Saturday, March 4, 2023

Elizabeth Sinclair is Raped by Donald Hendry. Part C


Lady Ulbster, Wednesday, 6 Jan, 1740 the minister went to Thurso East and reported the case to Lady Ulbster ‘upon whose interest he lives’. Lady Ulbster confirmed that she would allow the minister and session to deal with Hendry but that she would not otherwise ‘meddle’ with the case. She sent a letter via Mr Corse (probably her tacksman) asking for a copy of the proceedings, which was sent to her, but she did not respond further.

The minister also reported that he had not yet laid the matter before the Presbytery.

In the meantime whilst they were waiting to hear back from Lady Ulbster, the wife of Donald Hendry had a baby. Donald Hendry approached the minister and asked for baptism for his baby. The session decided that for edification the Hendry child could not be baptised until Donald Hendry made some satisfaction to the session and the congregation. In spite of the intention of the session elders there is no record of Hendry spending any time in jail although it is possible that he did. Nor is there evidence that Donald Hendry showed any remorse for his drunken, violent rape of Elizabeth Sinclair. It seems that Donald Hendry was merely required to stand one day in Sackcloth before the congregation and pay six pounds Scots. He was informed by the minister that he could not have any church privileges or have his baby baptised until he had fulfilled the sentence.

Wednesday, 24 Feb, 1740 the session met and decided that Donald Hendry must compear in sackcloth before the congregation next Lord’s day. He was also to pay a mult of three pounds Scots to George Aborneathie teaching the school at Clyth. It is not clear if this is in addition to the fine of six pounds Scots the session agreed to previously.


 In England Rape had long been an offence punishable by death, usually hanging. It seems that in this case, even though the session found that Hendry had no good reason going the way of Alexander Cormack’s house and agreed that it was very likely he wanted to do violence to Elizabeth Sinclair and also to James Forbes wife, the Scottish kirk session used their discretion in his management and he avoided the gallows.


At the time of Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

Thursday, 23 March, 1741 the baby Donald Hendry was baptised. David Sutherland in Mavisy and Allexr Sutherland were witnesses.

What of Elizabeth Sinclair? I could not locate any more records in the session minutes about her. But Alexander Cormack stood by his wife and on Wednesday, 3 May, 1741 he presented their baby daughter Jannet for baptism. Elizabeth’s father and Alexander’s father were witnesses to their granddaughter’s baptism. There is no suggestion that baby Jannet was a result of the rape which had happened in late May 1739. Nor is there any indication that the baptism was delayed after the birth as was the case with Donald Hendry’s baby. 


On 3 May 1741 Alexander Cormack presented his baby daughter, named Jannet, for baptism.  Witnesses James Sinclair in Clyth and James Cormack there.

The whole congregation knew of the dreadful circumstances of the violent rape of Elizabeth Sinclair. Looking back to the list of relations and neighbours who were prepared to appear in front of the session elders in support of Elizabeth and confirm Hendry’s bad character it is good to know they were there for her. Latheron kirk session, Minutes (1734-1776, with gaps) (1754-1783, with gaps), CH2/530/1 pgs 57 - 70

Monday, February 27, 2023

Elizabeth Sinclair is Raped by Donald Hendry. Part B



Donald Hendry lived at Occumster. The cliffs, mid left, would have been a hazard on a dark night.

Thursday night, 28 May, 1739 Elizabeth Sinclair and her husband Alexander Cormack along with several other local folk, went over to the house of their neighbour Robert McKay. During the evening Elizabeth also went to Widow Oag’s house where Donald Hendry noticed her. About 10 o’clock at night Elizabeth started walking home on her own. Her husband Alexander left for home half an hour later.


A Merry Meeting. Walter Geikie.1885.  Public Domain

Donald Hendry of Occumster was with the group of neighbours. After Elizabeth left for home, Donald Hendry followed her. He had no good reason going the way of Alexander Cormack’s house. Before she got home Hendry violently attacked Elizabeth, tore her clothes off her, and ‘actually ravished her’. She tried screaming but her voice was muzzled. Alexander, walking home found his wife in great distress, bruised, and scratched, her clothes strewn about. He asked her what the matter was and who had attacked her, her attacker having quickly crawled on all fours off in the dark.

Knowing she would have to report the attack to the minister, Elizabeth asked for any neighbours who were nearby to come and see what had happened to her.

Friday morning came and found poor Elizabeth very traumatised and distressed. George McKay, Frances Sinclair and George Bain turned up. Also Alexander Bain from Clyth had some thoughts on the matter.

Friday night, 29 May, 1739 Elizabeth and Alexander told what happened to the Session clerk Hugh Sutherland.

Wednesday, 3 June, 1739 Elizabeth was called on to appear before all the Session elders. Her husband came with her. The whole neighbourhood was talking about the attack. She told her story finishing by saying she thought she had met her untimely death and hoped that would be a heavy burden on Donald Hendry’s head.


Peasant woman sitting in a chair. Vincent van Gogh. Public Domain

Donald Hendry now appeared before the Session and a statement was read out to him with great pains and exhortations to confess the truth and give ‘glory to God’. Hendry flatly refused every particular of the report.

Alexander Cormack ‘craved leave’ to be heard by the session. He said that he was sorry from his heart for the pitiful condition of his wife ever since Donald Hendry had to do with her.  But he had to admit that because it was so dark he couldn’t be positive if Hendry was the man or not because he only saw him creeping off. He begged that as far as possible his wife’s injury might be repaired and publick justice done to him that ‘teased’ (meaning break her down) her. The Session promised to do their utmost and enjoined him to bear Christianly with his wife.


