The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

Alness Ferry and the Stewart dynasty of Ferrymen and Farmers

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image

This is the story of the Stewart and related Fraser families who for a hundred years operated the Ferry of Alness and the associated farming tenancy. The traces of the ferry are still there, and there are descendants of the families still in the parish.

 

The Ferry of Alness

The Alness Ferry operated until the 1860s, crossing from Resolis to the tip of Alness Point on the north side of the Cromarty Firth, a long crossing. Most of the ferries in the area exploited spits or narrowings of the Firth to shorten the journey, but despite the projection of Alness Point this was one of the wider crossings.


the ferry crossed from the end of the Alness Ferry track on left to Alness Point, close to the large white building on the Alness Industrial Park; photo by Jim Mackay

 

The Ferry was one of a series along the Cromarty Firth, including Alcaig to Dingwall, Findon/Toberchurn to Foulis, Balblair to Inverbreakie/Invergordon and Cromarty to Nigg, and is one of the least recorded.

We know it was particularly busy when popular ministers at Resolis such as Hector Macphail or Donald Sage drew attendees from across the Firth – “Groups of people also crossed the ferries of Invergordon and Alness from the north on Sabbath mornings, and took their places in the church of Resolis as regular hearers during the ministry there of Mr. Sage.” Sage’s sermons were a good draw both before and after the 1843 Disruption.


former pier from the track to the beach at Alness Ferry; photo Jim Mackay


and on the other side of the firth, Alness Point to Alness Ferry; photo Jim Mackay

We have the most marvelous description of a religious young lady accompanying 60 bible-carrying highlanders across the Alness Ferry to attend the sacraments in a then much-uncultivated corner of Resolis on a miserable, dreich day, uplifted in the end by Sage’s ministry. This comes from “A Memoir of Mrs Margaret Wilson [ms Margaret Bayne], of the Scottish Mission, Bombay, including Extracts from her letters and journal” (John Wilson, third edition 1840) and from the date of her letter (12 August 1826) Sage would have been in the position only four years, and had married for a second time a couple of months previously:

“To One of Her Sisters,
Alness, 12th August 1826.
“I have been at two sacraments since coming here. They have been to me like green spots amid the desert; and such spots, though surrounded by a sterile and dreary waste, shall be had in remembrance when the sunshine of other locations has long faded from the mind. […] I went alone to Resolis the day after coming here, which happened to be the first day. After crossing the ferry, with about sixty highlanders carrying their Bibles in their hands, and alternately reading or conversing on religious subjects in the Gaelic language, I had about two miles to walk up hill, and along a tract of barren heath. There was scarcely a trace of any human habitation, and, to complete the gloom, a heavy rain came on. The church stands alone, amid this barren waste which surrounds it – a fit and significant emblem of its existence on earth. At a little distance an immense crowd had assembled at the tent. They were singing the Covenanter’s tune, while here and there a few stragglers were coming slowly along the descent, carrying in their hands a Bible and stool, or piece of wood for a seat. They were, for the most part, old men, with their gray hairs streaming from under the blue bonnet which partially covered their heads, or women, bent by years and infirmities, looking more like a link to connect us with death, than any part of the chain of the living. I felt wet, and was almost disposed to retrace my steps homeward, till this scene roused me. When I saw the old and the feeble seated on the wet heath, with the rain-drops falling upon them, and nothing for shelter but a few trees almost bereft of their foliage, I was shamed out of my fears about suffering any paltry inconvenience, and advanced toward the church. When I entered, the clergyman had a large cloak wrapped around him, and so pale and emaciated was he, that it was not till he gave out the psalm, that I discovered that it was Mr S. He had been recovering from an illness, and was obliged to observe the precaution of keeping on his cloak. I was delighted with the variety, the depth, and the holiness of the feelings which were breathed in his sermon…”


some of the moors of Resolis experienced by Margaret Wilson still remain, boggy underfoot with patches of whins on the drier spots; looking up the hill to Resolis Cottage which stands opposite the entrance to the parish church of that time; photo by Jim Mackay

The land and the ferry were both rented from the Newhall Estate, and the long-standing nature of the tenancies of the leading ferrymen discussed in this “Story behind the Stone”, first John Fraser and then William Stewart, indicate they were in good standing with the Estate. There were, of course, ferrymen to assist on the crossing.

Before Fraser and Stewart a line of the Holm family were the ferriers, and in the time of Fraser and Stewart the Holms were still amongst the ferrymen involved in servicing the ferry. (I love one entry in the Resolis register which shows the amalgamation of two ferrying dynasties: 26 March 1749 – “John Holm tenent at ye ferrie of Alnes & Barbera Gray daughter to Alexr Gray tenent at ye ferrie of fowlis”). However, the ferrying Holms are a story for another day.

The ferrymen were based on the Resolis side, and on a plan of the Alness river from the 1840s we have, coming down towards Alness Point, “Road from Alness Ferry”, “Signal Station for Ferry Boat” and “Tore Smuid”. Travellers would light a smoky fire at Tore Smuid (“the smoky mound”) to draw the attention of the crofting ferrymen at Alness Ferry to the need to come over for their passengers.


