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

Forbes of Cullicudden

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as annotated


The three boar heads of the Forbes family on a slab at Cullicudden; photo by Andrew Dowsett


Forbes on the Cullicudden Farms

The Forbes family of Cullicudden over the 1700s and 1800s had been millers at Kinbeachie, and tenants or tacksmen at Culbo, Drumcudden, Kinbeachie and Toberchurn, in other words at most of the farms in the western end of the united parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden commonly known as Resolis. They were even tenants of the quarry at Cullicudden at one time. Fitting all the Forbes branches together would be some task. This story is devoted mainly to the line represented by the headstone and tablestone in the family cluster of six memorials at Cullicudden, and I present the information related to the older slabs for the sake of completeness.

The most famous of the Forbes families in Cullicudden must be James Forbes of Kinbeachie and Toberchurn, catechist and elder under the distinguished Reverend Donald Sage. The candid Sage provides a snapshot of the man in his biographical Memorabilia Domestica. Coincidentally, the very first Forbes I see recorded in the area, John fforbes of Drumcudden, was also an elder in the church.

There have never been many Forbes families in Cullicudden, reaching greatest numbers in the late 1700s and early 1800s when there were perhaps half a dozen separate households. This suggests one family coming in in relatively recent times, perhaps the late 1600s or early 1700s, and building up its branches as children married into local families.


The Forbes Family Cluster of Memorials

The family cluster of six Forbes stones at Cullicudden demonstrates the different post-Reformation memorial phases in Highland kirkyards. They were excavated back in the 1990s by both Mrs Penny Poole and yours truly and the surrounding ground checked to confirm there were no more slabs in the near vicinity. They are a tight family group of stones.

There are several old slabs. The most elderly comes complete with a very clearly delineated axe, as well as the usual post-Reformation symbols of mortality of hourglass between two deadbells, a coffin, and skull and crossed bones.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

Another slab, which narrows from top to base, always a sure sign of an older stone, bears the three bear heads of the Forbes clan, although whether or not the Forbes thus memorialised was actually entitled to use the clan crest is another matter!

There are two more slabs, one undated, one with a date of 1761.

Right slap in the middle of the row of slabs is a memorial of that style associated with the bigger tenants and tacksmen, the tablestone, bearing a date of 1827.

And finally an ornate sandstone headstone, the first date upon it being 1862, but with the most recent date of as recently as 1906. It has survived least well of all six, as it fell on its face and suffered some damage to its ornamentation and some spalling of its back. But it is still in fine shape and well done to descendant Ruth Black who had Hood’s of Dingwall re-erect the headstone.


John fforbes in Drumcudden

The earliest record of the family I have located is from 11 March 1718, in the Presbytery records, when the Reverend Thomas Inglis was seeking to “have some persons in his united parishes of Kirk Michel and Killicuden ordained Ruling Elders and for that end gave in the following List”. On that list of heritors and larger tenants was “John fforbes in DrumCuden”. A month later, on 29 April 1718, a selection of tenants including “John fforbes in Drumcuddine” was called to “declare their consent and earnest desire that a School might be erected in these united Parishes”.

At this time Drumcudden was owned by Duff of Muirton in Inverness, and hence further information can be sought within Duff family records. I see another reference to this John Forbes from a document a century later when Drumcudden was in the ownership of the Newhall Estate. A Newhall paper (Highland Archive D32/H1(b) ) describes the land thus:

Lot 1st. Drumcudden
This is a most valuable Property – It was a separate Estate in the Families of Duff of Drummuir and Muirtown for more than a Century. – By a Rental subscribed by The Lady Drummuir and given to her factor on 10th. Novemr. 1726 the Lands yielded then as follows vizt.

  Customs Oats Hens Barley Oat Meal Money
  Bolls Firlots Pecks   Bolls Firlots Bolls Firlots £. Sh. D.
Donald Davidson p Tack in 1717 1 3 2 49 22 2 22 2 18 5 -
James MacKeddy - 3 - 21 9 - 9 - 7 10 -
John Forbes - 3 - 21 9 - 9 - 7 10 -
Thos Urquhart of Kinbeachy - 2 2 16 7 2 7 2 6 5 -
  4 - - 107 48 - 48 - 40 - -

We can thus see that in 1726 the same John Forbes was one of only four tenants in Drumcudden, and he had a substantial rental. The solid sort of tenant whom you would expect to have a good grave slab.

Nowadays few folk are aware of where the old Estate of Drumcudden was located, or its scale, so I have utilised the 1796 Estate Plan (RHP1469) to draw its approximate boundaries on a more modern base. St Martins Mains is located where the largest farmstead of “Easter Drumcudden” was.


Slab with Three Bear Heads

This slab is the northernmost of the Forbes group, and bears the simple inscription:


What makes it remarkable is the row of bear heads along the top. The legend goes that the “Braes o’ Forbes” in Aberdeenshire were once uninhabitable because of bears living in the area. Oconachar, founder of the clan, killed the bears and claimed the land. Hmm. Whatever the truth of this, the three bear heads, set either in a row or in an equilateral triangle, may be seen on the shields of many different Forbes branches. Nevertheless, to find it on a slab in Cullicudden Kirkyard still comes as a surprise.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

The slab is more deeply buried than the other Forbes slabs, and is tapered from head to foot, both features indicating greater age. The bewigged skull with its prominent teeth, above crossbones, would suggest (if they were original) that the slab was early 1700s. The double perimeter lines on older slabs would be filled with text, usually starting with the uninformative “Heir lyes ane honest man”, but the perimeter lines had become usually ornamental features by this time. There is just a suggestion of some lightly inscribed chaacters just above the incised panel and the next time this slab is exposed slanting light will be used to see what they say.

