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

The Rosskeen Riot of 1843
and rioter James Holm or Holmes (c1820–1894) of Resolis, Invergordon, Brora and Bonar Bridge

text by Dr Jim Mackay    photography as annotated


The 1843 Disruption Riot in Resolis and the subsequent Jail Break in Cromarty tend to attract most attention when examining civil disobedience in the Highlands in the wake of the creation of the Free Church of Scotland. However, there were also wild scenes across on the north side of the Cromarty Firth, particularly in the Parishes of Logie Easter and Rosskeen, with the army involved. Several of the alleged Rosskeen rioters were incarcerated for a night in the safe of the Old Commercial Bank building in Invergordon, an action for which they won damages from those responsible a couple of years later.

the clergy and gentry were confronted by the mob at the Old Bridge over the Rosskeen Burn below Rosskeen Church; above the Old Bridge is the more modern Railway Bridge; photo by Davine Sutherland

In the Resolis Riot, several of the rioters were named Holm. The precognition (AD14/44/458) for the High Court case in Edinburgh the following year names Thomas Holm, farmer Ferrytown, Andrew Holm, labourer and fisherman, Ferrytown, John Holm, brother of Andrew Holm, crofter, Ferrytown, and James Holm, farmer and mason (and Free Church Elder), Resolis.

But across in Rosskeen, one of the rioters was also a Holm, and a most respectable man too. I picked up on this from a piece in the Inverness Courier, copied in other newspapers:

Inverness Courier Wednesday 29 November 1843
James Holmes, tailor, Invergordon, one of the “Rosskeen rioters,” was apprehended at Rarichie market on Tuesday last, by Kennedy, sheriff-officer, Tain. Since the rioting, Holmes absconded, and was supposed to have gone to Caithness.

Unlike the Resolis Rioters, who were tried at the High Court in Edinburgh, the men seized for the Rosskeen riot were tried locally, in the Tain Sheriff Court. I have not yet gone through the Tain Sheriff Court records for the period to locate the cases. I imagine “SC34/16 Criminal libels/indictments, Tain Sheriff Court, 1833–1987” would be a good place to start if anybody residing in Edinburgh would wish to explore at the National Records of Scotland.

A copy of the famous painting by David Octavius Hill depicting the signing of the deed of separation of the Free Church in Edinburgh 1843; Hugh Miller of Cromarty and Editor of the Witness is taking notes to the right of the table; source WikiMedia


James Holmes, the Rosskeen Rioter, was himself born in Resolis, as James Holm. When members of the Holm family left the Black Isle they often changed their name to Holme, Holms or Holmes. This is seen with the Holm diaspora in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand – but it also applied to those who crossed the Cromarty Firth into Easter Ross.

Several members of the James Holmes branch of the Holm family are buried in Kirkmichael, as are several of the Rose family, who fit in at the top of the tree. But James himself is buried up at Creich Cemetery, just outside Bonar Bridge, as he moved north to follow his trade of tailoring.

Creich Churchyard, ringed in red, not far from the Dornoch Firth: photo by Andrew Dowsett


James Holm or Holmes, early days

James was born around 1820, according to his age in later Census returns. From his death certificate, his parents were weaver Thomas Holm and Helen Rose, both born in the Parish of Resolis, although moving in and out of Resolis later in life. Several brothers and sisters of James can be identified and a brief summary of each of them is contained in an appendix. And the antecedents of Helen Rose will be set out in a future story concerning the three buried Rose slabs found in Kirkmichael.

our American volunteers find the first Rose slab; photo by Andrew Dowsett

the three Rose slabs are red-spotted, the middle one having shattered when a tree became uprooted beside it back in the 1980s (we have more recently placed most of it back together); photo by Davine Sutherland

As mentioned, James Holm’s parents, Thomas Holm and Helen Rose, were both born in Resolis, according to their 1851 Census entry. From the baptism record of their children, however, it is clear that they moved around the area. They had Thomas (Parish of Resolis, 1804), John (Parish of Rosskeen, 1808), George (Parish of Rosskeen, 1810) and Isobell (Parish of Resolis, 1817). They also had Donald, who in Census returns is given as born in the Parish of Urray, around 1804, and Alexander, born, according to his gravestone in Canada, about 1819, in “Cromarty”. They got around.

In 1804 (from the baptism entry of his son Thomas), Thomas Holm is described as a weaver at St Martins in the Parish of Resolis Baptism Register. However, he crossed the Cromarty Firth to Invergordon to continue the trade of weaving in the linen factory there. I say this because in the next two baptisms, in 1808 and 1810, he is given as “Weaver at the Ness”, presumably in the linen factory of Charles Denham on the Ness of Invergordon, where in the 1820s another Holm, David Holm, was the manager (see this story. But he must have given up the weaving by 1817 and crossed the Firth to return once more to his native Parish of Resolis for that year he is given as “servant Little Ardoch”. Little Ardoch (nowadays just plain Ardoch) lies just above the planned village of Jemimaville, although the village only came into existence a few years later, in 1822. And in his later appearances in the 1841 and 1851 Census Returns Thomas is similarly described as an agricultural labourer at Colony, a short distance away from Ardoch, but over the boundary in the Parish of Cromarty.

Two of their children became sawyers (although one of those became a farmer after emigrating to Canada), another a mason, and another a labourer. But son James became a tailor. His early Census returns say he was born in Resolis, and his birth year must have been about 1820. I don’t know when his parents moved to Colony, but I imagine if the family remained at Little Ardoch for a good while then he would have received his early education in the school in the new village of Jemimaville.

According to his obituary, he was apprenticed to tailor Robert Ross in Cromarty. Robert Ross (1803–1869) was the well-to-do son of Cromarty ship-owner Robert Ross. I estimate that James Holm would have served as his apprentice in the late 1830s. James’s obituary says “and thereafter wrought at his trade in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Hull, &c.” so he must have been constantly on the move, gaining experience, before he settled in Invergordon.

