Weavers and Shoemakers: The Holm Family of Ethie, Cromarty, Invergordon, Prince Edward Island and Melbourne

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as annotated under each image

In the churchyard of the Gaelic Chapel, Cromarty, stands a tight group of five memorials, currently smothered in ivy. Four of them commemorate members of weaving and shoemaking families named Holm. Three of them are associated with one specific Holm family, and the other two presumably are as well, although the connection is not yet known.

The Gaelic Chapel, and the Holm burial area under ivy, April 2022: photo by Jim Mackay


This Story behind the Stone series has included several Holm families. These stories have centred on the parish of Resolis where the greatest numbers of Holms resided, but have also included branches that extended into Rosskeen and further afield. This particular story focuses on the Holm stones in Cromarty, in both the East Church churchyard and the Gaelic Chapel churchyard.

North Star Nuggets

I also set out to investigate a couple of items culled from the press, intriguing but not always accurate, which are:

North Star and Farmers’ Chronicle 15 January 1903
Dingwall is not the only Ross-shire town which has supplied a Mayor to Canada. An Invergordon boy, David Holm, son of the manager of the old factory, who, by the way, was born on the other side of the Firth, was at one time the Mayor of St John’s, New Brunswick.

and, on the death of Cromarty worthy, Alexander Holm Mackenzie, in 1915, there is much more about the family. The Invergordon boy “born on the other side of the Firth” is now magically elevated to become “Sir David Holm”:

North Star and Farmers’ Chronicle 22 July 1915
His father Donald Mackenzie was for many years a mason contractor, and had been from boyhood an intimate friend of Hugh Miller, as was also his wife’s brother Alexander Holm, who emigrated to NSW, and became private secretary to its Prime Minister. A cousin, Sir David Holm, was mayor of St John’s, New Brunswick. Most of the deceased’s relatives are in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. A large number are agriculturalists in South Gippsland, Victoria, two first cousins Mr Donald Thomson Mackenzie and Mr James Mackenzie, being retired farmers and butter exporters, who now reside in Melbourne. A maternal first cousin Mr Stewart Holm, is a banker in Fremantle W.A. and another Mrs Fullarton, resides at Peterhead. A brother and sister are in New York and a son in Durban. … The deceased’s wife is a descendant of “Rob Doun” the Sutherland poet. He is survived by five sons and a daughter, among the sons being Mr W M Mackenzie, M.A. Secretary (for Scotland) of the Ancient Monuments Commission and author of several historical works, and the brothers Donald A. and George, formerly proprietors of the North Star, and now holding important positions in the literary world in the south. The funeral takes place today (Thursday) from the deceased’s residence, 4 Barkly St, Cromarty, the interment taking place in the Gaelic churchyard of Cromarty at 2 o’clock.

Barkly Street Cromarty, where several of the Holm family and Mackenzie family resided: photo by Jim Mackay


Huguenot weavers?

You often see references to the Holm families of the Black Isle originating from Huguenot weavers (French Protestants), fleeing religious oppression in the 1700s and settling in Ethie. Well, undoubtedly Scotland welcomed skilled weavers from France but I can’t see any evidence that the Holms were Huguenots. There are records of Holms present in the parishes of Resolis and Cromarty in the 1600s, long before the revocation of all Protestant rights in France through the Edict of Fontainebleau of 1685. Indeed, I note one old document (the will of Walter Urquhart, Laird and Sheriff of Cromarty, written at Brey on 26 February 1586, two days before his death). It refers to back rent owed for year 1585 by two Holm tenants in Braelangwell and three Holm tenants in Wester Balblair! It is certainly true there were weaving members of the Holm families, but not more than many other local families: weaving had become one of the major industries of the area. I have seen the same Huguenot story applied to the local MacKeddie family, so it is certainly a tradition that is well embedded in the local folklore, and I imagine it will continue quite happily regardless of lack of supporting evidence.

Tenants John Holm and James Holm owing back rent, named in the will of Walter Urquhart, written 1586; photo by Jim Mackay


STONE 1, TABLESTONE: David Holm (c1782–1850), Weaver, Manager of Hemp Manufactory,
and wives Margaret Mackenzie (c1786–1817) and Ann Fraser (c1791–)

“An Invergordon boy, David Holm, son of the manager of the old factory, who, by the way, was born on the other side of the Firth, was at one time the Mayor of St John’s, New Brunswick.”

As this was written in the North Star of 1903, the candidates for “old factory” in Invergordon seemed to be the enormous bone and fertiliser factory initiated in the 1860s, or, less likely, the long-gone hemp factory. After much investigation, it proved to be the old hemp factory, where David Holm was the overseer back in the 1820s. The North Star editors had long but accurate memories.

But the “David Holm” who became “Mayor of St John’s, New Brunswick” was less accurate, as it turned out to be not David, but David’s brother, Colin Tolmie Holm, who became a member of parliament for the province of Prince Edward Island. And Prince Edward Island was originally known as “St John’s Island”. So you can see that the North Star was close, but not quite there.

The David Holm headstone in East Church kirkyard; photo by Jim Mackay


But to start at the beginning, in the kirkyard of the East Church in Cromarty rather than the kirkyard of the Gaelic Chapel. Here there is a roughly carved sandstone headstone, partially buried in the turf, which reads:

here by David
Holm weaver at
Eathy in memory
of his Father David
Holm who died 2th
Iune 1804 and also
his sister Katren
Holm who Died
11 Apriel 1786

The “Katren” (presumably for “Katherine”) is not very clear, and I took multiple shots with angled lighting to make sure of it. Here is one of them:

The David Holm headstone in East Church kirkyard; photo by Jim Mackay


Ethie lies in the Parish of Rosemarkie, so why were David’s father and sister buried in Cromarty? Presumably the family had been residing in the Parish of Cromarty, and David had more recently moved to Ethie. We don’t know when David erected the headstone, but from the wording it has to have been before David returned from Ethie in the Parish of Rosemarkie to reside in Cromarty, which was sometime between 1809 and 1812. Nor does the inscription state what David Holm Senior’s occupation was, although it is tempting to think that he too was a weaver, moving to the parish of Cromarty to engage in the rapidly expanding Cromarty weaving industry. But that is mere conjecture. The hard evidence we have here is that David Holm died in 1804, and that he had a daughter Katren who died in childhood and a son, David, weaver in Eathie.

From a cursory examination, the Rosemarkie baptism register and Kirk Session records provide no evidence that there were Holms in Ethie before David Holm arrived.

Ethie Burn from a postcard signed 1917, courtesy of Angus Bethune – Ethie was popularised through the writings of Hugh Miller; photo by Jim Mackay


Whatever trade David Holm Senior had followed, David Holm Junior was a weaver, and clearly was doing well enough to afford gravestones at a time when the great majority of people were buried without a memorial. He married first in 1808:

Parish of Avoch Marriages
1808 … May 6th. [groom] Holm David weaver [bride] Margt. Mackenzie, Servant to Rodk. Jack, Wright in Seatown. [future residence] Bog of Ethie, Rosemarkie

I don’t know exactly where Bog of Ethie was. I see that Leslie of Findrassie (whose family had been so maligned by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty a couple of centuries earlier) owned the Barony of Ethie. In 1804, he was advertising farms for let (Caledonian Mercury 2 January 1804), comprising I. Lower Ethie, consisting of 135 acres … II. Bog of Ethie, consisting of 72 acres … III. Upper Ethie, consisting of 180 acres … as well as farms on the estate of Easter Raddery. “John Robertson, gardener of Easter Raddery, the baron officer, will show the lands.” The first and second editions of the 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey mapping shows Upper Ethie (which is still there, high up on Ethie Hill) and Lower Ethie (of which only the wall bases now remain – they can be seen from the track down to Ethie Beds).

The remains of Lower Ethie; photo by Jim Mackay

But no Bog of Ethie is shown by the Ordnance Survey. However, there is an un-named small farmstead shown on early Ordnance Survey mapping just beside the Burn of Ethie itself, opposite Bannans on the Cromarty side, and as logically Bog of Ethie would be in a lower, poorly-drained area, then this may well have been its location. Nowadays, with modern drainage, the area is all fertile arable land.

The remains of the large farmstead of Bannans on the Cromarty side of the Burn of Ethie lie within my red ellipse; the location of the small un-named farmstead on the Rosemarkie side of the Burn of Ethie is about where I have drawn the yellow ellipse; photo by Jim Mackay


Spelled Ethie nowadays, Eathie or Ethy or even Eathy were forms commonly used in documents in the past. Indeed, I have seen Ethie described as “Lands of Athie” on David Aitken’s 1764 plan of the Cromarty Estate, Ethie lying just outside the Estate.

David and Margaret had their first child in the Parish of Rosemarkie whilst residing at Bog of Ethie. Rather than following the usual Scottish naming pattern, they named their daughter “Susannah” because (I am assuming) Margaret’s previous employers, wright Roderick Jack and Margaret Hossack, had a daughter Susanna, born in 1797, and went on in 1810 to name another child Susanna, presumaby as the first Susanna had died.

