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

John Bisset and Rebecca Forsyth, William Bisset and Henrietta Macdonald,
the Cromarty Jailbreak of 1843, and the Temperance Hotel Invergordon

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as annotated

 

This is the story of John Bissett, a sawyer, mason and general contractor, born in Resolis, whose gravestone stands just to your left, on top of the bank, as you come in through the entrance at Kirkmichael. His father William was the farmer of Craiglandhill in Rosemarkie, his brother William was arrested for his role in the 1843 Cromarty Jailbreak, and his son William (who erected the memorial) became the Registrar for the Parish of Rosskeen – and owned the Temperance Hotel in Invergordon, where many Resolis marriages took place.


The sign for Bisset’s Temperance Hotel in Invergordon in 1913; photo courtesy of James Holm, Easter Ferryton

 

The parents – William Bisset and Elizabeth Fletcher

Farmer William Bisset and his wife Elizabeth Fletcher moved between several farms within the Black Isle and must have resided within Resolis for a period, although I have no record of his time here. Born in the Parish of Knockbain, William first comes to notice when he marries Elizabeth Fletcher. He was only a farm servant at the time, but was later to settle down with a tenancy himself.

Parish of Knockbain Marriages
1810 … Decemr. 7 Willm. Bizet Servant at Munlochy, and Elizabeth Fletcher at Muckle Suddie both in this Parish.

And I think it must have been soon afterwards that he became a farm servant within Resolis, when his son John was born there. This was during the final years of the Reverend Robert Arthur in Resolis, when the church records were very badly maintained. I imagine William must have still been a farm servant, saving up enough to rent some land. In every census return in which son John features, John gives Resolis as his parish of birth and his death certificate confirms his parents were William Bisset and Elizabeth Fletcher, but there is no baptism record. His age as given in those census returns would suggest he was born in 1812.

The first tenancy William held was at Easter Raddery in the Parish of Rosemarkie, an area that often crops up in these stories as it was just over the Black Isle ridge from Resolis.

Parish of Rosemarkie Baptisms
1813 … [date of birth] June 12 Ann Bizet [parents] William Bizet Farmer Easter Radery and Elizth. Fledger

That tenancy was short lived, as by 1915 he had taken up land at Suddie (near Munlochy in the Black Isle), as can be seen from subsequent entries in the Knockbain Baptism Register. Suddie I think must have been associated with the family as I know that he and several grandchildren would later be interred in Suddie Burial Ground. Initially we see him as a mailer (a small sub-tenant) before he successfully became a larger farming tenant.

Parish of Knockbain Baptisms
1815 Octr. … 30 … Eodem die Willm. Bizet mailer at Newtown of Suddie & his spouse Elizabeth Fletcher had a children born and was Baptized Wm.
1818 … July … 29 Wm. Bizet farmer at Newtown of Kilravock and his spouse Elizabeth Fletcher had a child born and was baptized Alexr.
1820 … Septemr. 9 William Bisset mailer at Newtown and his spouse Elizabeth Fletcher had a child born and was baptized James
1822 Octr. … 31 William Bisset Farmer at Newtown of Suddie and his spouse Elizabeth Fletcher had a child born and was baptized Margaret
1826 … October 10 Willm. Bisset Farmer at Suddie and his spouse Elizabeth Fletcher had a child born and was Baptised Elizabeth

Whilst there were distinct farms of Wester and Easter Suddie, the general area described as Suddie was quite widespread (the parish of Knockbain was actually formed from a unification of parishes Kilmuir Wester and Suddie). Where was Newtown of Suddie? When daughter Ann married farm servant Kenneth Logan in 1835, Logan’s residence was given as “Easter Suddie” and Ann’s residence was given as “Newton, Easter Suddie” so it was in the vicinity of Easter Suddie farm. You pass the old churchyard of Suddie (which lies between Wester and Easter Suddie) on your left as you come over the Black Isle from the Cromarty Firth side to Munlochy.


modern farming at Easter Suddie; photo © Copyright valenta and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence


Suddie Burial Ground; photo © Copyright Alpin Stewart and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Despite farming at Suddie for a long time William was to make one final further move, to the farm of “Craiglandhill” in the Parish of Rosemarkie. He farmed there until his death in 1859. Again, I know where Wester Craiglands and Easter Craiglands are (in fact, not far from Raddery, where he had his first farm) but again I am not sure of where exactly Craiglandhill was! The 1841 and 1851 Census Returns simply give the family as Craigland without specifying further.

1841 Census Return Parish of Rosemarkie – Craigland
Willm.Bisset 50 farmer y
Elizabeth do. 50 y
James do. 15 y / Margret do. 15 y / Elizabeth do. 14 y / John Flin? 10 ag. lab y / John Logan 4 y

The four-year-old John Logan in the household was of course the farmed-out first child of daughter Ann and Kenneth Logan. It was customary for children to be farmed out to close relations. There was a farmed-out relative in residence in 1851 as well, bringing in the first indication that some of the family had settled in Resolis:

1851 Census Return Parish of Rosemarkie – Crage Land
William Bisset head 57 farmer of 28 arable 12 acres pasture born Knockbain
Elizabeth Bisset wife 61 born Moray Drainy
James Bisset son unmarried 28 farmers son employed on farm born Knockbain
Margaret Bisset daur unmarried 26 house servt. born Knockbain
Duncan McRae servant 11 herd of cattle born Dingwall
William Bisset grand son 5 scholar born Resoles
Elizabeth Bisset daughter 24 employed on farm born Knockbain

The five-year-old grandson William Bisset was the son of William Bisset and Henrietta Macdonald across in Jemimaville in the Parish of Resolis, to whom we shall come. Farmer William died right at the very end of 1859 and was buried in Suddie.

Parish of Rosemarkie Deaths
William Bisset farmer (married) died 30 December 1859 at Craigland age 72 parents Alexander Bisset weaver (d) Ann Bisset ms Grigor (d) Burial Ground of Suddy as certified by George Corner sexton informant Ann Logan her x mark daughter

The family did not continue with the farm at Craigland. Rosehaugh Estate, on whose land the farm lay, advertised for new tenants in 1860, and in the advertisement they simply refer to it being “presently occupied by the Representatives of the deceased William Bisset”. You can see it was a reasonably-sized farm for a humble tenant farmer of the time.


Inverness Courier 5 April 1860

Despite moving out of the farm, widow Elizabeth remained at Craiglands until her death in 1867, residing with her daughter Elisabeth and husband, farm worker James Thomson, at Wester Craiglands. They had married some years earlier in 1860, at Craiglands. James Thomson in fact would be the informant on this occasion.

