Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “1800s”

The most peaceable and virtuous peasantry in Britain

It is worthy of remark that it was at the climax of its spiritual prosperity the cruel work of eviction began to lay waste the hill-sides and the plains of the north. Swayed by the example of the godly among them, and away from the influences by which less sequestrated localities were corrupted, the body of the people in the Highlands became distinguished as the the most peaceable and virtuous peasantry in Britain. It was just then that they began to be driven off by ungodly oppressors, to clear their native soil for strangers, red deer and sheep. With few exceptions, the owners of the soil began to act as if they were also owners of the people, and, disposed to regard them as the vilest part of their estate, they treated them without respect to the requirements of righteousness or to the dictates of mercy. Without the inducement of gain, in the very recklessness of cruelty, families by hundreds were driven across the sea, or gathered, as the sweepings of the hillsides, into wretched hamlets on the shore. By wholesale evictions wastes were formed for the red deer, that the gentlemen of the nineteenth century might indulge in the sports of the savages of three centuries before. Of many happy households sheep walks were cleared for strangers, who, fattening amidst the ruined homes of the banished, corrupted by their example the few natives who remained. Meanwhile their rulers, while deaf to the Highlanders cry of oppression, were wasting their sinews and their blood on battlefields that, but for their prowess and their bravery, would have been the scene of their country’s defeat.
(Kennedy J, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire, pp.15-16, first published 1867)

John Kennedy’s description of the Highland valleys as “sequestrated localities,” gives an idea of their isolation, remoteness and inaccessibility. Nowadays the Highlands are criss-crossed by roads and railways, but before the 1800s the roads were just dirt tracks and the railways had not yet come. Transport was on foot or by horse, and was slow. The people of these Highland valleys lived their whole lives with little contact with the outside world.

There was of course an exception to this. Many young men were recruited into Highland regiments of the British Army, famous for their fighting spirit, and for their loyalty to their lairds.  Responding to the call for volunteers, they marched out of their Highland glens, and departed for distant lands, where they fought and in many cases died, far from home. These were the men Kennedy refers to who wasted “their sinews and their blood on battlefields that, but for their prowess and their bravery, would have been the scene of their country’s defeat.” I am reminded of the haunting words of Mark Knopfler’s song, Brothers in arms:

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Someday you’ll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms…

Such young men brought back tales of the many places they had seen, but part of the tragedy of the Clearances was that when they returned to their “valleys and their farms” there was nothing there. Their families had been evicted, the crofts where they had passed their childhood days destroyed to make way for “strangers, red deer and sheep.”

In the two centuries before the last of the Clearances in Ross-Shire (Greenyards 1854) there had been repeated spiritual revivals in the area. This is the subject of Kennedy’s book, and it makes for fascinating reading. It is also the subject of Tom Lennie’s book, Land of Many Revivals, which looks at the same influences not just in Ross-Shire but throughout Scotland. Lennie writes, for example, of the Clearances in Strathnaver, in Sutherland, north of Ross-Shire:

     The district had known rich spiritual blessing from as early as the 1720s onwards. According to the Rev Donald Munro of Ferintosh, a fresh wave of spiritual life began to pass through the Strath about the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth. Children and youth, impressed on seeing their seniors repair to Saturday noon prayer meetings – which were common in parts of the North at that time – eagerly began their own prayer groups.
Some in Strathnaver and the wider parish of Farr were said to have been ‘among the most outstanding of the men of the Highlands.’…
A minister who commenced his ministry in Farr said, “…I never knew any place where the religion of Christ so shone, and flourished, and pervaded the community, as it did in Strathnaver.”…
When the Rev David Mackenzie settled as minister of the Mission in 1813, he found a congregation of between 600 and 700, among whom were many men and women – some of high military rank and some well educated – who were ’eminent for piety, and their names still savoury among the churches of the north’ in the late 1870s. Over the next few years, during the period known as the Highland Clearances, every one of the Strath’s 1,600 inhabitants was ruthlessly evicted from the area. The Rev. Donald Sage… later wrote of the last Sabbath in the Strath before the Clearances… It was an unusually fine morning so the service was held on a beautiful green sward by the River Naver. After a sermon and the singing of a psalm, ‘At last all restraints were compelled to give way. The preacher ceased to speak, the people to listen. All lifted up their voices and wept, mingling their tears together. It was indeed the place of parting, and the hour. The greater number parted, never again to behold each other in the land of the living.’ One distressed witness of the evictions wrote of the sufferers: ‘The truly pious noted the mighty hand of God in the matter. In their prayers and religious conferences not a solitary expression could be heard of anger or vindictiveness.’ Many found no resting place till they reached the backwoods of Canada.
Some decades later, a Sutherland newspaper reminisced about the ‘noble band of godly men born and brought up in Strath Naver, parish of Farr, a district eminent for years, during the latter part of the last century (eighteenth) and the beginning of the present, as the residence of a number of pious, well educated and intelligent Christians.’
(Lennie T, Land of Many Revivals, 2015, pp.199-201)

