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

“The most famous man we have” – the dramatic life of Dr Alexander Mackenzie (1717–1803) of Elgin, New Tarbat, Bayfield and Cromarty

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image

thanks to Jason Ubych for drawing my attention to the Pitcalnie papers and to
descendant Sophie Hodson for the family tree Dr Mackenzie personally commissioned from Lord Lyon’s office

Tarbat House which replaced the ruinous New Tarbat House but is now ruinous itself; photo by Andrew Dowsett


A dose of powdered Egyptian mummy from the Earl of Cromartie’s Chirurgeon

Powdered Egyptian mummy may seem like a potion out of Macbeth, but that’s what I saw on Dr Kenneth Mackenzie’s medical bill to the second Earl of Cromartie. It was an invoice that received a lot of inspection, for it went unpaid for more than fifty years, with the son of the Earl being pursued by Alexander, the son of the doctor.

This is the story of Doctor Alexander Mackenzie of Elgin, New Tarbat, Bayfield and Cromarty, nationally known in his day. He and his family have not been the subject of historical study previously, and yet he was a fascinating character. He is not buried at Kirkmichael, although at least one of his distinguished patients is (William Gordon of Newhall), but he was associated with many of the other characters who recur in this Story Behind the Stone series, including the rebel Earl of Cromartie, Charles Hamilton Gordon of Newhall, William Macleay of Invergordon, who went on to become Provost of Wick, and Sir John Gordon of Invergordon. He is buried across in Nigg Old Kirkyard, which has many associations with Kirkmichael; indeed, the Trust has often visited the site.

A complementary Story behind the Stone on his son, Captain John Mackenzie of Bayfield, who married Justina Anderson of the Andersons of Udol, may be found here. And a further complementary Story behind the Stone on the remarkable scandals surrounding his three daughters, Elizabeth Jane, Harriet Ann and Alexie my be found here.


Part 1:
The Earl of Cromartie’s Chirurgeon, Doctor Kenneth Mackenzie (–1752), Baillie of Elgin

The year was 1715. The services of Kenneth Mackenzie, Surgeon Apothecary in Elgin, had been sought by John, second Earl of Cromartie. Many and strange were the medicines on that bill.

To a pot Marmalade of Quinces … To Eight Ounces lesser Cold Seeds … To Eight Ounces White Poppie Seeds … To 24 Doses Peruvian Bark … To 24 Doses Potters Antihectic Powder … To Six Ounces Diacorrallion … To eight Ounces Liquorish … To Matterials for a Bath … To twenty handfulls Cynoglossum … To four Ounces Red & Yellow Sanders in whole Eight … To a Bottle Balsamick Syrup … To ditto Syr. Maiden hair … To an Antihysterical Nodule … To a paper Powdered Egyptian Mummy

Some of those items, such as the Peruvian bark, definitely do have a physiological effect, but whether or not the family members of the Earl of Cromartie who required treatment benefited from them I cannot say. And as for the powdered Egyptian mummy, I see from Wikipedia:

In the Middle Ages, based on a mistranslation from the Arabic term for bitumen, it was thought that mummies possessed healing properties. As a result, it became common practice to grind Egyptian mummies into a powder to be sold and used as medicine. When actual mummies became unavailable, the sun-desiccated corpses of criminals, slaves and suicidal people were substituted by mendacious merchants. The practice developed into a wide-scale business that flourished until the late 16th century. Two centuries ago, mummies were still believed to have medicinal properties to stop bleeding, and were sold as pharmaceuticals in powdered form as in mellified man [steeping a human cadaver in honey].

some of the potions of Dr Kenneth Mackenzie; photo by Jim Mackay

The bill kept growing as medical supplies and services were provided, year by year, from 1715 through to 1728. Why credit continued to be given is a mystery. The second Earl was notorious for his debts and his father in fact had left everything to his grandson rather than trust anything to his own son in whom he was bitterly disappointed.

Eventually, in 1730, the good doctor’s accumulated bill was accepted by John Earl of Cromartie and his signature on the bill along with Kenneth’s neat one has been preserved. That accepted bill made it easier for the doctor and in turn his son to pursue the debt through the courts from the second Earl of Cromartie to the third Earl of Cromartie and, following forfeiture after the ’45 Rebellion, to the Estate. Thus, it is stated in a document in the Cromartie papers (GD305/1/148) that Kenneth Mackenzie Surgeon Apothecary in Elgin claimed “the aid of Court to Enable him to prove in terms of the Interlocutor recited in the Claim and upon his so proving Claims payt. of the Sum of £328.12sh Scots Contd. in a bill 7th March 1730 drawn by the Claimant upon & accepted by John Earl of Cromerty.”

the Earl signs the bill; photo by Jim Mackay

The doctor’s son was still pursuing it in 1765 from the Estate! The other crucial factor was that from 1730, when the Earl wrote “accepts” and signed the bill, the unpaid debt was subject to interest, so the sum sought from the Estate of Cromartie kept growing.

The family of the doctor keep cropping up in association with the Earl’s family, and I feel they must have been related at some point. Kenneth’s son, Dr Alexander Mackenzie, lived for a long period in New Tarbat House, the grand home of the Earl of Cromartie, after the estate had been annexed, a neat reversal.

Why had the Earl been obtaining his medicine from an Elgin doctor? The casework documentation in E746/6/3/5(1) states that:

The Earl put greater Confidence in the Representers father than in the apothecaries & surgeons near him and he having been called from time to time from the Town of Elgin to Ross-shire as the distresses & urgencies of his Lordships family required …

The family background of this Elgin Dr Kenneth Mackenzie has slowly emerged – I became aware first of one brother. He was Charles Mackenzie, a writer (lawyer) in Edinburgh, and his wife was one Elizabeth Crichton. His will (CC8/8/98 Edinburgh Commissary Court) says he died on 21 August 1736, and his brother “Dr Kenneth Mackenzie Chirurgeon of Elgin” organised the inventory. The bonds referred to in the probate include many proprietors in Easter Ross and the Highlands, and I note several bonds involving Alexander Mackenzie of Fraserdale and Roderick his son, Margaret Mackenzie Lady Applecross, Sir George Mackenzie of Grandville, Sir James Sinclair of Dunbeath and Lord Viscount of Oxford, to name but a few. This was no ordinary lawyer!

Kenneth’s wife was one Jean Dunbar. I say this on evidence of a bill I found, from 1732, to “Mrs Mackenzie Spouse to Kenneth Mackenzie Apothecary in Elgin” which has at the base “Jean Dunbar – accepts”. Given the prolixity of Kenneth Mackenzies in Scotland, I was very pleased to find his wife’s name. In turn that allowed me to find their marriage in Elgin:

Kenneth Mckenzie Apothecary and Jean Dunbar were married on the first Day of February One Thousand Seven Hundred and ten years

As well as being surgeon and apothecary, Kenneth was a Baillie of Elgin, so was very much part of the political and business network of the town. I have seen his detailed bills as far back as 1712 in the paperwork of various court cases: “Elgin 26 Aprile 1712 / Sir / Preceesly at the term of Lambas next to come pay to me or order within my owne shope in Elgin the sum of Ten pound Starling money value … & obleidge Sr your Humble srvt Kenneth Mackenzie / for Charles Mckenzie of Earnsyde / Charles Mackenzie / accepts”. Now, that Earnside reference is an important one as I had seen a few references to Mackenzie of Earnside in the apothecary’s documentation of this period, which made me wonder if they could be relatives. As support for this, Kenneth Mackenzie, apothecary, was witness at the baptism in Alves of a child of Charles Mackenzie of Earnside, Kenneth, in 1686. And, even more revealingly, in 1688 Sybella Mackenzie was baptised at Alves, and she was presented by Kenneth Mackenzie, apothecary in Elgin, as Charles Mackenzie of Earnside himself was in Edinburgh. I cannot believe that the apothecary would have been asked to stand in for Earnside unless he was a close relative.

Now, Charles Mackenzie of Earnside was a son of Thomas Mackenzies of Pluscardine and his second wife, Jean Cockburn. They also often appear in the documentation of both Kenneth and Dr Alexander Mackenzie. When Jean Cockburn died in 1678, being buried at Elgin Cathedral, Earnside acted as her executor, and I note that there was a sum of £142 5s 6d due to Kenneth Mackenzie, apothecary in Elgin, for drugs and for the funeral. Somewhere within these families (who were only a generation removed from the Earls of Seaforth) lies the origin of Kenneth Mackenzie, apothecary in Elgin.

Having found his wife’s name not only his marriage but also the baptisms of his children could be located. A page and a half of the Elgin baptism register was devoted to “Ken: Mckenzie his Marriage and Childrens ages” and “Baill: Mckenzies Childrens ages”. And what a cornucopia of distinguished people emerged from these baptism records. I include the baptism records for the first, second and last child from the twelve recorded, as well as that of the future distinguished doctor, Alexander.

20 October 1710 / John was born by seven in the morning. His Godfathers were John Earle of Cromartie & John Dunbar of Burgie his Godmothers were Jean Dunbar Lady Dipple & Barbara King Spouse to Clerk Anderson Baptized by Mr Blair
The 20 June 1712 Kenneth was born His Godfathers were Sir Kenneth Mckenzie of Scatwall Kenneth Mckenzie his Grandfather His Godmothers Margt Cumming Lady Newmilne and Mrs Kathrine Blair bap: by Mr Blair
The 6th October 1717 Alexander was Born His Godfathers Collonel Alexr Mckenzie Alexr Dunbar of Bishopmilne & Dr Alexr Russel His Godmothers were Mrs Mary Forbes and the Lady Burgie Elder bap: by the Chanter of Murray
The 31st December 1726 William was born His Godfathers The Marquise of Seaforth William King of New Milne and William Anderson Son to Clerk Anderson His Godmothers Jean Wiseman Spous to John Robertson and Mrs Sutherland

Well, you don’t get godparents like that every day! You will note that the father of Kenneth the Apothecary was one of the godfathers of child Kenneth and was, no coincidence, Kenneth himself. But who this Kenneth Mackenzie was is not revealed. But the close association with so many titled families demonstrates the standing of the family.

John Earl of Cromartie gave way to George, the third Earl of Cromartie, but still the Doctor’s bills remained unpaid. Kenneth brought his case to the Court of Session. The Earl might have been godfather to his firstborn, but money was money. Now, it was customary for the landed gentry through clever use of entails to allow children to avoid debts incurred by their parents. However, in this case there was a gap in the entail and the Court of Session decided in the doctor’s favour. Dr Kenneth moved to obtain his money, and in 1743 letters of diligence were issued, but he was temporarily persuaded by the Earl not to pursue his claim. He must have bitterly regretted that decision when the debt-ridden Earl came out with the Jacobites in 1745. It has always been clear to me that the Earl’s pressing debts were a major factor in this decision. It was a financial gamble to recover his fortunes.

The gamble failed. The Earl was lucky not to be beheaded. And in consequence of his coming out, his estates were annexed. Undaunted, the doctor pursued the debt from the Cromartie Estate, now held by the Crown. The Crown proved as difficult to get money out of as the Earls had been. Dr Kenneth died in January 1752 before receiving his money, and his son Alexander took up the baton.


Part 2:
Doctor Alexander Mackenzie (1717–1803), his brother Charles (1721–1748), naval lieutenant, and his sister Elizabeth (1713–)

I estimated from his reported age on his death that Dr Alexander Mackenzie must have been born about 1717, i.e. just a few years after the second Earl of Cromartie started running up his bill with Dr Kenneth. Having found his family baptisms records we know that he was indeed born that year.

