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

Thomas Thomson of Peddieston and George Thomson of Wester Brae and Allerton

text by Dr Jim Mackay    photography as annotated

This is the story of the family behind two of the most obvious tablestones in Kirkmichael, those beside the door to the chancel. They are a matched pair from the 1700s, and they both commemorate members of the same Thomson family of Peddieston and Wester Brae, in the parishes of Cromarty and Resolis respectively.

Their neatly carved lettering, filled with bright green moss, entices the visitor to pause to admire before stepping into the chancel. Like most other tablestones at Kirkmichael, their cavity has been used by gravediggers to dispose of surplus excavated soil. We have lowered the soil level a little. The more northerly had been knocked sideways, partly off its supports, and there was debate within the powers-that-be during the restoration of Kirkmichael as to whether or not it should be re-aligned to its original position to allow a drain to be put in between chancel wall and tablestone. I hastily levered it back into place on its supports before this odd debate grew arms and legs. Tablestone tops are always shifting a bit and some have required drastic action to stabilise.


photo by Davine Sutherland

The Thomson family moved backwards and forwards between the parishes of Resolis and Cromarty, but clearly had their origins close to Kirkmichael to wish to be buried there. They were a cut above the usual small tenant and some members of the family became tacksmen. We do have some interesting snippets about the family. The two inscriptions read:

Here lys the / body of GEORGE / THOMSON some / time tacksman / in Peddieston / who dyed Dece/mber 1718 / And ANN GALLY his / spouse / who dyd / Ianuiry 1752 / T T / M U / 1755

Placed by THOMAS THOMSON / house carpenter to / the memory of his affectionate / and dutifull mother KATHARINE / HOSSACK who departed this life / the 26th July 1786 aged 33 years / And also of his brother and two / sisters who died in minority,

If it were not for their proximity, you might not even recognise they were from the same family, but in fact, with a bit of supplementary information from Church registers and other sources, they can be slotted neatly into the family tree set out below.


The Cromarty Firth and land at Peddieston from a bend on the Farness – Peddieston road; photo by Nick R - CC BY-SA 2.0 CC BY-SA 2.0

We have very little information on the first generation of the inscriptions. George Thomson was tacksman in Peddieston, the farm on the heights to the west of Cromarty, overlooking the Cromarty Firth, and from which the white walls of Kirkmichael stand out clearly. There are two children recorded in the Cromarty Baptism Register to George Thomson and Ann (or “Nans” in one case) Gally or Galdie: Ann baptised in 1717 and Thomas baptised in 1720.

Parish of Cromarty Baptism Register
1717 … May 26 Ann Lall Dr. to George Thomson and Nans Gally
1720 … March 20th. Thomas Thomson lawll son to George Thomson and Ann Galdie in Peddistone was Baptized before the Congregation upon the Lords day.

Clearly they would have had more children, and indeed son George does not appear in the baptism register. Now, the observant will have noticed something wrong with the tablestone.

Thomas was baptised in 1720. Most children in Cromarty were baptised a few days, occasional a week or two, after being born. And the baptism record does not say, as it would, “son to the late George Thomson”. How then could George be alive in 1720 if he had died, as the tablestone says, in 1718? The combination of names is unique, so there is no possibility of confusion. It has to be concluded that whoever instructed the mason got it wrong. It may well be that the inscription was carved when Ann died in 1752, and whoever commissioned the tablestone had simply forgotten exactly when their father had died several decades earlier. They would have been infants at this time anyway.

Who did commission the memorial? Well, the clue is in the set of initials that follows the inscription. Let’s have another look:

Here lys the / body of GEORGE / THOMSON some / time tacksman / in Peddieston / who dyed Dece/mber 1718 / And ANN GALLY his / spouse / who dyd / Ianuiry 1752 / T T / M U / 1755

TT was undoubtedly son Thomas Thomson, he who was baptised in 1720, and who married Margaret Urquhart, the MU of the inscription. The 1755 doesn’t represent a marriage or a death: as in so many stones of this period it simply marks when the memorial was erected. Several years were usually allowed to pass before a memorial was erected for very practical reasons which hopefully I don’t have to spell out.

Thomas maintained the Thomson family link with Peddieston, as can be seen from his marriage record and from the baptism record of his children. He was to fall behind in his rent payments as we will see shortly, but he held on.

