The Lady of the Lake,” gave up the position in 1736. See the Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. xl., 1778, the year of his death.
P. 107.—The drum-head charter given to the Earl of Caithness by King James IV. on Flodden Field was traced by Mackay in his “History of the Mackays” to the charter chest of the earls of Fife. It is not an historic myth, and no great acumen was required to show how it found its way among the Duffs. Alexander, the second Earl of Caithness of the Murkle line, who died on 9th December, 1765, at his castle of Hemer, near Thurso, had it among his charters. His only daughter, Lady Dorothy, married James, the second earl of Fife, on 5th June, 1759, and on her father’s death she and Lord Fife had the possession of his papers and charters. A law suit took place between Lady Dorothy and Sir John Sinclair of Stevenson, Haddingtonshire, ancestor of the present Sir Robert of Murkle, for the lands of Murkle, Isauld, and others, which, on the interpretation of a single word, she lost, and which the Stevensons have held ever since. (See p. 201 infra.) Sir Robert in writing and personal conversation has affirmed that his agents have none of Lord Hemer’s charters or estate documents. The inference is clear that Lady Dorothy secured them. Through her divorce from Lord Fife they may have been scattered, but the presumption is that many documents of the Caithness earldom and of the Murkle and Isauld estates are in the strong boxes of the present Earl of Fife. It would be a great find in the way of county history if this should prove to be fact. But in any case there is sufficient written and printed evidence as to the real existence of the drum-head charter.
P. 108.—Earl John acquired lands in
the Helmsdale valley from Adam Gordon, second son of the Earl of
Huntly, and the daughter of James I., when, as some said, he was
usurping the earldom of Sutherland. He had married Elizabeth
Sutherland, and then repudiated her only brother’s claim as being a
bastard. Further light is thrown on things if it is true that Earl
John of Caithness was married to Adam’s sister, after the death or
divorce of his first wife, Mary Sutherland, daughter of Duffus. The
authorities for this are William Gordon in his “History of the
Gordons to 1690,” published in 1726, and C. A. Gordon in his
“History of the House of Gerston,” published at Aberdeen in 1754.
Earl Adam’s fifth sister was married to the Earl of Caithness, who
could be no other than John. Adam’s eldest sister married Perkin
Warbeck, the pretender to the throne of England, as being one of the
York little princes, and who, he asserted, escaped from the Tower of
London from the murdering uncle, Richard the Third. It was in 1495,
that “Richard Plantagenet of York,” as Warbeck, dubbed himself, came
to Scotland, “where the King, James IV., gave him his kinswoman,
Katharine Gordon, in marriage.” After his execution, “his beautiful
wife, ‘the White Rose,’ as she was called, became an attendant on
Henry’s Queen “—Henry VII. of England. The dates of the life of John
Earl of Caithness alone agree with this narrative, and the
interesting item may be accepted as a real addition to the county
history at a distant period. In Robert Forsyth’s “Beauties of
Scotland,” published in 1802, the fifth volume dedicated to Sir John
of Ulbster, there is a story of Earl John’s time. Robert Gunn,
tacksman of Braemore, killed Sutherland of Langwell with bow and
arrow for the love he had to his wife, whom he married. He contrived
a marriage between the son, “big Sutherland,” and his daughter to
ward off revenge. John Earl of Caithness sent John Sinclair of
Stirkoke to get the rent from Gunn, but he was wounded, and his
party defeated by the unpleasant
P. 118.—On the same two Gordons’ authority, the lady blamed for the tragedy at Helmsdale was Elizabeth Sinclair, daughter of the first laird of Dunbeath, Alexander, brother of John Earl of Caithness; the second laird, William, being her brother. She had three sons, John, Patrick, and Gilbert, with several daughters, her husband being Gilbert Gordon, as in the context. Sir Robert Gordon, the historian, names her Isobel, but makes her sister of William.
P. 119.—George, the fourth earl of
Caithness, got the wardship of the young earl of Sutherland as being
a near, if not the nearest, relation; a great privilege of those
times, because nonentry or rents went with the tutorship, as it was
sometimes called. Feudally he had also the marriage of his ward, and
did nothing unusual in marrying him to his daughter. The truth of
the Earl’s whole family life has been garbled by Sir Robert Gordon,
the bitterest of enemies, because an angry and earth-hungering
relation. Even the tragedies said to have occurred in the cases of
the two sons seem to have been misread to his discredit. He was the
absolute justiciary of the two counties, using habitually the power
of capital punishment; but there is no proof that he exercised it
against his eldest son, though the master crowned disobedience and
conspiracy with the hurting of his brother William to the death. See
Galt’s “Entail” for a version of the tragic tale different from that
of Sir Robert Gordon. Gunn, a schoolmaster at
P. 123.—Robertson, the historian of Scotland, quotes the Fordyce MSS. as showing that it was Lady Bothwell who sought the divorce in 1567, after a few months’ marriage, because of Bothwell’s adultery with Bessie Crawford, her servant; but the historian makes a mistake in saying that she afterwards married the Master of Caithness instead of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland. The full text of the divorce is in an appendix. Bothwell on his side put in the plea of too near blood.
