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

Hector Holm (1752–c1837), one of the “Men of Ross-shire”,
and his son, Hector Holme (1799–1838), Governor of George Heriot’s School

text by Dr Jim Mackay    photography as annotated


This is a Story without a Stone, as a memorial commemorating neither Hector Holm nor Hector Holme has been found. They both died in Invergordon, Parish of Rosskeen. However, we believe Hector Holm’s parents were Thomas Holm and Isabella Fraser of Ferryton, Parish of Resolis, and there definitely is a stone commemorating them, a low, worn tablestone in Kirkmichael.

Even then, the Kirkmichael tablestone was challenging to read, and Davine and I spent a chilly evening in November 2018 with the Kirkmichael Lampie recording the epitaph to Isabella. The inscription reads:

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland


There is one record of children to Thomas Holm and Isabella Fraser, and that exists only in the copy that the Reverend Donald Sage made on his arrival in Resolis in 1822 of the mouldering pages of the original register. It records the baptism on 17 September 1752 of Hector, son of Thomas Holm, weaver Ferrytown, and Isabella Fraser.

There were only a handful of children called Hector Holm in the records, mostly baptised in the parish of Resolis, and undoubtedly named after the famous Reverend Hector McPhail (minister of Resolis from 1748 to 1774 and “a man of primitive simplicity, fervent piety, and most eminently successful in his ministerial labours”), who was minister whilst Thomas was elder.

The tablestone memorial, of which Hector would have been the erector, you will note does not give the trade of Thomas, but is careful to record he was an elder. The elders in the Kirk were men of standing in the community. It is no surprise, then, that Hector was religious in turn. However, it went much further than that: Hector became one of the famed “Men of Ross-shire” and his son became Reverend Hector Holme, Governor of George Heriot’s Hospital in Edinburgh, then a well-endowed school for orphan boys of Edinburgh, now the most highly achieving private school in Scotland.

We have no record of Hector’s youth, or of his transition to becoming a merchant in Invergordon. As his nearest town, and only a short journey across the Balblair ferry, Invergordon would naturally be where he would establish his business. There was considerable growth there – Invergordon in the mid 1700s had been a mere scattering of houses but towards the end of the century had become a small town with several cloth and rope manufactories. There is a record in the roll of students seeking an MA at King’s College Aberdeen of a Hector Holm from Ross-shire studying for a second year in the mid-1780s on a bursary. It may be that Hector did make a start towards becoming a minister himself.

He was established in Invergordon by his marriage in 1786:

Parish of Rosskeen Marriages
11th March 1786 Then were married Hector Holm this Parish & Mary McArthur from the Parish of Nairn

In 1788 we have the first evidence of Hector’s deep religious devotion. At his house at the Ness of Invergordon, a dozen devout men, none a minister, met to put together the terms of reference of a religious group or praying society. They were from a range of backgrounds across neighbouring parishes. The full text is given in the Free Presbyterian Magazine of July 2005 (Volume 110, No 7) but here are some snippets (my emboldenment):

Invergordon Ness, 17 September 1788. The after-subscribing persons have, by the kind providence of God and as the outward fruit of the gospel, attained to an intimate acquaintance of one another, although from different parishes, yet as members of one Church, of which Christ is the professed Head. After spending some time in considering privately together, and secretly alone, the too many undeniable proofs (from the light of the Word of God and our own woeful experience) of our own deadness and unfruitfulness, and the deadness and unfruitfulness of the day, with the prevailing of all manner of sin in the land, we have come to the following resolution, that is: To meet four times in the year, or as oft as shall be judged fit and most convenient, and in the places that shall be agreed upon, to humble ourselves before the Lord by prayer and supplication, that He would avert the threatened and deserved judgement (in which we acknowledge our own guilty hands) which is already making too visible a progress one year after another.

4. The case of the young generation, who are generally given up to irreligion, and contempt of all that is serious, despising even the form of religion. What will become of the cause of Christ and His interest in our land if they continue as they are?
And being together for the above causes we resolve to keep the following order, namely:
First. That each meeting shall choose a Preses (only for order’s sake), whose province will be to read and sing a portion of the Word of God, and call one about to pray; and during the intervals betwixt the said duties, if one of us have a doubt upon which he would have the mind of his brethren, that each give his thoughts freely upon it for our mutual edification.

We are aware that this our meeting together out of different parishes will be misconstructed, but so far as we know ourselves, we have no divisive views in it, nor do we make a faction, and we desire to give none offence; but if the following of our duty give offence, we cannot help that. If we could meet unobserved it would be our choice – not that we are ashamed of our duty, to find out about which we have been at pains, and searched the Word of God and found it to be His command, and the exercise of His people in such a day as we live in, to meet together for prayer and spiritual conference as in Malachi 3:16: “Then they that feared the Lord spake … one to another’. The command in Zephaniah 2:1-3 seems to be to the same purpose: “Gather yourselves together …”, and Hebrews 10:24,25: “And let us consider one another … not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together … and so much the more as ye see the day approaching”. These portions of Scripture, besides others that might be mentioned, prove that fellowship-meetings of the Lord’s people, mutual prayer, and spiritual conference (being held within the bounds of men’s station), are necessary duties and special means of life in a declining time, and of strengthening against the temptations of such a time. Wherefore seeing our call and warrant from the Word, the example of the people of God, and the Lord’s dispensations in the day we live in calling for it, our own needy cases calling for it (being a day of famine), we have now come this length as to appoint the first Wednesday of November coming for our first quarterly meeting.

