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

The Camerons of Fraoch Cottage, Cullicudden, and the Murrays of Ivy Cottage, Cullicudden

text and photos: Jim Mackay    and thanks to James Holm for the wonderful old photograph

This is the story of two families who lived beside each other in Cullicudden, Resolis. The Camerons and the Murrays resided for decades in two adjacent houses, Fraoch Cottage and Ivy Cottage, on the north side of the Cullicudden Straight. The two homes lay abandoned for some years, hemmed in by overgrown trees, but pleasingly both have recently been renovated. A third house drawn into this saga, now known as the Corrie, was rebuilt in the 1980s by the current Treasurer of the Trust, but we’ll return to that one before the end of this story.

"Fraoch" is Gaelic for heather (pronounced "Frew-och") but many documents record it as Froach, indicating some inexperience in writing Gaelic names! There were lots of other plant names used in the immediate vicinity: Birch Cottage, Elder Cottage, Rowan Cottage, Woodbine...

Fraoch Cottage in 2008, before renovation

Ivy Cottage in 2014, before renovation

Following the First World War, many of the estates in the Black Isle and Easter Ross were sold off and broken up, tenants with tenure being offered the first right to buy. The 1918 Newhall Estate sale documents included a coloured map, an extract of which is set out at the end to show the crofts at the eastern end of the Cullicudden Straight.

In consequence of the sale of the Estate of Newhall, the Camerons and the Murrays thereupon went from tenants to owner-occupiers of their crofts. It was only a matter of time before the two families became related by marriage.

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Reminiscences of Duncan Mackay, Alness Ferry

When my father, who was born in 1910, was young, Ivy Cottage was occupied by Donald Murray (the crofter there) and his brother Hugh Murray (the head carpenter, who had the workshop there). Another Murray brother, Willie, lived in the Corrie, was a carpenter too and was very religious (he was an elder in the church and would sometimes preach). When my brother George knocked the Corrie down to build the current Corrie, a frayed black bowler came flying out. Dad felt it may have been Willie Murray's tucked away in the eaves.

Dad remembered when Ivy Cottage was done up, back in the 20s or 30s. The roof was raised up. Hugh Murray did the mason work on the improvements, while Jeemuck the Wright did the woodwork. Dad mentioned that Sheila Murray used to have a great portrait of Hugh Murray, very lifelike, by a Gordon Cameron, an artist originally from the area.

To the west of the drive going in to Ivy Cottage was a workshop, with circular saw and engine (sometimes difficult to start). In the lean-to to the west end was where the coffins were made. At night, eight folk would carry the coffin from the lean-to to the appropriate house, taking turns four about. Hugh and a helper would put the body in the coffin, and everyone would have a whisky at the wyke.

One night Dad was helping to carry the coffin when out of the darkness came a man on a bike without lights on, ran into the coffin, and was greatly shaken. Dad was at the front, and the man, a ploughman from Resolis, who was on a racing bike and hence had his head down, went between Dad and the other chap carrying the coffin, and was winded; didn't damage the coffin but had to sit down for a while.

Camerons, Murrays and Holms

We are fortunate to have a quality picture incorporating representatives from the Cameron and Murray families, along with, of course, some Holm representatives. Many of the Camerons and Murrays married Holms, but the connection in this picture was, I believe, purely social. I understand it was taken when they had gone to Inverness to sign the forms to take on the ownership of their land, so the date must have been just after the war, and shows how significant the event was to them.

left to right, Don Cameron (Fraoch Cottage), William Cameron ("Dom") (Fraoch Cottage), John Holm (at back, later of Balmungie),
Tommy Holm (later of Easter Alness Ferry), Evan Holm (at back, Easter Ferryton) and, with beard, Hugh Murray (Ivy Cottage).
Hugh allegedly was nicknamed "Adam" as he was the original perfect man who could do nothing wrong – to his way of thinking!

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The Cameron family of Fraoch Cottage

The earliest members of the dynasty we have identified are David Cameron and Barbara McLeod, the parents of agricultural labourer William Cameron, as identified on his death certificate. William was born, according to census returns, in Inverness-shire around 1812, but no record has turned up, which is surprising for a relatively late date. The informant was his son John, whom you would expect to know, but nevertheless...