Parish of Resolis Marriage Register
5 May 1749 Thomas Thomson tenent in Paddistown in ye p. of Cromarty & Margret Urquhart daughter to Thomas Urquhart tenent in Sint Martins

From this entry, Margaret is revealed to be the sister of somebody who is the subject of a separate Story behind the Stone, Kenneth Urquhart, the son of Thomas Urquhart, tenant in Saint Martins. Kenneth became the factor for Newhall and was the subject of some scurrilous anonymous letters. See our Story here for the lurid details!

Anyway, back in Peddieston, Thomas Thomson and Margaret Urquhart had John (1752), Thomas (1754), Ann (1756), Kenneth (1758), James (1760), William (1762) and Donald (1766).

In 1765, the Commissioners of Supply met in Cromarty for a revaluation of land on the Estate of Cromarty, this being a key element of the forthcoming election. The higher the valuation, the more votes. All sorts of shenanigans were employed to fiddle the results with legal challenges galore. Anyway, when the Commissioners of Supply met they heard evidence from many of the tenants on the Cromarty Estate. And I see that tenant Thomas Thomson on 23 May 1765 had a great deal to say (pages 63 and 64 of the minutes (Highland Archive CRC/1/3/1/1 Commissioners of Supply Cromarty Minutes 1765-1772)). Foolishly I did not make notes when reading the minutes on what exactly Thomas did say but I shall re-visit when Coronavirus lockdown ends!

It was just after this that evidence appears of Thomas being well behind in arrears with the Cromarty Estate, within which the farm of Peddieston lies. At this time John Gorry from Balblair, Invergordon, was the factor for the Cromarty Estate. He was also the factor for the Newhall Estate (before Kenneth Urquhart), and in that role has cropped up in umpteen of this series of Story behind the Stone. His letters to the young owner of the Cromarty Estate, William Urquhart of Cromarty, have been preserved in the Craigston papers (NRAS2570/Bundle 37), which were made available to me through a temporary deposit at Aberdeen University Library:

Balblair 5th May 1770
Sir
Your Letter of the 12th April I only received a few days ago…
As to the Bill of Arrears due by the Cromarty people, I have reduced it as much as I could, considering the dear yeare the poor people have had, and bad Crope.
Had they been Stressed with Dilligence [legal action], they would not have paid so much as they have done, because of their present masters preferable Hypothicks &c.
John Urquhart knows that James Williamson in Loning was Bankrupt the time of the State of your Estate, as was James Mustard, Hugh Munro, Widow McCulloch Late in Achnagarry and some others tho’ I took every thing I could win from these.
Thomas Thomson John Urquhart’s Brother in Law was in great arrears, but the honest man has done pretty well in making partial payments….

Having read countless letters by John Gorry, I have a lot of respect for him, and if he called Thomas Thomson an honest man he will have been correct.


Extract of 1764 map of the Estate of Cromarty by David Aitken, with, if you have good eyesight and better imagination, the name of Thomas Thomson below “Pediestoun”

The John Urquhart whom Gorry mentions was tacksman of the Mains of Cromarty and assisted with the running of the Estate, and, it emerges from this letter, was the brother-in-law of Thomas Thomson! You will remember that Thomas Thomson was married to Margaret Urquhart, sister of Kenneth Urquhart, factor of the Newhall Estate, so here we have another brother in a position of responsibility. Unfortunately, John at one time turned to drink, and John Gorry wrote to the laird (although in his clerk’s handwriting) (Bundle 36):

Ballblair 6th Augt. 1761

I’m really sorry that I am under the necessity to Inform you that your servant John Urquhart has fallen into an Intemperate way of Tippling, which to be sure must hurt your affairs and his own, if he does not soon mend his way. His Wife is in great Distres for him, and I have dealt with him unweariedly by way of Advice. I have also desired the Minister of Cromarty to be at pains with John, which Mr. Munro has been very heartily. But still I must own there is Cause of Complaint, tho: John promises to Refrain from such Measures as oft as I speak to him. I have told him how unfaithfull and ungratefull such a Conduct is to you his kind master, what misery it must bring upon his own, and what hurt to your Real Interest, Circumstances he can never account for. Tho he has both a good possession & also Encouragement from you, his Bill of Arrear Increases. I wou’d humbly think, that Byth or you shou’d write him a proper Letter as to his Conduct, of which you are informed by Undoubted authority. A letter of that kind, before you come to Cromarty, will be no doubt of real use, And when you are at Cromarty, it will be the less surprise to him, when you Reproved him to his face. / I have told him, that I was under a necessity of Informing you of his way, because of his frequent misconduct, which will appear I doubt not too soon

Jo Gorry

Presumably John Urquhart reformed, as he continued in his role for years afterwards. We don’t get a glimpse of Margaret Urquhart in all of this, or how she got on with her maligned brother at Newhall and her tippling brother at the Mains of Cromarty; the wife unfortunately rarely makes an appearance in these stories.

