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

Lady Ardoch, Ann Gordon ms Munro, c1688–1762,
the Gordons of Ardoch and the origins of Poyntzfield House

text: Jim Mackay     photos: as given

Lady Ardoch’s portrait hangs in Foulis Castle and the inscription on her unusual tomb at Kirkmichael makes it clear that she was well-respected by her nephew, Sir Harry Munro of Foulis, Baronet.

 


Ann Munro, wife of Alexander Gordon of Ardoch
photo: Jim Mackay, from the portrait at Foulis Castle, courtesy of Hector Munro of Foulis

The memorial stone built into the southern face of her tomb was broken many years ago, but has now been repaired as part of the Kirkmichael Project. It reads:

Here lies Mrs Gordon, wife to Alexander Gordon of Ardoch, who died in the 75th year of her age. This tomb is erected to her memory by her nephew Sir Harry Munro of Fowlis, Bart., 1768.

The mausoleum itself is explored in detail in a separate Story Behind the Stone. In it, we note that the memorial was erected six years after her death, as Lady Ardoch died on 27 February 1762. We’ll come back to answering why there such a delay in erection of her memorial. First, let us look at her family.

 

Alexander Gordon of Ardoch

There is no surviving stone to her husband, Alexander Gordon of Ardoch, who had died at Ardoch nine years earlier and is buried in Kirkmichael, but Alexander is no shadowy figure. He is a well-rounded character. I set out some details of his life in this story, but for more aspects see the Story of Kirkmichael and the ’45 and the Story of Alexander Elphingston, the Chamberlain of William Gordon of Invergordon, Ardoch’s brother.

Her husband, says Donald Sage in his Memorabilia Domestica, and Hugh Miller in his Scenes and Legends, was not a devout man for much of his life.

Was this true? Certainly he was not averse to misusing his position. From the documentary evidence of an official investigation into his activities (by, admittedly, a political opponent) it appears he was blatantly exploiting his appointment as as Collector of Customs in Inverness to let pass considerable cargoes imported by his brother Sir William and himself into the Cromarty Firth of tobacco, spices, brandy and other goods normally subject to high levels of duty. He held other posts. As Muster Master of Scotland he was responsible for shifting men and munitions around Scotland, and took an active part in the 1715 rebellion, naturally on the Hanoverian side.

He was zealous in protecting the family honour. When a duel between his brother, Sir William of Invergordon, and Lord Lovat in 1716 was aborted, and it was suggested by a man called Cathcart that Sir William had been too scared to fight, he fought a duel himself with Cathcart, killed his man, and only barely survived himself. There are several accounts of the duel, and two are given in Bulloch’s The Families of Gordon of Invergordon, Newhall, also Ardoch, Ross-shire, and Carroll, Sutherland (J. M. Bulloch, 1906).

In summary, The Honourable James Cathcart, a major in the army, made a slur on the honour of Alexander and his brother in Old Man’s Coffee-house in London. They both went away in a coach to Kensington where they went on foot by several fields to a quiet spot near Kensington Gravel-Pit where they fought. Gordon of Ardoch received five wounds whilst Major Cathcart was unscathed, so it was looking bad for Gordon. Both of them became very eager in their thrusts and ran each other through the body at the same time. “Mr Cathcart’s sword entered Mr Gordon’s right breast betwixt the niple and the hollow, and went out at his back seven inches, and with the weight of his body in the lunch broke it, leaving 13 inches behind. Mr Gordon entered Mr Cathcart’s right breast and went out at his left side.” Amazingly Gordon survived his wound, but Cathcart died shortly afterwards.

Alexander Gordon was evidently a man not to fall out with, and it is clear from his letters (several from 1726 can be found in the National Records of Scotland within GD347/94/3) that several families had fallen out with him, including Mackay of Scourie. He writes from “Ardoch July 2d 1726 late at night” about Scourie: “since Scourie has forc’d me, to go to law wt him … ere we be done, he may weary of that trade, for his behaviour to my brother, in so villainous, & ungentlemanly a Manner, he may live to repent, that ever he was guilty of it.” And a week later, on 12 July, he says “I now, understand from Edinburgh, that Scourie’s family have undertaken, that Neighbourly office of seizing my Brother Adam by Caption, at ye instance of Messieurs Dalrymple, & Kennedy.”