William married Margaret Holm, and, again, we know her parents from her death certificate: crofter Donald Holm and Isabella Fraser. Or do we? Margaret we know from the 1881 census return was born in Alness Ferry in Resolis, and from her ages set out on six census returns and her death certificate, her birth year was 1819–1821. However, no Margaret Holm is recorded in the baptism register to parents of that name in that period. Suspiciously, on 8 September 1819 one Margaret Holm was baptised (born 5 August) but to John Holm ferrier of Alness (i.e. in Alness Ferry) & Isobel Fraser, and I have to say the coincidence of names and location raises a doubt in my mind as to whether or not the "Donald" on her death certificate was completed in error for "John" – again it was her son John who was the informant which makes it unlikely you would think, but by 1896 perhaps some confusion had arisen. It is curious that both sets of information reported by John prove untraceable. As Margaret was a pauper by the time she died, there may be further information in the relief records. Further investigation needed!

William was working at Colony, Parish of Cromarty, when he married Margaret Holm. William and Margaret’s marriage in 1839 was recorded in both the Cromarty and the Resolis parish registers:

27th. December 1839. William Cameron, labourer, at Udale, and Margaret Holm, in the Parish of Resolis, were married.
William Cameron at Colony in the Parish of Cromarty and Margaret Holm at Resolis in this Parish were contracted and married in due time the 6th. of December 1839.

Colony, in the context of William Cameron, was very close to and directly above the Estate of Udale but was actually part of the Cromarty Estate. Resolis, in the context of Margaret Holm, is the area of the parish of Resolis nowadays comprising Resolis Mains, Resolis Cottage and the immediate vicinity.

They lived for quite some time at Colony, as the couple and two young daughters can be found there in the 1841 census, and Roderick John was born there in 1842 and baptised in Cromarty in 1843. William is given as a labourer, agricultural labourer or general labourer in this period. By the 1851 Census, they had moved to Resolis where they resided until their death. It can be difficult to tell the exact location of families in census returns, but from the pattern of entry of families in the 1861 census, and the positive identification of other family locations, we can tell that William Cameron and Margaret Holm were already in what would become known as Fraoch Cottage.

Their son, Roderick John, often named in the records simply as John, was a shoemaker, sometimes recorded as a journeyman shoemaker, indicating that for some time he travelled the country plying his craft, and later as master shoemaker. He married Helen Smith in 1874, and many were the children born into tiny Fraoch Cottage. Helen Frances Geddes Smith was the daughter of the former grieve at Newhall Mains, and later tenant farmer in his own right, Banffshire man William Smith (c.1812–1894) and his first wife Jessie Donaldson (c.1811–1865).

Note that when William Smith died, the informant, Donald Cameron, provided two key erroneous pieces of information to the registrar, so those searching for William Smith’s antecedents need to go by the information contained in earlier register entries – the Camerons seem to have been almost wilfully difficult in the information they provided to registrars.

Indeed, even the information on Roderick John Cameron’s own gravestone is incorrect, indicating he was 82 when he died on 17 February 1929, when from the records he was indisputably born on 1 November 1842 and hence was 86 when he died.

Many of the Fraoch Cottage children are still remembered by local folk. Several were great singers, and "The Dom" is said to have appeared at the Mod. Of those who did not marry, there was Robert, who lived at Fraoch Cottage and died there in 1939, Helen who lived at Fraoch Cottage right through to 1957, James Alexander who died in Fraoch Cottage in 1965, Elizabeth or Lizzie who lived there although she died in Raigmore Hospital in 1965. There were the siblings who married, including Jessie, who married Burghead innkeeper John Nicholson in 1899, Margaret who married Aberfeldy ironmonger Alexander McIntosh in 1902, and Roderick John, a commercial traveller, who married Hilda Marx Stewart at St Machar, Aberdeen, in 1911. Curiously, Roderick John Cameron is recorded as having changed his name to John Roderick Cameron!

It was Donald who, in marrying Annie Murray from Ivy Cottage in 1915, set up the link between neighbouring families and indeed neighbouring cottages. Though residing at Springfield as a ploughman for some time, he moved to live in Ivy Cottage with Annie, where he remained until his death in 1952. Don was commonly known as "Dan", or "Dan the Dung Machine" – the unfortunate nickname arose due to the boast he once made, often repeated, of being a great muck spreader: "Give me a graip, and a forty acre field!" He can be seen on the far left of the group photograph, and his family’s smart and unusual gravestone in Cullicudden can be seen above, close to the tall obelisk of similar red granite commemorating some of the Murrays of Newmills and Ivy Cottage which can be seen top left.

