Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rambling Recollections of My Schools and School Days – Article I – Part A

Article I Written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 9 Sep 1880 – Part A

A Native of Badbea is back...

A Native of Badbea is back with a new series of articles about his schools and school days. My collection is incomplete and some scans are very hard to read. Article I starts with A.G. waxing rather philosophical, but considering the difficulties of Badbea children getting any sort of education he does well.

The Incorrigible by John Burr - 1879 
Not sure that this mischievous boy is what A.G.had in mind.

Few people forget...

“Few people forget their school days and great and good men frequently indulge in relating some incident in connection with them. The time of youth is a very important period in the history of man. It is in youth that we learn anything to purpose. "Learn young, learn fair," is a common and a true saying. It is wonderful how soon we begin to learn. In very infancy we commence our education; an infant of a few months old begins to learn.  On that infant mind, which is a perfect blank - pure and undefiled, just like a pure sheet of white paper - impressions begin to be made. Very faint lines they are at first, but every succeeding or recurring impression becomes deeper and more distinct, and so they increase in number and distinctness as the infant grows into a child, and the child into a youth, and the youth into a full-blown man. Seeing that such is the case, how important that the impressions made should be of the right sort. Those entrusted with the upbringing of children have a great responsibility resting upon them."

Train up a child....

"The Wise Man said, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."  Children are expert imitators, and the example set before them exerts a far greater influence than the command given them, just as we are told that "example is better than precept." Children are very close observers. A twinkle of the eye, or a twitch of the face, is observed by them when unnoticed by anybody else in the house. We can scarcely realise what influence we exert over those with whom we come in contact. Our influence for good or for evil reaches and extends beyond those with whom we come into immediate or personal contact. It extends from one another, widening and extending the circle, until it reaches the very limits of time - yea, it reaches into eternity.”

“If you are standing on the edge of a pond, and drop a pebble into the water, you would observe how the tiny wavelets spread and widen, till they exhaust themselves on the shore of the pond - a fitting but faint emblem of the effect of our conduct on the world around, and confirming the saying of scripture that "no man liveth to himself." everybody knows what influence mothers exert over their children for good or for evil, for weal or for woe." 


"Mothers are in more contact and closer contact with children than fathers, from the very nature of things. How often has the word "mother" touched and broken the heart of the prodigal son, or the wayward daughter, and been made the means of a change in the life and character of the erring ones? An ancient writer says "that with mothers rests the prosperity of a nation more than with its statesmen."

A Happy Home by John Burr

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Ord of Caithness - Article XIII - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea & Neighbourhood – Part F

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

The photo on the left shows Berriedale Head or Boch Ailean while the right photo shows another head named Bodach an Uird.  Source:
“I had almost forgotten to say a word about a very prominent part of Berriedale - namely, Berriedale Head, or the Ord of Caithness, as it is sometimes called. It is situated about midway between Berriedale and Badbea. It is a high prominent headland, well known to seafaring men. The rocks rise perpendicularly to a height of nearly a thousand feet."

"The Needle of the Ord" is also a very prominent object. It rises Cleopatra needle-like out of the sea to a height of several hundred feet, and is surrounded by the sea, and stands at a short distance from the face of the perpendicular rocks. It, as well as the face of the rocks around it, swarm with all kinds of sea-fowl, except the solan goose. When the birds rise up from the face of the rock, in tens of thousands, they darken the air, and a person throwing a stone in the midst of them cannot miss striking several. Ailsa Craig, at the entrance of the Firth of Clyde, and the Bass Rock, in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, are inhabited by immense numbers of fowl, but nothing in comparison to Berriedale Head.” 

“The sea comes rolling in with tremendous force against the face of the rocks during a storm from the south-east, and there is no shore or landing place for a boat to be found.”

“There are several large coves at the Head, where at one time hundreds of seals were to be found in the herring season, but now there is scarcely one to be found.” 

My Comments:

The Ords

The use of the word Ord makes identifying the landmarks mentioned by Alexander Gunn a bit confusing. 

Not the Ord at the Border !

The well known Ord of Caithness was described in Groome’s Gazetter 1882-4 thus: Ord-of-Caithness, an abrupt, broad, lofty, granite mountain overhanging the sea, on the mutual border of Sutherland and Caithness, 4 miles by road NE of Helmsdale. The Ord at the border is not the Ord Alexander Gunn is referring to this time. 

