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

Ferguson of Moulin, Perthshire; Kildun, Dingwall; and Burnside of Newhall, Resolis

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography by Andrew Dowsett unless otherwise specified

Thanks to Jonathan McColl for sharing his Dingwall knowledge



The tall granite headstone to Alexander Ferguson was leaning over at an increasingly alarming angle. As a temporary measure we braced it with timber, but a long-term solution was needed. We made an intrusive investigation, and there was no foundation. A few broken pieces of sandstone had been thrown in below the plinth back in the 1870s when the stone was first erected, and naturally the stability of the headstone over time, as the ground over the grave sunk, was compromised.

The Trust has had professional memorial companies re-erect many stones at Kirkmichael. We don’t often do this kind of job ourselves, mostly to avoid liability should anything subsequently go wrong. We don’t want to be responsible for the safety of the headstones within the kirkyard. However, the Alexander Ferguson stone stood within an enclosure, so we felt we could do it ourselves safely, and do a more thorough job than is usually done. See the Appendix for how we tackled the project!


The Fergusons of Burnside

The story of the Ferguson family itself is fascinating. Robert Ferguson was the tenant of a hill farm above Pitlochry and moved 100 miles north to Kildun Farm just outside Dingwall. He became a well-respected farmer. When that tenancy ended, Ferguson relocated to fertile Burnside of Newhall in Resolis. The family became so closely associated with Burnside that, many years after moving away, the children were still known as of Ferguson, Burnside.

The family included several members of repute, including Alexander Ferguson, ground officer for the Newhall Estate and Elder of the Free Church, his brother Robert Ferguson, the Cromarty schoolteacher who became Inspector of Poor in Cromarty, and brother David, farm manager on the Kilmuir Estate in Skye who lost his life trying to protect the laird’s house in the great Skye Flood of 1877 and was washed out to sea along with the coffins and corpses of Uig burial ground.


Robert Ferguson (c1773–1843) of Glen Brerachan…

Robert Ferguson first appears in our records in 1803, in the parish of Moulin, Perthshire, where he married his first wife:

Moulin, Perthshire 1803
1803 Jany. 8. Robert Fergusson in Kennyglin of Glenbriarachan, & Margaret Scott, in Pitlochry – married the 10th Jany.

Glenbriarachan, nowadays Glen Brerachan, is noted for the 1392 Battle of Glenbriarchan, at which Sir Walter Ogilvy, Earl of Angus and Sheriff of Angus, was killed. Kennyglin, or Kenghline on early Ordnance Survey mapping, or modern Ceanghline, is a farmstead just off the road over the moors and hills from Coupar Angus to Pitlochry. Nowadays it appears to be run as an organic farm which also markets SEER Rockdust (

Kenghline, Glen Brerachan, as surveyed by the OS in 1863

Ceanghline farmstead, head dyke and hills

I must have passed Ceanghline many’s a time when driving from Aberdeen to Pitlochry on hill-walking weekends. It lies on the north side of the high road just above Pitlochry and must have been a tough area to make a living. From Ceanghline, in the hills, to the farm of Kildun, just above sea level, was an extraordinary leap for Robert Ferguson to make.

The first child of Robert and Margaret was born on the farm the year after their marriage.

Moulin, Perthshire
1804 … Born 26 Decr Bap 30 Decr. A daughter to Robert Fergusson and Margt. Scott his wife in Kennghline Glenbriarachan named Margaret


… becomes Robert Ferguson of Kildun

The next baptism was recorded in Dingwall in 1810, so I imagine there may be other unrecorded children.

Dingwall 1810
Born April 20 Baptd. April 23 1810 Anne Robert Ferguson & Margaret Scott Tenant Kildun

At some point then between 1804 and 1810 Robert and family had made the leap from Moulin to Dingwall, from a hill farm to a farm by the Cromarty Firth. Upper Kildun became the modern farm of Humberston, I am told by Jonathan McColl, whilst Lower Kildun, to which the Ferguson family moved, became simply Kildun. It is nowadays famed for its prize-winning Limousin cattle. Following the arrival of the Fergusons at Kildun, another five children were baptised. Margaret Scott died in 1820, according to the inscription on the substantial Ferguson tablestone in St Clements kirkyard in Dingwall. Robert re-married, this time Isabella Mackenzie, and they had David in 1823. Strangely I have been unable to locate their marriage. Isabella was a good bit younger than Robert and from later census returns was born either in Dingwall or in the neighbouring parish of Fodderty!

