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

Richard Miller, theckstar and tenant, and his spouse Euphemia Murray

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image

This is one of our most unusual slabs, curved and grooved like the top of a bath, and beautifully finished. And it carried one of our most challenging inscriptions. We did wonder if it was a slab from an earlier era, with its earlier ornamentation smoothed off.

the unusually shaped slab; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The slab sits a foot away from a rectangular slab bearing a date of 1750. When we were installing a drain for the roof water during the restoration of Kirkmichael we had to find a route down through the graveyard and the easiest option was to squeeze the drain in between these two slabs. We could see there were slabs there, but we thought we’d return to them later to record. It took us two years!

The spotted slab in this case lies north of the drain and is the subject of this Story; photo Jim Mackay

The spotted slab here lies south of the drain; photo Lachlan McKeggie

The Kirkmichael volunteers who uncovered the two slabs were stumped by the inscription on this one though. We could pick out odd letters on one row, and the initials EM were easy enough on the bottom row, but did the inscription extend to other rows? Why couldn’t we make out the inscription itself? That evening we returned to Kirkmichael with the Lampie and took many photographs at every angle possible in the restricted space and took them away to study.

The drain lies under the turf of Jonathan’s left foot, between the two slabs; photo Andrew Dowsett

The slabs being investigated at night; always best done in company; photo Andrew Dowsett

What we had taken as the main line of text proved to be the husband’s first name – RICHARD. The next line was much harder and different letters could be picked out from photographs from different angles. ER at the end was relatively straightforward, helped by the deep indentations that stone carvers made at the ends of segments of the letters. I don’t know why they did this, but, after using them as key points on many difficult gravestones, I am very grateful that they did!

The RICHARD on one line and the …LER on the next line can just about be made out; photo by Jim Mackay

The closely paired LL before the ER stood out on most of the photos. And most of an M at the start of the surname could also be seen, although mysteriously we still haven’t picked out the second leg of the letter. There is a mark which we thought was probably I, although we couldn’t guarantee it. So we had M*LLER – easy enough!

At the very top of the eroded stone, on the right, a 50 was fairly clear in a lot of photographs, and the 1 on the left could also be distinguished. The 7, to make 1750, could be seen only in a few photographs and only very faintly at that. However, there was enough to conclude 1750.

So we had the inscription: 1750 / RICHARD / MILLER / E M

From picking out letters from multiple angles the inscription is built up; photo by Jim Mackay

I cannot shake off the feeling that this curious stone is of earlier origin and it seems to have just traces left of some older carving.

Natural artefacts or remnants of earlier carving? photo by Andrew Dowsett

Could we identify who this couple were? There were very few folk named Richard Miller in the neighbourhood in this period, after all! And Richard had to be a sizeable tenant or tradesman to afford a quality stone like this. Most people were buried without memorials. The parish registers do not extend far enough back to include Richard and his wife. However, I have been gathering Resolis information from other sources for many years for just this reason. And there they were – Richard Miller and his wife Euphemia Murray (EM) in several different contexts!


Richard Miller in Braelangwell, Ruling Elder

The first occurrence of Richard Miller is in Braelangwell in 1718. I cannot guarantee this is the correct Richard Miller as the name of his wife does not crop up, but men of standing named Richard Miller were very thin on the ground, so it is likely to be the same man.

At Rosemarkie on 11 March 1718, the minister of the united parish of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, commonly called Resolis, the highly-regarded Reverend Thomas Inglis, put forward to the Presbytery of Chanonry his proposals for a parish school. He was the moderator of the Presbytery and temporarily stood down to lay the case before the Presbytery as the minister of the parish. The Presbytery having agreed to meet at “the church of Killicuden unpon the twentie ninth day of Aprile next to come”, Reverend Inglis moved on to his second motion.

Mr Thomas Inglis represented to the presbyterie that he has a design to have some persons in his united parishes of Kirk Michel and Killicuden ordained Ruling Elders and for that end gave in the following List viz. Mr Alexander Gordon of Ardach Alexr Elphinston in Newmiln George MacCulloch in Balblair Thomas Urqhuart of Kinbeachie Alexr McLean in Bray Alexr Simson in Killicuden John fforbes in DrumCuden [blank] McAllan Smith in Killicuden [blank] Murray in Culbo Hug Ross in Ardach John McCommie in Rosabrightie and Richard Miller in Brelangwel The presbyterie Considering the said representation with the List given in Do appoint the said Mr Thomas Inglis to advertise the persons above named in the said List to attend the next dyet of presbyterie for ordinarie busines in order to be examined for the end forsaid.