And what of the IF IV? “V” for a surname is in virtually all cases in this area an Urquhart, and “I” was used for both “I” and “J”. I presume then that this stone commemorates a John or James Forbes and a Janet or Isabella Urquhart.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

photo by Andrew Dowsett

It would therefore be interesting to see if the sizeable tenant John fforbes in Drumcudden had married one of the Urquharts! Unfortunately, the Resolis marriage and baptism records do not go back beyond the mid 1700s.

We are accustomed to seeing the three boar heads associated with the Urquhart family, but this is the only example in Cullicudden of three bear heads.


Slab with an Axe

The second slab in the Forbes group, heading south, is this striking one with the simple inscription:


photo by Andrew Dowsett

It has an excellent set of early 1700 symbols of mortality (deadbells, hourglass, coffin, wigged skull and crossed bones). The Cullicudden stones have been recorded both by Mrs Penny Poole and me, and we both were well impressed by this stone. And although you might think there is little to be extracted from the simple initials of AF and IS, nevertheless, given the names common in the area, these are likely to represent an early Alexander Forbes who married a Janet or Isabella Simpson. The wigged skull points to early to mid 1700s and the prominent teeth in the skull point to very early 1700s.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

photo by Andrew Dowsett

The line of slabs is interrupted by the tablestone commemorating James Forbes and Catherine Macdonald. It may be that an earlier slab was broken up to make room for the tablestone. In crowded Kirkmichael we have found that when later headstones were installed, early slabs had corners carved out of them or were wholly broken up to accommodate the burial or the headstone itself. In two cases, to accommodate a newer stone an old slab was pushed sideways to sit on top of another old slab. And in my lifetime, in Cullicudden, an old slab in front of the Ardullie Aisle was simply overturned to make room for a burial. We’ll come back to the Forbes tablestone, but for now we will jump over it to the next slab.


Slab bearing date 1761 – Thomas Forbes and Isobel Fraser in Culbo

Adjacent to the tablestone, on the south side, is a slab with the inscription:


The slab is more modern than the others in the series, of pale sandstone with beautifully chamfered edges. It is tilted well over as it has sunk unequally into the ground.

photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

This couple appear in the Resolis Baptism Records, albeit with a blotch and what I take to be one mistake – the 1750 entry is from the Reverend Donald Sage’s transcription of the ruined originals, and I have noted several errors in the past where some pages of the originals have survived and have been compared with Sage’s version. The summarised entries are as follows:

Parish of Resolis Baptism Summaries
3 March 1750 Thomas Forbes tenant Culbow & Christn. Fraser – Anne [I presume Christn. in error for Isobel]
15 December 1752 Thomas Forbes tenant Culbow & Isobel Fraser – Isobel
13 June 1755 Thomas Forbes tenant Culbo & Isobel Fraser– Mary
14 December 1759 Thomas Forbas tenent in Culbow & Isobel Fr [blotch] – Thomas

Thus far I have been unable to connect this branch with the other Forbes families on neighbouring stones. The 1769 plan of Findon (including Culbo), drawn by David Aitken (see our detailed story about Aitken here), gives the names and locations of Culbo tenants, but by this time no Forbes is shown as a tenant in the area of Culbo that fell within the Findon Estate.


Slab with initials TF

The most southerly of the Forbes slabs merely bears initials TF inside the usual cartouche or curled pentagon, with at base the bewigged skull over crossed bones typical of the early to mid 1700s. The slab tapers significantly from top to base, and has the usual two ornamental perimeter lines.

photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

Who this Thomas Forbes was we do not know. At a time when the great majority of people were given no memorial, clearly Thomas was of some significance. The absence of a spouse’s intials would suggest a favoured son who died young.


The Forbes Headstone

The headstone, which stands at the base of the two most northerly of the Forbes slabs, was carved by “J. Gilchrist Invergn.”, The inscription reads:

Erected to the memory of ALEXANDER FORBES, Kinbachie, who died 27th July 1862, aged 70 years. Also his beloved wife, CATHERINE FRASER, who died 29th Decr. 1865, aged 67 years. ALEXANDER FORBES who died 4th Febry 1885 aged 59 years Also his bloved wife MARGARET WATSON who died 2nd July 1906 aged 62 years And their children ALEx aged 2 years CATHERINE aged 3 years.

in the 1950s; photo courtesy of Ruth Black

headstone buried in turf; photo by Ruth Black

and back up again! photo by Andrew Dowsett

Alexander Forbes (1791–1862) was the son of the Kinbeachie miller and Toberchurn crofter, James Forbes and his spouse, Catherine Macdonald. Alexander was a tenant farmer in Kinbeachie from about 1835 to his death nearly thirty years later. However, he had started out simply as a farm servant or agricultural labourer, and I see him recorded thus at Craighouse (Craigton, above Castle Craig) for baptisms from 1821, 1824, 1827 and 1829. In a complementary series of records, we see him in the militia rolls of that period, at Craigton or Craighouse, working for farmer Alexander Macdonald. He was often recorded as under size, and with a steadily increasing number of children. By 1832, though, he had become a labourer at the nearby farm of Kinbeachie, and it was just a few years before he actually gained the tenancy and started farming there in his own right.

Alexander had married Catherine Fraser (1795–1865) back in 1820, when he was a humble farm servant. It was recorded in the marriage register of Urquhart and Logie Wester parish:

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Marriages
1820 … Feby … 23 Alexander Forbes, Parish of Resolis, and Catharine Fraser of this Parish by Do. [the Reverend John Macdonald, “The Apostle of the North”]

They had James (1821), Donald (1824), Alexander (1827), William (1829), Colin (1832) and John (1835). Their census returns in 1841, 1851 and 1861 don’t add to the family details. I note that in the 1861 household at Kinbeachie with their parents were only two unmarried sons, Alexander, a labourer at Cullicudden Quarry, and John, a grocer, the other children by now having flown the coop.