The full set of children born to Robert Ferguson was therefore Margaret (1804), Anne (1810), Alexander (1813), Robert (1814), John (1816), Jane (1818) and David (1823).

We know that Robert Ferguson became a communicant whilst in Kildun.

The farm of Kildun was part of Lord Seaforth’s Brahan Estate, and the lease was due to expire in 1837. The estate began to advertise the tenancies well in advance. This is from the Inverness Courier of 23 December 1835:

To be LET, on the Estate of Brahan, the following Lands, for which offers may be sent to Seaforth, at Brahan Castle, betwixt and the fifteenth day of April next, to Mr William Laidlaw, Factor there, or to William Mackenzie, Esq., W.S., Edinburgh. … KILDUN, presently rented by Robert Ferguson at £94 10s. There is a considerable tract of carse land, lying between this Farm and the river Conan, for embanking which, suitable encouragement will be given the tenant. Entry at Whitsunday 1837.

The substantial rental for Kildun demonstrates the considerable resources that Ferguson could muster. His next move was to the fertile lands of the parish of Resolis in the Black Isle.


… and becomes Robert Ferguson of Burnside

Complementary to the advertisements for letting Kildun were advertisements for sale of the farm stocking from the outgoing tenant of Burnside of Newhall. This is from the Inverness Courier of 16 May 1838:

Sale of Farm Stocking, &c. / There will be exposed to sale, by Public Roup, on Wednesday the 23d day of May current, the whole Stocking belonging to the outgoing Tenant on the Farm of Burnside of Newhall, in the parish of Resolis, and County of Cromarty, consisting of Young Cattle, Milk Cows, Work Horses, Carts, Ploughs, Harrows, Graith, Barn Fanners, and sundry articles of Household Furniture. / The sale will commence precisely at 11 o’clock, A.M. and six month’s credit will be given on approved bills. / Burnside of Newhall, 8th May, 1838.

Burnside farmhouse nowadays; photograph by Jim Mackay

Curiously, the first record of Robert in Resolis is in Kirkton (although I think that was a mistake) rather than Burnside. He arrived in 1837 or 1838, and his arrival is recorded in the Kirk Session records. He had been a communicant in Dingwall and became a communicant in Resolis through simple certification.

At the Church of Resolis the 1st day of August 1838 … The following persons, who came to reside in the parish during the course of the year presented certificates of being in full communion with the Church in the respective parishes from which they came. viz … Robert Ferguson Tenant in Kirktown from Dingwall

The reason why I think the “Kirktown” may have been a mistake is because, at the formal making up of the Communion Roll just three days later, he is referred to in the way he was always known as thereafter, Tenant of Burnside:

At the Church of Resolis the fourth day of August 1838 … The Session proceeded at this meeting, in terms of the Overture and Interim Act of the General Assembly to revise and readjust the Roll of the Members of the Kirk session & of the Male Heads of Families in full communion with the church in this Parish who are members of this congregation resident in the parish & who for twelve months previous to this date have been in full communion with the Church. The Roll of last year was read coram, the Session find that two persons died during the course of last year … Certificates of their being in full communion with the Church were produced by Mr David Grant Officer of Excise at Bralangwell and by Robert Ferguson Tenant of Burnside & their names were appointed to be added to the Roll

The Newhall Estate rental of 1842 shows Robert Ferguson’s rent at Burnside to have amounted to £70, substantially less than his Kildun rental.

The considerable size of the Burnside household is revealed in the 1841 Census return for Burnside.

Robert Ferguson 70 Farmer
Margaret McKenzie 40 / Alexander Ferguson 28 / Robert Ferguson 26 / Ann Ferguson 24 / Jane Ferguson 22 / David Ferguson 16 / William Ferguson 8 / Alexander Thomson 13 MS / Mary McLennan 30 FS

The 1841 Census return contained several mistakes, such as the Christian name of Robert’s wife and the age of daughter Ann, but we shall return to those. Robert died a couple of years later, in 1843, and is commemorated on the impressive tablestone in St Clements, Dingwall.

