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

William Melville (1828–1896) and Isabella McCulloch (1839–1889) of Resolis

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image

This story focuses on William Melville and Isabella McCulloch, whose substantial and imposing memorial at Kirkmichael, erected by their children, stands in sharp contrast to their struggles through hard times.


William Melville was of the Melvilles of Sutherland, a farmworker, initially on his father’s croft at Bog of Cullicudden, and thereafter for a long time at Resolis Mains. In both locations, he, Isabella and their four children (John, Alexander, Justina and Isabella Margaret) were packed within a tiny home. William’s wife Isabella was not one of the Resolis McCullochs, but was the daughter of Alness soldier John McCulloch. She suffered from tuberculosis, undoubtedly worsened by the cramped conditions in which the family lived.

The youngest child, Isabella Margaret, “Isi”, born in 1881, was adopted by a childless neighbouring farming couple in Alness Ferry, Hugh and Margaret Munro, although the extended family, living in such close proximity, must have been in constant contact. Unfortunately, Hugh Munro died in 1886, and Isi’s biological mother died in 1889, so it was a tragic time for the poor girl.

The widowed William Melville moved from Resolis Mains to Balblair, where he died in 1896. Years later, I suspect many years later, when family fortunes were somewhat improved, a large, grey granite headstone was erected at what must have been considerable expense at Kirkmichael. An outsize “MELVILLE” is emblazoned on the base:

Erected by the family / In loving memory of / our dear mother / ISABELLA McCULLOCH / who died at Resolis / on 15th Sept. 1889 aged 48 years, / and our father / WILLIAM MELVILLE / died on 2nd April 1896 / aged 64 years, / also our brother JOHN / died 28th Oct. 1926 / aged 55 years.

photo by Andrew Dowsett


Despite their modest background the children developed well, employed as agricultural labourers or domestic servants. They became dispersed as families do, but there was a common location for the family: Craggan Cottage at Newhall Point.

John (1871–1926) did not marry. He was an agricultural labourer, and I see from the various census returns that he worked at Resolis Mains and with the Scotts of Cullicudden. I see one reference to him in 1900 as “gunner John Melville” but as it was a report of a volunteers’ event I don’t know if he saw service or not. He retired to Craggan Cottage and his death certificate describes him as a farmer. He is commemorated on his parents’ memorial in Kirkmichael.

Alexander (1873–1931) usually known as “Crod” was a farm worker, although he served for a year with the Scots Horse in South Africa, returning to Resolis in early 1903. In 1911 he was living on the Holm farm of Easter Ferryton, next door to Sheeppark, and I note that in January 1918 he married, at Sheeppark, Jessie Helen McDonald of the Macdonalds of Sheeppark. At this time he was recorded as being a Government worker. Crod and Jessie Helen had a child, Elizabeth Mary Adelaide, in November 1918, known as Elma Melville, who became a teacher in Pitcalnie School and who was a keen member of the Nigg Dramatic Society. Crod became a smallholder across in Arabella in Easter Ross, where he died in 1931. He and Jessie are commemorated by a handsome granite pillar near the gate at Kirkmichael.

Elma Melville at Pitcalnie School in 1958; photo courtesy of Invergordon Museum and Heritage Centre

prominent memorial to Alexander Melville and Jessie Helen Macdonald in Kirkmichael; photo by Jim Mackay

Justina (1876–1961) married lighthouse keeper James Mackenzie (1880–1945) in 1909, at Craggan House. She had been working in Edinburgh as a domestic servant and must have met James there, although James himself was from Cromarty originally. I note that at their marriage he gave as his usual residence the Isle of May, so he must have resided in the lighthouse on that tiny island in the Firth of Forth. Justina returned to Newhall Point (Craggan Cottage) for the birth of her son Alexander Holm Mackenzie in 1912, and I see that the address of her husband at that time was given as Lismore – Lismore Lighthouse is on the 10 acre Eilean Musdile in the Firth of Lorne at the entrance to Loch Linnhe, separated from Lismore island by a Sound quarter of a mile broad. One lonely spot to another! Justina died as recently as 1961, in Inverness.

