This Story behind the Stone records some of the memorials to be found in local graveyards commemorating notable ministers. These memorials represent in tangible form the affection of family for a beloved father or of congregation for a respected minister, and sometimes both. All these men (with the exception of Robert Arthur) were evangelical ministers, wildly popular with the people.
photo by Andrew Dowsett
The funeral of one of the noted ministers of the North used to be a great event as people not only from his own congregation but also from congregations many miles distant would come to pay their last respects. We know that several thousand people, for example, attended the funeral of the “Apostle of the North” in Ferintosh. Graveyards such as Cullicudden, Kilmuir Easter, Kiltearn, Alness would experience thereafter a steady stream of curious visitors drawn to stand at the graveside and read the inscription dedicated to a great minister. Those days are largely gone now, and those memorials are in many places smothered by ivy or moss, and in some cases the memorials themselves are so eroded as to be unreadable.
And Kirkmichael? The ministers of the United Parish of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, commonly called Resolis, were generally buried in Cullicudden graveyard, in the “Ministers’ Corner” beside the entrance gate. The sole exception was the Reverend Robert Arthur who was known for being closer to the lairds than to the people. His memorial, tellingly, lies within the mausoleum of the Gun Munro of Poyntzfield family in Kirkmichael. Indeed, part of the restoration of Kirkmichael involved cleaning and waxing his marble memorial, inserting a lead membrane behind it and re-bedding it in lime plaster.
photo by Andrew Dowsett
photo by Jim Mackay
All the great ministers such as Porteous of Kilmuir Easter and MacPhail of Cullicudden were powerful orators, in both English and Gaelic. But they were also skilled writers, and many of their works were widely published and cherished And one of the subjects to which they often turned was the life and work of earlier leading ministers, so the “Apostles of the North” are generally well recorded.
I do not know where the graves of some of the famous ministers such as James Fraser of Brea lie, and hence this Story may well be extended on information received!
The lives of all the ministers of the north have been summarised in collections such as the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae for the Established Church or Church of Scotland which it became, Ewing’s Annals of the Free Church of Scotland for the Free Church of Scotland and the Fasti of the United Free Church of Scotland 1900–1929 for the United Free Church. Rather than even attempt to repeat the exercise, I shall simply reproduce a published summary for each minister, but with the caveat that these published summaries are not always entirely correct. In fact, you will see that the compilers made use of tombstone details and in some cases recorded those tombstone details inaccurately
We shall start with John Kennedy as he was a chronicler of several of the other ministers mentioned in this Story. He is also the most modern minister in this group. He was author of the biographical and very popular Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire (Edinburgh, 1861) and The Apostle of the North (i.e. Dr Macdonald of Ferintosh) (London, 1866).
Much information about John Kennedy may be found online on the digital form of the Dictionary of National Biography here. He was the fourth son of John Kennedy, minister of Killearnan. His mother was Jessie, daughter of Kenneth Mackenzie of Assynt, Sutherlandshire. He was educated in the parish school of Killearnan, and about 1836 went to Aberdeen University. He graduated M.A. at King’s College in 1840, and in the same year entered the theological hall of the established church. After the death of his father he became, while still continuing his studies, tutor in the family of Dr. Henderson of Caskieben, Aberdeenshire. His brother Donald succeeded his father at Killearnan, but joined the Free Church after the disruption of 1843. Kennedy, who had been licensed by the Established Church in September 1843, followed this example, and in February 1844 was inducted into a free church newly formed at Dingwall, Ross-shire. He had perfect command of the Gaelic language, and preached in both Gaelic and English to many congregations besides his own. He often delivered, it is said, as many as ten discourses in one week. Dingwall was his only charge.
His striking monument, set in open space to the east of the attractive Free Church, is a most positive feature of the county town. Visitors arriving by train leave the station to see the church rising in front of them, set in a broad greenfield area, with the complementary monument standing below. The memorial bears an erection date of 1886 and incorporates the unusual feature for northern ministers of his carved likeness.
photo by Andrew Dowsett
The incription reads very simply:
[front] John Kennedy, D.D. born 1819 died 1884
[left face] Also in memory of Mary Mackenzie, beloved wife of Rev. John Kennedy, D.D. born 1818, died 1896, who is also interred here.
[right face] Also in memory of his beloved daughter, Jessie Kennedy, born 1851, died 1929, who is also interred here.
photo by Andrew Dowsett
photo by Andrew Dowsett
The memorial met with the approbation of the Ross-shire Journal (26 March 1886) in the tiny and challenging print it used back in those days:
photo by Andrew Dowsett
The memorial to the Apostle of the North had been submerged in the ivy that is so prevalent in our old Highland cemeteries. The old kirk of Urquhart is quite submerged in a sea of green. However, there has been much clearance of the ivy around memorials in recent years thanks to the efforts of the local community.
photo by Jim Mackay
Much information about John Macdonald may be found online on Wikipaedia. His Fasti entry, which extends to considerable length starts thus:
1812 caricature by John Kay of John MacDonald when minister of the Gaelic Chapel in Edinburgh
John Kennedy’s biography of John Macdonald can now be read online here, and a good read it is. Kennedy was a great writer, and he had a worthy subject in the Apostle of the North. Not least amongst Macdonald’s claims to fame are his visits to the remote island of St Kilda in 1822, 1825, 1827 and 1830 when he recorded in detail the life of the islanders there. He also wrote and published a volume of poetry in Gaelic. Kennedy describes his funeral and his burying-place, and at the same time introduces the subject of our next minister’s memorial, that of Reverend James Calder.
