Friday, October 17, 2014

Caithness Convoy

A Holiday in the Highlands

In 1881 an article was published in the Northern Ensign as part of a series called A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness. Chapter V was about Berriedale and Badbea. I will record the second part of the article for this blog and head back to the beginning next blog. The reason for this is that I have just written about Catherine and Christina who were both living at Badbea at the time this visit took place and may even have entertained these people.

A rare glimpse into Badbea hospitality 1881

The writer says:
A few miles along the coast in this direction, perched amongst the rocks, which descend sheer as a wall to the sea beneath, a depth of several hundred feet, is a little cluster of five or six homesteads of the most primitive character imaginable.
Stones and heather at Badbea
A lady, who chaperoned us on several pleasant excursions, volunteered one day to take us to call upon these out of the world neighbours, at Badbea, as the place is called. What a unique little colony we found ourselves amidst, after picking our way across the heather and rocks, surmounting several styles, and taking flying leaps over black “pots” in a peat-moss, where we lost our reckoning, encouraged by the advice to be cautious, and not to step on adders! “With good heart and our Lady’s grace,” however we reached our destination at last, and if the distance had been ten miles in place of two or three we would have walked every step of it with pleasure to receive the warm reception we met with at Badbea.
On a slope so steep that it seemed incredible they could have been cultivated by the plough, lay the little strips of fields. Potatoes and corn were growing to the extreme verge of the cliffs – the very sight making one feel nervous: one rock being pointed out as the spot where, only a short time before, a keeper named McEwen met a dreadful death by falling into the sea beneath while endeavouring to reach the eyrie of an eagle. The entire party were Gaelic-speaking – three-fourths being Sutherlands – but mostly all knew English, and marvellously good English too. One house, however, we were precluded from calling at, as the mistress spoke only her native language. The most pretentious of the cottages did not contain more than three rooms, and some only one – little “native” looking thatched concerns. The last of the group – standing only a few feet back from the edge of the cliff – gained great interest when we were told that when their children were young, the people were in the habit of tethering them to keep them from falling over the rocks!
A surprising happy contented look pervaded the whole colony, who possessed immeasurably more natural refinement and dignity than many of the denizens of large towns. Almost completely shut off from the outside world, and its hurried life – shut in by seas and rocks, they had all a distinctly self-sustaining air about them, as if constantly thrown on their own resources.
We felt as though we had got round the corner from modern civilisation, for a little while, where scarcely a rumour of the Eastern or any other “questions,” “crisis” or “embroglio” could reach our ears. Entering a cottage by what was evidently the ordinary door, we found ourselves confronted by some half-dozen Highland cattle, in a building closely attached to the dwelling house for warmth in the winter. 
Highland Cottage 1860 
Katherine Ellice

On the wall of the byre hung a sort of large fishing basket – this was the nest in which the hens laid their eggs – a couple in it at that moment faithfully fulfilling their destiny. From this novel vestibule, a door led into the kitchen, in the centre of which was a peat fire, the chimney consisting of a considerable hole in the roof, by no means directly over the fire, for the danger of rain or storm putting it out. Suspended from the rafters –ebony black with smoke- was an iron bar to which pots were hooked. In a corner of the room a hen was fastened by a foot, her flock of chickens darting about the floor, in imminent danger of being stepped on. Everything was very clean, and of boundless interest.

This photo of a Badbea house was taken probably twenty
years after the article was written but it is almost certainly
one of the houses visited, possibly the Gunn house mentioned 
below. The Badbea houses in the early nineteenth century 
were generally smaller and had no chimney

Built on the slope - of course - there was no flat land

From an inner (or more correctly, an upper room, for the houses were on the slope to such an extent, that though all on one floor, a person in the uppermost or parlour end, was several feet higher than one in the kitchen or lower end,) issued “the lady of the house,” who received us with genuine, natural politeness, making us feel instantly at home, which stamped her in our minds as one of “nature’s gentlewomen.” With kindly alacrity, a vigourous young woman, with loveable childlike eyes, was meanwhile heaping an armful of peats on the fire, filling the place with pungent hospitable smoke, which made its escape quite as much by the door as the chimney. 
China plates at the Helmsdale museun. The blue Willow 
Pattern was popular with some even leaving Badbea
 for New Zealand in 1839
The kettle was promptly swung on; marvellous china dishes, each with a story of its own, were disinterred from sundry presses and chests, and in a short time we were enjoying a welcome cup of tea, amidst surroundings the most charmingly natural possible. Taking our complexions in our hands, we wished exceedingly we could have prolonged the visit for a whole. The good souls were kindness and hospitality itself, and paid us the original compliment, telling us we were “fine, plain, homely cratures.” 