The twelve signatories held two from the parish of Rosskeen, Hector Holm, Invergordon, the subject of this Story, and Hugh Ross or Buie, Roskeen, possibly the most famous of the “Men of Ross-shire”. Hugh ended his days in the Parish of Resolis, dying peacefully whilst dining one day in the home of the Reverend Donald Sage, aged 98 (Sage’s Memorabilia Domestica).

Whilst Hector was decrying the young generation, he himself was contributing to it, as his first child had been born earlier that year, to be followed by four more:

1788 … Jean Daughter to Hector Holm Merchant at the Ness & Mary McArthur, was born 2nd. & Bapt. 6th. March 1788
1790 … Thomas son to Hector Holm Merchant at the Ness of Invergordon & Mary McArthur was born 5th. & Bapt. 19th. Janry. 1790
1792 … Isobel Daughter to Hector Holm Merchant at the Ness of InverGordon & Mary McArthur, was born 24th. Janry. 1792 & Bapt. 12 Febry.
1794 … Charles, son to Hector Holm Merchant at the Ness of InverGordon & Mary McArthur was born 25th. April & Bapt. 18th. May 1794
1799 … Hector, son to Mr Hector Holm Merchant at the Ness & Mary McArthur was born the 6th. & Bapt. 13th. Septr. 1799

While it is in no way conclusive, it is comforting to note that the first son and the second daughter bore the Christian names of Thomas Holm and Isabella Fraser who are commemorated in Kirkmichael and whom I believe were Hector’s parents. This is in strict conformity with Scottish naming pattern. By the same pattern, the parents of Hector’s wife, Mary McArthur from Nairn, would have been named Charles and Jean McArthur, and I see that a Charles McArthur and Jean or Janet McPherson were bearing children in the parishes of Nairn and Cawdor in the correct period warranting further investigation of this family. I am afraid that information on Mary in the records generally is very slim, although from one of the stories about those times she appears to have been a kindly, welcoming and devout lady herself.

In later directories of the area, Hector Holm is given as a grocer and linen draper, but he was for a time the postmaster of Invergordon. He also acted as agent for other concerns. An example occurs several decades later, but an early example of his agency work occurs in 1793:

Caledonian Mercury 9 March 1793
Ross-shire Bleachfield, at Culcairn.
William Tait lays down Cloth this season how soon the weather permits, and Bleaches at the following low prices, viz. … Cloth taken in for this Field, at Inverness, by Mr William Fraser, deacon of the weavers … Milnton, by Mr John Montgomery, merchant – Invergordon, by Mr Hector Holm, Merchant – Fortrose, by Mr Roderick Macfarquhar, merchant – Findon, by Jean Matheson …

In this business, Hector would receive unbleached linen, pass to William Tait for bleaching and presumably return the bleached linen to the producers. At this time he seems to have been working in partnership with one Donald Calder, as I see a notice that the partnership was dissolved in 1795:

Caledonian Mercury 4 June 1795
Copartnery dissolved.
The Copartnery Trade carried on by us at Invergordon, under the firm of “Hector Holm and Company,” was Dissolved by mutual consent on the 7th April last. The Debts due by and to the Company will be settled by Hector Holm, who continues to carry on the Business on his own account.
Invergordon, May 28. 1795. Hector Holm. Donald Calder.

I don’t know the reason for the dissolution. We have a tiny snapshot of one aspect of Hector’s life from the Farm Horse Tax Roll of 1797/8, when he is revealed to be one of the dozen or so people within the parish to have taxable farm horses; obviously with only two farm horses he was not in the same league as the big farmers and estate owners but he was significant enough to be taxable! And why would he have two farm horses? Clearly as well as being a merchant, he had some farmland of his own, presumably on the Ness of Invergordon.

Hector continued to be active in religious activities, for I see an interesting account in the Inverness Courier of 19 June 1896 of the Northern Missionary Society “formed in the beginning of the present century to assist the movement, which had then just begun, for sending missionaries to heathen countries.” The Courier, quoting from the then current edition of the Northern Evangelist, sets out the first list of directors of this Northern Missionary Society:

Revs. Alexander Fraser, of Kirkhill; Charles Calder, of Urquhart; John Urquhart, of Fearn; John Matheson, of Kilmuir-Easter … Messrs Alex. Fraser, merchant, Inverness; Hector Holm, merchant, Invergordon; Bailie James Taylor, of Tain; Mr Robert Findlater, merchant, Drummond.

By now, of course, Hector was well established as one of the “Men of Ross-shire” – regular speakers at church meetings who weren’t themselves ministers, famed for their devotion to God.

