Tuesday, August 26, 2014

John Badbea Sutherland Now Glorified. Part D

Now Glorified

In his letters, John used a number of devout terms to refer to death, for example:
They are to be envied that die in the Lord - 17 May 1844
Called to eternity - 18 Sep 1846
Now glorified - 21 Sep 1854
Called home from this vale of tears - 21 Dec 1857
So whatever he liked to call it - there he is!

In late summer, August 1864, John Badbea’s health took a serious turn for the worse. It seems likely that Doctor Thomas Rutherford, an Edinburgh trained surgeon living in Helmsdale who certified John’s death was also called to attend to John in the days before he died. Doctor Rutherford certified that John had been sick with a fever and cerebral symptoms for two weeks before his death. I like the thought of an Edinburgh surgeon leaving his substantial house with windows in eight rooms, driving over the Ord in his own conveyance and arriving at John’s simple old stone dwelling to attend to this dying man of God. Both men leading lives of devotion to others.

John’s niece Catherine who so faithfully and tenderly cared for him for well over twenty years was with him when he died and signed her X on his death certificate. What a wonderful woman she was.
1864 Deaths in the Parish of Latheron in the County of Caithness
John Sutherland, Farmer, Single; 1864 August Thirtieth 12 h.p.m Badbea, Berriedale; Male, 76 years, Father James Sutherland, Farmer (deceased) Mother Catherine Sutherland M.S. Sutherland (deceased); Cause of death - Continued fever with cerebral symptoms Two weeks As cert by Thos. H. Rutherford M.D.; Informant - Catherine Sutherland her X mark, Niece (present)  Wm. Sutherland, Registrar Witness. Signature Registrar. 1864 September 7th At Latheron Wm Sutherland Registrar

To Berriedale Old Burying ground

Sometimes funerals at this time involved celebratory eating, and drinking of whisky but I wonder if scripture readings and prayers might have been more in keeping with John’s wishes.  I can certainly see eight sorrowing pallbearers putting John’s coffin onto the bier, and hoisting it on their shoulders.  He would have been taken from his house, carried past his peat stack and on up to the road to Berriedale. The bearers perhaps stopped at the Grey Hen's Well for a short break before resuming their load. Down the hill and over the two bridges, on and up the braes to the old Berriedale burying ground. Several hundred men followed conversing as they walked, about the life of one just departed. 
From Timespan Museum, Helmsdale
It is likely that John's parents were also buried in this place and we know of at least one sister who rests here.


The inscription on John's tombstone reads:

“Erected to the memory of John Sutherland Badbea, a native of Ousdale, who feared the Lord from his youth and was a lover of good things, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he had been taught. He was a counsellor and comforter of many and an example to all. He died 31st August, 1864, aged 76 years.”
“The memory of the just is blessed”
“Achcumhn is ionmadh maith a chaoidh bidh air an fhir ear choir”
Translation of Gaelic: The memory of the kindly just man will ever be in high repute

Note: The stone was originally upright. The inscription is now hard to read

At the Berriedale Old Cemetery. John's grave is just centre right of this photo


I have located three obituaries for John Badbea Sutherland and include a short extract from each:
“His remains were conveyed to the burying ground at Berriedale on the 2nd September and numbers were present who travelled great distances, to show this last mark of their respect to the memory of one who had lived beloved and died lamented. A friend who knew him well, suggested for his epitaph, what we understand has been adopted - “In all things showing himself a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that could not be condemned.”
Source: Ministers and Men of the Far North by Alexander Auld, 1868, Pgs 199 – 203, Pub. W. Rae, Wick. Available in full on www.ambaile.org.uk

"This excellent and estimable Christian departed this life, aged seventy-five, after about two weeks illness, on the night of Tuesday, the 30th August, and it has rarely fallen to our lot to record any death, occurring in humble life, which will be so justly and so generally lamented.”
…his numerous friends in the north will experience with intense sorrow that they can no more  resort to the retired locality of Badbea and ‘The chamber where the good man lived, Privileged beyond the common walk of virtuous life, quite on the verge of heaven,’ there to listen to the outpourings of his heart, habitually set upon divine things, and a permanent and overflowing sense of the love of Christ which enabled him so to reflect on every event of daily life that, like his great Master, he made every little incident a source of devotion and an instrument of holy zeal…his remains were carried to the burying-ground at Berriedale ..Followed by several hundreds of people, many of whom came long distances to pay this mark of respect to his memory
Source: John O Groat Journal 8 Sep 1864 THE LATE JOHN SUTHERLAND, BADBEA. Two different correspondents.

In another article about The Men there is a touching reference to John.
“There are, of course, however, gentle natures among them (The Men) whose cry is ever ‘Comfort ye my people.’ One of these meek primitive teachers, whom I knew, was gathered to his father’s a month or two ago. He was a man whom many friends would describe as one who literally ‘walked with God.’ He was regarded as one of whom it might in a special sense be said that his ‘life and conversation was in heaven.’ He lived far away from any church, but he held that the presence of the Father of All was not limited to consecrated stone and lime, that God dwelt with men and not with agglomerations of masonry. Solitary dwellers in the wilderness sought his lonely cottage on the day of rest. And to him and them the humble dwelling was the ‘house of God’ and the ‘gate of heaven.’ Nor was his influence confined to those within walking distance of his moorland home. With persons many miles away he carried on a remarkable correspondence; tenderly breaking to them, in his own way the Bread of Life and proclaiming the unbounded love and goodness of his Father in heaven. His surname was, I think, Sutherland, but he was known and is remembered as John Badbea – Badbea being the name of the place where he lived.
Source: THE MEN Chambers’s Journal John O Groat Journal 23 Feb 1865

