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

The Kirk Officers of Resolis, a Holm Dynasty

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photos as given below each image

This is the story of the role of Kirk Officers, and of a Holm dynasty of Kirk Officers in the parish of Resolis. It was spawned by the discovery of a headstone which had been pushed out of sight under a low-lying tablestone and only came to light during a survey of objects under the tablestones carried out by a Kirkmichael Trust work party. The grave of a grave-digger must always be a little intriguing.

Our survey under tablestones for artefacts threw up lots of interesting blocks of stone… photo by Jim Mackay

… but we weren’t expecting to find a headstone! photo by Jim Mackay

The new headstone; photo by Andrew Dowsett

What did the Kirk Officer do? Well, it was a paid post, although he usually had some land and a trade to supplement the annual modest amount released to him by the Kirk Session. Apart from acting as grave-digger, the Kirk Officer tolled the church bell and carried out much of the local administrative work for the Church. He had to obtain the fines from delinquents such as Sabbath-breakers and fornicators, and recover money from loaning out funerary props such as the mort-cloth (the money went into the parish funds for the poor). And the Session would instruct “their officer” to cite parties to appear before them to be investigated. You find him sometimes going by different names in local records: in Resolis he was known at various times as Kirk Officer, Sexton, Beadle, Church Officer, even Presbytery Officer, this last because the Kirk Officer served not only the local Kirk Session but also, on occasion, the Presbytery.

The grave-digger’s tools: the one-sided spade for cutting the turf and the shovel for throwing out the earth; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The social history of Resolis was wilfully damaged by the Reverend Robert Arthur, who is commemorated in the Gun Munro mausoleum at Kirkmichael due to his marrying into that family. He took it on himself to destroy the Kirk Session records allegedly so that the iniquities of the past would not be passed down to the future. Our records therefore commence when the Reverend Donald Sage arrived in 1822. However, with some digging you can find, despite the efforts of Arthur, information on earlier Resolis in the records of the church structure above the parish level – that of the Presbytery, in this case the Presbytery of Chanonry, one parish of which was “Kirkmichael and Cullicudden commonly called Resolis”.

Our earliest records of the activities of Kirk Officers in Resolis thus come from 1716, when it would appear there were two Kirk Officers, reflecting the fact that both the kirks of Cullicudden and Kirkmichael were in operation, despite the requirement to build a new “centrical” church contained within the Act of Scottish Parliament of 1662 unifying the parishes. And grave-digging continued in both kirkyards even after that central church was built at Resolis in 1769.

Anyway, on 27 March 1716, the Presbytery met at “Kirk-Michael” and the highly regarded minister of the unified parish, Thomas Inglis, requested a visitation to his manse at Cullicudden, and lots of local folk are named, including the local Kirk Officers:

And then the said Mr Inglis gave in a petitione representing the ruinous state of his manse and craveing that the Presbyterie would within some competent space of time appoint a meeting of the Presbyterie to hold at Killicuden for visiting of the same and appointing a competent Manse for him conforme to the Laws and acts of Parliament thereanent And that the presbyterie would grant warrant for advertiseing such persons to be present at the said visitatione as are requisite to concur with and assist the Presbyterie in the premisses in manner prescribed by Law The Presbyterie having heard and considered the said petition and finding the desire thereof just and reasonable They did and hereby do appoint a meeting of the presbyterie to be holden at the church of Killicuden upon the seventeenth day of April next to come for visiting of that parish and for inquireing into the state thereof with relation unto its Manse Office houses and pertinents thereof And do appoint the sd Mr Thomas Inglis minister of the gospel at the United churches of Kirk Michael & Killicuden to preach upon the Lords day next ensueing and to intimat from the pulpit immediatly after divine worship in the fornoon the forsd dyet of visitation to the Heretors of the sd united parishes And to warn and advertise them to be present thereat that they may assist and concur with the presbyterie in what shall be there concluded as fit to be done for the ends abovementioned And sicklike do appoint & ordain John Mckilroy in Killicuden and Alexr Scot in Teninich officers of Presbyterie in that part or any of them to warn & cite John Mckomie in Rosebrightie and Alexr McLean in Bray pareshioners of the sd parish Donald Watson in Rosmarkie & Andrew Mckenzie in Channonrie masons and Alexr Clerk at Innerbreakie and James Urqhuart in Milton wrights also to attend the presbyterie the sd day and place and to give their advice and assistance in the matters above mentioned.

