Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Successful Berriedale Boys - Article XIII - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea & Neighbourhood – Part D

Article XIII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 4 March 1880 – Part D

Successful Berrriedale Boys

"Berriedale has among her sons those who, by dint of steady perseverance, rose to positions of honour and respect; and having referred to natives of Badbea and Auchencraig who attained to an honourable position in society, it would be ungenerous and unfair to pass by the Berriedale boys."

  • John Grant

"The first that I have any recollection of was John Grant, son of William Grant, Rinsary. By dint of perseverance and hard work he qualified himself for the office of schoolmaster. He taught for a short time in the district school at Auchencraig where I received my first lesson. But John struggled on, attended college, and was licensed as a minister of the gospel - one of the highest and most honourable positions that any man can covet. It took no small amount of courage and perseverance for a young lad, without friends or means to work himself up to such a position, especially in those days."

  • James Sutherland

"James Sutherland, a Berriedale lad, occupies a high and responsible and honourable position in a banking house in the metropolis of the nation." 

  • James Anderson

"James Anderson, a widow's son, also a Berriedale lad, left his native country to push his fortune in a distant colony. He emigrated to New Zealand, and by steady, patient perseverance became the owner and master of a fine barque, with which he traded in the Southern Seas for many years." 

  • George Polson

"Another Berriedale man, we may say, was George Polson. He was born in Auchencraig, which he left when a child, and was reared in Berriedale. He also emigrated to New Zealand, and was successful in his adopted country. He became the possessor of 100 acres of land in the neighbourhood of Dunedin, where he lived comfortably and happily for many years."

  • James Rutherford

"Another Berriedale man James Rutherford, is carrying on a flourishing business of his own in Dundee."

  • And others...

"There may be others equally successful as those I have referred to whose positions I am not conversant with, owing to my long absence from the locality, and if any such are omitted the reason will be understood from the explanation I have given."

"I believe that natives of Berriedale and neighbourhood have gained to themselves positions in society, according to their circumstances, as honourable as are to be found anywhere; and if we trace their descendants, we find them following the example of their fathers."

 My Comments:

  •  John Grant "Trollie"

In a later article, Alexander Gunn recalls John Grant’s days as a school teacher at Auchencraig. He is pleasingly frank:

‘”…and after him came John Grant from Rinsary, Berriedale, who possessed some measure of qualification for his office.  He was but young and inexperienced, and was considered to have a “sclate loose” on the upper story, and was known by the sobriquet of “Trollie” meaning silly; but he had a fair smattering of education, and was not so cruel and unmerciful as his predecessor. He also had some ambition, and prosecuted his education, and came out for the ministry.

  • Everywhere

Despite such challenges as the ‘Disruption’ in the church and the Clearances undermining the parish schools, families worked very hard to ensure their children were educated. The result was a generation of people who were well educated, hard working, determined and 'everywhere'.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Widow McPherson - Article XIII - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea & Neighbourhood – Part C

Article XIII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 4 March 1880 – Part C

Berriedale Worthies - A Lady Celebrity - Catherine McPherson

“I will close my list of notable persons in Berriedale by introducing to your readers a lady friend - and though last, not least - Widow McPherson, the "howdy," a person much and deservedly respected in the district. There were no doctors at hand in those days, there being no medical man between Helmsdale and Lybster, a distance of upwards of 20 miles, so that Mrs McPherson's services were in request, on interesting occasions, in all that district. Well do we remember the cheery, tidy old woman, as she used to introduce "the young stranger" to the members of the family, and the answers she gave to the question "Where did the young stranger come from?" During all Mrs McPherson's practice in the district, it is said that she never had a case which ended fatally; and when from failing health, she relinquished her position she was followed to her retirement by the best wishes and sympathies of the public.”

My Comments:

In Scotland, the ‘howdie’ or ‘howdy’ was a woman who tended mothers at home at the birth of their baby. Sometimes the howdie would also have other nursing duties but their main work was with childbirth. At the time Catherine McPherson was working howdie’s did not have formal midwifery training but would have had the knowledge and wisdom needed passed down from other women.
Old cradle and wooden box bed at Strathnaver Museum. I am not so sure how traditional the pink curtains were.
The Orkney Archive has an interesting blog featuring pages from a midwifery account book from 1830-1855. The costs of this woman’s services are also listed. Have a look. http://orkneyarchive.blogspot.co.nz/2013/07/call-midwife-orcadian-edition.html
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Extract from Orkney Archive Midwifery Account book
A very delightful description of her work more than a century later than Catherine is given by howdie, Doddie Davidson:
“I lived in the hoose afore the bairns were born. There wis naebiddy there bit me. Sometimes, if there wis a neighbour handy she wid come in, bit fairms is usually on their ain an it wis maistly cotter hooses or fairms. It wis aa fowk at mebbe wisna weel aff. The weel aff fowk could aford mebbe somebody better. There wis nae midwife. They ca'ed ye the howdie. Fan ye arrived they said, 'Are you the howdie?' I aye kent in time afore. Usually they were needin some help especially fan there wis some little eens. Then ye stayed, sometimes a wik sometimes mair, sometimes ye didna hae time to spare but ye aye hid aboot a wik wi them or ten days. I did quite a lot, some o the names, I canna even min.”
Doddie Davidson in Lindsay Reid, Scottish Midwives: Twentieth Century Voices, Dunfermline, Black Devon Books, 2008. http://www.electricscotland.com/culture/features/scots/poetry2.htm

Superstitions around birth

Because childbirth was such a perilous time for both the mother and baby there were many superstitions around a baby’s birth. For Catherine never to have had a fatality with a birth she attended was obviously a remarkable achievement and something important Alexander Gunn remembered about her years later. In Scotland, not only did the howdie actually deliver the baby into the world she also made sure various superstitions to protect the mother and baby were adhered to. There was a real fear that the fairies might steal the baby and substitute a changeling for it. So knots in the mother’s clothing were untied, doors and windows were unlocked to make the passage of the baby into the world easier, mirrors were turned over, empty cradles were rocked which was seen by some to be good
“If you rock the cradle empty - Then you will have babies plenty”
but others thought this was a dangerous practice. Iron and fire were also regarded as protection with say a nail knocked into the wood of the mother’s bed or fire carried in a circle round the mother.