Father Alexander died the following year:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Alexander Forbes crofter (married to Catherine Fraser) died 27 July 1862 at Kinbeachie age 70 parents James Forbes farmer (deceased) Catherine Forbes m.s. McDonald (deceased) informant James Forbes son (not present)

And mother Catherine died three years later:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Catherine Forbes (widow of Alexander Forbes, crofter) died 23 November 1865 at Kinbeachie age 67 parents Donald Fraser shoemaker (deceased) Isabella Fraser m.s. McLachlan (deceased) informant James Forbes son (present)

We know very little about Catherine, but can trace her baptism given the information in her death certificate. It emerges that she had been born in the Braes of Culbokie. Where exactly that is I know not, but close to Culbokie anyway!

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Baptisms
1795 … March Baptized by Do. Katharine Daughter to Donald Fraser in the Breas of Culbockie & to his Spouse Isobel Maclachlan

Alexander and Catherine are commemorated by their ornate headstone, erected in front of the line of Forbes slabs and tablestone in Cullicudden Kirkyard. The drapery on its top is perhaps a little too heavy for modern taste, but the column of bells on either edge is very attractive.

Son Alexander already features in a Story behind the Stone here, devoted to the quarries of Cullicudden and Findon. That Story says:

We have seen that the tenants and quarrymen of Cullicudden Quarry in the 1850s were jointly Alexander Munro and William Forbes, until Munro took it over himself. But after he became bankrupt, the Forbes family took over once again.In the Valuation Roll of 1864, Alexander Forbes is listed for the first time as the tenant of the Quarry, at an annual rent of £12. It had been £6.10 for Alexander Munro the year before, so this was quite a hike. Alexander Forbes continues as tenant through to at least 1875. I have not seen the Rolls for 1876 and 1877, but in 1878 the tenant has changed to Donald Ross Munro. Alexander Forbes thus had been the Quarry tenant and operator for about 14 years. It is as Quarry tenant that he is described on the birth of his daughter Jane in 1870.

The quarry face behind the spoil heap

A pond now fills the excavation from which blocks of sandstone were lifted

The William Forbes referred to, he who had Cullicudden Quarry in the 1850s/1860s, was Alexander’s uncle. He and his wife, Janet Holm, who unfortunately suffered from periodic bouts of mental health issues, farmed in the Bog of Cullicudden. One child married into a family with many connections within Resolis, the Matheson family of Bog of Cullicudden. With his uncle William having been involved with Cullicudden Quarry, it is not surprising that Alexander took it over himself.

I must confess to a strong personal interest in Alexander Forbes as he married someone from a branch of my own family! A branch that had in fact issued from the tiny county of Rutland in England. For those interested in the couple Thomas Watson and Jane Thorpe, you could excavate a story I wrote for the Highland Family History Society’s Journal many yeas ago entitled “A Highlander in Rutland”. In a nutshell, my great great grandfather Thomas Watson had left the parish of Avoch to seek his fortune. He married in Uppingham one Jane Thorpe, my great great grandmother, the daughter of the grocer and innkeeper there, and they came to live in the Black Isle. Tragically they both died young within 10 days of each other in a typhoid epidemic of 1863. Their children became scattered around other families in the Black Isle.

This then is the background behind Margaret Watson, commemorated on this headstone in Cullicudden, who married stone quarrier Alexander Forbes in 1869.

Parish of Resolis Marriages
28 May 1869 at Free Church, Resolis, After Banns, according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Alexr. Forbes stone quarrier (bachelor) aged 40 usual residence Kinbeachie Resolis parents Alexander Forbes crofter (d) Catherine Forbes ms Fraser (d)
Margaret Watson domestic servant (spinster) aged 25 usual residence Parish of Avoch parents Thomas Watson crofter (d) Jane Watson ms Sorpe [Thorpe] (d)
(signed) James Maclauchlan Free Church Minr. Resolis. (signed) James Hanan witness Benjamin Watson witness

Margaret had previously had a natural child, born in Avoch, who was adopted into the family at Kinbeachie.

1871 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Kinbeachie, house with four rooms with one or more windows
Alexander Forbes head 44 ag lab born Resolis
Margaret Forbes wife 27 born Knockbain
Jane Forbes daur 1 born Resolis
John Watson stepson 5 born Avoch
Benjamin Watson lodger unmarried 20 ag lab born Avoch

They lost two of their children, as commemorated on the headstone, in November 1874. Both young Alexander and Catherine succumbed to the childood scourge of diphtheria, now easily avoidable by vaccination. If only modern “anti-vaxers” could be exposed to the horrible truth of life before vaccination!

The family moved from Kinbeachie shortly after the 1871 Census and established themselves, not that far away, at a croft in Braefindon, above Culbokie, in the neighbouring parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester. Subsequent census returns show them at a croft at Brae of Badrain. Strictly speaking Brae of Badrain is a bit higher up on the hill, but given the close proximity of Braefindon and Badrain, I do not know if there was a genuine but short relocation or just a renaming of where their croft was situated! They both died there, he in 1885, and she, many years later in 1906.

