Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeing is Believing

Although I have only a very few records of the lives of William and Christian I have stood on the very ground on which they lived their married lives. There are many commentaries, for example the BBC saying: 

"The remote settlement of Badbea perched on cliff tops above the sea, is one of the most notorious locations to have received dispossessed Highlanders, as well as one of the earliest."

 But it takes a visit in howling wind and rain squalls to even half appreciate what a perilous place it was to live and raise a family of six sons. A scramble, down a track finds flattish areas of poor soil that slope away to hazardous cliffs several hundred feet high that are too dangerous to venture close enough to look over even on all fours. Later, lives were indeed lost over the cliffs, mangled on the rocks below.

Is this just a pile of old hewn stones or the entrance to the doorway of William and Christian's house? The stones are huge and may even be relics of the earliest settlements here.

The winter winds here are high, the days short and dark, while snow often covers the ground. The summer evenings are light almost to midnight. A warm bright Scottish summer day makes Badbea feel possibly survivable – but only just if one is still cautious.

Back in the late eighteenth century, there were no formed roads between hamlets. At Badbea there were neither horses nor carts (told in later correspondence). It was utter wilderness between Ausdale and Badbea. So how did work get done? Everything had to be carried on people’s backs in woven baskets called creels. Seaweed was brought up death defying cliff tracks in creels to manure the poor soil

Seaweed on the nearby Helmsdale shore
Household water for this early settlement was drawn from the tiny Badbea burn that ran across the braes (hills) and over the cliff.

The land was tilled with a primitive sort of spade, known as a chas chrom, that had a long bent handle and was forced into the ground by pressing it down with the right foot, the handle pressed down on the left knee, then prised up and turned over. This spade was especially useful on rocky land. The men dug the land, while the women carried the seaweed for manure in woven creels (baskets) on their back, tended the crops, reaped them and carried the crop home on their backs.

The main crops grown were oats and barley. Threshing was a shared task. William would likely have grown the ‘new’ crops -  potatoes and turnips - which had been introduced to the Highlands mid century. Kale was long a staple in these parts. The two photos shown would have been taken maybe 120 years later than when William and Christian were tilling the land at Badbea but the principle of the use of the chas chrom was the same.

Source: Electric Scotland
Peat – the main source of fuel was readily available but very hard work to get cut, dried and carried home for use in the household. Bringing in the peats involved every member of the family. Peat deserves, and will get, a blog of its own. 

Mary at the Western Isles. 
Source: Am Baile Facebook
The men were often away fishing or away doing the obligatory work for the landlord (to pay the rent) so the wife had to turn her hand to whatever needed doing on the land and in the house.  She was also responsible for spinning wool to be made into garments for her family, and bore and raised the children. Bearing at least six sons in this isolated environment was both a great accomplishment and very risky matter for Christian. With very limited midwife support many women died in childbirth at this time.
Women often used their spinning wheel outside where the light was better. 
Source: Am Baile Facebook
"The native game found at Ausdale, Badbea, Struie and the moors bounding these places included deer (both red and roe deer), grouse, ptarmigan, black game (woodcock, snipe and plover), and hares. Badbea was noted for being the habitat of numerous foxes, wildcats, and Adder snakes (still there). Along the Badbea cliffs and amongst the rocks that were the resort of foxes and wild cats was a place called 'Clach-an-garabh' from where the foxes came at night to prey on the Badbea fowls."

"Also there were, along the cliffs at Badbea, great numbers of sea fowl - a source of food when all else failed. These fleshy, fishy sea birds were known as 'borries', the flesh of which, even after being buried for a time in the earth, as was recommended treatment to reduce the fishy flavour, still leaned to the strong side in the opinion of persons who would not have been considered over fastidious. 'Bories' were sometimes dried." 