Angels Accompany John

In the previous blog I mentioned that The Men were said to receive intimations of present and future events. John Sutherland confirms that John Badbea was recognised as having special gifts and an insight into the unseen. In a fascinating incident John Gordon of Strath Brora claimed to have been visited by the spirit of John Badbea at the time of his death:
“One morning towards the end of August 1864, Gordon was asked how he was, “Oh we had a feast during the night for the angels were accompanying the spirit of Godly John Sutherland to glory”. The neighbour expressed the hope that good John was still spared, “Oh no,” said Gordon, his spirit took its departure at three o’clock this morning.” Seeing the other was still sceptical, Gordon said, “The Wick coach has not passed yet: go and enquire what is the latest news from Badbea.” When the coach arrived, the diver confirmed the fact that John Sutherland had passed away that morning at three o’clock.”  (Note: he actually passed away at midnight)
Source: Records of Grace in Sutherland, Ed K McRae 1953, pg 51, Pub Free Church of Scotland, Edinburgh. John Sutherland, History of Ancestors

One Hundred and Fifty Years Gone

It is almost 150 years to the day since John Badbea was ‘called to eternity’. His influence was certainly evident in the lives of those he reared. My great, great grandmother Christina Sutherland who, when orphaned as a child was taken in by John Badbea, reared her own eleven children with devout adherence to John Badbea's Christian doctrines and values.  This influence followed her offspring and that of her brother Alexander Sutherland to New Zealand where strong religious beliefs were the norm for at least another generation and are still evident in some families. 

So the last word goes to John Badbea Sutherland.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

John Badbea Sutherland - One of ‘The Men’ Part C

John Badbea is described on the Memorial Cairn as one of ‘The Men’. What does this mean?

The Disruption

The Patronage Act of 1712 attempted to reintroduce a system of Patronage into the Church of Scotland. This meant that the local landowner, or Patron, and not the people would choose the minister of a church. This was highly unpopular with the congregations as the patron did not always have the best interests of the church at heart. In 1843 this conflict caused the church to split. Almost 500 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to form the Church of Scotland Free (later the Free Church of Scotland). This is known as the Disruption. Many of these ministers and their families faced extreme hardship as a result of their commitment to the Free Church.  The Free Church was then faced with the huge task of providing churches, manses, schools and ministers for all its congregations.

The Men

There was a group of itinerant lay preachers who were known as 'na daoine' or 'The Men' who gave support to the Free Church Ministers. One commentator suggests that ‘The Men’ were so styled not because they were not women but because they were not ministers. There were also pious Christian women who were revered.

‘The Men’ were:
  • Eminent Christians, not usually highly educated but they had an extensive knowledge of the Bible.
  • Had a profound sense of personal unworthiness – the chief of sinners in their own esteem. This characteristic is very evident in John Badbea’s letters.
  • Men of prayer
  • Received intimations of present and future events

The Men were regarded as important people at the communion occasions which were usually held annually in local communities and were a several day event. Communion services were a focal point of the church year for the Scottish Highlanders who were an intensely religious people. Because they no longer had the use of the buildings of the established churches, whole families would walk twenty or thirty miles to a communion. Sometimes up to one thousand people or more attended communions with meetings often having to be held outdoors.

‘The Men’ were much anticipated, often travelling long distances on foot to these services. Each wore a long blue cloak as a badge of their order and a blue bonnet or spotted handkerchief round their head and kept a humble look.

A Communion meeting in a forest

The Communion

  1. Thursday was known as ‘Fast day’ when little or no work was done.
  2. Friday was the ‘question’ day when a verse of scripture was presented for discussion and explanation. The elders and ‘The Men’ would respond to questions raised in light of their own Christian knowledge and experience.
  3. Saturday was preparation day when tokens were issued to communicant members before the Sabbath Communion service. The Men assisted the congregation in the duty of self-examination before taking part in Communion.
  4. Sunday the sacrament was dispensed.
  5. Monday would often be a service of thanksgiving

Refusal of Site at Strontian. Preaching on the banks of Loch Sunart 1846

As a younger man John Badbea walked to the church services but as he got older he was severely restricted by poor health. He continued to welcome friends to his house where he would commune with them and encourage them in the faith. John Badbea also held regular meetings in his own home when neighbours would come for worship.
Meeting for Worship in a small hamlet at Ballater


John Badbea also conducted a considerable correspondence with friends all over Scotland. Extracts of about thirty-three letters are on the Caithness.org website. Unfortunately they have been edited by an unknown person. Transcripts of twenty-two letters are in the North Highland Archive.
The introduction to these letters comments:
‘The only defect that appears in these letters is a tendency on the part of the writer to dwell almost exclusively upon the darker side of his own case, and of the case of the times in which he lived. John Sutherland was a choice spirit and a blessed man of God, and so we must not accept altogether his low estimate of himself.’

