In Dingwall, the incumbent John MacRae died in 1704, and there was a vacancy for 12 years. The pious Mr Stuart of Kiltearn was deputed by the Presbytery to declare the church vacant, but he was attacked by “Highlanders with loaded pistols when occupying the pulpit”. In 1707, the bailies of Dingwall stated that “they know not what is become of the keys of the church, and cannot give access, and refuse to do so, under the authority of a considerable proprietor”.
A year after this, Mr Daniel Bayne (probably a native of Dingwall and one of the influential Baynes of Tulloch), chaplain to General Murray’s regiment in Flanders, was called by the majority of “the magistrates and heritors”. The Presbytery took the steps needed for the settlement of the chaplain at very great inconvenience to themselves, but when the heritors were called upon to give reasons for his translation to Dingwall, “they declined to draw up any reasons, pretending several excuses”. The Presbytery then drew up the requisite reasons and forwarded them to the Commission of Assembly but, after a vexatious delay, the settlement did not proceed. It is certain that many Dingwall parishioners were anxious for a minister, but the Episcopal influence of the “considerable proprietor” thwarted their wishes. In 1716 the Presbytery succeeded in settling Mr John Bayne, a member of the Tulloch family.
Killearnan, on the north side of the Beauly Firth, owing to the opposition of the lairds, remained vacant for 19 years after the death of the curate. About the middle of the long vacancy, Mr Campbell of Kiltearn “reported that, according to appointment, he had supplied at Killearnan and that he was rabbled there in time of divine worship”. At the same time the Presbytery were “well informed that a considerable number of the common people there are desirous to have the gospel planted among them, notwithstanding the disaffection of the heritors”. In some cases, after long vacancies, the sheriff of Ross was applied to “for giving patent doors” (2), and settlements were made in the face of lengthy protests from Jacobite dissentients.
The barbarous treatment to which certain Ross-shire ministers, settled in 1711, were subjected, aroused the indignation of the General Assembly of that year. The loudest complaints were over the hardships endured by worthy John Morrison on being inducted to Gairloch. Mr Morrison had all along, from his youth, a sore battling life. Licensed by the Presbytery of Inveraray in 1698, he was sent in the following year to North Uist to supply the vacancy, but when he went to preach he was hindered and threatened by the mob and forced to leave. We then find him labouring for some years in Glenelg. In 1706 he translated to Boleskine (on Loch Ness). It was not a pleasant place to sojourn in, for Popery prevailed in the neighbourhood. When his predecessor, Thomas Houston, was asked in 1677 why he did not take part in the exercises held before the meetings of Presbytery, he replied that he was so troubled in watching by night, and with fear of robbery by day by the Lochaber robbers that were so numerous and broken out, that he could scarcely have so much time as to provide a discourse on the Sabbath day. “The brethren”, aware of his difficult condition, excused him from taking his share in those Scriptural expositions and exercises which still, even under Prelacy, were survivals of better days.
After labouring for four years in Boleskine, Morrison received an apparently harmonious call from Gairloch. Mr Thomas Chisholm was appointed to preach and serve the edict; but at the next meeting of Presbytery he reported “that after he was come near to the church of Gairloch he was seized upon by a party of men and carried back again about six miles, and that being let go by them he had essayed again to go to the said church another way, and that he was again seized upon, by another party of men, and carried back by them to Kinlochewe. There he was detained by them for some time as prisoner, and thereafter by other parties coming successively was carried back till he was a great way out of the parish, and not let go till Sabbath afternoon; but that while he was detained prisoner, understanding that he was designedly carried back lest he should preach at Gairloch, he had read and intimated the said edict before six or seven persons within a house at Kinlochewe, which is one of the preaching places of the said parish. And he returned the said edict endorsed by him with the attestation of his having executed the same in the foresaid manner.”
It was no ordinary courage to serve the edict in such circumstances, and Mr Morrison at his induction to such a lawless parish must have had sad forebodings of sufferings in store for him as he listened in the church of Kiltearn, 60 miles from his charge, to our old Covenanting friend, Mr John Fraser of Alness, preaching in Gaelic from Song of Solomon 8:11, and in English from Colossians 4:17. The settlement, on 1 March 1711, took place at Kiltearn because “most of the brethren, at a previous meeting, gave very weighty reasons showing why they could not undertake to go up to Gairloch at this time and season of the year”.
Morrison forthwith proceeded in the direction of his new charge, and his reception by the parishioners may be best described in his own graphic words: “After two days’ journey he was interrupted at Kinlochewe (at the east end of Loch Maree) by the tenants of Sir John MacKenzie of Coul, who laid violent hands on him and his servant, rent his clothes, made prisoners of them, and kept them three days under guard in a cottage full of cattle and dung, without meat or bedding the first two days, the tenants relieving one another in turn by a fresh supply every day. On the third day a short supply was allowed, but they were yet kept prisoners in the same place, without other accommodation. When the fifth day came he was carried to Sir John’s house, who declared no Presbyterian should be settled in any place where his influence extended, unless Her Majesty’s forces did it by the strong hand.” This was but the first instalment of the harassing to which Morrison was subjected for years after.
At the ensuing Assembly, Wodrow, with that swift and accurate pen of his, sends his wife an account of Morrison’s “very inhuman treatment”. He tells how Carstares, the Moderator, “fell very brisk upon the dreadful barbarities in the North to the ministers in Ross. . . . After which the Commissioner made a speech and said that, unless he had heard it, he could not have believed such inhumanities could have been used to men, let be ministers, in Scotland, and he was persuaded so to represent it to the Queen as never the like should be heard again.”
1. This article, one of a series “by a Highland Minister”, appeared in The Original Secession Magazine in 1890. It has been slightly edited. Theappeared in February.
2. That is, to have the doors of the church opened.