His funeral was attended by an immense concourse of people, and his remains were laid beside those of Mr. Calder. Their bodies, having spent their strength on the same field of labour, now lie together in the same spot of earth; together they shall arise at the last trumpet’s sound; together ascend to their place on the right hand of the Judge; contiguous may be their mansions in the eternal home; and in one service shall they be employed for ever. A visitor of their graves in the old church-yard of Urquhart shall certainly see nothing to indicate that the men of this generation are given to garnishing the tombs of the prophets.
photo by Jim Mackay
photo by Jim Mackay
Like several other Highland graveyards, there is a burial area given over to ministers, in this case a type of enclosure. In form (though partly in granite rather than sandstone) Dr Macdonald’s memorial is reminiscent of the doorway or pedestal memorials of a hundred years earlier, examples of which may be seen within the section devoted to Reverend John Fraser of Alness. The inscription reads:
This tablet is erected / by the people of Ferrintosh / in memory of/the Revd JOHN McDONALD D.D. / who entered / in the joy of his Lord / on the 16th of April 1849 / in the 70th year of his age / and 44th year of his ministry. He being dead yet speaketh / Daniel XII.3 / Hebrews XL.4 / Hebrews XIII.7.
The memorial to Dr Macdonald’s predecessor in Urquhart and Logie Wester, Reverend Charles Calder, has also emerged from the ivy in recent years at old Urquhart cememtery. He was from a dynasty of ministers. Indeed, the Calder dynasty married into the families of two ministers of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden to whom we will come: Thomas Inglis and Hector MacPhail. Charles Calder was the son of Reverend James Calder (1712–1775) whose diary (Diary of James Calder of Croy, 1875) is an excellent source of both divine inspiration and information about the times in which he lived.
John Kennedy called Charles Calder “a man among a thousand”. Angus Mackintosh of Tain, who married Calder’s younger daughter, called him “the holiest man I ever met on earth.” His entry in the Fasti is surprisingly short, but accounts of his life may be found in books devoted to notable ministers of the North. I include his lengthy obituary found in the Madras Courier of 13 July 1813, no doubt copied from one of the Inverness papers, now lost, from the previous year!
Curiously, the inscription reveals that the tablet within the memorial is a replacement one, the original sadly having been defaced:
Here reposes the dust / of / THE REV. CHARLES CALDER, M.A. / for 38 years minister of this parish / who died 2nd October 1812, aged 64. / Sprung of a line of eminent / ministers of Christ, / he was himself a singularly / devoted, faithful, loving and honored / herald of the cross, / whose light during a lengthened ministry, / the saints of God rejoiced, / and around whom / multitudes habitually gathered to listen / to the words of eternal life. / How beautiful upon the mountains / are the feet of him that publisheth peace. / In the same grave / repose the remains of / MRS MARGARET (BRODIE) CALDER, / the faithful partner of his joys and sorrows, / who having survived him seven years / died on the 3rd. March 1820, aged 76. / The original monument erected / to their memory by their only son, / JAMES CALDER ESQR. of Calcutta / who was lost at sea in 1833, / having been defaced, / this tablet has been erected in its stead by a grandson.
photo by Jim Mackay
photo by Jim Mackay
Back a few years ago the Kirkmichael Trust organised a joint guided tour of Alness Burial Ground with the local community. It was very successful, and raised awareness of the heritage interests within this ancient burial ground relating to both the former church and the memorials to be found there.
some young explorers at a joint community/Kirkmichael Trust guided tour of Alness Burial Ground; photo by Jim Mackay
joint community/Kirkmichael Trust guided tour of Alness Burial Ground; photo by Jim Mackay
There was a real shock for some of us, though, when we saw the current state of the memorial to Reverend John Fraser of Alness. This was a memorial of the doorway or pedestal form, a sister to the Urquhart memorial in the chancel at Kirkmichael, and a style reserved for ministers and other devout men. These memorials are ornameted with symbols of both life and death, and the doorway represents the passage through death to everlasting life.
the John Fraser memorial in the 1950s
the John Fraser memorial in 2016; photo by Jim Mackay
It was John Fraser’s wife, Jean Moffat, an extraordinary character in her own right, who had the memorial erected outside Alness Church. It is such a shame how the condition of this stone has deteriorated over the past few decades. Our similar pedestal memorial at Kirkmichael was also outside in a fashion, as with the roof off the chancel it was exposed to the elements and might have met a similar fate had the Trust not fought a long but ultimately successful battle with the then Historic Scotland to gain permission to put the roof back on. There is a similar memorial inside the Tarbat Discovery Centre in good condition, and other badly deteriorating exterior ones elsewhere in the area as at Tain and Cromarty. There is a moral to this story.
memorial to Magister Hugh Munro and Jean Thomson, Tain; photo by Jim Mackay
memorial to Magister William Mackenzie, Tarbat Discovery Centre; photo by Jim Mackay
Braelangwell memorial (prior to restoration), Kirkmichael; photo by Andrew Dowsett
The hard life suffered by John Fraser and his wife Jean Moffat are hard to grasp nowadays. Locked up in prisons in quite barbaric conditions, vilified, enslaved and exiled, all for the sake of their religion. The Fasti entry below just gives the chronology but not the horror of it, and it is a wonder given their hardships that John and Jean survived. The panel which Jean Moffat had commissioned is now no more, but was quite readable back in the 1950s. It is in Latin, and my schoolboy Latin is not quite up to either transcribing it correctly or translating it adequately thereafter. But it commemorates John himself, who died on 7 November 1711 and also son John, who had been studying to be a doctor of philosophy, and had died on 5 June 1712, so a double blow for the surviving Jean Moffat. If a better Latin scholar out there can assist I would be delighted.