Parish of Rosemarkie Deaths
Elizabeth Bisset (widow of William Bisset farmer) died 27 March 1867 at Craigland age 76 parents John Fletcher (d) Margaret Fletcher ms Anderson (d) informant James Thomson (his x mark) son in law

I am usually wary of information reported by sometimes forgetful sons in law, but James was spot-on on this occasion, as I see that Elizabeth’s parents were recorded correctly. You may have noted from the Census returns that she was born in the Parish of Drainie, Moray, and her parents married there way back in 1769:

Parish of Drainie Marriages
1769 … June 12 John Flytter in Kendr. & Margt. Anderson both in this parish were matrimonially contd. & married July 4th

 

John Bisset (c1812–1878) comes to Resolis

I have not pursued the origins of the family any further as our principal interest is the Resolis and Kirkmichael connections. Now, eldest son John had clearly decided to move to Jemimaville when he married in 1840, as is evident from his Avoch marriage entry which states he was going to live there. He was dealing in timber, and there was a sawmill and boatyard at Jemimaville, and the village was a hub of trades activity. Before moving to Jemimaville he had been residing at “Craigland-hill”, i.e. with his parents. There is (usefully) a marriage record in both parishes associated with bride and groom.

Parish of Avoch Marriages
1840 … 14 Augt. Bisset John sawyer Parish of Rosemarkie Rebecca Forsyth L. Dr. of A. Forsyth tenant Geddiestown of Avoch future residence … Jemima Village

Parish of Rosemarkie Marriages
John Bisset, timber-dealer, Craigland-hill in this parish, and Rebekah Forsyth, of the parish of Avoch, were married, after regular proclamations, on the fourteenth day of August, one thousand, eight hundred, and forty years.

There was already some engagement with Jemimaville anyway, as I see that two of John Bisset’s workers got into trouble at the Inn there. In the Cromarty Sheriff Court records there is an 1840 case (SC24/13A/14) entitled “Procurator Fiscal vs William Paterson and Colin Mackenzie, Hill of Fortrose, labourers with John Bisset, woodmerchant: Assault & Malicious Mischief”. The accused broke into the inn of Walter Ross, Jemimaville, assaulted him and Janet Junor, his wife, and to add insult to injury, pulled down the inn sign. The case against Colin Mackenzie was dismissed whilst William Paterson was given the option of a 30s fine or 7 days imprisonment.

Having announced when marrying in that year of 1840 that they were moving to Jemimaville, John and Rebecca are indeed found in the village in the 1841 census. John’s younger brother William is in household with them. William would marry local gardener’s daughter Henrietta Macdonald later that year, and would get involved in the Cromarty prison-breaking in 1843, but we shall return to him.

1841 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville
John Bisset 30 merchant / Rebecka Forsyth 30 / William Bisset 25 agricultural labourer

The family of John and Rebecca are recorded in the baptism registers of the Established Church and then, following the Disruption, of the Free Church.

They had Margaret (1841) and Elizabeth (1843), when John was recorded as “sawer Jamima Ville”. But he was “mason” Jemimaville when they had Janet (1845), Rebekah (1847), William (1850 – the future registrar), Alexandrina (1852) and Christian (1854).

Sadly, two of the girls died young, Christina in 1856 and Rebecca in 1857, and both are buried in Suddie churchyard, where their grandfather, and, presumably, their grandmother also lie. None of these graves is marked with a memorial.

We know that John Bisset was a dealer or contractor in wood during this period, and as he was living in Jemimaville it is likely that he was involved with the sawmill up the Udale Burn from Jemimaville. He must have had serious cashflow problems due to poor payers, I see in 1854 he took no less than four seemingly respectable customers to court for non-payment. The customers and the amounts given in the Cromarty Sheriff Court records for that year include:

Cromarty Sheriff Court Records, NRS
Debt : John Bisset, Contractor, Jemimaville : Dr. George Gordon Smith, Surgeon, Cromarty : £0.15.6d
Debt : John Bisset, Contractor, Jemimaville : William MacLeay, Gardener, Newhall : £0.6.0d
Debt : John Bisset, Contractor, Jemimaville : Donald and John Urquhart, Farmers, Cullicudden : £0.16.7d
Debt : John Bisset, Contractor, Jemimaville : William MacKenzie, Farmer, Agneshill : £3.4.1d

The detail of one of those debts will show the type of enterprise in which he was involved. The non-payers in this case were, in fact, two of the Cullicudden Quarriers who had been involved in the Cromarty Jail Break a decade earlier with his brother William! The product being sold was sawn softwood planks (deals) from the sawmill.

Cromarty Sheriff Court records SC24/10/418
John Bisset, contractor, Jemimaville vs Donald and John Urquhart, farmers, Cullicudden
… Complained to me by John Bisset Contractor Jemimaville that Donald and John Urquhart Farmers Cullicudden Defenders are owing the Complainer Sixteen shillings and seven pence Sterling as per account produced … [complaint dated 21 Apr 1854] [execution of citation] … to the said John Urquhart personally, and to the wife of the said Donald Urquhart as I could not find himself personally …
[account:]
Jamima vill July 15th 1853       £ s d
1850 D & J Urqhart Culicuden to John Bisset
March 13 To 400 feet Slab Dels at 6/6 per 100 feet 1.6.0
" To 80 feet in Dels at 9/6 per 100 feet 8/1 To 6 Crowns at /3
" To 85 feet in Dels 8/6 -.8.6
Agust 7 To 100 feet 7/8 Dels at 8/6 per 100 feet 0.8.6
" To 100 feet in Dels at 9/6 0.9.6
£3.2.1
by a hifer in part 1.7.6
£1.14.7
1854 by order on Mr. Watson 1.0.0
April 14 Interest to date £0.14.7
16.7

From this we can see that the Urquhart brothers had ordered a considerable amount of timber from John in 1853, had paid back part of the debt by selling John a heifer and by securing a bond from a third party, a Mr Watson, leaving a sum of 14 shillings and 7 pence, which with 2 shillings interest was the sum pursued in the Small Debts Court in Cromarty.


the courtroom in Cromarty Sheriff Courty; photo by Jim Mackay

Despite non-payers, business must have been good. Both John and brother William are shown as the proprietors of their houses and gardens in Jemimaville from the first Valuation Roll of 1855 onward at £4 valued rent each. Owning their own home placed them on a much more financially secure footing than most.

Then a strange career change develops. In the next census, 1861, John is described as a stone quarrier. His house in Jemimaville is described as having six rooms with one or more windows, so either there was an error or trade was very good indeed! The valued rent remained at £4 so I suspect it was an error. Most of his family had now flown the coop so whatever the size of the house, there must have been more room inside.

1861 Census Return Parish of Resolis – JamimaVille Private House, six rooms with one or more windows
John Bisset head 48 stone quarrier born Resolis
Rebecca Bisset wife 42 born Avoch
Jess Bisset daur unmarried 16 born Resolis
William Bisset son 10 scholar born Resolis

The house had shrunk to three rooms with one or more windows in the 1871 Census, and on the Valuation Roll for that year the same valued rent of £4 is given, so I think that was its true size. Curiously, the valued rent was split into £3 for the section of the house occupied by John Bisset and £1 for a section entitled “unoccupied” – so I think the house was designed to be occupied by more than one family. I’m sure the actual residence could be tracked down to modern days via the Valuation Rolls for those wishing to pursue!

