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

Oh see how soon the flower of life decays
Jane Urquhart (c1804–1831) daughter of William Urquhart coachman Raddery and Catherine Matheson

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photos as given below each image

This is the story of Jane Urquhart, daughter of William Urquhart, coachman at Raddery, and Catherine Matheson. She died, still a young woman, a year after being married. Her father and her husband did not get on. The tablestone commemorating her short life stands beside the steep bank in Kirkmichael that marks the western boundary of the ancient graveyard. A dyke once ran along here and the gateway to the graveyard was only a few paces away, so her gravestone would have been the first tablestone you met as you entered the graveyard. It was in a strategically important position.

Jane Urquhart’s tablestone at Kirkmichael; photo by Andrew Dowsett

This was clearly in the mind of her father when he gifted, on the very day that she died, the lair to her husband, Donald Munro. He was a cartwright in Jemimaville and was shortly to move to Chalkhill in the parish of Cromarty.

Jane’s memorial bears one of the few poems on Kirkmichael gravestones. Black Isle folk were not effusive in their grief, but there are a few poems scattered about, usually on the gravestones of daughters who died young.

William Urquhart bought four lairs in Kirkmichael at the same time. There is only one stone with the family name in this part of the kirkyard, his daughter’s, but we know that in time he, his wife and his son Neil were also buried in Kirkmichael. The rather confusing record of the purchase, one of several bound within the Resolis marriage register, states:

Raddery April 19th 1831 / That William Urquhart Coachman at Raddery has purchased a burying place in the Churchyard of Kirkmichael from John Holm Kirkofficer at the west end of the Church close to the churchyard dyke except one burying place and about three burying places from the churchyard gate towards the North. The said William Urquhart has purchased four burying places close to each other as above stated and he disposed of one of them to his son in law Donald Munro Cartwright at Jemima Ville namely the one close to the churchyard dyke. The whole were fully and finally settled before these Witnesses. / John Holm Kirk Officer / Neill Urquhart Witness / George Murray Witness

Despite gifting the lair to Donald Munro, William Urquhart made sure the husband did not get a mention on the inscription, so clearly there was a deep antipathy there. It reads:

Erected by WILLIAM URQUHART in memory of his loving and affectionate daughter JANE who departed this life the 19 April 1831 aged 27 years. Her death is lamented by her parents and regretted by her friends and acquaintances
Oh see how soon the flower of life decays
How soon terrestrial pleasures fade away
Oh pause reflect repent amen
Life has no length eternity no end

You will note that parents, friends and acquaintances are all mentioned, but not her husband. Extraordinary. The poem itself reflects William Urquhart’s pride in his daughter and attempt to salve his pain by thoughts of everlasting life.

I see variants of the second part of the poem “Oh pause reflect repent amen / Life has no length eternity no end” at several different locations. For instance, a variation found at Ashbourne Churchyard is given in “Mottoes for Monuments” published in 1872. However, the first three lines must be much rarer as I have not found any other occurrences of them. “Oh see how soon the flower of life decays / How soon terrestrial pleasures fade away”. The sandstone is eroded and smothered in lichen and moss, and it took some time to decipher that unusual phrase “terrestrial pleasures”!

The letters of the poem are outlined by green moss

Twelve years after the death of Jane, her father was pursuing his son-in-law Donald Munro for the value of furniture given to his daughter on her marriage. Perhaps a lawyer can explain why he could claim the value of gifts made to his daughter, when you would have thought everything owned by the wife would have come to the husband on the wife’s death. Be that as it may, the case can be found in the Cromarty Sheriff Court Records (SC24/10/229)

Summons or Complaint in a Civil Cause. / … whereas it is complained to me by William Urquhart Coachman Raddery That Donald Munro Cartwright Chalkhill near Cromarty is owing the Complainer Five pounds ten shillings Sterling as per account herewith produced…

Another document in the case states:

Execution of Arrestment on the Dependence of an Action / Upon [20 May 1843] … by virtue of the foregoing Warrant of Arrestment, I lawfully fenced and arrested in the hands of Murdo MacKenzie Blacksmith Chalkhill parish of Cromarty all sums of money owing by him to the foresaid Donald Munro Defender, or to any other person… This I did by delivering a just Copy of Arrestment, subscribed by me to the said Arrestee Murdo MacKenzie personally apprehended before Robert Urquhart labourer residing at Chalkhill witness at the premises and David Ross miller residing at Davidstown witness, both hereto with me subscribing Adam MacRae Sherriff Officer

Cromarty Courthouse; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The court room in the Cromarty Courthouse; photo by Jim Mackay

I think what was happening was that since Murdo MacKenzie owed money to Donald Munro, and as Donald Munro owed money to William Urquhart, then Urquhart was short-circuiting the process and going after son-in-law Murdo MacKenzie for his money. The following document suggests that William sought the value of these gifts the month after his daughter’s death, and the legal process commenced three years later in 1834:

[cover] State of Debt Mr Dond. Munro Cartwright Chalkhill To William Urquhart Coachman Raddery 1834 £5-10/- Stg [contents] Account
Mr. Donald Munro Cartwright Chalkhill
1831 May
William Urquhart Coachman Raddery
To a Chest of Drawers given by me to my Daughter at her marriage with you and now in your possession £4.-.-
To a Clothes Chest given by me to my Daughter on the same occasion and also now in your possession £1.10.-

I don’t know what the outcome of the dispute was, although in this type of case nobody is a winner.


Jane Urquhart and Jane Munro

What do we know about poor Jane Urquhart herself? She was born about 1804, but her baptism is not recorded in the parish register. This may be because the register was very badly kept during the incumbency of the Reverend Robert Arthur, and the baptism was not recorded. However, it may be that the entry was not made accurately. Her parents were William Urquhart and Catherine Matheson, and a couple of similar name (who never appear in the register again) had an entry retrospectively entered in the register:

27 June 1802 William Urquhart servant in Kirktown & Helen [sic] Matheson Jean

It is not a perfect fit for age or mother’s name, but it may well be the correct entry. Jane married Donald Munro the year before her death, so she was older than the usual bride of the time:

7 May 1830 Donald Munro cartwright & Jane Urquhart both at Jamima Ville in this parish were contracted and married in due time

The marriage was recorded in both the Resolis and the Rosemarkie marriage registers. I presume banns were read in both because, whilst Jane was residing in Jemimaville at the time, Jane’s parents were lived in the parish of Rosemarkie. Jane and Donald’s daughter Jane was born on 19th April the following year and baptised the day after:

born 19 April and baptised 20 April 1831 Donald Munro cartwright at Jemima Ville & Jane Urquhart – Jane

You will note from these dates that Jane had died on the same day as her daughter Jane was born, so it is likely her death was due to complications with the birth.

Young Jane was brought up in family with her grandparents William and Catherine Urquhart in Raddery. I see her there in 1841 as a 10 year old, but not in 1851 by which time I presume she was out to service.


Donald Munro, the unpopular son-in-law

Donald Munro was a cartwright, a tradesperson specialising in making and repairing carts and wagons. William Urquhart was a coachman, and I shouldn’t be surprised to find that Donald repaired coaches for the area as well.

In addition to being a cartwright, Donald Munro was a Constable, and hence in several of the militia lists of the period (1825, 1826, 1828, 1831) he is excused from being balloted. I have no idea as to why he and William Urquhart fell out. The unpopular Donald re-married, a few years after the death of Jane:

Parish of Cromarty Marriages
14th August 1835. Donald Munro, Cartwright, and Janet Ross, both at Chalkhill, were married.

Donald Munro was still there in Chalkhill in 1841, with his young wife and a new young family:

Donald Munro 45 Cartwright y / Janet do 28 N
Catharine do 5 y / Mary do. 2 y / Janet do. 5 months y

I have been unable to follow Donald thereafter.


William Urquhart (c1781–1860), Coachman at Raddery, and Catherine Matheson (c1775–1852)

We have William Urquhart Coachman at Raddery buying a group of four lairs in Kirkmichael in 1831. In 1829 Alexander Urquhart Coachman at Poyntzfield House bought a group of three different lairs in Kirkmichael. These lie one lair south of the south-west corner of the truncated nave. I always suspected that these two coachmen buying multiple lairs in Kirkmichael must be connected, and so it proved when their death certificates were located and their parents identified. William and Alexander were both sons of Alexander Urquhart and Henny Stewart, the subject of a separate Story behind the Stone.