His brother Charles joined the Navy, and had worked up to become a Lieutenant before he died. His will is held in the Public Record Office in Kew (PROB 11/762) and is a charming read:

In the Name of God Amen I Charles McKenzie belonging to his Majesties Ship Newcastel being in Bodily health and of Sound and disposing mind and memory and considering the perils and dangers of the Seas and other uncertaintys of this Transitory Life Do for avoiding controversies after my Decease make publish and declare this my last Will and Testament in manner following (that is to say) first I recommend my soul to God that gave it and my Body I commit to the Earth or Sea as it shall please God to Order and as for and concerning all my Worldly Estate I Give bequeath and dispose thereof as followeth that is to say unto my beloved cousin Kenneth McKenzie living in the parish of Wapping and County of Middlesex I leave give and bequeath my wearing apparel and all the wages that I have due on board any of his Majesties Ships and as for all other wages Sum and Sums of Money Lands Tenements Goods chattels and Estate whatsoever as shall be any wise due owing or belonging unto me at the time of my Decease I do give devise and bequeath the same unto my Dearly Beloved father Kenneth McKenzie Surgeon in Elgin of Moray Scotland and I do hereby nominate and appoint the said Kenneth McKenzie my father sole Executor of this my last Will and Testament hereby revoking all other and former Wills Testaments and Deeds of Gift by me at any time heretofore made and I do ordain and Ratify these presents to stand and be for and as my only last will and testament In Witness whereof to this my said Will I have set my hand and seal the [26 Oct 1741]
On [3 May 1748] administration with the Will annexed of the Goods Chattels and Credits of Charles Mackenzie late belonging to his Majesties Ships Severne Tilbury and Weymouth and late Midshipman on board his Majestys Ship Newcastle afterwards belonging to his Majestys Ships Chichester and Neptune and late Lieutenant on board his Majesty’s Ship Dartmouth a Batchelor deceased was granted by Kenneth Mackenzie the lawful attorney of Kenneth Mackenzie the father and Sole Executor named in the said Will for the use and benefit of the said Executor now residing at Elgin …

It is strange that the family was not able through influence to manoeuvre Charles into a more senior position – you will note he had had to work his way up to become Lieutenant through seven ships, his final one being the Dartmouth, before he died in 1748.

the bill from Jamaica; photo by Jim Mackay

A third son, William Mackenzie (1726–), appears through yet another bill which Alexander accepted, and I note that at this time (1751) young Dr Alexander was residing in London.

the bill sent to Soho, London; photo by Jim Mackay

Sister Elizabeth (1713–) married Ensign Gordon Graham in 1741 and baptisms of two of their children are recorded in the Elgin registers, the witnesses in 1743 being (again the Cromartie connection)“Capt Roderick Mckinzie son to Earle of Cromertie Sr. Harie Innes of Innes Anne Shaw Lady Drynie Anne Mckenzie Lady Burgie”.

When Doctor Kenneth Mackenzie died in 1752, his son, Doctor Alexander Mackenzie, pursued his father’s creditors. He had loaned much money to his father anyway, so his first step was to be served sole executor to his intestate father (CC16/4/4) “Executor dative qua Creditor”. And then he sought to bring in what was owed to his father, adding to the original Testament Dative two Eiks in 1754 and 1765.

The down side, of course, was that Alexander now became liable for his father’s debts as well, and there were quite a number! The documentation for these cases sheds much light on the life of the family in the early 1700s. A further reference to recovery of debts emerges from the Papers of the Ross Family of Pitcalnie (GD199). Naomi Dunbar, wife of Alexander Ross of Pitcalnie, was a Dunbar of Burgie in Moray. Doctor Alexander Mackenzie’s mother was a Dunbar from Moray. Her factor writes to Naomi on 8 December 1761 that her “cousin the Doctor at Milntown has recoverd some of his brother’s money.” There is no more than this intriguing snippet!

A close Kirkmichael and Resolis connection enters the story in 1764 and 1765. Who should be representing Doctor Alexander in the Court of Session but advocate Charles Hamilton Gordon of Newhall, no stranger to this series of Story Behind the Stone. The doctor’s legal team presented the history of the debt to the Court, and succeeded in changing the entitlement of payment of the debt to Dr Kenneth’s son, Dr Alexander. An extract from the Moray Commissary Court was submitted:

At Elgin [31 Jul 1765] in presence of Alexr Brody of Windyhills Commissary Depute of Murray / The said Day there was cited to the principal Confirmed Testament of the Deceast Kenneth Mackinzie chirurgeon in Elgin bearing date [16 March 1754] by Doctor Alexander Mackinzie Lately in Elgin now in Milton of Newtarbet Executor Dative Qua Creditor Decerned and Confirmed to the said Deceased Kenneth Mackenzie his father the Sum of three hundred and Twenty Eight pounds Twelve Shillings six pennies Scots money with Twenty one years annual rent Due thereon Preceeding the [blank] day of January [1752] the Time of the said Kenneth Mackenzie his Death Contained in and Due by a bill Dated Sevinth day of March [1730] Drawn by the Deceast Kenneth Mackenzie upon and accepted by John Earl of Cromarty

You will note from this that by that date in 1765, Dr Alexander had moved to Milton of New Tarbat (parish of Kilmuir Easter). When in Milton, he appears to have first lived in Milnmount, and that was his address when his name first appeared in a publication. The book was a review of the practice of smallpox inoculation.


Part 3:
“Inoculating their Children gratis” – In Milnmount and New Tarbat, and smallpox inoculation

Long before safe vaccination of cowpox inoculum against smallpox, there was the practice of inoculation of smallpox inoculum. The dubious principle was that when deliberately inoculated in the manner practised, the effect of the disease was reduced and the survival rate greatly improved. Alexander Monro, Professor of Medicine and Anatomy in the University of Edinburgh, published a review in 1765: An Account of the Inoculation of Small Pox in Scotland which contained statistics provided by various doctors who carried out the inoculation throughout Scotland. This page is of interest:

The book must have been long in preparation, as in reality Dr Alexander had moved out of Milnmount by this time. But he was also noted for benevolently helping the poor when he had moved into New Tarbat House, and his claim of “Inoculating their Children gratis” was confirmed by the Estate factor.

The tenancy of the land around Milnmount in Milton was later to be a serious matter of contention between the family of the late Earl’s former factor, Mackenzie of Meddat, and Captain Robert Mackenzie, a relative of the late Earl’s, who had married a daughter of Dr Alexander in 1780. By petition of 3 July 1782 the Captain stated:

That your Petitioner did purchase about a twelve month ago the feu of Milnmount which lys in the village of Milntown of Newtarbet a part of the Annexed Estate of Cromarty, for which he pays a yearly feu duty to your Honourable Board, but upon which feu ground he has only Room for a Dwelling House Office Houses & Garden, which Renders his Accommodation confined & inconvenient, for which reason your Petitioner is desirous to have a small farm Contiguous to his feu ground, without which he finds it inconvenient living in a Country village …

Milton, formerly Milntown, within which Milnmount lay

Milton in more recent days; photo by Jim Mackay

His petition provides evidence that the Milnmount feu, whilst having a garden, had little land with it, the very problem that Doctor Alexander had experienced. The dispute also revealed that;

the House, offices, & garden of Milnmount were purchased by a Mr Baillie Broyr. in Law to the late Mr Gorry late Factor for Sir John Gordon, who had acquired money in Trade

The brother in law was former Rotterdam merchant James Baillie, whose elaborate enclosure may be seen in Kilmuir Easter burial ground. Many years later Robert Mackenzie himself (who proved to be a bad egg) would be buried in this enclosure; his marble panel is on your right as you enter.

The ornate Baillie memorial within the Baillie enclosure, Kilmuir Easter; photo by Jim Mackay

Baillie died in 1747. Mackenzie was still “Phisician in Elgin” in 1754 (CC16/4/4) but it must have been soon afterwards that he moved into Milnmount. He certainly came to New Tarbat long before 1763 as will become clear shortly. However, clearly while Milnmount was suitable as a retirement home, it was not ideal for the doctor.

This is why Doctor Mackenzie back in 1763 was seeking a more suitable location. He wanted a tenancy with enough good land to grow his medicinal herbs and keep a cow and his horse. He had his eye on New Tarbat House and its gardens.


Part 4:
“that once elegant Fabrick” – New Tarbat House and gardens

At this time, New Tarbat House, once the most distinguished house in the North of Scotland, and its great ornamental gardens, were showing the effects of no maintenance.

New Tarbat House as illustrated in The Earls of Cromartie by William Fraser (1876); I believe there were serious errors with this illustration (see below)

Monica Clough describes in her marvellous Two Houses (1990) how, when the third Earl came into New Tarbat, he and his wife, Bonny Bel Gordon, put the house and gardens back into order. She doesn’t refer to the following letter from the Earl, which I found in the National Records of Scotland under GD305/UNLIST/19, but it gives added interest to the condition of New Tarbat not long before the ’45:

Edr. 8 Septr 1737 … I designe to turne the greatest parte of the Mains of Newtarbat to Grass so you’ll acquaint in course of Post what grains were sowen this year in the several fields that I may acquaint you what of them are to be turn'd hay and then One Greeve and one Sett of Servants will be Sufficient both for that & the Carses, let me know what Servants & Oxen will be needed to labour the Carses without regard to the Mains for what little will be labour’d there may be done by the Horses that it may be put on that footting Agt. Martinmass & after I hear from you I will send you directions accordingly. I’ll have but four men in the Garden which is Sufficient now that it is mostly finished

It would appear that the gardens had been put in order, and the number of gardeners reduced to four, just a few years before it would all go to wrack and ruin.

The gardens of New Tarbat House as surveyed and drawn by Peter May in 1755 and copied in 1758 for the Commissioners by John Scott

The New Tarbat head gardener, John Hall, stayed on after the rebellion for several years but without pay he departed for pastures new, and crops up again at Foulis. John Baillie, the first factor of the annexed estate, who worked in conjunction with the Earl’s last factor John Mackenzie of Meddat to keep the estate operational, wrote to Meddat from Edinburgh on 16 November 1749:

I am sorry Mr Hall the Gardner is Going away But I think you might venture to get some young man of Skill in Gardening that would for a year take some Care of the Garden at a small Wage untill by advice of Friends I apply the Barons & see what allowance they will Give for keeping the house Watertight & to fence the Garden but I am sure & so is Mr Hamilton that we will get no allowance for any of these things without the Declarations of persons of skill what is necessary to preserve the house from being Ruinous & what it may Cost for they will do nothing upon your or mine our allegations they must see some Document for Every thing thats asked

But by 1755, the Commissioner’s surveyor Peter May reported from Castle Leod (E746/78):

New Tarbet is a very pretty place, but the house and gardens are already gone into great disorder and the young Trees and Nurseries of which there is great plenty are all neglected and abused, they stand so thick in the Wilderness quarters that they are killing one another, it is a pitty they are not sold or planted out

The new factor, Captain John Forbes of New, could at least do something about the trees and acted on Peter May’s recommendation. He had a gardener called Donald Davidson replant 578 trees from the gardens of New Tarbat to the gardens of tenants within the estate (E746/193).

The house was in even worse state. Without maintenance, it had deteriorated rapidly whilst being held by the Commissioners for the Annexed Estates. Cromarty merchant William Forsyth and his brother in 1757 wanted to use it for spinning linen (E746/177) but this was turned down. Even the locals were taking advantage of its deterioration – on 5 February 1760 the Factor wrote to the Commissioners:

some time ago some wicked fellowes have cut off a part of the lead of one of the statues at New Tarbat, in the night time, and have disfigured one of them very much. It is a statue of Cain and Abel who stood before the entrey of the house and it is a pity that such insolence should pass unpunished…

What was really needed was for the building to be occupied, but who would be a suitable tenant for the great house?

