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

McCulloch the Mechanician

text: Dr Jim Mackay   Photography: as given

This is the story of Kenneth McCulloch of Woodside (c1728–1808), a successful inventor in his time, from whose life Hugh Miller, the Cromarty stonemason and writer, drew important insights.
The McCullochs of Woodside are commemorated on a tablestone at Kirkmichael — a stone which displays an inventive feature in itself!


The Mechanician

Let’s start with the inventor. According to Hugh Miller (without whom we would never have known the link with Woodside) he showed as a youth no inventive streak or indeed any academic, scientific or practical bent. This is Miller’s story.

Hugh Miller by Hill and Adamson

Kenneth McCulloch’s improved sea compass; image courtesy of Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands

There was one other Cromarty man of the last century who became eminent in his own walk and day, and to whom I must therefore refer; but I know not that he owed much, if anything, to the old school of the burgh.

In the Scots Magazine for May 1789, there is a report by Captain Philip d’Auvergne, of the Narcissus frigate, on the practical utility of Kenneth M’Culloch’s sea compasses. The captain, after an eighteen months’ trial of their merits, compared with those of all the other kinds in use at the time, describes them as immensely superior, and earnestly recommends to the Admiralty their general introduction into the navy. In passing, on one occasion, through the race of Alderney in the winter of 1787, there broke out a frightful storm, and so violent was the opposition of the wind and tide, that while his vessel was sailing at the rate of eleven miles on the surface, she was making scarce any headway by the land. The sea rose, tremendously – at once short, high, and irregular; and the motions of the vessel were so fearfully abrupt and violent, that scarce a seaman aboard could stand on deck. At a time so critical, when none of the compasses supplied from his Majesty’s stores would stand, but vacillated more than three points on each side, “it commanded,” says the captain, “the admiration of the whole crew, winning the confidence of even the most timorous – to see how quickly and readily M’Culloch’s steering compass recovered the vacillations communicated to it by the motion of the ship and the shocks of the sea, and how truly in every brief interval of rest the needle pointed to the Pole.” It is further added, that on the Captain’s recommendation these compasses were tried on board the Andromeda, commanded at the time by Prince William Henry, our present king, and so satisfied was the Prince of the utility of the invention, that he too became a strenuous advocate for their general introduction, and testified his regard for the ingenious inventor, by appointing him his compass- maker. M’Culloch, however, did not long survive the honour, dying a few years after, and I have been unable to trace with any degree of certainty the further history of his improved compasses. But though only imperfectly informed regarding his various inventions, and they are said to have been many, and singularly practical, I am tolerably well acquainted with the story of his early life; and as it furnishes a striking illustration of that instinct of genius, if I may so express myself, which leads the possessor to exactly the place in which his services may be of most value to the community, by rendering him useless and unhappy in every other, I think I cannot do better than communicate it to the reader.

The name of Kenneth McCulloch etched on a pocket telescope; image courtesy of National Maritime Museum

