Lachlan Shaw.

The history of the province of Moray. Comprising the counties of Elgin and Nairn, the greater part of the county of Inverness and a portion of the county of Banff,--all called the province of Moray before there was a division into counties online

. (page 4 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

six hundred yards and falls into another small loch, which
is bent into a semicircular figure, and with the river forms
a ]ieninsula. On this slip of ground there has been a
military station of two small forts. The outer fort is a
square of fifty paces by fifty-three, which on the one side
is protected by the river and on the other by the small
loch : and next the field is a rampart and a ditch, fourteen
feet wide : on the inner side is another ditch and rampart
of the former breadth. The inner fort is built of rather
modern masonry, and is also a square of twenty-four
paces on each side. Tliese forts cover the only ford on
the Ness, which is called Bona, or Buness; but in Erse,
the ancient dialect of the country, it is called Bana.
From this similarity of name, and being in the country
of the Vacomagi, it probably is the Banatia of Ptolemy.

Dio Cassius, whom some conjecture to have been the
Emperor Severus' private secretary in his British expedi-
tions, wrote his history by that Prince's particular desire.
The information he gives may be considered autlicntic in
what regards Severus' operation in North Britain ; as he
relates events that either passed under liis own eyes, or
were re])orted to him by those who were principally
engaged in them. His testimon}^ is express that Severus
lost .50,000 men in the cx]icdition, but penetrated by land
to the utmost northern bounds of Scotland. This he con-
firms by the astronomical observations that Avere made on
the ditieient lengths of the days and nights in these
regions from Avhat they were in Ital}'.

Captain Shaud, who some years ago connnanded the
detachment of the Ro3'al Artillery at Perth, enqjloyed
himself in exploring the Roman geography from Camelon


to Stonehaven, the limits of Agricola's progress. He
conjectured that the Romans had penetrated further
into the country ; and, on a survey, found the great camp
at Glen-mailen on Ythan, in Buchan, perhaps the Statio
ad Itunam, as also the remarkable prefidium near Old
Meldrum, and a number of similar works of the same
character with those on the other side of the Grampians,
though not executed with such accuracy.

Besides these historical accounts ol the Roman con-
({uests to the north of the Grampian chain of mountains
and the remains of fortifications that, from geography and
their form, have every appearance of being erected by
that warlike and industrious people, there have been
urns, medals, and weapons discovered that also afford
additional evidence of their progress. Two urns were
lately found in Findlater, at the farm of Brankanentham,
in two large heaps of stone. They were full of ashes.
One of them had a cover, with the figure of something-
like a pine apple on the top of the cover, but was broken
in digging it out. The other urn had no cover but a flat
stone, and was oi'namented with a variety of rude carvings.
In the same neighbourhood, several years ago, were dis-
covered some medals, which Gordon mentions in his
Itinerari um Septentrionale.

Another urn, likewise full of ashes, was discovered near
Gordonstown, and is in excellent preservation. Two
more were dug out of a tumulus near to Lethen, but, from
the precipitancy of the labourers, were broke to pieces.

These urns may be considered as Roman, as there is no
evidence that our ancestors burned their dead. They
buried them in stone coffins, or under small arches of
half-burnt clay, as in the muir at the Kirk of Alvie in

The heads of " pilums " of different figures, for foot and
horse soldiers, have been also discovered in Moray and
Nairn-shires. It is true they are of that species of copper
or brass which Pliny names "caldarium," and it is said they
are the weapons of the natives and not Roman. To this
it may be replied, that Herodian asserts, that in his time
the natives of Britain knew the use of iron, and therefore
might employ it for their weapons as well as the Romans.
Livy says that the arms of the first class of Servius were
all of copper. Ca?sar used the same metal in refitting his


ships, and Dio Cassius informs that sometimes the point
of the Roman dagger was steel, or iron, which implies
that the remainder of the blade was of another metal,
cop])er. It is also said that all the extant arms and tools
of that illustrious people are copper, which they had the
art to temiier and harden in a very high degree.

Thus the Roman progress is traced to Inverness, by
ancient geography and history, encampments, weapons,
coins, and urns. The proofs arising from each of these
sources, taken single and unconnected, might give a
certain degree of credibility to the ojnnion ; but united,
they have such accumulated evidence on the whole, that
establishes it as fact we may depend on. They receive
additional weight from the geographical Treatise, De Situ
Britannia', and the ma]) that accom})anied it.