It was whilst James was resident in Invergordon that he became involved in the Rosskeen Disruption Riot. This was quite a lively affair. Here is one newspaper account.

The Witness 27 September 1843
(From the Ross-shire Advertiser.)
We regret to state that a most disgraceful riot and breach of the peace took place at Rosskeen church on Tuesday last [26 September 1843]. The day was fixed by the Presbytery of Tain for the settlement of the Rev. John Mackenzie in the parish of Rosskeen, and the members of Presbytery and the presentee assembled early in the day, in order to go through the solemn duty of induction. About eleven o’clock Mr Mackenzie crossed the ferry [presumably the Balblair to Invergordon ferry], accompanied by the Rev. Messrs Gibson, Avoch, Wood, Rosemarkie, and Hall, Cromarty, Sir Hugh and Lady Fraser, Braelangwell, &c. &c., and proceeded to the church.

The new minister and his support, including Sir Hugh Fraser, arrived by the ferry into Invergordon: thanks to Tony Innes for the postcard image

On their arrival at the bridge, they found a large mob of people to the number of between 200 and 300 armed with bludgeons, who assailed them with the most gross expressions, and as they advanced towards the church the crowd closed upon them, menacing them with personal violence if they attempted to enter the churchyard. The vociferation and uproar of the mob was most alarming. The men brandished their sticks, and several women shearing-hooks, while all uttered the most ruffianly language and abuse.

On their arrival at the bridge, they found a large mob of people to the number of between 200 and 300 armed with bludgeons” – this is the bridge just below Rosskeen parish church where the parishioners first engaged with the clergy and gentry who were making their way to the church; photo by Davine Sutherland

Mr Mackenzie endeavoured to oppose the clamorous mob, but they got more tumultuous, and finding all remonstrance unavailing, he and his friends proceeded onward to Lower Kincraig. At this time they were assailed with the most oppobrious epithets, and pelted with stones and other missiles, and it is most providential that they escaped lasting injury. The other members of Presbytery, the Rev. Messrs Bethune, Dingwall, and Downie, Contin, having left Lower Kincraig, proceeded to meet them, but this in no way checked the ferocity of the crowd. On the contrary, the whole party were attacked with still further violence, several were struck with stones, which flew about in all directions, and some received severe blows from persons who wielded their sticks with such agility as to do no disgrace to a Donnybrook Fair. The members of Presbytery having been thus prevented from entering the parish church, and assaulted and threatened if they attempted to go near it, met and were constituted at Lower Kincraig, where the usual forms of settlement were gone through, and Mr Mackenzie was inducted.
     While the Presbytery were thus engaged, the mob continued about the church, and about two o’clock Cadboll, accompanied by Lieutenant Macleod and Mr Crawford Ross, Mr Ross of Cromarty and his son, drove up to the churchyard gate, but were refused admittance. The door was guarded by a large body of men armed with sticks, who forcibly resisted their entrance. Stones were thrown, and the utmost violence threatened if they did not depart. Lieutenant Macleod was severely jostled, and Mr Ross’s hat was knocked to atoms. Mr Sheriff Cameron and Mr Taylor, procurator-fiscal, were on the ground at this time, and did everything they could to restore peace and order, but the crowd manifested the most fierce attitude, and not having sufficient force, they left for Invergordon.
     The Presbytery, not deeming themselves safe in the excited district, and seeing that their proceedings would be obstructed, adjourned to Dingwall, where they have since met. On Wednesday the Rev. Mr Rose was settled as parish minister of Kincardine, and, on Thursday, the Rev. Mr McBride and the Rev. Mr McKenzie, were settled as ministers of Kilmuir and Logie respectively.
     A strict inquiry is now going on for the purpose of discovering and punishing the ringleaders and offenders, the main body of whom belong to the rural part of the parish, few of the inhabitants of Invergordon being implicated.

Key locations in the Rosskeen 1843 Riot on the first edition one inch to the mile OS base

I have set out key locations in the riot on the first edition one inch to the mile Ordnance Survey base above – the blue ellipse marks the ferry pier where the clergy and the gentry from the Black Isle side arrived; the black ellipse the bridge below Rosskeen Church where those clergy and gentry met the parishioners; the red ellipse, Rosskeen Church which the clergy and gentry were determined to enter and which the mob were equally determined they should not; the green ellipse, Lower Kincraig from which the clergy and the gentry from the Easter Ross side wished to reach the church, but to which all the clergy and and gentry retired to induct the new minister as a safer alternative.

You will note that Sir Hugh and Lady Fraser, Braelangwell, were prominent in support of the remnant Presbytery. A few days later and they would be even more deeply embroiled in the Resolis Riot. But why were they at Rosskeen anyway, given Braelangwell lies in the Parish of Resolis? Well, Lady Fraser, Sir Hugh’s second wife, was of the Mackenzies of Kincraig, and must have felt the need to be involved. Major Roderick Mackenzie of Kincraig, her brother, was one of the heritors of the Parish of Rosskeen and usually chaired the heritors’ meetings there.

The remnant Presbytery and the gentry, unable to access the church in Rosskeen, met at Lower Kincraig instead to carry out their business. Why Lower Kincraig? Well, the tacksman in Lower Kincraig at this time was Alexander McKenzie (1799–1855) who remained with the Church of Scotland. His sister, Ann McKenzie (1810–1883), was the wife of Alexander McIntosh, tenant in Resolis Mains and one of the few Resolis farmers who did not join the Free Church. Lady Fraser invited Ann to take shelter in Braelangwell House when her husband, Alexander McIntosh, was obliged to flee the parish of Resolis for eight days until peace was restored. The families of Holm, Mackenzie of Kincraig and Mackenzie tacksman in Lower Kincraig were thus involved in riots on both sides of the Cromarty Firth, and on both sides of the dispute!