Dr Alexander Mackenzie put in a formal request to occupy a wing. The Commissioners approved this request in 1763, as detailed in a much later petition he made to them in 1777 (E746/58):

The Memorial & Representation of Alexr. Mackenzie Physician resideing at New Tarbat / Humbly Sheweth / That in the year 1763 the Memorialist made application to the Honble Board, setting furth his general utility in the way of his Profession to the numerous poor inhabitants of this County in general – and more particularly to the poor tenants on the Estate of New Tarbat, as part of the annexed Estate of Cromarty, years before which application he had been in the use of directing for, and even affording them Medicines and Inoculating their Children gratis, and therefor praying to be put in Possession of a part of the House of New Tarbat then waste, and of the Garden and Butts of Land adjoining thereto, on such terms as the Board should think reasonable / Your Honours were pleased to listen to the said applications as appears by your Order of the 15 Decr. 1763 in these words “Ordered That Doctor Alexr Mackenzie be put in Possession of the Garden of New Tarbat and Butts of Land adjoining thereto, without any Lease, and leave it to the Board to consider what, or whether any Rent should be paid by him for the same”. / From this Order the Memorialist was induced to hope, this small Conveniencey would have been considered by the Board, as a Regard for past and an Encouragement for future good offices to the poor Tennants and Inhabitants of the Estate: What Medecines he keeps being expressly for their Benefit, they being at a distance from Apothecary residences and many of them unable to purchase medecines, and the Memorialist has never once remitted in his care & attention to the poor People. / That by a subsequent Order of the Board stated 21 June 1764 your Honours appointed your late Factor [this was Captain John Forbes of New] to Report whether your memorialist could be accommodated with any of the Office houses at New Tarbat, what New office houses he would have occasion for, the expense of building them, and what Rent ought to be paid for the whole. / The Memorialist is convinced that the Factors Report on said Order must have been that not one Office House was allotted him, That new ones must be built, and he further finds that a yearly Rent of £8 Sterling was put on the Garden and Butts of Land, which he has been in use of paying regularly to the Factor, rather than give the Honble. Board any trouble, with subsequent Memorials in consequence of his disappointed Expectations / But the Memorialist must beg leave to inform the Honble Board that it is a Fact well known to all the Country, was well known to the former Factor, and he believes the present Factor is not Ignorant of the Truth, That the Memorialist was led into a very large Expense (tho his outlays were made with the greatest Oeconomy) by getting that part of the House of New Tarbat he occupys in almost total Ruin not a Lock or Latch on any Door, not a whole Pane in any Window the Roof partly to Slate and whooly to Point, the Leads tore off which he was obliged to renew, not a House of any kind on the Far part, so that he was under the Necessity of Building, not once only, but a second and repairing lately a Third time Barn Byre Stable Servants House &c. The Materials he had to build with being of the very worst kind. / That the Memorialist received at different times from Capt. Forbes the late Factor £44.14.3 Str. by order of the Board, being the amount of his Original Disbursements in Building the Farm Houses and inclosing with Dyke and ditch, but he has never yet asked or Received support of his great Outlays on the House of New Tarbet, the Utility and indispensable necessity of which is evident to every Passanger, for that part of the House possessed by the Memorialist is from his outlays at least Wind and Water tight whereas the other Part of that once elegant Fabrick, upon which no money was laid out since the Forfeiture (so far as he knows) is a Compleat Ruins The Slates mostly blown off, the Ceilings of the Rooms broke down the Floors & Walls destroyed by the Rain & of the Windows, Frames and all broke to Pieces. / That Mr Mackenzie the present Factor upon the Estate of Cromarty now peremptorily makes a Demand for the Interest of the £44.14.3 since the same was advanced. The Memorialist considering in the Equity of the Board, now, tho unwillingly begs leave to set in view his almost Twenty years services to the poor Tenants & Inhabitants of this Estate and his great but unavoidable outlays on the House of New Tarbat and hopes the Honble Board upon finding the Facts to be as above represented will make the Memorialist such allowances or grant him such Relief in the Promises as to them in their great Wisdom shall seem Reasonable & he shall ever Pray / Alexr Mackenzie / New Tarbat 29th January 1777

This rough sketch of New Tarbat House by Dr Mackenzie is probably more accurate than the illustration in The Earls of Cromartie even if drawn from memory as he actually lived in the east wing for many years!

The new factor who had been chasing Dr Mackenzie on behalf of the Commissioners, Dingwall writer Colin Mackenzie, was sympathetic to the doctor’s request (4 July 1777):

and I do Report the Memorialist to be (in my opinion) a Sympathizing Benevolent member of Society; That he visits the poor people on the Estate of Cromarty in the Parishes of Kilmuir & Loggie when called upon, gives medicines as occasion requires, and inoculates several Children gratis– That he must have been at a considerable Expence in keeping the Easter part of the House of New Tarbat possessed by him in a habitable condition, tho I never saw any Accompt of his Expenditure – It is also true that the wester part of the house is totally ruinous / With respect to the office houses built by the memorialist upon his farm, there being no stones in the neighbourhood, he was for that reason obliged to build them with feal – These feal houses frequently need to be repaired, & some times tumble down altogether in the course of a few years

Apart from the expense of keeping up the buildings, there was one major drawback to life at New Tarbat: he and his neighbour Lieutenant Kenneth Sutherland simply could not get on. Their bickering went on for years, and breaks out sporadically within the files of the Commissioners.

In 1766, Lieutenant Sutherland, who had been granted part of the Mains of New Tarbat, appealed to the Commissioners to gain permission to use part of New Tarbat House for holding victual etc. until his own kiln and barn were built (E746/114). However, by letter of 3 March 1766 Captain Forbes, though sympathetic, was not supportive. He said:

But I apprehend it would not be proper, to give him any of the Rooms in the House of Newtarbat, for holding Victual, Because that would tend to introduce vermine, and might occasion more disputes betwixt him and Doctor McKenzie, who has got a part of that house by Authority of the Commissioners.

The Factor, John Forbes, had raised concern for many years over the state of New Tarbat House, and it may well have been himself who suggested to Mackenzie to apply for the east wing and the gardens.

The most bitter disputes were over which areas of land Mackenzie and Sutherland held, which had one long-term useful output – Dr Alexander drew (from memory it has to be said, as he was in Edinburgh at the time) a plan of the House, gardens and surrounding land, with his understanding of the land leased to him. His plan and notes complement the 1755 survey by Peter May very well.

Dr Mackenzie’s sketch of the land around New Tarbat House utilised by himself and his rival, Lieutenant Sutherland

New Tarbat House was also at risk from erosion, and detailed plans of an improved bulwark to protect the north side from being “undermined by the Water of Balnagowan” were drawn up in 1779. I note that the ground floor drawing of New Tarbat House included in these projected river engineering works does not at all accord with the popular drawing of the House gracing the cover of “Two Houses”.

The proposed bulwarks at New Tarbat House, and the ground floor plan, from 1779; note that North is to the bottom

There is no doubting that Doctor Alexander Mackenzie was well-respected, not only for his medical advice but also as a person. I have not seen a single document which criticises his character. Even his quarrelsome neighbour Kenneth Sutherland refrained from attacking him personally. And the evidence is, that he did do a lot for the poor. He even earned the respect of William Macleay, the “doer” for Edinburgh based David Ross, who, when writing to Ross about bad payers on 4 January 1769 (RH15/44/17), was drawn to comment: “So you see what you have for answering Commns. from people in this Country– nothing but trouble & bad payment”. But he immediately qualified himself to make an exception: “Indeed Doctor Mackenzie paid me the moment he got your Letter.”


Part 5:
“my attendance on the late William Gordon Esq. of Newhall”

William Gordon of Newhall, the beloved nephew of Sir John Gordon of Invergordon, Baronet, fell ill whilst at his uncle’s home, Invergordon Castle. Sir John, who molly-coddled William at the best of times, was distraught. Only the best would do, so of course Dr Alexander Mackenzie was brought in. The doctor’s bill has survived as Sir John paid it on behalf of William Gordon’s heirs, his sister Henrietta and her husband Commissioner Lockhart, and it was included in the arbitration between Lockhart and Sir John over whether all the bills were legitimately Lockhart’s responsibility.

Within RH15/44/288 therefore are all the details and costs of the funeral – the Kilmuir Easter church bell was rung twice a day for 9 days while the remains lay before the burial; the Rosskeen mortcloth was draped over the coffin and on the hearse; the Kilmuir mortcloth was draped on the horse and its keepers; the handbell was rung in the funeral procession; the searcloth cost five guineas; the coffins cost three guineas and the mason was paid 8 shillings for “Cutting 96 Letters of Inscryption on the Stone in the Door of the Cattycomb where Mr Gordon’s Corpse is laid, at 1d p Letter”. And within the documentation can also be found “Dr Mackenzie’s rect. for 8 Guineas, on acct of his Attendance on Mr Gordon during his last Illness / March 1778” with Sir John’s handwritten note:

Dr Mackenzie deliver’d me this paper on Fryday 6th March, whereupon I askd him, what was his demand for Attendance during his last Illness, on Mr Gordon of Newhall, when He demanded 8 Gns which I instantly gave him this 6th March 1778

Dr Mackenzie’s medical bill upon the death of William Gordon of Newhall

Dr Mackenzie managed to inject much humanity into what was a difficult situation:

Nothing touches Doctor Mackenzies feelings more than asking, however necessarily he does so, and he hopes Sir John Gordon will forgive his telling him, that, being under a Necessity of buying a Bill on London for the Convenience of his Daur. now there, & short of the quantum necessary, it would be a Singular favour if Sir John could assist him with what is due, on Mr Commissioner Lockharts Accot.

Invergordon Castle March 1778 Received from Sir John Gordon Baronet, Eight Guineas for my attendance on the late William Gordon Esq. of Newhall, during his last illness / Alexr Mackenzie / Physician at New Tarbat

There was a bit of a dispute between Sir John and Lockhart over the bills associated with William’ illness and funeral expenses, but it was all resolved. William Gordon of Newhall was buried in the Gordon vault in Rosskeen kirkyard. But the story didn’t end there. On Sir John’s death, the Invergordon Estate and the family vault in Rosskeen passed out of Gordon hands.

The sale of the Invergordon Estate (as advertised in the Caledonian Mercury of 1 June 1785) included the burial vault under the then Rosskeen Church

William’s sister Henrietta Gordon pined to think of her beloved brother buried in someone else’s tomb. She had been married to Lockhart, but after his death married David Urquhart of Braelangwell. Urquhart out of affection for his wife had William exhumed and re-buried in the former chancel at Kirkmichael, now the Braelangwell mausoleum. Henrietta was over-joyed.

The William Gordon of Newhall memorial in the unrestored Kirkmichael, bearing an unpublished poem by early Scottish novelist Henry Mackenzie; photo by Andrew Dowsett

A magnificent 1728 bust of Sir John Gordon of Invergordon, when a young man. Thanks to The Highland Council for photograph.


Part 6:
“it whets the appetite, and sits light on the stomach” – the water of Strathpeffer Spa

During the 1770s there was growing interest in the medicinal properties of the spa at Strathpeffer. In 1778 the Commissioners were to pay surveyor David Aitken (the former gardener of Newhall and Poyntzfield) to design a village to exploit the opportunities there. Aitken was an acquaintance of Doctor Alexander Mackenzie who had earlier been asked about the properties of the spa and to obtain samples for chemical analysis. Given that the Cromartie Estate included both New Tarbat and the land around Castle Leod at Strathpeffer, Mackenzie would have been very familiar with the area.