I don’t know when William married Catherine Matheson, but it must have been about 1800. She was from Sutherland. The Resolis registers were very poorly maintained in this period, with few baptisms recorded, but there are I think three children there:

baptised 27 Jun 1802 William Urquhart servant in Kirktown & Helen Matheson – Jean[I think “Helen” may have been in error for “Catharine”]
baptised 10 Dec 1805 William Urquhart servant in Brealangwell & Katharine Matheson – Henrietta
born 22 Jan and baptised 25 Jan 1808 William Urquhart servant at Brealangwell & Katharine Matheson – Neall

Sometime between 1808 and 1831 William became the Coachman at Raddery.

Sportmen Driving to the Moors, by Charles Cooper Henderson, c1845; Creative Commons licence

William’s young son Neil became a teacher, quite an achievement in those days when university attendance had to be financed by the family. He taught at Jemimaville, and crops up quite often as a witness as men who could write were in great demand. I note that in the September 1826 and January 1831 Militia Lists he is present in Jemimaville as “schoolmaster” and the 1826 date suggests this would have been his first appointment after graduating. The Church organised schooling and there was a Committee of the General Assembly “for increasing the means of Education and Religious Instruction in Scotland particularly in the Highlands and Islands” and their report, submitted to the General Assembly dated May 1829, gives a snapshot of their schools from May 1828 to May 1829, including data provided by Neil on education in Jemimaville that year. Jemimaville had been in existence less than a decade at this point and I imagine the 54/55 pupils were drawn from a much wider area. The breakdown reveals a disparity in sex and education and the extent to which Gaelic compared with English was taught, and is of great interest regarding the school subjects of the period. I note that in the Jemimaville School in the first half of the year there were 35 male and 19 female pupils, and fees paid amounted to £3.10.0. In the second half of the year there were 41 male and 14 female pupils, and fees paid amounted to £4.6.0.

By the mid 1830s Neil was no longer the teacher in Jemimaville and I don’t know if he had moved on elsewhere or if he had given up due to ill-health. Certainly he died still a young man in 1838 and is buried in Kirkmichael. From the Rosemarkie “Register of Deaths”:

Mr Niel Urquhart 1838. Mr. Neil Urquhart died at Raddery on the twentyfifth and was buried, at Kirk-Michael, parish of Resolis, on the twenty-seventh March, in the twenty-seventh year of his age.

Raddery House; photo courtesy of Black Isle Images

Frontage of Raddery House; photo by Andrew Dowsett

In 1841, William Urquhart is listed in the census return immediately adjacent to the proprietor in Raddery House. He is given as a man servant, with his wife Catherine Matheson and grand-daughter Jane Munro residing with him. The proprietor of the Raddery Estate, James Fowler, by now a very elderly man, is present in Raddery House with his family and retinue of servants. The age of William at this time is given as 60, and of Catherine as 66, and the pattern is continued in the 1851 census return. By this time William had retired and was living in nearby Muir Den (nowadays Muiryden) of Raddery:

William Urquhart head mar 70 formerly coachman Ross Resolis
Catherine Urquhart wife mar 77 Sutherland Large [Lairg, presumably]

Another Urquhart family resident in Muiryden in 1851 (and for much longer) were the blacksmiths of Raddery, who are also buried in Kirkmichael (see their Story behind the Stone) I have not yet made a connection between the two families, but I do wonder…

Catherine died the year after the census and was buried in Kirkmichael, according to the Rosemarkie Death Register:

Catherine Matheson 1852. Catherine Matheson, died at the Muirden of Raddery, the third, and was buried in the Church-yard at Kirkmichael, the fourth day of August, aged Seventy-seven.

