Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bullister (–1734),
son of Alexander Urquhart of Newhall and Nicola Guthrie

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

my thanks to the staff of Orkney Archive and National Records of Scotland

In St Regulus graveyard in Cromarty lies the splendid memorial slab to Nicola Guthrie, the first wife of Alexander Urquhart of Newhall. She died, the memorial informs us, on the last day of August, 1676. There is so much going on with this stone that I expand on its features in an appendix. Nicola’s husband, Alexander Urquhart of Kinudie, purchased much land on the north side of the Black Isle in 1670, erected what he called the Barony of Newhall, and became the first Urquhart of Newhall.

Our tale concerns the fourth son of Nicola and Alexander, Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bullister, whose story has never been told before.

memorial slab to Nicola Guthrie, erected by her husband, Alexander Urquhart of Newhall; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Their eldest son John was heir to Newhall, and his heir in turn was the Jacobite conspirator and Member of Parliament, Colonel Alexander Urquhart of Newhall. We’ll come back to young Alexander, as he was to write to his uncle, Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bullister, for help in finding an army placement in 1705, and generally seemed to regard Samuel as a father figure.

A word on spelling during this period, given the number of extracts I’ve used from contemporary letters and other documents. Spelling varied from person to person and you have to think phonetically to understand some of the variations. In addition, words with “y” are usually condensations of words containing “th” or “the”, so “fayr” for “father”, “yr” for “their”, “ye” for “the”. Similarly, words with “q” are usually shortened words containing “wh” or “whi” or similar, so “qch” for “which”, “qrof” for “whereof”. Commonly used words get abbreviated, as there is an assumption that the reader will know them, so “umqll” for “umquhill” (i.e. late, deceased).

And so “In ye yeare Jaivi& foure score and nyne ye umqll fayr of ye sd defr” becomes “In 1689 the deceased father of the said defender.” You get used to it!

Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bullister – a summary

Samuel would have been born in the 1660s or 1670s. We know nothing of his early years. We know of course about his eldest brother John, the heir to Newhall, as he crops up in numerous documents along with his father in relation to the Newhall Estate, then a sizeable 9,000 acres of Black Isle arable or improveable land. And other siblings are fairly well documented. But Samuel has always been an unknown quantity. As a fourth son, he would very much have had to make his own way in the world.

There are two paired wonderful memorial slabs, also in St Regulus, to another Samuel Urquhart, a merchant burgess of Cromarty, and his spouse, Agnes Williamson. It has sometimes been conjectured that these commemorated Samuel, son of Alexander Urquhart of Newhall. No. The real Newhall Samuel lived and died much further away.

photo by Jim Mackay

The first sighting of the real Samuel is in Shetland in 1693. Although he travelled much, and in 1702 purchased a house in Leith, the port of Edinburgh, he resided mainly in Shetland until about 1705. He had married Katharine Elphinstone of the family of Elphinstone of Lopness on Sanday, and in 1705 removed to that island, one of the largest in Orkney. He had become caught up in the legal crossfire between two people you would not want as neighbours: his brother-in-law, the autocratic Jacobite Colonel Robert Elphinstone of Lopness on Sanday (and Utrecht in Holland), and the violent and abusive Peter Fea of Whitehall on Stronsay.

Katharine Elphinstone must have died prior to 1731, as Samuel remarried a Margaret Robertson in Edinburgh in that year. I know as yet nothing of Margaret Robertson or what her story was.

Samuel Urquhart died on Sanday just a few years later, for the Kirk Session record of Lady Church reads:

1734 … July 24th … As also six shilling Scotts, for the use of the bell to the deceased Mr. Samuel Urquhart.

Samuel Urquhart in Shetland

As I say, the first sighting is in 1693, when Samuel was involved in a small financial settlement. The rix-dollars mentioned here were silver coinage used throughout the European continent.

Lerwick Sheriff Court Register of Deeds, Shetland Archives reference SC12/53/1/ (page 34), date 5 August 1693
Discharge and attollerance by Captain Andrew Dick, Edinburgh, late stewart of Orknay, and superior of two houses and pertinents in Lerwick, to Samuel Urquhart, lawful son to Alexander Urquhart of Newhall, on behalf of James Laughtone, indweller in Lerwick, of the sum of 10 rix dollars, engrossed on 8 April 1695.

What was he doing in Shetland? He was a merchant. But an additional activity, and a hazardous one, was collecting excise in Orkney and Shetland. The Orcadians in particular seemed to take the law into their own hands if they felt they shouldn’t pay what was legally due. Samuel was to experience this again later in life when residing on Sanday and acting as factor for land owner James Hamilton of Olivestob. But in 1694, in the Exchequer papers held in the National Records of Scotland (E80/12), we find:

Summons to Craigie, provost of Kirkwall to compear before privy council for riot, oppression and imprisonment of Samuel Urquhart, collector appointed by tacksmen of additional excise for Orkney and Shetland, 25 June 1694.

Imprisoned by the Provost of Kirkwall, no less. It doesn’t state where Samuel was imprisoned but it almost certainly would have been in the Old Tolbooth of Kirkwall, not apparently a very secure prison. From B.H. Hossack’s “Kirkwall in the Orkneys” (Kirkwall, 1900):

From the middle of the seventeenth century until the middle of the following century a burgess’ house at the foot of the Strynd served as the burgh Tolbooth … For holding Council meetings and Burgh Courts the dwelling-house of a Kirkwall merchant might be suitable enough; but as a prison it proved a sad failure, as witness the numerous escapes recorded.

It may not have been secure, but plenty of those imprisoned in the Tolbooth died there in the insanitary conditions from “jail fever” and were carried the short distance to St Magnus Kirkyard for burial. To jail a respectable gentleman like Mr Samuel Urquhart who was simply carrying out his authorised business was a serious matter. You will note that the Provost of Kirkwall had to “compear before privy council” for imprisoning Samuel. The Scottish Privy Council often had to be brought into Orkney disputes, as those placed in official positions on the islands were prone to act in their own interests.

descending to the foot of the Strynd these days; photo by Davine’s friend

But instead of the Tolbooth, nowadays there is a busy shopping area at the foot of the Strynd (the narrow passage that emerges from right, under the wheat-coloured building); photo by Davine Sutherland

Anne Urquhart, one of Samuel’s sisters, had married Sir Adam Gordon of Dalpholly. Sir Adam was a wily and ambitious fellow. He mopped up many Urquhart debts with a view to obtaining their land in lieu of payment, a process continued by his son William Gordon of Dalpholly, who became Sir William Gordon of Invergordon (a placename he created). Much of the Urquhart land thus eventually passed into the Gordon family, including Newhall and Ardoch. We find this applied even to Samuel Urquhart as I see mentioned in Henrietta Tayler’s “History of the Family of Urquhart” (Aberdeen University Press, 1946):

Sir Adam Gordon of Dalpholly died in Edinburgh, and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Sept. 24, 1700. His will shows the extent of his wealth.

£138 0s 0d by Alexander Urquhart of Newhaill and Alexander Ross, Merchant, Cromarty
£3273 9s 10d by John Urquhart, younger, of Newhall,
£870 0s 0d by James M’Intosh of Wester Urquhart, on bond by him, dated July 23, 1687, to Wm. M’Intosh, in Niven, Zetland, assigned by him to Samuel Urquhart on February 16, 1699, and transferred to Sir Adam on April 29, 1699

You can see what I mean about Sir Adam mopping up Urquhart debts! Strangely, Henrietta didn’t pick up on the Samuel Urquhart connection. She was not always entirely accurate in her transcriptions, and I make that last eik to be:

… the 23 day of Febry 1703 Eik maid theirto as followes To witt be James Mcintosh of Wester Urquhart by bond granted to Mr Wm Mcintosh of Nibon [the Isle of Nibon, off Shetland Mainland’s northwestern coastline] in Zetland daitit ye 23 of July 1687 reg[ist]rat in the stewarty book of Zetland the 7 of Febry 1699 and assigned be him to Mr Samuell Urquhart Merc[han]t in & the 10 of Febry 1699 And transferred be him to ye sd Umqll Sir Adam the 29 of Apryll 1699 the soume of …

photo by Jim Mackay; from D38/2517, courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive

A careful man, Samuel Urquhart made a copy or double (a “duble”) of his important correspondence. There is a double of further transactions with Sir Adam Gordon of Dalpholly later that year of 1699 (D38/2517). The first is fascinating as it involves Gilbert Barkly of Ballicherry, the progenitor of the Barkly dynasty that included a spy, a banker and a great seafarer. Their burial lair lies on the south side of Kirkmichael, and the family are the subject of two stories in this series, one focusing on the early Barklys in Kirkmichael here and the other on their later, more cosmopolitan, members here.

Samuel’s double also mentions “young Newhall”who in due course would become the cash-strapped Colonel Alexander Urquhart of Newhall M.P. and it indicates that he was cash-strapped even in 1699.

