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

Margaret Cameron of Ferryton and Sheep Park,
and the 1843 Resolis Disruption Riot and Cromarty Jailbreaking

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as annotated
with thanks to Mrs Lilah Dowsett for assistance with the research


Margaret Cameron was the only rioter to be arrested during the Resolis Disruption Riot of 28 September 1843. Her name became known nationally when, a prisoner, she was subsequently rescued from Cromarty Jail’s “Black Hole” by a crowd of jailbreakers on the evening of 29 September 1843. And yet she has never been the subject of any study. This Story fills the gap.

In 1843, the Reverend Donald Sage and most of the Resolis congregation had left the Established Church to become part of the newly created Free Church of Scotland, free from the lairds’ influence in selection of their ministers. The parishioners took it on themselves, as in several other parishes in the Highlands, to resist the efforts of the Presbytery and heritors to induct a new minister. The display of force by both sides signified the beginning of the end of the authority which the lairds held over their tenants and the Church held over their parishioners.

There is no stone commemorating Margaret herself in Kirkmichael, although there is a small, good quality headstone marking her parents, George Cameron and Margaret Ross, and there is a large, elegant tablestone in memory of her uncle and aunt, Thomas Cameron and Margaret Fraser, and their family. The two brothers lived close to each other all their lives. Two of the sons of Thomas, Margaret’s cousins, were long-standing Free Church Elders, underlining the close connection of her Cameron family with the new church. Mary in fact had been the Reverend Donald Sage’s dairymaid.

Margaret’s parents’ headstone; photo by Andrew Dowsett

lowered tablestone commemorating the family of Margaret’s uncle and aunt; photo by Davine Sutherland

The Cameron headstone is in good condition, although it was leaning to one side and partly buried, so that the strimmers were eating at the inscription. The Trust straightened and elevated the stone so that it looks much improved and is safe from maintenance damage.

The Cameron tablestone has been much mistreated. As with several of our tablestones, some decades ago the slab had been lifted and the legs folded underneath. Presumably it had been tilting over and, rather than going to the bother of straightening it, the powers that were had thought to make it safe by lowering it! And the gravediggers had used this area of the kirkyard for disposal of their surplus soil, so the slab and its inscription were disappearing underground, half above and half below the soil. Visitors and mowing equipment were therefore crossing it, subjecting it to damage and erosion. We took the decision as a temporary measure to bury it completely to protect it from traffic. In 2020, as part of our programme of improving the kirkyard, we re-excavated with a view to restoring it to its original condition, this time with a proper foundation so that it would not tilt over. For the full story, see our Appendix 2.


The Riot and Subsequent Jailbreak

I have seen two written statements from Margaret Cameron, one made when she was in custody in Cromarty the day after the Disruption Riot, and the second made after the Jailbreaking. She did not write these statements herself, as she could not write, but they were read over to her and she said she was happy with them. I imagine Margaret carefully thought through her position, not implicating others she knew well – and incidentally making herself out to be much younger than she actually was.

I’ll let those statements, held within the trial paperwork in the National Records in Edinburgh, tell their own story before returning to her life. Note that she says in the first she resides at Ferryton and in the next at Sheep Park; the two farms are adjacent to each other, and whilst her uncle and cousins lived at Sheep Park she herself definitely lived in Ferryton.

… Compeared Margaret Cameron residing at Ferrytown in the parish of Resolis, an unmarried woman, aged thirty years or thereby [she was actually 47] who being judicially examined and interrogated, Declares that she was at the parish Church of Resolis yesterday being the twenty eighth day of September current and that she came there about two o’clock in the afternoon. Declares that she saw a number of people round about the Church and saw some stones thrown and heard “shooting”. Declares that she also saw a number of Gentlemen about the Church none of whom she knew with the exception of Messrs. James Duncan Cromarty Mains and William Watson merchant in Cromarty. Declares that she does not know any of the other people who were there. Declares that she saw William Fraser shoemaker and Fisherman at Ferrytown going through a field near to the Church; that this was when she heard the shooting. Declares that she did not know that Mr. MacKenzie’s settlement was to take place in Resolis that day but on hearing the Church Bell toll she went there to see what was going on. Declares that she lifted one stone but did not throw any. That soon after lifting the stone she was seized hold of by some person whom she does not know and was taken into Cromarty where she was put into Jail. Declares that she knows a family of the name of Urquhart at Cullicudden. That she thinks there are three sons and that one of them was yesterday at the Church of Resolis. That he was walking a little above the Church when she saw him. That she did not see Urquhart throw any stones. That she thinks she saw Eppy Aird wife of Donald Watson shoemaker Balblair in the crowd about the Church but she is not sure. That she heard Mr. Watson call Eppy Aird’s name. All which she declares to be truth and declares that she cannot write.

Now, you’ll note that Margaret did not identify a single person engaged in activity which could be considered unlawful here. She played down her own role in the affair – attracted by the noise of the tolling bell, easily heard from Sheep Park which is not far from the church on Fanny’s Brae, she claimed she had lifted one stone only and did not throw it. Unless there was contradictory evidence from witnesses, there was no case against Margaret Cameron. Having been rescued that very night after she had given her statement, it was several weeks before she was re-arrested at the home of her father, George Cameron, at Ferryton. She said that at this time she was keeping out of the way of the officers of the law, so I wonder if she had been away and returned home to her father’s and some local informant provided information of her return to the authorities. The night of her rescue, though, she was present in her home parish as I note one witness, having returned from Cromarty that evening, stated “Went home, but saw Margaret Cameron in Resolis that evening. There were two or three people with her.” On her re-arrest, she gave a much longer statement made this time in Dingwall. Note that the statement was written in English, but Margaret was examined in Gaelic, her first language.

