Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page


1748 - 61

The fourth Lord Reay finished off a liberal education at home by travel on the Continent and some sojourn with maternal relatives in Holland, after 1723. At this period there were two Mackay families domiciled in Holland, to both of which the young Master of Reay was closely related, viz., that of the deceased General Hugh of Scoury, and that of the deceased General the Hon. Æneas, progenitor of the Dutch Mackays. Besides these, other representatives of various Strathnaver families were officers in the Dutch army, and as they generally secured commissions by raising a certain number of recruits, it is safe to conclude that there was at this time a little colony of Mackays in Holland.

We drew attention in an earlier memoir to the close connection existing between Strathnaver and Holland, a state of matters which continued till well on into the second half of the 18th century. In the Records of the Presbytery of Tongue we often come across entries in which it is stated that fugitives from Church discipline, chiefly for breaches of the seventh commandment, are serving abroad in Flanders. And the ministers of the Presbytery are on such intimate terms with the chaplains of the regiments in which the delinquents are serving, that the said chaplains are duly informed of the charges laid against the martial swains. It appears from the Scots Brigade in Holland that these Scots regiments had regularly organised sessions, drawn up on the model of a Scots Presbyterian congregation, and that they cherished some of the home prejudices with true perfervidum ingenium Scotorum.

In one of the Scots regiments the chaplain resolved to drop "taking out the line" at the singing, but Colonel Gordon objected and sent peremptory orders to continue the old-fashioned way of singing. The chaplain replies: -

"That the new way of singing the Psalms hath been earnestly recommended these many years past by the General Assembly, and is now practised by the greatest part of the congregations in Scotland, and indeed in all Protestant churches. We did not imagine that you would have disapproved of our proceedings, and hope that upon this representation, after seriously considering the matter, you will see no reason to do so; and it will give us great pleasure to be informed that you are satisfied with our conduct, tho' as a session we conceived that we are only accountable to a superior Church Court." [Scots Brigade in Holland Vol III Page 298]

After prolonged bickering over this matter, the difficulty was overcome by transferring the innovating chaplain into another regiment, but the custom of "taking out the line " continues to be cherished in some parts of Strathnaver to this day.

In the last memoir we described the plantation of churches and the erection of the Presbytery of Tongue: we shall now endeavour to indicate the consequent moral development of the people, and the means used to this end, as these are recorded in the Records of Presbytery - parish records are for the most part non-existent. At the first meeting of Presbytery, 5th Oct 1726, a minute of Assembly was engrossed in the Record, from which it appears that the parishes of Farr, Tongue, Durness, and Ederachilis, disjoined from the Presbytery of Caithness, and the parishes of Kildonan and Assint disjoined from the Presbytery of Dornoch, form the newly erected Presbytery. Kildonan, however, never seems to have been really united to Tongue, and in a few years Assint reverted to Dornoch, so that the Presbytery of Tongue became co-extensive with the country of Strathnaver eventually.

At this first meeting of Presbytery, letters were read from the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge and from "the Committee for the Reformation of the Highlands, containing directions relative to missionaries employed upon the king's bounty". The former society was wholly religious, but the latter committee was semi-political and made it its business to foster Presbyterianism, with a view to engender loyalty to the house of Hanover. All those employed by this committee must be sound Hanoverians. On account of the "clamant state" of Assint, "wholly destitute of any means of instruction," a letter was addressed by the Presbytery to the "Committee for the Reformation of the Highlands", craving the services of an itinerant preacher for the said parish. A little later, we read that "Lady Assint" and her friends are Papistical and Jacobite. As for Durness,

"The Presbytery finding that the parish of Durness is divided by a Kyle, so that there must be another preaching place besides the kirk, appoint that when my Lord Reay or his eldest son lives at Durness, the minister preach four Sabbaths in the kirk and the fifth at Westmoin"; but when none of the Reay family are in residence at Durness, only three at the kirk and the fourth at Westmoin". And they further recommend him to have one discourse in English, at least each Sabbath, at Durness".

On the 4th January, 1727, the Presbytery acknowledge receipt of "48 copies of the Confession of Faith in Irish", from the "Committee for the Reformation of the Highlands", for use within their bounds. Not long after this, they receive from the same quarter some copies of the Shorter Catechism in the same language. While both the Church and the Reformation Committee were busily scattering Catechisms and Confessions of Faith throughout the Highlands, there is not a word about the Gaelic Bible. It was not until 1767 that the New Testament was translated into Scottish Gaelic, and we must come down to 1807 before the Old and New Testaments make their appearance in a language well understood by the Highland people. To us, this zeal for Catechisms and neglect of Bibles looks like putting the cart before the horse.

On the 26th Apr 1727, it is reported that the catechists in the various parishes were as follows: - Hugh Munro, Ederachilis; Aeneas Mackay, Durness; Donald Happy alias Sutherland, Tongue; and William Mackay, Farr. And at this same time there are but three ruling elders in the whole Presbytery, to wit, Lord Reay, John Mackay of Kirtomy, and William Mackay in Gnubeg. On the 10th Apr 1729, the catechists report that 200 in the parish of Farr, 300 in the parish of Tongue, 250 in the parish of Durness, and 27 in Assint can repeat the whole of the questions in the Shorter Catechism, and that many more can repeat a part. At the next meeting, the Farr catechist reports that in the upper part of his parish 250 can repeat the whole of the Catechism, "besides 140 pretty far advanced."