Parish of Rosemarkie Baptism Register 1809
[born] Nov. 21st [baptised] Nov. 23d. [name] Holm Susannah [father] David Holm Weaver Bog of Ethy [mother] Margaret McKinzie

Between 1809 and 1812, they moved a couple of miles from Ethie in the Parish of Rosemarkie into the little town of Cromarty, where Colin Tolmie Holm was born in 1812:

Parish of Cromarty Baptism Register
Colin Tolmie L.S. to David Holm, Weaver, and Margaret Mackenzie, in Cromarty, born 4th and baptized 6 May 1812

Why Colin Tolmie? I note that James Fowler Esq. and Mrs. Sophia Wood his spouse had a boy baptised in Rosemarkie in 1810 called Colin Tolmie. The Holm family were clearly wanting to keep in with the rich and influential Fowlers. Ethie had been offered up for sale in 1807 by Findrassie, and I think Fowler, who had purchased Raddery, may have had an interest in Ethie as well – perhaps someone conversant with the history of Ethie could advise!

Now, having moved into town, and with an increasing family, and making money at his weaving business, David must have felt that his family should have a formal presence in the Church. In the Cromarty Kirk Session Minutes for 8 April 1813, we see

for two thirds of the seventh Pew on the west side of the Lower Aisle sold to David Holm, one pound and six shillings

There is no guarantee this is David the weaver, of course, but it is very unlikely to be another David Holm.

Some of the elite pews upstairs in the East Church; photo by Davine Sutherland


Their next child was Margaret, born in 1815:

Parish of Cromarty Baptism Register
Margaret L.D. to David Holm Weaver, and Margaret Mackenzie, in Cromarty born 14th & baptized 19th Feby. 1815.

But tragedy was following the family. Both their daughters died, and then mother Margaret herself passed away. It was now just David and young Colin Tolmie in their home in Cromarty. David purchased a tablestone and had it erected in the kirkyard of the Gaelic Chapel to commemorate his wife and daughters. Tablestones were expensive memorials, a symbol of solid financial status, associated with the families of tacksmen and successful tradesmen. I stress this point as there can be no doubt that at this time David Holm was a man of some substance. The tablestone, close to the entrance of the Gaelic Chapel, a prestigious location in itself, reads:

by David Holm in Cromarty
in memory of his spouse
Margaret Mckenzie who
died August 31st 1817 aged
31 years, also his daughter
Susanna who died July 28th
1811 aged 1 year & Margaret
who died February 26th 1817
aged 2 years.

photo by Jim Mackay


David did not long remain a widower. He re-married one year later.

Parish of Cromarty marriages 1818
31 July 1818 David Holm Weaver in Cromarty & Ann Fraser at Little Farness were married

His new wife Ann soon was not just looking after young Colin Tolmie as baby David made his appearance:

Parish of Cromarty baptisms 1819
David L.S. to David Holm Weaver and Ann Fraser in Cromarty was born 16th & baptized 24th May 1819

David Holm was no ordinary weaver, he was not just one of the several hundred weavers in and around the town of Cromarty. He was clearly a man of some significance. And now he would take a big step up, to become the manager at the weaving factory across the Cromarty Firth in Invergordon. This post would have required not only someone who knew his weaving inside out but also a person who could manage others. David was clearly the man for the job. I am assuming that Charles Denham, the manager of the Cromarty factory, would have known him well, and perhaps this was the route to his success.

Sometime between 1819 and 1822 he crossed the Firth to Rosskeen and began to act as the manager in the Invergordon weaving manufactory. And that is how he is recorded at the baptism of his and Ann’s next child.

Parish of Rosskeen baptisms 1822
John, Son to David Holm Overseer of the Factory at the Ness and Ann Fraser his wife was born on the 18, and baptized on the 22d. August

Parish of Rosskeen baptisms 1826
Margaret McKenzie, Daughter to David Holm, Manufacturer at the Ness & Ann Fraser his wife was born 18 and baptized 23 July


Invergordon and the Linen Industry

The Reverend Thomas Urquhart of Rosskeen (who features in quite a number of these stories) reported in the First Statistical Account regarding the Parish of Rosskeen in the 1790s that:

No species of manufacture has as yet found its way to this part of the country, though few situations are to be found so well adapted for their introduction. … The spinning of linen yarn is carried on to a considerable extent, though, it must be said, with very little advantage to the people, or to the country, it being done by commission from more southern districts, whither the yarn is transmitted to be wove, or otherwise manufactured; so that, by passing though so many hands, each of whom must have a small profit, little can be afforded to the spinners, who, though expert and industrious, do not earn above 2½, or at most, 3d a day, from their labour.

But by the Second Statistical Account, the Reverend David Carment, writing in 1838, said:

There are two hemp-manufactories in the parish, which together give employment to about 70 people, who receive each from 9s. to 12s. per week; besides the spinning, which occupies a great number of females, in the vicinity of the village of Invergordon.

Quite a transformation! Charles Denham (manager of the hemp factory in Cromarty) was involved with the hemp manufactory at Invergordon earlier than 1815, as I see him dissolving a partnership that year, the company description including Invergordon:

Morning Chronicle 14 July 1823
PARTNERSHIPS DISSOLVED. … G. Emmett, G. Dyer, and C. Denham, of Lower Thames-street, and Cromarty and Invergordon, North Britain, hempen cloth manufacturers (as far as regards C. Denham)

Dyer & Emmett of London were the owners of the great Hemp Manufactory at Cromarty, which, when it was sold in 1853, covered one and a half to two acres, and was possessed “as a Hemp Manufactory for the last sixty years” (Inverness Courier, 27 January 1853) so the Invergordon enterprise must have been a spin-off from the works at Cromarty. It would have been sensible to expand the industry around the Cromarty Firth, given that ships bearing the flax would be coming from the Baltic into the Firth anyway. Charles Denham was selling off his holdings in Invergordon in 1829:

Edinburgh Evening Courant 30 July 1829
In virtue of a bond and disposition in security, there will be SOLD by public roup, within the Commercial Inn there, upon Wednesday the 21st day of October 1829, in one lot,
1. All and whole that Piece of Ground, situated at the east side of said village of Invergordon, as formerly occupied by Thomas Fletcher, measuring in front, along the high road or main street, 155 feet, and on the west 190 feet; on the south, along the shore or sea side, 178; on the east, 130, or thereabout, all as now or lately occupied by Mr Charles Denham, of London, now or lately hemp-manufacturer, Invergordon, together with those extensive Buildings connected with his business, recently erected upon the grounds. … As a capital harbour and quay are just finished at Invergordon, the village is rapidly extending; a cheap supply of labour, from the increased population, can be always relied on; and the situation of the premises, on the Cromarty Frith, afford facilities either for the hemp or pork trade, which are seldom to be met with.

Some light on local weaving activities may be seen from the advertisement from 1835 below, where weaver Peter McPhail in Invergordon was manufacturing Damask Tablecloths, Linen Sheetings and Towelling, and providing linen yarn to his weavers to produce the material.

Peter McPhail advertisement seeking workers to turn his yarn into products and for customers to buy the manufactured products; Inverness Courier, 13 January 1836


I don’t know what was being produced in the Invergordon Factory, but McPhail’s quality products were very much in contrast to the sacking and ropes produced by the Cromarty Factory. But by 1843, it would appear that the industry as a whole had declined greatly. What was called “the Old Factory” in Invergordon was unused, and during the Disruption Disturbances in 1843, it acted as a temporary barracks to house the soldiers brought in to restore order. A later bill would be sent in by the owners for damage caused during their residence.

Inverness Courier 11 October 1843
On Wednesday a detachment of the 87th regiment, or Irish Fusiliers, landed at Invergordon by the Duke of Richmond steamer. The vessel arrived earlier than usual, but a great crowd had collected to witness their landing, and looked on in silence at the unwonted spectacle. The men were marched to the Old Factory at Invergordon, which had been fitted up as a barracks.

Invergordon in 1836; from George Buchanan’s Firth of Cromartie RHP81824


Several of the arrested rioters were held for a period at the old factory at Invergordon before being lodged in the jail at Tain (Inverness Courier, 17 January 1844). The Holm families of the area were closely associated with the Free Church and the Disruption, so it is a little ironic that the old hemp factory was being used by the forces brought in to quell the Disruption riots. Not that it would have worried David Holm himself as he was away that year to a new life – in Prince Edward Island.


Colin Tolmie Holm

Despite his father, David Holm, being intimately connected with the weaving industry, young Colin Tolmie Holm became a shoemaker, a business his younger half-brother David would also take up. They were wise, as the focus of the linen industry would shift to southern industrial regions. Colin had moved with his father and step-mother across the Firth to the Ness of Invergordon. He married there in 1835:

Parish of Rosskeen Marriages 1835
Colin Holm Shoemaker at the Ness and Jane Stewart at Teaninich in ye Parish of Alness were married on 28 April 1835.

Colin commemorated his deceased mother by naming his first child “Margaret McKenzie” the following year. He would have been five years old when she died, so he would have remembered her well.

Parish of Rosskeen Baptisms 1836
Margaret McKenzie Daughter to Colin Holm Shoemaker, Ness & Jane Stuart his wife, was born 3d and baptized 13 November

And then Colin and his family joined the flood of emigrants seeking a new life on distant shores. He settled in Prince Edward Island in 1840, where we will return to him when his father and the rest of the family came out to join him there in 1843.