Only the initials of Thomas Thomson and Margaret Urquhart are found on the tablestone at Kirkmichael, their children presumably thinking that was enough to commemorate their parents. I have not tracked the seven children baptised to the couple, but there will undoubtedly be many descendants.

Instead, let us look now to somebody whose name does not appear on these two stones but is critical to the relationship between them. He was George, the brother of Thomas Thomson, and he farmed at Brae in Resolis and then at Allerton on the Estate of Cromarty. He was the father of house carpenter Thomas Thomson who erected the second tablestone as a memorial to his mother, Katharine Hossack. You will note that the inscription curiously doesn’t mention Thomas’ father at all, although it includes a reference to three deceased siblings.

Placed by THOMAS THOMSON / house carpenter to / the memory of his affectionate / and dutifull mother KATHARINE / HOSSACK who departed this life / the 26th July 1786 aged 33 years / And also of his brother and two / sisters who died in minority,

Why didn’t house carpenter Thomas commemorate his father, George? Well, given that Katharine died very young, I think George may have married again; alternatively, George was much older than Katharine and may have been previously married. Whichever, I suspect he may actually be commemorated elsewhere and poor Katharine was not, and hence Thomas took matters into his own hands. This is mere conjecture, but I find it very unusual that a son would mention his mother without mentioning his father.

We first note George as tenant in Brae, in the parish of Resolis, when son Thomas, he who became house carpenter, was baptised in 1775. He was still at Brae when the next son, Kenneth, was baptised in 1779, but he had moved to Allerton in the parish of Cromarty when daughter Margaret was baptised in 1784. Two previous farmer had gone bankrupt in Allerton, but I do not know how George fared.

Whilst George was at Brae, I see occasional references to him in the Newhall Estate records. In the 1772 rental of the Newhall Estate, which was annotated in 1776 to show changes in tenancy, we see

Brae
Hugh Ferguson [replaced with: George Thomson, in vice of Hugh Ferguson]

George Thomson thus came into Brae after Hugh Ferguson sometime between 1772 and 1776. He was still there in the rentals in 1776, and 1782. We know that when Margaret was baptised in 1784 he had already removed to Allerton, so he had the tenancy at Brae for about ten years.

George was clearly seen as a responsible citizen. I note from the minutes of the Commissioners of Supply for the Shire of Cromarty that on 20 October 1778:

Thereafter Sir John Gordon Bar[o]n[e]t. proposed to add to the list of Constables for this County Hugh Ross at the Ness of Invergordon George Thomson in Wester Brea & Donald Rose at Balblair which they approved & Donald Rose being present was sworn in and ordered to acquaint Hugh Ross & George Thomson with their appointment ordering them to attend the Preses the beginning of next week in order to be sworn in and told their duty

There was no police force at this time, but the authorities had power to appoint a small number of constables, and they chose only solid, reliable citizens for this work. This is the only record that specifies which part of Brae George tenanted – there is Easter Brae, West Brae and Wester Brae to choose from, and Wester Brae narrows it down considerably.


Abandoned croft buildings at Wester Brae, Resolis; photo by Jim Mackay

And so we come finally to Thomas Thomson, house carpenter. Thomas has a special connection with Kirkmichael as it was he who constructed a gate to the kirkyard back in 1805!

Presbytery of Chanonry Minutes

Manse of Avoch, 22 February 1803 …
Then Mr Arthur [Reverend Robert Arthur, minister of “the combined parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden commonly known as Resolis”] gave in a Petition that the Fences or Dykes around both the Church-yards or Burying-Grounds, at Kirkmichael & at Cullicudden have fallen into a ruinous State, and ought to be early rebuilt.