This stone is erected by / Robert Ferguson / Tacksman of Lower Kildun / in memory of his spouse / Margaret Scott / who departed this life / upon the [blank] July, 1820 / aged 40 years. / Here also are interred / the remains of / Robert Ferguson / formerly Tacksman of Lower Kildun, / and latterly of / Burnside of Newhall, who died on 11th June 1843 / aged 70 years. / His Second Spouse / Isabella Mackenzie, / who died in 1879 aged 84 years.

photo by Jonathan McColl

photo by Jim Mackay

As noted on the tablestone, Isabella lived on long after her husband. She was resident in Burnside on the occasions of each Census of 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871, but by her death in 1879 had returned to Dingwall. I imagine this was following the death of her stepson Alexander of Burnside in 1875. The informant at her death was a nephew, John Kelly, so for those wishing to investigate Isabella’s origins there should be plenty of clues.

Dingwall 1879
Isabella Ferguson (widow of Robert Ferguson farmer) 16 Nov 1879 at 1 Clare Place Dingwall aged 84 parents William McKenzie weaver (journeyman) (d) Ann McKenzie ms Dingwall (d) informant John Kelly nephew present


The children

Farm management was obviously in the blood, as Alexander, Robert and David became at various times grieves, overseers, farm managers or ground officers.

1. Margaret (1804–) I have been unable to track.

2. Anne (1810–post 1850) was present as a 40 year old unmarried housekeeper in the Burnside home in the 1851 census return but I have not traced her thereafter.

3. Alexander Ferguson (1813–1875) of Burnside

I know little of Alexander’s young life in Dingwall. He had an early liaison with one Mary MacLeod that resulted in an illegitimate son named William, born in 1833 in Dingwall, with Alexander being given in the baptism register as “Farmer Lower Kildun”. I see young William was in family with Alexander at Burnside in 1841 and 1851 so it is good to see Alexander taking responsibility for his actions.

When his father Robert Ferguson died, Alexander took over at Burnside, became a highly respected farmer, the Tacksman of Burnside, and was appointed Newhall’s ground officer.

Alexander had been closely involved in the setting up of the Free Church in Resolis, even prior to the Disruption when the parishioners abandoned the Established Church.

Free Church Records
At the Parish Church of Resolis Friday the Seventeenth Day of March, 1843 / On which day a public meeting of the parishioners of Resolis held here according to an intimation given on the Sabbath previous, from the pulpit. / The Revd. Mr. Sage presided and opened the meeting with prayer, and a statement having been laid before them by the Revd. Mr. Kennedy of Redcastle, of the peculiar circumstances and position of the Church at the time, and the meeting being subsequently addressed on the subject by several individuals present, it was cordially and unanimously resolved faithfully to adhere to and maintain the great and essential principles for which the church was contending. / The meeting thereafter divided the Parish into districts, and appointed collectors to receive contributions for the support of the church, as follows:–
Collectors. – Districts.
Mr Hugh Munro – Jamimaville & Ardoch
" Walter Ross – "
" Alexander Ferguson – Newhall and Burnside
At the Parish Church of Resolis, 23rd. March 1843 / The Collectors appointed by the general meeting of the Parishioners held here on Friday last, met on the evening of this day. / Mr George Andrews being unanimously chosen Preses: Mr. Hugh Munro, Treasurer, and Alexr. Ferguson, Burnside, Secretary, it was proposed, and agreed to, that J.A.S. McKenzie Esqr of Newhall should be requested to grant a suitable site for a church, in the event of a Disruption taking place. / It was also resolved that the Collectors should, without delay, visit their districts, in order to ascertain the probable sum which might be contributed by the people in support of the church; and that the first instalment to the building Fund shall be collected at Whitsunday

He went on to become a respected Free Church Elder. He married in 1845.

22 February 1845 Alexander Ferguson farmer at Burnside in this parish & Flora MacKenzie residing at Easter Suddie in the parish of Knockbain contracted 31 January married 22 February 1845

Several of their children were diplomatically given names associated with the laird of Newhall, Shaw-Mackenzie. In the 1840s and 1850s, their children are recorded in the Free Church baptism register: Robert in December 1845, Kenneth in 1847, John in 1849, Margaret in 1851 and Alexander in 1853. They also had, recorded during civil registration, twins Isabella and Roderick (1856), Georgiana Shaw (1858), Flora Ann (1860), Elizabeth Shaw MacKenzie (1863) and Christina Helen (1869).

In 1851, then, the census return for Burnside showed a full house and there were more children to come!