 

The Stewarts, farmers and ferrymen, were devout church-goers and communicants. It is quite likely that having carried the Easter Ross church-goers across the firth to the sacraments in Resolis, as described by Margaret Wilson, the Stewarts would have tidied up and attended service themselves.


Route of ferry track down to pier at Alness Ferry; out of personal interest I have also spotted the Old House (in blue) and the New House (in green) in which I grew up; photo by Jim Mackay

 

I remember my father telling me that when the Free Church in Resolis was being built, the timber was floated down the Alness River and pulled across by boat to Alness Ferry.

After my family of Mackays came to Alness Ferry in 1864, from Lochcarron, they worked at Kinbeachie (at ploughing and other agricultural tasks) and at the salmon fishing at Alness (in the river). A trick was not to lift a salmon but to leave it in the river. A dead salmon would float like a bottle and they'd pick it up later on their way home, when crossing the firth. The Mackays had two boats, one anchored out some distance to which they would go in the wee boat. They must have known the Stewarts well, as Easter Alness Ferry was just a two minute walk from their croft at Alness Ferry Muir – appropriately-named because, as was the practice then, incoming tenants were given moorland at a peppercorn rent to break in and convert to fertile land, when the rental would be increased appropriately.

The ferry itself in those days was just about finished, but there would still be much activity on the firth. And although the commercial ferry was closed, the route was still used as an informal crossing.

 

John Fraser tacksman and ferrier, Alness Ferry, and Katherine Holm

My father, who was born at Alness Ferry in 1910, when quizzed about the previous inhabitants of Alness Ferry would always mention the Stewarts and Shearers as being old families. I see that the first Stewart to come into Alness Ferry was William Stewart (1777–1844), who married May, the daughter of the then ferrier and tacksman at Alness Ferry, John Fraser, and his spouse Katherine Holm.


the fields and farmstead of Easter Alness Ferry nowadays; photo by Jim Mackay

The Stewarts had for generations before been shoemakers and farming tenants at Newmills, a couple of miles from Alness Ferry. But when William married May Fraser, that all changed. Several of the Stewart families at Newmills moved to Alness Ferry.

I say “May Fraser” but in fact the lady had one of the most difficult Christian names I have come across. In some of the older texts it looks like Mazrie, but I have seen it given as May, Madge, Mage, Marsd, Mary, even Martha. Future generations simply called the lady “May”, but I think all these names were variants of “Marjory”. These are the Church records concerning them, first their marriage, and I note that like the Stewarts who were to follow, John Fraser was initially farming at Newmills:

Resolis marriages
23 March 1764 John Fraser son to William Fraser meller in Newmiln & Katherine Holm daughter to Hugh Holm smith in Auchterflow in the parish of Avoch

Resolis baptisms
6 May 1765 John Fraser tacksman in the Ferry of Alness & Katherine Holm – William
20 April 1767 John Fraser tennant in Inch & Katherin Holm – Hugh
9 February 1769 John Fraser taxman at the Ferry of Alness & Katharine Holm– Elizabeth
29 December 1771 John Fraser ferrier at Alness Ferry & Katharine Holm – Margaret
26 July 1775 John Fraser tennant in Wester Inch & Kathrien Holm – John

Note how Alness Ferry and Wester Inch at this time appear to be used interchangeably. Nowadays, Inch is the farm east of Alness Ferry, while Alness Ferry comprises the farms east and west of the road running from the war memorial at Resolis Crossroads down to the sea. In the 1700s and for some time thereafter, Inch seems to have overlapped with Alness Ferry. May is absent from the baptism register but the identity of her parents is confirmed from her death certificate, inserted here out of place:

May Stewart (widow of William Stewart farmer) died 6 November 1865 at Alness Ferry aged 82 parents John Fraser farmer (deceased) Catherine Fraser m.s. Holm (deceased) informant Andrew Stewart son (present)

 

William Stewart (1777–1844), tacksman and farmer, Ferry of Alness, and May Fraser (c1783–1865)

We pick up on William Stewart when he was still in Newmills. He and his father both occur in the “1798 Militia List of adult males aged between 15 and 60 years ”:

NewMill

Andw. Stuart Farmer
Willm. Stuart his son

The Stewarts are recorded as holding two horses and two carts. In passing, the ferriers in Alness Ferry are recorded as having one large and two small boats.

I calculate that William Stewart must have married May Fraser a few years later – around 1803 – there is no entry in the marriage register, which was very badly maintained at this time. However, given May’s age and when the baptisms of their children appear then 1803 is a fair estimate. Talking about those baptisms:

19 May 1804 William Stuart Ferry of Alness & Mage Fraser – Andrew born 12 May
6 January 1812 William Stuart tennant Ferry of Alness & Marsd Frazer – Janet born 3 January
23 September 1814 William Stuart ferrier at Alnes Ferry & Mage Fraser – Margaret born 19 Sep
15 June 1817 Willm. Stewart at Anas Ferry & May Fraser – William

The 1814 militia returns (males 17 to 45) show William with 4 children was excused from being balloted:

Alnes Ferry
Will. Stuart ferrier >30 [no cross for balloting] 4 ch

And, not before time you are saying, we come to a gravestone in Kirkmichael, a low tablestone, erected after William passed away in 1844. Relatively few families could afford tablestones.

