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

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