The initials at the top are M I F and I M for Magister John Fraser and Jean Moffat, and the crest appears to be the strawberry flowers and crowns of Clan Fraser. I believe that the strawberry flowers are yet another heraldic pun, as the French for strawberry is fraise and hence Fraser.
Jean Moffat and the silver spoon
Estelle Quick has published a lovely piece of research on a silver spoon, created by silversmith Hugh Ross of Tain, given by John Fraser’s widow, Jean Moffat, to their daughter, Katherine Fraser. It bears the text “Jean Moffet To Ka. Fraser” John and Jean’s daughter Katherine married John MacArthur, who was minister of Logie Easter. Jean Moffat must have asked silversmith Hugh Ross to make the spoon for Katherine, as a gift from mother to daughter and from one minister’s wife to another. The full story may be read in the Finial for May/June 2011 (ISSN 1742-156X), nowadays downloadable here. It is a neat bit of investigation.
The Kirkmichael Trust a number of years ago also organised a joint guided tour of Kiltearn Burial Ground with the local community. Since that time, all the gravestone inscriptions have been recorded as a community/NOSAS project, and the results published by the Highland Family History Society. There are many inscriptions of interest in Kiltearn, but the most remarkable has to be the one devoted to Reverend Thomas Hog.
Kirkmichael Trust/local community guided tour of Kiltearn Burial Ground, 2016; photo by Jim Mackay
The life of Thomas Hog is set out in some detail in the Fasti which is reproduced in full below. Like our previous minister, Reverend John Fraser of Alness, Reverend Thomas Hog suffered for his faith.
The inscription on Thomas Hog’s stone, quoted in the Fasti was so unusual that, when the original slab became worn by the tread of visitors’ feet, a marble plaque was set up at the end of the slab and bearing a copy of the inscription.
Thomas Hog’s memorial is in a “ministers’ corner”; photo by Davine Sutherland
photo by Davine Sutherland
The inscription reads “This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring ane ungodly minister in here.” The slab is placed directly beside the door to the church so everyone entering the church would be reminded of this stern enjoinder.
the remarkable inscription on Thomas Hog’s grave; photo by Davine Sutherland
But there is more to the story behind this memorial. Davine Sutherland of the Kirkmichael Trust photographed the slab when wet (always a useful technique to bring out faint inscriptions) and there is clearly more than just the warning inscription to be read. In the centre there is M T H for Magister Thomas Hog as you would expect. Above that is the warning. But there are two lines of text running around the perimeter, in the typical fashion of slabs. Much of this I am quite sure could be recovered by night-time oblique photography or photogrammetry, and it would be an interesting exercise to try. It would also be of interest to compare the text style of the warning with the text style of the conventional inscription, to see perhaps whether the warning was a later addition.
more to investigate! photo by Davine Sutherland
During lockdown 2021, when the Kirkmichael Trust work parties were temporarily put on hold, instead of reporting our activities on Facebook we featured posts on “guest graveyard” Kilmuir Easter. They proved very popular. The memorials to Kilmuir Easter’s most famous ministers, Walter Ross and John Porteous, had never been adequately researched and hence we made several recording visits, including at night when we could use oblique lighting.
a collage of Kilmuir Easter photos from Facebook by Davine Sutherland
The memorials to Walter Ross and John Porteous are very close to each other, to the west of the church. That commemorating Walter Ross is an upright structure, similar to that of Thomas Inglis in Cullicudden. It bears a panel in Latin, and the inscription is challenging to make out during daylight. At night-time, with oblique lighting, however, the writing leaps out at you.
the Walter Ross memorial at night; photo by Jim Mackay
Latin inscriptions are most common with ministers. Of those studied in this Story, the inscriptions to John Fraser in Alness, Thomas Inglis in Cullicudden and Walter Ross in Easter Kilmuir are in Latin. The writers made heavy use of abbreviations and people familiar with ecclesiastical Latin abbreviations are few and far between. Davine and I puzzled our way through the inscription and this is what we make of it.
MR W R / I I / The Holy / Bible / Hic juxta uxoris suae / prioris Jenae Innes reliqu/ias quae decem annos an/te obierat XI Decembris aetatis XXVII conduntur ci/neres viri integrrimi DD / Gualteri Ross Celmariae / orientalis pastoris qui postquam fidele min evangeli/o Christi per novemdecim a/nnos collocasset operam s/ummo studio zelo ferventiss/imo pietate probatisima ac e/xquisita cum prudenta tum / fortitudine hinc cursu past/orali per acto emigravit ad / coronam coelestem arripie/ndam XXIX Decembris 1733 / aetatis sua LVI
MR [Magister] W[alter] R[oss] / I[anet] I[nnes] / The Holy / Bible / Near here [are] the remains of his previous wife Janet Innes who died ten years earlier on 11 December in the year of her age 27. / The ashes are buried here of an honest man DD Walter Ross minister of Easter Kilmuir who after being a faithful evangelical minister in Christ for nineteen years set works in order with high enthusiasm, the most fervent zeal, tested and exquisite piety, with prudence, then by fortitude the course of his pastorship here completed, he departed to seize the crown of the heavens 29 December 1733 in the year of his age 56
As I say, the slab commemorating Reverend John Porteous lies close by. Astonishingly, the Fasti entry for Porteous mistakenly claims “Jenae Innes” as his wife. I think whoever was sent out to get information from the slabs for the Fasti became confused and read the wrong gravestone! And the Fasti entry for Walter Ross doesn’t mention Janet Innes at all; but does mention a later wife who is not commemorated here presumably as she went on as a widow to marry another minister and is commemorated elsewhere. The Fasti entry thus says:
photo by Jim Mackay
Several entertaining stories about Reverend Walter Ross are related by Helen Myers Meldrum, and may be read on the excellent Ross and Cromarty Heritage website here.
