Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Shipwreck - The Agent - Part D

Myths and Legends about the Shipwreck of 1807

Over the years myths and legends about the 1807 voyage and shipwreck of the Rambler of Leith proliferated.

Thurso about 1820 with Scrabster in the background

In 1896, the year before he died at age 76, Alexander Gunn was still writing letters to the Editor of the Northern Ensign about Caithness history and happenings. He responded to the debate in the papers of the day about whether or not, as was being claimed, those who drowned in the shipwreck of 1807 were Clearance victims or actually ‘better off’ households who had sold land and belongings to emigrate. Gunn gives evidence to support them being richer households. 

The Rambler known decades later as Lough More America

However, in this series of letters, Gunn and other correspondents have clearly got some facts wrong, the main one being a general consensus that the name of the vessel was the “Lough Mhore America” i.e. the “American Big Ship.”  Given that they all seem to agree on the date of the disaster being 1807 and agree on other details debated, I am sure enough that they are all talking about the Rambler of Leith which left Scrabster in 1807 with many passengers from the parishes of Reay, Halkirk and Latheron and was shipwrecked in Newfoundland. Some of the detail Gunn presents is probably a bit long-winded for this blog, but he does tell a few interesting anecdotes about people involved with the emigrant ship including Sinclair the Agent. As mentioned in the previous blogs Alexander Gunn had got a lot of his information about this shipwreck from the times he spent as a boy listening to the stories told by the old man Dannal M’Hearish.

 The Meadow Well in Thurso was the main source of water for hundreds of years. 
It was where people not only drew water but where they congregated to exchange news.

Sinclair the Agent

“It is here to be mentioned that the Caithness agent for the “Lough Mhore America” was Mr Donald Sinclair, tacksman of Isauld, and an extensive merchant in Thurso. He had a respectable reputation, and had extensive dealings throughout the midlands and Highlands of the country. Most of the people of the Highlands had little or no education at that time, and never saw a newspaper in their lifetime, and, with very few exceptions, knew very little of the outside world beyond the bounds of Caithness.” 

Immigration to Canada Ad promoting cheap land in Canada. 
The Globe Toronto 1898
"Mr Donald Sinclair, true to his calling as an agent for the “Lough Mhore America,” did his duty faithfully by declaring to the Highlanders the wonderful fruitfulness of the American land, which land he pretended, was as the land of Goshen, and exceeded that of Canaan; that each emigrant could have as many square miles of that fruitful land as he wished for the taking of it, and that a very few years of occupation was sufficient to make up an unlimited fortune, and recommended all his friends and well wishers to bestir themselves and rise boldly and go and possess the good land that Providence had put within their reach, without money and without price. All the sayings of Mr Sinclair were accepted as gospel truth, and consequently an emigration fever got hold of the minds of the people, like a wave of revival, and more particularly among the wealthiest class of tenants, who threw off their farms and sold off their farmstocking and prepared themselves for the arrival of the ‘Lough Mhore America.” 

The Emigrants
A romanticised image of a family of noble Highland ancestry departing for New Zealand. 
It is an example of the adoption of Highland identity by many emigrating Scots.

Source: John Wilson, ‘Scots’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/scots

"This vessel arrived at Scrabster Roads and was taking passengers on board on Friday of the Thurso Marymas market, 1807, and on the following day (Saturday) all the passengers were complete on board ship."

Emigrant ship between decks. 
Source: Illustrated London News, August 17, 1850

"On that day a snow storm, with heavy snow drift, broke out which destroyed all the corn crop in the country. The ship was wind bound at Scrabster Roads for ten days, and thereafter she proceeded on her voyage, which was a long one, and she was wrecked on the Banks of Newfoundland where all were lost except three."
Source: The History of the Clan Gunn Extracts 1896  29 July 1896 pgs 274 – 277

"Donald, the third son, [of Barbara, second daughter of William Campbell one-time tacksman of Ausdale, and her husband William Sinclair of Shurrey] as already mentioned, was merchant in Thurso, and was the Caithness agent for the “Lough Mhore America.” 

Isauld is a hamlet in Caithness near Reay. 
A view looking to the northeast from the A836 towards hay bales in a field near Isauld. 
Dounreay Nuclear centre can be seen in the background.

Tacksman's debt saves the Agent's life

"He also was tacksman of the farm and lands of Isauld, which farm proved to him to be a losing concern. Consequently during his occupancy he only paid yearly what rent he found the farm to be actually worth, and allowed the balance, which he held to be unjust rack rent, to remain unpaid. This unpaid balance from year to year stood as arrears against him, for which payment was demanded and refused. Under the circumstances, Mr Sinclair concluded that stepping quietly on board the “Lough Mhore America” and taking his passage across the Atlantic was the easiest and most just way to square with the laird. However, Mr Sinclair’s plans got wings and came to the ears of George Jeffery, Esq., Edinburgh, commissioner for the proprietor, who applied to the Sheriff of the country for a warrant to apprehend Mr Sinclair, which warrant was granted and put into force. Therefore Mr Sinclair had to pay what he regarded as being an unjust claim against him, which business was finally settled on September 20th, 1807. Consequently Mr Sinclair had to give up the idea of crossing the Atlantic in the ill-fated “Lough Mhore America.”
Source: The History of the Clan Gunn Extracts 1896  pgs 286 – 288

The old Thurso Turnpike built in 1686, where the stage coaches used to start. 
The turret contains the stair. It is now restored. 

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