I love the scorn in “that Neighbourly office of seizing my Brother Adam”!

 


the seal being used by Alexander of Gordon of Ardoch on his letters in 1726
the three boar heads are associated with the crests of both the Gordon and Urquhart families
the eagle head is for Lady Ardoch, of the Munro family of Foulis
photo: Jim Mackay

It is marvellous to have these letters, largely business but with social aspects straying into them. The recipient was John Sutherland, the Laird of Little Torboll, just to the west of Loch Fleet near Dornoch. I see from these letters that Gordon obtained for Sutherland the Sheffifship of Sutherland. It is not mentioned in these letters, but Sutherland borrowed money from Alexander Gordon of Ardoch , upon security of Little Torboll. On Sutherland’s death, Gordon ruthlessly forced through the sale of the land, which Sutherland’s son, William Sutherland, resisted right up to the House of Lords unsuccessfully in a case included in all the legal textbooks for the points of law contained therein.

As I say, not a man to cross. The story goes that he was driven almost mad by his wife’s religious devotions and was on the point of suicide when he saw the light.

The Reverend Donald Sage in his biography recounts that she was a noted religiously devout lady. However, her husband was, for much of his his life, irreligious. He was a fond husband but he could not be reconciled to her piety. One evening, on coming home, he found her seated in the parlour with a number of devout persons engaged in spiritual exercises. It was too much for him, and suddenly he rused out of the house and attempted to kill himself. But in an instant the words occurred to him, “Do thyself no harm,” and from that moment he became a new man. His remaining life was consecrated to the cause of godliness.

While Sage’s story of Alexander’s illumination has some support elsewhere, he was certainly always very active in church affairs when he was in the area. We first see him at the Church in Kirkmichael on 1 March 1715, the year before his duel. “Mr Alexr Gordon of Ardach gave in to the presbitrie a presentation from his brother Sir William Gordon of Dalfollie wherein the sd Sir William as patron of the parish did present Mr Thomas Inglis preacher of the gospel to be minister of the united parish of Kirk Michel and Killicuden”. The Session of Kirkmichael went on in 1718 to appoint Alexander, now a ruling elder, to attend the Synod and diets of Presbytery, a duty he did many times over the years, when not absent, presumably on business.

 

Lady Ardoch

The wife of Alexander Gordon of Ardoch, Lady Ardoch, was born Ann Munro in about 1688. Her parents were Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, 5th Baronet (“the Blind Baron”), who died 11 September 1729, and Jean Forbes, daughter of John Forbes of Culloden, chief of Clan Forbes. She was thus a lady of distinction, no doubt resulting in her unofficial title “Lady Ardoch”.

As the Munros of Foulis were staunch Hanoverians, it would not have come as a surprise when she married a representative of a family of equally strong Hanoverian supporters, the Gordons.

Ann had three brothers, and all three died in 1746. The eldest, Sir Robert, 6th Baronet, (1684-1746) was cut down by the Jacobites at the Battle of Falkirk. The youngest, Dr Duncan (-1746), ran to his brother’s aid but, unarmed, was shot and slashed down by the rebels. The middle brother, Captain George Munro, 1st of Culcairn, (1685-1746), survived the rebellion but tragically was assassinated in error later that year. He had borrowed the white horse of another officer who had ruthlessly killed a young Cameron; Cameron’s father hid behind a rock and waited until the officer on the white horse came past and shot him. Losing all of her brothers in one year must have sorely tried the faith of Lady Ardoch.


