This is the story of Donald Fraser of the Bog of Cullicudden, a young man who photographed families and distinctive buildings on the North side of the Black Isle in the early 1900s. His images are as rare as hen's teeth because his glass negatives were destroyed on his death. He produced postcards from some of his photographs which were sold locally. These occasionally crop up on eBay and are snapped up immediately.
The caption of this extract from a newspaper reads "The late Mr Donald Fraser, Cullicudden." but so far I have not been able to locate the obituary from which it was clearly drawn. Source: James Holm, Easter Ferryton.
A charming study by Donald Fraser of Bella,Jessie and Annie Holm, daughters of John and May Holm, Easter Ferryton. Source: James Holm, Easter Ferryton.
Let's look at the few examples of his photography that survive, before examining his life story and that of his family, a family ravaged by the dread diseases of tuberculosis and diptheria. There are only a handful of gravestones associated with the family. The granite headstone to his uncle Alexander, who took over the family croft on Donald's death, stands just beside the medieval arched recessed tomb at Kirkmichael, and there are a couple of others in both Kirkmichael and Cullicudden.
His family history was pieced together with the aid of something I have never used before in genealogy – newspaper advertisement testimonials!
I have copies, at present, of sixteen definite images by Donald Fraser. Self-evidently they all predate his death in 1917. Two at least were taken on or before 1907, as the postcards on which they appear bear 1907 postmarks.
Post Office, Cullicudden. I have not seen the reverse of this postcard, but the front has the usual scratched information found on very early cards (I believe the negative was scored to produce the effect): "Cullicudden P.O. D. Fraser".
Cullicudden Post and Telegraph Office, by Donald Fraser.
Torvaig a few years ago. Photo: Jim Mackay.
The Cullicudden Post Office when it had moved to Achmonie.
This is a beautifully composed card of the Post Office at what is known nowadays as Torvaig, before the Post Office moved further east along the Cullicudden Straight to Achmonie. The local Post Offices must have been a prime market for Donald's pictures, so he would naturally have included images of them as postcards themselves. In this period the Cullicudden Post Office and shop were run by John McKenzie ("Jock Sheen") and his wife Christina. I imagine the three ladies in the picture would be Christina and her assistants (the McKenzies didn't have any children), unless the photograph pre-dates even the McKenzies. Note the sign above the doorway reading "Telegraph Office" – it would be great to find a telegraphed message from Cullicudden!
Post Office, Culbokie. This bears on the front "Pub. by D. Fraser, Cullicudden, Conon Bridge". The reverse bears a postmark of Poyntzfield October 1907. "Poyntzfield OC O7".
Culbokie Post Office in or before 1907, by Donald Fraser.
The Poyntzfield postmark from October 1907.
At this time the Post Office in Culbokie was in Woodholme, across the main road from the school, which itself is now the church.
Old Free Church, Jemimaville, Resolis. and Old Free Church Manse, Jemimaville, Resolis.
Both of these bear on the front: "D. Fraser, Cullicudden, Conon Bridge".
This is the only photograph I know of that shows the Free Church in Jemimaville with a roof. It is a most valuable image. It had been built after the 1843 Disruption in this location only because a tolerant laird, Gun Munro of Poyntzfield, had offered the congregation the land. When the opportunity came up to build a new Free Church more centrally in Resolis, the Jemimaville Free Church continued in use for other purposes, including as an election voting venue, and, I note from a piece in a 1911 North Star, the occasional evening meeting of the Free Church. There were extensive repairs carried out in 1910. The slates on the roof were much later used on other properties in the area in the 1960s including, allegedly, my father's "new" house in Alness Ferry. The site was purchased by the novelist Jane Duncan (Elizabeth Jane Cameron) and is currently in the ownership of the Cameron family. The remains of the Church at present lie beside the shore.
The old church, by Donald Fraser.
The old manse, by Donald Fraser.
After the death of the Reverend Donald Sage, the Free Church Manse in Jemimaville was occupied by several of the Resolis general practitioners, and is currently a holiday home. It is much larger on the inside than it appears on the outside.
Now, some conjecture. This matching pair of postcards intriguingly suggest that other churches in the area, including Kirkmichael itself, must have been the subject of cards by Donald Fraser. There is a card of Kirkmichael in this era, postmarked 1906, but it was published by Macpherson Brothers, Invergordon and Beauly. Perhaps he didn't publish one himself because a rival firm had beaten him to it; it may even be that he took the picture himself and offered it to Macpherson Brothers. That would logically be how he would have made a start in the business. Whatever the case, the churches of the area would have been an obvious target for Donald's photographic endeavours and I am sure that more of this type of picture will emerge.
Old Parish Schoolhouse, Newmills, Resolis. This bears on the front: "Published by D. Fraser, Cullicudden, Conon Bridge."
The new schoolhouses of Cullicudden and Newhall were built in consequence of the epochal Education Act of Scotland (1872). The Newmills school fell redundant when the new Newhall school was completed in 1876. It was still described as a School on the 1880 published Ordnance Survey, but the survey had been completed some years earlier. How beautifully gardens were kept at this time and note the line of beehives at the gateway. Beehives come up a lot in photographs of this period! The ownership of the former school became the subject of a bitter legal dispute between the School Board and the laird, Shaw-Mackenzie of Newhall. The School Board won their case, but the cost of the legal proceedings at the Court of Session left them with a substantial debt.
The attractive old School building at Newmills, by Donald Fraser.
The very different geography of Newmills in the 1800s.
Castle Craig. Resolis This bears on the front: "Published by D. Fraser, Cullicudden, Conon Bridge."
This is one of the most important pictures in the collection. It displays Castle Craig in great detail early in the 1900s. It is also a valuable snapshot of agricultural practice of the time. The field in front of the castle is partly ploughed, and has cartloads of farmyard manure dumped in heaps waiting to be spread by graip and ploughed in as fertiliser. There is snow at the edges of the field. One hundred and eleven years later, and Castle Craig still stands, albeit having lost more of its fabric. An Urquhart residence several hundreds of years ago it is again in Urquhart hands, and Clan Urquhart is considering options for its future.
Castle Craig on a wintry day in the early 1900s, by Donald Fraser.
A message from long ago.
