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Parish Life in the North of Scotland
Chapter XIII - Sutherlandshire: "First Clearance"


AFTER returning to abide once more under my paternal roof nothing particularly occurs to my recollection but my studies in the garret which my brother and I had so long tenanted as our waking and sleeping room. There, long after his departure, I studied alone, preparing myself for my respective courses at college, my discourses for the hall, and my trial exercises for the presbytery. About the middle of summer, after I returned from Stempster, two young female relatives of ours paid us a visit, Miss Alexa Anderson and Miss Fairly Gordon. Lexy Anderson was the daughter of Mr. James Anderson, brother of the overseer of the salmon-fishings at Invershin. He first held the farm of Rispond in the Reay Country, where he not only carried on agricultural but also commercial speculations, dealt much in the cod fishery, in which he employed much shipping, and for the accommodation of which he built a pier and formed a village at Rispond. Mr. Anderson afterwards leased the farm of Ausdale in Caithness from Sir John Sinclair. After building upon it a most substantial dwelling-house, office-houses, sheep-fanks or folds, and cultivating not a little of the surrounding moor, he gave it up in disgust and took a farm in the Orkneys, which, in a few years thereafter, lie also relinquished and then retired to his native county to end his days. He was thrice married. Of his first wife I know nothing. His second wife was my cousin-german, Fairly Gordon of Clerkhill, daughter of George Gordon of Pulrossie. By her lie had a son Charles who entered the army, also a son Thomas who resides at Stromness, a decidedly pious man. Mr. Anderson's only daughter by this marriage was Alexa, who, along with Fairly Gordon, second daughter of Captain William Gordon of Clerkhill was our visitant at KiIdonan. She was exceedingly good-humoured, and in her manners very pleasing and attractive. After they had resided nearly a week at Kildonan, my eldest sister and I accompanied them to Clerkhill. It was on a beautiful summer day that we set out upon our journey. Our visitors had their own horses and a Clerkhill servant; my sister rode one of my father's garrons, and I was provided with a good, stout, Highland pony by Alastair Gordon of Dalcharn. Our progress was such as might be expected; the extent of moor and moss, and the depth of the fens, bogs, and peat-hags are almost inconceivable. A stranger wending his way through these all but interminable wastes, without often so much as a sheep-track to guide him, might just sit down and die. But with all its marshy mazes the natives were just as familiarly  acquainted as is the post-boy with the high-road which lie daily perambulates. We did not know the road or even the direction which we were to pursue; but the Clerkhill man knew every step of it, and guided us through fell and fen with unerring skill. Our route lay through the heights of Kildonan, by Suisgill, Kinbrace, Ach-nah'uaighe, Garvoll'd, until we came to the boundary line between the parishes of Kildonan and Farr, which consists of the celebrated pass of Beallach-nan-creach, through which we passed, and struck in upon Strathnaver at a place called Ravigill. The day, which was fine, showed the moors and mountain tops of the Ben Griams close beside us, and of Ben Loyal (Loaghal) and Ben Hope blue in the distance. But as towards evening we entered Stratlmaver the weather suddenly changed, and a cold wind, with that sort of drizzle called a "Scotch mist," blew behind us from the east, and so with heads and hearts equally light and thoughtless, we put our nags to their full speed, and cleared the Strath at the gallop, till we reached the celebrated Loch :1fo-nair, within three miles of Clerkhill. This lake, little better than a horse-pond, was as much celebrated among the northern Highlanders as was Bethesda among the Jews in the time of our Lord. Deranged and fatuous persons were conveyed from the extremities of the fire northern counties, at no matter what risk and expense, to this muddy pool for cure. The method was to come there on the evening previous to a certain day of the year—I think the first day of February. The unfortunate victim of this "freit" was, on the previous evening and on the ensuing appointed day, kept bound, and very sparingly fed until sunset. No sooner did the " ruler of the day " settle below the blue wave of the Atlantic (visible from the spot) than the patient was immediately unbound, led forth to nearly the middle of the pool, and burled head foremost under its dusky waters. Then he was dragged out, stripped, and dried, and conveyed home by his attendants, in the confident expectation of his recovery.