The list of proposed ruling elders includes two lairds, the chamberlain of Sir William Gordon of Invergordon and several prominent tenants, including Richard Miller.

When the Presbytery subsequently met at Cullicudden, on 29 April 1718, to look into the creation of this school, Richard Miller appears in a different context: as a tenant of the parish.

The Presbyterie considering that this Day a Visitation was appointed to hold att this place for settling of a School in these united Parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicuddine, And that Mr Thomas Inglis ye Clerk being a Party in that affair could not officiat therein, Therefore did make choice of Mr John Monro for that end And further considering that there are Gentlemen & others attending the Presbyterie for that End, who are straitned with time, Did therefore delay the reading of the Minuts till they had gone through this Affair. … Compeared of the Heretors Mr Alexr Gordon of Ardoch, As also compeared Alexr Elphinstone in Newmiln Chamberlain to Sr William Gordon of Invergordon for the sd Sr William In Like manner there was a Letter presented from the sd Sr William wherby the Presbyterie were encouraged to go on in this work. Also compeared William Martine of Bray In Like manner a Letter was presented from Alexr McKenzie of Belmaduthy empowering Mr Thomas Inglis Mnr to Act for him in this Affair. Compeared Likeways Hugh Monro of Ardullie Wedsetter in St Martins for himselfe, and presented a Letter from Anne McCulloch Liverentrix of Brealangwall, empowering him to act for her. In Like manner compeared George McCulloch in Belblair, Donald McDonald in Miltown, Richard Miller in Brealangwall, Alexr McLean in Bray, John fforbes in Drumcuddine and Donald Tayler in Culbo Tennants in the sd united Parishes who being interrogat did all of them declare their consent and earnest desire that a School might be erected in these united Parishes, And agreed that the Schoolhouse should be erected in Knocktopeck as the most Centricall place in the parish for that use. And likeways did undertake and obliedge themselves in their own behalfe and in the behalfe of any represented by any of them that they would build a competent School house in the sd place.

We thus see that Richard Miller had sufficient status as a tenant in the parish for his agreement to the new school to be sought. Given that the schoolmaster would be partly funded from the rents of tenants it is understandable why the consent of sizeable tenants was necessary.

the schoolhouse a hundred years later, in 1812; photo by Jim Mackay

You will remember that earlier in the year Richard Miller had been nominated as a Ruling Elder. I see that in 1721 and 1722 he was required to attend Synod in this duty. The Synod met in Edinburgh so this was no small undertaking for a humble tenant.

Rosemarky, 1 August 1721
Master Thomas Inglis reported that the Session of Kirkmichael had chosen Richard Miller in Brealangwell Ruleing Elder to attend the next Synod & dyets of presbitery till then. The said Richard Miller is absent.

Avoch, 4 December 1722
Mr Thomas Inglis reported that the Session of Kirkmichael had made choice of Richard Miller in Braelangwell for the said purpose; the said Richard Miller ruling Elder is absent;

I should add that the absence of Ruling Elders from the Presbytery proceedings was normal, until there was a need to attend. The next reference to Richard Miller in the Presbytery records, in 1733, is without any doubt to the correct one, as Euphemia Murray herself gives evidence. This is a sad story involving Euphemia’s sister, Helen Murray. By now I think Richard Miller had left the Braelangwell Estate for the Newhall Estate and had become tenant at Wester Inch or Alness Ferry (the locations seem interchangeable at this time).