The reverse bears the usual postcard instructions and halfpenny stamp. It bears the cancellation: "Conon Bridge Ross-shire. 8.30 (A)M FE(bruary) 4 (19)07" and the address: "Miss Milly Allan / 31 Commercial St / Bridge End / Perth". Intriguingly, the message reads: "Thanks for P.PC. We have Terrible Frosty weather hear just now We are to have our Volunteer Ball First Friday it will Warm us up. JMK". The 4th of February 1907 was a Monday, so the Ball was to be Friday 8th February 1907. I note from the Ross-shire Journal of 11th January 1907 in "Notes from Invergordon" that "The local Volunteer Company have decided to hold their annual ball on Friday, 8th February." It is likely that that is the Volunteer Ball to which the writer was referring – Invergordon was the nearest town, just across from Balblair by the ferry.
Findon Hall. This bears on the front: "Pub. by D. Fraser, Cullicudden, Conon Bridge."
The original "Good Templar" Findon Hall, Culbokie, was located where the present-day one is: just to the north-east of the current church (the former Culbokie Primary School). Donald captured a wonderful image of the beautiful form of Findon Hall at the time. The building was the culmination of much hard work over several years to raise funding for the "Star of Findon" Hall Fund.
The original Findon Hall, Culbokie, by Donald Fraser. Postcard courtesy of Jane Mackenzie, Culbokie.
With the school, hall and Post Office in close proximity, much of the Culbokie social life (with the exception of the Inn!) was located to the east of the village.
We can date exactly when the building became usable as the Ross-shire Journal of 22 January 1904 reported a successful concert held in the Culbokie School "last Friday evening" under the auspices of the "Star of Findon" Lodge, I.O.G.T., "in aid of the Hall Fund". It wasn't ready at that time, then. But a few months later the Ross-shire Journal reported (8 April 1904) a couple of events:
Findon – Concert. – The "Star of Findon" Lodge, I.O.G.T., held a most successful concert in the new Good Templar Hall, Findon, on Friday evening. There was a large audience, over which Mr Dewar, Town Clerk, Dingwall, presided. An excellent programme was provided, and the following were those who contributed:- Misses Lily Mackenzie, C Ferguson, J Bethune … The concert was one of the most successful ever held in the district.
Findon – Sale of Work. – A most successful sale of work, under the auspices of the "Star of Findon" Lodge of Good Templars, was held in the Findon Hall on Saturday last. There was a large turn out of people when the sale was opened by the Rev. A.J. Macquarrie, Ferintosh, at noon. Mr Macquarrie spoke of the great benefits that would accrue from the hall, and he urged upon the people to buy up the goods so that the lodge would be able to push on the work at once. Looking to what had already been achieved, no fear need be entertained regarding the ultimate success of the scheme. (Applause.) Mr Middleton, Farness, proposed a vote of thanks to Mr Macquarrie, which was heartily given. The stalls were loaded with good things, including, as well as costly articles, many useful things for the people. The sale was then briskly proceeded with and continued with success until nearly 9p.m., when the goods then remaining were put up by auction and disposed of by Mr Maccallum, Dingwall.
The Culbokie postmark, dated 3rd January, 1906.
The message shows how proud local people were of the new hall.
This photograph of the smart new hall therefore cannot be earlier than 1904, and the postmark of 3rd January, 1906 confirms the photograph was taken in 1904 or 1905. The card is addressed to Miss J. MacKenzie, Athole House, Dingwall, and the message reads: "Dear Jess, Here is a P.C. of the hall. Do'sen't it look very nice. Hope to see you on Wednesday if all is well. I may call to see you if I have time Hoping you are quite well, I am Yours Loving Sister Jeanie". The hall was clearly much admired! It was replaced in 1974 with the current Findon Hall.
Another image from this era has survived, taken from the field to the north, down the hill a bit, looking up to the old school and Findon Hall and a row of thatched cottages. I do not know if this is a Donald Fraser photograph, but it would seem to be likely.
Not yet confirmed as by Donald Fraser. Photograph courtesy of Elspeth Weir, Glasfield, Duncanston.
Culbokie from the south. Again, the style of this card is similar to that of Donald Fraser, but we cannot confirm yet that it is one of his. The photograph was taken from the south of the village, with the Culbokie Inn prominently in the centre. Whilst the village has grown rapidly, most of the buildings seen here a hundred years ago are still there.
Photograph courtesy of Jane Mackenzie, Culbokie.
Church and Manse, Ferintosh. The reverse of the card bears the familiar line of "D. Fraser, Cullicudden, Conon-Bridge", so we can be sure that this is one of his works. Marvellous picure of the area.
Free Church and Manse, Ferintosh, by Donald Fraser. Photograph courtesy of Jane Mackenzie, Culbokie.
Ferintosh Free Church. The reverse of this card also bears Donald Fraser's line, and it was clearly taken on the same day as the photograph of the church and manse. From this angle the steading below is readily apparent, and I do wish I'd scanned this one in greater detail! Donald has written "Ferintosh Free Church, built in Dr. MacDonald's Ministry" and it is interesting to note how at this time the influence of some of the ministers of the past contined long after their death.
Ferintosh Free Church, by Donald Fraser. Photograph courtesy of Jane Mackenzie, Culbokie.
The Holm Family at Ferryton.
Clearly taken on the same day as the charming picture of the three Holm children with whom we started, this takes in, on the left, Mrs Janet McKillican m.s. Taylor, who died 20 September 1913 and was the cousin of Mrs May Holm m.s. Mackay, on the right, the mother of young Annie May Holm, born on 9 November 1908; the photographs must have been taken, I would estimate, about 1910.
Mrs McKillican, Mrs Holm and Annie May Holm at the old house of Easter Ferryton, by Donald Fraser. Photograph courtesy of James Holm, Easter Ferryton.
The faces on this photograph had whited out, and I have enhanced a little on the left image and a lot on the right. I have kept work on most of these photographs to the minimum necessary to appreciate the original. Photograph courtesy of James Holm, Easter Ferryton.