It must therefore have come like a thunderbolt from the blue when his own son Thomas was accused of theft in 1808 and imprisoned in the Tolbooth in Inverness for several months pending trial in 1809. The background was that Hector Holm had become the postmaster (although termed a “deputy postmaster” he was in charge of the post office) at Invergordon. His son Thomas assisted him and was accused of opening a letter and stealing the contents, a crime punishable by death. The case was widely reported across all the UK papers, and Hector and Mary must have been in fear for the life of their son, and, I should think, mortified that their own son could be accused of such an act.

Only the tower of the Tolbooth in which Thomas was imprisoned now still stands; source Wikimedia attribution Postdlf / CC BY-SA (

In the National Records of Scotland is a letter (RH15/76/9) dated 17 November 1808 from Cadboll (R.B. Aeneas Macleod) to the Lord Advocate, enclosing a petition from Hector and Mary, which I have not yet had an opportunity to inspect, but will update this Story in due course. One account of the trial is as follows:

Caledonian Mercury 1 May 1809
Circuit Intelligence. Inverness.– The Circuit Court of Justiciary was opened here by the Right Hon. the Lord Justice Clerk, on Tuesday last. … The Court then proceeded to the trial of Thomas Holm, son of Hector Holm, late Deputy Postmaster at Invergordon. The libel in this case was laid in the statute of the 7th of his present Majesty, cap. 50, which enacts, “that if any Deputy, Clerk, Agent, Letter Carrier, Post-boy, or Rider, or any other Officer or person whatsoever, employed in receiving, stamping, sorting, charging, carrying, conveying, or delivering letters or packets, or in any other business relating to the Post-office, shall secrete embezzle, or destroy any letter or letters, packet or packets, bag or mail of letters, which he shall and may be entrusted with, or which shall have come to his hands or possession, containing any Bank Note, Bank post Bill, Bill of Exchange, &c. or other bond or warrant, Draught, Bill, or promissory Note whatsoever for the payment of money; or shall steal and take out of any letter or packet that shall come to his hands or possession, any such Bank Note, Bank post Bill, Bill of Exchange, &c. every such offender or offenders, being thereof convicted in due form of law, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as a felon without benefit of clergy.” The libel was also laid on the statute 42. Geo. S. cap. 81, by which the like punishment against those who being employed in the service of the Post-office, shall secrete, embezzle, or destroy letters containing any part or parts of a bank note, &c. or steal or take the same out of any letter coming into their possession.
The minor proposition stated, that on 25th September last, Mr George Stedman, assistant to Mr Gillon, Solicitor for the General Post-office, Edinburgh, having written and addressed a letter to Alex. Paterson, Esq. banker, Thurso, he inclosed therein one five pound note and one twenty shilling note, both of the British Linen Company’s bank; the L.5 note dated 4th August 1808, and numbered … and the twenty shilling note dated 1st October 1806, and numbered …; that the letter with these notes in it, having been sealed by Mr Gillon with red wax, was on the 25th September put by him into the ordinary receiving box at the post-office at Invergordon, then principally under the charge of the foresaid Hector Holm, deputy postmaster there, but was frequently assisted in his business of deputy postmaster by the prisoner; that the letter bag from Invergordon to Thurso having been made up and dispatched on the said 25th September, by the prisoner, the foresaid letter, with the two notes in it, was taken by him out of the receiving box, into which it had been put, as abovementioned, by Mr Gillon; that the prisoner, instead of dispatching the foresaid letter, did, on the 25th of September, and in the foresaid post-office at Invergordon, steal, or did feloniously retain and secrete the foresaid letter, and did feloniously open it and steal therefrom the foresaid two notes.
The examination of witnesses lasted till four o’-clock in the afternoon, when the Jury were inclosed, and ordered to return their verdict next morning, at half-past nine, when they returned a verdict finding, (by a plurality of voices), the libel not proven; upon which the prisoner was assoilzied simpliciter, and dismissed from the bar; but before leaving the Court, he was apprehended and recommitted on a new charge.
Counsel for the prosecutor, Henry Cockburn, Esq. Advocate Depute; Agent, Mr Robert McKid, writer in Tain.– Counsel for the pannel, J.P. Grant and John Fraser, Esqrs. Advocates; Agent, Mr Arthur Cooper, writer in Inverness.

It must have been an enormous relief to the family when Thomas, at this time only 19, was acquitted of the main charge, which carried the death penalty. Curiously, I can find no report on the outcome of the subsequent new charge. I shall examine the Inverness papers (which are not extant for this period digitally) in the archives to find out more. From the description of the casework in the Court papers (JC26/1809/2, JC11/50), it would appear that Thomas having been found not proven on the felony charge was then arrested on the lesser charge of stealing. However, it seems remarkable that he should be tried twice on the same alleged offence under different charges.

What happened to Thomas thereafter I know not. I gather from the wording of the accounts that Hector Holm had given up his postmaster role, no doubt feeling that, whether a person was guilty or innocent, it was too high a risk to be involved in such a profession. Hector continued as a merchant in Invergordon, coupled with his religious activities. I see he was the coordinator of the Invergordon Association who in 1818 donated £20 in missionary contributions, as recorded by the Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle of February 1818.

