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

Samuel Gordon (1798–1866) and Helen Hunter (1803–1867) – Glenmuick, Argyll and the Mains of Braelangwell

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image
and with special thanks to descendant Frances Ross for information and photographs of Samuel and Helen

Helen Hunter; photo courtesy of Frances Ross

Samuel Gordon; photo courtesy of Frances Ross



This is the story of an enterprising farmer, Samuel Gordon, and his wife Helen Hunter, who came via Glen Muick and Argyll (and litigation with the Duke of Atholl) to farm the Mains of Braelangwell. Their children went on to run some of the most famous farms in Ross and Cromarty. An inventive family, they lodged a slew of agricultural patents. Samuel, Helen and family are represented in Kirkmichael by two granite memorials, one with an elaborate top shaped as a lily. These headstones stand within their own enclosure, where the cast iron main railing heads are again in the shape of a lily. The yews planted beside the headstones had become wildly overgrown, so the Kirkmichael Trust back in 2018 and 2019 took drastic action to prune them back into order.

The overgrown yews before the restoration – somewhere in there are two headstones; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The headstones and railing emerge; photo by Andrew Dowsett


Braelangwell in a time of change

When Samuel Gordon (1798–1866), wife Helen Hunter (1803–1867), and family arrived at the Mains of Braelangwell in Resolis in the mid-1850s they were coming in at a time of big change. For some decades the laird of Braelangwell, Lieutenant General Sir Hugh Fraser, had been improving Braelangwell and clearly had visions of his family becoming long-term proprietors there. Sir Hugh died in 1851, and his wife died in 1852, but the hope was that eldest son John Mackenzie Fraser (1832–1858) would in time take charge of the family estate. Up to this point, the Mains of Braelangwell was held by the laird himself, with the farm work being supervised by a grieve.

John Mackenzie Fraser had joined the forces in India, following in his father’s footsteps, receiving recognition for his role in the siege of Lucknow. But the family strategy for Braelangwell was destroyed when he died in 1858 whilst returning from India to convalesce. To quote the Inverness Courier from September of that year:

In 1853, Lieutenant Fraser came home with impaired health, but returned last year [1857] to India, and resumed active service in his profession; and it is only a few months since we had the satisfaction to record acts of gallantry performed by him, which were noticed in the public despatches of the time. His delicate constitution became thus still farther enfeebled, and he found it necessary, in May last, to set out for Europe, taking, by medical advice, the ocean route, by the screw steamer Hydaspes; but the fatigue of the voyage proved too much for his strength, and, on approaching the Cape of Good Hope, in July, he died at the early age of 26. Mr Fraser was the eldest surviving son of the late Lieutenant-General Sir Hugh Fraser of Braelangwell, K.C.B., himself a distinguished officer in the Indian army, and has left a widow, the daughter of B.C. Urquhart, Esq. of Meldrum and Byth, in Aberdeenshire, who accompanied him on his journey homewards, and an infant boy, who now inherits the family estate.

The Mains of Braelangwell (top) and Braelangwell House (bottom) in 1844

The steading at the Mains of Braelangwell very approximately 1900

It is clear that John Mackenzie Fraser had held no intention of keeping the Mains of Braelangwell as the home farm. He wanted to put in place a tenant farmer. A stock sale was held at the Mains on 9 May 1853, when cows, bull, sheep, horses, carriages, saddles etc. were displenished. During the following year, 1854, Robert Grigor, who farmed the land at Millcroft, Braelangwell, became bankrupt and his stock and machinery were also sold, to raise money to address some of his debts. This is why later that year the advertising commenced to find new tenants for both the Mains and Millcroft.


The Mains of Braelangwell gains a new tenant

The first of many such advertisements was in the Inverness Courier of 19 October 1854:

It must have been one of this series of advertisements that caught Samuel Gordon’s eye, and he applied successfully to become the tenant of the Mains and Millcroft of Braelangwell. A nineteen year let was exceptionally long for the period. Many of the complaints about tenancies of this time were about their short term nature which did not encourage tenants to improve the land or buildings. Progressive landlords were giving longer tenancies. And John Mackenzie Fraser clearly was of a similar improving mind to his father.

Samuel Gordon and family were therefore installed as the new tenants of the Mains of Braelangwell at Whitsunday 1855. He was coming in as a mature and experienced farmer. The family had already farmed in several locations around Scotland by this time.

A vast number of Gordon families were researched in the early 1900s by the late, great genealogist John Malcolm Bulloch, and his investigations extended into this particular family. He first sketched them in the monumental House of Gordon and then in more detail in “The Gordons in Aucholzie and Auchallater” (Aberdeen Journal ‘Notes and Queries’ No 87. 15 December 1909). He makes no mention of Braelangwell, simply mentioning in both that Samuel Gordon came to “a farm in Ross-shire.” This is all the more surprising given he had written a valuable book on the Gordons of nearby Newhall, Ardoch and Invergordon! It emerges that the children of Samuel Gordon were an inventive lot, with at least three agricultural patents to their name. By coincidence, the wife of a later descendant of Samuel Gordon also came up with a patented invention – Paddi-Pants, one of the first disposable nappies! But we shall return to the inventions.