Alexr Ferguson head m 37 farmer of 76 acres employing 3 men Dingwall
Flora Ferguson wife m 30 Urray
Robert Ferguson son 5 Resolis / Kenneth Ferguson son 3 Resolis / John Ferguson son 1 Resolis / William Ferguson son 18 farm servant Dingwall / Ann Ferguson sister u 40 housekeeper Dingwall / Isabella McKenzie step mother w 55 Dingwall / Ann Munro cousin 14 Resolis / Catharine Fraser servant u 27 domestic servant Resolis / William Cameron servant u 16 farm servant Knockbain / Kenneth Maclennan servant u 15 farm herd Dingwall

I have not followed up the lives of the children of Alexander and Flora. I note that in the 1871 Census return for Burnside, 19 year old Alexander junior is give as “pupil teacher” which fits with a snippet in the Inverness Advertiser of 14 November 1873:

Alexander Ferguson Junior, Burnside, Newhall, obtains highest score in the bursary competition

In his role as ground officer of the Newhall Estate, Alexander would supervise the commissioning of works and sales on the estate, and his name crops up countless times in this context. This is one small example, to be found in the Inverness Courier of 29 May 1862:

To Builders. / Estimates Wanted, for the Mason, Carpenter, and Slater Works, of a Square of Farm Offices, to be Erected at Easter Cullicudden, Parish of Resolis. / Plans and Specifications to be seen with Mr Alex. Ferguson, Burnside of Newhall, and Offers to be lodged with the Subscriber, on or before 10th proximo. / John Taylor. / Cromarty, 26th May 1862.

One of the ways in which Alexander Ferguson left a lasting mark on Resolis was rather unusual. In 1872, the Ordnance Survey were re-surveying the area and this time they were carrying out a detailed investigation of how various locations were named and of the spelling of those names. One of the men they consulted most was Alexander Ferguson, presumably because of his position of authority as ground officer of the largest estate in the parish. As far as I can tell, despite his not having been born or brought up in the parish, his information was correct, and when he did not know he would not guess. One of the great mysteries of that survey was that despite the correct information being provided to them, the Ordnance Survey recorded Kirkmichael as Saint Michael’s. The site was commonly called Kirkmichael, in papal records back in the 1400s it was known as Kirkmichael, the earliest dated slab at Kirkmichael mentions “Kirkmichael”, Hugh Miller had made it famous through his stories as Kirkmichael, every legal document and parish record called the place Kirkmichael – and the Ordnance Survey re-named it “Saint Michael’s”! And so it has remained on Ordnance Survey mapping to this day despite not a single person locally referring to it as anything but Kirkmichael.

Alexander had been asked by the OS if the building was the original Roman Catholic chapel or had been built post-Reformation. He responded accordingly:

Burnside of Newhall / by Invergordon / 6th June 1872
Sir, / I am sorry that I am not able to give the required information. The present Ruin is the site of the Parish Church of Kirkichael, but cannot say whether it has been rebuilt since becoming a Presbyterian Church.

and further suggested:

Captain Coddington / Sir / I beg leave to say that the Rev Colin McKenzie Parish Minister of Ardclach Nairnshire, being a son of the late Parish Minister of Resolis, may be able to give some information about the Ruin of the old Church of Kirkmichael here. / I am / Sir / Your Obedt. Servant / Alexander Ferguson

The Reverend Colin McKenzie did respond and informed the OS that he understood that the ruin at Kirkmichael was indeed the original church. But why did the OS feel it necessary to rename it?

Alexander died a few years later, aged only 62.

Resolis 1875
Alexander Ferguson ground officer (married to Flora McKenzie) died 18 September 1875 at Burnside Road aged 62 parents Robert Ferguson farmer (d) Margaret Ferguson ms Scott (d) informant Robert Ferguson son 25 Queen Street Peterhead

Flora and her unmarried children moved across the Firth to set up home in Harbour Street, Invergordon, in the Parish of Rosskeen. She died in that parish in 1889.

Flora Ferguson (widow of Alexander Ferguson Ground officer) died 24 July 1889 at Bridgend, Rosskeen aged 69 parents Kenneth MacKenzie master dyer (d) Isabella MacKenzie ms Munro (d) informant Kenneth Ferguson son (present)

The substantial granite headstone is a fitting tribute to the couple.

In memory of / ALEXANDER FERGUSON / Free Church Elder / who died at Burnside in this Parish / 18th Sept 1875, aged 62. / And of his wife / FLORA MACKENZIE / who died 24th July 1889 aged 69. / Also of their daughters / ELIZABETH SHAW MACKENZIE / who died 1st May 1887 aged 24. / FLORA ANN, who died 12th June 1920 / The gift of God is eternal life / through Jesus Christ our Lord. / Romans 6.23.

