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

David Munro and Margaret Burgess of Gordon’s Mill – and the moral compass

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as annotated


The headstone

It is a small grey granite headstone at the foot of the Samuel Gordon enclosure at the north dyke of Kirkmichael. Inconspicuous in itself, the sandstone blocks on which it sits long intrigued us. Often the slabs which serve as the base of headstones turn out to be chunks broken off earlier gravestones, still bearing parts of the original inscriptions. When the headstone had to be straightened on one occasion, we were careful to examine the slabs to ensure there was nothing carved on either side!

photo: Jim Mackay

photo: Jim Mackay

As you can see, the stone bears a curious design near its top, a carved shape (left-hand below) similar to a navigational compass or a boatswain’s wheel. This is a symbol found on a few headstones and I have never found out for sure what it means. Either a compass or a boatswain’s wheel could represent steering a steady route through life’s treacherous waters to a safe haven, appropriate for a religious man, but I would like to know more about the use of the symbol. There is one other example in Kirkmichael (the middle example below), on a farmer’s headstone, and there is at least one in Rosskeen (right-hand example below), on a mason’s headstone. So carpenter, farmer, mason; not related to employment, then. Suggestions welcome!

photos: Andrew Dowsett, Andrew Dowsett, Davine Sutherland


The inscription

In memory of DAVID MUNRO, Gordonsmill, died 1888. And MARGARET BURGESS, his wife died 1897

The first surname on the headstone, Munro, is very common in the area, but the second, Burgess, certainly is not. Where had Margaret Burgess come from?


David Munro and Margaret Burgess

The couple married in this parish of Resolis back in 1836, full fifty years before David died. He was a carpenter, or wright, to trade, attracted in as a young man with other tradesmen to the then new and growing village of Jemimaville. She was in service in the nearby Poyntzfield House, just up the brae from Jemimaville.

Parish of Resolis Marriage Register
13 May 1836 David Munro Wright at Jemima-Village and Margaret Burgess at Poyntzfield House both in this Parish were contracted and married in due time the 13th. of May 1836

David had been born about 1806 across in Easter Ross, to small tenant farmer Andrew Munro and his spouse Lillias Cameron. They lived at Balkeith, in the parish of Tain.
Margaret had been born about 1811 a good bit further away, in Forres, daughter of a militia corporal, later sergeant, Alexander Burgess and his spouse Jane Leall.
The couple had a long and quiet life in the parish for the next 50 years. They had children Jane in 1837, Mary Ann in 1838, Lillias in 1841, Duncan in 1844 and Alexander George in 1845.

It is customary for at least a few colourful incidents to be associated with a couple resident in the parish for such a period. But no, they seem to have just got on with their life without any major disturbance! The family did move within the parish at the start. From the baptism records, David was recorded as a housecarpenter in Jemimaville in 1837 and 1838, wright at Poyntzfield in 1841, and finally carpenter at Gordon’s Mill in 1844, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

I shall not bore you with their census entries as they are more or less what you would expect. In 1861, David is given as living in “Hamlet of Gordonsmill Joiner’s House, three rooms with one or more windows”. So a comfortable home and never with a great number of children, but we’ll come back to them, as that’s when more surprises appear!

Some of the old cottages at Gordon’s Mill; photo by Jim Mackay

On his daughter Mary Ann’s marriage certificate in 1865, David is described as “F.C. Elder and house carpenter (master)”. As a Free Church Elder, David would have been closely associated with the great Resolis Free Church Minister the Reverend Donald Sage, and I imagine more information about David’s activities can be found in the session minutes of the Free Church. I made notes of the very early days of the Free Church in Resolis, and I see that they were preparing for the Disruption in March; the Disruption took place in May.