Glenmuick origins, Argyll and return to Glenmuick

Samuel had been born in the parish of Glenmuick, Aberdeenshire, in 1798, to tenants James Gordon and second wife Anne Gordon in “Littletown”. I know nothing of his early life. His parents are buried in Glenmuick Kirkyard, and I note the inscription within Epitaphs & Inscriptions from Burial Grounds & Old Buildings in The North East of Scotland Volume 2 by Andrew Jervise (1879):

In memory of DONALD GORDON, late farmer Aucholzie, and ELSPETH DONALD, his wife, who both died, 1810, aged 80. Also their son, JAMES GORDON, who died, 1832, aged 75 years; and his wife, ANN LEYS, who died, 1791; also his second wife, ANN GORDON, who died, 1827.

Glenmuick graveyard, Bridge of Muick; photo by GariochGraver, courtesy of

Samuel was tenant farming at Aucholzie in that parish in the 1830s. He married Helen Hunter from the Parish of Lethnot in Forfar in 1831, and their union is mentioned in the registers of both parishes. I see from Helen’s father’s will that he held farms in both Glenmuick and Lethnot, which explains the Forfar connection. They had three children whilst at Aucholzie – Ann (1832), James Adam (1834) and Helen (1836). But by the 1841 Census he was a tenant at Arnicle in the parish of Killean, far far away in the south of Argyll! Quite some jump. The couple had another five children there – William Hunter (1838), Jane (1839), John (1841), another Helen (1842), and Margaret Agnes (1845).

Pasture at Aucholzie amidst hills and woodland; photo courtesy of G. O’Ogle

In the late 1840s he returned to his roots in Glenmuick to take over a small farm at Crofts. I note that Bulloch says his older brother Alexander was farming at Crofts, but died in 1847, and I presume that’s when Samuel returned to take over from his brother. There is still a little settlement at the bottom of Glen Muick called “The Crofts” and despite the association of the family with Aucholzie (half-way up the glen) I understand this is where first Alexander and then Samuel farmed. They would have benefited from the lower altitude and more fertile conditions at the bottom end of the glen.


The Glen Tilt public right of way legal dispute

In driving cattle back from Argyll to his farm, quite some enterprise in itself, Samuel Gordon used the old drove road through Glen Tilt, which presents a shortcut through the hills from Blair Atholl to Braemar. He thus became a key person in the developing legal battles with the Duke of Atholl over the public right of way through the Glen. The Duke sought an injunction to prevent him doing it again, which Samuel Gordon challenged.

The Court of Session case may be found in the National Records of Scotland under “CS275/10/29 Duke of Atholl: Suspension & Interdict.: Respondent: Saml. Gordon 1848”.

Surprisingly, the focus of rights-of-way historians is usually on the confrontation in 1847 between the Duke and a professor of botany and his students, but the litigation surrounding that case was in fact inconclusive. The case following Samuel Gordon’s cattle drive through Glen Tilt in 1849, when Samuel Gordon was forbidden to do it again, led to three men (an advocate, a Writer to the Signet and a businessman) deliberately challenging the Duke by attempting to walk the Glen and then taking him to Court on their being stopped. They eventually had a definitive ruling in their favour in 1853 and this changed the approach to public rights of way thereafter.

The author on the edge of the Glen Tilt track, high in the hills; photo by Charles Leith

This is not the place for legal details, but the cases can be summarised by just a few extracts from the papers of the time. This from the Scotsman of 12 August 1848:

He [Samuel Gordon] was a farmer in Aberdeenshire, and had purchased some cattle in Argyllshire in June last, or in the end of May, and, for the purpose of conveying them to his farm in Aberdeenshire, he brought them to Blair-Athole first, and then proceeded to take them through the valley of Glen-Tilt – by which he thought, and still maintained, that there was a public right of way – to Castletown of Braemar, which was near his farm. It was in consequence of having done so, that the note of suspension and interdict had been presented by the Duke.

And again in the Stirling Observer of 1 February 1849

Many of our readers will recollect that in this case, which has been so often before the law courts in Edinburgh, an action of declaratory, at the instance of Mr Alex. Torrie, advocate, Aberdeen; Mr R. Cox, W.S., Edinburgh; and Mr Charles Law, merchant, Perth, is at present pending before Lord Ivory, with a view to determine their right, and that of the public, to the use of the road leading from Blair Atholl through Glentilt to Braemar. It will also be recollected that the case came before the Court in the shape of an interdict, at the instance of the Duke of Atholl, against Mr Samuel Gordon, for driving his cattle through Glentilt; and that this interdict was granted by Lord Cuninghame, before whom it came, on the ground that the noble complainer explicitly averred, on his responsibility as a proprietor and a litigant, that there had been no public road through Glentilt, either in ancient or in modern times…

It was 1853 before Torrie, Cox and Law definitively won their case (and all expenses) and I wonder if Samuel tested the Duke further by driving more cattle through Glen Tilt! This is from the Scotsman of 19 March 1853:

Court of Session – March 16, 1853.
This long-litigated and important case has at length been brought to a termination, by an interlocutor having been pronounced by the Lord Ordinary on Wednesday. … The interlocutor is as follows:– “16th March 1853.– The Lord Ordinary having heard counsel for the parties … finds the complainers entitled to use the public road from Blair-Atholl through Glen-Tilt to Braemar, and therefore suspends the proceedings complained of, and grants interdict in terms of the note of suspension and interdict; finds the respondent liable in the expenses of process…”

Those visiting Kirkmichael would be surprised to learn that the farmer at the Mains of Braelangwell had been part of a challenge to the authority of one of the most autocratic men in Scotland, the Duke of Atholl!


From Glenmuick to Braelangwell in the Black Isle

Samuel and Helen had another child while they were at Crofts, Eliza Agnes (1848). The family are there at Crofts in the 1851 Census, farming 35 acres and employing five labourers. Samuel was not a big farmer, then, although still a sizeable tenant of the time, but he must have felt constrained in Glenmuick. Moving to farm at the Mains of Braelangwell was a step change. In the 1861 Census, to contrast, he is recorded as farming 440 acres and employing “6 ploughmen, 2 shepherds, 2 cattlemen, and 4 women”. However, he clearly took it in his stride.

Descendant Frances Ross has copied to me family correspondence which shows that in December 1854 Samuel met with the Proprietor, John Mackenzie Fraser, and his agent, John Taylor, at Braelangwell presumably to view the property and discuss terms. On 30 December Samuel wrote from Knockbain Cottage, Dingwall, formally setting out his offer including detailed conditions (including “5th That I will be at liberty to destroy the rabbits”). Entry was to be, as per the advertisement, Whitsunday 1855. The formal lease is for Mains Farm and Millcroft of Braelangwell, is dated 1856 (presumably it took some time for the document to be drawn up), and is between John Mackenzie Fraser Esq of Braelangwell and Samuel Gordon. It is thought that the family had moved from Glenmuick to Knockbain Cottage at this time for the sake of Helen’s health.

Samuel Gordon carefully kept an exact copy of his offer letter; thanks to Frances Ross for the image

The Mains of Braelangwell is just a short walk from Braelangwell House, downhill for a couple of hundred yards. Samuel must have seen a lot of the laird, the recuperating Lieutenant John Mackenzie Fraser, until the latter returned to India in 1857. The laird had married, on 1 July 1856, Elizabeth Urquhart, of the same Urquhart family who once had owned Braelangwell itself, at Meldrum, in Aberdeenshire. This was just a few days before his sister married his new wife’s brother, at Braelangwell. It was a much celebrated double marriage. Braelangwell must have been in great excitement. However, the laird was soon to return to India. Braelangwell House was advertised for let at the end of 1856, and the first child, a boy, of the young couple was born at Dum Dum, in India, on 11 May 1857.

But enough of the laird. What about his biggest tenants, the family Gordon? Well, Samuel Gordon was to make an immediate mark. Almost as soon as he arrived at the Mains of Braelangwell the records start to appear remarking on the quality of animals being produced there. Given that he had driven cattle from Argyll to Glen Muick, I wonder if he had similarly driven his best stock through to the Black Isle. The first record I see is actually before his theoretical entry date of Whitsunday 1855, but I imagine with both the Mains and Millcroft lying unoccupied, Samuel may have negotiated early entry.

From the Aberdeen Herald and General Advertiser of 16 June 1855:

– A remarkably fine lot of three-year-old stots from Braelangwell were sold at 15 guineas

Again at Muir of Ord, in 1860, from first the Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser of 15 May 1860 and then the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 16 May 1860:

Gordon, Braelangwell, sold a lot of year-olds at £10
A fine lot of one year-olds, from Braelangwell, which were said to be the best lot exhibited here for many years, sold at £l0 per head.

And yet again, from the Inverness Courier of 15 August 1867:

Braelangwell – a white animal, beautifully proportioned, and, for a two-year-old, remarkably well-grown. Older bulls competed with this one, but the judges considered him best of the class, and their decision was unanimously confirmed by the spectators. He had a finely-shaped head, and excellent chest, was long in the body, and had a broad square back, good quarters, and fine skin. He had not been prepared for the show, however, and was in rather low condition, but there was a general sweetness in his appearance which was very pleasing to the eye. He was off Mr Maclean, St Martin’s stock. To this bull was also awarded the Highland Society’s medal as the best male animal in the yard. We understand that as a bull-calf he was shown at the Highland Society’s show at Inverness.
Highland and Agricultural Society’s Prizes.
Silver Medal for best Male Animal in the Yard – Bull belonging to Mr Gordon Braelangwell … Cattle. – Shorthorns – Aged Bull (4 entries) – 1, Mr Gordon, Braelangwell …

There are many more examples. Clearly Samuel Gordon had established a name for himself for the quality of his stock. And he himself was well established in the area, as evidenced when his farm was selected to host a prestigious ploughing match in 1862.

