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

Colin Davidson of Jemimaville, Master Tailor – and Rioter
and the Davidsons of Knock na Fanaig, Ferintosh

text by Dr Jim Mackay   references are to National Records of Scotland unless otherwise stated

Jemimaville, by Udale Bay; photo courtesy of Black Isle Images

Whilst Colin Davidson was not born in the Parish of Resolis, he resided in it for 60 years and was involved in one of its most famous events: the march of parishioners from Resolis to the Courthouse in Cromarty to free Margaret Cameron. This incident apart, he seems to have lived his life as a tailor in the village of Jemimaville very quietly, marrying Mary MacDonald, a girl from the neighbourhood where he had played as a child. They had one child themselves, a son, William, who became first a butler in several grand homes and then a worker in a jute factory in Dundee. There were many descendants from that one son.


The Legality of the Marriage of Colin Davidson’s Parents

Colin Davidson and his sister Ann were born in Knock na Fanaig, beside Easter Kinkell, in the parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester in 1806 and 1804 respectively. Their baptisms were in unusual circumstances because there was doubt over the legality of the marriage of their parents, Donald Davidson and Isabel Gilmore.

This may have been due to their not being associated with the Established Church at the time of their marriage. This was just about the period when the Congregational Church was making waves in the Highlands and Established Church ministers had to be forced legally to record baptisms of congregationalists in the Parish Registers. Alternatively, perhaps Donald Davidson and Isabel Gilmore simply had one of the “irregular marriages” common in Scotland at the time!

The parish of Killearnan is where Isabel Gilmore came from but the parish Marriage Register, in which you might expect to find her marriage record, is not extant for the relevant period. The parish Kirk Session minutes are not extant during this period for either of the two relevant parishes, Urquhart and Killearnan, in which you might expect to find deliberations on the problem. And the case is not mentioned in the records of the two relevant Presbyteries, Dingwall and Chanonry, indicating that the issue was not appealed to a higher court. But it would be interesting to know the nature of the dispute.

Parish of Urquhart & Logie Wester Baptisms
1804 June … 25th Baptized … Anne daughter of Donald Davidson in Knocknafenack and of his reputed spouse Isabel Gilmar N.B. This child was held up for baptism by Colin Gilmar of the parish of Redcastle the mother’s father as sponsor there being doubts to the legality of the marriage of the parents.
1806 … March 3rd Baptised … Colin, son of Donald Davidson and Isabel McDonald alias Gilmar in Knocknafennack N.B. This child was held up for baptism in presence of the father by John Davidson his Brother, acting as sponsor, there being doubts as to the legality of the marriage of the parents which have not yet been cleared up.

Colin Davidson was undoubtedly named after his maternal grandfather, Colin Gilmore of the parish of Killearnan, commonly called the parish of Redcastle. Colin Gilmore was a weaver at Kilcoy in that parish and he and wife Elizabeth Junior (Junor) had four children baptised over the period 1763 to 1773. Colin was an Elder in Killearnan Kirk Session so his appearing as sponsor of his grand-daughter at her baptism must have been accorded some respect. I do not know after whom Ann Davidson was named.

Note the location of Donald Davidson and Isabel Gilmore: Knocknafenack or, nowadays, Knock na Fanaig, beside the village of Easter Kinkell in the Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester. The Davidson family resided there for almost a century.

Both the children, Colin and Ann Davidson, were to move from Knock na Fanaig when they grew up, relocating first to Gordon’s Mill beside Kirkmichael. By the way, we can assume there would have been more children than Colin and Ann in this period of large families. We know there was at least one other, a daughter called Janet (c1811–1893), whose baptism doesn’t appear at all in the register. Presumably the Established Church gave up baptising the children altogether over the disputed nature of their parents’ marriage.


Relocating to Resolis

Whilst his father was a weaver, young Colin Davidson moved up from the weaving trade to become a tailor. We read in 1843 of his returning to Kinkell for a few days when he made clothes for his father and a friend there. In reality he was at this time hiding from the law, but it does show a continuing affection for his family and friends in his original home. I presume he would have used the woollen cloth produced by his father in making at least some of his clothes.

Gordon’s Mill; photo by Jim Mackay

About 1831 the young Colin must have decided to launch himself independently, moving from Kinkell to Gordon’s Mill, just a few hundred yards away from Kirkmichael in our Parish of Resolis. That is the year I first pick him up at the small settlement. Certainly that is the year he first appears in the militia records, and he does not feature in the previous militia record of 1828, so that is the period of his move from the parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester to the adjacent parish of Resolis.

Kirkmichael viewed from Gordon’s Mill; photo by Jim Mackay

He appears not as a man selected by ballot to serve in the militia, although he was on the lists, but unusually as a man paid to serve in the stead of someone who had been selected by ballot. His neighbour Dermaid Macdermaid was prepared to pay Colin to get himself out of it.

At Cromarty the twenty second day of April Eighteen Hundred and thirty one years.
In a Meeting of the Lieutenancy of the County of Cromarty held here this day in consequence of public advertisement called for the purpose of Swearing in the Men Balloted when the following as Lord Lieutenant and Deputy Lieutenants attended … Thereafter the Balloted men for the parish of Resolis being called upon, appeared Dermaid Macdermaid from Gordons Mill in the said parish who produced to the Meeting Colin Davidson Tailor in Gordons Mill as his Substitute, and the said Substitute being Examined was found a fit and proper person for Serving in the Militia and he was sworn in accordingly.

Fortunately for Colin the militia duties would have extended only to a few weeks training per year as in this period the militia were not generally deployed in action. The militia could be called out for local police actions, to keep the peace, and in national emergencies. It is amusing to think that Colin himself would become involved in a riot and prison-breaking in a few years time!