Letters of John Badbea

The 1838 letter is the earliest I have a transcript of. John would have been about 43 years old. 
To Mr Sinclair, Thurso.
BADBEA, 12th July, 1838.
I have nothing particular to write you—only I know that you are lonely, and I have heard that you are poorly. You need not expect to get free of these as long as your pilgrimage will be in this weary wilderness—neither will I. Although I cannot put myself among the true sojourners that are going Zionward, mourning as they are going, and enquiring for the way, yet I know that the heritage and weariness are
A shelf in the ruin of a Badbea house where the Bible was kept
connected with each other, and cannot be separated as long as we will be in the valley of tears; but happy are those that it is said of them, "They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Alas! alas! poor me—my sighing and mourning are not running in the true channels. Christ was the fountain, or well of sorrows in this wilderness—" a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." My proud heart will not submit or bow so low as the stable or the manger, to see the blessed Babe in Mary's lap. The wonderful sight caused the wise men to open their treasures, and pour forth frankinsence and myrrh; but I have Herod in my bosom, that slew all the children, that slew every tear and sigh. I cannot weep now, and no wonder. He knoweth what I was doing with them. The gentleman (pride) wanted tears to satisfy self; seeking self-interest, self-credit from the church, and to be esteemed in this cold day; and that made my fleece dry, when others are wet and full of dew.
Give my kind respects to Mr and Mrs Taylor. Tell Mr T. that I am farther from what he was wishing me to do than I was when he saw me.* Let him look for another. I believe that there is not any man so miserable as the man that would take a public call in the church, and not be called from above. Best wishes to Mrs Mackay, Hotel *. I hear that her son is very poorly. "In patience possess ye your souls." I would be glad to hear from you. My afflicted sister is in great distress.
I am, my dear Friend,
Your affectionate
* 'John was wished to become a catechist in Thurso.

MARCH 15, 1855
I am delicate in body from my youth, and now I am old and full of days and I have been most of this cold winter bedfast. It is of His long suffering and forbearance that I am spared to this date. Oh, to be adorned in His righteousness.
P. S. Oh, the desolation in every quarter through the calling home of His own. Oh, the blank that Alexander Gair’s death caused in the Highlands of Scotland. 

AUGUST 15, 1855
I am not writing much, but I was waiting to see if it would be permitted to me to see Reay once yet, and for His own name’s sake it was granted to me to countenance the communion there on 5th inst. I have not seen worthy Mr. Cook since two years. I saw him, as faithful to immortal souls as ever, but he is suffering much in the night season by his complaint…. I am a dark, ignorant sinner, and those that were concerned of my soul and body are put far from me, as the Psalmist said. There is plenty religion in Glasgow, but too much of that spirit, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas”. Let you mind the bible and the closet (private prayer), and let it be known that you have been in the great John Grant’s College. I fear that most of the leaders of this day are quite strangers to the closet, which was a chamber of wine to others…
I am almost confined to the house, since I came home from Reay. I have been dull in hearing since seven years, but since I came home from Reay I am totally deaf. The weather was very wet, and I could not endure any dampness from my youth. I was lodging at Janet Macleod’s**. She is remarkably kind to me, and it is with her I have lodged for 20 tears. She is wonderful on her bed of languishing.(This last is one of my favourite comments of John Badbea's)

*Mrs Mackay, Hotel, came to reside in Thurso where she long and prudently conducted the hotel. She lived in close fellowship with the Christian ‘fathers’ Mr Sinclair, Mr Gordon, etc. .. Christians who came at any time to Thurso from a distance found in her house a ready refuge and a warm welcome.
** Janet Macleod, Sandside Reay, was a well-known and worthy woman of great warmth of heart and although confined by bodily infirmity for many years, of large public spirit…Her house which stood near the line of hills that separate Caithness from the Reay country was a halting place where many turned aside and received from Janet a heart-felt God-speed.

Sources: Janet Macleod and Mrs Mackay, Ministers and Men in the Far North, by Alexander Auld, 1869
http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/islandspirituality/1886-Alexander-Macleod-Uig-Disruption-Worthies.pdf Refusal of Site at Strontian – preaching on banks of Loch Sunart 1846
'Annals of the Disruption’ by Rev Thomas Brown (1893) https://archive.org/details/annalsofdisrupti00browiala
John O Groat Journal Dec 25 1926 pg 13 Signatures www.ambaile.org.uk
John O Groat Journal Dec 25 pg 30 1924 Dress of 'The Men' www.ambaile.org.uk
GB1741 P111 Letters of John Sutherland Badbea to Alexander Sinclair and others 1840- 1857. Published in Free Presbyterian Magazine (unknown dates) North Highland Archive

Monday, August 18, 2014

John 'Badbea' Sutherland - Afflictions Part B


Elderly crofter outside his house wrapped in his plaid.
Newtonmore Outdoor Museum
John Badbea was a letter writer. His obituary states he ‘was known and prized as a correspondent by some who had never seen his face. A number of John’s letters, sewed together, constituted, .. a highly prized part of the reading, and on a bed of sickness, of one who was looking for a better country’.

As mentioned in an earlier blog the Grey Hen’s Well was the stopping point for the mail coach that collected and delivered mail for Badbea residents.

John Badbea’s letters were often focussed on the religious issues of his day. I will select a few of these for a third blog on John Badbea Sutherland. 

In some of his letters John makes brief mention of various issues he is facing living at Badbea giving us an idea of how harsh life was. According to his obituary John's affliction was Rheumatic Fever since childhood. His sister Betty’s (Elizabeth) source of affliction is not known.

Extracts from letters written by John 'Badbea' Sutherland.

BADBEA, 12th July, 1838. To Mr Alexander Sinclair, Merchant, Thurso
My afflicted sister is in great distress...