Ploughing match at Udale, a mile east of Braelangwell, 1 February 2020; Udale of course was farmed by Samuel Gordon’s son James; photo by Jim Mackay

Despite the notice in the paper below, though, that this was the first ploughing match in the parish, in reality there had been one not far away at Kirkton, beside Kirkmichael, back in 1797, but obviously it had been well forgotten by this time. In 1797 there had been seven ploughs in the match, in 1862 there were forty-five, so it was a bigger affair altogether.

Inverness Courier, 6 March 1862

Ploughing match Udale 2020, with the white walls of Kirkmichael across Udale Bay; photo by Jim Mackay

As I say, he must have been a great stockman, for there are many references to his cattle and sheep winning prizes or commanding superior prices at the marts. As an amusing aside, clearly the superior qualities of his stock were too tempting for one of his neighbours:

SC24/13A/136 (1856)
Procurator Fiscal vs Finlay MacLennan, labourer, Agnes Hill, Resolis, Cromarty: Theft
Two wedders stolen from field at Braelangwell farm occupied by Samuel Gordon, farmer. The petitioner had reason to believe they had been stolen by Finlay MacLennan, warrant for arrest was granted.



At this point in time, Samuel was also tenant of the farm of Glenuiag, often spelled Glenuaig, in Strathconon, in the parish of Contin. Coincidentally this had also been offered on a 19 year lease by the Coul Estate in 1854, and clearly Samuel had gone for Glenuiag as well as the Mains of Braelangwell. Glenuiag, however, was a completely different kind of farm.

A description of Glenuiag emerges when Samuel let the farm in 1861:

Inverness Courier 21 March 1861
SHOOTINGS TO LET. The Shootings of GLENUIAG, in the Parish of Contin, Ross-shire. There has been no Grouse shot on these Lands for the last two Seasons; and as they are in the immediate vicinity of Strathconon and other Forests, are much frequented with Red Deer. There is a small Lodge in the centre of the Ground. Applications to be made to Mr S. Gordon, Braelangwell. / Fortrose, 10th March 1861.

North British Agriculturist 8 March 1854; Glenuiag lease being advertised

Inverness Courier 21 March 1861; Samuel Gordon advertises Glenuiag

I suspect there must have been some friction between himself and at least one other tenant in Strathconon as the following advertisement appears:

Inverness Courier 1 October 1857
NOTICE. Found, on the Grazing of Glenuiag, Strathconon, a BLACKFACED WEDDER, branded on one of the horns with the letters N.M.P., and the right ear cropped. The owner may have him on applying to Mr Gordon, Braelangwell, by Fortrose. If not claimed within 21 days after this date, he will be Sold to defray expenses.
1st October 1857.

Now, with those distinctive initials it must have been very clear to him whose sheep it was!



His tombstone also states that Samuel held Corrievuic (often spelled Corriewick), another farm up Strathconon, which had been held by the same tenant who had held Glenuiag, Peter Brown of Linkwood, Elgin. Samuel Gordon was farming in Strathconon a generation after the evictions which paved the way for sheep farming and shooting, but he must have been aware of the decimation in number of inhabitants of the Strath that had occurred. His sheep were grazing over the remnants of townships where a host of people had once lived.

Corrievuic was of considerable extent. On the death of Samuel Gordon, we learn the scale:

Inverness Courier 11 October 1866
The following FARMS on the Estate of STRATHCONAN to be LET on Lease, with entry at Whitsunday 1867:–
1. CORRIEWICK, presently possessed by the Representatives of the late Mr Samuel Gordon, containing about 5557 Acres.

The River Meig near Corrievuic, Strathconon; photo by Nigel Brown and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons


Helen Hunter

I have little on the personality of Helen Hunter, the mistress of the Mains of Braelangwell. She had no more children after leaving Glenmuick, and her life at Braelangwell must therefore have entered a new stage of seeing her children grow up, and marry and depart to make lives for themselves. She must have appreciated the more temperate climate in the Black Isle!

The parents of Helen Hunter, as revealed by her death certificate, were “James Hunter Landed Proprietor (deceased)” and “Elspeth Hunter ms Paterson (deceased)”. The couple are buried in Tullich Churchyard, in Ballater, Aberdeenshire.

Tullich Churchyard, Ballater; photo by GariochGraver courtesy of

James Hunter and Elspet Paterson gravestone; photo by GariochGraver courtesy of

To the memory of JAMES HUNTER, farmer of Waterhead and Head of Inch who died 13 Apr 1826 aged 72 and of ADAM his son who died 21st March 1822 aged 21 Also his daughter ELIZABETH who died 4th Janry 1812 aged 4 months Also his wife ELSPET PATERSON who died 17th July 1851 aged 86 years
This stone was erected by his surviving sons, William and James Hunters


The End

Samuel was 68 when he died, unexpectedly, at Braelangwell in 1866. His death certificate simply says for Cause of Death “Unknown. Suddenly. No medical attendant.” Helen died the following year, also at Braelangwell, of a liver complaint. They were buried in an enclosure close to the north dyke of Kirkmichael. A headstone had previously been erected in 1863 for their young daughter Elizabeth Agnes, who had died in 1862 aged 14. The same headstone was used to carry an inscription for another daughter, Jane, who died many years later, in 1893. The parents’ headstone is larger and has an unusual ornate top in the shape of a stylised lily. Both are of granite, an expensive and relatively new material for gravestones in this area in the 1860s.

