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

John Mackay and Margaret Cameron of Resolis Cottage,
and Hugh Taylor and Isabella Mackay of Balblair Post Office

text: Dr Jim Mackay   photography by Jim except where otherwise specified
with thanks to cousin Isabel Ross née Holm for her notes on the Mackays of Resolis Cottage,
and to cousin James Holm for use of family photographs

This is the story of brother and sister, John Mackay and Isabella Mackay, born in Knockbain, who, each with their own family, moved through most of the parishes in the Black Isle, before both ending up in the parish of Resolis. John married Margaret Cameron and came to reside in Resolis Cottage in the heart of the parish. Isabella married postman Hugh Taylor, and came to reside in Balblair. Both couples are buried a few feet away from each other in the easternmost section of Kirkmichael.

Another sister, Sarah Mackay, married quarryman Roderick Bremner in Culbokie, but they moved to Elgin in the 1850s and resided there the rest of their lives.

headstone commemorating John Mackay and Margaret Cameron; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The two headstones in the foreground commemorate the two Mackay siblings and their spouses; photo by Andrew Dowsett

headstone commemorating Hugh Taylor and Isabella Mackay; photo by Andrew Dowsett


Hugh Taylor and Isabella Mackay had only the one child, Janet. Roderick Bremner and Sarah Mackay had a modest … 10 children. But John Mackay and Margaret Cameron had an extraordinary 13 children. There was a little “farming out” of children between households, but not as much as you might expect.

The two gravestones in Kirkmichael are contrasting, despite being aligned with each other. The Taylor memorial is composed of yellow sandstone, the Mackay stone of dark grey granite. They read:

In / loving memory of / HUGH TAYLOR, / postman, Balblair, / died 5. Jany. 1901, aged 83 years / and his wife / ISABELLA MACKAY, / died 17. Nov. 1891, aged 68 years. / Also their daughter / JANET McKILLICAN, / died 20. Sept. 1913, aged 69 years.
In / loving remembrance / of / JOHN MACKAY / who died at Resolis Cottage / 7th November 1885. / Also his wife / MARGARET CAMERON / who died / 8th December 1897. / Erected by their son / EVAN.

Roderick Bremner and Sarah Mackay both died in Elgin but I have yet to locate a memorial to them.

Why is Shand such a difficult surname to get right?

When the death of John Mackay of Resolis Cottage was registered in 1885, it was recorded incorrectly that his mother was named Margaret Shand when it was in reality Isabel or Isabella Shand. This mistake was compounded when the death of John’s sister Isabella Taylor ms Mackay of Balblair was recorded, as in this case her mother was recorded as Isabella Shaw rather than Isabella Shand! Now, there was incontrovertible evidence that John Mackay and Isabella Taylor ms Mackay were brother and sister. For one thing, various nieces and nephews crop up in relation to each household and the relationships could only be explained if John and Isabella were siblings. Treat every document with caution! And having found errors in the certificates, more errors appeared in the baptism records. That unfamiliar surname of Shand seems to have been a challenge for the clerks.

The Early days of John Mackay and Isabella Shand in Knockbain and Avoch

When a search is made for children baptised in the early 1800s to John Mackay and Isabel or Isabella Shand (or similar surnames), you find:

Knockbain 1818 … Decem … 26 … Eodem die John McKay labourer at Muirend and his spouse Isabel Shand had a child born and was baptized Isabella
Knockbain 1821 … June … 27 John McKay mailer at Knockbain and his spouse Isabel Shand had a child born & was baptized John
Avoch [born] 16 Dec 1823 [baptised] 4 Jany. 1824 Mackay Sarah [father] John Mackay labourer Easter Strathburn [mother] Isabell Steven
Avoch [born] 27 July 1826 [baptised] 11 August 1826 Mackay Alexander [father] John Mackay labourer Easter Strathburn [mother] Isabel Steven
Avoch [born] 16 June 1829 [baptised] 25 June 1829 Mackay Margaret [father] John Mackay tenant Strath [mother] Isabel Shaw

Well, what a mess of surnames for the mother. Initially I discounted those “Steven” records. But having followed Sarah Mackay through her life, her mother Isabella Shand actually came to live in her household, and when Sarah died, her death certificate confirmed her mother was Isabella Shand! So much for the Steven in the baptism register. What a family to track. I have not traced Margaret and I don’t know if she survived to adulthood. Alexander I think lived to a great age as the sexton in Foveran, Aberdeenshire, with each census confirming he was born in Avoch, but when he died the details of his parents were not given on his death certificate so I do not include him in this tale (I wish I could as his is a great story). Instead, I focus only on the three children we know to be correct, Isabella, John junior and Sarah.

