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

Acrostics and other puzzles: the Gibb family

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photographs as captioned

Join with us in silent sorrow,
 One more voice is hushed in death,
  He to whom we oft had listened,
   Nerved and strengthened by his faith.

Grieve we most because he’s taken
 In a time, the church distressed
  By his life and voice might profit,
   But the Master knoweth best.

The announcement in the Ross-shire Journal of 24 May 1901 of John Gibb’s death was unusual – it contained an acrostic. The first letter of each line of the two verse poem spells out his name. The poem also takes a wee swipe at the new United Free Church, lamenting the bad timing of John Gibb’s departure, just when a staunch Free Church man who had opposed the union was most needed. It is only grudgingly that the writer accepts that the Lord knew best!

There are two adjacent Gibb headstones in Kirkmichael, one memorialising John Gibb and his wife Ann McKenzie, and the other his father and mother, William Gibb and Ann Mackay.


photograph by Andrew Dowsett


William Gibb and Ann Mackay

John Gibb was a ferryman and then a crofter, and of course an Elder in the Free Church. His father William Gibb was a crofter and shoemaker. Despite having all the necessary information, I have been completely unsuccessful in back-tracking the Gibb family. William’s father, according to William’s death certificate, was one Ebenezer Gibb, a gun maker. According to the census returns, he was born in Aberdeen. With that combination you wouldn’t think there would be a challenge!

The informant to the registrar of the deaths of William Gibb and Ann Mackay was John Gibb himself, so you would assume he held the right information. The parents given for Ann were correct, after all!

William Gibb shoemaker (widower of Ann McKay) died 20 March 1889 at Ferrytown aged 88 parents Ebenezer Gibb gun maker (d) Christina Gibb ms McIntosh (d) informant John Gibb son (present)

Ann Gibb (married to William Gibb crofter) died 29 May 1883 at Bog of Cullicudden aged 81 parents Robert McKay crofter (d) Ann McKay ms Holm (d) informant John Gibb son Ferrytown

John had a black granite headstone erected in Kirkmichael to his parents, and his two unmarried sisters were added in time. They were all long-lived.

In / loving memory of / WILLIAM GIBB / who died 20th March 1889, / aged 88 years. / And his wife / ANN MACKAY, / who died 27th May 1883 / aged 81 years. / Also CHRISTINA GIBB / died 28th day of May 1924 / aged 84 years. / Also ANN GIBB / died 25th Oct. 1927 / aged 88 years. / “Blessed are the dead / which die in the Lord.”

William Gibb and family lived on his nine acre croft at Bog of Cullicudden, although in his final years William resided with his son John at Ferryton. Despite being born in Aberdeen, he is recorded in the 1881 Census as speaking Gaelic, like his wife, Ann Mackay. I see from one birth registration of a grand-daughter that Ann could not write. And yet I note that at the Newhall school prize-giving ceremony as reported in the Ross-shire Journal of 19 September 1879 one of the public present was “Mr Wm. Gibb, ferry”. One of his grand-daughters was a pupil-teacher at Newhall, and perhaps he was offering moral support.

William had arrived at the Bog before 1831. In that year he appears on the Militia Roll and his first child, John, was born and baptised:

William Gibb Shoemaker at Bog of Cullicudden and his Spouse Ann McKay had a child born the 11th and baptized the 28th of January named – John

Militia List of the Parish of Resolis January 1831
Bog of Cullicudden … William Gibb shoemaker [age] <30 1 child x [eligible to serve]

I think William must have arrived at the Bog the year before, following his marriage to Ann, whose family resided there. He was a shoemaker in Inverness at the time.

William Gibb Shoemaker at Inverness and Ann McKay at the Bog of Cullicudden in this Parish were contracted and married in due time the 2nd of March 1830

Their further children were William (1833), Ebenezer (1835), Ann (1838), Christian (1841) and Catherine (1843). Catherine was baptised in the newly created Free Church. She went on to marry ploughman Donald White in 1862 and their descendants still live in the area. The three Gibb brothers (John, William and Ebenezer, as opposed to Barry, Maurice and Robin) have proven surprisingly challenging to track. John of course returned to Resolis but William and Ebenezer just vanish off the radar. The conclusion has to be that they either died or emigrated, and any further information would be very welcome!