Just to recap, apart from Colin Tolmie and two deceased daughters, to his first wife Margaret McKenzie, David Holm had also had David (born in Cromarty in 1819), John (born in Invergordon in 1822) and Margaret McKenzie (born in Invergordon in 1826). It was a small family for the period. By the time of the 1841 Census, the family were residing on the Main Street of Invergordon rather than at the Ness itself, so it is likely that David was no longer managing the hemp manufactory.

1841 Census Return for S Main Street, Invergordon, Parish of Rosskeen
David Holm [age, rounded] 55 [occupation] Hemp H.L.W. [Hemp hand loom weaver]
Ann do. [age, rounded] 50
John do. [age, rounded] 15 [occupation] Hemp H.L.W.
Margaret do. [age] 13

Where was son David at this time? He would have been 22 and perhaps away at his shoemaking business, but I can’t seem to pick him up.


David Holm joins his son Colin in Prince Edward Island, and dies there in 1850

The reports coming back from Prince Edward Island must have been favourable, as the remainder of the family now joined Colin Tolmie Holm, settling with him at DeSable on Prince Edward Island in 1843.

Sadly, David Holm senior was to die there just a few years later in 1850. We do not know if his wife Ann died before or after him.

The Islander or Prince Edward Weekly Intelligencer and Advertiser 12 July 1850
On the eight inst., at De Sable Bridge, after 8 days illness, David Holm, aged 68 years, a native of Ross-shire, Scotland; he emigrated here in 1843.

His year of birth, calculated from the age as given on his death (not always reliably reported) would have thus been about 1782. Many of the Holm family were buried in nearby Crapaud Cemetery, but there is no memorial or record to confirm where David and his second wife Ann are buried. He had erected one stone to commemorate his father in the kirkyard at East Church, Cromarty, another to commemorate his first wife and first two daughters in the kirkyard at the Gaelic Chapel, Cromarty, but David Holm does not appear to have received one upon his own death in 1850.

The Examiner of 10 July 1850


Colin Tolmie Holm in Prince Edward Island

The 1841 Census return for the Holm household in DeSable, Lot 29, Prince Edward Island, contains more adults than expected. “Collin Holmes” was head of household and a “Shoe Maker”. In that household there were three men and one woman between the ages of 16 to 45, and one boy and one girl under 16 years of age. Clearly Colin, his wife Jane Stewart, and young children are expected. But that leaves two men unaccounted for, and I wonder if there were other relatives who had gone out with them to Prince Edward Island. Whatever, all six of the household were recorded as Scots and had paid for their own passage, they had emigrated using their own resources.

At this time Colin held 92 acres of land on a 999 year lease.

The Islander of 10 September 1842 reported a new post office to be established at DeSable, Lot 29, the holder to be one Colin Holm. He was an enterprising man for he also held the position of Clerk to the Court of Commissioners. He was to be dismissed from both these posts, but we’ll come to that. He was still being recorded as a shoemaker, but he was much more: he held a farm and mills. There was to be tragedy in Colin’s life, too, as several of his children died before reaching adulthood. In one edition of The Islander there were notices of both life and death:

The Islander or Prince Edward Weekly Intelligencer and Advertiser 25 January 1856

On the 12th instant, Mrs. Colin Holm, De Sable, of a son.

On the 14th instant, at De Sable, Margaret McKenzie, daughter of Mr. Colin Holm, in the fourteenth year of her age, in the full assurance of faith in Christ as her only Saviour.

These Stories never intrude into more modern times, so this is just a short summary of the children of Colin Tolmie Holm and Jane Stewart: Margaret McKenzie Holm (1836–1842), Murdoch S Holm (1840–1919), Margaret McKenzie Holm (1842–1856), David Holm (1844–1923), Mary Jane Holm (1851–1920), Thomas S Holm (1852–1878) and John Holm (1856–1924). His wife Jane died in 1881.

Colin Holm had risen to a considerable position and this is reflected in the announcements in the papers of the time. This, on the marriage of first son Murdoch:

The Belfast Newsletter 30 July 1861
Marriages. Holm and Stewart – June 8, at Charlottetown, British America, by the Rev. Geo. Sutherland, M. Holm, Esq., eldest son of Colin Holm, Esq., Member of Congress for DeSable, to Mary, daughter of Thomas Stewart, Esq., Milltown Lodge, Londonderry, Ireland.

The political progress of Colin can be followed in the newspapers of the time.

The Examiner 10 May 1858
PUBLIC MEETING AT DE SABLE … The meeting was organised and a Chairman appointed. The Tory candidate named was Mr. Colin Holm in conjunction with Mr Montgomery.

The Examiner 28 June 1858
MEMBERS RETURNED. We give below the names of the members returned, with their party designations. Those marked with an asterisk were members of the late House:– Queen’s County. … Tories. … Colin Holmes, Esq.

The Examiner 28 March 1859
CABINET. Leader – A. Laird … C. Holm

The parliamentary reports are pretty dull reading, but Colin seems to have faithfully raised all local issues his constituents wished him to. As the locally elected member, he had his role to play in supporting visiting dignitaries:

The Examiner 19 September 1859
His Excellency the Lieut. Governor and Mrs. Dundas, accompanied by Lieut. Colonel Gray, visited the Southern section of the First Electoral District of Queen’s County on Tuesday last. On arriving at DeSable, a very numerous assemblage of the inhabitants met His Excellency, and escorted him to “Ozendyke,” the residence of James Palmer, Esq., where an address was read to His Excellency by Colin Holm, Esq., M.P.P., after which a large party of ladies and gentlemen partook of Mrs. Palmer’s hospitality at Luncheon.
In the afternoon His Excellency and suite proceeded to Crapaud, and were similarly received by the inhabitants of this flourishing locality. …

As a Tory, Colin Holm would have been subject to continual sniping from his Liberal opponents. But I have seen one extraordinarily savage piece in the Liberal Examiner of 14 December 1858. This was shortly following his election as a Conservative M.P.P. He had been sacked from his Post Office post and his role as Clerk of the Commissioners and it was alleged the sacking was due to Colin having attacked policies and actions of the Government of the time. A public meeting was set up to condemn these dismissals, and the Examiner went ballistic in response:

The Examiner 13 December 1858
We are requested to publish, as well as the other journalists in this city, the proceedings of a meeting held at De Sable, similar in character to that silly gathering which took place at New Glasgow a few weeks ago, convened to express the great indignation of the people of that ilk against the Government for having dismissed a petty postmaster who had not decency and manliness enough to resign his appointment before he set himself up in opposition to those who conferred it on him. We may at once assure the indignant folk of De Sable that we have better use for our columns than to appropriate any portion of them to the insertion of the trash called resolutions which find a place in the Last No. of their congenial Islander.
The hero or protégé of the De Sable Meeting is no less a person than Colin Holm, Esqr., to whose name the political parsons, at the last election, succeeded in attaching the coveted designation of M.P.P. It appears that this gentleman held the office of Postmaster at De Sable, and Clerk to the Court of Commissioners at the same place – not a very distinguished post for a member of Parliament – from both of which he has been dismissed – in consequence whereof he and all his admirers are in great wrath and tribulation. Of course, his dismissal from the Post Department has been the act of the Government, for which they are no doubt prepared to give a satisfactory explanation, if such a small thing should be required, at the proper time and in the proper place. The cause of his dismissal, we suspect – for we do not know it for certain – was his participation in the howl got up in Charlotte-town in August last because the Government were forced to dismiss Mr. Owen after that gentleman thought proper to brave Executive power by keeping a subordinate in the public service, in defiance of Executive power. On that occasion Mr. Colin Holm either proposed or seconded one of the rabid and nonsensical resolutions by which some of the disappointed opposition in Charlottetown sought to provoke an outburst of popular feeling against the constituted authorities of the land for the performance of a most necessary duty. The design, as we all know, miserably failed, but it was not owing to the want of an effort on the part of Mr. Colin Holm – whether he strengthened his appearance on the platform of the Unholies by any display of eloquence, is a circumstance of which no reporter sayeth aught. We were very much surprised to learn that Mr. Holm was an officer of the Government – though a very humble one – at the time he took counsel with, and enrolled himself under the banners of its enemies. A greenhorn in the bush – who had never an aspiration beyond the cow-house or the cobbler’s stall – might be excused for making a fool of himself, and at the same time consulting his pocket, while he had vanity enough to think that he was making a show of his independence by attending political meetings, the object and effect of which he could not understand.

This unpleasant ranting continued for much longer, and I have to say given the paper was a strongly Liberal one, the terms used were most illiberal indeed.

In 1869, I see many official notices of a suit of one James Miller against Colin Holm, seizing his ninety-two acres of land in Township Twenty-nine, in Queen’s County. I’m not sure what the suit was about, but Colin must have resolved the situation as he was still holding his land in 1880. Indeed, we can see exactly whereabouts in Prince Edward Island his land lay, and its proximity to the holding of his brother David Holm, also a shoemaker, but not such a political man as Colin Tolmie.

Entries for both Colin Holm and David Holm as “Farmer, Millowner and Shoemaker” and “Year of Set’mt” as “1840” and “1844” from Illustrated historical atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island; from surveys made under the direction of C.R. Allen by J.H. Meacham & Company, 1880


With a length of only 174 miles, Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest Province. But just look at how densely occupied it was in the 1880s, completely parcelled off, mostly by Scots, as is evident by the names on the lots.