Lighthouse on Isle of May; photo courtesy of Northern Lighthouse Board

Lighthouse on Eilean Musdile, Lismore; photo courtesy of Northern Lighthouse Board

Isabella Margaret (1881–1954) or “Isi” was well known in the area. Isabella was adopted by Hugh and Margaret Munro, a farming couple at Alness Ferry. There are no official adoption records in Scotland before 1930 as before this date adoptions were arranged privately. Hugh Munro died in 1886 in the Northern Infirmary. The widowed Margaret Munro, Isi, and Margaret’s mother relocated to Gordon’s Mills, which is where they can be seen in the 1891 Census and where Isi is described as “Isabella Melville adopted child 9 scholar born Resolis”. By the 1901 Census they were residing at Newhall Point, a location to be long associated with the Melvilles. At the time of the 1905 Valuations, the cottage was owned by “Mrs Catherine Smith, Farm House, Tweedmouth, Berwick-on-Tweed” but the tenant and occupier was “Mrs Margaret Munro, Widow”, Isi’s adoptive mother. It was at Craggan Cottage that Isi married Willie Ross in 1907, and it was there that their two daughters were born (Isabella Catherine (“Carrie”) in 1907 and Justina Margaret (“Teena”) in 1911). It was from Craggan Cottage that sister Justina was married in 1909, and it was to Craggan Cottage that brother John retired.

the back of Craggan Cottage in 2006; photo by Jim Mackay

scroll-styled memorial to William Andrew Ross and Isabella Margaret Melville in Kirkmichael; photo by Jim Mackay

At his marriage to Isi, Willie’s occupation was given as “Farm Servant & Livery Stableman” and in later records as farm worker. But he is chiefly remembered nowadays as the ferryman on the Balblair to Invergordon Ferry. Willie and Isi are commemorated by a white marble scroll stone in Kirkmichael. Their grand-daughter, Mrs Catriona Gillies of North Kessock, a good friend of Kirkmichael, has provided quite a number of the images which find their way into these stories, particularly those of Chapelton and the Ferry.

the Ross family at the front of Craggan Cottage about 1912; from left, Willie Ross with young Carrie, Isi Melville with young Teena, Mrs Margaret Munro and two pipers; photo courtesy of Mrs Catriona Gillies

Willie Ross (on the right), in charge of the Balblair to Invergordon ferry boat; photo courtesy of Mrs Catriona Gillies

Margaret Munro, she who adopted Isi Melville, died at the Craggan in 1923, with Isi, now Isi Ross, in attendance.


Highland Volunteers

The children as young adults can be found working in various households around the parish thereafter as agricultural labourers or domestic servants, in the snapshots afforded by the 1901 and 1911 Census returns. We will not intrude on their later years, but in the early 1900s, I see from the local newspapers they were active in social events in the area, which were often associated with the activities of the military volunteers of this period of the British Empire. The fact that their grandfather on the McCulloch side had been a long-serving army man must have provided additional interest.

Ross-shire Journal 28 December 1900
Resolis– Volunteer Assembly.– The 7th Coy. H.V.A. (Resolis section) held their annual assembly in Cullicudden School on Friday, the 21st inst. There was a large attendance and the function was a distinct success. Excellent music was supplied by the Invergordon String band. Great praise is due to the committee for the successful manner in which they had carried out the arrangements. The Committee consisted of Bombardier K. Fraser, A. Melville, W. Macarthur, D. Urquhart, and gunner John Melville, A. Macleod, John Macdonald, Thomas Macdonald. Luncheon was purveyed by Mr Macarthur, Drumcudden Inn. Mr C.F.H. Shaw Mackenzie, of Newhall with his usual liberality gave a donation of £1 for the assembly.

