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

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