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

The Absconding Rioters

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


An earlier religious riot, in this case against the introduction of the Anglican prayer book in 1637

The rioters who, in September 1843, had faced off lairds, clergy and an armed party of the Coastguard at Resolis Church, and rescued one of their company by breaking down the prison doors in Cromarty, were tried at the High Court in Edinburgh. There were, however, four conspicuous by their absence. They had been accused but had not been apprehended, did not appear and were declared outlaw. This is the story of those four absconding rioters.

We have their names and descriptions from the legal processes. The “Resolis Four” were:

Eppy or Elspet Aird (c1789–1865), wife of Donald Watson, shoemaker at Balblair. Aged about 54 at time of Riot.
Thomas Urquhart (1816–1881), one of four Cullicudden quarrying brothers involved in the riot. Thomas was dressed in a blue jacket, moleskin trousers, and a cloth cap, with a peak in front, and fur around the sides of it. Aged about 27 at time of Riot.
David Mackenzie (1807–1887), crofter, Bleaching Green, Bog of Cullicudden. David was dressed in a striped sleeved vest and breeches with garters or leggings. Aged about 36 at time of Riot.
William Fraser (c1781–1848), shoemaker and fisherman, Ferryton. William was dressed in a blue jacket and a glazed hat. Aged about 62 at time of Riot.

Despite their activities at the riot and jail-breaking in 1843, you can see that none of them could be called a young tearaway. Thomas was accused of the jail-breaking, but the other three were accused of:

all and each or one or more of you, present at, aiding and abetting, and actively engaged with the said mob or great number of riotous and evil-disposed persons, in the said acts of mobbing and rioting, of obstructing the said Presbytery or said members, and persons acting as members thereof, in the discharge of their said duty, and of assault, all as above libelled, or in one or more of the said acts: And you … being conscious of your guilt in the premises, did abscond and flee from justice:

The conclusion expressed in histories of the riot and prison-break was that the four absconders must presumably have left the district for good. And yet I could see Eppy Aird, wife of Donald Watson, shoemaker at Balblair, active in the parish until she died in 1865. And I found Thomas Urquhart was back in the parish too for several years, before he emigrated. And David Mackenzie continued crofting in Resolis, with his son becoming a successful merchant in Inverness. And William Fraser was even cheekily (and successfully) challenging the Parochial Board in court to obtain poor relief. I have found nothing in the newspapers of the period to indicate that there had been an armistice. Did they simply conclude that the authorities would not want to re-open old wounds?

In reviewing the activities of the rioters I have been greatly assisted by David Alston’s booklet on the riot and jail-breaking (The Resolis Riot 28th September 1843 and The Jail Break at Cromarty to release Margaret Cameron, one of the rioters), obtainable from Cromarty Courthouse. This has been supplemented by my own notes from the trial papers and newspaper accounts.


Eppy or Elspet Aird (c1789–1865), wife of Donald Watson, shoemaker at Balblair

Eppy was prominent in the riot at Resolis Church. The Cromarty Procurator Fiscal himself had evidence of Eppy in action:

The woman had her apron full of stones and on my advising her to go home said she would do no such thing and would find a use for ‘these’ meaning the stones in her apron if we persisted in demanding access to the church.

A feisty lady, our Eppy!

Eppy was daughter of crofter Donald Aird and Catherine Stewart, whose family are described in our Story behind the Stone on the repaired Needle at Kirkmichael. Her baptism and marriage are not recorded in the registers, which were very badly kept in this era by the Reverend Robert Arthur, who had more interest in the business of the gentry than in his parish duties. She must have married shoemaker Donald Watson before 1822, as their marriage does not appear in the registers which were kept regularly following the arrival of the Reverend Donald Sage in that year.

Aird Place, Balblair, named after the Aird family to which rioter Eppy Aird belonged; photo by Jim Mackay

Kirkmichael Trust volunteers uncovering Aird slabs in Kirkmichael in 2020; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Her first appearance in the records is in the 1841 census. Ages were rounded in this census for no good reason, but nevertheless they are a useful guide. At Balblair we see:

1841 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Balblair
Donald Watson 60 Shoemaker
Elspet Aird 50

Two years later, on 28 September 1843, Eppy, growing old disgracefully, was in the thick of the melee at Resolis Church. Many witnesses observed her. James Duncan, Justice of the Peace and tacksman of the Mains of Cromarty ventured to speak to the crowd in front of the church as he knew some of them:

I addressed them by saying “This is a fine day” on which Eppy Aird or Watson, wife of Donald Watson at Balblair who was in the crowd asked me what brought me there and said that I should keep to my own parish.

Good for Eppy!

I said to Aird that I had come there in my official capacity and that I merely wished to advise them as to what she and the crowd were about.

After a few more ill-received remarks, another of our absconders, William Fraser, tried to hit the JP on the head with a large stick and the violence erupted.