You can see John Mackay senior progressing from being a labourer and mailer (small sub-tenant) up to becoming a tenant in Strathburn in the parish of Avoch.

Strathburn is described in the Ordnance Survey Namebook for Avoch, dating from the early 1870s:

Applied to a small district comprising several small farms with suitable out offices all one storey high thatched and in fair repair, it is partly covered with fir plantation and partly cultivated situated about four miles to the north of the borough of Fortrose part of this district is in the parish of Avoch and part in the parish of Rosemarkie. James Fletcher Esq, of Rosehaugh by Avoch Proprietor.

The Strath Burn as it moves to the west becomes the Burn of Killen, and Strathburn the district becomes Burnside of Killen. I don’t believe the family had actually moved, but the boundaries of Strathburn and Burnside are a little blurred. This is where the family is found, albeit John Mackay has by this time died. He therefore died some time between 1829 when his last child was baptised and 1841.

1841 Census Return Parish of Avoch, Burnside of Killen
Isobela Mackay 45 farmer n
John do 20 y [grieve at Udale, went on to marry Margaret Cameron]
Isobela do 20 y [went on to marry Hugh Taylor]
Sarah do 15 y [went on to marry Roderick Bremner]

Here we see the mother, the only member of the household not born in the county (and hence the “n”), with the three children whom we are to follow.

I haven’t been able to locate the mother in 1851, but she re-appears in Elgin in 1861 in the household of her daughter, Sarah, and son-in-law Roderick Bremner. And she died in 1867 there:

Parish of Elgin Deaths 1867
Isabella Mckay pauper widow of John Mackay crofter died 5 March 1867 at 30 East Back St. Bishopmill Elgin age 83 parents William Shand farm overseer (d) Margaret Shand ms Young (d) informant Roderick Bremner son-in-law (present)

For those wishing to investigate the Shand origins (possibly hunting a Fife link with the great Jimmy Shand) I see that Isabel was born in the parish of New Spynie or Spynie in Moray in 1787 to William Shand and Margaret Young, but I have not pursued this beyond recording the rather helpful baptism record:

Parish of New Spynie Baptisms 1787
Elspet, born January 27th, and Isabel born Jarny 28th, 1787, Lawful Daughters to William Shand, (Servant to Abraham Leslie of Findrasie Esqr) & Margaret Young his Spouse, were baptized January 29th, 1787, witnesses, Alexr Young, Elspet Young, & Isabel Young, all in Greens of Kinneddar, and Alexr Shand in Standards side of Kinneddar, Grandfather to said children.

How the girl from Moray met up with John Mackay I do not know. John as an agricultural labourer might have been working anywhere at the time and Isabel might well have been away in service. Clearly they married in a parish where the marriage register for that period has not survived. The marriage register for Knockbain is complete for that time so Knockbain was not the start of this story!


Hugh Taylor (1817–1901) and Isabella Mackay (1818–1891)

Named after her mother, Isabella Shand, Isabella Mackay was born in the parish of Knockbain in the Black Isle. The family moved the short distance to the parish of Avoch, where her father became a tenant at Strathburn. It was there that she married Hugh Taylor in 1842:

Parish of Avoch Marriages
1842 … July 4 Taylor Hugh labourer S. Burn Isabella Mckay L Dr. of the late John McKay [intended residence] Strath Burn

Hugh himself had come from a crofting family in the adjacent parish of Rosemarkie. Hugh and Janet were to be blessed with only the one child, born later that year:

Parish of Avoch Baptisms
1842 [born] Nov 2 [baptized] Nov 7 Taylor Janet [father] Hugh Taylor labourer [mother] Isabella McKay [residence] Strathburn

I imagine Hugh and Isabella would have been up in front of the Kirk Session and fined the usual amount for “pre-nuptial fornication” as the Kirk Session were very keen on that type of calculation and very zealous in pursuing the penalty. To be fair, the fine went into the Poor’s Fund, so it all helped the wider community.

Young Janet must have been away with another of the family in 1851 as Hugh and Isabella were by themselves at their newhome in the neighbouring parish of Rosemarkie:

1851 Census Return Parish of Rosemarkie, Wester Raddery
Hugh Tailor head mar age 33 farm labourer born Rosemarkie
Isabella Tailor mar age 32 born Knockbain

However, she was back with the family in 1861 at their next home, this time part of the small group of crofts on the higher ground on the north side of the Black Isle called Colony. Although part of the Estate of Cromarty, Colony lies just up the hill from Udale. I mention this as who should become grieve at Udale sometime between 1861 and 1871 but Isabella’s brother, John Mackay. The two families were beginning to approach each other.