P. 126.—The Bannatyne “Miscellanies” have “An Opinion of the Nobility” of date 1583. This was the year of the death of George, Earl of Caithness; and the following is the forecast of his grandson and successor:– “George Sinclair, half-brother to this Earl of Bothwell, by the mother’s side, is a youth of seventeen years of age, and in the tutory of the Earl of Gowry, who has his wardship, a cause of the late unkindness and heart-burning between him and Bothwell (Stewart, grandson of James V.) Of his religion and inclination there is yet little trial. His power extends over the bounds of Caithness, though the Earl, Marshal Keith, and Lord Oliphant, are portioners with him of that country.”
P. 127.—In the triangular duel which went on actively for more than a century between Caithness, Sutherland, and Strathnavernia, George, the fifth Sinclair Earl of Caithness, took perhaps the most prominent position. The houses of Sinclair, Gordon, and Mackay fought each for its own hand, though the closest ties of relationship existed between them. It was family quarrelling throughout, and none the less bitter of this. G. M. Sutherland, in the Celtic Magazine, has indicated best the general condition of things. The immediate relatives of the three houses, who were the stewards and tacksmen, had little of the brunt of the fighting, leadership at intervals alone putting them in danger. The Abrach Mackays for Lord Reay, the MacIvors or Campbells, imported from Argyle, for the Caithness earls, and the Gunns in the interest of the Dunrobin Gordon, were the fighting and defending elements. Through whatsoever changes of that which may be called the local politics, and though these vassals sometimes reversed sides, the rule of attachment was as above. It is important towards understanding the position to remember that these tribes, made up mostly of those then called broken men, were placed on the borders of the triple province which had the inclusive name of the diocese of Caithness, and over which the Earls of Caithness had for long the hereditary justiciaryship. The details of these boundary wars are numerous, and bloody fights have many silent memorials on the hills and in the valleys near the marches. It was only now and again that members of the ruling families headed these sanguinary and needless struggles. Raids for goods and cattle were the variations to tribal contests.
P. 134.—In 1590 the MacIvers, under
David Sinclair of Stirkoke, fought and defeated the Gunns at Craig
Mohr, near Achinabest. A standing-stone and about a score of
grave-heaps mark the scene of the battle, which ended in a flight,
the last Gunn but one being slain at the Caa, Sandside. Donald Gunn
escaped to Strathy, though wounded by sword and pistol, through
leaping over a rock on the south of Craig Mohr, as Sir Robert Gordon
says, “fifteen fathoms in height.” On Upper Downreay there is a
similar standing-stone, and either a graveyard or battlefield ;
while above Borlum there is a double graveyard, as if the
resting-places of enemies, the stones in straight lines, and
numbering about one hundred. Sir James Sinclair of Murkle was a
prominent leader in the fights of that period with the Gunns. They
had killed several MacIvers, and in one of his expeditions seven
Gunns were killed by his men at Strathy in 1594. The incidents of
the Gunn, MacIver, and Mackay warfare were as numerous as
P. 142.—The tragic story of Colonel George Sinclair.has been fully told in Michell’s “History of the Scottish Expedition to Norway in 1612,” published 1886. The author’s theory that the younger Ramsay was the actual leader through the fatal pass is wrong; but he has printed so many original documents in his volume that readers are enabled to form their own judgment; and all must feel indebted to him for his successful researches in Britain, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. His mistaken attempt to reverse tradition is condemned by the following from a letter which he gives out of the State archives of Norway, by Chancellor Ova Bjelke to the Stadtholder Iver Krabbe, asking him to help Peder Eckre, of date so near the expedition as 20th December, 1651:—“I knew his father, who was the man that beat Hr. Georgium Sinclair, who wanted to lead the Scottish folk through Gudbrandsdalen.” Mr Michell does not make him but his father David illegitimate, who, however, was legitimated in 1588. No tale has more dramatic or historic interest than that of the 550 Scots, chiefly Caithnessmen, who died the soldier’s dreaded death of ambush in Norway. There is valuable Sinclair genealogy on page 126 et passim. Colonel, then Captain, Sinclair’s seizure of Lord Maxwell of Nithsdale for murder was an ordinary unavoidable executive duty for his uncle, the earl, as justiciary. The Maxwells had no claim upon Sinclair to aid them to escape from law, if for nothing but their despicable betrayal of Oliver of Roslin at Solway Moss.
P. 150.—Queen Mary’s husband, the Earl of Bothwell, made Duke of Orkney, was the son of Agnes Sinclair, sister of William, second Lord Sinclair; and as his sister, Jane Hepburn, was married to John, the Master of Caithness, who died in the dungeon in Girnigoe in 1576, it is easy to understand how and why he fled to the north in his necessity. See Schism’s “Life of Bothwell.”
