Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Storm

The roof of a building at Laidhay near Badbea showing
how timbers were used (Note I have removed a light bulb) 
Roofs were a problem. The roofs of stone-walled houses needed timber frames, called cruck couples, to hold on the heather thatch. There was no timber at Badbea.  There were hardly any trees on the Caithness moors and cutting down a tree from one of the few thickets that grew was regarded by the landowners as a terrible crime punishable by deportation. The poor tenant farmers had always used any sort of timber they could get for their roofs – timber dug up from peat bogs, barrel staves, old oars, wrecked boats that might blow up in a storm. Smaller timbers were lashed or pegged together. But with the evictions, a lot of the precious timbers had been left behind or in some cases destroyed by the tacksman to stop people coming back to their old houses.

Staves in an old wash tub

Wood was also needed for staves for barrels for herrings at Berriedale where there was some employment.

Malcom Sutherland went to procure wood.

‘I hear there’s wood for sale at Inverness,’ Malcom said one day to his brother David.
‘I will go an’ get some. No cart or horse here and we can’t pass the track by th’ Ord precipice, but Ah can get there by boat.’

‘Malcom, nay yoo’re a mere lad an’ these waters ur noy safe e’en fur an auld sailor. I will come wi’ ye,’ replied David.

‘Nay, we can only spare one man an' Ah will be awa' fur several days. David, yoo’re needed here. Th' men wi' bairns must also stay. Ye’re earnin' doon at th' Berriedale fisheries tae pay fur th' wood. T’will be an adventure. I’ll bide as close tae th' coast as th' wind allows. Ah am ne’re afraid. Ask cousin John to gab to God each mornin for me. Th' Lord will be wi' me.’ said Malcom.
(Apologies for my faulty Scottish) 

David agreed and went with Malcom to bargain with a local fisherman to hire his boat. They may have got the use of a small two-masted sail boat with an open hull called a skaffie, commonly used at that time for fishing in the Moray Firth region.  

The early skaffies were small with rounded stems and raked sterns. Skaffies were popular because the shallow design of the boats allowed them to be launched from beaches or small harbours. However, their open hull, while great for storage, provided no shelter for the crew. Worse, skaffies easily swamped and capsized in rough seas.  Because of the vulnerability of these boats they stayed only a few miles out to sea in full view of the land.
Brave young Malcom Sutherland set sail in the skaffie for Inverness. Everyone came out and watched him go. They could see Malcom in the boat from high on the Badbea braes. He was to find timber for sale in Inverness, buy it, stack it in the boat and then sail back to Badbea.
Sandy Linton his boat and bairns 
David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson
 Local fishermen warned him to sail close to the coast in full view of the land all the way there and back.  Storms were common and the Moray Firth was very dangerous. It is not known if Malcom was sailing alone or if there was a crew of others with him.
The weather was calm and Malcolm had a safe and successful trip to Inverness. He found timber for sale and bought it. He was able to pull his skaffie up to the shore and load the timber. That evening Malcom took a look at a few shops near the harbour, bought some bread then slept on the skaffie for the night.
Next morning Malcolm set off with his loaded boat, clinging closely to the coast and moving slowly toward the Berriedale harbour.

Malcolm and the skaffie of timber were in sight of home when the gale struck.

No-one knows the date of this terrible storm.
A report of a different storm says:
‘The storm of 25th December 1806, so fatal to fishermen all over the coast of the Moray was preceded by a pleasant temperate sunny day, with a gentle gale from the south. The morning of that melancholy day was ushered in by the warmth in the open air, sensibly and strikingly unnatural at that season,…then the wind veered into the west, and rose into the loudest temperance in remembrance, although had the damage been restricted to the uprooted trees, the houses unthatched, the corn-stacks drifted off into destruction, it would have comparatively attracted a short-lived remembrance.’
Source: The History of the province of Moray by Lachlan Shaw. Pg 196. Google Books

In a record of 1881, George Paterson, tells about the Eyemouth Fishing disaster:
‘…we were about four miles out when the squall struck us. It came like the clap of a hand, accompanied by sudden darkness and bringing rain….When we were about six miles out I was washed overboard and thought I was clean gone, but had the presence of mind to grip the mizzen-sheet when the boat dipped and was, with great difficulty, hauled on board by comrades. 
About ten minutes afterwards, the boat took another sea, and washed James Windram overboard. It was impossible to do anything to save him. After the sea broke the water was quite calm for a minute or two, and we saw Windram swimming bravely in the wake of the boat, but in the course of two or three minutes he became exhausted, hung his head, and sank.’
The Badbea braes looking down on the Moray Firth

The Badbea families knew these storms were perilous. Everyone was watching out for young Malcom. The gale was howling round and they had seen the storm coming. Some people may have hurried to the beach at Berriedale as was custom amongst the fisher folk in such circumstances. They more than likely scanned the wild horizon from the top of the cliffs while they were gathering their bairns and animals in.

 Yes. Malcom was in sight.

But the wind rose and the storm overtook the loaded skaffie. It was swamped by the huge waves and Malcom was drowned before their eyes.

For the Badbea families, it must have been a sad day indeed and another terrible setback in their struggle for survival.
Willie Liston Newhaven Fisherman

David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson


As soon as possible after the storm, a sorrowful William Sutherland and his sons would have clambered down the steep cliff to search for the body of Malcom. There is no record of success.

While the families at Badbea mourned for Malcom, the only noise that could be heard up on the Langwell braes of Sir John Sinclair was the bleat of the sheep.

While I have 'interpreted' the above story of Malcom, the source of the original data is: Sutherlands of Ngaipu, Alex Sutherland, 1947, pg 136 which reads:
His half brother, Malcolm (sic Malcom) Sutherland was drowned when overtaken by a raging storm coming from Inverness to Badbea with a boat-load of wood. The boat had come in sight of Badbea and some of the people saw the disaster happen.

Coastal Scene by John Wilson Ewbank 1820. The figures on the rocks are trying to salvage items from the wreck of a ship that is floating in the sea around them. The sea on this occasion is not a provider but a destroyer. Source:

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