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History of Nairnshire online

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Loch. The river Nairn is a fair trouting stream. The
salmon and grilse pass to the upper reaches of the Nairn, and


good fishing is obtained in the autumn at Holme Eose and
Culloden. The Loch of Belivat has been stocked by trout by
Sir Thomas Brodie. Lochindorb produces a small trout.
Loch-an-Tutach is a better trouting sheet of water. The
inhabitants of the town of Nairn exercise the right of trout
fishing within the burgh boundaries, but the salmon fishing
on the Nairn, in its lower and upper reaches, is preserved.
The salmon fishing on the lower Nairn belongs to Brodie
of Brodie, as also on the sea-coast from the eastern boundary
to Lord Cawdor's march on the west at Delnies.

Although historically unauthentic, the scenes of Shakes-
pere's " Macbeth " laid in Nairnshire are regarded as places
of interest. The " Blasted Heath " where Macbeth met the
witches lies on the eastern boundary of the county, and the
mound is pointed out around which the witches danced hand-
in-hand. The Hardmuir has now in large part been planted
or cultivated, but a stretch remaining of the peat-moss, lying
to the north-west towards Inshoch, gives an idea of the
dreary, weird character of the old " Blasted Heath." Cawdor
Castle has attractions of its own sufficient to the lover
of old castellated buildings, but the Shakesperian associa-
tions of the Thane of Cawdor with the Tragedy of Macbeth
invest it with additional interest.

Superstitions still exist, though fast losing their hold. A
belief in omens, fairies, and witches lingers on in the remoter
districts and among the older people. When Henry Irving
and Ellen Terry visited the Blasted Heath, in the summer of
1887, Irving inquired of the driver whether there were still
any witches, and he was much mystified with the answer he
got, that they had disappeared " at the time of the flood."
The great Moray Flood of 1829 the driver meant. It is a
not uncommon custom in the district to date events as


occurring so many years before or after " The Flood." In the
parish of Auldearn, a famous witch-trial took place in the year
1661. It is the most remarkable and interesting case of which
there is any account extant. Isobel Goudie, described as
" spouse to John Gilbert at Lochloy," was accused of witch-
craft. She confessed in the fullest manner that she was
guilty, and in her depositions or confessions, written down at
the time, she revealed the whole system of witchcraft — how
she with others had covenanted with the Evil One and was
baptized by him, at midnight in the Kirk of Auldearn, with
her own blood, and how she went to work to bewitch her
neighbours by charms, spells, and incantations. The evidence
is printed in full in " Pitcairn's Famous Criminal Trials."
Sir Walter Scott was of opinion that the wretched woman was
under the dominion of some peculiar species of lunacy to
which a full perusal of her confession might perhaps guide
a medical person of judgment and experience. The startling
and strange feature of her evidence is that it reveals an
elaborate system of incantation and devilry requiring con-
siderable ingenuity even to imagine and suggest. The
persons she mentions are real and the places well-known.
The question arises whether these horrible delusions origin-
ated in the single brain of Isobel Goudie, or were the
common ideas in the district. Belief in the reality
of witchcraft was not confined to any class, but prevailed
amongst all sections. Puritans and Episcopalians, ministers,
magistrates, lairds, and the common people alike shared
it. What Isobel Goudie's fate was is not recorded,
but it is significant that a short distance from the Kirk
of Auldearn is the gallows-hill.

Isobel Goudie's evidence throws considerable light on the
contemporary belief in Fairies. Isobel in one of her


excursions visited fairyland and was entertained to a right
royal feast by the King and Queen of the Fairies — she
associates beauty in connection with both of them. Anti-
quarians will be interested to know from Isobel Goudie that
elf-arrows — flint implements — were so numerous as to be
common weapons in the hands of the witches, which they
threw at their victims with deadly effect. These elf-arrow-
heads, according to Isobel, were fashioned by the Devil with
his own hands and then handed by him over to elf-boys —
dwarfish, hump-backed creatures, who whetted them with
a sharp thing like a packing needle.