The crofts at Colony later merged into one farm, and after further mergers the last crofthouse fell out of use altogether. For more on the history of Colony, and on its most famous resident (during her summer holidays), see the Trust’s booklet Guide to Jemimaville and the Colony (“Reachfar”) creative home of Jane Duncan, author available from the store on this website!

The abandoned farmstead of Colony

In this period, Hugh Taylor fell into financial difficulties. In 1858, Hugh Paris pursued “Hugh Taylor, contractor, Colony, Cromarty” in the Cromarty Sheriff Court (NRS SC24/4A/120) for debt. Paris was a farmer at Blairfoid, close to Raddery where Hugh had previously been crofting. I haven’t inspected the detail of this case, but the sum due amounted to £19.3.8, so was quite substantial. At this time Hugh’s effects were poinded to recover the debt, with the goods valued at £36.3.6.

Perhaps this is why Hugh gave up agricultural work and began his career as postman.

1861 Census Return Parish of Cromarty, Colony
Hugh Taylor head mar 40 letter Carrier born Rosemarkie
Isabella McKay wife mar 39 wife of do. born Knockbain
Janet Taylor daur unm 17 dom. serv. born Avoch
William McKay nephew 9 scholar born Avoch

I note that Hugh, Isabella and daughter Janet had all knocked a few years off their age. This was quite normal, so one should never rely on Census ages as being definitive. Most interestingly, we have a nephew William Mackay, born in Avoch. This nephew was one of the big clues initially in joining the disparate families. His baptism record in Avoch revealed his parents to be John and Margaret Mackay in Strathburn, and hence the connection was made.

Parish of Avoch Baptisms
1852 … [born] 23 January [baptized] 11 February McKay William [father] John McKay crofter [mother] Margaret Cameron [residence] Strath Burn

I note as an aside that John and Margaret Mackay were crofting at Strathburn after Hugh and Isabella Taylor had moved out. Indeed, Hugh Taylor’s brother Andrew also farmed there in the 1860s before moving the short distance to the chillingly-named farm of Coldhome. However, that is a story for as another day.

As mentioned, John and Margaret were to have many children, and Hugh and Isabella only the one, so it is quite understandable that William would be farmed out to Hugh at Colony, where he could help with the wee croft. But Hugh was not just crofting now, he had diversified into what would be his occupation for the remainder of his life: postman, or, as termed at that time, letter carrier.

I don’t know if it was in pursuit of his postie activities or his crofting that he had a run in with Alexander Urquhart, the Estate Officer. I see “Hugh Taylor, Crofter, Colony of Udale, Cromarty” up in Cromarty Sheriff Court in 1864 under a charge of assaulting Alexander. He got off with being admonished, but it could not have made him popular with the Estate.

There was to be one further change in parish for the family. So far Isabella had lived in Knockbain, Avoch, Rosemarkie and Cromarty. Now she was to move to the parish of Resolis. They became established at Balblair. I imagine Hugh would pick up the mail from the Balblair to Invergordon ferry (Invergordon had been the postal centre for this part of the Black Isle for centuries and was to remain so for decades to come) and distribute them across much of the parish. Typically, he would have a horse (or perhaps donkey) and gig.

1871 Census Return Parish of Resolis, Balblair
Hugh Taylor head 51 letter carrier born Rosemarkie
Isabella Taylor wife 50 born Knockbain
Janet McKillican daughter married 27 born Avoch
Catherine McKillican grandchild 5 scholar born Cromarty

Hugh and the Balblair Post-Office pop up in a wee snippet in the Ross-shire Journal of 19 September 1879:

NEWHALL.– School Examination – This school taught by Mr Morgan, was publicly examined on Friday, in presence of several members of the Board, and a number of the parents and friends of the children. The state of the school was reported to be very efficient, and Mr Morgan was congratulated on the progress he has been making. There were present:– Rev. Mr Maciver; Mr Maculloch, Ballicherry; Mr Maclennan, Resolis Mains; Mr and Mrs Ross, Braelangwell; Miss Jack, Gordonsmills; Miss Robertson, Newhall; Mr John Robertson, Newhall; Miss Morgan, School-house; Mr Hugh Taylor, post-office, Balblair; Mr John Stewart, Newmills; Mr D. Urquhart Balblair; Mr Wm. Gibb, Ferry, &c.

Presumably Hugh’s interest in the proceedings would have been focused on his grandchild, Catherine McKillican, who must have been nearly out of school by that time, and wouldn’t have had a father to attend the school meeting.

The McKillican Mystery

Catherine McKillican? Well, this is a sad and mysterious part of the story. Janet, the daughter of Hugh and Isabella, had married Donald McKillican in Cromarty in 1862. Their first child Margaret, born 1863, died the following year, but daughter Catherine (1865–1895) would go on to marry and have two children, although she died aged at a young age herself, aged just 29. But Donald McKillican was to disappear from sight. He didn’t die, as Janet for several Census returns continued to be recorded as a married woman, and she is recorded as a widow only in the 1911 census return. Where did he go? I have tried searching for him, under various variant spellings, both in this country and overseas but have failed to trace him.