After his volunteering activities, Alexander must have wished for a spell of real service as I see:

Aberdeen Press and Journal 15 January 1902
NORTHERN RECRUITS. The following are the names of the batches of recruits which left Inverness on Friday and Saturday for Edinburgh to undergo a course of training, and have joined the Fincastle Horse. This is the fourth batch that has left en route for the front:– … Alex. Melville, Resolis

North Star and Farmers’ Chronicle 5 February 1903
RESOLIS … Trooper A. Melville has arrived from South Africa, where he served in the Scottish Horse. Coming of an old Resolis family Mr Melville has many friends and is welcomed on all hands.

The Second Boer War was fought over 1899–1902, so he may well have seen action whilst in South Africa. I see even Isi attended these volunteer events:

North Star and Farmers’ Chronicle 3 January 1901
Resolis – Volunteer Assembly.– The 7th Coy., H.V.A. (Resolis Section), held their annual ball in Cullicudden School on Friday, the 21st inst., which was the most pronounced success yet achieved by the enterprising Resolis volunteers. … Among the ladies present were:– … Miss Melville, Chapelton; …

Ross-shire Journal 1 January 1904
Resolis – Volunteer Assembly.– The officers of the Resolis section of the 7th Company of the Highland Royal Garrison Artillery gave their annual ball to members of the company on Christmas eve. There were twenty-seven couples at the ball, which was held in Cullicudden School. The spacious schoolroom was brilliantly decorated, the Union Jack occupying a prominent position. … Among those present were:– … Isa Melville, Balblair Hotel; …

That is a short summary of the lives of William Melville and Isabella McCulloch and their children. Let us now look more closely at the origins of William and Isabella.


William Melville

William was born in 1828 in Cromarty, the first child to Alexander Melville, a journeyman cooper from Loth in Sutherlandshire, and Justina McKenzie. His parents had married a few years earlier, in Cromarty. For those interested in the Melvilles of Sutherlandshire, a most interesting and comprehensive study by Allan Lannon can be found here. You can understand why a cooper should move to Cromarty – the burgeoning pork-curing business in the town required vast numbers of barrels to be constructed.

As I say, William’s father, Alexander Melville, was born (according to his census returns) in Loth, Sutherlandshire, but his mother, Justina McKenzie, was from a Resolis family. She had been previously married to a former soldier, Donald Mackenzie, and they had three children in Cromarty (Donald, 1819; Justina, 1822; Grace, 1823) – I imagine they married in Resolis during the period when the marriage register was not being kept, and I presume that Donald died early in 1824 with Justina re-marrying later that year. For those wishing to pursue Alexander’s origins, I note from the information on his death certificate that his parents were John Melville and Jean Williamson and although he does not appear on the Loth baptism register, a sister does (“1803 … Decr. 23 John Melville & Jean Williamson Mid-garty – Jane”.

The family movements can be seen from the various registration entries:

Cromarty Marriages
15 October 1824 Alexr. Melville, Cooper, and Justina Mackenzie (Wid. of Dond. Mackenzie Pensioner) both in Cromarty were married.

They had Janet (1825, Cromarty), William (1828, Cromarty), John (1830, Cromarty), Alexandrina (c1833, Bog of Cullicudden), John again (1834, Bog of Cullicudden) and Grace (1836, Bog of Cullicudden).