A picture emerges of the inhabitants of these remote Highland valleys: there were certainly “peasants” among them, but there were soldiers too, and educated people, and they were people of faith. This was the fruit of religious revival, but such a spiritual richness was apparently not evident to the landlords who owned the land on which the people lived. These landlords were quite happy to clear them away for their own economic reasons, justified by some misinformed idea of “progress,” in which the wealthy were more interested in money and ideology than in people. They saw the inhabitants of their lands as too numerous and were worried that they might have to be supported financially from the landlords’ own pockets, something that until then had never been necessary since the “peasantry” were self sufficient and in fact paid rent to the lairds. The landlords did not see the people as intelligent, educated, loyal or pious, but rather as a potential burden that stood in the way and which needed to be removed. Hence the Clearances.

In another place or time the people may have revolted, taken up arms to defend their homes. Indeed it would seem that this was what was expected by many of the aristocracy. They had seen what had happened in France, and what was even happening to a lesser extent in England, and they expected armed resistance. They did not understand the transformation that had taken place in so many Highland hearts. Despite small disturbances the evictions were mostly a peaceful affair, and though the people appealed to their lairds’ reason and compassion, when they were met with stony indifference they usually accepted the judgements of their “superiors” and left quietly. As Lennie quotes, ‘the truly pious noted the mighty hand of God in the matter. In their prayers… not a solitary expression could be heard of anger or vindictiveness.’

Such a submission to ‘the mighty hand of God’ is frowned on in our day and age, seen as naive and foolish. Resistance is seen as the just way to proceed. But our ancestors lived in a different age, and the people of the Highlands were influenced by a different ethic and worldview. They interpreted what was happening in the context of God’s sovereignty. They didn’t understand why they should be caused to suffer, but they believed in God, and were comforted in their knowledge of his love. They did not interpret their suffering as a sign that God had deserted them or was punishing them, though they were well aware of their own failure to live up to His standards. They did not understand their suffering, but they accepted it, and saw his hand at work.

The result? The gospel was spread around the world, especially to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, countries which so many descendants of the Highlanders now call home. My own ancestors were not among those who were forced to leave, but rather left the Highlands of their own accord. But they too carried with them the spiritual heritage of the preceding two hundred years in the valleys of the Ross-Shire Highlands, a fierce commitment to God which has survived down through the generations. My grandmother’s name was Winifred Urquhart Ross – her names bearing witness to her ancestral origins in Ross and Sutherland. The man she married, my grandfather, came from a somewhat less “religious” family, with its roots in Germany and England. Before he met Win, he had already been influenced towards faith by a couple with whom he lodged in Lithgow, NSW, during the First World War. Here is what my father wrote about that time:

     Dad’s first job that I know of was in the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, but he was called up for military training in early 1918. The War ended in November 1918 just as he was about to embark for overseas. Presumably he returned to his job in Lithgow, but left at some stage to attend Technical College where he later became a teacher in Engineering Trades Drawing at Ultimo Technical College in Sydney.
While living in Lithgow, Dad was greatly helped by Mr. and Mrs. Goodes, with whom he probably boarded. They were a godly Christian couple, and would have been mainly responsible for adding a Christian dimension to his life which the rest of the Holford clan did not have. Sadly none of his siblings had any interest in the Church.
Through his involvement in the Anglican church he also became acquainted with the Robinson family (also of Scottish ancestry). Bradley Robinson was the Rector of the church, and he was married to Gertrude, the eldest daughter of the Ross family of Mosman. He got to know Winifred, a younger sister of Gertrude, who visited the Robinson family from time to time.  It happened that Dad’s father was living in the same street (Raglan St.) as the Ross family, so the friendship with Winifred strengthened until they became engaged and eventually married on December 20, 1925 in St. Clements Church, Mosman.

