Saturday, February 20, 2016

Dominies at Auchincraig

Article II Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days written by Alexander Gunn was printed in the Northern Ensign on 16 September 1880 – Part B

Dominies at Auchincraig

Although the stone dyke was not there when the Auchincraig school was in use, the dyke line up to the far hill, and over, was where the school was and where the Badbea boys had to walk to get to get to school.

John Sutherland

“The teacher from whom I got my first lesson, was a Badbea lad of the name of John Sutherland, better known as “Baalam.” What qualifications he possessed to entitle him to be chosen as a teacher I know not; but I know that his fitness for that office was very questionable indeed."

"He was as devoid of any feelings as he was of other qualifications. In place of the time-honoured “tawse” he used a knotted piece of rope about three quarters of an inch thick. He would cause an offender to be taken up on the back of a fellow-scholar, when the kilt would be turned up, and the lower part of the body laid bare, and then the knotted rope was applied without mercy. Should the person ordered to take the delinquent on his back refuse the degrading and degraded work, he was taken and punished in the same fashion himself.”

George Cruikshank,1839

Cash, Board & Lodgings

“The teacher was paid so much in hard cash, with board and lodgings. He was boarded and lodged in each house alternately, so many nights or weeks as the case might be according to the number of children at school from each family – a week for each child. There would be about seventy or eighty children of school age in the district.”

John Grant

“Sutherland was not very long in office, 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.”

Sutherland from Dunbeath

"He was succeeded by a lad from Balnabruich, Dunbeath, of the name of Sutherland, also possessed of a moderate amount of education, at any rate quite sufficient for the district under his charge. He also prosecuted his studies and is now in the ministry.”

Donald Bain or Mackenzie

“The last of the list of dominies in Auchincraig was Donald Bain or Mackenzie, from Hanstary, who was more respected, both by children and parents, than any of his predecessors. He was of a gentle, mild and kindly disposition.”

My Comments:


Dominie – is a term for a Scottish school master. The appointment of the local school master or dominie was usually the responsibility of the parish. He had to subscribe to the Confession of Faith. As a rule, the dominie had tenure for life; dismissals were uncommon, but could be on grounds of religion, politics or morals or an over enthusiastic punishment of pupils with his tawse. As the Auchincraig school was established by the local community rather than the Latheron parish the appointment of the teacher may have been different – and thankfully it seems like the first teacher John Sutherland was moved on.

As at Auchincraig the role of teacher was often a stepping stone to higher things. The minister’s status and salary were a particular attraction and dominies often undertook further theological studies.


A tawse was a whip used for corporal punishment in schools in Scotland. It was a strip of leather with one end split into a number of tails. Apparently it was supposed to be used on the palm of the hand (as illustrated) but clearly in the case of John Sutherland a cruel and inhumane method of whipping was applied with a knotted rope. The kilts worn by the boys made it very easy for Sutherland to give them a bare bottom beating.

A word about the rope Tawse – Rope was made from heather – and as the picture below of the man making rope shows, it was strong, course and rough.

This is Iain Campbell of South Uist making a rope from plaited heather stems. Rope made from heather was much stronger than straw rope. It was commonly used to tie down thatch on a roof, make ladders and, as it remained strong in water, to tie up boats.
Source: Am Baile Facebook

There is masses of heather at Badbea and even where the sheep have trampled, the stems are still tough.

The Prophet Balaam and the Angel - John Linnell 1859 


Balaam was an old testament prophet who at one point in his story starts punishing his donkey who is trying to avoid an invisible angel. After Balaam punishes the donkey for refusing to move, it is miraculously given the power to speak and it complains about Balaam's treatment. At this point, Balaam is allowed to see the angel, who informs him that the donkey is the only reason the angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam eventually dies by the sword.

The name Baalam given to John Sutherland, shows a delightful resistance to oppression from the dominie by the boys, and perhaps the hope that God will eventually intervene – which it seems like happened! 

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