Rosemarky, 23 January 1733
Then a Reference was given in from the Session of Kirkmichael Bearing That Helen Murray in Rysolis had brought forth a Child in Uncleaness very privately And the Session hearing thereof had met in the house where she lay in Childbed & having interrogate her anent the father of her Child she Answered that Alexander Leitch a married man grieve to the Laird of Macleod was the father of it & being interrogate if the Child was born in Life Answered it was & but Scarce then Living; Then the Session having Required a Sight of the Childs body they obtained the Same but could discern no marks of injury done the Same: She being further interrogate who were present with her at the tyme of Bearing the said Child Answered that Eupheme Murray Spouse to Richard Millar her own Sister german & Catharine Ferguson Midwife living at the Ferry of Alnes were present. The Session caused Immediately Cite the Saids Helen Murray Eupheme Murray & Catharine Ferguson who being Called Compeared & being Interrogate Answered that they were present when the Child was born that it was in life when born & but in Life only that they Saw it dy & lodged in a Coffine asyde its Mother who acknowledged to them that the Child belonged to Alexander Leitch greeve to McLeod. The Session Considering the premises they referred the whole Simpliciter to the presbitery of this Day in this place & Cited The Said Helen & Eupheme Murrayes & the said Catharine Ferguson Apud Acta to the Same. Then the Session appointed to Meet att Cullicuden the thirteenth December Current to which they accordingly did & having Convened the Said Alexander Leitch before them did Interrogate him Anent Helen Murrays Accusation of him anent his being father to the Child brought forth by her in Uncleaness And he having Confessed judicially that he was father thereof he was referred as ane adulterer to the presbitery & apud Acta Charged to this Dyet Which The presbitery hearing & Considering they caused Call the Said Alexander Leitch who having Compeared & being Interrogate Adhered to his Confession Emitted before the Session of Cullicuden & he being Removed the Said Helen Murray was Called who Compearing was Interrogate if She had brought forth a Child in Adultery to Alexander Leitch Confessed She did & being interrogate if the Child was born alive Confessed that the Child was born alive & that he could only move his Lips when born So weak was he Being further interrogate how long it Lived Answered that the Midwife Delayd Cutting his Navel for half ane hour to See if it would recover Life & when She saw the Child ready to Expire she then did Cut it: Then the said Helen Murray being removed and the presbitery takeing the premises under Consideration they judged proper to Call before them Catharin Ferguson the Midwife & Eupheme Murray & take their Declaration upon oath anent what they know of this affair then Catharin Ferguson being Called She Compeared And being Deeply Sworn purged of Malice & partial Council Declared She was a married woman & aged past Sixty years And being Interrogate anent what She knew of Helen Murrays bringing forth a Child privately & if the Child was born alive, & how long it Lived? she Declared as in the Answeres made & Confession Emitted before the Session of Kirkmichael. Then Eupheme Murray being Called Compeared & being Deeply Sworn purged of Malice & partial Council Declares She is a married woman Aged about thirty two years & being Interrogate upon the Same particulars with Catharine Ferguson she mentioned she Deponed idem cum precedente in omnibus. Then the Said Alexander Leitch & Helen Murray being Removed the presbitery judged proper to Delay the further Consideration of the Affair till next Meeting & they being Called in this was Intimated to them & they were apud acta Cited to next dyet.

At a subsequent meetings of the Presbytery, Alexander Leitch and Helen Murray were spoken to “Anent the heinousness of their Sin & Seriously Exhorted to fly for Refuge to the blood of Sprinkling” and they were then remitted to the Session of Kirkmichael to Satisfy Discipline in Common Form.

The wording of the initial entry in the Presbytery records suggests that Richard Miller and Euphemia Murray were residing at this time in the Estate of Newhall. Confirmation is provided within another set of records, where it appears that he was in arrears with his rent. Within the National Archives in Edinburgh, in the Court of Session records (CS103/142), there is a bundle of fragile documents relating to the Estate of Newhall. They involve the debts of John Urquhart of Newhall and his oldest son, Alexander Urquhart, thereafter known as Colonell Alexander Urquhart of Newhall, he who had a significant role in the Atterbury Jacobite Conspiracy of 1822. The key document for us, however, contains information about his tenants:

And in the Accompts Cropt 1736 the Factor has allowance of the following arrears incur’d Cropts 1732, 1733, 1734, 1735 and 1736 vizt.
Due by
Alexander Mackay £118.16.10
Alexander Barclay 169.-.-
Expence of Horning &c. 10.10.-
Ditto 95.10.-
John MacComish 36.-.-
Richard Millar 17.10.-

The Gordon family, strongly Hanoverian, had obtained most of the land held by the Jacobite Urquharts. Sir William Gordon (who renamed Inverbreakie Invergordon) owned much of the land on both sides of the Invergordon Ferry. His brother, Alexander Gordon of Ardoch, held much land adjacent to William’s: the Gordons were in the ascendancy. However, when Sir William died in 1742 his affairs were in disarray. The Court of Session appointed well-established Urquhart and Gordon factor, John Gorry, to act as factor over the Estate of Invergordon (including Newhall). He raised an action in the Court of Session in 1746 to recover the back rent from tenants who had not been paying all their rent whilst the affairs of the estate were being sorted out. The list includes many tenants represented by memorials in Kirkmichael and particularly:

James Shearer in the Inch x
Donald Watson there x
Richard Miller there x

Richard Miller was therefore still alive in the Inch in 1746. The documents then provide more information on the actual debts:

Item James Shearer in the Inch … Item Richard Millar there of three pecks two lippies victuall with four shillings and seven pence sterling money rent as arrears of said cropt & year Jaivii& and Fourty five

photo by Jim Mackay

Given the considerable sums owed by some tenants, Richard Miller then was virtually up to date. Sometime between 1746 and 1755 he died, as is evidenced by the following record from the Newhall Rental of 1755 (NRS SC24/16/3 and HRA D32/J2a), where the tenant is identified now as the Widow of Richard Miller:

James Shearer Mailer
Alexr Gray
Widow of Richard Miller

The Laird, Charles Hamilton Gordon of Newhall, died relatively young, and once more a Judicial Rental was called (to be found in RH15/44/199), again supervised by John Gorry but with his clerk that young man going places, William Macleay.

Rental of the Estate of Newhall lying in the Shires of Cromarty and Ross Containing the Barroneys of St Martins and Newhall with the Lands of Little & Meikle Braes, Cullicudden, Woodhead, Craighouse & Toberchuirn 1762.
Euphia Murray Relict of the deceast Richard Miller in Wester Inch
– in addition 16 shilling 8 pence Stg money for Ferry rent, being the half of the rent of the ferry Boat kept at the Inch, and that conform and in terms of a Tack produced by the Deponent and entered into by the said Mr Charles Hamilton Gordon and her – dated 21st October 1754 for 19 years from Whitsunday said year.

Note the description of the tenancy as being at Wester Inch – I think this is the same as Easter Alness Ferry. And I see that Euphemia was joint tenant of the ferry boat which crossed to Alness. I see a marriage record a few years later that exemplifies the exchangeability of Alness Ferry and Inch:

former pier, Alness Ferry; photo by Jim Mackay

Marriages Resolis 26 February 1768
William Fraser servant to Helen Murray at Inch or Ferry of Alness & Isobel Holm daughter to Angus Holm taxman at Inch contracted and married April 7

Whether or not the Helen Murray referred to was the one who had an illegitimate child back in 1733 I cannot say.


Richard Miller, Theckstar and Honest Man

There are several references in the Presbytery minutes to a theckstar and “honest man” named Richard Miller, and I think this is likely to be the same Richard Miller.

On 19 June 1739, minister Thomas Inglis petitioned the Presbytery again, this time to repair the kirk at Cullicudden. As part of the process in these exercises “honest tradesmen of each necessary craft” would be called to assess what needed to be done and how much it would be likely to cost. They appointed:

Donald Holm Presbytery officer in that part to warn & cite William Matheson & Duncan Grant Wrights in Findon, Richard Millar Theckstar in the parish of Kirkmichael, & James McCulloch in Balblair, Donald Ross in Ardoch, & Thomas Urquhart in St Martins honest men in the parish, to attend the presbytery on the said day & place to give their advice & assistance in the matter abovementioned.

A theckstar was a thatcher, but it was pretty challenging thatch that was to be used on the kirk, as emerged at the visitation to Cullicudden on 17 July 1739:

Thereafter compeared the tradsmen & honest men abovenamed Whereupon the heritors present were asked by the Presbytery if they inclined to add any more tradsmen to these, or if they had any thing to object against any or all of them they answered they were well satisfyed with these abovenamed, Then the Presbytery, & heritors together with the tradmen, & honest men foresaid, went to inspect the kirk to know what reparation was necessary, & thereupon they found that the kirk would require thirteen new couples, & three hunder lath, that it needed to be beam fitted off new, & thecked all over with heather, Thereafter the said tradsmen were called & had the oath de fideli solemnly administered to them, wherupon they were removed together with the honest men abovesaid, to consider what expences would be Necessary to compleat the said reparation, & after duly considering the same, they brought in their signed reports upon oath as follows,
primo The Wrights To twenty six trees nineteen feet long for couples, costing one Shilling Scots per foot, twenty four pound, fourteen Shillings Scots money, To Twenty six trees for halks & hanging post fifteen pound Scots, To three hunder lath seven pounds ten Shillings Scots, To One thousand two hunder single nails, three pound twelve Shillings Scots, To nailing on the lath & setting the Oak couples perpendicular, five pounds Scots, To a Workman for binding thirteen couples, eight pound thirteen Shillings & four pennies Scots, in all sixty four pounds, nine Shillings, & four pennies Scots money
Secundo The Theckstar to two hunder & eighty loads of heather twenty one pounds, To Cabers & Withys five pounds, To a Theckstar thirty six pounds, To the beam fitting ’twixt workman & poyner five pounds eight shillings in all sixty seven pounds eight Shillings, To carriage of the timber nine pounds All which particulars were found to amount to the Summe of one hunder & forty four pounds Seventeen Shillings, & four pennies Scots money.