John Mckilroy in Cullicudden and Alexander Scot in Teaninich (near Jemimaville) were therefore the Kirk Officers in 1716. The Scot family erected a set of memorials in Kirkmichael which a future Story behind the Stone will address, but there are no stones commemorating the Mckilroy family at Cullicudden kirkyard – on the surface, at least.

A generation later, and we find the first reference to a Holm as a Kirk Officer in Resolis, again in the Presbytery records. On 19 June 1739, Donald Holm was required to inform the heritors that there was to be a site meeting to assess the condition of the kirk at Cullicudden (preparatory to forcing the heritors to fork out for repairs!), the minister initiating the request still being Thomas Inglis.

The old kirk of Cullicudden is now just a mound in the kirkyard, with the more recent Aisle of Ardullie on the south side; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Therefore please your wisdoms to consider the premises, & appoint a Visitation at the Church of Cullicudden, which for the present is so very ruinous, that it is not safe to meet therein for publick worship, that tryal may be taken of the condition thereof, & such methods taken for repairing it as law prescribes, & grant warrant, to warn & advertise the parishoners to be present thereat, & concurr therewith (meaning the said Visitation), & likewise appoint your officer in that part to cite some honest tradsmen of each Necessary Craft, to give their advice & assistance thereat as use is & your petitioner shall ever pray, / The Presbytery having heard & considered the said petition, & finding the demand thereof most just & reasonable, they therefore did, & hereby do appoint a meeting to hold at the said Church of Cullicudden upon the Seventeenth day of next month, for visiting of the said Church, & doing what law requires for repairing of the same & do appoint the said Master Thomas Inglis Minister of the said parish to make intimation of the said dyet of Visitation from the pulpit upon the Lord’s day immediately preceeding the day appointed, after divine worship in the forenoon, & to advertise & warn the heritors & parishoners to be present & assist thereat, & siclike do appoint Donald Holm Presbytery officer in that part to warn & cite William Matheson & Duncan Grant Wrights in Findon, Richard Millar Theckstar in the parish of Kirkmichael, & James McCulloch in Balblair, Donald Ross in Ardoch, & Thomas Urquhart in St Martins honest men in the parish, to attend the presbytery on the said day & place to give their advice & assistance in the matter abovementioned.

Several of those names appear in this series of Story behind the Stone; these family histories are all entwined.

Donald Holm, then, was Kirk Officer in 1739. He appears in the Presbytery records on several occasions in 1741 during this period when reparations were being considered. His son, William Holm, became Kirk Officer after him. We pick this up from the record of William’s first marriage in 1753:

Resolis Marriages 1753
14 Dec 1753 William Holm son to Donald Holm Kirk officer in this parish & Margret Hosack daughter to John Hosack tenent in ye parish of Rosmarkie

William and Margaret had a few children before Margaret died; William then re-married, again to a Rosemarkie lady:

Resolis Marriages 1762
10 Sep 1762 William Holm kirkofficer in Newmiln & Isobel Hood daughter to Will: Hood ferrier at Chanry Ness in Rosmarkie parish

Now this is where the gravestone record kicks in, but in a most surprising way. In 2016, the Trust volunteers were surveying the odd bits of broken stone and artefacts stashed under the tablestones in Kirkmichael. All headstones had previously been recorded in Kirkmichael by both the Reynolds family and yrs trly. We were therefore astonished when a new headstone appeared. It had been jammed under a low tablestone. It was not broken. The location suggests that it might have been removed to make way for the large headstone commemorating John Holm and Christina Treasurer, and was placed under the tablestone to “keep it in the family”. Whatever the reason, we were delighted to find a previously unrecorded stone.