In memory of / WILLIAM STEWART / Tenant Ferry of Alness / remarkable / for the simplicity and humility / of his christian character. / He died / at Invergordon on the 15th Novr / MDCCCXLIV / aged 67 / Also of / CATHERINE STEWART / his eldest daughter / She died Dec – / MDCCCXXXII / aged 25 / And of / his beloved wife / MAY FRASER who died / at Ferry of Alness / on the 6th day of Novr / MDCCCLXV / aged 82 years.


the Stewart burial area at Kirkmichael; the tablestone and headstone associated with this branch of the family are red-spotted, other branches in blue; photo Davine Sutherland


Stewart headstone with the shadow of Kirkmichael beautifully captured on the red granite by Davine Sutherland

This stone was, unfortunately, like several other Stewart stones in this section of Kirkmichael, chemically treated to clean it up in the early 2000s, and hence much of it is now illegible. Why would anyone think it a good idea to do this? The inscription is unusual for the use of Roman numerals. For “MDCCCXLIV”, “MDCCCXXXII” and “MDCCCLXV” read 1844, 1832 and 1865 respectively.

The gravestone states that William Stewart was remarkable for the simplicity and humility of his Christian character, and we have much evidence of this from the Kirk Session records. He and his wife, May Fraser, were for long on the roll of communicants, and the following is a typical example:

At the Church of Resolis, the 18th day of Sepr. 1837 years … communicants … William Stewart Ferry of Alness Tenant & Ferryman … Fraser Mary (William Stewart) Ferry of Alness

Note that in the 1760s and 1770s John Fraser was the tacksman and ferrier at Alness Ferry. We thus have John Fraser in this role, and then William Stewart who had married John Fraser’s daughter. Very much a case of keeping it in the family.

William Stewart died in 1844, in Invergordon according to his gravestone, and why it was there he died I simply do not know. Was there a fatal accident whilst he was there on business? Was he visiting a relative? His wife continued to live at Alness Ferry for many years afterwards.

I see from the Cromarty Sheriff Court records that May (“Mary Fraser or Stewart, Ferry of Alness”) the following year, 1845, was seeking damages of two guineas from Donald Mackenzie, gamekeeper on Newhall, for the killing of two dogs. The witnesses cited were “William Fowler, mason, Resolis; Peter Gibb, servant with Widow Stewart; James Munro, farmer Ferry of Alness; Thomas Shearer, crofter.” If the paperwork for the case can be found, the whole story will be told here!

To indicate the position of the Stewarts of Alness Ferry, I note that the death of May Stewart ms Fraser in 1865 was placed in the local papers. At this time, the deaths of very few Resolis inhabitants made it into print:

Inverness Courier 9 November 1865
At Alness Ferry, Resolis, on the 6th inst., Mary Fraser, relict of the late Mr William Stewart, Farmer, aged 82.

The Stewart burial area within Kirkmichael lies immediately to the west of the former west wall of the nave, only the base of which is nowadays still extant. There are four tablestones in this group of memorials, and three headstones. Two of the tablestones and a small headstone are surrounded by a small wall surmounted by a quality railing – some of the family here diverged to call themselves Stuart instead of Stewart. A much smaller railing forms an angled enclosure with the north wall of the kirkyard which we think may have been a burial area for children.


GIS layer superimposed upon aerial photography; the four tablestones are in yellow; the three headstones lie between tablestones. Memorials 141 and 144 relate to this Alness Ferry branch of the family.

 

 

The family of William Stewart and May Fraser

We turn to the Census returns for information on the surviving family of William Stewart and May Fraser. This is because baptismal records are incomplete, and as there were no burial records kept in Resolis we do not know which children died in infancy, a sadly common occurrence at this time.

By the way, May Fraser’s age as given on her gravestone in Kirkmichael and on her death certificate would suggest she had been born around 1783, and there is a fair degree of consistency with her census returns. She lived through three Censuses: 1841, 1851 and 1861. Census enumerators in 1841 were meant to round adult ages, but fortunately they did not do so in some of the enumeration districts of Resolis, sensible fellows. We thus have:

1841 Census return Ferrie of Alnes

William Stewart 64 / May Fraser 60 / Andrew Stewart 30 / John Stewart 28 / Margaret Stewart 26 / Jennet Stewart 24 / John Fraser 17 MS / John McKenzie 14 MS

We have here William and May with their children Andrew, John, Margaret and Janet. And we have a suggested birthdate for May of about 1781, and for her husband of about 1777. By 1851 her husband had died (the tombstone says 1844), and the oldest son Andrew had taken over as ferryman, had married and had young children himself, and was living in an adjacent household as head of that family:

1851 Census return Alness Ferry

Andrew Stewart head married 42 ferryman born]Resolis / Janet Stewart wife married 32 born Resolis / Hellen Stewart daur born Resolis / William Stewart son 1 born Resolis
 
Mary Stewart head widow 68 farmer of 20 acres employing 2 boys born Alness Ferry Resolis / John Stewart son u 38 employed on the farm born Alness Ferry Resolis / Margaret Stewart daur u 35 employed on the farm born Alness Ferry Resolis / Janet Stewart daur u 27 employed on the farm born Alness Ferry Resolis / John Paterson servant 15 farm servant born Kiltearn / Donold Munro servant 15 farm servant born Alness Ferry

And by 1861, her son John had taken up the role of head of household:

1861 Census return Alness Ferry
Andrew Stewart head married 55 farmer of 27 acres and ferryman born Resolis [3 rooms with one or more window] / Janet Stewart wife m 37 farmer's wife born Resolis / Helen Stewart daur 12 scholar born Resolis / William Stewart son 11 farmer’s son born Resolis / Catherine Stewart daur 9 born Resolis / Jessie Stewart daur 6 born Resolis / Isabella Stewart daur 4 born Resolis / Margaret McKenzie serv u 18 farm servt born Cromarty
 
John Stewart head unmarried 50 ferryman born Resolis [4 rooms with one or more windows] / May Stewart mother widow 77 ferryman”s mother born Resolis / Margaret Stewart sister unmarried 44 farm servant born Resolis

The 1861 Census was the last on which May Stewart, ms Fraser, appears. It is also the last Census on which the employment of ferriers is recorded in Alness Ferry – the ferry ceased to operate between 1861 and 1871, although the remnants of what must have been quite a substantial pier are still clearly there on the shore, out from the end of the track that cuts down through the brae.

 

Andrew Stewart (1804– ) and Janet (Jessie) Munro(–)

Andrew Stewart appears in the militia lists at Alness Ferry as he came of age but is recorded as sickly in his first entry in 1826, although he went on to live to a ripe old age. I note that he was excused from being balloted in 1831, but the reason is not given and is not readily apparent. His brother John also became eligible for balloting in 1828, and another ferryman called John Stewart also appears in 1831 – another relative.

1826 Militia roll
Ferry of Alness
Thomas Shearer weaver <30
Andrew Stuart farmer’s son <30 sickly
 
1828 Militia roll
Ferrie of Alnes
Thomas Shearer weaver <30
William Shearer shoemaker <30
Andrew Stewart farmer’s son <30
John Stewart farmer’s son <30
 
1831 Militia roll
Ferrie of Alnes
Thomas Shearer weaver <30
Andrew Stewart ferryman <30 Exd
John Stewart ferryman <30
John Stewart ferryman <30

We have seen from the census returns that Andrew Stewart married one Janet Munro. This was in 1847:


Resolis marriage register
25 July 1847 Andrew Stewart ferryman at Alness of Newhall in this parish & Janet Munro residing at St Martins also in this parish banns published 11, 18, 25 July 1847

Janet, or Jessie, Munro was the daughter of James Munro, the miller in St Martins, and Helen Simpson. The children of Andrew and Janet were baptised in the Free Church of Resolis, and I have summarised the information within the records thus:

Andrew Stewart, Tenant Ferry of Alness | Janet Munro | 2/6/1848 | 20/6/1848 | dau | Helen
Andrew Stewart, Ferryman & Tenant, Ferry of Alness | Janet Munro | 27/12/1849 | 29/12/1849 | son | William
Andrew Steward, Farmer and Ferry man, Ferry of Alness | Janet Munro | 3/3/1852 | 6/4/1852 | dau | Catharine
Andrew Stewart, Tenant Ferry of Alness | Janet Munro | 11/7/1854 | 22/7/1854 | dau | Janet

The birth of their last child was recorded in the civil registers:

Isabella Stewart born 10 March 1857 at Alness Ferry parents Andrew Stewart farmer Janet Stewart ms Munro Andrew Stewart his x mark father (present)

I’m not sure why he did not sign his own name, as I note that during his life he did sign other documents. Perhaps the Registrar assumed he could not write and simply entered and witnessed the usual cross. The family can be seen in the 1861 Census return quoted above, and in the 1871 return below:

1871 Census return

Alness Ferry (Easter)
Andrew Stewart head married 67 farmer of 50 acres 40 arable born Resolis
Janet Stewart wife married 50 born ResolisResolis
William Stewart son unmarried 21 farmer’s son serv born Resolis
Jessie Stewart daur 16 do. daur born Resolis
Isabella Stewart daur14 do. daur born Resolis
 
Alness Ferry (Easter)
John Stewart head unmarried 62 farm serv born Resolis
Margaret Stewart sister unmarried 53 general serv domestic Resolis
Catherine Stewart niece 19 do. born Resolis

You can see here that Andrew was farming 50 acres, of which 40 were arable, but there is no mention of the ferry as it had ceased to operate some years earlier. The improvements in roads meant that travelers could make their way to the busier ferry at Balblair more readily.