We have always been puzzled as to why the railing of Sir Hugh Fraser’s enclosure, just a yard or so away, was removed. We used to think it was part of the war effort, but during the restoration of Kirkmichael and remedial work involving the kirkyard itself, several dozen pieces of the railing materialised, tossed under tablestones, or buried under turf. Sir Hugh was very unpopular due to his activities during the Resolis Riot of 1843, and we suspect that his toppled ostentatious headstone (now righted by the Trust) was pushed over by parishioners after his death. Had the populace destroyed his railing as well? The railing bases protrude a little from the small wall that surrounds Sir Hugh’s enclosure and we must trim them sometime as they are a bit of a liability.

The curious thing is that the railings of Sir Hugh’s enclosure and the railings of Samuel Gordon’s enclosure are of the same design, large lily-styled railheads and simpler, floral spacers. Were they erected at the same time? The only relationship between the Fraser family and the Gordon family of which I am aware is simply a proprietor/tenant one. It is a mystery.

In memory of / SAMUEL GORDON Esqre / tacksman of / Braelangwell, Glenuiag and Corrievuick / in the / parishes of Resolis and Contin, / who was born in the parish of Glenmuick / county of Aberdeen, / and died at Braelangwell / on the 11th of May, 1866 / aged 68 years. / And of his wife / HELEN HUNTER / who was born in the parish of Lethnot / county of Forfar, / and died at Braelangwell / on the 19th of September 1867 aged 63 years.

1863 / “Not lost but gone before.” / Here lie the remains of / ELIZABETH AGNES daughter of / SAMUEL GORDON, tacksman of Braelangwell / and HELEN HUNTER, his spouse, / who departed this life, to enter into / the joy of her Lord, in whom she confided / on the 28th day of September 1862, / at the age of 14 years. / Also of / JANE GORDON, / who died at Beechtree Cottage Inverness / on the 28th March, 1893.

Helen Hunter; photo courtesy of Frances Ross

Samuel Gordon; photo courtesy of Frances Ross


The Children – and those inventions!

Several of the children sadly died young and it is a mark of the status of the family that even the children who did not survive to adulthood are commemorated with headstones wherever the family happened to be at the time.

Ann Gordon (1832–1876)

Ann’s marriage was noted in the papers, but more information is given in their marriage certificate, not all correct. Whilst the marriage certificate indicates there was quite an age gap in the couple, in fact both of them had taken a bit off!

23 August 1861 Braelangwell After Banns, according to the Forms of the Established Church of Scotland
John F. Cameron farmer (bachelor) aged 50 usual residence Milltown of Findon, Parish of Urquhart, Ferrintosh parents John Cameron farmer (d) Mary Cameron ms Fraser (d)
Ann Gordon farmer’s daughter (spinster) 26 Braelangwell Resolis Samuel Gordon farmer Helen Gordon ms Hunter
John McKenzie Minister of the Parish of Resolis John Gordon witness James A. Gordon witness

John Fraser Cameron was a substantial farmer – his 1871 Census return at Milton, in the parish of Urquhart, states he was a farmer of 250 acres employing 8 men, 4 women and 2 boys. At this time, there were seven children in the household, sister in law Helen Gordon, and a host of servants. But alas, both parents were to die in a few years, and they are buried at Urquhart Old Cemetery. The by then eight children were taken on by sister Ann in Inverness.

There is a small headstone nearby to their son Murdo, who died in infancy. Their own headstone reads:

In memory of / JOHN F. CAMERON / farmer/Milton and Meikle Findon / who died at Badrain / 9th June 1876,aged 64 / also of his wife/ANNE GORDON / who died at Milton of Findon / 18th March 1876, aged 43.
“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an/hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”

Helen Gordon (1836–1838) was born at Aucholzie but died soon after Samuel and Helen began farming at Arnicle in Argyll. She is commemorated on a headstone in Killean graveyard, Tayinloan, along with her sister Margaret Agnes.

Killean graveyard, Tayinloan; photo by James Adam, courtesy of

Gordon gravestone in Killean ; photo by Harold R., courtesy of

Erected / by / SAMUEL GORDON / Farmer Arnicle / and / HELEN HUNTER his wife / in memory of their children / HELEN / died 24th Feby. 1838 / aged one year & 11 months. / MARGARET AGNES / died 16th Feb 1847 / aged one year & 4 months

Jane Gordon (1839–1893) did not marry, but brought up all eight children of her sister Ann. This extraordinary woman is commemorated on the smaller Gordon headstone at Kirkmichael. On the 1881 census return, she still has six of the children in residence, although with a cook and housemaid in the household to assist. Bulloch says:

Jane Gordon, lived at Ardconnel Terrace East, Inverness. One of her sisters [Anne] married John Cameron farmer, Findon and Badrain, Resolis, and had four sons who were brought up (as orphans) by their aunt, Jane Gordon, in Inverness. One of these sons: Samuel Gordon emigrated in 1883 to Oregon and later went to North Yakima, Washington State, when he became president of the Woolgrowers, Association. He became State Senator on the Republican “ticket,” at the last election. He died of pulmonary embolism the other week, leaving a widow and a son and two daughters (“Inverness Courier,” Nov. 26, 1909).

