Am Bratach No. 229
November 2010


History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones

Of the petitions presented to the heritors and kirk session of the parish of Farr, none was to prove more interesting than that of Ann Macdonald of Kirtomy. This was mainly because the case went to the Court of Session and generated some interesting evidence.

In January 1845 the lawyer, Charles Spence, wrote to the minister of Farr, the Rev David Sutherland, enclosing a petition on behalf of Ann. When the kirk session failed to reply, a petition was presented to the Court of Session.

Ann was stated to have been born in about 1808 “in a deformed state, and measures only three feet ten inches in height. Her legs are deformed, which prevents her from walking, and she is altogether unable to earn a subsistence.” She had received the “very trifling sum” of 2 shillings [10p] for the year which was utterly inadequate” to support her.
The remainder of her support came from a brother who was “himself a very poor man, having a helpless family” and who was unable, quite apart from not being legally bound to support her. She was greatly “incapacitated from collecting money as many other paupers do, by begging, on account of her inability to travel” and had to be “carried from place to place on the shoulders of those who may pity her miserable condition.”

Answers were presented by the heritors and kirk-session of Farr, led by Robert Horsburgh, the Duke’s factor. They were happy for the court to instruct them “in the very difficult circumstances in which they have recently been placed, in common with many parishes in the north of Scotland.”

It was essential, however, that “fictitious and dishonest claims” should not be encouraged. In the north of Scotland “many claims by pretended paupers for aliment out of the poor’s funds of a parish are prosecuted in the names of parties who have given no authority.” And it was suggested that this was true of the case in question.

Knowing Ann’s circumstances “they find it hard to believe, that she can seriously insist in a claim to be admitted to the poors’ roll of the parish of Farr, upon the ground of utter destitution.” There was “hardly one word of truth in the petition.” While Ann was “of diminutive stature”, she was “by no means lame, or unable to walk or to work. On the contrary, she is strong of person, enjoys perfect health, and is somewhat remarkable for her activity. She is perfectly able, and perfectly willing to work for her subsistence.”
Her mother was a tenant of a moderately rented croft whose son was “an able and successful fisherman, who, while he has no difficulty in earning his own subsistence, contributes to the maintenance of his mother’s family.” Ann had “for many years received her maintenance from them within the family in return for her services.”

She was not destitute and was not a proper object of parochial relief. The kirk session had, however, occasionally given her small sums of money, “not from any notion that these were required for her needful sustentation, but rather as a mark of their approval of her conduct and character.” If she was begging, it must be from the “influence of evil advice or example.”

The heritors and kirk session explained how they had tried to cap the amount of aid provided to the poor. As “guardians of the poor [they] have resorted to many expedients for the purpose of preventing the increase of destitution, and avoiding, as long as possible, what they cannot but believe to be the very serious evil of creating within the parish a distinct class of recognised paupers.”

With that aim in view, they had “endeavoured to relieve or obviate the wants of the poor, by providing them with the necessaries of life, such as clothing, fuel, and house-room, and also occasionally with small sums of money”. In giving aid they had been “naturally influenced by the conduct of the parties”.

It was to be regretted if the provision of such small sums had “reduced her to the condition of a regular pauper, and disturb a course of management which the respondents sincerely believe to have been highly conducive to the interests of the inhabitants, and particularly of the poor inhabitants of the parish.”.

To be continued.

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