4. Robert Ferguson (1814–1883), Cromarty Schoolteacher, Farmer at Resolis Mains and Inspector of Poor

A neat little biography of Robert Ferguson was published in the Ross-shire Journal of 14 September 1883 upon his death:

Cromarty.– We regret to have to announce the death of Mr Robert Ferguson, inspector of poor, Cromarty, which took place on the 6th inst. Mr Ferguson was born at Kildun, near Dingwall, but his parents were natives of Perthshire. His early education was received in Dingwall Parish School, and he afterwards studied for three sessions in Aberdeen University, where he succeeded in gaining a first prize in the Greek class. He was afterwards for a period of ten years teacher of the Cromarty Free Church School, from which he retired in ill health, and was appointed tacksman of the Mains of Resolis, and in 1871 was appointed inspector of poor for Cromarty. For a number of years past he was president of the local Young Men’s Christian Association, and took an interest in other good works. Although in failing health for some time past, the final break down was doubtless brought about by the death of his son, Mr M.F. Ferguson, M.A., in May last. Mr Ferguson was a man of upright character, and warm sympathies, and his death will be much felt in the district.

There is corroboration of his academic prowess, as I see in the Inverness Courier of 9 April 1834:

Junior Greek Class. –lst, Robert Ferguson, Dingwall.

He married Catherine Young in 1847 whilst he was a teacher in Cromarty:

Cromarty 1847
14th May 1847 Robert Ferguson, Teacher, and Catherine Young, both in Cromarty, were married.

Catherine was the eldest daughter of the deceased Cromarty linen and woolen draper James Young and his wife Isabella Fraser. One of the children of Robert and Catherine was subsequently named James Young Ferguson, which startled me initially, as my own maternal grandfather was James Young Ferguson – but a different character altogether!

The full set of children was: James Young (1848), Alexander Stewart (1849), Andrew (1854), Malcolm Fraser (1856), Isabella (1857), David (1859), George (1860), John (1862) and Margaret (1864).

Robert Ferguson went through some significant career changes. He appears to have been a successful and respected teacher, as evidenced by a testimonial he received in 1852, as reported in the Inverness Courier of 30 December 1852:

Cromarty – Testimonial.– On Tuesday last a number of the pupils attending the school of Mr Robert Ferguson, Cromarty, anxious to show him some mark of their respect and their appreciation of his services as teacher, presented him with a massive and handsome silver snuff-box, bearing a suitable inscription. The token was handed to him (in name of the scholars) by Mr Colin A. Graham, accompanied by a neat and appropriate speech, to which Mr F. replied in an impressive address to his young friends. Mr Ferguson’s attainments as a teacher are of a very high order.

A further testament to his teaching skills comes from a Cromarty ex-pat’s notes in the Daily Review of Edinburgh of 26 November 1866:

From our American Correspondent. / Sydney, C.B. … 5th November. … I am sure no one will say that I am actuated by any feeling but that of goodwill to the young Bretonians when I state that the old school in Cromarty, with Mr Robert Ferguson at its head, is far ahead of anything here. I do not say that he was so much more learned than the teachers in Sydney, or that he had a better system or better material to act upon, but I will say that he had more of the co-operation of the parents and greater zeal among the pupils than is to be met with among the same classes generally in Cape Breton. … and this will compare but poorly with our Cromarty school examination when I was there, and Mr Ferguson (now turned farmer) was teacher.

As the American Correspondent had noted, Robert Ferguson had turned from teaching to farming. This was apparently on ill health grounds, but it seems curious that farming was considered less taxing than teaching. He became tacksman of the Mains of Resolis, part of the Newhall Estate, so he was returning to Resolis where his brother was farming at Burnside. Robert was farming at Resolis Mains at the time of the 1861 Census, in which he is given as “Farmer Of 142 Acres Employing 3 Labourers & 1 Boy” – a challenging job compared to teaching one would have thought!