So the fruit of the revivals in Scotland, of the preaching of great men of God like the Rev John Macdonald of Ferintosh and many others which resulted in “the most peaceable and virtuous peasantry in Britain,” has come down through the generations, and spread itself around the world, and has even affected me, though I fear sometimes that I take more after the rather more irreligious Holford clan than the Rosses of Gledfield. But I too have found my way to a faith in the same God that inspired that Highland family, and at least some others of their descendants. So I cannot help but be inspired by the descriptions of those exciting times, and long to see them come again, not just to the Highlands, but to the little corner of the world where I find myself now. Here is another sample, an account of the ministry of James Kennedy of Aberfeldy, recorded by his son, John Kennedy, and quoted in Tom Lennie’s book:

     [Many came] every Sunday, fifteen to twenty miles, to sit under him in Aberfeldy, though they had to start at four in the morning to do it. The sight of these pilgrims travelling in carts, on horseback, and even on foot – the old men clad in homespun and often wearing the Highland bonnet, the old women wearing the snow white ‘mutch’, and carrying sprigs of sweet scented ‘southernwood’ as well as white handkerchiefs and the beloved Psalm-book in their hands – was by no means lacking in picturesqueness. Reaching Aberfeldy long before the hour of service, they were hospitably entertained at breakfast by the villagers. Then they streamed into the plain little chapel, and the worship began… As soon as the church was emptied the manse was crowded… Many of them did not get home till midnight; but the way, though long, was made cheerful with ‘songs of Zion’ and with talk of what they had heard in the morning.”
(Kennedy, Old Highland Days, quoted in Lennie T, pp.210-211)

And a final description, written by a Rev David Campbell a native of Glenlyon, recalling Kennedy’s ministry there in 1816. He had seen Kennedy

     stand almost knee-deep in a wreath of snow, while at the same time it was snowing and drifting in his face all the time he was preaching, and the people gathered around him patiently and eagerly listening to the fervent truths that proceeded from his lips… “Ach gu phi a-comhdhunnadh” – “But to conclude”! – when he came to that, his voice faltered, his eye brightened, and you would think he was as it were rushing between men and death, or plucking them out of the fire.
(quoted in Lennie T, p.210)

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James Ross’s sixteenth birthday

James Ross was born in Gledfield, Ross-Shire, in the winter of 1827, the fourth child of the village blacksmith and his wife. James’ birthday was the 31st of January, but there were a lot of children (12 in all) in the Ross family and it is unlikely that there was much fuss around the celebrations of birthdays. However, James’ sixteenth birthday, 31 January 1843, was memorable, because on that day the famous evangelist from Urquhart, the Rev John Macdonald, preached at Kincardine Church, the Ross family’s parish church. It was not a Sunday service, but was in fact a Tuesday, in the middle of a cold, wet, squally winter. The Thursday before the Rev Macdonald had stopped briefly at Kincardine southbound for home. He had been preaching up in the Golspie region, on the east coast of Sutherland Shire, James’ mother Catherine’s home town. On his brief stop at Kincardine he had announced that he would be back the following week, and would preach again on Tuesday, before travelling northwest into the mountains and onwards to the West Coast.

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Kincardine Church, Ross-Shire

That Tuesday and the days following are described in the journal of one of the Rev Macdonald’s travelling companions, a certain Rev H Allan, and extracts of his journal can be found in John Kennedy’s book, The Apostle of the North. The words evoke the severity of the winter, and offer a unique glimpse into the day James Ross turned 16, when two thousand gathered to hear one man preach.

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843 - 1848) Rev Dr John Macdonald, 1843 - 1847, Salted paper print from a Calotype negative 20.2 x 14.6 cm (7 15/16 x 5 3/4 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Rev Dr John Macdonald, 1843 (see reference below)

Tuesday 31st. Rev McDonald arrived… at Kincardine about 12 noon and preached in the tent in the churchyard of Kincardine to about two thousand people… Prevented from proceeding to Assynt that evening as intended, owing to the very boisterous state of the weather. After going a short distance were obliged to put back.