The most distinguished sibling of that generation, William Cameron ("The Dom"), schoolmaster of Petty, never married, and indeed returned to live in Fraoch Cottage with his siblings and died there in 1933 at the relatively young age of 58. Everyone had a distinctive nickname in those days, and "The Dom", for "dominie" or schoolteacher, was perfectly apt. He is seated beside his brother Don in the group photograph.

To the parish in that period, a young man from a poor crofting background rising to become a schoolmaster was something of a prodigy, and everybody marvelled at the success of William Cameron "The Dom".

A simplified family tree of the Cameron family of Fraoch Cottage is set out below.


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The Murray family of Ivy Cottage

The dynasty of the Murray family who occupied the adjacent Ivy Cottage included several generations of millers at Newmills and several generations of carpenters and undertakers.

Millers were generally tenants on a more sound basis than most as a steadier income was assured, but the Murrays seem to have bucked this trend, with the second generation miller dying relatively young as a pauper.

I first note a Robert Murray as miller in Newmills in 1802, on the baptism of his son John, and we’ll pick up the family in that generation. I note that the family gravestone at Cullicudden is one of the very few to contain Gaelic, and the Census returns indicate that even in 1881 the Murrays in Ivy Cottage spoke only Gaelic.

I know not what the origins of this first Robert Murray were, although I note that in 1800 a chap called Cumming who had the lint mill at St Martins was that year taking over the rent of the mill there then in the possession of one Robert Murray, so there is just the possibility that this first Robert Murray, miller in Newmills, had been miller in St Martins previously.

This first Robert Murray was a communicant for many years and was elected an elder in 1840 and several of his descendants were noted for being very devout Christians.

His son Robert before taking over as the miller was a carpenter and wright, and picked up quite a few jobs from the Church. I see in 1823 that "Thereafter the Session finding that the Tent was entirely out of repair & that there were no Communion Tables for the congregation without doors appointed Robert Murray Newmills to repair the Tent & make the Tables." And he repaired the Elders’ seat in 1832, and was paid by the Session for making coffins for the poor – three coffins in 1836, one in 1838 and another in 1841.

I assume that the families who could pay funeral expenses themselves used Robert as coffin-maker as well, so it would have been a good business. It is intriguing to note that the Murrays of Ivy Cottage in more recent times were carpenters and undertakers. The Murrays who were thus coffin-makers for several generations in Resolis complemented perfectly the Holm family who had been the gravediggers for several generations.

The two millers of Newmills suffered from complaints which excused them from militia duty. You need to take this with a pinch of salt, of course, as it is extraordinary how many people developed conditions when it came to be balloted to serve in the militia.

Robert Murray senior appears in the 1814 Resolis Militia List "Newmills ... Robert Murray miller x >30 Deaf".

His son appears in later lists: (1825) "Newmills Robert Murray miller’s son <30 lame of his leg E [excused]", (1826) "Newmills ... Robert Murray wright <30 lame of his leg Ex", (1828) "Newmills ... Robert Murray wright <30 lame of his foot Ex" and (1831) "Newmills ... Robert Murray wright <30 lame of his leg Exd".

Despite his infirmity, Robert Murray seems to have been a successful carpenter, but moved on to become miller when his father died. This must have occurred between 1841 and 1851 as three generations of Robert Murray can be found in Newmills in 1841, but only the latter two in 1851.

The first miller married one Elizabeth Sutherland, but we do not know much of her origins. The first son we pick up in the records was John, baptised 4 May 1802 with parents "Robert Murray miller in Newmilns & Elisabeth Sutherland". Jannet followed in 1803 and Robert in 1805.

That last boy, the carpenter or wright, married twice. His first wife was Jemima Munro from Brea, whom he married on 17 October 1834. They had many children: Donald in 1835, Robert in 1837, Jennet in 1839, Elizabeth in 1841, Anne in 1843 and Findlay in 1844. Jemima must have died not long afterwards as he married Helen Holm on 9 January 1848 "Robert Murray miller Newmills of Newhall in this parish &Helen Holme residing in the same place". They went on to have another batch of children: another Donald in 1849, John in 1851, William in 1853, another Janet in 1856, George in 1858, Hugh in 1860 (by which time Robert was described as cabinet-maker in Cullicudden – he had given up the mill in Newmills), and Duncan in 1862 (by which time Robert was described as a pauper and ex-miller).