You will note that daughter Catherine was next door, in the household of her uncle John Stewart. Catherine went on to marry farmer Hector Robertson (Ross-shire Journal 24 December 1880: “At Alness Ferry, on the 18th inst., by the Rev. Mr Maciver, Hector Robertson, farmer, Resolis, to Kitty, second daughter of A. Stewart, Farmer.”,) and their descendants still live in the parish. Local folk still remember their son “Andra Wullie” (Andrew William Stewart Robertson) and I think Catherine was clearly not missing the opportunity to perpetuate the family name. There are Robertson family memorials in Kirkmichael.

Daughter Jessie married much later (Inverness Courier 16 February 1892: “At Alness Ferry, Resolis, on the 11th inst., by the Rev. John Maciver, F.C., Roderick Macphail, Guard, Highland Railway, to Jessie, third daughter of Mr Andrew Stewart, Farmer.”) Roderick’s parents lived in Resolis Cottage, and have a memorial in Kirkmichael between the two central yews in the kirkyard.

In 1881, because of the route the Census recorder took, the adjacent property in the roll to the home of the Stewarts at Easter Alness Ferry was Alness Ferry Muir, the occupants being none other than my own great great grandparents Duncan Mackay from Jeantown (Lochcarron) and Annie Maclean from Achintee. Almost everybody was a Gaelic speaker (the “G” following their entry).

1881 Census return
1 Alness Ferry
5 rooms with one or more windows
Andrew Stewart head married 76 farmer of 60 acres of which 50 are arable employing 3 men 2 girls 1 boy born Alness Ferry G
Janet Stewart wife married 63 do. wife born St Martins G
Hellen Stewart daur unmarried 32 do. daur born Alness Ferry G
William Stewart son unmarried 31 do. son born Alness Ferry G
Isabella Stewart daur unmarried 23 do. daur born Alness Ferry G
William Young serv unmarried 18 farm serv born Fortrose
 
2 Alness Ferry
2 rooms with one or more windows
John Stewart head unmarried 71 ag lab born Alness Ferry G
Margaret Stewart sister unmarried ag lab born Alness Ferry G
Williamina McKenzie niece unmarried 18 ag lab born Bog of Cullicudden G
 
3 Alness Ferry
3 rooms with one or more windows
Duncan McKay head married 66 farmer of 12ac emp 1 man and 1 girl born Jeanton G
Ann McKay wife married 62 farmer’s wife Achintee G
Catherine McKay daur unmarried 24 farmer’s daur Jeanton
Catherine Whyte grand daur 8 scholar born Alness Ferry

By 1891, both Andrew and his brother John had retired, and the farm at Easter Alness Ferry was being run by Andrew’s son William. There were three Stewart households so Easter Alness Ferry was developing into a Stewart hamlet.

1891 Census return
Easter Alnessferry
6 rooms with one or more windows
William Stewart head married 41 farmer born Resolis GE
Barbra Stewart wife married 42 do. wife born Resolis GE
John Munro servant single 18 farm servant born Resolis
Williamina Bisset servant single 16 general servant (domestic) born Fodderty
 
Easter Alnessferry
3 rooms with one or more windows
Andrew Stewart head married 86 retired farmer Resolis GE
Jannet Stewart wife married 75 farmer’s wife Resolis GE
Bella Stewart daur single 32 housekeeper born Resolis GE
Bella Munro sister in law single 79 retired housekeeper born Resolis GE
James Holmes nephew s 37 army pensioner Resolis GE [i.e. brother of Barbara]
 
Easter Alnessferry
3 rooms with one or more windows
John Stewart head single 82 retired farmer born Resolis GE
Margaret Stewart sister single 77 housekeeper born Resolis GE

Andrew by now was elderly, and in a few years he, Janet and Andrew’s brother John all passed away, John dying just a fortnight after Andrew himself.

Andrew Stewart farmer (married to Janet Munro) died 4 January 1895 at Alness Ferry Resolis aged 90 parents William Stewart farmer (d) May Stewart ms Fraser (d) informant William Stewart son (present)
 
John Stewart farmer (single) died 18 January 1895 at Alness Ferry Resolis aged 84 parents William Stewart farmer (d) May Stewart ms Fraser (d) informant William Stewart nephew (present)
 
Jessie Stewart (widow of Andrew Stewart farmer) died 9 June 1897 at Alness Ferry Resolis aged 80 parents James Munro miller (d) Helen Munro ms Simpson (d) informant William Stewart son (present)

A handsome red granite headstone was erected in the Stewart burial area at Kirkmichael. It reads:

In / loving memory / of / ANDREW STEWART, / Farmer, Alness Ferry / who died 4th Jany. 1895, / aged 90 years. / Also of his wife / JESSIE MUNRO, / who died 9th June 1897, / aged 80 years. / And their son / WILLIAM STEWART, / farmer, Alness Ferry, / died 21st Nov. 1903, aged 52 years. / Also their daughter HELEN, / died 13th Oct. 1922, aged 73 years. / Also BARBARA HOLM, / wife of the above / WILLIAM STEWART, / died at Easter Ferryton, 8th Jan 1934 / aged 86 years. / Also / ISABELLA STEWART, / died at Resolis 13th Aug 1941 aged 84 years.