Wed 1st Feb. Left Kincardine manse at half past seven. Breakfasted at Inveran, Captain Clarke’s, and proceeded by Oikel Bridge to Assynt Manse [across the mountains to the western side of Sutherland Shire], where we arrived about five o’clock, being a distance from Kincardine manse of forty miles. Encountered almost the whole way severe storms of wind, rain and sleet.

Thursday 2nd Feb. A dreadful day with drift and snow…

It was awful weather. Assynt, up in the central highlands of Sutherland Shire, is not exactly close to Kincardine, and yet they had intended to travel there from Kincardine in the evening. They were hardy men, so if they were forced to turn around the storm must have been severe. So the Rev Macdonald and his band of missionaries stayed overnight in Kincardine, just a few miles down the road from the Ross home in Gledfield. The next day they set out into the storm again, and this time succeeded in reaching their goal by nightfall, their whole journey through wind, rain and sleet, which later turned to snow.

As I read this account I have found myself wondering about that Tuesday in the churchyard of Kincardine. If two thousand assembled then surely the Ross family were among them. The whole of the Strathcarron could hardly have contained so many; people must have come from villages all round. It was James’ birthday and must have seemed special to him. He stood there in the cold and rain and wind, with the crowds, listening to the great evangelist. Macdonald preached in Gaelic, the native tongue of most of the people in the area. His journal contains a list of the texts he preached on during those days. At Kincardine it says simply that his text was Isaiah 55:3 – “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” How Macdonald expounded these words is not recorded, but he was a powerful speaker, and I suspect that what he said made a profound impact on the young man from Gledfield. It may have been the first time James had heard Macdonald preach. As he stood there in the wind and rain of the Kincardine Churchyard the words James heard spoke to a deep longing in his heart, a longing for life, for hope, for meaning. God spoke to him that day, in Gaelic, James’ native tongue: “come to me; listen, that you might live.” I believe that James responded in heart and mind with a resounding, “Yes, I come!” It may well have been this sermon that prompted him to attend the great communion meetings at Ferintosh (see my previous blog). This commitment, this agreement with God, would become his anchor in life, his firm foundation, the source of the faith and strength needed to carry him through all the trials and adventures that lay ahead.

Kincardine Church is no longer a place of worship but seems now to have become the meeting place of the local historical society. I was there with Hamish a few weeks ago, on a hunt for my ancestors. In the same churchyard where Macdonald preached are the headstones of a good many Rosses. They must have been proud to be laid to rest in what for them was holy ground, a place of spiritual awakening, of revival. James (senior) and his wife Catherine are there, as well as John, Malcolm, Catherine, Hector, and Alexander. There may be more, but I only found these. There is a Celtic Cross marking the family grave of the blacksmith’s granddaughter, Hughina Aird, who married the schoolmaster at the Gledfield School, a certain George McLeod. James Ross junior, my grandmother’s grandfather, along with his brother Andrew and two sisters Helen and Jane, are buried in Australia, migrants to the colonies of the far flung British Empire, a world away from the Scottish Highlands. The Ross family are divided in death, though they were very much together that winter day in Kincardine in 1843.

Ross graves - from left to right: John and Elizabeth, James and Catherine, Alexander and Jane, Malcolm and Jane. Behind on the right is Hughina Aird.

Ross graves – from left to right: John and Elizabeth (fallen down), James and Catherine, Alexander and Jane, Malcolm and Jane. The Celtic cross behind on the right is Hughina Aird.

I believe that, thanks in part to the dynamic ministry of the Rev John Macdonald, the Ross family had a hope that transcended life on earth, a hope of heaven. The words on the base of Hughina Aird’s gravestone bear witness to this, a reminder that this life is not all there is: “Is mise an aiseirigh agusa bheatha.” Although I do not understand this language of my forefathers, the translation as far as I can work out are the familiar words of Jesus: I am the resurrection and the life.