The names of Alexander and Margaret were added to the headstone in Cullicudden, the last to be recorded in the kirkyard. I shall not pursue the children as this is getting into too recent history for the Story Behind the Stone series. However, note the photograph kindly provided to me by descendant Ruth Black. It shows her grandfather and her great grandmother at the grave in the 1950s. I was surprised to see, behind them, a long-gone sizeable yew!

photo courtesy of Ruth Black featuring her great-grandmother and grandfather at the family headstone in Cullicudden


The Tablestone

The headstone commemorates Alexander Forbes and Catherine Fraser and their son and his family. The tablestone behind the headstone commemorates the parents of Alexander, James Forbes and Catherine Macdonald. It simply reads:

I F C Mc D / 1827

These cryptic inscriptions are never that easy to interpret. Was 1827 the year that the tablestone was erected, or the year of death of one of the couple, or the year of death of one of their family which then triggered the purchase of a family tablestone? I have seen these stark dates used in all these contexts. James died in 1837, but we know Catherine was deceased by July 1829 so it may well be that it was her death in 1827 that initiated the memorial.

James Forbes was the miller in Kinbeachie, later a farmer there and later yet a farmer across the road at Toberchurn. As son Alexander was baptised in 1791, he may well have have married Catherine Macdonald about 1790, but the marriage, like so many in the time of the Reverend Robert Arthur, is unrecorded. The children we are aware of include Alexander (the subject of the headstone in front of the tablestone), John and William:

Parish of Resolis Baptism Register
March 16th 1791 James Forbes Miller at Kinbeachie & Cathrine McDonald, his Spouse, had a Son baptized named Alexander
November 21st 1793 James Forbes Miller at Kinbeachie & Cathrine Macdonald his Spouse had a Son baptized named John
1800 … April 30th James Forbas Farmer Kenbeachie and Katharine McDonald his Spouse had a Child baptized named William

Kinbeachie Mill, beside the remnants of Kinbeachie Castle, demolished in the 1950s, and the Mains of Kinbeachie further west. The lade comes from Kinbeachie Loch; OS 6 inches to the mile, surveyed 1871–1875

Kinbeachie Mill was described in the Ordnance Survey Namebook a couple of generations later in the 1870s thus:

This name applies to a Corn Mill Situated about 200 yds East of the Farm of Kinbeachie, the Mill is Two Storeys high, Thatched and in good repair, The motive power is Water, The Property of, Thomas Urquhart esq per Stewart & Rule, Solicitors Church St & Bank Lane. Inverness.

It continued in use into the early 1900s. The mill features in Urquhart of Kinbeachie charters right back to the sixteenth century, so you can see there was quite a tradition associated with it. Local poet David Cameron (“Dick Cameron” 1884–1931) in his poem about Kinbeachie says:

“The mill is now idle, and gone is the trade,
No water now flows in the tumbledown lade;
The water-rat roams in the broad light of day,
Everywhere ruin and the sign of decay.”

There are no visible structures to indicate where the mill once was.

Site of Kinbeachie Castle and Kinbeachie Mill nowadays, looking east; photo by Jim Mackay

The Kinbeachie Estate, held by one branch of the Urquharts after other Urquhart estates in the parish had been sold, is a small one. You would not think Kinbeachie Mill would be a going concern. But tenants were “thirled” or bound to the Kinbeachie Mill from much further afield. I have lists of Newhall Estate tenants from 1816 and 1820 who were thirled to the Miln of Kinbeachie, and they included tenants in Toberchurn, Craighouse, Cullicudden, Bog of Cullicudden, Woodhead and Culbo. The Kinbeachie Miller could thus be assured of a good trade and was a person of importance in the area. I see in the 1798 Militia List for Resolis two entries for millers at Kinbeachie “Jas. Forbes Miller” with 3 horses and 3 rung carts and “Davd. Thompson Miller” with 2 horses and 1 small cart. In the Consolidated Tax records for Kirkmichael and Cullicudden for the period 6 April 1798 to 5 April 1799, we can see James Forbes as “Farmer in Kinbeachie” liable for two shillings and sixpence tax. Similarly, in the subscriptions towards the National Defence made by many of the inhabitants of Resolis in 1799, the Caledonian Mercury of 21 November 1799 includes, having donated three shillings, “James Forbes, tenant in Kinbeachy”. Had he given up the mill by this time, or was he known as a tenant simply because he was tenanting mill and farm?

Whichever, after this point, I can find no references to James Forbes in Kinbeachie at all. Clearly he survived much longer in order to establish the tablestone bearing date “1827”. Why was there no record of him? Well, I wondered if he had simply moved across the road to nearby Toberchurn where a tenant named James Forbes is well recorded. That James Forbes became catechist of the church, and was appointed as an elder by the Reverend Donald Sage in 1822. And that James Forbes died in 1837, as recorded in the Kirk Session Records and in Sage’s autobiographical Memorabilia Domestica. After much examination of supporting information, I have concluded that indeed James Forbes of Kinbeachie and James Forbes of Toberchurn, catechist and elder, were one and the same.

The first mention which I have found of James Forbes as a tenant in Toberchurn comes from 1808. This is in a document entitled “Copy Scheme in Valuation of Teinds of the Lands belonging to Donald McKenzie Esq. of Newhall in the United parishes of Kirkmichael & Cullicudden 29 June 1808” and we have, in Toberchurn, “Part thereof, p. James Forbes 10 B[olls] Meal, 4 B[olls] Barley, £3.-.- [money rent]”.

Toberchurn and Kinbeachie are very close, particularly if using the old track (red-spotted and still usable through the woods) that connected Toberchurn with the main road

James Forbes had thus ceased to be a tenant with the Kinbeachie Estate, in Kinbeachie, sometime between 1800 and 1808 and taken up a new tenancy with the Newhall Estate, in Toberchurn. I had some difficulty in demonstrating this to my satisfaction, but found solid evidence in the Resolis militia rolls, compiled during the Napoleonic period. Men between the ages of 17 or 18 and 45 were listed, those with a valid reason for not serving such as suffering from ill health or having young children to support were excused, and the names of the others put into the ballot from which a small number were selected to serve. Let’s have a look at the complete series of Forbes entries at Toberchurn from the militia records.