He features within the Invergordon section of Pigot and Co.’s New Commercial Directory of Scotland for 1825–1826, along with tradesmen, merchants and farmers, including Gustavus Murray, tacksman, Rosskeen. I mention the wonderfully-named Gustavus in particular as he had become Hector’s son-in-law, but I shall return to that!

I referred to Hector’s work as agent for the linen bleachfield earlier, and I see he was acting several decades later as agent in another industry: wool.

Inverness Courier 27 June 1827
Inverness Woollen Manufactory. As the Clip is now approaching, the Public are respectfully informed, that WOOL will be received at this Work in exchange for Blankets, Carpets, Tartans, Cloths, Stocking yarn, &c. &c. at the regular market price; or manufactured into the above Fabrics, according to order, as usual, on the most reasonable terms. Orders addressed “To the Manager;” or to Mr HECTOR HOLM, Invergordon, Agent for the Work, will be punctually attended to.– A Lot of superior Flannel (English) Blanketing, on hand at present.

The Woollen Manufactory business had started in 1810, when the Inverness-shire Farming Society had entered into a resolution to wear cloth of the wool of their own growth, and manufactured at the Inverness woollen manufactory but clearly by this time it had expanded its remit considerably.

Hand-coloured image of Invergordon High Street before the era of the motor car

However Hector had felt about his son Thomas being tried for theft, he must have been very proud (albeit he would have regarded pride as a sin) of his son Hector junior, who by now had graduated MA, had become the Reverend Hector Holme, and was the English Master at one of the most famous schools in Scotland, George Heriot’s Hospital. Hector junior is always given the surname Holme, and I think it may actually have been his personal preference. The Holm families of Resolis have always been sensitive about the spelling of their surname, and descendants abroad who have become Holme, Holms or even Holmes are rather frowned upon! But I do wonder if Hector junior had chosen the Holme variant deliberately, perhaps to distinguish himself from his father, Hector Holm.

It is not clear when Hector Holm or his spouse Mary McArthur passed away. Hector was alive in 1830, for a famous guest spent the night with him, none other than the “Apostle of the North”, the Reverend John Macdonald, D.D., of Ferintosh, as extracts from his diaries are included within his biography:

“Monday, March 1, 1830.– Left home after dinner, drank tea with Mr. Sage [the minister of Resolis], crossed at eight o’clock to Invergordon, stopped at H. Holm’s, spent a comfortable night with him.
“Tuesday, March 2.– Left H. Holm’s at eight A.M. …”

Hector’s house was famously hospitable to travellers, and several stories about the warmth of his welcome are given below. Several other references would suggest Hector was alive and well in the 1830s but definite dates are difficult to come by. However, he was certainly dead before 1838. There is an advertisement of some of his property on 10 January of that year, referring to him as deceased, so presumably he died in 1837.

Inverness Courier 10 January 1838
DESIRABLE PROPERTY IN INVERGORDON TO BE SOLD, by virtue of powers of Sale, contained in a Bond and Disposition in security.
To be Sold, by Public Roup, with[in] Ross’s Inn, Invergordon, on Saturday, the 3d day of February next, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,
The Subjects which belonged to the deceased Hector Holm, Merchant, Invergordon, being that piece of ground, part of the Ness of Invergordon, consisting of 198 feet from South to North, by 64 feet from East to West, immediately opposite to the house sometime possessed by William Paterson, Smith, and afterwards by John Munro, Smith, with the Houses thereon, and the Garden thereto belonging.
The site of this property is considered to be superior to any in Invergordon, and forms an excellent stance for re-building. The present Premises, if well tenanted, will give to the Proprietor a vote for the County.
The Title Deeds, which are complete, and the Articles of Roup will be seen in the hands of A. Belford, Solicitor, Inverness, to whom application may be made for further information.
Inverness, 9th January, 1838.

More property was sold later in the year, in May. His son Hector had by now retired as Governor of George Heriot’s on a pension due to ill health and was back in the north, and he and his brother-in-law Gustavus Murray were organising the sale:

Inverness Courier 16 May 1838
To be let, in Invergordon,
A House, with Premises behind on both sides, and a Garden, as possessed by Hector Holm, Merchant. The House is commodious, and being the most central in the main Street, is well adapted for business. The Garden is in good order, and provided with fruit trees, bushes, and vegetables. There is a Well also, within the premises, containing good water.
Apply (if by letter, post paid,) to Gusts. Murray, Rosskeen; or to Hector Holm, Invergordon.
Rosskeen, 14th May, 1838.

The memorial inscriptions of Rosskeen Burial Ground have not been published; are there some mossy tablestones bearing Holm or Murray inscriptions waiting to be found? photo by Jim Mackay

Why are there no memorials to be found for Hector Holm, merchant, Hector Holme, former Governor of George Heriot’s Hospital, Gustavus Murray and their families? Assuming they were buried in Rosskeen Cemetery in the 1830s, the only explanation I can think of is that with so many of them dying in a relatively short period, there was no relative left to erect a memorial. However, whilst Hector may have died, stories about him lived on, particularly in the books about and by the great ministers of the Disruption of 1843.