1871 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville, Front Street, three rooms with one or more windows
John Bisset head 59 mason born Resolis
Rebekah Bisset wife 60 born Avoch
Margaret Rose daur married 29 wrench turners wife born Resolis
John R.M. Rose grand son 4mo born Resolis
William Bisset son unmarried 20 compositor (apprentice) born Resolis
Mary Reid servant 12 servant (domestic) born Rosemarkie

You may be wondering how young William could be an apprentice compositor based in Jemimaville, but remember that the Ferry from Balblair to Invergordon was a short distance away, and in Invergordon there was a flourishing weekly newspaper. Now, it may be coincidence, but daughter Elisabeth had married compositor from Edinburgh (although from Easter Ross originally), William Scott, just a couple of years earlier in 1867. Scott I think must have encouraged the young William Bisset to investigate a career in the same trade. I have not followed the Scott family in detail following the marriage in 1867, although I see several of their children became teachers.

Who else was in household in 1871? Well, grandson “John R.M. Rose” had been born in Jemimaville just a few months earlier, and his birth record reveals a rather surprising location for the marriage of Margaret Bisset and wrench turner John Rose:

Parish of Resolis Births
John Robertson McKenzie Rose born 2 November 1870 at Jamimaville parents John Rose wrench turner (domicil Birmingham) Margaret Rose ms Bisset married 7 March 1870 Birmingham informant father (present)

Margaret had clearly returned from Birmingham to her parents’ home to have her first child. Again, I have not followed the Rose family in detail, but they grew into a sizeable family in England. That first born boy, John Robertson McKenzie Rose, died as recently as 1960, in Staffordshire.

A couple of years after this census, on 22 September 1873, the mill at Newmills burnt down. The miller, James Mackenzie, and John’s brother, William Bissett, were arrested for deliberately setting it on fire, and were incarcerated in the prison at Tain. At their trial, a year later, in the High Court at Inverness, the case against both of them was found, by a majority of the jury, “not proven”.

I have not read the trial papers yet, but I attach the lengthy account in the Inverness Courier as an appendix. John does not feature in the story to any great extent, but I do see:

Mrs Ballantine, innkeeper at JamimavilleWilliam Bisset and his brother John being in the house. She heard William say, “it was him that did it,” and he added that he was sorry he had not been able to save his master’s calves. He said he was to get a suit of clothes from Mackenzie for putting the mill on fire. Bisset had a dram at the time – indeed, he was pretty bad. (Laughter.)

Whatever the true story of the fire was, it is a nice picture of the two brothers meeting up in the Poyntzfield Arms for a drink or three together.


the former “Poyntzfield Arms” in Jemimaville where the Bisset brothers were drinking; photo by Jim Mackay

John died before the next census return, and curiously he died in Cromarty. He still owned the house in Jemimaville, and indeed his widow was to reside in it until her own death a couple of years later, but for some reason he was in residence in the West End of Cromarty. This is what his death certificate says:

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
John Bissett mason (master) (married to Rebecca Forsyth) died 16 June 1878 at West End Cromarty age 67 parents William Bissett farmer (d) Elizabeth Bissett ms Fletcher (d) informant Wm Bissett son (present)

Had he perhaps moved to Cromarty to be closer to his doctor? There is a mystery there yet to be solved. Note that “Bissett” was spelled with a double t presumably because son William would have ensured the Cromarty Registrar did it that way; William himself always spelled it with a double t in his younger days.

His widow continued residing in Jemimaville and then she passed away herself. The informant was her brother-in-law William Bisset, who as we know resided in Jemimaville himself.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Rebecca Bisset (widow of John Bisset mason) died 3 January 1880 at Jamimaville age 70 parents Alexander Forsyth farmer (d) and Margaret Forsyth m.s. Young (d) informant William Bisset brother-in-law (present).

In due course, son William the compositor had the sandstone memorial erected in Kirkmichael to the memory of his parents John Bissett (with two ts, of course) and Rebecca Forsyth. It used to tilt forward a little precariously, but fortunately action was taken to stabilise it.


photo by Jim Mackay


photo by Jim Mackay

Coincidentally, John’s sister Elizabeth (1826–1880), died in Resolis later that same year. She was living not far away from Jemimaville herself, at the farm of Ardoch just up the hill. She had married ploughman James Thomson whilst the family were still living at Craiglands. There is no stone to commemorate her in Kirkmichael.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Elizabeth Thomson (married to James Thomson, ploughman) died 27 April 1880 at Ardoch age 53 parents William Bisset farmer (d) Elizabeth Bisset ms Fletcher (d) informant James Thomson his x mark widower (present)

 

The children of John Bisset and Rebecca Forsyth

As we have seen, Rebecca (1847–1857) and Christina or Christian (1854–1856) died in Jemimaville as youngsters, and were buried in Suddie churchyard. Alexandrina (1852–) I suspect died in infancy as she makes no appearance in the records, although we can but hope she was farmed out to relatives.

Margaret (1841–) married wrench turner John Rose in Birmingham in 1870. They had several children. She was living in Harborne, Worcestershire, with her husband in 1911.

Elizabeth (1843–) went out to service. I see her in the household of grocer James Robertson in Invergordon in 1861 as a domestic servant, and, much further away, in the household of farmer Archibald Cuthbertson of Gladsmuir, Haddingtonshire, in 1871 as a domestic housemaid. I cannot track her thereafter, and if anyone can assist I can update this section!

Janet or Jessie (1845–1899) also went out to service. I see her in the august family of proprietor James Low at The Laws in Berwickshire in 1881, as a tablemaid. I see advocate Alexander Low there, who in 1889 would become Sheriff of Ross and Cromarty, and as Lord Low sat in judgement in one of the most high-profile cases, the Free Church of Scotland v. the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1900, thereby making a link with the Disruption in this story which started right back in 1843 when William Bisset was arrested following his part in the Cromarty Jail Breaking.

Anyway, Jessie married, in Edinburgh, Resolis meal-miller Richard Dallas and they returned to live in their own home in Jemimaville.

District of Newington, City of Edinburgh, Marriages
21 July 1882 at 89 St Leonard’s Street Edinburgh after Banns & Publication according to the forms of the Free Church
Richard Dallas meal miller bachelor 42 Newmills Resolis parents John Dallas meal miller (d) Catherine Dallas ms McLeod
Jessie Bisset domestic servant spinster 37 The Laws, Chirnside, Co Berwick John Bisset contractor (d) Rebecca Bisset ms Forsyth (d)
(signed) James Begg minister (signed) Rebecca Young Munro witness William Bisset witness

Richard Dallas in fact crops up in another Story behind the Stone here, as his sister married, in New Orleans, Peter Ross, one of the descendants of Finlay Ross, who has a headstone to the north of the nave in Kirkmichael. It is a small world.