The manuscript was discovered and published by
Charles Bertram, at Copenhagen in 1757. The author is
supposed to be Richard of Cirencester, a monk of West-
minster, who made the history of Britain the object of
his studies. He lived under the reign of Edward III.
Whoever was the author, the work has merit, and claims
attention, as it illustrates the geography and history of
the island, and though wrote by a monlc of the fourteenth
century, is not to be classed among the futile productions
of that age. It is the composition of one conversant
with the best writers of antiquit}', and who had the
discernment to select what was valuable and adapted to
the nature of his dissertation. Cciesar and Tacitus, Lucan
and C'laudian, were familiar to him. He also ap{)(ars to
have had other sources of information, equally im})ortant,
that are now lost. From all these he acquired an accurate
knowledge of the history and geography of even the
interior and northern parts of Scotland.

By his map he })laces Banatia to the west of Ptoroton,
and both on the Sinus A'araris, in the country of the
Vacomagi, or Province of Moray. He delineates the
Tuessis, or river Spey, with accuracy, and has the station
of Tuessis at the mouth of the river. He also inserts in
his treatise an itinerary of a Roman officer, from Mhich
he gives a variety of routes ditierent from those of
Antoninus, and describes two from Ptoroton, on the
Moray Firth — one along the sea coast to Luguballium, or
Carlisle, and the other by Varris, or Forres, and Tamea,


or Braemar Castle, to Isca Damnoniorum, or Exeter. The
distances were effaced in the manuscript between many-
places, but in so far as regards the Province of Moray they
are — between Selinam, or Banff, and the station of Tuessis,
xxviii m. p., from that to Ptoroton the number is wanting.
By the inland route Ptoroton is viii m. p. from Varis, from
Varis to the river Tuessis are xviii m. p., from that to
Tamea are xxvii m. p.

There can be no doubt that Richard's " Varis " is
Forres. It appears by the direction and distance. The
provincial mode of pronouncing the name at this day
is Farris ; and everyone knows that F and V are synony-
mous letters.

The map is singular. What stamps it with value and
authenticity, and demonstrates that Richard had his
materials from the purest sources, is that the places he
has laid down as Roman stations in Scotland, not only
correspond with Ptolemy, but have been verified by
Roman works at or near them. He mentions some not
taken notice of by Ptolemy, as that one near Stonehaven,
and calls it immane castrum. Nay, his map has dis-
covered a Roman station near the Cairns of Tarbet-
Ness, in Ross-shire, which he calls arce finhnn imperij
Romani ; and which, before its publication, was not con-
sidered in that light, but now, upon investigation, indicates
the labours of a foreign people — the Romans.

Though these cairns and that station are not within
the limits of the Province of Moray it is not improper to
give a short description of them.

There are two cairns. The western one is raised about
five or six feet, on a base of seventy-two feet in circum-
ference, and upon that is built a small pyramid, six feet
broad at the bottom, and elevated a few feet. This cairn
is called Ulli-vacum. The other is east from the first
cairn about two hundred paces and is of a similar shape,
on a base of only half the circumference, but rises to
much about the same height. It is called Spadie-lingum.
They are both constructed, without any art, of earth and
the common muir stones.

A mile to the north-west of them is a place on the sea
shore called Port-a-chaistel, where there is an excellent
small harbour ; and on the rising ground that commands
it are the ve^itiges of a militar}' station, surrounded w^ith


two ditches twenty feet asunder, and each of them twelve
feet wide. The circumference of the area enclosed by the
inner ditch is about an hundred feet, from which runs
southward a rampart about a quarter of a mile in leugth,
with njany curves and angles in it.

Near tlie outer ditch, and not far from the })oint of the
rock, and above the harbour, is a square fortification
about one hundred paces of a side. Through the muir,
near a mile round, are scattered many circular figures,
about forty feet in circumference, with ramparts running
from them southwards in the same style as in the one
mentioned before. This square has every appearance of
a Pra^torium and camp. The other works have })iobably
been barracks for hutting the troops, or constructed by an
opposing enemy.