BADBEA, 28th February, 1840. To Alexander Sinclair
I have been poorly for five weeks with a severe cough, sore throat, and pain in my side and head.

BADBEA, 25th Dec., 1840. To Alexander Sinclair, Thurso
I was poorly since I came home, and my sister more so than I can express.

BADBEA, 23rd February, 1841. To David Steven, Bower
It was two Sabbaths that I was out of the house since you saw me. I have been poorly with my head and my breast, and my sister has been in extreme pain at times with her usual complaint.
If you knew my loneliness, myself and my niece many a night watching my sister, feeling the night so long, you would try to send my watch. Pray that I get a cow yet for I lost the cow that I had last week.

Highland cows at this time were black and small. They were kept inside but crofter's often struggled to feed them adequately during the winter resulting in a dead animal which was a terrible blow for the household. 
BADBEA, 5th March, 1841. To Alexander Sinclair
I am here alone during the week and over the Sabbath...I could not go to Lybster the Sabbath that dear Mr Cook was there; my sister was very low then.

BADBEA, 25th January, 1842. To Alexander Sinclair
The Lord has been pleased to visit me with another rod this winter. My niece that is staying with me was brought very low with the typhus fever; we despaired of her being recovered. She is poorly yet and lingering. My sister that is residing in Sutherland is very low just now with the same trouble. But glory to His name I was spared under the rod.

BADBEA, 17th May, 1844. To Alexander Sinclair
My sister is still suffering.

BADBEA, 4th February, 1845. To David Steven, Bower
My afflicted sister is still spared, but my niece is with me.

BADBEA, 4th February, 1845
My afflicted sister is spared but still in the furnace, but my niece is with me.

BADBEA, 9th June, 1846
I am frail and tender in body...I have always been sickly – much so this last winter and spring. I went as far as Wick to-day three weeks ago…since I came home I am much troubled with the rheumatism, so that I was twice blistered.

Berriedale chuch and graveyard
BADBEA, 18th September, 1846. To Alexander Sinclair
My eldest sister was called to eternity Friday last (11 September 1846), and was interred Monday last in Berriedale Churchyard. She was a widow since six years. I feel myself more lonely after her. I envied her more than the loudest speakers of this day.

BADBEA, 6 August, 1847. To David Steven, Bower
I found my afflicted sister low, but not so low as when I came from Lybster. She was then so low that my niece and I would be attending her most of the night…..I have food and raiment…My sister and niece join me, and I remain, my dearest friend, yours truly..

Gravestone at Navidale the next hamlet to Badbea. 
The dead person is likely to have had cholera
or typhoid or typhus one of the deadly
diseases that hit these communities
from time to time. At such a time the practice of
placing a dead person in a grave of another 
family member would be avoided. 
BADBEA, 13th December, 1849. To David Steven, Bower
The heathen’s plague (cholera) is also cutting down our fellow-creatures in our country and neighbourhood…..…
It is seven miles from any means of the very form; and I am sickly and delicate; since many years I am almost confined to house in the winter season, and my only sister who is with me has been in the fiery furnace for twenty-six years; my niece is also broken in health as the crofts are so difficult to labour, no plowing , no cart here, and the place is shut in to the rocks, while I am paying four times as much as mother was paying when we came here; yet I could not think of leaving it, although my niece is always for leaving it; I got no (Divine) call to leave it.

BADBEA, 21st December, 1854. To David Steven, Bower
I am in this bothy in a remote place. And I am now old and grey-headed, frail and feeble, and I am in danger of wanting the one thing needful that men made choice of (a wife?)
The desolation is daily increasing, and the Lord’s hand is stretched out still with much threatening by the sword of that un-circumcised Philistine, the Emperor of Russia, and by the Egyptians disease, the cholera.

Shearing by hand
BADBEA, 14th September, 1855. To Alexander Sinclair
My body bears every sign that it will soon be in the house of silence. Al­though is so warm today I am shivering with cold. My niece is shearing on the steep braes but I cannot help her.

BADBEA, October, 1855. To Alexander Sinclair
I have praise the Lord that is sparing me and that I have a place to reside in and to open the Bible on the week and on the Sabbath. I have not any to look to me but my niece and a servant girl. I could not work a day’s work since I mind, being so delicate; but when able to be going about the house my hand will be to do something.

BADBEA, 12th February, 1856. To Alexander Sinclair
I am shut out from the day’s noise by His hand upon me and my family called home, except my niece, and she is very tender.

BADBEA, 23rd December, 1856. To Alexander Sinclair
In this cold weather it is seldom I am able to come to the fireside. I cannot do anything for myself.

BADBEA, 11th August, 1857
I went, as I got a conveyance, on the Sabbath of the Sacrament to Latheron and I got a cold. I am much troubled with the cough since that time. That was in the first of July. I tried to go to Reay when the communion was there. They wrote me that Mr. F. Cook mentioned from the pulpit that this would be the last he would see. When I read that, I set out, taking my niece with me, and thinking to be that night in Dalnaha. But before I went six miles through the Berriedale hills the cramp seized my feet and I was obliged to lie down on the heather. My niece was distressed and I had to be carried home. They are bathing my feet in salt water and I feel ease at times.

BADBEA, 27 October, 1857. To Alexander Sinclair
I thank you and the friends who are so kind to me by your agency. The crop was very light on these steep braes this harvest, but it is a great privilege to have a home and that my niece is stopping with me.