The family moved to Nairn, where sadly Jessie died, relatively young, in 1899.

District of Nairn Deaths
Jessie Dallas (married to Richard Dallas meal miller) died 15 October 1899 at Blackmill, Parish of Nairn, age 53 parents John Bisset contractor (d) Rebecca Bisset ms Forsyth (d) informant Richard Dallas widower (present)

Richard continued as mealmiller at Blackmill, retiring to Inchyettle, Cawdor, where he died in 1921. Their son William at this time was living in Toronto.
 
There is one further son, William, but as he is key to the story he gets his own separate section!

 

William Bissett (1850–1917), Registrar and Owner of the Invergordon Temperance Hotel

William Bissett as we have seen became an apprentice compositor in Invergordon, whilst still living at home in Jemimaville. The Invergordon Times and General Advertiser had commenced publication in the 1850s and was by the 1870s a well-established weekly journal successfully competing with the Inverness papers. William like many other workers in Easter Ross would cross the Firth by the Balblair to Invergordon ferry each day. He would walk into town to the office and printing works. The job of the compositor was an important one as any mistake in the setting of the type would be only too visible for all readers to see, and yet they had to work at breakneck speed to turn the stories coming from the editor into rows of typeset blocks ready for printing. In his early years, he always ensured that “Bissett” was spelled with two ts, and hence the gravestone in Kirkmichael is carved in that way, but by the time he had become Registrar he had started signing himself with one t. A small point, but it shows his attention to detail, vital in a compositor.

William Bissett appears to have been an earnest, conscientious youth, filled with the self-improving spirit that commonly infused young people of that era. He became Secretary of the Invergordon Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association and Secretary of the Invergordon Literary Society. Many’s the debate was held (all advertised in advance and duly reported thereafter in the Invergordon Times, of course) on the issues of the day. Wm. Bissett was a regular speaker at Association debates, presenting the case against giving women the vote, for Love being a stronger passion than Hatred, for the Old Parochial style of education as opposed to the new Board system. He spoke to the Association on papers he had written on such diverse subjects as the history of gypsies in Scotland, and the life and work of Hugh Miller.

I note with interest, given his later ownership of the teetotal Invergordon Temperance Hotel, that he debated on the subject “Is the moderate use of Intoxicating Liquors Injurious” in the affirmative. The negative case was put by Mr F. Maciver of the Caledonian Hotel who clearly also had a personal interest!

He was selected for a team in a rowing race in the Firth in 1880, so clearly he was an athletic fellow. All in all, he seems to have been a well thought of, physically fit, and well-organised character.

And where did he get married? In the Office of the Invergordon Times of course! And the paper was pleased to publicise it:


Invergordon Times and General Advertiser 6 June 1888

The more formal marriage certificate gives:

Parish of Rosskeen Marriages
24 May 1888 at Invergordon After Banns According to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
William Bissett compositor (bachelor) 36 Clyde Street Invergordon parents John Bissett general contractor (d) Rebecca Bissett ms Forsyth (d)
Margaret Cameron domestic servant (spinster) 29 Invergordon Castle parents James Cameron farmer and Isabella Cameron ms Fraser
(signed) Colin Sinclair (signed) Hugh W. Graham witness Jean Graham witness

The Registrar at this time was John Urquhart. In a few years it would become William Bissett himself. Somebody with William’s upright character and attention to detail would have been ideal for the post. The Ross-shire Journal of 26 February 1897 reported:

APPOINTMENT OF REGISTRAR.– A meeting of the Rosskeen Parish Council was held in the Town Hall, Invergordon, on Thursday, Mr R. Munro, Alness, presiding. The meeting was called for the purpose of appointing a registrar for the parish, in room of the late Mr John Urquhart. There were three applicants– Mr John Mackenzie, printer; Mr A. Forsyth, clerk, and Mr William Bisset, printer. The last mentioned gentleman was unanimously appointed.

But the connection I wish most to explore is with the Invergordon Temperance Hotel, location for many Resolis marriages. The first time I see William in connection with the Temperance Hotel in in the 1905 Valuation Roll when “William Bissett, registrar” is given as proprietor and occupier of “House and Garden, Temperance Hotel”. A wee item in the Ross-shire Journal of 30 September 1904 signalled its opening:


Ross-shire Journal 30 September 1904


Temperance Hotel, Invergordon c1904; image courtesy of Invergordon Archives and Park School Publications

There had been Temperance Hotels in most of the towns in the north for more than a decade, so it was indeed much-needed in Invergordon. There were many community groups at the time whose focus was on providing alternatives to nights of inebriety, and society as a whole was condemnatory of the ills associated with the demon drink. It was good timing to open a Temperance Hotel.

I do wonder if William’s own teetotalism had anything to do with drinking issues he observed whilst living in Jemimaville, perhaps amongst his own relations. Of course, it may well be that much of the driving force of the hotel came from his wife, Maggie Cameron, who unfortunately is left in the background. I see wee snippets about her, in items of this nature:

Ross-shire Journal 13 March 1908
WHIST CLUB:– The annual supper of the local Whist Club took place on Friday night in the Temperance Hotel, where Mrs Bisset provided an excellent meal. There was a large gathering of members and friends who greatly enjoyed themselves. Mr D Macdonald, president …

Ross-shire Journal 2 October 1908Mbr>DANCE– The members of the Tennis Club and their friends brought the season to a close with a dance. About twenty couples assembled in the ball connected with the Temperance Hotel, where dancing was engaged in. Mrs Bisset of the Hotel purveyed, giving entire satisfaction. Much of the …

North Star and Farmers’ Chronicle 5 November 1908
FAREWELL FUNCTION AT INVERGORDON. On Monday night a large number of the Invergordon Bowling, Tennis, and Golf Clubs assembled in the Temperance Hotel to bid farewell to Mr D.J. Mackenzie, Hong-Kong, who had, for the past few months, been on holiday in the district. … The proceedings commenced at 8.30 o’clock, when the company assembled within the hall, which is connected to the hotel. The rooms in the hotel were placed at the disposal of the company. Among those present were the following:– Provost Macdonald … The catering was done by Mrs Bisset in splendid style. The hotel and the new hall proved very suitable for the function, and all the arrangements gave great satisfaction.

There is a photograph (seen above) on the wonderful Invergordon Archives website of Wm. Bisset’s Temperance Hotel “about 1904”, and the associated banter from long-standing Invergordon residents confirms that it was run long after the death of William by the family, right through to the 1970s.

I have, courtesy of my cousin, James Holm, farmer at Easter Ferryton, two early photographs of weddings taking place in Invergordon.