This 1881 census extract shows a 2 year old girl named Donaldina Gunn living with her parents Jessie and
John Gunn
The numbering of the houses does not indicate the number of houses at Badbea but the number of houses 
in the Berriedale district
The above three census records show the names of everyone living at Badbea on the night of the 1881 census
A short time back there lived in Caithness a number of preachers or evangelists mostly lay people , who held services in their houses on Sundays, the churches being frequently long distances apart. These “Fathers of Caithness” as they were called were held in the highest esteem and veneration, the people resorting to them from all quarters. One of these had lived at Badbea. And his honoured memory is treasured with affectionate respect. 

Caithness Convoy

On leaving a cottage the mistress of it invariably accompanied us as far as the next one, and introduced us the inmates, according to what is known as “Caithness convoy.” At the last house in Badbea we came upon one of the most beautiful children we had almost ever seen, a lovely little golden haired girl, whose parents had conferred on her the peculiar name of Dolina. 

A Blessing from a visitor

Dear, kindly Badbea folks! May Heaven ever richly bless their banks and their store, kail and potatoes!
Badbea landscape probably at the end of the twentieth century.

Source: A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness. Chapter V – Berriedale and Badbea. Northern Ensign, Thursday January 13, 1881

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Christina Sutherland, Female Servant and Wife 1830 - 1887

Birthplace Gartymore

So what happened to Christina Sutherland the servant and companion who had worked for nearly thirty years for John and Catharine without any payment? Christina had been born in Gartymore near Helmsdale in 1830 to William Sutherland and Christian McDonald. The small crofting township of Gartymore (Garstiemhor meaning the ‘big field’) near Helmsdale, Kildonan, was created at the beginning of the 19th century at the time of the Sutherland Clearances. The people were allocated tiny pieces of land at Gartymore and had to build their own houses, work the boggy land and somehow survive on the steep hillsides. It was hoped that they would take up fishing but they did not. They continued to live as crofters in very difficult conditions. Today at Gartymore there are many ruined crofts.

Her mark

From the documents where Christina records her mark X such as this one on Catherine's death certificate, we can probably assume she was illiterate and never went to school.

Census Badbea 1861

Badbea Census 1861
The first census record we have of Christina is 1861 but if, as Catharine said, she had worked for nearly thirty years, she would have started work at Badbea more like 1852 or 1853. She would have been about 22 years old at that time. Christina taking unpaid domestic work indicates how tough the employment options were, and also perhaps the opportunity to work in the household of a highly respected Christian leader as John Badbea had some benefits. By the 1881 census Catharine is shown as a crofter of three acres and Christina as a General Servant (Domestic) so the division of labour seems probably that Catharine is doing the outside croft work (as she had always done) and Christina the household & domestic chores.

Thirty years with no wages

Catharine Sutherland's Will
From Catharine's will (see previous blog for further details) we know that Christina Sutherland worked for nearly thirty years without receiving any wages. 

Badbea 1881

Badbea census 1881
There were only eight families at Badbea in 1861. One to notice was neighbour, Donald Sutherland living at Badbea with his wife Barbara and children. They were a family from Sutherlandshire. Donald and Barbara with an adopted son were still at Badbea in 1881. No doubt everyone in the hamlet knew each very well indeed. In July 1881 Barbara Sutherland died of pneumonia. Donald was now a widower (he was shown as a crofter and salmon fisher on Barbara death certificate). Being a widower would have been a difficult situation for a man trying to eke out a living in this brutal place.


Some time after the death of Catharine on 19th October 1882, Christina received a marriage proposal from her neighbour Donald Sutherland. She accepted. On Friday, 19th October 1883, Christina married Badbea widower and crofter Donald Sutherland. 
Marriage of Donald and Christina
I think it is really poignant that this marriage took place on the anniversary of Catharine’s death. I can’t help feeling that Christina chose this date in memory of her dear friend Catharine. This would have been a happy wedding.
So widower Donald has a new wife and Christina, after all these years, has a husband and a home to call her own. She had some possessions of her own to bring to her new home. I really hope she had some comfort and good times with her new circumstances. I wish I could say they lived happily ever after but alas the good years were short lived.