Boch Ailean

When Alexander Gunn refers to the Berriedale Head or Ord of Caithness, I think he is referring to a headland also known Boch Ailean although there is another headland at Bodach an Uird that could be the one. Alexander Gunn’s great grandfather George Gunn lost his life in 1761 at the age of 48 at Berriedale Head while trying to secure a sheep that had got caught on the rocks, as did McEwan the Gamekeeper setting traps and George Duncan walking home in the dark. See blogs 11.11.2014 & 03.08.2014.

The Needle

The Needle of the Ord is commonly known these days as The Needle and is north of the Ord at the border. It is still a breeding ground for birds.  

Killing two birds with one stone!

Scotland is a bird watcher’s paradise. The sea birds are still abundant. The islands and the sea cliffs provide sites for many birds to breed during the summer months. My own visit to the cliffs at Duncansby to see the Northern Fulmar nesting was wonderful.

I doubt Alexander Gunn’s comment about throwing stones was really him trying to kill two birds with one stone rather a way of emphasising the numbers of birds in flight. 

In more recent times the issue of conservation of the seabirds breeding on the coasts has gained importance. A very interesting report on three surveys has indicated the national importance of the east Caithness Cliffs for breeding seabirds. This report gives details of the number of seabirds present in the monitoring plots in June 2005 and trends to be observed. Fortunately for us there are some fascinating photos of the very area and sea cliffs that Alexander Gunn was talking about.
From the Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report no 148.


There are stories over decades about the wild storms in the Moray Firth. When Wick was a busy herring port, many fishermen lost their lives in sudden violent storms.
Lower Left: Coastal Scene by John Wilson Ewbank, 1820
The powerful waves dominate the figures on the rocks who are trying to salvage items from the wreck of a ship that is floating in the sea around them.
Right the contrast of a calm day at The Stacks Duncansby - my photo


The slaughter of seals in the area over the years had clearly led to their decline. See blog Seals Feb 2015

This is the last article in this series of Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea & Neighbourhood. A Native of Badbea returns to the Northern Ensign with a new series before long. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

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

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

Successful Badbea Boys

“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.”

As an example of this we find descendants and natives of Badbea at the present time occupying very honourable places.

  • One of them is the gentleman whose very interesting diary from Livingstonia is so familiar to the readers of the Ensign

  • Two of them are prosecuting the study of medicine

  • And one of these is qualifying himself for missionary work in the foreign field.

  • Another holds the important and responsible position of head-master in one of the board schools in your own town of Wick, with credit to himself and to the entire satisfaction of the public.

  • Another has charge of a most extensive business in London

  • Another has the management of an extensive and responsible business in connection with the shipping interest in Glasgow;

  • Another is the enterprising and much-respected miller of Golspie Mills.

  • There are several also in positions of trust in Caithness and elsewhere: so that the spirit of perseverance and enterprise which characterised the fathers seems to have been imbibed by the children, and, as a matter of course, success follows.

My Comments:

First comment is that this blog has given me a ‘headache’! It’s been tricky for me – not a Gunn, although connected to the Gunns through Marion Sinclair, wife of John Gunn of Badbea, who was my great, great grandmother’s half sister – to work out which Gunn was which, especially since given names are repeated in families over and over again. I have tried to add correct dates to names to clarify who I think Alexander Gunn is referring to.

But yes that is an impressive list of achievements listed above. A Native of Badbea has rolled out the big Gunns indeed.

Although he has not actually named them, most of the men mentioned in Alexander Gunn’s list are relatives of his and descendants of his parents John Gunn (1787-1876) and Marion Sinclair (1787-1837) of Badbea. Sad to say some of them died within a very short time of his writing.

Livingstonia - John Gunn

The man from Livingstonia was John Gunn, (1851-1880) eldest son of William Gunn (1825-1906) and Margaret Simpson (1829-1922) of Dunbeath and later of Redmill, Whitburn. William was the fifth son of John Gunn and Marion Sinclair of Badbea. The Livingstonia Mission, in Central Africa, named in honour of the explorer David Livingstone was founded by the Free Church of Scotland. It was initially based on the southern shores of Lake Malawi at Cape Maclear, but was moved not long after the death of John Gunn to a higher and healthier site. John died of Blackwater fever in 1880. More information on the history of Livingstonia is available on-line.

As Alexander Gunn mentions John wrote several articles from his diary which were published in the Northern Ensign. I have included a small extract below. 

