This is the story of the Morrison family who were millers at a host of mills in the Black Isle and Easter Ross. This was at a time when the miller was an important man in society, when tenants were “thirled” to a particular mill, so that the miller had a guaranteed income. At least five generations of this family are buried in Kirkmichael. We had to patch together one inscription from disparate pieces of a tablestone, rather similar to our work in patching together the family itself!
photograph of headstone to Robert Morrison and Janet Morrison by Andrew Dowsett; photograph of Newmills (re-built since occupied by the Morison family) by Jim Mackay
The first-known of these millers was John Morison, the miller in “Newmilns”, nowadays Newmills, in the 1740s. The mills were fed by the mill lade that crosses the Church Brae above the Free Church of Resolis and joins the Newhall Burn at Newmills. “John Morison” and his wife, “Elspat Davidson”, had eight children baptised from 1748 through to 1764, including Robert in 1748 and John in 1756. The session clerk used many variations for poor Elspat’s name, including Elsbet and Elsbat, and Alspet and Alspat!
John and Elspat are commemorated by a partly buried slab at Kirkmichael, which reads:
Here lys the / body of IOHN / MORISON / millar in New Mill / who dyed 13 Nov / 1768 / Also his spo/use ELSPAT / DAVIDSON / R M / 1768
The mason made a mess of the name Morison – he got as far as “Moris” alright, botched the next two letters, carved the correct two letters on top of the originals, decided it looked awful and did them all over again.
The Morison Slab, photos by Andrew Dowsett, and the layout of Newmills as shown on Ordnance Survey mapping of the 1870s
The RM on the lower part of the slab undoubtedly represents their oldest son Robert, who continued as miller in Newmills after John’s death. He was a respectable fellow for I see from a document dated 26 August 1778 that he was one of the “Constables for the Town and Parish of Cromarty & Kirkmichael”.
Robert married one Janet Stewart, and they had six children baptised from 1777 through to 1789, including eldest child John in 1777. It was with John that the movements start.
John Morison married Elspeth Bain, and I shall set out the baptism records of their children to show their relocation from one mill to the next. The doubters amongst you should ask how do I make the connection between the Morrisons, millers in Newmills, and the John Morrison who first appears at the Town Milns in Tain? It is extraordinary how whole family histories are pasted together without any corroborative evidence! There is a leap of faith involved in this case, but only a small one, for Robert, the son of John Morrison and Elspeth Bain, is buried in Kirkmichael a yard in front of the slab commemorating John Morrison and Elspat Davidson from several generations earlier!
Parish of Tain Baptism Register
John Morison at the Town Milns had by his wife Elspeth Bain a Daugr. born to him the 17th Decr. 1803 and baptized the 19th day named Janet
Parish of Fearn Baptism Register
John Morison Miller in Allan and his Spouse Elspet Bayne had a child baptized named Mary. The child was born 21st. inst. [baptism 24 July 1805]
Parish of Rosskeen Baptism Register
William, son to John Morison Miller at Ardross & Elspet Bane, was born the 8th. April 1807
Robert, son of John Morison Miller at Ardross & Elspet Bain was born the 12th June 1808
Elizabeth, daughter to John Morison Miller at Ardross & Elizabeth Bain was born the 25th May 1810
John, son to John Morrison Miller at Ardross & Elisabeth Bain was born the 19th May, 1812
John, son to John Morrison Miller Dalmore and Elizabeth McBain his wife, was born the 7th June baptized 9th. current [June 1815]
Ann daughter to John Morrison miller at Dalmore and Elizabeth Bain his wife was born on the 10 and baptised 12 April 
I do not know where the Town Milns of Tain were located, but presumably they were in town rather those at Morangie or Aldie. Trusty MacGill reports that the Burgh of Tain Accounts for 1729–30 included £384 for Miln Rent. I presume “Miller in Allan” was a reference not to Allan itself but nearby Clays of Allan which had quite a complex of mills, fed by water which had already passed from Fearn Mill. Again, I don’t know where the mill at Dalmore would have been 1815–1819. A new mill complex had been recently built at Dalmore when the New Statistical Account for Rosskeen was published in 1838, so John Morrison must have been one of the last millers in the old mills at Dalmore.