BADBEA, 21st December, 1857. To David Steven, Bower
I am old and frail, and so deaf that I cannot hear should they take me to church. I am trying to open the Bible on the Sabbath, as the Free Church is ten miles distance from here.
An Auld Licht by Raphael Tuck

Letters sources:
Transcripts of letters in my archives. 
North Highland Archive, Miscellaneous P List. John Sutherland, Badbea.

Friday, August 15, 2014

John 'Badbea' Sutherland Part A

The Cairn of Remembrance, Badbea


John Sutherland -  John Badbea -  Holy John -  Worthy John  - one of “The Men”
This man sounds too good to be true.     What was good about him?
His Obituary says he was:
  • Charming
  • Gifted
  • Had Brotherly Kindness
  • Sense of Duty
  • Prudent
  • Affectionate
  • Deeply religious
  • Able preacher
  • He was always solemn and judicious in his observations, choice in his language, and tender and affectionate in his spirit. His appearance was tail and graceful, his voice melodious, and his utterances fluent and winning, while the speaker appeared so filled with his subject as to be altogether unconscious of the power he was exercising over the minds of others.
Source: Obituary - Ministers and Men of the Far North by Alexander Auld 1868. Pub W Rae, Wick. Available on am baile website

What was hard for him?
  • Rheumatic Fever since childhood. Constant pain all his life.
  • Sick sister Betty also lived with him often in severe pain.
  • Father died when John was young
  • Family Evicted from Ousdale about 1804
  • His only brother Donald died at Waterloo
  • Deaf when old
  • Never married
  • Confined to the house for a long time when he was old because of his unrelenting rheumatism and poor health. His niece Catherine kept house for John.


John Badbea Sutherland was born at Ousdale, near the Ord of Caithness, in 1785.
His father was one of eight tenants who, before the introduction of sheep farming, occupied
that place. A solitary tree, on the west of the present farm house; stands below the rising ground on which his father's house stood.

Ousdale Farm showing the rising ground close to a small burn where John was born
John Badbea moved to Badbea when his widowed mother, brother & four sisters were evicted from Ousdale in 1804. John helped build a stone house for his family where he resided for the rest of his life, paying rent to the Laird of Langwell all that time. 
Badbea looking back toward the monument which was built on the site of John's house.
Source: Roydhouse archives
John Badbea was a devout Christian and over time developed into the religious leader of the Badbea hamlet.  Religion was a very important aspect of life in the north of Scotland and most of the people of Badbea were adherents of, first the Established church, then the Free Church (meaning free of state control) after the ‘Disruption’ in 1843. When his health allowed John walked extensively in the North to commune with other devout Christians known as ‘The Men’. 
                                                                                      More on them next blog.

John took in his orphaned young cousins Christina (my great, great grandmother), Esther, Margaret, Alexander when their parents died about 1810. Many years later, David a son of Alexander, visited Badbea from New Zealand and in the spirit of deep gratitude to John Badbea made arrangements for a memorial cairn to be built of the stones of John’s house. 
1841 Census Badbea extract
1851 Census Badbea extract
1861 Census Badbea extract

The Sabbath at Badbea

Alexander Gunn whose boyhood days were spent in Badbea gives us an insight into Sundays in John’s house:
 ‘There was not much intercourse with the outer world, other than a message to the mill at Berriedale, or attending church on Sunday, which was not very frequent, not so much from want of respect for the ordinances of religion, as for want of an attractive preacher; and besides, we had the meetings at 'John Badbea's.'
'We were most religiously trained. On Saturday night there was strict preparation for the Sabbath. Everything that could be done that night was done, so as to leave nothing to do on the Sabbath but the real works of necessity and mercy. The water barrel was filled up to the brim. The peat neuk was replenished, and the peats for Sunday's use were broken, ready to be laid on the fire. The hearth was cleared of superfluous ashes, the floor swept clean, and everything tidied up. The very potatoes were washed and put in the pot, ready to be hung on the crook. The day began and ended with family worship - not only on Sundays, but on week days as well.’
John Badbea's was situated in the centre of the village, and on Saturday night the house was put in order for the Sabbath, forms being set all round the kitchen for the adult portion of the audience, and an inner circle of seats made upon peats for us juveniles. All attended these meetings except those required for household duties or for the herding of the cattle. The good man commenced the service by the singing of a Psalm; then a prayer. Methinks I see the tall figure of the good man as he stands, holding the top rail of his chair as he bends over it and pours out his soul in humble but fervent supplications to Him who is the hearer and answerer of prayer. The prayer over - and it was not unduly lengthened - a chapter was read and a few words of comment made upon it. The chapter was translated from the English into Gaelic, as he could not read a Gaelic boook except the Gaelic Psalm book. He then read a sermon, either Samuel Rutherford's or Boston's, translating all the while. The meeting lasted about two hours. There was also a meeting at night of about the same duration, when we had to repeat the Shorter Catechism.
Source: Alexander Gunn in Roydhouse, A., 1977, Unpublished

High Priest

The following two comments were made by the speaker at the opening of the Memorial Cairn:
‘There was a High Priest in the place – John Sutherland.  He had an inner sanctuary and when he entered it no man dared to near it.  He was a man who every morning looked upon the face of God ere he would look on the face of man.  There was a particular spot near to the edge of the rocks where the impress of his kneeling might be seen on the turf in the form of two hollows.  Like the great lawgiver Moses he bore the people and their interests on his heart, and because they all lived so close to the heart of Nature they got very close to the great heart of God.’