… Compeared Margaret Cameron residing at Sheep park in the Parish of Resolis who being judicially examined and interrogated in the gaelic language by the Sheriff Substitute. Declares that she is unmarried. Declares that upon a Thursday about Six weeks ago the Declarant heard the bell of the Church of Resolis ring. That she was out upon a field at the time which was about two oclock in the afternoon and she went after the hour of two to the vicinity of the Church. That upon her arrival there she saw several people assembled. That when the Declarant left her house to go to the Church on this occasion she did not know that the Reverend John MacKinzie was to be settled that day as the Minister of the Parish of Resolis. That among the people assembled at the Church there were Parishioners and Strangers and she saw some Carriages and Gigs on the high road at some distance from the Church. That the only strangers she knew there were Mr. William Watson Hardware Merchant in Cromarty and Mr. James Duncan Tenant of Cromarty Mains. That the Declarant saw the said William Watson in conversation with Mr Shaw MacKinzie the Proprietor of the Estate of Newhall and the Declarants Landlord and the Declarant went up along with three other Women to Mr. Watson and she laid hold of the breast of his coat and turned his face away from Mr. Shaw Mackenzie. That before this incident the Declarant saw no stones thrown, and she herself threw none at any time but she had a stone in her hand. That the Declarant lives in Sheep park with her Father George Cameron who has a Small farm or possession from Mr Shaw MacKinzie. That her father is upwards of eighty years of age. That Declarant saw at a distance from the Church of Resolis upon the high road a number of Strangers or “Moderates” as they are called who she understood had retired to that place and having about the same time seen near to the Ministers Square of Offices, at Resolis, a man whom she wished to engage as servant to her father she went in that direction to speak to him. That while the Declarant was standing near the office houses some man or lad whom she did not know laid hold of her. That upon this the “Moderates” came to the spot accompanied by the men of the Preventive Service from Cromarty and the people of the Parish came from another direction as if to rescue the Declarant. That the Declarant was trailed on the ground by persons in the crowd a certain way and she was a good deal hurt and felt the effects for some time of the injuries she received.

Some of the key locations identified on the first edition Ordnance Survey: the Church, marked with a red cross; Ferryton and Sheep Park where the Camerons lived – it was a short distance to the Church; Braelangwell, home of Sir Hugh Fraser and the place from which the Presbytery and gentry came forth to reach the Church. Also in the vicinity, Newhall House, home of the laird, Shaw Mackenzie, and Resolis Mains, where the shearers at work responded to the tolling of the Church bell and came to assist

That she was seized oftener than once by the throat and was nearly suffocated. That the Preventive Men about this time fired some shots near to the Declarant. That the Declarant when she was laid hold of by the throat cried Murder or at least cried Murder as soon as she was able to disengage herself from the persons who so laid hold of her. That she was lying on the ground at the time and some of the persons put their hands upon her mouth to prevent her crying for help. That the said William Watson was one of the persons who was near to the Declarant at this time but she cannot say that he medled with her. That the Declarant understands that Captain Graham of Cromarty came to her assistance when he saw her ill treated as above mentioned. That the Declarant was then brought back to the Manse and she heard some of the people present who were all “Moderates” consult as to whether three or four of the parishioners now should not be shot for an example and she heard directions given but she does not know by whom, to load the guns with ball and she saw one of the guns miss fire, Altho she is not quite certain whither the fire arms were guns or pistols but she thinks they were guns.
That the people of the Country then drove away the “Moderates” from off the ground and the Declarant was put into a gig and carried to Cromarty. That in a little time after her arrival there during which time she thinks a Warrant was being procured the Declarant was imprisoned in the Jail of Cromarty. That she remained there until next day when she was liberated but in what way, her liberation was effected she does not know, and she was no party to any violence which may have been committed at the prison of Cromarty on that occasion. That the Declarant since that occurrence kept out of the way of the Officers of the law but they apprehended her in her father’s house early yesterday morning and brought her to Dingwall. Declares that after having been brought to Cromarty and before she was committed to Prison she underwent an examination before a Magistrate that is before Mr. Robert Ross Banker & Justice of the Peace and on the next day she was brought from the Prison to the Court house and examined before a Gentleman who she believes to be Mr. Hill. That on this last occasion Mr. Grigor the Procurator Fiscal at Cromarty told her that she would obtain her liberty on the following day. Declares and adds that some of the people of the Town and Parish of Cromarty wished to get her out of Prison on that the same evening on which she was Committed but Mr. Grigor she understands would not consent. all which she Declares to be truth and that she cannot write. Two words delete before signing.

Now, that was Margaret’s full story, and reading it you might even believe she was more sinned against than sinning. Captain Graham of Cromarty comes out of it rather well.

The evidence against her was fairly weak. For instance, J.P. William Watson, a hardware merchant in Cromarty whose presence seems to have irritated the Resolis parishioners, stated:

I was closely followed by Margaret Cameron, holding stones in her hands and threatening me with injury. She followed me so far and so closely that Provost Cameron of Dingwall came up and seized hold of her when in the act of throwing a stone and, with my assistance, she was handed over to John Dingwall, Sheriff Officer.