Free Church Records
At the Parish Church of Resolis Friday the Seventeenth Day of March, 1843
On which day a public meeting of the parishioners of Resolis held here according to an intimation given on the Sabbath previous, from the pulpit.
The Revd. Mr. Sage presided and opened the meeting with prayer, and a statement having been laid before them by the Revd. Mr. Kennedy of Redcastle, of the peculiar circumstances and position of the Church at the time, and the meeting being subsequently addressed on the subject by several individuals present, it was cordially and unanimously resolved faithfully to adhere to and maintain the great and essential principles for which the church was contending.
The meeting thereafter divided the Parish into districts, and appointed collectors to receive contributions for the support of the church, as follows:–
Collectors.                 Districts.

Mr David Munro       Gordonsmills & Kirktown

David was thus closely involved with the Free Church right from the outset.
The 1881 Census was the last one that David lived through, and in it he is described as “cartwright (master)” speaking Gaelic. In 1888, David died. Margaret was the informant, and it is revealed that like so many of that period, she could not write.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
David Munro cartwright (married to Margaret Burgess) died 20 October 1888 at Gordons Mills age 81 parents Andrew Munro farmer (d) Lillias Munro ms Cameron (d) informant Margaret Munro her x mark widow (present)

Margaret continued to reside in the old home – she is recorded in the 1891 census return as a widow “living on private means”. Alas, those means must have run out, as she was to end her days in the Black Isle Poor House as a pauper. Considering several of her children were earning, this seems very unkind.

Parish of Rosemarkie Deaths
Margaret Munro pauper (widow of David Munro, cartwright) died 2 April 1897 at Black Isle Poorhouse, Rosemarkie age 86 [blanks for parents] informant Robert Lumsden Governor of Poor House (present)

It is always unfortunate for those researching a family when someone dies in an institute of some form, as invariably the parents are not recorded (or even worse, are recorded wrongly). However, in this case we can identify Margaret’s parents easily enough through alternative means. But we’ll come back to that.
The couple were buried in Kirkmichael and are commemorated by the small and simple but good quality granite headstone near the north dyke.


The Children


Jane (1837–)

Although born in 1837, Jane does not appear in the 1841 Census for the family in Gordon’s Mill, so it is assumed that sadly she died in infancy. There is a small chance she may have been “farmed out” to a relative.


Mary Ann (1838–1917)

And Mary Ann was indeed “farmed out” to a relative, in this case to her paternal grandparents’ family in Easter Ross. She is still at Gordon’s Mill aged 2 in 1841, but by 1851 she was established with grandfather Andrew Munro at Balkeith at Fendom near Tain. She resided with the family thereafter, a seamstress, until marrying soldier John Ross in 1865.

Parish of Tain Marriages
11 October 1865 at North Balkeith after Banns according to the Forms of the Free Church
John Ross Corporal Scots Fusilier Guards (single) 25 usual residence Tain parents John Ross house carpenter (master) Janet Ross ms McKenzie
Mary Ann Munro seamstress (single) 26 usual residence Balkeith Parish of Tain parents David Munro F.C. Elder and house carpenter (master) Margaret Munro ms Burges
(signed) Thos. Grant Minister Tain (signed) Andrew Munro witness Alexr. Munro witness

Mary Ann can be seen with her husband, still a Corporal in the Scots Fusilier Guards, and her first three children in Tomnahurich Street Inverness in 1871 (very close to her saddler uncle James Burgess in Bank Street). However, she seems to have returned to Easter Ross and stayed there thereafter. In 1881 she and her children are in residence with her uncle Alexander Munro at North Balkeith, while her husband was away on service. In 1891, having left the army, John Ross seems to have temporarily taken up the trade of a plasterer at Fendom, but in 1901 he had taken over a croft at Balchery, again at Fendom and very close to the Munro family home of Balkeith. Mary Ann died there in 1917.