I declair that I gave Mr Samuell Urqrt ane bill on Gilbert Barclay for ane hundred merks payable to young Newhall qch is allowed to me by him and that he rests me only at Whitsunday next one thousand seven hundred eight hundred merks for qch he gave me bond of this dait by these wn. & subs. the eighteen december Jaivi& nyntie nyne years Ad Gordon

The double of Sir Adam’s declaration goes on to refer to what I think must be the bond mentioned in the Eik to Sir Adam’s will although the complexities of these bill assignations is beyond my grasp:

I have also the translane. from Mr Samuell to Wm Mackintosh bond dew be his fayr burdened with eight hundred merks dew be Mr Samuell to me by bond of theis dait notwtstanding my former backbond mentioned only fyve hundred merks, by these dait forsd Ad Gordon

Another copy of a document held by Samuel, with the original presumably retained by Sir Adam, refers to 800 merks (D38/2517), and if someone conversant with bonds could advise me how all these dealings fit together I would be very grateful!

I Mr Samuel Urquhart merchand in Lerwick grants me to be justly resting to Sir Adam Gordon of Delpholy all and hell the soume of eight hundreth markes Scots money whereof I grant the recept renuncing all acceptions in the contrary and qch soume of eight hundreth marks forsaid I bind & oblidge me my airs exequitors successors and assignies to thankefuly content pay and again delyver to the sd Sir Adam Gordon his airs or assignies whatsomever secluding exequitors & that presently at the terme of Whitsunday next, with the ordinary anuelrent after the said terme dureing ye not payment yrof under the felzie of ane hundreth pouns Scots in case of felzie the terme of payment is one thousand seven hundreth at Whitsunday consenting yr presents be insert & registrat in the books of Counsell & Session or any oyr judges bookes compitent that letters of horning and oyr execution needfull may pass herupon on ane charge in sex days and for that affect Constitutes [blank] my procitors in wittness whereof I have subscryved ther presents at ,b>one thousand sex hundreth nynty nyn years befor ther wittnesses [blank]

Samuel Urquhart at this time was a distinguished member of the Shetland community. You rarely see his name mentioned without the “Mr” title. And when there was a move to separate the town of Lerwick from its original parish of Tingwall in 1700, he was one of the key people involved. I am indebted for this information to a rather obscure source: “The Church in Shetland during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries” by E.W. Wallis, a thesis presented for the Ph.D. Degree of the University of Edinburgh, 1940. I think some of the original material will be found in this document held by the National Records of Scotland under the modern reference: “CH1/2/3/1 ff 27-29. Petition for separation of parish of Lerwick from Tingwall. Signed by inhabitants of Lerwick, 1700-0.”

Accordingly on 15th June 1700 a petition to the General Assembly for the disjunction of Lerwick from Tingwall was drawn up and signed by heritors, elders, and representative inhabitants, and forwarded to the authorities in Edinburgh, and three of their number Baylie Andrew Bruce, Mr Samuel Urquhart, and Mr William Henderson of Garder were appointed to act on behalf of the congregation, and approach the Lords of the Commission of Parliament for Plantation of Kirks, and urge them seriously to consider the said report, and grant the disjunction of the town

Samuel wrote the petition that was addressed to the General Assembly on 3 March 1701, and the Committee for Bills moved that it should be granted.

The Petition of Mr Samuel Urquhart, Lerwick, as Commissioner therefrom for himself and in the name of the said town humbly sheweth That about fourtie years agone the toun of Lerwick consisted of but about four families, the houses thereof being built upon a commontie; … And there are at present about seven hundred inhabitants belonging to the said toun, Besides a multitude of strangers, for sometimes there will be about 800 sail of ships lying beside it…

Samuel to pursue his merchant business was often in Edinburgh, so it would have been convenient for him to be the man chosen to present petitions. The following year, in fact, he bought a house in Leith, the port that linked Edinburgh to Europe and the rest of the world (D38/2517).

painting in the Museum of Edinburgh of a bustling Leith in the 18th century by an unknown artist; photo by Jim Mackay

Att Leith the fourtein day of July Jaivii& and tuo years It is agreed and finally endit betuixt Capt James Hendersone merct burges of Edh and indweller in Leith and Mr Samuell Urquhart of Bulisetter in Lerwick in Zetland on the ane and oyr pts that is to say the said James Henderson hes sold and disponed and hereby Sells and Dispones to the said Mr Samuell Urquhart his aires and assigneys qtsomeever heretable and redimable All and haill that dwelling hous and laigh cellar pntly possest be David Proshan maxmer in Leith and Christina Spence his Spouse … the said Mr Samuell Urquhart binds and oblidges him his heirs execs and successors qtsomeever thankfully to content and pay to the sid James Henderson his aires exers and assigneys the soume of three thousand and three hundreth merks Scotts money as the agreed pryce of the sd house & cellar…

Whilst Samuel was associated with the town of Lerwick, and was a merchant there, he was in fact the landowner of what is nowadays called Billister, perhaps a dozen miles north of Lerwick, in the parish of Nesting. In modern times, the ferry to Whalsay used to depart from here until a roll-on roll-off terminal was built at Laxo on the other side of Laxfirth.

Billister, parish of Nesting; photo Robert Sandison, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Mike Pennington / Billister pier, North Nesting / CC BY-SA 2.0 from

He signed himself as Samuel Urquhart of Bulziestir initially and Samuel Urquhart of Bullister on his later documents but the spelling of what is now spelled Billister varied greatly depending on the writer! Even after he had moved from Shetland to Orkney, the name of Bullister followed him. It can be confusing as at times he is known as of Lerwick, of How (on Sanday) and of Lopness (also on Sanday) and he resided for a time on the island of Eday, but he was most often known as Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bullister.

Billister (Ballasetter) on Blaeu’s map of Shetland, published in 1662, a few decades before Samuel Urquhart purchased it; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland


Elphinstone and Fea

You may have noted that Samuel had been acting in a role across both Orkney and Shetland when he had been incarcerated in Kirkwall in 1694. He kept up the assocation with Orkney and became embroiled in an Orkney dispute he would have been better keeping out of. From the records I cannot quite make out just why he did become involved. The dispute was between two difficult men, Colonel Robert Elphinstone of Lopness, Samuel’s future brother-in-law, and Peter Fea of Whitehall on the Island of Stronsay.

The following is from one of the many legal documents grouped together in the Orkney Archives as D38/2517. It will open your eyes as to how lawless the times in Orkney were.

D38/2517 comprises some of the papers left by Samuel Urquhart in Edinburgh in 1706, an inventory of which still remains within it. These documents used to form part of the massive GD150 collection of Papers of the Earls of Morton held by the NRS in Edinburgh, but GD150/2517 was transferred to the Orkney Archives (and amended to D38/2517). However, lest anyone be seeking them in future, be aware that numbers 15, 39 and 41 still remain in Edinburgh, within the “miscellaneous” GD150/3460/1–38!

True State of the affair betwext Lopnes and Fea of Whitehall 1696 … Information Concerning a Decreet passed before the Lords of Session att the Instance of Peter Fea agst Robert Elphinston of Lopnes while he was High Admirall of Orknay in the Reign of King William
That Robert Elphinston was high Admiral of the Illands of Orknay and Zeatland as absolut by his Commission as the High Admiral of Scotland thes are the words of his Commission. That a decreet did pass in the Court of Admiralty at the Instance of Proc[urato]r fiscall against one Piter Fea in the Illand of Stronsee [Stronsay] for ane accumulation of Crimes according to the Libel proved against the said Piter Fea by the deposition of faithfull witnesses.
That he had Illegally and Violently Intromitted with the goods of a Danish Ship Cast away upon the said Illand to wit Several Chists banded about with iron wherin Merchand Goods, that a bage of Money was seen in his hands, Silver plat; that he Entered the place with himself Son and Servants and did beat of all Honest Nutral men who would have Come neir to the place, that all the Ships Crue being dead ther was blood found above the Sea mark which gave Suspicion of his murdering the Ships Crue…
That the said Piter Fea had been standing two days in the pannal before the Criminal High justice Court Summons raised against him by the Gentrie of Orknay that the said Piter Fea had murdered three honest poor men, Therteen acts of Oppression, and for forgerie agt himself and his Son in his process against Lopnes. Nevertheless the Kings Advocate was pleased to desert the dyet upon Peter Feas alledgeance that he was not in the Illands of Orknay at the tyme of the alledged Murders

his famous wife was sent up to London to make a Clamour at Court as if Lopnes had done injustice and was sent down to Scotland with an order to the Lords of Treasury to give her the allouance of two thousand lib Scots which she had come short in her Supperiour duty which was the greatest falshood could be.