P. 153.—So much has been printed about the burning of the Sandside cornyard in 1616, that only something new and hitherto unpublished gives a reason for reference to it. These letters are their own recommendation :–“To the right honourable, his assured good friend, Sir Robert Gordon, tutor of Sutherland, these; Right honourable sir and truest friend, Finding the commodity of the bearer, your sister’s son, the laird of Mackay, I thought good to make you foreseen of that which has past between me and him concerning the Clan Gunn, as likewise about his agreement with the Earl of Caithness. As for his agreement, I will suspend my judgment of it till time try the effect. But concerning the Clan Gunn, I cannot know by Mackay that he has any evil will at any of them except John Robson, who, as he alleges, deserves the same at his hands, as has been proved before yourself. Mackay complains greatly to me that you have taken John Robson’s maintenance against him, as likewise that you have given him land by promise since Mackay’s away-coming. You know best yourself if these things be true or not. But this far I will say, as a neutral friend, who wishes both your standings, that neither of you will do well to maintain or defend any man against the other, who is known notoriously to have justly offended. I know by Mackay that he is most willing to keep duty in all respects to the house of Sutherland, providing that he get a meeting to himself and his friends. You should be loath to lose him, willingly or any other way; for you may take example by your neighbours what it is to be in trouble or variance with your own, without great reason. And if Mackay breaks duty any way to the house of Sutherland, you may be assured there shall not be a friend living who will be further against him than myself. Mackay likewise has been very earnest with me seeking a discharge to John Robson for the burning of the corn of Sandside. This I have granted conditionally that John, according to his promise, shall deliver the three factors of that burning, as likewise find security that I and mine shall incur no harm by him and his in time coming. Otherwise, I assure you that I will follow John to the uttermost for that fact, and for all other things that I may lay to his charge so far as law will. But the men being delivered and surety found, as said is, I assure you by these presents, that I will be a friend to John and all his, till they deserve the contrary again. But in case you see John make any subterfuge in doing that which the laws will compel him to do, I pray you to give his answer to Mackay, whereby I may be advertised thereof with diligence. And although he would refuse the same, I doubt not that if you and Mackay please to concur together, you may get the malefactors apprehended, which I am assured you will both extend your means to do, as I have been and shall be ready to pleasure any of you. If the wrong had been done to any of you which has been done to me, and the malefactors so often in my bounds as these men have been in yours, they had not escaped their condign punishment until now. As for a warrant to apprehend them, Mackay has a caption lying beside him in Strathnaver which will serve you both, as Mackay will inform you at meeting I am informed likewise that John Robson is very evil disposed in his speeches against William Innes and others of my servants in Caithness. If this be true, it marvels me; for I think John should rather press to make amends for bygones, than to urge or incense me to further wrath against him. So I rest, committing you with my Lady, your mother, your bedfellow, and all your friends, wherever they are, to the love and favour of God, your assured good friend at power, ARTHUR L[ORD] FORBES.”
Driminor, 13th April, 1618.
The next is a scroll in Sir R. Gordon’s hand:— I, Arthur Lord Forbes, assignee constituted together with Sir Donald Mackay of Strathnaver, knight, by William Innes of Sandside, to the action of the burning of the corn of Sandside, which fact of burning was committed, as is alleged, by Alexander Gunn, alias Robson, and his accomplices, by these presents discharge and forgive simpliciter the said Alexander Gunn thereof, and of all the things that may flow thereupon for ever, and oblige myself that I shall never pursue the said Alexander Gunn for the same by laws or by law, directly or indirectly. And, further, I oblige myself, by the truth of an honest man, that I shall do my diligence and best endeavour to persuade the aforesaid William Innes of Sandside never to pursue the said Alexander Robson for said fact of burning, directly or indirectly, and that I shall move the said William so far as I can to discharge the said Alexander thereof for ever. And, further, I promise that neither myself nor any other by my means shall be the advocate’s informer, directly or indirectly, against the said Alexander Gunn for the said fact of burning. And for the more security hereof, I am content and consent that these presents be inserted and registered in the Books of Council, to have the strength of a decree of the lords thereof, that letters of horning may pass thereon in a simple charge of ten days only, and to that effect I constitute . . . my lawful procurators, to consent to the registration hereof, promittere de rato, etc., by these presents, written by Sir Robert Gordon, tutor of Sutherland. I have subscribed the same with my hand at . . the . . day of March, 1619 years, before these witnesses ...
P. 156.–David Sinclair in Lybster, Reay, while from home, had all his cattle stolen by robbers, who drove them over Shebster Hill, and rested in the deep hollow on the Strathnaver side, near a small loch which was there at that time. On his return, David took a boy with him, and pursued till he came to the Yellow Moss. There he secreted the boy in a peat-stack, telling him he was going over Shebster Hill, and that if a whistle was heard he was to follow. If no whistling reached his ears in an hour or so he was to return to Lybster. After thus providing for the boy’s safety and the possibilities of a death struggle, he went after the reivers, armed with a sword. He found them all five asleep. Two he killed on the ground, a third got his quietus when rising, and the remaining two he mastered in a running fight, the last cut down about a hundred yards from where the surprise took place. Where they fell was marked by five heaps of stones and sod, which still remain prominent on the heath.
P. 161.–See Munro’s “Expedition,” “An Old Scots Brigade” by John Mackay, &c. In Munro’s book there is a Latin epitaph by a Dutchman, Dr. Narsius, to the son of the earl.
P. 162.–On Caithness covenanters consult “The Inneses of Sandside” in the Northern Ensign.
P. 165.–The “Nova descriptio Cathanesiæ,” published 1654, mentions the “Mowats or, more exactly, the Monte-Altoes,” as strangers holding property in Caithness, much of which they got by writ from the Keiths. The Mowats had Harpsdale for a long time. They appear in English and Welsh history.
