a family story

John Roxborogh

THE PEOPLE OF ACHINDREAN 

I

n the Highlands of Scotland land-ownership was vested in great landlords whose estates were sometimes made up of disparate pieces of land. McKenzies owned the Cromarty Estate which consisted of three baronies: Tarbat, Strathpeffer and Coigach. It was to the Barony of Coigach that our family paid allegiance.

Coigach included the village of Achindrean. It was bordered by Ullapool to the south and Assynt, in Sutherlandshire, to the north. According to tradition it was once owned by the MacNicols or Nicholsons who had a castle in Ullapool. In about 1300 AD the MacLeods of Lewis acquired the land when Murdoch MacLeod married Nicholson’s daughter.[1] It came to the McKenzies through the marriage of Rorie McKenzie to Margaret MacLeod in 1605.[2]

Achindrean was in the possession of a succession of tacksmen from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. It was one of a number of small settlements within the district. Parts were sublet and by 1755 seven families, consisting of 40 people, were living in the village by the river at the foot of the hills - some distance from its later position at the top of the rise just below the main road to the north.[3]

In 1763 a John McKenzie was listed as a tenant paying one pound in rent.[4] A John McKenzie was also listed among the tenants in 1814. As Alexander was born in Achindrean, supposedly in 1800, this John McKenzie may well have been his father.

In 1819 Thomas McKenzie of Langwell, descendant of Kenneth A’Bhlair the VIIIth Baron of Kintail, became the tacksman. In 1835 ten of the 23 named tenants were McKenzies and likely to have been relatives of Thomas. Presumably John McKenzie, Alexander’s father, was one of them.

The first documented evidence found to date of our McKenzie family as a group is in the returns from the first census which was taken on 1 June 1841. It is headed “District of Dingwall Enumeration District 11.”

 This district extends from the march of South Crannachulish to the head of Strath Cannaird embracing the population on both sides of the river Cannaird. To the East this district embraces the whole glen of Achall as far as a house called Duchary.[5]

 CENSUS RETURNS 1841    McKENZIE FAMILY

 

Name

Age[6]

Occupation

Born

John McKenzie

70

Crofter

In the County

Helen McKenzie

60

 

(Ross-shire)

Alexander McKenzie

35

 

 

Ann McKenzie

30

 

 

William McKenzie

7

 

 

Mary McKenzie

4

 

 

John McKenzie

2

 

 

 This household of three generations, "the old head and the young body," had Alexander and Ann and three young children living with Alexander’s elderly parents in a tiny two-roomed cottage. There were 20 similar households in the village at that time. 

CENSUS RETURNS 1841 1871    POPULATION 

 

1841

1851

1861

1871

Population

95

134

85

104 + 2 visitors

Children under 5

9

17

12

10

Children 5 to 14

22

30

20

22

Children at school

(not stated)

14

9

18


Based on census figures alone approximately 70 individuals left the village during the decade 1841-1851 and 110 moved in. Death accounted for some of these who, like John McKenzie, may be classified as ‘left.’ Overall there was an increase of 44% in the population of Achindrean in this decade, a figure that might indicate a thriving village. However when the population movements are examined it is evident that Achindrean was more like a transit village with people moving in, subsisting on their crofts for a time and then, in the main, moving on.  Some came from areas affected by Clearances, as reported by a descendant of one family that had arrived from Sutherland before 1835.

Most of the newcomers in 1841-1851 were born in other parts of Ross-shire, in nearby Assynt and Sutherland, in Gairloch and, in the case of the teacher, in Islay. Only four were born in Achindrean itself so the influx cannot be seen just as a case of returning home in time of adversity. The surnames suggest that as well as McKenzie followers with different surnames, a number of people must have come from considerably further afield. Although ‘McKenzie’, ‘MacLeod’, and ‘MacLean’, pre-dominated, there were at least a dozen other family names.

