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.

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