the Millstone at Fearn, photograph by Douglas Gordon from his Mills of Easter Ross Peninsula (downloadable from the Fearn Peninsula website) and the mill at Clays of Allan as surveyed in 1871
The Town Milns at Tain, the Mill at Allan, the Mill at Ardross and the Mill at Dalmore were followed by one final mill, at Shoremill within the parish of Cromarty. John and his family can be seen there in 1841:
1841 Census Shoremill
John Morrison 63 miller N [additional corroboration – 63 is a good fit for the John born to Robert Morrison/Janet Stewart in 1777]
Elizabeth do. 55 N
Robert Morrison 30 Cartwright N
John Morrison 25 Mill-wright N
Ann Morrison 20 ag lab N
The Ordnance Survey 25 inch extract, surveyed in 1871, shows that there was no mill pond associated with Shoremill – the water was drawn directly from the burn, which must therefore have benefited from constant and significant flow. The buildings were very close to the burn, and this may have exacerbated the flooding which the Morrisons suffered in 1846.
The layout of Shoremill when surveyed in 1871 by the Ordnance Survey; the Morison family were the millers at this time
Cromarty is one of the few parishes to have a record for a period of deaths, and in 1842 we have:
1842 6 Feb John Morrison Shoremill burried at Kirkmichael
There is a small headstone close to the two Morrison stones in Kirkmichael bearing the solitary initials “JM” and it is tempting to think that this is his. His wife survived another three decades:
Elizabeth Morrison widow of John Morrison miller died 4 Oct 1872 Davidston Parish of Cromarty aged 90 parents William Bain farmer (d) Elizabeth Bain ms [blank] (d) informant Robert Morrison son present
Let’s return to the period when John Morison died. Son Robert took over as miller at Shoremill. He seems to have suffered a series of disasters. The Inverness Courier of 19 August 1846 reported a tremendous thunderstorm in the Black Isle, and states that “The mill near Cromarty was completely inundated; the water rose over the windows, and the people had to fly for safety.” I take it that this was Shore Mill. An even worse calamity occurred in 1848 when, as reported in the John o’ Groat Journal for 8 December 1848:
The Shore Mill, near Cromarty, was burned to the ground on Saturday week.
Poor Robert must have wondered what he had done to deserve such misfortune. However, the family persevered. In 1851 they can still be seen there, with Robert’s mother now recorded as the head of the family. There were several servants, as befitted the status of a miller.
1851 Census Shoremill
Widow Morrison head widow 67 miller’s mother do. Tarbet
Robt. do. head mar 40 miller do. Roskeen
Janet do. wife mar 26 Elgin S. Dallas
Johanna do. daur u 24 Cromarty
Marjory do. daur 9 Cromarty
The miller held one of the more secure jobs in a community, but he still had to get payment from those who used the mill. The Cromarty Sheriff Court records contain several of these. I note that in 1850 Robert was pursuing Murdo Cameron, farm servant, Allerton, for a debt amounting to £1. In 1852, he was pursuing Colin Summer, painter, Cromarty for the more substantial debt of £5 8s 7d. In 1853, he was pursuing Robert Grigor, farmer, Braelangwell for a debt of £2. And in 1855 he was pursuing widow Christian Urquhart or Bain, Rosefarm, for an account for meal (incurred in 1845) for 19s 6d. He was clearly no stranger to the Sheriff Court!
I also see in the Sheriff Court records (SC24/13A/72) that in 1847 the Procurator Fiscal fined Robert himself 12s with the option of 6 days imprisonment. He had refused entry to an officer calling to collect money due for poor rates and had even pushed the officer. He was clearly anxious to draw in money which he was owed, but very reluctant to pay it out again!