The number of children at school is an indicator of the financial position of the parents. Prior to 1871 less than half the children in the village were attending school. As a high value was placed on education in Scotland generally, the reasons for non-enrolment were probably the cost of schooling or the labour demands of the croft. Some parents endeavoured to keep their children at school well beyond the usual leaving-age, and others who sought ‘early-childhood’ education. In Ullapool children under five or over 15 had the classification of ‘scholar’ cancelled by the census enumerator. Whether that child had to be removed from the school or not is unclear. In Achindrean in 1851 one young man of 18 was still at school and in 1871 three ‘girls’ aged from 17 to 23, two from one family, were listed as scholars. There was no cancellation by the enumerator in these cases.

After the mid-1840s the school at Achindrean was run by the Free Church. In 1989 there were only four children in the village and they attended school in Ullapool. The old school on the road to Blughasary is now a guesthouse.

 CENSUS RETURNS 1841-1881 HOUSEHOLDS 

Year of Census

Number of households

Number of families that remained

Number of families that moved out

Number of families that moved in

1841

21

 

 

 

1851

27

6

15

21

1861

18

12

15

6

1871

19

14

4

5

1881

19

13

6

6

 

By the time of the census of 1851, 21 of the 27 households listed had new occupants. The returns from each subsequent decade up to 1881 give only a partial picture of population movements as they do not record the comings and goings of people not living there at the time the census was taken. Thus more movements than are indicated would have occurred with people coming into the village after one census and going out before the next. There was probably considerable mobility with its resultant unsettling effects on the life of the community.

Of the servants some may have been employed in the home where they lived while others would have gone out of the village to employment in a big house or lodge either at Langwell, Drumrunnie or in Ullapool. Some, such as Mary, would have sought work in the cities and would not appear in this return unless they happened to be at home at that particular time, perhaps out of work. Achindrean also had its poor, including women in their seventies or eighties. In 1799 the Old Parish Records show in the statement of the Poors Distribution:

 

                   Margaret McKenzie             Achindrean     4 shillings

                   Anne Mathieson                 Achindrean     3 shillings

 

Similar entries appear regularly throughout the church records. A pensioner listed in the 1851 census is a Chelsea Pensioner, Murdo McKenzie.[7]

 

CENSUS RETURNS 1841-1871 OCCUPATIONS

 

 

1841

1851

1861

1871

Agricultural labourer

 

2

 

 

Blacksmith

 

 

1

 

Cottar

3

 

 

 

Crofter

17

5

 

 

Farmer

 

1

 

 

Farm servant

1

 

 

 

Foxhunter

 

 

 

1

Herder

 

 

 

1

Mason

 

1

 

1

Nurse

 

1

 

 

Pauper

 

4

 

1

Pensioner

 

1

 

 

Ploughman

 

 

 

2

Servant

 

8

 

4

Shepherd

 

3

1

1

Shoemaker

 

1

 

1

Tailor

 

 

1

 

Teacher

 

1

 

1

Tenant

 

7

15

9

Weaver

1

 

 

 

 

At times the village appears to have supported a mason, a tailor and a shoemaker. The crofter really had to be self-sufficient, many being skilful in working with metal, leather and horn.

Of the six families remaining from 1841, three were still living in the village in 1881 as were five of those who moved in between 1841 and 1851. These eight families made up the core of the long-term tenants. Until they left in October 1873 the Alexander McKenzies were part of this group. In 1872 Simon MacLeod and Simon MacDonald were witnesses at the marriage of Catherine Mackenzie and Alexander Robertson. It is believed their descendants are still farming in Strathkanaird.



[1] Malcolm Bangor-Jones, personal communication, 21 September 1989.

[2] Eric Richards and Monica Clough, Cromartie: Highland life 1650-1914, Aberdeen, 1989, p.8.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Census return for Lochbroom. Microfilm no.101924.

[6] The ages of the adults may be approximate as rounding off to the nearest 5 or 10 was permitted.

[7]  The Chelsea scheme was founded by Charles II for returned soldiers.


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