He mentions in his map and description of Caledonia,
a Province which the llomans occupied for a short time
that extended from Agricola's " priTeteutura," between the
Forth and Clyde, to the artv jiniiim iiniJerlj Bomani. It
had the name of Vespasiana from the imperial family, and
was probably conquered in the reign of Domitian. Under
the Emperor Theodosius it was named Thule. Ricliard is
singular in mentioning this Province, as no ancient writer,
nor any of the middle ages that have been published,
mention it.

Though Richard's testimony of this fact stands alone,
instead of being disregarded, it ought to have great
weight, as in every other particular he is well informed,
and has been faithful to such of his authorities as are
published, which we have an op])ortunity of examining.
But independently of this, partiality may be indulged to
his relation, when we recollect the remains of the Romans
that have been discovered within the limits of the "Pro-
vincia Vespasiana." They demonstrate their })rogrL'ss
through the whole of its extent, however short time they
maintained possession of it. This Richard allows was the
case only from Domitian's reign to near the end of Marcus
Aurelius's, when the Romans finally lost it, till it was
recovered for a short ])eriod by Severus.

May it not be conjectured that Agricola's fleet, in cii'-
cumnavigating the island, touched at Ptoroton, Banatia,
and Tarbet-Ness ; that Lucullus fortified them and
Tamea, and so carried tlie Roman ai-ms ly land from

EHIND's sketches of MORAY, PAST AND PllESENT. 27

Finlaystone hill to the northern limits of the " Provincia
Vespasiana " ?

The Romans soon relinquished the possession of this
Province, as, in its uncultivated state, and exposed to the
vigorous attacks of the Caledonians then crowded among
the hills, it was not worth holding. This accounts for
the only remains they left in it, and the Province of
Moray being of the military kind. Inscriptions, baths,
and military roads are the works of peaceable times
and permanent settlement.] {Survey of Provinceof Moray.)

[The ancient Province of Moray extended from the
mouth of the River Spey on the east, to the River Beauly
on the west. A line stretching from Loch Lochy on th(;
south-west, through Lochaber, and following nearly the
course of the River Spey along the base of Cairngorm and
Benrinnes, formed its southern boundary; while the
Moray Firth terminated it on the north, and separated
it from the Peninsula of Ross. Moray thus included the
whole district of country stretching along the sea coast ;
and hence, probably, the Gaelic derivation of the name
Murar or Morar, the sea-side, from Mor, the sea, and
Taohh or Tav, the side. (Shaiu.)

The present boundaries of the county are much more
circumscribed — Nairnshire occupying the western, and
part of Inverness-shire the south and south-western
portions of the ancient Province. Its greatest length is
about 40 miles; and its breadth varies from 8 to 15 and
23 miles. The northern range of the Grampian Mountains
terminating in Benrinnes, which has an elevation of 2,300
feet, forms the southern boundary and most elevated part
of the county ; from whence there is a gradual descent to
the sea level by a series of parallel hills intersecting the
county from west to east, with valleys between. The
hills to the south consist of primary rocks, and are of
considerable height, while those towards the north are
composed of sandstones and newer formations, and gradu-
ally decrease in elevation as they approach the sea.
Hence the streams and rivers which water the county
take their rise to the south and south-west, and flow
north and north-eastward to the sea. These are the Spey,
with its tributaries, forming the south-eastern boundary;
the Findhorn on the west, and tlie Lossie in the centre.

28 Buchanan's and cordon's descriptions of moray.

The plain of Moray consists generally of a light arena-
ceous soil, interspersed with valleys and tracts of rich allu-
vium and loam. In the lower district there is a deep clay.

From the position of the county along the shores of an
estuary, from its slight elevation above the sea level, and
from the dry and porous nature of the sub-soil, the climate
is genial, and superior to that of the neighbouring shires.
The elevated hills to the south carry off much of the
atmospheric moisture which would otherwise fall ; and
the level of the firth, extending to the northward, still
farther prevents an excess of rain ; while the porous
surface readily absorbs, and as readily gives off by
evaporation, that moisture which, stagnating in less
favoured localities, renders the surrounding air chill and
ungenial. The average annual fall of rain at Elgin for
the last three years (183G-39) is 2oSo5 inches. The
average temperature for the same period is 48^.38. Both
these results do not differ much from those of the locali-
ties on the eastern coast of Scotland generally, at or near
the sea level ; but, as compared to the mountainous
districts, the difference, had we suflicient data, must be
very considerable.