P. 167.–See Northern Ensign for details, through State papers, on the fight at St. Peter’s, Thurso, and also for other history connected with this ancient church.
P. 171.–It was John Sinclair of Brims, and not Alexander, his father, who joined Montrose. Alexander was descended from the old Dunbeath family, and married in 1619, Ann Mackay, sister of the first Lord Reay, dying in 1625. Hugh Mackay of Dirlot was his first cousin.
P. 174.–In describing the defeat near Tain in 1650, Monteth in his history, published in 1735, says, “Montrose swam over the river accompanied by the gallant Sir Edward St. Clair and St. Clair of Brims, a gentleman of Caithness. Montrose got into a very deep valley, and having continued two days, he sent Brims, who knew the country, to look for some provisions, but he having betrayed him, a party of the country people came upon him immediately thereafter, and having promised him all manner of good usage, basely sold him to David Leslie.” There is this note by the French translator of Monteth to the above evidently false statement:-“ Bishop Wishart, author of Montrose’s Life, writes that it was Macleod of Assynt who betrayed him.” The royalty, after their return to power, did all they could to ruin Macleod, who was said to have had 1,000 bolls of meal for Montrose; but nothing is heard of Brims, though he lived in Sutherlandshire at Rigibil, which is proof positive that he had no blame in the matter. Macleod was long imprisoned, and only escaped with his life, losing ultimately his lands, and suffering in many ways through the cloud that was over him. In an unpublished paper of date 1758, there is a long account of how he and his people were dispossessed. It is protested there that Macleod at his trial in Edinburgh proved an alibi, being at the time sixty miles away from where Montrose was taken. Sir William Sinclair of Mey and Cadboll, is put down as one of his relentless enemies, having imprisoned Assynt in Mey Castle, the Seaforth Mackenzies being the chief. Worlds of discussion open on this question. But there is no ground to charge Brims with the “cruel, barbarous action.” He was the last of the old Dunbeath family who resided at Brims Castle. In the Inquisitions-General a son, John, heirs his mother, Christina Mein, spouse of John Sinclair of Ribigil, on 28th Feb., 1691, but this was in Strathnaver under their relatives the Reays. The Ulbsters followed at Brims Castle till the notorious Patrick (the modelof Byrons Manfred, his tale probably communicated at Harrow School by the late Sir George Sinclair) sold it in 1726 to Lord Homer, Earl of Caithness. No place in the county has more extraordinary historical associations than this castle, a door and two or three walls of which alone remain, on a moderate rock over the northern seas. One of Patrick’s victims was The White Lady, who, being poisoned, haunts it still.
P. 175.–In a book published at Edinburgh in 1833, of which only 60 copies were printed, entitled “Historical Fragments relative to Scottish Affairs from 1635 to 1664,” there is “A Note of the Letters taken out of the Trunk that came to Dunbeath; with Copies of two Letters from Colonel Gordon and the Earl of Kinnoul to the Marquis of Montrose, 1649.” It was Lieutenant General Leslie that took them out, and they consisted of a letter which came from the King of Denmark to the King, 15th Sept., 1649, referring all to James Graham [Montrose]; another of the same tenour; one from the Marquis of Brandenburg to Graham; Sir John Cochrane’s story of his negotiations at Hamburg; a paper of Urry’s resolution (see p. 170 infra) to follow James Graham; a letter of Crawford to Urry, complaining of Montrose’s great undertaking without effect; and various other documents of general historic importance. One of local interest was “James Graham’s warrant subscribed under his hand, that he was to come to Caithness to relieve the country from burdens, and that he would proceed against all rebels who did not concur with him.” The preface speaks of Montrose’s betrayal by Macleod of Assynt, and says that Dunbeath Castle, the proprietor of which was an enemy, was occupied in order to provide for a retreat. Colonel Urry, to whom it had been surrendered, placed in it what he conceived to be a sufficient garrison, and then joined Montrose. It appears that for greater security a box or trunk of papers containing a variety of valuable documents belonging to the Marquis, had been placed there, which upon the subsequent rendering of the castle fell into the hands of General David Leslie, afterwards Lord Newark,”
P. 179. (a).–This nephew was William Sinclair, M.P., the ancestor of the second or Mey family of Dunbeath. His struggles with the sixth Earl of Caithness about the sheriffship were described recently in the Northern Ensign, on information from the Lauderdale MSS. of the British Museum.
P. 179. (b.)–The Causeway Mire is said to have its name from a road put down by Cromwell’s soldiers. A murder about the beginning of this century took place there, done, it was said, by one of the Gunns, called “Minearts.”
P. 181.–In “The First Contest for the Earldom” will be found a valuable series of original letters and documents from the Duke of Lauderdale’s unpublished papers; and, by the added explanatory writing, the whole period of the Glenorchy occupation, with sometime before and after, is covered. The titles of many books, and numerous indications of other sources of knowledge are given; but the field has much still to be gleaned. Murkle and Dunbeath’s fatal quarrel with the Mackays is told there, as it is in Mackay’s History less fully. Murkle, who afterwards became Earl John, having been wounded in the neck.