One is outside the door of the registrar’s, above which is a sign bearing the legend “WILLIAM BISSET REGISTRAR”. The short chap seated on the far left I am pretty certain is my grandfather, James Young Ferguson of Auchmartin Farm. He himself became married (at the Temperance Hotel, as it so happens) on 25 June 1909, so as he is by himself, I think this image was taken before that date. Alternatively, his wife was pregnant, and could not be present. In which case it could well be after this date! Not very helpful, I know. At the other extreme, William Bissett died in January 1917 and I imagine the registrar’s sign would have been taken down shortly thereafter, so that gives an upper time limit to the photograph.


photo courtesy of James Holm, Easter Ferryton

The other is outside the Temperance Hotel itself. The Hotel was the scene of many weddings. I love this photograph, with the staff inside the hotel curiously peering out through the windows. The minister in this photograph is definitely the Reverend Archibald Campbell, who was translated from Lairg in 1912 to become the Church of Scotland minister for the parish of Resolis, and moved to Kiltearn in 1920, setting a definite period of 1912 to 1920 for the photograph. Given various other clues I am pretty certain this is the marriage being celebrated:


photo courtesy of James Holm, Easter Ferryton

Parish of Rosskeen Marriages
27 June 1913 at Temperance Hotel Invergordon After Banns According to the Forms of the Established Church of Scotland
William Urquhart crofter (bachelor) 43 Dalreach Alness John Urquhart crofter (d) Elizabeth Urquhart ms Mackenzie (d)
Charlotte Ferguson domestic servant (spinster) 32 Balblair Resolis John Ferguson farmer Margaret Ferguson ms Ferguson (d)
(Signed) A Campbell M.A. Minr. of Resolis (Signed) John Macleod witness Jessie Ferguson witness

Note the witness Jessie Ferguson; usually the signatory here would be the chief bridesmaid, the lady to the bride’s left hand side, tall and mature in this case. Jessie Ferguson (Charlotte’s unmarried sister) was 40 at this time, which would be consistent with the bridesmaid’s apparent maturity in the photograph. The bride’s mother was one of the Fergusons of Ardoch, which would explain why this image came into James’s family.

William continued in the dual roles of Registrar and Proprietor of the Temperance Hotel right through until his death. His assistant registrar completed William’s own death certificate:

Parish of Rosskeen Deaths
William Bissett Registrar of Births married to Margaret Cameron died 12 Jan 1917 Temperance Hotel Invergordon age 61 parents John Bisset mason (d) Rebecca Bisset ms Forsyth (d) informant Margaret Bisset widow (present)

In due course, a substantial granite headstone was erected in Rosskeen Burial Ground to commemorate William Bisset.


photo courtesy of Ross and Cromarty Roots ? DAVINE TO REPLACE

In loving memory of my husband WILLIAM BISSET registrar who died at Invergordon 19th January 1917, aged 62 years also his daughter HANAHBELLA aged 6 years.

 

William Bisset (1815–1883)

And finally, the jail-breaking William Bisset. His father was a humble mailer or sub-tenant at Suddie when he was born:

Parish of Knockbain Baptisms
1815 Octr. … 30 … Eodem die Willm. Bizet mailer at Newtown of Suddie & his spouse Elizabeth Fletcher had a children born and was Baptized Wm.

William’s brother John moved to Jemimaville following his marriage to Rebecca Forsyth in 1840. We saw William himself in household with them in the 1841 Census Return.

1841 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville
John Bisset 30 merchant / Rebecka Forsyth 30 / William Bisset 25 agricultural labourer

So at the time of the 1841 Census, William was living with his married brother John, and his future bride Henrietta was in household with her father. She was Henrietta MacDonald, daughter of Poyntzfield gardener Hugh McDonald and Christian Ferguson whose sons and grandsons included a minister, a Member of Parliament and a Jamaican estate owner. See our complementary story for more about the McDonald family and their headstone in Cullicudden.

1841 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Poyntzfield
Hugh McDonald 58 Gardener
Cursty Ferguson 48
Henrietta McDonald 23 / Cursty McDonald 14 / Jemima McDonald 12 / Jane McDonald 9

By the end of the year, when the couple married,William had taken up the trade of shoemaker. And I do mean the end of the year, as they wed on the 31st of December.

Parish of Resolis Marriages
William Bisset, shoemaker at Jamima Vill & Henrietta McDonald at Poyntzfield both in this parish were contracted on the 10th & married on the 31st. Decr. 1841

The following year there was a rather unusual occurrence in Jemimaville.

In this incident William Bisset showed a surprising side to his character. He and a neighbour took it on themselves to report an old lady to the Kirk Session for accidentally breaking the Sabbath day. There may have been more to this than meets the eye for perhaps he was keeping in with his new in-laws, as the Session Clerk at this time was none other than his brother-in-law and future minister, Hugh Ferguson MacDonald. I think that whilst the story has its amusing side, it is also a bit sad, and I do feel that the lady was rather unkindly treated. She was to die a few years later.


Jemimaville with, behind it, Udale Bay where poor Grace Stewart went to gather seaweed thinking it was Monday morning when it was Sunday evening; photo courtesy of Black Isle Images

Kirk Session Minutes, Parish of Resolis
At the Church of Resolis the twenty seventh day of June Eighteen Hundred & forty two years
The Session met & being constituted with prayer, Sederunt the Moderator and Messrs. James Thomson, Robert Murray, James Holm, Alexr. McCombie, William Cameron & John Fraser Elders & Hugh F. McDonald Sess. clk.
A Delation was given in against Grace Stewart wife of James Cameron Carpenter Jemima Ville for Sabbath profanation. The Moderator stated that he had received a letter signed by John Urquhart & William Bisset, both residenters in Jemima Ville, to the following effect. “Jemima Village 14th. June 1842. Revd. Sir, We find it our duty to acquaint you of a most disgraceful thing occurred upon Sabbath last being 12th. inst. between the hours of 9 & 10 o’clock at night. Grace Stewart or James Cameron’s wife being guilty of gathering ware upon Udale Shore & when we both went to check this miserable creature she answered & said it was G’ morning. So we give the case up to you look after the matter. We both Indwellers in Jemimaville”. (Signed) William Bisset / John Urquhart
Grace Stewart was duly cited to this meeting. Being called she compeared & being duly admonished to tell the truth & interrogated confessed that on the evening of Sabbath the 12th. of June she had gone to bed about 8 o'clock– that upon her awakening & getting out of bed she had looked at the clock, which stood near the bed side & mistook the minute for the hour hand in consequence of which she took the time to be 3 o’clock in the morning of Monday, instead of being as it really was between the hours of nine & ten Sabbath evening that thereafter she put on her clothes & under this mistake went out & freely admits that she was employed at that hour in gathering ware upon the Udale Shore as stated in the complaint preferred against her.
William Bisset also cited to this meeting as a witness in the case Being called, compeared & being duly admonished to tell the truth & interrogated corroborated the contents of the letter to which he subscribed his name.
The Session taking the whole circumstance of the case into their serious consideration, resolved unanimously that Grace Stewart on her own confession should appear before the congregation to be publicly reproved & admonished for the Sin of Sabbath profanation of which she was guilty, with a view to be absolved from the Scandal & which sentence being intimated to her, she acquiesced. She was appointed therefore to serve discipline on the tenth of July next & for the present dismissed.