I have spotted in red the land holdings of Colin Holm and David Holm in this extract from Lot 29 as displayed within the Illustrated historical atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island; from surveys made under the direction of C.R. Allen by J.H. Meacham & Company, 1880


Colin died in 1883, and the obituary in the Examiner, which had so bitterly attacked him earlier in his career, now praised him to the hilt.

The Examiner 28 February 1884
The Presbyterian Church has lost one of her venerable fathers in the eldership, in the death of Colin T. Holm, Esq., who died at DeSable, P.E. Island, on the 21st of December last. His protracted illness was severe, but he bore his afflictions with Christian fortitude and resignation to the Divine Will. For many years he had trials of bodily and family afflictions and bereavements, but he endured all with due submission to the Will of God, and the happy fruits of those chastisements were seen in the humility and holiness of his life. Mr. Holm was a native of Cromarty, Scotland, and had in his youth the advantages of good education, and religious privileges. He emigrated to this country in the year 1840, and settled down at DeSable with his amiable partner and a very young family, where, through industry and perseverance, he soon made a comfortable home for himself and family. Mr. Holm was elected by the district in which he resided, to represent them in the Local Parliament of the Island, and for years engaged in mercantile pursuits. He battled with the duties and temptations of life as a good soldier, and finally obtained a blessed victory, passing through all with an untarnished character. Mr. Holm has been for many years an elder in the Presbyterian congregations of Tryon and Bonshaw. Much and deservedly beloved by the people; highly respected by the whole community; and by his amiable disposition, true piety, and unostentatious manner, endeared himself to all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. A.M.A.

Colin is buried, like many others of the Holm family, in Crapaud Cemetery, not far from DeSable. His headstone bears information on its two sides as well as its face, and I present a composite image of the information contained on this attractive memorial courtesy of photographer Lynn Ellis and BillionGraves.com. Interestingly, on one side is commemorated “John Stewart 1806–1880” who I think must have been Colin’s brother-in-law, and who may well have emigrated with Colin and Jane back in 1840. Further investigation of John Stewart might shed some light on the origins of Colin’s wife, Jane Stewart.

photos by Lynn Ellis, courtesy of BillionGraves.com


David Holm (1819–1888) in Prince Edward Island

And what of David Holm, son of David Holm the manager of the Old Factory in Invergordon? The North Star at least twice said he became mayor of St John’s, New Brunswick, and that led us astray. Several of us scanned lists of mayors of St John’s New Brunswick, and lots of other places called St John’s, to no avail. It was only after we had realised that the North Star must have been referring to politician brother Colin Tolmie Holm, rather than to David Holm, that we could figure out that the “St John’s” that had been passed down the family traditions had been Prince Edward Island itself, which had been originally known as St John’s Island, changed to Prince Edward Island as recently as 1798 but was still known by the old name long after the formal re-naming.

David doesn’t seem to have had any of Colin’s political ambitions, and just soldiered on with his shoemaking business and, I suspect, worked with Colin in management of the mills and farm held by his brother. He and Colin are recorded identically in the Illustrated historical atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island in 1880 as “Farmer, Millowner and Shoemaker”.

That publication does state that David settled in 1844, so he definitely did arrive several years after his older brother, as I did wonder initially if they went out together. It must have been invigorating, carving out a livelihood in a new environment, and I see that David is identified as one of the early pioneers of DeSable in a small volume about the origins of the village.

Old DeSable (1976) by Clifton C. Ince
David Holm, skilled shoemaker from Firth of Forth [actually Cromarty Firth], Scotland, [born] 1819, built his cabin and shop beside the river near where the house of Russell Ferguson stands today. This pioneer carried on his back from Charlottetown, over forest trails, all the heavy sides of leather needed for his trade.

It is 15 miles as the crow flies from Charlottetown to DeSable, so young David must have been pretty tough. He married Margaret McFarlane (c1828–1869) in 1849, and, just for a change, the marriage certificate is available. Poor Margaret was to die in childbirth in 1869.



Margaret McFarlane’s family was from the Isle of Mull. Again, I have not researched more recent members of the family, and have not confirmed personally the summary to be found on various family trees on the web. I see one reliable researcher provides the information, perhaps passed down the family, that David wore a high beaver hat, played violin and was the tallest man on the island!

The children of David Holm and Margaret McFarlane were: Ann Fraser Holm (named after David’s mother) (1851–), Barbara Graham Holm (named after Margaret’s mother) (1853–1928), David Holm (1854–1873), John Holm (1857–1881), Margaret McKenzie Holm (1859–), Isabel Holm (1859–1925), Mary Jane (Jennie) Holm (1861–1932), George A. Holm (1864–1910), Kate M. Holm (1867–) and Thomas Colin Cameron Holm (1869–). Most of these children married and their descendants may be found on Prince Edward Island and much further afield.

David Holm, born in Cromarty in 1819, died in DeSable, Prince Edward Island, on 9 January 1888.


STONE 2, TABLESTONE: Alexander Holm (c1779–1843), woollen weaver, and wife Ann Mackenzie (c1782–1854)

The tablestone in the Gaelic Churchyard, Cromarty, immediately adjacent to the tablestone raised by David Holm to commemorate his deceased first spouse, Margaret Mackenzie, was erected by his brother, Alexander Holm. I have not seen conclusive evidence that they were brothers, but am relying on the proximity of the two tablestones and the statement in the North Star that the daughter of Alexander Holm and the son of David Holm were “cousins”. They could not have been first cousins, and indeed the article does specifically mention those who were first cousins, so I take it that the writer meant cousins slightly more broadly. Brothers David Holm and Colin Tolmie Holm in Prince Edward Island were technically second cousins once removed to Alexander Holm Mackenzie. It is not perfect, I know, but there is a tremendous amount of circumstantial evidence to support the relationship. The tablestone reads:

Erected to the memory
Alexander Holm
who died 1843 aged 64
And his wife
Ann Mackenzie
Died 1854 aged 72
Their son James
Died 1883 Aged 80

photo by Jim Mackay


The inscription has worn rather badly on the right hand side, but images photographed at just the right angle confirm the text given above. I understand that the ivy has now been treated with a translocated herbicide, so hopefully in years to come the whole group of stones will be visible once again.

photo by Jim Mackay


The first time we find Alexander in the records is at his marriage in 1807, and he is at this point living at Craighouse, which doesn’t exist nowadays but lay just on the Cromarty side of Ethie Burn. He and his brother David in the Bog of Ethie were at this time virtually next door neighbours.

Parish of Cromarty Marriages
1807 May 8th Alexander Holm at Craighouse & Anne Mackenzie at Meikle Farness contracted

They were still at Craighouse when their son David was born on 31 March and baptised 2 April 1808. But like brother David’s family, they moved into Cromarty by the time their next child was baptised. In 1808 he is termed “merchant”. He is also given as a merchant at the baptism of Alexander (1812), but must have given up his merchant business as he is termed “weaver” on the baptisms of James (1814), Margaret (1816), Ann (1820) and another David (1822). The term “merchant” covers everything from a simple storekeeper to a large scale export/import business, but I imagine his would have been a fairly small enterprise. And then he reverted to weaving as his trade.

Was he a woollen weaver or a hemp weaver? His children on later documents described their father as a woollen weaver, but in the 1841 Census he is definitely given as a hemp weaver, which is what you would expect during this period before the industry in the north declined. Perhaps it was following that decline that he moved to woollen weaving. The 1841 Census return also gives an additional lady of his age, Margaret Holm, in the family, whose name I highlight in bold below. She is likely to have been a sister, and if she had survived through to civil registration the information on her death certificate could have resolved some of the queries about the family. Unfortunately, I believe it was she who died in 1850, from Kirk Session records her burial paid for out of parochial funds. Other Margaret Holms in Cromarty who did survive through to civil registration can all be “accounted for”, and hence her parents remain unknown. I note that on the web unfortunately the parents of the wrong Margaret Holm have been adopted as the parents of Alexander Holm himself.

1841 Census Return, Cromarty, Denny Continued
Alexander Holm 60 weaver hemp
Ann do. 60
James do 25 weaver hemp / Ann do 20 / David do. 20 Shoemaker J.
Margaret do. 60

Alexander himself died in 1843, still a relatively young man, for the Cromarty Burial Register contains: “1843 Novr. … 28 Alexander Holm weaver”. No money was forthcoming for hire of mortcloth or handbell, but he is not marked down in the register as benefiting from parochial funds. He was financially sound. Ann Holm ms McKenzie, however, survived through to the 1851 Census, when more useful information was recorded, and it is revealed that she was born in the parish.

1851 Census Record, Cromarty, Denny
Ann Holm Head Widow 68 born do. [Cromarty]
James Holm Son u 38 Hemp weaver born do. / Ann Holm Daughter u 30 born do. / David Holm Son u 28 Merchant born do.

Ann died just a couple of years later, just prior to civil registration.

Parish of Cromarty Burial Register, 1854
March 5th Ann MacKenzie widow of A. Holm

And that is about all I currently know of Alexander Holm.