Also in that tiny hamlet of Gordon’s Mill at the time was his sister Ann Davidson, who had married labourer Hugh Munro. They had a child there in 1832:

Parish of Resolis Baptism Register
[baptised] 16 February 1832 Hugh Munro labourer at Gordon’s Mills & Ann Davidson – Isabel [born] 13 February

I’m pretty sure Hugh and Ann had married the previous year at Gordon’s Mill although Ann’s second name was incorrectly recorded (one of a series of incorrect recordings associated with the Davidson family):

Parish of Resolis Marriage Register
Hugh Munro and Ann McKenzie [sic] residing at Gordonsmills both in this Parish were contracted and married in due time 8th of April 1831

It cannot be coincidence that Colin and Ann are both found in Gordon’s Mill in the same period; perhaps Colin moved first, and Ann joined him there to look after the house as was commonly done, and she and Hugh Munro hit it off. But brother and sister were soon to part and shift away from Gordon’s Mill – the Munros moved up the hill a short distance to Balblair, whilst Colin Davidson moved the short distance around the Bay of Udale to the young village of Jemimaville.

By 1834 in Jemimaville, Colin Davidson must have felt sufficiently established in his tailor business to start a family himself. He married Mary MacDonald (1802–1893), clearly someone he had known before his move to Resolis, for she was of – yes, Knock na Fanaig! She had been born there in 1802 to parents John McDonald and Isabel Gordon. Colin would have returned to Urquhart for the marriage, conducted by the famous Reverend John MacDonald, “The Apostle of the North”, whose story may be found here.

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Marriage Register
1834 … May … 16th Colin Davidson, Tailor, Jemima Village, Parish of Resolis, and Mary McDonald, Knocknafanaig: Married by Revd. Jo: McDonald.

Colin and Mary had only the one child, William, born on 5th February 1841 and baptised on the 15th of that month.

Why they did not have more children in this time of large families we cannot tell.

His sister Ann was well on her way to a large family, having had three children, Isabel in 1832, Alexander in 1834 and Janet in 1836. And then her husband suddenly died, leaving the family in such distress that the Kirk Session had to step in, pay for his burial expenses and start supporting the children.

Parish of Resolis Kirk Session Minutes 12 December 1837
Paid for a Coffin for Hugh Munro Balblair -.10.-
For digging for Hugh Munro a Grave -.1.6

On the Recommendation of one of the Elders to add to the third Class for the first time … Widow Munro Balblair

The boy Alexander Munro was taken in by his grandparents back in Knock na Fanaig. I don’t know what happened to Janet Munro, but Isabel Munro would later marry ploughman Alexander McDonald, and her widowed mother would eventually move in with them. Families rallied round to assist when tragedies like this occurred.

Brother Colin Davidson seems to have been relatively successful as a tailor as by 1841 he had taken on an apprentice:

1841 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville
Colin Davidson 35 Tailor
Mary Davidson 40
William Davidson 6 months
Alexr McKenzie 16 Tailor Ap

There were to be exciting times ahead!


The 1843 Resolis Disruption Riot and Cromarty Jail Break

the former Church of Scotland on Fanny’s Brae, Resolis, which the presbytery and gentry were trying to reach against a barrage of stones thrown by the Resolis parishioners in September 1843; photo by Jim Mackay

The violent resistance to the inauguration of a new minister at Resolis Church in September 1843, following the departure of Reverend Donald Sage and most of the Congregation to the newly-formed Free Church, is well documented in other stories in this series – just search for the word “riot” in the index. Similarly, the subsequent jail-break at the Cromarty Courthouse to release rioter Margaret Cameron, Reverend Sage’s dairymaid, has its own story here.

two rough prisoners in the cells at the Courthouse in Cromarty

However, we have never looked at the testimony of Colin Davidson before. He was not personally involved in the Riot at Resolis Church, but was charged with mobbing and rioting, rescuing persons from lawful custody and prisonbreaking at Cromarty. He was to be tried at the High Court in Edinburgh on 10 January 1844, but was one of those against whom charges were dropped before the actual trial.

the High Court of Justiciary Edinburgh; source Wikipedia under Creative Commons Licence

I attach Colin Davidson’s complete testimony in an Appendix to this Story, along with some supplementary extracts from NRS files AD14/44/443 and JC/1844/367 in which he features. His declarations are very cleverly put, with himself depicted as just an innocent observer who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to his story, he could not identify anyone involved in any of the actionable activities and certainly wasn’t involved himself. The stick he was carrying – why, it was a walking stick of course. And he hadn’t lit out after the event ‐ he had merely gone to make clothing for his father and a friend over in Kinkell in Ferintosh! His own clothing was quite natty: he declared that on the day of the jailbreak he wore a gray cloth Coat and a moleskin waistcoat and trousers. He had a blue bonnet on his head.

His first involvement was on the night of the riot at Resolis Church itself, when there were dramatic events in Jemimavlle. The gig carrying Margaret Cameron to jail in Cromarty had stopped opposite the kitchen at Walter Ross’s Inn at Jemimaville on the way back. The gig couldn’t proceed due to the presence of a crowd. The two occupants, John Dingwall and Kinbeachie farmer Roderick MacRae, decided to have a drink at the pub there as a reward for their heroic task of carrying the dairymaid to jail. They were shown to an upstairs room, but Walter Ross was to testify that a number of people followed them into the house and upstairs. The crowd brought Macrae to the outside of the house while Dingwall escaped by the back door.

the gig must have stopped just about the bus shelter here, opposite the former Poyntzfield Arms Inn which Jane Duncan fan Karen, her sister and I are passing on a short tour of Jane Duncan sites; photo by Davine Sutherland

Colin Davidson from his house a few doors away (he declared, although I suspect he was one of the crowd!) heard a great noise and coming up from his house to the Inn found a crowd of people outside, hissing at MacRae, who escaped west without the gig. It was too dark for him to recognise anyone in the crowd (although strangely he recognised MacRae!) and he didn’t see anyone striking MacRae. He saw the gig on the beach the following day, broken, but he hadn’t assisted in the vandalism and hadn’t seen anyone else doing it. He had come down to the Inn that evening – but only to buy some thread from the Innkeeper who kept a shop at one end of the Inn.