A deed of spulzie was lodged against Fea. And that was just the start of the troubles. Now Robert Elphinstone was not a particularly pleasant character himself. He was vain and liked to lord it over others. His arrival in Kirkwall was designed to impress. In “Kirkwall in the Orkneys” (1900), B.H. Hossack describes it thus:

Colonel Robert Elphingston of Lopness was now [1690] appointed Chamberlain of the bishopric [of Orkney and Zetland] at a yearly salary of £200. / He sent his family to Kirkwall before he came himself. “Monday, the 14th July 1690, Clara Van Overmear, spouse to Robert Elphingston of Lopness, with her retenew, came from Holm to Kirkwall…” A month later the Chamberlain followed:– “Monday, at night between 10 and 11, the 18 Augt. 1690, Robt. Elphingston of Lopness came to Kirkwall from his journey from Edr., and entered his present dwelling house in the pallace within the yeards lately possest by Bp. McKenzie.”

Earl’s Palace, Kirkwall; Samuel Urquhart’s brother-in-law Robert Elphinstone was the last to reside within it; photo by Davine Sutherland

Samuel Urquhart’s future wife, Katherine, would have been in the family group arriving in Kirkwall in July 1690. According to Hossack, Elphinstone was the last person to occupy what is known as the Earl’s Palace. Hossack goes on to say:

This foolish, overbearing man, riding on his commission, issued the following circular to the gentlemen of Orkney within a week of his arrival:–
Kirkwall, 23rd Augt. 1690. / Sir,– It hath pleased their Majesties to appoint me by their commission under the Great Seal to be their Stewart and Justiciar of the ylands of Orkney and Zetland, as lykewayes of the Bishoprick now annexed by Act of Parliament to the Stewartrie, whairfore I desire that ye wold be pleased to be at Kirkwall upon Fryday nixt, being the 29th inst., to heir the intimation thairoff and attend what farder orders shall be delyvered by, Sir, your affection Servant, Robert Elphingston.

The independently-minded lairds of Orkney would not have been amused to be thus commanded to attend to hear their further orders!

But whilst Elphinstone of Lopness had his issues, Peter or Patrick Fea of Whitehall seems to have been little less than a psychopath. From a paper by a Dr Marwick in the Orkney Herald of 28 December 1932, in the minutes of one court held in Stronsay in 1679 by Henry Mudie, Fea was arraigned:

1. “For hitting Barbara Cormack for pasturing kyne on his cornes.” He confessed and was fined £10 Scots.
2. “For hitting John Smith, servant of Huip with ane great cudgill upon ane hill.”
3. “For a mutual riot with Arch Maxwell.”
4. “For chasing and persuing of Wm. Coghill in Strynie with ane drawn whinger swa that the said Coghill being so ferociously assaulted and for fear of his lyff was necessitat to run in to the sea for his shelter.”
5. “For threatening Rorie McLeod with his durk.”
6. “For blooding of Oliver Scott servant to Pat Mackie, Miller.”
7. “For ryot on Wm. Cogill in Duncan Fea his house.”
8. “For persuing Andrew Smith with his drawn whinger.”
9. “For beatting of Wm. Gun, servant to Edward Emme in Stryne with ane great batton in such furious measure that he was not able to work for an half year thereafter.”
10. “For beating and bruising of Donald Goar in so cruel ane manner that he was not able ever thereafter to work for his livelihood but was forced to begge.”

Fea, it should be stressed, was an influential landowner and a baillie himself. He had political support nationally. This personal conflict between Elphinstone and Fea in the late 1690s and early 1700s was set in wider local and national political alliances.

Samuel Urquhart removes to Orkney

It was into this toxic scenario that Samuel Urquhart of Bulliter entered, very much associated with the Robert Elphinstone side of the battle. But Robert Elphinstone shortly decamped with wife and son from Orkney to Utrecht.

sea and farmland at the Bay of Lopness, Sanday; photo courtesy of G. o’Ogle

Samuel Urquhart took up much of the land at Lopness. He must have been spending an increasing amount of time in Orkney, presumably part of the attraction being Katharine, Elphinstone’s sister. He also took up, in 1704, the role of factor for land owned on Sanday by Thomas Buchanan of Sandside, one of the witnesses to the document being William, brother to Colonel Robert and Katharine Elphinstone.

Factorie Sandside to Bullziester 1704 … Be it Kend to all men be thir prnts [these present documents] Mee Thomas Buchanan of Sandsyde forasmuchas I stand herewith infeft and saised in ye Lands of Walls and Rimme in Sanday by two sevll infefts in ane yearly annuite of Nyntie and Eight pounds Scots money Conform to my rights and sureties qrof granted to me be John and Rot Elphinstons of Lopness and sieing yt I cannot conveniently attend ye resting of ye sd yearly annuitie my self … I be thir pr[ese]nts make nominat constitut and appoynt the sd Mr Samuell Urquhart my acto factor … Lykeas the sd Mr Samuell Urquhart binds and oblediges him his airs execs and successors … Consenting to the registration therof in ye books of Councill and Session or any oyr competent yrin to remain for preservatn … In witnes qrof (written be Mungo Buchanan not publ. [notary public] in Kirkll) and have subsd thir prnts [these present documents] att Greentoft in Eday ye Thirtenth of Octor Jaivi& and four years befor thir witnesses William Elphingstone brother german to Collonell Robert Elphingstone of Lopness and Mungo Buchanan @designed / Samuel Urquhart / Mungo Buchanan witnes / Thomas Buchanan / William Elphinstone Wittness

first edition inch to mile Ordnance Survey mapping courtesy of National Library of Scotland

I have highlighted some of locations in Sanday key to this story. Samuel resided at How (blue ellipse) and had a liferent over Tafts (yellow ellipse) and How. He was factor for Walls (black ellipse) and Rimme (Rummie) (red ellipse). The Elphinstones owned Lopness (green ellipse), initially tenanted and then owned by Samuel.

Unable to get money out of Robert Elphinstone himself, now in Utrecht, in 1705 Fea raised an action of mailes and dutyes against “Mr Samuell Urquhart William Elphingstoun and others the tenants and possessors of the saids lands” which would have had serious consequences if it could not be resisted. Maills and duties are the rents of an estate, whether in money or grain; hence, an action for the rents of an estate, competent either to a proprietor or to one claiming right under a conveyance, legal or voluntary, or even an assignation to the rents, is termed an action of maills and duties. But if you could prove that someone else had a prior legitimate claim to the rents, then such an action would fail.

Samuel and advocate James Hamilton of Olivestob therefore did much work digging out deeds to persuade the court in Edinburgh that such prior claims existed (D38/2517). “For proving this defence,” one document reads, “Mr Samuell will produce a liferent right and infeftment of the saids lands of How and Tafts, In favors of Catharen Elphingstoun relict of James Scoaly [Scollay] of Tafts to which he has right by disposition, from the said liferentrix who yet lives, 2do if the liferentrix were dead, and if need requyred, Mr Samuel can produce a disposition from James Davidson to the princll soume of two thousand merks due upon the saids lands by ane heretable security, which with the bygone @rents thereof resting will doe more then exhaust the value of the saids terms”.

Advocate James Hamilton, of course, was the brother-in-law of Colonel Alexander Urquhart of Newhall, Samuel’s nephew, so there was a family interest in the case. Note, by the way, that the Katharine Elphinstone, widow of James Scollay of Tafts, from whom Samuel had bought a liferent right in How and Tafts, was the aunt of his future bride, also named Katharine Elphinstone. This Katharine had married James Scollay as long ago as 1647.

Marriage to Katharine Elphinstone

Samuel had married Robert Elphinstone’s sister, and Elphinstone addresses him accordingly as “brother” or “brother-in-law”. I do not know when the marriage occurred – I see one document referring to a disposition dated 15 December 1699 in favour of “the sd Mr Samuell Urquhart and his Spouse”, a disposition which was followed by an Instrument of Sasine registered at Kirkwall on 4 April 1700. When down in the NRS more recently, I found (RS45/6 folio 143) a sasine registered in Kirkwall in September 1698 for land granted by Master Theodore Umphray minister at the Nesting of Geo, in Shetland, in favour of Master Samuell Urquhart and Katharine Elphinstone his spouse in liferent, which was welcome confirmation of his wife’s first name. Another sasine (folio 229), registered in April 1700, which must be the one the disposition previously referred to mentions, has Mr Samuell Urquhart in Lerwick acting on behalf of Kathrine Elphingstone his spouse.

He may well have been previously married – his eldest brother John, the heir of Newhall, had married Jean Mackenzie of Redcastle away back in 1679, after all. Now, Samuel was a careful man, and there is more than one example in the bundle of material in D38/2517 of his making out a list of things he had to bear in mind before important meetings. In one example, just before a trip to Edinburgh, he made out on 22 March 1706 a “Memorandum Mr Samuell Urqrt of his own affairs March 22d to be had in mind at Ed. 1706”.

photo by Jim Mackay; from D38/2517, courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive

Most of it involves the Fea dispute but number seven involves his own wife.