Agricultural improvements in the County of Nairn were
initiated by the proprietors. The lands were undrained and
unenclosed, and badly cultivated. The new improvements, as
they were called, were at first distasteful to the tenantry.
Towards the close of the Eighteenth Century the Gordons of
Kinsteary and the Grants of Dalvey brought new capital and
fresh energy into the county. Mrs Elizabeth Kose, Lady Kilra-
vock, had also enlightened views on the subject of agricultural
improvement, and the successive factors of Cawdor, though
hampered by the prejudices of the people, which they were
instructed by the Laird not to offend, succeeded by degrees
in introducing better methods of tillage. But progress was
slow. The Authors of the Survey of Moray who wrote in
1798 in reference to the parish of Ardclach state that the
mode of cultivation which was introduced into the kingdom
by the Koman Catholic clergy long before the Eeformation
still remains unreformed. " A small ill-formed plough,
drawn by four cattle and four horses or by six cattle and
two horses produces about the third return of bear, rye and
oats, chiefly of the small black hairy kind, besides a plot of
each farm in potatoes." The reforming Laird of Lethen, who


succeeded Mrs Dunbar Brodie had his work before him.
Mr James Donaldson, factor for Panmure, wrote a report on the
agriculture of the district in 1794, for the Highland and
Agricultural Society, and he says that on the great majority
of the farms no stated or regular rotation of cropping was
followed ; and almost the whole county being unenclosed the
tenants were still accommodated with natural pasture for
their cattle, either on the bents along the shore or on the
moors near the base of the mountains. Except on proprietors'
farms, the implements were very imperfect, and with very
few exceptions were fabricated by the tenants. The plough
was very clumsily constructed, and comparatively very little
iron was employed. The carts had wheels about two feet in
diameter ; and the kellach sledge, a conical basket frame of
twigs, was still commonly used, and was sometimes drawn
without wheels of any kind. The ploughs were drawn by
oxen, and Mr Donaldson mentions that when the seed season
was over, towards the end of June, the oxen were boarded for
about three months at the rate of Is 3d to Is 6d a week each
in the glens and mountains of the Highlands. The horses
sold at from £7 to £10. Sheep were almost exceptionally of
the small white-faced kind, which appeared to be the original
breed of the county.

Such was the condition of the county when four years
later the Nairnshire Farming Society was established.
Agricultural improvement dates from its institution, and
was due in a large measure to its influence. The Nairnshire
Farming Society was founded on 8th November 1798. Its
object was the promoting of " improvements in agriculture
both by precept and example." One of the pressing questions
of the time was the proper winter herding of cattle. The
lands being unfenced, trespasses were numerous especially


by the Highlanders who sent their cattle down to the low-
lands for winter quarters, and the Secretary of the Society
was authorised at the expense of the Society to prosecute for
such transgressions. Pounding stables were established at
Auldearn and Nairn. Members undertook at every general
meeting to communicate in writing his success in whatever
he had attempted for the melioration of his farm, whether by
improvement of new land, by corn and green crops or in the
rearing of cattle, and the seasons and methods in and by
which he has accomplished such meliorations. No member
was to engage any of his neighbours' servants without the
consent of his then present master, and all were to use every
exertion for reducing " the present exorbitant price of day
labourers' and servants' wages." The final rule is instructive
as to the political feelings of the farmers at the time — " That
no person who has discovered himself to be of Eepublican
principles shall be admitted a member of this Society, and
that if any person after his admission shall discover such
principles or anything subversive of order and good govern-
ment to the conviction of a majority of the whole Society,
such member shall be expelled the Society and his name
expunged from the roll." About forty members joined
within the first year. Mr Daniel Cruickshank, Lochloy,
was the first President, and Mr Eobert Shaw, Auldearn,
Secretary. The Society held its meetings usually at
Auldearn and occasionally at Nairn. The first competition
held was for turnips, examined on the field by the judges.
At the November meeting in 1799, the first prize was
awarded to Mr Alexander Hay, Nairn, the second to Alex-
ander Falconer, Nairn, and the third to Mr John Ore, Nairn,
and the judges commend them highly for the cleanness of the
fields, the regularity of the thinning, and the equality of the -