Note the “in the act of throwing a stone” – in other words he could not testify that she had actually thrown a stone. A good advocate would have made a meal out of this statement. And then there was the question of the reasonableness of the capture. When Provost Cameron of Dingwall successfully seized Margaret Cameron, the pair of them had rolled into a ditch. There was no doubt that her subsequent rough treatment had resulted in Captain Graham actually coming to her assistance. I’m quite sure a good lawyer in front of a jury could have exploited Margaret Cameron’s mis-treatment. The use of excessive force was to continue. Walter Ross of the inn at Jemimaville saw the gig passing en route to the prison in Cromarty with sheriff officer John Dingwall and Kinbeachie miller Roderick Macrae in company with Margaret Cameron. Dingwall had his hand around her neck. That gig was later to be smashed, when Dingwall and Macrae foolishly stopped at the inn at Jemimaville on their way back from Cromarty. Macrae was threatened and Dingwall escaped out the back door and made his way home to Avoch by the woods. Margaret Cameron was held in “the Black Hole” in Cromarty jail.

David Ross– Is the jailer at Cromarty, and has been there for 41 years. Does not live in the jail, but near it. Remembers the woman Cameron being imprisoned. She was put into the cell called the Black Hole. Witness locked the door, as well as the inner and outer doors of the prison, and put the keys in his pocket, and then went upstairs to the Court room. He saw nothing of what passed, but heard the noise. He locked himself in, being afraid. He saw the mob go away, carrying away the woman. The first door was broken, and several large stones were lying near it. The other doors were also broken.
Cross examined by Mr Logan– The cell was one used for putting the body of a dead person into. It was so used because it was the handiest place. It was handy because it was downstairs. The room was eleven by twelve. It is floored with wood, and has a hole with stanchions, but no glass. It is not the most comfortable room in the prison.

This unglazed window in the cell at the back allowed Margaret to converse with anyone out there, and the record shows that in fact she had been chatting through this window to the servant of a neighbouring householder.

Cromarty Courthouse; Margaret Cameron was rescued from the cells at the back; photo by Andrew Dowsett

the modern jailblock at the back; photo courtesy of Cromarty Image Library

There are some great scenes associated with the jailbreak, and none more so than the reaction of the Sheriff Clerk of Cromarty to the imminent prospect of Resolis parishioners descending on Cromarty.

Inverness Journal, 12 January 1844
John Taylor, Sheriff Clerk of Cromarty– Remembers being engaged along with the Sheriff in taking the declaration of a woman named Cameron– she was committed to prison, and the Sheriff and he afterwards walked down the street– the declaration was taken about four o’clock on the afternoon of the 29th September. Soon after a man came up to them, who said he was a relation of Cameron’s, and asked if they would not let her out, as she was unwell– the witness said Cameron told him so, and he had offered to send a medical man to examine her, which she declined– he went away, saying he would have justice– another man came up, and said half Resolis was coming to rescue Cameron– witness said, such nonsense– he said, it’s truth– there’s more than 50 men coming in at the end of the town– witness went in that direction, and saw a crowd of men marching three or four deep, and brandishing sticks which they carried– witness thinks there might be about 100– this was in the street of Cromarty, but they had come from the direction of Resolis

The newspaper accounts called Margaret “a stout, powerful virago”, This seems to have stemmed from the report in the Inverness Courier of 4 October 1843 – it is quite likely she would be powerful given she had a croft to run, but I suspect the journalist may have been exaggerating a little, rather like his account of her activities:

Sir Hugh Fraser [of Braelangwell] and Provost Cameron twice presented their pistols to the breasts of the assailants. One woman, a stout powerful virago, dairymaid to the Rev. Mr Sage, the seceding minister of the parish, was particularly active during the whole time, carrying a lapful of stones, some of which she threw with considerable effect, and others she dealt about to assist her friends. At one time, in the hurry of pursuit, this woman went a few yards in front of her party, when Provost Cameron seized hold of her, and both rolled into a ditch. Mr Watson, Cromarty, then came to assist in capturing the woman, and she was conveyed to a gig, and immediately dispatched under charge of a messenger to the jail at Cromarty. This episode in the main fight excited some little amusement as well as interest.

In the event, whilst she was identified as one of the accused rioters in the trial documentation “Margaret Cameron, 30, Sheep Park or Ferryton Resolis” (AD14/44/458; JC26/1844/366; JC26/1844/368), she was not one of those tried in Edinburgh. The prosecution must have considered that the evidence against her was not robust.

I note that at least one other of the Cameron family was involved with the riot proceedings. In the list of witnesses provided in the trial documentation on behalf of the defendants, I see (as well as Hugh Miller, geologist, writer and editor!) the name of “William Cameron Crofter now or lately residing at Sheep Park in the Parish of Resolis”. This was no other than Margaret’s cousin, William Cameron, one of those memorialised on the tablestone in Kirkmichael.


Margaret Cameron’s character

It is challenging to determine character from someone’s written statements but there are some pointers. Margaret Cameron was a very direct and pragmatic woman. It is clear that she perceived the religious dispute within Resolis as one to be resolved within the parish; she resented the presence of “strangers” and “Moderates”; what were they doing getting involved in the matter? Equally the presence of Cromarty hardware merchant William Watson was something to be resented. The action of Margaret and several other women was very bold, to approach him whilst he was discussing with the laird, Shaw Mackenzie, lay hold of his coat and turn his face away from the laird was as if to say – what right do you have to be here, to speak with our landlord about our religious dispute? The social gulf between the laird and the crofter was immense, but Margaret was not daunted. A woman who was prepared to act to defend her principles.