Arrests were made in the next few days, and more occurred over ensuing months as absconding rioters were located. Eppy is mentioned in much of the trial documentation. At the trial itself at the High Court, Edinburgh, over 10 and 11 January 1844, there was no appearance by Eppy and she was declared an outlaw.

I don’t believe Eppy was long in hiding. However, the first definite sighting we have of her is in 1850. The previous year her husband was seriously ill. The Parochial Board came to his assistance:

Resolis Parochial Board Meeting 6 April 1849
The Inspector is authorised to advance a sum of money to Donald Watson, Shoemaker, Balblair, for the purpose of enabling him to proceed to Edinburgh, with a view of having an operation performed on his Breast by the Medical Faculty there.

Resolis Parochial Board Meeting 21 August 1849
Parties admitted to the Roll: … Donald Watson, Shoemaker, Balblair … seeing that the tumour on his Neck is burst which disables him from work

Poor Donald must have died that year, as at the meeting of 4 March 1850 “Widow Donald Watson” applied for poor relief herself. So Eppy was definitely back in Balblair at this time, and probably had been there for the duration. She was refused poor relief because the Board decided she “was able to work”. But Eppy kept up the pressure and a few months later the Board, at their meeting of 20 August 1850, conceded the point and added her to the list of poor entitled to relief:

This is why in the 1851 Census she is recorded as a pauper:

1851 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Balblair
Elsie Aird head widow 62 pauper formerly shoemaker’s wife born Resolis
Helen Ferguson lodger unmarried 72 pauper formerly house servant born Resolis

She is still there in 1861, and I include the next household as well, as it is the home of her brother, Charles Aird. Several of her siblings were still present in the parish and according to the parochial records they were assisting in her maintenance.

1861 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Balblair (house with 3 rooms with one or more windows)
Charles Aird head married 74 grocer and farmer of 12 acres, employing 1 man born Resolis
Janet Aird wife married 74 merchant's wife born Resolis
–…–…– …–…–
Balblair (house with 2 rooms with one or more windows)
Eppy Watson head widow 72 pauper (formerly shoemakers wife) born Resolis

When the Parochial Board made up a new register of the poor in 1865, this was the entry made out for Eppy:

Name Watson Widow / Residence Balblair / Age 72 / Date of Minute of Parochial Board authorising Relief 26th Aug. 1850 / Amount and Description of Relief authorised 19/6 Quarterly / Place of Birth Resolis / Religious Denomination Protestant / Condition Widow / Trade or Occupation Labouring / Wholly or Partially Disabled Partially / Description of Disablement Gravel / Wholly or Partially Destitute Partially / Earnings, Means, and Resources besides Parochial Relief aided by Relations / Nature of Settlement Birth / Name and Age of Wife, Child, or Children living in Family None / Name, Age, and Weekly Earnings of Husband, Wife, Child or Children not living in Family and their Circumstances None / 1864 Feby 14 Allowance increased to 26/ quarterly / 1865 Feby 20 This Person died this day

The death certificate confirms the accuracy of the Parochial Board record:

Deaths, Parish of Resolis
Elsphet Watson pauper (widow of Donald Watson shoemaker) died 20 February 1865 at Wester Newhall age 75 parents Donald Aird weaver (deceased) Catherine Aird m.s. Stewart (deceased) informant Catherine Robertson niece (present)

The Airds were all interred in Kirkmichael, but there are very few memorials. Eppy, that stalwart of the Resolis riot, will therefore undoubtedly be buried in Kirkmichael, in an unmarked grave.

There are very few Aird memorials in Kirkmichael despite many of the family being buried here; but three of them memorialise the same Donald Aird – these are two of them; photo by Andrew Dowsett

and this is the third! photo by Jim Mackay


Thomas Urquhart (1816–1881), quarrier

There were four Urquhart brothers: Donald, John, Thomas and William, born to parents Thomas Urquhart and his spouse Janet Murray, who moved into Cullicudden. Thomas himself was born in Cullicudden in 1816. The eldest brother, Donald, held the tenancy of Cullicudden Quarry from the Newhall Estate, and the four brothers were all engaged in the quarrying activities or on the family croft. They lived in the house nowadays known as Cullicudden Croft, and the family is detailed in our Story behind the Stone here.

The old home of the quarrying Urquharts at Cullicudden Croft

Kirkmichael Trust volunteers scouting the Cullicudden quarries for workable faces; photo by Jim Mackay

The Urquhart brothers do not seem to have been involved in the riot itself, on 28 September. However, all four were in Cromarty on the evening of the 29th, when the prison was broken into to rescue the one rioter who had been seized the day before, Margaret Cameron, Reverend Donald Sage’s dairy maid.

