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

David Anderson (1834–1907), tailor, ground officer, Resolis Registrar

text: Dr Jim Mackay photography: as given

This is the story of David Anderson, the Resolis Registrar, who did well in life despite suffering one of the greatest and most unjust social challenges of that time – illegitimacy. It is also the story of the restoration of David’s repeatedly-repaired memorial in Kirkmichael.

David Anderson lived much of his life in the Chapelton area, below Balblair. Photograph Jim Mackay, in 2006

The imposing grey granite pillar commemorating David Anderson and wife Matilda Fraser was topped with a heavy urn, so fashionable in the late 1800s and early 1900s. David Anderson had left everything by his will to Donald Urquhart, Blacksmith, Newhall Bridge (and later Registrar of Resolis, and Proprietor of Chapelton Cottage) “under burden of the payment of my just debts and Funeral expenses and death bed expenses also a Head stone and Enclosure on my grave”. Urquhart followed the instructions implicitly. But when the restoration of the buildings at Kirkmichael was completed in 2017, and the Trust was continuing its programme of re-erecting or repairing the monuments in the kirkyard, it met a problem with the Anderson pillar.

The topless pillar stands inside its enclosure, behind the Chairman and the Dingwall History Society during a guided tour. Photograph Andrew Dowsett

There was obviously something missing from the top of the pillar. It occupied a central location, in front of the nave, and featured in every photograph of the site. From photographs from the 1980s, there should have been a granite urn on top of the pillar but it could not be seen. It was relatively easy locating the urn itself by groping around in the rank grass below the pillar, but it took two attempts probing the surface of the soil before the base of the urn was located.

What is that protruding from the soil? Photograph Davine Sutherland

Donald with the successfully-located urn base. Photograph Davine Sutherland

First impressions are that they match! Now to clean them up. Photograph Davine Sutherland

The top of the pillar and the edge of the base of the urn showed evidence of a serious impact at some time. It is not easy to understand the damage to the pillar itself. Had there been a savage attack of vandalism or had perhaps the whole pillar once toppled over?

We inspected the damage and found that urn and base, originally one piece, had broken apart and had been previously joined together not once but twice! The first time was with lime plaster, but the second was with a very hard black material resembling modern resins. The problem was that neither repair had been very accurate or tidy. And neither obviously had been effective. It took a couple of hours with hammer and chisel to free the granite of the black proto-resin and lime and prepare a fresh clean surface.

On this occasion, a hole was drilled into the urn, through the base and into the pillar, to allow a continuous stainless steel threaded rod to be imbedded with modern resin. We do not often show the volunteer effort that goes into restoration, but include it on this occasion for the record (photographs Andrew Dowsett and Davine Sutherland). Time will tell if this repair proves to be third time lucky!

The drillhole through the urn base being used to mark centre.

Chipping off plaster and making an indentation in the pillar.

George now makes a pilot hole in the pillar itself.

The urn in the workshop; repaired with resin and stainless steel threaded rod.

The length of protruding rod being marked on the drill bit.

Ready to drill the deep hole for the stainless steel rod.

Health and safety observed with support for ladder.

While George drills, Davine vacuums the granite dust.

The last of the dust sucked out with a patent extension to the vacuum cleaner.

The urn temporarily put in place to check rod fits, and perimeter of urn marked out.

Twice as difficult to lift out, but Andrew, Andy and George succeed.

Lowered carefully to ground and resin applied to urn base.

Resin poured into drill hole, cavity and marked perimeter.

The urn is lowered into final position.

The Kirkmichael volunteers with another successful restoration.


The Life of David Anderson

David Anderson had a successful life, despite the disadvantage of illegitimacy.

It is difficult for those living in this age to appreciate the stigma endured by the woman and the child in this situation. As ever, the case came before the all-male and unsympathetic Kirk Session.

At the Church of Resolis the 15 day of September 1834. … Delation for Adultery was given in against Catherine Ferguson an unmarried woman residing at Balblair & she was duly cited to appear at this meeting. Being called she compeared & the Delation being read in her hearing she was suitably admonished to tell the truth and interrogated– Acknowledges– that she is with child in adultery– that the Father of her pregnancy is Hector Anderson a married man & Butcher in Balblair– that they were guilty with each other only once and at her mothers house in Balblair. / The Session having duly considered the above confession of said Catherine Ferguson resolve to cite the said Hector Anderson to compear at the next meeting of Session to hold here a fortnight hence & to the same meeting they also cite the said Catherine Ferguson apud acta.

