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Caithness like Orkney became wealthy in the Norse period owing to its corn trade. So great was the agricultural wealth of Orkney and Caithness at that time that their jal took precedence at the court of Norway over all the other Norse nobility.

For centuries there was an export trade in cattle and corn from Thurso to the lowlands of Scotland and to the Baltic ports, yet the methods of cultivation remained primitive till toward the end of the eighteenth century. The system of short leases and payment of rent by services as well as in kind was detrimental to progress in agriculture. In the eighteenth century, however, an era of improvement was inaugurated by Sir John Sinclair, who about 1770 took the lead in farming the Board of Agriculture - then a sort of voluntary organization under government patronage. By the end of the century enclosure of fields, rotation of crops, and improvements of stock and implements became general among the landlords of the county. Potatoes were introduced about 1760 and the cultivation of a turnip crop became general after 1780. Large farms were formed by throwing together a number of small holdings. Messrs Paterson and Purves deserve mention as great improvers of land and stock in the early part of the nineteenth century. Large grazing farms wore formed in the upland parts of t he county. Cheviot and blackfaced sheep replaced the old native breeds. The dwellings of the smaller tenants as well as their offices were greatly improved.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the county acquired a good reputation for high-bred horses and cattle. The Clydesdales, shorthorns, and Border Leicesters of Caithness rank among the best. The reputation for cattle and corn is now such as enables Caithness to take a leading place among the agricultural counties of Scotland.

In 1913 there were 5652 horses in the county, of which 4074 were in use for the purposes of agriculture. There were 21,539 cattle, of which 6420 were cows in milk. The total number of sheep was 126,775 and of pigs 1292.

Out of a total area of 438,833 acres there were 111,617 under crops and grass. The chief crop is oats, which in 1911 was grown upon an area of 31,512 acres, producing 145,849 quarters of grain - a quantity exceeded in none of the other Highland counties and in only eight counties of Scotland. No wheat is grown in the county as the surface is too cold and bare. In 1911 rye was grown only upon 4 acres, peas 3 acres, and onions 1 acre. The area under potatoes in 1915 was 1498 acres. The potato crop is usually good. Hay and pasture, which covered 36,954 acres in that year, do not as a rule give a large return.

There are 68 farms in Caithness of over 300 acres and this number has remained constant for a good many years. On the other hand, during the past twenty years the number of holdings above 50 acres and under 300 acres has increased from 360 to 397. In 1911 the number of holdings under 50 acres which were rented from proprietors was 2231, while only 28 small holdings were in the occupation of the owner. Of the holdings above 50 acres, 18 were occupied by the owner and 447 rented or mainly rented from proprietors.

According to the hypothetical estimates of the value of produce contained in the Agricultural Statistics for 1913, the produce of Caithness for that year was as follows:-

Barley 3,570 qrs. at 29/2 £5,206

Oats 145,849 qrs. at 20/10 £151,926

Potatoes 7,585 tons at 54/- £20,479

Hay 10,951 tons at 75/6 £41,340


Value of horses £150,000

cattle £340,000

sheep £200,000

pigs and poultry £10,000


Fishing and other Industries

Like Lerwick, Leith, and the Aberdeenshire ports, Wick is a leading centre of the Scottish fishing industry. When the harbour is extended and repaired in accordance with present plans, the position of Wick will no doubt he improved. The proposed extension is estimated to cost £150,000. Grants in aid are to be given by the Development Commissioners and by the Treasury.

The quantity of fish landed at Wick in 1911 was 553,868 cwts., valued at £185,106. The quantity for 1911 had been exceeded in the previous year, but the value for that year constituted a record. During the herring season in July and August many boats from other ports fish at Wick. In 1911 the fishing fleet (including both home fleet and strangers) consisted of about 200 steam fishing boats and 240 motor and sail boats, of which 23 steam vessels and 55 motor and sail boats are registered at the port of Wick. The value of fish landed at Keiss and Lybster in 1911 was £1460, mostly obtained for shell fish (lobsters and crabs). The value of the Stroma fishing for 1911 (chiefly cod and lobster) amounted to £1550, while that at Thurso and Scrabster yielded £2099. The number of local men engaged in fishing is everywhere declining. It would seem that the younger men are not taking to a seafaring life and the inshore white fishing is declining at several of the smaller stations. Prior to the war the foreign shipments of herring to Germany and Russia were considerable, amounting in 1911 to over 160,000 barrels. There is also a growing trade with America.

Wick has several subsidiary industries, such as barrel making, net making, boat building, and others which flourish alongside of the fishing industry.

The salmon fishings of Thurso river are of considerable importance, the assessed rental for 1911 being £1638. District Fishery Boards have recently been constituted for the waters of Wick and Dunbeath. In many of the lochs and smaller streams good baskets of trout are to be obtained, and these fishings form an attractive recreation to numerous sportsmen.

The flagstone industry, which was founded at Castletown and Thurso in 1837 by Mr Traill of Rattar, formed a valuable source of wealth to the county but, owing to the introduction of concrete pavements and manufactured paving blocks, this industry has declined,

Caithness is not a mining county. To meet local needs, good building stone is quarried in various parts of the county. The older rock formations provide harder and coarser material employed in the manufacture of road metal, Limestone is scarce and a good deal has to be imported for agricultural purposes. The number of persons engaged in mines and quarries in 1911 was 114 and there were 62 stonecutters.

Shipping and Trade

Until the rise of the herring-fishing industry at Wick towards the end of the eighteenth century, Thurso was the chief centre of trade and shipping in Caithness. Prior to that time Wick was a mere village, while Thurso maintained a considerable trade, not only with the south of Scotland but with the Low Countries and the Hanse towns, Indeed it continued for centuries to occupy a position among the Scottish seaports.

The importance of Wick as a trading port began in 1808, when the harbour was constructed and Pulteneytown founded by the British Fishery Society. From that time there was a rapid extension in the export trade in herrings, and the population of Wick soon exceeded that of Thurso. About 1840 regular steam communication was established between Wick and Aberdeen.

From that year until the extension of the railway to Wick and Thurso in 1874, the steamers of the Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company provided the chief means of transport of Caithness produce to the southern markets as well as of import of necessary commodities. There soon followed a reduction in the number and tonnage of coasting vessels, which had for many generations maintained the trade of Caithness with the outer world. The extension of the railway was a further blow to this coasting trade, which has now

shrunk to a few vessel in the coal trade. The only other harbour of any importance on the Caithness coast is the fishing port of Lybster.

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