The Aberdeen Journal 1881 notes:

Mr. John Hood, sculptor, Wick is presently engaged in the preparation of a very handsome column monument which is about to be erected in Berriedale burial ground, to the memory of the late Mr. John Gunn, Free Church Missionary, Livingstonia, Central Africa.  It is constructed of polished Aberdeen granite, about twelve feet in height and has a very imposing appearance.  On the front tablet is the following inscription "In affectionate memory of John Gunn, Dunbeath Mills, missionary, Livingstonia, Lake Nyassa, where he died 1st April 1880 age 29 years.  Well done good and faithful servant". On the right hand side "One of the Pioneers of Livingstonia, he was much admired for his eminent success.  At daybreak, after his death about 400 natives were seated before the house weeping". On the left hand side "Friends in Dunbeath and elsewhere, by whom he was much esteemed, have raised this monument to his memory".

A transcription of the Obituary for John Gunn, Missionary in Livingstonia, can be located at

The memorial at Berriedale Old Cemetery also says about this family:

In affectionate memory of John Gunn, Dunbeath Mills, Missionary of Livingstonia, Lake Nyassa. Where he died 1 April 1880 aged 29 years. George A Gunn died Lenzie 6 March 1900 aged 31; Janet Gunn died Caves, Isle of Wight 18 November 1900 aged 29; Alexander Gunn, Sgt 93 Highlanders died Upper Burmah 21 July 1903 aged 31; sister and three brothers born at Dunbeath. Angus Gunn Doctor for Helmsdale and Loth died 4 May 1882 aged 29.

Here are the mother,sisters and a brother-in-law of those who died in the above sad list.

Seated from left Annie, Margaret Simpson Gunn, Margaret. Standing Isabella, James Wallen and Catherine.

Angus Gunn 

Of the two studying to be doctors one of them was Angus Gunn (1853-1882) another son of William Gunn and Margaret Simpson. Angus died of cancer in 1882.

Dr William Gunn 

The other doctor was William Gunn (1854-1935) who later served in Futuna. This William was the fifth son of James Gunn (1818-1893), miller at Westerdale Mill, and Margaret McLeod (1815-1899).

Rev Dr William Gunn - Futuna 

The missionary mentioned was the same William Gunn (1854-1935) who with his wife Margaret Mathieson (1854-1932) were missionaries in Futuna, New Hebrides between 1883 and 1917. Three of their six young children died on Futuna. He is referred to in the missionary literature as the Rev Dr William Gunn, Medical Missionary of the United Free Church of Scotland.


1. Meeting with the Catechumens, North Coast of Futuna. 2. Rev. Dr. Gunn, Futuna. 3. Futuna Church. 4. North Coast of Futuna. 5. Manse, Futuna.” Press cutting of five photographs depicting Futuna Island. The Presbyterian church first provided doctors in 1883, when Dr. William Gunn (1853-1935) arrived from Scotland, and by the early 1900s there were six medical missionaries in the New Hebrides [Vanuatu]. He worked on Futuna until 1917 and died at Roseville, New South Wales.

George Gunn

George Gunn (1846-1933) F.E.I.S., F.S.A. (Scot) was 42 years headmaster at North Public School Wick. George was a son of James Gunn and Margaret McLeod. His wife was Helen McCulloch (1853-1933) L.L.A., F.E.I.S.

George assisted with the building of the Badbea memorial cairn. Both George and Helen officiated at the unveiling of the Badbea memorial in 1912 both giving very informative speeches. Not only were the Badbea descendants very high achievers but many also had big families with George noting the difficulty he had in selecting the names of those to be included on the plaques “One of the natives of the district who died some time ago had, I found, 125 descendants, including 68 grandchildren and 46 great grand children!" 

Sons of James Gunn and Margaret McLeod 

Angus1844-1928 Miller Portagower, William 1854-1935 Futuna Missionary, Alex 1852-1936 Tailor, George1846-1933 Wick School, John 1842-1927 Golspie Mill. 

John Gunn - Golspie 

John Gunn of Golspie Mill (1842-1927) son of James Gunn and Margaret McLeod.

At the foot of the Badbea Memorial Cairn – John Gunn, formerly of Golspie Mills, and now of Glasgow; Miss Sutherland, daughter of Mr and Mrs Sutherland; Mr David Sutherland, New Zealand, by whose instructions the memorial was erected, Mrs Sutherland. Source: John O Groat Journal 25 Dec 1924

I have not found out who had the business in London or Glasgow but suspect that the Glasgow man may have been a son of our ‘Native of Badbea’.