What a pair of clipes!

William’s house in Jemimaville doubled as his shoe making business, and it crops up in an incident the following year. In the Cromarty Sheriff Court records there is mention of a case (SC24/13A/27), Procurator Fiscal vs Alexander MacKenzie, shopkeeper, Jemimaville , 1842. Mackenzie was convicted of an assault on a Jemimaville labourer, one William Ross, in the shop of William Bisset, shoemaker. Mackenzie was given the option of a fine of £1/1s or 7 days in the jail. I presume drink was involved, as it usually was!

The very next year, William Bisset himself became involved in a criminal undertaking, the 1843 Jail Breaking at Cromarty. Margaret Cameron had been seized at the Disruption Riot in Resolis and carried off in a gig to Cromarty where she was incarcerated in a cell at the back of Cromarty Courthouse (see our full story here). On the following day, 29 September 1843, she was rescued by the irate parishioners of Resolis, aided by the drunk guests from a Cromarty wedding party. A hundred Resolis inhabitants, including William Bisset, gathered at the Courthouse, the doors were battered down with boulders and Margaret was borne off in triumph. Several of the jail breakers stopped off at the Inn at Jemimaville on the way home, and I have no doubt that William Bisset would have been one of them.


Cromarty Courthouse nowadays, and the jailblock round the back; left photo by Andrew Dowsett, right courtesy of Cromarty Image Library

Over the next few days and weeks, several of the leading rioters and jail breakers were arrested and locked up in either Cromarty or Dingwall jails. I’m not clear how long they were locked up for – all those who were eventually tried at the High Court in Edinburgh the following year were out on bail. However, the Cromarty jail records do indeed show that William Bisset, shoemaker Jemimaville, was imprisoned there on the charge of prison breaking on 30 October 1843. William himself was not one of those eventually tried at the High Court, so the authorities must have felt they had insufficient evidence to make the charge stick.

I have transcribed the statements made by many of the parties to the riot and the jailbreak, but have not located a statement by William Bisset and would love to do so. I presume it must be buried amongst the trial papers somewhere but I have not found it, but if you have then please let me know!

Children – intense genealogical paragraph
Several of the children of William and Henrietta were recorded in both the Free Church baptism register and the Established Church baptism register. This came about as there was some concern initially about the validity of the Free Church register and some parishioners actually fought with the Established Church to get the baptisms of their children recorded in their register. As would be expected, there were discrepancies between the two sets of entries, but I have run with that of the Free Church as that would have been the first recorded. They had Elizabeth (1843), William (1844), Christian or Christina (1847), Alexander (1849), Henrietta (1851) and Hugh (1854). In the Established Church, William is consistently described as a shoemaker but in the Free Church register he is described as a labourer on and after 1847, and again I think the Free Church version is the one to go with. Following the introduction of civil registration, there were three more children, in each case with William described as a sawmiller or sawyer: another Hugh (1856), John (1858) and David (1860). We don’t have a record of the children who died before civil registration in 1855, but I presume that the first Hugh died before the second Hugh was christened; and the second Hugh himself died in 1862. David died earlier in that year of 1862. Infant mortality was a sad reality that most families had to adapt to.

 

Employment

It is clear then from these entries that William had tried to establish himself as a shoemaker, became a labourer instead, and then worked as a sawyer, presumably in the sawmill just up from Jemimaville. The water from Udale Burn was used to drive the sawmill. Given that brother John was dealing in wood, then it is likely the two were associated in the same enterprise.


millpond on Udale Burn; it fed the now-disappeared sawmill lower down the glen; photo © Copyright valenta and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence


Udale Burn where it flows from the millpond; photo © Copyright valenta and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

William, however, was to return to his shoemaking business, and he is recorded thus in the Census Returns of 1861, 1871 and 1881.

As mentioned when summarising the life of John Bisset, on 22 September 1873, the mill at Newmills burnt down. The miller, James Mackenzie, and William Bisset were arrested for deliberately setting it on fire, and were incarcerated in the prison at Tain. At their trial, a year later, in the High Court at Inverness, the case against both of them was found, by a majority of the jury, “not proven”. The whole story as reported in the Inverness Courier is of local interest and hence I have included it as an appendix.

William comes over in this account as the worse for drink on at least two separate occasions, and it is difficult not to conclude that he had his issues with alcohol. Here is a strange snippet involving William Bisset and the miller, James Mackenzie.

Ewan [Evan] Macpherson, a stolid-looking lad, who had been three years in Mr Mackenzie’s service, said that on the day of the fire, Mr Mackenzie left home about seven in the morning. Mr Mackenzie told witness to go and tell Bisset that he was from home. About the same time Mr Mackenzie said to witness, they were to put fire “in the mill,” or “to the mill,” he was not sure which. He did not know what Mr Mackenzie meant; but he did not think it was to put fire to the kiln. Neither did it strike him that it was to set the mill on fire. Witness carried the message to Bisset at six in the evening. Bisset said that he was to put fire to the mill. Did not say how he was to do it. A companion, Norman Dunbar, and witness then returned; on the way Bisset overtook them, about a mile from Newhall mills. Dunbar had left, and Bisset and witness went on to the mill. Witness left Bisset in the mill, but did not see him do anything. While in his own house, Bisset said he was to get some paraffin. Witness did not see him leaving the mill, but believed he left in about a quarter of an hour. Before parting, Bisset had told him to give notice to the neighbours if he saw the mill going on fire; meantime, to go to bed. Witness went to bed, but did not fall asleep. (Laughter.) He watched for the fire, and when he saw it, gave the alarm at Mr Ross’s house. Tried to put it out, but it was too late. When he first saw the fire, it was coming from the middle of the mill; that was not beside the furnace. There was no corn in the mill at the time. He did not think of alarming the neighbours when Bisset threatened to put the mill on fire. He gave the alarm the moment he saw the fire.
Robert Ross, baker in Jemimaville, remembered Bisset coming to ask for paraffin the night of the fire. He asked for three bottles. Witness had never sold paraffin to Bisset, but he had to his wife – never so much, however, as three bottles at a time. Not having three bottles, witness sold him two. He believed Mrs Bisset was there. About the New-Year, Bisset came into his shop the worse of drink, and said, “Do you remember the bottles of paraffin you sold to me?” Witness said he did. Then Bisset asked if he knew what he did with them? Witness replied, “No.” “Well,” said Bisset, “I set the mill on fire.” He said Mackenzie had sent Macpherson to him, and he went to the mill, sprinkled paraffin on some parts of it, and told Evan to go to bed, and not to rise till he saw the flames bursting throught the roof.

You can judge for yourself if you think the “not proven” verdict was appropriate.