7to Now remains how to make a right to ye Roume. of Loppness for a 1000 pounds Scots and as much to my wiff for her good service done to him in Holand & Orkny and for their patrimony and borowed mony together upon ye roume. of Loppness and Walls

In a later letter to Samuel, Robert Elphinstone confirms that his sister had been out with him in Holland, and clearly Samuel felt that she was owed by Elphinstone for the service she had been to her brother both out in Holland and in Orkney. Moreover, it would appear that, as would be usual, a bride would have come with a dowry or patrimony, but the money had not materialised from the Elphinstones. And to cap it all, it would appear that money had in fact flowed in the opposite direction as a loan. This memorandum was to make a claim on the rents of Lopness to obtain a portion of what he and his wife were owed. Somewhere there will be a contract of marriage setting out some of these details.

When would Katharine Elphinstone have been born? Well her parents, John Elphinstone and Jean Cock, married in 1647, and Katharine was the second youngest of a large family. She would still easily be of childbearing age when she married Samuel Urquhart, so we can expect to see children in later records.

Katharine’s overbearing brother, Colonel Robert Elphinstone

I mentioned earlier the efforts I had to make before I found a contemporary document bearing the first name of Samuel’s wife. Robert Elphinstone in his letters in D38/2517 almost goes out of his way not to mention her name, even rudely calling her at one point “your bedfellow” when not ranting about Peter Fea, the government and the prospective Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments. I have broken his original continuous flow in that particular letter into paragraphs.

[address] Mr Samuel Orchard / Merchant on the / Illands of Orkney / to the Care of Mrs Tomson / 28th June 1705
Dear Brother
Utrecht 28 Junii 1705
I am informed [presumably by his brother William] ye are removed out of Zeatland and now in Orkney wher I wish you and my sister much satisfaction
I have not receaved a Line from my brother William nor any of my friends in Orkney since that year before King Will’s death [King William III of England died 8 March 1702] nor do I know of matters passed till now I have receaved a Line from my brother William Informing me that Peter Fea and his wife are endeavouring to get ther decreet of adjudication Confirmed and for that End Hee has goen to Edinburgh.
I know it wold. be in Vain for me to oppose so Long as my Enemie My Lord Seafeld continous Chancellor … however I am to wreat [write] to the Duck of Arguil [the Duke of Argyll] and some other friends to stop the passing of that unjust and scandalous decreet of Peter Fea qch sever[e] malice wold shame to Countenance for ther is nothing to hid its Nakednes from injustice and Cruel malice all qh I have been helped as the tymes have goen so bear with patience trusting in the Lord qo knowes the justice of my Cause
I have sent a copy of the Information to William which I have sent to Mr Ritche [John Ritchie, agent in Edinburgh] the agent and desyres your concurrence and assurance for to get her [his] decree suspended, this I think may be gott doen…
my son John has wreat [written] to his aunt your bedfellow
the way to direct Letters for me is to send them to Georg Sutherland Mester of the Royal Coffy house in Edinbrugh and he can send ym with the Scots ship to Mr James Brown the Scots Minister at Rotterdam and he will send ym to me at Utrecht
What the tymes will produce is very uncertain but great troubles seem to be approaching … and something prevalent against the revolution party seems intended answerable to the course and principall designes cunningly wrought yet naturally by consequences from persons and manner of government set up in England at the beginning of the revolution mutually consulted with that great Mestor of policie your friend my Lord Tarbet Caried out by him and others of the same kynd by the help of presbyterian Fools brought in for that end … now Earle Cromerty deserves to be magnifyed above arhetophell [Aristotle?] which guided think it will be a hard work to overturn either physically or methaphisically so far as from under stand the tymes and the Course of this generation either in Church or State for pure natural self not a blush to call either government or governours presbyterians but a Context of all the errors in Government [much more ungrammatical ranting]
this is all only my dearest affection to your self and my sister as also my wife we wold be glad yet to see your self in Holland I am
dear brother
your most affectione Brother in Law
Robert Elphinstoun

I shall not bore you with more detail of the legal processes, even if I could understand them. I note that Dr Marwick in the piece already mentioned says Peter Fea died in 1709, which must have been a relief to all around him.

Samuel Urquhart and young Newhall

Despite being much of the time distant from the Black Isle, Samuel was still very much involved in family affairs. Some of his letters are addressed from Newhall, so he did visit his family home.


The modern mansion of Newhall House; photo by Jim Mackay. The house that preceded this was built by young Alexander Urquhart of Newhall in 1725, to the south of the current house. But the location of the house before that, at the time of this story, we cannot tell…

We see, in 1705, young Alexander Urquhart of Newhall writing Uncle Samuel, on the occasion of the birth of what I take to be Newhall’s first child, to ask for his assistance in finding a military placement (D38/2517). The letter reveals that Samuel’s own wife was not well at this time. Alexander’s handwriting was execrable, and the paper he used was flimsy. It is addressed to “Mr Samuell Urquhart / off Bulizetter for the / p[rese]ntt in Ed[inburg]h / these”. As usual, I have broken the text into paragraphs for readability and added comment where appropriate.

Newhall 15th June 1705
Dr Uncle
Having the occasione of this bearer I thought it necessar to acquent you that your Niece was saifly brought to bed of a Girle the eight of this Instant and is now (blessed be God) on the Mending band and past all hazard She remembers you and her Aunt most kindly and reckons herself very much obliedged to your kindnes,

His wife, i.e. now Samuel’s niece, was Anna Hamilton (1679–) of the Olivestob Hamiltons; I am aware of only two daughters who reached adulthood – Elizabeth, who married her cousin Major Thomas Hamilton of the Olivestob Hamiltons, and Grizel who became Lady Carnwath when she married Sir Robert Dalzell, 6th Earl of Carnwath, in 1720. Clearly the daughter born in 1705 could not be Grizel, so unless it was an unrecorded child, it has to be Elizabeth who was born on 8 June 1705.

I am hopefull you have seen Olivestob long or now and has Informed him of all matters

Advocate James Hamilton of Olivestob was Alexander’s brother-in-law, and Samuel was working with him on the Ephinston/Fea legal complexities, but there were other matters between Olivestob and Newhall that needed to be discussed.

Dr Uncle if it be possible, I expect youll endeavour to gett a post for me since I find there is no possibility for us to live in this place so referrs this to yourself since ye know our Condition and how wee are wysted by being in on[e] family. Pray let me hear from you and acquent me anent my memorandum
Rorie will goe from this once the next week and I wil[l] writ wt him
I shall be Glad to hear from you and have ane account of yr Lady[s] better health
My wife and I remember you all kindly and to all oyr friends in Ge[ner]all and I am Still
L: U: / Your affect Nevoy / ready to serve you / qll Alexr Urquhart
Katie is very well & I assure you was of great use to my wife
[suggests a daughter of Samuel’s named Katherine or Katie was residing at Newhall. Samuel had only recently married so if Katie were a daughter, then it was from a previous marriage]
Your Niece Desyres to acqent you that a Labouring is the last thing Shee will consent to, for she thinks better to wait ane good occasion then to undergoe such certain toyll for uncertain … of it
[Anna Hamilton’s punchline about childbirth is lost in a small crumpled tear of the letter but may yet be read!]

Samuel responded to young Newhall’s plea to help him find a placement. A double of a letter he wrote to Olivestob lies within GD150/3460/1-38 as letter no. 5. His signature (apart from “Sa”) has been torn off, but it is written in his very individual hand. From this letter, Olivestob seemingly had the contacts to obtain an army position for young Newhall, but would facilitate it only if the necessary expense was covered. He had suggested either Samuel or Mackenzie of Redcastle could fund it. But financial commitment was hard to find:

[cover] The Double of ane ler. sent to Olivestob
[address] To The Laird of Olivestob / To the cair of Widow Ruderfoord opposite to ye Corn Market in ye Cougat [Cowgate] Edr. These / To ye cair of ye post Master at Inverness hest hest
[contents] Newhall 12 September 1705
Much Honoured
According to your desyr I have bespoken ReadCastell
[Alexander’s mother Jean was a Redcastle Mackenzie, and the current laird, Roderick Mackenzie of Redcastle, was Alexander’s brother-in-law, so Redcastle would be a logical party to tap]
at Leith conserning young Newhalls getting of a post in the armie His answer to me was yt his sircomstances could not allow him to doe any thing yt way ye qch sircomestances I cannot comitt to paper at present. Therfor I thought fitt to acquent you yt ye may not in the Least depend upon him nor me for any mony for my sircomstances can not allow ye same and for mony as I told you I hade non but all I can pay is wee are fallen in a sade time, this wt my most cordiall respectes to your self and all your friends not omitting your fayr & Lady moyr qch is all from
Much Honoured / You… / af… / Sa…

But two days later, copied on the reverse of this very double, in much tidier writing, is an unsigned commitment (so presumably also a double) of 1000 merks from another writer to Olivestob for him to procure a post for young Newhall. It is too neat to be Samuel’s writing, but was clearly someone very close to the family who actually had accessible money – or was desperate enough to take on board another debt.