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Digital image of Dr Macdonald courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843 – 1848)
Rev Dr John Macdonald, 1843 – 1847, Salted paper print from a Calotype negative
20.2 x 14.6 cm (7 15/16 x 5 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Communion season in nineteenth century Ross-Shire

It seems likely that James Ross carried the name Ferintosh to Australia with him because of a profound spiritual experience that he had at Ferintosh Burn in the 1840s when the Reverend Dr John McDonald was the minister at Urquhart, the parish which contained the area known as Ferintosh. Actually, Dr McDonald had ceased being the minister at Urquhart in 1843 when the Free Church of Scotland broke away from the Church of Scotland; he became one of the first Moderators of the Free Church in 1844. He had to move out of the manse at Urquhart and became the minister of the newly built Free Church of Ferintosh. According to Kennedy in his book, The Apostle of the North,

He flitted again to a larger but not more comfortable house, and a third time time to the Free Church manse, where he spent the home share of the last three year years of his life. During the erection of new church, he preached in “the burn,” long celebrated as the place of the great communion gatherings. it was there he preached on the first Sabbath after his return from the Disruption Assembly. His Gaelic text on that day was Gal v.1, from which he preached a most stimulating and cheering sermon. (Kennedy J, The Apostle of the North, p310)

Galatians 5:1 says the following:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

The Free Church of Ferintosh still stands, with a spectacular view out over the Cromarty Firth to Dingwall. Hamish and I wandered around the churchyard but the doors were locked so we couldn’t look inside.

Hamish outside Ferintosh Free Church. Beyond lies Cromarty Firth and Dingwall.

Hamish outside Ferintosh Free Church. Beyond lies Cromarty Firth and Dingwall.

But it is the Ferintosh Burn that fascinates me, because I suspect that it was there that James Ross’s spirit was brought to life when he was a young man. The communion seasons that are spoken of so often in the literature of the time and which are still a feature of the Free Church of Scotland even today, were the Christian mega-gatherings of the day, like the Billy Graham crusades of the 1950s and 60s and the Christian conferences and conventions of today. Such gathering had many critics in those days but there was much to be said in their defence, as Kennedy observes in his writings:

Great crowds were accustomed to assemble on such occasions. As many as 10,000 people have met on a communion Sabbath, and nearly 2000 communicants have sat at the table of the Lord…

There were two great advantages attending these “public communions,” as they were called. An opportunity of fellowship was given by them to Christians from all parts of the country, who would not else have met or known each other on the earth; and the gospel was preached to a great multitude of sinners, by a variety of ministers, amidst the prayers of a great many of God’s people…

But the opportunity which was afforded, on a communion occasion, of hearing all the good ministers of the district, the proofs given of the Lord’s presence with each of them, the effect of a community of profit and enjoyment under their preaching, and the loving fellowship of such seasons, tended in a great degree to bring all these sections more closely together, and to expand their sympathies and hopes.
(Kennedy J,The Days of the Fathers in Ross Shire)

But what happened at the communion season? Here is Kennedy’s description:

A communion season is approaching. It has been timeously announced, that it may be known “far and wide,” and that the praying people may be bearing it on their spirits before the throne of grace. The minister preaches a suitable course of sermons on several preceding Sabbaths. The Lord’s people are stirred up to seek a special manifestation of His power and glory. A few, who propose to seek admission to the Lord’s table, are deeply exercised about the solemn step they contemplate, and faithfully and tenderly are they dealt with by both minister and elders. As the appointed time draws nigh, special meetings for prayer are held, and, with holy solicitude, all the preparatory arrangements are made.

The Fast-day is come. Eminent ministers have arrived to take part in the solemn services. Many of the Lord’s people are gathering. From as many as forty parishes they come; but lodgings they will easily procure, as the parish people are striving for the pleasure of entertaining them. Suitable discourses are preached in Gaelic, on the open field, and to a small English congregation, in the church, and in the evening, prayer meetings are held in the various districts of the parish.

On Friday, the day of self-examination, the only public service is in the open air. A large crowd is gathered. “In the tent” there are several godly ministers. The service is that of a fellowship meeting, such as has already been described, but now with special reference to the solemn duties of a communion Sabbath. There are two questions proposed successively to secure variety. Strangers only are called to speak, and even of these only “the flower,” for there are so many. Not fewer than thirty will have spoken before the service is over. Blessed indeed to many souls have these “Friday meetings” been.

