Am Bratach No. 322
August 2018

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones

In March 1866 John Mackay, tenant or occupant in Torrisdale, submitted a petition to the Duke of Sutherland. About twenty-three years ago he “lived in the family with his Father & Mother in law (the former of whom died about 8 years ago): that the Petitioner was always paying the rent of the Lot.”

In November 1864 his two daughters aged 19 and 20 had died of fever and then a fortnight later his wife had died of the same fever. The remaining members of his family consisting of five boys were all “confined of fever” from November until the end of March 1865.

John claimed that “the death of his wife & two daughters in so short a time and the long illness of his boys reduced his small means and disabled him from earning any thing by working”. John hoped that during the summer he, or “his frail Mother-in-law who is 86 years of age”, would be able to pay off the balance of the rent arrears.

Crawford, the factor at Tongue, reported that, so far as he could learn, John had gone “into his mother-in-law’s family a good many years ago, without any permission. That he has paid the rent of the lot since his connection with the family, as he insinuates, is not true, although he has done so for some years, and at the same time appropriated the produce of the Lot & its privileges to himself.”

The family had suffered from fever but the parochial board had paid all the associated expenses amounting to £32 besides providing some wine and cordials: “not one penny of either his money or means went to defray any charges, from the time his family were stricken until they were completely convalescent.”

The estate had brought legal proceedings against his mother-in-law, as she was the tenant, to ensure that the livestock and crops on the croft were not carried off. She had been given time to pay off the arrears and legal expenses providing John guaranteed payment.

John and one of his sons had fished for Mr Mackenzie at Borgie the previous winter. According to Crawford, if they had been paid by Mackenzie “this sensational Petition might not have been dictated by his son”. Mackenzie, however, was in financial trouble.
Research into the family reveals that John was the son of William and Henrietta Mackay. In the 1851 census John was living in Torrisdale with his father-in-law, Hugh Mackay, aged 63, his mother-in-law Sophia, and his wife Catherine and their three children.
According to an estate survey Hugh had a large croft with a good deal of arable land, had harrows, but no plough, and possessed a horse, two cattle and four cows, but no sheep. John, classified as a squatter, assisted and owned two of the cows.

In 1861 there were two families in the one house with the mother-in-law: Angus Mackenzie, shoemaker, married with three young children, and John, listed as an agricultural labourer, with his wife and seven children.

John’s daughter Williamina died at home on November 30, 1864, from gastric fever. However, his daughter Henrietta died from fever and pneumonia on December 6, 1864, at Oust in the parish of Thurso, where she was working as a servant. John’s wife died on December 13, 1864, aged 48, from gastric fever.

By 1871 John had succeeded to the croft and was living there with three of his sons and a servant, Ann Mackay, whom John later married. He died aged 89 in 1906 and Ann died aged 90 in 1917. Of John’s sons, Robert, a shepherd, had died at home aged 36 from tuberculosis. Hugh, a retired police constable, died at Torrisdale aged 74 in 1928.

Donald had moved to Edinburgh and in 1871 was working as a letter carrier at the General Post Office (GPO). He was lodging with a policeman from Caithness and his Sutherland-born wife. By 1891 he was working as a sorting clerk and was married with three children. His wife, Charlotte, was from Helmsdale.

He retired as superintendent of the GPO and died in 1916. He had settled his estate on trustees including Hew Morrison of the Public Library and John Mackay, a wine merchant, both leading men of the Edinburgh Sutherland Association. His daughter Marion became a school teacher and his son Gordon a solicitor. 

CLICK to buy a postal subscription online

Go back to Home Page