I knew little about heather thatching, although it was once common where better thatching materials were not plentiful. To quote from an excellent page by the Landmark Trust on preserving the art of heather thatching in their project to restore Causeway House in Northumberland (full story here):

By the time the Landmark Trust took on Causeway House in the late 1980s, only a handful of heather-thatched buildings remained – mainly in the Scottish Highlands. The building knowledge of the construction – a skill passed down from father to son and rarely documented – had been lost. We had to unpick the small amount of thatch remaining to find clues as to the original thatching method. This, together with a brief description of heather thatch found in a Victorian publication, gave just enough information to lay a new heather thatch roof.

Causeway House being re-thatched with heather; photo by Jill Tate, and courtesy of the Landmark Trust

photo by Jill Tate, and courtesy of the Landmark Trust

The skills that Richard Miller had as a theckstar would have been appreciated by those restoring heather-thatched buildings today! Clearly this last re-thatching was never carried out as, two years later, on 16 June 1741, the Presbytery had to make another visitation to the kirk of Cullicudden, and by this time more extensive works were required. Just as we experienced at Kirkmichael, a stitch in time would have saved nine.

Then Mr Inglis being interrogated anent Serving the Edict for the said Visitation reported his diligence thereanent, as also Donald Holm Presbytery officer in that part being interrogate gave in execution bearing that he had according to Appointment cited to this dyet Kenneth Clark in Cullboakie & John Clark in Invergordon Wrights, Andrew & Sanders Mackenzies Masons, as also Richard Millar Thomas Urquhart & Donald Mathison honest men in the parish, Then the Presbytery caused call the Heritors of the parish whereupon compeared Sr Roderick McKenzie of Scatwall, Mr Gowrie [John Gorry] factor to Sr William Gordon of Invergordon, Thomas Urquhart of Kinbeachie, Alixander McKenzie of Culbo The said Thomas Urquhart of Kinbeachie declared that he was impowered by William Duff of Drumcudden to appear for him at this dyet of Visitation for which he produced Mandate from the said Mr Duff which being considered was sustained, As also Hugh Murray Tacksman in the parish gave in a Mandate to him from Archibald Geddes to appear for him at this dyet which being likewise considered was sustained– compeared likewise Rorie Mackinzie Wadesetter of a part of the lands of Brea, the foresaid tradesmen & honest men likewise being called compeared.
Then the Presbytery with the Heritors tradesmen & honest men foresaid went to inspect the Church to know what reparation was needfull, & for Wright work it was found necessary that there should be a new roof, & for Mason work, that there should be new wall all over, The Presbytery finding that there is so much reparation necessary as cannot possibly be overtaken this season, they therefore did appoint the Heritors to oblige their Tenants to thatch this Church of Cullicudden, so as that it may accomodate the parish for this insueing year, & in the mean time referred what was further necessary towards the said reparation to the next meeting of Presbytery.

The Kirk of Cullicudden was never repaired satisfactorily and instead of services alternating, Kirkmichael became the regular place of worship until eventually, in 1769, a new centrical church was built.

As I say, I assume that theckstar and honest man of the parish Richard Miller was the one and the same as the tenant who was married to Euphemia Murray. No record mentions children, and the tack agreed with the Laird of Newhall in 1754 was with the widowed Euphemia.

Returning to the unusual slab in Kirkmichael, I imagine the 1750 / RICHARD / MILLER part of the inscription would have been commissioned by Euphemia following the death of her husband. Upon her own death, the large initials EM were added to the memorial.

the volunteers try to read the inscription on the unusually shaped slab; photo by Andrew Dowsett


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