Mr. Scobie, minister of Assint, found the work very uphill in his parish, and is sometimes interrupted while preaching, especially by a "Murdo Mackenzie alias Dow". The case is referred for advice to the Procurator of the Kirk, who replies that by an Act of Parliament the delinquent is liable to the escheat of all his moveable goods, as well as to the highest censure of the Church. The case is then reported to Lord Reay, "sheriff of that part of the shire". Murdo Dow, evidently, had no love for Presbytery, or for the house of Hanover either.

On the 19th Aug 1730, the Court made enquiry regarding a library designed for the Presbytery seat, but which never reached its destination. The books were lying in the hands of the Presbytery of Caithness, to whom they were consigned by a society in the south before the Presbytery of Tongue was erected. Later on the books turn up, and from the catalogue which is engrossed in the Record they appear to be all of a theological character. Whether they were intended for general circulation is not said, but they were very suitable for such a purpose. They were deposited at the Presbytery seat, Tongue.

The clergy dealt very severely with breaches of the seventh commandment, and in glaring cases the delinquent had to make a tour of all the churches of the Presbytery, standing in sackcloth before the congregations during Divine service. On the 12th Oct 1731, we find this entry: -

"The Presbytery finding that William Maconil, an adulterer in the parish of Fair, did stand in sackcloth in the several parishes of this country according to appointment and that he is desirous to be dismissed from further public appearance; but, considering the heinousness of his crime, have appointed that he continue to stand before the several ministers who shall supply at Farr till next Presbytery."

Machormat, a Durness man charged with adultery, fares still worse. He is reported to be such a disreputable character, that he has been "for several other crimes threatened with banishment to the Plantations .... Machormat is an habitual sinner in this kind, having been a quadrelapse in fornication before Mr. Macdonald came to Durness." Eventually Machormat was excommunicated; and a dreadful sentence it was, for no one was permitted to have any dealings with such a person, so long as the sentence remained unrecalled. But as a rule the sentence was recalled in a few months.

For many years before and for some time after the erection of the Presbytery, the sacrament of the Lord's supper was very irregularly and at long intervals held throughout Strathnaver. For the first twenty-five years ot the Presbytery's existence it was administered only once a year within the bounds, or in other words once every four years in each one of the four congregations which formed the Presbytery. This was due to the lack of elders and to the fewness of the communicants, but when the members increased the people were slow to alter what they came by that time to look upon as an old custom. At these yearly gatherings, to which the people of all the parishes congregated at the appointed centre, the Friday before the celebration of the sacrament was set apart for answering difficulties and for instructing catechumens; but in course of time these Friday disputations developed into such inter-parochial wranglings that the clergy endeavoured to abolish the institution. On the 14th Sep 1737, an Act of Synod relative to the above is engrossed in the Record, and is to the following effect: -

"That because the communicants in our bounds are by the blessing of God become so numerous, that their meeting all in one parish to partake in the sacrament of the Lord's supper is attended with several inconveniencies The Synod appoint that, at least in the Presbyteries of Caithness and Dornoch, where assistance enough can be got, the foresaid ordinance shall be as often as may be administered in two parishes on the same Lord's day.
As also that because the meetings ordinarily kept on Friday before the administration of the sacrament is often inconvenient to the ministers and that the main design of these meetings may be obtained without these inconveniences, by the people's communicating their cases of conscience to their ministers at home. Therefore that the Synod should appoint these meetings on Friday before the sacrament to be forbid for the future in all the bounds of this Synod, and appoint the ministers before they come from home in order to assist at yt ordinance to give the communicants of their respective parishes opportunity of consulting them, about such questions or cases relative to the ordinance as shall be suitable to them, but that these confidences be as private as can be, and this to be publicly intimated to the bounds"

The laity, however, so enjoyed the Friday freedom of speech that they did not forego this privilege even to please the ministers. With all its concomitant abuses, Friday's licence provided a necessary safety-valve for such as felt aggrieved, and is still an institution in Strathnaver. Neither did the congregations at this time agree to celebrate the Lord's supper oftener than they had been in the habit of doing.

In the spring of 1741, so great was the scarcity of food that the Presbytery appointed a special collection to be made in the churches for the relief of the starving poor. The immediately following harvest, however, was such an abundant one that they appointed a special day of thanksgiving to God, for "giving us a plentiful harvest after so remarkable a dearth."

At first the function of the catechist was simply to teach the Shorter Catechism, but in course of time when qualified men could be obtained the catechist became a schoolmaster as well. The salary of the catechist-schoolmaster was partly provided by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and partly by the congregation in which this functionary laboured - the amount given by the above society being about £6 Sterling per annum. To the salary of the "Legal" or parish schoolmaster the heritors of the parish contributed 100 merks a year, and the balance was made up by fees; but the combined sum could not be very much.