Sir Robert Munro, 6th Baronet, Lady Ardoch’s brother
source: Wiki

The eldest brother, Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, had been a soldier and a Member of Parliament with whom a marvellous romance is associated. He and Mary, daughter of Henry Seymour of Woodlands in Dorset, a member of a great English family, fell in love, but due to his subsequent letters being intercepted by an enemy of his family, each thought the other had grown cold. Upon meeting again at a reception in London it all came out, with their happy marriage ensuing in London in 1716.

Their eldest son Harry (who provided the memorial in Kirkmichael to his aunt) was sent to Dr. Doddridge’s academy at Northampton, Westminster School and Leiden University. He is recorded as “trying to secure the reinstatement in a Customs post at Inverness of a neighbour's brother” – this will be his brother-in-law, Alexander Gordon of Ardoch, to whom “irregularities” in exercise of his post of Collector of Customs was attributed! The “neighbour” would have been Sir William Gordon of Invergordon.

We have no record of Ann’s upbringing, but we can safely assume that she would have been educated at home in Foulis Castle. It is possible that her tutor would have been a graduate divinity student – they often were, biding their time as parish schoolmasters or private tutors, and acting as Session Clerks, before finding an opportunity in the competitive and well-paid posts of parish minister.

Sage attests to her piety, but one has to be so careful when dealing with hearsay – Lady Ardoch had been deceased 60 years before Sage arrived in Resolis. However, Sage’s grandfather had obviously known both Alexander and Ann well, as he had married his wife in their home of Ardoch in 1728. This is what Sage says:

Elizabeth [Mackay] was married to my grandfather. They met in Ross-shire, in the house of Mr. Gordon of Ardoch. Mr Gordon was one of the heritors of the parish of Kirkmichael, as well as of Lairg, and was remarkable for the incidents of his life. His wife, a sister of Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, who was killed at Falkirk, was a woman of remarkable piety. During the greater part of his wife’s lifetime, Mr. Gordon was a man of unsettled opinions and of an irreligious life. He was a fond husband, but his affection for the best of wives could not reconcile him to her piety. One evening, on coming home, he found her seated in the parlour with a number of devout persons who were engaging in spiritual exercises. Suddenly he rushed out of the house, and attempted to kill himself. But in an instant the words occurred to him, “Do thyself no harm,” and from that moment he became a new man. His remaining life was consecrated to the cause of godliness. His wife died after a long and painful illness patiently borne. Her remains are interred at Kirkmichael, in the parish of Resolis, and around them her nephew, Sir Harry Munro of Foulis, erected a square enclosure, filled up with lime and stone, in order to prevent any future interment at the spot. In the house of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon, my grandfather became acquainted with his future wife, and at Ardoch they were married.

I was pleased to discover separate corroboration at the time, within a newspaper account on her death in 1762. The Caledonian Mercury of 10 March of that year said:

February 27th, died at Cromarty, LADY ARDOCH, relict of the deceased Alexander Gordon of Ardoch, Esq; a Lady of such eminent and exemplary piety, of so great humanity and benevolence, and of such distinguished virtues, as makes her death to be a loss to that part of the country in which she lived. It is hoped that her numerous relations will take this as a notification of her death.


The death notice of Lady Ardoch

Had this piety been instilled by her tutor in her early years? We cannot tell. Her portrait as a young woman does not show a retiring individual with Bible in hand – she is portrayed as a strong-willed, attractive lady in a fashionable gown of the period.

I don’t know exactly when she married Alexander Gordon of Ardoch. They were certainly married by 2 July 1726, as he closes a letter to the Laird of Little Torboll with “My wife, & I offer your Lady & you, wt the Children, our hearty service.” Other letters in 1726 end similarly, but unfortunately no earlier letters in the series have yet been found.

While Sage’s story of Alexander’s late-in-life illumination has some support elsewhere, Alexander was certainly very active in church affairs from a young age when he was in the area. We first see him at the Church in Kirkmichael on 1 March 1715, the year before his duel. “Mr Alexr Gordon of Ardach gave in to the presbitrie a presentation from his brother Sir William Gordon of Dalfollie wherein the sd Sir William as patron of the parish did present Mr Thomas Inglis preacher of the gospel to be minister of the united parish of Kirk Michel and Killicuden”. The Session of Kirkmichael go on to appoint Alexander, now a ruling elder, to attend the Synod and diets of Presbytery in 1718, a duty he performed many times over the years, when not absent, presumably on business.

