Sunday, November 30, 2014

Smuggling. Article I,17/07/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part B

Smuggling background for Article I

Making whisky was part of the fibre of every day existence for Scots. There were a number of parliamentary interventions to impose taxes and controls on whisky but these only served to make ‘smuggling’ or illicit distilling and selling of  whisky  a matter for almost the entire country. Excisemen (or gaugers) were appointed to collect whisky taxes and catch ‘smugglers’. In reality, magistrates often imposed moderate fines and reaped their own rewards in whisky. Like everyone else, the residents of Badbea had their own browsts and sold whisky - that being one of the few ways they could get cash to meet the rent demands of the Laird.

The Whiskey Still by McIan

Northern Ensign, Thursday, July 17, 1879. Article I 

Part B continued from previous blog.

In these days of which I speak, smuggling was very common. Every house and family in the village had their "browst" or two, every year, some oftener. The excise laws were not so stringent then as they are now. A person caught in the very act then got off with a fine of 5s or l0s. A visit to Bailie Waters, Wick, before the court day by the accused party, and the relating of a sorrowful tale, had always the effect of reducing the fine to the very lowest. Bailie Waters was a man of a tender, sympathising heart, and no poor man ever failed in finding in him a true friend. But the law was made more stringent, and put in the form it stands in now, which did not, however, terrify the Badbea folks, or make them give up the trade. Not at all, it only made them more vigilant. They had a good friend in the innkeeper at Berriedale, John Dow. It was the gaugers stationed at Dunbeath that came the way of Badbea, Berriedale, and neighbourhood. They always called at the inn at Berriedale on their way west. No sooner did they arrive there than John dispatched a messenger to Badbea to apprise them of the approach of the enemy. The messenger lost no time in reaching Badbea- a distance of three miles, all perspiring and worn-out after his long run, for he ran the whole road. Then the hurry commenced. You could see three or four men running in different directions, carrying sacks of malt on their shoulders, some to the hills, and others to the rocks, all bent on concealing the precious stuff form the hawk-eyed gauger. Then the dreaded party appeared, and began his search. If successful, his find was scattered broadcast among the heather or grass as the case might be, but was scarcely out of sight when numbers of willing hands and fingers gathered what had been so ruthlessly scattered, proving the truth of the saying that there is "a time to scatter and a time to gather that which was scattered", and it is surprising how little would be lost.

Excise men at an illicit still near Gairloch late 19th C
Source: Am Baile Facebook
Another dreaded day was when the cutter, the smart "Atalanta", paid us a visit. She would sail in close to the shore, her captain scanning the face of the rocks with his glass, and woe betide the unfortunate bothy which came within the focus of his keen eye. When a discovery was made, a boat was at once manned and sent ashore, armed with cutlasses and pistol. These cutter-men climbed the face of the most perpendicular rock, with as much ease as they would climb the shrouds of the "Atalanta". Should they find any tubs or barrels in the bothy, they were hurled down the face of the rock, and reached the shore in staves. Then the match would be applied to the dry thatch of the bothy, and in a few minutes, all that was left were only a few smouldering embers.
The "Atalanta" was no sooner out of sight than these staves lying scattered on the shore were quickly collected together and handed over to David Sutherland, better known as "David Badbea", who combined the offices of joiner and cooper, and in twenty-four hours they were all in their former shape, and ready for use, and there was no want of willing hands who restored the burnt down bothy to its former state. It could not be said, however, that the gaugers were very exacting or troublesome. Many a good quarter of barley was sold by the gauger to the Badbea folks to be converted into Highland whisky, sent to their very door by his own carts and many a good gallon of the whisky made from his own barley did the gauger take in part payment for his victual. Your readers will be very apt to think from the forgoing statement that vice must have reigned triumphant in Badbea. Will they believe me when I tell them that in Badbea I first saw the light of day, and lived in it till I grew up to the years of manhood, and that I never saw a drunk person in it, nor ever heard of one of its inhabitants utter a profane oath. So that while they engaged so freely in a line of life contrary to the laws of the land, just because it was so common they had no other vice of any kind.