Ferryton or Sheep Park, or Ferryton and Sheep Park?

The legal documentation from 1843 and 1844 in relation to the Riot and Jailbreaking sets out as the home of Margaret Cameron the alternative locations of Sheep Park and Ferryton. Which was correct? Or were they both correct?

The first reference to Sheep Park which I have found is from 1808 and actually relates to this family: “Sheep park (part of Ferrytown)” and possessed by Thomas and George McKeddie with a rental of 30 Bolls meal and £5 Sterling – a substantial tenancy, shared by the brothers, Margaret’s uncle and father respectively, although they were to go their own way later. At this time, then, Sheep Park was considered part of Ferryton.

She, her father George and her brother Adam are definitely placed in Ferryton in the 1841 Census. But George, as I say, held a tenancy in Sheep Park with his brother Thomas for many years, before they operated the land there as two separate tenancies. But a separate small tenancy of rental one pound Sterling was held in Ferryton by a George Cameron alias Mackeddie, and I think this is where Margaret’ immediate family lived.

In one entry, the tenancy of Thomas, Margaret’s uncle, is given as Easter Sheep Park which is helpful, as it places him further to the east, presumably close to the boundary with Auchmartin, the farm in between Sheep Park and Balblair.

So I think the answer is that Margaret and her father George lived in Ferryton outside the area known as Sheep Park, but held a tenancy on land within Sheep Park. Her uncle Thomas, and his son William thereafter, held land solely within Sheep Park. Ferryton of course is closer than Sheep Park to Resolis Church, the scene of the riot. Margaret would have heard the urgent tolling of the bell, and been at the scene of the action within a couple of minutes!


Margaret’s Parents

We know from the trial documentation that in 1843 her father, George Cameron, was alive and eighty years of age. Her mother, Margaret Ross, had died before 1841 as she is not present in the census return of that year for the family in Ferryton. The family’s baptism record demonstrates that, as was so often the case for Camerons in the area, they were sometimes given the alias of Mackeddie. They initially dwelled at Balblair (where George’s parents resided) before moving to Ferryton where they would reside for the rest of their lives. I have emboldened Margaret and the second Adam as we can follow them through the years.

Parish of Resolis Baptism Register
31 January 1792 George Cameron tenant in Balblair & Margaret Ross – John
18 November 1794 George Cameron shoemaker Balblair & Margaret Ross – Isobel
1 December 1795 George Cameron shoemaker Balblair & Margaret Ross – Margaret
27 February 1797 George McKeddie Balblair & Margaret Ross – Adam
9 July 1799 George Mckeddy shoemaker in Ferrytown & Margrat Ross – Adam

I think it likely that Margaret Ross died about 1819, as near the Grant of Ardoch enclosure in Kirkmichael there is a small, good quality headstone with a curved top bearing the following inscription:

photo by Andrew Dowsett

photo by Andrew Dowsett

G C / M R / 1819

You can never be sure with initials, of course, but GC will certainly be George Cameron, and MR is very likely to represent Margaret Ross. There is no other couple in the records which match these initials. It is very likely that George had the stone erected to hold this lair on the death of his wife and a couple of decades later he would have been buried there as well.

George held a small tenancy in Ferryton, where presumably he lived and kept his shoe-making business, and, with his brother Thomas, farmed another tenancy in Sheep Park. The 1816 Newhall Estate Rental gives at Sheep Park “Thos & Geo McKeddie” with a rental of five pounds Sterling, fifteen Bolls Meal and fifteen Bolls Barley. Along in Ferryton, “George Cameron alias McKeddie” held a small tenancy of one pound Sterling.

A similar arrangement can be seen in the 1818 rental, except that there appears to have been some substitution of meal for money and barley rental – the Sheep Park rental of Thomas and George was now only five shillings and six Bolls Barley, but twenty-four Bolls Meal. And in the 1820 rental, the two brothers were entered separately at Sheep Park, with Thomas the bigger tenant now, at three pounds Sterling, fourteen Bolls Meal and three Bolls Barley, whilst George’s rental was two pounds Sterling, ten Bolls Meal and two Bolls Barley. I don’ know why the brothers had decided to be accountable separately to the Estate. Both were struggling to make ends meet. I see in 1821 a summons of removing was served on both George and Thomas (and many other tenants). These proceedings were usually not followed through if the tenant managed to find enough money to satisfy the laird. I think this is what the brothers managed to do.

Minute Book of The County of Cromarty, Court Day – 4th. April 1821
The following Removing was called – Donald MacKenzie of Newhall, his Trustee & Factor agt. the following Tenants viz: Hugh Murray in Wester Cullicudden, George Cameron alias MacKeddie Sheeppark of Newhall, Thomas Cameron alias MacKeddie there, Donald Rose Innkeeper Balblair, Alexander Hood Resolis, James MacKeddie Easter Brae & part of Springfield, David MacLean Brae & part of Springfield, Widow Mary Forbes Drumcudden and John Fraser Smith Newhall. The Sheriff Decerns agt. the Haill absent Defenders …

Whilst George and Thomas appear to have staved off the evil day of eviction, their existence was still precarious. I see in an 1828 list of tenants in arrears and to be rouped off “George McKeddie Sheep Park” with arrears of thirty-three pounds four shillings Sterling, a sum you would think he could not possibly recover from.

