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THE INNESES OF THURSATER

The estate of Thursater is in the parish of Thurso.
In 2002 the farm of Oust [parish of Thurso] was owned by Alan and James Innes

The historian of the family of Innes of Innes asserts that they possessed "the third rig of Caithness, which they kept till the year 1540", and he supposes that they may have acquired some part of their Caithness possessions as early as 1260 or 1270. The editor of Forbes' account of the family, however, had been unable to discover any evidence of their having held lands in Caithness previous to 1507, at which date Alexander, son and heir of Alexander Innes of Innes, got a charter of Dunbeath, Reay, and Sandside. In 1541 and 1564 he obtained charters of various lands in Latheron, Wick, and Thurso parishes, which had previously belonged to the Oliphants; but these the Innes family do not appear to have held for any length of time. In 1529 Dunbeath, Reay, and Sandside had passed into the hands of the Sinclairs, that being about the time of the marriage of Alexander Sinclair of Stemster to Elizabeth Innes.

It is not known what was Elizabeth Innes's connection with the family of Innes; but about the middle of the seventeenth century, Margaret; only daughter of Alexander Innes of Innes, married William Sinclair of Dunbeath, the son and heir of Alexander Sinclair and Elizabeth Innes. In addition to these, several intermarriages took place between the house of Innes and the Caithness family.

Other branches of the family, or at least persons bearing the family name, had a more permanent connection with the county, namely, the Inneses of Thursater and their collaterals, and the Inneses of Sandside.

I. The first notice we have of the Inneses of Thursater is in 1560, when "Maister Walter Innes of Thursater" appears as witness to a charter of the lands of Westerseat, granted by John, Earl of Sutherland, to Hutcheon Murray or Pyper, which was signed at Scrabster on 30th December in that year. In 1554 and 1566 a Mr. Walter Innes was vicar of Thurso, and he is also mentioned as having obtained from the Bishop in 1564 a lease of lands in Brims, adjoining Thursater. There can be little doubt of the identity of "Mr. Walter", the vicar, with "Maister Walter of Thursater", "Maister" having been the usual title of a preacher.

From 1567 down to 1582 Thursater was possessed by William Innes, who is described as of Thursater and portioner of Brims. He was also Bailie to the Bishop of Caithness. He had a son, Robert, who died before him.

It appears from a discharge dated 25th November 1582, and signed at Girnigo by William Innes, who is therein designed "of Bryms", that his son, Robert, married Margaret Sinclair, "Oy" or grandchild of George, fourth Earl of Caithness; and the discharge acknowledges payment of 100 merks from the Earls son, George, Chancellor of Caithness, as in full satisfaction of 300 merks promised by the Earl in the contract of marriage of his "Oy". Whose daughter Margaret Sinclair was is not mentioned. Her name does not occur in the family pedigree, and it may have been that she was a daughter of William, the elder brother of the Chancellor, if she was not a daughter of the Chancellor himself.

II. ROBERT INNES had five sons: -

  1. John
  2. Robert of Owst
  3. George of Skaill
  4. Alexander of Borrowstoun
  5. James in Watten
III. JOHN INNES OF THURSATER, eldest son of Robert, married Isobel Innes, and had three sons: -
  1. Robert, fiar of Thursater
  2. William
  3. Walter
IV. ROBERT INNES OF THURSATER had a son and a daughter: -
  1. James, his successor
  1. Janet
V. JAMES INNES OF THURSATER married in 1656 Barbara, daughter of John Murray of Pennyland; she must have been his second wife. James Innes had two sons and a daughter: -
  1. Robert, his successor
  2. John, surgeon in Edinburgh in 1683
  1. Margaret, who married William Sinclair of Thrumster, son of John, older of Brims, and grandson of John Sinclair of Ulbster - his father and elder brother, both afterwards of Ulbster, being parties to the contract of marriage
VI. ROBERT INNES OF THURSATER received a disposition from his father, James, in 1665. He was apparently not the son of Barbara Murray, who married his father only in 1656. Robert had two sons: -
  1. James, younger of Thursater, in 1668
  2. William
James Innes of Thursater is found in the Kirk-Session Records as an Elder in 1666 and 1667, and there was a James Innes also in 1675.

James Innes of Thursater, "grandson of Robert Innes", was infeft in 1684, on a precept of clare constat, and was, it is presumed, the son of James, who was younger of Thursater in 1668, and afterwards of Thursater.

From 1684 there is no certain account of this family; but the last-mentioned James Innes appears to have had a son, Robert. At all events, in 1705, John Sinclair of Brims was infeft on a disposition of Thursater and Easter Brims, granted by Robert Innes of Thursater. There is a tradition that the last laird of Thursater was accustomed to attend the kirk of Thurso (of which he was an elder) with his "twelve children", which may account for the extinction of the family estate.

In 1718 a daughter of John Calder of Strath was the wife of James Innes in Thrumster, who was afterwards in Ollaclate. Their son, William, was also in Ollaclate, and was father of the late Major James Innes of Thrumster, and it is thought that the connection traditionally said to exist between the Inneses of Thursater and the Inneses of Thrumster was through this James Innes of 1718, and that he was probably the son or grandson of the last Innes of Thursater.

Reverting to the other sons of Robert Innes and Margaret Sinclair, there were:-

I. ROBERT INNES OF OUST, in 1633, who married Elizabeth Sinclair, and died before 1671, leaving two sons and three daughters: -

  1. George
  2. John
  1. Jean, who married Thomas Gunn or Rorieson in Thurdistoft [parish of Thurso]
  2. Margaret, who married James Innes of Borrowstoun
  3. Janet, who married John Forbes in Achscrabster [parish of Thurso], in 1674
There were apparently two families of Inneses of Oust, as we find in 1671 Elspeth Innes, relict of William Innes of Oust, her eldest son.

II. GEORGE INNES OF OUST married Katharine, daughter of Alexander Sinclair of Forss, and had a son, John.

III. JOHN INNES OF OUST appears from 1677 to 1682. He married Anna, daughter of William Sutherland of Langwell, a branch of the Sutherlands of Forse. They had a son and a daughter: -

  1. John, to whom his uncle, James Sutherland of Langwell, was tutor
  1. Marion, who, in May 1703, married John, eldest son of Robert Calder in Winless, with consent of her mother, who was then wife of Alexander Calder of Achingale. Her tocher was 2800 merks.

Of the Oust branch there is no further account.

The third son of Robert Innes of Thursater was George Innes of Skaill, who had a son, Walter.

Walter Innes of Skaill married Katharine, daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Murkle, and had issue: -

  1. John, who, as younger of Skaill, is included in the criminal letters in 1668 against the gentlemen of Caithness for their raid into Strathmore
  2. Walter
  1. Mary, who married Angus McKay of Golval, Strathnaver
The fourth son of Robert Innes of Thursater was Alexander Innes of Borrowstown, who married Margaret Miller, and had a son, James.

James Innes of Borrowstown married his cousin, Margaret, daughter of Robert Innes of Oust, and had a daughter, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Innes married Henry Budge, son of Robert Budge in Stainland.

These Inneses of Oust, Skaill, and Borrowstown held their several lands, not as proprietors, but under the redeemable tenure of wadsets, although during the subsistence of the wadsets the holders exercised the usual rights of proprietors. A great portion of the lands in the county was held at this period in a similar way, and until comparatively recent times the number of absolute proprietors was limited.

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