P. 191.–The real importance of the Ulbsters dates from the marriage of John Sinclair of Brims, as Collins in his “Peerage of England” puts it, “great grandfather’s father of the present Sir John of Ulbster, member for Caithness,” the first baronet, to Miss Goldman, “of the family of Sandford, of English descent.” The English connection may or may not be, but the following from the Inquisitiones Generales seems proof of Scotch origin, and certain evidence of where the money was made which bought most of Glenorchy’s usurped lands:–Jan. 18, 1639, Margareta Goldman, haeres Jacobi Goldman, mercatoris burgensis de Dondie, patris–“ Margaret Goldman, heiress of James Goldman, merchant, burgess of Dundee, her father.” On the same date she was served heiress to William Goldman, lawful son of the aforesaid James Goldman. It was the other daughter who married the ancestor of the Ulbsters. Margaret married James Wedderburn, second son of the first Baron Kingennie, and “with this lady,” says Collins, “he got a great portion in money.” It was the like portion which enabled the Ulbsters, who were always provident, to become the largest proprietors in the county. The father was Provost of Dundee, and, it is said, made his money by trading in tallow. No doubt the town records, if they exist, give his history incidentally. But some of these points have been touched before.
P. 194.–As a sequel to the “First,”
“The Second Contest for the Earldom,” which is nearly ready for
publication, will enter into full particulars of the protracted
legal struggle between James Sinclair, grandson of David of Broynach,
and William of Ratter, who ultimately succeeded to the earldom in
1772. Robertson’s “Proceedings,” the Scots Magazine, a poem by “P.
P.” of Caithness, but above all a printed legal proof taken by
Ratter at Thurso, and now in the British Museum, are the chief
sources of information. The claimants had to give notice to Lady
Dorothy Sinclair, Countess of Fife, at certain
P. 195.-This remarkable story seems to be the same as a tradition attaching itself to Isauld, which made a William Sinclair kill some one in a market brawl. It was explained that Thurso markets used to be held between Reay and Isauld for convenience of Strathnaver, and this may mean the same thing as the shooting on “the principal street of the town.” It must have been a fight, for even a presbytery could hardly be so illogical as to blame three for what they say one did. The “partakers with the aforesaid murderer” were, strangely enough, from the neighbourhood of Isauld. Is it possible that the Commissary or his son was tacksman here? Unfortunately there is no getting the estate books or charters of Isauld, else this point might at once be settled; but some of the local lawyers or factors could perhaps gather incidental evidence to establish the identity of the two Williams. The Commissary is often mentioned in parish registers and county records. Much interest attaches to this inquiry. The date of 1709 tits the tradition. See Henderson’s “Caithness Family History” on the Commissary’s lineage.
P. 197.–There are other versions of this notorious duel. Some say the cause of offence was Olrig reproving Innes, then a big young fellow, for drunkenness. A red stone moved a little for the railway, on to a small farm at Tongside, is a memorial of the affair. Innes and a tall servant, Gunn, were first on the ground. Olrig was cutting Innes every stroke, who was going backwards, parrying, till Gunn said to him that he was like a woman before horses in the yoke. He then attacked, and drove his sword through Sinclair. He fled to Crosskirk, and waited in a boat outside for a vessel which took him to the Continent. Mackay says he found refuge at Tongue, in the first instance. Surely enough a warrant was issued against him, and this document or a copy of it, is said to be now in the possession of Alexander Gunn, Newton, Watten, late in Braehour, found among old papers in Westfield House. If so, it ought to be published and preserved. Innes, whose father James must have been the son of the great Mr James, M. P., got a remission, it is said because of accepting the challenge of an Italian duellist, and, through the training of Colonel Baillie, killing him. At his death he gave express orders to have no memorial over his grave for fear of insult to it from the kin of Olrig. He was secretly interred in the Reay Churchyard, where the high road now runs, or even still more towards the sea, near the buried town. The Rev. John Munro mentioned was the last of the three Munro ministers, successively of Reay, Mr Alex. Brodie coming next, immediately before Pope, in whose time Innes died.
P. 200.–Wm. Gordon Forbes, schoolmaster of Reay, afterwards in America, says in his report, in the “New Statistical Account,” that in a cave 25 feet by 10, in Ben Frectan, or Hill of the Watch, Shurrery, two families disaffected to the Hanoverian Government, took asylum in 1745. They were Sinclair of Scotscalder and Sinclair of Assery, the latter family having changed politics since 1660, when James was fined £600 by the Stuart Royalists as a Covenanter. From the “Services of Heirs,” they were both named John. In March, 1771, John of Assery died, and his son Robert heired him with benefit of inventory; in other words, leaving nothing behind him unless it might be debts. The heir and his brothers became handsome army officers. One of them died in a lodging at the Horse Market, Thurso, about 1825; another in a poor parson’s house near Clysterfield ; and a third at the house of Innes of Ulloclet. Misfortune made the three all but insane. The last of the Scotscalders was Captain James of the Royal Artillery, who used to reside much at Scrabster House with his cousin, the late Alexander Dunbar, the last of the Caithness real Dunbars. James’s father, Robert of Scotscalder, lost the property, and became the farmer of Dounreay and Borrowston, at which latter place he died 15th May, 1815, aged 65 years, after a rakish life. He was the Rev. Charles Cordiner’s enthusiastic guide when he visited Caithness about 1779.