The services on Saturday, the day of preparation, are conducted as on Thursday, but, owing to the gathering influx of strangers, the congregation outside is greatly larger than on the Fast-day. At the close of the service, tokens are distributed. Prayer meetings are held throughout the parish in the evening; and while the ministers are preparing for the solemn work of the Sabbath, many are the petitions that ascend in their behalf, to Him who hath “the treasure” to dispense, and of whom is “the excellency of the power.” In many instances, these prayer meetings have been protracted all night. So sensible were the people of the presence of the Lord, that they could not forsake the place where they enjoyed it; and they found “the joy of the Lord” a sweet substitute for sleep.

On Sabbath, the day of Communion, an immense crowd is gathered before the tent. As many as eight thousand are there. The “Beauty of the Lord,” is on the assembly of His people; and before the service is over, many a soul has had reason to say, “it is good to be here.”

On Monday, the day of thanks-giving, a crowd almost as large as that on Sabbath is assembled and often has “the last” been found to be the “great day of the feast.” The closing service of the communion season is now over, and then comes the solemn parting! How affecting do the Lord’s servants and people feel the scene before them to be, as that multitude disperses, never to meet all together again, till the vast congregation of “the last day” has assembled! What touching farewells are now exchanged between the Christians who enjoyed with each other, and together with the Lord, such sweet communion since they met a few days before! There are few tearless eyes, but the weeping is expressive of gratitude as surely as of sorrow. Such was a communion season in the good days of the Fathers in Ross-shire.

Such communion seasons were probably held at Ferintosh only once a year, probably in the summer – July or August. James Ross was 16 in the year that the Free Church was formed. The five years that followed probably laid the spiritual foundation for his life. I believe he left Scotland in 1848 or 1849. He would live in England, Wales and finally Australia. But he would take the name of Ferintosh and the memory of those days with him wherever he went. How it showed itself in the rest of his life is hard to know. I have no descriptions (nor photos) of James Ross. My grandmother, Winifred Ross was born in 1901, 9 years after James died in 1892. She knew of him only what her father told her. I don’t remember her ever speaking of him.

I tried to imagine James and his family among the immense crowds gathering at the Ferintosh Burn when I was wandering those pleasant fields with Hamish a few weeks back. It is quiet and peaceful there now. But how would it have been with thousands of others there? What effect would the preaching of the great “fathers” have had on me, I wonder?

The fields around Ferintosh Burn, where crowds of up to ten thousand gathered for the Communion season.

The fields around Ferintosh Burn, where crowds of up to ten thousand gathered for the Communion season.

Strathcarron and Gledfield

In 1841 my grandmother’s grandfather James Ross was 14 years old. He lived in the village of Gledfield, in Ross-shire with his parents and siblings. He was a child of the Scottish Highlands. His father, who had the same name, was a blacksmith. James got his middle name, Urquhart, from his mother, Catherine.

Gledfield lies near the outlet of the Carron River, where it flows into Dornoch Firth, on the eastern coast of Scotland. The Carron is formed from the confluence of three other streams, flowing down from the mountains to the sea. The river valley is called the Strathcarron, and in the 1840s it was, according to John Prebble, like this:

It was a shallow green valley, an arm reaching westward from the Kyle of Sutherland for nine miles and them clawing at the escarpment of Bodach Mor with three fingers – the narrow ravines of Strath Cuileannach, Strath Alladale and Glencalvie. Down these ran three streams to make the black roll of the River Carron. The land was divided into two estates, Greenyards which formed most of the valley from its elbow to the Kyle, and Glencalvie where the waters of the ravines met on an urlar (from Scottish Gaelic ùrlar meaning “floor”), a green grass floor by the township of Amat.

Four to five hundred people lived in the strath, and their little holdings were pinned to the shawl of the hills by brooches of birch and oak. Most of them were Rosses or Munros by name, though their sennachie, their bard and historian, was John Chisholm, a blind old man who lived at the mouth of the valley. Sitting at the door of his cottage in a blue coat with yellow buttons, a Glengarry on his head, he told the people stories of their ancient feuds with the Mackays. He said that there had been Rosses in the Strathcarron for five hundred years… (John Prebble, The Highland Clearances, p.207)

The Carron River nowadays seems to be sought after for trout and salmon fishing.