A short summary of the children of Alexander Holm and Ann MacKenzie


1. David Holm 1 (1808–) and 2. William Holm (1810–)

David 1 and William may have died as infants as I have found no trace of them as adults.


3. Alexander Holm (1812–1874), shoemaker and Church Elder

Hugh Miller posing with stone mason’s tools

Hugh Miller’s statue immediately adjacent to the Gaelic churchyard, Cromarty; photo by Jim Mackay

Alexander or Sandy Holm, we are told by the North Star, was an intimate friend of the great Hugh Miller. They were both stalwarts of the Free Church.

Sandy became a shoemaker (the Cromarty Holms seem to have been mostly weavers or shoemakers, unlike other Holm families in the area who were mainly agricultural labourers and crofters). He married Catherine Bain (1808–1876) in Cromarty, a marriage that must have helped his career. Catherine’s brothers farmed Townlands, Cromarty, and were tenants of the Brewery and owned property in Edinburgh and Leith.

Parish of Cromarty Marriages
February 13th, 1838 Alexander Holm Shoemaker in Cromarty and Catharine Bain at Navity were married.

They had: Helen Holm (1839–1917), Ann Holm (1840–1916), Thomas Holm (1841–1876), Alexander Holm (1843–1900), Catherine Holm (1845–1887), Mary Holm (1846–1874) and Stewart Holm (1848–1925). They resided on the High Street in Cromarty. Now, there are shoemakers and there are shoemakers. The 1851 Census records that Alexander employed twelve men in his shoemaking business, so it was clearly a big concern.

Alexander was highly respected within Cromarty as he received the greatest number of votes from Communicants in a Church Elder selection process carried out just before the Disruption. I set out the process as the competition was quite stiff.

Cromarty Kirk Session, Minutes (1814–1874), CH2/672/3
Cromarty 9th March 1843 … The Session taking into consideration the diminution of their number … they resolve on the ordination of four new Elders, and instruct the Moderator to intimate this Resolution to the Congregation …
Cromarty 3rd April 1843 … The Moderator reported that he had made the intimation as instructed … and that the Communicants of the Congregation having given their votes in writing yesterday, the Session held a public Meeting this day in Church, and having scrutinized the Votes, They Find that there were for Alexander Holm, Shoemaker in Cromarty thirteen Votes, for John Macdonald Schoolmaster, Davidstown, twelve Votes, for David Munro, Weaver in Cromarty, twelve Votes, for David Murray, Merchant, in Cromarty, ten Votes, for David Grant, Weaver in Cromarty, ten Votes, and for Captn. Graham, Banker in Cromarty, nine Votes, whereupon the Session unanimously declared the four Individuals highest on the List viz. Alexander Holm, John Macdonald, David Munro and David Murray duly elected…

With the formation of the Free Church, the Minister, his Elders, and indeed practically all of the congregation, departed the Church of Scotland. The Kirk Session minutes reported dolefully:

Cromarty 8th November 1843.
… As the whole of the Elders of this Parish have left the Established Church…

Hugh Miller was a leading light in the Disruption, and his acquaintances in Cromarty like him left the Church of Scotland. After a few years, Alexander Holm must have outgrown the little town of Cromarty. In 1851 he opened a shop and works in Inverness, on Bridge Street, with much advertising in the press.

Inverness Courier 27 March 1851

Inverness Courier 18 September 1851

He removed to Church Street in 1853, not missing the opportunity for some more promotion while he was at it.

advertisement from the Inverness Courier of 26 May 1853


Leather costs had risen, and a dispute broke out between Alexander Holm and his workers. He claimed that he had always operated a differential rate of payment based on the quality of the work, they claimed that he had in fact reduced pay to his workers, and they had gone on strike in response. Long letters setting out both sides of the story were published in the Inverness Courier of 28 July 1853, with Alexander Holm pleading with his customers not to press too hard for the execution of their orders at the present time. What the outcome was I know not, but perhaps this was one of the reasons he decided to emigrate. Notices advertising the business for sale appeared in 1856, revealing that the business, which had been carried on for the past five and a half years, was “unequalled for convenience to carry on the same, having a Workshop and Cellar specially fitted up behind the Shop”, the average number of workmen fully employed being from sixteen to twenty.

advertisement from the Inverness Courier of 23 October 1856


I presume he would have made the voyage to Australia in 1857, once he had comfortably disposed of his business in Inverness. He had few family ties still in Scotland – his father had died in 1843 and his mother in 1854. I have been unable to discover anything about his time in Australia, until his death in Melbourne, Victoria, in 1874.

Now, you may remember the North Star obituary for Alexander Holm Mackenzie mentioning: “his wife’s brother Alexander Holm, who emigrated to NSW, and became private secretary to its Prime Minister“

I have to say I have completely failed to discover the true story here. I presume the North Star was referring to the elected Premiers of New South Wales. These were, within the period that Alexander lived in Australia, Stuart Donaldson, Charles Cowper, Henry Watson Parker, William Forster, John Robertson, James Martin and Henry Parkes. For whom did Alexander Holm act as private secretary? On the face of it, it would seem an unlikely appointment, but he was clearly a very able fellow.

And another difficulty: if he emigrated to NSW and acted as private secretary to a dignitary there, how come he ended up in Melbourne, Victoria? I’m sure there is something to this story, as everything else in the piece has an element of truth to it. I hope somebody out there can provide more information.

Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers 25 February 1874
On the 1st February, at his residence, 111 George-street, Fitzroy, Mr. Alexander Holm, in the sixty-second year of his age, late of Inverness and Cromarty, Scotland.

His wife, Catherine Bain, died a couple of years later, at the family home in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne, in 1876. They are both buried in Carlton North, the Melbourne General Cemetery.

location of the Holm headstone in Melbourne General Cemetery; courtesy of FindAGrave.com

Holm headstone; courtesy of FindAGrave.com

The North Star report also said of Alexander Holm Mackenzie: “A maternal first cousin Mr Stewart Holm, is a banker in Fremantle W.A. and another Mrs Fullarton, resides at Peterhead.” Taking Stewart first, I do not know if he was a banker at some point, but when he died he was an ironmonger. Stewart married one Elizabeth Amelia Flett (1855–1916):

Illustrated Australian News 26 September 1876
On the 29th August, by the Rev. D.D. M’Eachran, Stewart Holm, of Inglewood, third son of the late Mr. Alexander Holm, formerly of Cromarty, Scotland, to Elizabeth Amelia, second daughter of Mr. Charles C. Flett, of Wodonga-terrace, Cardigan-street, Carlton.

Inglewood was a Victorian gold-rush town 115 miles north of Melbourne, whilst Carlton is a suburb of Melbourne itself. Stewart died in Fremantle, Western Australia, in 1925, and is buried in Fremantle Cemetery. His obituary, which says little about the man himself, but does reveal the name of his house as the appropriately named “Holmdene”, states:

The Daily News, Perth, 7 October 1925
The funeral of the late Mr. Stewart Holm, of “Holmdene,” John-street, North Fremantle, took place on Wednesday afternoon, the 30th ult. The deceased, who was 77 years of age, was born at Cromarty, Scotland. He arrived in Australia 60 years ago, and since then he had resided for a number of years in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania, and in this State for the last 32 years. The funeral cortege moved from the above residence, and proceeded to the Fremantle Cemetery, where the remains were interred in the Presbyterian portion. The Rev. J. Marshall conducted the last rites. The chief mourners were Messrs. Charles S. and Roy C. Holm, sons. …

Burial area of the Holm family, Fremantle Cemetery; courtesy of FindAGrave.com

Headstone of the Holm family, Fremantle Cemetery; courtesy of FindAGrave.com

Image of Stewart Holm, originally shared by descendant Alexander McRae Holm


“Wild Rose”

The eldest child of Alexander Holm and Catherine Bain, Helen Watson Holm, did accompany the family to Australia, and married and had children there. But she did not remain in Australia. Twice-widowed, she married for a third time in Aberdeen, Scotland. Her husband, John Fullerton, was a noted poet of the era. You wouldn’t pick that up from the marriage details as he is given as a law clerk:

Old Machar Marriages
21 June 1879 at No. 29 Skene Street, Aberdeen after Banns according to the Forms of the Established Church of Scotland
John Fullerton Law Clerk (widower) age 42 resides 16 St. Mary Street, Peterhead parents Alexander Fullerton mill-wright (journeyman) (d) Isabella Fullerton ms Aberdein
Helen McIver (widow) age 38 resides 29 Skene Street, Aberdeen parents Alexander Holm shoemaker (master) (d) Catherine Holm ms Bain (d)
(signed) James Smith, Minister of St. Georges in the West Church (signed) John G.S. Watt witness James Fettes witness

But the irrepressible North Star knew more about him:

North Star and Farmers’ Chronicle 4 August 1904
The death has taken place of Mr [John] Fullerton, Pitfour, well known as “Wild-Rose,” a poet of some distinction. His widow is a daughter of the late Mr Alexander Holm, Cromarty, one of the local leaders in the Disruption movement.

Whilst “Wild Rose” had many poems published in the journals of the time, there were few collections in book form. The Magazine of Poetry A Quarterly Review (Volume IV, Charles Wells Moulton, Buffalo NY, 1892) said this of him:

John Fullerton, one of the most uniformly pleasing and tasteful of living Scottish poets … Mr Fullerton wrote early and well, like all poets to the manor born, and a strong proof of the excellent quality of his poetical genius is afforded by the gratifying fact that his muse wears well, and he writes in his maturity even better than he did in the promising years of his youth.

