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.’ http://www.bbc.co.uk
  • 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, 

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