I don’t know exactly when he gave up teaching, but his son Andrew was baptised in Cromarty in 1854 and his son Malcolm was registered in Resolis in 1856, which gives an indicative timeframe. I see, in fact, a rather sad record of his time in Resolis Mains with a succession of his children dying and being buried in Kirkmichael:

Robert Ferguson (single) 23 Jun 1859 Mains of Resolis 8 years Robert Ferguson farmer Catherine Ferguson m.s. Young … As certified by Alexander Ross Surgeon who saw deceased June 21st Churchyard of Kirkmichael As certified by William Holm Sexton informant Robert Ferguson father (present)

Andrew Ferguson (single) 14 Mar 1862 Resolis Mains 8 years Robert Ferguson farmer Catherine Ferguson m.s. Young Diphtheria As certified by Neil Kennedy Surgeon informant Robert Ferguson father (present)

Isabella Ferguson (single) 8 Feb 1863 Mains of Resolis 5 years Robert Ferguson farmer Catherine Ferguson m.s. Young … As certified by R.K. Kynoch Surgeon informant Robert Ferguson father (present)

George Ferguson (single) 16 Feb 1865 Resolis Mains 4 years Robert Ferguson farmer Catherine Ferguson m.s. Young Diptheria, 2 days. As certified by John McKay Physician and Surgeon informant James Ferguson brother (present)

What tragedies of childhood mortality faced parents in those days. Robert was still in Resolis Mains in 1868 as I see an advertisement in the Inverness Courier of 5 November 1868:

Turnips to Let.– About 18 Acres of superior Turnips, Purple and Green Top Yellows; to be eaten off by Sheep, on the Farm of Mains of Resolis, By Invergordon. Robert Ferguson. 2d Nov. 1868.

When he gave up farming I cannot say, but we know he was appointed as Inspector of Poor for the Parish of Cromarty at the beginning of 1871. We know this, strangely, from the report of a criminal case in the Glasgow Herald of 27 December 1872:

Glasgow Circuit Court … Trial of the Ex-Inspector of the Govan Parish. / James Dunlop Kirkwood was charged with breach of trust and embezzlement. The libel set forth that during the period between the 8th April, 1866, and the 15th November, 1871, when the accused held the office of inspector of poor for the parish of Govan, he received payment of, and discharged accounts and sums of money due and payable to the Parochial Board of said parish by the Parochial Boards of other parishes, on account of paupers belonging to such other parishes, either by cash, bank drafts or cheques, post office orders, or other remittances … Robert Ferguson, inspector of poor for the parish of Cromarty, said– Mr Gardner (now dead) was my predecessor. I was appointed in the beginning of 1871. Gardner was inspector in the year 1868. Shown cash order for £4 6s, dated 17th October 1868, drawn by James D. Kirkwood upon J.W. Gardner. Depones– I found that order sometime after my appointment. I do not know whether I found a letter transmitting the order. My initials are on the back of the letter. I must, therefore, have found it in the office when I succeeded Mr Gardner. The letter is daterd 18th May, 1868, and the order 17th October, 1868. The cash day book shown me was kept by my predecessor in the parish of Cromarty. In this book, under date October 20, 1868, there is an entry of payment of £4 6s to the Govan Board. The order and the letter refer to the same payment. / Lord Neaves– How would the money be paid? / Witness– Oh, by putting it into the bank at Cromarty. (Laughter.)

Robert by this time was fairly experienced in legal procedures, albeit those associated with extracting funds from Cromarty residents reluctant to pay their parochial assessments. The Cromarty Sheriff Court records contain several processes where Robert was seeking a few pounds from local Cromarty worthies: in 1879 £1 11s 6d from Andrew Skinner or “Andee”, a fisherman; also in that year £1 6s 5d from Alexander Macleman, alias “Dooie”, fisherman; in 1881, he was rcovering £2 15s 5d from John Watson or “Ochan”, fisherman, another £2 4s 7d from “Andee” and a more substantial sum, £5 5s 3d, from flesher Hugh MacKay. He could not have been popular in certain quarters of Cromarty!

From the Census return of 1881, I see that the 16 year-old daughter of Robert and Catherine, Margaret, was already a pupil teacher, continuing in her father’s footsteps. Robert also had the satisfaction of seeing his son, James Young Ferguson, become a probationer of the Church in 1881. He went on to become a minister and lived at Cairnryan, Wigtownshire. The Ross-shire Journal of 13 May 1881:

Free Presbytery of Chanonry.– … Mr James Y. Ferguson, student, from Cromarty, having passed his probationary trials to the satisfaction of the Presbytery, was by them licensed a probationer of the Church. Mr Ferguson’s discourses were most favourably criticised, and sustained with much approbation. (Mr Ferguson is the son of Mr Robert Ferguson, inspector of poor, Cromarty, and during the Rev. Mr Elder’s absence he officiated in the Free Church, Cromarty, with great satisfaction to all.)