Kincraig House, home at the time of the riots of Major Roderick Mackenzie and Mrs Katherine Mackenzie of Kincraig; photo by Jim Mackay

Braelangwell House, home at the time of the riots of Sir Hugh and Lady Fraser of Braelangwell; photo by Andrew Dowsett

There were further disturbances.

Northern Warder and General Advertiser for the Counties of Fife, Perth and Forfar, 3 October 1843
It is with no small mortification and pain we have to record a recital of additional disturbances in the eastern part of this county. We hoped that the disgraceful proceedings at Rosskeen would have operated as a terror in place of being an encouragement to further outrage. The Rev. Mr Mackenzie having been inducted by the Presbytery at Dingwall, proceeded to preach at Logie on Sunday last; but found a vast collection of people congregated at the church, in the utmost state of excitement. The entrance was barricaded, and a lawless, desperate mob, hovered round it, resolved to prevent any person whatever from going into the church. Lady Ross, Balnagowan, drove up to the church, and was assailed with the most virulent Billingsgate. Not only so, but a woman actually struck at her Ladyship with a stick, and she received a blow in the arm. Lady Ross then withdrew, amidst a shower of stones and blackguard abuse. Shortly after this, Mr Ross of Cromarty, accompanied by his son, Mr George Ross, arrived at the church. Access was denied to them, and the most scandalous and impious language uttered. The church bell was tolling, and the noise and clamour of the crowd was at that pitch so as to threaten the most awful consequences. Mr Ross retired to Tain for Mr Sheriff Cameron, who accompanied him to Logie. The Rev. Mr Mackenzie had by this time gone away; but as there was still a large crowd at the church, the Sheriff used the utmost exertion to restore quiet. We understand that some of the people said, if a site were given to them for a church they would desist from further annoyance. The crowd shortly afterwards dispersed, without further violence.
At Rosskeen, on Sunday, a mob collected, in the expectation that the Rev. Mr Mackenzie was to preach, and of course prepared to obstruct his entrance. Having been made acquainted with the actual state of matters, Mr Mackenzie did not appear; and having collected, the mob could not but perpetrate some mischief. The precentor of the parish church, Donald Fraser, having been recognised, was immediately assailed, and the mob would have torn him to pieces had it not been for the interposition of Lieutenant Macleod, who, having been on that part of the grounds near the church, checked the rabble that pursued Mr Fraser, and in a manner rescued him from their violence.
In place of spending the holy Sabbath in quietness and peace in these two parishes, there was nothing but turmoil and confusion. The duty which these people owed to their neighbour was no less violated than what was due to their Lord and Saviour. In fact, we can conceive nothing more sinful and degrading than the conduct of these people on Sabbath last in both these parishes; and we sincerely trust that there will be no further attempts to break the public peace, and desecrate the day of rest.
On Tuesday morning four officers arrived at Invergordon from Tain, with warrants for apprehending two individuals connected with the riots. On this being known, the bell was put through the town, and an immense crowd immediately collected, who rescued the prisoners, and ordered the officers to go home, under the penalty of being stoned to death. The men took the hint, and their prisoners are still at large. During all Tuesday crowds surrounded the church of Rosskeen,the people ignorantly expecting that the Presbytery would appear that day, to go through again with the settlement of Mr Mackenzie. We have heard of no farther disturbances in this quarter.

Rosskeen Church entrance and mounting block; crowds milled around here to ensure that entry to the church could not be gained; photo by Davine Sutherland

Following the disturbances, what happened to the alleged rioters? Well as reported, two were arrested hours after the initial riot, but they escaped. However, six were arrested on the night of the 4th and 5th October. The story is best set out in a letter to the Caledonian Mercury some months later, the main intention of which was to raise concern over the alleged treatment of those prisoners.

Caledonian Mercury, 6 January 1844
To the Editor of the Caledonian Mercury.
Edinburgh, 3d January 1844
Sir – … The alleged riot at Rosskeen church took place in the month of September last, and consisted in preventing the Presbytery from obtaining access to the church; but it is understood that no serious injury was sustained by any one. Warrants were immediately issued for the apprehension of some of those charged with being concerned in these proceedings. Two of them were apprehended in the village of Invergordon (the principal village in the parish of Rosskeen), and carried to Forbes Inn, at a very early hour in the morning of the 26th of September. These men were allowed to escape from the Inn; the officers alleging that they were deforced by violence – the parties charged with this deforcement alleging that no violence was used, but that the officers, by their own misconduct, allowed the prisoners to escape. Into this matter it is unncessary to enter, further than to give the averments of the different parties, as, whichever of these statements be true, the subsequent proceedings cannot be palliated. Warrants were shortly after issued against various individuals charged with deforcing the officers; and as another riot had occurred in a neighbouring county, the authorities seem to have thought it necessary to apply for military assistance. A body of troops were accordingly set down to Invergordon, where they arrived by the Duke of Richmond steamer on Wednesday the 3d of October, and took up their quarters in the village, which was never more peaceable than at that moment. The various officials connected with the county assembled at Invergordon with a suitable train of criminal officers, partly belonging to the county of Ross, and partly imported from other counties.
The apartments formerly occupied by the Branch Commercial Bank at Invergordon were taken by the authorities, and converted into a depot or guard-room for a party of the military. For this the place was well fitted. It consisted of a front room and a small room opening from it; and all the windows were secured by strong iron bars. Such being the state of matters, the warrants against the parties charged with the deforcement were put into the hands of criminal officers about 12 o’clock on Wednesday night; and, with the assistance of four or five preventive-service men, they captured six individuals in bed, and carried them off to the old Bank Office. These prisoners, as they were brought in one by one, were confined neither in the front room nor in the back room, but were thrust into a Safe in the back room, which had been used for depositing the bank books, &c. The whole six individuals were locked into this place by two o’clock on Thursday morning.