Wedding of James Forbes and Margaret Paterson, Jemimaville, 29th June 1910
This is a fascinating photograph, taken on a rainy day in June 1910 at the east end of Jemimaville. One of the Jemimaville houses can be seen to be still thatched. The wedding party had to stay absolutely still for the photograph, but the piper has shifted resulting in his being blurred, and the collie in the front row has also shifted, giving him a rather Cerberus look. A couple of lads lean against the wee bridge over the Udale Burn keeping an eye on proceedings. It was a United Free wedding, so one of the party will be Reverend C.E. Mackenzie.
Photograph by Donald Fraser courtesy of Mrs Sheila Macdonald, Avoch.
We know the photographer was Donald Fraser with this wedding photograph as he slips it into the announcement in the Ross-shire Journal of 8th July 1910 which I am sure he wrote himself.
Jemimaville, Poyntzfield, was last week the scene of an interesting wedding. The bridegroom was Mr James Forsyth Forbes, Ivy Cottage, Farness, while the bride was Miss Margaret Paterson, Jemimaville. Much local interest was taken in the wedding as both the bride and bridegroom are well known in the district. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Mr Mackenzie, U.F.C. Resolis. The bridesmaid was Miss Isabella Paterson, sister of the bride. Mr Colin Forbes, brother of the bridegroom acted as groomsman. Several telegrams of congratulations were received after the ceremony had been performed. After the ceremony a reception was held in Mr Paterson's house, and the guests were sumptuously entertained. The marriage party was photographed by Mr D. Fraser, Cullicudden.
Wedding at Eathie Mains of William J. Mackay and Margaret Grigor, 26th July 1910
Another wedding party image identified as Donald Fraser's photographry through his own self-promotion. The piper is the same as in the Jemimaville wedding, but he has at least stayed still for the photograph, although he looks a lively character! You can tell from the clothing of the wedding party that the couple belong to a more prosperous group – many top hats, and even some straw boaters! William John Mackay farmed at Brae, and my father used to tell me that the family were definitely a cut above – they had a gig! The Mackay family eventually moved out of Brae – first they moved to Gordons Mills for a year and then on to Torrich Farm, near Nairn, where they were long resident.
Photograph by Donald Fraser courtesy of Mrs Sheila Macdonald, Avoch.
The announcement in the Ross-shire Journal of 29th July 1910 would have been written by himself. He had a certain repetitive style with these pieces which I'm sure you'll note.
Eathie Mains, Cromarty, was on Tuesday, at noon, the scene of an interesting wedding. The bridegroom was Mr William J. Mackay, farmer, Brae, Resolis, while the bride was Miss Margaret Gregor, daughter of Mr Gregor, Eathie Mains, Cromarty. Much local interest was taken in the wedding as both the bride and bridegroom are well and favourably known in the district. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Mr Gall, U.F. Church, Cromarty. The bride, who was given away by her father, looked sweet in white silk, trimmed with silk embroidery. Her ornaments were a gold curb bracelet and gold broach, gifts of the bridegroom. Her shower bouquet was of which stephanotis, lily of the valley, and foliage, with satin streamers attached. The bridesmaids, Miss Catherine, Isabella and Chrissie, sisters of the bride, looked very pretty in white and heliotrope. They wore bangles and brooches, gifts of the bridegroom. Immediately after the ceremony the company sat down to a sumptuous luncheon, purveyed in first class style by Mr Robb, hotelkeeper, Rosemarkie, at which many complimentary speeches were made. Several telegrams of congratulations were received. The young couple left by the afternoon train for the south, getting a hearty send off. The bride travelled in a cream serge costume, with hat to match and ostrich feather stole. The presents to the bride and bridegroom were very numerous and valuable. The marriage party was photographed by Mr D. Fraser, Cullicudden.
Photograph of unknown house. I have no idea yet of the location of this building. Suggestions have included St Martins, Peddieston House, Findon (could it be Findon from the North?) and Tarradale House, but others have vetoed each of them. The photograph is pasted on card. The photograph is of a 1½ story large house, built in the shape of a T. There are three bay windows on the top floor and three on the bottom on the side of the leg which faces the photographer. On the gable end (of the crossbar of the tee) facing the photographer, there are two upper story windows and one on the lower. The front of the crossbar is angled sharply away from the photographer, but three bay windows can be distinguished on the upper floor again. There is a large porch to the front of the tee, suggesting that is the front of the building. A smaller porch projects from the opposite end of the building, on the gable end of the upright of the tee, and near to it there appears to be a chain crossing a drive. Perhaps this is the tradesmen's entrance. There is no sign of electricity or phone lines. Between the house and the photographer is a thick hedge which borders the kitchen garden.
Photograph by Donald Fraser – But can you identify this house?
The card to which the photograph is affixed reads: D. Fraser, Cullicudden, Conon Bridge. A letter F sits inside a pattern. On the reverse: "Portraits of every description enlarged. Artistic Photography. All negatives kept. Additional copies can always be ordered. Copyright 31379." How much of this was standard material obtainable as a service from printers supplying photographers like Donald Fraser I know not.
One fruitful source of images by Donald Fraser is clearly wedding photography in the period up to his death. Two are given above, and this is yet another wedding report in the Ross-shire Journal of 19th June 1908 utilising almost exactly the same words. I suspect Donald wrote many of the other Resolis news snippets in this period as the same cliches come up time and again.
Resolis – Marriage.– The Drumcudden Hotel was on Thursday evening the scene of an interesting wedding. The bridegroom was Mr Donald Ross, farmer, Bog of Findon, while the bride was Miss Margaret Cameron, daughter of Mr Thomas Cameron, Kinbeachie Mill, Resolis. Much local interest was taken in the wedding, as the young couple are well and favourably known throughout the district. The ceremony was performed by Rev. D. Munro, Ferintosh Free Church. The bride, who was given away by her father, looked sweet prettily gowned in white. The bridesmaid was Miss Thomasina Cameron, sister of the bride. Immediately after the ceremony the company sat down to a sumptuous dinner purveyed in the hotel at which many complimentary speeches were made. Thereafter the marriage party numbering over sixty were photographed by Mr D. Fraser, Cullicudden. The young couple left for the south by the evening train, getting a hearty send-off. The presents to the bride and bridegroom were very numerous and valuable.