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Empty cradle Thurso museum
After the baby was born the howdie gave the baby a tiny sip of whisky to ward off the evil spirits. Any other women present had to take a mixture of oatmeal and water to bring the baby strength and luck.
The howdie also buried the placenta and sometimes planted a rowan tree in the spot.

Catherine McPherson

What have I found about Catherine McPherson aka Catherine Sutherland?
Catherine was born in Berriedale in 1763. I have not been able to locate her birth record. Her father was William Sutherland (yes another one) and her mother Isabella McGrigor.
Catherine married John McPherson of Helmsdale on 5 Jan 1792. Catherine was living in Ausdale at that time. What was Ausdale like then? According to the following report life was more comfortable at Ausdale in the late eighteenth century than it was in the nineteenth century – for tenants anyway.
Bishop Pococke’s visited Ausdale in 1761 and later wrote about the good tea and food at the Ausdale Inn:
We asked if we could have good milk…
‘You shall have plenty of that, Gentlemen,’ said the Landlady. Accordingly she had the servant fetch us a large cog of milk, and set it upon the table with a large spoon, and then said, ‘Here is the milk, Gentlemen, and skim off ye cream for yourselves.’
And indeed, it was the very best of milk, fresh and cool, clean and in good order; and never was there better fresh and powdered butter than she regaled us with, which spread upon good oatcakes made a noble repast. Till the tea kettle got ready I stepped out the door to look about me and see what I could spy, when, behold, I saw two women moving towards the house in a most leisurely way, step by step, each having a large vessel or broad cog of milk between her hands taken instantly from the cows. Secondary Source: Roydhouse 1977
Ausdale itself was occupied by some eight tenant families until the end of the eighteenth century. Several of these families were Sutherlands and related to each other. Catherine probably had a stable early life and she certainly would have had kin around her. It was not until the introduction of sheep farming and the resultant evictions and upheavals that the quality of life deteriorated so badly for Langwell tenants.
Catherine’s husband John McPherson was described in her death certificate as a farmer but that term is difficult to interpret accurately and may have meant John tenanted anything from a few acres to having simply worked for a landowner.
Catherine gave birth to a daughter about 1806 in the Latheron parish and named her Isabella after her own mother, as was the custom. Isabella McPherson married William Bruce on 16 Feb 1830. They were both living at Berriedale. William Bruce became a Blacksmith. Their children were Robert, Janet, Esther & George. See previous blog on William Bruce the Blacksmith.
My guess is that Catherine probably delivered her own grandchildren. I base that hunch on the fact that there were not many available midwives. The 1841 census shows, as well as Catherine, one young woman midwife at Lybster and one old woman midwife at Dunbeath. Besides, Catherine would have wanted to make sure her own daughter was safely delivered of her babies.

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Detail from David Allan's "Scottish Highland Family."
As a midwife Catherine probably walked many, many miles and in the winter at least probably in the dark, wearing her long skirts and shawls and mutch on her head. Alexander Gunn suggests she worked in an area twenty miles from one end to the other and that area included Badbea. Alexander’s mother Marion had eleven children (as the memorial plaque shows) most born in Badbea, and Catherine probably delivered them so possibly him as well. He remembers Catherine being in homes and showing the new baby to the family. I wish he had told us her answers to the questions about where the ‘young stranger’ came from. My own great, great grandmother Christina McLeod had her first baby Kitty in Ousdale in 1822. It is very likely that Catherine was the howdie on that occasion and delivered Kitty.  I hope so anyway.

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A Badbea memorial plaque showing Marion Sinclair’s name and that of some of her children including Alexander Gunn Christina McLeod MS Sutherland wearing the traditional clothes of a married woman in Caithness. Taken about 1865 just a few years after Catherine died.
By the time we catch up with Catherine in the 1841 census she is very old – 80 and living alone. She is using her maiden surname Sutherland and describes herself as a Midwife – possibly still doing some howdie work. The census doesn’t say she is a widow but she probably was. Catherine is living between the Langwell workers cottage and the Berriedale Inn, with Isabella, William and the family in the Smithy at Berriedale, almost next door – close enough to keep in touch with each other.

Geikie  - showing three generations together
By the 1851 census Catherine was still living alone in Berriedale. She was 92 and recorded as a Widow, Pauper and a Midwife – probably suggesting that she was no longer working and was relying on others for her living. Isabella and the family have moved north a few miles, nearer to Latheron at Tenants Park, and still in the Blacksmith trade.

When Catherine finally died at age 97 on 18 June 1860 it is comforting to note that her grandson Robert Bruce, who would have known his Granny all his life, was with her and looking after her. She probably brought Robert into the world and he was present when she departed. Catherine was buried in the Latheron cemetery close to Latheron and Tenants Park. There does not appear to be a headstone for Catherine but family were living near to where their mother and grandmother was laid to rest and would have watched over her.

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Latheron with churchyard Latheron Church yard
Latheron showing the church yard lower right. Latheron Church yard
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