As well as being Collector of Customs in the North, until removed from the post, for a period Alexander Gordon was the Provost of Fortrose, a position of much more strategic political importance than is now the case! Bulloch includes a letter by him, written from London to an unknown correspondent, August 3 1716, as follows (Hanoverian in State Papers in the Stowe MSS., Bristol Museum, 239 f. 27):

Honoured Sir,– I am extreamlie glad to know by Mr Shrouder of your own, your lady’s and your pretty son’s keeping your healths, since you went from this country. As I have the greatest reason so I doe heartily pray for all happiness and prosperity to you and your familie. The King, before his departure, having, at the advice of the Privy Council, ordered new elections of Magistrates for several burghs in the North of Scotland qch. in the time of the late unnatural rebellion were under the influence of the rebells, the elections are going on and the town of Ffortrose in the Countie of Ross have done me the honour of making me provost, wch. will enable me to carry on his Majesty’s affairs in that countrie, the doing wherof successfully and faithfully as I reckon it my greatest honor, so it shall be the greatest studie of my life.

I have the happiness and good fortune of being the first Provost since the Revolution chose in that town (which till now was entirely under the influence of the Earles of Seaforth) that might work to the interest of the Protestant succession, qch. now, God be blest takes place.

It was an unspeakable joy to all truly good people in this island to hear that his Majestie, after so fine a passage, kept health so well, and it is with the greatest anxiety and most fervent prayers, that his Majesty’s faithfull subjects wish and hope for his sudden and desireable return to this island.

I am now going to Scotland, when I shall hope for your commands and from which I shall let you know whatever remarkable is doing there.

I begg you’ll make my best respects acceptable to Count Baronsbuff. I am with the greatest respect, honourable sir, your most obliged and most faithful and most devoted servant, / Alexander Gordon. / London Aug. 3 1716.

I had narrowed down his his death as being between his last record in the Presbytery minutes I noted in 1752, and his son Adam being served heir general on 9 May 1753, but in fact I recently found his death notice in the Caledonian Mercury of 22 March 1753: “On Saturday the 10th instant died at his House of Ardoch, in the County of Cromarty, ALEXANDER GORDON of Ardoch, Esq; in the 68th Year of his Age.” That makes him born around 1686.

 

Her son, Adam Gordon, and her re-location to Cromarty

You may have noted in the accounts that Lady Ardoch died in Cromarty, not at Ardoch. Why was this? The answer is simple: her son, Adam Gordon of Ardoch had sold the estate not long prior to her death. But a few years before that, the house was substantially rebuilt, which may well be the time that she flitted to Cromarty.

Let’s look at her son Adam’s life briefly.

Like his father in the 1715 troubles, Adam served on the Government side against the Jacobites in 1745. He was captured, “covering the escape of his uncle Culcairn” (George Munro of Culcairn) in the skirmish at Inverurie on 23 December 1745.

Bulloch reports that in 1746 Adam was a lieutenant in his uncle's (Captain George Munro of Culcairn) Independent Company. Hearing (in September, 1746) that Adam “was about to be advanced to a company in one of the marching regiments,” Munro begs for a vacant lieutenancy for Hugh Munro of Achanny (“Albemarle Papers” 218).

David Alston in My Little Town of Cromarty records that in the late 1740s Adam Gordon was engaged in a short-lived partnership with William Forsyth, the Cromarty businessman. In this period he was actively involved in anti-papist activities, directed towards Captain Urquhart, a Catholic, who had purchased the Cromarty estate.

He rises to being in 1760 a Captain in the Earl of Sutherland”s Highland Regiment. However, I note bankruptcy proceedings in 1762, the year of his mother’s death, so I imagine this indicates the tipping point in the turn of his fortunes.