James Adam Gordon (1834–1911) took on Udale Farm, close to Braelangwell but in the neighbouring parish of Cromarty. We see him there in 1871 with his family and servants, and I reproduce the census return as it is of considerable interest to me. My own grandfather, Murdo Mackay, is present in the household! His parents had arrived from Lochcarron a few years earlier to break in a croft at Alness Ferry.

1871 Census Return Udale House, Parish of Cromarty 20 rooms with 1 or more windows
James A. Gordon head mar 37 Farmer (of 340 acres 270 arable employing 8 men & 4 women) Glenmuick
Margaret do. wife mar 29 do.
Helen do. daur 3 Cromarty
Margaret Ross serv unm 21 domestic serv Edderton
Mary Mardon serv unm 22 nurse Glenmuick
John Ross serv unm 19 gardener Resolis
Murdo McKay serv unm 21 shepherd Lochcarron
Ann Gregor serv unm 48 dairymaid Rosemarkie

James went on to buy the estate of Arabella, across in Easter Ross. Like his father he was a distinguished stockman, and patented a couple of agricultural inventions. To quote from Gordon historian, James Malcolm Bulloch:

i. James Adam Gordon, born at Aucholzie; baptized 3rd March 1834. He bought the estate of Arabella, Nigg, Easter Ross, 603 acres arable and 41 acres of woodland pasture and outrun, with low ground and wild fowl shooting. It was offered on 1st of December 1908, at Inverness for £16,500, but there were no offers. It was ultimately bought by his brother John. He has been a great breeder of shorthorns. He shares the inventive ability of his cousin William Gordon, Auchallater, for he patented in 1886 a “combined rack and trough for holding food for sheep” (Specification No. 5633). It is described by him in his specification, dated 23rd April 1866, as follows (a copy of the specification is in the University Library)
“This invention, which relates to a new and improved combined rack and trough for holding food for sheep and other animals, consists of a rack divided longitudinally at each side into a number of spaces, which may correspond to the number of animals which it is intended should feed at each side at a time. The rack in its transverse form constitutes a circular segment, so that it can be easily turned or rolled over upon the ground on which it rests, the underside of the rack being made flat. Into the underside there is fitted a bottom consisting of two troughs. This bottom is hinged at one side of the rack to enable the rack to be opened up from the underside and filled with hay. The bottom also serves "a roof for protecting the hay from moisture, rain, or snow during the time when the sheep and other animals are not feeding from the apparatus, as, during such time, the apparatus is rolled half over in order that the bottom comes uppermost. When the sheep and other animals are about to feed from the apparatus constituting this invention, it is rolled back again so that the bottom occupies the lower part thereof. The bottom also serves the purpose of keeping the hay off damp ground, by which, in the ordinary mode of feeding sheep and other animals, the hay is frequently spoiled. The troughs constituting the bottom also serve as receptacles for holding food stuff, such as the different kinds of feed cakes, grain, and ensilage.”
In 1887 he made an improvement on this Invention (Specification 4861)
“The main object of the improvement is to diminish waste of the food stuffs supplied to sheep or other animals in such troughs and racks and analogous contrivances, and for that purpose it is called an ‘Economizer.’ The Economizer consists of a rectangular frame or a piece of such frames formed with bars stretching across it. One of such frames is hinged at each side of the rack or trough, and when the rack or trough is full of hay or ensilage or other such food stuff these Economizers press upon the same and keep the food stuff well together upon the, bottom or within the rack or trough or analogous contrivance. When empty the Economizer hangs down into the rack or trough or analogous contrivance.”
Mr Gordon, who has retired and now lives at Tain, married his cousin. Margaret Gordon, daughter of William Gordon, Aucholzie. She died in 1900, leaving four daughters, all unmarried:
(i) Annie Gordon / (ii) Elizabeth Gordon / (iii) Meta Gordon / (iv) Ada Gordon

James at the time of his father’s death at Braelangwell tenanted the neighbouring farm of Udale. Frances Ross, a descendant of brother John, tells me that James subsequently bought the farm of Arabella in Easter Ross, and rented the sheep farm of Glenmeonich [Glenmeanie] in Strathconon. Sadly, his live stock was hit by foot and mouth and he was declared bankrupt. His younger brother John had played a cannier game and had rented farms – Balmuchy and Cullisse and he also held the lease of Casarcans [Cashachans] in Strathconon . He then bought Arabella in 1908 from his brother after it failed to sell in the open market.