‘There is one scene I must not omit.  The boats are on the stormy sea out from Badbea, going up the Firth.   The gale rages fiercely, but the fishermen are not afraid.  They say “Let us not fear, for John is in the barn.”  They knew that at that home John Badbea was in his sanctuary, and that he remembered them in his prayers.’
Source: Cairn of Remembrance, 8 Nov 1912, John O Groat Journal

Getting the Peats Home to John’s

Transporting Peats in Eriskay
Source: Facebook Am Baile
A practical example of the high esteem ‘Worthy John’ was held in the district was getting his much needed peats home. He was too unwell to do this himself.
'Another great day with us was the day John Badbea got his peats carried home. On such occasions there came horses from Braemore and Houstry to lead worthy John's peat to the stance where the peat stack stood, a little above the house. There was not a road or track by which carts could be used and the peats therefore carried in a sort of hamper called 'crubags' on each side. It was a sor of four-square thing, about 2 feet 6 inches long, perhaps 2 feet deep, and about 18 inches wide. It was open at both ends, and was slung by a piece of rope fixed to a sort of rude saddletree set on the back of the horse which carried one of these 'crubags' on each side. It is surprising what quantity of peats could be packed into a couple of these. There might be 30 or 40 horses engaged in leading the peats on these occasions. Three or four, even six horses were tied to each other's tails, and one person leading them. To us it was a real post of honour to be leading these horse between the stacks and the hill, when those who brought the horses were employed in building the peat stack, or loading the horses at the hill. In this way all the good man's peats were carried to the stance and built up ready for the winter in one day, and all was done gratuitously both the labour of men and horses being given free of charge.' 
Source: Alexander Gunn, in Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood, Article III, No Date

George Gunn: ‘It is not gold, it is not wealth, that makes the man.  It is a noble and virtuous life which is far better than a stone cenotaph, and while this monument will last for ages, the character of a good man will last when earth shall have passed away.’

Source: Cairn of Remembrance, 8 Nov 1912, John O Groat Journal

Sunday, August 3, 2014

His Mangled Remains - George Duncan

Life at Achnacraig

George and Christy Duncan were a Scottish Highlands fishing family who lived at Achnacraig (aka Achencraig) a cliff top fishing village very near Badbea.
Marriage: George Duncan & Christy Grant 10.04.1817
Christy (aka Christian or Chirstian) Grant was born in Achnacraig in 1789 and was still living there in 1817 when she married George Duncan a local fisherman.
Ruins at Achnacraig
The Duncan family probably also had a small piece of crofting land allotted to them. The 1841 census records Christy as being a crofter.
Fisher folk worked hard but if they survived the hazards of the sea and the fish were plentiful they could have a better quality of life than those who only had crofting for a living. Here are some insights into life at Achnacraig at the time the Duncan’s lived there:
Alexander Gunn wrote:
“There was the neighbouring village of Achencraig; there was a difference between Achencraig and Badbea. None in Achencraig could be said to be rich, but one could get a loan of a twenty pound note from a neighbour fast enough. Life there was frugal, simple and honest, but there was a difference. One pony was all Badbea could boast, the Achencraig people could turn out one each at least, and all their farming done in the usual way, they turned out excellent crops. With much better fishing facilities, better land and more of it, there was more money circulating amongst Achencraig people than ever there was at Badbea. The evident fertility became their downfall however, and in 1830 the entire township was evicted, the land being absorbed into the farm of Ausdale. The place was laid waste, some who had been born there, and who had reached the allotted span, had to tear themselves away from everything which had made their lives happy and comfortable. Some settled on a mossy piece of ground above the Berriedale church, some at Newport on rocky barren soil, some went off the estate altogether. What a loss to the community! The money which was circulating by means of the fishing and curing, and other industry connected with the place, was lost for the sake of rearing a few fat sheep for Donald Horne.’
Source: Alan Roydhouse 1977 unpublished.

A Shower of Stones

The Achnacraig folks were very defensive of their way of life and could get angry if they felt trouble was looming which it sometimes was!  Doctor John MacCulloch was on a journey in the Scottish Highlands in 1821 and pulled up in boat near Achnacraig. He took off when he got pelted with stones and wrote rather indignantly:
“I had occasion to land with a boat under the magnificent cliffs near the Ord where a party of men, women and children were employed on the herrings while the rocks were strewn with barrels and the shore with boats, and horses were seen scrambling up and down a narrow track in the cliffs, the sight of which made my head giddy. Such are the ports which nature has bestowed upon a coast to which the herrings have though fit lately to retire from the magnificent bays and lochs of the west; hoping perhaps they would not be so easily caught, salted, barreled off to feed negroes.’
‘The herring cleaners received us in a menacing attitude, and with shouts of defiance and offence…. The cause of the impending war was not at first apparent; but the sight of a vessel in the offing with the Union Jack at her gaff suggested to us that we were supposed to belong to it, and that we had fallen in with a race of smugglers. It was too dangerous to expostulate or explain under a shower of stones; we therefore hauled off and left the field to the ‘enemy.’ (Note the enemy was the government cutter Atlanta looking for evidence of smuggling or illicit whisky making)
Source: http://www.electricscotland.com/travel/highlands.htm In Letters to Sir Walter Scott, Bart. by John MacCulloch (1824) Vol 2 pgs 474 & 475