The origins of their mother, Ann Mackay, are also a little puzzling. The census returns indicate she was born in Arbroath although her family was of local origin. She was born in the parish of St Vigeans:

1801… October … 16 Robert McKay & Ann Holm in Dishlandtown had a daughter baptized named Ann

I note her parents had another child, Donald, born in 1815 at Burnside, back in the parish of Resolis. That brother Donald became a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers, and retired to live in Ferryton, where he died in 1896:

Donald McKay Chelsea Pensioner widower 1st. of Deborah Allen 2nd. to Fanny Herridge died 8 June 1896 at Ferryton Resolis aged 80 parents Robert McKay crofter (d) Ann McKay ms Holm (d) informant John Gibb nephew (present)

You will note that the informant was John Gibb, who often took up this role. Donald had died intestate and his son, Sergeant Major Thomas Mackay of the Royal Engineers came over from Ireland, where he was serving, to act as executor qua one of the next of kin (Dingwall Sheriff Court SC25/44/19). The Mackay family clearly had a military bent.

But why I cannot find any trace of a gun maker called Ebenezer Gibb in Aberdeen is a puzzle. And if anyone has the solution please let me know!


The Bee Gees

There were very few families named Gibb in the Highlands, although there were more towards the Banff and Aberdeen areas, and plenty in the Central Belt. The earliest identifiable origin of the Gibb brothers, the superstars known as the Bee Gees, was Paisley, via Australia and the Isle of Man. It would be nice if someone could make the link between our Gibb family, originally from Aberdeen, and the Gibb family of Paisley! I suspect the only “Saturday Night Fever” associated with Resolis was associated with an excess of spirits, of the whisky variety. But you never know!


The conservatively-dressed Bee Gees


John Gibb and Ann McKenzie

John was born in the Bog of Cullicudden in 1831, the eldest child. Like his brother Ebenezer, in 1851 he was a farm servant on a neighbouring farmer’s farm. He moved as an agricultural labourer across the firth to the parish of Rosskeen, where he can be seen with his family in 1861. He had married Ann McKenzie in Jemimaville in 1856. Sadly, she died still a young woman “in childbed” a few days after giving birth to a daughter in November 1863.


Invergordon Harbour

John Gibb whilst in Invergordon was a labourer, but became a ferryman, and, in that trade, by 1871 had returned to the Black Isle, on the south side of the ferry. He was established in one of the three ferrymen’s cottages by the pier just west of Newhall Point. The household, which included four children, was being looked after by his sister Christina.

Christina in 1868 had been delivered of an illegitimate child which could not have gone down well with respected Elder John. Nevertheless, young Christina Gibb was given in the 1871 census as a three year old daughter, so John had effectively adopted her. In 1881, she is, however, recorded as a 12 year old niece named Christina Bissett, thus providing a clue to the identity of the father! By the time she married in 1900, she had reverted to her original name:

10 August 1900 at Ferryton After Banns According to the forms of the Free Church of Scotland
John Robertson gardener bachelor 34 usual residence Balrolbie Tenandry parents [father blank] Susan Robertson domestic servant
Christina Gibb domestic servant (spinster) 31 usual residence Ferryton Resolis parents [father blank] Christina Gibb domestic servant (signed) John McIver Free Ch. Minister Resolis Signed, George McCulloch witness Donald Whyte witness

The witness Donald Whyte was Christina’s uncle, whilst George McCulloch was one of the main farmers in Ferryton at the time.


Balblair Ferry Pier with the ferry coming in; the first of the row of three ferrymen’s cottages is on the right.

Returning to the Gibb household at Balblair in 1881, John’s sister Christina was still keeping house for the family. I note his daughter Catherine was still in residence then, a 17 year old pupil teacher so obviously a good student. This underlines how times were changing – his mother could not write and yet his daughter was a pupil teacher. The 1881 census reveals that both John and his sister Christina spoke Gaelic, and the 1891 Census records John as speaking both Gaelic and English. By that time, John, had moved from Newhall Point to Ferryton, where he was now farming. He would have known the work well, of course, from working while a youth as an agricultural labourer. He and his sister (who was now recorded as farmer’s assistant) lived by themselves on the farm, all the children having departed. The farmhouse had four windowed rooms, larger than the home he had previously occupied with his whole family.

During the 1890s, the Balblair Ferry was the subject of much criticism. An inquiry was set up into its management, and John Gibb gave evidence at the inquiry in 1895. The wording of the account suggests that he was still active on the ferry, despite running the farm at Ferryton. John did not give support to the widespread view that the ferry was badly managed. I note from the evidence from other witnesses that the ferry was facing stiff competition.

Ross-shire Journal 28 June 1895
The Alleged Mismanagement of Invergordon Ferry. / Important Inquiry at Invergordon.
On Monday, in the Town Hall, Invergordon, a Committee of Justices of the Peace for the county of Ross sat to hear evidence regarding the alleged mismanagement of the Invergordon Ferry. Major Jackson presided, and the other Justices present were … Major Lyon Mackenzie …
The Want of Water / at the piers, and the want of a pier at Craggan.
Mr John Gibb and Mr Hugh Ross, both ferrymen, gave lengthy statements as to the traffic and its general working, and on the whole thought that it was as well worked now as ever it had been.
Mr John Thompson, hon. secretary of the Cromarty steam launch “Venture,” said that the income from passengers would be for the last six months about £100, or 77 passengers per week. It was probable that about half the number of passengers would have gone in former years by the ferry.
Mr Andrew Stewart, Muirtown Mains, said that all his cattle went by steamer or rail. He thought that to be the case throughout the Black Isle.
This closed the evidence.