It has to be said that the proportion of illegitimate children resulting from a single dalliance was unfeasibly high, but it was a brave girl who would admit to repeat offending. The brave Hector, due to appear at the next session, proved not to be brave at all:

At the Church of Resolis the 29th day of September 1834. …The Session took up the case of Catherine Ferguson and Hector Anderson for Adultery & two of the members reported that Hector Anderson had absconded & as was also reported had left the country on the day after he had received the citation to attend at this meeting. The Session resolved to sist proceedings in this case untill the said Hector Anderson should return.

There is no record of Hector ever returning, but seven years later Catherine had her child baptised, and she had no hesitation in giving Hector’s name as the father. David took his absent father’s surname throughout his life. The first date is of his baptism, the second of his birth.

24 February 1841 Hector Anderson labourer at Balblair & Katharine Ferguson at Balblair – David 12 November 1834

At this time Catherine and the boy were living with Catherine’s mother, as the 1841 Census has:

Widow Ferguson 70 Female Servant
Katharine Ferguson 40
David Anderson 6

It can be unhelpful when a Census enumerator, instead of giving a Christian name, simply describes a lady as “Widow”, particularly in this case when there is doubt as to whether she was Mary or Margaret. From Catherine’s death certificate her mother was Margaret Ferguson, ms Fraser. I think her husband, a boat-builder and carpenter in Balblair called Donald Ferguson, had died much earlier, as you’ll see reference to “mother’s house” in the 1834 Kirk Session case. He clearly helped with the ferry as well, as I see reference in 1838 (when Newhall was taking legal action against tenants who were in arrears) again to “Margaret Fraser or Ferguson – Widow of the late Donald Ferguson Ferryman at Balblair”. Anyway, despite being £4.19.6 sterling in arrears, she was still there at Balblair in 1841. But when you look at Catherine’s birth, the picture is different.

Catherine herself had been baptised, and presumably born, in 1796 as on 15 December of that year the baptism register has “Donald Ferguson Carpenter at Balblair & Mary Fraser his Spouse had a Daughter baptized named Cathrine.” It was Mary again on the baptism in 1794 of her brother George, the only sibling recorded. So which was it? Mary or Margaret? Let’s stick to “Widow Ferguson”!

Despite the absence during his youth of father or grandfather, David received, from later evidence, a good schooling. However, he needed to gain employment as soon as possible to help support the family. A nearby young, recently-married tailor took him on as an apprentice, and we find David in his home in the 1851 Census:

Ebenezer Urquhart head married 23 tailor employing 1 man Ross & Cromarty Resolis
Jess Urquhart wife married 23 housekeeper Ross-shire Ferintosh
David Anderson apprentice unmarried 15 tailor apprentice Ross & Cromarty Resolis

I can’t pick up David’s mother Catherine definitively in 1851, but she had rejoined her son by 1861. David had now established himself as a tailor in his own right, in a three-windowed house in the Craggan area. His former master, Ebenezer Urquhart, was no longer in Resolis.

David Anderson head unmarried 25 tailor Rossshire Resolis
Catherine Ferguson mother unmarried 64 domestic servant Rossshire Resolis

In 1866 David married Matilda Fraser, a relative of Cullicudden photographer Donald Fraser, whose life and photography are addressed in the separate Story behind the Stone Donald Fraser Photographer.

It was a Free Church wedding:

16 Feb 1866 at Balblair after Banns according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
David Anderson tailor (bachelor) 31 Newhall Point Resolis parents Hector Anderson agricultural labourer (reputed father) Catherine Ferguson agricultural labourer
Matilda Fraser domestic servant (spinster) 36 Balblair Resolis parents John Fraser farmer (d) Barbara Fraser ms Young (d)
Dond. Sage F.C. Minr. Charles Fraser witness Hugh McLennan witness

The couple were never blessed with children, and their home at Newhall Point in 1871 was occupied by just David and Matilda, and, of course, David’s mother Catherine, now 75. She passed away just a couple of years later, and David himself informed the Registrar:

Catherine Ferguson (single) died 26 Mar 1873 Newhall Point Resolis aged 75 parents Donald Ferguson boat-builder (d) Margaret Ferguson ms Fraser (d) informant David Anderson son (present)

It was in this period that David’s career and location changed dramatically, because surprisingly he moved from being a tailor to ground officer for the Newhall Estate. That is how he was recorded in the 1881 Census, and as we know that the previous ground officer, Alexander Ferguson, died in 1875 it was probably not long after that when David took over.