The John Porteous stone was a famous one, and lies under a thin layer of moss a couple of yards in front of the memorial to immediate predecessor Walter Ross. In form, it resembles more the top of a tablestone than a conventional slab. Helen Myers Meldrum states: “His dust reposes in Kilmuir Churchyard under a flat stone. The inscription in parts is now almost illegible. Once a sacred shrine to the people of the neighbourhood, the grave, though still tended, arouses no interest in the passer-by.”
the Walter Ross memorial blue-spotted; the John Porteous slab red-spotted; photo by Jim Mackay
The stones at Kilmuir Easter had been recorded previously but perhaps not using the robust techniques used by the Kirkmichael Trust. The report from the records deposited in the Tarbat Discovery Centre reads “The only Porteous found in Kilmuir Easter is John Porteous, no mention of Reverend, gives his age as 43, and year of death as 1773, the day and month are not readable. It also says Uncle of Nancy Fraser.” Davine and I, natural checkers both, visited Kilmuir Easter early one evening in the winter darkness and recorded it using oblique light. This is the true inscription:
UNDER THIS STONE / LYES THE DUST OF / MASTER JOHN / PORTEOUS A / FAITHFULL & PIOUS / SERVANT OF CHRIST. / HE LABOURED IN THE / MINISTRY IN THIS / PARISH OF KILMUIR / 45 YEARS AND / DEPARTED THIS / LIFE JANUARY 1775.
As well as Porteous’s details, we have a poignant addition below, in cursive:
Close by his side lies his / amiable niece Miss Nancy / Fraser daughter of Master Alexander Fraser / late min at Inverness / Departed this life in the / 15th year of her age / when visiting her uncle.
photo by Jim Mackay
note the wife-swapping error in the Fasti where the first wife of Walter Ross is here attached to John Porteous
Nancy does indeed have her own stone. We have not uncovered it but we understand it does not give any further information. Now Minister Alexander Fraser must have married Jane Porteous in the 1730s, for the Fasti records they had children John in 1740, Lewis in 1742, Isabel in 1743 and Jane in 1746. I thus imagine Nancy would have been born in the 1740s as well, or perhaps in the 1750s, and hence would have died when visiting her aunt and uncle in Kilmuir Easter sometime in the 1750s or 1760s. It would be useful to confirm that her slab genuinely bears no additional information. But as we know that Reverend Alexander Fraser died in 1778, and as her Uncle’s slab refers to “Master Alexander Fraser late minr” then at least the italicised portion of the Porteous gravestone inscription was carved on or after 1778.
photo by Jim Mackay
The inscription does not give the exact date of the death of Reverend John Porteous, but it is revealed in his obituary within the Caledonian Mercury of 8 February 1775:
photo by Andrew Dowsett
The ministers of the united parish of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden commonly called Resolis were by tradition buried in Cullicudden burial ground. Just inside the gate, on the right, there is an area given over to the memorials of the ministers of the parish and their families. We shall look at those associated with Thomas Inglis, Hector MacPhail and Donald Sage, all famous ministers of their respective eras.
Reverend Thomas Inglis may have been known as “The Lamb of Cullicudden” but the Inglis crest on his memorial panel in Cullicudden is that of a lion rampant! The Urquhart three boar heads are for Anne Urquhart of Braelangwell, his wife. The inscription on the panel is simply “17M 45 / TI AU” (the “MTI” representing Master or Magister Thomas Inglis). The “1745” indicates the memorial was erected after the death of Anne, but before Thomas himself had died. There is a panel in Latin underneath which I have not as yet tackled.
As well as the wall memorial, Thomas Inglis is commemorated in Cullicudden on the Reverend Donald Sage pillar (seen on the right of the photograph below left) and on his own low tablestone. Anne or Anna Urquhart is also commemorated separately on an adjacent low tablestone. The text runs around the perimeter and, with some ligatures, reads: “Under this stone lies the bodie of ANNA URQUHART spouse to Mr THOMAS INGLIS who departed this life the 31 day of July 1742 in the 43 year of her age My flesh shall rest in hope.” These two tablestones may be seen beside the legs of yours truly in the photograph below left!
the Reverend Thomas Inglis/Anne Urquhart heraldic panel highlighted during a guided tour of Cullicudden by the Kirkmichael Trust; photo by Verity Walker Eley
photo by Jim Mackay
Thomas and Anne had four children who survived to adulthood, William, who died out in Jamaica, Anne, who married the Reverend James Calder, Minister of Croy, and John and Jean, who were still youngsters when Thomas died. The presbytery records pick up on the story:
At Rosemarky [19 July 1748], upon application from John & Jean Children to Mr Thomas Innes Shewing that they were within the age of pupillarity at the Time of their father’s Death & still continue minors & being without Tutors or Curators for want of which they have not access to recover payment of the Quotas due them out of the publick Fund for a provision to the widows & children of ministers &c And craving that the Presbyteries as by Law impowerd would appoint curators for them, for this purpose. The Presbytery considering the said Desire & finding it reasonable did & hereby do nominate & appoint Mr William Inglis Baillie in Nairn & Charles Urquhart of Brealangwell Uncles to the said Children & Mr James Calder Minister at Croy their Brother in Law to be their Curators for the said purpose.
Those were the daughters. Son William Inglis had sought his fortune in Jamaica – but like so many others had perished there. The family did not know exactly when he had died, but in 1750 moved forward to claim the money which had been owing to William from the same fund. Charles Urquhart had agreed to be cautioner, always a dangerous role, as he would have become liable himself if there was a problem. However, he was clearly happy to assist his nieces.