The Revenue Cutter Atalanta

Ceann Ousdale near  where the Achnacraig port was
Alexander Gunn wrote:
“…In the good old times when Auchencraig was inhabited by a happy and comfortable people, there was a good deal of smuggling indulged in, and on one occasion when several of the inhabitants had a “browst” on hand, the revenue cutter the Atalanta, put in an appearance on the coast - a very unwelcome visitor at any time, but more especially in the circumstances such as I refer to. When opposite the port of Auchencraig - for it was a port of considerable importance in those days, as no less than thirteen boats went out from that place every night during the herring fishing season, and there were thousands of crans cured there every year - the crew of the cutter launched and manned their boats and made for the shore. Their movements were seen from Auchencraig by watchers on the outlook when it was determined that the boat should be prevented from landing for a time at least, till all the stuff should be got into hiding. The plan was this - the male portion of the inhabitants were to do their utmost to put the stuff into hiding, and the females were to arrange themselves on the braehead and roll large boulders down the steep brae above the shore making it certain death to anyone who would venture to land. In this way the boat was prevented from landing. When the captain saw what was going on, he sailed as close inshore as he could with safety, and opened fire on the women, when the balls like hail came showering about them. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the boat was not permitted to land till everything was considered safe. Then the cutter's men climbed tip the steep rocks in a great hurry and fury and caught every woman they saw and examined their hands to see if they were soiled, expecting in this way to discover those who were engaged in the stone battle. The men kept out of sight all this time. The cutter-men threatened to take some of the women away with them, but did not put the threat into execution, which was as well  as the men were prepared to rescue the women had there been an attempt made to carry them off..”
Source: The Find of a Cannon Ball at Badbea Shore Northern Ensign 27 May 1890

The Duncan Family

So back to the Duncans. I wonder if Christy joined in rolling stones from the braes while George helped hide the browts.
There were five children in the Duncan family all born in Achnacraig or Badbea. George dutifully took them all to church to be baptised.  Their births can be found in the Old Parish Registers.
Jean born in 1817
Elspet (aka Betty) born in 1820
William born in 1822
George born in 1824
Anne born in 1827
Anne Duncan baptism 6 Sept 1827 

Note: The Old Parish Registers and the Census records for the Duncan family sometimes say they were of Achnacraig and sometimes they were of Badbea. They probably lived on land very close to both settlements or else they may have moved house at some eviction time.

They were a hard working, fishing, crofting family. What happened to disrupt their lives was so awful that it was remembered and recalled many years later by several people.

The Accident

Strict adherence to attendance at the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, or the Scot’s Kirk was important for Scottish Highland people. There was a Mission Chapel near Berriedale in the Latheron Parish and ministers walked from one chapel to another to look after their flocks. A new church building was needed in Berriedale so in 1823 the Commissioners of Parliament commissioned Thomas Telford, Civil Engineer, to undertake the construction of 31 Highland churches and 42 manses throughout Scotland. Following the granting of suitable land by James Horne, proprietor of the Langwell Estate, the Berriedale Church with its distinctive bell tower and manse was completed in 1826.
Plan of Telford Manse and Church

It stands to reason that some local labour would have been required to help with the buildings. Alexander Gunn wrote of Donald Horne forcing Badbea residents to walk long distances to work on his projects. However, it does seem remarkable that fisher folk from Achnacraig would have been part of the labour force for the Berriedale church building commissions. For reasons now unknown George Duncan had some work to do at the new Manse.

Berriedale, White House (Former Church of Scotland Manse) Latheron, Scotland, is designated a Category C listed building. It is no longer a Manse
In trying to work out what date this would have been I note that one record says that the Manse was still in the course of erection when George was working there, yet the above record states it was finished in 1826.                                                                                                                                                                                      

I have also noted that George took his youngest daughter Anne to be baptised on 6 September 1827.  So my guess is that Anne was probably quite a new baby when calamity overtook this family.

People were certainly accustomed to walking long distances and took it in their stride. It was about four and a half miles from Achnacraig to Berriedale. The new manse was up the hill past the old Berriedale cemetery while the new church was half a mile further on. Depending on various weather, light and track conditions it would take about one and a half hours to walk from Achnacraig to the Manse. In winter in the Highlands it gets dark in the afternoon while summer enjoys long twilights. So all we know is that George Duncan was walking home at the end of a day’s work in the gloaming. I will leave the rest of the story to one who heard it told at his mother’s knee in Badbea:
Berriedale Cliffs
“There were two or three fatal accidents to some of the inhabitants as well. One of these, a man named George Duncan, was returning from Berriedale, after finishing his day's work at the Established Manse, then in course of erection, and in the darkness of the night he lost his way and fell over the side of Berriedale Head. His non-arrival at home that night as usual caused much uneasiness to his family, and as soon as daylight set in next morning there was a messenger dispatched to Berriedale to make inquiry about him, when it was found that he was seen in the gloaming, making his way in the direction of home. It was evident from this that something serious had happened to him, and a search party was sent out with a view to the finding of his body. On searching the shore to the east of Badbea, his mangled remains were found where I have already indicated..”
Source: Alexander Gunn in Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood. Article II. No date

What a tragedy. George’s broken body was found lifeless. He was probably about 38 years old (if he was a similar age to his wife Christy). Think of the sadness of the community as they prepared George for burial.
Christy was now a widow with five young children to provide for on her own. How she managed we will never know except we do know that folks in this district supported each other in whatever ways they could.