You can see that the family must have moved to the Bog of Cullicudden, in Resolis, in the early 1830s. They are there in 1841, although their census entries comprise one of the most impenetrable census returns I’ve seen. The household is captured as follows:

1841 Census return, Bog of Cullicudden, parish of Resolis
William McKenzie 70 Farmer
Alexr Melvin 40 Wright
Finny (f) McKenzie 40
Finny (f) Munro 20
William Melvin 12
John Melvin 8
Lexy Melvin 6
Grace Melvin 4

You have to read that odd set of entries with the same family ten years later to make sense of it:

1851 Census return, Bog of Cullicudden, parish of Resolis
Justina Melville head married 52 cooper's wife born Resolis
William Melville son unmarried 22 cooper born Cromarty
Alexandrina Melville daur unmarried 18 cooper‘s daur Resolis
John Melville son unmarried 16 scholar Resolis
Grace Melville daur 14 scholar Resolis

Well, for Melvin read Melville. For Finny, read Justina, and for Lexy read Alexandrina. Some of the ages are topsy turvy. Apart from that, the two sets of information match very well! I imagine that the elderly farmer William McKenzie in the 1841 return is the father of Justina, and I think it likely that the reason for the family moving into the Bog of Cullicudden was to assist Justina’s father with the croft there. In 1851, Alexander was away on his trade of cooper (in Portmahomack, across in Easter Ross, in fact).

You can see that young William in 1851 is recorded as a cooper, but he does not appear to have kept this up, becoming instead an agricultural worker.

We are focusing on William in this Story, but I note in passing that John (1834–1909) became a Fishery Officer and married Jane Alice McNab Jackson in 1868. They had a large family, living at Girvan, Ayrshire, for many years, and then at Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire, before John retired and they moved to Ayr. Alexandrina (c1833–1920) married shepherd John Maclennan in 1861 in Resolis; Alexandrina must have been close to brother John, as I see that in 1868 she named one daughter after his new wife: “Jane Alice Jackson McLennan”. They moved to Newmore Mains in the parish of Rosskeen, in Easter Ross. The other children I have not tracked.

In subsequent Census returns, Alexander and Justina Melville and some of their children are still there at the Bog, augmented by numerous Maclennans as the children of Alexandrina and husband, shepherd John Maclennan, began to arrive. However, hopefully it was a happy if crowded life in the Bog of Cullicudden.

Life began to get even more crowded when William married Isabella McCulloch in 1870:

14 June 1870 at Balblair Inn, Resolis After Banns According to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
William Melville agricultural labourer (bachelor) age 37 usual residence Bog of Cullicudden Resolis parents Alexander Melville cooper & crofter Justina Melville ms McKenzie
Isabella McCulloch domestic servant (spinster) age 26 usual residence St. Martins Resolis parents John McCulloch agricultural labourer (d) Janet McCulloch ms Brown (d)
Minister James Maclauchlan Free Church of Resolis John Simpson Witness Alexander Ross Witness

We shall return to Isabella’s origins, but I note she was working as a domestic servant at St Martins here in the parish of Resolis when she married William Melville. Her age had become a little less than it should have been. And I’m not sure why Isabella at the time of her marriage said her deceased father had been an agricultural labourer. As her death certificate confirms, her father was “John McCulloch army pensioner”.

By the time of the 1871 census, the first child of William and Isabella had appeared, so that the population of the house accommodating the families at Bog of Cullicudden was getting somewhat crowded.

1871 Census return, Bog of Cullicudden – 2 rooms with one or more windows
Alexander Melville head married 72 farmer of 14 acres of which 9 acres arable employing 4 labourers born Sutherland Loth
Justina Melvill wife married 71 born Resolis
John McLennan son in law married 45 Ross-shire Contin
Alexandrina McLennan daur married 38 born Resolis
Justina McLennan granddaur 8 scholar Resolis
Johanna McLennan granddaur 5 born [blank]
Jane McLennan granddaur born Resolis
separate household, 1 room with one or more windows
William Melville head married 39 ag lab Cromarty
Isabella Melville wife married 27 born Inverness-shire Fort George
George [John] Melville son 1 mo born Resolis

Young John was at time of the census only 1 month old. To attempt to mislead future researchers, the census taker recorded him erroneously as George.