P. 201 (a).–Though the Stevenson family, represented by Sir Robert Sinclair, Baronet of Murkle, are usually considered new to the county, having secured the lands of Alexander, Earl of Caithness, as late as 1765, it is by no means the fact. Sir Robert of Longformacus, one of them, took a principal part in the Glenorchy struggle, and at one time had proprietory and legal rights, absolute and prospective, in Caithness. The Longformacus (Berwickshire) baronets were a distinguished line, the last of them, Sir John, a writer, dying in 1798, in the Canongate, Edinburgh, so poor, it is said, as to be able to pay only 3s 6d a week for a little room there, the baronetcy becoming then extinct. See Stoddart’s “Armorial Bearings.” The relationship between them and the Stevensons is clear. Matthew Sinclair of Longformacus was served heir to his father James in 1553. He was married to Elizabeth Swinton, and had four sons—Robert of Longformacus; George, the progenitor of the Stevensons; Thomas, “who died before the year 1622, which appears by a charter of confirmation under the Great Seal, quondam Thomæ Sinclair, flio quondam Matthæi Sinclair de Longformacus, terrarum de Over Bilpster, etc.—to Thomas Sinclair, son of the deceased Matthew Sinclair of Longformacus, of the lands of Upper Bilpster—dated the last day of February, 1622;” and a fourth son, James. This Thomas is buried in the Sinclair aisle, Wick churchyard, with the inscription:–“ Here lies an honourable man, Thomas Sinclar of Bilpster, third son to the laird of Longformacus, master-stabler to an honourable lord, George Earl of Caithness, Lord Sinclair of Berriedale, who departed at forty-two years of age, the 26th day of October, 1607. Remember death.” His arms are on the memorial, supported by the letters T. S. There is also the phrase, “Regard ! Good service will get reward ! A.B.M.R.M.” Sir Walter Scott’s edition of Lord Fountainhall’s “Chronological Notes of Scottish Affairs” has a pursuit, at the instance of Sir Robert St. Clair of Stevenson, against Sir James Sinclair of Kinnaird, Fifeshire, as heir to Thomas Sinclair of Bilbster, his uncle, for payment of a jointure to Mr Thomas’s widow, Anna Foulis, 27th Jan., 1686. There is more on the Stevensons in Fountainhall’s “Decisions,” published 1759. They are a branch of the Roslins senior to the Caithness earls. From an ancient funeral escutcheon, their arms were argent, an engrailled cross, saltire, gules, five bezants, or; but when Alexander, Earl of Caithness, disinherited his daughter, Dorothy, Countess of Fife, in their favour they took his arms with a slight difference. They have had constant connection with Scottish high legal offices. In Thomas Thomson’s “Eminent Scotsmen,” the famous Dundas, Lord of Session, and Lord Melville, are said to have owed their legal talent to “Meg Sinclair,” their ancestress, one of the Stevensons. The Caithness property has been a somewhat insecure possession, because of the very distant kinship to Lord Hemer. Quite recently a Swedish Sinclair threatened, if the present proprietor would not make him a money offer, to initiate a process of restitution in his own favour; but statutes of limitation may make all such attempts hopeless. There can be no doubt that in Caithness itself legitimate relatives of the Earl, greatly nearer of kin than the Stevensons, could be easily found. The question is whether Earl Alexander had the right to give his lands as he pleased, even if there may have been debts upon them to the Stevensons or others. The earldom, which included the property of the earls, went to the nearest male heir by express State enactments, under the Great Seal of the kingdom.
P. 201 (b).–The Ratter family were very poor when they succeeded to the earldom, William being objected to by the previous earl Alexander as not having had a gentleman’s education. A letter which recently appeared in an Inverness paper from one of his ancestors, John, in prison for a debt of £1400 from 1700 to 1709, explains; but of this in “The Second Contest for the Earldom.”
P. 201 (c).–Hogg’s son was tutor to the family of Mr William Innes of Sandside, and he and Mr Innes accompanied Bishop Pococke, the traveller, from Sandside to Thurso, when he was in Caithness in 1760. See the Pococke MSS. in the British Museum.
P. 204.–Rev. Alexander Pope entered in the Reay parish register the date of baptism (which was then considered more important than the birth two or three days before) of John Swanson, son of John in Achayullan, as February, 1736. This was written from memory, because the roll of baptisms began to be properly kept only in 1745. Achayullan was blamed for the murder, near Georgemas, of Mr Nicolson, scripture-reader. When an officer in America, he had among others a Reay soldier of the Royal army prisoner, whom he surprise by familiar questions and good treatment. He was ultimately executed, it is said, confessing the justice of his fate, and characteristically mourning that he only got a fourpenny piece and a penknife on Mr Nicolson. The man who whipped Achayullan was a Sinclair, and so enraged were the Sinclairs at the disgrace of one of the kin accepting such an office, that he was ever afterwards boycotted. The Tullochs say that his wife even never dared enter the door of a Sinclair again.