There stood, about forty years ago, on the northern side of the parish of Cromarty, an old farm-house – one of those low, long, dark-looking erections of turf and stone which still survive in the remoter districts of Scotland, as if to show how little man may sometimes improve, in even a civilized country, on the first rude shelter which his necessities owed to his ingenuity. A worn-out barrel, fixed slantwise in the ridge, served as a chimney for the better apartment (the spare room of the domicile), which was also furnished with a glazed window; but in the others the smoke was suffered to escape, and the light to enter, as chance or accident might direct. The eaves, overhung by stonecrop and studded by bunches of the houseleek, drooped heavily above the small blind openings and low door; and a row of ancient elms, which rose from out the fence of a neglected garden, spread their gnarled and ponderous arms over the roof. Such was the farmhouse of Woodside, in which Kenneth M’Culloch, the son of the farmer, was bom some time in the early half of the last century. The family from which he sprang – a race of honest, plodding tacksmen – had held the place from the proprietor of Cromarty for considerably more than a hundred years before, and it was deemed quite a matter of course that Kenneth, the eldest son, should succeed his father in the farm. Never was there a time, in at least this part of the country, in which agriculture stood more in need of the services of original and inventive minds. There was not a wheeled cart in the parish, nor a plough constructed on the modern principle. There was no changing of seed to suit the varieties of soil, no green cropping, no rotatory system of production; it almost seemed as if the main object of the farmer was to raise the least possible amount of grain at the greatest possible expense of labour. The farm of Woodside was primitive enough in its usages and modes of tillage to have formed a study to the antiquary. Towards autumn, when the fields vary most in colour, it resembled a rudely executed chart of some large island, so irregular were the patches which composed it, and so broken on every side by a surrounding sea of brown sterile moor, that went here and there winding into the interior in long river-like strips, or expanded within into firths and lakes. In one corner there stood a heap of stones, in another a thicket of furze – here a piece of bog – there a broken bank of clay. The implements, too, with which the fields were tilled, were quite as uncouth in their appearance as the fields themselves. There was the single-stilted plough, that did little more than scratch the surface; the wooden-toothed harrow, that did hardly so much; the cumbrous sledge – no inconsiderable load of itself, for carrying home the corn in harvest; and the basket-woven conical cart, with its rollers of wood, for bearing out the manure in spring. With these, too, there was the usual misproportion to the extent and produce of the farm, of lean inefficient cattle – four half-starved animals performing, with incredible labour, the work of one. And yet, now that a singularly inventive mind had come into existence on this very farm, and though its attentions had been directed, as far as external influences could direct them, on the various employments of the farmer, the interests of husbandry were to be in no degree improved by the circumstance. Nature, in the midst of her wisdom, seems to cherish a dash of the eccentric. The ingenuity of the farmer’s son was to be employed, not in facilitating the labours of the farmer, but in inventing binnacle lamps, which would yield an undiminished light amid the agitations of a tempest, and in constructing mariners’ compasses on a new principle. There are instances of similar character furnished by the experience of almost every one. In passing, some years since, over a dreary moor in the interior of the country, my curiosity was excited by a miniature mast, furnished, like that of a ship, with shrouds and yards, and bearing a-top a gaudy pinnet, which rose beside a little Highland cottage. And on inquiring regarding it at the door, I was informed that it was the work of the cottager’s son, a lad who, though he had scarcely ever seen the sea, had taken a strange fancy to the life of a sailor, and had left his father only a few weeks before, to serve aboard a man- of-war.

The farmstead and fields of Woodside, looking across Udale Bay to Kirkmichael on the left; photo: Jim Mackay

Kenneth’s first employment was the tending of a flock of sheep, the property of his father; and wretchedly did he acquit himself of the charge. The farm was bounded on the eastern side by a deep bosky ravine, through the bottom of which a scanty runnel rather trickled than flowed; and when it was discovered on any occasion that Kenneth’s flock had been left to take care of themselves, and of his father’s corn to boot – and such occasions were wofully frequent – Kenneth himself was almost invariably to be found in the ravine. There would he sit for hours among the bushes, engaged with his knife in carving uncouth faces on the heads of walking-sticks, or in constructing little water-mills, or in making Liliputian pumps of the dried stalks of the larger hemlock, and in raising the waters of the runnel to basins dug in the sides of the hollow. Sometimes he quitted his charge altogether, and set out for a meal-mill about a quarter of a mile from the farm, where he would linger for half a day at a time watching the motion of the wheels. His father complained that he could make nothing of him – “The boy,” he said, “seemed to have nearly as much sense as other boys of his years, and yet for any one useful purpose he was nothing better than an idiot.” His mother, as is common with mothers, and who was naturally an easy kind-hearted sort of woman, had better hopes of him. Kenneth, she affirmed, was only a little peculiar, and would turn out well after all. He was growing up, however, without improving in the slightest, and when he became tall enough for the plough, he made a dead stand. He would go and be a tradesman, he said – a mason, or smith, or house-carpenter – anything his friends chose to make him; but a farmer he would not be. His father, after a fruitless struggle to overcome his obstinacy, carried him with him to a friend in Cromarty, our old acquaintance, Donald Sandison, and after candidly confessing that he was of no manner of use at home, and would, he was afraid, be of little use anywhere, bound him by indenture to the mechanic for four years. Kenneth’s new master, as I have already had occasion to state, was one of the best workmen in his profession in the north of Scotland. His scrutoires and wardrobes were in repute up to the dose of the last century, and in the ancient art of wainscot-carving he had no equal in the country. He was an intelligent man too, as well as a superior mechanic; but with all his general intelligence, and all his skill, he failed to discover the latent capabilities of his apprentice. Kenneth was dull and absent, and had no heart to his work; and though he seemed to understand the principles on which his master’s various tools were used and the articles of his trade constructed, as well as any workman in the shop, there were none among them who used the tools so awkwardly, or constructed the articles so ill. An old botching carpenter who wrought in a little shop at the other end of the town, was known to the boys of the place by the humorous appellation of “Spull (i.e. spoil)-the-wood,” and a lean-sided, ill-conditioned, dangerous boat which he had built, as “the Wilful Murder.” Kenneth came to be regarded as a sort of second “Spull-the-Wood,” as a fashioner of rickety tables, ill-fitted drawers, and chairs that, when sat upon, creaked like badly-tuned organs; and the boys, who were beginning to regard him as fair game, sometimes took the liberty of asking him whether he, too, was not going to build a Wilful Murder? Such, in short, were his deficiencies as a mechanic, that in the third year of his apprenticeship his master advised his father to take him home with him and set him to the plough – an advice, however, on which the farmer, warned by his previous experience, sturdily refused to act.