“Being so much secluded they constituted a happy community among themselves, forming as it were one large family.  When one was in trouble the others suffered with them.  To the widow and the fatherless their portion from the produce of the sea was set aside and divided equally with them”. 
Source: Cairn of Remembrance Northern Ensign 5.11.1912

 Widow Duncan's Son

A few years later the support Christy got in a near disaster was hard to believe This story is told in detail in the obituary of John Gunn one of the remarkable leaders of the Badbea community. As before I will leave the telling to someone close to the action:
“A widow Duncan lived in Badbea at one time, and a son of hers, a boy of about ten years of age, while amusing himself about the high cliffs so common at Badbea, slipped his foot and fell over the rock which was at this particular part very high. He could be seen resting on a ledge of the rock down below, and the waves driven with great fury by a southeast gale against the rocky coast threatened to engulf the helpless youth. The whole population of the district congregated at the scene of the accident, but none could be found of sufficient courage to attempt a rescue. The rock was almost perpendicular, and no-one ever ventured to scale it. And the sea was in such a state as no boat could live in it. John Gunn, who was Miller at Berriedale at this time, was sent for as the last resort. At once he started for Badbea, a distance of 3 miles. On arriving there he repaired to the scene of the accident and without the least hesitation, commenced the descent, got down, seized the helpless youth, who showed some signs of life, placed him on his shoulder, binding him to his own body by a rope previously provided, and began the perilous ascent. The spectators at top looked on with baited breath as they saw the brave and generous man climbing up the face of that perpendicular rock, when one false step or one loose stone would have hurled both the rescued and the rescuer to destruction; but he succeeded in carrying his precious charge safely to his mother's house, and laid him bleeding and wounded on his mother's knee. Yet such an act of bravery was allowed to pass without the slightest notice, while the brave generous hearted man risked his own life to rescue a fellow creature. The face of that rock was never scaled by a human being either before or after this”.
Source: Death of John Gunn, One of the “Men” of the North.  Northern Ensign 13 July 1876
Whether this was William or George is not known but whichever son it was he probably never went near the edge of the cliff again.
Note: The rope used would have been made from heather
George Gunn: Yonder was the cliff that George Duncan fell over."

So closely were these two stories of the Duncan family held in the memories of the Badbea community that they were retold by George Gunn, speaker, at the unveiling ceremony of the Badbea Memorial Cairn in 1912.
“Yonder was the high cliff over which George Duncan fell and was killed in coming from the Manse at Berriedale on a dark night, and down there where the young son of Widow Duncan was brought up by John Gunn after falling over the rocks and it is singular that Mr Sutherland met one of the widow’s sons afterwards in New Zealand.”
Source John O Groat Journal 8 Nov 1912

Christy is a Crofter

So what do we know happened to the widow Christy and children of George Duncan.
Census 1841 Achnacraig
According to the Census of 1841 Christian aged 50 was still at Achnacraig as a crofter with Betty (Elizabeth) age 20, William age 18, George 16 and Anne 12 all living at home with her.  I have not traced the eldest daughter Jean.
The 1851 Census shows Christian at age 60 now living in Parkside near Lybster. Her vocation is given as Retired Fisherman’s Wife. Daughter Elizabeth unmarried at age 31 is a Net Maker (fishing nets) and William also unmarried at 29 is an Agricultural Labourer. I do not know how old Christy was when she eventually died.
Son George Duncan married Catherine Collins in 1850. They moved to Lanarkshire, Scotland and had eight children. George was a policeman.
Son William married Catherine Andrews in 1854. They went to live in Wick where William was a Stone Dyke builder and later described as a Mason.
At the time of the 1851 census daughter Anne had moved down the hill to Ausdale to be a House Servant to James Harvey the shepherd, his wife Helen and their four young children. Ann was 21. James apparently was a well respected sheep farm manager especially skilled with Cheviots.
Anne Duncan & James Harvey family records
 The next thing we know, Helen Harvey had died and James married the maid aka Anne Duncan in 1852. James became the father of several more children by Anne. The family emigrated to New Zealand in 1858 on the ship Ashburton and settled near Masterton. Anne bore six children then tragically died on 10 March 1867 at the young age of 39 – about the same age as her father had died. Ann was buried in the Masterton Cemetery. James Harvey lived on till 1894.

His Mangled Remains

The horror of George’s terrible death in the dark was sedimented into the rocks of the Berriedale and Badbea landscape. The very cliffs that he fell over had stories to tell. “Yonder was the cliff that George Duncan fell over,” said George Gunn at a gathering over eighty years later. And again “Down there was the cliff where the young son of Widow Duncan was brought up.” This time commemorating both the place and the character of the pious John Gunn in his fearless rescue of the near lifeless boy and reuniting him with his mother. The retelling of these events also served as a reminder that there had been great wrongs not yet righted.
Opening of the Badbea Memorial Cairn 1912
Families and people have gone and are now dispersed but in remembering the experiences of individual families and the legends surrounding tragic events they endured we are building our own memory cairns.  We can find memory texts - archival records, photos of the very places, maps drawn at the time, walk around the remains of the settlements and the paths others trod to connect between past and future and pay homage to the lives they led. The sense of place is still strong at Achnacraig and Badbea.
Cliffs-at-Dawn-Berriedale httpwww.caithnessbiodiversity.org.uk

George Duncan, His two sons and three daughters
as well, we might add, his wife Christy Grant