a horse-drawn gig which usually carried one or two people, which raises the question how they managed to squeeze in two men and the “the stout virago” Margaret Cameron when rushing away from the riot to the jail at the Courthouse

Yes, he was in Cromarty the next day, the day of the prison break, but only to negotiate buying a barrel of herring. He just happened to be overtaken on the road by the crowd descending on Cromarty. He didn’t go directly to the Jail, but went into the shop of Bailie Donald Ross to purchase a half ounce of snuff. He then went to the Jail, but didn’t go into the Jail Yard but stood on the opposite side of the road. He did speak with the Sheriff Clerk who was standing by the Jail gate (so Colin couldn’t have been on the opposite side of the road), but it was only an innocent question as to if the woman would get out on Bail. He didn’t see the doors being broken down, although he heard the noise of it. Saw the woman on a cart on the road coming home, and joined the crowd on the way back, but separated from them at Jemimaville and went into his own house. Spent the weekend at his own house, and then left Jamimaville and went to the house of his father Donald Davidson weaver Kinkell in the parish of Ferrintosh where he remained till the Eighteenth day of October. During the time he remained with his father he was employed making clothes for his father and a man of the name of Alexander Fraser a friend of his. Declares that his wife informed him that officers were in search of him and that it was in consequence of this Information that the Declarant returned to Jamimaville. All which is truth and Declares that he cannot write.

the Courthouse at Cromarty, scene of much of the action in this story. Colin Davidson claimed to have kept to one side of the street, but also said he was speaking to somebody at the gate; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The evidence of several witnesses was that in reality he was very active in the riot. They placed him in the riot and beside the gate to the jail, but not inside the Jail Yard itself. I suspect if there had been a single piece of evidence placing him inside the Yard instead of out on the street the authorities would have carried prosecution through. As it was, although he was arraigned for trial, the charges were dropped late in the day. He could consider himself very lucky.


Later Days of Colin Davidson in Jemimaville

The experience clearly didn’t do Colin any lasting harm. By 1851 he was considered a master tailor and employed a journeyman tailor to assist him in reaching his markets:

1851 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville
Colin Davidson head married 40 master tailor employing 1 man born Urquhart
Mary Davidson wife married 40 housekeeper born Urquhart
Willm Davidson son 10 scholar born Resolis
George Urquhart servant unmarried 25 journeyman tailor born Resolis

There is little more to add. Colin remained in Jemimaville for the rest of his long life, and we can see him in consecutive Census returns there for 1861, 1871 and 1881. I don’t know if he ever moved house whilst residing in the village, but I note that in the 1861 Census return his “Tailors Shop” was adjacent to Reverend Donald Sage in the Free Church Manse! In 1881, his house is given again as next door to the Free Church Manse, now occupied by Reverend John McIver. In each case, it was on the east side of the Manse. In the first edition 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map below (surveyed 1872) I have spotted the Free Church Manse in blue and the first house to the east in yellow, so that must be where Colin was residing.


Nowadays this house is known as Rose Cottage, and was long associated with Jane Duncan, the best-selling author of the My Friend … series whose books continue to be loved the world over. And before that, it was owned by my great grandparents George Munro, retired grieve at Farness, and Annie Grant Macaskill!

Colin_Davidson_story_IMG_2085 Rose Cottage JaneDuncans.jpg
Rose Cottage, with Carlann and Ben; photo by Jim Mackay

There was a much larger tailor’s shop to the west, which even had symbols of the trade high on the wall, but this kind of opulence was not to be the fortune of Colin Davidson. And in Kirkmichael there is a headstone displaying a pair of scissors, again the symbol of the trade of a tailor. But again, poor Colin does not appear to have been commemorated with a headstone at all.

the symbols of the tailor on the wall of a house further along the street in Jemimaville; photo by Jim Mackay

tailor symbol on a headstone in Kirkmichael; photo by Jim Mackay

Colin died in 1888, still resident in Jemimaville. The informant was Alexander McDonald who described himself as “husband of niece”. Alexander at this time was a ploughman at Braelangwell and had married in 1860 Isabel Munro, daughter of the Hugh Munro who had expired very young in 1837 and Ann Davidson, Colin’s sister. He often acted as informant at the Registrar’s and although he could not write – perhaps in fact because he could not write – he was always highly reliable in terms of the information he carried in his head.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Colin Davidson tailor (married to Mary McDonald) died 17 March 1888 at Jamimaville age 80 parents Donald Davidson hand-loom weaver (d) Isabella Davidson ms McDonald (d) informant Alexander McDonald his x mark husband of niece (present)

In their old age, informant Alexander McDonald and Isabel Munro actually moved into Jemimaville themselves.

a Kirkmichael Trust guided tour of Jemimaville pauses outside the former Poyntzfield Arms Inn, where Colin Davidson observed the gig incident on 29 September 1843; photo by Andrew Dowsett


Parochial Relief

In those days, the loss of a husband always left a family in an impoverished state. We have seen that Colin’s sister, Ann Davidson, when her husband Hugh Munro had died unexpectedly in 1837, had to go onto the parochial relief for the parish. From the evidence of the Census returns, Ann continued to reside most of her years in her tiny cottage at Balblair with its one room with a window. When younger she had worked as a farm servant, but when older she knitted stockings to generate some income. She came off parochial relief when her children began working, but was soon back on it again due to disability. But in the longer term, she seems to have come off support so she must have regained her health.