Parish of Cromarty Marriages
23 July 1862 at Colony, Parish of Cromarty, after Banns according to the forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Donald McKillican labour[er] bachelor age 23 usual residence Colony Parish of Cromarty parents William Mackillican soldier (d) Catherine Mackillican ms Mcdonald (d)
Janet Taylor spinster age 19 usual residence Colony Parish of Cromarty parents Hugh Taylor mail-driver Isabella Taylor ms Mackay
signed Dond. Sage Minr. Daniel Ross witness Alexander Ferguson witness

The minister was Donald Sage, the Free Church minister of Resolis. The Free Church for Resolis was at this time still located in Jemimaville, so would be the nearest church for the community of Colony to access, despite being in the adjacent parish.

Mrs Janet McKillican, with her surviving child Catherine, continued to reside with her parents, and they were all still there at Balblair in 1881, just nine years older (the aging process was continuing to slow despite the same passage of years)! The only change to note was that Hugh Taylor had become “postmaster & rural letter carrier” but we have already picked up that he was in charge of the Balblair Post-Office.

Grandchild Catherine Macdonald McKillican became the telegraphist at Balblair so clearly they were keeping the communications industry in the east end of the parish within the family. She married Jemimaville tailor James McDougall in 1890 at Balblair, and I note that one of the witnesses was Maggie MacKay, her cousin, daughter of John Mackay and Margaret Cameron.

Following her daughter’s marriage, Mrs McKillican moved out of her parents’ house in Balblair and went down to reside with the newly-wed McDougalls in Jemimaville, where she can be found in the Census of the following year, 1891. And so, at the time of that Census, the parents were alone save for a live-in replacement telegraphist.

1891 Census Return Parish of Resolis, Balblair
Post Office and House, three rooms with one or more windows
Hugh Taylor head 68 post master born Rosemarkie
Isabella Taylor wife 66 do. wife born Knockbain
Maggie A. Ferguson servant 15 telegraphist born Resolis

When I was a boy, the Post Office was a small corrugated iron building (now vanished) to the west of the wee line of three old houses at Balblair. The mail came daily from Conon Bridge to Balblair. We’d cycle along to the Post Office for some grown-up purpose, but it was the “lucky tatties” and other sweeties which were the main attraction! The most westerly of the line of houses accommodated the postman, Cherl Matheson, who also worked in the Ross-shire Journal printing building in Dingwall.

Balblair Post Office post-closure in 2006, with Good Gavin

The three old houses at Balblair, the furthest one was once the Post Office


But at the time that Hugh Taylor was post master, the Post Office was located in this westernmost of that line of buildings.

Hugh’s wife Isabella was to die in 1891, almost fifty years after they had married back in Avoch.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Isabella Taylor (married to Hugh Taylor post-master) died 17 November 1891 at Balblair age 68 parents John McKay crofter (d) Isabella McKay ms Shaw [sic] (d) informant Hugh Taylor widower (present)

Hugh or the registrar got the surname of Isabella’s mother slightly wrong, writing “Shaw” instead of “Shand”.

We are now into the era of photography, and farmer James Holm of Easter Ferryton, a good friend of Kirkmichael, has within his remarkable collection of old family pictures an early photograph of a postman with a donkey and mailcart outside a Post Office and Telegraph Office. For some reason when this was loaned out by James in the past the image became disseminated and became associated with the post office at Culbokie. James considers that it is in fact of Cullicudden. It captures perfectly the arrangements of the day, down to gig and donkey.

At some point thereafter Hugh gave up being post-master and seems to have fallen into financial difficulties as by the time of his death in 1901 he had been obliged to apply for parochial relief and was hence officially a pauper. His death certificate shows that he had moved from the Post Office in Balblair to reside in Jemimaville, possibly with his daughter Mrs Janet McKillican.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Hugh Taylor pauper retired post master (widower of Isabella Mackay) died 5 January 1901 at Jemimaville Resolis age 83 parents Andrew Taylor crofter (d) Janet Taylor ms MacAndrew (d) informant May Holm niece present

The informant was May Holm, daughter of John Mackay and Margaret Cameron, and by this time married to John Holm of Easter Ferryton. John and May Holm were the grand-parents of our contributors to this story, Isabel Ross née Holm of Rhynie and James Holm of Easter Ferryton.