I include in that story much of the testimony from brothers John and Donald, which I do not repeat here. The evidence from others conflicted with that presented by John himself and he was given a nine month sentence, a sentence that would have been longer had it not been for the jury’s request for clemency. But I do include one snippet:

JC/26/1844/366 / Judicial Declaration of John Urquhart Quarrier Cullicudden 16 October 1843
At Dingwall … Compeared John Urquhart, Quarrier residing at Cullicudden, in the Parish of Resolis and County of Cromarty, a married man, aged twenty nine years or thereby… Declares that besides Donald, Declarant has other two brothers, William and Thomas, both of whom were at Cromarty on the twenty ninth of September. That Thomas wore his working clothes that day, viz: a blue Jacket, moleskin trousers, and a cloth cap, with a peak in front, and fur around the sides of it…

Cromarty Courthouse, stormed by Thomas Urquhart and the other rioters in 1843; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Thanks perhaps to the distinctive attire of Thomas, his activities during the prison break were noted. As a quarrier he would be well used to hefting rocks, and it is recorded that it was he who picked up a large stone and threw it at the jail door in Cromarty, and followed this up by striking the door with more stones. When the rioters gained admittance to the prison through the broken door, Thomas used the same large rock to try to break in the cell door. However, this was abandoned and he and several other rioters used a wooden bench as a battering ram instead. Having rescued the incarcerated Margaret Cameron, the raiding party left Cromarty for their homes in Resolis, albeit the Urquhart brothers stopped off at an inn in Cromarty for a dram (and again in Jemimaville – rioting is thirsty work).

Two tough occupants of the cells at Cromarty Courthouse; photo by Jim Mackay

When he sobered up, Thomas would have known only too well that he would be a prime target for reprisals and clearly felt it was an appropriate moment to duck out.

In the Inverness Courier of Wednesday 3 January 1844 the lists of persons to stand trial before the High Court of Justiciary, at Edinburgh, were published. There were many indicted for the separate Resolis Riot charge, but we are focusing on the Riot and Jailbreak in Cromarty.

For Rioting at Cromarty, and Prison Breaking, on the 29th day of September–
John Urquhart, quarrier, at Cullicudden, in the parish and county of Cromarty.
Donald Urquhart, quarrier there.
Thomas Urquhart, quarrier there.
Colin Davidson, tailor, at Jamimaville, parish of Resolis, county of Cromarty.
Donald Murray, mason, at Drumdire of Newhall, parish and county aforesaid.
Robert Hogg (sometimes called Property), fisherman in Cromarty.
John Finlayson, weaver in Cromarty.
In this case there are twenty-six witnesses cited.

Colin Davidson, Donald Murray and John Finlayson, who had, like all the other accused, been out on bail, appeared in court but in the event the case was not pursued against them. The cases of John Urquhart, Donald Urquhart and Robert Hogg were however carried through, with results Guilty (of mobbing and rioting, but not of jail-breaking), Not Guilty and Not Proven respectively. Thomas Urquhart had not been apprehended and was declared outlaw. As the Scotsman of 13 January 1844 put it: “Thomas Urquhart, who was libelled in the same indictment, was outlawed for non-appearance.” and the London Evening Standard of the same date said: “Thomas Urquhart, quarrier, was also charged in the same indictment, but he has absconded.” It was national news.

The “modern” jailblock at the back of Cromarty Courthouse; photo courtesy of Cromarty Image Library

There is nothing in the newspapers of the time to say that Thomas returned to his home parish of Resolis. But I do see a Thomas Urquhart residing in Cullicudden a few years later. He married Martha Jack in 1846:

The banns of Thomas Urquhart residing at Cullicudden, and Martha Jack residing at Baliskilly, both in this Parish, were proclaimed in the Parish Church, on Sabbaths the 29th. November, 6th and 13th December 1846, and no objection was offered.

The couple moved from Cullicudden to Ferryton to Newmills and had five children. And then the whole family emigrated to Canada about 1855, where another two children were born.

Thomas is recorded in the Census return of 1851 for Ferryton. It confirms he was born in Resolis (and Martha in Avoch). His age and parish of origin as given in the return are all in accordance with the absconding Thomas Urquhart. I think given there is no other record of a Thomas Urquhart being born in Resolis in anything like the right period that it has to be the absconding Thomas Urquhart, returning home. But I would like just a little more confirmation to be sure!

Apart from featuring in the 1851 Census in Scotland, Thomas Urquhart and Martha are recorded in the1861, 1871 and 1881 Censuses in Mornington District in Perth County, Ontario, Canada. In 1861 he is a farmer, residing with Martha and all his children – supplemented by new arrival Mary – in a log cabin. In 1871 and 1881 Census returns he is recorded as an innkeeper, which is how he is described on the death register later in 1881.