A tall cross commemorates James and Margaret in Logie Easter kirkyard, bearing the inscription:

In memory of / MARGARET GORDON / the beloved wife of / JAMES ADAM GORDON / of Arabella Logie-Easter/born at Aucholzie, Glenmuick/Aberdeen-shire 21st June 1841 / died at Arabella 8th August 1900/and of / said/JAMES ADAM GORDON / born at Aucholzie 27th Feb. 1834 / died at Tain 29th Oct. 1911. [another face] Our daughter / ADA GRACE / wife of / H.J.HARRISON / born 5th Feb. 1886 died in South Africa/3rd Aug. 1926

The granite Celtic cross of James is adjacent to the granite tower of John in Logie Easter; it is touching how even in death the two brothers wished to be near each other. And note how in several of these memorials the Glenmuick origins of the Gordons are proudly recorded.

John’s inscription; photo by Davine Sutherland

The tower headstone commemorating John and his family on the left, the Celtic cross headstone commemorating James and his family on the right; photo by Davine Sutherland

James’ inscription; photo by Davine Sutherland

John Gordon (1841–1915)

I note a wee story about John, which must have mortified the rest of the family. This from the Inverness Advertiser of Friday, 7 February 1862:

Munlochy, 4th February 1862.– A Justice of Peace Court was held here this day, the following Justices being present– Mr Fowler of Raddery; Mr Mackenzie of Allangrange; Major Wardlaw; Mr Cameron, Balnakyle; Mr William Murray; and Mr Donald Mackay. … John Gordon, Braelangwell, was brought up for trespassing in pursuit of game on the estate of Kilcoy. He was found guilty, and sentenced to pay the mitigated fine of £1 sterling, with expenses, or imprisonment for fourteen days.

He was a young man then. On his father’s death in 1866, he took over at Mains of Braelangwell. His marriage was noted in the John O’Groat Journal of 20 January 1870:

At Scotsburn House, on the 6th inst., by the Rev. Robert Ferrier, Tain, John Gordon, Braelangwell, to Jane Forbes, daughter of Alexander Paterson, Esqu.

Bulloch states:

John Gordon, went to Cullisse, Easter Ross. In 1909 he bought the estate of Arabella which had belonged to his brother [James Adam Gordon]. He married Jane Forbes Paterson. He has two sons and three daughters:
(i) Alexander Paterson Gordon is a tenant of Balmuchy Fearn, his father's lease of that holding having expired. He inherits the inventive faculty of his uncle and his father, and has invented a potato sifting machine (Specification 5795, A.D. 1907). The official description of the machine is as follows–
“The machine consists of an ordinary timber frame, from which is suspended a riddle case containing three or more distinct riddles or screens or different meshes placed one above the other and apart, each riddle or screen slopes towards the front or conveyor or elevator end.. The entire riddle case is reciprocated by manual or other power through gearing or pulleys which actuate a crank shaft and connecting rod. At one end of the crank shaft a fly wheel is mounted. To the front end of the machine an elevator or conveyor is attached, driven by chains, shaft, and sprocket wheels, from the crank shaft and the speed of the elevator or conveyor is made variable to suit requirements. This conveyor is composed preferably of an endless chain of transverse bars set at an angle for carrying the potatoes from Nos. 1 and 2 riddles to a sack, box, sorting table, or sack weighing machine or other suitable receiver. The riddles Nos. 1 and 2 have meshes of suitable sizes. No. 1 riddle is adjustable and interchangeable to discharge either on the right side of the machine, or, if desired on to the elevator. The No. 2 riddle is also adjustable and inter-changeable so as to discharge either on to the elevator or the right side of the machine. When No. 1 riddle is discharging on to the elevator, No. 2 riddle discharges on to the right side of the machine, and when No. 2 riddle is discharging to the elevator No. 1 riddle is discharging to the right sidles of the machine. The bottom screen or riddle discharges to the left side of the machine. This improved machine dresses the potatoes and delivers them at three different points, as described above. The potatoes are shovelled on to a hopper at the back end of the machine, this hopper being set fairly low so as to make the operation a simple one. The bottom of the hopper on which the potatoes are first thrown consists of light round iron bars slightly apart forming a screen through which earth and sand passes, thus keeping the riddles clear. An adjustable board is fixed in a vertical position if required, to the front of the hopper to permit of a variable quantity of potatoes passing on to the riddles. At the exits from the riddles the surfaces on which the potatoes run are inclined and covered with zinc to reduce the friction.”
(ii) Samuel Hunter Gordon. He is also of a mechanical turn. While in the service of Vickers Son, and Maxim, at Barrow-in-Furness, he superintended the building of the boilers of the Dreadnought and the Russian warship Rurik. In June 1908, he was appointed manager of the Rose Street Foundry and Engineering Company, Inverness. He married in 1908, a lady doctor, Mary, daughter of Dr Calderwood, Egremont, Cumberland.
(iii) Annie Hunter Gordon. / (iv) Jane Grindley Gordon; married John Scottt Riddell. M.D., surgeon, Aberdeen. / (v) Catherine Gordon.