From left, the John Holm and Christina Treasurer headstone, the “new” William Holm and Isobel Hood headstone, and the tablestone commemorating two sons of William Holm and Isobel Hood; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The hidden headstone reads:

Willm Holm / Kirk officer / IsobEl Hood

This was as I say the gravestone of the second earliest member of the dynasty of Holm gravediggers in Resolis and his second wife. The tablestone under which it had been slid commemorated two of the sons mentioned above in the baptism records:

Interd the remains of / HECTOR HOLM who / died Decr 1785 aged / 22 years / WILLIAM HOLM / he died May 1789 aged 24 years

It was a struggle getting the parents’ headstone back under the tablestone at the time of the survey, and in researching this story we needed to look at it again. It was just as much a struggle to get it back under again the second time, and I do wonder what our visitors must have thought we were up to!

Squeezing the headstone back under the tablestone commemorating the sons in 2016; photo by Jim Mackay

And an equally ungainly return of the stone in 2019; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The adjacent tablestone, to the north, is seriously eroded at its foot but may well be an earlier instalment of this Holm grave-digging family – logically it would be that of Donald Holm, presbytery officer in 1739, but nothing of the inscription remains and the stone itself has disintegrated at one end. The next tablestone north is dedicated to Thomas Holm, Elder, and his spouse Isobella Fraser; it is very likely that this again is the same family, and shows again a connection with the church – the Elder was a member of the Kirk Session. The next stone to the north is likely to be the same family as well, a buried slab with “H” initials. In Kirkmichael (and in other old graveyards) we have several lines of stones, each associated with a particular family.

William Holm married Isobel Hood in 1762; she was his second wife as he had married Margaret Hossack in 1753. Both his wives came from the parish of Rosemarkie. Here are all the surviving baptism records relating to Kirk Officer Donald Holm and Isobel Clark, and his son Kirk Officer William Holm and his two wives Margaret Hossack and Isobel Hood. The baptism records include a mistake committed by Reverend Donald Sage when he copied the damaged original baptism records.

Baptism 25 Nov 1748 Dond Holm webster in Newmiln & Isobel Clark – David
Baptism 28 Jun 1751 David [this is Sage’s copy of the damaged original and I think he mis-read David for Dond] Holm Kirk Officer New Mills & Isobel Clark – John
Marriage 14 Dec 1753 William Holm son to Donald Holm Kirk officer in this parish & Margret Hosack daughter to John Hosack tenent in ye parish of Rosmarkie
Baptism 26 Aug 1756 William Holm K. officer & Margt. Hossack – Janet
Baptism 10 May 1759 William Holm Kirkofficer Newmiln & Margret Hossack – John
Marriage 10 Sep 1762 William Holm kirkofficer in Newmiln & Isobel Hood daughter to Will: Hood ferrier at Chanry Ness in Rosmarkie parish
Baptism 10 Jul 1763 William Holm weaver in Newmiln & Isobel Hood – Hector
Baptism 31 May 1765 William Holm weaver in Newmiln & Isobel Hood – William
Baptism 14 Jun 1767 William Holm weaver in Newmiln & Isobel Ho[dark] – Betty
Baptism 16 Jul 1775 William Holm weaver in Newmiln & Isobel Hood – Margrat

These records establish that William Holm’s own father, Donald Holm, was Kirk Officer before him. Donald was a webster in addition to being Kirk Officer, whilst William was a weaver to trade. The Newmills location was to be associated with these Kirk Officer Holms for many generations. I think, though, that the location must have been on the boundary of those adjacent areas known as Newmills and Resolis as the Newhall Estate Rentals of the 1770s place “William Holme Kirk officer for House & yard” at Newmills or Resolis alternately.

We can summarise the dynasty of grave-diggers thus far using the information on the gravestones and baptism and marriage records, emboldening the confirmed Kirk Officers:

Donald Holm=before 1748=Isobel Clark
webster in Newmills and Kirk Officer
William Holmweaver in Newmills and Kirk Officer
=1. 1753=Margaret Hossack
Janet (1756), John (1759)
=2. 1762=Isobel Hood
Hector (1763–1785), William (1765–1789), Betty (1767), Margrat (1775)

I came across some expenses compiled by Sir John Gordon of Invergordon associated with the death, funeral and debts of his beloved nephew, William Gordon of Newhall, he who has a flattering eulogy in the chancel at Kirkmichael. And they give a little more about the work of kirk officer William Holm, both for the kirk and for the laird.