Visitors taking the waters at Strathpeffer Spa

More visitors: author’s relations at Castle Leod, Strathpeffer (well, I had to get them in somehow); photo by Jim Mackay

Doctor Donald Monro “Physician to the Army, and to St. George’s Hospital, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and of the Royal Society”, in 1772 published in Philosophical Transactions Vol LXII “An Account of the sulphureous mineral Waters of Castle-Loed and Fairburn, in the County of Ross; and of the Salt purging Water of Pitkeathly, in the County of Perth, in Scotland”. He had written to Sir John Gordon of Invergordon, a man who often strides into this series, to find a reliable doctor to carry out some investigations and of course Sir John chose Dr Alexander Mackenzie.

I set out Dr Mackenzie’s contributions as follows, but the whole paper is most interesting, particularly the chemical tests carried out by Dr Monro.

Of the sulphureous mineral water of Castle-Loed. / Having heard many gentlemen from the county of Ross speak of these mineral waters, I wrote to Sir John Gordon, of Invergordon, and begged the favour of him to ask some physical person in his neighbourhood to send me an account of them, and likewise some of the waters in bottles; and soon after he was so obliging as to send me six bottles of the Castle-Loed, and six of the Fairburn waters, sealed and corked, and along with them a letter from Dr Alexander Mackenzy, dated August 9, 1771, containing the following account.>br>“The Castle-Loed is a strong sulphureous mineral water; when taken up from the spring, it is as pure and transparent as the clearest rock water; but if kept in an open vessel, or an ill-corked bottle, it soon becomes of a milky sort of foulness, and it loses its strong sulphureous smell in twenty-four hours. / The bottom of the well, and of the channel which conveys its water from thence, is black, as if dyed with ink; and the leaves of the aller bushes that fall into the well, or into its channel, soon contract a blackish colour in the water; but when taken out, and dried in the sun or shade, appear covered with a whitish dust, which is undoubtedly sulphur; for, by burning one or more on an ignited shovel, or clear live coal, they produce a blue flame, and emit a very suffocating sulphureous smell. / All that I can learn of the operation of this water, from some sensible people of credit and observation, who have drunk it this as well as former seasons, is, that it very sensibly increases the urine, and sometimes remarkably opens the pores; but I do not find, from the report of any, that it purges, though drunk to the quantity of three, sometimes of four, English quarts in the day. Almost every person remarks, that it whets the appetite, and sits light on the stomach. I have been told by several, that they have had head-achs immediately after drinking their morning bottle, but of no long duration, nor to any great degree. / It is impossible to say with certainty the number of cures these waters have made, or what particular cases have received most benefit from using them; for every person in the county prescribes the water for themselves, and runs to the well, or sends for the water, for every complaint, acute and chronic.
I have indeed myself directed several people with various complaints to drink them. Some very foul faces have been quite cleared; and, at this time, a gentleman’s son, nine years of age, with a herpes round the neck, which had proved extremely obstinate to other means, has got a perfect cure by drinking and washing with them; and his sister, a young lady of eighteen, who, from an untoward recovery from the measles and smallpox, fell into a sort of habitual erysipelas on the face, head, breast and arms, is now using them, and, I think, with evident advantage. Some foul ulcers on the legs, and one with every appearance of a carious thigh bone, have been perfectly cured. And a servant-maid in my own family, who had been for several years, periodically in the winter, afflicted with severe rheumatic pains in her arms and shoulders, received remarkable benefit from this water, one summer; in so much, that the winter succeeding she had little or none of her rheumatic pains, and her appetite and digestion were much improved.”
So far Dr. Mackenzy. From others I have been informed …
Of the sulphureous Mineral Water of Fairburn. / Dr. Mackenzy in his letter mentioned no more of this than that he believed it to be a weaker water, of the same nature as the Castle-Loed. / I subjected it to the same tryals…


Part 7:
“don’t let any Body know of this ” – Life at New Tarbat and gambling on the National Lottery

National Lottery Ticket Number 10m822 from1747; image Courtesy of the National Library

As Dr Mackenzie lived at New Tarbat for many years, he was of course regarded as one of the key members of society there. When the tenants and settlers at New Tarbat petitioned the Commissioners in 1764 for a subsidised schoolmaster (CS96/4171/1) his name was at the top of the first of two lists of petitioners (the other was headed by his squabbling neighbour, Lieutenant Sutherland).

Dr Mackenzie heads the petition; photo by Jim Mackay

We have vivid snapshots of Dr Mackenzie’s life at New Tarbat through his letters to David Ross, lawyer and accountant, his Edinburgh agent, who became the Secretary of the General Post Office in Edinburgh. They span a period of 1769 to 1787, and contain the curious mixture of social chit-chat and business typical of the era. They reveal a secret addiction of the good doctor: he could not resist buying tickets in the National Lottery in the hope of making his fortune. It Could be You! He clearly felt it was inappropriate to be gaming in this way, so he would urge Ross to keep his requests for tickets confidential.

His very first surviving letter, written on 10 November 1769 from Tarbat House:

Dear David / You’ll be so good on receipt of this to purchase for me One fourth part of a Ticket in the present Lottery, you need not send it North as I shall see you in Edinr within Ten Days, when I shall pay the Purchase money with a Cup of thanks for the trouble I will depend on your doeing me this favour & till meeting I am / Dr Sir / Your Hule Servt / Alexr Mackenzie

His trip South, which would have been with Munro of Foulis, was delayed, as per his letter of 21 November 1769:

Dear Sir / I wrote you of the 10th desireing the favour you would purchase for me the fourth part of a Ticket in the Lottery & told you not to send it as I expected to be in Edinr. in Ten days from that time, but as my Intended fellow Traveller the Knight of Fowlis was affraid of the snow in the Hills my journey is postponed, I hope you did what I requested, & have now inclosed two Guinea Notes of Glasgow both 6th July 68, No. 8/306 & No. 48/134 this in part of the price, when you write me the full price I shall transmit the Balance, or pay it to Wm McLeay if you desire it, please send me the Number in Course without saying to anybody what is done, if successful I shall be more enabled to thank you, if otherwise I will in a Glass first meeting and I am / Dr David / Your most hule Servt / Alexr Mackenzie / Balblair 21 Nover 1769
[a note added on the side] I came here this Evening to see Mr Gorry who this afternoon had a fall from his horse, a Circumstance at his time of Life in the slightest degree not convenient & now has his left Collar Bone Broke.

I love his friendly chatter with Ross in these letters. We see here Mackenzie’s close relationship with two regular players in this series, John Gorry, factor for the Gordons of Newhall and Invergordon at the time and William Macleay, who had been Gorry’s clerk and did much work for Gordon of Invergordon and was to become Tacksman of the Ness of Invergordon. The Balblair at which Gorry resided was beside Invergordon. When Gorry died, one of his many creditors was (GD305/1/133/1) “Doctor Alexander Mackenzie Physician”.

The seals on these letters of Mackenzie mostly comprise a couple of historical heads, but a most curious one featuring a bee and a flower occurs on several, including this particular one. Is there a particular significance to the symbolism?

Two wax seals from the letters of Dr Mackenzie; photo by Jim Mackay

In his letter of 15 October 1770 he empowers Ross to act for him in a case in which he is involved, urging silence again:

After most heartily and sincerely congratulating you on your late promotion and wishing long enjoyment, let me request in the most anxious manner, that immediately on receipt of this you will do the business of the inclosed Factory & that without once signifying it to any mortal, and the expences ariseing therefrom & your own Personal trouble pay yourself, the Money is to be applied in the way and manner following viz. Purchase a Bill on London payable at the shortest Sight for Fifteen pounds Sterling, let it be drawn in favours of Mr George Fearn Navy Office London Twenty six pounds sterling you will keep to be applied in your own place for a purpose you shall afterwards be aquainted of the surpluss b>remit me in Notes, not exceeding Ten in one Cover, to the Invergordon Office & Care of Mr McLeay the Bill on London I shall be much pleased you procure me as soon as possible as my Credit is engaged for it, I will anxiously look for a Letter from you and I am very desireous the Bill on London should be inclosed, I have given you in the Factory your former designation, as Mr MacLeay tells me you purpose continueing the business of the Writer notwithstanding your Office. I am / Dear Sir / Your most obedt hule Servt. / Alexr Mackenzie

The financial notes by Ross on this letter indicate payment to a Mr Gray, presumably relating to the Court of Session cases involving Mackenzie and Gray which I note from this period, and the good doctor became quite worked up about the situation in his letter of 26 October 1770:

Your favour of the 22d I received this Day, thank you most heartily for your so immediately attempting to do my business, and entirely approve of the Caution & method you have followed therein, the inclosed Letter for my very extraordinary man of business Mr Gray I leave open for your perusal, seal & deliver it, it will Show you how he has treated me for now upwards of four years. / In my former you will see I bid you keep in your own hands £26. to be applied as I would afterwards direct, the application was for retiring a Bill of mine to Mr Gray for £20 with its interests, and the fault is really not mine it was not long agoe retired, had he not totally neglected my affairs, and some of them from which he was to retain the value of the Bill it had not been to this Day due, that there is some acct of Agencys due Mr Gray is certain, but I may with certainty say it is for totally neglecting me in every branch of my business, the Decreet agt Cromarty excepted. / The method you propose of transmitting the Bill to Mr Fearn is by far the best, and the loss of time incurred by the disappointment of your not receiveing my money is most distressing, as it endangers not only my own Credit, but risques the loss of Credit & interest to my Son which I regret from my very Soul, shall I therefore intreat of you, if it don’t cramp yourself to immediately purchase such a Bill & indorse it to Mr Fearn by first Post, on the faith of this I have wrote him by this Post that you would transmit him the Bill & I intreat of you for Gods sake do it if possible, it is truly hard thus to be forced to ask a favour of another when my own Subjects might have been applied, my faith was likewise past for paying away money at this time in my Neighbourhood, and in that too I am affronted…

Dr Mackenzie was clearly a most charming man, and the following letter of 7 November 1770 contains one of the nicest compliments I’ve seen in writing.

Tarbat House 7th Nover. 1770 / Dear Sir / Yours of the 31 Ulto. & its contents of Thirty Pounds Sterling, and my retired Bill to Mr Gray I got safe, and would have acknowledged the receipt in Course, but I did not get the Letter in such time Monday as to overtake the Post.
I am extremely obliged to you for so readily doeing this piece of business for me happy were it for Clyents, to have Agents so punctual, but in the State of Acct. agt. the application of this little Sum I miss a Charge for your own trouble, which must not my friend be the case, except you have a mind I should look on it, as a hint not to trouble you with any after of my Concerns, and as I would not incline to give you trouble without an adequate return, neither would I wish to be debarred access to assistance in the way of business of a Man, whose integrity & Capacity I have entire confidence in.
It was Mr Grays Duty to have taken up the precept and negotiated the affair as you have done, but on my writeing, amongst other fruitless letters on this subject I got the unmannerly Letter from his Clerk I took notice of in my last, with a perhaps my Affairs might be set to rights, on this I wrote to Rory MacLeod to give me notice of the exact Sum of His claim, as also to examine at the Office of Mr Bruce the Clerk of Session, what was the Neat Sum I had to look for, from the Scheme of Division of the Purchase Money of the Estate of Auchenbreak, to be paid at Martinmas, where I am a Creditor, to this last he wrote me the Scheme was borrowed out by one Mr. David Campbell & he was in the Country, to the other I shall give you his own words viz. “As to yr. claim on Cromarty I went to the Exchequer and examined your Papers and find the neat Sum you are to draw is £84.4.11 ¾ Sterling, tho you continue Mr Gray to do business (which indeed you ought to do) you need be under no restraint to write me at all times to know how your affairs are goeing on, as I can easily get notice of this without giving offence to Mr Gray” by this you will see Mr Grays Chagrin was not owing to Mr MacLeods intention or I believe Conduct.
I owe one Mrs Harriot at the Sign of the Boot behind the Guard an Acct. of some Shoes sent me beginning of Summer, be so good as pay it, and make your Servant deliver the inclosed Memorandum, Inverchasly’s Johnston will be in Edinr. in a few days, the Shoes are much wanted & I hope you will make use of your Interest to make him bring them for Pay, wherin I can serve your interest, satisfaction, or Concerns here or else where I will most readily do it & I am / Dear Sir / Your most obedt. hule. Servt. / Alexr Mackenzie

Interestingly the next letter, dated 9 January 1771, still contains the Invergordon post mark. This must surely be one of the earliest from the area.