Hector Holm, one of the “Men of Ross-shire”, in other works

Title page of the Apostle of the North

Title page of the expanded edition of the popular Days of the Fathers with introduction by Gustavus Aird


The Apostle of the North: the Life and Labours of the Rev. John Macdonald, D.D., of Ferintosh
Reverend John Kennedy, D.D.

In one of his [John Macdonald’s] journeys to college [John Macdonald started college in 1797] he reached the north side of Invergordon ferry during a gale of wind. The ferrymen would not venture on sea till the wind subsided, and he walked on the shore waiting for a quieter hour. There was then no inn beside the ferry, and even if there were, he could ill afford to pay its charges. Hector Holm’s house was near. He was the “Gaius” of “the Men” of Ross-shire; and right welcome was any stranger to food and lodging in this hospitable home. Mrs. Holm, observing a youthful stranger sauntering along the shore, went up to him and invited him to her house. Her husband was from home, and was not expected to return till a late hour; so after giving him the best her presses held, she asked the stranger to conduct family worship, which he at once agreed to do. Just as he had begun the prayer Hector Holm entered the house, and hearing a strange voice he stood at the door to listen. The prayer opened his heart to the youth who offered it, and he took him in, and when they met he saluted him very warmly. The feeling then produced deepened in Hector’s heart as the student visited him year by year thereafter on his college journeys. In later years it grew into an affection of peculiar strength. The student to whom he showed kindness, when as a stranger he first took him in, he well knew afterwards as the great evangelist, and he gave to him, with a deeper love than before, his profound respect. Nor did the minister ever forget the kindness shown to him as a student. Often, after he was minister of Urquhart, has he spent a night under the roof which then gave him shelter. On these occasions the back court of Mr. Holm’s house was converted into a chapel, filled with a crowd gathered from the country all around; and to the preacher and to many of his hearers the addresses delivered there were often most refreshing.

Mr. Macdonald was translated to Urquhart in 1813, and his induction there took place on the first of September. He was presented by the patron, Mr. Forbes of Culloden, on the petition of the parishioners, whose attention was first directed to him by Dr. Mackintosh and Hector Holm, the minister and the layman, to whose judgment they most readily deferred.

Having [John Mcdonald] caught cold on one of his journeys, and refusing rest in order to employ some means of cure, he became at last seriously ill. The pores of his skin so closed that the usual means of producing perspiration entirely failed, and to procure this was deemed essential to his recover. Hector Holm heard of his illness, and went to visit him. After conversation with him, and discovering what was required in order to his cure, he went about among the houses around the manse, and asked the inmates to assemble to hear a lecture from the minister. The people immediately gathered. All this was done unknown to Mr. Macdonald. When the kitchen of the manse was full, Hector went to the bedroom and told the minister that the people were assembled and were expecting a lecture. “I cannot rise to speak to them,” he said. “But will it not be hard,” Hector asked, “to send them away without ‘a word?’” “But how can I manage to speak to them in my present state?” Hector, seeing that he had begun to consider how this opportunity could be used, suggested that he should sit up in bed, wrapped in blankets, the people sitting in the passage outside the room, and that he should read and expound a passage of Scripture. To this he at once agreed; and so the people came, and the minister began to address them. Becoming interested in his subject, his usual fervour warmed him up, and before the lecture was concluded he was wet with copious perspiration. He then lay down, slept quietly all night, and awoke quite well in the morning. Hector used to say that he was the best physician Mr. Macdonald ever had. A dose of preaching was the only prescription he gave. This his patient had often found to be a delight to his heart, but on this occasion it was a cure to his body also.

[extract from Journal]
Monday, March 1, 1830.– Left home after dinner, drank tea with Mr. Sage, crossed at eight o’clock to Invergordon, stopped at H. Holm’s, spent a comfortable night with him.
Tuesday, March 2.– Left H. Holm’s at eight A.M. …”

The Ness of Invergordon as surveyed in 1872, by this time completely developed. The ferry slipway for the Balblair to Invergordon ferry, by which so many guests of Hector’s would have arrived, is at bottom left.


The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire
Rev. John Kennedy, Dingwall (1861)

“The Men” were so named, not because they were not women, but because they were not ministers. It was necessary to distinguish between the ministers and the other speakers at a fellowship meeting, when notes of their address were given; and the easiest way of doing so was by saying “one of the ministers” or “one of the men said so.” Hence the origin of this designation; and speakers at religious meetings in the Highlands, who are not ministers, are those to whom it is applied.
An unfavourable opinion is entertained of them by some, because they knew them not; but an unfair representation has been given of them by others, because they liked them not. Not a few have been accustomed to speak of “the men,” whom perhaps it would not be impossible to persuade, that, if they caught a live specimen, he would be found to have both horns and hoof. … The idea of “the men,” in other minds, is, that they are a set of superstitious and bigoted persons, who see visions and who dream dreams, and who think that their own straitened circle encloses all the vital Christianity on the earth. … It is trying to have to notice these gross misrepresentations, when one looks back on the noble phalanx of worthies to whom they have been applied