We have several more wedding photographs of this era, but we need evidence that the photographer was Donald Fraser. But we know Donald Fraser was the photographer at the marriages of Donald Gray and Annie Vandum Sutherland at Duncanston in 1906, and Donald Ross and Margaret Cameron at Drumcudden Hotel in 1908, should those pictures be located, and we know he was the photographer at the Cullicudden Musical Association annual picnic at Braelangwell in 1909. There must be many Donald Fraser photographs out there, and images of them will be posted here as they turn up.
Postscript. Following the hope expressed in the last paragraph, not one but two photographs of the marriage of Donald Gray and Annie Vandum Sutherland at Duncanston in 1906 have turned up, courtesy of Elspeth Weir, grand-daughter of the couple. Donald posed the wedding party in tiers, somehow, with one shot fairly close in, another with the house at Balrailan in the background. Balrailan is revealed at this time to be still thatched. The unusual Christian name "Vandum" or sometimes "Vandam" crops up in several generations of this Sutherland family, the first known being baptised thus in 1826.
Photograph by Donald Fraser, courtesy of Elspeth Weir, Glasfield, Duncanston.
Ross-shire Journal, 3rd August 1906: Ferintosh.– A pretty wedding took place at Balrailan, Duncanston, on Thursday last, when Mr Donald Gray, youngest son of Mr James Gray, Glasfield, was married to Miss Annie Vandum Sutherland, only daughter of Mr R Sutherland, Balrailan. The bride, owing to the illness of her father was given away by her cousin Mr Sutherland, Dingwall. The officiating clergyman was Rev. Mr Macquarrie, Ferintosh. Mr Kenneth Grigor, Cullicudden, cousin of the bride-groom, acted as groomsman. The bride who was prettily dressed in white was attended by her cousins Miss Sherran, Cawdor, and Miss Sutherland, Fodderty, who also were dressed in white and carried bouquets of roses. After the ceremony the company sat down to a sumptuous dinner, when the usual toasts were proposed and heartily responded to. Several congratulatory telegrams were received. The newly married couple left by the evening train for the south amidst showers of confetti. The bride travelled in a navy-blue costume. The marriage party were photographed by Mr D. Fraser, Cullicudden.
Wedding photograph by Donald Fraser.
An alternative image, taking in the thatched Balrailan, with slightly different poses by the wedding party. Photograph by Donald Fraser, courtesy of Elspeth Weir, Glasfield, Duncanston.
Despite the family having been domiciled in Resolis for a long period, Donald himself was born in Glasgow in 1872. His father, John Fraser, was a joiner journeyman who must have been working at his trade in that city. He had married Helen Montgomery, a Gaelic schoolmaster's daughter, in Glasgow the year before.
John was the eldest child. His father took over the family croft when his own father died in 1875, so Donald moved north at a very young age. He must have enjoyed the country living after his early life in the big city. However, his health was shortly to become a cause for concern. We learn from his testimonials that "When I was eight years old I suffered from Bronchitis; this became Chronic." Three of his sisters were to die from diptheria, so family worries can be understood.
While we know that he was a sickly child, he seems to have received a good education. He would have attended Cullicudden school (where he became the truancy officer in later life) and I suspect he must have often photographed his former school when he took up photography. The new Education Act school here opened in 1877 (it closed as recently as 2007) so he would have been one of the very first pupils in the new school. As his mother was the daughter of a schoolmaster, it may be that he received complementary schooling at home.
Cullicudden School, in the time of headmaster Kenneth Kemp, whose stocky form can be seen at the back. Kemp was headmaster from 1878 to 1922, so would have been the headmaster when Donald Fraser was both pupil and truancy officer at this school.
His continuing bouts of ill health alarmed the family, doctors had given up hope for his survival, and his father in desperation ordered Congreve's cure. Donald recovered, and maintained good health for a long time, and this was attributed to the Balsamic Elixir.
Donald assisted with the running of the Cullicudden Mutual Improvement Society, one of many similar community groups in the North dedicated to improving the moral and educational standards of the people. You can tell from its structure that it was rather "top down" (Ross-shire Journal, 3rd January 1902):
RESOLIS – CULLICUDDEN MUTUAL IMPROVEMENT SOCIETY.– The following are the office-bearers for the present session:– Hon. President, Rev. R. Macdougal, Resolis; President, C.F.H. Shaw-Mackenzie of Newhall; Hon. vice-president, Murdo Macrae of Kinbeachie; vice-president, F.R.S. Black, Newhall School; Mr John Macdonald, Sheep-park; secretary, Mr Donald Fraser, treasurer, Mr John Macfarquhar; librarian, Mr Donald Fraser; Committee, Messrs W.J. Mackay, Alexander Maclennan, Alexander Macleod, Kenneth Fraser, John Fraser, Alexander Matheson, Thomas Macdonald. The remarkable success which has characterised the Mutual Improvement must be exceedingly gratifying to the membership at large, and more especially to those who took part in the inception of the movement over six years ago. The Society now possesses a magnificent piano, a well stocked and carefully selected library of almost 500 volumes, and a number of inlaid draught boards. The membership is over 80, and financially the society is in a flourishing condition, which augurs well for the success of the coming session. The Committee contemplates making a considerable addition to the library of the works of the most modern authors. The success of the Society is in a measure due to the following local gentlemen who are ever ready to favour with a helping hand - financially or otherwise:- C.F.H. Shaw-Mackenzie of Newhall, Murdo Macrae of Kinbeachie; Rev. R. Macdougal; Dr R.G. Dick, Jemimaville, and others. A word of praise is also due to the acting Committee who are indefatigable in their effects in furthering the interests of the Society.
As Secretary of the Mutual Improvement, Donald inserted the occasional note of donations to the press, and I do wonder if the unusual prolixity of Resolis snippets in this period may have issued from his pen. On the death of his father in 1914, Donald took over the croft at the Bog of Cullicudden. The land was actually at the eastern proximity of what I think of as the Bog of Cullicudden, to the south of the railway bridge which was actually being built in this period. In the Internal Revenue assessments of the early 1900s, when Donald's father was still alive, it is described thus:
IR No.: 150 Property: Bog of Cullicudden. house and croft 21 acres
Owner: JA Shaw Mackenzie of Newhall Tenant/occupier: Fraser, John
Roof material: thatch House description: 3 room, store
House condition: poor Agricultural buildings: ruinous steading, shed
It does not sound prosperous. No wonder Donald had to look to other ways of making money. After Donald's death, when his uncle Alexander had taken over the croft, it was described as follows in the 1918 Newhall Estate sale documents:
LOT 42 (Coloured Blue on Plan)
The Small Holding at Bog of Cullicudden, extending to 21.917 acres, of which 21.495 acres are arable.
