Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Alexander Sutherland and Elizabeth Mackay to New Zealand Part A

Alexander Robertson Sutherland (aka Alexander Robert, Alex and Sandy) was born in the cliff-top hamlet of Badbea and presented to be baptised on 24 November 1807 by his father William Sutherland. 

The memorial at Badbea built on the site of the
house of John Badbea where Alexander 
grew up
Poor little Alexander was orphaned when still a toddler, his parents Katherine and Willliam Sutherland both dying about 1810. As evictions had started in nearby Ausdale by then a number of new families had come to live at Badbea. Widow Kathrin Sutherland, sister to William, had brought her family of two sons and four daughters to Badbea. This family took in Alexander and one of his sisters.  John Sutherland, aka John Badbea, Kathrin’s eldest son, who eventually became a leader and supporter of the Badbea residents, seems to have acted as a father figure in helping to raise his young cousin Alexander. David Sutherland, the eldest half-brother to Alexander, also seems to have been supportive of the young orphans.  
Little is known of the early years of Alexander but even though there was no schooling available in Badbea at that time, when he grew up he spoke and read both Gaelic and English, was a fluent writer in English and had good business skills.

NLS John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland 1832 probably 
drawn when Alexander was working at Ammat.

Despite decades of severe evictions from crofting land, John Badbea, through some connections, was able to help Alexander as a young working man onto a small leasehold farm in Sutherland. 

NLS Ordnance Survey Six-inch 1st Edition 
Sutherland Sheet LXXXVII
The only clue we have about the location of this property is from his marriage record. Alexander married Elspeth Mackay (aka Elizabeth or Eppy) in East Brora, Clyne Parish, Sutherland, in 1838 and was shown to be in Ammat. Elspeth's birth record has not been located but it is thought she was born in Clyne Parish about 1810. Her parents were Hector (or John) Mackay and Jean McLean.

Highland Shepherd by Rosa Bonheur 1859
Ammat (aka Amat, Amait) is an isolated river flat about 10km NW of Brora near the junction of the Black Water with Strath Skinsdale, in the Clyne Parish. Alexander would almost certainly have been farming sheep but given that it could be freezing and snowy in winter it would have been difficult to farm sheep successfully in Ammat. Some maps show a large stone dyke enclosure at Ammat and several nearby sheep pens. Eventually the lease was not renewed and the property was turned into a deer reserve.

Pollie and Amat crofts
© Copyright Richard Webb and licensed
 for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Elizabeth Mackay’s family had been through hard times with the deaths of two of their sons in the Peninsular wars. The family had also been evicted from Ascoille about 1815 to 1820. One son, Alexander Mackay (born 1802) was working in the Brora Quarry with the quarry manager Richard Barton. There were frustrations with some of the quarry operations, resulting in Barton and Alexander Mackay getting interested in the emigration information that was being promoted in the district and articles being published in the John O Groat Journal – a Caithness newspaper.

The year 1837 had a poor harvest followed by a severe winter. The Sutherland estates had been compelled to provide meal for the many starving people later taking cattle as payment. There had also been a typhus epidemic and scarlet fever was rife. Things were grim with little hope of improvements.

With the Ammat lease gone and evictions in many parts of the Highlands still happening, Alexander also got interested in the New Zealand Company which was advertising land and great prospects in New Zealand (not even a colony yet). Alexander Sutherland must have applied and been selected as a suitable new immigrant. His brother-in-law Alexander Mackay and friend Richard Barton also decided to emigrate to New Zealand. Elizabeth Mackay agreed to go to the ends of the earth on a hazardous journey to an unknown land, with her husband Alexander, this despite having given birth to their first daughter Chirsty in early 1839. 

It is known her family had huge misgivings about Elizabeth leaving Scotland. Somehow Alexander must have got together the money needed for the venture - £100 to buy a promised 100 acre section in New Zealand and £30 for the voyage. This was a huge amount of money for someone in Alexander’s circumstances. Maybe he had made some profit with the sheep at Ammat or maybe his Uncle John Badbea had helped Alexander get the money together. It is not known.