Two Godly Men

Perhaps this was to be accounted for from the example and precept of the godly John Sutherland, "John Badbea" as he was familiarly called, who also held meetings or readings in his own house every Sunday, when everyone in Badbea and Auchnacraig, of which more by and by, regularly attended. John was assisted by a few of the godly men in the place. Robert Grant, " Polbagh" was one of these, and always closed the meeting with a prayer. Full of the spirit of devotion, and unconscious perhaps of the impatience of a number of young ones, he generally lengthened out his supplications to a good long hour. Indeed, there were other folks there who, if they were asked their own opinion, would be very apt to say that the good earnest man, was a shade too long in arriving at the "Amen".

Cas Chrom or foot plough so useful in rocky landscapes
I said already that the inhabitants of Badbea lived a primitive life. This will appear more striking when we find that there was only one horse in the whole village. There was no a plough in it, a particularly made spade being the implement used in place of a plough to till the ground. The harrow was dragged behind a man, and the manure carried on women's backs in creels.

A crofter using a Cas Chrom to get beds ready for potatoes
Yet there were as fine young men and maidens to be found in Badbea as could be found anywhere. The young men of Badbea are scattered all over the world, some of them leading men in New Zealand, and others of them maintaining the honour of Britain's arms in Zululand, as we saw by your paper last week, and those whose lot it has been to remain nearer the place of their birth occupy as honourable and respectable a position in society as those who were more favoured with a more refined upbringing.
Planting potatoes on Skye. 

Note: The photos and illustrations were not in the original Northern Ensign article.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Simple Life. Article I, 17/07/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part A

I said in the previous blog that I would post the articles written by A Native of Badbea aka Alexander Gunn. There are some challenges in doing this as some of the articles are quite long - probably too long for the average blog. I do not want to edit them as each paragraph has points of interest. I will try breaking each article down into manageable segments and posting into more than one blog. The pictures I have added were not with the original articles. They are all well known Scottish pictures and widely available on the internet. 
Introductory Paragraph
The first series of articles from I to XIII  was called Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood. Article I was printed in the Northern Ensign on Thursday, July 17, 1879.
A crofter & wife planting potatoes Skye late 1880s

Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood
Article I, Part A

I daresay most of your readers are familiar with Berriedale. Its position is such that the public - the travelling public in particular- are perfectly well acquainted with it and its beautiful scenery, but Badbea stands in a different position, and is but imperfectly known beyond the bounds of the Duke's estate. It is, therefore, better to give a descriptive sketch of it at the outset.
Badbea lies halfway between the Ord and Berriedale. The third milestone to the west of Berriedale stands at the head of Badbea burn, which divides the village in two. It is not seen or observed by the traveller from the turnpike road, as it lies nestling on the slope of the hills facing the sea, and looking right across the Moray Firth. It consisted, when I knew it, of twelve families, each having a small croft to cultivate. The crofts extend to the very edge of the high rocks, so rugged and dangerous that only here and there is there any possibility of getting down to the shore beneath.
Interior of a crofter's cottage, Skye about 1930
Each crofter possessed a few head of cattle, and lived quite a simple, primitive life, having little intercourse with the world beyond but for all that they were happy and contented. With abundance of fish with which the coast abounded, plenty of good potatoes and milk, and a fat pig, they did not know what want was, but to anything like luxury they were total strangers. Tea, which was at that time 8s per lb., and sugar (very inferior) l0p per lb., and loaf bread, were commodities almost unknown, and were never used, except on special occasions, such as a birth or a death.
Grinding corn, spinning and carding wool 1879
Source: Am Baile Facebook
The people were industrious and frugal. Every house had its spinning­ wheel, on which was spun the material for clothing the whole household, male and female, and if their homemade clothing did not come up to the fine finish of shop-bought, it had the advantage over it in warmth and durability. Spinning and carding were learnt by all the young women at their mother's knee, so that when they got houses of their own, they were at no loss to supply the wants of the goodman in respect of clothing. The only luxury they possessed was a "wee drap" of good genuine whisky, also of their own manufacture.
 Newhaven Fisherboy or His Faither's Breeks 1845 by Robert Adamson David Octavius Hill showing warm handspun clothiing. This boy is an orphan and has inherited his father's trousers as well as his work and responsibilities. 

Article I  - to be continued.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Native of Badbea - Alexander Gunn 1820-1897

Alexander Gunn 1820-1897

I have a collection of newspaper cuttings from the Northern Ensign from about 1870 to 1897 signed
  • A Native of Badbea.
  •  A.G.
  • Alexander Gunn.