Andrew’s obituary in the Ross-shire Journal of 11 January 1895 stressed his religious devotion:

Resolis – The Late Mr Andrew Stewart.– A well-known and highly esteemed farmer passed away in Mr Andrew Stewart, whose death took place at his residence, Alness Ferry, on Friday last, after about six weeks’ illness, which he bore with Christian resignation. His hospitable and benevolent disposition of character endeared him to a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. He was the oldest tenant on the Newhall estate, being born in the year 1804, on the farm of Alness Ferry, which his ancestors occupied for generations before him. Deceased leaves a grown-up family of four daughters and a son (William), who succeeds him in the farm. The remains were conveyed from Alness Ferry on Tuesday by a very large concourse of people, and interred in the family burying-ground in Kirkmichael church-yard.

 

William Stewart (1849–1903) farmer at Alness Ferry and Barbara Holm (1848–1934)

This particular story, more than most, has personal connections for several Friends of Kirkmichael, particularly with this generation of the Stewarts. William Stewart married Barbara, the daughter of Thomas Holm and Barbara McCulloch of Ferryton. Our good friend James Holm of Easter Ferryton is a descendant.

They married at Ferryton in 1884:

Resolis marriages
13 March 1884 at Ferrytown Resolis After Banns According to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
William Stewart farmer (bachelor) 34 Alness Ferry Resolis parents Andrew Stewart farmer Janet Stewart ms Munro
Barbara Holm farmer’s daughter (spinster) 35 Ferrytown Resolis parents Thomas Holm farmer (d) Barbara Holm ms McCulloch
Minister John McIver Minister Resolis David Anderson Witness John McDonald Witness

But alas there were to be no children. The Stewart dynasty at Alness Ferry was coming to an end.

My father was a great admirer of the last of the dynasty, Willie Stewart. There used to be a reservoir in the valley of the wee burn, An Gnè, above Easter Alness Ferry. The reservoir was held back by a small concrete dam close to the farmworker’s dwelling on the brae. Despite it being a few hundred yards, the mill at the farm steading was driven by power from this dammed-up reservoir. Willie would release the water stored in the reservoir to transfer power by a series of belts and pulleys out of the valley in which the reservoir sits, over the brow of the hill and down the field to the steading.


farmworker’s cottage above the valley of the An Gnè at the west end of which Willie Stewart’s dam sat; photo by Jim Mackay

 

Following the Stewarts, Walter Macdonald, a butcher, came into Easter Alness Ferry. But my father told me: “Before the Macdonalds down there were Stewarts. Willie Stewart was a great man – had a mill with wheels – built the dam up there. Andra’ Wullie’s [father of Hector Robertson] mother’s folk. The Stewarts died out.”


Willie Stewart’s dam; Davy Holm many years later blew it up to remove the reservoir for safety’s sake, and I then lowered it a bit further myself because water backed up onto our family farm; photo by Jim Mackay

Willie Stewart was indeed clearly seen as one of the leaders of the community. A few examples will exemplify his position. It was he who gave the well-constructed speech at the presentation to schoolteacher Mr Morgan at Newhall for his having delivered a winter series of singing practice of sacred music. The context suggests that Willie Stewart himself had been one of the singers. I note that local poet John Munro took the opportunity to deliver one of his poems, and I must go through the collection of poems I have had provided to me by descendant Donny Munro to identify which one it was!

Ross-shire Journal 16 April 1880
Resolis – Rehearsal of Sacred Music and Presentation.– The singing class for the practice of sacred music, which has been conducted during the winter in Newhall Public School, by Mr Morgan, was brought to a close on Tuesday evening last. There was a large and appreciative audience, and Mr Macculloch, Ballicherry, very genially and successfully discharged the duties of chairman. The programme consisted of psalm tunes and hymns, which were given with great care and precision, and met with the hearty applause of the audience. But perhaps the most interesting part of the programme consisted in the presentation to Mr Morgan of a very handsome time-piece, enclosed in a glass shade. Mr William Stewart, Alness Ferry, who made the presentation in the name of the class, said he had a very pleasant duty to perform in presenting this gift as a token of the esteem in which they held Mr Morgan, and of appreciation of the services rendered by him. He had spent much of his time and talent in labouring with them, night after night, and he was sure they all felt very grateful to Mr Morgan, and although the extent of their gratitude was not to be measured by the value of the gift, he would ask Mr Morgan to accept of it, with sincere wishes for his future prosperity, and that he may long be spared to go in and out among them. Mr Morgan suitably returned thanks, remarking that the kind words Mr Stewart had spoken of him were ample recompense for all he had done for them, without such an elegant gift as he had just been given him. In asking them to accept of his warmest thanks, he said he would never forget the happy days he had spent in Resolis, nor the many kind friends among whom his lot had been cast. Speeches testifying to the musical abilities of Mr Morgan, and congratulating him on his handsome present, were delivered by Mr David Ross, Newhall Bridge; Mr Hector Robertson, Resolis; Mr Munro, gardener, Newhall, and the chairman. Mr Munro, Newhall, recited an interesting poem, by himself, bearing on the presentation, which was well received by the audience. Mr D. Urquhart proposed a vote of thanks to Mr Macculloch for his kindness in occupying the chair. The audience in dispersing had an opportunity of inspecting the time-piece.