I don’t usually stray into more modern days, but just a note to say that correspondent Frances Ross tells me that the above Samuel Hunter Gordon had one son, the father of Frances, Major Patrick Hunter Gordon (1916–1978), soldier and electrical engineer. He became managing director of AI Welders (to which the Rose Street Foundry changed its name). Pat was responsible, with his friend, farmer Reay Clarke of Edderton, for promoting the three bridges now crossing the Inverness, Cromarty and Dornoch Firths, through their book “Crossing the Three Firths” (1969).

And now, from bridges and agricultural inventions to the modern disposable nappy. To quote Wikipedia:

In 1947, Scottish housewife Valerie Hunter Gordon started developing and making Paddi, a 2-part system consisting of a disposable pad (made of cellulose wadding covered with cotton wool) worn inside an adjustable plastic garment with press-studs/snaps. Initially, she used old parachutes for the garment. She applied for the patent in April 1948, and it was granted for the UK in October 1949. Initially, the big manufacturers were unable to see the commercial possibilities of disposable nappies. In 1948, Gordon made over 400 Paddis herself using her sewing machine at the kitchen table. Her husband had unsuccessfully approached several companies for help until he had a chance meeting with Sir Robert Robinson at a business dinner. In November 1949 Valerie Gordon signed a contract with Robinsons of Chesterfield who then went into full production. In 1950, Boots UK agreed to sell Paddi in all their branches. In 1951 the Paddi patent was granted for the US and worldwide. Shortly after that, Playtex and several other large international companies tried unsuccessfully to buy out Paddi from Robinsons. Paddi was very successful for many years until the advent of ‘all in one’ diapers.

Aberdeen Evening Express 17 June 1958

Valerie Hunter Gordon was granddaughter of Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, founder of Ferranti, and wife of Major Patrick Hunter Gordon.

But that is coming too much into contemporary times for this Story behind the Stone. Like brother James, John is buried in Logie Easter, and has a substantial granite headstone.

In / loving memory of / NELLIE / eldest daughter / JOHN GORDON / who died at Belmaduthy / on 30th August 1889 / aged 18 years / also / of his beloved wife / JANE FORBES PATERSON / who died at Cullisse / 16th October 1894. [another face] In / loving memory of / the said / JOHN GORDON / of Arabella / who died at Cullisse / 29th August 1915 / aged 73 years / and his daughter / CATHERINE ELIZABETH GORDON / who died at/7 Rubislaw Terrace, Aberdeen/on 31st May 1919 / aged 42 years.

Helen Gordon (1842–1885)

From the John O’Groat Journal of Thursday, 31 December 1874:

Marriages – Corner, Mr William accountant Inverness to Helen 3rd daughter of Mr Samuel Gordon (decd) farmer, Braelangwell

I note from the 1881 census that they were living in Drummond Road, Inverness, with several young children, so it must have been a tragedy when Helen died a few years later.

Margaret Agnes Gordon (1845–1847) was born and died while Samuel and Helen were farming at Arnicle in Argyll. She is commemorated on the same headstone in Killean graveyard, Tayinloan, as her sister Helen, with the inscription given above.

Elizabeth Agnes Gordon (1847–1862) Elizabeth Agnes died young and is commemorated in Kirkmichael. “Not lost but gone before.” / Here lie the remains of / ELIZABETH AGNES daughter of / SAMUEL GORDON, tacksman of Braelangwell / and HELEN HUNTER, his spouse, / who departed this life, to enter into / the joy of her Lord, in whom she confided / on the 28th day of September 1862, / at the age of 14 years.


Pruning the Yews

And finally, no Kirkmichael story would be complete without a note on the work carried out by the Trust to bring the neglected kirkyard back into order. There were two substantial yews growing beside the Gordon stones, twisting and breaking the metal railings and threatening the stability of the stones themselves. I imagine they were planted as small ornamentals a hundred years ago and got out of hand. They are not the shapely type of yew, but one that sports very vigorously. The Trust tackled the challenging task of bringing them back to manageable proportions in 2018 and 2019, but will need to keep on top of them as they grow so profusely.

With the restoration of the buildings almost complete, our attention started to turn to the run-down condition of the graveyard itself, and those overgrown yews were high on the agenda; photo by Andrew Dowsett

After; photo by Andrew Dowsett

I suppose there was a certain charm when descendants seeking the memorials of their antecedents had to crawl in to find them. I hasten to point out that Andrew, before cutting loose with his chainsaw, did check there wasn’t anyone in there!

photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

The chainsaw had to be deployed carefully as the trunks of the trees had actually grown around some of the railings. Those sections had to be left in place, hopefully to rot over the years. Smaller branches could simply be lopped off.

photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

The railings too need to be mended as the swelling trunks, fallen branches and rough graveyard maintenance have taken their toll. However, being cast iron the raillings cannot be welded. Alternative solutions are currently being considered!

The gaps in the railings still need to be rectified; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The ornate railhead; photo by Gavin Mackay


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