From further newspaper accounts, after a night in the former Commercial Bank premises “The whole of the prisoners were then conveyed to the Old Factory – a large airy place by the sea-side – where their declaration were taken, and they were afterwards removed to the Tain prison.” The Old Factory was the old linen weaving factory in Invergordon; there were two, and that of Charles Denham was described in 1829 as lately erected, on the shore, on the east side of Invergordon (see the story previously mentioned here).

Not all the alleged rioters had remained at home; some were hiding out in the woods of Novar:

Perthshire Constitutional & Journal, 18 October 1843
INVERGORDON.– Since the arrival of the military, a number of the parties who were engaged in the recent riots in Ross-shire have absconded, leaving their crops unshorn to the mercy of the crows. It is said a number of them have sought a temporary refuge in the woods of Novar, where, during the present inclement weather, they doubtless suffer many vicissitudes. The greater part of the military left for Fort-George on Thursday, in a steamer called the Modern Athens. The precentor, James Fraser [reported as Donald Fraser at the time of the disturbances], whose house was lately fired, has deemed it prudent to remove from Invergordon to Inverness.– Inverness Herald.

I have found reference to just four alleged Rosskeen rioters being tried, and of them only three were convicted, being sentenced to jail for 50 days.

Inverness Courier 28 February 1844
ROSSKEEN RIOTS AND OTHER ANTI-CHURCH DISTURBANCES.– Four persons – Grahame, Bain, Munro, and King – concerned in the riot at Rosskeen, in September last, and in attacking the members of the presbytery and others assembled for the settlement of the Rev. John Mackenzie as minister of that parish, were tried before Sheriff Taylor, at Tain, upon Tuesday last, and, after the examination of several witnesses on both sides, were convicted, except Grahame – as to whom the evidence was deficient – and sentenced to imprisonment for fifty days. Two other individuals – Chisholm and Grant – were tried separately and fined, the one in 40s., the other in 50s., for an assault upon a lad of the name of Macgregor, for acting as precentor in the parish church of Kincardine. The prosecutions were in the summary form without a jury, which, considering the character and magnitude of the offences charged, indicates great lenity on the part of the Lord Advocate.

The men locked up in the safe in the former Commercial Bank in Invergordon successfully sued those responsible for damages in 1845.

Tailor James Holm or Holmes, who had lit out for the north after the disturbance, had been apprehended at Rarichie market in late November. I have not yet checked the Sheriff Court records to see if his case actually made it to court. I am surprised that by this time, the authorities had not lost interest, but clearly he was perceived as an important factor in the riot.

Rarichie (pronounced Rah – reechie) Market, known commonly as Hugh’s Fair, had been formerly held at Wester Rarichie but by this time had moved to Ankerville. It was a popular and ancient market, held on the third Tuesday of November, and I see from a long report of the market of the following year in the John o’ Groat Journal of 29 November 1844, that it “was numerously attended by men, women, and children. There was, however, no great show of cattle, or saleables of any description, save, of course, uisge-beatha – i.e., in plain English, O ye teetotallers! the water-of-life. There was quantum suf. of bustle and noises various, but the business transacted was very far from being in proportion thereto. Whisky, snuff, and gossip, were the order of the day, which was fair and sunny, gay and merry.” There may not have been much merchandise on sale but “The fair field was, however, dotted all over with whisky-tents, and booths of all sizes and shapes. Verily, there was no lack of these, or of persons to patronise them”.

The lively social occasion had clearly enticed James Holmes into an incautious public appearance. Perhaps the Sheriff-Officer from Tain had been tipped off that James would be there, but more likely he was there to hear the gossip and sample the whisky himself.


Marriage and Children

James Holm married the year after the Rosskeen Riot, in 1844, in Kilmuir Easter by the Rev. Mr Matheson, according to two sources: his obituary and the 1855 birth record of one of his children. His bride was Helen Munro, born at Invergordon in 1822, again according to her husband’s obituary. However, her death certificate says she was the daughter of ploughman John Munro and there is no Helen Munro born in this period to a John Munro in Invergordon. There was an Ellen Munro born nearby in Kilmuir Easter on 14 December 1824 to farm servant John Munro and his wife Mary Innes at Balintraid, and it may be that this is the correct Helen Munro, although I have not yet seen confirmation.

As adherents of the Free Church of Scotland, the baptisms of their first children must be contained in the Free Church Baptism Register of Rosskeen which is not accessible on-line.

By the 1851 Census, the family were residing at 12 High Street, with children John, aged five, Alexander, aged three, and a one year old unbaptised daughter. You would think that the daughter would have a name, despite being unbaptised, but James seems to have been a principled man. James is given as having been born in Resolis, and Helen in Rosskeen.

The sole reference to James which I have found in this period is when he pursued a customer for debt. The case before Tain Sheriff Court reads thus:

1852 James Holmes, tailor, Invergordon vs William Bain or Gow, farmer, Ardross: Debt

Again, it would be interesting to have a look at this case in the NRS and learn more about his tailoring business.

But James would soon be on the move, passing a few miles east to the parish of Kilmuir Easter. The 1855 Valuation Roll has James Holmes as a tenant of part of a house in the village of Barbaraville and of a house in Milntown (modern day Milton). Why he was tenanting two houses, I know not. It is the house in Milntown where he and his family can be found in the 1861 Census. Again James is given as having been born in Resolis, and Helen in Rosskeen. In family with them now were John (14), Alexander (12), Thomas (8), George (6), Helen (6), Jemima (3) and Donald, who was under 1 year of age. The un-named daughter in the 1851 Census is not present in 1861, but appears in the 1871 Census and her name emerges as Margaret.