It was remarked that Kenneth acquired more of his profession in the last year of his apprenticeship than in all the others. His skill as a workman came to rank but little below the average ability of his shopmates; and he seemed to enjoy more, and had become less bashful and awkward. His master on one occasion brought him aboard a vessel in the harbour, to repair some injury which her bulwarks had sustained in a storm; and Kenneth, for the first time in his life, was introduced to the mariner's compass. The master in after days, when his apprentice had become a great man, used to relate the cuxumstance with much complacency, and compare him, as he bent over the instrument in wonder and admiration, to a negro of the Kanga tribe worshipping the elephant’s tooth. On the close of his apprenticeship he left this part of the country for London, accompanied by his master’s eldest son, a lad of a rather careless disposition, but, like his father, a first-rate workman. Kenneth soon began to experience the straits and hardships of the inferior mechanic. His companion found little difficulty in procuring employment, and none at all in retaining it when once procured. Kenneth, on the contrary, was tossed about from shop to shop, and from one establishment to another; and for a full twelvemonth, during the half of which he was wholly unemployed, he did not work for more than a fortnight together with any one master. It would have fared worse with him than it did, had it not been for his companion, Willie Sandison, who generously shared his earnings with him every time he stood in need of his assistance. In about a year after they had gone to London, however, Willie, an honest and warmhearted but thoughtless lad, was inveigled into a disreputable marriage, and lost in consequence his wonted ability to assist his companion. I have seen one of Kenneth’s letters to his old master, written about this time, in which he bewails Willie’s mishap, and dwells gloomily on his own prospects. How these first began to brighten I am unable to say, for there occurs about this period a wide gap in his story, which all my inquiries regarding him have not enabled me to fill; but in a second letter to his master, now before me, which bears date 1772, just ten years after the other, there are the evidences of a surprising improvement in his circumstances and condition.

He writes in high spirits. Just before sitting down to his desk he had heard from his old friend Willie, who had gone out to one of the colonies, where he was thriving in spite of his wife. He had heard, too, by the same post from his mother, who had been so kind to him during his luckless boyhood; and the old woman was well. He had, besides, been enabled to remove from his former lodgings to a fine airy house in Duke’s Court, opposite St. Martin’s Church, for which he had engaged, he said, to pay a rent of forty-two pounds per annum, a very considerable sum nearly sixty years ago. Further, he had entered into an advantageous contract with Catherine of Russia, for furnishing all the philosophical instruments of a new college then erecting in Petersburgh – a contract which promised to secure about two years’ profitable employment to himself and seven workmen. In the ten years which intervened between the dates of his two letters, Kenneth M’Culloch had become one of the most skilful and inventive mechanicians of London.

McCulloch’s Improved Compass – patent drawing, as given in several editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica including 1797

He rose gradually into affluence and celebrity, and for a considerable period before his death his gains were estimated at about a thousand a year. His story, however, illustrates rather the wisdom of nature than that of Kenneth M’Culloch. We think all the more highly of Franklin for being so excellent a printer, and of Burns for excelling all his companions in the labours of the fields; nor did the skill or vigour with which they pursued their ordinary employments hinder the one from taking his place among the first philosophers and first statesmen of the age, nor prevent the other from achieving his widespread celebrity as the most original and popular of modern poets. Be it remembered, however, that there is a narrow and limited cast of genius, unlike that of either Burns or Franklin, which, though of incalculable value in its own sphere, is of no use whatever in any other; and to precipitate it on its proper object by the pressure of external circumstances, and the general inaptitude of its possessor for other pursuits, seems to be part of the wise economy of Providence. Had Kenneth M’Culloch betaken himself to the plough, like his father and grandfather, he would have been, like them, the tacksman of Woodside, and nothing more; had he found his proper vocation in cabinet- making, he would have made tables and chairs for life, like his ingenious master, Donald Sandison.