Parish of Tain Deaths
Mary Ann Ross married to John Ross crofter died 13 February 1917 at Balchery Fendom Tain age 76 parents David Munro carpenter (d) Margaret Munro ms Burgess (d) informant John Ross son Esther Place Tain

several of the farms associated with the Munro and Ross families around Fendom, near Tain; Ordnance Survey one inch to the mile, surveyed c 1870


Lillias (1841–1914)

Lillias became a domestic servant, and can be seen in the 1861 census in the household of farmer William Tulloch at Gordon’s Mill in 1861. Also in the household is a ploughman, one Hugh Fraser

1861 Parish of Resolis Census Return – Hamlet of Gordonsmill Crofter’s House, six rooms with one or more windows
William Tulloch head married 30 farmer of 33 acres, employing 1 ploughman, 1 boy, & 1 domestic servt. born Urray
Margaret Tulloch wife married 34 born Elgin
Lillias Munro servt. unmarried 19 domestic servt. born Resolis
Hugh Fraser servt unmarried 23 ploughman born Resolis

John Ross servt. 13 herd boy born Resolis

Hugh Fraser would move on as ploughman but he and Lillias had obviously struck up a relationship, and three years later they married. The minister, of course, was the Reverend Donald Sage.

Parish of Resolis Marriages
22 July 1864 at Gordonsmills, after Banns, according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Hugh Fraser ploughman (bachelor) 28 Kirktown, Resolis parents Alexander Fraser crofter Jane Fraser m.s. Murray
Lillias Munro domestic servant (spinster) 23 Gordonsmills, Resolis parents David Munro house carpenter Margaret Munro m.s. Burgess
(signed) Dond. Sage Minister (signed) George Munro John Fraser

Hugh settled down as a crofter at Newmills, and the couple lived there for the remainder of their lives. A black granite headstone just above the old dyke at Kirkmichael commemorates the family, the stone mason being J. Ross, Tain, so perhaps a relative!

photo: Jim Mackay

photo: Jim Mackay

In loving memory of DAVID FRASER who died at Newmills, 13th Jany. 1911 aged 38 years, Also ALEXANDER who died in infancy, beloved sons of HUGH FRASER Newmills. Also the above HUGH FRASER his wife LILIAS MUNRO their son ALEXANDER DUNCAN died 12th May 1956 “Gone but not Forgotten”

Lillias herself died in 1914:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Lillias Fraser married to Hugh Fraser crofter died 27 March 1914 at Newmills Resolis age 70 parents David Munro cartwright (d) Margaret Munro ms Burges (d) informant Alexr. Fraser son (present)


Duncan (1844–)

I have been unable to trace Duncan satisfactorily. He is present as child in the family home in 1851 and then vanishes. Surprisingly, I pick him up in Edinburgh in 1871 as an art student, but he then disappears again. If anyone can give me more background to the mysterious Duncan I would be very pleased!

1871 Census Return Parish of Bucclench Quoad Sacra, Midlothian – 17 Bristo Street …
Duncan Munro Lodger Unmarried 27 Art Student born Rossshire Rosilis


Alexander George (1845–1917)

And finally, Alexander George is well documented, and I see he even became a Justice of the Peace. He took up the same trade as his father and became a joiner. He moved south to Govan and, as a foreman joiner, so well-established in his trade, married a Govan girl.

District of Govan Church in the County of Lanark Marriages
21 June 1876 at 18 Carmichael Street Govan after Banns, according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Alexander G. Munro Joiner (Foreman) (bachelor) 30 usual residence 443 Govan Road Govan parents David Munro joiner and Margaret Munro ms Burgess
Jane Weir milliner (spinster) age 25 usual residence 18 Carmichael Street Govan parents Alexander Weir Wharf Dues Collector (d) and Janet Weir ms Couper
(signed) Robert Howie M.A. Free St Mary’s Govan (signed) Mary Weir witness Matthew Haggarty witness

The family never moved from Govan. I see they named one of their daughters “Maggie Burgess Munro”, born in 1886, so Alexander was commemorating his mother, Margaret Burgess in full.
Alexander George passed away in 1917. His son was the informant, and somehow it was recorded that Alexander’s father was a grain-miller instead of a carpenter. I think it likely that this misconception arose from the fact that his father lived at Gordon’s Mill – who else would live at a mill except a miller?