Sometimes the catechists, overstepping their duties, publicly exhorted the people on questions of doctrine, for which in many cases they were not fitted owing to their lack of the necessary training. In these excursions, fanciful and unwarranted interpretations of Scripture were often given to the detriment of sound doctrine and morals. To meet this evil, on the 2nd Mar 1749, the Presbytery resolved as follows: -

"The Presbytery being weel apprised that there are in the several parishes some who take upon themselves to read the Scriptures and other books in the Irish language to the people and to solve doubts and cares of conscience at such meetings, and that some of them are without the authority or allowance of the minister of the parish, and that it is to be feared that such as so officiate are not well qualified for it, and the Presbytery remembering a melancholy scene that happened several years ago in one of these unauthorised meetings at Halmadary, did and do hereby prohibit any to convene the people to reading or conferences except the advice and consent of the parish minister be obtained."

A striking fact brought out by the Presbytery Record is the large number of leading men throughout Strathnaver who became elders of the Kirk by this time. Of that number were John Mackay of Kirtomy, John Mackay of Mudale, the Hon. George Mackay of Strathmore and Skibo, the Hon. Alexander Mackay, John Mackay of Melness, Robert Mackay the tutor, etc. Taken along with other well known facts, it indicates the deep root that religion had cast into the country of Mackay about the middle of the 18th century.

By Donald Master of Reay's marriage contract with Marion Dalrymple, 23rd Aug 1732, his father became bound to make resignation of the lands and estate, and to obtain new charters and infeftments of the same in favour of himself in liferent, and to the said Master and his heirs male and of tallie in fee, whom failing to others mentioned [Reay Papers]. As this arrangement was duly and legally carried out, the estate became entailed. But by a subsequent arrangement made on the Master's second marriage, 1st Oct 1741, the estate was conveyed to the said Master and his heirs, whom failing to others mentioned, in fee simple and without any irritant clauses. This double arrangement, which was only intended to be temporary, put the inheritance into an anomalous position, as we shall see afterwards.

By the second arrangement above mentioned, Donald the Master permitted his father, the third Lord Reay, to put the estate under trustees, in order to make provision for his large family, and this arrangement to continue until the specified burdens were removed or paid off. In consequence of this, when Donald succeeded as Lord Reay he found himself practically a portioner with but a divided control over the heritable property, and the estate (that portion of it not wadsetted) held in tack by his half-brother, the Hon. Hugh Mackay of Bighouse. It continued thus until Donald, 4th Lord Reay, died.

George, 5th Lord Reay, who kicked against this arrangement when he came of age, describes his father as "an easy facile man, and altogether ignorant of business". Mrs Fullarton, grand-daughter of the 4th Lord Reay, [Marianne, daughter of 5th Lord Reay] describes her grandfather as one,

"Who tho' possessing a good plain understanding, graced with all the accomplishments of a gentleman, derived from liberal education and foreign travel, was yet totally unacquainted with the business of ordinary life; and being, from an openess of disposition, perfectly artless and unsuspecting." [Reay Papers]

The above description of Lord Donald is in perfect accord with the picture drawn by Rob Donn, a Strathnaver contemporary poet, in an elegy to his Lordship.

The poet says that his Lordship cared far more "for the image of God on a good man, than for the king's image on a piece of gold"; and describing the loss which the country sustained by his death, he proceeds: -

"Ach cha deach' uiread de throcair
A chuir fo'n fhoid ri mo linn,
'S a chaidh charadh 's an toma
Le Morair Domhnull MacAoidh."

Not so much of mercy was
Gathered under the sod in my day,
As was laid in the tomb
Along with Lord Donald Mackay.

As during his father's lifetime, so thereafter and until his own death, Lord Donald continued to reside at Balnakeil House, Durness, leaving the Trust estate to the management of his half-brother, Mackay of Bighouse. In consequence of a threatened war with France and the generally disturbed state of Europe in 1759, the Earl of Sutherland raised a Highland regiment in which Mackay of Bighouse held the rank of Major. This regiment was largely recruited in Strathnaver, and did garrison duty at Inverness, Stirling, Perth, Dundee, etc. It saw no active service, and was disbanded in 1763.

His Lordship, who died at Durness, 18th Aug 1761, and was buried in the family vault at Tongue, married first (contract 23rd Aug 1732), Marion, daughter of Sir Robert Dalrymple of Castleton, son of Sir Hugh Dalrymple of North Berwick (President of the Court of Session), and by her, who died in 1740, had issue two sons: -

  1. George, 5th Lord Reay
  2. Hugh, 6th Lord Reay
He married, secondly, 21st Dec 1741, Christian, daughter of James Sutherland of Pronsy, Sutherland, and by her, who died at Edinburgh in 1790, had issue two daughters: -

  1. Margaret, died unmarried, 18th Jan 1762
  2. Mary, married Thomas Edgar, Major in the 25th Foot, and Inspector-General of Barracks in Great Britain. He died 30th Jun 1801, and she died 21st Nov 1813 [Reay Papers]

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page