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