References to Forbes in Toberchurn in Resolis Militia Records
1814 – Toberchuirn
… John Forbes labourer <30
1820 – Toberchurn
… James Forbes farmer >30
John Forbes servant >30
1825 – Touberchurn
… John Forbes farmer’s son >30 Asthmatic
Such as have absconded or concealed their names given up by the Constables viz. … William Forbes Farmer’s Son Touberchurn
1826 – Touberchurn
… John Forbes farmer’s son >30 sickly Ex
1828 – Touberchurn
… John Forbes farmer >30
1831 – Touberchurn
John Forbes tenant >30 1 child
William Forbes tenant’s brother <30

Now, we know that James Forbes at Kinbeachie had sons named John and William, and here we have father James and sons John and William all mentioned in the right context and age. William, it has to be said, does not come out so well, having attempted to avoid the 1825 ballot, although he had re-appeared by the ballot in 1831.

And that clue of the one child appearing to John Forbes by the militia roll of 1831 is important confirmation of his own family, and I shall return to that below.

Easter Toberchurn steading and farmhouse, back in 2010; photo by Jim Mackay


The Children of James Forbes and Catherine Macdonald

1. Alexander Forbes (1791–1885) we have seen became a tenant farmer at Kinbeachie and married Catherine Fraser. They and some of their family are commemorated on the headstone at Cullicudden.

2. John Forbes (1793–1874) . From the militia evidence, John worked with his father on the tenancy at Toberchurn. Unlike brother William, he stayed for the militia ballot in 1820. However, in 1825 he was recorded as asthmatic, and in 1826 as sickly, and was excused from being balloted. In the 1831 milita roll he is recorded as having one child below the age of 14, and that record confirms that the following must be he, with his first child Katharine having been born between militia ballots, in 1829:

Parish of Resolis Marriages
John Forbes Tenant at Touberchurn & Mary Cameron Ferrietown both in this Parish were contracted and married in due time February 1st 1828.

Parish of Resolis Baptisms Summaries
5 October 1829 John Forbes tenant at Touberchurn & Mary Cameron – Katharine born 15 September
24 July 1832 John Forbes tenant at Touberchurn & Mary Cameron – James born 19 July
15 May 1834 John Forbes tenant at Touberchurn & Mary Cameron – George born 2 May

And there I lost track of John and his family. If he was sickly in 1826, perhaps he died young, I wondered. But I could not understand why no trace of his family remained. None is present in the 1841 Census. Did the family emigrate?

Back ten years or so I was in communication with Canadian Bonnie Paterson, whose three times great grandparents were John Forbes of Toberchurn and Mary Cameron of Ferrietown, who had married in 1828, and had, as suspected, emigrated, to Canada. She thought they had left about 1837, and that young George had died on the voyage, but there was no documentation to confirm this. Her great-aunt, 90 in 2010, was convinced that Mary Cameron’s father was named Adam.

For this particular Story I therefore had a look at the Canadian records in some detail. The family of John Forbes and Mary Cameron appear (minus young George) in the Canadian census returns, cemetery records in Ontario and in the civil records there. Young George having died, a later child was named Georgina.

John became a farmer, at East Williams Township, Middlesex County, Ontario, and appears there in consecutive census returns for 1851, 1861 and, the final one before his demise, 1871. Summarised versions are set out below. In East Williams the great majority of inhabitants were of Scottish origin, so it was really a Scottish community that the Forbes family had settled in. Note that the Census Returns for 1851 and 1861 in Canada rather strangely gave age at next birthday. For Canada West and Upper Canada (U.C) read Ontario.

1851 Census Return for Williams Township, Middlesex County, Canada West
John Forbes farmer born Scotland 55
Mary Forbes born Scotland 50
Cathrine Forbes born Scotland 22 / James Forbes labourer born Scotland 19 / Margt. Forbes born Canada West 10 / Georgina Forbes born Canada West 7

1861 Census Return for Williams Township, Middlesex County, Canada West – 2 storey log house
James Forbes farmer born Scotland 29 married / Hellin Forbes born U.C 24 married
John Forbes born Scotland 65 married
Mary Forbes born Scotland 58 married
Cathrine Forbes born Scotland 31 single / Margret Forbes born U.C 20 single / Georgina Forbes born U.C 15 single

1871 Census Return for Williams East Enumeration District, North Middlesex District, Ontario
Forbes John 77 born Scotland farmer
Forbes Mary 69 born Scotland
Forbes Catherine 41 born Scotland / Forbes Georgina 24 born Ont

According to his gravestone in Nairn Cemetery, Midddlesex County, John Forbes died on 8 June 1874. There are several family stones in this Cemetery, and the following images are all drawn from John’s headstone, which has been damaged, reads:

John Forbes / died / June 8 1874 / Aged 79 Yrs / & 9 mos. / A native of Ross-shire / Scotland

photo by Art Currie, courtesy of

Margaret’s memorial is even more badly damaged, but her date of death was obtained from the Ontario death register:

Division of East Williams, County of Middlesex, Ontario Deaths
Mary Cameron Forbes died 6th March 1882 age 80 years widow of late John Forbes Farmer born Ross-shire Scotland informant Catharine Forbes daughter of deceased, residence East Williams

Unfortunately Canadian death certificates did not give the parents of the deceased, as it would have been interesting to know who the parents of Mary Cameron were. Bonnie Paterson’s great-aunt, you may recall, thought that Mary’s father was Adam, and hence there was some thought her parents might be Adam Cameron or Mackeddie and Lillias Munro. I confess I am a little doubtful as to this. If it were true then, following Scottish naming patterns, the first girl child and the second boy child of John Forbes and Margaret Cameron would very likely be Lillias and Adam respectively and neither appears as the name of any of their children.

