Friday, April 18, 2014

Folks at Forse - Esther Sutherland

Esther Sutherland was the second daughter born to Katherine and William Sutherland at Badbea. She was baptised on September 30, 1803.

Esther’s early life story is probably very similar to that of her siblings - living at home with her family until the death of both her parents about 1810. Esther would have been about seven years old when she was orphaned. She was taken in and brought up by either her half-brother David or her cousin John Badbea Sutherland. 

The next record located of Esther is her 1831 marriage to James Gunn in Edinburgh.

 Marriage 4th July 1831. James Gunn, Spirit Dealer residing in Mahan Court, Tolbooth Church Parish and Esther Sutherland in same place, proclaimed 3 times and no objections.

James Gunn was a Latheron local, christened on 14 July in 1807 at Achastle, a village north of Badbea, on the Forse Estate.
Map shows Achnacraig (near Badbea) on bottom to Forse near top. 

 Source: John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland 1832
Whether James and Esther went off to Edinburgh together before they married or met up there is not known. 
The record does not say which church they were married in but it was not the now famous Tolbooth Church in Edinburgh as that was not built until after 1831. The Tolbooth Parish was not much better than an overcrowded slum with a labyrinth of old Closes and houses. Conditions were horrendous with no sewage system and poor water supply for the inhabitants although apparently the many distilleries located good water. The countless coal fires and smoky atmosphere earned it the name “auld reekie.”
At the time of their marriage, James was a Spirit Dealer. The wine and spirits trade had long flourished in Edinburgh. Alcohol of various types was imported at the Edinburgh port and also distilled locally. Spirit Dealers generally dealt in wines, spirits and ales. They were sometimes also publicans.

James and Esther’s first son Donald (birth record not located) was probably born in Edinburgh about 1832 even though the 1841 Caithness census shows his birth as being Caithness. Their second son’s birth record shows William Gunn born in Edinburgh City, Midlothian on 1 December 1834 (this William is also shown in the 1841 census as being born in Caithness).

Daughter Jane was born in 26 March 1838 in Nottingham, Latheron, Caithness. Jane does not appear again in the family census records so she may have died before the 1841 census. But we can figure out that somewhere between 1834 and 1838 the family left Edinburgh and came back home to Latheron where they settled for the rest of their lives on the Forse Estate.
Detail of Forse.
Source: John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland 1832.
The fact that James Gunn was born in Achastle on the Forse Estate would likely have made a significant impact on the lives of his family. The Sutherlands of Forse were a ‘minor’ Scottish noble family and branch of the Clan Sutherland. On the Estate of Forse, while there were some evictions, they were not as severe as at the neighbouring Langwell Estate. So, going back home, James and Esther were able to get stable work and shelter in Forse at the very time when others were being cleared from nearby Langwell.

Forse Castle is apparently of Norse origin and around 800 years old dating from approximately 1150-1250. The Castle came into the possession of the Sutherlands through marriage and was abandoned in the 18th century.
 © Copyright Peter Gamble and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Shoreline near Forse Castle 
© Copyright sylvia duckworth and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The 1841 census shows the Gunn family living at Remiggy, Latheron Parish, Forse Estate. James is an Agricultural Labourer. They have sons Donald aged 9, William aged 6 and a baby boy named Francis who was born on 12 Feb 1841. On the baptism records the family abode is shown as the Hill of Forse. Remiggy and Forse are so close together the names were possibly interchangeable. These days Remiggy is a farm but it may have been a hamlet then with small plots available for rental.

Remiggy Farm near Swiney shown on Google Earth

The 1851 census shows the family still at Remiggy. There is another son David who was born in on 23 May 1843. Again the baptism record says the family abode was the Hill of Forse.

The 1861 census shows the family still at Remiggy. James is shown as a farmer of six acres. William aged 22 is still living at home with the occupation of cooper (so making and repairing barrels for the herring industry).
Ruin, Newlands of Latheron
Ruin on the slopes of Ben-a-chielt with Scaraben in the distance.
© Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The 1871 census shows James and Esther living in the same Latheron district but now shown as Newlands. They have Christina Ross living with them as a domestic servant. Christina was the granddaughter of Esther’s sister Christina McLeod. Her parents Mary and Donald Ross were living in Shetland at the time. Christina Ross had long stayed with her grandparents and moved to Rangag with them. Rangag, also on the Forse Estate was not far from where Esther lived so the sisters obviously kept in touch. Their other sister Margaret also lived at Forse so the three sisters probably saw each other from time to time. 