Testament Dative and Inventary, William Inglis, 13 December 1750
The Testament Dative and Inventary of the debt and sum of money pertaining and addebted to umqll. William Inglis lawfull son to the deceast Mr. Thomas Inglis late Minister of the Gospel at Kirkmichael and Cullicudden the time of his decease who deceased in Jamaica upon the [blank] day of [blank] Mvii& and fourty [blank] years faithfully made and given up by John and Jean Inglis’s brother and sister german to the defunct and by Mr. James Calder Minister of the Gospel at Croy husband to and as having best knowledge in name and behalf of Ann Inglis his spouse also Sister german to the said defunct which John Anne and Jean Inglis’s are only Execrs. Dative qua nearest in kin decerned to the said umqll. William Inglis their brother german and that by Decreet of the Commissarys of Edinburgh as the samen of date the fourth July Mvii& and fifty years in itself at more length preports. In the first the said umqll. Wm. Inglis had pertaining and addebted to him the time forsaid of his decease the debt and sum or money underwritten vizt. the sum of Sixty one pounds five shillings one penny two thirds Sterl. as the sum and proportion which had fallen due and accresced to him upon the decease of the said Mr. Thomas Inglis his father by Act of parliament for establishing a fund for the widows and children of ministers of the church of Scotland… Cautioner Charles Urquhart of Braelangwell in the parish of Kirkmichael and County of Cromarty dated the thirteenth December Mvii& and fifty
As mentioned, Reverend Thomas Inglis is actually referenced on quite a number of memorials at Cullicudden. First, there is the wall memorial. Second, one of the faces of the granite pillar erected to the much later Reverend Donald Sage reproduces his sandstone tablestone inscription, stating: “Also in memory of / Mr THOMAS INGLIS / who, having discharged the / pastoral office in this parish / for 33 years, departed this life / on the 27th day of July 1747, / and in the 64th year of his age / “I have fought a good fight, / I have finished my course, &.c. / II Tim. 4.7 & 8.”. Third, there is a low tablestone below the wall memorial (the top left corner of which is broken off and lies under the steps into the graveyard) which bears the original inscription: “Under this stone / lies the bodie of Mr THOMAS INGLIS who ha/ving discharged / the pastorall office in this parish for 33 / years departed this life on the 27 day of / July 1747 in the / 64 year of his / age / Sec. / Tim 4 ch 7 & 8 v.”. Four, he is referenced on the tablestone in memory of his spouse. He must have been much-loved. In completion, there is a memorial to an unrecorded child, close to his parents’ low tablestone:
Here lies the / bodie of ADAM / INGLIS who / departed this / ---- ------ / ---- --30
the face of the Donald Sage pillar in Cullicudden devoted to Thomas Inglis and Hector MacPhail; photo by Andrew Dowsett
The great Hector MacPhail is mentioned on three memorials in Cullicudden: his own tablestone, a tablestone commemorating his first wife Elizabeth Balfour, and on the pillar mostly devoted to the memory of Reverend Donald Sage but incorporating inscriptions to other ministers. The two tablestones and the pillar respectively read:
Here lies the body / of the holy man of / God and faithful / servant of Jesus Christ, / Mr HECTOR / McPHAIL minister / of the Gospel in this / parish. who died / 23. January 1774. / Aged 58. years.
This stone was / placed here by Mr. / HECTOR McPHEAL, / minister of Cullicudd/en. Under it lyes / the bodie of his / beloved wife / ELIZABETH BALFOUR / who died March 26 / 1758. aged 28 years / I Thess 4 14 verse / Even so them also / which sleep in / Jesus will God / bring with him
And of the holy man of God and / faithful servant / of Jesus Christ / Mr HECTOR McPHAIL / Minister of the Gospel / in this parish, / who died 23rd January 1774, / aged 58.
the two low tablestones at Cullicudden commemorating Hector MacPhail on the left and his first wife Elizabeth Balfour on the right; photo by Jim Mackay from the 1990s
The stories about Hector MacPhail are innumerable. All the books about and by notable northern ministers include MacPhail snippets. Hugh Miller writes of him positively. The Reverend Donald Sage eulogises him. While he wrote no books himself, tracts about his conversion stories, that of Luke Heywood, the soldier at Fort George, and the Highland Kitchen Maid, were immensely popular. Modern, highly abbreviated versions may be found here and here. An excellent review of his life may be seen here.
Reverend Robert Macdougall’s history of McPhail in the Free Presbyterian Magazine over several issues in 1916 provides more detail of his life, and it is the text to which I turn with reference to his death and burial:
During the earlier part of January, 1774, Mr McPhail continued in extreme weakness of body, but strong in the faith giving glory to God. On the 23rd day of that month he entered into the joy of his Lord. Devout men carried his remains to the churchyard of Cullicudden in the upper end of Resolis, “and made great lamentation over him.” It was felt all over the North of Scotland that a prince and a great man had fallen in Israel. On the freestone slab that covers his grave there is still legible the inscription: “Here lies the body of the holy man of God, and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, Mr. Hector McPhail, minister of the Gospel in this parish, who died 23rd January, 1774, aged 58 years.” … James Calder … diary … records … “7th January, 1774.– Heard to-day with sorrow that my very dear and worthy brother Mr. Hector McPhail was extremely low and weak in body, and not likely to live any time. Happy, inconceivably happy, will that change be to him, whatever time it comes. But oh! what a loss to his flock, his family, the Church, and to me! Help, Lord, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.”
the face of the Donald Sage pillar in Cullicudden devoted to Thomas Inglis and Hector MacPhail; photo by Andrew Dowsett
Donald Sage was a prominent preacher in the Established Church in Resolis before leaving with the great majority of his congregation to join the newly-formed Free Church of Scotland. For a time he preached in (and sometimes outside) the only building allowed to them, the Newhall Estate girnal at Ferryton Point. Poyntzfield provided a site in Jemimaville, and after some hesitation, due to the location being at the extreme east end of the parish, a new church and manse were built there. Several decades later, a more central position was found, the current location of the Free Church and the now privately-occupied Free Church manse.