The mill buildings at Newmills, Resolis

Three generations of Robert Murrays, two with their wives, can be seen at the mill at Newmills in 1841:
Robert Murray 67 Miller
Elizabeth Sutherland 60
Robert Murray 31 Miller
Jemima Munro 26
Robert Murray 3
Jennet Murray 2
Henrietta Ferguson 13
Hector Holm 18 AL
Jennet Munro 20 FS

And at Newmills in 1851, by which time, of course, his first wife, Jemima Munro had died (sometime between the birth of their last child in 1844 and his marriage with his second wife, Helen Holm in 1848):
Robert Murray head m 45 miller Resolis
Helen Murray wife m 25 housekeeper Resolis
Robert Murray son u 13 scholar Resolis
Donald Murray son – 1½ – Resolis
John Gibb servant u 20 farm servant Resolis
Margaret Gray servant u 18 farm servant Urquhart
Janet Holm visitor u 39 pauper Resolis

By 1861, Robert was a pauper and cabinet-maker at Cullicudden, in the location to be known as Ivy Cottage; at this time it is recorded as having two windowed rooms.
Robert Murray head m 55 pauper (cabinetmaker) Resolis
Helen Murray wife m 35 cabinetmaker’s wife Resolis
John Murray son 9 scholar Resolis
William Murray son 7 Resolis
Janet Murray daur 5 Resolis
George Murray son 3 Resolis
Hugh Murray son 11mo Resolis

How had a miller been reduced to being a pauper? In the Cromarty Sheriff Court records in 1841, 1845 and 1852 there were processes to collect debts from Robert Murray, so the troubles had started very far back.

Robert died a pauper here in Cullicudden in 1864 but Helen outlived him by an extraordinary 55 years, dying in Ivy Cottage on Christmas Day 1919, aged 93. Helen’s parents had been mason Donald Holm and Isabella Ross, who married in Rosskeen in 1808 ("18th Novr. 1808 Then were contracted in order to marry Donald Holm in the Parish of Risolis & Isobel Ross in this Parish"), and were living at Alness Ferry in 1816 and Springfield in 1824. Helen’s brother William lived at Ferryton as crofter, although he had served for a long time in the 93rd Regiment, and her sister Janet continued to live with the Murrays in Cullicudden until her death in 1890.

Helen Murray ms Holm can be seen at the cottage in Cullicudden in the 1871 Census, farming the croft, while two of her sons continue with her husband’s carpentry business. By now the cottage had three windowed rooms.
Helen Murray head w 44 crofter of 12 acres 5 arable Resolis
John Murray son 20 carpenter Resolis
William Murray son 18 carpenter Resolis
Hugh Murray son 10 scholar Resolis

By 1881, her son Donald had taken over the croft, and I note from the Census that year that both he and his mother spoke only Gaelic.
Donald Murray head u 31 farmer of 12 acres emp 1 man Newmills G
Ellen Murray mother w 55 farmer’s mother Resolis G
George Murray brother u 22 do. brother Newmills
Hugh Murray brother u 20 do. brother Cullicudden

Donald had departed by 1891 – in 1888 he had married Isabella Holm. Isabella was the daughter of Robert Holm, a stone-mason and Ann Munro. Their daughter Annie, who would in due course marry Donald Cameron of Fraoch Cottage, was born in 1889 but sadly Isabella herself died in 1898. Annie was responsible for the inscription on the family stone in Cullicudden which reads: "Also my parents / DONALD MURRAY died 31st May 1935 / ISABELLA HOLM died 31st July 1898.".

With Donald’s departure, his mother Helen had returned to being the head of the household in the 1891 Census.
Helen Murray head w 65 living on private means Resolis
Hugh Murray son s 30 carpenter Resolis
Jessie Murray daur s 34 general servant (domestic) Resolis

But close by at the location to become known as The Corrie, one of her other sons, William, had settled. His housekeeper was none other than Isabella, one of the Camerons of Ivy Cottage!
William Murray head s 37 carpenter and farmer Resolis GE
Bella Cameron servant s 48 general servant Cromarty GE

She continued as housekeeper until her death in 1931.