Johnston the Tain Carrier having past me without calling, & no word from him since, makes me suspect, he either could not or would not carry the Shoes I gave you the trouble to bespeak for me of Mrs Harriot, and as I concluded the last year by giving you trouble, I must intreat your forgiveness, after wishing you much happiness in this New one, to pay when it is presented to you, a Draught I have drawn on you of this date payable to Capt. Forbes of New, for Twelve Pounds Sterling to enable you to do which I send you inclosed, Ten twenty Shillings Notes, Seven of the Air Bank, Two Dumfries Notes, and One British Linnen Coy Note, which with the Balance after paying Mrs Harriots Acct. will pay this Draught.
I should be very happy of the Shoes last bespoke of her were put in a Box, and directed for William MacLeay to George Galdys care in Cromarty & sent with the first vessel from Leith to Cromarty, by this method they will come safe to me, and sooner than if directed for myself, as William has Daily intercourse with George Galdy.
I scolded your Mother lately very heartily, I was goeing at a very late hour to Cadbolls, calld at her House, being told she was not well and to my surprise she was not come home, from a meeting, on my return I calld & blamed her much for being out at such late hours, for it was eight at Night the night I calld, she said she could not help it, but would not be out so late again, the Care of the Soul makes the good Woman neglect the frail Body.
As Mr John Fraser wrote me in a very friendly manner of the 21 Nover. telling me that he observed in the Minute Book some Legal obstruction by Delvine to a Claim I had on the Estate of Auchenbreak, I could not be ever asking him to attend to my interest in that matter, will you be so good as deliver a Cause to be delivered the inclosed Letter to him.
The Postages of this & former charge me with, My Wife desires I will make her Compliments to you, and intreats you will send her word of the price of a new Historical & Emblematical Print of the Decision of the House of Peers in the Douglas Cause, its now publishing by T Philip Print seller in the Bull Turnpike, opposite to the Tron Kirk, she wishes to know what Character it bears, and the Price ready framed & Glased.

Dr Mackenzie refers only occasionally to his wife. She was the daughter of Mackenzie of Conansby. There was national fascination in the Douglas Cause at the time, and there was a medical dimension as well, but I do wonder if there may have been a family interest in the subject. The following is my summary of the Wikipedia account.

The Douglas estates would have passed out of the hands of the Douglas family unless an heir could be found. Fortunately, the 47 year old Lady Jane Douglas found a husband, the 60-year-old Colonel Sir John Stewart, described by her brother as a “wore-out old rake”, and in the summer of 1748, in Paris, the by now 50 year old Lady Jane gave birth to twin boys. Lady Jane’s opponents won a subsequent court case, claiming that there had been a fabrication, but this was reversed by the House of Lords. Lady Jane was unable to have children at her age, claimed her opponents, she had shown no signs of pregnancy and two French couples were found who said they had sold babies to a mysterious foreign couple about the time the twins were born. On Lady Jane’s side, servants gave intimate evidence of her menstrual status and a male midwife gave evidence of delivering Lady Jane’s babies. Lady Jane’s elder son was able to inherit, and his descendants, including former Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home, benefited from the House of Lords 1769 decision, in which Doctor Mackenzie’s wife had such an interest.

The next letter of 23 July 1771 to David Ross was written from William Macleay’s house (and bore a note on the back from Macleay) and Mackenzie’s delicacy in addressing the health of the recipient’s mother, a rather demanding and headstrong character:

Invergordon Ness … Your favour of the 15th was put into my hand yesterday by the Patient you mentioned in it, after asking a number of questions of her & examining her Situation with all the attention I was capable of I can assure you there is not the smallest reason to apprehend any thing cancerous, I told her I would take her case to consideration and give her all the aid necessary & I now tell you if you have any confidenden in me, you need not, nor ought not, to encourage her goeing to Edinr., the expense as it is unnecessary would be thrown away, consequently missaplyed, I pity a good heart, its often made an unworthy sacrifice, She never was with me before yesterday, and believe me if She your Mother, or any other of yours in this Neighbourhood stands in need of such assistance as I can afford they have only to tell me, give yourself no trouble about the present Patient till you hear from / Dr Sir / Your hule Servt / Alexr Mackenzie

And on 15 November 1771 he returned to the subject of the National Lottery:

Some time in Summer there came one Mr Stewart a Newspaper Collector with a demand on me for I think £1.14, and found me unprovided, I then used the freedom to give him an Order on you for that Sum, which I beg pardon for & beg you will forgive, I now inclose you Four Twenty Shillings Notes, out of which pay yourself in the first place, and be so good as Purchase for me One eight part of a Ticket in the present state Lottery from some of your Ticket sellers, register it, and remit it me in Course, if this don’t reach you before the 18th I presume you will at buying make it an Article in the purchase that if that Ticket is then drawn a Blank you get anoyr. or the Money returned, don’t let any Body know of this, & for the trouble you may at all times commend the ready service of / Dear Sir / your most obedt hule servt / Alexr Mackenzie

And amazingly, his number actually comes up!

Tarbat House 15 Janry 1772 / Dear Sir / By a Letter from Mr Foggo of the 13th Ulto. he informs the Success of the Number of the inclosed, was drawn a £/20 prize, what an odds would three more Cyphers have made? but I assure you that want has not overset any of my Castles.
When you are put in Cash for it, which I suppose Mr Foggo will do on demand, be so good as some spare Moment to call on Mrs Harriot behind the Court of Guard and pay her £2.1 if it will produce so much, I hope youll [be] paid on this trouble, you have my hearty wishes for a happy year, & I am / Dear Sir / Your most obedt hule. servt. / Alexr Mackenzie

The Parkhill Postmark from the Doctor’s letter of 15 January 1772; photo by Jim Mackay

He reflects on his gambling in his next, dated 1 November 1772, in a letter bearing a very good copy of one of the seals he used, of two ancient heads. His warm character shows through when he suggests his daughter should give David Ross a kiss for his trouble. His affection for his daughters is considerable.

Tarbat House 1 Nover. 1772 / Dear Sir / I am again this year to intreat you will take the trouble to purchase for me and in my Name a fourth share in a Ticket in the present Lottery making apologys for this repetition of trouble, would be but tautology so shall wave it, only to assure you I shall embrace every opportunity of Serveing you or yours to the outmost of my ability, and when you let me know what you have paid for it, I shall remit you an order on a young Damsel of mine now in your Town, who shall have directions to pay you with a Kiss for interest, and as she has a frank for me if you will take the trouble to send your Letter covering the little Chance to her she will forward it, but to no body say a word on the subject. Not as a Gamester for I dislike the Character, but purely to be a small matter in the way of fortune leads me to give you this additionall trouble believe me to be / Dear Sir / Your affectionat hule. Servt. / Alexr Mackenzie / Bett lives with her Aunt Mrs Mackenzie in Pierrys Close Canongate, if you have any inclination to see her, your Call will not be unkind to deliver your Letter. [Ross has added at the base a note of the number of the Lottery Ticket, date and cost] No. 32949 14 Novr. £3.13.6

He was philosophical about not winning, and was quite open that his hopes were merely castles in the air – his letter of 6 January 1773 says:

on the expectation from that quarter, I laid not one Stone of an Airy Fabrick, but on the faith of a promise of a valuable friend of yours & mine I am now to aquaint you I used the freedom of the 7th Ulto. to value myself on you, in favours of Capt. Forbes for £8 sterling, payable 1st Febry, if it should be presented for Acceptance, it will be doeing me a singular favour to do it Honour, you need not be afraid of not being put in power to answer the demand before the Day, I have run myself aground in apologys for the too frequent troubles I give you, and shall only say, none shall be more anxiously willing to return the favours than your hule. servt. I know you will make the best sale of the Inclosed, many happy returns of New Years to you wishes

I think the mutual good friend who had promised to advance him money would have been William Macleay, who was going through a very difficult financial period himself and so it was rather inevitable that the money would not be forthcoming:

Tarbat House 18th Janry 1773 / Dear Sir / My last to you of the 6th to my Daughters case, served to Cover the fourth of the Lottery Ticket, and to tell you I had used the freedom (on the faith of a promise of a certain friend of yours & mine to give me a Bill in your place about this time) to give Captain Forbes a draught on you for eight Pounds payable first of next month, that Promise however has failed me, sure I am sure against his will, this lays me under the necessity of sending you, by the now precarious conveyance of the Post,– inclosed four small Notes, Two of a Guinea each, and Two of Twenty shillings each, this being as much as I chuse to trust at once, and as a single Letter comes to your hand free, I shall write by next Post giving the Numbers of the different Notes, in case of accidents to this. / How soon I get anoyr. frank will make a farther remittance, that you may not be any thing in advance for my Draught in favour of Captain Forbes, and as my Dear Girl has now and then occasion for some little money and that perhaps when it may not be convenient for me to make her a remittance, to impress what I can in your hands to give her from time to time, provided it will not be disagreeable to you to take the trouble, which I beg you may without ceremony say if it is. When shall I have opportunity to repay all this trouble? I am sure if it ever falls in my way you will do me a pleasure if you freely command / Dr Sir / Your most obedt hule Servt. / Alexr Mackenzie

During that year he fell severely ill, and by letter of 16 June 1773 informed Ross:

After three months confinement to my House, and in a manner emerging from the Grave I am now beginning to say how do ye to my friends, amongst wc. whom I flatter myself I am not mistaken if I reckon you, therefore shall be very glad to be told all is well. / Likewise be so good as tell me whether you have yet got any value for the small part of the small Rone [he was selling his share in a lottery ticket]

and on 7 July he was effusive in his praise of Ross:

most heartily thank you for the kind offer of supplying my Daughter with what money she wanted, she has certainly been a good Steward of what I last sent her, otherwise before she set out for Lord Selkirks, she must have stood in need, if without then inconvenience to yourself, when she returns, wc. I imagine will be within ten Days or a fortnight at farthest, you can supply her to the length of Eight or Ten pounds, they shall be quickly replaced, I shall reserve my thanks & appolgys till it please God we meet. / You have made as good a sale of the share of the Ticket as I could expect, that I intended as a partly supply for Bett, but I am obliged to apply it anoyr. way, that is to desire the favour you will Pay the Five pounds to Mr Joseph Drew Munro, I have wrote him this Day that you will do so

That passing phrase “till it please God we meet” is the only religious reference I have found in his letters. I presume he attended church with his family, presumably in the wonderful pepperpot-towered kirk nearby at Kilmuir Easter, but there is no reference to this aspect of his life at all.