P. 209.–Dunbeath’s powers as a swordsman made a foreign expert call on him one day for a bout, which he got till he cried halt. Bishop Forbes was jealous of him as a Methodist or Baptist and lay-preacher; but the following, from the journal edited by Rev. J. B. Craven of Kirkwall, may be given as indicative of an original character, ready with deeds and words:–“I came to Keiss at six, the seat of Sir William Sinclair of Dunbeath, the preaching knight, a wrong-headed man confessedly by all who know him best, for he has taken up that odd way of strolling about and preaching, without commission or appointment of any man or any sect of men whatsoever, and vents the wildest and most extravagant notions that ever were hatched in the most disordered brain. It was upon account of his lady, a sister of Sir William Dunbar of Hempriggs, and one of Mr Taylor’s (of Thurso) little flock, that I called here. She, poor lady! was confined to bed, and had been long in an ailing way, with the distress of her husband’s unaccountable ways of doing, a shocking narrative of which I had from Mr Sutherland of Wester, and then from Sir William Dunbar, besides some general strong hints I had got from others, before I could see them. I drank tea at Keiss, and made my visit as short as possible, the knight being at home. The good lady would needs have me to taste something at her bedside, and a dram having been called for, her ladyship desired to have a grace, at saying of which the knight kept his seat. This I remarked afterwards to Sir William Dunbar and his lady, and Wester, who joined in saying it was a pity I did not keep my seat, for then he would have been sure to have started up, as he seldom fails to do things by the rule of contratries.” Forbes was bishop of Ross and Caithness from 1762 till 1775.
P. 210.–In the Scots Magazine this
occurs:–“November 29th, 1779, at Edinburgh, after a tedious illness,
William, Earl of Caithness.” On Feb. 19th, 1783, his son, Major
John, Earl of Caithness, was made lieutenant-colonel. In the same
magazine is a notice of his death:–“April 8th, 1789, at London, the
Right Honourable John, Earl of Caithness. The earl possessed the
rank of lieutenant-colonel in the army, and served in the last war
in America with distinguished honour. At the siege of Charleston,
while reconnoitering with Sir Henry Clinton, he received a musket
shot in the groin.” He was the last of the Ratters, his brother
having died before him.–“At New York, of a fever and flux, which was
occasioned by his lying for several days with the army in the
fields, the Hon. Lieutenant William Sinclair, second son of the Earl
Caithness.” The most remarkable Caithnessian, and one of the
greatest men of the revolutionary period in America, was Arthur
Sinclair, born at Thurso in 1736, the son of William Sinclair,
P. 212.–The warlike spirit aroused in the county by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster and Sir Benjamin Dunbar of Hempriggs had a curious test in 1807. On 1st January there was news of a French privateer of 16 guns at Flota. Lieut.-Colonel Sinclair, of the third battalion of Caithness Volunteers, assembled two Thurso companies on four fishing smacks. He was joined by Captain Mason and thirty privates of the regulars. Captain James Henderson, of the Clyth company, was chosen surgeon. When they reached Flota the vessel was gone, and they did not get their blow at Bonaparte and the French. How they were to conquer the privateer it is difficult to imagine, though there can be no doubt of the courage of their bona fide endeavour.
P. 216.–Much has been printed recently of Bishop Abernethy. His son William was minister of Thurso, and married to Henrietta of the Ulbster family. One of the incidents in his life was being seized by an enemy while crossing the river at Brawl Castle on horseback, and held down in the water till nearly drowned. He was himself of a violent turn, for he compelled his wife to sign papers giving him power over the property of Carsgo. Of all the Caithness clergy there are abundant notices in Hew Scott’s “Fasti Eccl. Scot.”
P. 219 (a).–Bishop Murray is one of the saints in Butler’s work, where he is said to have been bishop over Caithness for 20 years, and died 1st April, 1240. The Aberdeen Breviary writes of him, and Keith in his “Lists” gives 1140 as the date of St. Gilbert’s death, St. Magnus or Mans being his contemporary in Orkney. Beside Westfield House (the home of the Hon. Francis Sinclair, brother of Lord Heiner, and afterwards of Captain Thomas Dunbar, married to a Miss Sinclair of Scotscalder, the parents of the founder of the Thurso Hospital) there was the chapel of St. Drostan. In its churchyard wall is the font, which, with the love of miracle dear to Romanism, was said never to dry. The date of the chapel is limited backwards by St. Drostan, abbot of the Saint Columba rule and a prince of royal blood, having died in 809, his remains being deposited in a stone coffin at Aberdeen. Such inquiries could be pursued with regard to most of the ruined chapels. The chapel of Lybster, Reay, is of great antiquarian architectural interest from its two chambers and sloping door. See Aberdeen and others.
P. 220.–A great deal is known of the Ponta besides what Hew Scott gives so plentifully. In a tack which he gives of the teinds of Bower and Watten, dated 5th July, 1610, Zachary is Archdeacon of Caithness. His wife’s sister married Welsh, an Ayrshire minister, from whom Mrs Carlyle traced her descent. The father, Robert Pont, who had a small patrimony on the Forth, near Alloa, was a very busy man in his time. He appears on the “allegit Commissar of Moray” in the attempt of Beatrix Gordon, sister of the Earl of Sutherland, and first married to Alexander Innes of Cromarty, to repudiate her marriage with William Sinclair of Dunbeath, and so recover her estates. In the “Register of the Privy Council” there is a sederunt at Holyrood of date 27th May, 1574, dealing with this peculiar case. The lady denounces Pont’s jurisdiction as an imposture, and describes the possession for “seven years by-past” of all her property by William, which has put her to “such utter wrack” that if she “were not supported she had been able to perish, being put to such miserable case.” The rents of Fischerne were appointed to her by the Lords of Council till the marriage cause should be settled by the head Commissariat, that of Edinburgh. Pont evidently sided with Dunbeath. It would appear he was Church Commissioner rather than Commissary of Moray. His son Timothy has tributes to his genius in note to P. 1.