Wm. Holme – Reesollis Kirk officer
By Bellman’s dues for 1777 and 5 preceding years at 2/6d. yearly £-.15.- Wherof Mr. Gordon paid to Accot. -.6.6…
By 11 days making the Drain from the South front of the House down to the Iron Gate, at 8d. p day -.7.4
1778 Janry. By an allowance for Ringing the parish Bell, on occasion of Mr. Gordon’s death … -.10.6

We now come to a gap in the records when the affairs of the Church in Resolis were dreadfully neglected by the minister of the time, Reverend Robert Arthur, who spent more care on the business affairs of the laird’s family into which he had married than his duties. His personal letters of the time barely mention his church work. In this period there was a William Holm who was Kirk Officer but whom I cannot place within the dynasty. We pick him up from a marriage entry in the parish of Kilmuir Easter, just across the Cromarty Firth:

1797 … 30th. March. William Holm Kirk officer in the Parish of Resolis and Margt. Fraser in Kilmuir were married this day.

I can find no record of the children of this couple. We can tell he was not the William in the above tree born in 1765 to William Holm and his second wife, Isobel, as his gravestone says he died in 1789 aged 24. Could he have been old William marrying for a third time? This mystery Holm was still Kirk Officer in 1799, as the subscriptions from the parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden to support the National Defence reported in the Caledonian Mercury of 21st November 1799 included two shillings from “William Holm, kirk-officer”. This mystery William Holm seems to have acted as Kirk Officer for only a short period of time after this until the post was taken over by John Holm. This John Holm may have been the John in the above tree born in 1759 to William Holm and his first wife, Margaret Hossack.

We know the relative periods when they worked as Kirk Officer from the lair transfer records. Within the Church records for Resolis are perhaps a dozen or so of these lair transfer records. The Holm family frequently acted as witnesses to these, sometimes the acting Kirk Officer and sometimes members of the family who became Kirk Officers. For example:

Risolis 9th November 1796 / I William Mackay at Kinbeachie do claim as my property the two Grave Stones lying next to the door of the Ile of Ardully in the Church Yard of Cullicudden; bought in the presence of John Holm Weaver, and David Mackinzie Taylor in the Bog of Cullicudden; and paid … presence of the above witnesses and William Holm Kirk Officer. / Murdh. Cameron Sessn. Clk.

We have worked out from the location of one of the William Mackay stones mentioned that the “Ile of Ardully” is simply the aisle still standing with a date over the doorway of 1609 (i.e. presumably a post-Reformation burial aisle added to the ancient church by the Laird of Ardullie, who owned land in the area); photo by Jim Mackay

Now, you will see here John Holm weaver who would become Kirk Officer, and the mysterious William Holm, Kirk Officer, who married Margaret Fraser in 1797. The Holm family members who are given as Kirk Officers or witnesses in the lair transfers are as follows:

1771 – William Holm Weaver Newmiln
1787 – Willm. Holm Kirk Officer
1789 – W. Holm Kirk officer
1796 – William Holm Kirk Officer and John Holm Weaver
1802 – John Holme Church officer
1805 – William Holm Kirk-Officer
1821 – John Holm / William Holm witnesses
1826 – John Holm Church-Officer
1827 – John Holm Kirk-Officer
1831 – John Holm Kirk Officer

Not the easiest set to untangle! Nevertheless, we can sort some of these Kirk Officers out, principally due to a much later death certificate.

Resolis deaths 1872
William Holm crofter & Church Officer (married to Isabella Murray) died 12 May 1872 Springfield Resolis aged 85 parents John Holm Church-Officer (d) Margaret Holm ms Urquhart (d) informant John Holm son (present)

We know where we are then with John Holm and Margaret Urquhart. Thank goodness for modern registration!

John Holm first appears in the records at Newmills in 1786. Logically this would be the John Holm baptised in 1759 to Kirk Officer in Newmills, William Holm, but this is mere conjecture. I have not proven the link. This increases the significance of the newly-discovered William Holm/Isobel Hood headstone stored beside the later William Holm / Christina Treasurer stone. The likelihood of the families represented on those adjacent stones being in fact the same Holm family clearly is very high indeed.

