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

From Pulteneytown to Jemimaville: Hugh McGregor, the Blacksmith from Caithness

text: Dr Jim Mackay       photos as given below each image

photo: Andrew Dowsett


Hugh McGregor, blacksmith (1796–1870)=1825=Mary McKay (1798–1883)

Their inscription is rarely seen as their memorial, a smart red granite headstone with attractive embellishments, is face on to the yew trees in the centre of the graveyard. You might pass by the back of it on the path in Kirkmichael a hundred times without thinking to see whose stone it is.

It also bears an unusual abbreviation. Not many people would guess that “B.S.” simply stands for “Blacksmith”. The inscription reads:

Erected / to the memory of / HUGH McGREGOR, B.S. / late of Wick died Ap. 15. 1870, / by his three sons, / HUGH, ROBT. & ADAM, / and his wife MARY MACKAY. / Also their son / ROBERT F. McGREGOR. / And their daughter / JOSEPHINE McGREGOR, / who died at Jemimaville in 1916.

There is one small mistake in the inscription, a phonetic one, to which I shall return. Hugh and Mary, a couple from Caithness, arrived in the parish of Resolis sometime between 1843 and 1851. Whilst many families moved into Resolis from the west, very few came down from Caithness.



When Hugh McGregor married Mary McKay he was already living in Pulteneytown, the new fishing town developed on the south side of the river at Wick. It derived its name from Lord Pulteney of the British Fisheries Society which, with the family of William Macleay, Provost of Wick, had promoted the development of the herring industry in the town. Pulteneytown was one of a select group of fishing towns established by the Society, including Ullapool and Oban, and by far the most successful.

The harbour at Wick when the herring industry was at its peak

Quieter nowadays; photo by Jim Mackay

Wick Marriage Register
Decr 9th 1825 MacGrigor Hugh Blacksmith in Pultytown was maty cont. to Mary MacKay daugr of Joseph MacKay in Latheronwheel Parish of Latheron John MacKey Blacksmith in Pultytown cautr. for the man and Donald Gunn Blacksmith there for the woman – md on

You can see from the trades of the cautioners that Hugh was part of a smith coterie.

Both Hugh and Mary had been born in the Caithness village of Latheron, but Pulteneytown’s development drew workers like iron filings to a magnet. The minister in Wick at this time was the popular Robert Phin, who had married a daughter of Provost Macleay. I note that Hugh McGregor called one of his children Robert Phin McGregor in his honour.

The remembrance garden above the museum in Pulteneytown; photo by Jim Mackay

A herring girl, museum in Pulteneytown; photo by Jim Mackay

Gavin having fun with the lion head on fountain, Riverside, Wick; photo by Jim Mackay

The children, in chronological order from the Wick baptism register, were Mary Ann (1826), Janet (always known as Jessie) (1828), Margaret (1831), Josephina (sometimes called Josephine) (1836), Robert Phin (1840) and Adam (1843). We know there was also Hugh, who from his age in the various census returns must have been born about 1834.

In the 1841 census return, the family were living at “Bredalban Terrace” in Pulteneytown, Wick. Breadalbane Terrace was part of the new town, located in a plethora of fish-processing establishments, cooperages and other enterprises associated with the profitable herring industry. You looked down from here to the harbour where the wealth of Wick was generated.

Breadalbane Terrace, Pulteneytown

In the census return, the ages of the adults were rounded, but those of the children were not, and you can see that there were several errors – the information was Hugh 40, Mary 40, Mary Ann 12, Margaret 12, Hugh 7, Josephina 5, and Robert Phin 1.


From planned town to planned village: Pultneytown to Jemimaville

Some time between 1843 when their last child was baptised in Wick and 1851, the family moved a hundred miles south. Their new home was another planned settlement, albeit on a much smaller scale – Jemimaville. It had been established back in the 1820s by Gun Munro, laird of the Poyntzfield Estate, and tradesmen were being encouraged to settle there.

Pulteneytown; photo by Jim Mackay

Jemimaville in the 1920s

Young blacksmiths tended to be very mobile, travelling the country as blacksmith journeymen to gain trade. I wonder if Hugh had in his journeys already been to the Black Isle to size up the opportunities in the area?