All the children who were born in Scotland were first entered in the Resolis Free Church Baptism Register. These records show his movements within the parish:

Free Church Baptism Register, Parish of Resolis
1847 … Urquhart Thomas, Labourer, Bog of Cullicudden and Martha Jack his Wife had a Daughter, born 9th October and baptized 13th Octr. named Martha
1849 … Urquhart Thomas, Cottar, Ferryhouse, and his wife, Martha Jack, had a daughter, born 18th March and baptized on the 25th Do. named Janet
1850 … Urquhart Thomas, Crofter Ferryhouse and his wife Martha Jack had a daughter, born 22d October and baptized 24 Novr. named Jane
1852 … Urquhart Thomas, Labourer, Ferryhouse and his Wife Martha Jack had a son born 5th Sepr and baptized 10th Novr named Alexander
1855 … Urquhart Thomas Crofter Newmills and his wife Martha Jack had a daughter born 5 December 1855 [sic] and baptized 5 April 1855 named Helen

Curiously, all five entries were re-recorded (inaccurately) on the one page of the Church of Scotland Register in 1855. I think that this would have been Thomas and Martha seeking what they saw perhaps as a more “official” record of their children when emigrating to Canada. In the 1861 Ontario Census return they are recorded as adherents of the “F.C.” i.e. Free Church. They had two further children in Mornington, Mary and Thomas William, sometimes recorded as William Thomas.

Thomas Urquhart died on 21 November 1881 at Mornington Township, and is buried in the North Mornington Presbyterian Cemetery. Martha Jack survived much longer, dying on 20 December 1901, still in Mornington Township, and is buried with her husband. Her parents were Hugh Jack and Martha Mackenzie. Hugh was a farmer in Auchterflow, parish of Avoch. They moved to farm at Crask, in the parish of Urquhart, very close to the parish of Resolis. Their children included the well-known Evan Jack, and other children came to reside in Resolis itself.

Thomas Urquhart inscription, Mornington, Canada; image courtesy of

Martha Urquhart inscription, Mornington, Canada; image courtesy of

The children of Thomas and Martha married and multiplied in Canada and you can see their numerous family trees on the internet. But none of those trees identifies the parents of Thomas Urquhart. The Ontario death register did not give parents of deceased in the period when he died. However, if some enterprising Canadian researcher could discover any document that Thomas Urquhart may have completed during his lifetime giving the details of his birthday or the names of his parents then I would be very grateful! I am sure that this Thomas Urquhart the absconding Thomas Urquhart, but a little more confirmation would be good.


David Mackenzie (1807–1887), crofter

The third of our absconders was well used to moving around anyway. He was the son of crofter Alexander Mackenzie and Jane Jack. In 1801, when sister Anne was baptised, his father was given as “servt. at the Flour miln at Braelangwell”; in 1803 (Kenneth) “servant Newhall”; in 1805 (Henrietta) “labourer in Burnside”; in 1807 (David himself) “Bog of Cullicudden” and 1810 (Colin) “labourer Bog of Cullicuden”.

Aisle of Ardullie in Cullicudden burial ground; a substantial memorial was erected in this kirkyard to commemorate David Mackenzie and his family; photo by Andrew Dowsett

His father Alexander must have died quite young, as at the croft at Bog of Cullicudden in 1841 we can see that Jane has become the farmer, and only their daughter Harriet (baptised Henrietta) is in household with her.

1841 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Bog of Cullicudden
Jane McKenzie 60 Farmer
Harriet McKenzie 30

David was an agricultural labourer, as usual moving around from farm to farm when he secured a post, and was in fact by this time married to Anne Fraser of Inverness. Their first child was born at Clachnaharry, Inverness:

Baptisms, Parish of Inverness, 1840
Mackenzie Isabella parents David Mackenzie and Ann Fraser Labourer Clachnaharry born 9 August 1840 baptised 12 August 1840 by The Revd. Dr. Rose witnesses Andrew Fraser and Simon Fraser

But by 1842 David had made a temporary change in occupation, trying his hand in Invergordon as a vintner:

Baptisms, Parish of Rosskeen, 1842
Alexander, son to David McKenzie Vintner at the Ness and Ann Fraser his wife, was born 6 and baptized 16 October

Now, you might think with names as common as Mackenzie and Fraser this might be a different couple altogether, but in fact in later census returns Isabella gives as her place of birth “Clachnaharry” and Alexander gives as his place of birth “Invergordon” so we are on safe ground. The family can be found in Invergordon in the 1841 Census, with David at his new trade:

1841 Census Return, Parish of Rosskeen – S. Main Street Invergordon
David McKenzie 30 Sp. Dealer y
Anne do 25 y
Isabella McKenzie 9 months n
Helen Ross 15 F.S. y

At this time there were a great number of spirit dealers in Invergordon, though, so perhaps the competition was too great, or it might be that David wanted to get back to the land. He took over the family croft at Bog of Cullicudden. Perhaps this happened when his mother died. Anyway, he was back in the Bog when the riot occurred.