size. In addition to premiums for turnips and sown grass,
the Society offered prizes for raising flax. Four competitors
entered for flax-growing, namely, Mr Skene, Skenepark, Mr
Alexander Falconer of iN'airnside, Mr Alexander M' Arthur,
Polneach, and Mr Lindsay, Kinnudie, but the judges
reported that they were sorry to say none of the competitors
had any claim to the premiums, as they had not the full
quantity of half-an-acre of a good flax crop. The premiums
were given for potatoes. In the year 1800, the Society
congratulates itself on the spirit of improvement which
it had awakened in the county, and now resolved to encourage
the cultivation of waste land by offering premiums for best
crops grown on the largest piece of new improved ground.
The first ploughing match was fixed to take place at N"airn
on 24th December 1800. There is no record as to its result,
but the following year, when the ploughing match was held
at Auldearn, it is stated that the number of ploughmen who
competed was six. At the February meeting the following
year, reference is made to the alarming scarcity of grain, and
farmers were recommended to sow a certain quantity of
barley early in the season " at least before or during the last
week of March, as a laudable and useful thing for the
country." The Society at the following meeting being
extremely desirous of introducing the practice of liming
into the country do by way of experiment agree to take 1500
bolls of the best Sunderland lime from Mr Kobert Dempster
in the course of the ensuing summer. The price delivered at
the shore of Nairn was 4s 6d per boll. At the meeting at
Calder on 3rd May 1803 it is recorded that the Society with
deep regret observe that the weed commonly called " Stinking
WilHe," is making great devastation in this part of the
country, and that particularly the grass fields are over-run


and in danger of being made useless by this destructive weed,
and they unanimously resolved to use every means to
extirpate it, in particular to fine members lOs 6d each who
allow the weed to get into seed on their farms. A year
or two later it was reported that some fields particularly in
the neighbourhood of Calder were very bad, and as the
Society was determined to get rid of the weed they resolved
to impose a penalty of half-a-guinea on each member for each
plant found in full blossom on his farm. In 1806, a
€ommittee reported that considerable exertions had been
made to cut down and root out the noxious weed, and they
hoped by perseverance in these endeavours to extirpate it.
The local opinion was that the weed had been introduced
by the Duke of Cumberland's provender train, and hence the
origin of the opprobrious term applied to it. It has now
been practically exterminated. The first formal discussion
on an agricultural question took place at the meeting in
1807, when the subject was the best method of applying
lime to the land. The finding of the meeting was that the
most advantageous mode of using lime is by spreading it on
lea on the fields for one year previous to the lea being broken
up, and they are the more confirmed in this opinion from an
experiment made lately on the Mains of Kilravock. At the
following meeting, the subject discussed was whether oxen or
horses are the most advantageous to be used for husbandry
in this county, and the finding was that in light soils or
where long draughts were necessary, horses are preferable ;
upon the other lands where stiff soil intervenes oxen are the
most useful ; but upon the whole, it is the general opinion
that a judicious use or distribution of both horses and oxen
suitable to the particular cases of the farms and the nearer
an equilibrium, is the most advantageous for this county. In



the year 1808, the first ploughing match in connection with
the Highland Society took place at Broadley. In 1810, the
Society, finding the great benefit derived from lime, gave an
order for 2200 bolls of lime to Mr Dempster, and at the
same time the members joined together to purchase coals.
Quantities amounting to 720 barrels were ordered to be
delivered at Fort George, and 897 barrels at Nairn. It was
specified that South Moor Main coals of the best quality
were to be supplied, and the price was to be 2s 4d per
barrel. The practice of ordering coals was kept up regularly
for many years. Samples of wheat, barley, and oats were
produced at the meeting on 7th February 1815. It was
resolved to petition Parliament in favour of such alteration
in the corn laws as will enable the British farmer to meet
the foreign grain in the home market. At the May meeting,
on the suggestion of Mr George Macandrew, it was agreed to
take steps for establishing a savings' bank in each parish.
In the year 1819, a show of young cattle was held at
Clephanton, where cattle trysts had been established, and
the first prize was won by a heifer belonging to Alexander
Stables, Cawdor Castle, the second by Kilravock, and the
third by Mr Macandrew, Torrich. It was resolved in future
to hold all cattle shows at Nairn, but the change was not
finally made till a much more recent time. In 1820 it was
agreed to open the competition in cattle to all practical
farmers in the county whether they were members of the
Society or not. One of the most active members of the
Society in its earlier years was Mr George Macandrew,
Torrich, (gi-andfather of Sir Henry Macandrew of Inverness,)
and on his retiring from the Society in the year 1821, the
compliment was paid him of electing him an honorary
member. His son John Macandrew, who established an


important law firm in Inverness, married a daughter of
James Macpherson of Ardersier. The old family burying
place of the Macandrews is at Ardclach Church-yard.