John Holm first appears in the records on the baptism of his son William, who would become Kirk Officer himself in due course:

9 Nov 1786 John Holm weaver at New Milns & Margaret Urquhart – William

Further children included John who in fact became Kirk Officer long before his older brother. The baptism record of his children shows that the family moved the short distance from Newmills to the Bog of Cullicudden between 1786 and 1789:

9 Nov 1786 John Holm weaver at New Milns & Margaret Urquhart – William
21 May 1789 John Holm weaver in the Bog & Margaret Urquhart – Margaret
9 May 1791 John Holm weaver in the Bog & Margaret Urquhart – Jean
7 Dec 1795 John Holm mealer in the Bog & Margaret Urquhart – Elizabeth
18 Jan 1798 John Holm weaver in the Bog & Margaret Urquhart – John

We thus are sure of the following snippet of the family tree of the grave-digging dynasty:

John Holm=Margaret Urquhart
weaver at Newmills and Bog of Cullicudden, and Kirk Officer
William (1786–1872) Kirk Officer=c1825=Isabel Murray (1789–1869)
Margaret (1789–1865)
Jean (1791)
Elizabeth (1795)
John (1798) Kirk Officer=1829=Margaret Murray
Ann (c1798–1874)

John Holm, Kirk Officer, married to Margaret Urquhart, is mentioned in a context demonstrating his loyal nature by the new broom in the parish, the Reverend Donald Sage. Sage was an extraordinarily modernising influence. He had his faults, but he stood head and shoulders above his predecessor in Resolis. Sage, writing in his memoirs, sets out those traumatic days of 1822 when he took over a new parish and lost his first wife.

The funeral was numerously attended. I was so completely prostrated as to be quite unable to accompany her beloved remains to their last resting-place. My venerable and sympathising father, however, supplied my place as chief mourner. The body was deposited in Cullicudden churchyard, a beautifully sequestered spot, lying on the southern shore of the Cromarty Firth. [Sage dwells here on his despair and then the tranquillity he found in the Lord.] As my mind became more composed, and the soreness of my sorrows, by the healing hand of time, was gradually wearing off, I engaged in the Sabbath and week-day duties of my office. I commenced a course of ministerial visits to the families of the parishioners. The whole parish I divided into districts, each comprehending as many families as I could conveniently visit during the course of a day. Intimation was also given from the pulpit, and the whole was finished in a period of ten months from the time I began until it was concluded. It was true indeed that the time was prolonged farther than it would otherwise have been, owing to various other duties interposing in the meantime. The line of work which I prescribed to myself was, to visit each family separately, from which all not belonging to it were excluded. With the heads of the family I held a confidential conference alone, the children or servants not being present. These were then called in, and, after asking each of them a question in the Shorter Catechism, beginning with the heads of the family, concluding with the servants, and addressing to all a few admonitions, the visitorial duty terminated. I took up, at the same time, a census of the whole population, one column being devoted to the names of individuals, divided into families and numbered as such; another, setting forth their designation and places of residence; and a third, containing what might strictly be called the moral and religious statistics of the parish, or remarks illustrative of the state, character, and knowledge of each individual. My kirk-officer, John Holm, accompanied me in all my peregrinations through the parish on this occasion from first to last.

So here we have the dedicated local Kirk Officer assiduously assisting Sage in one of the most difficult periods of his career. (And what has happened to that 1822 census of the parish of Resolis?)

John’s rate for digging graves was challenged a few years later, the complaint yielding valuable information about the costs of burial in the early 1800s.

At the Church of Resolis the 11th day of Jany 1826. … A complaint was lodged against John Holm the Kirk Officer by Evan Paterson son of Evan Paterson Crofter in St Martins lately deceased, stating that the Kirk Officer had overcharged him the said Evan Paterson for digging his fathers grave in the church yard of Kirk Michael. John Holm being called & interrogated, replied that the charge he had made was 5/- That is 3/ the usual rate for digging a grave & 2/ additional because the grave was opened in a new piece of ground in which there was no grave before & for the necessary & additional labour. The Session find that above charge is not contrary to the usual practice in such cases in this parish therefore dismiss the complaints of the said Evan Paterson as groundless and they appoint the said burying place opened for said Evan Paterson crofter in St Martins in the churchyard of Kirk Michael, in all time coming to be the property of the said Evan Paterson in St Martins & his descendants & that the said Burying ground is situated on the south side of the door & close by the wall of the churchyard of Kirkmichael. The Session also instruct their Clerk to give an extract of this minute to the said Evan Paterson when demanded.