Preparations were made for a passage on one of the first emigrant ships to New Zealand, the Oriental, leaving London on 15 September 1839.
A proof of marriage certificate for Alexander nd Elizabeth was required by the New Zealand company from their minister: It reads: This is to certify that Alexander and Eppy Mackay both residing in this parish have been regularly married by me on the twenty second day of June eighteen hundred and thirty-eight - given by me this twenty fourth day of August eighteen hundred and thirty nine years at the Manse of Clyne - George Mackay Minister

Fiona Kidman, in part one of her beautiful poem ‘Speaking with my grandmothers’ tells a true story of the Brora parting:
Where they came from

They left Badbea, the Sutherlands,
the Bartons and the Sinclairs, a family group
making their way to Brora, a small town
on the seacoast of Sutherlandshire,
to connect with the passenger boat
trading from the far north of Scotland
to the south.

I picture them waiting with the ones
left behind one early morning
near the mouth of the Brora River
all ready at last, the final goodbyes,
the menfolk take their places aboard.

But wait, at that moment as the keening
arises, the wife of Alexander Sutherland
holding her youngest child in her arms
breaks down and refuses to board
to go one step further. We see Alexander
leave the boat, walk to where his wife stands
surrounded by her people: he seizes
the child from her arms as he turns
back to the boat.

She follows, takes her place. My great
great grandmother, going going
gone to New Zealand;
it is 1839.
Did she ever flinch again?

Source, with permission: Fiona Kidman, Speaking with my grandmothers, in Where Your Left Hand Rests (Godwit, Random House, New Zealand) 2010

The next glimpse of Elizabeth and Alexander we have is on the Oriental just prior to sailing on 15 September, 1839. The John O Groat Journal published a fascinating report on the ‘Departure of the New Zealand Colony.’ The vessels the Oriental, the Aurora and the Adelaide (plus the Duke of Roxburgh and the Bengal Merchant who were to take in passengers later) were assembled at Gravesend ready for departure. The Directors of the New Zealand Company were in a bit of a quandary as the sanction of the British Government had been withheld from the undertaking and as New Zealand was not yet a Colony there was no basis on which ‘social order’ could be assured. They solved this matter by summonsing the passengers and the labouring emigrants into the waist, with their wives and children, and addressing them with a proposed Code of Laws upholding the laws of England and establishing what punishment would be received by any law breakers. “When the code was placed upon the capstan for signature, there was not one who hesitated to put his name to it”. As each ship received the Directors of the New Zealand Colony a salute was fired from half a dozen large guns on deck.

Here is a very interesting description of those on the Oriental:
The emigrants on board the Oriental are of a very superior class. They are chiefly young men and women of from twenty to thirty years of age – the women looking healthy and buxom, the men intelligent and resolute. Here too are a number of Highlanders from the estates of the Duke of Sutherland: they are a fine hardy set of fellows, and capable, no doubt of fighting their way in any region of the world in which they may be placed. Great care appears to have been taken to secure their comfort. They are clad in one uniform dress  - a blue jacket and cap, and tartan trousers – everything upon their backs appears to be perfectly new.….. Some touching scenes occurred in the separation of friends who had lingered to the last moment; but generally speaking, the whole body of adventurers, rich and poor, male and female, appeared to be in the highest spirits.

Richard Barton was now the agent for the New Zealand Company and was in charge of the Highlanders on the Oriental. Alexander Mackay, Elizabeth’s brother was also on board.

A number of domestic animals had been taken on board the Oriental, including a cow in milk which was loaned to Elizabeth. She milked it the whole voyage out and was eventually given the cow to keep. Later, in New Zealand, Elizabeth made butter regularly and even sold fresh butter to other settlers establishing for herself a much needed income. On the voyage the Oriental anchored at Cape Verde Islands and took on board oranges, lemons and bananas. The journey then went via the Cape of Good Hope eventually sighting New Zealand more than four months after departure. The voyage had been a good one with the first glimpse of New Zealand at Mount Egmont on the 21 January 1840.