Newhall 14 Septr 1705 / Sir
I am to answer to you or your order at Edr. the soume of one thousand merks Scots the first of August, in shewing for affectuating off the design of procureing a post to young Newhall I need not desire you to look after the same for all yt is concerned in him hear doubts not of your care; it is not doubted by me nor oyrs if any post offers sooner, but ye will hold yourself satisfied with this my obligatory lyne in regaird I have left my accepted bill payable at the terme and place forsd, all friends hear are in good health and wishes to hear the like accompt of you, and your Concerns, is all on heast from / Sir / Your assured friend and humble Servant / / [blank]
[address] The Laird off Olivestob Yor / to the caire of Widow Ruderfoord opposite to the Corn market, in the Cowgate Edr These

We know that young Newhall was an Ensign in the 15th Foot in 1708, so these steps commencing in 1705 did eventually succeed. However, Newhall was now in financial trouble. Samuel was involved in measures to resolve this the following year. One Mackenzie (I presume young Newhall’s cousin, Roderick Mackenzie of Redcastle) wrote from Newhall to his cousin, M.P. George Mackenzie of Inchcoulter, and identified Samuel as the man to carry the letter and discuss terms with Inchcoulter (GD150/3460/1–38). It is difficult to keep track of all the influential Mackenzies of this period, but I note that Inchcoulter, apart from being a politician in his own right, was the nephew of the famous Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, whose life and unusual memorial still prompt great stories of haunting in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

[cover] To The much Honoured The Laird of Inchcoulter
[contents] Newhall 25th May 1706 / Honoured Cousigne
I wrote to you sometyme agoe by the Dundee post about Newhalls affair and myne but got noe returne The bearer herof is his Uncle Mr. Samuel who I hope will give you some more satisfaction then we could provide with Mr Bailly, In the last I wrote the method I would satisfy my share qch is two Hundered and ten merks of prinll. and ther is by ane oyr transactne. twixt Newhall and me fourscore four pounds ow, for both qch soumes I am willing to be your Debtor on the termes I wrote last and I hope youll accept of it, and upon your doeing of this and acquainting me Ile Secuere for it as you direct if your affairs led not yourselfe to the country – hasten your returne of my last and your Complyance in both is expected and will singularly oblidge / D.L / Your affectionat Cousigne and Servt. [R?] McKenzie

Now, I mentioned “Bluidy” Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, advocate and then judge. He held the estate of Newtyle in Perthshire. The next letter, to Samuel Urquhart, is actually written from Newtyle and is signed by George Mackenzie (GD150/3460/1–38). I do not think the signature is that of the famous scourge of the Covenanters, so I think this will be simply Inchcoulter writing from his uncle’s residence. It contains a wonderful veiled threat “it will be troublesome to us both & expensive to him”. Samuel is again to be the negotiator.

[address] For Mr Samuel Urquhart Broyr to Newhall in Ross Shyre
To ye care of Wm Forbes Stabler in the Cannogate
Sr / I had yrs of the 26 of June Saturday last which was the first I had from you. I shud be glad Newhalls affair & mine were ended since it will be troublesome to us both & expensive to him – and Since I cannot gett order at this time ye’l please acquaint me wt what instructions ye had about it to oblidge
Sr / Yr humble Sert / Geo: Mackenzie
Newtyle 1st July 1706

Well, young Newhall did indeed serve in the military. He was commissioned in 1708 as an ensign in the 15th Foot (the East Yorkshire Regiment). He was promoted to the rank of captain in Stanwix’s Foot in 1710, and went on half-pay in 1714. In that year, after the Treaty of Utrecht and the end of the War of Spanish Succession, Parliament reduced the size of the British Army by almost 50 regiments, so a great number of officers were no longer required. Retirement was not then an option, so officers went on half-pay, meaning they could keep their commission and be theoretically available for call-up again but were no longer active in the service. Now out of the army, Newhall could follow his political ambitions. He became M.P. for Cromartyshire from 1715 to 1722, and M.P. for Ross-shire from 1722 to his death in 1727. His uncle Samuel would outlive him.



The Barkly Connection

One other document from 1705 is of great interest in the context of Kirkmichael, as it involves Gilbert Barkly and his son Alexander of the farm of Ballicherry, at this time part of the Newhall Estate. This is one of the very few sightings of the two men in one document (D38/2517), and is a good example of how Samuel was maintaining his links with his home – the Barklys had been loaned money by Samuel. Now, if Alexander’s son Gilbert Barkly had been involved, there would have been little hope of seeing that money again. But grandfather Gilbert seems to have been a respectable and well-respected tenant farmer, so perhaps it was safe enough. It reads:

We Gilbert and Alexr Barklayes Indwellers in Bellacherie grant us to be justlie restand to Mr Samuell Urqrt of Bullisetter the soume of tuentie two punds Scots money. qrof we grant the reall receipt … In Witnes qrof (wr[itte]n be Wm Urqrt of Brealangwell) we have subt. thir pntts at Bellacherie the tuentie fourth day of Agust jaivii& fyve years before thir witnesses James Elphinstone in Bellacherie and the sd William Urqrt
Wm Urquhart witnes / Ja: Elphinston witnes / Gilbt Barkly / Alexr Barkly

photo by Jim Mackay; from D38/2517, courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive

I’m not sure why William Urquhart of Braelangwell took on the task of writing this document. Perhaps it was just proximity – Ballicherry is a five minute walk from Braelangwell. Perhaps it was the family connection – William Urquhart of Braelangwell and Samuel Urquhart of Bullister were first cousins. But it is certainly a sign of the good standing of Gilbert Barkly senior that the laird of a neighbouring estate would act as a clerk in such a matter. And it is interesting to note that Gilbert Barkly senior signed his surname using that individual spelling that can yet be seen in “Barkly Street” in Cromarty.

photo by Jim Mackay


Samuel Urquhart becomes owner of land in Orkney, disposes of land in Shetland, and tries to vote

Samuel Urquhart became owner of a substantial area of Lopness in Orkney in 1708, sufficient land to qualify as a voter in a time when voters for a constituency could be counted on two hands. Presumably to free up money for the purchase, he sold his land in Shetland. The following may be found in the Shetland Archives:

SC12/53/1/ page 474 a, 8 September 1708
Heritable dispostion by Samuell Urquhart of Bulliester to Arthur Nicolson, merchant in Lerwick, of his lands for the sum of £600 Scots, viz. 18 merk feued land in Bulliester, with the holm belonging thereto, in the parish of Nesting, disponed by Theodore Umphray, late minister of Nesting, 5½ merk land in Shurton and ½ merk land in Meicklagerth, disponed to him by Andrew Neven of Gunelsta; 9 merk udal land in Dale, 6 pennies the merk, in the parish of Tingwall, wadsett to him by John Umphray of Asta, engrossed on 14 February 1717.

Having purchased land of Lopness in Orkney, he could now qualify as a voter. In 1713, with an election for the Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland coming up, he sought to be entered onto the roll at the relevant meeting of the freeholders. He was a supporter of candidate Captain James Moodie. However, the necessary paperwork was tied up in processes in Edinburgh and Samuel couldn’t produce it at the meeting. The majority of the freeholders present, always ready to seize upon a technicality, refused to enrol him on the list of freeholders. There is no doubt that if he had been a supporter of the favourite candidate, the Honourable George Douglas, he would have been accepted without quibble by those same freeholders!

The details may be found within D38/2505/17, copy electoral court minutes, 23 October 1713, held in the Orkney Archives but I reproduce the relevant section in full as they reveal more background to the life of Samuel Urquhart himself.

Compeared also Mr Samuell Urquhart and gave in a Disyre and protest whereof the tennor follows
I Mr Samuel Urquhart of Lopness being Infeft upon a Charter of Adjudication under the great Seall of Scotland in the year 1708 and my Seasin thereupon duely registrate in the public Register of Seasins within the Stewartry of Orknay in the Estate and Lands of Lopness of the value of four hundred pound valued rent and upwards And being actually for Several years in possession of the Same Paying Cess yrfor and holding of Her Majesties in Capite as Queen or prince of this realme and because I have not been Inrolled or voted at former Elections within this Stewartry being frequently abroad and out of this Kingdom at such tymes do now by vertue of my forsaids rights claim my vote in the Election of a member of parliament for this Stewartry in this present meeting of the freeholders of the same To that end here this day assembled. And I Disyre and requyre you the saids freeholders and particularly you Sir Alexander Douglass of Egilshap preses of the said meeting that I be Inrolled in the Barron rolls of this Stewartry Whereupon I take Instruments and protest in the hands of you James Mckenzie Clerk of Court and James Manson Nottar public and requyre this my protest may be Infeft in the minuts of this Sederunt Sic Subscribiture Samuel Urquhart.
The preses at Disyre of the meeting demanded the said Mr Samuel to produce his rights and where they are to which it is replyed by Mr Samuel Urquhart That according to his former protest he is duely Infeft in Anno 1708 in the Estate and Lands of Lopness upon a Charter of Adjudication and precept under the great Seall of Scotland and his Seasin duely registrate in the public register of Orknay and his possession is Nottour for Several years Last past But that the said Rights have been for se[ver]all years Lying in Proces before the Lords of Session at Edinburgh and therefor can not be now produced in this meeting Therefor he does protest that he be Inrolled in the Barron roll of the Stewartry and allowed to vote elect or be elected a Knight for the Insueing Session of Parliament and further that by his forsaids rights he is duely Qualified in the precise terms of the Laws 1681, 1703, and 12th A: R: But in case the freeholders here assembled shall refuse to Inroll him as said is That the Same shall no ways prejudge his vote or election and that they the saids freeholders may be Lyable to all pains which by the parliament shall be Inflicted Therefor and thereupon takes Instruments in the hands of the Clerks of Court and of James Manson Nottar publick
Thereafter in Regard the said Mr Samuel hes not produced at this nor any former Barron Court any right to Qualifie him to vote or elect it was putt to the vote whither he should be Inrolled and admitted to vote or not and the votes are as follows Sic Subscribitur Ha: Grahame not Stewart not Ja: Stewart not G Baikie not Ro: Honyman not John Traill not Tho Traill not R Douglass not Alexr Douglass preses not J Moodie admitt for the reasons aledged J Baikie admitt William Ballenden admitt Jo: Stewart admitt Pat Graem admitt. Whereby plurality of votes as above Subscryveing and Sett down It is Carried that the above Samuel Urquhart shall not be admitted because he hes produced no Rights neither in this nor any former barron Court conform to the Act befor cited Sic Subscribitur Alexr Douglass preses