That was Hugh Miller’s take on Kenneth McCulloch. Let’s take a look at what we know of the man. On the factual record, we know that Kenneth McCulloch took out a patent on his sea- compass, and elements of it were reproduced in the compass section of several editions (at least 1797 and 1810) of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Improved sea-compasses have lately been constructed by Mr M’Culloch of London, for which he obtained a patent. The particulars are as follows … In one particular this patent compass is considered as an improvement on the common compasses, in as far as the needle is both longer and broader; hence its magnetism must be stronger, and of course the line of its magnetic direction correspondent with the car. In another particular, in order to prevent the motions of the vessel from affecting the needle, which is the most desirable object, the patent compass-box, instead of swinging in gimbals at right angles to each other, is supported in its very centre upon a prop; and whatever moiton the other parts of the box may have, this centre being in the vertex of the hollow cone, may be considered as relatively at rest; and therefore gives little of no disturbance to the needle. Again, the pivot or centre upon which the needle turns, is so contrived as to stand always perpendicular over the centre of the compass-box, or apex of the hollow cone, as upon a fixed point; and is therefore still less affected by the motions of the vessel. Thus the centres of motion, gravity, and of magnetism, are brought almost all to the same point; the advantages of which will be readily perceived by any person acquainted with mechanical principles.” M’Culloch’s Account.

As Miller says, the Scots Magazine (in fact, it was reported in several journals of the time), carried an article by Captain Philip D’Auvergne eulogising on the effectiveness of the improved sea compass. McCulloch himself seems to utilised this report along with some images of his patented invention, in a publication of the time which can be found in the British Library:

An account of the new improved sea compasses, made by the patentee, K. McCulloch, compass-maker [microform] … with reports of their practical utility, … by Capt. Philip D'Auvergne. Author MacCulloch, Kenneth. London: printed by R. Carpenter; and sold by K. McCulloch, 1789 30,[2]p.,plates; 8A.

A box containing Kenneth McCulloch’s improved sea compass

The viewing kit that clamps onto the rim of the bowl is not attached

We can fill in some of the gaps in McCulloch’s life that Hugh Miller could not. At some point the great astronomer and orrery creator, James Ferguson, took him under his wing. Here are a few snippets from biographical pieces relating to Ferguson which indicate how much Ferguson thought of McCulloch the Mechanician.

Life of James Ferguson (Ebenezer Henderson, 1867):

Ferguson was an ingenious and clever practical mechanician. He constructed with his own hands, from his own designs, no less than eight orreries, several astronomical clocks, various curious models and apparatus for illustrating and demonstrating the principles of natural and experimental philosophy. … In his later life he was assisted by Kenneth M’Culloch, an ingenious Scotch mechanic; and who, in 1801, was engaged on the new Planetarium of the Royal Institution of London …

One of Ferguson’s Orreries – with brass wheel-work – was gifted to University College, London, in 1851 … We do not know when this orrery was finished; probably it would be during 1766. Ferguson not only worked at it with his own hands, but was ably assisted by an ingenious workman named Kenneth M’Culloch, who was “well skilled in all the intricate motions of wheel-work,” and who appears to have worked for Ferguson occasionally, from this period, till Ferguson’s death in 1776. … [note] Kenneth M’Culloch was a native of Scotland, and long in the employ of Ferguson, assisting him in the construction of his apparatus, clocks, orreries, &c. and died at about the age of 80 in the year 1808. Ferguson was exceedingly fond of Kenneth (or Kenny, as he used to call him), and from time to time bestowed on him marks of favour, presenting him now and then with mechanical nick-nacks, such as Card Rotulas, &c., and shortly before his death, Ferguson gave him a curious table-clock, which showed the motion of the Earth by the rotation of a small globe. / This note is from Mr. Andrew Reid, who also sometimes worked for Ferguson about 1772 …

Although Ferguson gave McCulloch gifts during his life, I note that he did not leave him anything in his will! However, it is clear that by now McCulloch’s instrument-making company was doing well. Regardless of commissions from scientists such as Ferguson or bodies such as the Royal Institution, he seems to have kept his own concern going.

