James Smith of Olrig
 Text By:    Richard Paxman   <rjp@crystal.com.au>
  Revision 1 (15/3/97)
 Pictures courtesy:   The Rev. O. H. Vellacott
 http://www.caithness.org/atoz/countryhouses/olrighouse/index.htm

James Smith of Olrig
c.1760 to 1853

     The 1841 census or the parish of Olrig in Caithness-shire states that on the night of 7 June, James Smith Esquire was then 75 to 80 years of age, which would mean he was born between 1760 and 1766. This is narrowed down further by the 1851 census which states that on the night of 30 March 1851, he was 90 years old. Therefore he was presumably born between 8 June 1760 and 30 March 1761. The 1851 census also states that his place of birth was "Aberdeen". As a parish and county are normally both given, I take this to mean that he was born in the city of Aberdeen.

     Who his parents were and where he got his money from, I have not yet been able to establish. It is my opinion that his family were either landed gentry or merchants, probably the latter. The crest that my Great Grandfather used on his stationary and silver, "an arm from the shoulder vambraced brandishing a broad sword proper" with the motto "Carid nam Fechan" below, was registered with the Lord Lyon's Court in Edinburgh by the Perthshire family of Smyth of Balharry. [*6] The male line of this family died out in the mid nineteenth century and I have been unable to find any connection between the Smiths and Smyths, other than their names. [*14] [*15]

Olrig House     Above the front door of Olrig House, Caithness, there is a coat of arms in glass, obviously intended to commemorate the marriage of James Smith to Isabella Ross. Further enquiries to the Lyon's Court failed to exactly identify it, as it had not been registered. The Smith arms on the dexter, or left side, had not been recorded with the Lyon's Court in Scotland, but most closely resembled those of the family of Smith of Durham, recorded in England in 1615. [*6]This family, to be found in "The Smith Family" by Compton Reade, had a different crest, and again there is no obvious genealogical connection.

     All that is known about James Smith of Olrig's family, is that he had a brother William. James Smith's nephew (James Smith of Hayfield) is recorded in the Aberdeen University records as "son of William, in Thurso, Caithness".

     James Smith's first marriage, when he was about 29, was to Janet Sinclair, daughter of William Sinclair, described as Bailie and merchant in Thurso, and owner of a number of tenements and other properties in Thurso. The Thurso parish records show only one marriage between a James Smith a Janet Sinclair and the entry, which is dated 1 August 1789, records "Wm. James Smith, Schoolmaster ....". He may have had William as a first name but never used it, but it is curious that he also seems to have had a brother called William, and that in all the legal documents I have concerning him, he is never referred to as William anywhere else. It is also possible that this marriage was to his brother William, and that James married Janet Sinclair after his brother's death.

     If the marriage referred to above was indeed his, then his given occupation of schoolmaster is also rather interesting. It would have been unusual to say the least, in the eighteenth century, for a schoolmaster to have gone on to become a significant land owner, unless he was simply waiting for his inheritance.

     In 1791he purchased the house and lands of Olrig, Caithness-shire, and is mentioned in a Bond of Renunciation (dated 1 December 1791) in which the former owners, Archibald Cullen and his wife Fenella Sinclair (the last of the Sinclairs of Olrig), renounce certain heritable rights over the lands of Olrig, Kirkfield and Borgie, having recently sold them to James Smith "residing in Thurso". [*1]

     The sale of Olrig is confirmed in an Instrument of Sasine dated 31 March 1792, the sale appearing to have taken place on 18 November 1791. [*2]This document describes at length the lands involved, namely:-
"Over and Nether Olricks with the miln and pendicles of the same called Kirkfield and Borgie with the Manor place of Olrick, houses, biggings, yards, sheilings, common pasturage, commonties, mosses, muirs, meadows and all parts, pendicles and pertinents of the same, all lying in the parish of Olrick, as also the twopenny land in the Over and Nether sides of Olrick which belonged of old to the parsonage of Olrick, with the crofts and meadows thereto belonging ...".
The handing over of the property was formally performed on the land by procurators or attorneys appointed by James Smith and the Cullens, who exchanged handfuls of soil in front of the Notary Public and other witnesses.

Olrig House     The "Manor" house of Olrig was probably still quite small at this time, comprising of only a part of what is now the back of the house.

     The next documented mention of James Smith is in the Olrig parish records in 1796, where there is an entry recording that:- "David, lawful son of the Reverend George Mackenzie minister of Olrick and Jane Oswald Brodie, was born 7 July 1796 and baptised 16 July 1796. Witnesses James Traill, Sheriff Depute of Caithness and James Smith Esq. of Olrick".
He was witness again on Monday 27 August 1810 at the baptism of the Mackenzie's daughter Johanna Sinclair Traill.

     He does not appear in the records again until 15 May 1820 when a Renunciation is recorded. [*3]It refers to James Smith having purchased the Superiority of the lands of Olrig and patronage of the church, from Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster Bart., and discharges Sir John of any associated obligations. Sir John had purchased this "patronage and titularity" from Alexander Sinclair of Olrig and Donald his eldest son (or their heirs) who in turn had bought it in 1708 from John, Lord Glenorchy, later Earl of Breadalbane. Owning the superiority of ones lands meant that one had no superiors other than the crown.