I do note that shoemaker and crofter George Cameron or Mackeddie and Margaret Ross who ended up in Ferryton (for their story see here) were having children in this period. The second boy child of John Forbes and Margaret Cameron was indeed named George, but, inconveniently for the theory, it was the second girl child who was named Margaret! However, it seems a more likely scenario. George and Margaret in 1797 had a child named … Adam, and he would have been Mary’s brother. I do wonder if Bonnie’s great-aunt was recalling the name Adam in that connection.

As noted, young George is believed to have died during their voyage to Canada, and Georgina was the name given to another child, born in Canada. She never married and is buried in Nairn Cemetery as well.

In / Memory of / GEORGINA / Daughter of / JOHN & MARY / FORBES / who departed this life / June 13, 1871 / Aged / 28 Years & … Days

Son James did marry, as evidenced by the 1861 Census Return, but alas also died young and is buried in Nairn Cemetery.

In / Memory of / JAS. FORBES / died / Feb. 1, 1864 / Æ 31yrs

Daughter Katharine or Catharine did not marry, but resided in the family home until her death in 1892. Her death certificate describes her rank or profession as “Gentlewoman”. She is buried in Nairn Cemetery.

In Memory of / CATHARINE FORBES / departed / Mar 20 1892 / Aged 62 yrs / A Native of Ross-Shire / Scotland

photo by Art Currie, courtesy of

photo by Art Currie, courtesy of

photo by Art Currie, courtesy of

Clearly early mortality was just as high in Canada as it was back home in Scotland. However, before he died, James Forbes and his wife, Helen or Ellen Jane Thoms, had two daughters, both of whom went on to have families. And daughter Margaret Forbes married one John Clark and they had a family in Ontario, from whom Bonnie is descended. I am pleased to see, therefore, that there were several descendants from the emigrating family of John Forbes and Mary Cameron.

3. William Forbes (1800–1876) I believe first worked with his father on the tenancy at Toberchurn, and did a disappearing act to avoid the militia roll in 1820. He returned and farmed with his brother in Toberchurn, before becoming involved as a quarrier at Cullicudden Quarry in the 1850s and 1860s, and as a crofter at Bog of Cullicudden. Towards the end of his life he fell on hard times, becoming a pauper.

He married in 1833 Janet Holm and there are three children recorded as being born and baptised to the couple, all three of whom went on to marry locally in due course.

Parish of Resolis Marriages
William Forbes Tenant at Bog of Cullicudden and Jennet Holm at Ferrietown both in this Parish were contracted and married in due time the 18th of January 1833

Parish of Resolis Baptisms Summaries
24 Jun 1834 William Forbes tenant at the Bog of Cullicudden & Jennet Holm – Jane born 13 May
29 March 1837 William Forbes tenant at the Bog of Cullicudden & Jennet Holm – Katharine born 16 March
4 December 1838 William Forbes tenant at the Bog of Cullicudden & Jennet Holm – Jennet born 10 November

He and Janet can be seen in 1841 Census Return at Bog of Cullicudden with their three daughters and in the 1851 Census Return, minus Katharine who presumably was out to service. He renewed his tack with the laird in 1852, and a notarial copy of this is still held by descendant Alister Matheson who resides on the same croft at Bog of Cullicudden. Alister kindly allowed me to transcribe his copy which I have included as an appendix as it contains much of historical interest.

The family may be seen on the croft in Bog of Cullicudden in subsequent Census Returns 1861, 1871 and 1881, but there is no mention there of William’s involvement with the Quarry at Cullicudden. This comes from the valuation rolls, where the tenants and quarrymen of Cullicudden Quarry were jointly Alexander Munro and William Forbes, until Munro took it over himself. This is why William’s description on the marriage certificates of his daughters Catherine and Janet in 1861 and 1862 respectively are as “stone quarrier”.

These must have been challenging times for the family with their mother’s recurring mental illness. The story can be found in the Parochial Records and in the records of the former Asylum at Inverness. My New Zealand correspondent, and descendant of William and Janet, Kathy Williams, successfully obtained information on the Inverness asylum from the Highlands Health Sciences Library. Janet Holm had suffered annually from short periods of “insanity”, but her first admission was on 1 October 1872, reasons: anxiety as to emigration of family. Daughter Catherine and her husband Hector McIntosh sailed from London on the Himalaya on 22 November, 1872 and Kathy’s grandfather was born on board ship on 25 November, 1872. She was considered a danger to herself and others. Released when she stabilised, a year later her symptoms returned even more pronounced; she was re-admitted. She died there in her sleep in 1885.

In 1873 William was admitted to the parochial relief funds. His entry in these records states:

Name William Forbes Residence Bog of Cullicudden Age 73
Date of Minute of Parochial Board or Committee admitting Liability and authorizing Relief 15 February 1873
Amount and Description of Relief authorized 13/- quarterly
Parish of Birth Resolis Condition Married Trade or Occupation was a Crofter
Wholly or Partially Disabled Partially Description of Disablement Disease of Hip joint & age
Wholly or Partially Destitute Partially
Earnings, Means, and Resources, besides Parochial Relief Resides with son-in-law Nature of Settlement Birth & Residence
Name and Age of Wife, Child or Children living in Family Janet Holm 72 Wife – at present in Invss. Lunatic Asylum from this Parish
Name, Age and Weekly Earnings of Husband, Wife, Child or Children not living in Family and their Circumstances Janet [Jane] 34 married to Alexr. Matheson, Bog Cullicudden & large young family – Catherine 32 on passage to New Zealand – Janet 29 – married to a Ploughman Poyntzfield & a family

As usual, the parochial relief records were spot on.