The last minute happenings on board before the family disembarked and the beginnings of the life in this new country will be told in Part B

Sources: Sutherlands of Ngaipu by Alex Sutherland, Published A H & A W Reed, Wellington, 1947
Do Your Roots Lie Here? by Comraich aka Alan Roydhouse  – a series of articles about Badbea published in the John O Groat Journal in 1977

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Idiotic From Birth Part B

How I felt about researching this story

There is something ‘moving’ about the story of the family of James and Margaret Dunbar of Mains of Forse. I have to admit that each piece of information I located left me wanting to know more. What an extraordinary turn of events for one family to have four children having a disability since birth. There is no clue what the disabilities were.

From the Badbea monument
I really wanted to talk to Margaret Sutherland - my great great aunt who was just a name on the Badbea monument when I started this story. She had no mother to turn to for help but I am glad she had her sister Esther also living in Forse (see previous blog). There were other Dunbars living at Forse so they may have been related to James and may have been supportive..

Not Abandoned
While the Dunbar story seemed tragic to me at first, as I found more records I was struck with, and very relieved by, the fact that the Dunbar’s were not abandoned as they got older, but were looked after by the Parish Council, and in fact lived into old age – Mary to 85. Someone must have been doing something right. The Dunbar siblings had some years after their father died living in a household of their own, plus had support from their brother John who was married and still living in Mains of Forse. I was especially moved to see his signature on the death records of his father and sister Catherine.
Death James Dunbar 1891
Good parents
Here and there I got the feeling the parents James and Margaret Dunbar were protective of their children. In one census they hold back from identifying their daughters’ disabilities yet declared the sons. In another they declared Catherine, George & James 'Idiotic' but not Mary. In another, after Margaret's death, father James showed each of his daughters as having a regular Occupation as a General Servant, and son James as an Ag Lab (Agricultural Labourer) despite them being ‘Imbecile’. One record says they could speak both Gaelic and English – which. if correct, they must have learned from their parents. James was with son George when he died and signed his death certificate.
G & E meaning Gaelic and English. From the 1891 census
Census of 1851 with the whole family present. 
Words and Labels
 I found problematic the range of words used to describe Catherine, George, James and Mary. They were called Idiots, Idiotic from Birth, Imbecile, Lunatic, Imbecile from Childhood, Pauper and Imbecile, Pauper and Lunatic. These days they would be described as having a congenital disorder (not necessarily genetic) but to replace the language used at the time with terms considered polite today would be to deny the historical specificity of the time and place the censuses were taken.

The Genuki website suggests the following meanings for the words used on census returns but they don’t really fit in this case. The meanings for these words are clearly all fluid.
  • Lunatic - a mentally ill person with periods of lucidity.
  • Imbecile - persons who have fallen in later life into a state of chronic dementia.
  • Idiot - persons who suffer from congenital mental deficiency.
Sometimes the census records give more than the census asked, for example the 1871 census asks whether Imbecile or Idiot but the census record says ‘Idiotic from Birth’. I wonder if this indicates that folks, including the census takers, didn’t really understand the meanings of the options they were asked to choose or the purpose of the census category for disability? The census form didn’t explain.

125 years of the Dunbar family of Forse
This short record of the life of one family spans over 125 years from 1804 when Margaret was born, her marriage to James Dunbar in 1831, to 1929 when their youngest daughter Mary died. Catherine, George, James and Mary remained single. Son John was not shown as having any children. It is possible son William did and I have not located them. The family clearly stuck together and supported each other in various ways despite what must have been very difficult times. Well done Dunbars of Mains of Forse.

Source: Geikie's Etchings www.electricscotland.com

The Idiot Boy - William Wordworth
I am imagining love and support in the Dunbar family for the four sons and daughters ’Idiotic from Birth’ so to close I am including one verse from William Wordsworth’s poem The Idiot Boy published in 1798 which tells the story of Betty Foy and the ‘Idiot’ son she loses, then finds, and is overjoyed.