Our reception at Clerkhill was most cordial, and my sister and I remained there about a week, after which we went on a visit to Tongue manse, along with Captain Gordon. My venerable acquaintance, Mr. William Mackenzie of Tongue, is impressed on my recollections. His manse was noted as the headquarters of hospitality, and Mr. Mackenzie was "the wale of old men." He had entered the territory of "narrative old age," and his narratives were fluent and almost interminable. He knew all my maternal ancestors, and lie described them to me so minutely that I groaned for weariness. Mrs. Mackenzie, besides her other good qualities, was a poetess; her verses, which very much pleased her friends, were hung in black frames on the parlour wall. The good old man of Tongue could never be happy without, not only all his family, but even his nephews and grand-children filling each a place in his establishment. Two were then at the manse. One was the late Dr. Hugh ,Mackenzie, minister, first of Assynt, next of Clyne, and lastly of Killin, in Perthshire. He was the second son of old Hugh Mackenzie, tacksman of Creich, the minister of Tongue's eldest brother. Young Hugh was a special pet of his uncle. His recommendation to the old man's favour consisted in three things, viz., his natural talents, his evangelical sentiments, and the fact that Hugh was at the time on marriage terms with Kelly, his cousin, Mr. Mackenzie's second daughter. Miss Helen was not a fool's fancy. She had passed her prime, and to look at was hard-featured and sallow, and wore a wig. I shall afterwards notice them. Another relative of the family whom I saw there at this time was Miss Barbara Gordon, only daughter of Robert Gordon, tacksman of Langdale, in the parish of Farr. She was Mr. W. Mackenzie's grand-daughter, by his eldest daughter. Miss Barbara was a very shy, pretty, young woman of about seventeen. She afterwards became the wife of her cousin, David Mackenzie, eldest brother of Dr. Hugh Mackenzie, who was latterly successor to the Rev. James Dingwall, minister of Farr. I returned to Clerkhill, and while I remained there I called once or twice on the parish minister, Mr. Dingwall. Of this thin, spare, old man, I have many recollections. He was the immediate successor of Mr. George Munro, of whom I have already made mention. Mr. Dingwall was a native of the parish of Tarbat, and descended of an ancient family of proprietors in that part of Ross-shire. lie was himself of humble parentage, but having received a liberal education at the parish school, lie studied at college and the hall, and was licensed to preach, in the meantime filling the office of parish schoolmaster at Tarbat. From this post he was transferred to officiate in the pulpit at Farr. On the day of his settlement there by the Presbytery of Tongue, he told them that, if they asked him to answer the usual question, "Did he use any means, directly or indirectly, to procure the living," he should give no reply; and, strange to say, the Presbytery resolved to waive the question and proceed to induct him. Mr. Dingwall, during nearly the whole course of his life, was the Moderate minister of Farr; that is, like all of that "caste," he was not respected as a minister by his parishioners, but regarded as a mere stipendiary, and quite a secular character; and his pulpit ministrations were considered, not as the faithful discharge of ministerial duties, but as a mere serving of the time being. I have often seen him at Kildonan, on his way to the Synod. He seemed to me, then, to be a shuffling, swaggering, tough, grey-headed, old carle. He nearly lost his life on one occasion on his way home from Golspie with his stipend. He lodged at Kildonan the night before, and started next morning at break of day. It was during the very height of a winter storm, his stipendiary aliment was lodged in his portmanteau, on which he had rested as a pillow during his slumbers, and which he placed behind him on horseback when he set out on his perilous journey. After beating up the whole day against the storm, which drifted in his teeth, and floundering through fens, quagmires, and wreathes of snow, he was overtaken by night whilst wending his way through Beallach-naucreach. There he was seized with an inclination to sleep, and, accordingly, dismounting from his horse, lie twisted the bridle round his arm, laid himself down on a wreath of snow and slept. When he awoke he felt benumbed with the cold, but lie walked his horse to Ravigill, and on his arrival narrated his hairbreadth escapes, also some extraordinary dreams he had had during his repose on the Beallach. Worthy Charles Gordon, his host, proposed, first of all, that his feet should be bathed, which was accordingly done, but, unfortunately, it was with warm water instead of cold, the consequence of which was that the majority of Mr. Dingwall's toes were thereby, to the day of his death, put hors de combat. He lived most penuriously, and saved some money. His wife was like himself; they had two sons and a daughter.
But it is most refreshing to me, on looking back on the past, to be enabled on highly respectable authority here to record that Mr. Dingwall gave decided evidence at the close of his life of having died the death of the righteous. To a few select Christian friends who visited him during his last illness, and who remarked that he must now look to Christ alone for help, he replied, with much solemnity and fervour, "1 look to Him now, not for help only—that were comparatively nothing—hut that He would he pleased, as He only is able, to do alt for me." This was the language of faith and experience. But, indeed, the general tenor of his life, wben viewed apart from the prejudices excited by the weakness of his intellect and the extreme levity of his manner, would lead us to conclude that, notwithstanding his infirmities, he had " the root of the matter " in him. He was ever most assiduous in the discharge of his ministerial duties; he was conscientiously just in all his dealings; and his apparent levity, or, rather, rapidity in the expression of his thoughts, was more the result of the character of his mind than of vitiated principle or habit. Mr. Dingwall will, in all probability, on the great day of reckoning be numbered among those who then shall verify the words of our Lord—"Many that are first shall be last, and the beat shall be first." [Mr. James Dingwall, A.M., a native of the parish of Tarbat, was ordained missionary at Achuess on 30th Oct. 1772, and admitted minister of Farr on 30th March, 1780; he died 16th Sept., 1814, in his 72nd year and 42nd of his ministry. He became unable latterly to stand in his pulpit, but preached regularly, in a sitting posture, down to the last Sabbath of his life.—Ed.]