Now, the ground at Kirkmichael had been used time and again for burials. From the context of the complaint, it was evidently unusual for there to be a grave in previously undug ground. The top surface of the oldest part of the site is filled with fragments of remains. But Evan Paterson’s lair was in previously undug ground in the north-west corner of the old graveyard, presumably on the brow of the steep slope. The gateway to the kirkyard was on the west wall at this point, and Paterson’s lair was just south of this gateway or “door”.

The last word of course was with the Holm family. In due course Evan Paterson himself died and was buried, surprisingly, in Cullicudden rather than Kirkmichael. Nevertheless, he was buried by one of the Holm dynasty of gravediggers, William, the son of the maligned John Holm!

Evan Paterson labourer pauper (married) died 1 Nov 1859 at Brae aged 67 parents Evan Paterson farmer (deceased) Catherine Paterson m.s. Holm (deceased) buried Church yard of Cullicudden As certified by William Holm Sexton informant Andrew Paterson his x mark son present

John Holm maintained a croft in addition to his Kirk Officer duties. He lived not far from me, at the Bog of Cullicudden, with his wife Margaret Urquhart. I don’t know exactly when he passed away – I think either 1828 or 1829. He must have been still active early in 1828, as there is an entry in the kirk session records of great social interest on 3 March of that year:

Thereafter the Session appointed that for the convenience both of the Minister & the English congregation the church Bell would be tolled by the Kirk Officer immediately after the conclusion of the First Gaelic Sermon.

The Gaelic sermon came first and because Donald Sage didn’t preach to a stop-watch, John Holm would toll the bell to let the lairds and their adherents know that the English sermon was due to start.

The bell on the church at Resolis which John Holm and the other session officers pulled over the centuries to call parishioners to church; photo by Jim Mackay

But later that year, in the roll of communicants in the kirk session records dated 7 July 1828 there is a note against his name “John Holm Kirk Officer Bog of Cullicudden dead” and at the meeting of 3 July 1829 it is recorded: “The State of the Roll of Communicants for this year is as follows. Three persons were removed during the course of the year by Death viz. John Holm Kirk Officer, Bog of Cullicudden …”

By this time, though, the next generation was ready to take over and we see in the records:

3 Nov 1829 John Holm kirkofficer at the Bog of Cullicudden & Margaret Murray contracted and married in due course

There had clearly been a straight transition of Kirk Officer duties from father to son. The couple had their first child the following year:

born 5 October and baptised 11 Oct 1830 John Holm church officer at the Bog of Cullicudden & Margaret Murray – John

Alas, he was not to remain in the parish for much longer as he and his family decided to emigrate to America. John reported his decision at the kirk session of 9 June 1836:

John Holm the Kirk Officer stated that he had resolved to go to America & gave in accordingly his resignation of his office. The Session accepted of the same ordered the half of his salary & fees as Kirk Officer to be paid him by the Treasurer & unanimously appointed as they hereby do appoint William Holm at Springfield to be Kirk Officer in place of his brother John Holm.

His older brother William Holm became one of the most recorded of the Holm family in Resolis as, come the introduction of civil registration in 1855, his name appears as Sexton, certifying Resolis burials on all the death certificates from 1855 to 1860 inclusive. From 1861, death certificates changed in form and did not include burial details.

William Holm married Isabella Murray (and I don’t as yet know if she and his sister-in-law Margaret Murray were related) on or before 1826 as I see their first child in the records born in October that year:

born 7 October and baptised 11 Oct 1826 William Holm weaver at Springfield & Isabel Murray – Isabel

Their son John, a later Kirk Officer, was born a few years later:

born 13 Dec 1829 and baptised 7 Jan 1830 William Holm tenant at Springfield & Isabel Murray – John

The only other child I note from baptism register or census returns is Margaret (1832).