Ferguson fowling on St Kilda. 
Source: http//

"At some times of the year, gull's eggs were gathered at great risk to life and limb in scaling the cliffs searching out nests. Nests with three or occasionally four eggs were not touched, for the eggs would be hatching - nests with just one egg, or if desperate with two eggs, were those robbed, for in these nests the eggs were 'new laid." Source: Alexander Gunn
This awesome picture of the Badbea cliffs by Sylvia Duckworth shows what a hazardous place it was to live. The settlements were close to the cliffs.

Monday, September 23, 2013

William Sutherland, Badbea

William Sutherland, my G G G G Grandfather is the first tenant of Badbea with marriage and birth records in the Latheron Old Parish Registers (OPR). These can be located at the ScotlandsPeople website. 

The Roy Map of 1747-55 shows buildings and cultivated land at Badbae (Note: there are a number of variations in the recorded spelling of Badbea).

William Sutherland was born in Ausdale about 1745. His father was David Sutherland. His mother’s name is unknown. No birth record has been located.

9th June, 1770. William Sutherland in Ausdale and Christian Finlayson in Langwell were matrimonially contracted in order to marriage. Latheron OPR.

William was then about 25 years of age, living at Ausdale probably with his father David Sutherland. With Ausdale already occupied by about eight families, there would have been little chance of William getting a house or lease there so he may have made an approach to the Langwell proprietor of the day for a lease, or other arrangement, allowing him to occupy Badbea.

About 1770 William and Christian moved to Badbea. Here they built a stone house or occupied an older dwelling, and started married life. They must have been either desperate or determined as Badbea was a very difficult and desolute place to live.

The family of this marriage was the following:

David was the first born. He has not been located in the OPR but his tombstone has details. David died in 1854. 

Kenneth, was born about 1772 - 1774. His name has not been located in the OPR but he is shown on the Badbea monument.

Found in the Latheron Parish OPR are: 

June 1775 – William Sutherland, Badbeath, a son Alexander

18 August 1777 William Sutherland, Bad Bhae, a son Robert.

8 August 1787 William Sutherland, Badbae, a son Malcom.

January 1790 William Sutherland Badbae , Ausdale, a son James.

David is the only son of the marriage of William and Christian who seems to have survived into adulthood. 
No daughters of this marriage have been located.

Dues payable for entering baptisms were 6 ½ pence for each entry, a similar amount for a marriage, so if the family was poor, baptisms of children sometimes did not happen. The Latheron Parish baptism records at this time do not give the name of the mother of a child baptised.

Christian Finlayson died sometime between the years of the recorded birth of her last born child, James, in 1790, and William’s re-marriage in the year 1797. Christian would have been most likely buried in the old burial ground of Berriedale but no grave site for her can be identified amongst the many unmarked stones in this ground.

The old Berriedale burial ground.


Note: The names recorded on the  above panel are not entirely accurate


Map showing Berriedale, Langwell and Badbea.
Ed: Francis Groome (1892-6)

Living within close proximity to each other, the 18th and 19th century residents of Badbea and Berriedale were all well known to each other and often worked together in the thriving fishing industry. 

Sheltered from the North Sea, the Berriedale village is on the northern east coast of Caithness between Helmsdale and Lybster. The village, now only one street, is a great deal smaller now than it was when the fishing industry was thriving. At Berriedale two rivers known as the Berriedale and Langwell Waters meet at the end of a wooded valley. Wild deer are sometimes still seen grazing in this area. Old fishing houses, now restored, line the shore. The beach is stony but sheltered by an outcrop of rock with the ruined medieval castle nearby. Not far from Berriedale are two towers that were built to assist ships at sea known as the Duke’s Candlesticks – after the Duke of Portland.

The modern estate of Langwell was formerly known as Berriedale, and was possessed by two families of Sutherlands. Those of the first family, descended from John Begg, son of Nicolas, Earl of Sutherland, were styled "Sutherlands of Berriedale" and the other family, whose immediate progenitors were the Sutherlands of Forse, descended from Kenneth, a younger brother of John Begg, were known as the "Sutherlands of Langwell".   