You may have noted that Hugh Miller cites Benjamin Franklin in the context of excelling in several different fields, which of course is absolutely true. Coincidentally, McCulloch must have known Franklin quite well himself. The scientist was a great friend of James Ferguson’s and often visited him, including during the period when we know McCulloch worked for Ferguson.

Celebrated scientist and American, Benjamin Franklin

James Ferguson, F.R.S., by John Townsend, Ferguson’s hand resting on celestial globe

For confirmation of the friendship between Ferguson and Franklin, let’s turn to Life of James Ferguson again:

Franklin came to England in 1724, and for many years worked at his trade as a printer in London. He left London some years after this date, but we find him again in London in 1755 – 1757 – 1766 – 1774, &c. Franklin and Ferguson appear to have been introduced to each other in 1757. Ferguson’s death, in 1776, put an end to the intimate friendship which had so long subsisted between them. A curious old Circular Horologe, or Clock, once in our possession, (now in the Museum at Banff) has engraven on it, John T. Desaguliers, LL.D., 1729, Lect. on Nat. et Exp. Phil., London. Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. 1757.– “James Ferguson, 1766,” – “Kenneth M’Culloch, 1774;” and the initials G.W.

These inscriptions, on the inside of the brass lid on the back of it, show the ownership of this instrument passing down over the decades through some remarkable men.

The Banff Preservation and Heritage Society and Museum of Banff confirmed to me recently that the clock or horologe is still on display at the Museum, and Dr Alistair Mason kindly opened the Museum for me off-season to examine and photograph it. The horologe is a marvelous historical artifact. I’d love to know what Black Isler McCulloch would have made of the new American. Another Black Isler who pops up in several of this series of Story Behind the Stone, Gilbert Barkly, knew Franklin from his trading and spying days during the War of Independence and regarded him as a traitor. How intriguing that McCulloch should have received from Ferguson a gift which had come to Ferguson from the great Benjamin Franklin.

The ancient horologe owned and inscribed in turn by Benjamin Franklin, James Ferguson and Kenneth McCulloch; photo: Jim Mackay

I note from the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, Volume 15, under “Planetary Machines” (Edited by David Brewster, 1832) that Kenneth McCulloch was given a large-scale, ambitious project in 1801:

Soon after the Royal Institution of London was founded, the members had occasion to procure a planetarium amoung other apparatus for the lectures… and a plan was suggested about the year 1801, by one of the original proprietors, (to whom we are indebted for this short account,) for exhibiting the equated motions of all the planets at that time discovered. This suggestion, being soon after the two planets Ceres and Pallas [dwarf planets in the asteroid belt] had been discovered, was adopted; and Kenneth M’Culloch, an aged workman brought up under James Ferguson, was employed in the construction of the machine in the workshops of the institution.

In fact, McCulloch was more firmly embedded into the structure of the new Royal Institution than the writer of the piece in the Encyclopaedia was aware of. Under the patronage of the King, the Institution was founded in March 1799 with the aim of introducing new technologies and teaching science to the general public and it shortly started publishing its Journal. I note that these Journals set out at the front “ Officers, &c. of the Royal Institution of Great Britain.“ and Numbers 2 and 3, dated 13 June 1801, give the establishment as on 1 May 1801 including, beside such luminaries as Humphrey Davy, “House Steward, and Master of the Workshops. Mr Kenneth M’Culloch.”. The text inside additionally gives:

A Master of the Workshops has been engaged, who is himself a working Mathematical Instrument Maker and Model Maker; and will have the care of all the philosophical apparatus belonging to the Institution, and keep it constantly in repair and ready for use. He will reside in the house, – and superintend and direct all the workmen who are employed in the workshops: – he will likewise superintend and instruct all such ingenious and well-behaved young men as may, at the recommendation of Proprietors, be admitted into the workshops of the Institution, to receive instruction, and to complete their education in any one or more of the mechanic arts.

An 1802 issue of the Journal of the Royal Institution

He held the same position on 1 May 1802, but I have not seen later Journals.