The Buildings consist of a dwelling house and the usual offices.
The above is in the occupation of Alexander Fraser at a rent of £6.6s., plus 2s.4d. of fire insurance.
[The note on the status of the lease, which in other tenancies says, for example, "expires 1919" or "expires 1930", simply says "expires" as if the evaluator was not sure of the status.]
The croft as depicted (in blue) on the 1918 Newhall Estate sale particulars. It stretched from the Cullicudden Straight on the North (the railway line came up right beside it) down to the Mill Lade at the South.
An abbreviated Donald Fraser testimonial incorporated within a Congreve's Elixir national advertisement from 1907.
Would Donald have been physically capable of a demanding life on the land? Unlikely, and this, coupled with the run-down nature of the croft, is presumably why his other enterprises developed: the photography and his two other jobs. And where does this information come from? Well, in a medical testimonial published in 1910 he mentions that he suffered a long period of illness, to be restored by Congreve's Balsamic Elixir
and am now able to follow my occupation as an insurance agent and compulsory school attendance officer for this district.
I have been unable to trace his insurance career, but I note from the Cullicudden School log books reference to his work as compulsory school attendance officer. He would "attend" one day a week, which I take to mean he was visiting parents to warn them to send their children to school. This was a challenging job given that families were dependent upon the help of their children at crucial times for preparing the ground for crops or harvesting them. The log books tell their own story:
1916 June 9 The attendance has improved from last week. Lessons and progress as usual. Wet weather interferes with the attendance. Officer visited on Friday.
June 16. April holiday was taken on Tuesday. Good progress was made. Officer visited on Friday.
June 23. Attendance is irregular in Senior Division – pupils employed at farm work. Lessons were given as usual, and ordinary progress was made. Officer visited on Friday.
1917 Sept. 14. Harvesting is general and many of the pupils above twelve years are employed.
1917 Sept. 28. Same as on previous week viz. Sept. 14. Officer unwell since 1st inst. and unable to visit.
1917 Novr. 9. School re-opened on Tuesday of this week. Unfavourable weather did not allow but few working days for potato-lifting, and many pupils are retained for the work during this week. Evan Scott, Esq., Clerk of School Board, who has taken up the duties of Compulsory Officer visited on Wednesday.
We see here that latterly poor Donald had been too ill to carry out his work as "whipper-in" and between the two final entries he had in fact died. He passed away at his home at the Bog of Cullicudden on 8th October 1917 aged only 44. The cause of death was, of course, tuberculosis, or phsisis pulmonaris as it was called by physicians at the time.
His death was reported to the Resolis Registrar, not by his family, but by Charles Ferguson of Ardoch who in his description of relationship said he was Donald's "intimate friend", the only time I have seen this kind of statement on a death certificate. There was a dynasty of Charles Fergusons in this family, but the informant here must have been my great grandfather Charles Ferguson (1840-1924), the farmer at Ardoch. The connection with the Fergusons of Ardoch was close, as Donald's uncle, Alexander Fraser, had married Jessie Ferguson, the sister of the Charles Ferguson who lived from 1840 to 1924, but it is curious that young Donald and old Charles had struck up a close friendship. I note (Ross-shire Journal 13 April 1906) that at the celebration in Jemimaville when the eldest son of Charles, Charles junr., emigrated to America, Donald was one of the participants, so he clearly was a good friend of the family. Typical of this Ferguson family, all details were carefully passed correctly by Charles senr. to the Registrar.
Another son of Charles Ferguson of Ardoch was James Young Ferguson, my grandfather, who came into the farm of Auchmartin. I mention this as family tradition recounts that the glass negatives of Donald Fraser were stored at Auchmartin. Why this was the case, I do not know, but clearly it had something to do with the friendship between Donald Fraser and Charles Ferguson of Ardoch. Sadly, such was the dread of tuberculosis that all these historically valuable glass negatives were destroyed following Donald's demise.
I have not found any death notice for Donald Fraser in the Ross-shire Journal, which is where I would have expected to find one. However, a month later occurs: "Notice. / All persons having claims against the Late Mr Donald Fraser, Bog of Cullicudden, Resolis, are requested to lodge the same, duly vouched, with the Subscriber, within Fourteen Days from this date, and all persons Indebted to the Deceased are requested to make payment within the same period. / D. Grant, for Deceased's Executor, 9 Eastgate, Inverness, November 9, 1917." And who was the executor? Donald had left no will so his uncle Alexander, initially a crofter at Henrietta Park but by then a roadman living at Tomnahurich Bridge in Inverness, applied to become his executor. I do wonder why he did not erect a headstone to Donald, given he had a prominent one himself. Anyway, the probate document sets out the value of Donald's possessions:
Cash in house £2.11.6
Household furniture and other effects in the deceased's house 1.18.-
Stock-in-trade and other effects belonging to the deceased 35.3.-
Cash on Current Account with the Bank of Scotland at Cromarty 1.14.-
There is no clue as to his burial place. Logically it would be within either Cullicudden or Kirkmichael. His uncle Alexander in due course was buried in Kirkmichael.
It is a pity that we do not know even the final resting place of someone who recorded such valuable images of the area before it changed forever.
Although no stone commemorating Donald Fraser himself has been found, there are several in both Kirkmichael and Cullicudden commemorating relatives.
Location of the grey granite memorial to Alexander Fraser, Donald's uncle, at Kirkmichael. As executor, why didn't Alexander provide for a headstone for Donald? Photo: Andrew Dowsett.
His own is a substantial one. Photo: Jim Mackay.
The author stands beside another family stone in Kirkmichael; memorial to David Anderson and Matilda Fraser; Matilda was sister of Donald's grandfather. Photo: Andrew Dowsett.
In loving memory / of / ALEXANDER FRASER / who died at Bog of Cullicudden / 2. March 1924. / Also of his wife / CHRISTINA McLEAN / who died at Henrietta Park / 13. May. 1890.