In due course, the Honourable George Douglas, who would become 13th Earl of Morton, was voted in as Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland in 1713. Captain Moodie was murdered in the streets of Kirkwall by a feuding family in 1725.

Captain James Moodie R.N., c1645–1725

The Honourable George Douglas, 1662–1738; NG 2212 National Galleries of Scotland

Now holding land in Orkney himself, Samuel had various regular dues to pay, including it would appear half a barrel of butter annually! And so we see a receipt in D38/2517: “19th Decr 1718 payed into the Earls Store hous by Mr Samuell Urquhart in How in Sanday hir half barell butter to compt Cropt 1718 / Ja. Mckenzie”. There were two storehouses, or girnels, the Earl’s Girnel and the Bishop’s Girnel.


Samuel Urquhart becomes factor for Olivestob – “bleame me not for I can doe no mor alone”

As I have mentioned, the Urquharts of Newhall were closely associated with the Hamiltons of Olivestob. Not only had the future Colonel Alexander Urquhart of Newhall married Anna Hamilton, before 1705, but also one of his daughters, Elizabeth, subsequently married her cousin, Major Thomas Hamilton of Olivestob. The Hamiltons purchased Lopness and at some point before 1718 Samuel Urquhart formally became factor for the Hamiltons. It proved to be a challenging and traumatic period, as most of Olivestob’s tenants appear to have refused to pay anything.

Bankton House, formerly Olivestob of the Hamilton family, from Groome’s “Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland” (1885). It is still there, but has been rebuilt twice since the Hamiltons held it.

The role of an estate factor was a challenging one at the best of times. The factor negotiated leases, collected rents and organised evictions when tenants got too far behind in their rents. In a year when harvests were poor, all the tenants would have difficulty making payment, and if there were several poor seasons in succession, the factor could not get payments because the tenants had nothing to give. Occasionally at such times it worked in reverse, when an enlightened land-owner would give out meal either free or at a nominal sum to his tenants. There were some very tough times in Orkney, and I see Robert Elphinstone mentions deaths of beasts in Orkney in 1717. However, I think iu this particular period the main reason the tenants weren’t paying up was simply because they didn’t want to. And there were those who were stoking trouble for Olivestob and Samuel Urquhart. At this time, Orkney was seething with family feuds.

The letters from Samuel Urquhart to Olivestob show a man near the end of his tether. He writes from his home at How on Sanday on 31 March 1718 (D38/2517):

To the Laird of Olivestob Advocat to be found at his Loadgeing upon the South side of the Stritt opposite to the Tolbooth in Edr
Honored Sir … ye advise me to constitut any proper persone to be a ballie [this would be to take measures to enforce recovery of rents or have the tenant evicted] there is non such in this place to be hade yt will obay neither could I alone poynd ym. I have used all fair mins with ym & oyr means so yt they and I are out of all commoning and they resolve to pay no rent to you … The Cess they will not pay
… they are keept up to this by oyrs as common report goes by Tankerness John Covintrie & som few oyrs.
… I did cause John Moatt officer believe yt I had a principall prsept off warning [precept of warning] syned by you to him or to a blank officer and he gave a Coppie of warning to Wm Elphinston tennand in Walls to flitt & remove & to Peter Elph tenand in Lopness [these were in fact two of his own brothers-in-law]
… I was along & a servant of min as wittnesses who can subscribe and Sabbath day yrafter I and my sd servant did see ye same doon in presence of ye whole congrigation then convined according to law for if it had not doen so I would not gett but on[e] subscriveing wittness so yt ye sea they are not good to bring business hear.
Sir I can assure you yt it will not doe aright wtout your own personall presence to put things aright for wer they responsible tennands or thryving or Laborious it wer good but it is not so. And so Long as they continou ye or non else may expect any thing but a totall ruine of it. If yt ye cannot come your self ye most send a man capable to put your instructions in executione who most be both notter [notary public] & messenger [to serve notices] I have many oyr things to impart qch I cannot committ to paper I am sory to give you this sad accompt it vexes me & my wiff mightily Stilbow and all will be Lost if not spidely prevented.

Steelbow was what the landlord provided at the beginning of a tenancy the equivalent of which the tenant was to hand back to the landlord at the end of the tenancy.

My wiff and I desyrs to be kindly remembered to your self Lady & Lady moyr and all ye rest of your family And intreats ane accompt off Newhall witt mihi resoribus a tamen ipse vene for a man is still a Lyon in his own cause This is all from
Honoured Sir
Your asured friend to do your service
Samuel Urquhart
P:S: I have ye half barrell muttons I promished to send your Lady, the bearer hearoff is young Brough who [is] your friend and mine.

Samuel Urquhart breaking into Latin and then referencing the “Lyon” (the symbol of Scotland and associated with the Jacobite cause) in connection with Alexander Urquhart of Newhall shows he knew very well that Alexander, Member of Parliament for Cromartyshire since 1715, was involved with the Jacobites. In fact, Alexander was liaising with the Old Pretender and prominent conspirators in what became known as the Atterbury Plot. For details of the conspiracy, and Alexander’s role in it (under the codename “Vincent”) see the excellent “The Atterbury Plot” by Eveline Cruickshanks and Howard Erskine-Hill (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Samuel supplying Olivestob with Orkney mutton; photo by Jim Mackay; from D38/2517, courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive


Now, Samuel, having belaboured Olivestob with how bad the situation was and what needed to be done, was clearly exasperated when Olivestob did not write back to him. The next letter was couched in even stronger terms, and written from How on 15 September 1718 (D38/2517).


It seemes to me that my Letters are not come to your hand qch I sent wt ye kings falnor and your seasing [sasine] Registrat wt your dispositions I sent wt him
I comunicat your Letters to Wm. & Piter Elphinstons & they will pay nor untill they be compelled by law, and I gave you accompt of Tankerness John Covintry & James Laings under hand dealing wt ym, who are only yr hindrers as I can perseve & fomenters to abstrak yr debt & to ginstand yr own good & your payment.
I wrot to you likeways w Robert Grott per mare to non of qch I gott any return. In these I wrott how yt I & my servant was maltreat by Wm. Dinat Tankerness servant who is sent over by him & Piter Elphinston to doe nothing but to put your Cunnirgger to ruine & ye roomes And to see too keep me in trouble.
I can assure you yt all ways yt can be contrived is sett about to rouine ye houses Crop Land Stilbou rent &c & for payment to you or any thing resolve to pay non.
Therfor I pray prevent a totall rouine by sending a trustie to be asisting to me spidely [speedily] oyrways it will be lost intirly & yt wtin a short space wtout any hope of recovery. Fall upon what meen ye please, best for I have gott no thing of ye Last Crop to you & to what I can see ye weill get as little this Crop if ye doe not advent to it
… bleame me not for I can doe no mor alone …

Samuel provides some examples of tenants being charged for being behind in rents, including:

William Elphinston tennand in Walls is Charged as ye will find he rests you for Crop 1717 Three Chalders & tuanty mills off Bear on ye bear pundlar off Orkny as ye bear sold this year in ye Country Is seventy two libs per chalder qch makes him debitor to you for Bear two hunder & fifty sex libs Scotts & Rests you in alve mills oat meall on ye malt pundler at ye rait it was Sold in ye Country being seven libs p mill Is eight four libst so yt for this year last by past they are resting five hunder libs Scotts mony for the years Land ferme.

He seems to have been particularly unhappy with the “hellish” wife of William Elphinstone, who at this time was his second wife, Jean Baikie, daughter of George Baikie of Tankerness i.e. the very Tankerness mentioned as fomenting trouble.