Resolis Church, in which Sage first preached, nowadays a domestic residence; photo by Jim Mackay
Newhall storehouse, where Donald Sage preached after the 1843 Disruption, nowadays a domestic residence
Resolis Free Church in Jemimaville, nowadays a ruin; photo by Donald Fraser
Resolis Free Church prior to modernisation and still going strong as a church; photo by Jim Mackay
The Sages were settled in the Highlands for several generations prior to the life of Donald Sage, though of southern stock originally, we are informed in his Memorabilia Domestica. Donald Sage’s great-grandfather, Murdoch Sage, was a farmer and messenger-at-arms at Killearnan. When attempting to arrest a “man of rank” he was shot by him and died shortly afterwards. He was married to a Miss MacDonnell of Ardnafuarain, a near relative of Glengarry. The lives of Donald Sage, his father and his grandfather followed a similar pattern.
His grandfather, Aeneas or Eneas Sage, was born at Chapelton, a small farm on the estate of Redcastle, in the Parish of Killearnan in 1694. He was educated at King’s College, Aberdeen (from which he was expelled). After a period as a parochial teacher he became licensed to preach and held a missionary appointment in the wild district of Lochcarron, Applecross and Gairloch, prior to being ordained minister of Lochcarron in 1726. Anecdotes of his struggles to tame this wild parish can be found in both his grandson’s Memorabilia Domestica and in the Rev. John Kennedy’s The Days of The Fathers in Ross-shire. He died in 1774, at Lochcarron. He was married to Elizabeth Mackay, whose family history is given in Memorabilia Domestica.
His father, Alexander Sage, was born at the manse of Lochcarron in 1753. He was educated at the school of Cromarty, to which the gentry, clergy and upper class of tenants in the shires of Ross, Cromarty and Inverness sent their sons, and King’s College, Aberdeen, from which he graduated M.A. in 1792. After a period as a parochial schoolmaster he became licensed to preach and was assistant to the minister at Reay before holding a missionary appointment in the Mission of Dirlot (composed of an area within the parishes of Reay, Halkirk and Latheron) from 1784 to 1787. He was settled Minister of Kildonan in 1787. He died in 1824, at Kildonan. He was married first to Isabella Fraser, and secondly to Jean Sutherland, the family histories of both of whom are given in Memorabilia Domestica.
Donald Sage himself was born at the manse of Kildonan on 20th October, 1789. He was educated at home, at school at Dornoch and at Marischal College, Aberdeen, from which he graduated M.A. in 1808, and at Divinity Halls at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. After a period as a parochial schoolmaster and tutor to several influential families, he became licensed to preach by the presbytery of Lochcarron, 1815, before holding a missionary appointment at Achness from 1815 to 1818. Following the loss of his congregation, he was called to the Gaelic Chapel in Aberdeen in February, 1819. He was presented to the Parish of Resolis on 14th August, 1821 and was admitted on 2nd May, 1822. He died at Resolis on 31st March, 1869.
Like his father, Donald Sage married twice. He married, on 21st July, 1821, Harriet Gordon Robertson, who died on 7th May, 1822. He secondly married, on 20th June, 1826, Elizabeth Mackintosh, who died on 25th January, 1889, having borne him six sons and four daughters. His son Donald Fraser Sage was born in the manse of Resolis in 1840, and studied at the University and New College, Edinburgh. He was ordained at Parkhill, Ontario in 1874 and translated to Keiss in 1880. He married in 1881 Margaret Ann Thomson, edited his father’s papers and published them as his father’s Memorabilia Domestica in 1889, and died the followng year. The book, in Sage’s surprisingly frank style, excels on many fronts: biography, history, family history.
An essential book for the Highland historian.
The Reverend Donald Sage, minister of the established church in Resolis from 1822 to 1843, and thereafter Free Church minister in Resolis to his death in 1869
Not long after Donald Sage became the minister of Resolis, his first wife, Harriet Robertson, died. Sage was plunged into the depths of despair, as recalled in his book Memorabilia Domestica: “The funeral was numerously attended. I was so completely prostrated as to be quite unable to accompany her beloved remains to their last resting-place. My venerable and sympathising father, however, supplied my place as chief mourner. The body was deposited in Cullicudden churchyard, a beautifully sequestered spot, lying on the southern shore of the Cromarty Firth.”. The memorial erected to Harriet lies within that small burial area in Cullicudden reserved to ministers and their families.