By 1881 Ann had moved from Balblair to reside in family with her daughter Isabel at Udale, where son-in-law Alexander McDonald was now working as a ploughman. She died there ten years later:

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
Ann Munro widow of Hugh Munro agricultural labourer died 20 Jan 1891 at Udale Cromarty age 85 parents Donald Davidson woollen weaver (d) Isabella Davidson ms MacDonald (d) informant Alexander MacDonald his x mark son-in-law present

When Colin Davidson died, his wife, Mary McDonald, also became dependent upon parochial relief but being much more elderly never came off it. She ended her days in the Black Isle Combination Poorhouse in Rosemarkie. The Parochial Relief records for the Parish of Resolis state (and they tell a sorry tale):

Widow Colin Davidson
[Residence] Poor House [Age] 80 [Date of Minute of Parochial Board authorising relief] 4th Dec 1890 [Parish of Birth] Urquhart (Ross) [Condition] Widow] [Trade or Occupation] Widow of Tailor [Wholly or Partially Disabled] Wholly [Description of Disablement] Debility [Wholly or Partially Destitute] Wholly [Children] William mill worker in Dundee [Dates] 1893 29 March Died

the former Black Isle Combination Poorhouse in Rosemarkie; photo by Jim Mackay

As stated in the Parochial Relief records, Mary died in 1893, and her death was recorded in Rosemarkie.

Parish of Rosemarkie Deaths
Mary Davidson pauper (widow of Colin Davidson tailor) died 29 Mar 1893 at Black Isle Poorhouse, Rosemarkie age 83 parents John MacDonald crofter (d) Elizabeth MacDonald ms Gordon (d) informant Robt. Lumsden Governor of Poor House (present)


William Davidson (1841–1920), Butler and Calender Operator

And what of William, the solitary son of Colin and Mary? The parochial record in 1890 said that he was a mill worker in Dundee. Well, he did end up in the jute mills of Dundee, but that’s not how he started his career. He had rather an unusual role.

No doubt dressed in his father’s best-crafted suit, he became a butler. I see him in 1861 as a 20 year-old “buttler” from Resolis in Dunachton House in the town of Inverness, occupied by Canadian Deputy Lieutenant Alexander MacIntosh Esq. and family. This was the Mackintosh of Mackintosh and Dunachton House was the mansion previously called Ballifeary on the bank of the River Ness in Inverness itself, purchased by the Mackintosh of Mackintosh when he moved into town and renamed it after his estate. It would not have been a long tenure, as the Mackintosh died later in 1861 at Dunachton House.

And in 1871, William Davidson was the 32-year old married butler from Resolis in the great Taymount House in Kinclaven, Perthshire, occupied by Charles Murray whose income was “derived from dividends”.

He married in between those times, on 26 September 1866 in Cambridge when he was employed, again as a butler, in the grand Woodbury Hall, Gamlingay, home of the Astell family. His wife was Mary Ann Cattermole.

Woodbury Hall

Taymount House

In 1868 they had their first child with the very fancy name of “William-Ellis Collin Davidson” when residing back up north, at 14 Douglas Row, Inverness, a few doors away from where one of our Kirkmichael volunteers now lives!

Unfortunately, with Mary Ann looking after the children, William as a butler had to be resident in the home where he was buttling and was thus separated from his family. So whilst William was serving as butler in Taymount House in 1871, Mary Ann was not that far away but in a separate house just outside Perth in Auchtergaven with two young boys and a nurse. Perhaps it was the constraints of not being able to have his family with him that made William give up being a butler.

The cottages of Douglas Row, Inverness, a far cry from the stately homes within which William Davidson was buttling

For there was now an abrupt change in career. After decades as a butler, he became (as the parochial records had said) a mill worker in Dundee. Later census returns record him in a jute mill as a jute or cloth presser or a calender worker i.e. someone who operated a machine which pressed cloth and paper together using two large rollers called calenders

a calender machine; image courtesy of Dundee Heritage Trust

a jute factory

William and Mary Ann had five children in total (William Ellis Colin in 1868, Colin John Hawes in 1870, Alice Mary Ellice in 1872, Joseph Ellis in 1875 and Harry Barker Donald in 1877), but as usual I shall not pursue the descendants into the modern era. Mary Ann Cattermole died in Dundee in 1915 and William Davidson died there five years later, in 1920.


Early days in Knock na Fanaig, Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester, with William Davidson and Ann Beaton

photo by Jim Mackay

The Davidson family resided in Knock na Fanaig from at least 1771 to 1858.

Knock na Fanaig lay within the Estate of Ferintosh, owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden. Forbes benefited from the “Ferintosh Privilege” by which no excise duty was paid on whisky produced within the estate. This was in compensation for the destruction of Ferintosh distillery by the Jacobites in the 1688 Glorious Revolution in Scotland. Inevitably whisky production (and the population of the area) soared in Ferintosh, until there were so many complaints from other distillers that the privilege was withdrawn in 1784. The Ferintosh distilleries vanished so completely that it now takes an archaeological dig to demonstrate their existence. NoSAS has excavated one distillery site at Mulchaich which can now be visited as a display site – download their leaflet here.

the NoSAS archaeological dig of a distillery kiln at Mulchaich 2013; photo © NoSAS

Knock na Fanaig, though, was a mile and a bit from the distillery at Mulchaich. It lies just west of Easter Kinkell, to the south side of the road. “Knock na” simply means “the hill of the” but “Fanaig” can mean either “lazy-beds” or the “hoodie crow”! The Trust’s Gaelic experts lean towards the hoodie-crow origin.

photo courtesy of Black Isle Images

The Davidson family’s long association with Knock na Fanaig must have been initiated in 1769. In that year William Davidson married Ann Beaton, who resided at Knock na Feanag:

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Marriage Register
1769 … Decemr. 23d.
William Davidson servant to Alexander Simson in Balnaloch was contracted with Ann Betton in Knocknafeanag & married 10th of Janry 1769

Whilst William had been a farm servant before his marriage, he now settled down with a tenancy in Knock na Fanaig to raise a family. He had been working for the Simpsons at Balnaloch, Ferintosh, a very long-established tenant family there. Balnaloch is not a name you will see now, but Roger Piercy drew my attention to Place-names of Ross and Cromarty (William J. Watson, 1904) where there is “Cornton – G. Bail’ an loch, Loch-town.” Corntown lies below Knock na Fanaig, so William Davidson did not have to go far to meet up with Ann Beaton! I see in History of the Munros of Foulis (Alexander Mackenzie, 1898) that John “Ian Mor” Munro married on 8 January 1728 “Helen, eldest daughter of Alexander Simpson, tacksman of Ballnaloch, Ferintosh” and I see more recently from the Dingwall Sheriff Court records a much later Alexander Simson gaining a tack of “Balnaloch, Ferrintosh” on 24 November 1808. Such a long period for a family to be in the same tenancy is in my experience rare.