We know he was settled in Jemimaville by 1850 at least, as his daughter Josephine was married from Jemimaville in that year. The marriage occurs in the register, of course, but Hugh McGregor was a cut above the normal blacksmith for his daughter’s marriage warranted space in the newspapers, very unusual for the time. We find in the Inverness Advertiser of Tuesday, 31 December 1850:

Marriages – MacGregor, Jessie, Jemimaville, Poyntzfield, Black Isle, daughter of Mr Hugh MacGregor, blacksmith

A similar announcement was made in the John O’Groat Journal of 3 January 1851. The reason? The chap that was marrying Jessie was from Caithness. In fact, he was from the original home of the parents, the parish of Latheron in Caithness. I suspect that he had formed an alliance with Jessie before the family moved to Jemimaville!

MARRIAGES. At Jemima Ville, Poyntzfield, on the 18th ultimo, by the Rev. D. Sage, of the Free Church, Resolis, Mr Alex. Ross, fishcurer, Latheron-wheel, Caithness, to Jessie, second daughter of Mr Hugh Macgregor, blacksmith there.

By 1851 Hugh McGregor was well established in Jemimaville and, according to the census return of that year, had another man in his employ. In the census return, the entire family is given as having been born in the parish of Latheron, but in fact only the parents were – the children were born in Wick:

1851 Census Jemimaville
Hugh McGregor head 50 blacksmith employing one man
Mary McGregor wife 46 housekeeper
Margt McGregor daur u 18 housekeeper / Hugh McGregor son u 16 apprentice blacksmith / Josephina McGregor daur u 14 / Robt McGregor son u 10 scholar / Adam McGregor son u 7 scholar

Daughter Jessie had married in 1850, and had moved to Latheron to her husband’s residence there. Daughter Margaret was to follow them. Hugh soon departed as a journeyman blacksmith in his own right. By the 1861 census, the family at Jemimaville had shrunk to the parents and Josephine, Robert and Adam.

1861 JamimaVille Private House (four rooms with one or more windows)
Hugh McGrigor head m 60 blacksmith journeyman Latheron
Mary McGrigor wife m 54 blacksmith’s wife Latheron
Josephine McGrigor daur u 21 Wick / Robert McGrigor son u 19 blacksmith apprentice Wick / Adam McGrigor son u 16 scholar Latheron

The skill of the blacksmith is still alive and well in the parish, in the shape of the Smith family at Newhall Smiddy, just a mile from Jemimaville where Hugh McGregor plied his trade. As part of the Kirkmichael restoration project, John Smith demonstrated how nails were traditionally made! Photographed by Verity Walker.

Some time after this, the family moved from Jemimaville to the nearby farm of Ardoch. The reasoning behind this move I cannot guess, but it meant they were now close neighbours of my Ferguson ancestors in Ardoch. Indeed, it was Charles Ferguson who provided the information to the registrar upon Hugh’s death in 1870, and as was always the case with Charles Ferguson, the information was spot on:

Hugh McGregor blacksmith (married to Mary McKay) died 15 April 1870 Ardoch aged 67 parents Hugh McGregor farmer (d) Janet McGregor ms Gun (d) informant Charles Ferguson neighbour Ardoch (not present)

This information allowed the origins of the family to be checked in the Caithness records. Hugh McGrigor and Janet Gun married at Latheron on the 5th of January 1792, and Hugh was baptised in 1796, so the ages in census returns and gravestone were as usual somewhat inaccurate.

The census return for 1871 shows how radically the family had downsized:

1871 Census Ardoch (house with one room with one or more windows)
Mary McGregor head w 70 blacksmith’s widow Latheron
Josephine McGregor daur u 30 farm serv Pultneyton
Hugh McGregor grandson 10 Elgin

The grandson I think would be the first born of Hugh, who had married Mary Anderson in Banff whilst moving around as journeyman blacksmith. As their family had grown, they were looking to farm out some of their children. But the family back in the Black Isle was in poor financial state. Mary was actually recorded as a pauper in the 1881 census return, although I haven’t spotted her in the parochial relief records.

1881 Census Ardoch (house with one room with one or more windows)
Mary McGregor head w 80 pauper Latheron
Josephine McGregor daur u 40 do. daur Pultneytown

Two years later Mary passed away.

Mary McGregor (widow of Hugh McGrigor blacksmith) died 17 April 1883 Ardoch House aged 70 parents Joseph McKay farmer (d) Elizabeth McKay ms Gunn (d) informant Hugh Macgregor son Balnain Cottage Inverness

I don’t think son Hugh provided the names of Mary’s parents correctly, as I see in the Latheron marriage register that Joseph Mackay married a Mary Gun on 10 September 1795, and I’m sure that must be the right couple. Mary Mackay was baptised in 1798 to Joseph Mackay in Latheron.