Risolis, (the Manse of the United parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden), 29 March 1803 …
Which Note having been taken into particular consideration by the Heretors & Presbytery; the Heretors undertook to have all the other particulars sufficiently executed to Mr Arthur's Satisfaction, within Three Months hence. And, as to the Burying Grounds, Mr Arthur intimated, that the people, who bury in that of Cullicudden, have conjunctly undertaken to make up the Dyke thereof at their own Expences, to his Satisfaction, in the Course of next Summer: And the Heretors have promised to furnish the Inclosure thereof, when ready, with a sufficient Gate, Hinges & Lock. The Heretors farther pledge themselves to the Presbytery, to have the other Burying Ground, of Kirkmichael sufficiently inclosed, as the law directs, before Martinmas next.

Manse of Kirkmichael & Cullicudden, 8 May 1805 …
The Heretors then produced two Accompts of Expence incurred for enclosing the two Burying-Grounds at Kirkmichael & Cullicudden, the one accompt of Twenty pounds Sterling, due to Adam Urquhart Mason and the other, of Five pounds Five Shillings Sterling, due to Thomas Thomson wright for Gates to these burying Grounds, or old Church-yards; with which Repairs the Meeting are satisfied: and the presbytery appoint said accompts to be paid.

The Cromarty mason responsible for the dyke around Kirkmichael, Adam Urquhart, had married one Isobel Thomson, and I do wonder if he was again related to the Urquhart siblings already identified, or if his wife was related to the Thomson siblings mentioned on these tablestones (or perhaps both)!

It is very fitting that Thomas Thomson was involved in the works for the kirkyard in which his mother was buried. Thomas married Elizabeth Brown in Cromarty in 1804, but I have not pursued the family thereafter.

This, then, is the family tree within which the names and initials of those on the two adjacent tablestones at Kirkmichael fit. Blue and red represent names on the inscription on the tablestone to the north and south respectively.


I see on the internet several family trees linking into one or other of the lines descending from George Thomson and Ann Gally. All the ones I have seen are spurious but it would be lovely if genuine descendants of this Thomson family would contact us and let us know “what happened next”!

 

Postscript – above a carefully planned inscription…

During a Saturday morning work party in 2019, our volunteers uncovered a slab close to the two Thomson tablestones. You can see that it bears a very striking design (the cut-out panel I think was to remove part of the earlier inscription). It demonstrates the remarkable inability of stone carvers of the period to plan their work out in advance! Anyone with a pencil and a bit of gumption could have laid out the lettering better.


photo by Andrew Dowsett


Why not draw on the stone first to avoid squeezing? I think the stone carver realised on the M of Thomson that it wasn’t going to work out! photo by Andrew Dowsett

The remaining inscription reads:

IT / CA / ANDREW VASE / ISOBEL THOMSON / AV / IT / 1782

Andrew Vass was a tenant in Davidston, parish of Cromarty, and there are two children mentioned in the Cromarty baptism register born to Andrew and Isobel. They were both named David, the first presumably having died.

Cromarty Baptism Register
1762 … Febry 25 David LS to Andrew Vass in Davidston & Issobell Thomson
1771 … Octr. 27th David LS to Andrew Vass & Isabell Tomson Davidston

It is intriguing to wonder if Isabel Thomson was one of the family commemorated on the nearby Thomson twin tablestones. The Vass families were focused on the Parish of Nigg with a bit of spillage to neighbouring parishes such as Cromarty and there do not appear to be links with Resolis. Was the connection therefore a Thomson one?

The slab was originally placed to commemorate “IT” and “CA” and almost certainly these represent an earlier John Thomson and his spouse, CA. The cut-out panel I think still shows traces of an earlier date. We cannot be sure, but there is a record in the Cromarty marriage register back in 1689 which fits very neatly:

Parish of Cromarty Marriage Register
Cromartie 22 June 1689 / The said day compeared before us John Thomson in the parish of Killicuddin, and Christian Anderson in this parish, and gave up their names to be proclaimed in order to their marriage which they both promised to solemnize within term of law under the falsie of ten libr scots mo[ney] to be payed to the session and to that effect found surety to witt Alexr Thomson in Udol for the said John Thomson, and John Anderson in Peddiestown for the said Christian Anderson.

A working hypothesis is that John Thomson and Christian Anderson were the forebears of these later Thomsons. Andrew Vass took over the burial place as his wife Isabel Thomson was a descendant of John Thomson and Christian Anderson. You will note from the guarantors in the marriage bond that Peddieston was in the backgrounds to the families here even in the 17th century. But the Anderson connection is intriguing: could this be the same Andersons who were ministers in Cromarty and owners of Udale?

This Story will be updated when further information on these connections is forthcoming.


photo by Andrew Dowsett

 

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