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GEORGE 5TH LORD REAY

1761 - 68

Some years before his father's death, George, as Master of Reay, took up residence in Tongue House, which had undergone considerable alterations in 1750 conformable to a provision in the will of the 3rd Lord Reay, who had left a sum of money for that purpose. To this house in due time the young Master brought his wife, a daughter of the Honl. Hugh Mackay of Bighouse, but she died after a little over a year of married life, leaving no issue. In 1762 George, now Lord Reay, appointed Charles Gordon of Skelpick, a captain of the Sutherland regiment and an extensive cattle dealer, factor of his estate. Soon after this appointment his Lordship made an arrangement with Gordon, whereby the latter was to purchase year by year the surplus produce of the Reay estate. This arrangement is of some interest, because it gives us a glimpse of the economic conditions at the time. Rent then was paid in kind, rarely in money. The tenant paid in horses, cattle, sheep, hides, wool, cheese, butter, etc., and what his Lordship did not require for his own use he disposed of to Gordon. The hides, wool, cheese, and butter were shipped to the southern markets; the horses, cattle, and sheep were collected at certain appointed centres, and led in droves to the Kyle market, near Bonar, or it might be to the great market at Falkirk [Reay Papers]. To pursue the avocation of a drover was not beneath the dignity of a Highland gentleman of the period. In the early years of the century John Mackay of Mussel was the leading drover of Strathnaver, but in the course of time he took into partnership the Honl. Hugh Mackay of Bighouse, and now Captain Gordon takes up the role.

As for the tenants, those in the neighbourhood of the sea-shore were hound to collect a certain quantity of sea-ware and to burn it into kelp. They were paid for every ton of kelp which they produced, but the production of this article was part of their paction with the proprietor from which there was no escape. As kelp commanded a high price in the manufacturing towns of the south, it was a remunerative business for proprietor and tenant. Although the Government of the day encouraged the fishing industry in the north by the offer of a large bounty, we are not aware that the people of Strathnaver took advantage of that offer then, though they subsequently did. They were eminently a pastoral people, living on the produce of their flocks, and the surplus male population steadily set its face in one direction only, to wit, soldiering. For the usual handicraft trades they had no liking. This latter fact impressed us very much in our examination of the estate papers of Lord Reay. When a substantial house had to be built or repaired the tradesmen had to be brought up from Caithness to do the mason and joiner work, and all the time the young, able-bodied men of the district were flocking into the army. Socially and economically this was a very unhealthy state of matters indeed. To cultivate war and to neglect industry is certain to bring its own punishment, as we shall see in the wholesale evictions after the peace of 1815.

The following items culled from the accounts of the period [Reay Papers] will give the reader some idea of the value of labour and the price of articles at that time: -

To two men that carried two ankers from Clerkhill to Sidera 12/- Scots
To James mac Rob with packet to Inverness 2/- Scots
To an express from Sidera to Tongue 1/- Scots
To 75 lbs. powder£45 Scots
To 8 bolls meal£49 10/- Scots
To 4 lbs. hopps 6/8 sterling
To ½ lb. Boheatea 3/6 sterling
To 6 lbs. 10 oz. single refined sugar @ 16d 8/10 sterling

As tenants were bound to perform certain free services at this time, and especially to carry letters or expresses, it is probable that the shilling Scot for a journey to Sidera and the two shillings for a journey to Inverness were merely to cover the travelling expense of the couriers. Anyway, the contrast between these figures and the price of meal is noteworthy. The average annual wage of a forester was £20 Scot, and that of Donald Macleod, Reay's piper, was £21 6/8; but the piper and foresters had other perquisites besides, in the shape of land and houses.

Under the fostering care of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge the number of schoolmasters was steadily increasing, as the Records of Presbytery show, and the tacksmen were manifesting a growing interest in education by starting local or side schools. Strange as it may appear to some, one means of supplementing the scanty salary of the schoolmasters was by the annual holding of a cock-fight, to which all the scholars each brought a bird. The defeated cocks became the property of the teacher, but the owners of the two best fighting birds were decked with ribbons, and on the following Sunday marched to church thus decorated at the head of a procession of school pupils. Now-a-days we raise money for deserving objects by bazaars and raffles, but in a fighting age, such as the middle of the 18th century was, the orthodox way of raising money was by a cock-fight. One hundred and fifty years hence, perhaps, the bazaar and raffle may appear as much out of place to our successors as the cock-fight does to us. Let us not rashly cast stones at our ancestors because they looked out upon life through their own coloured glasses.

As we hinted in the preceding memoir, the 5th Lord Reay was very much dissatisfied with the arrangement which his father and grandfather made in 1741. Though the 4th Lord Reay was content to let the estate lie in trust, with but limited control over it, his son was of a different mind. He claimed full control over the estate in virtue of his mother's marriage contract of 1732, and justly took up the position that as he was not consulted at the making of the later arrangement, he would not be bound by it to the extent of losing his liberty under trustees.

This caused some friction between him and other members of the family, especially between him and the Honl. George Mackay of Skibo, who, being a lawyer, held the family papers, and sought to keep them out of the hands of his Lordship. The result was a litigation, in which his Lordship recovered the family papers, one box of which contained estate papers and another private family letters, etc.

On the 28th Nov 1767, Reay obtained a decreet proving the tenor of his mother's marriage contract, by which he inherited the estate in entail, and duly had the said contract registered [Reay Papers]. On the 14th Jan 1768, he took steps to make up his title to the estate on this contract by a general service as heir male and of provision to his father, but before the instrument could be taken out in his person he died on the 27th Feb of that year at the early age of 34, and leaving no male issue the matter went no further. If in the providence of God he had been spared a few days longer the estate would have become an entailed one, and his cousin Eric could not have sold it at a later date. But as it fell out, Eric was enabled to serve himself heir under the arrangement of 1741, which brought the estate into his hands in fee simple, and empowered him to dispose of it as he thought fit. Little did the 3rd Lord Reay realise the disastrous consequences of the arrangement of 1741, which he intended to be of a temporary character only.

George, 5th Lord Reay, a man of masculine character and strong mental power, died at Edinburgh as aforesaid, and was buried in the chapel of Holyrood, where an altar-shaped tomb marks his resting place.
He married, first, Marion, daughter of the Honl. Hugh Mackay of Bighouse (contract 30th Sep 1757), but by her, who died 12th Mar 1759, had no issue.

He married, secondly (contract 1st Oct 1760), Elizabeth, daughter of John Fairley of that Ilk, in Ayrshire, and by her, who died 10th Nov 1800, had one son, who died in infancy, and three daughters: -

  1. Jane, died at Edinburgh, unmarried, 13th Feb 1773
  2. Marianne, married William Fullarton in Ayrshire, Colonel of the 101st Foot, and M.P. for that county. He was appointed Governor of Trinadad, 29th Jun 1802, and died at London, 13th Feb 1808, leaving no issue [Blk. MS.]. Having no family to succeed, he sold the greater part of his landed estate in Ayrshire to the Marquis of Tichfield in 1805 for the sum of £75,500 Sterling His widow died near Melrose, 28th Mar 1838.
  3. Georgina, died unmarried at Bathampton, Somersetshire, 2nd Aug 1847

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