Alexander Gunn was born in 1820 in Badbea to John Gunn and Marion Sinclair. He was one of 11 children. He was my half-first cousin 3 times removed or to put it another way Marion Sinclair was half sister to my great, great, grandmother Christina Sutherland.
 "Alexander had the privilege of a pious upbringing, both on the part of his father and mother, and he cherished with the deepest affection the hallowed memories of his younger days and loved to dwell on them in after years."
Alexander Gunn is of great interest to me because he was the author of my newspaper cuttings, writing many letters to the Editor of the Northern Ensign over a period of 40 years. His obituary makes the following comments:
"..being of a keen and observant nature and possessing an excellent memory, the scenes of his childhood and youth were remembered as vividly as if they happened only yesterday.
His subjects were most varied from steam for fishing boats...evictions, recollections of Badbea and Berriedale, recollections of his schools and school days, to politics and religion.
There was not a spot he did not remember, nor a family in its depopulated straths that he could not recall.
He remembered distinctly the "good old" smuggling days, and he had many interesting stories to tell of these, and also of the press gang times."
Alexander Gunn was a nineteenth century blogger. Apparently he once had the idea of publishing all his letters in a book but did not think there would be enough interest. Pity. The writer of his obituary in 1897 claims:
 "He was probably the best living authority on the history of the locality for the last sixty years."

I have been collecting the letters of Alexander Gunn from various sources for a while now and recently received some additional material from the Wick Carnegie Public Library which I acknowledge with gratitude. A few more letters may be located yet. I live in hope. Unfortunately the Northern Ensign pages are not yet in the British Newspaper collection nor available on findmypast.
I have quoted extracts from Alex Gunn's letters already on this blog but for the next few weeks I intend to do a series of posts of the "graphic sketches from his pen."  

A Challenge for Wick cavers.

The writer of Alex Gunn's obituary records a memory of Alexander Gunn which is probably impossible to verify but is tantalising.

Uag Eachin Cave

He remembered specially the smuggling in Uag Eachin or Hector's cave in which the ashes and remains of the peats used are still said to be seen; and the clear, pure stream of cool water used for many a gallon of spirits that never paid duty may still be seen at the east side of the cave. At the inner end of this cave is another to which access is only got by creeping on the hands and knees, and can only be seen by carrying a light. This cave, owing to the limestone nature of the rocks, has many stalactites hanging from the roof, while small stalagmites are also being formed on parts of the floor. In the other cave are also beautiful specimens of hart's tongue ferns, with large fronds fully eighteen inches long and three inches across. This is one of the few places in Caithness in which this beautiful and graceful fern is found in abundance. Mr. Gunn remembered those since his boyhood, nearly seventy years ago, and one of his unfulfilled wishes was to see these scenes, and to get fern and stalactites from Uag-Eachin for his fernery at home.
Unfortunately I do not have a photo of Uag Eachin cave but have included a photo of a cave at Ousdale very close by. There are numerous caves at the base of the cliffs here.

Source: Northern Ensign 6 July 1897 The Late Mr Alexander Gunn, Glasgow. Formerly of Badbea, Caithness

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

William McEwan Gamekeeper

North east of Boch Ailean at Leac Gilong
Source: Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 148. With permission
"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."
Source: A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness. Northern Ensign, January 13, 1881

The Duke of Portland Buys Langwell

Norfolk Chronicle & Norwich Gazette Aug 22, 1857
In Scotland at the turn of the nineteenth century there were substantial changes in land use, with the establishment of large sheep farms and the accompanying removal of traditional crofters off the land. For a while the sheep farms brought increased returns for the landowners but by the middle of the century many sheep farms were being offered for sale and advertised as potential hunting and fishing estates. The Langwell Estate at Berriedale in Caithness had been converted to sheep farming by Sir John Sinclair, then sold to James Horne, and to the Duke of Portland in 1857. 
Gamekeepers were employed by landowners to prevent poaching (considered a serious crime), control predators and monitor the health and abundance of the wildlife on the estate.
The following story published in 1857 showed Mr McEwan as a Gamekeeper in Ausdale in 1857. The Ausdale farm and moors were part of Langwell. Benjamin Hall was probably a Factor managing Ausdale

William and Janet McEwan and Family

William McEwan came from a family of gamekeepers in Perthshire. His father Duncan was a Gamekeeper before him. William had married Janet (Jessie) Kinnear in Perthshire in 1840. Their daughter Jessie was born about 1846, son William about 1849 and son Archibald about 1851 all in Perthshire. Daughter Agnes was born in 1858 and son James in 1860 both in Berriedale, Caithness.