Now, fortunately son George had been born in 1855, a special year. In that first year of Civil Registration so much information was required that simpler certification was put in place thereafter. But from that 1855 registration, we can see confirmed that James and Helen married in Kilmuir Easter in 1844, that James was born in Resolis and that Helen was born in Rosskeen. James was the informant, but curiously signed with an x, as if he could not write. By the registration of daughter Jemima in 1857 (born in Barbaraville), he was able to write his name clearly and boldly. Perhaps he had injured his wrist in 1855.

There were to be no more children.

His obituary says that he moved to Sutherland in 1865, and he can be seen in Gower Street, Brora, in the Parish of Clyne, in the 1871 Census, with most of the children still in family.

But financial ruin was in the offing. James became bankrupt in 1876. What was the cause? No doubt the answers lie in the paperwork held in the National Records of Scotland. The file gives an indication of the protracted (and painful) process of bankruptcy:

CS318/22/196 (Court of Session Concluded Sequestration Processes)
James Holmes, Brora, Sutherlandshire, Clothier; 1879; start date 13 December 1876.

Fountain Square, Brora

The John o' Groat Journal reported two items, which perhaps were related.

John o' Groat Journal, 16 November 1876
DORNOCH. Sheriff Court.
On Friday, the 10th inst., James Anderson, a tailor who had been in the employment of James Holms, tailor and clothier, Brora, was brought before Sheriff Mackenzie charged with stealing a suit of clothes. It appears that on the morning of the 29th September last, Thomas Holmes [the son of James Holmes] gave Anderson the loan of a suit of his clothes for the purpose of attending the volunteer review at Dunrobin, but instead of Anderson returning the clothes, he left the county, and was not heard of for a considerable time, when he was apprehended by the police at Inverness. The Sheriff sentenced him to 15 days’ imprisonment.
TRUST DISPOSITION … – James Holmes, tailor and clothier, Brora.– George McLeay, solicitor, Tain.

The subsequent bankruptcy examination was in early 1877.

North British Daily Mail, 24 January 1877
EXAMINATIONS. … James Holmes, clothier, Brora, will be examined in the Sheriff Court House, Dornoch, Feb. 1, at 12 o’clock. Creditors meet in Gunn’s Hotel, Dornoch, Feb. 10, at 1 o’clock.

By this time, however, several of his sons were established in their own trades and his daughters were getting married, so at least the domestic costs were reducing. But to add to the concern over his bankruptcy, his son Thomas came back to the family home to die. Thomas had been something of an entrepreneur but had become an alcoholic. He was sole partner of “Holmes & Co. bakers and merchants, Brora” but had taken over running an inn a short distance away on Dunrobin Street in Helmsdale. Like so many innkeepers he suffered from too close proximity and temptation to alcohol. He died in Gower Street, Brora, on 18 March 1877, right in the middle of the bankruptcy proceedings of his father.

It is possible that the financial affairs of the two were tied up with each other. I note that in the 1870s James is given in the Valuation Rolls as the proprietor in Brora not only of a house and shop but also of a bakehouse, the same bakehouse presumably that son Thomas was operating.

By 1881, James had moved to Bonar Bridge, and he can be seen there with his wife in 1881 and 1891, when she is named “Ellen”. In 1891, their residence is in “Leopold Place”, seen in the attached, and son Alexander, also a tailor, is unmarried and in household with them.

Leopold Place in the Bonar Bridge of James Holmes’ day

James died in Leopold Place in 1894, the informant at the Registrar’s being his son Alexander, who got his father’s age wildly wrong.

Parish of Creich Deaths
James Holmes Tailor (Master) married to Ellen Munro died 3 October 1894 at Bonar age 65 parents Thomas Holmes crofter (d) Ellen Holmes ms Rose (d) informant A Holmes son present

His age was amended to 74 in the Register of Corrected Entries, and the cause of death revealed to be Angina Pectoris. Helen survived through to the 20th century, dying in 1905, the informant again being her son Alexander, who on this occasion could not remember his grandmother’s name. I simply do not understand why the Registrar in these cases didn’t say he had every sympathy with the informant on the sad occasion, but could he come back when he had the full details.

Parish of Creich Deaths
Helen Holmes widow of James Holmes tailor died 7 September 1905 at Bonar age 85 parents John Munro ploughman (d) [mother blank] informant Alex. Holmes son

On the occasion of James’s death, there was a warm obituary in the Ross-shire Journal.

Ross-shire Journal, 12 October 1894
A HIGHLANDER AND HIS POSTERITY.– Mr James Holmes, tailor and clothier, Bonar-Bridge, died suddenly at his residence there on Thursday of last week. Deceased was born at Invergordon [actually Resolis], in 1826 [it must have been about 1820]; served his apprenticeship withMr Robt. Ross, tailor, Cromarty, and thereafter wrought at his trade in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Hull, &c. In 1844 he was married at Kilmuir-Easter, by Rev. Mr Matheson, to Helen Munro, who was born at Invergordon in 1822. In 1865 Mr Holmes and family settled in Sutherland, and was much respected. He had 11 children, 39 grandchildren, and a number of great-grandchildren.

Thirty-nine grandchildren! You will be relieved that I shall not proceed any further with the descendants of James and Helen.