McCulloch is difficult to pick up in the records. I see him taking on apprentices in 1774 (when his firm is given as Kenneth McCulloch & Wm Frazer of Saint Martins in the fields in Co. of Middlesex Mathematical instrument maker) (National Archives, IR1/28 f 37) and in 1788 when he is given as Kenneth McCullock Trinity Minories London Mathematical inst maker (National Archives, IR 1/33 f 97) for one apprentice and Kenneth McCullock Minories London Mathematical Instrument maker (National Archives, IR 1/34 f 10) for another. The Saint Martins in the Fields address will be where the first letter to which Hugh Miller refers was written from, and I draw attention to his later “Trinity Minories” address as it is this that provides the links to his family.

And I see him insuring his property in 1789 and 1792 when he is given in each case as “Kenneth McCulloch, 38 the Minories, mathematical instrument maker” (London Metropolitan Archives, MS 11936/358/552835 and MS 11936/386/600854), thereby providing us with his exact address in this period. I note from the property registers, that he was in the Minories in 1784, paying £2.8.- property tax.


The family of the Mechanician

Why are we so bothered about his address? Because a Kenneth McCulloch married one Margaret McIntosh at the Church of St John Zachary in the Parish of St Bartholomew the Great in 1777, and they had Charlotte, Kenneth John and Lelly baptised at St Bartholomew the Great in 1779, 1781 and 1783 respectively. But they had Jane baptised at Holy Trinity Minories on 21 June 1790. It would be stretching coincidence too far to think that another Kenneth McCulloch moved to Trinity Minories at the same time. The Mechanician married fairly late, but it is pleasing to know that he has descendants.

Daughter Charlotte married Andrew Boyeson in 1802 and daughter Jane married James Abbey in 1807, and Kenneth McCulloch signed as witness at both marriages. I have not yet found the signature of the Mechanician on a paper document to compare with the signature of the Kenneth McCulloch on his own or his daughters’ marriage certificates, but the stylised engraved “McCulloch” on his mechanical creations is certainly very similar.


Surviving pieces

As Miller makes clear, McCulloch produced far more than just his improved compass. There is little now of his work accessible, beyond a few instruments in museums such as the Maritime Museum at Greenwich and the occasional piece that comes onto the market every now and again.

One instrument of particular historical interest is a pocket telescope which had been presented by the grateful officers of HMS Victory to the sailor, Midshipman John Pollard, who had shot the enemy marksman who had killed Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Kenneth McCulloch’s usual engraving can be seen on the brass.

image courtesy of National Maritime Museum

An earlier sea-compass than his patented device, but apparently used by no less than the famous Captain Bligh when a Lieutenant, was offered for sale for over £3,000 a few years ago. The date of the instrument given at the time was “Circa 1770” and a small plate was inscribed “Lt William Bligh”. The dial bore the usual “K. McCulloch, London”. When the case lid was closed, the floating indicator arm was automatically anchored from moving.

These few relics survive to confirm the ingenuity of McCulloch the Mechanician, one of the family of the McCullochs of Woodside.


The McCullochs of Woodside Tablestone

There are a dozen or so McCulloch stones in a central group at Kirkmichael, linking the different families of farmers, tacksmen, blacksmiths and millers bearing that name across Resolis and Cromarty parishes. From Woodside or Auchnagary farms, though in the parish of Cromarty, you look down at nearby Kirkmichael, and the farmers must have felt a strong affinity with the burial ground nestling on Udale Bay beside them.

The Woodside tablestone in Kirkmichael is an unusual one for the time, bearing none of the symbols of mortality common on stones of this period, but covered in writing. The carver packed in the information, utilising ligatures, or joining of letters, to save on space.

Here lys the body / of DONALD McCULLOCH some time / taksman in / Wood-side who died the 3 day of / August 1723 / And his spouse / MARY McKENZIE / who died the / 26 day of Janury 1733 / Also their son / WILLIAM McULLOCH / He died Augt 1763 / & his spouse LILLIAS / McKENZIE she died / March 1773 & their / son DONALD / McULLOCH he died / at Woodside the / 6 day of June 1790 / aged 41 years

We can further develop the names on the tablestone. The Cromarty baptism register gives:

1719… Januarie 23d Donald MacCulloch Lawful son to David MacCulloch in Auchnagarrie and Isobel Davidson his spouse was baptized upon the twentie third day of Januarie Jaivii& and nynteen years witnesses Donald MacCulloch Woodside & Thomas Hood Peddistoun

David McCulloch of Auchnagarry is memorialised on an adjacent tablestone in Kirkmichael (and is clearly a close relative of the McCullochs of Woodside, the immediately adjacent farm to Auchnagarry), but our interest here is the witness Donald MacCulloch Woodside who was likely to have been the Donald McCulloch tacksman of Woodside whose death in 1723 is recorded on the Woodside stone.