District of Govan Deaths
Alexander George Munro formerly joiner (foreman) (Justice of the Peace) married to Jeanie Couper Weir died 28 June 1917 at 23 Drive Road, Govan, Glasgow age 71 parents David Munro grain miller (d) Margaret Munro ms Burgess (d) informant David Munro son


The Parents of David Munro

We know from David Munro’s death certificate that his parents were farmer Andrew Munro and Lillias Cameron. Both were alive at the time of the 1841 Census, farming at Balkeith in the Parish of Tain (Andrew Munro 50, Lilly Munro 50) along with four of their unmarried children and two workers. By 1851, as we have seen, Mary Ann had been taken in from the growing family of David and Margaret across in the Black Isle. In this Return, Lilly is not present and whilst Andrew is shown as married by the entry of an “m” I do wonder if the enumerator had mistakenly entered this instead of a “w” for widower. Andrew was indeed recorded as a widower in 1861, when the family was now at a farm called Pitcuie by Fendom. I am aware of a few farms in the area beginning with “Pit” but not this one, but it is clearly written so presumably must be approximately correct. Andrew by this time was 77 and was farming 58 acres, so a sizeable tenant for the time. He had been a mere cottar back in 1851 so his several unmarried sons living in family must have allowed the Munros to take on a much bigger concern.

He died just a few years later, at North Balkeith, and I have a suspicion that while the farm descriptions might have varied in the different census returns, he may in fact have been living at Balkeith all along. He had actually been born in Balkeith so he had not strayed far.

Parish of Tain Deaths
Andrew Munro farmer widower of Lilias Cameron died 8 May 1866 at North Balkeith age 83 parents David Munro farmer (d) Bell Munro ms Ross (d) informant Andrew Munro son present

The family continued farming at Balkeith after their father’s death, and in fact we have seen that cousin Mary Ann returned to reside there with them for a time, while her soldier husband was away on service in the 1880s.


The Parents of Margaret Burgess

Margaret Burgess you may remember died in the Black Isle Poorhouse, and her death was registered by the Poorhouse governor, and her parents were not identified. However, we know from several census returns that she was born in Forres about 1811.
I have therefore no doubt whatsoever that this is she:

Forres Baptism Record
Margaret Carmichael, lawful Daughter to Alexr. Burges Corporal in the Invernesshire Militia, and Jane Leal his Spouse, was born 12th and baptized 26th August, 1810. Witnesses, James Urquhart Wright, and Thomas Murray Mills of Forres.

You will no doubt note that her parents’ names, Alexander and Jane, both appear in the correct Scottish naming order in the names of their children.
At this time Alexander was a Corporal in the Inverness-shire Militia. He had been a soldier in the Ross & Cromarty Rangers when they had married back in 1799:

Forres Marriage Record
31st Janry 1799
Alexr Burgess Soldier in the Ross & Cromarty Rangers, & Jean Leall daur. to Jas. Leall Heckler in Forres were married

Both the Ross & Cromarty Rangers and the Inverness-shire Militia were regiments within the Highland Fencible Corps.
The Rangers was established in June 1799 and commanded by Colonel Lewis Mackenzie, younger of Scatwell, who crops up in these Stories from time to time as Scatwell owned land within our parish of Resolis. They are unfortunately associated with some unlawful killings in Aberdeen. To quote from Wikipedia:

In the year 1801 there was an unfortunate incident that involved this regiment when celebrations of King George III’s birthday got out of control. On the evening of the King’s birthday, a crowd of people, principally young men, collected in the main street of Aberdeen, which coincidentally was the regiment’s guardhouse. The young men commenced their usual pastimes of throwing squibs, firecrackers, dead cats, etc. In their high spirits they assaulted the guard when it was called out of the guardhouse to protect the property. Soldiers from the barracks, without order, rushed to help the guard as they feared that their comrades would be overpowered and murdered. Shortly after the soldiers arrived officers joined them. Someone gave the order “fire” and two of the mob were killed, and others wounded. No magistrate had arrived to read the riot act so the killings were unlawful. There was a formal investigation, but as no one could identify who had given the order, two officers, two sergeants, and some privates were tried in the Court of Judiciary in Edinburgh. No one was found guilty for the killings, and the matter was dropped. The regiment was disbanded shortly after the peace of 1802.