Perhaps of all “the men” of Ross-shire the most famous was Hugh Ross, commonly called Hugh Buie. It was in Alness he resided when, before his twentieth year, he first “knew the grace of God in truth.” … He was always slow to rise when called upon to speak. Having on one occasion, to go with some cattle to a remote place on the hills of Lochbroom, he was obliged to remain all night in the house of the farmer to whose care they were consigned. His host never bent his knee before his household, and, without doing so on that night, he offered to conduct Hugh to his bed. His guest at once refused to go till they had read the Word of God together and joined in prayer. The farmer agreed to allow family worship, if Hugh himself would conduct it, but, according to his usual custom, he declined, and urged the farmer himself to do it. The latter at last consented, but such was his prayer that Hugh was quite shocked and sickened before it was over, and sorely repented of his refusal. He slept none on going to bed, and, starting at the dawn of next morning, he reached the house of Hector Holm in the evening. Remaining there all night, he was present at family worship. After the reading of the chapter, Hector asked his friend to pray; and expecting the usual delay, he set himself slowly to close the Bible and to fold his spectacles. But to his surprise, scarcely was his request uttered, when Hugh was on his knees and the prayer begun. So soon as it was over, his host asked him to account for the change that had come over him since he saw him last. Hugh then told the story of the night before. Dr. Macdonald, hearing the story, would ever afterwards say to him when he did not rise at once on being called, “I find we must send you again to Clascarnich.”

Seldom has a lovelier Christian character been developed than that of Donald Mitchell, the celebrated catechist of Kilmuir. Amiable in disposition, vigorous in intellect, knowing in early youth “the grace of God in truth,” and trained under a powerful gospel ministry, he entered on his public career, as a witness for- God, with an equipment for his work, to which but few attain. As a speaker, he was peculiarly solemn, clear, and pathetic. His words came carefully weighed from his well balanced mind, while coming fervent with love, from his broken heart. At the fellowship meeting, he has often carried “a word in season” to a weary soul. As a catechist, he was quite unrivalled. Hector Holm used to say of him, that, “as a Friday speaker, he had his ups and downs like other men, but that as a catechist, he was always excellent.”

What a goodly company of the Lord’s people were wont, in the earlier days of his [his own father’s] ministry, to meet at the communion in Killearnan! … On Friday, the difficulty in these days would be to select, and not as now to find “men;” so may would be present who were qualified to speak, and who would be acceptable to their hearers. Each one, who was called to speak, knowing this, and unwilling to occupy the time of another, was invariable concise. Hugh Buie would be the first speaker, and clear, full-fraught with thought, and unctuous his remarks would be. Alexander Vass, himself in tears as he spoke of the love of Christ, would move all others to tears by his melting words. Hector Holme, less remarkable than these as a speaker, would be listened to as a man of God, and the unction of his utterances would be sweet to many hearts.

The Life of Gustavus Aird, A.M., D.D., Creich, Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, 1888
Rev. Alexander MACRAE (of Tongue.) (Stirling: 1908)

I have not been able to lay my hands on this book but I understand from other references that within it Reverend Gustavus Aird (1813–98) “recorded an account which he had heard in the 1830s from Hector Holm of Invergordon, who was probably born about 1760: … that during part of Mr [Robert] Bruce’s ministry in Inverness [in the 16th century!], persons from Sutherland and Ross were in the habit of going there to hear him, through bridgeless streams and rivers and across ferries.”

Hector Holm clearly had absorbed the religious traditions of the Highlands.


Postscript: re-evaluation of the “Men of Ross-shire”

My perception of the “Men of Ross-shire” has, I confess, been considerably opened by researching Hector Holm. He was not some humble crofting zealot in a quiet highland glen but a successful local businessman in a small town. He owned property and land at the Ness of Invergordon and on the High Street at Invergordon. One daughter married a local tacksman. One son had a fight for his life in a criminal case before the Circuit Court. And one son successfully passed through University and rose to a most responsible and prestigious post as Governor of George Heriot’s Hospital in Edinburgh. A devout Christian, he organised prayer meetings, spoke at religious events, organised fund-raising endeavours and supported the evangelical ministers of the north.


The Children of Hector Holm and Mary McArthur

1. Jean, born 1788

I have been unable to track Jean. Curiously the physical records in the Rosskeen baptism register of both Jean (the first born) and Hector (the last born) have later pencilled calculations on them, deducting from the year 1832 the year (1788 or 1799) in which the child was born, given their ages in 1832 (44 and 33). There was some purpose to this; perhaps it was the year that their mother died, but why would someone (a later Session Clerk or Minister, presumably) do this? I presume that Jean was still alive in 1822, when her sister Isabella married Gustavus Aird, as Isabella at this time is called “the second daughter” of Hector Holm, a form of words used when both would be alive.

2. Thomas, born 1790

We have seen that in 1808 Thomas was assisting his father Hector with post office duties in Invergordon; he was lodged in the Tolbooth of Inverness for several months until the circuit court came to Inverness in 1809 on a charge of felony, accused of stealing paper money from a letter in his charge. He was acquitted on a not proven verdict but he was immediately re-arrested on another charge. I shall endeavour to discover what happened to him thereafter.