Kilmuir Easter church; members of the Cromartie family are buried in the vault between the pepperpot tower and the main building of the church – and we now know Dr Mackenzie’s spouse Jane Mackenzie of Conansby is as well; photo by Jim Mackay

The tower bears the legend “Beigit 1616”; photo by Jim Mackay

There is a gap in the letters now for more than three years, but the next missive (from 1776) reveals that the good Doctor was still hoping for a major win in the Lottery and worried that people might hear of his compulsion. Some things never change.

My inclination to indulge my Dear Girls, & your former friendship on a similar occasion leads me to intreat the favour you will buy with the inclosed three Guineas a fourth part of a Ticket in the present State Lottery, and that from the most respectable People who sells them in your Town, I will hope to receive it in Course & let it be registered, in case of miscarriage, I hope I need not beg your saying nothing of this commission to any living, intreat your forgiveness for the trouble and believe me to be / Dear Sir / Your most obedt hule Servt / Alexr Mackenzie / My next will cover a Guinea which Bett has this moment given me the blush by telling she owes you, it would accompanied this but I had not anoyr. Guinea Note nor can I get one for a Golden Guinea in time to overtake the Post, & I imagine you may make this little purchase before the 13th.

The cover note by Ross even gives the number of the Lottery Ticket: “answerd the 13th. wt. a fourth share of a Lottery Ticket No. 10m951 which I bought yesterday at £3.3. & paid 6d. for Registrating”.

There was a sad event that same year, as his wife died. It was in all the papers of the time – this is from the Caledonian Mercury of 28 September 1776:

On the 18th September, died, at New Tarbat-house, Mrs Jane Mackenzie, wife of Doctor Alexander Mackenzie physician in Ross, and daughter of the Hon. Colonel Alexander Mackenzie, late of Conansby. Her numerous relations are entreated to accept of this as the only means of intimating to them her decease.

And now, there is a gap in correspondence of more than 10 years, by which time Dr Mackenzie has relocated to Cromarty where he would remain until his death. I take this letter of 7 February 1787 out of the timeline as the theme of the correspondence is, not surprisingly, the Lottery:

Cromarty 7 Febry 1787 / Dear Sir / I used the freedom of the 25th ulto. to trouble you with a Letter to Messrs. Hamiltons Canongate & have had from them in Course an Answer, I inclosed also Three twenty Shillg Notes out of which to pay the Publisher of the Courant the year preceeding 23 Novr. I likewise besought the favour of you to send me One fourth Share of a Lottery ticket, and said on Receipt of it with notice of its price it should be in Course remitted for, as I have not been favourd with hearing from you and the first day of drawing is so near let me intreat of you on receipt of this to buy or Cause to be bought such a Share have it registered in my Name & send it me & pay the Price from the inclosed Four Notes of the B: Linen Coy- I have not heard from Mr Ramsay tho I presume you sent him his Money let me beg your forgiveness for this once and believe me to be / Dear Sir / your obliged & obedt h. S. / Alexr Mackenzie

This is the last in the series of letters to David Ross, who died two years later. Many of the letters received by him have survived, and are a treasure trove for historians. Mackenzie’s though faded and tattered are particularly fascinating. Even Ross’s accounts (as an accountant as well as a lawyer, he kept details of all his transactions) in CS96/4171/1 and RH15/44/244 shed a light on the lives of those with whom he dealt, as a small sample evinces:

1768 July 27 … To Doctor Mackenzie at Milnton for attending my father and mother 2.2.-
1773 June 23 … By Cash received for the 4th share of a Lottery Ticket belonging to
Doctor Alexr. Mackenzie, which came up a prize of £20 5.-.- -.-.-
1773 July 23 To Miss Betty Mackenzie on accot. of her father Dr Alexr. Mckenzie -.-.- 1.1.-


Part 8:
“the meteor emitted or dropt a great many sparks” – The Fiery Meteor of 1758

An extraordinary meteor flamed its way to earth in 1758, causing great public excitement. Dr John Pringle, a Fellow of the Royal Society, collected accounts of the meteor from different parts of the UK and his report was published in Philosophical Transactions (Volume LI) as “XXVI. Several Accounts of the fiery Meteor, which appeared on Sunday the 26th of November, 1758, between Eight and Nine at Night”.

A Leonid Meteor captured by Navicore; published under Creative Commons Licence

As far as I can see, the only reliable conclusion to draw from this early example of “citizen science” is not to trust public observations of a natural phenomenon. It was a laudable experiment, but this remarkable meteor seems to have hurtled down at different times, at different angles and locations, to have been blown by the wind off course, and even to have hurtled back into the heavens again. As for our good doctor, Pringle wrote:

Believing there was a better chance for hearing of its course more to the westward, a gentleman here was so obliging as to procure me the following letter, written by Dr. Alexander Mackenzie, physician in the shire of Ross, to a friend of his in the same country, on the occasion of this inquiry. “I am sorry that the information I can give you about the meteor, of the 26th of November last, will be so little satisfactory: however, I shall tell you what I saw. I must first observe, that where I then was, viz. at Flowerdale (a gentleman’s house on the western coast of Rosshire), the view of the heavens is extremely confined, being quite surrounded, except at one point, by very high and close-approaching hills; where you will understand, that the meteor must have been high before it could be observed, and that it quickly disappeared, as its progress was very rapid. Its light was most surprisingly splendent, but not the least like that of the sun, except where it shines through a cloud, or a summer shower. Its magnitude was near to that of the full moon, when she is three or four hours high. Its colour not at all like that of the body of the sun, or an ignited globe, but resembled that of the flame of spirits. Its figure was quite spherical, without any tail; but it emitted, or as it were dropped, sparks of various colours and magnitudes. As for its height, it was vertical; and its direction was from the west northerly to the east southerly. I was sensible of no noise on its disappearance. The time of night was about nine, and indeed as dark a night as ever I saw.”

Flowerdale, home of the Mackenzies of Gairloch; the noise from the sea here was so loud that Dr Mackenzie could not tell if the meteor falling had made any sound

Upon reading this letter, and finding, by Mr. Mackenzie’s observation, the course of the meteor to have been so very different in those parts from what I had collected from the other accounts … I wrote to the doctor, desiring to be informed, whether he meant to say, as I understood him, that the course of the body was from some point a little northward of the west, to some point a little southward of the east; or otherwise. To which letter Dr. Mackenzie obliged me with this answer. “Altho’ I regret my being out of the way of answering your letter in course of post, yet, by that absence, I have it now more in my power to be exact with regard to some of your queries, as I am just returned from Flowerdale; where, in consequence of the first letter on the subject of the meteor, I observed narrowly the situation of the mountains over which it passed; in order that I might correct my account of its course, if I had mistaken it before. But, after that survey, I found my former description exact to a tittle, and your interpretation of my words, viz. from the west northerly to the east southerly, to be precisely what I meant: they may not be terms of art, but express the true progress of that body when I saw it; notwithstanding that I observe, by your informations from the south of Scotland, and from Carlisle, its direction was almost directly opposite. What I meant by its vertical height was, that its declination, if any, was extremely small from the zenith, but that northerly. Tho’ I continued to gaze for about a quarter of an hour after it disappeared, I was sensible of no sound, neither like that of thunder nor a cannon: yet such might have been in a lesser degree without my hearing it; as the noise of the sea that night was remarkably louder, than at any other time, during the whole month I was at that place. I can positively assure you no tail was visible there; tho’, as I said before, or at least meant to say in my former letter, the meteor emitted or dropt a great many sparks of various magnitudes, and most beautiful colours, some of which seemed to equal the size of half a crown. My wife and another lady, at fifty miles distance, almost due east from Flowerdale, saw many such sparks, but no part of the body of the meteor. The light, tho’ of the pale moon-colour where I was, yet was so bright, that I could discover every bush and tree, every scraggy rock on the tops of the mountains, altho’ the night, both before and after its disappearance, was extremely dark, and without a star to be seen. I am not a little surprised that, considering how early in the night the meteor made its appearance, not one person, besides myself, in all this country, as far as I can learn (and I have taken pains to inquire), happened to see it; except you will admit that my wife and her friend saw some of its track, from the sparks they observed. And this circumstance leads me to think, that it made a very quick turn immediately after its disappearing from my sight, losing its southern direction, and running due east: which, in my opinion, confirms the ship-master’s report of seeing it in the Baltick.”

Thus far Dr. Mackenzie, who, I am persuaded, could not be mistaken about the points of the compass, in a part of the country he is so well acquainted with, nor would offer any such account of a fact he was not well assured of: so that, upon the whole, we must refer this strange curvature in the course of the meteor to some principle, at first view, very different from the common laws of motion; but perhaps not altogether inconsistent with them, as I shall endeavour to shew in my next paper.

In reality, if Dr Mackenzie had seen anything at all, it might well have been a different meteor, or part of the meteor broken off at a higher altitude.

What was he doing in Flowerdale for a month, his wife back at New Tarbat? He must have been resident in a professional capacity. Flowerdale House was home for the Gairloch Mackenzies. Now, Sir Hector Mackenzie, 4th Baronet, 11th Laird of Gairloch, and Lord Lieutenant of Ross-shire, was born in September 1758. Had Dr Mackenzie been called in to assist with some post-natal medical problem? He had rushed off to Wester Ross to attend a lady in July of that year, and it may well have been to Flowerdale. On that occasion he had seemingly been rebuked by Lady Braelangwell, or at least by his relative Naomi Ross of Pitcalnie on behalf of Lady Braelangwell, who had wanted him to attend to a child’s arm. It is one of the few tetchy letters I have seen written by the good doctor (GD199), and Naomi Dunbar was not pleased with his response.

Dear Madam,
Had I the Power of Ubiquity as much as I have the Inclination to oblige & give Satisfaction to all the race of man Lady Braelangwall would not have been one moment uneasy or unhappy by any means, you Know I wrote her to tell me where she was to dispose of the Boy, and on notice I would go and see him, no such notice came to me before I was calld by Express to West Ross, an Express I could not in justice not accompany as I was formerly engaged in the Caise of the Lady whose then complaint required immediate Aid. I am now set down to write you at six oclock at night next thing to water fasting not having had time yet take refreshment of any sort since six in the morning except now & then a Pinch of Snuff. You knew my mind about the Poor Childs arm formerly, and I now assure you I never attempted anything in the way of my Profession with less hope of success or satisfaction, and from my soul could have wished Alves or any other had been employed in my stead. You know what distress an unsuccessfull undertaking gives me, however my best Endeavours shall be attempted in the present case, for which I have sent a Pott Emollient Ointment, the Bigness of a nutmeg of which should be two or three times a day very well rubbed into the bend of the Arm & all about the joint behind, and the matterials for Bathing is to be boiled in three pints of water to two, and the arm from the shoulder to the wrist must be bathed with it morning & night warm but not hott, after some days use of these things I shall go into Tain & examine the state of the arm, & from time to time see him as I find it necessary, give my affectionate compliments to Lady Braelangwell for whom I have an entire regard and assure her I am as solicitous about the childs recovery and will take as much pains thereto as if she were present, or as she can be herself. David shall have the saddle in a few days, but if he insists on it immediately he may have it, tho I should ride bare back’s Both my children are sick,
God bless you Pitcalnie & Munro
Yours while
Alexr. Mackenzie.
Milltown. 31 July 1758.

