Thursday, May 2, 2024

Take the baby from its mother!


Take the baby from its mother!

In the autumn of 1738 the weather was cold, the seasons were dismal and the harvests were poor. The people of Latheron harvested what they could and also harvested for the local land owner. See blog 22 March 2023 on the elders calling on the people to fast and pray. The elders were blaming sins and transgressions against the laws of God for the bad weather and extreme cold. 

Resting on the road to harvest by Walter Geiki

The end of harvest was traditionally a time for having some celebratory happenings. However it likely that Margaret Sutherland and Hondry McGregor may come to regret going too far in their ‘end of harvest’ partying.

Harvesting in Scotland by Joseph Farquharson

 On January21 1739 Margaret was called before the kirk session and asked if she was with child. She answered in the affirmative. When asked who was the father to her child she named Hondry McGregor in Breakachie and stated that the child was begat at the end of harvest last. This was a bad enough situation but two months after her affair with Hondry, Margaret married John Mcralish and he was now her husband. What was she thinking – that marriage would maybe hide her ‘sins’?

Hondry McGregor was then called in and interrogated. He admitted being the father to Margaret Sutherland’s child. So now there are three in this marriage plus the unfortunate baby waiting to be born. It is not going to end well.

Margaret and Hondry were both rebuked and told they had to stand in the place of public repentance for three Sundays. Hondry was then fined eight merks for both himself and Margaret, payable at next Whit Sunday. And to make sure Hondry paid the fine he had to bring a ‘cautioner’ for security. A John McGregor stood as security for Hondry – he was probably a family member.

So Margaret and Hondry were publicly shamed, rebuked and fined and that should have been the end of their troubles. The baby was born. Margaret was nursing her baby and living with her husband John Mcralish.

On June 3 1739 in the kirk session minutes we find the following appalling record:

Some of the elders viz Donald Bain and Thomas McKenzie informed the session that John Mcralish in Dunbeath will not allow Margaret Sutherland his wife formerly fornicatrix to Hondry McGregor in Breakachie to keep the said Hondries child with his wife or in his house and that he earnestly begs that the session  would appoint the said Hondry to provide a house for his own child otherwise he will not live in peace or comfort with his wife. And therefore the session having considered the same they appoint the said Hondry McGregor betwixt this and the 20th of this instant to take his child and find a nurse for it himself and if he fail in this that Mcralish go, with the child and the two above names  as elders, and leave the child in the said Hondry his house.

The baby was clearly at risk by being removed from its mother and reared by a wet nurse but the elders took a hard line and agreed that the support of the baby should be Hondry’s responsibility. But if Hondry could not find a wet nurse, Donald Bain, Thomas McKenzie and John Mcralish were to take the baby from its mother and leave it in Hondry’s house. There is no record of what happened to the baby or its mother Margaret but its likely that John Mcralish’s claim that he was wanting to live in ‘peace and comfort with his wife’ would have been a long time coming after the baby was removed from its mother.

Margaret was labelled a “fornicatrix” and recorded as such in the kirk session records. This would have resulted in huge shame for Margaret and probably marginalisation for the rest of her life. 

The old batchelor alarmed by an unexpected present by Isaac Cruikshank

The baby’s health and welfare was not of concern to the elders. Their focus was on ensuring that someone was accountable for the support of the baby to keep it off the session Poor List.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

Anne Murray and a sailor


Anne Murray and a sailor

4th Feb 1833 Latheron Parish

Thereafter compeared Anne Murray of Knockally of this parish confessed herself with child in fornication and being earnestly exhorted to tell the truth and being asked who is the father of her pregnancy gave up Christopher Burns a sailor on board a vessel trading to Limekilns and son of a Mrs Burns at the shore of Inverness. She said the guilt was committed about the beginning of June last in the house of William Sutherland Master of the sloop Fairly in whose service she was at the time. A copy of this minute was ordered to be transmitted to the Session of Inverness.

Limekilns to Inverness

Limekilns Or Inverness

It was either at Limekilns or in Inverness that Anne Murray succumbed to the attentions of Christopher Burns, a sailor working the route from Inverness to Limekilns. As Anne was in the service of William Sutherland Master of the sloop Fairly she probably had plenty of opportunities to meet sailors and associated people. She was working away from home and in harm’s way. I am not sure why Mrs Burns in Inverness is mentioned but I suspect the Latheron kirk elders were at pains to find an excuse to send the problem of Anne Murray to Inverness, not wanting to add an unmarried mother and her baby to their already stretched poor list. Maybe Mrs Burns could get her sailor son to support his child.

The shore of Inverness

Anne was well into her pregnancy before she went home to Knockally in Latheron to have her baby. But as neither the Inverness nor the Latheron parish seemed to want to take any responsibility for her, unless she had family support Anne would be in serious hardship. Neither Anne’s sailor seducer Christopher Burns nor her employer William Sutherland appeared to offer to the kirk session any support for Anne.

The Port at Limekilns

Founded in at least the 14th century, Limekilns (now a village) was a very old port which got its name from local limestone quarries. By the end of the 18th century coal was shipped in to Limekilns to be used as a fuel to convert lime to quicklime for mortar to be worked into stone buildings. The quicklime product was exported along the east coast of Scotland. It was a busy port.

Red Row at Limekilns

The ruins of massive limekilns still exist at Charlestown near the village of Limekilns

The Ship Inn at Limekilns

The building at 8 Red Row now known as the Ship Inn was established in1818 along the Limekilns promenade facing out to the Firth of Forth. It is believed it was once the Custom House where the sailors received their pay – although the story goes that the only evidence of that use was a great many corks found under the floor boards. I wonder if Anne worked here.

I have not been able to locate any minutes that tell what happened next. It doesn’t bode well for Anne or her baby. The only people who seem to have come off without consequences are Christopher Burns the sailor father, and Anne’s employer William Sutherland the sloop master.