1861 Census

The 1861 census shows the McEwan family all living in Ausdale.

1871 Census

In the 1871 census daughter Jessie and son William have left home.  Son Archibald is now a Gamekeeper in Ausdale along with his father. William is found in the Wick parish in a cottage in Keiss as a Gamekeeper to his Grace the Duke of Portland.  I have not traced daughter Jessie.
1871 Census Ausdale

1881 Census

At the 1881 census Janet is now a widow but is still living at Ausdale as her son James has a position as Gamekeeper there.  Archibald is  Deer Forester in Aultibea, part of Langwell. I have not traced daughter Agnes.
1881 Census Ausdale

1881 Census Aultibea

Death of William McEwan Gamekeeper

Boch Ailean Southern Tip
Source: Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 148. With permission
The cliffs near Berriedale are notorious and very dangerous. They vary in height from several hundred feet to over six hundred feet above sea level. Sea birds of many species have long lived in nests on the cliffs. Their eggs were gathered for food and the birds themselves were also eaten by those families unfortunate enough to be forced to live in rocky hamlets near the cliffs.
One of the jobs of a Gamekeeper was to engage in vermin control. Rat populations not only thrived on sea bird eggs but they also took the eggs of other ground nesting bird species that were very popular with hunters. Rats could decimate the grouse population in a season - a state of affairs that did not go down well with the hunting fraternity. William McEwan was examining his vermin traps by the edge of the Berriedale cliffs when he fell.
There are several newspaper records of the accident. The media use the name Malcolm McEwan but his formal death records use his correct name William McEwan

Sunderland Daily Echo. May 17, 1876

Frightful Death of a Gamekeeper

 A gamekeeper, named Malcolm McEwan, in the employment of the Duke of Portland, has met his death, in a frightful manner, at Ousdale, in Caithness. While engaged in trapping in the face of a rock, he lost his footing and fell to the base, a distance of several hundred feet. The body was mangled in
a sickening manner. Death was instantaneous.

Death William McEwan. 1876

There are two formal death records for William McEwan. The first was issued within a week of his death. The second from the Register of Corrected Entries was issued about a year later with verified detail: The cause of death was given: Falling accidently from Bogallian Head, a cliff about six hundred feet above the level of the sea, whilst examining Vermin traps on the edge of the cliff. Body found mangled at foot of the cliff.

William McEwan had worked trapping vermin for years and would have been conscious of the risks. He would have been instantly horrified when he missed his footing. Whether he fell down through the air or bumped along past the rocks and sea birds nests, the fall of six hundred feet was long enough for him to know exactly what was happening. How ghastly. Thankfully William’s death was instantaneous. William’s body was found at 7 pm on a May evening. 

Inver Hill just north of Boch Ailean
Source: Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 148. With permission
Janet probably had that anxious feeling women get when husbands who work alone in dangerous environments are late home. She would have alerted the Langwell staff and a search party went out maybe by both land and sea and found William's body. Son Archibald signed his father’s death certificate. With three sons all Gamekeepers Janet probably experienced concern many times more in her life. Janet died in 1895.
William and Janet along with their son Archibald, who had remained at Aultibea until his death in 1914, are buried in the New Berriedale cemetery. A headstone marks their grave.
Berriedale Church and Berrriedale 'new' cemetery

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Holiday in the Highlands - Langwell House Gardens

