Achnacraig to Badbea
Joseph Grant was a crofter of three acres and a fisherman, born in Achnacraig near Ousdale about 1815. His father Robert was said to be a tenant farmer and a tailor. His mother was named Margaret. The family were living in Achnacraig (aka Auchencraig) at the time of the 1841 Scotland census. They had moved to Badbea by the next census in 1851. It is almost certain that the Grants suffered eviction at the whim of the Laird, Donald Horne, along with the other Achnacraig families that he kicked out.
Alexander Gunn states:
D. Horne was to turn out two thriving villages on his estate, containing twelve families each, and who paid a rental of from £7 to £10, and possessed on an average ten head of cattle. One of these villages, Auchencraig, had a creek for fishing connected with it, where I have seen 14 boats engaged for seven weeks in the season at the herring fishing and landed and cured thousands of barrels of herring, and who carried on a considerable trade with the Moray Firth for the various commodities used in the herring trade. There were hundreds of pounds spent from time to time on the port for curing and harbour accommodation. Alas, where is it today?
Source: Alex Gunn, Northern Ensign, 28 June 1892, Land Reforms in Caithness
Following eviction to Badbea life was extremely difficult for everyone, with insufficient land to bring in a living and nearly impossible housing and seasonal weather conditions.
According to Alex Gunn:
There was some trifling work to be got occasionally on the estate, but the rate of wages was very low. One shilling per day was the rate for the best worker till within the last 25 years or so. It was no uncommon thing for a person to have to travel two or three miles to his work and only be paid 1s. There was no such thing as weekly or fortnightly pays - not even monthly - not even payment once in six months. Twelve months was the shortest time, and frequently two years elapsed before a penny could be got. If any young man had the courage to go and work beyond the bounds of the estate, where he would be better remunerated and regularly paid, his parents would suffer for it by being turned out of their house and lot at the next term. There was a system of tyranny and oppression practiced long ago by lairds that could scarcely be believed in our times.
Source: Alex Gunn, Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Article II No Date
|Badbea Census 1851|
While providing for his now widowed mother and unmarried sister, Joseph Grant did the only thing he could do to bring in extra money to live on. He went fishing. Often the fish in the Moray Firth were plentiful but the hazards of the unpredictable and often severe weather, changeable currents, and lack of safety equipment frequently resulted in drowning for local fishermen.
Joseph married Hannah
|Badbea Census 1861|
In 1851 Joseph Grant married Hannah Bannerman from Loth, a village on the other side of the Ord, the precarious pass between Sutherland and Caithness. Soon there were new mouths to be fed. The 1861 census shows Robina 8, John 6, William 4, Joseph 4, and Donald 11 months. By 1871 there was also daughter Margaret. Six children to be somehow fed clothed and the older children got to school - a long walk each day to Berriedale School.
|Fisher Laddies, Newhaven David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson.|
Living on the Edge
|Cliffs of The Ord the treacherous pass between Navidale and Ousdale|
The dangers of living near the cliffs at Badbea are well documented. It is said that Angus Sutherland the weaver whose house was near the edge of the cliff tethered his children to keep them from falling off the edge or being blown away.
Alex Gunn gives a different version:
The young folks, in my time, could run along the face of these dangerous rocks like rabbits. The traffic to and fro from the shore, both summer and winter, by those engaged at the fishing was very considerable, and those giddy tracks, which did duty for roads, were used in the darkest nights with as little concern as if they were turnpike roads. Sometimes an unfortunate cow or stirk slipped their feet when they ventured too far to get a mouthful of the sweet grass which grew luxuriantly on the cliffs, and, of course, were dashed to pieces on the rocks below, to the great grief and loss of the owner, who could ill afford to lose one of his herd.Source: Alex Gunn, Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Article II No Date
Grief of John's Death
|Sea birds nesting on cliffs just north of Badbea|
Sea birds came in large numbers and nested on the vertical cliffs all along the Caithness coast. Collecting eggs for food has probably been practiced on these cliffs for hundreds of years. One summer’s morning, Tuesday June 5, 1866 sometime between 11 and 11.30 am, John Grant, the eldest son of Joseph and Hannah, nearly twelve years old, was looking for bird’s eggs on the face of a cliff near Achnacraig. He may have been sure-footed but this was one of the highest and meanest of cliffs and John was venturing too near. Suddenly, missing his footing John slipped and fell more than 300 feet to the rocks below. John died instantaneously. One newspaper report said he ‘was dashed to pieces’. Who found him missing is not known. The recovery of John would have been a difficult and heart breaking mission whether down the cliff-face, or via boat and the sea. We can imagine mother Hannah grief-stricken, waiting at the top of the cliff for her dear boy, probably clinging to some hope that he would be still alive. Hannah would have tenderly taken John into the ben end of her stone house and laid him on a bed. No doctor was called to certify the death. There was nothing a doctor could have done. Family and friends from the close-knit Badbea community would have come and stayed to talk and read the scriptures with the family. The children would have sat still and shocked, mourning their dead brother. His death would never leave them. In preparing his son for burial Joseph signed John's death certificate. What a heart breaking tragedy for this family who had no choice but to remain living in this perilous place.
John’s accidental death was widely reported in the newspapers.
|John O Groat Journal 14 June 1866|
|Glasgow Herald 14 June 1866|
|Death of John Grant|
Note: John’s death certificate also suggests the possibility that he could have been looking for rabbits, another popular pastime with the local lads.
According to the locality of the cliffs given by the various records these cliffs showing Ousdale and Achnacraig are the very cliffs that John would have fallen over. Ousdale farm is in the background.