Old Bonar Bridge, where the Holmes family finally settled

To complement the story of the Rosskeen Rioter, James Holmes, two Kirkmichael Trustees visited Creich Cemetery in October 2022 to find and photograph his memorial. Davine started at the west side of the old graveyard and I started at the east. Davine as usual found it almost immediately, beside the west dyke. We were delighted when the head of a third Trustee, Andrew Dowsett, popped up over that west dyke. He was in the area anyway, and had decided to join us.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

photo by Davine Sutherland

It was a particularly grey morning, and the stone commemorating James and Helen is made of granite, from which it is never easy to record inscriptions, and moreover it stands close to a tree and beside the west dyke so there is very little light. Not a good combination for photography! Fortunately we had brought the Kirkmichael Black Tarp and with the aid of side lighting the inscription came out nice and clearly. It reads:

photos by Davine Sutherland and Andrew Dowsett

In loving memory / of JAMES HOLMES / who died Oct. 3rd. 1894 / at Bonar Bridge / aged 74 years, / Also his wife / HELEN MUNRO / who died Sept. 7th 1905 / at Bonar Bridge / aged 82 years. [at base] Erected by their daughter / JEMIMA

photo by Davine Sutherland

And so the much-travelled James Holm, who became James Holmes, came to rest in this quiet corner of the ancient cemetery of Creich.


Appendix: Short biographies of the siblings of James Holm or Holmes, Rioter of Rosskeen


1. Donald Holm (c1804–1859)=1837=Elizabeth McLennan (c1811–1864)

Donald was born in the Parish of Urray according to his 1851 Census return, where he is given as a labourer. I can’t see him in the 1841 Census, but he is present with his family in Colony, Cromarty, in 1851, one house away from his parents. However he worked at several of the farms in the area: including Udale (1837) and Peddieston (1839), and he died at Davidston. Note his death certificate gives his parents as John (not Thomas) Holm and Nelly Rose, but the informant was a neighbour who would not be sure of the parents of Donald. Given he resided beside Thomas Holm and Nelly Rose at Colony, he has to be another son. His death certificate states that he was a pauper and that he was buried in Kirkmichael. This suggests the Holm family had a lair in Kirkmichael, and it may well be marked by one of the many Holm slabs we have recorded there.,

Donald married Elizabeth McLennan in Resolis in 1837. Elizabeth’s family is the subject of another Story behind the Stone here.

Of the four children who appear in the 1851 Census, only two baptism records exist – and one of those within the Free Church of Resolis, when the family were actually residing in the neighbouring Parish of Cromarty. It suggests that the family were not strongly affiliated to the churches in Cromarty. Here are summaries of the family records I have been able to locate.

Parish of Cromarty Marriages 1837
Donald Holm, Labourer, at Udoll, and Elizabeth McLennan, at Farness, were married.

Parish of Cromarty Baptisms 1839
Helen L.D. to Donald Holm, labourer, and Elizabeth McLennan, at Peddiestown, was born 15th and baptized 17th December 1839

Parish of Resolis Baptisms – Free Church 1847
Holm Donald, labourer, Colony parish of Cromarty & his wife Elizabeth Maclennan, had a daughter born 8th March & baptized 28th April named Catherine

1851 Census Return Parish of Cromarty, Colony
Donald Holm head married 40 agricultural labourer born Urray
Betty Holm wife married 40 labourer’s wife
Nelly Holm daughter 11 labourer’s daur
William Holm son 9 labourer’s son
Thomas Holm son 7 labourer’s son
Cath Holm daughter 4

Colony nowadays is just the shell of the consolidated farmhouse and farm steading; there was once a whole community up here; photo by Jim Mackay

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
Donald Holm married pauper died 7 June 1859 at Davidstown age 55 parents John [sic] Holm labourer (d) Nelly Holm ms Rose (d) buried Kirk Michael parish of Resolis certified William Holm sexton informant Janet Murray her x mark neighbour present

With the early death of Donald, two of the Holm children, Helen and Thomas, were taken by their brother-in-law, William McLennan, into his own home in Jemimaville. Helen went into domestic service and I see her in a household in Cawdor in 1881, stated as born Cromarty and “general servant”. She married quite late, in 1894, but tragically died less than a year later. Thomas became a farm servant and then a mason in the same general area, in Nairn, and married but I don’t see any children in the Census returns. The other daughter, Catherine, was in household with her mother in the little town of Cromarty in 1861, but I understand from information on the web that she moved to England, had a child out of wedlock called George Herbert Craig and died in Woolwich, London, in 1932.

1861 Census Return Parish of Cromarty, Cromarty, Dr Smiths Close
Eliza Holm head widow 57 ploughman born Resolis
Catherine Holm daughter 12 scholar born Resolis

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
Elizabeth Holm Pauper Widow of Donald Holm labourer died 14 January 1864 Cromarty age 55 parents William McLennan Farmer Catherine McLennan ms Chisolm Insanity Months as cert. by John Mackay Physician & Surgeon informant William McLennan Brother-in-law Jamimaville

District of Nairn Marriages
30 November1877 at Delnies, Parish of Nairn,after Banns according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
(signed) Thomas his X mark Holmes farm servant, bachelor John Fraser witness L. McLauchlan witness 32 parents Donald Holmes labourer (d) and Elizabeth Holmes ms Maclennan (d)
(signed) Catherine her X mark Fraser domestic servant spinster John Fraser witness L. McLauchlan witness 30 Delnies, Parish of Nairn parents James Fraser labourer and Mary Fraser ms Fraser (d)
(signed) S.F. McLauchlan F.C. Minr. (signed) John Fraser witness Robt. Brander witness

District of Nairn Marriages
28 May 1894 at 7 Roses Place, Nairn after Banns according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
(signed) John Fraser ploughman (widower) 58 Barivan, Parish of Cawdor parents John Fraser forester Isabella Fraser ms Fraser
(signed) Hellen Home X her mark Colin Ross witness Nellie McAskill witness domestic servant (housekeeper) 45 Brackla, Parish of Cawdor parents Donald Home labourer (d) Betsy Home ms McLennan (d)
(signed) John McNeil (signed) John Fraser witness Mary Sandison witness

Parish of Cawdor Deaths
Helen Fraser married to John Fraser ploughman died 12 February 1895 at Easter Barivan, Cawdor age about 46 years parents Donald Home day labourer (d) Betsy Home ms McLennan (d) informant John Fraser widower

District of Nairn Deaths 1933
Thomas Holmes quarry labourer widower of Catherine Fraser died 19 December 1933 at Balblair Home, Nairn age 84 parents Donald Holmes labourer (d) Betsy Holmes ms McLennan (d) informant M? Scott grand-niece 3 Raglan Terrace, Nairn

Some further information on the children of Donald Holm and Elizabeth McLennan, may be found here.