The Society encouraged the starting of a steamboat
in 1826, and they established a weekly corn market at
Nairn in 1832, and an annual hiring market for farm
servants. Mr Alexander Stables, factor for Lord Cawdor,
was for many years Secretary of the Society, and he was
succeeded in later years by his son, Mr William A. Stables.
Mr W. D. Penny, parochial schoolmaster, held the office for
a long period, and was succeeded by Mr John Joss, Budgate.
The Society for the first fifty years of its existence seldom
exceeded twenty members. In 1892 the membership was
120, with an income of £222, which is expended mainly in
premiums at exhibitions of stock, grain, grass seeds and

In the early part of the century, attention was chiefly
devoted to the reclamation of land, and a vast tract of
country was brought under cultivation. Many farms have
been doubled and even trebled in the extent of their arable
acreage. The most extensive improvements made by a single
tenant on one farm were effected by Mr John Eose, of
Leonach, on the braes and haughs on the river Nairn, near
Clava and CuUoden Moor. Above 300 acres were improved
by him, and his sons brought the number up to 400 acres.
Mr James Macpherson, a most enterprising man, who had a
passion for improving land, brought into cultivation a large
extent of waste ground on the farms of Drumore and Assich
on the Cantray estate, Clunas on the Cawdor estate, and
Dulsie on the Lethen estate. He was assisted by his brother,
Angus Macpherson, in the improvements on the Cantray
farms. These improvements paid during the period from


1860 to 1880. In the year 1869 Angus Macpherson entered
on his own account on a tack of Cantraydoune, agreeing to
bring into cultivation 170 acres. In the year 1888 he had
improved 130 acres, and asked his landlord to relieve him of
the condition to improve the remainder, on account of the
change in the times having rendered it impossible to profit-
ably improve the land. By this time, land-improving had
practically ceased in the county, and all the leading
agriculturists gave evidence to the effect that the land in
question could not be improved except at a loss, and that in
fact the best of subjects would not now pay the cost of
labour. The case was carried to the Court of Session, and
the Supreme Court held that a bargain was a bargain, and
that the conditions of the lease must be fulfilled. The tenant
had in consequence to surrender his farm. This notable case
illustrates the change which has taken place in agricultural
industry during the last decade. It has become a question
whether a good deal of the land brought under cultivation
would not under the altered circumstances be more profitable
as out-runs of natural pasture. The " clod," as it is locally
called, of the lighter lands appears to be pretty much worn
out, and is every year, except during very favourable seasons,
throwing a lighter crop. "Wheat up to the year 1860 was
grown on all the better class lands in Nairnshire, but its
cultivation has now practically ceased. A very fine sample
of wheat used to be produced, as is shown by the fact
that the first prize was awarded at the great International
Exhibition in London in 1852, to the sample of wheat sent
from Piperhill in the Cawdor Valley (as also the first prize
for ryegrass seed.) But the crop of wheat was too light to
be remunerative at the lower prices. Barley is now the
staple crop, and except in adverse seasons the grain, both in


weight and quality, is up to the ordinary standard. The
wintering of sheep by Highland flockmasters, and the letting
to them of turnips not required for the stock of the farm,
is a common custom. The improvement of stock has kept
pace with the general advancement in the country. Mainly
through the influence of Earl Cawdor's stud, the breed of
horses has been vastly improved, and the Clydesdales
exhibited at the annual local agricultural show are most
creditable specimens. The breed of sheep has also been