The Davidsons similarly were for long tenants in Knock na Fanaig. It would not have been a large tenancy, just enough to live on, augmented in the case of William Davidson by labouring, and by Donald Davidson, son of William Davidson and Ann Beaton, by the trade of woollen weaving. Donald Davidson would have been the last Davidson to reside in Knock na Fanaig, dying there in 1858. I assume that Ann Beaton’s family facilitated the initial tenancy.

William Davidson and Ann Beaton had three children who appear in the baptism register, Ann, John and William, albeit the Kirk Session clerk got Ann Beaton’s first name incorrect in the third baptism.

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Baptism Register
1771 … July 25th Baptised by Mr George Watson Ann daughter to William Davidson in Cnocknafeanag & to his spouse Ann Beaton before the Congregation
1777 … Decebr. 22d. Baptised by do. John son to William Davidson in Cnocknafeanag & to his spouse Ann Beaton
1788 … June 6th Also William son to William Davidson in Cnocknafeanag & to his spouse Isabel [sic] Beaton

I’m sure they would also have had several children who are not included in the baptism register. One of those would certainly have been Donald, born sometime in the period 1774 to 1778, as estimated from his later census returns and death certificate. John (baptised in 1777) would later stand in for brother Donald when Donald’s first child was baptised in 1804, due to the dispute over whether or not Donald and his wife were legally married. Like Donald, John remained in the parish of Urquhart until his death in 1852, albeit he moved the short distance westward to Leanaig following his marriage to Helen or Nelly Matheson in 1801.

Donald continued to reside at Knock na Fanaig as a woollen weaver all his life, dying there in 1858 aged 84 years.


Macdonald alias Gilmore and Gilmore alias Macdonald

When son Colin was born, his parents were described as Donald Davidson and Isabel McDonald alias Gilmar. When Donald’s children, Colin and Ann, died, their death certificates say their parents were Donald Davidson and Isabel MacDonald, not Isabel Gilmore. Why had her name changed? Donald Davidson had certainly married (or felt he had married!) a lady called Isabel Gilmore, after all.

Readers of this series of Story behind the Stone will be familiar with the “alias” or patronymic issue associated with some families in the area. In Resolis you will find the same family at baptisms called “Mackeddie alias Cameron” or “Cameron alias Mackeddie” or simply “Mackeddie” or “Cameron”. There are numerous other examples, with the families plumping for one or the other at some point and continuing consistently thereafter. The same must have applied to the Gilmores, as Donald Davidson’s wife Isabel Gilmore later becomes Isabel MacDonald.

We can see this phenomenon with a couple who are easy to track because of their first names, weaver Harry Gilmore (born in Urquhart Parish in 1777) and Helen Gilmore. They had a child baptised when they were at Kilcoy, parish of Killearnan, in 1801, when both were called Gilmore. They moved to the parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester and were called Harry McDonald and Nelly McDonald for the next two baptisms in 1806 and 1808. And when they moved back to Mucarnich (Muckernich) in Killearnan the baptism in 1811 reads:

Parish of Killearnan Baptism Register
Killearnan 10th January 1811 … the Revd. Charles Calder Minister of Ferrintosh baptized Donald son to Harry Gilmore alias Macdonald weaver in Mucarnich and his spouse Helen Gilmore in presence of Alexander Macleod and Donald McDonald both residing in Mucarnich. The child was born the 8 Currt.

Tracing families in the Highlands can be difficult enough without having to deal with patronymics.


The Later Life and Death of Donald Davidson, Woollen Weaver in Knock na Fanaig, Kinkell, and his Spouse Isabel Gilmore or MacDonald

The only Census return on which Isabel Davidson ms Gilmore or MacDonald features is in 1841, when the ages of adults were, for no logical reason, rounded. Also in household was young Alexander Munro, born in 1834, and taken in by his grandparents after his father Hugh Munro had suddenly died at Balblair, Resolis, in 1837. The poor child is recorded as an agricultural labourer, and well do I remember working on our family farm at that age myself!

Still in household was daughter Janet Davidson, but she would shortly marry crofter and former soldier Donald McRae. The enumerator recorded both Isabel and Alexander as “N”, not born in the county. You may wonder at this, but in fact the Ferintosh Estate, remarkably, fell within the County of Nairn!

1841 Census Return – Cnocknafanaig, parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester
Donald Davidson 65 H.L. Weaver [Hand Loom Weaver] Y
Isabel do. 65 N
Janet do. 25 Y
Alexr. Munro 7 ag. lab. N

section of Southern Part of Ross and Cromarty Shires, John Thomson and John Craig, 1826; map courtesy of National Library of Scotland Re-use: CC-BY (NLS)

Janet married former soldier Donald McRae in 1846. He was from Urray originally, and had served in the 55th Regiment of Foot so presumably had taken part in the First Opium War in China in which that regiment had most recently seen action. Her mother Isabel Gilmore or MacDonald died sometime between the 1841 Census and the 1851 Census as in that period Donald Davidson became a widower and began ro reside in family with his daughter and son-in-law. I do not know if Donald McRae simply took over the Davidson small tenancy or if he had secured another one nearby, but he was recorded as head of household. Poor Donald Davidson was now on parochial relief.

