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THE SINCLAIRS OF BORLUM, TOFTKEMP, AND THURA

The estate of Borlum is in the parish of Reay.
The estates of Toftkemp and Thura are in the parish of Bower.

In the South or "Murkle Aisle" of the parish church of Thurso there is a mural inscription on the north-west wall, in the following terms: -

"This is the burial-place of James Sinclair of Borlum; and here lyes James Sinclair his eldest son and his spouse, Eliz. Innes, who left behind them the Revd. Mr. John Sinclair who was Rector of James interred in Leckpatrick nigh Strabane in Ireland 1665".

"Here lyes Isabel Sinclair who was married to the Revd. George Anderson Minister of Halkirk; and Elizabeth Sinclair married to John Farquhr, Bailze of Thurso; and Margaret Sinclair spouse to George Sinclair in Ulgrimbeg".

Isabel Sinclair was the grand-daughter of James Sinclair of Borlum, and it is thought that Elizabeth and Margaret were probably her sisters; that all three were daughters of James Sinclair, the eldest son of Borlum, and that George Sinclair, the husband of Margaret, was a grandson of John Sinclair, first of Assery.

Who James Sinclair of Borlum was is very uncertain. He may have been a grandson of William Sinclair of Dunbeath, to whom Brubster, Brims, Toftkemp, and Borlum, Toftkemp, and Thura belonged: Borlurm's name occurs in common with all these places in the county records from 1624 to 1646 ; or he may have been of the family of Murkle, and if so, he may have been a brother of John Sinclair, first of Assery, and a son of James Sinclair, first of Murkle.

In McKay's history it is mentioned that James Sinclair of Borlum was killed (time not stated) by one Neil McKay, for the share he had in the slaughter of the latter's father in an affray in Thurso, about 1648, with which Murkle was concerned. Then, Murkle was cautioner for him and for his own son, John Sinclair of Assery, in 1637; and frequent marriages took place between the immediate descendants of Sinclair of Borlum and Sinclair of Assery. Thus, Borlum's son, Major William Sinclair, married Assery's grand-daughter, Margaret Doull; Borlum's grand-daughter, Jean Sinclair, married Assery's great-grandson, Alexander Sinclair; and Borlum's grandson, Richard of Thura, married Elizabeth, daughter of George Sinclair of Assery. It may be noticed also that James Sinclair of Murkle is found as cautioner for John Sinclair of Assery, his son, and James of Borlum, and that John Sinclair, fourth of Sybster, the son of Assery, is cautioner in 1658 in the marriage contract of Borlum's daughter, Jean.

On the other hand, if James Sinclair was of the Dunbeath family, he was probably the son of George Sinclair of Downreay, the youngest son of William Sinclair.

It is certain, at all events, that there were transactions between James Sinclair and the descendants of William Sinclair in relation to lands which belonged to the family, Thura. In particular, there is mention of a renunciation of rights held by Borlum over Spittal, granted by him, in 1649, to John Sinclair of Brims, grandson of Dunbeath. This deed, if extant, would perhaps throw light on his history.

Reference is made to notes on Sinclairs of Dunbeath and Stemster as to younger branches of Dunbeath family. Mr. Alexander Sinclair was of opinion that there was a connection between the Sinclairs of Borlum and Wester-Brims, and the Sinclairs of Brims descended from the Sinclairs of Dunbeath.

A few years ago a family of Sinclairs of Holyhill, in Ireland (of whom notice will be found in "Burke"), claiming to be descended from a "Sir James Sinclair of Caithness", made inquiries in regard to their Caithness ancestry. There is no doubt that this family is descended from a clergyman named James Sinclair, rector of Strathbane, a grandson of James Sinclair of Borlum, while the tradition among them that their ancestor was a Sir James Sinclair strengthens the supposition that Borlum was of the Murkle family. John Sinclair of Freswick writes in 1782 from Knaresboro': "At York therse a. very respectable sensible man, Councillor Robert Sinclair of the Holyhill family in Ireland. He has a property there of 400 a year; is marry't here to a lady of good family, by whom he will get 10,000. The late Mr. Pope of Reay knew to what family in Caithness they were connected. He wants to know his descent, when: they emigrate, or when came of the Caithness family".