Another son, Malcolm Fraser Ferguson, in 1881 was an MA Student in Medicine, but died in 1883 of that terrible scourge tuberculosis (“phthisis”). It was suggested in Robert’s obituary that his son’s death a few months before had precipitated his own decline.

Cromarty 1883
Malcolm Fraser Ferguson M.A. Medical Student (single) 21 May 1883 Church Street Cromarty aged 27 parents Robert Ferguson Inspector of Poor Catherine Ferguson ms Young Phthisis 2 years informant David Ferguson brother (present)

Cromarty 1883
Robert Ferguson Inspector of Poor (married to Catherine Young) 6 September 1883 Church Street Cromarty aged 68 parents Robert Ferguson farmer (d) Margaret Ferguson ms Scott (d) Serious Apoplexy 2 days As Cert. by John Mackay Phyn. & Surgn. informant David Ferguson son (present)

The obituary from the Ross-shire, already quoted, noted the different career paths he had taken. The obituary in the Inverness Courier of 15 September 1883, however, focused on his teaching career:

Cromarty.– We regret to record the death, here, on the 6th inst., of Mr Robert Ferguson, for many years schoolmaster of the parish. Mr Ferguson in early life was a distinguished student at the University, carrying off the first prize for Greek in his first year; and being one of the first four in mathematics, as well as attaining a very high position in the other departments. During his career as a schoolmaster he was the means of turning out many excellent scholars who have attained to good positions in life. His manner was quiet and unassuming, and he was highly respected by his pupils, as well as by his numerous acquaintances. Mr Ferguson leaves a family to mourn his loss.

Catherine (who is sometimes recorded in Census returns as a draper) continued to live in Cromarty for many years after the death of her husband, in the same house, and died as recently as 1906:

Cromarty 1906
Catherine Ferguson widow of Robert Ferguson Inspector of Poor died 25 Feb 1906 at 10 Church Street Cromarty aged 82 parents James Young linen & woollen draper (d) Isabella Young ms Fraser (d) informant James Young Ferguson son Cairnryan Wigtownshire

5. John (1816–) had already left home in Burnside by 1841. He became a labourer and I see him (or a John Ferguson, labourer, of about the right age, born in Dingwall) lodging with an Irish family called Boyle in Dunbar in 1861. I see him (or a John Ferguson, labourer, of about the right age, born in Dingwall) lodging with a different Irish family called Boyle at Nigg, Kincardineshire (now Aberdeenshire). It seems unusual for him to have been a humble labourer given the position of the family, but I wonder if he had particular challenges. I note in that context that in 1881 there is a labourer called John Ferguson of about the right age in the mental institute at Lasswade, where he dies in 1886 – the census does not give his origins and the death certificate does not give his parents. Not very helpful!

6. Jane (1818–) married well:

Resolis marriages
27 May 1844 Alexander Munro merchant in the parish of Rosskeen & Jane Ferguson at Burnside in this parish contracted 24 May married 27 May 1844

Thereafter, strangely, I have been unable to track the couple.

7. David (1823–1877) suffered a tragic death.

David was a 16 year old at Burnside in 1841 but by the time of the next census he was a grieve in Skye. Quite a jump! He became grieve and farm manager of the Home Farm on Kilmuir Estate at Snizort in Skye, married Chirsty Macpherson and they had numerous children in the 1850s and 1860s.

Several days of stormy weather in October 1877 culminated in floods. On Sunday, October 14th, the river surrounded the churchyard at Uig, which was partially swept away. Coffins and corpses were carried out to sea. The soil was stripped from the bit of the graveyard that remained, exposing the skellingtons lying in their graves.

Captain William Fraser’s summer mansion house at Uig (Uig Lodge) was greatly damaged, a whole wing being torn away. The Dundee Evening Telegraph reported on 22 October 1877:

Mr David Ferguson, the manager on the estate of Kilmuir, despite the remonstrances of his family and friends, resolved to remain in the house of his employer, of which he had been left in charge. His son, the grieve on the farm, and another friend made a most plucky attempt to get to the house and remove Mr Ferguson, by force if necessary, but so strong had the current become that they had to desist to save their own lives, after one of them had been carried off his feet and saved by his companions. To this hour the body of the manager has not been recovered, although boats have been “dragging” the bay every day since the occurrence of the flood.