William Holm’s tenure as Kirk Officer lasted right through to 1872, and his death certificate notes the dynasty:

Resolis deaths 1872
William Holm crofter & Church Officer (married to Isabella Murray) died 12 May 1872 Springfield Resolis aged 85 parents John Holm Church-Officer (d) Margaret Holm ms Urquhart (d) informant John Holm son (present)

Son John, who had informed the registrar of the Kirk Officer’s death, became the next Kirk Officer himself. In reality I imagine he had been helping his elderly father with his more physical duties for many years.

A complication arose in 1843, of course, with the creation of the Free Church. The Holm family naturally moved across to the Free Church with their minister, the Reverend Donald Sage. The Free Church, which had far more adherents than the Established Church, had its own officers, and the Holms were the kirk-officers of the Free Church. Across in the Established Church a new set of officers was appointed, and I see that in 1854, for example, the beadle was one William Mackay, a farm servant at Resolis.

But across in the Free Church a representative of the next generation of the Holm dynasty had become beadle – John Holm, the son of William Holm and Isabella Murray. He married Christina Treasurer in the parish of Knockbain in 1875, both of them a little older than usual for the period. Christina had in 1871 been a laundry maid at Braelangwell House which is where, I imagine, she would have met John Holm.

Knockbain 1875 Marriages
21 May 1875 at Muirton Schoolhouse after Banns according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
John Holm farmer (bachelor) 43 usual residence Resolis parish of Resolis parents William Holm farmer (deceased) and Isabella Holm m.s. Murray (deceased)
Christina Treasurer general domestic servant spinster 30 usual residence Muirton Schoolhouse Parish of Knockbain parents Roderick Treasurer general merchant (deceased) and Janet Treasurer m.s. McDonald
signed Farquhar McRae Minister of the FC of Knockbain witnesses Alexr. Murray Alexr. Treasurer

The headstone commemorating John Holm and Christina Treasurer stands beside the memorial dedicated to William Holm, from the earlier dynasty of Kirk Officers. I think it likely that the two lines were one. The stone commemorating John Holm and Christina Treasurer is a smart grey granite headstone with a polished black panel and gold lettering:

In loving memory of / our parents / JOHN HOLM / died 8th Nov. 1908 aged 78 / CHRISTINA TREASURER / died 18th April 1919 aged 73 / [I omit the details of their children who died in more recent time]

The epitaph in the Ross-shire Journal of 20 November 1908 is both useful and touching:

Resolis – Obituary – The announcement of the death of Mr John Holm, Springfield was received with great regret all over the community. Deceased was beadle of the Free Church, Resolis for over 50 years, an office which he held until failing health compelled him to retire a little over a year ago. He was of a quiet, amiable and retiring disposition, but nevertheless was widely known and greatly respected by all. The very large concourse of people who accompanied the remains on Friday to Kirkmichael Churchyard was evidence of the respect and esteem in which he was held. The service at the house was conducted by Rev J. Maciver, FC Resolis. Deceased who was in his 79th year is survived by a widow and grown-up family for whom much sympathy is felt in their bereavement.

We shall not pursue the Holm family or the role of Kirk Officer beyond this point. But a remarkable dynasty can be seen (admittedly with one weak point where the exact link is not confirmed), from 1739 through to 1909!


Appendix 1 – the Kirk Officer family tree

For those who enjoy a good family tree, here is this grave-digging dynasty:

The dotted red line indicates that the two John Holms might be the same man


Appendix 2 – family records

And the death certificates of some of those mentioned.

Margaret Holm pauper (formerly agricultural labourer) (single) died 2 Apr 1865 at Bog of Cullicudden aged 75 parents John Holm beadle (deceased) Margaret Holm m.s. Urquhart (deceased) informant William Holm his x mark brother (present)
Isabella Holm (married to William Holm, farmer) died 12 May 1869 at Springfield aged 79 parents Hugh Murray farmer (d) Isabella Murray ms Forbes (d) informant John Holm son (present)
William Holm crofter & Church Officer (married to Isabella Murray) died 12 May 1872 at Springfield Resolis aged 85 parents John Holm Church-Officer (d) Margaret Holm ms Urquhart (d) informant John Holm son (present)
Ann Holm housekeeper (single) died 5 May 1874 Springfield aged 76 parents John Holm crofter & church officer Margaret Holm ms Urquhart informant John Holm nephew (present)
Isabella McPherson (widow of Evan McPherson, crofter) died 16 Oct 1889 at Easter Brae aged 63 parents William Holm farmer (d) Isabella Holm ms Murray (d) informant Margaret Fraser her x mark sister (present) Don. McDonald Regr. witness
John Holmes crofter married died 10 Nov 1908 died at Springfield Resolis usual residence Springfield Resolis aged 78 parents William Holmes crofter Isabella Holmes ms Murray natural causes sudden as certified by R.G. Dick M.B. C.M. Jemimaville Registered on the Information of W.T. Mactavish Procurator Fiscal
Christina Holm widow of John Holm crofter died 8 Apr 1919 at Springfield aged 74 parents Roderick Treasurer merchant (d) Jessie Treasurer ms McDonald (d) informant Roderick Holm son (present)