The Strathcarron - scene of clearances in 1845 and 1854

The Strathcarron – scene of clearances in 1845 and 1854

But in the 1840s and 50s the Strathcarron became known to the wider public through the publication of a number of articles in The Times and other newspapers, which described the horrifying events of the clearances of those areas in 1845 (Glencalvie) and 1854 (Greenyards), the latter of which became known as The Slaughter of the Strathcarron. Prebble describes the Greenyards estate of the Carron valley as follows:

The area to be cleared was a long, green stretch on both sides of the Carron, eastward from its second bend to the low ground at Gledfield by the mouth of the strath. Here the river flows more slowly than at the mountain angle of Glencalvie, turning in black coils about flat meadows. The hills above it are gentle and brown. The people, who lived in turf and stone townships at calling distance, had uneasy memories of Glencalvie. Some could remember Culrain thirty four years before, and there were a few whose memories stretched as far back as The Year of the Sheep (1792). (John Prebble, The Highland Clearances, p.227).

Our family, the Rosses of Gledfield, lived in the valley through these eventful years. James Ross (senior) was born there in 1794, two years after the so called Year of the Sheep, and Catherine Urquhart, his wife to be, in 1800. They married in 1825, 5 years after the clearance at Culrain, which must have been clear and fresh in their memories. Their son James Ross, who would leave Scotland for England in the late 1840s, and leave England for Australia in the 1860s, was born in 1827. When the clearances at Glencalvie took place in 1845 he was 18 years old. By the time of the clearance of the lower Carron Valley in 1854 James had left Scotland, but must have been horrified to read the stories of his Highland home in letters from family and the press. His parents and many of his siblings were still living in Gledfield at that time, witnesses to the terrible happenings of those years.

John Christopher Hickson (1848-1945)

Donald Robinson, a former Archbishop of Sydney, writes (around 1960):

The Hicksons were an old Protestant family whose Hickson forebears had crossed to Ireland from England in the time of Cromwell. Their ancestral seat was “The Grove” at Dingle, 30 miles or more west of Tralee in county Kerry, and a few miles from the western extremity of Ireland.

Don Robinson and Dad (who are cousins) are great grandsons of John Hickson (1848-1945), the youngest son of Richard and Mary Hickson, who lived in the early 1800s in Country Kerry. Don has written a fascinating account of John Hickson, which I will quote in full below. Two other brothers, William and George, as well as a sister, Kate, are mentioned by name in this account, since they all migrated to Australia, though William first migrated to America and later to Australia. William, who was 15 years older than John, is of equal interest to me because Mum was descended from him. Mum and Dad are therefore distantly related to each other, though they had no idea of this at the time they married.

Don’s account of John Christopher Hickson (slightly edited) is as follows:

JCH was born on the 2 September 1848 and bred in the small town called Killorglin, on the Laune River as it flows from the Killarney Lakes to the sea. Some part of his boyhood was spent in the picturesque village of Sneem, on the wild rocky coast Kerry, where he had Needham relatives. He was the youngest of a large family, which dispersed to various parts of the world. His mother, Mary Ann (nee Carter), and some of his brothers and sisters died in Killorglin, but his father Richard, a shopkeeper, went with his elder brother William to America, Richard lies buried in North Cemetery at Providence, near Boston.

JCH came to Australia alone (a doctor advised a warm climate for his weak chest) and went to work for George Hudson the timber merchant. Impatient of his slow progress, he began his own timber business, and soon owned his own mills at Nabiac on the Walamba River, and a yard at Darling Harbour, at the foot of Liverpool Street. He was always an enthusiast for the possibilities of Australia, and he persuaded his brother William to come here from America, and another brother George from Ireland, who married Agnes Harper in St. Phillip’s on 9 November 1870. His sister Kate also settled here, and married Hugh Breckenridge, an artist. A daughter of Robert Breckenridge, Hugh’s brother, subsequently owned “The Grange” at Mount Victoria, formerly owned by the Schleichers, and today by the C.S.S.M.

JCH was a member of the first Sydney Regiment when it was formed in the 1860’s. On 25 January 1872, he married Martha Watts who had been born in Balmain N.S.W. on the 20th June 1848, to William Watts, farmer and Mary nee (Mountgarret), then living in Balmain. The marriage was at St. Luke’s Sussex St., Sydney (now demolished) By Rev. Thomas Unwin. They had eleven children: Alice (Mrs. Ross), Edith (Mrs. Layton), George, Mabel (Mrs. Robinson), Maud, Aubrey, Stanley, Percy, Eunice, Hilda (Mrs. Doyle) and Roland. Maud died as a child. My grandmother Alice, was the eldest of the family. She was born on 10 November 1872, at Botany Road, Waterloo.