                                             She kisses o'er and o'er again
                                             Him whom she loves, her Idiot Boy;
                                             She's happy here, is happy there,
                                             She is uneasy every where;
                                             Her limbs are all alive with joy.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Idiotic From Birth Part A

More stories of the lives of Badbea folks and families

Margaret Sutherland
About 1804 a third daughter was born to William and Katherine Sutherland of Badbea. They named her Margaret. Although her birth record has not been located, I think it is probable that Margaret was born at Badbea given that her siblings on either side of her, both of whom have birth records, are shown as being born at Badbea. Margaret is named on the Badbea monument.

Badbea Monument
Margaret would have experienced the hardships and pressures of life at Badbea but would also have known the warmth and comfort of sitting round the hearth in her parents’ stone house. She would have snuggled onto her heather bed on the dirt floor along with the other little ones. Margaret would have only been about six years old when her parents both died from unknown causes. She was probably brought up by her cousin John Badbea Sutherland with help from Margaret's older half-sister Marion (Mary) Sinclair

Heather at Badbea

Margaret gets married

The first record of Margaret I have located is her marriage on 24 May 1831 to James Dunbar. James and Margaret were both residing at Forse. James was an Achastle, Forse, local so probably knew James Gunn the man who married Margaret’s sister Esther just a few weeks later.

A shoemaker's bench at Laidhay, Caithness

James was a shoemaker with one record showing him as a ‘Master Shoemaker’.

Family Life and problems
Within a month of the wedding, on the 28th June 1831 in Forse, Margaret gave birth to her first-born daughter, naming her Catherine after her mother, as was the custom.

From here on Margaret’s and James’ lives undoubtedly became complicated. The rest of this story is not easy to write about especially from a 21st century perspective. The language used in census records to label four of the children seems archaic and judgemental but was probably simply seen as plain language at that time. However it is not until the 1861 census, when she was 30 that we ‘find out’ about Catherine and her siblings.

The children of James and Catherine were as follows, all born in Forse, Latheron Parish, Caithness, Scotland:
  • Catherine Dunbar 28 June 1831
  • George Dunbar 4 November 1832
  • James Dunbar 7 July 1836
  • William Dunbar 29 December 1840
  • Mary Sinclair Dunbar 11 November 1842
  • John Dunbar 1850
Scotland Census 1841
The 1841 census shows the family living at Forse with James aged 30 as a shoemaker, Margaret aged 30 and the children, Catherine aged 8, George aged 7, James aged 4, William aged 4 months. There is a servant girl Heneritta Forbes. There is no clue about the difficulties the family are experiencing.

Scotland Census 1851
Shoemaker's Tools Laidhay Museum, Caithness

The 1851 census shows the family living at Forse with James aged 45 as a Shoemaker, Margaret, Wife, aged 46 and the children, Catherine aged 20, House Servant, George aged 18, James aged 14, William aged 10, scholar (so at school),  Mary aged 8 and baby John aged 1. James elderly parents George Dunbar aged 85 Pauper, Farmer, and Isabella Dunbar aged 78 Pauper, Farmer’s Wife, are living with the family. The family would probably have lived in a Caithness Longhouse that was typical at that time so the household including the elderly grandparents was very full.

There is a new ‘disability’ section in the 1851 census asking whether ‘Blind or Deaf and Dumb’. Here we get the first indication that things are not all well in the family. Sons George and James are both shown as ‘Idiots’. In this census neither Catherine nor Mary are recorded as having a disability even though later census records show otherwise.

Scotland Census 1861
In the 1861 census things are worse. The 1861 census shows the family still living at Forse with James aged 55 as a Shoemaker, Margaret aged 56 Shoemaker’s Wife with the sons and daughters, Catherine aged 31, George aged 29, James aged 25, William aged 20 Herring Fisherman, Mary aged 18 General Servant and John aged 12, scholar. In this census Catherine, George and James are all recorded as ‘Idiotic’ but strangely Mary’s disability is not revealed in this census.

Scotland Census 1871
In the 1871 census things are really sad. The 1871 census shows the family still living at Forse with James aged 65, Shoemaker, Margaret aged 66 Wife, and the family, Catherine aged 40, James aged 35, William aged 30 Shoemaker, Mary aged 29, and John aged 22 Fisherman. In this census George is gone. Catherine, James and Mary all have a disability recorded as ‘Idiotic from birth’.