In October 1887 four years after her marriage, tragedy befell Christina. For some unknown reason she was travelling alone, almost certainly on foot and away from home. October weather should have been all right but tragically it turned fatally cold.
Death Record of Christina Sutherland
Her death certificate reads:
Christina Sutherland. Married to Donald Sutherland, Crofter. Found 1887 October Fourteenth about 10 hours A.M. At Oldinabea (?) House, County Reay & Badbea. Usual residence Badbea, Berriedale, Female, Aged 55 years. (Supposed) Exposure to cold. D Sutherland Widower Present at finding Body. Donald’s signature is on the death certificate.

Langwell to Oldinabea
It is hard to be sure exactly where Christina got caught in the cold. The location is really hard to read on the death certificate. I am puzzled by the reference to County Reay and Badbea together as they are on different sides of north Highlands. There was a small settlement at Oldinabea (now called Aultibea) on the Langwell River but that is nowhere near County Reay. Christina was possibly walking on an old track between Reay and Badbea. Wherever she was she did not reach home. Donald went out, probably at the first light of day, to look for his wife Christina and found her.

Death record of Christina - Corrected Entry
Christina’s original death certificate uses the word ‘Supposed’ in relation to her death but the Register of Corrected Entries confirms she died of Syncope (loss of consciousness) from Exposure to cold for 24 hours. This entry also confirms she died in Badbea. Donald must have found Christina unconscious and somehow brought her home to Badbea where she died.  One record says she was 55 and the other 60 but calculating from her birth she was 57. It is not known where Christina was buried but it may have been the old Berriedale cemetery.

Aultibea on Langwell Water
I have included a photo of Aultibea showing Highlands hill country with Morven in the background. 
The photographer makes an interesting comment:
‘An old estate house which can be used as a bolt hole in a storm. Not a bothy but good option for shelter if you get a horrific day on the hills.’


Donald Sutherland stayed on at Badbea. The 1891 census shows his daughter Hannah and her husband and their little daughter Barbara living with Donald. Donald died on 3rd May 1891 aged 79. His son-in-law was present and signed the death certificate.

Christina's Marriage Mark X

Christina's Mark X on her Marriage record


Women were the very backbone of old Scotland. They battled unimaginable hardships to keep those in their households alive and well. At Badbea add to that the ferocious elements, impossibly small and unproductive plots of land, crippling rents, little medical support, demanding and selfish lairds. They were supposed to have alternative income streams but in this case the laird Donald Horne had shut down the fishing at Auchnacraig. At the opening of the Memorial, it was acknowledged that along with the difficulties of gathering past residents names, the names of daughters of families had to be omitted. So while the godly man John Badbea had a plaque all to himself, Catharine, his beloved niece who nurtured and nursed him for years is not mentioned. Christina who worked as a servant in Badbea for thirty years without any pay is also not mentioned. These two women despite almost overwhelming odds made a real difference to the world in which they lived and the people they cared for.  During their lives they both had more than their share of sorrow and both died tragically before their time. Neither left descendants to remember them or had grandchildren named after them. I have found them both to be great examples of true loyalty and dedication that characterized so many of the men and women of old Badbea.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Catharine Sutherland Female Servant 1814-1882

I want you to meet someone.

Catharine Sutherland was the ‘Female Servant’ and ‘Housekeeper’ for her uncle, John Badbea Sutherland. Catharine would be my 2nd cousin 3 times removed.

To recap on previous blogs:

  • ‘The remote [Scottish, Highlands] settlement of Badbea, perched on cliff tops above the sea, is one of the most notorious locations to have received the dispossessed highlanders, as well as one of the earliest.’
  • John Badbea was a leader in the Badbea community. He never married and suffered from chronic bad health, often needing support to leave the house. He was a devout Christian and kept an open home for worship thus a great many people came to his house. His sister Elizabeth (aka Betty) who also suffered severe health problems lived in the same small stone house. Catherine, the servant and housekeeper, as well as another servant girl also lived in the house.

Celebrate Catharine's life and mourn her death

I have posted in previous blogs photos of the Badbea memorial cairn that named many families who lived there. Sadly many inspirational and hard working women are not named. Catharine seems to me to be an especially heart-rending omission so I would like to celebrate her life and mourn her death.