Appendix 3 – adjacent stones

From the south, the line of Holm stones described starts with the modern headstone commemorating John Holm, Christina Treasurer and their family. However, a simple tomb-marker with initials DH FU stands to the south of this headstone. This is such an unusual combination of initials, it has to be a stone commemorating a couple named David Holm and Fanny or Frances Urquhart. There are baptism records for children to the couple in the Resolis parish register whilst they were living at Woodhead and then in the Cromarty parish register when they moved to Rosefarm.

Resolis 17 December 1778 – David Holm in Woodhead & Fanny Urquhart – twins Kenneth & Donald
Resolis 19 September 1780 – David Holm in Woodhead & Fanny Urqt. – John
Cromarty 1785 March 23 – David LS to David Home & Frances Urquhart Rosefarm
Cromarty 1786 17 March – David Ross LS to David Home & Francis Urquhart Rosefarm

It is likely that David was the son born as set out in the relevant section above “25 November 1748 – Dond Holm webster in Newmiln & Isobel Clark – David” and that would support the location of this stone within this line of Holm stones. However, without corroboration David and Fanny are consigned to this Appendix.

good photo by Andrew Dowsett

not very good photo by Jim Mackay

Running northwards, we have the John Holm/Christina Treasurer headstone. Then comes the tablestone with a headstone slipped underneath it. The tablestone commemorates two children of the couple, William Holm and Isobel Hood, commemorated on the hidden headstone.

The next tablestone is low, with one end worn off completely, and with no inscription visible. The stone must be one of the poorest quality in Kirkmichael.

A slab lies between this eroded tablestone and the next tablestone, deeply buried and tilted over so one side is much lower than the other. It is a re-used slab, as the first line of initials within the cartouche has been excised in blocks. The next line in the cartouche has not been damaged and is very clear: IH IT, the first two initials of which usually belong to a John Holm, and the second two initials possibly Janet or Isobel Thomson, from laws of averages! I don’t see in the records a husband/wife combination with these initials so it is likely they lived prior to extant church records. Below this set of initials is a clear AM and below this MV. I confess I cannot figure out how these two further sets of initials fit in, unless of course they were the initials of a second and third wife. Outside the cartouche are another three sets of initials, IH, IMC and MF and the date 1761, which I take to be yet another John Holm and his two wives. There are the usual wigged skull and crossed bones of the period, but in this case the eyes of the wigged skull aren’t on the same level so it almost seems as if the skull is peeking down to his right, the deep side.

Sandstone tablestone rotting away; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Too many initials; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The next tablestone north is highly eroded, and it required a night session with the Kirkmichael Lampie and hours studying a hundred photographs taken from different angles to decipher the inscription.

She was a dutifull / Spouse a Gratfull / Mother of Children

The Kirkmichael Lampie in operation; photos by Davine Sutherland and Jim Mackay

As an Elder, this Thomas Holm undoubtedly would have featured in the Kirk Session records destroyed by Robert Arthur. But he may yet turn up as an Elder in other church records. An Elder, of course, would usually rate a good memorial. I can find only one record of this couple, upon the baptism of their son Hector:

17 Sep 1752 Thomas Holm weaver Ferrytown & Isobel Fraser – Hector

The next tablestone north bears no inscription, or it has worn completely off, and thereafter there is a gap, indicating the end of the family lair has been reached. Having said that, we have not excavated that gap…


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