John Gibb’s name crops up as an Elder from time to time in the annals. Curiously, although clearly he was Free Church early and late, there is a reference to the attendance of an Elder “Mr Gibb, Resolis” at the “Established Church Synod of Ross” which I simply do not understand (Ross-shire Journal 23 April 1880) – unless, of course, it was his father. Another mystery, although that should be solved by an excursion to the archives to read the kirk session minutes of the Church of Scotland during this period. As ever, volunteers, please!

At the Free Presbytery of Chanonry in 1898, when there was a motion to support the church Union, John Gibb was reported as supporting an amendment disapproving of a Union (Inverness Courier 9 December 1898). At the Free Synod of Ross in 1899, he was present as elder in Tain (when dram-drinking at baptisms, funerals and marriages was one of the burning issues addressed) (Ross-shire Journal 21 April 1899). In 1900, the overture relative to Union with the United Presbyterian Church sent down from the General Assembly was discussed in the Free Church Presbytery of Chanonry (Ross-shire Journal 19 January 1900). One of the speakers in the motion was John Gibb, and he is recorded in the minority who voted “Against Union”.

You can see why the Free Church was sorry to lose him. The Free Church did vote for union with the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church in 1900, whilst the remnants of the Free Church continued. There was protracted legal wrangling thereafter about who owned what and much bitterness between the two churches. There is a question as to which crofthouse John Gibb held at Ferryton. From the census returns (1891 and 1901) during the period he occupied the tenancy, and in Christina Gibb’s time (1911), the house had four windowed rooms. And yet in the Inland Revenue returns from the early 19teens the property is described: “Property: Easter Ferrytown. / house Owner: JA Shaw Mackenzie of Newhall / Tenant/occupier: Gibb, Christina / House materials: assume stone Roof material: thatch / House description: 2 room, closet House condition: poor”. Perhaps Christina had down-sized.

Ferryton in 1954 (thanks to Simon Gunn for image)

Ferryton was once a place of many crofts, and I am obliged to Simon Gunn of Ferryton Point and James Holm of Easter Ferryton for confirming that the Gibb croft and crofthouse are as marked on the aerial photograph above. The crofthouse became known as Hawthorn Cottage, and it was later redeveloped as Windyridge when haulage contractor H.D. Fraser and wife Lillian moved there in the late 1930s. We are not sure which fields comprised the croft, but at least the six acre field seen in the image below was tenanted by the Gibb family.

Windyridge and the land farmed by the Gibb family (thanks to G.O. Ogle for image)

John Gibb made it through to the 1901 Census, but died shortly afterwards:

John Gibb Crofter (Widower of Ann McKenzie) died 17 May 1901 at Ferryton Resolis aged 70 parents William Gibb Crofter (d) Ann Gibb ms McKay (d) Informant William Gibb son (present)

The Ross-shire of 24 May 1901 published two obituaries on the Free Church Elder, the first containing the acrostic, and written by someone going by the byname of “Resolis”. The second was written, I think, by Donald Fraser the Cullicudden photographer who was developing his skills in reporting at the time. They both mention the size of the crowd at his funeral at Kirkmichael and the ongoing troubles between the ongoing Free Church remnants and the new United Free Church.

Death of a Resolis Free Churchman.
A correspondent writes: John Gibb, a most esteemed and respected elder of the Free Church of Resolis, passed away on Friday last, 17th inst., at the age of seventy-one years, after a lingering and painful illness, borne with Christian resignation and patience. For a good number of years he used the office of the eldership faithfully and well, being an able exponent of the Word to young and old. The great number of people that carried his remains to the churchyard of Kirkmichael on Monday testified to the respect in which he was held.

  Join with us in silent sorrow,
  One more voice is hushed in death,
  He to whom we oft had listened,
  Nerved and strengthened by his faith.

  Grieve we most because he’s taken
  In a time, the church distressed
  By his life and voice might profit,
  But the Master knoweth best.

Another correspondent writes:– On Monday the grave closed over the remains of John Gibb, crofter, Resolis, who died the previous Friday, after a lingering illness borne with patience and Christian resignation. He had been leading elder in the Free Church for a number of years, and, in the absence of the minister, carried on the services of the church. His discourse was always very edifying, and was listened to with wrapt attention. He also took a great interest in the young, and, at great inconvenience to himself, attended the Sunday school regularly. Of a retiring and quiet disposition, he never pushed himself forward in any of the affairs of the parish. He was a staunch Free Churchman, and was opposed to the union. The funeral was very largely attended, the interment taking place in Kirkmichael burying ground. He was in his 71st year, and leaves a son and daughter for whom much sympathy is felt.