Additionally, in 1765, the Commissioners of Supply for Cromarty-shire, investigating land trasactions in the parish of Cromarty, recorded the evidence of parishioners on 24 May 1765, including that of “Robert Williamson … he is son in law to Widow McCulloch of Woodside.” I take it that the Widow McCulloch of Woodside being referred to here in 1765 would be Lillias McKenzie of the Kirkmichael tablestone, whose husband died in 1763 and who herself died in 1773. The Cromarty register contains an entry: “1756 … July 2d were contracted in order to marriage Robert Williamson & Margaret McCulloch both in this Parish they were married July 23” and the register confirms the location of the couple the following year: “1757… Oct 7th Donald L.S. to Robert Williamson Tennant in Little Farness & Margt McCulloch”. I think it safe to assume this is the Robert Williamson who married Margaret McCulloch, daughter of William McCulloch and Lillias McKenzie of Woodside commemorated on the Kirkmichael tablestone. And finally, I note from the Cromarty register again for 1742 “Novr 4 Kathiren L Daughter to Will: MacCulloch & Lillias MacKenzie Woodsi…”, who was clearly one of the children of the couple on the Kirkmichael stone – and likely to be a young sister of McCulloch the Mechanician!

We would welcome input from any descendants who have pieced the history of the McCulloch of Woodside family together. Here are a few snippets.

David Alston reports that there is a mention in the National Records of Scotland (DI40/1A) of a David McCulloch, taxsman in Woodside, in 1754.

And the McCullochs were certainly there in 1814 – the Militia List for the parish of Cromarty in 1814 contains a record for a William McCulloch, farmer at Woodside aged 39. I presume this was the same William McCulloch mentioned in a report on the Inverness Assizes in the Inverness Courier of 3 May 1821:

The Circuit Court of Justiciary was opened here, on the 26th April, by Lords Hermand and Succoth, with the usual formalities. … John Gunn alias Miniart, accused of stealing a horse on 5th January 1819, from Donald Ross, miller at the shore of Cromarty, and on the same day, of stealing another horse from William M’culloch, at Woodside, parish of Cromarty.– And also accused of stealing a third horse on 23d January, 1819, from Donald Tulloch, at Hill of Tain, was then brought to the bar, and pled Guilty. It may be recollected that Gunn was outlawed at the Spring Circuit of 1819, for not appearing to stand trial on the present indictment. Some months after he was apprehended at Peterhead, and lodged in the Jail of Inverness, and has been since regularly indicted for these thefts at every Circuit. But from well feigned madness his trial was put off from time to time. Some weeks ago, however, he dexterously contrived to break out of the Inverness Jail; and being again apprehended, laid aside all his tricks, and voluntarily confessed his guilt to save his life. The libel being restricted to an arbitrary punishment, Gunn was ordered to be transported for fourteen years, after a most suitable address from Lord Succoth.

However, there were no McCullochs in Woodside in the 1841 Census. The long tradition of the tacksmen of Woodside had come to an end.


An Ingenious Design

And the unusual engineering feature of the tablestone? Well, I’ll come to that. The inscription, as usual, starts at the top left of the tablestone, continues in clockwise fashion around the perimeter, until, having reached the top left again, is carved in parallel lines across the stone, down until it reaches the recessed panel towards the foot. The information relating to the next generation is contained in that recessed panel.

The carver of the first half of the inscription obviously ran into problems squeezing in the last line of information before the panel – the lettering is beautifully cut up to that point, regularly spaced with plenty of room. And then we have “IANurY 1733” with a strange condensation of the month and with the final “3” tucked into an adjacent space. The Mechanician would have shaken his head at this point.

The recessed panel for further family information is unusual in itself. Indeed I do wonder if perhaps some symbols of mortality were featured there and were chiselled out to provide space for another generation.

But the panel is the only one I have seen to be provided with drainage channels. The mason, no doubt calculating that water would pond in the recess, and with a view to the long-term sustainability of the stone, cut out two neat channels to allow rainwater to run out. A very unusual but practical measure!


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