How David Anderson came into this role we know not, but he appears at the substantial ground officer’s house (six windowed rooms) at Burnside, with some tenanted land himself, in the 1881 Census return:

David Anderson head married 46 ground officer and farmer (of 8 acres arable employing 1 girl) Ross shire Resolis Gaelic
Matilda Anderson wife married 50 do. wife Cromarty shire Resolis G
Georgina McIntosh servant unmarried 20 general servant Inverness-shire Kirkhill

I note that in that very census he acted as enumerator for one of the Resolis districts.

Burnside House, in which David Anderson lived as ground officer of the Newhall Estate, with current owner, Ruairidh Macleod. Photograph Jim Mackay

How does a man go from being a tailor to the management post of ground officer for an Estate? There is a story in there yet to be explored! The ground officer was the laird’s man on the ground, sorting disagreements among tenants, advising on replacement of tenants, ensuring the tenants were carrying out maintenance duties like draining and fencing. Importantly, Anderson had the Gaelic, absolutely essential when negotiating with the tenants.

It was a couple of years later that he took part in a search for a missing man, when his dog proved to be a valuable tracker. This is from the Ross-shire Journal of 14th September 1883:

Sad Case of Drowning in Udale Bay.– On Wednesday week news spread throughout Jamimaville that Donald Macleman, fisherman, 74 years of age, was drowned in the Udale Bay in the parish of Cromarty. On the preceding day, deceased got up early in the morning, and went to his line, and up to mid day nothing was observed of the man. His basket was found about a quarter of a mile to the east of the village by some boys who knew it as the fisherman’s basket. An alarm was then raised, and when the tide went back a search was made for the body but of no avail. On Wednesday, however, the search was renewed by Mr Anderson, Burnside, Mr Ferguson, Ardoch, and the Police Constable, who searched till darkness came on when they resolved to turn homewards. When they were about 300 yards from the shore, Mr Anderson’s dog went to a mud hole full of water, and pointed. Mr Anderson knew she had something and they followed the dog when the body was found face downward, the only portion visible being his two heels…

David Anderson clearly was competent in his job as he was still in Burnside as ground officer for the Newhall Estate in 1891, with Matilda and a female servant.

Yet another career swerve was on the cards as, on 31st May 1893, David Anderson became the Resolis Registrar. His neat signature thereafter adorns every birth, marriage and death registration until his own death.

The neat signature of David Anderson, Registrar

The previous Registrar had been former schoolmaster Donald McDonald, whose history is recounted in his own Story behind the Stone. On taking up the Registrar’s post, David returned to Chapelton Point, or Newhall Point as it is often called. Whilst there, he took part in action to attempt to improve the management of the Invergordon Ferry, as reported in the Ross-shire Journal of 16th March 1894:

On Tuesday evening an indignation meeting to protest against, and take some action regarding the present management of the Invergordon ferry, was held in Balblair Inn. Rev. Mr Macdougall, Resolis, presided, and spoke of the unsatisfactory manner in which the ferry was conducted, and said he was sure they would all agree with him in stating that they were labouring under a great disadvantage by the rules and regulations not being adhered to by the lessee. He had suffered great inconvenience himself, and he thought it would be well that the matter should be properly discussed. Mr Craigen, Kirkton, referred to the present arrangement as a rotten concern from top to bottom. When they went into the present ferry boat they did not know whether they would get landed or not. The piers were also in a remarkably bad state. He thought there should be two ferry boats on the ferry. Mr Brown, veterinary surgeon, Invergordon, also spoke strongly against the present system, and urged immediate reform. Mr Holm thought the ferry would not be right until the County Council took it over. Mr Urquhart, merchant, Balblair, and others, expressed themselves freely as to the inconvenience caused by the way the ferry was presently worked. Mr Anderson, Chapelton Cottage, moved, and Mr Craigen seconded, the following resolution:– That the meeting express its deep dissatisfaction with the manner in which the ferry has been worked for some time back, the regulations of the Justices being systematically laid aside.