Which letter is smartly annotated by Naomi Dunbar: “Doctor Mackenzie in answer to anxious friendly letter I wrote him about Donald Mackay, the touch in the end about Pitcalnies saddle I think might have been spared.” Now, Naomi must have been accused of speaking to others about her being offended by Dr Mackenzie’s letter, and had a defence ready. Her best friend was Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie, who was a great fan of Dr Mackenzie. There is a letter from her to Naomi where she calls him her favourite Doctor. On 4 September 1758 Lady Mackenzie wrote from Cromarty to Naomi “Pray when did you see my worthy & good friend Doctor Mackenzie. I reallie long to have an opportunity of setting my eyes on him. I am much afrayd I will be put upon the Black Ston by his Lady, for my laziness in not writting or seeing her.” To which Naomi adds: “if I had made Doctor Mackenzie’s conduct known to any body it would have been to her but what she says of him in this letter shews I did not.” Doctors had to be diplomatic in those days!


Part 9:
“she had not swallowed the smallest particle of food for years together”
– The Lady Who Lived without Food or Drink

Doctor Alexander Mackenzie does not appear to have written any scientific treatises himself. However, he did write one medical report that was copied and re-copied all across the world. Search the net for this case and you will get dozens of hits. Clearly he and the other gentlemen involved in the case were duped by the girl concerned, or perhaps even by her whole family, but their acceptance of the truth of the phenomenon says a lot about the gullible nature of society at the time and the lack of understanding of physiological processes.

Even on his death, it was this account for which he was remembered as his obituaries referred to it. So what was the story?

Dr Mackenzie wrote a report which was sent by James Stewart Mackenzie, Lord Privy Seal of Scotland and an early member of the Royal Society, to the journal Philosophical Transactions. It was published as:

I. An Account of a Woman in the Shire of Ross living without Food or Drink. By Dr. Mackenzie, Physician at New Tarbat. Communicated by the Right Honourable James Stewart Mackenzie, Lord Privy Seal of Scotland.

In support of the report was appended:

At Croick, the 15th day of June, 1775.– “To authenticate the history set forth in the preceding pages, Donald M’Leod of Geanies, Esq., sheriff depute of Rosshire, George Munro, Esq., of Culcai[r]n, Simon Ross, Esq., of Gladfield, Captain George Sutherland, of Elphin, all justices of the peace; Messrs. William Smith, preacher of the gospel, John Barclay, writer, in Tain, Hugh Ross, student of divinity, and Alexander M’Leod, came to this place, accompanied by the above Dr. Alexander Mackenzie, physician at New Tarbat, and after explaining the purport and meaning of the above history to Donald M’Leod, father to Janet M’Leod abovementioned, and to David Ross, elder in the parish of Kincardin, who was one of the doctor’s original interpreters; they, to our full satisfaction, after a minute examination, authenticated all the facts set forth in the above account: and, for our further satisfaction, we had Janet M’Leod brought out before us to the open air, when the doctor discovered a very great improvement in her looks and health since the period of his having seen her last, as now she walked tolerably upright, with a little hold by the wall. And notwithstanding her age, which on inquiry we found to be exactly as set forth in the above account, her countenance and looks would have denoted her not to be above 20 years of age at most. At present, the quantity of food she uses is not above what would be necessary for the sustenance of an infant of 2 years of age. And we do report, from our knowledge of the above men, and the circumstances of the case, that full faith and credit is to be given to every article of the above history.”

The hills and glens of the Croick Estate, where the McLeod family were tenants; photo courtesy of the Croick Estate website

To this authentication, all these trustworthy men put their signatures. Note by the way that Croick at this time was in the County of Ross, but administratively it would later come within Sutherland; Croick Church, famous for the graffiti associated with the Highland Clearances scratched on its window panes, was built fifty years after this event. Mackenzie had written his original letter on 3 April 1775 and some extracts from it will indicate what all the fuss was about:

Janet MacLeod, unmarried, aged thirty-three years and some months, daughter of Donald MacLeod, tenant in Croick, in the parish of Kincardine, and shire of Ross; in the fifteenth year of her age had a pretty sharp epileptic fit… at Whitsuntide 1763, she totally refused food and drink … she spoke none, and rejected, as formerly, all sorts of nourishment and drink, till some time in the month of July 1765, when a sister of hers thought, by some signs that she made, that she wanted her jaws opened; which her father, not without violence, got done, by putting the handle of a horn-spoon between her teeth. She said then intelligibly, Give me a drink; and drank with ease, and all at one draught, about an English pint of water. Her father then asked her, why she would not make some signs, although she could not speak, when she wanted a drink? She answered, why should she when she had no desire. … In some of the attempts to open her jaws, two of the under fore-teeth were forced out; of which opening they often endeavoured to avail themselves, by putting some thin nourishing drink into her mouth; but without effect, for it always returned by the corners … Her pulse to-day, which with some difficulty I felt (her mother at this time having raised her, and supported her in her bed) is distinct and regular, slow, and to the extremest degree small. Her countenance is clear and pretty fresh, her features not disfigured nor sunk; her skin feels natural both as to touch and warmth; and to my astonishment, when I came to examine her body, for I expected to feel a skeleton, I found her breasts round, and prominent, like those of a healthy young woman; her legs, arms, and thighs, not at all emaciated… At present [June, 1767] no degree of strength can force open her jaws. I put the point of my little finger into the gap in her teeth, and found the tongue, as far as I could reach, soft and moist … The above case was taken in writing this day, at the diseased woman’s bed side, from the mouths of her father and mother, who are known to be people of great veracity, and are under no temptation to deceive; for they neither ask, expect, or get any thing: their daughter’s situation is a great mortification to them, and universally known and regretted by all their neighbours. I had along with me, as interpreters, [footnote: The family spoke only Erse.] Mr. Henry Robertson, a very discreet young gentleman, eldest son to the minister of the parish, and David Ross, at the Craig of Strath-Carron, their neighbour and one of the elders of the parish, who verified from his own knowledge all that is above related. The present situation and appearances of the patient were carefully examined this 21st of October, 1767, by Dr. Alexander Mackenzie, physician at New Tarbat; who likewise, in the month of October, 1772, being informed that the patient was recovering and ate and drank, visited her, and found her condition to be as follows: about a year preceding this last date, her parents one day returning from their country labours (having left their daughter as for some years before fixed to her bed) were greatly surprized to find her sitting on her hams, on the side of the house opposite to her bed place, spinning with her mother’s distaff. I asked, whether she ever ate or drank? whether she had any of the natural evacuations? whether she ever spoke or attempted to speak? And was answered, that she sometimes crumbled a bit of oat or barley cake in the palm of her hand, as if to feed a chicken; that she put little crumbs of this into the gap of her teeth, rolled them about for some time in her mouth, and then sucked out of the palm of her hand a little water, whey, or milk; and this, once or twice a day, and even that by compulsion: that the egesta were in proportion to the ingesta; that she never attempted to speak; that her jaws were still fast-locked, her hamstrings tight as before, and her eyes shut. … On the whole, her existence was little less wonderful now than when I first saw her, when she had not swallowed the smallest particle of food for years together. I attributed her thinness and wan complexion, that is the great change of her looks from what I had first seen when fixed to her bed, to her exhausting too much of the saliva by spinning flax on the distaff, and therefore recommended her being totally confined to spinning wool: this she does with equal dexterity as she did the flax. The above was her situation in October 1772; and within these eight days [March 1775] I have been told by a neighbour of her father’s, that she still continues in the same way, without any addition to her support, and without any additional ailment. … Alex. Mackenzie. New Tarbat, April 3, 1775.

Presumably Janet was quietly helping herself to a good handful of oatmeal and a cup of water whenever the family were not about, and was making fools out of the lairds and ministers of the area who seem to have been remarkably gullible. Was Dr Mackenzie in on the hoax himself? If his letter had been dated two days earlier, we would know it was all an elaborate practical joke. Whatever, it made him famous. You will find the story in many books, sometimes translated as in La Décade philosophique, littéraire et politique of 1796:

Fait à New-Tarbat, le 3 Avril 1775. Signé Alex. Mackenzie. Cette lettre est accompagnée de la pièce suivante: A Croick, le i5 Juin 1773. Pour témoigner authentiqueraient de la vérité– de l’histoire détailée dans les pages précédentes…

The Kincardine lassie had fooled them all.


Part 10:
“the most famous man we have” – and Dr Mackenzie moves from New Tarbat to Cromarty

We have one record of the good Doctor still in New Tarbat in 1780, and it makes it clear that he was considered the best doctor in the region. The poor patient, however, was still keen to find doctors in Edinburgh who had had experience of his condition and had asked an acquaintance to assist. The patient was William Sutherland, the Sheriff Clerk of Sutherland, one of the Rearquhar Sutherlands (relatives of the Gun Munros of Poyntzfield), and he was asking Robert Watt of Wood End for assistance: the letter was found in the Consultation Letters of Dr William Cullen at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Skelbo 18th. April 1780 / Dear Sir / I have been at all times applying to you in my distress, and as the present is the greatest ever felt, I must trouble for your aid in getting an opinion from one or two of the most skillfull Physicians in your place – I have been for some times past troubled with a stopage in my water at times, on wednesday last I went to visit my Cousin a Captain George Sutherland at Rearchar, and that night I was troubled with a total stoppage of my urine, which put me in a most terrible situatione. I sent for a man to blood me and sent for our Country Surgeon and for Doctor Alexr. McKenzie at New Tarbat. I was in downright torture till the Surgeon got an Instrument minded the Catheter … The Doctor tells me I have no Stone in the Blader, But I have past Clotted blood at times, at other times clear blood and generally either the first or last that comes is a tinctured with blood … I own I have been much alarmed and what adds to my distress is I think of the situation my wife & family wou’d be in if this was to carry me off. I must therefore beg of you to get me the best advice. Some of your Phisicians cannot miss to have met with such cases in course of their practice … I rode from Rearchar which is three Scots miles of bad road from this place on Saturday last, and made several attempts to get water by the way, but could not. Doctor Mckenzie advised me to ride every fair day … Will Sutherland

And then he adds as a postscript:

Doctor McKenzie at New Tarbat, the most famous man we have is the Physician I consulted

That places Alexander still in New Tarbat in April 1780, and with the reputation of being the best man in the region, although Sutherland clearly felt a wider call for assistance was essential.

I presume it was the return of the family of the Earl of Cromartie to New Tarbat that triggered the removal of Dr Mackenzie from New Tarbat House to Cromarty. The House as a whole was so ruinous that the family built a new one, which in turn is now a great hollow shell.

The sad shell of Tarbat House; photo by Jim Mackay

I can’t time his removal exactly. Window tax returns from 1758 onwards show the only people in Kilmuir Easter to occupy a house big enough to qualify were John Montgomery and the good doctor. In the 1765 tax returns, Lady Scotsburn in Milltown occupies what I take to be his old house of Milnmount while he is now “Doctor Alexr McKenzie in New Tarbat”. He continues in New Tarbat House until he disappears from the tax records for years 1781, 1782 and 1783. But in the year for 1784 (5 April 1784 to 5 April 1785) a Doctor Alexander Mckenzie appears in a house with nine windows in Cromarty.


Part 11:
“My Friend & Neighbour Doctor Alexander MacKenzie died here Yesterday” – Ending his days in Cromarty

Alexander continued to be entered in the Cromarty tax records as occupying a house with nine windows until the entry for year 1788, when the number of windows increases to 14. It continues thus through the end of the Window Tax and into the Consolidated Taxes records, appearing finally for year 6 April 1798 to 5 April 1799 when these records end as Doctor Alexander Mackenzie, occupying a house with 14 windows. Alas, the tax records available end there. It was previously thought that the building here was Townlands, where the Mackenzies of Sandilands, including another Dr Alexander Mackenzie resided. I think the chronological evidence would suggest that this was the unconnected “New Tarbat” Dr Mackenzie.

At Cromarty, of course, Alexander was just a short ferry journey away from his son at Bayfield House at Nigg.