And yet there he is still holding on in the 1830 Estate Rental: “Sheeppark George Cameron” twelve pounds Sterling, whilst William Cameron, taking over from father Thomas who would have been 74 by now, has 8 Bolls Meal and twelve pounds Sterling.

On 30 July 1833 another extensive legal action against Newhall tenants was instigated by Colin McKenzie Esq of Newhall, the long list of unfortunate tenants including “George Cameron Sheeppark”. Somehow, again, I think George managed to stave off the final eviction, because in the 1842 Rental we see at Sheep Park “George Cameron Mackeddie” paying a rental of six Bolls Meal and six pounds Sterling and young William eight Bolls Meal and twelve pounds Sterling. How did they manage to hold on?

Life was a precarious business on the Newhall Estate. But in 1841, in the first detailed Census Return, George, with children Margaret and Adam, are still all present in Ferryton.

1841 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Ferrietown
George Cameron 80 Farmer
Adam Cameron 40
Margaret Cameron 50
Mary Fraser 16 FS

I think the census enumerator was generous calling George a farmer, as crofter and shoemaker would probably have been more accurate, but it does indicate that he was holding a reasonable area of land. A useful set of data can be found in the 1842 Newhall and Drumcudden Rental. I include figures for land in Ferryton and Sheep Park.

William Cameron, son of George’s brother Thomas, thus was paying eight Bolls Meal and twelve pounds Sterling. George Cameron was paying for the Ferryton tenancy a humble one pound sterling per year rental, while across in Sheep Park, paying (as George Cameron Mackeddie) six Bolls Meal and six pounds Sterling. This is working on the assumption that it is the same George at both locations but it is the only way I can explain the figures found in the various rentals, advertisements and census returns.

George was therefore not wholly reliant on his occupation as shoemaker for his living, but clearly you have to be in good health to look after a croft. In her second legal statement in 1843 Margaret mentioned she was going to speak with someone she wanted to employ on her father’s croft, so he must have been failing at this time. She herself was working as dairymaid to the minister up to the time of the riot, but I’m sure she would have helped on the croft as well. Everyone did. George died before 1851, and the work of the croft would have fallen entirely on her shoulders.

I think it likely that George died in 1844 as early in the following year of 1845 Margaret is given as the crofter, unfortunately in an advertisement indicating that she was about to lose the Sheep Park tenancy:

The advertisement below is from the Inverness Courier of 2 April 1845, and I have highlighted the relevant entry.

The fifteen acre tenancy Margaret was giving up would have been the more substantial tenancy, in Sheep Park, held separately from the small tenancy in Ferryton. I don’t believe the laird was retaliating for Margaret’s role in the Resolis Riot; I think it was just the common non-renewal of tenancies by those who could no longer afford them.

I imagine that brother Adam must have been helping her to run the croft. He was to move away in this period, presumably because the croft was no longer held by Margaret.

We know that between 1841 and 1851, Adam married Jane Matheson (1802–1894) from Urquhart and Ferintosh although I cannot find the marriage record – I suspect it is buried in a Free Church register somewhere. They moved to the village of Alness where he worked as an agricultural labourer. At this time the ferry of Alness was still operating, so they were still very close to Margaret in Ferryton. In household with Adam and Jane there in Alness in 1851 was Jane’s brother Alexander Matheson, given as a printer, who was to move to Edinburgh where in 1861 he was given as a “Dealer in Fancy Goods” which was rather a novelty for the time! Adam and Jane do not appear to have had any children. With father George dead, and brother Adam having moved away, poor Margaret was now living by herself back in Ferryton.

1851 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Ferrytown
Margaret Cameron head unmarried 50 [sic] crofter of 4 acres born Resolis

We see from this, though, that Margaret had managed to retain a portion of the tenancy. By 1861, Adam had returned with his wife Jane from Alness to Ferryton, but they now lived beside each other rather than sharing the same house.. I think it likely that Adam would have returned to tend the croft for his sister.

1861 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Ferrytown
Margaret Cameron head unmarried 69 farmer of [blank] acres born Resolis – house with two rooms with one or more windows
Ann Campbell visitor married 64 beggar born Fodderty
– – –
Adam Cameron head married 60 agricultural labourer born Resolis – house with one room with one or more windws
Jane Cameron wife married 50 agricultural labourer’s wife born Urquhart

I see, by that way, that at the time of the Census Margaret had kindly been putting up a beggar. Between 1861 and 1871, I think Adam must have taken over the crofting from Margaret as he is recorded as the crofter whilst Margaret is not.

1871 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Ferrytown
Adam Cameron head married 66 crofter of 5 acres 3 arable born Resolis – house with one room with one or more windows
Jane Cameron wife 52 born Ferintosh
– – –
Margaret Cameron head unmarried 78 farm servant born Resolis – house with one room with one or more windows

Adam was to die just a few years later, and it was poor Margaret who had to make the journey to inform the registrar.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Adam Cameron crofter married to Jane Matheson died 2 November 1874 at Ferrytown Resolis age 75 parents George Cameron shoemaker (master) (d) Margaret Cameron ms Ross (d) informant Margaret Cameron sister her x mark sister (present)

Adam’s widow, Jane Matheson, had to go onto parochial relief and in fact ended her days in the Black Isle Poor House in Rosemarkie in 1894.