The stilbou off Walls was delyvered by me to Wm Elph: November ii day 1706 years as I fully wrott to you in my Last & he gave over the Roum to me as I told you when wt you last befor wittnesses and was only dissuaded by his hellish wiff who will prove his rouin & nothing yt shee does but terminats to a rouenous loss – I doubt not if not prevented spidely ye will find to my great Loss & yours.

Tankerness House, home of the Baikie family of Tankerness for two centuries and now the Museum in Kirkwall; photo by Davine Sutherland


Samuel delivers an ultimatum to Robert Elphinstone

The situation must have been particularly awkward as two of the worst offenders were his in-laws and his own finances were being affected by their non-payment. Samuel had been trying to help the Elphinstones as much as he could, but he wrote in exasperation to the head of the family, Colonel Robert Elphinstone of Lopnes, residing now in Holland (D38/2517). Although not worded as such, it was essentially an ultimatum: he wanted nine thousand merks to keep his creditors at bay, and if he didn’t get it, he would be taking action against Elphinstone’s brothers.

How June 15th 1717
Honored Sir,
I expect you will have me excused for not wryting to you with Clestron the last year, for I had not the opportunity to gett ane ansr. from Quendale in Zetland and from the oyr persons who were resting you, and I find that John Coventrie is Discharged by William Elphinstone your Brother, and Tankerness Deny’s and Quendall there being resting you any thing, and I can find no Documents to prove their rests,
as to my Circumstances I am Sorry to let you know it, for I resolved to doe your Son all the favour that did ly wtin my power, and am as yet resolved to Continue to the end, But as I spoke to you at last meeting my Debt is Nyne Thousand Merks of principal, and all Dilligence that Law can allow is made agt me,
And your Brothers William and Peter has not paid me Anno 1710 one farding out of Lopnes and Walls, and this present year am not to gett from Wm Elphinston but eighteen Mills Bear, So that he will be resting One Hundered & ten Mills this year, Peter is lykeway’s resting the same way so that I cannot gett Credit keept wtout a Sale. Therfor I thought fitt to acquaint you if you or your Son will advance me Nyne Thousand Merks Scots, I will make to preferable to any, and doe you, and your Son all the kyndness that lyes in my power, I will not gett my Credite keept wtout the forsd advance or Sale, your ansr is earnestly expected, this wt my Duty and my wyfes to yourself Lady & Son is all from

The response from Robert Elphinstone was exactly the infuriating, condescending tone that one associates with the man.

Loving Brother
I thank you for your letter, but I am not yet resolved to answer, when I doe it ye shall know, it may be shortly, I wish you well both in Soul and body I was well acquainted wt your godly Mother, for your father I knew him not now you are married wt my Sister who has been wt us in Holland, where she has learned nothing but good, my wyfe has a respect for her.
My Son & I are well at present wee are Sorrowfull for the Death of the Beasts in Orknay it is a presage of evill to Come I fear upon Scotland, Nothing troubles me more thatn the incorporat Union, I would advyce you to know what ye are doing and be kind to the tennents ye may read over the 19 psalm Now I will break of only my Service to you and my Sister, My wyfe & Son presents their Service I am
Your humble Servant and
Brother in Law Sic Sub&
Robert Elphinston
Amsterdam the 27 July N.St. 1717
Directed thus on the back For The worthy and much respected Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bulliester living at How in Sanday in Orkney
[on side] Copy Letter Lopness to Mr Samuel Urquhart July 1717

Telling the embattled Samuel Urquhart to read Psalm 19 for guidance would not have improved the situation. I would assume that Samuel then started legal proceedings seriously. And that, presumably, is why we see the recalcitrant William Elphinstone, who had been one of the most troublesome tenants, paying in a considerable amount of his back rent in February 1720 (D38/2517). Samuel must have written this receipt with pleasure:

I Mr Samuell Urquhart of Bulister Having factorie from the Laird of Olivestob grant me to have receaved from William Elphingston tenant to the sd Olivestob in the Roume of Walls in Sanday Seven Meills oat meall on the Malt poundler of Orkney And that as pairt payment for Cropt jaivii& and seventein and seven hundred and eightein and Cropt on Thousand seven hundred and nyntein years being in all three years Inclusive & the which seven meills aforsd being payed to me I hereby discharge the sd William Elphingstone as factor forsd of the samen as witness my Subscription att How This Twentie nynth day of Febry jaivii& and Twentie year


Children of Samuel Urquhart and Katharine Elphinstone?

Katharine, although not a young woman, would certainly have been of child-bearing age when she married Samuel Urquhart. We do not read of progeny in correspondence, but in fact later correspondence focuses on business rather than personal matters. It is likely there were several children.

Now, Samuel Urquhart continued as factor for Olivestob, with several documents from and to him written in this context in 1721 (D38/2517). Eleven years later, as factor for James Hamilton of Olivestob, one John Urquhart, merchant in Sanday, obtains decree of ejection against Peter Elphinston, tenant in Lopness, 2nd December 1732 (Hossack, “Kirkwall in the Orkneys”). The obvious inference is that this is the son of Samuel and Katherine, continuing seamlessly in his father’s role (and eventually successfully dealing with Peter Elphinstone), but I have no proof of this as yet.

Note by the way, that Samuel used a small semicicular accent known as a breve above many of his “u”s in his writing, and on his signature. I note from the signature of putative son John a similar idiosyncrasy…


photos by Jim Mackay; upper image from D38/2517, lower image from SC11/5/1757/9, both courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive

More recently, I have also found firm evidence (in E853/8 Ultimus Haeres Dept: Reports to the Treasury on ultimus haeres cases, 1870, Estate of Robert Urquhart) that this John Urquhart was the father of Kirkwall Postmaster Thomas Urquhart, hung in 1797 in Edinburgh for abstracting money from the mail. Now, when the Postmaster was looking for assistance in his case, he wrote several letters in 1796 to none other than Mrs Urquhart of Newhall. Again, this is not proof of the family relationship, but it is a fairly strong indication.

It would be nice if it were, as the life of this John Urquhart on Sanday, who married yet another Katherine Elphinstone, is well-documented. In his time he was merchant, factor, civil sergeant, clerk to the Commissioners of Supply, a tide-waiter with the Customs and a Councillor in Kirkwall. His line gives rise to John Traill Urquhart of Elsness, one of whose children married into the Urquhart of Kinbeachie line. But without that firm connection between Samuel and John we cannot proceed any further. I note though that William Elphinstone acts as a witness at the baptism of the first child to John Urquhart and Katherine Elphinstone on Sanday, in 1737, suggesting that William Elphinstone may have been the father of John Urquhart’s wife. But all this is pointless conjecture without seeing confirmation that John Urquhart was indeed the son of Samuel Urquhart. As Samuel died in 1734, I imagine that inspection of the sasines for Orkney and Zetland in RS45/9 (8 Sep 1727–5 Dec 1752) might be the next step!

Second marriage – and death

Samuel’s wife, Katharine Elphinstone, must have died prior to 1731, as that year he re-married. The Elphinstones are buried in the graveyard at Lady Church on Sanday. The aptly named Reverend Goodfellow published in The Orcadian over the period October to December 1903 many of the inscriptions he could make out on the older slabs at Lady Kirkyard. These included several relating to the Elphinstone family. Within that set he remarked:

On another big flat stone, not far from the former, this much was made out:–

Well, Katharine died prior to 1731, and was certainly a daughter of Elphinstone of Lopness, so I think it likely that this slab commemorates Samuel’s first wife

photo Beth Loft / Lady Kirk, Sanday, Orkney / CC BY-SA 2.0

Samuel soon re-married, a lady called Margaret Robertson, in Edinburgh. He called himself “Urquhart of Bullister” at this point, despite the fact that he had been residing in Orkney for 25 years.

Edinburgh Marriage Register
1731 … June … Sabt. 13
Mr Samuell Urchart of Buliciter in Orkney & Margt. Robertson D. to the deceast Jas. Robertson Carpenter in Leith both in SE p[arish]

I know as yet nothing of Margaret Robertson or what her story was.

Samuel himself died just a few years later, for the Kirk Session Record for Lady Church on Sanday reads:

Lady kirk session minutes (Sanday) CH2/1092/1
1734 … July 24th … As also six shilling Scotts, for the use of the bell to the deceased Mr. Samuel Urquhart.

The bell referred to would be the handbell hired from the Kirk Session (for the benefit of the poor’s funds) to be rung at the front of the funeral procession. The handbell below is from the tombstone erected by Alexander Urquhart of Newhall, memorialising Nicola Guthrie, Samuel Urquhart’s mother.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

He was an active, honest and straightforward man, who has bypassed the historians completely. It would be worth revisiting the old slabs of Lady Kirkyard with modern recording techniques to see if there is a slab commemorating him there. It would be good if there was a physical memorial to Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bullister.