I left Clerkhill after a few days to return home, and as I proceeded on my journey, mounted on Dalcharn's horse, I felt unwell. Whenever the horse attempted to trot I felt a violent pain and dizziness in my head. 1 attempted to shake it off, but it wouldn't do, and all my attempts to do so rather increased than diminished it. In passing through the Beallach my illness had increased to such a height that three times successively I was obliged to dismount and stretch myself on the ground. The last time I did so i fell into a feverish slumber, and after some wild fantastic dreams I awoke, far more weakened than refreshed by my repose. I came to Dalcharn in the evening, where I lodged for the night. I was sent to sleep in an outhouse, cold and damp even then, in the middle of summer, which added not a little to my distemper. I left next morning on foot without food, for which I felt an utter loathing, and old Gordon convoyed me from his house to the ford on the river, which I crossed, and bent my steps to Kildonan. On reaching home I went to bed, from which I did not rise for nine weeks thereafter. My complaint was evidently a low fever acting upon my nervous system. My bed was made up at first in my father's bedroom. Whilst I was still there, Harry Rainy of Creich, at present Dr. Rainy, Professor of Forensic Medicine in the University of Glasgow, along with one of his sisters, paid us a visit at Kildonan. The sister who accompanied him is now married to Mr. Robert Brown of Glasgow. This gentleman was one of the great Glasgow merchants engaged in the West India trade, He afterwards retired, and now lives at Fairlie in Ayrshire. Harry Rainy was then a student of medicine, very talented and very argumentative. My cass was by my stepmother brought under his notice. In the art of healing the sick, the lovers of it, in every successive age, have fancied that they have attained to the acme of perfection. The advance of the science then reached was, that the sprinkling of cold water in cases of fever was a sovereign antidote; and I was accordingly, by Mr. Harry Rainy's prescription and manual operation, subjected to that newfangled treatment. The consequence was, that the complaint, after taking its own independent course, settled at last in the back of my head. Dr. Ross of Cambusmore, the only medical practitioner in the county-, was also called in. He was a better sick-nurse than a medical adviser, and, consequently, had great sympathy for his patients' sufferings and peculiar fancies. I fancied a fresh herring patients the height of my illness, and Dr. Ross most cordially allowed me to have it. After nine weeks' confinement I arose, but the effort was too much for me. I almost fainted. I yet remember the sudden sinking of my energies, the tender but skilful treatment of my excellent stepmother, and the alarm of my father, of my sisters, and of John Baigrie, who also was present. I recovered slowly.