Many corpses washed from the graveyard were recovered, and cartloads of bones had to be removed from the shore. But it was three weeks before the body of David Ferguson was washed up on the beach. His death certificate confirms his parents were Robert Ferguson and Isabella Mackenzie.

Captain Fraser’s Folly, built about 1860 for the owner of Kilmuir Estate, Major William Fraser. It is situated on a headland overlooking Uig Bay. Fraser was an unpopular landlord who carried out the last major clearances on Skye. Some felt he received his just desserts when Uig Lodge, the Estate house, was washed away in the devastating flood of 1877. Photo by Otter; Creative Commons licence

David Ferguson estate manager (married to Chirsty McPherson) died 14 October 1877 at Uig Lodge North Snizort aged 52 parents Robert Ferguson farmer (d) Isabella Ferguson ms MacKenzie Drowned in the sea or water at Uig Lodge. Body not found at date of Registration. Informant Rachel McPherson her x mark sister-in-law D. Ross Regr. witness


The legacy

The cachet of being a Ferguson of Burnside was a powerful one.

You can understand why Alexander Ferguson’s daughter Maggie would be thought of as the daughter of Alexander Ferguson “of Burnside” even if the family had moved to Invergordon, given her father had but recently died:

John O’Groat Journal Thursday, 7 September 1876
At Invergordon, on the 17th ult., by the Rev. Colin Sinclair, Free Church, Invergordon, James Coplan, teacher, Public School, Cromarty, to Maggie Scott, eldest daughter of the late Alexander Ferguson, Burnside of Newhall, Resolis.

But nearly 40 years after the death of Alexander:

Ross-shire Journal 17 May 1912
Ferguson– At Cathcart Place, Edinburgh, on the 9th inst., Kenneth, son of the late Alexander Ferguson, Burnside of Newhall, Resolis. Interred in Comely Bank Cemetery.


Appendix: The Leaning Gravestone in Kirkmichael

There were relatively few granite memorials in Kirkmichael when the granite headstone commemorating Alexander Ferguson and Flora Mackenzie was erected. An expensive polished granite stone originating from Rubislaw Quarry in Aberdeen was appropriate for the standing of the family, but it is a pity that the expense did not extend to putting in a decent foundation. Some broken sandstone rubble was piled in and the headstone balanced on top of it. When we were putting in a new foundation we had a close look at that sandstone rubble lest any of it was of heritage interest!

The headstone and its plinth had been slowly tilting over for many years. To add to our discomfort, the headstone was actually rocking on its plinth. Eventually it reached the stage when we had to take action. We propped it up with some sturdy wooden planks until we had time to deal with it.

The Kirkmichael Gantry was brought out, the railing taken down to allow access and the headstone winched straight upwards. We had expected to find it held by steel pins onto its plinth, but in fact it was keyed in by means of a tongue which extended into a groove in the plinth. Failed lime plaster secured the tongue in the groove, which explained why the headstone had been rocking.

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

Having laid the headstone down at a safe distance, we rolled the plinth away and cleaned off any remaining lime plaster from both sections of the memorial. Shuttering was inserted for an underground concrete foundation, and a 4:2:1 concrete mix was poured in. Reinforcing mesh was included to give strength.

We sheeted the concrete to ensure it didn’t dry out prematurely. When the concrete had hardened, the plinth was rolled back into position, lifted with straps to place a bed of mortar underneath and adjusted to be perfectly level for the first time in a hundred years.

And when the mortar had set, the headstone was given a final clean-up to make sure we had a clean granite surface and pulled into place to lift with the gantry. To any onlooker it must have seemed as if we were having a tug-of-war! But in fact, with manpower available, it was the quickest way to shift the stone. The old memorial was lowered into place, and we were about to insert the anchor resin – when disaster struck. The skies opened and a torrent descended!

A coat was thrown into the groove to keep it dry and an old sheet was thrown over the top to try to keep the rain off. Again, to any passer-by – but any passers-by would have been rushing for shelter themselves. In half an hour the thunderstorm had passed. Three volunteers injected modern anchor resin within the cavity and around the rim as it needed a substantial volume and resin has a limited setting window. We lowered the headstone carefully, the cleaned tongue of the headstone sliding into the cleaned groove of the plinth and checked that it was vertical.

We re-erected the railing when finished. Job done!


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