In loving memory / of / JESSIE FERGUSON / wife of / ALEX. FRASER, / died at Roseneath Cottage / Invergordon, / on 13th April 1942.
This shield, for many years lying at the north west corner of the church but clearly originally associated with the adjacent Alexander Fraser stone, could not be found in 2017. However, it was transcribed many years ago, and appears on photographs of the time taken by a young Andrew Dowsett.
Erected / to / the memory of / DAVID ANDERSON / Chapelton Cottage, / Newhall Point, / died / 11th Sept. 1907, aged 73 years. / Also his beloved wife MATILDA FRASER, / died 2nd Dec. 1895, / aged 66 years.
And finally, in Cullicudden burial ground can be found:
In / loving memory / of our dear father / CHARLES FRASER, / died in America June 1871 aged 40 / Also / our beloved mother / JESSIE NOBLE, / died at Springfield 28. April 1915 / aged 82. / Their sons / JOHN FRASER / beloved husband of WILHELMINA SHAW / died at Greenock 13 Dec. 1924 aged 57 / DONALD NOBLE FRASER / died at Johannesburg / 11 March 1928, aged 59. / "Thy will be done." / Erected by their sons / JOHN, DONALD and CHARLES / [On plinth] CHARLES FRASER / died 24th January 1955 aged 83 / And his wife MARGARET FRASER / died 8th May 1963 aged 90
The memorial to the family of Charles Fraser, the brother of photographer Donald Fraser's grandfather, stands by the east wall of Old Cullicudden graveyard. He died in America. Photo: Jim Mackay.
The purveyors of Congreve's Balsamic Elixir took out thousands of advertisements in the papers to promote their product. They focused on the religious magazines but took sprees of advertising in all the national and local newspapers. One particular feature they used over the years was to recount the stories of particular patients who would wax lyrical over how close to death they had been, and how all the best medical doctors had given up hope, until they tried Mr Congreve's Elixir and made a miraculous recovery.
Until the advent of antibiotics and immunisation, bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis (also known as consumption, phthisis pulmonalis or T.B.) and diptheria were incurable. However, patients with such diseases sometimes had periods of remission. Undoubtedly of the thousands of patients trying in desperation Congreve's Balsamic Elixir some would experience an improvement. Whether or not it was due to the Elixir, the patient would naturally assume that it was, and would write an effusive letter to the manufacturers which would be published and no doubt would encourage more patients to try this particular brand of snake-oil. We can only hope that the Balsamic Elixir at least brought relief to the congested patients if it did not affect the bacteria causing the disease.
An original bottle used for Mr. Congreve's balsamic elixir.
Church Bells 4 December 1891.
Hull Daily Mail 19 October 1910.
Much of the book was taken up with similar case histories to that of Donald Fraser.
To give an idea of the scourge of consumption, this is from the Medical Officer of Health reports for 1891 (HH62/2/ROSS/23): "In Resolis (population, 1373) there died in the quinquennium [the preceding five years] altogether 116. 2 were put down to cancer, 6 to pneumonia, not one to typhoid, 1 to croup, 19 to consumption, &c. The proportion uncertified was about one-third." No wonder people were terrified of consumption!
Donald Fraser was one of those who recovered after taking a course of Mr Congreve's Balsamic Elixir. I have found four advertisements (but copied in hundreds of papers) referring to Donald Fraser of Bog of Cullicudden.They also refer to a local lady, one Christina Mackenzie of the Station Hotel, Strathcarron, who had been recommended to the Elixir by Donald Fraser himself. She recurs in a later advertisement as Mrs Macrae of Jemimaville, formerly Mackenzie of Cullicudden. This lady definitely existed – she was the daughter of Roddie Mackenzie who moved from the West Coast to take up a croft in Alness Ferry. Christina married Kenneth Macrae, also from the West Coast, who became a shoemaker in Jemimaville.
Church Bells, 4 December1891
'Life from the Dead.' 'My Life Saved.' 'I am a Miracle.' 'All who knew me amazed.' Such are the expressions used by patients relative to their cases of CONSUMPTION cured by the treatment of MR. GEO. T. CONGREVE. Read his Book 'On Consumption, &c.,' which may be had, post free for One Shilling, from the Author, Coombe Lodge, Peckham, London, S.E.; or may be ordered of any Bookseller. / Note.– Consultations Free at Coombe Lodge, Peckham, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday Mornings only. No Charge except the usual Charge for three weeks' or six weeks' supply of medicine. All Patients should read the Book first.
Thirty-Eighth Series of Cases. / Case for the Week. / From the 'Christian Herald.' / The following is a very interesting testimony to the value of Mr. Congreve's medicines:– 'Diseased Right Lung with Pleurisy following Diptheria – case of Mr. Donald Fraser.'
'Our readers may probably remember the case of Christina McKenzie, of the Station Hotel, Strathcarron, N.B. (a pleasant little hotel on the route through Ross-shire to Skye). We published the particulars for Mr. Congreve some months since. It was a remarkable case of cure. The patient had suffered for a year and a half. She had used every remedy that the most skillful medical men had suggested. She had to be continually propped up in bed with pillows. In a very short time after commencing the treatment she was able to attend to her ordinary affairs, and to the astonishment of every one she entirely recovered.'
'Mr DONALD FRASER, of CULLICUDDEN, Conon Bridge, Ross-shire, who, in consequence of his own remarkable recovery earnestly recommended the above patient to Mr. Congreve, now asks that his own case may be made known for the benefit of others.'
'It was in July, 1890, his father wrote Mr. C. on his behalf. Also Rev. I. Iver, Free Church Minister, Invergordon [this will actually be the Reverend John McIver, the Free Church Minister of Resolis; Invergordon was the post town], wrote recommending his case. Young Donald had been subject to bronchitis and congestion from infancy. Two years before writing he had a severe cough, which was entirely removed by Mr. Congreve's medicine. Three months before writing he had a slight attack of diptheria (three sisters died with that complaint). This was followed by inflammation of the right lung and pleurisy. He had been confined to bed about ten weeks. The doctor reported, "Solidification of the right lung, and left slightly affected." He was painted all over the lungs continually with iodine; had lost flesh very much, and became extremely weak, and dropsical swellings had appeared. His doctor had said nothing more could be done for him.'