Previous to my illness I had engaged to become private tutor in the family of Mr. Robert MacKid, Sheriff-Substitute of the county, who lived at Kirktown, parish of Uolspie, and no sooner was my health re-established than I went thither. Mr. MacKid rented the farm of Kirktown from the family of Sutherland, and on it he built a new house and a square of offices. His family consisted of three sons, Joseph, Alexander, and Robert, and three daughters, Catherine, Anne, and Sophia. None of these are now living but Sophia, who, along with her father and husband, Mr. Gillanders, now lives at Fortrose. Joseph died in the West Indies, Alexander at sea, and Robert at Fortrose. Catherine and Ann were both married; the elder to a merchant at Redcastle, who afterwards became manager of a distillery at Tarbat; there he died, and she soon followed him to an untimely grave. The youn'rer daughter, Anne, was married to Mr. Thomas Jolly, minister of Bowden, son of the old minister of Dunnet already mentioned. Her husband had been tutor to the present Duke of Roxburgh during his father's life-time, and was, in consequence, presented to the parish of Bowden. He had a large family. Mr. Mackid himself was a lawyer by profession, and made money in the way of his vocation, first at Fortrose, and afterwards at 'rain. While he was at Tain, Sheriff MacCulloch met with his death at Meikleferry, and Mr. MacKid became his successor.

Perhaps it would be as well hero to introduce the particulars of that mysterious dispensation of Providence which cut off this valuable life. On a market-day at Tain the worthy Sheriff left his own house at Dornoch in the morning, and crossed the Ferry to Tain, intending to return home in the evening. When he came to the Meikleferry, late in in the day, the shore was crowded with people returning home from the market. On his arrival they all made way for him, and he was quickly seated at the stern of the wherry; but afterwards the multitude pressed into the ferry-boat—the more earnestly, as they would thus have the privilege of crossing in the same boat with the Sheriff. Apprehensive of the issue, Mr. MacCulloch turned away at least two score of them from the boat. There still remained on board, however, too many for safety. It was a dead calm, and the wherry was pushed off from land. But when it had nearly reached the middle of the ferry, and the .deepest part of it, the boat gave a sudden jerk, the water rushed in, and, with the exception of two or three who escaped by swimming, the whole of those on board sank to the bottom and perished. About 70 persons were thus drowned. This fearful event took place during the darkness of night in the year 180i, and created a deep sensation all over the country. The Sheriff's body was among the last that was found. The particular spot where it lay "under the flood" was discovered in a dream. A fellow-Christian and an acquaintance, deeply affected by his death, dreamed of his departed friend. In the dream the Sheriff appeared, spoke of his sudden call to the other world, and told him where his earthly remains lay, adding that, whilst the fish of the sea were permitted to mangle at their pleasure the bodies of his fellow-sufferers, they were restrained from putting a tooth upon his, which would be found entire. The dream was realised in every particular. The Sheriff's wife and daughter long survived him, and they, together with the rest of the surviving relatives of the victims of the catastrophe, were ample sharers of a fund set on foot for their support, and called the "Meikleferry Fund." Captain Robert Sutherland, Dr. Bethune's son-in-law, was one of the leading members of this charitable association.

I remained for about a year in the capacity of tutor in the family of Mr. iacKid. I shall briefly sum up what I remember of this period. I was very nervous, and was continually adopting one quack remedy after another for the bettering of my health. Tea, ardent spirits, and animal food I entirely renounced. ,fly bed was furnished with the usual accompaniments which administer to repose, but all this was thrown away upon me, and the experience of a single sleepless, night convinced me that a feather-bed and English blankets were rather the means of suffocation than of comfort. I therefore got rid of them. The coverings I exchanged for a single fold of a blanket, and for the feather-bed I substituted a chaff mattress. Thus furnished I slept soundly. I adopted also the nostrum of early rising, both in summer and during the gloom of winter; and, as in Edinburgh so also at Kirk-town of Golspie, two or three o'clock in the morning found me seated quietly on the top of a hill—in the present instance, Beinn-a-Bhraggie, near Dunrobin, some 100 feet higher than Arthur's Seat.