The attractive stony beach where the peaty Waters of Langwell and Berriedale flow into the crystal clear sea water. Glen Breaden ND1222

 Many graveyards in Northern Scotland overlook the sea or a loch. 
This one at Berriedale cuts a square out of the free flowering gorse known as whins here.
  Source:: Stuart Logan ND1222

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ancient Ausdale

Ausdale aka Ousdale
To set the scene for some Badbea history there are a few nearby locations that it is helpful to know something about. The first of these, several small hamlets and a farm, called Ausdale in early citations, but changed to Ousdale in later times. Ausdale, in the Latheron Parish, Caithness, Scotland, has been a place of habitation for thousands of years.
There is still a well-preserved Iron Age broch from the 2nd – 3rd centuries there. 

Ousdale broch showing the main entrance.
Photo: Duncan Kennedy
Ausdale appears (centre top) on the Roy Military Survey 
of Scotland, 1747-55.
Ausdale was noted in the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland 1892-6.

 Ed Francis Groome (1892-6)
Note the close proximity of Ousdale to Badbea. 
OS six inch to mile maps 1840s to 1880s 
This map includes the Grey Hen’s Well showing the proximity
 to Badbea. Ousdale is just off the bottom left of the map. 
Ousdale farm is still a well farmed property today. The old stone houses are long gone. Google earth shows the Ousdale farm near the A9 between Helmsdale and Berriedale. The farm has been productive for at least several hundred years but those who have lived off it have changed significantly.

Ousdale farm in 2009 from the A9
 Zooming in on Google Earth it is possible to see the old 
stone remains of enclosures and dwellings probably
 late eighteenth century if not earlier. 
NB: The straight lines are modern transmission lines. 
The birth records for the Latheron Parish show births to Sutherland families and others at Ausdale from 1760 although it was well settled before the keeping of the parish records.

Ausdale was part of the Langwell Estate which had belonged to the Caithness family of Sutherlands since the seventeenth century. At that time Ausdale had a meal mill, an inn, a busy whisky distillery and a productive farm with ample living for the eight families, which included some Sutherlands and McLeods. Some members of these families became leaders in the Badbea settlement after they were cleared from Ausdale. Stories of their struggle for survival will follow.

The Bishop takes breakfast at Ausdale
Bishop Pococke accompanied by the Rev. George Innes visited Caithness during 1761 and wrote a general view of life and conditions then prevailing at Ausdale:
‘…when we came to the top of the Ord, how much were we surprised to see it all flat country before us, there being not one mountain or hill in all Caithness…We came to Ausdale an Inn, and the first house you came to in Caithness. ‘Good Morning Landlady’, said Mr Innes, ‘We have a good mind to take breakfast here if you can give us tea?’
She answered, very briskly, ‘Pray Sir, what kind of tea do you desire?’ Looking about to me he winked, and said ‘That’s so far good and promises well.’ Turning again to the Landlady, ‘Well good woman, what kind of tea can you give us?’ ‘Why Sir,’ she replied, ‘I can give you green tea, Bohea tea or coffee.’ ’Upon my word that is good sense truly,’ said Mr Innes, ‘Come, let us alight and get a good breakfast even in the wilds of Caithness.’
We then called for a sight of both kinds of tea and the green looked so well we made a choice of it, and very good it proved. We could not have had better in all the city of Edinburgh. We asked if we could have good milk…
‘You shall have plenty of that, Gentlemen,’ said the Landlady. Accordingly she had the servant fetch us a large cog of milk, and set it upon the table with a large spoon, and then said, ‘Here is the milk, Gentlemen, and skim off ye cream for yourselves.’
And indeed, it was the very best of milk, fresh and cool, clean and in good order; and never was there better fresh and powdered butter than she regaled us with, which spread upon good oatcakes made a noble repast. Till the tea kettle got ready I stepped out the door to look about me and see what I could spy, when, behold, I saw two women moving towards the house in a most leisurely way, step by step, each having a large vessel or broad cog of milk between her hands taken instantly from the cows. This induced me to return immediately to the house and ask if they had any farm here?
‘Yes Sir,’ said the Landlady, ‘We have a farm for which we pay six hundred merks Scots a year.’ (About £35 sterling). This makes a very large farm in Caithness of wide extended bounds….’
Source: Roydhouse, A. 1977. ‘Background to Badbea’, John O’ Groat Journal 