2. Thomas Holm, mason (1804–1883)=1838=Janet Mustard (1814–1898)

Thomas was born in Resolis and became a journeyman mason. He moved with his trade across Scotland and can be found at several different locations until he settled in Inverness, where he resided for the remainder of his life.

Thomas in 1838, in Paisley, married Janet Mustard, born in Nigg in Easter Ross but one of the Black Isle Mustards.

Parish of Abbey Marriages (Paisley)
1838 … September … Thomas Holms, Mason, Gauze Street, in this Parish, & Janet Mustard, residing in Parish of Rosemarkie. 3 days. Booked 8th. Married 27th. by the Rev. Alexr. Wood Rosemarkie.

As Janet was from the north, I imagine he must have met her whilst up visiting his family. Her father John Mustard was at one time Tacksman of Ethie and later Overseer at Nigg. The Mustards of Ethie were linked (tenuously) with the Holm family in the weaving Holms Story behind the Stone here. I can’t help but feel that the Holm family in this story and the weaving Holm family are also connected fairly closely.

The Mustards are well-researched (it helps to have a distinctive name!) and there are several websites carrying details of the various Mustard families of the Black Isle.

Thomas Holm and Janet Mustard had many children, initially at Abbey (Thomas in 1839 and John in 1840), and then as they continued to move throughout Scotland. I see them at Cromarty, Dollar in Clackmannanshire, Inverness, Knockbain (Craigienowe and Charleston Village Inn) and back to Inverness to retire, residing on Upper Kessock Street. There Thomas passed away, although Janet had further travels ahead.

Inverness Deaths
Thomas Holmes mason (journeyman) (married to Janet Mustard) died 13 November 1883 at Kessock Street Inverness aged 79 parents Thomas Holmes (crofter, Resolis) (d) Helen Holmes ms Ross (d) informant Jessie Falconer daughter Croft-na-Creich North Kessock

Following the death of Thomas, Janet moved to Prince Edward Island to reside with her daughter Barbara Holm and son-in-law Walter Gordon. She died there on 23 August 1898. Her inscription is carved on one face of the memorial commemorating Barbara and Walter in Brudenell Point Cemetery, Prince Edward Island:

JENET MUSTARD / wife of / THOMAS HOLMES / born / at Cromarty Scotland / May 24, 1815 / died Aug. 23, 1898

Is it coincidence that Barbara, daughter of Thomas Holmes and Janet Mustard, should have emigrated to Prince Edward Island, to which two of the weaving Holms also emigrated? I think the two Holm branches must be closely connected.

Inscription commemorating Janet Mustard, wife of Thomas Holmes, in Brudenell Point Cemetery, Prince Edward Island, far far from Scotland

The Gordon/Holmes memorial in Brudenell Point Cemetery, Prince Edward Island, courtesy of

Inscription commemorating Walter Gordon and Barbara Holmes in Brudenell Point Cemetery, Prince Edward Island


3. John Holm (1808–)

I have not traced John following his baptism in 1808 in the Parish of Rosskeen, whilst his father was for a time working at the Ness of Invergordon. It may be that he died in childhood.


4. George Holm (1810– alive 1841)

George was born in the Parish of Rosskeen in 1810, whilst his father was working as a weaver at the Ness of Invergordon. He is in family at Colony in the Parish of Cromarty in 1841, employed as a sawyer:

1841 Census Return Parish of Cromarty, Colony
Thomas Holmes 60 ag lab y
Helen do. 60 y
George do. 25 sawyer y
Alexander do 20 sawyer y

But thereafter he disappears. I have followed up several men with the name George Holm without success. It may be that he emigrated.


5. Isobel Holm (1817–)

Isobel was born in 1817, whilst her father was working as a servant, presumably a farm servant, at Little Ardoch, in the Parish of Resolis. I have been unable to trace her thereafter.


6. James Holm or Holmes

His life is covered as the main thread of this “Story behind the Stone”.


7. Alexander Holmes (1819–1904)=1845=Janet Campbell (1827–1913)

It is difficult to say if Alexander was born in the Parish of Cromarty or simply in its vicinity, as there is no record of his birth and later references to” Cromarty” as his origin undoubtedly mean to its general vicinity. He was certainly in the parish when he was aged approximately 20 in 1841, up in the small community later to become famous in Jane Duncan’s writings as “Reachfar”, the hamlet of Colony.

1841 Census Return, Parish of Cromarty, Colony
Thomas Holmes 60 ag lab y
Helen do. 60 y

George do. 25 sawyer y
Alexander do 20 sawyer y

Alexander emigrated to Canada a few years later, in 1847, as stated in his informative 1901 Census return. That Canadian Census return also states he was born in August 1819 and was at the time of the Census an 81 year-old farmer. Earlier Canadian Census returns were less informative.

I do wonder if other siblings who disappeared from the Scottish records, like his older brother George, may not have emigrated with him. I understand he married Janet Campbell in 1845, although I haven’t seen the evidence myself. It may well lie in a Free Church register which has not survived.