Catharine Sutherland was born in Ramscraigs near Dunbeath, on the east coast of northern Scotland, and baptised on 21 March 1814.  Catharine’s father was Robert Sutherland and mother Janet Sutherland. Robert’s parents are not known. Janet, a daughter of James and Catherine Sutherland, was born in Ausdale in 1794. When she was about 10, Janet was cleared from Ausdale by James Anderson along with her widowed mother, brothers and sisters.
Catharine’s sister Elizabeth was born in December 1815. Janet and Robert were then living up the coast in Forse. Robert was shown as a cooper, so making barrels to store and ship salted herrings for the fishing industry.  Little further is known of Elizabeth, although she will re appear briefly at the end of this story.
The shore at Dunbeath
The evidence is scant but it seems probable that Janet and Robert died when Catharine and Elizabeth were young. Catharine went to live at Badbea with her Uncle John and remained in the same house for the rest of her life. She is shown in the 1841 and later Badbea census records in John’s household as F. S or a Female Servant.  
1841 Census Catharine is a F.S. or Female Servant
The 1841 census shows Catharine’s age as 20 but as with many census records where ages were rounded up or down, this is wrong - she was nearer 27. She would have worked for Uncle John probably for many years before this census.

Catharine as Servant

So how would this busy household devoted to ‘gatherings of men and women’ to say nothing of those coming for counseling and comfort have impacted on the family servant Catharine? A very great deal. John had no wife to help run the house.
Catharine had to do just about everything in nearly impossible conditions; getting water from the Badbea burn, growing and cooking the food, milking the cow, shearing the sheep, keeping the peat fire burning, keeping John warm, and as he got older she had to accompany him out for visits then nurse him back at home. In addition, Catharine had to help care for her aunt Elizabeth who was sick and in chronic pain for years. Catharine herself got Typhus and was very sick. There was usually a younger servant girl in the house as well.
The Blog ‘Afflictions’ has extracts from John’s letters. I will recount some of them here so think about his niece Catharine instead of John when reading them again. Also think about Catharine walking up to the Grey Hen’s Well in all sorts of weathers to meet the coach with her uncle’s letters and bring him back a newspaper from Glasgow if the coach left one.
Extracts from letters written by John Sutherland from Badbea
BADBEA, 23rd February, 1841. To David Steven
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…PS Pray that I get a cow yet for I lost the cow that I had last week.
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.
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.
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.
The remains of the closest house to the house of John, Elizabeth 
and Catharine. The stones of their house were used to build the 
Memorial Monument
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.
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… 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, 19th November, 1860
I got conveyance to Dunbeath, and my niece went with me to the market and we came home next day.  It was a poor market besides what I have seen there of the Lord’s people.

By the mid eighteen fifties  Donald Horne the demanding Laird and owner of the Langwell estate, that included the Badbea crofts, had got into financial difficulties, and in 1857 sold the estate to the fifth Duke of Portland.  Even though the Duke of Portland was very wealthy his factors raised the Badbea rents to about three or four pounds a year. Those still living there had no option but try to eke out a living and pay the rents to the Portlands or leave.
1851 Census Catharine is a House Servant 
1861 Census Catharine is now the Housekeeper
By the 1861 census John’s sister Elizabeth had died and a servant, Christina Sutherland, aged 28, from Helmsdale was living in the house and helping Catharine who is now shown as a ‘Housekeeper’.

Death of John

John Badbea died on 30th August 1864.  Catharine was at the side of uncle that she had looked after for so many years. Being present at the death she was required to mark the record with her X  
Although she had long wanted to leave Badbea, Catharine stayed on in the house after for nearly twenty more years. In reality there were probably few other options for her.
1871 Census Catharine is a Domestic Servant
1881 Census Catharine is a Crofter of 3 acres Arable

In the 1881 census Catharine is described as a crofter of 3 acres and the house has 3 windows. Christina her servant is with her. Life would have continued with all its struggles as before. As she is shown as a crofter Catherine would now be paying the rent to the Portlands. There were only eight families living at Badbea in 1881.


On Monday 2 October 1882 something terrible happened. Catharine had a traumatic injury that resulted in the dislocation of her spine and paraplegia. She would have been in terrible pain. She was sixty-eight years old.