It does seem very hard that Mary should have ended her days as a pauper. Her three sons were working men, and at least one of her daughters (Jessie) was in a family that seemed to be doing alright for itself (albeit with a vast number of children to look after). One would have thought that support for their mother would have been forthcoming.

The three sons banded together to fund a good headstone for their parents, and some years afterwards son Robert’s name and finally Josephine’s name were added to it. Neither had married, and as commonly the case with unmarried children, their names get added to their parents’ stone. Whoever organised the inscription must have known that Robert was “Robert Phin”, but did not know how “Phin” was spelled, and hence we have the slightly misleading “Also their son ROBERT F. McGREGOR”.


The three sons who erected the headstone in Kirkmichael

Hugh (c1834–1898)=1861=Mary Anderson

Hugh’s trade of blacksmith saw him move around the country. He is in family in Resolis in 1851. But we see him as an unmarried blacksmith in the household of a family named Bolton in Cullen, Banffshire, in 1861. He married Mary Anderson, from Macduff, later that year, in Banff, where their first children were born, and where, sadly, one of them died. In the late 1860s the family moved to the parish of Urquhart in Inverness-shire, where, in 1871, they were residing in “Smith’s House”. The children in residence were Mary (born in Macduff, 9), Josephina Mary (born in Cullen, 7), Robert B. (born in Urquhart, 4), Christina (born in Urquhart, 2) and Adam (born in Urquhart and not yet 1 year old). Josephina was farmed out to brother Adam, in whose family she appears in the 1871 census return.

By 1881, the family were living in the Robertson Buildings at 45 Shore Street, Inverness, with children Robert, Christina, Adam, Jessie A, Bella and George, and by 1891, they had moved to Greig Street in Inverness, but Hugh at the time of this census was away. At home was his wife Mary, and children Bella, George and John. Poor Hugh was one of a considerable number of workers roughing it in “Tulloch Railway Hut” in Kilmonivaig, Lochaber, Invernessshire, Scotland. Alex Craig was the “Railway Hut Keeper” with his family and a host of boarders associated with the railway, including “Hugh McGregor Boarder Married Male 54 Blacksmith Wick”.

Alas, poor Hugh died in 1898 in Fort William but the family in 1901, in New Pier Terrace in Kilmallie (Fort William), still retained associations with the railway. While daughter Jessie was a Laundress, sons George and John were a Locomotive Fireman and Locomotive Cleaner respectively. There was also in family a son called Bruce aged 1, which, since Mary was now long past child-bearing age, indicates an extra-marital indiscretion.

Robert Phin Bruce (1840–1895)

Robert was resident in Resolis at the time of the 1851 and 1891 censuses, but clearly moved around Scotland a great deal. Like his elder brother Hugh and his father, Robert became a blacksmith and, like them, his employment carried him far afield. We pick him up in 1871, at “10, Terrace Road, Greenock” as a lodger, and blacksmith to trade. Similarly, we find him in 1881 as a lodger at “23, Castle Street, Dumbarton” when he described himself as a “Hammerman”.

The memorial to Robert Phin McGregor’s namesake, the Reverend Robert Phin, in Wick cemetery; photo: Jim Mackay

I see he acted as a witness at his brother Adam’s wedding in Edinburgh in 1879.

He had returned home by the 1891 census, residing in the household headed by his sister Josephine at Ardoch in our parish of Resolis. I note that he and Josephine are recorded as speaking both Gaelic and English. Robert had remained unmarried and his trade was once more given as “Blacksmith”. I suspect that he was ill, and in fact he died a few years later. He passed away in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, in 1895, although his usual address was given as Rucend Street, Greenock. The informant was his brother Adam who was present at Robert’s death, so it is good that the family had held together even in difficult circumstances.

Adam (1843–1913)=1879=Betty Ker

Adam did not follow in the blacksmith trade like his father and brothers, and, perhaps not coincidentally, lived to a ripe old age. He took a completely different route through life.

We find him as an “Under Butler” in a household in Alloa Park in Alloa, Clackmannanshire 1871. This was a step to his becoming a lodging house keeper in Edinburgh. He married Betty Ker from Heaton, Roxburghshire, in 1879 in the Osbourne Hotel, Princes Street, Edinburgh, and they ran a lodging house in the city. In 1881 they were in “Charlotte Square, 20, Saint George” along with their baby son John, Josephina, the daughter of Adam’s brother Hugh, and Mary Ann Ross, the daughter of Adam’s sister Jessie up in Caithness. The relatives were helping to run the establishment. At the time of the census, they had two boarders – a lady’s maid and a lady’s nurse. A respectable establishment!