A couple of years later, David had the difficult task of registering the death of his own wife Matilda, who, five years older than he, passed away in 1895. As an aside, this sad entry does suggest that Anderson, despite being the parish Registrar, had not given up his ground officer post.

Matilda Anderson married to David Anderson ground officer 2 Dec 1895 Chapelton Cottage Newhall Point Resolis 66 parents John Fraser farmer (d) Barbara Fraser ms Young (d) informant David Anderson widower (present)

The accounts of local events, like the New Year sports at Balblair, all make reference to David Anderson being on the organising committees, so he was clearly well engaged in the social life of the area. Chapelton Cottage must nevertheless have felt lonely for David, as he took in lodgers, albeit all of an official status. This is revealed in the 1901 Census return, where his home is described as possessing 8 rooms with one or more windows:

Chapelton Cottage is the house beside the car, with three upper storey windows and two ground floor windows (in 2006). Photograph Jim Mackay

David Anderson head widower 64 registrar Resolis G&E
Bella Ferguson servant single 60 housekeeper Resolis G&E
John Grant boarder single 22 police constable Fodderty
Donald Ross boarder single 27 gamekeeper Beauly
John Johnstone boarder single 37 water baily Beauly

Two of his boarders sallied forth from their lodgings in a salmon poaching case reported in the Ross-shire Journal of 5th April that year. A group of nine Cromarty fishermen, not for the first time, were illegally fishing for salmon up the firth. They were spied on by Nesbit, the inspector of the Conon District Fishery. The fishermen came down the firth, with the inspector following on his bike from Conon, to Balconie, to Evanton where he wired James Chisholm at Balblair.

James Chisholm, water bailiff of the Conon District, residing at Balblair, deponed that on the day in question he received a telegram from Nesbit from Novar– “Two boats Balconie Seize Fish.” Accompanied by Donald Ross, John Johnstone, and Angus Chisholm, all water bailiffs, he crossed the ferry, and on the other side met Alexander Finlayson also a water bailiff. When crossing the ferry he saw two boats coming down opposite Alness.

There seems to have been a very strong water bailiff contingent in the Balblair area, including the two residing within David Anderson’s house! Suffice to say that the Cromarty poachers were fined, but undoubtedly were undiscouraged.

The former ferry pier at Balblair, in 2006. Photograph Jim Mackay

The former Balblair Ferry Inn, in 2006. Photograph Jim Mackay

I don’t know if David liked the occasional tipple, but it was while he was in the nearby Balblair Inn that he suddenly expired. The unexpectedness of his demise resulted in an investigation by the Procurator Fiscal which was, as usually the case, not very revealing:

David Anderson registrar of births etc. widower died 11 September 1907 at Balblair Inn Resolis usual residence Craggan Resolis aged 73 [blank for father] mother Catherine Ferguson Natural Causes Probably Heart Failure Sudden Registered on the information of W. Mackenzie Procurator Fiscal

The announcement in the Ross-shire Journal of 13th September discreetly didn’t mention he’d died in the pub:

Died, on the 11th instant, at Newhall Point, very suddenly, David Anderson, Registrar of Births, &c., for the Parish of Resolis. Funeral to Kirkmichael Churchyard To-morrow (Saturday, 14th instant) at 1.30. Friends will please accept this intimation.

David had, a year earlier, made a will leaving everything to Donald Urquhart, the Blacksmith at Newhall Bridge and future Registrar. There must be a story behind this. The value of personal and moveable effects amounted to £300.8.3, a substantial figure. One requirement on Donald Urquhart was to erect a headstone and enclosure on David’s grave. The iron railing of the enclosure, one of very few remaining at Kirkmichael, has no gate, so modern grasscutters have let the vegetation become rank and overgrown. Whilst we were repairing the pillar we levelled and resowed the plot, although it is likely to become overgrown again. But at least the urn has been restored to make the memorial to David Anderson and Matilda Fraser complete once more.

Photograph Andrew Dowsett


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