Shoremill in 1974 prior to residential conversion…
and after: photo by Andrew Dowsett
Robert’s wife Janet was herself a Morrison, albeit from Morayshire. Their first four daughters were baptised in the Free Church, Resolis (and there were at least three more daughters recorded later in the statutory register):
Robert Morrison, Miller Shoremills parish of Cromarty | Janet Morrison | 14/8/1848 | 22/8/1848 | dau | Johanna
Robert Morrison, Miller Shoremills | Janet Morrison | 19/9/1850 | 20/9/1850 | dau | May [Marjory]
Robert Morrison, Shoremills | Janet Morrison | 27/8/1852 | 9/10/1852 | dau | Elizabeth
Robert Morrison, Miller Shore Mills of Cromarty | Janet Morrison | 27/4/1854 | 30/6/1854 | dau | Janet
Robert died in 1878, intestate, but I have not as yet read his probate documentation. The death notice appeared in the Press and Journal of 9 March 1878: “At Shore Mills, Cromarty, on the 24th ult., Robert Morrison – much beloved and deeply regretted.” Following his death, there was a displenish sale at Shoremill, the auctioneer being the Tain land surveyor and auctioneer, John Shivas:
top, left: Robert Morrison’s entry in the 1857 Post Office directory; top, below: the Shore Mill Displenishment sale of 1878; right: auctioneer, John Shivas (photo courtesy of Tain Through Time Image Library)
Robert and Janet are commemorated by an attractive sandstone headstone in Kirkmichael, close to the slab dedicated to Robert’s great grandparents. The inscription reads:
Erected / in loving / memory of our parents / ROBERT and JANET MORRISON / who died at Shore / Mills, Cromarty. / Who is he that liveth / and shall not see death
I think the stone must have been organised long before Janet’s death in 1893 as in fact she did not die at Shoremill but a couple of miles west, in Jemimaville. She had moved there sometime between 1871 and 1881; I presume after the displenish sale at Shoremill on the death of Robert in 1878. A miller called Thomas Mackintosh took over at Shore Mill, but became bankrupt in 1887.
The foundation slab bearing the headstone for Robert and Janet has an unusual shape. We studied it closely in December 2018, removed some moss and realised it was in reality the top left hand quarter of a slab from a tablestone. Several letters are visible on the projecting edge. In the evening after this discovery, having thought about it a bit, I had a look at the photographs of another section of a tablestone we had found acting as a foundation for a small headstone just a few weeks earlier. Only a few letters were visible as there was lime mortar smothering most of it. Nevertheless, I adjusted the perspective of the two parts to put them on the same plane and aligned them – and astonishingly found we had much of a third Morison inscription. In the following, characters within square brackets are reasonable assumptions; the emboldened text is on the piece found under the Robert Morrison headstone:
[M]ORI[S]ON S[hore M]ill
[mem]ory o[f] his b[eloved] son
[depar]ted [t]his l[ife] [t]he
y 18–6 Aged 22 years
the slab under the Robert Morrison headstone; photo Andrew Dowsett
the slab found under another headstone elsewhere in Kirkmichael; photo Andrew Dowsett
together they provide most of the inscription!
The remnants of the missing numeral in the 18–6 suggest it could be 0, 2 or 3. Given the kind of tablestone, the date of 1806 would be most likely, which would be an approximate fit for: “William, son to John Morison Miller at Ardross & Elspet Bane, was born the 8th. April 1807”, supported of course by the fact that his name does indeed end in “AM”. It is not a perfect fit, and confirmation will arrive if the headstone ever needs to be straightened up!
If that is the broken tablestone to William, brother to Robert in Shore Mill, then it seems a bit heartless to use one brother’s stone as the support for the other. Returning to that brother, information on both Robert and spouse Janet is contained in their death certificates:
Robert Morrison meal-miller (married to Janet Morrison) died 27 Feb 1878 Shore Mill Cromarty aged 65 parents John Morrison meal-miller (d) Elizabeth Morrison ms Bain (d) informant May Morrison daughter (present)
Jessie Morrison widow of Robert Morrison miller died 9 Nov 1893 Jemimaville aged 72 parents David Morrison carpenter master (d) May Morrison ms Morrison (d) informant Williamina Thom daughter (present)
The daughters of Robert and Janet Morrison of Shoremills became well established in the area, not least in Jemimaville, where the Poyntzfield Arms Inn was managed for many years by Williamina and May. The Inn had been the subject of a lot of incidents over the years, but it seems to have been fairly quiet during the reign of the sisters. One of few episodes was reported by the Ross-shire Journal on 27 November 1908: “James Macdougall, tailor, of Jemimaville, Resolis, was charged with having conducted himself in a riotous, quarrelsome and disorderly manner” in the Inn and was fined 10s. I have found only one record involving one of the sisters: “May Morrison, Hotelkeeper, Poyntzfield Arms Inn, Jemimaville” was charged in 1914 with selling a quart bottle of whisky to Duncan MacRae, general merchant in Jemimaville, who was intoxicated, in contravention of her Certificate of Licence. However, even in this case, proceedings were dropped.