1851 Census Return, parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester
Donald McRea Head Married 42 Crofter & Pensioner 55th Regt. of Foot born Urray
Donald Davidson Father-in-law Widower 76 Pauper Weaver born Urquhart
Janet McRae Wife Married 40 born do.
Kenneth do. Son 2 born do.
Isabella do. Daughter 11 months born do.

But once again tragedy was to strike. Donald McRae drowned in the River Conon just a few years later in 1855, and his elderly father-in-law sadly had to become the informant at the registration of his own son-in-law’s death:

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Deaths
Donald McRae Military Pensioner [age] 46 [born] Contin Ross-shire 9 years in Urquhart [parents] Kenneth McRae crofter and Mary McRae ms McDonald [wife] Janet Davidson [issue] Kenneth 6 years Isabella 4½ Donald 3 [died] 29 January 1855 Drowned [cause of death] Drowned Conon River [buried] Burial Ground of Contin Not certified [informant] Donald Davidson his x mark Father-in-law

I have not found any more reference to this drowning incident. The Old Statistical Account for the parish reports that every year several people would die whilst crossing the River Conon, so it was a dangerous undertaking at any time, let alone in the midst of winter. “Since the settlement of the present minister, in 1774, scarce a year has passed without the loss of some life on it. Some years it has brought 2, 3, or more, to an untimely end. Within the course of 14 months, about 8 years ago, 7 persons perished in crossing the waters of Conan, at different places within the limits of this parish.” The subsequent building of the bridge across the Conon at Scuddel Ferry, now Conon Bridge, greatly reduced fatalities due to this cause, but not entirely. It was quite a diversion to go round by the bridge, as evidenced by the fact that a small ferry continued to run between Alcaig and Dingwall well into the 1900s.

Dingwall from Alcaig in Ferintosh; photo by Jim Mackay

Donald Davidson himself lived to a good age, dying when 84 years old in 1858, still in household with his daughter Janet’s family. She acted as informant at the Registrar’s:

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Deaths
Donald Davidson woollen weaver (widower) died 17 April 1858 at Knocknafanick, Ferrintosh age 84 parents William Davidson labourer (d) and Isabella Davidson ms McDonald [sic] (d) buried Burial Ground of Urquhart as certified by Donald McKenzie undertaker informant Janet MacRae her x mark daughter (present)

You will note that daughter Janet named her paternal grandmother as Isabella McDonald instead of Ann Beaton. This was a simple mistake, as her own mother was now Isabella McDonald. An easy error, and not the first time I’ve seen the mother put in for the grandmother (I think it must have been the way the Registrar put the questions), but always troublesome when it occurs. Fortunately, with a relatively uncommon name such as Donald Davidson, we would never expect more than one woollen weaver in Knocknafanaig of that name! Donald Davidson is consistently at this location in both Census returns of 1841 and 1851, the former of which also confirms he was born in Ferintosh, the latter of which confirms he was born in the parish of Urquhart. Alexander Munro, the grandson whose father died suddenly in 1837, is in residence with him in 1841. And we know this was the correct Donald Davidson as Colin mentions spending time with his father in Kinkell in 1843. There can be no doubt from all this evidence that this is the right Donald Davidson, and his father the right William Davidson of Knock na Fanaig. But the mistake on this 1858 death certificate has obscured the roots of Colin Davidson’s family ever since.


Davidson Burials

Old Urquhart kirkyard, where the Davidsons are buried; the remains of the kirk itself are swathed in ivy; photo by Jim Mackay

You will also see from his death certificate that Donald Davidson was interred in the “Burial Ground of Urquhart” in 1858; this is known now as Old Urquhart to distinguish it from the large modern graveyard a few hundred yards to the west. There is no stone with an inscription to commemorate Donald Davidson or his wife Isabel Gilmore or MacDonald. There is, however, a headstone commemorating his son John and his wife Helen Matheson. It would be tempting to think other Davidson burials would be at this location, but unmarked, within Old Urquhart.

It reads:

Erected to the memory of JOHN DAVIDSON Leanaig who died 8 Aug 1852 aged 75 years Also his spouse HELEN DAVIDSON who died 16 June 1857 aged 79 years by their beloved daughter ISABELLA SMITH of New South Wales.

John and Helen had married in 1801:

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Marriage Register
John Davidson Knockfennack was contracted with Nelly Mathson [sic] and married the 23rd of July 1801

John, another woollen weaver, moved a mile or so west to Leanaig following his marriage, and remained there for the rest of his life. There are eight children in the baptism register to John Davidson and Helen or Nelly Matheson over the period 1802 to 1818. Helen herself died in 1857, five years after her husband, the informant at the Registrar’s being her daughter Ann Gray from the Braes of Balnabeen. But it would be the emigrated daughter Isabella Smith who would take responsibility for the erection of the memorial to her parents.

the John Davidson headstone in Old Urquhart, with the ivy-smothered ruins of the Old Urquhart church behind in which the Davidsons would have attended services and have been baptised; photo by Jim Mackay

Janet McRae ms Davidson, daughter of Donald Davidson and Isabel Gilmore or MacDonald, and widow of the drowned ex-soldier Donald McRae, died in 1893.

Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester Deaths
Janet McRae widow of Donald McRae soldier died 3 November 1893 at Mulbuie Old Schoolhouse age 82 parents Donald Davidson crofter (d) Isabella Davidson ms Munro [sic] (d) informant Donald McRae son Bridge Street, Bishopmill, Elgin

You will note that yet another child got their grandmother’s name wrong, albeit there seems to be no excuse for “Munro” making an appearance! To be fair, Isabel Gilmore or McDonald had died fifty years earlier, but still, if he had simply said he could not remember, at least it would have been better than guessing. I do not know if Janet was buried with the Davidsons in Old Urquhart or with her husband in the Old Contin burial ground. There is no stone to commemorate her in either graveyard.