3. Isobel, born 1790, died between 1841 and 1851.

Isabella (Isobel, Isabel) married Gustavus Murray in 1822:

Parish of Rosskeen Marriages
1822 … Gustavus Murray Tacksman Rosskeen and Isabel Holm were married on the 13. day of February

I had this as a hypothetical marriage between Hector’s daughter and Gustavus, based simply on the working relationship between Hector and Gustavus. However, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a newspaper record (as rare as hen’s teeth at this time except for the gentry) which confirmed it:

Aberdeen Press and Journal 27 February 1822
Married – at Invergordon, on the 13th current, Mr. Gustavus Murray, Rosskeen, to Isabella, second daughter of Mr. Hector Holm, Merchant, Invergordon.

I note three subsequent children in the Rosskeen baptism register, Gustavus (1823), Mary (1824) and Hector (1826). Gustavus senior, I think, died between 1838 and 1841. There are just a couple of records in the press of his activity before this:

Inverness Courier 20 January 1836
Intimation. In consequence of Alexander Macdonald or Henry, Tenant of the Farm of the Moss of Invergordon, having died suddenly without any known relations to look after his property, nor any servant to take charge … a Petition was therefore presented by Robert Bruce Æneas Macleod of Cadboll, Esquire, for authority to appoint a manager to sell the effects… and that at the sight of James Adam, Farmer at the Ord of Invergordon, and Gustavus Murray, Farmer at Rosskeen, who are hereby directed to value the same.

And then his acting as letting agent along with his brother-in-law the Reverend Hector Holme in 1838:

Inverness Courier 16 May 1838
To be let, in Invergordon,
A House, with Premises behind on both sides, and a Garden, as possessed by Hector Holm, Merchant. The House is commodious, and being the most central in the main Street, is well adapted for business. The Garden is in good order, and provided with fruit trees, bushes, and vegetables. There is a Well also, within the premises, containing good water.
Apply (if by letter, post paid,) to Gusts. Murray, Rosskeen; or to Hector Holm, Invergordon.
Rosskeen, 14th May, 1838.

There will no doubt be more about Gustavus in the Cadboll Estate papers. At some point after this, though, the family moved out of the Cadboll Estate and took up the farm of Pollo, a mile or so to the east of Rosskeen, in the neighbouring parish of Kilmuir Easter. In the 1841 Census, his wife Isabel is residing there with her son Hector but ominously there is no Gustavus present.

Census Return 1841 Parish of Kilmuir Easter – Pollo
Isabella Murray 45 Farmer y
Hector Murray 13 y
Mary Munro 20 Indt. y / Arthur Mackay 13 M.S. y / Betty Ross 45 F.S. y / Hanna Gibson 15 do. do. y

The sad conclusion is that Gustavus senior, Gustavus junior and Mary had all died. Isabella Murray ms Holm was running the farm of Pollo. Now, the lands of Pollo, and the rest of the Estate of Newmore and Balintraid, were sold in 1843. In these situations, tenants kept their tenancies but I presume that Isabella and Hector felt it was time to move on. The farm of Newton of Kincraig, nearby in their home parish of Rosskeen, came up for let from Whitsunday 1844 and I think that must be when they moved back to Rosskeen. Certainly, in 1845 the new owners of Pollo were advertising for fresh tenants so the Murrays had gone.

Newton Farm is advertised for let; Inverness Courier 20 March 1844

Thus Isabella and son Hector returned to the parish of Rosskeen, although only Hector is seen in the 1851 Census. Sadly, I think Isabella must have passed away by this time too. Of course, there could be other reasons for these absences, but the most likely reason is simply that they had died.

Census Return 1851 Parish of Rosskeen – Newton, Estate of Kincraig
Hector Murray head unmarried 23 Farmer of 107 acres emp. 8 lab. born Rosskeen
Betsie Ross serv. 49 house servant born Rosskeen
Catherine Davidson serv. 14 house servant born Rosskeen

Hector was on the move again soon – but this time, in a big way. He emigrated to Canada. But alas, he died there, still a young man, in the land of opportunity:

John o’ Groat Journal 6 December 1860
Near Grafton, Canada West, on the 26th ult., Hector Murray, Esq., late of Pollo, Ross-shire, aged 34.

4. Charles Holm, born in 1794

I can find no later reference to Charles, and it may be that he died as an infant.

5. Hector Holme , born in 1799, died in 1838

Hector was born in Invergordon in 1799. He attended King’s College in Aberdeen, and appears in “Roll of Alumni in Arts of the University and King’s College of Aberdeen 1596–1860” (edited by P.J. Anderson, 1900). This is an extraordinarily complicated student roll:

Hector Holm, Rossiensis, b. See 1815–19
Hector Holm, Rossiensis, s. See 1816–20
Hector Holme, Rossiensis, t, m
b. bajan, i.e., student of first year.
s. semi., i.e., student of second year.
t. tertian, i.e., student of third year.
m. magistrand, i.e., student of fourth year.

The most logical interpretation of this academic gobbledegook is that Hector Holm was at Aberdeen University for a period of four years within the period 1813 to1820, graduating M.A. According to the History of George Heriot’s Hospital: With a Memoir of the Founder, and an Account of the Heriot Foundation Schools by William Steven (third edition, 1872), Hector Holme M.A. took up his post of English Master on 12 September 1826. It does not say where he had been previously. And then, promotion indeed:

The Rev. Hector Holme, M.A., who had been nearly four years one of the English Masters in the Hospital, was promoted to the House-Governorship on the 14th of September 1829.