In 1853 a letter was received by the late Sir John Sinclair (Barrock) from a gentleman in Ireland to the following effect: "In tracing the pedigree of the Lowry family of the County Tyrone in this country, I find that, early in the 18th century, Robert Lowry, grandfather of the first Lord Belmore, married Miss Sinclair, daughter of the Rev. James Sinclair of Holyhill, County Down, and grand-daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Caithness. Could you assist me in identifying this Sir James, as I am induced, as a matter of family history, to trace this if possible". This no doubt has reference to the family of the Rev. James Sinclair.

JAMES SINCLAIR OF BORLUM had four sons, James, Alexander, William, and Robert, and a daughter, Jean.

  1. James Sinclair of Wester-Brims married Elspeth or Elizabeth Innes, probably of the Inneses of Thursater and Wester-Brims, and died before 1659, leaving a son, John, and several daughters. The existence and history of John Sinclair, his son, are clearly shown by the inscription (given above) in Thurso Old Kirk, and by the statements in a contract, dated 23d September 1659 (Sheriff-Court Records, 1665), between Elizabeth Innes, his mother, and his uncle, Alexander Sinclair of Telstane. James Sinclair of Thura (Borlum), as principal, and his son, James of Wester-Brims, as cautioner, had come under certain obligations which Elspeth Innes, as executrix of her husband, had to pay. She led an adjudication of the lands of Thura and Toftkemp, then possessed by Major William Sinclair, for 1600 merks, and she assigned the decreet to Alexander Sinclair of Telstane and his wife, Isabel Cunningham; he becoming bound to lead an adjudication against John, son of James of Wester-Brims, as heir of line to his grandfather, James of Thura and Borlum. This assignation is drawn by John Cunningham, advocate, no doubt the brother of Isabel Cunningham, and afterwards Sir John of Caprington - (Vide Cunninghams). Further, in a deed executed by Elizabeth Innes, as relict of James Sinclair of Wester Brims, in connection with the sale of Brims, in 1660, to John Sinclair of Tannoch, mention is made of her son, Mr. John Sinclair, minister of Leckpatrick, in Ireland. James Sinclair had certainly three daughters:

    1. Isabell, who married the Reverend George Anderson, minister of Halkirk, as mentioned in the inscription above quoted;
    2. Jean, who married Alexander Sinclair, notary-public in Thurso;
    3. a third daughter, who married Alexander Abernethy, in Swordale, and thereafter Alexander Mulliken, in Papigo, chamberlain to the Earl of Caithness
  2. Captain Alexander Sinclair, second son of James Sinclair of Borlum and Thura, was first of Bowertower, and afterwards of Telstane (now Hempriggs), of which he held a wadset from the Earl of Caithness. He married Isabel, the daughter according to Douglas of William Cunningham of Broomhill, but more probably of John Cunningham of Brownhill. Captain Sinclair had two sons, John (1683) and James, and two daughters, Katharine, "Lady Dun", wife of William Sinclair of Dun, and thereafter of Alexander Sutherland of Ausdale, by whom she had a daughter, Isabella; his second daughter married one John Fullerton In 1666 there is on record an inhibition at the instance of John, Alexander, George, Elizabeth, and Margaret Sinclair, as "lawful heirs" of Alexander Sinclair of Telstane. It is not explained who these persons were, or what was their relationship to Alexander Sinclair.

  3. Major William Sinclair of Thura, third son of James of Borlum, got a disposition of the estate from his father in 1651. He served in the German wars, and was in the fight at Aultimarloch in 1680, on the side of the Sinclairs. He married Margaret, daughter of John Doull of Thuster, Wick, and grand-daughter of John Sinclair, first of Assery. He had three sons and a daughter:
    1. John, afterwards of Thura, who disponed the estate in 1702 to his brother, Richard;
    2. Richard of Thura, who married Elizabeth, daughter of George Sinclair of Assery, had: -
      1. Captain John Sinclair, who sold the lands in 1754 to Daniel Taylor;
    3. James, of whom there is no account; and
    4. Jean
  4. Robert Sinclair, fourth son of James of Borlum, had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married Donald Henderson in Sibster, afterwards in Achalibster. - Vide Hendersons of Westerdale
  1. Jean, the daughter of James Sinclair of Borlum, married, in 1658, Alexander Steill, who is designed as "servitor to the Earl of Caithness". Her brothers, Captain Alexander and Major William, were parties to the contract of marriage, and her tocher was 1000 merks

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