The Brackla Distillery was built in the year 1812. Captain
William Fraser, whose property it became, carried on the
work with much energy and success, and secured the Eoyal
patronage. The Distillery became a great convenience to
the farmers, whose barley was taken delivery of on the spot
instead of having to be transported to the ports of Inverness
and Findhorn. Captain Fraser was succeeded by his son,
Bobert Fraser, who was born the year the Distillery was
started. Mr Fraser continued proprietor of the Distillery
till a few years ago, when it was acquired by a firm of
Edinburgh distillers who carry it on under the old name of
"Robert Fraser & Co." Mr Walter C. Newbigging is the
resident partner. Under his management the business has
greatly extended, and with the new machinery introduced,
the annual output has been nearly doubled, standing at
present at 70,000 gallons. The make is pure Highland Malt.
Peats are extensively used in the heating of the plates. Both
water and steam-power are used, and the barley consumed is
all home-grown.

Amongst the most energetic and successful agriculturists
in Nairnshire has been Mr Robert Anderson of Lochdhu.
Brought up on his father's small farm of Cooperhill, Darna-


way, Robert Anderson became a leading com merchant and
agricultural judge in the Iforth. His first considerable
venture in farming was his becoming tenant of Meikle
Kildrummie, on an improving lease. He brought under
cultivation about 350 acres. His improvements on that
farm were the astonishment of the country. They paid him,
however, and through his indomitable energy in business he
was able to purchase the property of Lochdhu and to add to
it various other lands, such as Grieship, Broadley, and Nairn
Moss. For considerably over half-a-century he has been
the leading agriculturist in the County of Nairn, and is
regarded as the father of modern improvements in farming.
His services to his agricultural friends were recognised by
their presenting him with a piece of silver plate and 600
sovereigns, and on another occasion by a life-sized portrait of

What the Farming Society has done for husbandry in
general, the several Horticultural and Industrial Societies
are doing for the minor departments of rural industry. If
the exhibits at these district exhibitions may be fairly taken
as an index to the social state of the district, they show a very
decided revival of industrial art and of increased attention to
the amenities and comforts of rural life. Wood-carving as a
home-industry for young men has taken root.

An experiment in land cultivation in connection with the
Burgh of Nairn is interesting from its economic results. A
movement originated amongst the townspeople about the
year 1769 for allotments of land. A Trades Society was
formed and an application was made to the Council for a
long lease of " the uncultivated moorish ground belonging to
the community lying to the west of the Auldton Burn or
strype that runs down from the Moss of Nairn." A few


years later the Council granted a lease of about 141 Scots
acres for a term of five nineteen years at an annual rent of £5
sterling for the first nineteen years, £10 for the second
nineteen, £15 for the third, £20 for the fourth, and £25 for
the fifth and last nineteen years. The experiment was only
a very partial success. The lands were brought under
cultivation, but, with one or two exceptions, the houses
erected (which fell to the town on expiry of the lease) were
miserably poor. The land was starved towards the close of
the lease. The Trades Society had virtually become defunct,
but its treasurer managed to gather the amount of rent from
sub-tenants. In 1889 the lease expired, and the Town
Council resumed possession of its property. A new scheme
was started. The lands were disposed of, along with such
houses as existed, as perpetual feus, to the highest bidder at
a public sale on the ground, the purchaser having the option
of redeeming one-half the capitalised feu-duty, or of erecting
sufficient buildings in security. The former course generally
was adopted. The effect has been most satisfactory. The
best land was taken up, comfortable cottages erected, the land
is well laboured, and an industrious community has settled
upon it. The average feu-duty was about £4 an acre, half
of which was commuted by capital payment. Not a single
feuar has failed, although there have been a good many
changes amongst the tenants who rented the ground not
feued. Market gardening and the letting of the cottages as
summer quarters has no doubt aided the experiment, but
so far as it has gone it has demonstrated the superiority of
feuing over leasing.

A further experiment may be mentioned. When drainage
was introduced into the Burgh the disposal of the sewage
became a serious question. It was happily solved by


establishing a sewage-irrigation farm on a piece of waste
land on the east side of the harbour. The laud is worked
by three shifts, and gives in ordinary seasons five crops
of ryegrass each year, leaving a substantial surplus of profit.

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