Here are sketches of four of the daughters:
Williamina (1856–1911) married Jemimaville tailor James Thom in 1885. He died just a few years later in 1893. Williamina went on to marry innkeeper James Gray in 1897. She owned several properties in Jemimaville, and managed the Poyntzfield Arms until her death in 1911. Her obituary in the North Star of 23 February 1911 showed the respect in which she was held: “The announcement of the death of Mrs Gray, of the Poyntzfield Arms, Jemimaville, which took place suddenly on the 14th inst., will be received with great regret all over the community. She was of a quiet, amiable, and inoffensive disposition, and by her strict integrity, and high moral character, she endeared herself to all with whom she came into contact, whether on business or otherwise. The very large concourse of people, who accompanied the remains on Friday to Kirkmichael Churchyard was evidence of the respect and esteem in which she was held.” Despite being buried in Kirkmichael there is no memorial to her there.
May (1850–1927) never married. On the death of her sister Williamina, she became the manageress of the Poyntzfield Arms until it was taken over and licence removed in 1918 by the Government as part of the measures to control liquor sales around the Cromarty Firth. The Board report says: “This is a case where the business is being carried on by an elderly maiden lady under the supervision of the Judicial Factor for the behoof of her nephew (a minor) who was commencing his course as a medical student but is presently in the Army. It afforded a livelihood for both, and the property provides a house.” I presume that May, as she died in Jemimaville, is also buried in Kirkmichael, but, just as with her sister Williamina, whom we know is buried there, no memorial has been erected.
Elizabeth (1852–) As the Ross-shire Journal of 19 April 1878 reported: “At the residence of the bride, on the 12th inst., by the Rev. John R. Elder, F.C., Cromarty, John Henley, Sunnyside, Coatbridge, to Elizabeth, third daughter of the late Robert Morrison, Shore Mill, Cromarty.”
Jessie (1854–) married at Jemimaville in 1881 butler William Fleming. The Ross-shire Journal of 19 August 1881 reported: “At the Free Church, Resolis, on the 12th inst., by the Rev. John Maciver, William Fleming, to Jessie, fourth daughter of the late Robert Morrison, Shore Mill, Cromarty.” Earlier that year William Fleming is recorded in the Census as butler in the Edinburgh household of Frederick Pitman, Writer to the Signet, but how they met I know not – perhaps she was in service in Edinburgh. Fleming went on to become Club Master at Troon, as I see him listed as “Club Master” with Jessie and a burgeoning family in the 1901 census at the Club House, Dundonald, Troon.
As this story is straying into the too recent past, I shall end there. This family of millers can be summarised in this simple schematic:
John Morison miller in Newmills (Resolis)=Elspat Davidson
(–1768, buried in Kirkmichael, stone 115)
Robert Morison miller in Newmills (Resolis)=Janet Stewart
(1748–alive in 1789)
John Morrison at the Town Milns (Tain) and then miller at Allan (Fearn), Ardross (Rosskeen), Dalmore (Rosskeen) and Shoremill (Cromarty)=Elspat or Elizabeth Bain
(1777–1842, buried in Kirkmichael, perhaps stone 136)
Robert Morrison miller in Shoremill (Cromarty)=Janet Morrison
(1808–1878, buried in Kirkmichael, stone 121, which sits on part of another Morison of Shoremill tablestone)
many daughters: if any descendants would wish to fill this section in, I would be very grateful!
We now know that there are three Morrison memorials in Kirkmichael, two very close to each other, and the third actually acting as foundation for one of the later ones. There is possibly yet another, as a small, simple headstone bears the initials JM, or possibly simply IM (which is the same in any case, as the letter I was often used for the letter J), adjacent to these stones. In order to assist any descendants visiting Kirkmichael, the Morrison memorials are set out here as a group. The buried slab with the red spot is that bearing the names of Iohn Morison and Elspat Davidson and the initials of their son, Robert Morison. The headstone with the blue spot bears the names of Robert Morrison and Janet Morrison of Shore Mill. And the broken tablestone slab bearing the name of a 22 year old beloved Morison son has been given a pink spot. The putative Morison stone bearing initials JM has been marked with a green spot.
This fourth memorial had sunk deeply into the ground and was in consequence being damaged by grasscutting operations. To protect it, we in 2018 lifted it out, put some soil in the cavity within which it sits, and re-erected it. Is it a lair marker for another of the Morrisons?