Jane married farm servant Alexander Matheson in Resolis in 1856 (she died in 1906, in the Bog of Cullicudden). They and their family are commemorated on a handsome sandstone headstone further east within Cullicudden Kirkyard.

photo by Jim Mackay

Catherine married ploughman Hector Mackintosh in Resolis in 1861 and after moving around several Black Isle farms they emigrated to New Zealand. Correspondent Kathy Williams is descended from Catherine and Hector and informs me that “My g grandmother and g grandfather are buried in Rangiora which is about 16 miles north of Christchurch and ten minutes away from where we live. Catherine McIntosh (nee Forbes) died on the 12 October 1916 aged 78 and is buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery, East Belt, Rangiora along with her husband Hector McIntosh who died on the 21 October 1901 aged 67. Their headstone reads “In Loving Memory of Hector McINTOSH who died 21 October 1901 aged 67 ‘Thy Will be done,’ Also his wife Catherine died 12 October 1916 aged 78. ‘At rest’”

Janet or Jessie married ploughman Charles Urquhart in Resolis in 1862 (she died as recently as 1922, in Jemimaville).

They are commemorated by a granite headstone in Cromarty Gaelic Burial Ground, the inscription reading: “In loving memory of CHARLES URQUHART died at Jemimaville 6th October 1916 aged 84 and his wife JESSIE FORBES also died there 2nd Feb. 1922 aged 84 Their son DAVID died Poyntzfield 18th Feby 1884 aged 17. Erected by the Family.”

headstone commemorating the family of Hector McIntosh in East Belt Cemetery, Rangiora; photo by Ngaire Wright, courtesy of

headstone commemorating the family of Charles Urquhart in Gaelic Cemetery, Cromarty; photo courtesy of

William himself died in 1876. No stone commemorates him or his wife.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
William Forbes pauper formerly crofter married to Janet Holm died 23 June 1876 at Bog of Cullicudden Resolis age 75 parents James Forbes farmer (d) Catherine Forbes ms McDonald (d) informant Alexander Matheson son in law (present)


James Forbes, Catechist and Elder

I mentioned at the very outset of this Story that the earliest record of a Forbes in the parish was when John fforbes in Drumcudden was put forward as a Ruling Elder at the Presbytery. Religious devotion was clearly a characteristic of the Forbes family, as another Forbes became Elder during the period when the famous Reverend Donald Sage was minister of the parish. In his biographical Memorabilia Domestica he says:

When admitted by the Presbytery minister of Resolis in 1822, I found the ecclesiastical state of that parish in utter confusion. There was no kirk-session, no ordained elder, and scarcely even an assessor, no roll of communicants, no list of poor. So many ordained elders therefore were required as would constitute a session. Those selected to be ordained by the Presbytery to this office were James Thomson, miller at Kinbaikie, and Robert Murray, tenant at Cullicudden. At a meeting of presbytery held at the manse in July, 1822, these were examined as to their religious knowledge, prudence, piety, and Christian conduct, a committee being appointed to publicly ordain them to the sacred office. Tuesday of the ensuing week was the day appointed for the ordination. Mr. John Kennedy of Killearnan, accompanied by Messrs Smith of Cromarty, and Wood of Rosemarkie, preached in Gaelic and performed the duty most appropriately.
The session thus constituted added five to their number, namely, Donald Maclean, tenant of Kirktown; David Murray, tenant at Cullicudden; James Forbes, tenant at Tobarchourn, catechist of the parish; Thomas Munro, tenant, St. Martins; and Barrington Ferguson, tenant at Brae. The character and standing of all the elders were according to godliness, each and all being men possessed of weight, and to whose judgment the people readily submitted.

James Forbes, previous to his ordination to the eldership, had been appointed catechist. He was a man of deep and fervent piety, somewhat fretful in his natural disposition, but of great Christian meekness, and of unwearied watchfulness. It is not indeed too much to say that, though many of his contemporaries were his superiors in gifts, few, if any of them, equalled him in the spotless purity of his life. As a catechist he was conscientious and laborious, but his method was not happy. Like many catechists of his own time, instead of instructing the people in the questions of “the Shorter Catechism,” his way was to lecture on these questions and answers at the particular meeting, or “diet of catechising,” which he held. His expositions were obscure, and the obscurity was increased by the rapidity of his utterance, and the low nasal tones of his voice. He died after a short illness, and was, in his office, succeeded by James Thomson.

The Session Records of Resolis show that James Forbes very rarely missed a meeting of the Kirk Session. Here are a few snippets from the minutes.

At the Church of Resolis the 15th day of Feby 1828.
The Session met & being duly constituted Present with the Moderator Robert Murray, James Thomson, David Murray, Donald McLean, James Forbes, Thomas Munro & Barrington Fergusson Elders. The Session taking into their most serious consideration the present state of this Parish and finding that vice more especially the sin & scandal of Fornication has for some time back, accompanied with many circumstances of aggravation been unusually prevalent, resolved at this meeting to hold a Diet of Prayer to plead with Almighty God for the outpouring of the Spirit in order to check open vice, to lead transgressors to true Repentance; & to give the means of grace both public & private due effect for that purpose.
Thereafter the Session resolved that this Parish should be divided into Districts in each of which an Elder be appointed to act in his official capacity & the following arrangement of the parish into Districts or quarters with Elders appointed for each was unanimously agreed to.
I   That St Martins, Drimdaire, East & West Culbo be erected into one District in which James Thomson is to officiate as Elder.
II   That Tobarchurn, Castlecraig, Poyntzfield and Braelangwell be erected into another District in which James Forbes is appointed to act as Elder.
III   That Drimcudden & Kinbeachie be erected into another District & of which Thomas Munro is appointed the Elder. …

From 1829, the Communicants’ Roll included the marital status of communicants, and James Forbes is revealed this year to be a widower. I suspect, therefore, that the date 1827 on his tablestone marks the year that his wife, Catherine Macdonald died.

