Monday, August 7, 2017

Gold Hoard Houstry, Dunbeath. Rambling Recollections of My Schools and School Days

Article XXVII written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 8 February 1883 – Part A

Gold at Houstry, Dunbeath

“We have heard of gold discoveries in Kildonan, and in the Berriedale River, but there is not a word said about the discovery of the precious metal that was made at Dunbeath a number of years ago, yet true it is, and no mistake, gold has been found in Dunbeath. In Houstry of which we have been speaking in the past articles, gold was found, not as on the Kildonan and Berriedale in small particles which require much skill and labour to perceive, but in bars and wedges.”

“Somewhere about thirty years ago, a crofter in Houstry, in preparing his ground for the seed in the spring time, turned up some yellow metal, in the form of bars, wedges and rings of a large size. It looked very pare and yellow, not having suffered from rust, or being tarnished in the least, from having been embedded in the soil. 

The man examined it very minutely, and came to the conclusion that the metal was copper. He told his neighbours about it, and showed them what he had found, and also expressed his opinion as to what metal it was. His neighbours seemed to agree with him as to its being copper; one of them a shoe maker, got a few of the bars, and by means of a cold chisel cut the most of it into ‘sparables,’ which he used in the heels of women’s boots, under the impression all the time that it was copper that he was using. Others of the neighbours got some of the rings, in shape and size like dog’s collars, all the while in the belief that they were copper rings or collars. 

After a week or two had elapsed, by some means or other the original finder came to the knowledge that what he had considered all along to be copper was nothing less than pure gold. His first thought was to get possession of the bars and collars he so freely gave to his neighbours, and keep the secret of its real quality to himself. He succeeded in some cases in regaining possession of part of the stuff, but so true it is that ‘murder will out,’ that by some means or other it came to be known what the real quality of those bars and collars were, and those who had not returned them to the finder refused to give them up; the pretence they made was that they considered them so valueless that they threw them aside and they were now lost.”

“The original finder, however got a considerable portion of his lucky find into his possession, and he was determined that no one would deprive him of them. The authorities in Wick heard of the find and the nature of the metal, and they set inquiries on foot with a view of getting possession of them as treasure trove, but the story that the man’s neighbours concocted in answer to his inquiries, he found suitable for his own case, and the authorities did not succeed in getting possession of a single ounce. 

By and by the poor man paid a flying visit to Edinburgh, on pretence that he was visiting friends, while in reality he was disposing of his gold and rings to some of the Edinburgh jewellers. It was reported that he got a couple of hundred pounds as the proceeds of his unexpected find, but he was old fashioned enough not to tell anybody what he got, and by and by the story about the gold bars, wedges and rings was forgotten and the poor man was allowed to reap the fruits of his good luck in peace. No doubt he searched and scanned the place where the treasure was found with great interest and care ever after this, but whether his searches were rewarded with success or not he kept to himself. How these pieces of gold came to be there was a mystery that could never be solved. The same bit of ground had been under cultivation for a long time previous to this, and there never was the least trace of anything of this kind see in it; and how or when it came to be there was a profound mystery.” 

My Comments:


There have been a number of ‘Hoard’ finds in Scotland over the years, some very recently.

Derek McLennan with a Minelab Metal Detector
         & holding ingots and arm-rings discovered in Galloway

  • The Galloway Hoard, also known as the Dumfriesshire Hoard is a hoard of more than 100 gold and silver objects from the Viking age discovered in 2014 by a metal detector enthusiast.
  • The Dairsie Hoard of late 3rd century Roman hacksilver was found in 2014 by a teenage boy at a metal detecting rally. The hoard comprises over 300 pieces of silver, including fragments of at least four vessels.

  • The Migdale Hoard is a collection of early Bronze Age jewellery discovered by workman at a granite knoll behind Bonar Bridge in 1900. They include a bronze axe head, sets of bronze bangles and anklets and some carved jet and cannel coat buttons.

The Treasure Trove Unit

In Scotland any ownerless objects found by chance or through activities such as metal detecting, field walking, or archaeological excavation become the property of the Crown and therefore may be claimed as treasure trove. The role of the Treasure Trove Unit is to ensure that objects of cultural significance from Scotland’s past are protected for the benefit of the nation and preserved in museums across the country.

The Blacksmith's Hoard

One possible older hoard which was relevant to the inhabitants of Badbea was that said to be associated with the Horne family. In Memorabilia Domestica of 1889 Donald Sage comments “Langwell was purchased by Sir John Sinclair and when he too got unhappily involved, was by him forfeited, at a valuation of £40,000, to one Horne, the son of a blacksmith at Scouthel in Caithness, but who had prospered as a lawyer in Edinburgh.

On 20 May 1977 an article was published in the John O Groat Journal connecting James Horne, the new Laird of Langwell, with the possibility of a hoard.

“There is some mystery surrounding this gentleman James Horne.  He was born at Scouthel, Caithness, the son of a local blacksmith.  A part of the mystery lies in the rise of a blacksmith’s son to the prominence of an Edinburgh notary, and his subsequent possession of the Langwell estate in 1813 for the reported figure of £42000.”

“Caithness conjectural lore has it that somewhere about 1750 Horne the Blacksmith, while ploughing on land near Scouthel, turned up treasure trove in the form of massive gold artifacts.  Caithness was at the time host to many forgers and coiners.  The lucky find of Horne’s was soon converted into gold coin of the day and thus, James Horne was enabled to enter the Edinburgh legal profession for the initial training, and subsequently obtained substantial estate retainers…one of which was that of Sir John Sinclair.


Unfortunately there are a number of articles in this series by Alexander Gunn that are missing. The previous article was XVII – 17 Nov 1881, and this one XXVII - 8 Feb 1883, so ten articles over a year are missing. It is possible that they may have survived in the records at the Wick Library but the librarian has not located them and I am not able to go and search again right now.  

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