I note a sasine in the Register of Sasines for Ross and Cromarty in favour of Alexander Anderson of Udoll Esquire dated 5 Jun 1778, the content of which relates to land in Cromarty. It contains passing reference to the “deceast Alexr Gordon of Ardoch” and “Captain Adam Gordon his son” “to enter heir to his said father by a Decreet of Adjudication of the Lords of Council and Session of date [25 Nov 1767] obtained at the instance of William Baillie of Rosehall and George Munro of Culcairn” regarding payment and satisfaction to them of two accumulated sums amounting together to 2,334 pounds Scots. It would appear, therefore, that his later days were dogged by debts.

 

Sir Harry Munro erects the memorial

Why was it left to Lady Ardoch’s nephew, Sir Harry Munro of Foulis, to erect a memorial to her? There were plenty of Gordon relatives in the area for some time to come – her nephew Sir John Gordon of Invergordon thought very highly of family prestige. His brother, Charles Hamilton Gordon of Newhall had died in 1761, but Hamilton Gordon’s son, William Gordon of Newhall, although permanently strapped for cash, was noted for the finer feelings. You would have thought that her own son, Adam, even though bankrupt, could have found the means to erect a memorial to his devout mother.

 


The memorial set into the Lady Ardoch Mausoleum
photo: Jim Mackay

I do wonder if Sir Harry Munro left it for six years until, despairing of his Gordon in-laws to do the right thing, commissioned a striking memorial himself.

 

Poyntzfield House

Poyntzfield House was built by the Gordons. A date of approximately 1720 is usually given for the first incarnation of the building, a two-storey house with wings. The father of Alexander and Sir William, Sir Adam Gordon of Dalphollie, had purchased much land in Resolis and Cromarty in the 1690s, particularly from the Urquharts, as ever in dire financial straits. He purchased Ardoch sometime within the period 1695–1698, so the need for the new house must have arisen when Alexander was setting up home with Ann.

We know for sure that they were married by 2 July 1726, and it may well be that Ardoch was a house built for the happy couple.

I note a sasine referring to Alexander Gordon commissary-general of the musters in Scotland and Ann Munro (Register of Sasines Volume VII, period 11 July 1709 to 29 October 1719. I have yet to inspect this sasine, but its existence strongly suggests they were married before 1720 and so almost certainly Poyntzfield House was originally built as the bridal home of Lady Ardoch.

The Gordons of course had land in Sutherland, and I note from Alexander Gordon’s letters of the 1720s that he was getting shiploads of peats to keep Ardoch House warm sent down from Sutherland, either dug from his own land or purchased from other sources and carted by the horses of the tenants in his estate of Gruids to the shipping point.

In one marvellous insight into the practice of the time (never make a journey with an empty and hence unprofitable hold!) his letters of 10 August 1726 and 22 August 1726 state:

I had yours of the 5th inst, under your Broy’s cover two days ago, & delay’d answering it, till I knew, if I would get a boat to cary over my peats, but, I’m afraid, it will be impossible for me, to get any, till the hering fishing, or the hopes of getting them, be over; however, I will take care to buy some deals, & rails, next week at Inverness, qch I will send along wt the boat; In the mean time, I must beg, you’ll cause the peats be built up on the shore, &, carefully, kept till they are sent for.

People begin now (qch I am heartily sory for) to despair of the herings this season, so that in a week, I shall have a bigg boat of 170[?] bolls burthen over at the port under Skelboe, for my peats. I send over in the boat about 18 dusen of Rails, and ten dusen of Strathspey Dealls, wch, I hope, will sell very well. I shall send you accot of the lowest price wt the boatmen. / I must intreat you’ll take care to send skilfull people to bigg the peats in the boat, because I wd have her as full as possible.

The Reverend Donald Sage relates that his grandfather Aeneas Sage, minister of Lochcarron, met and married (in 1728) his wife in the house of Mr and Mrs Alexander Gordon of Ardoch and that the marriage contract signed there has Alexander Gordon himself as a witness.