The address given for him of “crofter, Bleaching Green, Bog of Cullicudden” immediately raises the question as to whether or not he was responsible for the bleaching green himself? I have seen no other reference to a bleaching green in Cullicudden. Logically, it would be on a south-facing slope, where the effect of the sun’s rays in whitening the newly-woven cloth would be maximised. I should think it would not be on well-cultivated land as that way you would be losing the benefit of your arable cultivation. A level area of moor free from lochans and whins would suggest itself, and presumably near the burn if the cloth needed to be washed. Nominations, please!

David’s activities were again picked out because of the distinctive clothing he was wearing that day: a striped sleeved vest and breeches with garters or leggings. He was identified as one of the men who threw stones which severely injured Lieutenant Thomson of the Coastguard. Lt. Thomson and his crew had been patrolling the Firth between the Ferries of Foulis and Invergordon to prevent potential rioters joining from Easter Ross, but arrived with his men at Resolis Church about half past two to take action when the Riot Act was officially read (which meant they could start firing their weapons). But upon shots being discharged:

The rioters assaulted us with such violence at this time that my crew were forced back along with the authorities and other gentlemen present. At this time I was struck on the side with a stone which knocked me over. Another stone struck me on the crown of the head which cut me severely. By these blows I was rendered nearly insensible and when endeavouring to raise myself from the ground I received two severe blows on the loins from stones.

I have to say, what do you expect when you start to fire on a mob armed only with stones? However, clearly if David Mackenzie had been identified as having injured a member of the Coastguard acting in his duty after the Riot Act had been read, then he was in serious trouble. It is no wonder then that David was another who pulled a vanishing trick and disappeared.

The former Resolis Church of Scotland, now a residential conversion, around which the rioting took place; photo by Jim Mackay

Like the other absconders, though, David Mackenzie was back by the next census in 1851!

1851 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Bog of Cullicudden, north of the Newhall Burn
David McKenzie head married 40 general labourer born Aberdeen
Anne McKenzie wife married 37 general labourer’s wife born Inverness
Isabella McKenzie daughter 10 general labourer’s daur born Inverness
Alexr McKenzie son 8 scholar born Invergordon
Heriot McKenzie sister unmarried 42 born Resolis

Now, why did David say he was born in Aberdeen, when we have clear evidence from the Resolis baptism register that he was baptised in Resolis? He gave the same place of birth in several subsequent census returns. It is a mystery. His parents did move location between baptisms of their children, but seemingly only within the parish of Resolis. There can be no doubt that this is the correct David Mackenzie, and the presence of sister Harriet in his household census return gives further corroboration. Was he possibly trying to throw off the scent potential pursuers who might still be on the look-out for absconded rioters?

Between the census of 1851 and the baptism of their next and final child, Janet, in 1852, the family re-located from the Bog of Cullicudden to the Bog of Newmills. The child was of course baptised in the Free Church:

Resolis baptisms, Free Church, 1852
David MacKinzie, Crofter Bog of Newmills and his spouse Anne Fraser had a daughter born 14 October 1852 and baptised 7 November 1852 named Janet

Wester Newmills on left, with land extending west towards the Bog of Cullicudden; image courtesy of Black Isle Images

In other documents around this time their location is given as Wester Newmills as well as the Bog of Newmills. In reality, the east of the Bog of Cullicudden merges into Wester Newmills, and I do wonder if there was any change in location involved at all. If in effect they were the same location, then it makes this case in the Cromarty Sheriff Court records held in the National Archives (SC24/10/291) particularly interesting:

David Denoon, merchant, Invergordon vs David McKenzie, crofter, Newmills, 1845, Debt. Amount 5/8d. Document four is an Account of Denoon for Mr. Robert Murray, Miller, Newmills, Resolis, for 19s 4d.

There were very few men named David Mackenzie in the area (David was not a popular choice of Christian name in the Mackenzies of Resolis) and this record may point to David being back in circulation even sooner after the riot than I had thought. However, I would need clearer confirmation that this was the same David Mackenzie before committing myself!