The next year the Grant family were again in the news. It is an interesting thing that people who had an untimely death or broke the law are the ones who are the most likely to have a newspaper record for us to find. Mid-winter December 1867 at the popular Dunbeath market the Grants got into a spot of bother with the police and Exciseman and got taken to court.
|John O Groat Journal 19 Dec 1867|
Selling Drink Without A Licence. - A curious case of this kind came up at the last Justice of Peace Court. A complaint by Mr Mitchell, Procurator-Fiscal under the Public Houses Act, was brought before the Justices, setting forth that Joseph Grant and Hannah Grant, his wife, had been guilty of bartering or selling spirits at the Dunbeath market without having a licence in that behalf. From the evidence led, it appeared that the parties had had a tent at the market, for the purposes of selling spirits, and when asked by the police for their certificate, a line from Mr Mackay, Innkeeper, Helmsdale, was produced by the woman, setting forth that she was Mr Mackay’s servant. The policeman asked her if the profits were Mr Mackay’s and she said they were not, that they were for her own behalf. Some of the measures were Mr Mackay’s and the spirits were bought from him. On the second day of the market a board with Mr Mackay’s name was put up over the tent for a sign. One of the policeman deponed that he knew that the woman lived in Caithness, at Badbea, with her husband, and was not in Mr Mackay’s service as a domestic. Mr Nimmo, who appeared for the defence, craved an adjournment till court the next day, when he would be able to bring Mr Mackay as a witness for the defence. The Justices agreed to adjourn the case accordingly.
The topic of whisky making in the Highlands is one for another time but suffice to say making whisky was part of the fibre of every day existence for Scots. There were a number of parliamentary interventions to impose taxes and controls on whisky but these only served to make ‘smuggling’ or illicit distilling and selling of whisky a matter for almost the entire country. Excisemen were appointed to collect whisky taxes and catch ‘smugglers’. In reality, magistrates often imposed moderate fines and reaped their own rewards in kind. Like everyone else, the residents of Badbea had their own browsts and sold whisky, that being one of the few ways they could get cash to meet the rent demands of the Laird.
In the above report the Grants were not too bothered by the attentions of the police one day and returned to the market the next to continue selling their spirits with the connivance of the Helmsdale Innkeeper. I have not been able to access the final outcome of this case but it seems very likely that Mr Nimmo, Mr Mackay and the Justices of the Peace were all sympathetic to letting the Grants off lightly.
We'll mak our maut, and we'll brew our drink,
We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And mony braw thanks to the meikle black deil,
That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman.
The Deil's Awa Wi' The Exciseman - Robert Burns 1792
The 1871 Census for Badbea shows Joseph as a crofter and Hannah his wife with family William, Joseph, Donald and Margaret living at home. Robina has left home. I have not traced her further movements.
The Grief of the Storm
|Fishing Season at Wick on a calm day|
28 January 1875 and once more the newspapers carried a story about the Grants of Badbea.
|The Bradford Observer, Thursday, January 28, 1875|
Further reports regarding the storm of Saturday represent it as having been the severest north-westerly gale on the Caithness coast for at least a generation. At the fishing village of Badbea the sea rose to a great height, threatening the destruction of the boats, in attempting to save one of which a fisherman, named Joseph Grant, aged sixty, was struck by the sea and washed away: Two men along with him had a narrow escape, and could do nothing to save him.
Joseph’s death certificate states that when he was engaged hauling a small boat in a storm he was washed away by a wave. Judging by the death certificate, William seems to have been one of the two men mentioned who had a lucky escape. What a shocking experience for William to see his father washed away and only just escaping himself.
|Black Sunday Wick|
More Grief - Margaret's Death
There was a strong tradition that the sons of fishermen follow in their father’s footsteps but unsurprisingly the sons of Joseph Grant did not.
There was not enough to live on at
the tiny Badbea croft for the family growing up and rent still to be paid. One commentator gives some figures for the rent Joseph Grant was paying but does not give the source of these figures. Apparently this croft land was not made available for any other tenants but was taken into the land grazed by the Ausdale farm. Joseph Grant had lived at Badbea for about 30 years and Hannah not much less.
Shortly after the death of Joseph, Hannah gave up the croft, left Badbea and took the family to live in Edinburgh. How plucky of her. But again this move was not without a terrible cost. The perils of crowded city living where serious diseases easily spread were real. Margaret caught Typhoid Fever. On Saturday night, 27 October 1877 at 9.30 p.m. 15 year old Margaret died.
|Source: Badbea in Retrospect|
John O Groat Journal 22 July, 1977
Margaret’s address was shown as 46 Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh. Brother William was not present at her death but he signed his little sister’s death certificate. Yet again poor mother Hannah Grant has suffered an inconsolable loss.
The 1881 census shows things stabilising and looking better for the Grants. They are living in St Cuthberts, Edinburgh. Hannah, shown as a widow and Formerly a Farmer’s Wife has her sons, all unmarried, with her. Happily the boys have got work. William is now a Police Constable, Joseph a Mason and Donald a Joiner. In true Caithness style they are all shown as Gaelic speakers.
The 1891 census, Hannah aged 68, has moved to St Andrews, Edinburgh with her son Donald. He is still single and is working as a shop fitter and joiner. Donald states he is an employer and the house has six rooms each with a window so his circumstances look quite comfortable for himself and his mother Hannah. They are both shown as Gaelic and English speakers.
Hannah would always have carried invisible weights with her from the heartbreaking accidental death of John her first born son, her husband Joseph being swept out to sea in a storm, his body never found and Margaret her youngest daughter dying of Typhoid in Edinburgh.
Joseph Grant and his family will always be remembered on the Badbea Monument.