Mrs Janet McKillican (1842–1913)

For poor Mrs McKillican life must have seemed empty. Her parents were deceased. Her only child was gone. Her former husband had disappeared many years before. Her son-in-law James McDougall had married again and moved to Dingwall.

There had been two grand-daughters, the children of James McDougall and her daughter Catherine. Isabella had been born in 1892 and Lillias Bain in 1894. I have not tracked them further, although I see “Lillie McDougall” in the household of the Fergusons of Ardoch as a domestic servant in 1911. There, she could walk to her granny’s in Jemimaville in a few minutes.

But Mrs McKillican would visit others herself, including her Holm relatives at Easter Ferryton. James Holm has unearthed a photograph by Donald Fraser, the Cullicudden photographer, of one such visit. It was exceptionally faded, so I apologise for any unnatural tones I’ve created by bringing it back to life. Mrs Janet McKillican is seated, her niece May Holm ms Mackay stands behind her and young Annie May Holm is leaning against Mrs McKillican’s leg. Annie May was born in November 1908, so you can date the photograph from her apparent age.

Mrs McKillican, May Holm ms Mackay and young Annie Holm at Ferryton; photo courtesy of James Holm

John Holm on the top far right and his wife May Holm ms Mackay on the front left at Ferryton; photo courtesy of James Holm


We know which property Janet McKillican occupied in Jemimaville as it is numbered in the Internal Revenue property survey of the early 19teens (allowing for “Miss” instead of “Mrs” and “MacGilligan” instead of “McKillican”.

Internal Revenue Survey, Parish of Resolis, Reference No.: 210
Property: Jemimaville. / house and garden Owner: Ross, Mrs. Margt.
Leaseholder: MacGilligan, Miss / Tenant/occupier: MacGilligan, Miss
House materials: stone Roof material: slate House description: 1F: 2 bedrooms, 2 closets House condition: fair

A quick inspection of the Inland Revenue plans in the Highland Archives would reveal the location – but at time of writing the country is in Coronavirus lockdown!

Mrs McKillican passed away in 1913, and it was May Holm ms Mackay who informed the registrar:

Janet McKillican married to Donald McKillican farmer died 20 September 1913 at Jemimaville age 69 parents Hugh Taylor postman (d) Isabella Taylor ms McKay (d) informant May Holm cousin (present)

Her name was added to the stone in Kirkmichael commemorating her mother and father.

photo by Andrew Dowsett


John Mackay (1821–1885) and Margaret Cameron (c1830–1897)

John and Margaret took an equally indirect route to Resolis. John was born in Knockbain and would, with the rest of the family, have relocated to Strathburn in Avoch when very young. I think he largely remained there until he himself took over the croft. His mother was recorded as the farmer in 1841 but he was in charge by 1851.

He must have left his mother in charge for a while, though, as when he married in 1846, his marriage entry says that he was at that time residing in Resolis:

Parish of Resolis Marriages
John Mackay residing in this parish [i.e. Resolis] and Margaret Cameron residing in the parish of Alness were married on the 17th of March 1846

As he is recorded as residing in the parish of Avoch in 1841 and 1851, crofting at Strathburn, perhaps he was supplementing the family income by labouring across in Resolis in 1846. Margaret from later Census returns would have been about 16 at the time, but might have been a little older as her mother married in 1828. Still, a very young marriage. When civil registration arrived in 1855, subsequent birth records made mention of where and when the marriage took place and they always mention that the marriage of John and Margaret took place in March 1846 in Alness, not Resolis as in the marriage record. I imagine there may have been some ceremony in both parishes; Alness at this time was just a short trip from Resolis across the then Alness Ferry.

The first few of their many children can be seen in the 1851 Avoch Census Return. There was a niece of Margaret’s from Kiltearn in their household, so they were maintaining links with her family in Easter Ross.

1851 Census Return Parish of Avoch, Strath Burnside
John McKay Head 29 Crofter Of 6 Acres born Knockbain
Margaret McKay Wife 21 born Edinburgh
Margaret McKay Daughter 4 born Avoch / David McKay Son 11 mo born Avoch
Ann Wood Niece Unmarried Female 48 Flax Spinner born Kiltearn

I imagine John’s mother Isabella Shand had moved out when John had married Margaret Cameron.

You will note from this Census return that Margaret was born in Edinburgh, a fact which has proven remarkably useful when searching for a family where the parents are John and Margaret Mackay. Not exactly a rare combination of names in the North of Scotland. But why Edinburgh?