Returning to solid facts, I present the next census returns and the information on certificates relating to the family chronologically without discussion as they speak for themselves:

1861 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Springfield, house with 3 rooms with one or more windows
David McKenzie head married 50 farmer of 8acres employing 2 labourers born Aberdeen
Ann McKenzie wife married 47 farmer’s wife born Clachnaharry
Isabella McKenzie daughter unmarried 20 farmer’s daughter born Clachnaharry
Alexr. McKenzie son unmarried 18 farmer’s son born Invergordon
Jessie McKenzie daughter 8 scholar born Newmills of Resolis

Deaths, Parish of Resolis, 1866
Ann McKenzie pauper (formerly agricultural labourer) (single) died 16 November 1866 at Resolis age 65 parents Alexander McKenzie crofter (deceased) Jane McKenzie m.s. Jack (deceased) informant Henrietta McKenzie her x mark sister (present)

1871 Census Return 1871, Parish of Resolis – Springfield, house with 6 rooms with one or more windows
David McKenzie head married 57 crofter of 8acres employing 2 labourers born Aberdeen
Ann McKenzie wife married 54 do. wife born Inverness
Jessie McKenzie daughter unmarried 18 do. daughter born Resolis

Deaths, Parish of Resolis, 1876
Ann McKenzie (married to David McKenzie) died 23 January 1876 at Newmills age 67 parents John Fraser stone-breaker (d) Janet Fraser ms Fraser (d) informant David McKenzie husband (present)

Marriages, Parish of Resolis, 1877
21 September 1877 at Resolis Parish Church After Banns According to the Forms of the Established Church of Scotland
Mb>John Lawson farmer’s son (bachelor) 26 Drumdyre parents Francis Lawson farmer Ann Lawson ms Stewart (d)
Jessie McKenzie crofter’s daughter (spinster) 24 Newmills parents David McKenzie crofter Ann McKenzie ms Fraser (d)
Robert McDougall Minister of Resolis Francis Lawson witness Donald McPherson witness

1881 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Springfield, North Side E, house with 7 rooms with one or more windows
David McKenzie head widower 64 farmer of 12 acres of which 10 arable employing 1 girl born Aberdeen speaks Gaelic
Harriet McKenzie sister unmarried 66 do. sister born Resolis speaks Gaelic
Elizabeth Junor servant unmarried 17 general servant (domestic) born Resolis

Deaths, Parish of Resolis, 1883
Harriet McKenzie pauper (formerly agricultural labourer) (single) died 12 January 1883 at Wester Newmills age 77 parents Alexander McKenzie crofter (d) Jane McKenzie ms Jack (d) informant Margaret McKay her x mark nurse (present)

Deaths, Parish of Resolis, 1887
David McKenzie crofter (widower of Ann Fraser) died 18 Feb 1887 at Wester Newmills age 79 parents Alexander McKenzie crofter (d) Jane McKenzie ms Jack (d) informant Margaret McKay her x mark nurse (present) Wester Newmills

There, that gives the whole story of the latter days of David Mackenzie and Anne Fraser through documentation. Note how their affluence grew with time, reflected in the size of their house increasing until it was positively palatial for a crofter. I think that relates to an additional element. Their son Alexander became a very successful grocer and wine merchant in Inverness, marrying one Isabella Macdonald and raising a large family. I think perhaps he was assisting the family back in Resolis. To commemorate his parents and other relatives, Alexander had a handsome sandstone memorial erected in Cullicudden burial ground within an enclosure surrounded by an iron railing.

Erected / by / ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, / Merchant, Inverness, / in loving remembrance of his mother / ANN FRASER, / wife of / DAVID MACKENZIE, New Mills of Resolis, / who died 23rd Jany 1876, aged 69 years. / Gentle true and good, one of the / best of women and the most affectionate / of mothers clothed with humbleness of / mind, meekness and long suffering. / Also of his sister / JEANIE, who died in the year 1848 / aged 3 years and 3 months. / And of his father DAVID MACKENZIE, / who departed this life / on 18th February 1887 aged 80 years. / The remains of his aunts ANN & HENRIETTA / also lie here / “Until the day break and the shadows fly away.” / Cant. IV. 6

Kirkmichael Trust Guided Tour of Cullicudden back in June 2012. The Mackenzie enclosure stands behind the attendees who should be admiring one of the Cullicudden medieval crosses but are clearly wanting the photo-shoot to be over!

The David Mackenzie inscription in Cullicudden


A brief genealogical side-note

For the genealogists, I note that a slab flanks this headstone on either side, with all three positioned within the enclosure, strongly suggesting a family grouping.

The slab on the left, in addition to the usual wigged skull and crossbones at the base, contains the usual cartouche near the top. Inside the cartouche are the initials D MK and, below this, G MK. The initials flank a stag’s head in relief, set in a hollow. The stag’s head, of course, is the symbol of the Mackenzies, if the initials didn’t need corroboration. Overlapping the cartouche on the left side, though, are three upright bars III, with an S midway across the stone at the same level. I don’t understand this element. And midway down the stone is a well-executed pair of large scissors beside a triangle balancing on its point. A tailor is suggested.

a tailor’s symbols? photo by Jim Mackay

The slab on the right is broken and eroded, with a faint wigged skull at base. It bears the lettering D _ M G _ M


William Fraser (c1781–1848), shoemaker and fisherman

And now for something completely different. William Fraser, shoemaker and fisherman Ferryton, appears to have regarded authority as something to challenge.