The following year, one of William’s young sons got into trouble and the verdict was a decidedly “guilty”. The case can be found in the Cromarty Sheriff Court records (SC24/13A/243) under the title: Procurator Fiscal vs John Bisset, son of William Bisset, Jemimaville, Cromarty: Theft, 1874. The case related to the theft of one pound in notes, 20s in silver and 5s in copper from the house of Robert Ross, baker, Jemimaville. The accused bought a watch from a travelling pack man. Bisset, who I calculate was only 16 at the time, was given 30 days in Tain prison. I don’t know what happened to him thereafter, as I cannot trace him in the records.

What William’s wife and minister brother-in-law made of all this I do not know, but I imagine they must have been acutely embarrassed.

The other children whom I have been able to track seem to have been well behaved citizens.

Eliza Bisset (1843–1921) married stone mason James Melrose in North Leith in 1871, and returned home to Jemimaville to have her first child there. But she remained in North Leith all the rest of her days, dying there in 1921.

William Bisset (1845–1925) moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to become an engineer or engine-fitter. He married Mary Ann Turner there in 1869 and they had numerous children, and never left the city. They are buried in All Saints Cemetery there.

Christina Bisset (1847–1925) actually married in Jemimaville, in 1869. Her husband was a grieve, Charles Reid from Petty. They are buried in Cawdor Cemetery.

Henrietta Bisset (1851–1930) like brother William moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where she married, in 1876, the splendidly-named Lancelot Newton, a boiler smith. They too had children there and never left the city. I have to say that most of the children of William Bisset and Henrietta MacDonald seem to have moved a considerable distance away from the Black Isle then stayed put!

On the parents, William and Henrietta, they lived out the rest of their lives in their wee house in Jemimaville. William passed away first, in 1883, and Henrietta seven years later. There is sadly no memorial to them in Kirkmichael.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
William Bisset general-labourer (married to Henrietta McDonald) died 6 January 1883 at Jamimaville age 65 parents William Bisset farmer (d) Elizabeth Bisset ms Fletcher (d) informant Henrietta Bisset her x mark widow (present) Don. McDonald Registrar witness
Henrietta Bisset (widow of William Bisset general labourer) died 11 December 1890 at Jamimaville age 76 parents Hugh McDonald gardener (d) Christina McDonald ms Ferguson (d) informant Eliza Melrose daughter (present)

 

Appendix – The Wilful Fire-raising case of 1874

The files in the National Records for those who wish to pursue this case further are AD14/74/146 and JC26/1874/100. The following is a transcript of the case as reported in the Inverness Courier, the only changes being the correction of a couple of mis-spellings of names and the emboldenment of text to pick out key parts of the text.