Back in Kirkmichael, there is no stone to commemorate Colin Davidson or his wife Mary McDonald, or his sister Ann Davidson and brother-in-law Hugh Munro. We can assume they are buried there given its proximity to their long time residence close by. The great majority of people buried in Kirkmichael do not have a memorial. Hugh Munro was buried utilising funds from the Kirk Session poor’s box.

It may be that a stone at Kirkmichael may yet turn up to commemorate master tailor Colin Davidson and Mary McDonald his wife.

photo by Andrew Dowsett


Appendix – Colin Davidson and the Jail Break at Cromarty September 1843

For readability, I have introduced paragraph breaks and full stops in the declarations by Colin Davidson. The original documents may be found in the National Records of Scotland under AD14/44/443 and JC26/1844/367, with material on the riot at Resolis Church also within AD14/44/458.

[from the evidence of Mr Taylor, the Sheriff Clerk, October 1843]
At the time a man in the crowd whom I can identify and whose name I have since understood to be Colin Davidson Tailor at Jamimaville said something in approbation of Urquharts resolution [to break into the jail if Margaret Cameron was not released within fifteen minutes] and further added in a very wild manner addressing me “Yes for you have only tricked us since we came into the Town”.

Cromarty 21 October 1843
Joseph Williams further examined. I was this day shown Colin Davidson Tailor at Jamimaville Robert Munro Cartwright there and William Fraser Shoemaker there all of whom I identified as being among the rioters at the Jail of Cromarty on the afternoon of Friday the Twenty ninth day of September last. I did not see any of them within the Jail Yard but I saw all of them standing in the middle of the street opposite the Jail Yard Gate. Colin Davidson stood next the Gate and I saw him put his hand upon the arm of Mr Taylor the Sheriff Clerk to whom I think he was speaking. Davidson had a stick in his hands. All which is truth.

Cromarty 21 October 1843
Mr John S Wallace further examined. I was this day shown three Prisoners in the Jail of Cromarty. I identify Colin Davidson Tailor at Jamimaville one of the Prisoners as being particularly active during the riots at the Jail of Cromarty on the afternoon of Friday the Twenty ninth day of September last. I think Davidson had a black stick in his hands. He stood near to the Gate of the Jail Yard but I do not recollect of seeing him within the Jail Yard. I cannot identify either of the other two Prisoners shown to me. Davidson wore a lightish coloured coat.

Cromarty 21 October 1843
Mr Alexander McPherson further examined. I was this day shown Three Prisoners in the Jail of Cromarty. I identify Colin Davidson Tailor at Jamimaville and Robert Munro Cartwright there two of the Prisoners as passing with the rioters in direction of the Jail of Cromarty in the afternoon of Friday the Twenty night day of September lst. I also saw Davidson and Munro pass my shop with the rioters from the Jail with the woman who had been taken out of Jail. Munro and Davidson had sticks in their hands.

At Cromarty the 20th day of October 1843 years
In presence of James Hill Esqre assistant Sheriff Substitute of the County of Cromarty
Compeared Colin Davidson Tailor in Jamimaville in the parish of Resolis and County of Cromarty a married man aged thirty six years or therby who being Judicially examined and Interrogated Declares that he recollects of the day fixed for the Settlement of the Reverend John Mackenzie at the Church of Resolis and he thinks that it was on Thursday three weeks ago. Declares that he was not at the Church of Resolis on that occasion.

That he heard that there was a woman apprehended at Resolis that day and that she was taken into Cromarty where she was lodged in Jail. Declares that he saw a gig pass Jamimaville on that Thursday afternoon with three persons in it. That this Gig was going in the direction of Cromarty. That he did not notice who were in the Gig.

Declares that in the Gloaming and as the Declarant thinks about six or seven o’Clock that Evening he saw a Gig standing opposite the kitchen of the Inn at Jamimaville occupied by Walter Ross. That there was no horse to the Gig at this time nor were there any persons in it.

Declares that about this time the Declarant heard a halloo in Jamimaville on hearing which he left his own house and walked up to the Inn. On coming to the Inn the Declarant saw a Crowd of people standing opposite to the door. That the people were making a great noise. Declares that the Evening was dark and he was not able to recognise the people in the Crowd. Declares that he saw Roderick MacRae farmer Kinbeachie among the Crowd but he did not see John Dingwall Sheriff Officer Avoch among the people. That the Crowd were hissing at MacRae. That he saw MacRae standing on the Road opposite to the Inn. Declares that he did not join the Crowd in hissing at MacRae. That he did not see any of the Crowd strike MacRae. Declares that shortly after this the Declarant saw MacRae go away in direction of the West end of Jamimaville and the Declarant after this left the Crowd and went home and he did not go out more that night.

Declares that he was in the Inn at Jamimaville that Evening about Six o’Clock. That he went into the Inn alone to purchase some thread from the Innkeeper who keeps a shop in one end of the Inn. Declares that he did not go up stairs.

Declares that he saw the Gig next morning on the beach. That it was broken. Declares that he did not see any Individual break the Gig nor did he assist in doing so.

Declares that he was in Cromarty on Friday the twenty ninth day of September last. Declares that he went to Cromarty for the purpose of purchasing a barrel of herring from Colin Archie Fishcurer in Cromarty. That he saw Archie about the herrings but they did not agree about the price of them. Declares that he left Jamimaville to go to Cromarty about three o’Clock in the afternoon. That he left the village of Jamimaville alone. Declares that a Crowd of Resolis people overtook the Declarant on their way to Cromarty a little to the East of Jamimaville and the Declarant walked in with the Crowd to Cromarty which place they reached about half past four o’Clock but the Declarant thinks it was nearer five o’Clock.

Declares that in getting to Cromarty the Declarant and the Crowd proceeded in direction of the Jail but the Declarant separated from the Crowd at the head of the street immediately leading to the Jail. That the Declarant after leaving the Crowd went into the shop of Bailie Donald Ross where he purchased a half ounce of snuff. Declares that on leaving Bailie Ross shop he went after the Crowd whom he found collected around the Jail.