Willie was one of a small deputation of tenants to challenge the Laird, John Shaw-Mackenzie of Newhall, in what was essentially the first of a long series of tests of the Laird as the tenants began to establish their rights, a battle in which Resolis was in the forefront.

Ross-shire Journal 7 April 1893
Mr Shaw Mackenzie and His Tenants.– We understand that on the Newhall estate a few of the holdings are to change hands this season, one of these being the Balblair one, from which Mr Campbell has received notice to quit. Mr Campbell is very popular in the district, and the inhabitants, immediately on hearing of his intended removal, had a petition prepared praying that he should be allowed to remain on a yearly tenancy. This petition was signed by over 160 farmers and heads of families in the district, and on Friday a deputation, consisting of Mr Stewart, farmer, Alness Ferry; Mr Finlay Maclennan, Insch; and Mr Campbell, Achmartin, waited upon the proprietor, Mr Shaw Mackenzie, and presented the petition. They strongly urged that their prayer should be granted, and guaranteed the fulfilment of all obligations, but the superior was obdurate, and would not hear of continuing Mr Campbell, and the deputation withdrew. This is the first petition which his tenants have ever presented to Mr Shaw Mackenzie, and they are extremely disappointed that they should have been so unfavourably received.

It must have required considerable courage to be part of the small group to face up to the Laird. Others would come forward and a battle commenced that resulted eventually in legislation that gave increased protection and rights to farming tenants.

Willie was called to give evidence into the 1895 inquiry into the alleged mis-management of another ferry, the Balblair to Invergordon Ferry. Concern over the running of the ferry had been mounting over the years, and the inquiry, held in Invergordon, examined every aspect of its management. Willie had been one of the concerned local men who had drawn up a petition laid before the Justices for the county calling for the inquiry. During his own evidence, Willie demonstrated he could be witty when he wanted to be!

Ross-shire Journal 28 June 1895
Mr William Stewart, farmer, Alness Ferry, said that since 1893–94 the inhabitants were very much displeased with the mode of conducting the ferry, and, in his opinion, the working of it improved a good deal since the petition against it had been started. The large boats drew too much water, and were too deep for cattle and horses to enter into. The Cromarty launch would have decreased the revenue for passengers. At low water he had often to be carried ashore on the ferryman’s back, and, along with paying the ordinary fare, he would have to stand 2d or 3d for a glass. (Laughter.) He thought 4d instead of 8d per head for cattle was sufficient, and 1s 3d for a framed cartload of furniture, instead of 2s 6d as at present.

Willie was selected to replace a distinguished member of the Resolis School Board the following year, and one of his first tasks was to censure a neighbour and fellow member of the Board:

Ross-shire Journal 27 March 1896
Resolis – An Unruly School Board Member.– At a recent meeting of the School Board, Mr William Stewart, farmer, Alness Ferry, was chosen to fill the vacancy on the Board caused by the resignation of Major Lyon Mackenzie. Dr Lawson, Jemimaville, was appointed Chairman for the remainder of the Board’s term of office. Amongst other matters the Board passed a vote of censure on Mr John Mackay, one of its members, who, a few days previously, had entered Newhall School in a very suspicious condition, conducted himself in a violent manner, and used abusive language towards the teachers and others, thereby completely disorganising the work of the school for the day. The other members present condemned in very strong terms Mr Mackay’s conduct, and led him to understand that any further display of the same nature would at once be communicated to the Department, who would doubtless take steps to deal with the unruly member. Such conduct on the part of a member of the School Board should open the eyes of the rate-payers to the necessity of electing men who would take an intelligent interest in educational matters, and not those whose sole object seems to be to place every conceivable obstacle in the way of any useful work.