At the High Court trial, the farmer at Mains of Resolis, Alexander Macintosh, gave evidence that he noted William Fraser making an early appearance on the scene at the Church of Resolis. William’s blue jacket and glazed hat made him stand out in the crowd and he was spotted in the action for the rest of the day. The moral for aspiring rioters is therefore clear: dress inconspicuously.

The Glebe at Resolis. At the time of the riot in 1843, the fields around the Church had been harvested and were in stubble, as here in 1956. One of the aims of the rioters was to retain the crop of the Glebe for the Reverend Donald Sage who had left the Established Church; photo courtesy of Catherine Rogerson

We have already referred to the evidence of James Duncan, J.P. and tacksman of the Mains of Cromarty, and how Eppy Aird had rebuked him on his attempting to pacify the crowd. The Justice of the Peace made a few more comments and then:

As I was speaking this last remark William Fraser, a shoemaker and fisherman at Ferrytown of Resolis, raised a large stick which he held in his hands and was in the act of drawing it to strike me on the head when I caught hold of it and wrenched it out of his hands. At this instant I received a blow on the head with a stick from a lad who was in the crowd which knocked off my hat…

William was obviously a man of direct action! What was his background?

At this time, William and his brother Alexander and their respective families lived at Ferryton. They had been born and brought up at the other end of the parish, at St Martins, where their father John Fraser was the smith. William was born in 1781, whilst Alexander was born in 1789. Their mother was Catherine Fraser. William’s brother Alexander (who married a Jane Murray) was a weaver and was key to my deciphering the genealogy of this family as he survived through to civil registration – so the parents of both himself and brother William could be confirmed.

As a young shoemaker, William moved around parishes in the area before settling back into Resolis. He married Jane Fraser when he was resident in Dingwall

Marriages, Parish of Dingwall, 1814
Married March 26 1814 William Fraser, Shoemaker, Dingwall to Jane Fraser from the parish of Resolis

Their first child was baptised in Resolis – perhaps Jane had returned to her family to have her firstborn – but for the next few years when they were residing in the parish of Rosskeen that was where their children was baptised. And then they returned to their parish of birth, Resolis.

Baptisms, Parish of Resolis
11 September 1815 William Fraser soldier Rossshire Militia & Jean Fraser – Kathrine
Baptisms, Parish of Rosskeen
1817 … Mary, Daughter to William Fraser Shoemaker Saltburn and Jane Fraser his wife was born 8th and baptized on the 14th May
Baptisms, Parish of Rosskeen
1820 … William, Son to William Fraser Shoemaker at Kincraig and Jane Fraser his wife was born on the 23 and baptized on the 26 day of July
Baptisms, Parish of Rosskeen
1822 … William, Son to William Fraser Shoemr. Kincraig and Jane Fraser his wife, was born on the 21st and baptized 24th Jany.
Baptisms, Parish of Rosskeen
1824 … Margaret, Daughter to William Fraser Shoemr. Kincraig and Jane Fraser his wife was born 7 and baptized on 11 January
Baptisms, Parish of Resolis
1826 … born 4 July and baptised 1 August – William Fraser shoemaker at Ferrietown & Jane Fraser – Alexandrina

All these children are mentioned in the later poor relief Parochial Board records, which also refer to another Mary who must have been born about 1820 and who was not captured in the parish registers.

I imagine it was on their return to Resolis that they began their residence within the Newhall Estate storehouse at Ferryton Point. I didn’t think originally they would have been residing in the storehouse itself, but there is a later record proving it was put to this use. This is from the Parochial Relief Board minutes of 1885:

Hospital accommodation. The Clerk is instructed to write the Factor for Newhall asking him for the use of the room presently occupied by Widow McDonald Pauper at the end of the Storehouse at Ferrytown as an Hospital in the event of Cholera appearing in the Country.

I mention this as I thought when I read references to William Fraser residing at the Storehouse it meant in a house close to the Storehouse. However, it dawned on me that of course if the storehouse was no longer in use as a girnal then it could provide accommodation itself.

Storehouse or girnal at Ferryton Point within which rioter William Fraser and family lived (I presume at the far end, with the chimney); it is nowadays once again in residential use following conversion to a residence

1841 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Ferryton
William Fraser 50 Fisherman
Jane Fraser 53
Mary Fraser 21 / Margaret Fraser 16 / Alexandrina Fraser 14

You do see reference, as here, to William being a fisherman as well as a shoemaker, but I don’t know how successful he was at this alternative trade. At the riot and subsequent legal proceedings he is always termed shoemaker and fisherman.