We know he was in Cromarty in December 1786, as that was where he signed the following discharge (E746/68/55) for the final factor for the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates for Cromartie, Roderick Mackenzie of Scotsburn:

Cromarty 14 Noverr of Scotsburn Ten Pounds Sterling as the full allowance of two years by the late Board of Trustees for the forfeited Estates, that is for the years seventeen hundred & Eighty Three & Eighty four & the same is hereby dischd by Alexr Mackenzie

Dr Mackenzie, now based in Cromarty, signs a receipt in 1786; photo by Jim Mackay

And lest there be any doubt, we know that he was definitely living in Cromarty a few months later, as he wrote to David Ross asking him to obtain (what else) a lottery ticket for him from there on 7 February 1787.

And it was in Cromarty that he died, at the ripe old age of 85. The Gentleman’s Magazine of April 1803 reported:

1803. Jan. 5. At Cromarty, in Scotland, in his 86th year, Alexander Mackenzie, M.D.; who, in the year 1777, communicated to the Royal Society an account (published in the Philosophical Transactions, vol. LXVII. part I.) of a woman, in the shire of Ross, then aged 30 years, who had lived four years without swallowing the least portion of food, or even drink; except that twice, in that time, she took a draught of water

Walter Ross, factor of the Cromarty Estate, wrote to the local gentlemen inviting them to the funeral at Nigg Kirkyard. The following invitation can be found in the papers of Munro of Allan:

Invitation from Walter Ross to attend the funeral of Dr Alexander Mackenzie at Nigg kirkyard; photo by Jim Mackay

Cromarty 7 Jan. 1803 / Sir / My Friend & Neighbour Doctor Alexander MacKenzie died here Yesterday – The favor of your Company at the North side of the Ferry of Cromarty on Monday next the 10’ Currt. by 12 oClock to accompany his Remains to the Family Burrying Ground within the Church Yard of Nigg is earnestly requested by / Sir / your most obedt servt
Walter Ross

Nigg Old, where Dr Alexander Mackenzie was buried in 1803; photo by Andrew Dowsett

I have been unable to locate his gravestone at Nigg – I suspect it lies below a quantity of surplus soil disposed of by gravediggers in the Mackenzie of Bayfield family enclosure which forms the north east corner of the graveyard there.

And so we come to the end of this life of Dr Alexander Mackenzie. Can we conclude what sort of person he was? From the evidence, a kind man and a caring father, hard-working, honest, honourable, sensitive, empathetic – really, the fact that nobody said a word against him is rather telling. On the down side, he was perhaps a little gullible and too trusting. His addiction to the National Lottery, and anxiety for his addiction not to be discovered, is more humorous than something to be criticised. All in all, the impression gained is that Doctor Alexander Mackenzie would be someone you’d rather like to have as a friend.


Appendix 1: Alias Doctor Alexander Mackenzie

Some care should be exercised when researching Doctor Alexander Mackenzie as there were several of them! There was Doctor Alexander Mackenzie, invited by the gentry by subscription to provide a medical service in Dornoch in the 1760s. He appears when successfully resisting a sist in the Court of Session in recovering a debt from the daughter of one Gray (CS271/12872 Elizabeth Gray or Rose v Dr. Alexander Mackenzie 1769). And of course we have Doctor Alexander Mackenzie of Sandilands, but as I have seen a sasine dated 10 June 1766 which refers to “the Land Sometime belonging to the Deceast doctor Alexander Mckenzie now to Bernard Mckenzie of Kessock his Son” then clearly he is another candidate to watch out for, but only when perusing the literature prior to that date.


Appendix 2: Jane Mackenzie of Conansby and a Seaforth connection

Dr Alexander Mackenzie’s wife was Jane Mackenzie, daughter of the Hon. Col. Alexander Mackenzie of Conansby.

These Mackenzies of Conansby, Assynt and Humberston included the last Lord Seaforth. Unlike the Doctor’s Mackenzie family, the genealogy of these Mackenzies has been set out many times before. Her eldest brother, William Mackenzie of Conansby, was one of the numerous Mackenzies who served in Russia. It is stated in Scottish Soldiers of Fortune (James Grant, 1889) that “In 1738 Major William M’Kenzie of Conansby entered the Russian army as Colonel under the Empress Anne, but returned to the British service on the war breaking out with Spain, and died in 1770.” He married May, daughter of Matthew Humberston of Humberston, county Lincoln, and hence the name of “Humberston Farm” just outside Dingwall. Jane’s father, Colonel Alexander Mackenzie, died in 1685; he had married Elizabeth, daughter of John Paterson, Bishop of Ross.

Why Jane crops up so rarely in the doctor’s correspondence is a puzzle. She died aged 58 at New Tarbat House on 18 September 1776. I was delighted to discover her white marble memorial in December 2023, at the first opening in 60 years of the Cromartie vault at Kilmuir Easter church. It is on the wall immediately on the left as you enter. She had died when the Tarbat Estate was still in the hands of the Government. It reads:

Mrs. JANE MACKENZIE / Whose remains are here deposited / was Daughter of Colonel ALEXR. MACKENZIE / Son of Kenneth Earl of SEAFORTH
Her superior Natural Talents / improved by a Polite and liberal Education / formed her a Compleat and exemplary Pattern / of all the Social and Christian Virtues / the remembrance of which are impressed / on the hearts of those connected with her / in Characters more permanent / than Brass or Marble are susceptible of
She dyed Sept. 18 1776 Aged 58.
Sacred to her Memory / this small unimbellished Monument / is here fixed / by her sorrowing Husband ALEXR. MACKENZIE, M.D.

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland


Appendix 3: The daughters, and high class Scandals

As the scandalous stories surrounding Dr Mackenzie’s three daughters, Elizabeth Jane, Harriet Ann and Alexie, grew, it seemed more appropriate to move them into a separate story. All three of them married well, but the marriages did not last. With Elizabeth Jane, her elderly first husband died a few years after the marriage, and the lady immediately took up with a ne’er-do-well who was in and out of debtor’s prison repeatedly. With Harriet Ann, her husband proved to be an adulterous wife-beater whom she successfully divorced. With Alexie, whilst her husband divorced her for adultery with his half-brother, he himself was not only an adulterer but also a bigamist. Alexie had children by yet another man, who was killed in a duel over his allegedly raping the duellist’s sister. Two of the three marriages ended in divorce, at a time when divorces were vanishingly rare. For more on the Scandalous Sisters and their Horrible Husbands, have a look at this story here.


Appendix 4: The son: John Mackenzie of Bayfield (–1802) and the Nigg enclosure

Captain John Mackenzie of Bayfield’s story has also grown to such a length that it now occupies a separate Story behind the Stone here. I have left a few notes in this story as follows.

Dr Mackenzie makes only one reference to his son in his correspondence. In his letter to David Ross of 26 October 1770 he refers to some money not reaching Ross and adds “the loss of time incurred by the disappointment of your not receiving my money is most distressing, as it endangers not only my own Credit, but risques the loss of Credit & interest to my Son which I regret from my very Soul”. In comparison, he is forever mentioning his daughters.

His son was John Mackenzie of Bayfield, who married Justina (1759–1797), the daughter of Dr William Anderson of Udale or Udol and Anne Davidson of Tulloch, so again a strong local resonance. A matched pair of portraits of the couple by the distinguished American painter Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) was sold by Christie’s back in 1976, but alas no image is available: “Portrait of John MacKenzie of Bayfield and Justina Anderson, his wife”. Stuart painted a well-known portrait of George Washington, so the Mackenzies were aiming high. Update: I have now placed an image of the lovebirds, posted by the Albrecht-Klemper Museum of Art on Valentine’s Day 2023, on the complementary Story behind the Stone on the Anderson family of Udale or Udol here. Bayfield House was the creation of Captain John Mackenzie.

Bayfield House; photo by Jim Mackay

According to W.J. Watson’s “Place Names of Ross and Cromarty” (1904):

Bayfield – formerly Meikle Kindeace; G. Cinndéis mhòr, or Cinndéis Rob’son shuas, Wester Kindeace of Robertson, from William Robertson, a burgess of Inverness, who bought it and the following in 1629. The name was changed to Bayfield by John Mackenzie, commander of the ‘Prince Kaunitz,’ who bought the estate about 1788 (v. Nevile Reid’s “Earls of Ross”) [this can be found in the Scottish Antiquary, volume 4, 1890, page 53]

Marble wall panel in Nigg Old bearing an inscription commemorating Justina Mackenzie of Bayfield; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Erected by/JOHN MACKENZIE Esq. of Bayfield/to the memory of his much beloved wife JUSTINA/daughter of WILLIAM ANDERSON Esq./of Udoll who departed this life/the 10th day of June 1797 aged 37 years.
The most dutiful daughter, and affectionate wife and mother/who lived a life of unaffected piety, benevolence and charity/and died in the greatest firmness and resignation leaving a/disconsolate husband and family to bewail/their heavy loss. Beloved by her neighbours and much/lamented by the poor.


A son was later to marry another Justina Anderson, a relative. And a search on the net will throw up more recent family members, who are outwith the scope of this story.

John Mackenzie died in 1802, a year before his father, which must have been very hard on the good Doctor. I think it was Sir John Gordon of Invergordon who said “No man should have to bury his own son”. Doctor Mackenzie issued the funeral invitation to Munro of Allan himself (GD71/361):

Invitation from Dr Alexander Mackenzie to attend the funeral of his son, John Mackenzie of Bayfield, at Nigg kirkyard in 1802; photo by Jim Mackay

Note the reference to the family burial ground in Nigg again. There may well be a grave slab commemorating the family under the surplus soil dumped in the family enclosure in the north east corner of the graveyard at Nigg Old.

The Mackenzie of Bayfield enclosure at Nigg Old; photo by Andrew Dowsett

John’s will (PROB 11/1417/242) is the kind that family historians love:

I John Mackenzie of Bayfield Esquire for the love favour and affection which I have and bear to John Mackenzie my Eldest lawful Son and my other children after mentioned procreated betwixt me and my beloved Spouse the deceast Mrs Justina Anderson … give … in favors of the said John Mackenzie my Eldest lawful son whom failing to William Mackenzie my second son whom failing to Elizabeth Mackenzie my Eldest daughter whom failing to Ann Mackenzie my second daughter, and whom failing to Jean Mackenzie my youngest daughter … [all his land and property] … and under the burden of paying to my said younger children … Six thousand pounds Sterling money to be divided equally among them … I also nominate constitute and appoint Doctor Alexander Mackenzie physician in Cromarty my father Alexander Anderson Esquire of Udoll George Gun Munro Esquire of Poyntzfield Henry Davidson Esqr of Tulloch William Anderson and Andrew Reid Esquires Merchants in London and Walter Ross Factor of Cromarty to be Tutors and Curators to such of my said children as shall be minors at the time of my death any one of whom accepting or surviving… written on this and the three preceding pages of Stamped paper by the said Walter Ross at Bayfield the Eight day of September one thousand seven hundred and ninety seven years …

The nominated tutors included many of the influential family connections of the period, and the family fortunes had obviously completely turned around. Where did the money for Bayfield come from in the first instance? There is a story there yet to be uncovered.

This is not the place to follow the family further down in time, but I do note that son William married another Justina Anderson, as reported in the Inverness Courier of 5 September 1822:

At Hendon, Middlesex, on the 9th ult. Wm. Mackenzie, Esq. of the 3d dragoons, only son of the late John Mackenzie, Esq., of Bayfield, N.B. to Justina third daughter of William Anderson, Esq. of Russell Square.

This no doubt has caused great confusion to family historians!


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