But back in 1873, Margaret was obviously finding life increasingly challenging as she sought (successfully) to be entered on the poor’s roll. In a time without pensions or a National Health Service, funds from the parochial board were all that the elderly and infirm could hope to obtain. The records of the Parochial Board say that Margaret Cameron of Ferrytoun entered the roll at the meeting of 16 August 1873 when she was 82, and that she held her house rent free. She qualified due to her birth in Resolis, she was single, was once a crofter. And it states she died in January 1876.

And so Margaret Cameron, famous in her time for her involvement with the Resolis Riot and Cromarty Jailbreaking, passed away, a pauper, in her tiny home in Ferryton. It was her cousin Charles (strictly, her second cousin) from Sheep Park who notified the registrar given that Adam was no longer there himself. I have to say it was very helpful that Charles did so, as it confirmed the link between the Ferryton and Sheep Park Cameron families.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Margaret Cameron pauper (single) died 13 January 1876 at Ferrytown age 84 parents George Cameron shoemaker (master) (d) Margaret Cameron ms Ross (d) informant Charles Cameron cousin farmer Sheep-park Resolis

No stone has been found commemorating Margaret Cameron.


Margaret’s Paternal Grandparents, John Mackeddie alias Cameron and Isobel Ferguson

The parents of both George Cameron and Thomas Cameron were John Mackeddie alias Cameron and Isobel Ferguson. No memorial to them has yet been found in Kirkmichael. We may yet come across it, as John Mackeddie was a substantial tenant and hence it is likely that a stone would have been commissioned. Six of their children have been identified from the baptism register. John Mackeddie appears to have been a tenant at Balliskelly (part of the Poyntzfield Estate) before he moved to Balblair (part of the Newhall Estate) sometime between 1763 and 1767. The register entries show his movements.

Parish of Resolis Marrage Register
1755 … July 18th John Mckedie Tenent in Balskelly & Isobel Ferguson Daughter to Alexr. Ferguson tenent in Balblair Deceast were Contracted

Parish of Resolis Baptism Register
21 June 1756 John Camron tenent in Balskelly & Isobel Ferguson – Thomas
7 July 1758 John Mckeddie tenent Balskelly & Isobel Ferguson – Adam
1 October 1760 John Mckeddie tenent Balskelly & Isobel Ferguson – George
9 March 1763 John Mckeddie taxman Balskelly & Isobel Ferguson – William
5 October 1767 John Mackeddy tacksman in Wester Balblair & Isoble [dark] – William
7 September 1770 John Mckeddy tennant in Belblair & Isobel Ferguson – Isobel

There are also two intriguing marriage entries in this period which both refer to children of John Mackeddie tenant or tacksman at Balliskelly and Balblair. While these children could not be children born to Isobel Ferguson, I do wonder if John Mackeddie had married previously.

Parish of Resolis Marrage Register
11 May 1759 John Holm son to William Holm tenent in Culballachie deceast & Helen Mckedie daughter to John Mckedie tenent in Balskelly
12 January 1768 John Mckeddy son to John Mckeddy taxman at Balblair & Jean Thomson maid servt. at Cullicudden contracted and married in due time March 25

The memorial slab commemorating the William Holm and Helen Mckedie couple was uncovered in Kirkmichael and recorded for the first time as recently as August 2020, and the couple feature in a companion piece here.

There will be other children not recorded in the incomplete baptism records. I note from the 1771 Newhall Estate Rental separate entries for “Jo: McKeddie Senr., Wester Balblair” and “Jo: McKeddie junr., Wester Balblair” so there is evidence of one missing baptism record for a start! We know approximately when John Mackeddie died as there is extant a 1772 Newhall Estate Rental annotated in 1776 to show the changes that had occurred and it includes: “Wester Balblair John Mackeddie Senior [now his Widow]”. He therefore died between 1772 and 1776.

I have emboldened the baptisms above of brothers Thomas and George as uncle and father of Margaret Cameron respectively.


Margaret’s Uncle, Thomas Cameron of Sheep Park

The Camerons of Sheep Park were financially more sound than the Ferryton branch, and testament to that is the quality and size of their tablestone in Kirkmichael. It was surprising when the Trust found that the disappearing slab under the yews was in reality a substantial tablestone! The Trust excavated the slab and lifted it out using the Kirkmichael Gantry, moving it well to one side to allow us to work in the cavity. Next, the legs had to taken out and recorded, and then a proper foundation had to go in to ensure its stability long-term. The inscription reads:

Erected / to / the memory of THOMAS / CAMERON late Farmer Fer / rytown who departed this / life 30th June 1838 aged 80 / years / Also / his spouse / MARGRAT FRASER / who departed this life / 16th June 1836 aged 57 / years. / MARGARET CAMERON died at / Sheep Park 1st Nov. 1856 aged 63 years / Also WILLIAM CAMERON / died 7th Jan 1875 aged 83 years / And ANN FRASER his wife / died 13th June 1878 aged 73 years. / Also / CHARLES CAMERON / Free Church Elder / son of above WILLIAM CAMERON / who died at Sheep Park on 1st March 1930 / aged 85 years.