'In three weeks the father wrote Mr. Congreve that there was decided improvement. Again, in August, he was better, as regarded cough, appetite, strength, the gaining of flesh, expectoration, rest at night, &c., &c.'
'In September the young man writes himself. He had been up several hours every day, and was full of hope. In October he was able to walk two miles without fatigue. "One doctor," he writes Mr. Congreve, "tells my father I am a miracle, and another from London has advised me to persevere with your treatment." Other letters follow which tell of his gradual but sure progress to perfect health.'
'We hear that recently the young man has been carefully examined, and the lungs pronounced perfectly clear, without the suspicion of any remaining disease. He is anxious that his case should be fully made known, and the "Treatment that Saved His Life."'
'This patient had been given up as hopelessly diseased. In many cases such are left to die. Why should it be so? Why not adopt the means in every case that affords a shadow of hope, and persevere? It cannot be expected that in every instance the progress of disease will be finally arrested; but, where it is not, we have known the patient's life to be evidently prolonged and wonderful relief afforded, and surely that is something worth attaining, besides the hope of a permanent cure.'
'In this case Mr. Donald Fraser persevered with Mr. Congreve's medicine for twelve months.'
Church Bells, 21 February 1896
One Hundred and Ninth Interview, with Mrs. Macrae, Jemima Village, near Invergordon, Bronchial Asthma. This case was published on May 18th, 1891.
Mrs Macrae, who, when single, was known as Christina McKenzie, comes from Cullicudden, a village a few miles from Conon, a station between Inverness and Dingwall. In this village of Cullicudden Mr. Congreve's treatment is well and favourably known. Only to mention one case – that of Mr. Donald Fraser, who himself was the cause of Mrs. Macrae commencing the treatment; – this young man was, at the time he and the Free Church minister communicated with Mr. Congreve, in a very serious condition; and as, in addition to the other symptoms found in well-marked cases of Consumption, dropsical swellings had appeared, it is perhaps not surprising to hear that the doctor had said nothing more could be done for him. The fact that this young man recovered his health under Mr. Congreve's care, and now, five years after his case was said to be hopeless, is well and at work, proves once more that no case is too far gone to be relieved, and it may be cured, provided proper means are taken to that end.
With reference to Mrs. Macrae, she had been a great sufferer from bronchitis. She told me that, before applying to Mr. Congreve, she had been ill for three years, trying everything that medical skill could devise, but obtaining no benefit from anything. She told me that she became– 'Very ill and weak, bringing up much thick, heavy expectoration. I had to be propped up in bed with pillows. The doctors did not seem able to do me good, but after taking Mr. Congreve's medicine for a month I was able to write him, "My appetite is very much improved. I feel a great deal stronger now, and altogether better." The treatment did me the greatest of good, and in the course of a little while I was able to get about. I was really very ill when I commenced it.'
'That was about 1890, Mrs. Macrae. Have you kept well ever since your recovery?".
'Yes, with the exception of an occasional cold. Only once have I felt it necessary to take the medicine again, and that was when, in consequence of a cold, I had a slight return of my old complaint. Otherwise I have been well, and have recommended Mr. Congreve's medicine to many sufferers.'
Mrs. Macrae was good enough to accord me her very willing permission to publish her case.
Ross-shire Journal, 29 November 1907 [and countless other journals]
Congreve's Elixir / has never been superseded as a remedy for CONSUMPTION, Bronchial Coughs, Colds, Asthma.
Mr. Donald Fraser, Bog of Cullicudden, Conon Bridge, Ross-shire, says:– "My case had been pronounced hopeless. I would cough for an hour and a half at a time and bring up a quantity of thick, heavy expectoration. For sixteen weeks I had not been able to take any solid food. I then commenced Mr. Congreve's treatment. At the end of a fortnight I noticed slight improvement. I persevered for 12 months. Since then I have had good health." Congreve's Elixir, sold by all Chemists at 1/1½, 2/9, 4/6 and 11/- per bottle. Mr. Congreve's new book on Consumption and other Diseases of the Lungs will be sent post free, for Sixpence from No. 4. Coombe Lodge, Peckham, London, S.E.
Hull Daily Mail, 19 October 1910 [and countless other journals]
Mr Donald Fraser, Bog of Cullicudden, Conon Bridge, Ross-shire, Scotland, writes:– "When I was eight years old I suffered from Bronchitis; this became Chronic. Somewhere about ten years ago I had been confined to the house the whole of the winter, trying numberless so-called 'cures' – without effect. Then I saw an announcement of Mr Congreve's treatment in one of the religious journals, and obtained a small bottle of Elixir, which put me right at the time. Some time afterwards I had an attack of Inflammation of the Lungs and Pleurisy, and was suffering from a terrible cough, bad night sweats, and ultimately dropsical swellings. During convalescence I had a relapse and became as bad as ever. From the beginning of April to the end of July the doctor attended me, and in addition I had the advice of a London medical man. They pronounced my case to be hopeless. For sixteen weeks I had not been able to take any solid food. I then commenced Mr. Congreve's treatment again. At the end of a fortnight I noticed some improvement. I persevered and since then, with the exception of an occasional cold, I have had good health, and am now able to follow my occupation as an insurance agent and compulsory school attendance officer for this district. I have recommended the treatment to many others, and have seen good results follow its use." No medicine in the world can claim so many successful cures as Congreve's Balsamic Elixir, which has for nearly a century helped so materially in the steady reduction of mortality from that dread disease, Consumption.
This family of Frasers, arriving in Resolis quite late, probably in the early 1820s, soon developed a considerable number of family connections in the area. The first record in the Resolis baptism register is when Elizabeth Sinclair Fraser was baptised in 1823. At this time her father John Fraser is given as "servant at Brealangwell". However, the marriage of John Fraser and Barbara Young can be picked up back in 1805 in the Register of Marriages for the Parish of Avoch: "April 12th Fraser, John, of P. of Knockbain, Barbara Young, L.Dr. of Dond. Y. in Arcandeith future residence P. of Knockbain" and the birth of Barbara in fact can be found in the Knockbain baptism register for 1787.