William continued at Muiryden until he too died, in 1860, and was also buried in Kirkmichael:

1860 Deaths Parish of Rosemarkie
Urquhart, William (coach man or driver) (widower) died 26 December 1860 Raddery aged 78 parents Alexander Urquhart farm servant (d) Harriat Urquhart ms Stewart (d) buried Church Yard of Kirkmichael of Resolis as certified by William Holm Sexton informant Justina Urquhart her x mark sister

There is no stone to commemorate William, Catherine or Neil in Kirkmichael despite their burial there.


Alexander Urquhart (c1796–1870), The Coachman at Poyntzfield House, and Catherine Munro (c1796–1860)

William’s brother Alexander was also a coachman, but in his case at Poyntzfield. More details of his life are provided in the complementary Story behind the Stone on the Children of Alexander Urquhart and Henny Stuart previously linked.

I see from the baptism records of his children that he moved from Dalmore to Poyntzfield somewhere between 1821 and 1823. He appears on several militia lists, the first being in 1825, which states: “Poyntzfield … Alexander Urquhart coachman >30 4 ch E” which translates as Alexander Urquhart, coachman at Poyntzfield, over 30 years of age, was excused from being balloted as he had four children under the age of 10. Four children are again mentioned in the list dated August 1828. However, the list dated January 1831 refers to three children under the age of 10, when the baptism records make it clear there should have been four. This suggests one child had died, and I wonder if it was that which triggered his purchase of some burial plots in Kirkmichael.

At Resolis the 5th day of May 1829… Alexander Urquhart Coachman at Poyntzfield House compeared & stated that Isabella Ross relict of David Hossack Kirk Officer at Kilmuir Easter & John Hossack her son had sold to him the said Alexander Urquhart the Burying Ground consisting of three Graves situated within the church yard of Kirkmichael in this parish formerly possessed by the said David Hossack & his Predecessors, for the sum of Thirty shillings Sterling. The Session appointed that the written agreement between the said Alexander Urquhart & the said Isabella Ross & John Hossack should be given to their officer to be by him kept in retentus & that a copy of the above-written agreement should be inserted in their minutes to secure the right of the said Alexander Urquhart in all time coming, the tenor whereof follows– / “We Isabella Ross Relict of the deceased David Hossack Kirk Officer, at Kilmuir Easter and John Hossack my son do dispose of, in behalf of ourselves or any who may pretend to be concerned, to Alexander Urquhart Coachman at Poyntzfield the Burying Ground consisting of three stones, situated within the Church yard of Kirkmichael Parish of Resolis formerly possessed by the said David Hossack and his Predecessors in presence of these witnesses, Hugh Macdonald Gardener Poyntzfield & Neil Urquhart Teacher at Jemima Ville for the sum of Thirty Shillings Sterling.” / Signed “Isabella Ross” / “John Hossack” / Signed “Hugh McDonald Witness” / “Neil Urquhart Witness”

That was the entry within the Kirk Session records, which usefully provides the cost of a lair at that time – 10 shillings Sterling! We have another sale of a lair at this time, again for ten shillings Sterling.

There must have been some dispute about the purchase, or perhaps the location of the lairs needed clarification, as five years later another copy containing the same information and witnesses but with the location of the lairs was made and entered into the lair transfers sheets bound into the marriage register:

Poyntzfield– 1834 / Alexander Urquhart, Coachman at Poyntzfield bought from John Hossack at Davidston in the parish of Cromarty, three burying places situated on the South of the Old church – there being only one grave between them and the old church – This he has done in the presence of these Witnesses – Signed, Niel Urquhart, Witness / Hugh McDonald Witness

The three burying places Alexander bought had previously been bought by the family, and indeed bear the initials of Alexander Urquhart and Henny Stuart and date 1805. However, we are now straying into that complementary Story behind the Stone. Alexander died in 1870:

Resolis death certificates
Alexander Urquhart ground officer (married to Catherine Munro) 19 Feb 1870 Jamimaville aged 75 parents Alexander Urquhart ploughman (d) Henrietta Urquhart ms Stewart (d) informant William Urquhart son Davidstown (not present)

By the time of his death, Alexander had risen from coachman to ground officer, a more responsible post.

The tablestone erected by William Urquhart in memory of his daughter Jane; photo by Andrew Dowsett


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