Declares that Donald Murray Mason Resolis Alexander Murray Labourer Resolis James Holm Farmer Resolis and three Quarriers of the name of Urquhart from Cullicudden were among the Crowd who overtook the Declarant on his way to Cromarty and the Declarant saw them in the mob at the Jail. Declares that on coming to the Jail the Declarant stood on the street opposite to the Jail Yard. Declares that as he was standing there he saw Mr Taylor Sheriff Clerk Cromarty standing in the Crowd near to the Jail gate. Declares that he asked Mr Taylor if the woman who was in Jail from the parish of Resolis was to get out on Bail. Declares that he did not ask Mr Taylor to open the Jail door.

two more tough cellmates in the cells in Cromarty Courthouse; photo by Jim Mackay

Declares that the night of Thursday the twenty ninth day of September the Declarant heard it mentioned in his own shop that a woman had been apprehended that day at the riot at the Church of Resolis and was lodged in Cromarty Jail. Declares that he knows this woman by sight but not by name and it was this woman he referred to when he put the question to Mr Taylor above mentioned.

Declares that he did not see any stones thrown at the Jail door but he heard the noise of the Jail door breaking up but he does not know by whom the doors were broken up. Declares that he was not within the Jail yard but while he heard the noise of the prison door breaking up there was a great crowd of people within it. That shortly after this the Crowd came rushing out of the Jail yard and joined the Crowd on the street and the Declarant and the mob then walked away and proceeded on the road home. Declares that he accompanied the mob till Jamimaville when he separated from them and went into his own house. Declares that he thinks it would be about Six o’Clock in the Evening when the Declarant and the Crowd left Cromarty.

Declares that he saw the woman who had been in the Cromarty Jail in a Cart among the Crowd on the road going home. Declares that when the Crowd overtook him coming into Cromarty he asked them what they were going to do there and some of the crowd answered the Declarant that they were going to Cromarty to get the woman out of Jail who had been lodged there the day before. Declares that he had a walking stick in his hand on the Evening in question when he was in Cromarty. Declares that he did not see the Jail door broken open nor did he assist in doing so.

Declares that he slept in his own house at Jamimaville from Friday the twenty ninth day of September last till Monday the second day of October Current. Declares that on Monday the second day of October Current the Declarant left Jamimaville and went to the house of Donald Davidson weaver Kinkell in the parish of Ferrintosh where he remained till the Eighteenth day of October Currt. That Donald Davidson is the Declarants father and during the time he remained with his father he was employed making clothes for his father and a man of the name of Alexander Fraser a friend of his. Declares that his wife informed him that officers were in search of him and that it was in consequence of this Information that the Declarant returned to Jamimaville. All which is truth and Declares that he cannot write.
James Hall
James Grigor
John Taylor
Joseph Williams

At Cromarty the 21st day of October 1843 years
In presence of James Hall Esqre Assistant Sheriff Substitute of the County of Cromarty
Appeared Colin Davidson Tailor at Jamimaville in the parish of Resolis and County of Cromarty and present prisoner in the Jail of Cromarty who being Judicially examined and Interrogated and the Declaration emitted by him before the assistant Sheriff Substitute of Cromarty on the twenty day of October Current having been read over to him he adheres thereto in all points as truth and the same is now marked and docquetted by the assistant Sheriff Substitute and the witnesses to this declaration as relative hereto.

Interrogated further whether he had on the clothes he now wears the day he was in Cromarty when the Jail was broken open as mentioned in his former declaration or not Declares in answer that he had not the same Coat or Trousers upon him the day in question as he now wears. The day he was in Cromarty he wore a gray cloth Coat and a moleskin waistcoat and trousers. That he had a blue bonnet on his head.

Declares that he has nothing further to state in addition to his former Declaration. All which is truth and Declares that he cannot write.
James Hall
James Gregor
Adam MacRae
Joseph Williams

DONALD MURRAY, mason, now or lately residing at Drumdire of Newhall, in the united parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, commonly called the parish of Resolis, and shire of Cromarty, THOMAS URQUHART, quarrier, now or lately residing at Cullicudden in the said united parishes or parish and shire aforesaid, JOHN FINLAYSON, weaver, now or lately residing with your father, Andrew Finlayson, weaver, in Cromarty, and COLIN DAVIDSON, tailor, now or lately residing in Jamimaville, in the said united parishes or parish and shire aforesaid, you are Indicted and Accused at the instance of Duncan McNeill, Esquire, her Majesty’s Advocate, for Her Majesty’s Interest: THAT ALBEIT, by the laws of this and of every other well governed realm, MOBBING and RIOTING, especially when committed for the purpose of RESCUING or SETTING at LIBERTY any person lawfully detained in any prison; as also the wickedly and feloniously BREAKING into any PRISON and RESCUING or SETTING at LIBERTY any person lawfully detained therein, are crimes of an heinous nature, and severely punishable: YET TRUE IT IS AND OF VERITY, that you the said Donald Murray, Thomas Urquhart, John Finlayson, and Colin Davidson are all and each, or one or more of you, guilty of the crime, first above libelled, or of one or other of them, actors or actor, or art and part: IN SO FAR AS, Margaret Cameron, at Sheep park, in the united parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, commonly called the parish of Resolis, and shire of Cromarty, having on or about the 29th day of September 1843, been lawfully incarcerated in the tolbooth or prison of Cromarty, on a warrant of commitment for further examination, dated the said 29th day or September 1843, and granted by James Hill, Esquire, assistant sheriff-substitute of the shire of Cromarty, or his substitute, against her and other persons, at the instance of James Grigor, procurator-fiscal of the shire of Cromarty, dated the said 29th day of September 1843, a mob or great number of riotous and evil-disposed persons, armed all or part thereof, with sticks and stones…

a “riotous and evil-disposed person” at the window of the cell block in Cromarty Courthouse; photo by Jim Mackay


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