Janet’s 1901 Census return says she was born 20 March 1827, whilst her death certificate says she was born 20 March 1828. I don’t think either is exactly correct, as her baptism register entry says she was born 23 March 1827. But close enough!

Janet also emigrated to Canada in 1847, presumably with her husband and first born, George Campbell Holm, who was given as six years old in 1851 so must have been born about 1845.

In Canada they settled in Oxford County, in the Province of Ontario. They seem to have remained there all their lives. You will note that Alexander was a sawyer at Colony in 1841 but, still working with wood, he had become a joiner in Oxford County by the time of the 1851 Census. In that Census return, Alexander and Janet already had three children but also in household was a 15 year old schoolboy named Hector Campbell to whom we shall return! Alexander was still a carpenter in 1861, now with six children. By 1871 he had become a farmer, with even more children in household and others having flown the coop.

Ingersoll in Oxford County, Ontario, is now a city. Here the hotel omnibuses await passengers arriving at Ingersoll Railway Station about 1900. Image courtesy of WikiWand

Alexander and Janet died in Ingersoll, Oxford County, and are buried in Ingersoll Cemetery. Their red granite headstone reads:

[top] H [base] HOLMES
Alexander Holmes / died Feby. 14, 1904 / in his 85th year. / JEANNETTE his wife / died April 30, 1913 / in her 86 year. / THOMAS HOLMES their son / born Feb. 10 1860 / aged 78 years / died June 25 1938

The Holm grave in Ingersoll Cemetery, Ontario

I was interested to know more about Janet Campbell, but the sections of her death certificate where the names of her father and mother should have been entered were not completed. Trying to find a Janet Campbell in Scotland would be challenging! But I returned to that 1851 Census when Alexander and Janet had not long been in Canada and when a 15 year old Hector Campbell was in household with them, as it was likely that he was Janet’s younger brother. Hector became a carpenter, and died in Ingersoll in 1892. His red granite headstone in Ingersoll Cemetery reads:

CAMPBELL / HECTOR CAMPBELL, born / Sutherlandshire, Scotland, 1838, / died at Ingersoll, / Decr 30th 1892, / aged 54 years.

Hector Campbell’s gravetone in Ingersoll Cemetery, Ontario

Well, Sutherlandshire helps. He married Irish girl Rachel Bella McBurney at Ingersoll in 1867, and his parents’ names emerge as George Campbell and Janet Morrison. Now we’re cooking. A George Campbell, “Gailic Teacher”, married a Jane Morrison at Eddrachillis, Sutherland, on 17 March 1826, and they had Jane (born 23 March baptised 29 March 1827) at Eddrachillis, Donald Gordon (named after the minister) at Eddrachillis (1831), Williamina at Durness (1836), and our Hector at Durness (23 April 1838). I think that we can assume therefore that the Jane born 23 March 1827 is our Janet or Jeannette who was born according to the 1901 Census return on 20 March 1827.

A descripton of George Campbell, the teacher in the Gaelic, survives in “Annals of the Disruption 1843” by Rev. Thomas Brown, Published by Macniven & Wallace, 1884 (a most interesting book, which can be read here). George Campbell was one of “The Men”. The speakers at a Friday religious meeting at Durness are described:

George Campbell, a Gaelic schoolmaster, and a native of Sutherland, renews the discussion. He is a man about sixty, dressed in a camlet cloak, and with a head of long steel-grey hair, parted in the midst, and falling down in a mass behind. His features are well proportioned, and a quick intelligence courses over them as the aurora borealis does across his native sky. He is one of nature’s orators; and so well toned was his voice, so harmonious his periods, and so graceful his action, that it was like music to the ear…

The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk by John Henry Lorimer, 1891

When Alexander Holm and his spouse Janet Campbell emigrated, Janet’s younger brother must have accompanied them.

Alexander and Janet had at least ten children, and I shall not go further into the family, except to mention daughter Dolena and her husband, Silas E. Brady, who are again buried in Ingersoll Cemetery.


Dolena’s obituary provides much useful family information. It says:

Mrs. Silas E. Brady Succumbs to Long Illness
Death shortly after nine o’clock on Thursday evening, August 20th, 1942, removed an esteemed and respected resident of Ingersoll in the person of Dolena Holmes, dearly beloved wife of Ex-Mayor Silas E. Brady, 234 Thames street south. Deceased had not enjoyed good health for some years and had been confined to her bed for nearly a year, the past month of which her condition became most grave and no hope was held for her recovery.
     The late Mrs. Brady was a daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Holmes and was born in North Oxford Township, near Thamesford. She had spent nearly her entire life in North Oxford and Ingersoll except for a period of twelve years in St. Thomas, where Mr. Brady was employed with the Michigan Central Railroad. For the past twenty-two years the family have lived in town and for twelve years previously resided just outside the corporation limits on the Cemetery Lane.
     Mrs. Brady was of a retiring and kindly disposition and lived a quiet home life, being a great lover of birds and flowers, and had endeared herself to a very large circle of friends. She was an adherent of Trinity United Church.
     Left to mourn her passing besides her husband is one son, Everal Brady, Ingersoll; two brothers, Alexander Holmes, Chicago, Ill., and Frank Holmes, Embro; also three sisters, Mrs. Milton Marsh, Great Falls, Montana; Mrs. James A. Massie, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Mrs. William Lawrence, Woodstock.
     The funeral was held from the family residence, 234 Thames street south on Saturday afternoon… Interment was made in the Ingersoll Rural Cemetery, the pall bearers being Mayor Dr. J.G. Murray, Ex-Mayor William English, William Bailey, John G. Rawlings, William George and George Daniel.

Dolena Holm; image originally shared by irwin51

and her husband, Mayor Silas E. Brady; image originally shared by irwin51


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