The first line says Thomas Cameron was “late Farmer Ferrytown” but as explained earlier this is using the older context of Ferryton when it included Sheep Park. He was born in Balliskelly, grew up in Balblair, started crofting at Balblair, moved to Auchmartin between Balblair and Sheep Park, and then finally moved to Sheep Park where the records show him in place in militia records and farm rentals. The early movements of Thomas can be seen from the baptism record of his children:

Resolis Baptism Register
28 October 1788 Thomas Mckeddy tenant in Balblair & Margt. Fraser – John
4 May 1791 Thomas McKeddy tenant in Balblair & Margaret Fraser – William
14 June 1793 Thomas Mackeddie at Balblair & Margaret Fraser – Margaret
15 June 1797 Thomas Cameron in Auchmartin & Margaret Fraser– John

That last entry, in 1797, refers to Auchmartin, which lies between Balblair and Sheep Park so he was moving west. A few years later, as we have seen, he was sharing a substantial tenancy in Sheep Park with brother George, amounting to thirty Bolls meal and five pounds Sterling in 1808.

The final baptism recorded in the Register was for daughter Margaret, who was to die, a pauper, in 1856 and the informant at the registrar’s was a brother. But while I can make out “camron” on the death certificate, I simply cannot make out the brother’s first initial. I offer it to you for suggestions – William would be the most likely candidate, but I can’t make out a “W”. Note: I have had a suggestion that it is a lower case “wm.” – and it may be William after all with his shaky grasp of capital letters!

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Margaret Cameron (Pauper) (Single) died 1 November 1856 age 63 years at Ferrytown Sheep-Park parents Thomas Cameron Farmer (Deceased) Margaret Cameron m.s. Fraser (Deceased) buried Church-yard of Kirkmichael as certified by William Holm Sexton informant [?] camron Brother (not present)

There were other children, of course, but the baptism registers were poorly kept in this period. I see there was an Isabella, for instance, who only comes to light through her death certificate:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Isabella Cameron pauper (single) died 6 June 1888 at Sheep-park age 82 parents Thomas Cameron farmer (d) Margaret Cameron ms Fraser (d) informant Charles Cameron nephew (present)

The parochial relief records show that Isabella (who was a cousin of rioter Margaret Cameron) came onto the poor’s roll in 1872. She paid no rent for her home. I see from the records that at one time she had reared young pigs! Her brother William, the tenant at Sheep Park, was also involved in pig-rearing as I see an 1852 action in the Cromarty Sheriff Court whereby “George McLean, Pig dealer, Agneshill” was pursuing “William Cameron or McKeddie, Farmer, Ferrytown” for the sum of £1.10.0d, presumably in relation to pig sales. Cromarty was a tremendous focus for the rearing of pigs, and vast numbers of barrels of salted pork were despatched from the port. I do not know if the Camerons had a route into this market.

Thomas Mackeddie and Margaret Fraser must have married before 1788, but I can find no record of their marriage. From the information on the Kirkmichael tablestone, she was significantly younger than he was. Their son William is well documented and inceased the size of his tenancy substantially over time. In 1861 he was a farmer of 28 acres but by 1871 he had increased that to 60 acres, of which 40 were arable. This was a respectable tenancy. William had married Ann Fraser from Ardersier in 1837 (her parents Charles Fraser and Elspet Clark had married in Nairn in 1795), and I wonder if perhaps she had been at service in Resolis when they met. They seem to have had only Elspet (1840 – not in the baptism register but six months old in the 1841 Census) and twins Thomas and Charles (1844), and even then I think Thomas must have died in infancy, so it was a small family unit.

I presume it was William who funded the substantial tablestone in Kirkmichael.

William seems to have been deeply religious for most of his life, “William Cameron McKiddy” being a communicant with the Established Church from 1831 before being elected an Elder at the meeting of the Kirk Session at the Church of Resolis on 20 September 1840. You can now see why his testimony as a witness for the defence was sought at the trial subsequent to the Resolis Riot – the word of a Church Elder carried much weight. I note that the newspaper account of his death said he continued as an Elder of the Free Church until his death, which occurred in 1875, so it was a long period of service.

William’s daughter Elspet married in 1867 a Lochcarron sheep-farmer:

Parish of Resolis Marriages
22 January 1867 at Sheep-Park after Banns according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Donald McLeod sheep-farmer (widower) 40 Craig, Lochcarron Kenneth McLeod sheep-farmer (d) Rebekah McLeod ms McRae (d)
Elsie Cameron farmer’s daughter (spinster) 26 Sheep-Park, Resolis William Cameron farmer Ann Cameron ms Fraser
Dond. Sage Minr. Charles Cameron witness Murdo McDonald witness

I simply cannot trace the couple thereafter! Supplementary note: since uploading this, Mackeddie researcher Bonnie McKeddie has discovered that Donald and Else Macleod had one child in Lochcarron and then emigrated, which is why they vanished off the radar here in Scotland. They emigrated initially to Oregon, and then moved to California. They had seven children in total, and Bonnie reports there were still five alive in the 1910 census, but Elsie was widowed by this time. Thank you, Bonnie!

The memorial commemorating Donald and Elsie in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo County, California. Note the thistle, shepherd’s crook and the “Shepherd” section of the Lord’s prayer to reflect Donald’s Scottish origins and sheepfarming background; photo from Larry White courtesy of

William Cameron died at Sheep Park quite a few years later, and I don’t understand why his son Charles didn’t act as informant – perhaps he was away. A neighbour stepped in for him. And William’s widow, Anne Fraser, died a few years later, with Charles on this occasion being present.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
William Cameron farmer (married to Ann Fraser) died 7 January 1875 at Sheep-park age 83 parents Thomas Cameron farmer (d) Margt. Cameron ms Fraser (d) informant John Urquhart neighbour shoemaker Balblair
Ann Cameron (widow of William Cameron farmer) died 13 June 1878 at Sheep park age 73 parents Charles Fraser farmer (d) Elspet Fraser ms Clark (d) informant Charles Cameron son (present)

Charles, himself an Elder of the Free Church, made sure in the death notice in the papers that his father’s service as an Elder was mentioned:

Inverness Courier, 14 January 1875
At Sheep Park. Resolis, on the 7th instant, after a short illness, Mr William Cameron, three years an Elder in the Establishment, and since the Disruption an Elder of the Free Church, aged 83 years.