At the church of Resolis the 3d day of July 1829
The which day the Session met & being duly constituted Present the Moderator & remanent Members. …The Roll of communicants therefore is as follows.

James Thomson Elder mard Drimdaire
Robert MurrayDo Wid. Cullicudden
Thomas Munro Do Do Drimcudden
James Forbes Do Do Tobarchurn

James Forbes died at Toberchurn, where he had lived and worked for so many years, on 20 November 1837. He was awarded a special honour as the Kirk Session formally met at Toberchurn in order to accompany the funeral procession to Cullicudden.

Tobarchourn. 22d day of November. 1837
Which day the Session met & was duly constituted. Present the Moderator, James Thomson, Thomas Munro, John Simpson & Andrew Mackinzie. The Session met here this day to accompany to the burying place at Cullicudden the Remains of James Forbes Elder & chatechist of the parish who died on Tuesday the 20th Inst. at 8 o clock A.M. & whose life was that of a faithful follower of Christ & whose death is thus recorded.   Dond Sage Modr.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

And I shall end this story here with the Minister and the other members of the Kirk Session of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden accompanying the remains of their fellow Elder to his grave in Cullicudden.


Appendix One – a simplified Forbes family marriage tree


Appendix Two – 1852 tack between the laird and William Forbes of Bog of Cullicudden,
courtesy of Alister Matheson, Bog of Cullicudden

It is Contracted Agreed and Ended between the parties following vizt. John Andrew Shaw Mackenzie Esquire of Newhall Heritable Proprietor of the subjects aftermentioned on the one part and William Forbes residing in Bog of Cullicudden on the other part in manner following That is to say the said John Andrew Shaw Mackenzie Esquire hereby Sets and in Tack and Assedation Lets to the said William Forbes and to his Heirs but secluding his Assignees and Subtenants legal voluntary and conventional All and Whole that Croft or Lot of Land in Bog of Cullicudden presently possessed by the said William Forbes himself bounded on the East by the Lot or Croft possessed by Donald Fowler, on the west by a line drawn between the land hereby set and the Lot or Croft in Bog of Cullicudden recently set to Alexander Fowler on the North by a line or furrow separating it from the Muir of Bog of Cullicudden, and on the South by the Burn of Newhall all lying in the Parish of Resolis and County of Cromarty
and that for the period and space of Nineteen years from and after the term of Whitsunday Eighteen hundred and fifty two, which notwithstanding the date hereof is hereby declared to have been the term of the said William Forbes’s entry to the premises in virtue of this Lease, Reserving to the Proprietor and the persons to be authorized by him the right of hunting shooting and killing game on the said Lands
Which Tack the said John Andrew Shaw Mackenzie Esquire hereby Binds and Obliges himself and his Heirs and Successors to warrant to the said William Forbes and his foresaids at all hands and against all mortals as law will For which causes and on the other part the said William Forbes hereby Binds and Obliges himself and his foresaids to make payment to the said John Andrew Shaw Mackenzie Esquire and to his Heirs or Asssignees of the sum of Four Pounds Sterling of yearly Rent for the said subjects and that at two terms in the year Martinmas and Whitsunday in equal portions beginning the first terms payment at the term of Martinmas Eighteen hundred and fifty three and the second terms payment at the term of Whitsunday thereafter being for Crop Eighteen hundred and fifty three the first under this Lease and so on half yearly and termly during the currency thereof,
And the said William Forbes hereby Binds and Obliges himself and his foresaids to trench improve and bring into cultivation the whole Muir or Waste land on his said possession within the first seven years of this Lease and to cultivate the said Lands hereby set in a husbandlike manner and that he shall not at any time take two white crops in succession off any part or portion thereof without grass or green crop intervening and that he shall consume the whole straw the produce thereof on the premises and not sell or dispose of the same, And the said William Forbes hereby Binds and Obliges himself and his foresaids to maintain and uphold the Houses and Buildings on his said possession in good tenantable condition and repair during the currency of this Lease and leave them in that state at the expiry thereof And he hereby Binds and obliges himself and his foresaids to remove from the whole premises at the expiry of this Lease without any warning or Process of Removing whatsoever
And Lastly the said parties Bind and Oblige themselves and their foresaids to implement and perform their respective parts of the premises to each other under the penalty of Five Pounds Sterling to be paid by the party failing to the party performing or willing to perform over and above performance. And they consent to the Registration hereof in the Books of Council and Session or other competent therein to remain for preservation that Letters of Horning on six days charge, and all other execution needful may pass thereon as effeirs and thereto constitute, Their Procurators &c.
In Witness Whereof these presents written upon this page of stamped paper by Donald MacIver Clerk to John Mackenzie Writer in Dingwall are subscribed by the said parties as follows vizt. by the said John Andrew Shaw Mackenzie Esquire at Newhall House the Twenty third day of November Eighteen hundred and fifty two before these Witnesses John MacLennan his Servant and Alexander Ferguson Ground Officer on the Estate of Newhall and by the said William Forbes at Balblair of Newhall the fifth day of January Eighteen hundred and fifty three before these Witnesses the said Alexander Ferguson and George Clark Clerk to George Mackenzie Writer in Dingwall (signed) J.A.S. Mackenzie, William Forbes, Alexander Ferguson Witness, John MacLennan Witness, Alexander Ferguson Witness, George Clark Witness.–
That what is contained upon the foregoing page is a true Copy of the principal Tack between the said parties is hereby certified by George Mackenzie N.P.


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