Despite being a relatively young man, Willie Stewart passed away in 1903:

William Stewart farmer (married to Barbara Holm) 21 Nov 1903 Alness Ferry 52 Andrew Stewart farmer (d) Jessie Stewart ms Munro (d) informant Hector Robertson brother-in-law (present)

Barbara moved back to her old family home at Easter Ferryton, where she died in 1934:

Resolis deaths 1934
Barbara Stewart widow of William Stewart farmer died 8 January 1934 at Ferryton Resolis 85 parents Thomas Holm farmer (d) Barbara Holm ms MacCulloch (d) informant Evan Holm nephew (present)

Following Willie’s death in 1903, with no family to take over on the farm, it was advertised for let:

Ross-shire Journal 12 February 1904
Black Isle – Farm to Let.
To Let, Farm at Alness Ferry, on Estate of Newhall, as presently occupied by the Representatives of the late William Stewart, with entry at Whitsunday and separation of crop 1904. The land extends to about 60 acres arable, and about 21 acres of pasture, but these extents are not guaranteed.
Mr Findlay, ground officer, Balblair, by Invergordon, will show the boundaries.
For further particulars and conditions of let apply to Duncan & Duncan, solicitors, Dingwall, Factors for Newhall, with whom Offers should be lodged by 27th inst.

Farmer and butcher Walter Macdonald came into Easter Alness Ferry for a generation. And then, re-establishing a family connection with the farm, Thomas Holm (1888–1970), nephew of Barbara Stewart ms Holm, left the family farm at Easter Ferryton to take up Easter Alness Ferry, establishing another dynasty there, but that is a story for another day.


Thomas Holm Alness Ferry on left with farmworker Alec Urquhart holding the horses prior to, presumably, a ploughing match; photo courtesy of James Holm, Easter Ferryton

 

The Stewart dynasty can be set out in an extraordinarily repetitive William/Andrew family tree. Note there are a couple of linkages which are likely but which I have not established to my satisfaction and they are shown in red.


 

 

Appendix: Newmills before Alness Ferry

The Stewart family were established tenants and shoemakers at Newmills before making the transition to Alness Ferry. I include some detail here as making the leap between generations is not easy. I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou, but the web is filled with spurious genealogies because evidence to support links from one generation to the next is simply lacking.

The first Stewart in the records was William Stewart, shoemaker in Newmills, who married Mary Fraser before 1740, as their son Andrew was born that year.

15 October 1740 William Stewart shoemaker in Newmiln & Mary Fraser – Andrew
20 March 1749 William Stewart shoemaker in New Milns & Mary Fraser – William
11 February 1752 William Stewart shoemaker Newmills & Mary Fraser – Henderat

William had died by 1763, as he is referred to as deceased in the marriage record of his daughter Mary that year:

Marriages Resolis
11 November 1763 Donald McKenzie son to John McKenzie meller in the Bog of Cullicudden & Mary Stuart daughter to the deceased William Stuart shoemaker in Newmiln

I have not proven to my satisfaction that the Andrew born in 1740 was the shoemaker in Newmills a generation later who gave rise to the farming and ferrying line of Stewarts in Newmills and Alness Ferry. It is very likely, but some confirmation is necessary.

Andrew Stewart married Janet Munro about 1776. Now there are only two baptisms recorded in relation to this couple and then after a break of a few years more baptisms occur to Andrew Stewart shoemaker in Newmills and Grissel Fraser. I think therefore that the Andrew Stewart who had married Janet Munro re-married a few years later Grissel Fraser. This seems to be the only rational explanation of the baptisms in this period, and is given some support from some incidental records which will come out when the family by his second wife are followed, including Stewart of Bridge of Udoll. The full set of children to both wives are:

21 June 1777 Andrew Stewart shoemaker in Newmilns & Jannet Munro – William
16 December 1779 Andrew Stewart shomaker in Newmiln & Jannat Munro – Margaret
20 August 1783 Andrew Stewart shoemaker in Newmilns & Grissel Fraser – John
10 November 1785 Andrew Stewart shoemaker in Newmills & Grissel Fraser – Grissel
4 December 1788 Andrew Stuart tenant in Newmiln & Grissel Fraser – Andrew

Demonstrating the link between the William Stewart born to Andrew Stewart shoemaker in Newmills and the William Stewart who married May Fraser is easier. We know from his memorial in Kirkmichael that William Stewart died in 1844 aged 67, giving a birth year of c1777. And, a perfect fit, William Stewart is born to Andrew Stewart shoemaker in Newmilns and Janet Munro in 1777. That in itself is not proof, but note the other child born to Andrew and Janet – Margaret. She died a pauper in 1856, aged 78, her farming brother having, of course, died in 1844, so not there to support her.

Resolis deaths 1856
Margaret Stewart (Pauper) Formerly Farm Servant (Single) died 22 Oct 1856 at Jemimaville aged 78 years parents Andrew Stewart Shoemaker (Deceased) Janet Stewart m.s. Munro (deceased) buried Church-yard of Kirkmichael as certified by William Holm Sexton informant Andrew Stewart Nephew (not present).

Nevertheless, her brother’s son, or nephew, Andrew was operating Easter Alness Ferry at the time and could have assisted. But, to confirm the relationship, it is that nephew Andrew who informs the registrar and actually signs the register himself. Corroboration is essential when so little variation in Christian names was the practice of the time. And the Stewarts were remarkably consistent, with the line reported here going William – Andrew – William – Andrew – William!

 

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