John had been born on 22 March 1871 at Bog of Cullicudden, where Alexander (17 March 1873) and Justina (8 March 1876) were also born. However, when their final child, Isabella Margaret, was born (6 October 1881) the family were living at Resolis Mains, in an equally cramped environment. What had happened in the meantime? Old Alexander and Justina had died and presumably the lease at the Bog of Cullicudden had expired.

Resolis death certificate
Justina Melville married to Alexander Melville cooper married formerly to Donald McKenzie died 29 March 1875 at Bog of Cullicudden aged 75 parents William McKenzie crofter (d) Grace McKenzie ms Urquhart (d) informant William Melville son (present)

Those using the above information on Justina’s death certificate to find the baptism record of Justina would be thwarted by an error in the Resolis baptism register. Her mother’s name of Grace a generation earlier was usually given as Grissel, so you would need to search for a Grissel Urquhart, and even then the session clerk had incorrectly entered the Christian name of Lillias instead of Grissel anyway! These are the family baptism entries:

12 September 1791 William McKenzie shoemaker in NewMiln & Grissel Urqt. – Donald
15 May 1798 William Mackenzie shoemaker in NewMiln & Lilias Urquhart – Justina
14 March 1801William McKenzie al. McConachie shoemaker Poyntzfield & Grissel Urquhart – Jannet

The records for this family are riddled with errors! Alexander passed away a few months later.

Alexander Melville cooper (journeyman) (widower of Justina McKenzie) died 23 October 1875 at Bog of Cullicudden aged 75 parents John Melville tailor (d) Jane Melville ms Williamson (d) informant William Melville son (present)

Following the death of Justina and Alexander, William and Isabella and their children moved to a small agricultural worker’s dwelling at Mains of Resolis, half a mile away. It was equally cramped. They were recorded in the 1881 Census at that location:

1881 Census return, Resolis Mains, household with 1 room with one or more windows
William Melville head 48 ag lab born Bog of Cullicudden
Isabella Melville wife 38 born Inverness-shire, Campbeltown
John Melville son 10 scholar born Resolis
Alexander Melville son 8 scholar Resolis
Justina Melville daur 5 scholar Resolis

The unhealthy environment would have undoubtedly contributed to the early demise of Isabella from phsisis (tuberculosis) at the age of 49:

Resolis deaths, 1889
Isabella Melville (married to William Melville agricultural labourer) died 15 September 1889 at Resolis Mains aged 48 parents John McCulloch army pensioner (d) Jessie McCulloch ms [blank] (d) informant William Melville widower (present)

The family simply could not support all the children, and the youngest, Isabella had been adopted by a neighbouring farming couple. Thus in the 1891 Census, the family in Resolis Mains was minus both the mother and the youngest daughter:

1891 Census return, Resolis Mains – 1 room with one or more windows
William Melville head widr 51 farm servant born Cromarty GE
John Melville son single 19 farm servant born Resolis
Alexander Melville son single 17 farm servant Resolis
Justina Melville daur 14 housekeeper born Resolis

The family moved to Balblair within the next few years. And it was here that William died.

Resolis deaths, 1896
William Melville crofter (widower of Isabella McCulloch) died 2 April 1896 at Balblair Resolis age 64 Alexander Melville crofter (d) Justina Melville ms McKenzie (d) informant Alexander Melville son (present)


Isabella McCulloch

I don’t know why, but there is an extraordinary dearth of reliable information available on the antecedents of Isabella McCulloch. I set out here the solid facts to assist those wishing to investigate the family further.