A very short booklet containing his most famous poem The Ghaist o’ Dennilair: a legend of Fyvie is available as a paperback from Amazon – just search for Dennilair.

The Ghaist o’ Dennilair was written in 1870, and ran into several editions. “O, weirdly wild is Dennilair, / The bravest, bauldest, dinna care / To wanner e’en mid noontide’s glare / Doon by its stream; / Though fair the flowers that deck its braes, / An’ blythe the birds that lilt their lays, / Nae sweet-faced bairns there mak’ their plays, / Or happy dream.”

cover of Poems by John Fullerton “Wild Rose”

John Fullerton, Helen Watson Holm and some of their family; image shared by Alexander McRae Holm

A collection of 50 of his poems was published in Peterhead in 1905 as Poems by John Fullerton “Wild Rose”. Copies can still be found (albeit at a significant price) in specialist bookstores. It is prefaced by a long and sensitive Memoir of the man and his poetry written by none other than – Helen Fullerton ms Holm herself.

John Fullerton was born on the 11th September, 1836, in the then village of Woodside, now included in the City of Aberdeen. His parents were respectable people, much esteemed amongst the villagers. The father was one of those mechanical geniuses who quietly (perhaps too quietly for themselves) do “the day’s work.” He both invented and perfected not a few useful agricultural implements. The mother, amidst the daily cares of a large family, consisting of eight sons and two daughters (of whom Mr. Fullerton was the first-born), found time to read with interest and profit such books of history, travel, poetry, and fiction as she could lay her hands on. She was, besides, a sweet singer of those olden ballads which, some sixty years ago, were sung or recited at almost every Scottish fireside. … Into the purely domestic circle I cannot enter; but this I cannot help saying, that John Fullerton was a good husband, and indulgent father, a most devoted and sympathetic companion. The dominant note of his life was one of prolonged tenderness, kindness, goodness, and truth, with a deep love for Nature and all living things. … Helen Fullerton. / Rose Cottage, Peterhead, September, 1905.

Helen calls him an indulgent father. Looking at the family census return from 1881 in Peterhead, I see children from Helen’s previous marriages (including several born in Melbourne) and from his previous marriage and one toddler from their own marriage. It was quite a household.


4. James Holm (1814–1883)

James Holm worked most of his life at the appropriately named Holm Mills in Inverness as a woolsorter. The former spinning and weaving factory of the Pringle family at Holm Mills was established about 1798, and was the oldest woollen factory in the north of Scotland. It is still a retail outlet of James Pringle Weavers. It was worked by both water and steam. James’ uncle had been the manager at the hemp factory at Invergordon, and now James was sorting wool in a woollen factory in Inverness, so there is certainly a weaving strand running through this story.

Image of traditional wool-spinning in modern-day Holm Mills display, courtesy of TripAdvisor.co.uk

And what Holm Mills was actually like inside; image from the Jimmy Nairn Collection, Highland Archives

James Holm started his career as a weaver of hemp, and he is recorded as such in the 1841 and 1851 census returns for the family home in Denny Cromarty. But then, in the 1861 Census, we find him up on Dores Road Inverness, a lodger in the family of William Ferguson, and working as a wool sorter. He married a few years later, a fairly mature bridegroom, and two of the Fergusons acted as witnesses:

Inverness Marriages
1 September 1865 At Inverness after Banns according to the Forms of the UP Church
(signed) James Holm woollen weaver (bachelor) age 50 Inverness parents Alexr. Holm weaver (d) Ann Holm ms McKenzie (d)
(signed) her x mark Catherine MacPherson washerwoman (spinster) age 45 Inverness parents Alexr. McPherson Road Contractor (d) Mary McPherson ms McIntosh (d)
(signed) D. Ross minr. U.P. Queen Street Inverness (signed) George Ferguson witness William Ferguson witness

Catherine had been born in 1813, so would have been in reality 52 rather than 45. Sadly, she died from an accident in 1875, and so James may be found at Holm Mills in 1881 as a widower. He soon returned to Cromarty, to reside in family with his brother David. He died there in 1883.


5. Margaret Holm (1816–1891)

Margaret married mason and housebuilder Donald Mackenzie (1812–1880) in the Free Church, Cromarty, in early 1847. They resided in “Barclay’s Lane” (Barkly Lane, now Barkly Street) , close to her brother David. They had Alexander Holm MacKenzie (1847–1915), William MacKenzie (1850–1855), Anne Isabella Bain MacKenzie (1852–), William MacKenzie (1855–1939), James Mackenzie (1858–), John Mackenzie (1860–) and Catherine Bain MacKenzie (1863–1871).

The North Star obituary on Alexander Holm MacKenzie, as mentioned earlier, stated “His father Donald Mackenzie was for many years a mason contractor, and had been from boyhood an intimate friend of Hugh Miller”. Hugh Miller (1802–1856) himself had been a mason for many years and was a leading light in the Free Church, so they had much in common. John Fraser Mackenzie, a descendants of Donald and Margaret, I note has mentioned on line that he had inherited “the Hugh Miller chair” which had a place of honour in Calrossie (No. 4 Barkly Street, built by Donald Mackenzie) for over 100 years. None of the children was allowed to sit on this chair, on which Hugh would sit when he visited Donald Mackenzie. The chair, says John, a very elegant ‘country sheraton’, was as a result in almost original condition!

Hugh Miller’s cottage in Cromarty, from a postcard of the early 1900s, courtesy of Angus Behune


Their son, Alexander Holm MacKenzie, became a well respected personality about Cromarty. To quote one of the many obituaries upon his death (The Northern Chronicle, 28 July 1915):

The death of Mr Alexander Holm Mackenzie, Cromarty, took place in Edinburgh on Monday of last week, after having gone through an operation a few days previously. Born in Cromarty in 1846 [1847, actually], Mr Mackenzie, who spent his whole life in his native town, filled a number of important offices with marked success. He held the following appointments:– Sheriff Clerk, Clerk to Cromarty School Board, Registrar, and Burgh Assessor. His discharge of the duties connected with these offices was marked by exactitude and method, and his genial manner made him a favourite with all with whom he came in contact. Having spent a fairly long life-time in Cromarty, Mr Mackenzie, as a matter of course, had a thorough knowledge of the burgh’s recent history, and was acquainted with every family. As a boy he took a pride, like the other inhabitants, in seeing Hugh Miller visit the town sixty years ago. Hugh Miller was a regular visitor to his father’s house when “home” from Edinburgh on holiday, and Mr Mackenzie used to relate that among other things that arrested his attention as a boy was the wonderfully penetrating power of the eyes of the distinguished visitor. Mr Mackenzie was greatly interested in the Free Church (and present United Free Church), of which he was an office-bearer. Temperance movements had his strong support. Up till a few years ago, Mr Mackenzie was keenly interested in the local Volunteers. He was Battery Sergt.-Major of this body, and frequently undertook the whole duties of instructor to the Corps, and it is of interest to record that he took part in no fewer than 42 consecutive inspections of the Corps. Mr and Mrs Mackenzie – the latter pre-deceased him by six months – had the satisfaction of seeing a large family grow up and occupy honourable positions in life.

Alexander Holm Mackenzie in Barkly Street, 1903; photo courtesy of Cromarty Image Library


6. Ann Holm (1820–1875)

Ann never left Cromarty and did not marry. She may be seen with her family in 1841 and 1851, and in household with brother-in-law Donald Mackenzie and sister Margaret at Barclay’s Lane in 1861 and 1871, recorded over that period as a pauper. When she died, she was recorded as a stocking-knitter, and the informant was her brother James Holm, who must have come back to Cromarty from Holm Mills in Inverness to see his dying sister.


7. David Holm 2 (1822–1883)

David 2 became a master shoemaker, and in his younger years travelled around the country following his trade. Curiously, like his father Alexander, he spent some time in the 1850s as a merchant in Cromarty, before returning to his shoemaking. He certainly had cash flow problems, as I see a series of cases in the Cromarty Sheriff Court in the early 1850s where “David Holm contractor”, whom I presume is the David under consideration, was attempting to recover small debts.

David married Catherine Campbell (1829–1906), daughter of the Cromarty watchmaker, John Campbell and his first wife Janet Sinclair, in 1851. He spent some time in the 1860s at Hopeman in Moray (Parish of Duffus) where several children were born, and even longer in Jemimaville (Parish of Resolis) in the 1870s, where more children were born, until he returned to settle in the High Street in Cromarty. They were joined there by David’s brother, James, the woolsorter. They had quite a few surviving children, including Maggie, who married a plumber in Glasgow, the family then moving to reside in Burnley, England. I mention Maggie as it was she who acted as informant on the death of her father, so it was a long journey for her to come back to see about family affairs. But I see other children across England and Australia, too.



ivy removed from Catherine Campbell’s attractive memorial to her father; photo by Jim Mackay

the inscription; photo by Jim Mackay

There is no stone to commemorate David Holm or his wife Catherine Campbell, but Catherine erected a headstone in the Holm burial area to commemorate her own father, John Campbell. It is a very smart affair and indicates that the family had money at that time. It reads:

Mrs Catherine Holm
in memory of her father
John Campbell
late watchmaker
who departed this life
on the 5th August 1880,
aged 78 years.