The Hickson home was later in Cleveland Street facing Albert Park, and is perhaps still standing. But while Alice was still a girl, JCH moved to Summer Hill at which time my grandmother attended the first service in the new St Andrew’s Church on 5 September 1885, when the Rector John Vaughan preached on the text “Come and See”. In the 1880’s JCH moved again to a house called “The Grove” in Liverpool St. Enfield, and I still have the use of a Latin dictionary which bears Alice’s name, with “High School Sydney, 1886” inscribed. The Hicksons were associated with St. Thomas’s Church at Enfield, where Alice was prepared for confirmation by Rev. E. S. Wilkinson, and where she was later married by him on the 24th, August, 1896, the first couple married in the renovated St. Thomas’s Church.

In 1893 JCH made a trip around the world, including a visit to the World Fair at Chicago and pilgrimage to his old family haunts in Ireland. He had friends and relatives (many from Kerry like himself) in a number of places both in America and the British Isles; one such was the Rev. B Needham, a relative, minister of the Baptist Church in Coatesville, near Philadelphia; and a friend of boyhood days, who showed many kindnesses in London, was the chief inspector at Scotland Yard, Mr. Melville. JCH took my grandmother (Alice, then aged 21) with him on this trip, partly, it is said, to prevent a romance with Richard Byrne (who had been born in Killarney, Ireland, and whose family was well known to the Hicksons.) She seems to have had a gay time on the trip. JCH published an account of his journey under the title “Notes of Travel, From Pacific to Atlantic’, with description of the World fair at Chicago, and travels by sea and land around the world. It was printed at Parramatta by Fuller’s Lighting Printing Works Company, and ran to about 80 octavo pages. Much of the information of his early years has been obtained from this, and it contains some interesting material, including the fact they went to hear D.L. Moody preach a number of times in Chicago, and on one occasion JCH pushed through the throng to speak to and shake the hand of the great evangelist.

On 24 August 1895, shortly after their return, Alice married my grandfather, William Frederick Ross, of Heydon St., Enfield.

JCH continued to prosper, and at this time owned a timber yard near Burwood station in Railway Parade, where the Metropolitan Funeral Home now stands. He bought a holiday home on the southern highlands at Balmoral – ‘Glen Gariffe’, (named after a town in Ireland), where my mother spent many holidays as a girl. When he was only 46, at the time of his trip abroad, he had retired from active work, and about 1906 he moved from Enfield to Manly, where he bought a large house, ‘Kyamba’ (still standing 1960), in Addison Road, and lived on the income from his various properties.

In 1911 he went to England again, for the coronation of George V, with his wife. On the return journey Martha caught cholera at Naples, and was buried in the Mediterranean Sea on the 18th July 1911. Four months after his arrival home, JCH married again, to Miss Alice Elizabeth Hammett, who had been on the ship (coming out to marry someone in Western Australia) and had nursed Martha Hickson, on the voyage.

JCH became a churchwarden and treasurer at St. Matthew’s Manly, and when the new church was built he was the clerk of works. He fell out with the Rector, the Rev. A.R. Ebbs, over matters of financial policy.

When Alice Elizabeth died, JCH, now 77, went to England again and returned with a third bride, Isabel Hewitt Parkinson who survived him. He placed a fine brass Lectern in St. Matthew’s in memory of Alice Elizabeth. His later years were spent in a flat at number 9 Victoria Parade, Manly, where he died in 1945 at the age of 97. He had hoped to live to be 100, to see his descendants to the fourth generation, and to see the end of the war. But none of these hopes was fulfilled. He paid my university fees in 1941, and offered to do so for the rest of my course, but the war interrupted my studies. He left 100 pounds to each of his great grandsons. He retained his faculties to the end of his life, and enjoyed conversations with S.M. Johnstone and T. C. Hammond, both Irishmen like himself.

He never forgave my grandmother for her second marriage, when she was 70, to Dick Byrne.

When he first married and lived in Redfern, JCH was friendly with Nathaniel Taubman, my wife’s grandfather with whom he used to walk to work in Waterloo.

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