RLM: Epistle 1:
You will be disappointed to learn that we did not emerge from the mists of Antiquity until as late as 1781 (George The Third's Reign!). An entry in our Bible by Andrew Mackay II (1819-1890) (B) runs thus:
1860. Andrew Mackay, my father, was born in the Year of Our Lord, 1781, August 24th. Departed this life on the beginning of the year 1836.
1836 1781 ____ 55 years aged.
My father's story about Andrew Mackay I, (A) setting off on an emigrant ship for Manitoba, accompanied by his pregnant wife, Margaret, is confirmed by the Bible entry that they had a son, Andrew Mackay II, who was baptised by the Rev. Robert Marr, Established Minister of the Parish of Sandwick, County of Orkney, in the year of Our Lord, 1819, on 14th November. Traditionally, Andrew II was born after the shipwreck, "on the rocks"!
As I do not know the name of the ship, Lloyds Register cannot help with details. But it would be a chilling experience for all aboard. Incidentally, the map in our house shows Sandwick as in the Shetland Isles, but there may well be one in the Orkneys too. Orkney and Shetland nowadays form one Parliamentary unit.
The parents regarded the wreck as a Sign from The Lord that He did not wish them to leave Scotland as He still had work for them there. How right He was! Father thought that the parents put up at the home in Ross-shire of Margaret's father and mother, for a while. At the time of the wreck Andrew I had been married some 4 1/2 years, as Register Office in Edinburgh reports:
On 10th February, 1815, Andrew Mackay of Righeul entered the Honorable Bond of Matrimony with Margaret MacPherson of Dounie.
All that my father knew about Margaret MacPherson was that she came from near Edderton and died young. Dounie is on the O.S. 1 inch to the mile map, about a mile North of Edderton Station, and Righeul about a mile from Dounie.
Last autumn, assisted by Robert and Andrew (both F), Granny and I visited this area. We found a New Righeul, which had several ruined crofts near it, one of which was probably the Old Righeul, and just over the hillock, the site of Meikle Daan, of which more shortly. We looked over the Cemetery at Edderton Church for MacPherson and Mackay graves, but found none. We visited the local estate office but failed to trace any tenant of the name of Mackay at around 1815.
As the four of us stood on the top of Strui Brae, looking down the slope to where had been the crofts of Righeul, Meikle Daan and Dounie we began to picture what had happened so long ago. We were at a centre of the great Highland Clearances. Not far from where we stood, Sir John Lockhart Ross had introduced the farming of Cheviot sheep to the Northern Highlands. Many landowners had followed his example. Crofters in Strath Oykell and in Strath Carron were being evicted around 1800, and Culrain lies between these valleys.
We visited Croick Church in Strath Carron and saw the signatures of the evicted crofters who had taken shelter there in 1845, their names scratched on the windows of the church. Here, Andrew (F) tried to get a sound out of the old organ, but it was silent!
So, our Mackay ancestors may well have crofted around Culrain, and one of them, Andrew I had left his home to seek employment as a labourer or farm hand near Edderton. There he met his future wife, Margaret. But times were hardening, rents were rising, the future gloomy. They decided to join fellow highlanders who had preceded them to Canada. I have not yet been able to learn if Andrew and Margaret had any children before they sailed for the West. Back in Ross-shire, Andrew I was now age 38, jobless, landless and the money for his own and his wife's fare to Manitoba had gone with the ship. He and Margaret had no hope they could call their own, and evictions were continuing around the district. For the five years from November 1819 until 1824 there are no records of his life. It must have been miserable indeed.
Today, 2nd November 1971, I have received a letter from a Miss (or Mrs) Kathleen L. Lyon, 12 Castle Street, Dornoch, who once owned land around Lonachuan, but who sold out lately to a native of the district, namely P.C. Macnamara, of Invercarron House, Ardgay. Miss Lyon said there was no mention of Lonachuan in a rent sheet for 1797. Thereafter records were missing until the rent book of 1825-1839 appeared. It recorded "Andrew Mackay entered Lonachuan, 1824. Rent, custom and labour. £1 7s 4d." This certainly was my Great-Grandfather, Andrew I, (A). The rent remained the same until his death in 1836.
The croft was situated about 1 3/4 miles almost due North of the hospital at Bonar Bridge. My cousin thought it possible that Andrew I might have built the croft. Miss Lyon indicated that these crofts were built up quickly. We don't know when or by whom Lonachuan was built, but Andrew I and his Margaret would be real happy when at last they moved in. He would have a bit field to cultivate, and some hill pasture for his sheep and perhaps two cows and a horse. It would be a very hard life up there, with poor facilities for work and none for play. In 1827, Margaret gave birth to my Grandfather, William (died 1907). William loved the place, and on the death of his older brother, Andrew II, in 1890 he took it over, moving from Aisdale. Both Andrew I and Margaret died young from causes not known to me.
Two curious things about Lonachuan. The building is shown on the 6 inch map of 1873, but not named, unlike other crofts. Further, my efficient researcher in Edinburgh found no returns for its occupancy in 1841, although adjacent crofts were listed. The census takers were probably not very efficient. I will hope to attach a photo of the croft, taken some years ago when Sheila and I visited it.
Does memory every play curious tricks with you? Certainly it does with me. My father, George (C) gave me the names of all the children of Andrew I and Margaret, nine in all. But seven of these cannot be traced, in spite of effort. I call them "The Seven Missing Mackays". He said two sons died in Australia, two in New Zealand and one in Inverness. Two daughters died around Bonar Bridge. Then there were Andrew II (born at the wreck) and William, my Grandfather, born 1827. Eight years between them! My old father may have been near the mark! Do you think a lusty Mackay, aged 38, married to a lusty MacPherson should go for 8 years without producing a child?
When Andrew I died at Lonachuan in 1836 he would probably be buried with his wife in either Kincardine or Croick Cemetery. But Register House, Edinburgh, has no record of such burials. In 1836, the two boys, Andrew II and William were 17 and 9 years old, respectively, and it is unlikely they would erect a stone over their parents' grave then. Times were too hard. There was famine in the land that year in the North.
Alas! There is not enough know about the personality of my Great Grandfather Andrew I for me to build up a vivid picture of him. I will not try. He was only 55 when he died. It is certain that he knew distress, hardship, unemployment, poverty and a full share of sorrow. But he had at least two very fine sons, Andrew II and William (B).