It is good fortune to be able to
give an ancient document, the original of which has been just
favoured by James Grant Duncan, Wick, in which places, names, and
other particulars of historical importance occur. The writing is in
the contracted legal Latin and special caligraphy of the period, but
the inquisition and its translation into English, now first
published, may be accepted as substantially accurate:
“This inquisition was made in the
Sheriff Court of Caithness, in the tolbooth of the burgh of Wick, by
an honourable man, Sir James Sinclair, knight of Murkle, on the last
day of the month of September, A.D. 1634, in the presence of
Alexander Sutherland of Forse, elected chancellor of this
inquisition; David Sinclair of Dun; Alexander Innes of Borrowston;
John Murray of Pennyland ; Alexander Bruce, portioner of Holland;
Gavin Bruce, portioner of Lyth ; John Groat, portioner of Duncansbay;
Malcolm Groat of Wares; William Murray of Clairden; Patrick Mowat of
Scister; Donald Budge of Toftingal; Alexander Coghill of Cogle;
Charles Calder of Lynegar; Alexander Sutherland in Oustrisdale; and
William Sutherland, portioner of Banniskirk; who, being sworn, say
that the deceased Magnus Mowat of Bucholly, husband of Isabella
Cheyne, died vested and possessed, as of a property held on the
faith and sanction of our supreme lord the king, in the matter of
the whole and all and singular of the townships and lands, with the
houses and buildings, of Oukingill, Milton of Freswick, Tostes,
Astruea, Blaeberryquoys, Souesquoy, Fittisquoy, and Strupster,
together with the parts, pendicles, and belongings of the same,
lying in the parish of Canisbay, and within the sheriffdom of
Caithness; and that the said Isabella Cheyne, now his widow, was
formerly the wife of the said deceased Magnus Mowat; and that he
served the said Isabella, his widow, in the reasonable third part of
all and singular of the townships and lands, with the houses and
buildings, of Oukingill, Milton of Freswick, Tostes, Astruea,
Blaeberryquoys, Souesquoy, Fittisquoy, and Strupster, together with
the parts and pendicles lying as above; and, after deliberation, she
spoke, and humbly desired the southern part; and the judges
recognised her, and entered her to the said third part of all and
singular the aforesaid lands and other things above-written, who, in
testimony of this business, promised to act thus. Extracted from the
books of the sheriffdom of Caithness by me, William Patton,
notary-public of this document and deputed clerk of the same,
witness my own hand and subscription, day, month, and year as above.
The original endorsement is illegible, but a later one is as follows:–“Retour of Service to her Tierce of Isobel Cheyne, relict of Magnus Mowat of Bucholly; Sep., 1634.”
These Notes would not be complete without some reference to Dr. Smiles’s “Robert Dick: Baker of Thurso, Geologist and Botanist,” in which there is much that is of scientific and general county interest. The biographic sketch which the book contains of Charles Peach of Wick, geologist, gives it further local value.
With direct and renewed study of the
historic materials in the libraries and State record offices of
London and Edinburgh, these illustrative notes could be multiplied
and perfected to an extent not easily realisable to readers who do
not consult MSS. as well as books. If it is shown that the field has
not been nearly reaped, one purpose has been gained by a handling
for many reasons slighter than could be wished. The publication of
the names of the proprietors on commission of supply, committees of
war, &c., in the county, which are mentioned with dates in the “Acta
Parliamentorum,” would of itself be a great enlightenment; and many
printed and written pieces lie buried either in untouched places or
in expensive books which only a few can consult. The county history
is most deficient during the century or so before the local
newspapers began. Fortunately there is a printed account of two
great legal contests: one of date 1719 till 1723, by Alexander, Earl
of Caithness, for the recovery of Ormly and several
other properties from the second Earl of Breadalbane, Sir James
Sinclair of Dunbeath, and John Sinclair of Ulbster; and the other a
House of Lords appeal, of date 1767 to 12th Feb., 1770, by Katherine
Sinclair and James Sinclair of Duran, her trustee, Henrietta, Janet,
Emilia, and Margaret Sinclair, infants, and James Sinclair of
Harpsdale, their father and administrator at law, against David
Thriepland Sinclair, an infant, and Stewart Thriepland, his father
and administrator at law. In both these causes the pleadings of the
lawyers are historical from distant periods, and nothing could
better fill up what is confessedly a barren chapter of the county’s
past. But it is impossible to do more now than mention subjects with
so large a burden of facts, and to congratulate those who have
interest in extraordinary money, bond, and estate affairs that there
is such a home feast safely preserved for them, whosoever may be the
dispensor. With help of the writings of Sir John of Ulbster and of
his daughter Catherine,