Buchanan extols Moray as superior to any other part
of Scotland for the mildness of its climate, the richness of
its pastures, and the abundance of its fruits ; and Bishop
Leslie, with all the enthusiastic partiality of a son of the
soil, reiterates these praises. Sii- Robert Gordon of Stra-
loch, describing it in 1640, says, "that in salubrity of
climate Moray is not inferior to an}^, and in richness and
fertility of soil it much exceeds our other northern pro-
vinces. The air is so temperate that, when all around is
bound up in the rigour of winter there are neither lasting
snows nor such frosts as damage fiuits or trees ; proving
the truth of that boast of the natives, that they have forty
days more of fine weather in every j'-ear than tlie neigli-
bouring districts. There is no product of this kingdom
which does not thrive there perfectly ; or, if any fail, it is
to be attributed to the sloth of the inhabitants, not to the
fault of the soil or climate. Corn the earth pours forth
in wonderful and never-failing abundance. Fruits of all
sorts, herbs, flowers, ])ulse, are in the greatest plenty, and
all early. While harvest has scarcely begun in surround-
ing districts, there all is rii>c and cut down, and carried


into open barn-yards, as is tlie custom of the country ;
and, in comparison with other districts, winter is hardly
felt. The earth is almost always open, the sea navigable,
and the roads never stopped. So much of the soil is
occupied by crops of corn, however, that pasture is scarce ;
for this whole district is devoted to corn and tillage. But
pasture is found at no great distance, and is abundant in
the upland country and a few miles inland, and thither
the oxen are sent to graze in summer, when the labour of
the season is over. Nowhere is there better meat, nor
cheaper corn, not from scarcity of money, but from the
abundance of the soil."

There are few lakes or marshes of any extent in the
shire. Lochindorb, in the upper part of the county, is
the most considerable. Loch-na-bo, in the neighbourhood
of Elgin, is celebrated for its picturesque beauty. Loch
Spynie was of considerable extent, but it is now almost
entirely drained. It is highly probable that, in ancient
times, a large portion of the low country of DufFus and
Drainie was under water. There are evident proofs in
the remains of marine shells that the sea extended farther
southwards, perhaps to join the eastern part of Loch
Spynie, near Pitgaveny, and that it approached much
nearer Kinnedar than it does at present.* The hollow land

* " In 1368, on the 7th day of June, while Lord Alexander,
Bishop of Moray, was passing from his Castle of Kyneder,
towards the Priory of Urchard (Urquhart), by his water of
Lossy, through the ford, which is called Krannohjsford, he
found a small ship (navicula), viz., farcost, lying in his said
water, near the sea. To which coming, he asked of a person

who was called , who was the only one found in the

vessel, whose vessel that was, and by whose hcense it entered
that water; Avho answered, that the vessel, that is farcost,
belonged to John de Lany, and that he had come there by
order of the Burgesses of Elgyn. To whom the Bishop replied,
' that neither the burgesses, nor any other person whatever,
had the power to grant this authority or license, since the
water, at the time being, flowed in its proper channel within
his diocese of Moray, and his it was, and no one's else ; ' and
on this account, he demanded of him to give a pledge in name
of the arrestment of the 'said vessel. The man put into the
hands of the said Bishop a small axe, which, in name of his
master, he beg.Ered to give him as a concession, which the said


extending from the Castle of Old Duffus to Roseisle, was
also most likely partially or entirely covered with water.
In former times a stream flowed past Unthank which
drove a mill, and in a chart of the county laid down by
Sir Robert Gordon of Straloch, dated 1640, a Loch of some
extent is marked extending south of the village of Rose-
isle, from which a stream appears to issue to join the sea,
near Burghead.

That such an inviting district of Scotland should have
been among the first to have been taken possession of, is
not at all to be wondered at. Yet, so imperfect is tradi-
tion, that we are left almost entirely in the dark regarding
the particular race who first peopled it. Of those migrat-
ing swarms who came from the neighbouring continents
to occupy our islands, two distinct races have been recog-
nised — the Celts and the Picts. While the Gaels or Celts
took possession of the more central and mountainous parts
of our island, it has been supposed that the Picts settled
along our shores, and that thus the northern and eastern
districts of Scotland skirting the sea were peopled by
tribes of Scandinavian origin. It is easily to be supposed

Bishop received, to be restored again when it should be asked
of him."