In memory of / HARIETT G ROBER/TSON / wife of the / Revd. DONALD SAGE, / minister of this parish. / Who died on the 7 day of May / MDCCCXXII / in the XXII year / of her age. / This stone is placed here / by / her affectionate husband. / For if we believe that Jesus / died and rose again, even / so them also which sleep / in Jesus will God bring with / him. 1Thess IV 14
The pillar erected by the Free Church congregation of Resolis in Cullicudden to commemorate their beloved minister is most unusual, in that it also commemorated earlier ministers, Thomas Inglis and Hector Macphail, and a later Free Church minister, John MacIver. It is a handsome grey granite pillar, with urn on top, from Aberdeen of course, erected at a time when granite was beginning to take off in northern graveyards. It reads in its entirety:
Erected by / the Free Church Congregation / of Resolis, / in token of their esteem, / to the memory of / their beloved pastor, / the Revd. DONALD SAGE, / born in the Manse of Kildonan 1789 / translated / from Aberdeen to Resolis 1822, / left the Establishment with a large / and attached congregation 1843, / entered on his rest 31st. March 1869. / Descended from a race distinguished / for Godliness & ability. / In his own soul he felt the influence / of the truth which he preached to others; / & especially shone as a faithful, able, / & successful minister / of the New Testament. / “For to me to live is Christ, and to die / is gain.” Phil. 1. 21. [North face:] Here also is interred the / REVD JOHN MACIVER / a faithful Minister of the / Free Church of Resolis, / ordained 10th April 1879, / and died at Conon / 10th June 1922 aged 84. / Isaiah 8 & 20. [South face:] Also in memory of / Mr THOMAS INGLIS / who, having discharged the / pastoral office in this parish / for 33 years, departed this life / on the 27th day of July 1747, / and in the 64th year of his age / “I have fought a good fight, / I have finished my course, &.c. / II Tim. 4.7 & 8. / And of the holy man of God and / faithful servant / of Jesus Christ / Mr HECTOR McPHAIL / Minister of the Gospel / in this parish, / who died 23rd January 1774, / aged 58.
pillar erected in memory of Donald Sage, with the slab commemorating his first wife at the foot; photo by Andrew Dowsett
the slab commemorating first wife Harriet Robertson; photo by Jim Mackay
I am including Reverend Robert Arthur in this Story as his is the only minister’s memorial in Kirkmichael. It could not be said that he was an evangelical minister, quite the opposite, although in fact he appears to have started out his career in this style. He has come in for some criticism over the years, but he did have his positive points.
photo by Jim Mackay
His letters, for instance, show him to have been a good family man. Whilst he seemed more interested in the doings of the Poyntzfield estate (his first wife, Anne, was a Poyntzfield daughter) than his ecclesiastical duties, he does not seem to have shirked his preaching. It is interesting to note that whilst he may have liked to associate with the lairds, he was always quick to use litigation against them were they slow or reluctant to provide their legal requirements. Most of the Presbytery records involving Robert Arthur are his seeking reparations to manse, steading or kirk. He was well used to litigation in a personal capacity as well, as I see numerous court cases when he was the pursuer – usually pursuing debts, it has to be said.
Arthur wrote the first Statistical Account of Resolis (Sage wrote the second) and there are some interesting personal touches within it, including his discussion of measures put in place to address the poor. These are expanded upon in a section within Sir George Stewart Mackenzie’s A General Survey of the Counties of Ross and Cromarty, drawn up for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture (London, 1810):
before my settlement, and, during several years thereafter, there were no funds for the poor but the weekly collections in church, which were very trifling indeed. / About the year 1788 I began, a second time, to form a little permanent fund, which, by attention and perseverance, now amounts to L.76, 10s. Besides the interest of that sum, the weekly collections and dues for the mortcloth have amounted, for several years past, to L.11 and often to L.14 per annum. For 30 years I have had the poor divided into three or four classes, which has been attended with much benefit to the greatest objects. Though it may not be necessary, I shall render the following information, as to the annual distribution of our funds. After paying the session-clerk, and kirk-officer, catechist, and incidental expences, The first class, receives from 14s. to 18s. The second do. – 8s. to 10s. The third do. – 4s. to 6s. The fourth do. – 2s.6d. to 3s.6d. and 4s. / When I became minister of this parish, I found, owing to the undue influence of twelve elders, 90 persons on the poor's roll, many of whom were by no means in want. I thought it prudent, however, to allow matters to remain as they were for a few years. At last, I obtained an act of session, ordaining, that no person should, in future, get any share of the poors fund, who did not sign an obligation to leave their all, after paying their debts and funeral expences, to the poor of the parish; except they had near relations, who could be proved to have been liberal and kind to the deceased in their distress. This was a most unpopular measure: it had, however, the effect I desired, and reduced the number of those who were really poor to thirty-four.
That may read self-congratulatory, and even a little hard-hearted. But the hard facts are that the poorest of the parish benefited from Robert Arthur’s approach.
Sage had no time for him. In his Memorabilia Domestica he said scornfully:
Mr. Robert Arthur was my immediate predecessor in the charge of Resolis, where he laboured for forty-seven years, and if his life and ministry were anything but what they should have been, it was not for the want of a bright example clearly set before him of one who, as a Christian man and a gospel minister, had adorned the doctrine of God his Saviour. This was Mr. Hector MacPhail whom he succeeded.
Mr. Robert Arthur, his successor, was inducted into the charge in 1774. He assumed at first an evangelical strain of preaching, and associated with the most highly-esteemed ministers, such as Mr. Calder of Urquhart and Mr. A. Fraser of Kirkhill. His knowledge of Gaelic, however, was very imperfect, and this rendered his preaching in that language utterly inadequate to convey the simplest truths to his Highland hearers. Another circumstance led to an estrangement between him and the pious among his people, and ultimately put an end to his usefulness among them. Mr. Gordon of Ardoch dying, and the family becoming extinct, the estate was sold to a stranger of the name of Munro, who, in honour of his wife, changed the name of the place and called it Poyntzfield. He was succeeded by his nephews, first George, and then Innes Gunn Munro, the latter a Colonel in the army. he Munros of Poyntzfield have, in all their generations, been the votaries of gaity and pleasure rather than of the more staid and money-making pursuits of the world. Mr. Arthur, then a young, unmarried man, became only too intimately acquainted in his new heritor's family. This intimacy led to his marriage with the laird’s sister, and his consequent residence almost entirely at Poyntzfield, to the utter neglect of the week-day duties of his office. This course of action alienated from him the more serious among his parishioners, while he himself became a bitter and implacable enemy of all the Evangelical ministers with whom he came in contact. His acquired fluency in after years in the Gaelic language, and a certain knowledge of medicine, by which he made himself useful to many, retained the majority of his parishioners as his hearers; but all the seriously disposed regularly attended the ministrations of the eminent Mr. Charles Calder of Ferintosh. Mr. Arthur was thrice married. His eldest daughter, an excellent and amiable woman, was the wife of the late Mr. Alexander Gunn, minister of Watten in Caithness. When the close of his life approached, and he was confined to bed, he was glad to receive supplies for his pulpit from all the ministers who were willing to give them. Mr. Calder had long before “gone into heaven,” but his successor, Mr. MacDonald, sometimes preached in the open air close to the manse, Mr. Arthur sitting at the window and listening. He was a sound theologian, and admired Mr. MacDonald as a preacher, but, alas, he gave no sign of any change of heart. He was the same in the immediate prospect of death as he had been through life. He died in 1821,in his 78th year and the 47th of his ministry.