Catharine's Will

Realising the seriousness of the situation Catharine summons a lawyer from Wick to write her will. All those years of being a hard working family servant and housekeeper to being paralysed and so weak she could not use her arms to even sign her name or mark her X as she had done before.
On Friday 13 October 1882 the law clerk wrote on Catharine’s behalf:
I Catherine Sutherland, residing at Badbea in the Parish of Latheron and County of Caithness, Considering the uncertainty of life and being desirous of settling my affairs so as to prevent all disputes concerning the same after my death do hereby Give, Grant, Assign and Dispone to and in favour of Donald Mackay, Blacksmith, Berriedale and Donald Mann, Overseer of Works, Berriedale.. as Trustees for… my whole heritable and moveable Estate wherever situated belonging or which shall belong to me at the time of my death,… First, For payment of all my just and lawful debts, deathbed and Funeral expenses and the Expenses of executing this Trust: Second, I direct my said Trustees to pay the following legacies at the first term of Whitsunday or Martinmas occurring after my death viz: 
To my sister Elizabeth Sutherland the sum of Four Pounds sterling and the best blanket in the house. I direct my trustees to sell and dispose of the white and black cow Fleckuq and divide the proceeds equally between my cousins Mrs Jessie Macleod or Munro, Navidale, her son George Munro and Alexander Macleod, Crofter, Navidale and Third, I direct my said Trustees to pay and assign the remainder of my whole Estate heritable and moveable to Christina Sutherland residing with me and who has been my servant for nearly thirty years without receiving any wages…

By authority of the above named and designed Catherine Sutherland who declares she cannot write on account of sickness and bodily weakness, I William Miller Junior, Law Agent and Solicitor, Wick, Notary Public subscribe these presents for her….( the full will is available to read)

Death of Catharine

On the following Thursday, at 11 pm 19th October 1882, Catharine died. Her servant and faithful companion Christina Sutherland was present at the death and put her mark X on the death certificate.

Deaths in the Parish of Latheron in the County of Caithness. Catherine Sutherland, Crofter, (Single) 1882 October Nineteenth 11th hour P.M. Badbea, Berriedale, Female, 68 years; Daughter of Robert Sutherland, Crofter (deceased) and Janet Sutherland M.S. Sutherland (deceased), Dislocation of Spine 18 days, Paraplegia, As cert by A. Martin M.B. & Ch.B. Informant Christina Sutherland her X mark, Domestic Servant and Inmate (Present) Alex’r Gunn, Registrar & Witness

Inventory of Personal Estate and Effects

The Inventory of the personal estate and effects of Catherine after her death were:
Cash in the house                                                          £16.0.0
Cash in The Commercial Bank of Scotland                   £60.0.0
Interest to date of death                                                 £0.5s.10d.
Interest to date of Oath                                                  £0.7s.8d.
Household furniture, farm stocking, Implements          £30.10s.11d.
Total Estate                                                                   £107.4s.5d.

An estate of £107 is quite surprising considering the difficult living conditions at Badbea. Over the years Catharine must have been able to make some cash surplus perhaps from selling milk or cheese products from her cow. She may have had eggs from hens to sell.
Sister Elizabeth was obviously still alive and likely somewhere in Latheron. I have been unable to trace her whereabouts. Also Catharine considered her cousins in Navidale (the closest settlement to Badbea on the other side of the Ord). But amazingly we find out that Christina the servant has worked for nearly thirty years without receiving any wages. I think this tells us a lot about the difficulties of being a single woman in the Scottish Highlands at that time. Christina has had a roof over her head plus food and the companionship of Catherine and she may have either been content with that or had no other options.

What a hard life Catharine had. Orphaned and taken in by her uncle. Having to work both the croft and the house she suffered broken health and hardship. Yet she was still tender and compassionate with both her sick aunt and uncle.
It is not known where Catharine was buried but it may have been the old Berriedale cemetery.


So if I was to write an epitaph for Catherine’s grave I would rework the memorial plaque made for John Badbea.
Very specially in memory of Catharine Sutherland
Beloved and faithful servant and housekeeper 
Tender and Affectionate in spirit
Her home for the greater part of her life was on the site of this monument where she died in 1882
Catharine's X on the death certificate of John Badea Sutherland

The Badbea Monument built on the site of 
John's house where Catharine lived and 
worked for about 40 years

Next blog: Christina Sutherland the Servant Girl – 1830 – 1887

Source Drawings: Johnson, Clifton, The Land of Heather, The Macmillan Company, London, 1903, Illustrations,