The Sutherland Lairds of Langwell as proprietors of Ausdale engaged a tacksman or leaseholder to manage the property and secure the rent from the crofters for the owners. Ausdale was well managed. But Robert Sutherland fifth Laird of Langwell, eccentric and a heavy drinker, was divorced by his wife and  forced to sell the Langwell estate in 1775 to a William Gray recently from Jamaica.  In 1788 Lady Janet Sinclair the wife of Sir John Sinclair the agriculturalist and statistician acquired the Langwell estate. Sir John Sinclair was an enterprising man who was very interested in agricultural improvements. He was also considered to be well meaning and humane in his consideration of his numerous tenants. But it was not long after the Sinclairs acquired Langwell that the news of improvements turned to ‘evictions’. The nearby tiny coastal settlement of Badbea, perched on treacherous cliff tops high above the sea, was soon to become one of the most notorious locations to receive dispossessed and evicted Highlanders from nearby villages including Ousdale. Farming improvements were not perceived compatible with the traditional small scale crofters. The way of life at Ousdale, described by Bishop Pococke was coming to a miserable end. The days of relative plenitude were fast vanishing, at least from the hearths of nearby tenantry.

The Highland Family, by Sir David Wilkie, 1824

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's Down the Well Comes Up in the Bucket - Old Adage

The stories of the Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century, when Scottish crofters were driven off the land they had called home for centuries, are full of violence, trauma, and devastation. The people were being moved to make way for large sheep farms – or ‘walks.' Highlanders were facing the disintegration of old clan structures. Many people emigrated, while those who stayed behind were forcibly moved to planned settlements. These included the village of Badbea on the edge of a precipitous cliff on the coast of Caithness overlooking the Moray Firth in the tumultuous North Sea.

There are many websites that give accounts of the Highland Clearances.

Despite the evictions and hardships, the written records of Badbea show a village where the people had extraordinary resilience and many positive characteristics including: 
  • Working together to support each other
  • The ability to survive in the most adverse of physical environments. Living on the edge.
  • Hospitable - even to their exploitative factors and lairds
  • Non-violence in the face of violence and cruelty
  • Large, loving, hard-working families
  • Shared faith – Free Presbyterian

The history of Badbea is traceable through a number of records including:
  1. ScotlandsPeople website. Records of births, marriages, deaths, censuses, wills & valuation rolls, of Badbea residents from about 1770 to 1911
  2. Letters of the devout John Badbea Sutherland – born 1785 in Ausdale, died 1864 in Badbea
  3. Correspondence by Alexander Gunn – born 1820 in Badbea died 1897 in Golspie - in the John O Groat Journal and the Northern Ensign newspapers.
  4. Published Obituaries
  5. Names on the Badbea monument
  6. Historical accounts by Allan Sutherland Roydhouse, 1916-2000, who resided in New Zealand and Scotland. Published in the John O Groat Journal 1977
  7. Publications eg Sutherlands of Ngaipu by Alex Sutherland, 1947
    The panel for John Badbea Sutherland and his brother Donald died at Waterloo 1815

 Using the metaphor of the Grey Hen’s Well as an image of life and value, I plan to “pull up” or draw from that well (now stagnant) to bring to the surface a fresh and clear understanding of what the people of Badbea and closely connected settlements were really like.
We will see what’s down that well that comes up in the bucket.

The bucket