Hector governed George Heriot’s well, for ten years but then:

The Rev. Hector Holme, by reason of severe and protracted indisposition, resigned the office of House-Governor in January 1838, on a yearly pension for life of one hundred guineas. This gentleman, who had proved himself an excellent master, did not long enjoy his retiring allowance, having been cut off in the subsequent autumn.

Seen by some as the model for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter book series, George Heriot’s is an astonishing survival from the 1600s in the city of Edinburgh. At this time, it had broadened its intake from orphans and fatherless boys, and was just about to found another ten free schools across Edinburgh, which closed only when the Educational Act schools were built in the 1880s.

To quote from Wikipedia:

George Heriot’s School is a Scottish independent primary and secondary school on Lauriston Place in the Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland. In the early 21st century, it has more than 1600 pupils, 155 teaching staff, and 80 non-teaching staff. It was established in 1628 as George Heriot’s Hospital, by bequest of the royal goldsmith [and jeweller] George Heriot, and opened in 1659. It is governed by George Heriot’s Trust, a Scottish charity.

George Heriot’s School, south side facing Lauriston Place (rear); photo by Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Court at George Heriot’s School; photo by Oliver-Bonjoch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


On his death in 1624, George Heriot left around 25,000 Pound Scots – equivalent to several tens of millions today – to found a “hospital” (then the name for this kind of charitable school) to care for the “puir, faitherless bairns” of Edinburgh.

The construction of Heriot’s Hospital (as it was first called) was begun in 1628, just outside the city walls of Edinburgh. It was completed in time to be occupied by Oliver Cromwell’s English forces during the invasion of Scotland during the Third English Civil War. When the building was used as a barracks, Cromwell’s forces stabled their horses in the chapel [I have lost count of the stories of chapels in which Cromwell’s horses were said to be stabled, including Kirkmichael, and don’t believe any of them]. The hospital opened in 1659, with thirty sickly children in residence. As its finances grew, it took in other pupils in addition to the orphans for whom it was intended.

Statue to George Heriot at George Heriot’s School; photo by Kim Traynor, source Wikipedia

Extract from the Edinburgh Almanack for 1833


The school also provided funds for the establishment of an institution that later merged in the 1870s with the Watt Institution (named after James Watt). It formed Heriot-Watt College, a technical college that developed by 1966 into what is known as Heriot-Watt University. In 1979 Heriot’s became co-educational after admitting girls. In the early 21st century, it has around 1600 pupils. Today, the school is ranked as Edinburgh’s best performing school by Higher exam results. Its leavers (graduates) attended the country’s most selective and prestigious universities, including St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland; and Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and King’s College London in England.

Hector Holme was House-Governor of George Heriot’s for ten years, longer than most. As evidence of the popularity of Hector Holme, there was a touching testimonial, in an Edinburgh coffee-house:

Caledonian Mercury 25 January 1838
Testimonial to the Rev. H. Holme.– On Tuesday evening, 23d. inst. a number of the former pupils of the above gentleman entertained him and a few of his friends at supper in Robertson’s Coffeehouse, Waterloo Place, when they presented him with a handsomely chased silver snuff-box, as a mark of their esteem and attachment to him on the occasion of retiring from his public duties, bearing the former inscription:– “Presented to the Rev. Hector Holme, by a number of his former pupils in George Heriot's Hospital, as a mark of their esteem and gratitude for the kind and able manner in which he discharged his duties as teacher, and afterwards as Governor of that Institution. Edinburgh, 23d January 1838.” A party from the Choral Society attended, and enlivened the company with a number of appropriate and beautiful glees, &c. Mr Robertson’s attention elicited the thanks of the whole meeting; and after a most happy evening the party broke up at an early hour, much delighted with the pleasant manner in which the whole proceedings went off.

On his retiral, Hector returned to Invergordon, where, with his brother-in-law, Gustavus Murray, he supervised the letting of a house previously owned by his deceased father’s house on the High Street.

Gustavus and Hector let the property on High Street, Invergordon ; Inverness Courier 16 May 1838

But alas, the severe illness that had caused his early retirement was to cut short his life just a few months later.

The Scotsman 26 September 1838
Deaths. At Rosskeen, Ross-shire, on the 16th inst. aged 39, the Rev. Hector Holm, late Governor of George Heriot’s Hospital, much regretted by a numerous circle of acquaintances.

Postscript: loose ends

Of the five children of that eminent member of the “Men of Ross-shire”, Hector Holm, and his wife Mary McArthur, I have not found any lines of descent! But there may well be descendants of whom I am not aware, so please let me know if you can assist.

And as I mentioned at the start of this Story, it is very likely that Hector was the son of Thomas Holm, elder in Resolis, and Isabella Fraser, commemorated on their tablestone at Kirkmichael. This Story will be updated when corroboration has been found.

The light coloured tablestone commemorating Thomas Holm and Isabella Fraser stands to the south of the kirk at Kirkmichael; photo by Jim Mackay


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