Charles continued to farm at Sheep Park, and in 1884 married Jessie Fraser across at Ardersier – his father had married a Fraser from Ardersier as well, so it is intriguing to wonder what the connection was.

Parish of Ardersier Marriages
23 December 1884 at Littletown, Ardersier, After Banns, according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Charles Cameron farmer (bachelor) 37 Sheep Park, Resolis parents William Cameron farmer (d) and Ann Cameron ms Fraser (d)
Jessie Fraser domestic servant (spinster) 34 Littletown, Ardersier parents Alexander Fraser mason (d) Jessie Fraser ms Fraser (d)
(signed) Alex: Cameron, Minister (signed) James Fraser (witness) Donald Miller (witness)

There were to be no children.

Charles died as recently as 1930, and his death was duly added to the tablestone in Kirkmichael, his service as an Elder of the Free Church being recorded. No attempt to match the font of the earlier inscription was made. Jessie returned to Nairnshire, dying in 1942 at Lethen Mill, Ardclach. Sadly, there was nobody left to add her name to the tablestone.


Appendix One – a Cameron family tree

Within this simplified tree must be fitted James Cameron alias Mackeddie, a shoemaker who lived at various times at Newtown of Braelangwell, Burnside and Balblair, who married Christian Fraser and had several children all baptised under the name of Mackeddie in the late 1700s. Their stone lies underground at Kirkmichael. One of their children, Christian, had her brother David’s baptism record officially changed from Mackeddie to Cameron so his baptism extract would be correct. His sister was quite firm with the Kirk Session. Another child, James (1788–1861) took over and greatly expanded his uncle Alexander Cameron’s plant nursery in Uckfield, Sussex, and became a widely-celebrated nurseryman (read their story here). Another son, John, became a carpenter in Leith where he married a Jane Crawford, and their daughter Christina moved to Jemimaville in her later years. When she died in 1899, the informant was none other that “Charles Cameron cousin Sheep Park”! I have not as yet been able to determine exactly how this line of Camerons fits into the bigger family – the most likely solution is that shoemaker James Mackeddie was another son of John Mackedie and Isobel Ferguson, but without more evidence I cannot confirm.


Appendix Two – restoring the Cameron family tablestone

The Cameron tablestone slab is revealed; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The top section of the home-made Kirkmichael gantry is placed in position; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The gantry legs are added, a winch attached to the gantry, and straps passed under the tablestone slab; photo by Andrew Dowsett


Are we ready to lift? photo by Andrew Dowsett

Up she comes! photo by Andrew Dowsett


The original supports are now exposed; photo by Jim Mackay

Up come the legs! photo by Andrew Dowsett

Everything ready and protected for pouring a new foundation; photo by Andrew Dowsett

We bring over the shuttering; photo by Davine Sutherland

Pouring the new foundation; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The new slab has “KT 2020” scratched on it to confuse future generations; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The final steps to restore the Cameron tablestone were taken at our Saturday work party, 19 September 2020, on a misty morning which turned into an afternoon of harvest sunlight. Coronavirus restrictions had increased and although our work in Kirkmichael was exempt from some of the rules, we still applied sensible procedures as appropriate, including the wearing of masks.

A fortnight later, concrete solid, shuttering out; photo by Davine Sutherland

The mask-wearing volunteers bring back the Kirkmichael Gantry; photo by Davine Sutherland

The slab is lifted back towards its original location…; photo by Andrew Dowsett

… and rotated around to its original orientation; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Ensuring that a regular depth of lime plaster would take up any variations on support or foundation. Top left: start applying lime plaster; bottom left: filling the cavity between two guides; top right: smoothing out the plaster to ensure it is regular depth; bottom right: a thin bed of lime plaster ready to take the support. Photos by Davine Sutherland

Each support has to be laid square on the lime plaster. Top left: the support is manoeuvred into position above its bed of lime plaster; bottom left: the support is supported by a rope; top right: the wooden supports are removed; bottom right: each leg is lowered square onto its lime plaster bed. Photos by Davine Sutherland

The tablestone slab is lowered carefully onto its legs; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Done! photo by Andrew Dowsett

And a few minutes later our first visitors to admire the restored tablestone have arrived – and they are immediately charmed with the peculiar letter layout; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The tablestone is a good quality one, and the inscription is well carved – although it displays a lack of planning that verges on the eccentric. Back in the 1700s, on the poorer stones, there was a similar lack of planning but usually by this period the stone carver had planned out the spacing and size of text to give a neat look, something which was done on the quality stones a century earlier! You wouldn’t think it would take much to sketch out the inscription on the stone in pencil or charcoal or chalk in advance. But no, there are these delightfully quirky work-arounds adopted:

Despite the quality, the execution of the carving was seriously flawed; photo by Jim Mackay

Short of space? just insert the final letter of “Fraser” above and turn it back to front; photo by Jim Mackay


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