Margaret Cameron’s parents – Marion Cameron ms Wood (1799–1885) and the mysterious hatter, Daniel Cameron

Margaret Cameron’s parents were hatter Daniel Cameron and Marion Wood. She herself was born in 1799 in Kiltearn, daughter of shepherd David Wood and Margaret Broadfoot. She presumably was in service in Edinburgh when she met the hatter. They married in Edinburgh in 1828:

Old Grey Friars Church Parish Marriages
Edinburgh 2d. June 1828 Proclamas the 1st … Daniel Cameron hatter Cowgate Old Grey Friars Church Parish & Marion Wood Same place & Parish 3 Procla & no objections

And that is the last we see of hatter Daniel Cameron! Even the baptism of daughter Margaret Cameron, which must have occurred 1828 to 1830, is not recorded in the Edinburgh registers. And even Marion proves ridiculously difficult to track: I eventually found her in 1851 in Rosskeen and in 1871 and 1881 in Resolis. But if it were not for the semi-accurate 1871 return (admittedly with 10 years knocked off her age) I wouldn’t have recognised the 1871 entry as her, and would not then have searched for a similar name back in 1851. Judge for yourself:

1851 Census Return Parish of Rosskeen, 3d Street Invergordon
Marron Wood head widow 40 dressmaker born Kiltearn
Ann McKay g. child 5 scholar born Alness
1871 Census Return Parish of Resolis, Front Street, Jemimaville, 1 room with 1 or more windows
Marion Cameron head widow 61 hatter’s widow Kiltearn
1881 Census Return Parish of Resolis, High Street, Jemimaville, 1 room with 1 or more windows
Marron Wood head widow 66 retired servt Cultairn

There was no other Marion Wood born in Kiltearn, so the first Marron Wood listed above is undoubtedly the correct one, but who was that grand child Ann McKay? The grandchildren she had at that time, from John and May Mackay, were Margaret, John and David, and none of them was born in Alness. She would have a grandchild Ann Mackay, but she was to be born several years later than this. Solutions, please!

Marion Cameron ms Wood died at the home of her son-in-law and daughter, John Mackay and Margaret Mackay ms Cameron, in 1885 and I think the registrar must have completed the form later from some notes he had taken as you can see where he went wrong:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Marian Cameron annuitant (widow of Donald Cameron butler) died 23 May 1885 at Resolis Cottage age 84 parents David Wood shepherd (d) Margaret Wood ms Broadford (d) informant John McKay son in law (present)

New spectacles were clearly required. For “Donald Cameron butler” read “Daniel Cameron hatter” and for “Broadford” read “Broadfoot”. Marion will certainly have been buried in Kirkmichael, but there is no stone to commemorate her.

Two generations later, and John Holm and May Mackay would name one of their children “Marion Wood Holm”. My cousin Marion Paul née Holm gains her name similarly. A difficult lady to track, but one who has marked her trail with descendants.

John Mackay and Margaret Cameron move from Avoch to Humberston, Dingwall

Dingwall was the next parish for the Mackay family, and the 1861 Census return shows how much the family had grown. In one of the Farm Servants’ houses at the farm of Humberston, just outside Dingwall (now the location of the agricultural auction marts), there were John and Margaret and six children. It was a house with only two rooms with one or more windows so not palatial. How could John as a ploughman clothe and feed everyone? Even then, there was a seventh child, William, farmed out to John’s sister’s family. At time of Census, they had only recently arrived from Avoch as their youngest child was not yet a year old and had been born in that parish.

Grieve at Udale

Conditions must therefore have improved greatly when John became farm manager or grieve of Udale, in the Parish of Cromarty. How he managed this I do not know as it is a big step from ploughman to grieve, managing the work of the other farm workers from day to day. The evidence from the birth parishes of his children is that he had remained only a few years in Humberston, and must have arrived in Udale perhaps about 1866. I note that one aspect of the accommodation had not improved: John and Margaret in 1871 still had only two rooms with one or more windows, and now eight children to squeeze in. However, just up the hill was John’s sister Isabella Taylor ms Mackay, and whilst it is not recorded I’m sure there must have been many’s an occasion when the children were sent up the hill to spend the night with their uncle and aunt in Colony.

The steading at Udale during a recent ploughing match

Udale at this time was held by James A. Gordon Esq., and I’m sure that it is no coincidence that the child born there in 1869 was named “James A. Gordon Mackay”.

Journey’s End: Resolis Cottage and Resolis Croft

John had begun his life in the Parish of Knockbain, grown up in the Parish of Rosemarkie, moved to the Parish of Dingwall as ploughman, and taken up the position of grieve at Udale in the Parish of Cromarty. The next move was to be his last, and must have been easily the most satisfactory, as he obtained land and a reasonable size of dwelling in the Parish of Resolis. In the 1881 Census Return he was now described as a farmer of 14 acres of which 10 were arable, employing one man and one girl. And his new home (it is not named in this Return, but it had already been known as Resolis Cottage for several decades) had five rooms with one or more windows. At this time there were only seven children with them, so it must have seemed luxurious.