By 1901, Donald Murray had returned, a widower, as head of the household, and his mother again took a back seat. The cottage by this time had 6 windowed rooms, and Donald and his mother could now converse in both Gaelic and English.
Donald Murray head widr 49 farmer do. do. G&E
Helen Murray mother w 73 farmer’s mother do. do. G&E
Hugh Murray brother s 38 cartwright & house carpenter do. do. G&E
Annie Murray daur 11 scholar do. do. G&E

The Corrie household was unchanged:
William Murray head s 46 cartwright & crofter Resolis G&E
Isabella Cameron serv s 57 housekeeper domestic do. Cromarty G&E

And by 1911, the last Census before the Great War that was to change rural structures forever, the two households were exactly as they had been.
Donald Murray head wdr 61 crofter Resolis ge
Annie Murray daur s 21 Resolis
Hugh Murray brother s 48 carpenter, crofter Resolis ge
Helen Murray mother w 85 Resolis ge
William Murray head s 56 carpenter, crofter Resolis ge
Bella Cameron serv s 68 housekeeper (domestic) Cromarty ge

To summarise the Murray family history:
Robert Murray (c.1774–post 1841) miller in Newmills=Elizabeth Sutherland (c.1781–post 1841)
Robert Murray (1805–1864) carpenter and then miller Newmills, carpenter and pauper Cullicudden
married, first Jemima Munro (c1815-post 1844) in 1834 (she was from Brae)
married, second Helen Holm (c.1826–1919) in 1848 (her parents were mason Donald Holm and Isabella Ross)
a) Donald (born 1849 at Newmills–died 1935 at Ivy Cottage)=1888=Isabella Holm (1847–1898; parents Robert Holm mason St Martins and Annie Munro, who married in 1835; in turn Robert Holm was son of Andrew Holm tenant in Blarikey and then St Martins and Ann Allan; and Annie Munro was the daughter of James Munro meal-miller and Ann Holm). The daughter of Donald Murray and Isabella Holm was Annie Murray who married into the Camerons of Fraoch Cottage.
b) Hugh (1860–1946, single) carpenter, lived and worked at Ivy Cottage. See group photograph.
c) William (1853–1921) crofter and undertaker, lived in the Corrie.


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The Crofts

Plan of tenants and their land, Newhall Estate sale, 1918

In 1918, at the time of the sale of most of Newhall Estate:

Lot 15 was in the occupation of John [i.e. shoemaker Roderick John] Cameron (the easternmost building being Fraoch Cottage)

Lots 17 (nowadays Ivy Cottage) and 17a to D. Murray

Lot 18 (nowadays the Corrie) to William Murray [i.e. the undertaker].

The hatched line is the Cromarty to Conon Bridge railway line which was largely built by the First World War but was then abandoned.


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William Murray and Bella Cameron, and the Corrie

Now, let’s return to the Corrie, in which another brother, William Murray, lived for many years with his housekeeper, Bella Cameron.

The site is currently occupied by a modern, comfortable bungalow built by the Kirkmichael Trust’s Treasurer, but at the time of this story contained a typical corrugated-iron-roofed cottage of the area. The entrance way shown here was just around the bend from the Cullicudden Straight, where cars hurtling down the long stretch of straight road were unprepared for emerging traffic. George wisely shifted the entrance much further to the east. Even so, cars, especially around New Year, often leave the road via the fences here, on one occasion famously running through the top field, smashing through the gate on Alness Ferry road and demolishing the war memorial at Resolis Crossroads.

The Corrie

Willie Murray like his father and brother was a carpenter, and was very religious. His inscription on the family gravestone in Cullicudden mentions this at length: "And / WILLIAM / a respected Free Church / Elder who served / his native parish and / his church in the Lord. / died 23. Sep. 1921 / aged 68 years. / ‘Bithidh cuimhne gu br’ath / air an fhirean choir.’"

The Gaelic quotation, one of very few in Resolis, is from the Book of Psalms and is clearly indicative of his devout character: "There should be an everlasting memory of the righteous man".

Bella Cameron can be seen in the Census returns as the housekeeper here in the Corrie for decades. When she died in 1931, the informant was none other than "William Cameron nephew School House Petty" – "the Dom".

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