APPENDIX – The Memorial Slab to Nicola Guthrie of Newhall in St Regulus, Cromarty

photo by Andrew Dowsett


A Digression on the Origins of Nicola Guthrie

Robert Elphinstone in one of his letters to Samuel Urquhart in the year 1717 says “I was well acquainted wt your godly Mother”. I assume he was by this meaning Nicola Guthrie, the first wife of Alexander Urquhart of Newhall, who died in 1676, and questions immediately arise: where had be become well acquainted with her? And is there just a suggestion that the Guthries might have had religious connections?

There is a complete dearth of information about the origins of Nicola Guthrie. I do have a theory that she may have been the Nicola Guthrie born in 1621 in Edinburgh to merchant and litster Samuel Guthrie and his wife Isobel Gairdin, one of 12 children baptised to the couple. A litster (a dyer of cloth) is not a very religious occupation. But one of the witnesses to that baptism was John Guthrie, Minister, who I think has to be the Edinburgh minister John Guthrie who was made Bishop of Moray in 1623. I might be all wet, of course. But given that Alexander Urquhart of Newhall and Nicola Guthrie named one of their children Samuel, and given the paucity of children named Nicola Guthrie, it is a theory worth investigating. Of the other children to Samuel Guthrie and Isobel Gairdin, namesake Samuel Guthrie became a well-respected Edinburgh merchant and burgess, and the wonderfully named Hercules Guthrie also became a merchant. So the family had sufficient status for such a marriage. And while it would be unlikely for Robert Elphinstone to have met Nicola Guthrie on Sanday, it would have been perfectly possible for them to have met in Edinburgh.

A Complementary Digression on Samuel’s grandfather, Thomas Urquhart of Kinudie

Samuel’s father, Alexander Urquhart of Kinudie as he was when younger, Alexander Urquhart of Newhall when older, was a religious man, becoming an Elder of the established church in Cromarty. His father, Thomas Urquhart of Kinudie (parish of Auldearn) was a minister, and was commemorated by a memorial at Fortrose Cathedral. I have been unable to identify the memorial and presume it is one of the many stones both inside and outside the Cathedral too worn to be readable. However, the book “Collection of Epitaphs and Monumental Inscriptions, chiefly in Scotland” (Glasgow; 1834) does give a partial record, unhelpfully just giving the epitaph and not the family information.

Fortrose Cathedral (with, I note, the figure of my daughter Kirsty in the far distance); photo by Jim Mackay

Mr. THO. URQUHART of Kinnudie’s Monument. 1633.
My hope shall never be confounded,
Because on Christ my hope is grounded.
My hope on Christ is rested sure,
Who wounded was my wounds to cure;
Grieve not when friends and kinsfolk die,
They gain by death eternity.

And here are a few of those now unreadable slabs, which I was discussing during a Kirkmichael Trust tour back in 2016. I didn’t know then that there was a memorial to Mr Thomas Urquhart of Kinudie here, or I would have been looking a bit more closely!

photo: Carlann Mackay

For the life of Thomas Urquhart of Kinudie, we turn to “The Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae” by Hew Scott (New Edition, Volume VI Synods of Aberdeen and of Moray; Oliver and Boyd, 1926) which provides a summary, under the Parish of Ardersier where he ministered:

THOMAS URQUHART of Kinudie, born about 1574, son of John U. of Cromartie, and brother of Alexander U. of St Martins; educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen; M.A. (about 1590); min. in 1599; still in the charge at 16th Dec. 1628, when he had sasine of Kinudie, Auldearn; died 10th Feb. 1638. He marr. (1) Agnes Robertson, niece of John R., treasurer of Ross, and had issue – John , eldest son in 1626; (2) cont. 6th April 1626, Christian, daugh. of John Bruce of Airth, and had issue – Alexander of Kinudie; Thomas first of Braelangwell, min. of Dipple and Essil; William; Margaret, Anna.– [Reg. Mag. Sig., vi., 1380; G.R. Inhib., xxix., 149; Inverness Sas., iii., 204; Laing Charters, 2667; Elgin Sas., iii., 70; G.R. Sas., xlvii., 72.]

With his father a well-respected minister, and he himself visiting Edinburgh often, it would not be surprising to find that Alexander Urquhart met up with Nicola Guthrie there. However, all this is at present conjecture. Let us return to the Nicola Guthrie slab in St Regulus, with its many religious memento mori.

Why St Regulus? Why not Kirkmichael, given its proximity to Newhall? Well, Alexander Urquhart of Newhall had many Cromarty connections.

He was Sheriff-depute, holding court in Cromarty Courthouse (for example, in 1670 (“Old Ross-shire and Scotland: as seen in the Tain and Balnagown documents” by William Macgill (1909), entry no. no. 213)) , or in attendance with the Sheriff-principal, Sir John Urquhart (for example, in 1675, ibid., entry no. 244)
He was on the Cromarty Town Council, added in 1670 (ibid., entry no. 780)
He attended church in Cromarty and became an Elder there (Cromarty Kirk Session, Cromarty March 3 1689 “the sd day by consent of session Alexr Urqrt of Newhall was made elder of ye Session”.

So, despite his estate of Newhall including much of the former parish of Kirkmichael, he does not appear to have attended church there. Henrietta Tayler in her book on the Urquhart family says he and his son John are buried in Kirkmichael, so perhaps he was more closely associated with Kirkmichael in later life.

Nicola Guthrie’s slab is 1.96 m (6 feet 5 inches) long, and tapers, being 0.87 m (34 inches) wide at top tapering to about 0.78 m (31 inches) wide at base. The top surface of the slab extends outwards on a curved rim, with the majority of the slab, the very deepest point of the slab curving inward. It is an unusual effect, and might even suggest – if it wasn’t so old – that it might have once been a tablestone.

the slab is brushed clean and photographed dry; photo by Andrew Dowsett

and then water is splashed on it to bring out the features; photo by Andrew Dowsett

and then the slab is photographed wet; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The inscription (and perhaps the whole slab) seems to have been painted originally, as a white pigment can be seen at the very base of the lettering, most noticeably on the word “Guthrie” as seen here but at other points too.

White pigment within the “RIE” of “GUTHRIE” photo by Andrew Dowsett

The inscription around the perimeter is unconventionally spaced. The carver had to make a fairly limited amount of text extend around four sides, but addressed the issue rather curiously. Thus the perimeter text at the base merely carries the words “NEW HALL”, and “WHO” is abandoned in a long length of empty space on the left hand side. And yet the carver compresses the text he has by quite extreme use of ligatures, and instead of “DAY” has carved “D:”. He could have used up space by carving “ALEXANDER” instead of the rather eccentric “ALEXR”. We are used to strange typography on old slabs, but this one does stand out.

The carver managed to make Newhall the sole subject of the perimeter base; photo by Jim Mackay

And yet by ligaturing “WHO” he unnecessarily adds to the surprising typography. Note by the way the very pragmatic drainage channel on the bottom left corner to keep water and ice off the top surface of the slab.

Apart from the perimeter inscription, there is text on the riband (not the usual “Mememto mori” that you find on most gravestone ribands), on the coffin symbol near the base, within the leather parchment panel, and, of course, on the interwined “A” and “V” and “N” and “G”. There is a lot going on! Near the base are a set of post-Reformation symbols of mortality: a well carved crossed spade and shovel on the left and a crossed sceptre and spade on the right. The crossed spade and shovel are the gravedigger’s tools. However, the crossed sceptre and spade represent the saying “IN DEATH NO DIFFERENCE IS MADE BETUIXT THE SCEPTRE AND THE SPADE” which is actually present as text on at least one other stone in St Regulus – the more southerly of the pair of Samuel Urquhart and Agnes Williamson slabs.

Perimeter text, starting as usual top left and continuing clockwise:


Riband text:

[first part of riband] PER [second part of riband] OT… [third part of riband] …

The shield contains, on the left, the usual three boar heads for the Urquhart family and, on the right, two lions rampant and two sheaves for the Guthrie family. The shield is flanked by “AV” for Alexander Urquhart on the left and “NG” for Nicola Guthrie on the right.

photo by Jim Mackay

Two lines of lettering on panel shaped as leather scroll:

First line “VIVE MEMOR LETI” (live remembering death)
Second line “FUGIT HORA” (the hour or time flies)

Very unusually, the coffin symbol of mortality also bears text:

One side: “MEMENTO M” (abbreviated Memento Mori, or, Remember Death)
Other side: “MTIME DEUM” (M Fear God)

photos by Andrew Dowsett

The symbols of mortality include:

the hourglass (occasionally represented on older slabs with one side empty to show that the sands really had run out for the deceased, but here one side is broken so it cannot be told if it was originally carved as run out or not)
the riband, bearing an appropriate saying
the skull (with extrraordinarily deep eye sockets!) and crossed bones
the gravedigger’s tools
the crossed sceptre and spade
the coffin, in this case also bearing text
the church bell, rung at funerals
the handbell, rung in front of the funeral procession

photo by Andrew Dowsett

Alexander Urquhart spared no expense in the carving of this exquisite slab in memory of Nicola Guthrie. It would be good to complement it with the memorial to their son, Mr Samuel Urquhart of Bullister, if it can be found.



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