Van Gogh. Sorrowing Old Man. Public Domain

Wednesday, 10 June, 1739 the session met to consider the affair of Donald Hendry and Elizabeth Sinclair. Because of ‘shifts and deviations’ in Hendry’s statements they called for any other persons to declare what they knew. They widened the inquiry to include whoever was in Robert McKays house that night and anyone who knew of anything of Hendry’s behaviour toward Elizabeth Sinclair that night or previously.

William Oag, son of Widow Oag, was called. Oag had gone to sleep in his mother’s barn when his dog started barking and woke him up.  He said he heard a smothered noise in the corner of his mother’s yard. The ‘broken noise’ went on for half an hour before Oag got up and went outside. There he found Alexander with Elizabeth who was telling her husband that Donald Hendry ‘did her ruin’.

Oag was questioned if he actually saw Hendry but said No it was too dark. He wasn’t even sure if he heard Hendry’s voice but was sure the voice he heard was not Alexander Cormack’s voice.

Alexander Georgeson said he saw Cormack’s wife in a disordered and distracted manner going down the way by McKay’s house but that’s all he knew.

George Bain stated that he saw Elizabeth Sinclair the day after and saw that her clothes were torn by violence and force.

Donald Hendry was called in again and the whole minute of the report was read to him. Hendry’s story started to change. He said he was at Robert McKay’s house and from there noticed a woman at Widow Oag’s house and followed her. He admitted he was drunk and didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing. He said he ‘happened’ to fall upon a woman and found it was Elizabeth Sinclair and struggled with her for quarter of a hour but endevoured to be safe with her! Now he lied that Elizabeth said he would not get any favours from her unless he would go up with her to her own barn. In the meantime her husband came upon them and Hendry made his escape. The Session asked what made him run away. He replied that he was afraid it might be worse if he stayed. Again asked what he meant by that Hendry said he thought they might have killed one another. He again denied having any carnal dealings with Elizabeth but then said that if she deponed upon the Bible that he was guilty then he would own it and submit to any censure. He was sent out.

The Session considered the whole matter and found it to be a perplex and prescience thing before them so delayed doing anything until next Session.


Auld Acquaintances. Walter Geikie. Wikimedia Commons

In the meantime the minister Rev James Brodie was to advise this case with the Civil Magistrates and at the first meeting of the Presbytery.

Wednesday, 17 June, 1739 the session decided that because of the shifts and deviations of Hendry’s statements that they needed to hear from everyone who was in Robert McKays house the night in question, or any who had knowledge of any other attacks on Elizabeth Sinclair by Hendry.

Wednesday, 1 July, 1739 Alexander Cormack appeared along with others to be examined.

First up was Janet Sutherland, the mother of Alexander Cormack and mother-in-law of Elizabeth Sinclair. Janet declared that about twelve months ago her son went out of the county. Next morning Elizabeth Sinclair came to her saying that after her husband went away Donald Hendry was in her house and she wanted very much that he would leave but she could not get him to go until he was put away by the neighbours. It was said that it was not on any good designs that he was there at that time.


Vincent Van Gogh – Head of a peasant woman

Donald Gun (was in Clyth but now in Latheron) declared that his wife informed him that Donald Hendry was on a certain night in Alexander Cormack’s house until Kathron Cormack and Elspet Young did shame him away but when they thought he was gone saw him skulking below the yard. They went back and caused rife and Hendry went home very unwillingly. Kathron Cormack, confirmed what was said and further added that Elizabeth Sinclair said to her that she would never go into the house while Donald Hendry was in it and added that Donald Hendry was drunk at the time.


Very Fou, Walter Geikie. Public Domain.

Donald Sutherland, John Mouat and David Sutherland said that they heard some jarring betwixt Hendry and James Forbes in Mavise, upon an alleged scandal of ‘unbecoming carriage’ twixt Hendry and the wife of James Forbes. James Forbes agreed that when he came home from Inverness he heard the story but believing his wife to be a virtuous woman he didn’t complain about it. Likewise Kathron Christie admitted that Hendry was ‘socking and sporting’ with her and all the wives in the neighbourhood but in no other way.

The session considering the information found that Donald Hendry had no good reason going the way of Alexander Cormack’s house and agreed that it was very likely he wanted to do violence to her and also to James Forbes wife.

The minister stated that he asked Mr Law (Excise officer) who was with Hendry the night he attacked Elizabeth Sinclair. Mr Law said that while he was with him Hendry was sober enough. Law joined the company of Cormack and his wife and saw no more of Hendry.

Three more witnesses John Sutherland, John Sinclair and John Kenedy all declared they saw marks and bruises on Elizabeth Sinclair’s thighs and legs occasioned by Hendry struggling with her.

The session considered the whole of the evidence, particularly the character and conduct of Hendry in this present scandal and decided to apply to the civil magistrate for a warrant of commitment (jail) grounded upon his own confession. After being punished by the civil magistrate he then would still be required to satisfy the Session and other congregations. The Minister was appointed to procure the warrant after first acquainting Lady Ulster.

To be continued… Latheron kirk session, Minutes (1734-1776, with gaps) (1754-1783, with gaps), CH2/530/1 pgs 57 - 70