Curiously, the death certificate for John Campbell gives his parents as William McIver and Grace Junner [Grizel Junor], and a note by the Registrar says “Deceased always used the surname of Campbell, although that of his father was McIver”. Despite erecting a good quality stone for her father, Catherine sadly became a pauper, dying in the Black Isle Poorhouse in Rosemarkie in 1906.


STONE 4, HEADSTONE: William Holm (c1781–1844) weaver and wife Margaret Williamson (c1779–1863)

One of the group of Holm stones in the Gaelic Chapel churchyard in Cromarty, a headstone, bears this inscription:

Placed here by
William Holm and
Margaret Williamson in
Moortown of Pedistown
in memory of their son
David Holm who died
April the 9th 1811 aged 8

photo by Jim Mackay


William lived and worked for many years as a weaver at Muirton of Peddieston, high on the ridge above the Cromarty Firth, before moving into Cromarty. His removal must have been late in 1811 or in early 1812. I assume from this stone’s close proximity to the other Holm stones that William Holm (c1781–1844) was another brother of Alexander Holm (c1779–1843) and David Holm (c1782–1850), but I have not yet found documentary evidence to support this assumption. All three were weavers, living outside Cromarty, but all moving into Cromarty about the same time.

Muirton on the six-inch OS, surveyed 1871/72


William paid annually during the period 1830 to 1843 (the year when just about everybody left the Established Church) for a pew in the Church in Cromarty. In 1830 we see: “Pew No. 6 Willm. Holm weaver facty. 1/10½”, so we know where he worked at that time: he was a weaver in the hemp factory in Cromarty. One shilling and ten and a half pence seat rent annually might not seem much, but in fact there were relatively few in the congregation who paid for their own pew. It was another symbol of status in the community.



But to return to the first sighting of William Holm, when he married in 1802:

Cromarty Marriage Register
1802 Jany. 8 Wm. Holm of this parish & Margt. Wmson of Rosemarkie

It doesn’t say he was a weaver, but this emerges from several of the subsequent baptism records of his and Margaret’s children. From the Cromarty parish baptism record, they had David (1803, born at Muirton), George (1808), William (1810, born at Muirton), Margaret (1812, born in Cromarty) and Alexander (1815, born in Cromarty). As I know that Margaret’s father was George Williamson, they appear to have followed the Scottish naming pattern, which would make William’ father David. We know from the East Church headstone that the father of David Holm (c1782–1850) was called David. The first child of Alexander Holm (c1779–1843), was also called David. It all hangs together.

Why do I know that Margaret’s father was George Williamson? Because she survived through to civil registration. And her death certificate shows that her parents were also my own great-great-great-great grandparents, something I was not expecting.

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
Margaret Holm widow of William Holm Weaver died 23 June 1863 at Cromarty age 86 parents George Williamson farmer Isabella Williamson ms Holm informant Georgina Macleod grandchild present

Knowing that their grandchild was a Macleod makes locating them in the census returns easy.

1841 Census Return Parish of Cromarty
William Holm 65 hemp-weaver
Margaret Holm 60
Margaret McLeod 8

William Holm died in 1844 in Cromarty, so in the next census Margaret is recorded as a widow, but her house is filled with McLeod grandchildren:

1851 Census Return Parish of Cromarty, High Street, Cromarty
Margaret Holm widow 72 pauper born Navity
Margaret McLeod grand child unmarried 17 Orphan
William McLeod grand child 10 Orphan
Isabella McLeod grand child 8 Orphan
Elspeth McLeod grand child 6 Orphan

By the next census, most of the grandchildren had flown the coop.

1861 Census Return, High Street, Cromarty
Margaret Holm head widow 82 pauper born Cromarty
Elizabeth McLeod grand daughter unmarried 16 servant born Cromarty

The presence of these McLeod orphan grandchildren begs the question as to who their parents were. Well, I cannot find the marriage of their parents, but I do see the baptism of one of the children:

Parish of Cromarty Baptisms
Isabella L.D. to Donald McLeod Pensioner and Isabella Holm in Cromarty was born 5th and baptized 24th. October 1841

“Pensioner” means Donald McLeod had been in the army and was thereby drawing an army pension. He died very early:

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
1848 January … 31 Donald McLeod pensioner

It was a terrible burden on poor Margaret, who had lost her own husband, now to take on responsibility for the McLeod children, so it is not surprising to find her receiving parochial relief. She had been having difficulties in meeting her debts soon after her husband died, as I see in the Cromarty Sheriff Court records (SC24/10/259)

Elizabeth Urquhart or Reid, provision merchant, spouse of Alexander Reid vs Widow Margaret Williamson or Holm, Cromarty: Debt 1845 Arrears of rent £2 11s

I know many stories about George Williamson, Margaret’s father, but as this Story behind the Stone focuses on the family of Holm I shall leave those stories for another day.


STONE 5, HEADSTONE: Andrew Holm (c1776–1871) and wives Isabella Urquhart (c1778–1827) and Helen Macdonald (c1811–1871)

The final Holm stone in the group of five in the Gaelic Chapel churchyard stands a little to the south east of the others, and reads thus:

Andrew Holme quarrier
in memory of his wife
Isabella Urquhart
who died 12th Octr. 1827
aged 49 years

photo by Jim Mackay


That word “quarrier” stumped me for a while (and other gravestone readers) but with the sun at just the right angle all becomes clear. It is a word of some significance as it allows Andrew Holm’s life story to be pulled together.

photo by Jim Mackay


He had married back in 1805:

Parish of Cromarty Marriages
1805 Novr. 25 Andrew Holm and Isobel Urquhart at Woodside

From the Cromarty Baptism Register, Andrew Holm and Isabella Urquhart had George (1806) and Anne (1807) whilst living at Woodside, to the west of the town of Cromarty, and Jean (1810), another George (1812), Donald (1813), Andrew (1815), Mary (1818) and Alexander (1825) when living in Cromarty itself. He is described as a labourer in those baptism entries when he is in town. It is interesting that he moved into town about the same time as weavers Alexander, David and William.

Now, the headstone in the Gaelic Chapel churchyard says that his wife Isabella Urquhart died on 12 October 1827. Given that he was a quarrier to trade, he may well have carved this himself. Andrew had a household of children and no wife, so it would not be surprising if he re-married quite quickly. I had no way of knowing if the following marriage was indeed the same Andrew Holm, although the timing is what you would expect:

Parish of Cromarty Marriages
April 18th 1828 Andrew Holm labourer Cromarty & Helen McDonald at Nielstown were married

And there is an entry in the baptism register a few years later:

Parish of Cromarty Baptism Register
Alexander L.S. to Andrew Holm, labourer, and Helen Macdonald in Cromarty was born 29th June and baptized 29th July 1832.

Well, this couple, and their son Alexander, appear in the 1851 and 1861 Census returns. The key point from these Census returns is that Andrew is recorded as a quarrier, just as on the headstone commemorating the death of Isabella Urquhart. It has to be the same Andrew Holm, as Andrew Holms were rare, and quarriers were rare, and put together they have to be one and the same. Those Census returns give us more information about Andrew. Now you can see why it was so important to get that word “quarrier” from the headstone.

1851 Census Return, Parish of Cromarty, Denny Foot, Cromarty
Andrew Holm Head Married 65 Quarrier stone born Ferintosh
Nelly Holm Wife 48 born Sutherland
Alexander Holm Son Unmarried 18 Flesher born Cromarty

1861 Census Return, Parish of Cromarty, High Street, Cromarty
Andrew Holme Head Married 75 Quarrier born Urquhart, Ross & Cromarty
Helen Holme Wife Married 50 born Kincardine, Sutherland

Two Census returns consistently showing his birth place to be Urquhart or Ferintosh (which is in Urquhart) suggest that he believed he was indeed born there. Unfortunately, there is no baptism record of any Andrew, David, William, Alexander, or Katren Holm in the Parish of Urquhart in the correct period.

Andrew Holm described himself as a quarrier on the headstone commemorating his first wife, who died in 1827. It is intriguing to think that he would have been in the quarrying business at the same time as Hugh Miller himself. Miller, born in 1802, was apprenticed to his maternal uncle David Williamson, a mason, when he was 17. Miller was soon carving out slabs in a Cromarty sandstone quarry with his uncle and his workmen, before shifting to other quarries in the region and then carrying out more general mason work. Almost certainly he would have been acquainted with fellow quarrier Andrew Holm.

We get a glimpse of the kind of work in which Andrew was employed much later in life from an 1864 case when he pursued unpaid wages (SC24/10/542). In this “Andrew Holm, quarrier, Cromarty” took William MacKenzie, Cromarty, to court to seek £3.18.9d. as a balance of wages, the work including “turf dyke on Shore Road, flag stone for new crane”. He would have been in his eighties by this time so there must be a story there worth pursuing.