In 1757 the building was raised to three storeys by Adam Gordon, with a new room above the stair tower. This is the date on the four corbel heads, below the small pediment on the front. He had married Margaret Hay in this period (Register of Sasines for Ross and Cromarty, Volume 10, 443) so it is likely that, just as the initial Poyntzfield House had been built as a marital home for Alexander Gordon and Ann Munro, it was expanded as the marital home for Adam Gordon and Margaret Hay.

The annual Window Tax returns for this period indicate the work going on. Window numbers vary mysteriously from year to year, but in 1753/4 46 windows are recorded against Adam Gordon of Ardoch. For 1755/6 only 16 windows against Adam are recorded with a note appended “Ardoch House Repairing”. From 1757, the window numbers increase again to 33. In the 1758 entries we have a note appended “Ardoch proposing to go with his family to Edinburgh where he reports he is to reside for some years” and in the Martinmas 1758/Whitsunday 1759 entry: “at Edinburgh with his Family.”


The modern Poyntzfield House, as remodelled in 1757 by Adam Gordon
photo: Andrew Dowsett

Whilst Adam’s father (Alexander of Ardoch) and uncle (Sir William of Invergordon) seem to have been very close, I do not know how the cousins, Adam of Ardoch and Sir John of Invergordon, got on. Sir John was certainly full of praise for him in 1746. Adam had been captured by the rebels at the Battle of Inverurie whilst protecting his Uncle George Munro of Culcairn’s withdrawal, but persuaded the Jacobite officer who was guarding him to defect.

Bulloch says that Sir John, writing from London to Lord President Forbes, January 8, 1746, was intensely gratified:

The late affair in Aberdeenshire, of which we have not as yet any particulars, and the retreat of the Grant, furnishes matter of conversation here, {London}. It is a particular pleasure to me that my cousin, Ardoch, has behaved so much like a man, and is not hurt. I make no doubt ’twill procure him the promotion he has earned.

Adam Gordon?s grandmother, of course, was a Forbes, so that the Lord President would be delighted in hearing how Adam had performed.

On the downside, Adam was strongly anti-Catholic and in his efforts to subject the servants of the Catholic John Urquhart of Cromarty to investigation he was actually opposed by his cousin Sir John of Invergordon.

The Estate of Ardoch was sold by Adam Gordon to George Gun Munro shortly after he moved away. The minute of sale is dated 29 June 1761 entered into “betwixt Captain Gordon of Ardoch on the one part and George Munro Esquire Commissary of Stores for North Britin on the other part”, George Munro being bound to pay £8,002.8.9 Sterling as the price for land and teinds, with £1,762 of “liquidate expences in case of failzie”. The two parties, however, had to resort to arbitration to resolve some of the matters such as value of rentals.

I do not know when Adam Gordon of Ardoch died. I see he signed a submission regarding the rental of Ardoch in a document (RH15/44/202) at London on 2 November 1763 as “Captain Adam Gordon”.

While Adam Gordon and his family had moved to Edinburgh, Lady Ardoch clearly wished to remain in the area. She did not return to Foulis Castle despite the obvious affection with which she was held by her nephew, Sir Harry Munro of Foulis. Instead, she removed to Cromarty.

 

Further reading

I have not exhaustively investigated the life of Alexander Gordon and Lady Ardoch and I would welcome feedback from anyone who has researched the family further.


Alexander Gordon signs off his letter with courtesy to the recipient’s family,
from himself and his wife, Lady Ardoch    photo: Jim Mackay

There are many sasines recording Alexander's land dealings, and many cases in the Court of Session records relating to his litigation. And I note that in the Sutherland Papers in the National Library of Scotland, Dep. 303, are:

667-75. Letters of Alexander Gordon and others to the 16th Earl, 1738-44 (9 bundles)
2980-3146 INVENTORIES AND PROCESSES
3048. William, 16th Earl and Alexander Gordon of Ardoch, 1720-45

Let us know what you find!

 

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