He could not have been long away from the parish after he absconded. The High Court proceedings were in January 1844, and he was certainly back by February 1847, and the context of the records suggests he had not newly arrived. The records in point are the Parochial Board minutes. Following the creation of the Free Church, the responsibility of entering the impoverished on the Poors Roll moved from the Established Church to the new, independent Parochial Board. As it was a legally constituted body with statutory duties and rules, its decisions could be challenged in court. Apart from the appointment of an Inspector, the Board itself was made up of the same local “great and good” whose authority had been challenged in the 1843 riots. And we see that William Fraser was about to challenge them again.

Resolis Parochial Board Meeting 8 February 1847
The application of William Fraser, Shoemaker, residing at the Storehouse of Newhall was considered and the medical officer of the Parish Dr McKid having examined him, reports that he is partly unable to do outdoor work in consequence of incontinence of urine- but that he considers he could work at his trade of a Shoemaker, as he does not otherwise complain of bodily infirmities. He recommends, however, that the applicant should be sent to the Inverness Infirmary where he would have every justice done which his case requires– The applicant declines going to the Hospital, and consequently the Board refuses his application for Parochial Relief.

Now, this was a clear example of the Board instituting its own rules – there was nothing saying that they could refuse relief because someone needy refused to go to hospital. And then the Board took it a step further, and refused to offer support to William’s wife for the same reason.

Resolis Parochial Board Meeting 23 April 1847
Jean Fraser wife of William Fraser Shoemaker in Ferryton – application rejected as she is able to work and does spin and her husband, whose poor health the Board has reason to doubt, refused to be admitted to the Inverness Hospital

William of course was not the person to take this lying down. An action at the Sheriff Court was instituted against the Board Inspector.

Resolis Parochial Board Meeting 9 August 1847
The Inspector reported to the meeting the state of the Action, William Fraser, Storehouse of Newhall, against him– The Board approve of the Steps taken by the Inspector in it, and direct him to bring the case under the review of the head Sheriff, in the event of the case being decided against him in the Local Court, and to bring his refusal to go to the Infirmary, where he could receive the best medical treatment very particularly under the consideration of Sheriff Jardine.

Resolis Parochial Board Meeting 27 October 1847
The Inspector acquainted the Meeting, that the Sheriff has arrived at a decision in the case of William Fraser, Shoemaker, Storehouse of Newhall unfavourable to the Board– Notwithstanding the good reasons assigned by the Board for refusing him Parochial Relief, it appears, however, that the Sheriff has found him entitled to such relief, and his name is consequently admitted to the Roll with an allowance of 1/- weekly. In the meantime the Inspector is directed to order him to the Inverness Infirmary seeing that the Medical Officer of the Parish has stated it as his opinion that his Medical Complaint of incontinence of urine can be better treated in Hospital than in his own dwelling.
The Inspector submitted the Law accounts in this case, amounting to £6.14/- which were ordered to be paid.

So William was successful in Court, and it is extraordinary that the substantial sum of money to fight this battle had to be borne by the funds which were meant to be supporting the poor. William did not enjoy his triumph for very long, however, as he died a few months later. There was no civil registration process at the time, of course, but the Parochial Board minutes suffice:

Resolis Parochial Board Meeting 4 December 1848
In consequence of the removal by death from the Roll of Paupers of William Fraser, Storehouse of Newhall, the Meeting direct that his widow’s name shall be admitted with an allowance of 13/ per quarter–

Storehouse at Ferryton Point nowadays, 170 years after the time of William Fraser; image courtesy of G. O’Ogle

His widow, Jane Fraser, survived through to civil registration, and as she died in 1855 her death certificate is packed with the information provided in that wonderful year when Scotland was trying to outdo every other country in registration detail:

Deaths, Parish of Resolis, 1855
Jane Fraser age 68, born Ferrytown Resolis, 30 years in the P. of Resolis, parents Alexander Fraser house carpenter (D) & Mary Fraser m.s. McKay (D), husband William Fraser shoemaker (D), children and their ages: 1. Catherine 37, 2. Mary (D aet 3 months in 1820), 3. Mary 33, 4. William (D at 9 months in 1822 [final 2 unclear]), 5. William 31, 6. Margaret 29, 7. Alexandrina 27. Died 15 May 1855 Inch of Resolis, buried Churchyard of Kirkmichael, informant William Fraser son

Their son William was sadly to die of smallpox in the following year, the informant being his uncle, Alexander Fraser the weaver. However, I do hope that several others of the children identified went on to raise families of their own.



The four absconding rioters are thus seen to have been mature parishioners at the time they were participating in the Resolis Riot or the Cromarty Jail Break. Two of them at this time had children to care for. Two of them had already been away from their native parish for extended periods when younger.

It is an indication of the strength of disestablishmentarianism in the parish that such people were sucked into the drastic action that turned their lives upside down. However, they had such strong ties to the area that they felt drawn back despite their being officially outlawed.

I feel that there must have been some intercession with the authorities so that an agreement not to prosecute “the Resolis Four” was reached. It seems unlikely that they could have so openly resided in the parish without some such understanding.


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