Resolis Cottage before its modernisation in recent years; photo courtesy of James Holm and Annie Girvan

More details on the previous inhabitants of Resolis Cottage, the Barnetts, may be found in another Story behind the Stone here. That Story ends with:

I imagine the last Barnett connection with Resolis Cottage would have ended with the death of the impoverished sister Margaret in 1875:

Margaret Barnett pauper (formerly agricultural labourer) (single) 11 Feb 1875 Resolis Cottage 95 Hugh Barnett house-carpenter (d) Helen Barnett ms McLean (d) informant Kenneth Barnett nephew Cromarty

I presume it was following this that John Mackay and his family would have moved in.

Alas, he did not have that long to enjoy the space, as he died of apoplexy a relatively young man in 1885. His son Donald informed the registrar and either he or the registrar got his grandmother’s Christian name wrong.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
John McKay crofter (married to Margaret Cameron) died 7 November 1885 at Resolis Cottage age 63 parents John McKay crofter (d) Mary [sic] McKay ms Shand (d) informant Donald McKay son (present)

The croft continued to be run by Margaret with assistance from her sons and daughters, but several of these were now marrying and setting up homes for themselves. One marriage key to this story occurred two years later:

Parish of Resolis Marriages 1887
18 November 1887 at Resolis Cottage Resolis after Publication according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland. Signed by John McIver Free Ch. Minister Resolis and witnesses Hugh Macculloch James McDougall
John Holm farmer (bachelor) 35 Ferrytown Resolis parents Thomas Holm farmer (d) Barbara Holm ms McCulloch
May McKay crofter’s daughter (spinster) 20 Resolis Cottage Resolis parents John McKay crofter (d) Margaret McKay ms Cameron

One of the witnesses was Jemimaville tailor James MacDougall, he who had married cousin Catherine MacKillican.

The Holm family had been resident in the parish for many generations, and indeed the same farm at Easter Ferryton is still occupied by the family now. I have received much “Holm” assistance with this series of Story behind the Stone.

Mother Margaret Cameron died at Resolis Cottage in 1897 and it was her daughter Maggie who informed the registrar:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Margaret McKay (widow of John McKay crofter) 8 Dec 1897 Resolis Cottage Resolis 68 Daniel Cameron hatter (d) May Cameron ms Wood (d) informant Margaret McKay daughter (present)

I note that mother Marion Wood was given here as “May” instead of “Marion” and I wonder if this was what she was known as within the family. A granite memorial was erected to John and Margaret in Kirkmichael by their son Evan, who continued to farm the croft at Resolis Cottage.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

Son Evan Mackay married Susan Stewart, the maid at the Manse. In turn, a stone commemorating Evan Mackay and Susan Stewart stands in the new section of Kirkmichael. Their daughter Maggie married a cousin from Fife, David Lochtie. A stone commemortating David Lochtie and Margaret Mackay stands adjacent to her parents’ headstone.

The two headstones in the modern section of Kirkmichael

The Lochties lived at Resolis Cottage, and farmed the croft there as well as the Church of Scotland Glebe on the other side of the main road. I was in correspondence some years ago with Catherine Rogerson. She and her brother John spent several holidays enjoying themselves “helping” Mr and Mrs Davy Lochtie on the Glebe. She kindly sent me some photographs of their happy times with Mr and Mrs Lochtie and I am pleased to share a couple of them now.

Mr and Mrs Lochtie, with young John Rogerson, on the Glebe in 1956; photo courtesy of Catherine Rogerson

Davy Lochtie and Catherine Rogerson in 1957; photo courtesy of Catherine Rogerson


The children of John Mackay and Margaret Cameron whom I have identified from baptism registers and census returns are: Margaret (1846), John (1848/c1854), David (1850), William (1852), Isabella (c1856), Ann (c1858), Alexander (c1860), Hugh (c1863), Donald (c1865), May (1867), James A.G. (1869), Evan (c1871), and Margaret Jane (c1874). Son John’s age in census returns gives a much later birth year than should be the case given we know he was born in 1848; I suspect that the first John died and a second John was born about 1854.

Of those 13 children, many went abroad. I understand one child went to Canada, two sons and a married daughter went to New Zealand and three children went to the USA. The family thus has connections all across the world!