It is farther added, that the Bishop, returning the same day
by the same way, found in the said vessel certain Burgesses of
Elgin, viz., Philip Byset and Henry Porter, dragging out of
the vessel certain barrels of beer, and certain sacks of tallow
and flour, together Avith a horse and sledge, &c. ; and so on
the Bishop goes to arrest the vessel with its anchor," &c., &c.
— {Regis. Episc. Morav.)

We leave to the curious to trace the Bishop's route from the
above extract ; but one thing seems ajiparcnt, that tlie Jjossie,
at its junction with the sea, formed a witlcr estuary soutliwards
than it does at present, else a vessel so loaded could not have
.mailed up so far. The remains of recent periwinkles {turbo
litloralis), and of oyster shells found in the clay at Pitgaveny,
will thus be satisfjictorily accounted for. It will show, too,
that the jolly ecclesiastics of those days must have feasted on
oysters, while their Presbyterian successors are depiived of
that luxury. An ingenious Paper read before the Moiayshire
Scientific Association, by Patrick Duff, Esq., attril)utes the
large accumulations of gravel and sand in this district to the
action of the littoral tidal current carrying the matter brought
down by the Spcy and Lossie to the westward.


that, during those early migratory and unsettled periods,
many changes and admixtures may have taken place.
We learn from the Norse authorities, or rather legends,
that Moray, as well as a considerable part of the North
of Scotland, was frequently under Norwegian rule, and at
one time for nearly two centuries in succession. Thorstein
the Red, Sigurd, and Thorfin, held an independent sway,
or with a slight acknowledgment of the sovereignty of
the Scottish monarchs, from the beginning of the tenth
to the middle of the eleventh century. An ancient
Charter still extant, describing the boundaries of the
lands of Burgie, is curious, from an incidental allusion to
the Picts. Beginning at the great oak marked with a
cross, the boundary ran by a place or object, named Rune
Pictorum, which, in the Charter, is translated, " the Carne
of the Pethis, or the Pecht's fieldis." This is, perhaps,
the only allusion to the Pictish people to be found in any
Scottish charter ; and if it shall be found, in tracing the
boundary, that the expression has reference to the sculp-
tured Pillar situated at the east end of the town of Forres,
an authority so ancient as the time of Alexander II. for
ascribing that extraordinary monument to the ancient
Pictish inhabitants, must be regarded as an important
hint for the elucidation of this subject.

After the decline of the Pictish power, we find the
country convulsed by the rebellions of its native chiefs
against the sovereign. Of these Maormors, or Earls, as
they now first began to be styled, we know little more
than the names. They seem to have been connected
with the reigning family, and aspired themselves to the
throne. These insurrections became so frequent that at
length, efiectually to quell them, Malcolm IV. transported
all those concerned in these rebellions, including the
greater part of the population, to the southern provinces
of the kingdom, and introduced other families to supply
their places. It is from this circumstance that the rarity
of the name of Murray in the Province has been accounted
for, while it is by no means uncommon in the counties
south of the Grampians. After this, the county appears
to have been the frequent residence of King Malcolm and
his successor, William the Lion, for several Charters
granted by them are dated fi-om Elgin, Inverness, and
other places in Moray.


That au importation of families at this time took place
there is little doubt. Among these, it is supposed that
the once great names of Comyn, Byset, Ostiarii, and the
powerful Earls of Fife and Strathearn, were the principal.
It is as likely, on the other hand, that many of the
original families remained, among whom were the Inneses,
Calders, &c. The powerful family of De Moravia, of
whom Freskinus, Lord of Dutius, is the tirst mentioned,
now also appears as holding extensive possessions, and
exercising great influence in the country. On the whole,
after all these changes, the district seems to have preserved
the characteristics of its Scandinavian origin ; and this
is evident, even in the present day, from the traces of
ancient architecture still extant, and from the pronuncia-
tion peculiar to the counties of Moray, Banff, and Aber-
deen, which resembles in a remarkable degree that of the
German and Danish, especially in converting the double
o into ce, as nneen, sheen, kic. For the lapse of many
centuries, too, the people seem to have kept apart from
their Celtic neighljours. We find the district, whether