Andrew lived to a ripe old age, although I note his quarrying days had passed by the time he died, and his occupation was given as “scavenger and crofter”. He died as recently as March 1871. Unfortunately, the informant at the Registrar’s was not a member of the family and no useful family information was provided:

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
Andrew Holm scavenger and crofter married to Helen Macdonald died 11 March 1871 at Cromarty age 95 parents [blank] Holm (d) [blank] Holm ms [blank] (d) informant Don. Ross Marine Terrace

If only the Registrar had sent the informant back to ask the widow for the missing information… Helen herself died later that year, and the information provided to the Registrar was hopefully sound, the informant on this occasion being her son Alexander.

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
Hellen Holmes widow of Andrew Holmes scavenger and crofter died 5 October 1871 at Cromarty age 76 parents Hugh McDonald farmer (d) Ann McDonald ms McLean (d) informant Alexr Holmes son Tain

I have to say I have not been able to trace Helen’s parents, so perhaps son Alexander was not that reliable after all. We know very little about Helen, except that she was not a saint. Back in 1844 she was given 10 days in jail for pinching some palings from Middleton, Rosefarm.

Procurator Fiscal vs Helen McDonald or Holm and Catherine Aird or Campbell, Cromarty, 1844. Theft of pailings from Rose Farm, property of Thomas Middleton. Helen McDonald 10 days. Catherine Aird or Campbell dismissed

The Middleton family still own Rosefarm, 180 years later. I have to say that a sentence of ten days seems harsh; Thomas Middleton could easily afford some palings and Nelly Holm probably needed them to keep the Holm fires burning. But what can we make of quarrier Andrew Holm? If he were another brother of weavers Alexander, David and William, then we would at least have a “Ferintosh” clue as to their origins. But the trade of quarrying is very different to the weaving trade that the others went in for. The naming pattern of his children is also very different. I am not convinced that he was another brother, although one can be sure due to the fact that he was interred in the family burial area that there was some family connection.

I have been unable to trace most of the children of Andrew Holm and Isabella Urquhart. I’m pretty sure Jean (born 1810) is the Jean who died in 1869 at Drumderfit, with an error in her mother’s Christian name:

Parish of Knockbain Deaths
Jean Bremner married to John Bremner farm manager died 17 June 1869 at Drumderfit age about 55 years parents Andrew Holm labourer [n.b. correctly shown to be still alive] Mary [sic] Holm ms Urquhart (d) informant John Bremner husband present

They had married in Cromarty in 1841:

Parish of Cromarty Marriages
4th June 1841 John Bremner and Jane Holm, Servants, both at Newton, were married

I haven’t traced other children of Andrew and first wife Isabella Urquhart. The one child born to Andrew and second wife Helen Macdonald, however, you will have noticed had moved to Tain where, as Alexander Holmes rather than Alexander Holm, he was a flesher (a butcher). He married Isabella Graham in Tain in 1854 and they had many children there. He became a successful cattle dealer later in life, and died in 1901 in Tain.

Ross-shire Journal 20 September 1901
The Late Mr Holmes.– The funeral took place on Wednesday last of Mr Holmes, cattle dealer, who died the previous Saturday at his residence, Geanies Street. Mr Holmes, who was born at Cromarty, but who has resided in Tain since his boyhood, carried on an extensive cattle dealing business in Easter Ross, and was well-known and much respected. Deceased, who was over seventy years of age, leaves a wife and grown up family, towards whom much sympathy is extended.

My cousin Isabel Ross née Holm of Rhynie and I visited St Duthus graveyard, Tain, in May 2022 to locate the Alexander Holm headstone. It is balanced precariously on the slope below the remains of the original St Duthus Church. I waited for several hours for the sun to come round so that the inscription on the grey granite would stand out, but instead it disappeared into a bank of cloud, so another visit will be organised.

the grey granite headstone on the slope below the remains of St Duthus chapel; photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

In loving memory / of / ALEXANDER R. HOLMES / who died at Geanies Street, Tain / 8th September 1901 / aged 68 years / and his wife / ISABELLA GRAHAM / died 17th May 1910 / aged 76 years / also their children / ANNABELA / MINA and HELEN / who died in infancy / and of their son / ALEXANDER ANDREW / who died 3rd April 1944 / in his 89th year.


The Five Holm Memorials in the Gaelic Chapel Churchyard

three of the five long sandstone ranges comprising the hemp and rope factory at Cromarty still survive; photo by Jim Mackay


The Gaelic Chapel and weaving are inextricably bound up. The old hemp and rope factory at Cromarty was built by entrepreneur George Ross, around 1775. To quote from Am Baile:

The factory initially produced bags and sacks from hemp imported from Russia. During this period, Cromarty was enjoying a period of great prosperity and at its height, the factory employed up to 200 in-workers and over 600 out-workers. The finished bags and sacking were transported to London and sold for use in the West Indies trade. Around 1805, the factory introduced rope-making. The original factory consisted of five, long blocks, each two stories high, ideal for manufacturing lengthy tarred ropes. Today, the three remaining ranges have been converted into Local Authority Housing and commercial premises.

Much of the ivy present here in 2018 has since been dealt with; photo by Jim Mackay


The Gaelic Chapel was erected, as declared by the panel high on its wall, by George Ross in 1783. It was for the benefit of his incoming Gaelic-speaking workers and had its own minister although he reported to the Kirk Session of Cromarty. Given that most of the Holm family were weavers, it is appropriate that their gravestones should be close to the main door of the Gaelic Chapel, even although it appears that they worshipped (and paid for pews) in the original Church of Cromarty, now called the East Church.

the Gaelic chapel built by George Ross; photo by Jim Mackay

and the plaque on the south wall; photo by Jim Mackay

To assist those seeking out the memorials of their ancestors, here they are colour coded.



The pink tablestone was erected by David Holm to commemorate his first wife, Margaret Mackenzie, who died in 1817, and his two young daughters.

The red Tablestone was erected to commemorate Alexander Holm, who died in 1843, his wife Ann Mackenzie, who died in 1854, and their adult son James, who died in 1883.

The green Headstone was erected by Catherine Campbell, who had married David, the son of Alexander Holm and Ann Mackenzie. She erected it to commemorate her watchmaker father, John Campbell or McIver, who died in 1880.

The blue Headstone was erected by William Holm and his wife Margaret Williamson to commemorate their son David, who died in 1811.

The yellow Headstone was erected by Andrew Holm quarrier to commemorate his wife Isabella Urquhart, who died in 1827.

The dates on stones are not always good indicators of when they were erected, as they are usually put up some (or many) years after the event. This is why you find so many inscriptions in which the wrong year of death is given – memories grow shaky over time. But going simply on the first date occurring on the memorial, William and Margaret erected their headstone (blue) first, and then David Holm put up his tablestone (pink) close to it to commemorate his wife. Andrew then put up the headstone (yellow) to commemorate his wife. The red tablestone was erected quite a number of years later to commemorate Alexander and his wife. And finally, beside David’s tablestone, Catherine Campbell erected a headstone to honour her father. The inscriptions are on the east face of the headstones (opposite side to that shown in photo) and the headstones would have been placed, not surprisingly, at the head of the grave, so the graves of four of these memorials lie absolutely in line. The only odd one out is that erected by Andrew Holm, again not fitting into the pattern of the family.

Family burial areas were owned by the respective families. They could be transferred and sold like any other property. But you can assume that if there are several stones with the same surname on them in one burial area, everybody buried there is a relation.

The hypothesis to test is that the David Holm who is buried in the East Church kirkyard, and who may well have moved into Cromarty as part of the weaving industrial expansion, was the father not only of David Holm (c1782–1850) and Katren Holm (–1786) but also of Alexander Holm (c1779–1843 ), William Holm (c1781–1844) and perhaps Andrew Holm (c1776–1871) and Margaret Holm (c1781–1850). Baptisms of children of those names to a father named David Holm cannot be found in any baptism register in Ross and Cromarty, with the exception identified below. However, the Resolis and Rosskeen baptism registers are patchy to non-existent during this period (1776–1782). The Rosemarkie baptism register is extant for this period, but the number of baptisms is so low clearly it was not being completed regularly. The Cromarty and Urquhart registers seem soundly completed at this time. The Avoch register has a blip for a couple of years but is generally reliable. The most likely parish of origin would be Resolis, simply because the great majority of Holm families resided there, but Rosskeen and Rosemarkie are therefore also possible.

The only two couples in this time period with the father named David Holm and at least one of the names of the Cromarty children are:

David Holm and Margrat Matheson, who had two children in Resolis, including David in 1776. However, young David is spoken for as tenant in Ferryton, marrying Jean Murray, so this couple can be excluded.

David Holm and Frances or Fanny Urquhart who had five children in Resolis and Cromarty, including David in 1785 and David Ross in 1786. The names of the other three children are not of those we are interested in, but given the size of families it is quite possible that other children were not recorded. David Holm and Fanny Urquhart are in fact the only candidates from the baptism registers, but of course if the family were brought up in Resolis where at this time baptism records are very few and far between then it could be a completely unrecorded family.

Given that the family lived relatively recently, it is surprising that their origins are so challenging to uncover. The answer will be there in documents awaiting discovery, and the first to be examined should be the Cromarty parochial records, given that several of the elderly Holms were provided with parochial relief. In some parishes, the parochial records give solid family information as there was some investigation of claimants’ relatives to see if they could contribute to their support. To be continued!

the Holm story needs to be literally and metaphorically uncovered; photo by Jim Mackay



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