George Dies 1861
George died in 1861 from Phthisis (or Tuberculosis). He was 28 years old and single. The doctor George Burn had come.  James his father was present and signed his son’s death certificate.
George Dunbar's Death record
Margaret Dies 1873
21 August 1873 Margaret died from supposed Phthisis. She was 69. Margaret had not had any regular doctor. James was present with her when she died and signed her death certificate.
Margaret's Death record
Scotland Census 1881
The 1881 census shows James as a widower, aged 76 living in Mains of Forse, still supporting his family.  He is now shown as a crofter and has ticked the ‘Speaks Gaelic’ box. Catherine, still living at home, aged 52 is shown as a General Servant, James 45 is an Agricultural Labourer, Mary, 39 is a General Servant. Catherine, James and Mary have a disability shown as ‘Imbecile’.

Son John has married Isabella. They are living next door and John is a Fisherman.
William is not located in the 1881 census.

James dies 1891
On 10 March 1891 (just before the next census) old father James died. The cause of death was Disability from Old Age. He was 85. Son John was with his father when he died and signed his death certificate.

Scotland Census 1891
The 1891 census shows interestingly that Catherine age 47, James 50 and Mary 60 are living in their own household together at Mains of Forse. The ages given are wrong – they should be Catherine 60, James 55 and Mary 49. They are all shown as ‘Lunatic’ but interestingly shown as speaking both Gaelic and English. Their house has only one window so it is probably a small older style house. Brother John shown as a Farmer and Isabella his wife are living nearby.

Scotland Census 1901
The 1901 census shows the three Dunbar siblings getting old now but living together in the Torravaich Hospital Clyth. Catherine is now shown as 75 (should be 70), James as 72 (should be 65) and Mary as 67 (should be 59).  They are the only ‘Inmates’ but an Isabella Budge, who puts her occupation as ‘Caretaker in the Hospital’, is there with her two children. Catherine, James and Mary are each shown as ‘Imbecile from Childhood’.

Catherine dies 1901
In 1901 Catherine Dunbar died in the Torravaich Hospital in Clyth. Her age is given correctly as 70. She was said to be a ‘Pauper and Imbecile’. The cause of death is some sort of Rheumatism (hard to read) which she had for 9 months according to the doctor. Her brother John came and signed her death certificate.

Scotland Census 1911
The 1911 census shows James, aged 75, and Mary, aged 63 (should be 69) living as Boarders in the ‘Newlands, Old School’, Clyth, Latheron Parish. There is a Maggie Sutherland recorded as Caretaker and working for the Parish Council looking after James and Mary who are both described as ‘Lunatic’.

James dies 1916
In 1916, James Dunbar died aged 80. He was described as a Pauper and Lunatic. He was still living in Newlands of Clyth. The cause of death was Cardiac Failure and Syncope. A doctor had been called. James was certified by the Inspector of the Poor.

Scotland Census 1921 Unavailable yet

Mary dies 1929
In 1929, over a decade after James. Mary died at the age of 85. She was said to be at Achavar, Clyth. The cause of death was Bronchitis and Heart Failure. A doctor certified Mary’s death but strangely ‘A Neighbour’ who lived in the Village of Lybster was the informant..


Is this the place?
I have carefully looked at the relevant census records and neighbouring place-names and think that the Torrovaich Hospital, and the Newlands Old School, and Achavar are possibly all the same place with name changes over time and different people filling out records. There are two buildings visible on Google Earth next door to each other that are in the location shown on the map as 'School House'. It seems to me that one of them maybe the house that the elderly Dunbars lived in for many years and also died in. What do you think?
Possible Old Torrovaich hospital.
Maps.nls.uk for Caithness, Sheet XXXIV, 
Ordnance Survey six-inch 1st Edition 1877
shows this as the Free Church School for Boys and Girls.

Further information on brothers John and William was not located.

Continued in 'Idiotic From Birth Part B'