Over the years, the family moved to a new address (6, Grosvenor Street) but continued to maintain a successful lodging establishment. I see that by 1901 son John had become a brewery clerk and son Hugh had become a wine merchant’s clerk, so the family had moved away from their very physical blacksmith trade origins.

advertisement in the Scotsman in 1905

In his latter years, Adam purchased from one Donald Munro two semi-detached villas in Broadstone Road, Inverness, Seafield Villa and Blantyre Villa. Why he did this I know not, although he disponed one each on his death to a daughter.

Adam died as recently as 1913, his age given as 74. The death notice in the Scotsman refers to his origins:

M’GREGOR.– At 6 Grosvenor Street, Edinburgh, on the 27th inst., after a short illness, ADAM, youngest son of the late HUGH M’GREGOR, Jemimaville, Invergordon, aged 74 years. Funeral on Saturday, arriving at Comely Bank Cemetery at 3 o’clock. All friends kindly invited.


And the four daughters…

We know of four daughters: Mary Ann, Janet (always known as Jessie), Margaret and Josephina.

Mary Ann (1826–)

I have been unable to trace Mary Ann. She does appear in the 1841 census return for the family in Pultneytown, aged 12, but not in the 1851 census for the family in Jemimaville. However, I note that in the newspaper notice for Jessie’s marriage in 1850 Jessie is referred to as “second daughter of Mr Hugh Macgregor, blacksmith” which I do not think would have been written if Mary Ann was deceased.

Jessie (1828–1913)=1850=Alexander Ross

Jessie’s marriage to Alexander Ross was noted in the Inverness Advertiser and the John O’Groat Journal of the time. The formal marriage record lies within the Resolis marriage records:

15 December 1850 Alexander Ross Latheronwheel & Jessie MacGregor residing at Jamimaville in this p. banns published 1, 8, 15 December 1850

The announcement in the John O’Groat Journal

Latheron of course was where Jessie’s parents had been born, so it must have been in the nature of a return to her roots for Jessie. She went on to have a large family with her fish-curer husband. In 1861 they were resident in Jamiestown (a name not now seemingly in use), Latheron, with five children, Jessie’s sister Margaret, and a servant. Latheron is nowadays most famous for the Clan Gunn museum.

By the census of 1871, when they were resident in the village of Lybster, there were no less than 11 children in the household. Michty! At that time, and subsequently, Lybster was a thriving town associated with catching and processing herring. The film about the industry, “The Silver Darlings”, from Neil Gunn’s book, was shot on location here. A spectacular location, Lybster was once the third largest herring fishing port.

Jessie died in Lybster in the same year as her brother Adam, 1913. The informant was one of her many grandchildren, James Henderson who gave as his address 47 Arkwright Street, Bolton, indicating how widely their descendants were distributed.

Margaret (1831–)

I have been unable to trace Margaret after 1861, when she was resident as an unmarried dress maker in her sister’s home in Jamiestown, Latheron, Caithness.

Josephina (1836–1916)

Josephina, named after her grandfather Joseph McKay, remained with her parents while they were alive, moving with them from Jemimaville to Ardoch, and returning to Jemimaville after their decease.

I note that on the death of Mary Miller, widow of coachman Robert Miller, at Ardoch in 1891, the informant at the registrar’s was none other than “Josephine McGregor nurse (present)” but whether she had any training as a nurse I know not. She appears to have taken a leaf out of her brother Adam’s book, and ran for a time her Jemimaville residence as a boarding-house. This is from the 1901 census:

Jemimaville, house with three rooms with one or more windows
Josephine McGregor head s 60 boarding housekeeper Wick
Alexandrina Beddie visitor 11 scholar Resolis
Angus Thomson boarder s 19 baker Alness

Of all the children, Josephina survived the longest. She remained unmarried, which may or may not be related to her longevity! She died in 1916:

Josephine McGregor (single) died 16 November 1916 Jemimaville aged 84 parents Hugh McGregor blacksmith (d) Mary McGregor ms McKay (d) informant John McGregor nephew 2 St. Catherines Gardens Murrayfield Mid Lothian

Josephina was the last of this blacksmith McGregor family in the area. Her name was added to the family headstone in Kirkmichael. That granite memorial still stands as a remembrance to this Caithness family in the centre of the kirkyard, under the two yew trees.

Pulteneytown; photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Andrew Dowsett


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