John had already erected a headstone, a good quality sandstone piece from mason “J. McKenzie Jemimaville”, on the death of his wife. It bears the names of two of their children who died young, and of John himself when he passed away at Ferryton in 1901. It reads:

1864 / Erected / by / JOHN GIBB / in memory of his spouse / ANN McKENZIE / who departed this life / at Invergordon 12th Novr 1863 / aged 29 years / Also / of his daughter / ELIZABETH GIBB / who died 25th March 1864 / aged 3 years / Also / his son ALEXR who died / 9th Jany 1877 aged 19 years / And / the above JOHN GIBB, who / died at Ferryton 17th May / 1901 aged 70 years.

As stated on the gravestone, John’s wife was one Ann McKenzie. Her parents lived in Jemimaville. Following the death of her mother, Alexander, her father, came to live at Ferryton as well. When his father-in-law passed away, John had as usual acted as informant but failed miserably in providing genealogically useful information as he did not know his father-in-law’s parents!

Alexander McKenzie pauper formerly quarry labourer (widower 1st. of Annie Munro 2nd. of Catherine McDonald 3rd. of Janet Fraser) died 23 November 1897 at Ferryton Resolis aged 90 [no parent information given] informant John Gibb son-in-law (present)

I have not pursued the origins of these Mackenzies. I note that Alexander had been born at Lochbroom and had married his last wife in Jemimaville in 1850, but other than that I shall leave it to others to investigate someone with so popular a name!


The Children of John Gibb and Ann McKenzie

I noted that John and Ann’s son William Gibb had been the informant of his father’s death, and yet he does not appear in the census returns in the area. The newspaper account also refers to a surviving son and daughter. So where on earth had William moved to? At least one answer to the Gibb puzzles was forthcoming when I inspected the testament dative for John Gibb. He had died without a will, and hence William went through the appropriate legal processes. The inventory of the personal or moveable estate and effects of “the late John Gibb, Crofter, Ferryton” amounted to £63.4.2 and William’s story then emerges: “appeared William Gibb, Draper and Clothier, 440 Chester Road, Old Trafford, Manchester, who being solemnly sworn and examined, depones: That the said John Gibb died at Ferrytown aforesaid upon the 17th. day of May 1901 and had at the time of his death his ordinary or principal domicil in Ross and Cromarty in Scotland. That the Deponent is the eldest son of the deceased and entitled to be appointed his Executor.”

With that clue to go on, I soon located William Gibb, wife Christina and their two children in the 1901 and 1911 census returns, and the information there suggested they must have married about 1898. The Aberdeen People’s Journal for 25 June 1898 had a lovely report:

ALVAH. / FASHIONABLE WEDDING.– A very pretty marriage took place last week at the Trinity Presbyterian Church, Bowden, Cheshire, the contracting parties being Mr William Gibb, of Old Trafford, Manchester, and Miss Christina M’Iver, grand-daughter of Mr John Leslie, farmer, Kiltryknock, Alvah, and niece of Miss Leslie of the Neuk, Altrincham. The officiating clergyman was Rev. Wilson Cowie, M.A., pastor of the church. The bride was given away by her cousin, Mr Chrystall of Cartmel, and was attended by the bridesmaids Miss Chrystall and Miss Moyers. Mr Robert Davidson, of Old Trafford, was best man.

That left the surviving daughter of John Gibb and Ann McKenzie, Catharine Ann Gibb, born in Invergordon in 1863, and a pupil teacher in house with her father in Resolis in 1881. I note a single “Elementary Teacher” called Catherine Gibb, born in “Rothshire, Scotland” aged 27 as a boarder in a household in Tyldesley-cum-Shakerley in Lancashire in 1891. The location is close to Manchester where William Gibb was clothier and draper, so I am minded to believe this is the correct lady. I have been unable to track her thereafter.


Legacy within the Parish

There were members of the Gibb family in the parish for just under one hundred years. Several of the Gibb children married in the parish, and you’ll often see the name Gibb crop up in later family histories of the area.

John’s sister Christina lived on at Ferryton, along with her sister Ann. The names of both appear on their father’s stone at Kirkmichael, 1924 for Christina and 1927 for Ann. My cousin, James Holm of Easter Ferryton, tells me he as a child heard mention of “Kirsty Gibb” which clearly was how Christina was generally known. Christina and Ann were the last of the name of Gibb to be commemorated in the kirkyard.


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