Holiday in the Highlands Part B

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. My previous blog ‘Caithness Convoy’ was the second part of the article. This blog starts at the beginning of the article for reasons explained previously. 
Entrance to Langwell House at Berriedale, Highlands
"A cherished tradition in the neighbourhood is the fact that about 16 years ago the old Duke of Portland paid a surprise visit to his peer-less property in Caithness, intending to stay for three days and remaining five weeks. During the time he busied himself in laying out most of the extensive private walks and drives which have opened up miles on miles of superbly-grand mountain scenery. On the further side of the Langwell burn, but at a much lower level than the “Upper Drive,” is the principal entrance and carriage way, a smooth, beautifully-kept road.
For some distances it, too, passes under a leafy archway, and from it we obtained several new and almost awe-inspiring views of that ever interesting mountain torrent.
The bridge crossing the Langwell burn
Crossing the stream by a stone bridge, the road forms a junction with the upper path, and a little way further up the glen stands the keeper’s lodge – (our old friend of the Museum) – a cosy, homely little place, in the rear of which are the kennels, where, prince amongst the many canine beauties, was a splendid deerhound which, had he come under his notice, would, almost to a certainty have been immortalized by Landseer.
Langwell Gardens from Google Earth
Still keeping up the strath, which disclosed fresh objects of admiration at every step, we came upon the gardens, two large enclosures, surrounded by a wall eight or ten feet high, and sheltered on all sides from the keen winds off the neighbouring hills by noble old trees. Tall, narrow postern doors, occurring at intervals in the walls, gave the place a delightfully convent-like feeling.
House in Langwell Gardens.
At one of the entrances, amid a perfect wealth of sylvan glories, stands the gardeners cottage, one wall of which is completely covered by a vast rose bush, of the species known as “the Rose of Sharon,” from the fact of its having no thorns attached. This beautiful plant had attained quite tree-like dimensions, the stem at the ground being several inches in circumference, while high up, round little white curtained windows, its flowers clustered in luxuriant profusion – a realization, for once, of the impossibly pretty cottages depicted in the story books of our juvenile literature. The interior of the cottage was equally bien ideal with its fair-like surroundings.
Langwell Gardens showing a wall.
Source: Bill Fernie, 
Langwell Census 1881. Note the Gardener John Sutherland
and Neicy Cormack the Domestic Servant
The gardener, (another respected Sutherland clansman – the keeper, in turn, being a bulwark in himself of the Ross party) was either a widower or a bachelor, and presiding over his housekeeping was a young woman, a relative, distinguished by the unusual name of “Niecie,” who, with capable willing hands, made the face of everything to shine! In the gardens, beautifully laid out, and evidently carefully tended, we found the gardener, an elderly man, with a dignified, almost courtly manner, all his own, and an inexhaustible fund of quiet, dry humour  in his genuinely Scotch eye.
In agreeable contrast to beds of rare flowers, in almost tropical bloom, were substantial representatives of many old favourites – great banks of “forget-me-not,” clumps of “gardener’s garters,” a foot or two in circumference; and large enough to outfit every bachelor in Caithness !
Langwell Gardens

At the corners of the broad central walks were specimens, ten or twelve feet in height, of a tree, something evidently between a holly and a cactus, with prickly leaves of a dark brown colour, on long, graceful, arm-like branches.

As the gardener mischievously persisted in giving us, with the utmost gravity, the Latin botanical names of each plant or flower we remarked upon, this curiosity was also assigned some unintelligible title, leaving us as wise as before, till Niecie obligingly whispered, “The right name’s ‘Monkey Puzzles!’ His bees, of which he had a number of hives, were absorbing the gardener’s attention when we called. The new swarms, led off by their queens, were evidently desirous of “seeing life” before settling down to work, and flitted incessantly from one part of the garden to another, the danger being, of course, that they would extend their explorations over the walls, and emigrate to pastures new.

Langwell Gardens. 
Source:Bill Fernie
One specially lively colony “lifted” nine or eleven times in a week – one of their cloud-like ascents taking place while we were looking at them, clustering on a bush, and for some minutes there was an uncomfortable likelihood of their settling on the crown of the visitor’s hat! We left the gardens with the flattering feeling of having enjoyed a private flower show all to ourselves. Another of the old Duke’s promenades of which we carried away a very vivid recollection was a species of Marine Parade along the cliffs to the south side of Berriedale. Below us as we walked the flocks of white sea-mews circles and wheeled in their tireless airy manoeuvres. We were informed that when these sea birds are seen hovering over the water in large numbers at this season of the year, the fishermen take it as in indication that the shoal of herrings is near the shore, as the birds prey upon the fish."

The Fifth Duke of Portland
The old Duke of Portland referred to, must, according to the dates given, have been William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (12 September 1800 – 6 December 1879) a British aristocratic eccentric who preferred to live in seclusion. He had an underground maze excavated under his estate at Welbeck Abbey near Clumber Park in North Nottinghamshire. The various reports on his eccentricities make for fascinating reading.
The Abbey's kitchen gardens covered an area of 22 acres (8.9 ha), surrounded by high walls with recesses in which braziers could be placed to assist the ripening of fruit. One of the walls, a peach wall, measured over 1,000 ft (300 m) in length.

Despite his vast wealth the Duke of Portland was still collecting rent from the Badbea residents at that time.

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

I think it is likely that the gardens have been renovated since the 1881 article was written.