Loch Forse

© Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The 1881 census shows the Gunn family still in Latheron at a place called Ashbig which was close to Newlands. James is shown as a crofter. They have a grandchild Williamina Gunn aged 15 living in as a domestic servant. They are shown to be Gaelic speakers. 

Esther died on 10 September 1881 aged 77. She died at home, at the Hill of Forse, of old age. She had no doctor but James was present with her till the end. James has added ‘His mark’ rather than his signature to her death record indicating perhaps that he could not write.

This long-house at the Laidhay Museum near Forse is an example of a byre dwelling that was once a common feature of the Caithness landscape. It is likely that houses the Gunn family lived in were similar to this house.
James remarried to a Catherine Ross in 1882.

James died 19 Dec 1887 still living in Latheron at Forse. 
Wild flowers at the shore-line near Forse

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Washday at Loch Stemster - Tragedy

The new family of William and Katherine Sutherland continued to grow. 

The next birth record located after Christina's birth is John Sutherland born in Badbea in 1802.

No further records or information about this John have been located except that he is named on a panel on the Badbea monument.
A second brother named Malcom is talked about in the family narratives but no OPR records of him have been located. It is a possibility that this second Malcolm was born about 1800. My reasoning is that the next son born after the first Malcom drowned in the Moray Firth (see previous blog The Storm) would probably have been named after his dead brother, as was the custom.

Malcom (the second) probably spent his childhood days at Badbea with his family until his parents died about 1810 leaving the children orphaned.

Katherine Sutherland, Malcom’s mother, had been born in Golsary near Loch Stemster and had kin still living in the area.  In 1813 a newly-wed young couple David Sutherland and Marjory Bruce of Stemster took in Malcom Sutherland. He would have been about 13 years old and perhaps to be put to work as a herd boy. Stemster with its flat land, calm lake and ancient ring of stones would be a great new environment for an orphaned boy brought up on the brink of a cliff and wild seas below.

Loch Stemster
Near Loch Stemster is an ancient horse-shoe shaped arrangement of stones. This area is also known as Achavanich and Achkinloch
McIan depiction of Highland Washing
One summer’s day at Loch Stemster, it was time to wash the blankets. In Scotland at that time, the blanket washing process was generally undertaken by a group of women near a lake or a burn. A fire would be lit to warm some water which was then put in a wash tub with the blankets. Two women would tred or trample the blankets with bare feet while other women would prepare the next lot of washing and mind the fire. The process was usually accompanied by much singing and laughter

Washing Blankets Skye by George Washington Wilson
As with many tasks in old Caithness, washing clothes was associated with an ancient and widespread superstition about a fairy washerwoman known as 'bean nighe' (Scottish Gaelic for washer-woman) who was said to be an omen of death and a messenger from the other world. Perchance she was lurking in Loch Stemster in the summer of 1813.

Malcom was at home with Marjory this wash day - maybe he had been helping with the fire. After a hard morning’s work, Marjory and the other women who were helping her went inside their house to have a meal. 

Old postcard - A Highland Washing

Malcom hung round outside for a while. He then decided to have a play with the wooden tub. He dragged it to the edge of the water and got in. Hmm that was fun and the water looked so calm and sparkling in the sun. 

A sudden breeze got up and blew the tub and Malcom out on to the loch.

When Marjory and the other women came outside and saw the tub with Malcom in it floating away they were very alarmed and upset. They joined hands and tried to reach Malcom in the tub but he was too far out. The frightened boy panicked, leapt up and jumped out of the tub. Malcom was just too far from the edge of the loch to be reached. He was doubtless fully clothed and probably could not swim. Malcom sunk into the water of Loch Stemster and was drowned before Marjory’s eyes.

Poor Marjory had a narrow escape from drowning herself as, of the women holding hands, she was the farthest out into the loch. The washing hilarity had turned to tragedy. There is no record of the body of Malcom ever being found and if she was there the fairy washer woman never let it be known where he was.

The six orphaned Sutherland children now numbered five, plus their grown up half brother David.

The sad story of Malcom’s drowning was not forgotten. It was retold by Marjory’s nephew John Sutherland over one hundred years later when he was an old man. Alex Sutherland the grandson of Alexander Robertson Sutherland, a full brother to Malcom, published the account in his book Sutherlands of Ngaipu in 1947.