Isabella McCulloch’s parents, according to her marriage certificate, were John McCulloch and Janet Brown. When Isabella died in 1889, husband William couldn’t remember his mother-in-law’s maiden surname. This is always a sure sign that somebody had died a long time before. There is no record of the marriage of John McCulloch and Janet Brown, but she was deceased by 1851 as John was recorded as a widower in the 1851 census in Alness. Why Alness? Because that was where he was born, to William McCulloch and Mary Munro back in 1802, and that’s where he retired to when he was pensioned off. John joined the army, signing up initially for the 79th Regiment of Foot in Dingwall in 1822. He transferred to the 78th in 1828. He served home and abroad, the foreign service being four years in Ceylon. His discharge papers, which he signed with a cross in 1844, say he was unfit for further service:

Private John McCulloch, 78th Regiment, is disqualified for further Military Service in consequence of being affected with Chronic Rheumatism, with decline of strength and activity – He states that he first contracted Rheumatism during the Winter of 1838 immediately after his return from Ceylon, & attributes it to change of climate after nearly 5 years service in a Tropical clime – Was left at home on the embarkation of his Regt. for India in 1842, as unfit for active service, and since then had been employed as an Orderly in this Hospital, in which situation however he was unable to continue, and was then admitted as a patient, and remained under treatment during 19 days, without material benefit. His conduct while here both as an orderly and as a patient, has been Good – Fort Pitt General Hospital [Chatham], March 28th. 1844.

The army records say that when he joined up in December 1822 he was a labourer and 18 years old. The Alness parish register shows him as having been baptised in 1802, so he was in fact 20 years old.

Alness baptism register
1802 … Novr. 7 William McCulloch & Mary Munro at Lealtie had a Child Baptized John


The baptism records inform us that as well as John (1802) the couple had Isobel (1805), Hugh (1808) and Andrew (1809), but there was also “Murdow”, who acted as informant at John’s death in 1857. I note that by 1809 they had moved from Lealtie to Coul in the parish:

Alness baptism register
1809 … Decr 3rd William McCulloch & Mary Munro in Coul had a Child Baptized Andrew

We do not know when John McCulloch married Janet Brown, or how many children they had, but we do know that Isabella (she who would marry William Melville) was born at Fort George in Ardersier about 1839. We know this as Ardersier, Fort George or Campbeltown was entered consistently as her place of birth in her census returns, so that seems safe enough. Like many others, her age gets relatively younger in each successive census return, but on the basis that the 1851 entry will be the most accurate, then she was born about 1839. Looking at the statement in John’s discharge papers, I assume that Isabella was therefore born at Fort George after the Regiment had returned from Ceylon in 1838 and before the Regiment left for India in 1842 (when John became an Orderly at Fort Pitt General Hospital in Chatham). Was Janet Brown working at Fort George? There was no Janet Brown born in Inverness-shire or Ross-shire in the appropriate period, but I do note a Jane Ellison Brown born in Nairn on 24 December 1819 who would be worth following up, including within the Kirk Session records for Nairn and Ardersier.

By 1851, John’s wife Janet Brown was already deceased as he is given as a widower in the census of that year:

1851 Census return, parish of Rosskeen
John McCulloch Head Widower 49 Chelsea Hospt Pensioner born Alness
Isobella McCulloch Daughter 12 born Ft George Nairn
Catherine Aird Lodger unmarried 40 Farm Lab born Alness

John’s health continued to deteriorate and he died a few years later, in 1857.

Parish of Rosskeen deaths 1857
John Macculloch Pensioner, Late of the 78th Regt. (widower) died 4 April 1857 at Bridgend age 56 parents Wm. McCulloch ploughman (d) Mary McCulloch ms Munro (d) buried Alness Burial Place Certified by Donald McLeod Grave-digger informant Murdow Mculloch brother (present)

I don’t see any inscription dedicated to him in the Highland Family History Society transcriptions for Alness Burial Ground.

The army (Wo 23 – Royal Hospital Chelsea: Admission Books, Registers, and Papers 1702–1876) duly recorded his death so that his pension, which had commenced in 1844, would cease. From their point of view, the ideal soldier.

78th. Regiment of Foot
[Name] Ino McCulloch [Rate s. d.] 1.0 [Date of Admission] 23 Apl. 44 [Residence] Inverness Died 4 Apr 1857

We shall sign off with a simplified family tree for William Melville and Isabella McCulloch.



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