How many dead cats were there on Union Street to make them such a handy throwing commodity? You often read of mobs in those days deploying dead cats as missiles. Very strange. Anyway, with the disbandment of the Rangers in 1802, Alexander Burgess, whom we hope was not involved in the unfortunate Union Street episode, must have joined the Inverness-shire Militia instead. By 1816, when son George was born, he had reached the rank of Sergeant:

Forres Baptism Record
George, Lawful Son to Alexander Burges, Serjeant in the Inverness shire Militia, and Jane Leal, his Spouse, was born 11th and baptized 28th April 1816; Witnesses, George Cumming Merchant, and George Cumming Student in Forres.

Returning to Wikipedia, we see:

The Inverness Militia was formed in 1802. Men were drawn from the counties of Inverness, Banff, Elgin and Nairn. The Regiment was commanded by Sir James Grant of Grant, Bart, Lord Lieutenant of Inverness-shire. The Inverness Militia was designated to the 10th Militia in March 1804. The regiment served on garrison duty throughout Great Britain during the Napoleonic wars and returned to Inverness from Portsmouth in 1814, only to be disembodied. Thereafter it was called out periodically for training.

We can see therefore that there was a good reason for the Burgess family to settle in Inverness. Alexander died quite young, in 1844, but Jane lived on at her Glebe Street address until 1867, by which time she had reached the good age of 93.

1841 Census Return Inverness – Grey Friars Street
Alexr. Burges 60 Sergt. Mil: Staff y
Jane do. 50 n
1851 Census Return Inverness – 8, Glebe Street
Jane Burgess Head Widow 74 Knitter born Forres
1861 Census Return Inverness – Glebe Street
Jane Burgess Head Widow 85 born Morayshire

A notice appeared in the northern papers upon the death of Jane. At this time, announcements were associated with the great and good and some of the more successful tradesmen, so the appearance gives an indication of the status of the family at the time. This is from the Inverness Courier of 10 January 1967.

There is a group of Burgess memorials in the Old High Churchyard in Inverness, and I am grateful to the Highland Family History Society for the following inscriptions, and to for photographs of the stones.

The stone commemorating Sergeant Alexander Burgess and Jane Leall is on the left; photo by Jim Hunt, courtesy of

Old High Churchyard Inverness
279. Sacred to the memory of James Macdonald Hill, who died on the 8th July 1881, aged 34 years, also his beloved wife Elizabeth Anderson Burgess, who died on the 31st March 1924, aged 80 years. “Not lost but gone before” Erected by his sorrowing widow.
280. In Memory Of James Burgess, Saddler, who died 14th July 1885, aged 84 Years. And his beloved wife, Elizabeth Fraser, who died 29th May 1861, Aged 55 Years. and of their children, Alexander, Jane and Donald, who died in infancy. Johanna who died 8th April 1918, Aged 86 years. Also their son, George Alexander Burgess, plumber, who died 29th June 1904, ages 68 years, and his wife Christina McDonald who died 4th April 1880, Aged 44 years. Erected by their daughter, Johanna.
281. AT + EB – 1863
282. Erected by James Burgess, Saddler Inverness, to the Memory of his Father, Alexander Burgess Staff Sergeant, Inverness-Shire Militia, who Died on the 5th June, 1844, Aged 68 years, and his mother, Jane Leall, who died on the 1st. Jany. 1867 aged 93 years

Those with keen eyes will note that the stone on the far right of the group, commemorating James Macdonald Hill and Elizabeth Anderson Burgess, also bears the “moral compass” found on the David Munro and Margaret Burgess stone in Kirkmichael! And that provides a nice touch on which to end this story.

Moral compass? Symbol on David Munro and Margaret Burgess stone in Kirkmichael kirkyard; photo by Jim Mackay


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