Roderick Bremner (1817–1873) and Sarah Mackay (1823–1911)

The third and final child of John Mackay and Isabella Shand, Sarah Mackay, was born at Strathburn in the Parish of Avoch:

Parish of Avoch Baptisms
Avoch [born] 16 Dec 1823 [baptised] 4 Jany. 1824 Mackay Sarah [father] John Mackay labourer Easter Strathburn [mother] Isabell Steven [sic]

She married Roderick Bremner in December 1847, the marriage being recorded in both Avoch and Urquhart (Ferintosh) registers, the latter its usual minimalist self (the proclamations would have commenced on 4 December)

Parish of Avoch Marriages
1847 … Dec 24 Brebner Roderick labourer Ferintosh Sarah McKay L.Dr. of John McKay farmer Parish of Avoch [future residence] Ferintosh
Urquhart marriage register
1847 … Dec: 4 Roderick Bremner Par: of Urquhart and Sarah McKay Par: of Avoch

The 1851 Census reveals that Roderick was a quarry labourer born in Knockbain, and that the family were living in Culbokie, up the hill from Findon Quarry where I assume Roderick was working.

1851 Census Return Parish of Urquhart & Logie Wester, Culbokie

Roderick Bremner head 33 Quarrie Labourer born Knockbain
Sarah do. wife 27 born Avoch
John do. son 2 born Culbokie
Donald Morrison do. son 1 born Culbokie

The flooded Findon Quarry below Culbokie

Some of the hard, light-coloured sandstone quarried at Findon


I think it likely that the middle name of Donald Morrison Bremner was given out of respect for the manager of Findon Quarry, William Morrison. For more information on Findon Quarry and on the Morrisons, see our Story behind the Stone on the Cullicudden and Findon Quarries:

The lease for Findon Quarry was to be renewed from January 1855, and William Morrison left. I imagine this was the timing of departure of the Bremner family as well. I note that when Sarah junior was born in Culbokie in 1856 he was working as an agricultural labourer rather than in the quarry. I calculate for the parishes of birth given for their children in various census returns that they moved to Elgin sometime between 1856 and 1858.

The Census Return for 1861 shows a most important person had arrived in the household – the granny!

1861 Census Return Parish of New Spynie, Elgin, 30 E. Back St.
Roderick Bremner Head 43 Quarrier born Knockbain
Sarah do. Wife 38 born Avoch
John do. Son 12 born Ferintosh / Daniel do. Son 10 born do. / Margaret do. Daur. 9 born do. / Isabella do. Daur. 6 born do. / Sarah do. Daur. 4 born do. / Alexander do. Son 3 born Morayshire Elgin / Jane Ann do. Daur. 1 born Morayshire New Spynie
Isabella McKay Mother-in-Law Widow 75 born Morayshire Drainie

Isabella died there in the same house in 1867, as set out earlier in this Story. By 1871, the family had moved from 30 to 10 East Back Street (or else the numbering system had changed).

I do not know which quarry Roderick Bremner worked in at New Spynie, but it was famous for a sandstone quarry near the summit of the aptly-named Quarrywood-hill. The rock was reputed to be very hard and durable, and the quarry, according to the second Statistical Account, supplied a large extent of country with mill-stones, and the town of Elgin and neighborhood with stone for building. Numerous quarries in the area developed. In more recent days, the quarries around Quarrywood are recognised as containing a remarkable number of fossilised reptiles and other creatures, and many are on display within Elgin Museum .

But then catastrophe befell the family as their father, Roderick, died in 1873 at the relatively young age of 55. He left numerous young children to be cared for. The record is that he died of phthisis (tuberculosis) from which he had suffered for one year, but I wonder if it might have been exacerbated by silicosis which shortened the lives of so many quarry workers until the welcome introduction of modern health and safety standards.

Parish of Elgin Deaths 1873
Roberick Bremner quarrier (married to Sarah MacKay) died 3 March 1873 at 10 East Back Street, Bishopmill, Elgin age 55 parents Donald Bremner weaver (d) Margaret Bremner ms MacKay (d) informant John Bremner son usual residence Finlan, Urquhart

Given that several of the children were now grown up and earning, I presume that they would have helped to support Sarah and their younger siblings. To complete the story, the children I am aware of were: John (1848), Donald Morrison (1850) (who I think was the Daniel seen in Census returns), Margaret (1851), Isabella (1854), Sarah (1856), Alexander (1858), Jane Ann (1860), Elizabeth (1862), William (1864) and JamesMacFarlane (1867).

Sarah survived right through to 1911, never changing her residence in all that time.

The house in East Back Street, Elgin; photo courtesy of G. O’Ogle

Parish of Elgin Deaths 1911
Sarah Bremner widow of Roderick Bremner quarryman died 16 October 1911 at 10 East Back Street, Bishopmill, Elgin age 86 parents John McKay farmer (d) Isabella McKay ms Shand (d) informant James Bremner son 36 D. Cumberland Street Edinburgh (present)

Sarah was the last of the Mackay siblings to go to the grave, thus bringing this Story about Isabella, John and Sarah Mackay to a close.


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