The following is a summary of what I have gleaned from the registers. The names in red are commemorated on stones in Kirkmichael or Cullicudden.
Family tree of Donald Fraser, Photographer Cullicudden. The numbers in superscript relate to the information set out below.
1John was tenant at Pitlundie, parish of Knockbain, in 1813 but moved across to the north side of the Black Isle to become servant at Braelangwell and labourer at Braelangwell in the 1820s. His daughters all married from Newmills.
2His wife Barbara was the daughter of Donald Young (tenant in Arcandeith and later in Wester Kessock) and his spouse Barbara McRae. She died in Newmills where she was living with her son John but is buried in the churchyard of Killearnan. No inscription regarding her is recorded in the HFHS booklet of Killearnan monumental inscriptions.
3Donald was a crofter and road contractor, at Newmills in 1840, St Martins in 1841, and Bog of Cullicudden thereafter. He and Isabella Noble were married at the Wellhouse of Kilcoy (parish of Killearnan). He was born in Pitlundie, parish of Knockbain..
4Isabella Noble was the daughter of crofter Roderick Noble and Isabella Johnston. In 1881, she was living as a widow with her son Alexander in Henrietta Park, but in 1902, when she died, she had been living at 280 North Woodside Road, Glasgow and her daughter "C. Fraser" was present at the time – her age was given as 69 which was clearly a gross underestimate.
5John was a joiner journeyman in his early days, returning from Glasgow to take on the croft at Bog of Cullicudden after his father's death in 1875. When a joiner in Glasgow he married Helen Montgomery. He was a concerned father, writing for assistance with son Donald's disease.
6Helen Montgomery was the daughter of Gaelic schoolmaster John Montgomery and his spouse Jacobina McDonald. From census returns she was born in Hogary (Houghharry), North Uist, and her father can be seen in the North Uist 1841 census as a teacher with a young family (although no Helen), and the lady in position as wife is given as Bessy (perhaps her usual name). After 1841, both he and Helen disappear off the radar until she turns up as a domestic servant at Parliamentary Road, Glasgow, marrying John Fraser of the same address. I note that the family had in their household in the Bog of Cullicudden in 1891 as servant one Catherine McDonald from "North Uist Illory" – I imagine she would have been a relative.
7Donald Fraser, crofter, photographer, insurance agent and school truancy officer, the subject of this "Story behind the Stone".
8John, the oldest son, was a farmer at Newmills. Several of his sisters were married from Newmills.
9Catherine Fraser was the daughter of Alexander Fraser weaver and his spouse Jane Murray, and she was living in Ferryton when she married John.
10Christina Fraser was Hugh McLennan's first wife.
11Hugh McLennan was a gamekeeper at Braelangwell at time of his marriage; he became a crofter at Agnes Hill.
12Elizabeth Sinclair Fraser died aged only 42 from cancer.
13Colin Cameron was a quarrier at Suddy Quarry, Munlochy, parish of Knockbain.
14Matilda I take to be what was written as Medilina, baptised in 1826.
15David was a tailor when married, but he became ground officer for the estate. His mother was Catherine Ferguson and his reputed father was Hector Anderson, a married butcher at Balblair, as revealed when Catherine's condition was investigated by the Kirk Session. The Kirk Session records in 1834 report "that Hector Anderson had absconded & was also reported had left the country on the day after he had received the citation to attend at this meeting. The Session resolved to sist proceedings in this case untill the said Hector Anderson should return." There is no record of his return, and it was seven years before David was eventually baptised in 1841, as the son of Hector Anderson and Katherine Ferguson. David became the official Registrar for the area and in this capacity he recorded the death of his own wife, Matilda Fraser. They lived at Chapelton Cottage, Newhall Point. He died aged 73 in 1907 suddenly of heart failure when in Balblair Inn.
16Charles was a grocer in Balblair when he married Jessie Noble in 1866. In 1861 he had been a labourer living in the Braelangwell Gamekeeprs House with his sister Christina and gamekeeper brother-in-law Hugh McLennan. I presume Charles emigrated as he died in America.
17Jessie Noble was the daughter of crofter Donald Noble and his spouse Isabella Macdonald. Although her husband Charles died in America in 1871, she died much later in Springfield, Resolis in 1915 – did she return, or had Charles travelled alone?.
18Isabella Fraser – no information.
19Roderick Fraser was a joiner, and did not marry. He lived in Glasgow, but suffered from a liver disease and died in the family home in Bog of Cullicudden.
20Donald Fraser – no information.
21Alexander was a crofter at Henrietta Park in the 1881 and 1891 Census returns. For some reason he gave this up (bankruptcy?) and became a road labourer in Inverness until coming into the croft at Bog of Cullicudden on the death of Donald, his nephew. Donald had left no will and Alexander applied to become executor.
22Christina McLean, Alexander's first wife, was the daughter of William McLean, an agricultural labourer, and his spouse Christina Cameron, from Fodderty. She died (of TB) whilst they were living at Henrietta Park, as did two of her younger sisters Alexina ("acute bronchitis") and Jessie (TB) who were living with them. She and Alexander are commemorated on the grey granite memorial beside the north west corner of the nave at Kirkmichael.
23Jessie Ferguson, Alexander's second wife, was the daughter of Charles Ferguson and Margaret Young of Ardoch. She died in Roseneath Cottage in Invergordon in 1942, but is – or was – commemorated in Kirkmichael. Her memorial plaque, which twenty years ago was recorded whilst it lay against the north west corner of the nave at Kirkmichael (presumably originally at the nearby Alexander Fraser stone) in 2018 could not be found.
24Barbara, 25James and 26Jeanie Fraser – no information.
27Annie married 28Charles Aird, a Blacksmith at Balblair. The Airds were Balblair residents for a long time, and "Aird Place" there is named after the family.
29Christina and 30Charlotte Fraser – no information.
31Barbara, 32Jacobina and 33Helen Christina Montgomerie Fraser were three sisters of Donald Fraser. One of the testimonials states that three sisters died of diphtheria. Jacobina and Helen died (still young, sadly) in the same year of 1884 in Bog of Cullicudden of diphtheria. However, I think there must have been an earlier sister as well, as Barbara was still alive in the 1911 Census, long after the testimonial.