the re-built mill at Newmills; photo by Jim Mackay

Inverness Courier 24 September 1874
WILFUL FIRE-RAISING.
James Mackenzie and William Bisset, prisoners in the prison of Tain, were accused with wilful fire-raising. The charge bore that, on the 22d September 1873, they set fire to the mill or premises at Newmills, parish of Resolis, Cromartyshire, the property of Mr Shaw of Newhall, and occupied by James Mackenzie, miller. The fire was stated to have been raised by the prisoners rubbing over the wood work on the inside of the mill a quantity of paraffin oil, and then setting fire thereto, by which means the mill was destroyed.
Both prisoners pleaded not guilty. Mr Taylor Innes appeared for Mackenzie, and Mr Watson for Bisset. A jury having been empannelled, the case went to proof.
Alexander Ferguson, ground-officer, Newhall, stated that in September last a fire broke out at Newmills: mill and kiln were wholly burned. The mill is divided from the kiln by a stone wall, in which wall there is an iron door. The kiln and a wooden shed stand at right angles to the mill. The furnace is below the dividing wall, and is lighted from the mill. There is a sud-house, or place for husks, in the mill. Witness was not aware of the place having caught fire before. The shed is partly a byre and partly a granary.
Donald Junor was police constable at Jemimaville at the time of the fire. At that date he saw nothing to indicate the cause of the fire. Mr Mackenzie said it was accidental; that he had gone from home and had told his man to put fire on the kiln about six o’clock, as he was wanting to get it cleaned. That was all: he did not explain in any way how the thing had happened.
John Hepburn, inspector for the North British Mercantile Railway, was called as a witness.
Mr Taylor Innes objected to the calling of this witness. The charge was simply one of fire-raising, and he objected that any evidence connected with insurance should be introduced. That would constitute a second crime – the crime of fraud; and if any evidence was to be led upon it, the crime should have been libeled.
Lord Ardmillan said the crime was wilful fire-raising, whether it arose from one motive or another. The defrauding of an insurance company would be an aggravation, not a separate crime.
A good deal of conversation took place on this point. Lord Ardmillan indicated a clear opinion that he could not sustain the objection. But the Advocate-Depute said he was not anxious to obtain the evidence; in fact, it was rather favourable to the prisoner than otherwise, and he only wanted to wanted it to bring out the whole story. It was therefore agreed not to proceed with this line of evidence.
Thomas Ferguson, an old man, said that in September last he was working for Mr Mackenzie; had been working for him for two years. On Monday, the 22d, Mr Mackenzie tod him to go between five and six in the evening to set fire to the kiln. There was no corn waiting for grinding, or heating, or preparing in any way. He did not know why he was told to set fire to the kiln. About half-past five he went and put a little fire to the kiln, and he left about a quarter to seven. The fire had nearly gone out before he left, and could not possibly have set fire to the premises. Mackenzie was a joiner as well as a miller; he used to keep tools in the shed, but witness did not see them there on this occasion. The mill was out of repair; there had been no corn grinding for a while. The Advocate-Depute – is the new mill better? Witness – When it is finished, it’ll be a better ane. (Laughter.) Was it usual to light the fire when the mill was not going? Witness – I never did it before. Cross-examined – When the mill is not going, it requires to be cleaned. We don’t light a fire to clean the plates of the kiln; I would clean them with a besom. I don’t remember the mill or suds ever going on fire before. When Mr Mackenzie left in the morning, he just said to me “Go wast and kanel the fire and heat the plates.” (Laughter.)
John Ross, farmer at Newmills, stated that his house was close to the mill. The fire occurred between eleven and twelve o’clock. Witness was in bed at the time, and was roused by the miller’s lad. The walls of the mill are about ten feet high, fourteen wide, and – well, not sixty feet long. The furnace was near a corner at the east end. Witness was in the mill about six o’clock, and observed smoke off the plates of the kiln. Did not look to see whether there was much fire or little in the furnace. The gable of the mill was opposite to witness when he looked out; and he saw, through the opening of the water-wheel, as it were a candle light inside the mill. He could not say what spot that light came from; it might have been at the furnace. About two months before the first witness spoke about a hay-stack which he was afraid he had built rather near the mill. He feared that sparks from the mill might reach the stack. Mackenzie said to him at that time that he thought he would put the mill on fire. Witness simply considered that as a joke. The Advocate-Depute – Have you any recollection of expressing a hope that the wind would be in a particular direction when the fire took place? Witness – No; I don’t remember. Mr Taylor-Innes– Are you sure what Mackenzie said was not that he would put fire to the kiln? Witness seemed to misunderstand the question, but after being several times asked by the Judge, he said it was mill that he understood Mackenzie to say. John Stuart, living at Newmills, recollected, shortly before the fire, having a conversation with Ross about danger to his haystack. The Judge, however, disallowed any questions as to the particulars of the conversation.
Robert Gunn was a shepherd last winter with Mr Ross. Shortly after the old New Year, he was in company with Bisset in Mr Ross’s house. One Arthur Fraser was there. Bisset and witness came out to the end of the house, and commenced to speak about the fire. Bisset said “he knew all about it.”
Mr Taylor-Innes wished the attention of the jury directed to the fact that nothing which one prisoner had said could be used as evidence against the other prisoner.
Lord Ardmillan said the jury would be fully informed on that point.
Mr Taylor-Innes said that statements made, however, could not be entirely dismissed from the mind. He asked whether it was quite right to allow statements to be quoted from one prisoner which told against the other. He would leave that matter to his Lordship’s discretion.
Lord Ardmillan said he would accept no discretion in the matter. He was there to see that full testimony should be given; but if part of the that testimony was inapplicable to one of the prisoners, he would inform the jury of the fact. He was there to administer the law; and testimony was not the property of the witness, but of justice.
Examination continued – Witness said that Bisset said nothing more except that “he knew all about it.”
Mrs Ballantine, innkeeper at Jamimaville, remembered, shortly after the fire, William Bisset and his brother John being in the house. She heard William say, “it was him that did it,” and he added that he was sorry he had not been able to save his master’s calves. He said he was to get a suit of clothes from Mackenzie for putting the mill on fire. Bisset had a dram at the time – indeed, he was pretty bad. (Laughter.)
Ewan [Evan] Macpherson, a stolid-looking lad, who had been three years in Mr Mackenzie’s service, said that on the day of the fire, Mr Mackenzie left home about seven in the morning. Mr Mackenzie told witness to go and tell Bisset that he was from home. About the same time Mr Mackenzie said to witness, they were to put fire “in the mill,” or “to the mill,” he was not sure which. He did not know what Mr Mackenzie meant; but he did not think it was to put fire to the kiln. Neither did it strike him that it was to set the mill on fire. Witness carried the message to Bisset at six in the evening. Bisset said that he was to put fire to the mill. Did not say how he was to do it. A companion, Norman Dunbar, and witness then returned; on the way Bisset overtook them, about a mile from Newhall mills. Dunbar had left, and Bisset and witness went on to the mill. Witness left Bisset in the mill, but did not see him do anything. While in his own house, Bisset said he was to get some paraffin. Witness did not see him leaving the mill, but believed he left in about a quarter of an hour. Before parting, Bisset had told him to give notice to the neighbours if he saw the mill going on fire; meantime, to go to bed. Witness went to bed, but did not fall asleep. (Laughter.) He watched for the fire, and when he saw it, gave the alarm at Mr Ross’s house. Tried to put it out, but it was too late. When he first saw the fire, it was coming from the middle of the mill; that was not beside the furnace. There was no corn in the mill at the time. He did not think of alarming the neighbours when Bisset threatened to put the mill on fire. He gave the alarm the moment he saw the fire.
Robert Ross, baker in Jemimaville, remembered Bisset coming to ask for paraffin the night of the fire. He asked for three bottles. Witness had never sold paraffin to Bisset, but he had to his wife – never so much, however, as three bottles at a time. Not having three bottles, witness sold him two. He believed Mrs Bisset was there. About the New-Year, Bisset came into his shop the worse of drink, and said, “Do you remember the bottles of paraffin you sold to me?” Witness said he did. Then Bisset asked if he knew what he did with them? Witness replied, “No.” “Well,” said Bisset, “I set the mill on fire.” He said Mackenzie had sent Macpherson to him, and he went to the mill, sprinkled paraffin on some parts of it, and told Evan to go to bed, and not to rise till he saw the flames bursting through the roof.
Mrs Ross, wife of the last witness, remembered giving the two bottles of paraffin to Mrs Bisset.
Mr Taylor, factor on the Newhall estate, spoke as to the lease under which the mill was held. There is an obligation on the tenant to keep the mill in repair. The lease would not expire until 1883. Witness did not think the old mill required repair. A new one is in course of erection. Mackenzie undertook the contract for £160.
In reply to Mr Innes, Mr Taylor said that Mackenzie had always borne a good character, and he had been very much surprised indeed to hear that he was charged with this crime.
Both prisoners, in their declarations, denied having set fire to the mill. Mackenzie said when he went home in the morning, he told his servant to go to Jemimaville and tell Bisset to come and speak to him about work. It was next day he expected to be at home. Interrogated – Did you give any message to Macpherson for Bisset about putting mill on fire? Answers – Yes. Interrogated – Did you give any message to Macpherson for Bisset about putting mill on fire? Answers – Yes. Interrogated – What was the message? (To this question there was no answer). He did not give orders to Bisset to set the mill on fire; he declared that he had nothing to do with setting it on fire. He went from home to see his brother-in-law, Thomas Ross, about the purchase of some lambs. He had a good deal of property in the mill which was not insured, and which was destroyed by the fire. On the declaration being read over, the prisoner said that the answer, “Yes,” above quoted was a mistake; it should have been no. I declare that I did not give any message to Bisset about putting the mill on fire; but I remember that I sent Bisset a message not to do it. I sent him this message because he was urging me to do it. I cannot tell what Bisset’s reason was for wishing to set the mill on fire. I sent the message not to set the mill on fire by Evan Macpherson, along with the message to come and speak to me about work. Bisset gave me no reason for the proposal to set the mill on fire, only he thought he would be paid for it. Interrogated – From whom did he expect payment? Witness – I cannot say.
For the defence, one witness, Alexander Simpson, who had acted as kilnsman to Mackenzie, was called to say that he knew it was practice to put fire in the kiln to clean the plates.
The Advocate Depute addressed the jury for the prosecution, going minutely over all the evidence for Mackenzie.
Mr Taylor Innes contended that there was an absence of direct proof, and he asked for a verdict of not proven. For Bisset, Mr Watson quoted crimes to show that people in drink sometimes accused themselves of crimes of which they were innocent. Lord Ardmillan summed up the evidence. He asked the jury to dismiss from their minds any evidence emanating from Bisset against Mackenzie, but he commented on Mackenzie’s declaration, and other suspicious circumstances.
The jury retired, and were absent about twenty minutes. On their return, the jury, through Mr W.B. Forsyth, gave in a verdict of not proven as regards Mackenzie by a majority of thirteen to two – the minority being for a verdict of not guilty; and also by a majority a verdict of not proven, as regards Bisset. The prisoners were accordingly dismissed from the bar.

 

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