It was a very short time previous to my residence in Mr. MacKid's family that the first "Sutherland Clearance" took place. This consisted in the ejection from their minutely-divided farms of several hundreds of the Sutherlandshire aborigines, who had from time immemorial been in possession of their mountain tenements. This sweeping desolation extended over many parishes, but it fell most heavily on the parish of Kildonan. It was the device of one William Young, a successful corn-dealer and land-improver. He rose from indigence, but was naturally a man of taste, of an ingenious turn of mind, and a shrewd calculator. After realising some hundreds of pounds by corn-dealing, ho purchased front Sir Archibald Dunbar of Thundertown a small and valueless property in Morayshire called Inverugie. It lay upon the sea-shore, and, like many properties of more ancient date, it hail been completely covered with sea-sand which had drifted upon its surface. For this small and worthless spot he paid a correspondingly small price—about £700—but, tasking his native and vigorous genius for improvement, he set himself at once to better his bargain. Making use of a plough of peculiar construction, he turned the sand down and the rich old soil up, and thus made it one of the most productive propertie.s in the county. This, with other necessary improvements, however, involved him in debt; but, just as it became a question with him how to pay it, his praise in the north as a scientific improver of land reached the cars of the Stafford family who, in connection with their immense wealth, were racked with the anxiety to improve their Highland estate. As William Young had been so successful on the estate of Inverugie they thought he could not but be equally so on the Sutherland estate. Young introduced the depopulating system into Sutherland. ["Clearances" had, however, been effected in some parts of Sutherland previous to this period, although to a smaller extent. From along the banks of the river Oykell, for instance, many families were evicted, in the year 1800. (Statement by the Rev. Dr. Aird of Creich. )—Ed.] This system, during his tenure of office as commissioner on the Sutherland property, was just at its commencement. It was first brought to bear on the parish of Kildonan. The whole north and south sides of the Strath, from Kildonan to Caen on the left bank of the river, and from Dalcharn to Barrel on the right bank, were, at one fell sweep, cleared of their inhabitants. The measures for their ejectment had been taken with such promptness, and were so suddenly and brutally carried out, as to excite a tumult among the people. Young had as his associate in the factorship a man of the name of Sellar, who acted in the subordinate capacity of legal agent and accountant on the estate, and who, by his unprincipled recklessness in conducting the process of ejectment, added fuel to the flame. It was said that the people rose almost en masse, that the constables and officials were resisted and their lives threatened, and the combination among the peasantry was represented as assuming at last so alarming an aspect that the Sheriff-Depute of the county was under the necessity of calling in the military to quell the riot. A detachment of soldiers was accordingly sent from Fort-George, at powder magazine was erected at Dornoch, and every preparation made as for the commencement of a civil war. But the chief-magistrate of the county, shrewdly suspecting the origin of these reports, ordered back the military, came himself alone among the people, and instituted a cool and impartial enquiry into their proceedings. The result was that the formidable riot, which was reported to have for its object the murder of Young and Sellar, the expulsion of the store-farmers, and the burning of Dunrobin Castle, amounted after all only to this, that a certain number of the people had congregated in different places and had given vent to their outraged feelings and sense of oppression in rash and unguarded terms. It could not be proved that a single act of violence was committed. Sellar laboured hard to involve my father and mother in the criminality of these proceedings, but he utterly failed. The peasantry, as fine as any in the world, were treated by the owners of the soil as "good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under feet of men," while the tract of country thus depopulated was divided into two large sheep-farms, one of which was given in leases to William Cluness of Cracaig, and the other to a Mr. Reid from Northumberland.

While I was resident in the parish of Golspie my acquaintances were—worthy Mr. Keith and his family, Captain and Mrs. Sutherland of Drummuie, Mr. and Mrs. Mackay at Ironhill, John Mackay and his sister Chirsty, who lived at Craigton, and Mr. Peter Sellar, already mentioned, who then lived on his farm at Culmailie. Of Mr. Keith's numerous family, three only resided with him—Elizabeth, who afterwards married Charles Sutherland, merchant in Golspie, Sophia, and Lewis. Mr. Keith had been a widower for many years. His ministry was solid and edifying. He was a pious man, but his advanced age had not unnaturally impaired his ministerial usefulness. Captain Sutherland lived at Drummuie, a farm on which he had expended a very considerable sum in improvements and buildings. He had no family, but being very wealthy, he and his wife exercised an unbounded hospitality.

The Mound, across the estuary of the Fleet, a work of immense labour and expense, was begun during the time I remained at Kirk-town. The Stafford family, during their summer residence at Dunrobin, I frequently saw passing and repassing Kirktown on their way to the Mound, or returning from it.

Leaving Kirktown, I went home to commence my probationary trials before the Presbytery of Dornoch. I delivered one exercise, after which, being importuned by my friend Mr. John Mackay of Rockfield to go in capacity of private tutor to a family, his near relatives and mine, that of Mr. Matheson of Attadale, in the parish of Lochcarron, I went thither in 1815, and got a transference from the Presbytery of Dornoch to that of Lochcarron, in order to prosecute my trials.

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