You will see mentioned there several others of the ministers described under their own headings in this Story.
A fine set of his letters may be found in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, in the Sutherland of Rearquhar papers. I include just one out of many letters to give a flavour of this fussy, business-like minister. You can see him squeezing all his social and family commitments into his church schedule:
Resolis 22d April 1785 – late
I was this afternoon favoured with yours of the 19th and 21st by Willie McKenzie, & that I might not detain him tomorrow sent for a shilling stamp on which I have drawn on you payable to Baillie John McIntosh of Inverness for £100.-.- at 3 mos. Sight as you directed in your Letter of Yesterday – I also went to Udol, where Mr Anderson wrote you the Inclosed about the Dornoch Church &c.
I wrote you on Monday last to be delivered by Sandy Sutherland’s boy next Day, but as he did not go to Skelbo as first proposed, his Mother sent it by an occasional bearer to Mr Duncan in Dornoch – & as I suppose you have received it before now -–I say nothing of what it contained to save time, of which I need to be an oeconomist.
Yesterday after returning afoot from the Synod at Tain we had the four at Poyntzfield & our two Youngest Children here innoculated by Dr Wishart, after his engaging to deferr innoculating any others so as to be able to give our Charge the utmost attention while any from him is necessary –
The above £100.-.- will I hope clear Scores in this Country – Baillie Mackenzie’s Accot £31.11.8 must be paid at Whitsunday – & Duncan Davidson writes me almost every other Day for payt of his accot £8.1.8 Bernard Williamson is at least equally needy & anxious – & I (after paying Mrs Rose to Calcutta’s order £11.-.6 for the Pealing & Hay received at Fortrose) have advanced out of my own Pocket to this Date £28.17.4½ – which I scrambled with Difficulty, but cannot be out of, having many Demands to answer myself–
I think you should have rather drawn on Baillie John McIntosh at once – payable to me & sent it me by the bearer–
The oats at Poyntzfield will be sown Tuesday – my own in the Ground, & the barley Land will be ploughed once on Monday & twice thereafter as I sow Grass-seeds with it – potatoes not planted – On Monday I have a Meeting – Tuesday examine the Charity School at Red Castle, & my own on Wednesday – This night or tomorrow morning I must write a long Letter to London – In short no poor mortal was ever more hurried than He who is, with Anny’s joint warmest wishes to you & Mrs McKenzie
Your affectionate hule Servt
P.S. The valuation of all things at Fortrose shall be attended to as soon as possible – must first make out a Correct Catalogue of Articles to be sold – Query, shall I cause any number of Copies be printed & dispersed? – What shall be given Doctor Alves for his attendance on Coll. McKenzie? Are all very glad to hear that Mr McKenzie is on full pay.
You can see rather starkly here how low church affairs ranked in his priorities. I have to say the most shocking thing from this letter is his persuading the doctor not to inoculate more children so that he could have him at hand to provide his own children with the utmost attention!
From the point of view of a local or family historian, the greatest criticism of Robert Arthur has to be his neglect of the church records. The marriage register appears to be comprehensive only from October 1748 to July 1769, and from January 1822 onwards (when Donald Sage arrived), with a smattering of presumably retrospective entries between the two periods. This is really very poor for a Black Isle/Easter Ross parish om this period, and the blame can be put very firmly at the door of the Rev. Robert Arthur. Even worse, it is alleged that he actually destroyed the early Kirk Session records as he did not wish records of transgressions to be retained. Thus the Kirk Session records for Resolis begin only upon the arrival of Donald Sage. Of course, records of the most serious transgressions did survive, as they were referred to the Presbytery, so his intention was to some extent thwarted.
His memorial was in a sad state before the restoration of Kirkmichael. Besmirched with rude graffiti, surrounded by ugly Portland cement mortar, and standing on inappropriate red brick, the marble plaque was desperately in need of some careful treatment. Our conservator, Derek Cunningham, took the memorial out of the wall, cleaned it and waxed it, and surrounded it with a lead membrane to prevent moisture drawn up the wall affecting it. It was then put back in place. Lime plaster was applied to make the setting of the memorial fit in with the remainder of the interior. The inscription reads:
To the memory / of / Rev. ROBERT ARTHUR, / forty seven years minister of Resolis, / died 14th May 1821. / And of his wives / ANN MUNRO, / and / MARGARET GUNN. / Erected by their grand-children, / THOMAS H. GALLIE of Glasgow / and / HARRIET MONRO wife of / Rev Dr. THOMSON of Forgan. / 1883.
The curious feature of this inscription is that only the first and third wives are mentioned, with his second and fourth wives consigned to oblivion. There were no children from those two marriages, but still, it seems a little hard to exclude two of his wives. The full story may be found in the Fasti.