     On June 18th 1823, he appears again in the parish records as a witness at the baptism of his great nephew. The entry reads:- "James Smith (great nephew), lawful son of James Smith ("of Hayfield", nephew, son of his brother William) living in Olrig and Williamina Ross (sister of his future second wife) was born at Hayfield 3 June and baptised on Wednesday 18 June. Witnesses James Smith Esq. of Olrig and Mrs. Smith (Janet Sinclair)".
The James Smith baptised here, one of five that I know of in the family, is the one who in later years went out to New Zealand and helped his cousin Hector William Pope Smith run his sheep station.

     On 19th January 1825, Flora Ross Smith, second child of James Smith of Hayfield and Williamina Ross, was baptised at Olrig. James Smith of Olrig is again a witness but this time there is no mention of his wife, Janet Sinclair. She was still alive, so it is conceivable that she was by this time terminally ill and unable to attend. It is interesting to note, that while living in Tain in the late 1980s, my mother, Jennifer Paxman, became acquainted with Dorothy Carol Bennett, widow of William Ronald MacDonald, great grandson of Flora Ross Smith.

     The third and last of James and Williamina's children, William Smith, was baptised 30 June 1826. He was in later life the proprietor of the Mansfield Hotel in Victoria, Australia. What is interesting about this entry in the parish records, is that although they were not to marry for another five years, the witnesses are "James Smith of Olrig and Isabella Ross". This suggests that Janet Sinclair had died by this date, although of course, Isabella was aunt to the child in her own right..

Olrig House     Janet Sinclair was still alive on March 24th 1825, as she is referred to in a Charter of Confirmation of that date. [*4]In this document, James Smith, as "immediate lawful superior" appears to confirm the transfer of his father in law's Thurso properties to the heirs, namely Janet and the heirs of her sister, Barbara Sinclair. In a subsequent document it appears that James Smith bought his wife's nieces' shares of the inheritance.

     James Smith of Olrig married his second wife, Isabella Ross, on August 25th 1831. The marriage is recorded in the parish records of both Olrig and Edderton in Ross-shire, where another of her sisters lived. She was the daughter of Alexander Ross, tacksman of Wester Helmisdale and Williamina Pope of the Navidale family. She was born in about 1796 which would make her around 35 years younger than her husband. As referred to earlier, the coat of arms in glass above the front door of Olrig House, commemorates this marriage.

     According to the list of Listed Buildings in the Highland Region, the original eighteenth century mansion house at Olrig was added to at about this time (1830 to 1840), although the chief additions made during the nineteenth century were made after his death by James' son, between 1859 and 1861.

     There were four children of this second marriage (there having been none from the first), all born at Olrig House and baptised in the parish.
* James Smith, 2nd of Olrig, born 26 December 1832, baptised at Olrig, 18 January 1833, died 1914. He attended the first two years of the class of 1841-5 at Aberdeen University [*5]. He inherited the house and lands of Olrig from his father and was a Major in the Caithness Artillery Volunteers. He married, 14 September 1875, Henrietta Elizabeth Sinclair Wemyss, daughter of David Sinclair Wemyss of Southdun and Elizabeth Sinclair Sutherland, and by her had a son and two daughters. The son, James Alexander Sinclair Sutherland Smith, appears to have been disinherited by his father after marrying Isobel Gibson (possibly also known as "Towie") against his parents wishes. [*16]His sisters inherited Olrig in 1914 and subsequently sold it. Neither of them married.
* Alexander Smith, was born 29 September 1834. He attended all four years of the class of 1849-53 at Aberdeen University [*5], and died unmarried between 1858 and 1864.
* Hector William Pope Smith, was born 3 January 1837 at Olrig House in Caithness, and was baptised at Olrig, 2 February 1837. He attended the second and third years of the class of 1854-8, and the second year of the class of 1855-9, at Marischal College, Aberdeen [*5]. In the 1860s he travelled out to New Zealand and bought 29,000 acres near Napier, which he built up into a successful sheep-run. He twice returned to Scotland, and on the second occasion married Anne Jane Barron (22 January 1867, in Aberdeen), daughter of James Barron "of Bombay" and Mary Wilson. [*7] They lived for the next four years at Newton House near Elgin, and then moved out to New Zealand for the last time in September 1871, where he died, the year after his wife, on 23rd March 1878. They are both buried in the Old Napier Cemetery, New Zealand. They had four sons and a daughter, all of whom initially returned to Scotland. Some of his descendants still live on parts of the original Olrig Station in New Zealand, the others (such as myself) being scattered around the globe!
* Williamina Pope Smith, born 20 March 1839, unmarried ca.1863.
The family appear to have had a "privileged" upbringing. They were schooled by a tutor at home, as can be seen in the census records, and their father bought another property in Caithness, on the edge of the moors, apparently specifically for its shooting.

Olrig Family Gathering    Most of the rest of the documents referring to James Smith kept by the Scottish Records Office are copies of Bonds and Dispositions, which were the agreements under which private mortgages were formalised, where land and property was the collateral. [*8]In 1824, James Smith lent 3500 pounds to William Sinclair of Freswick. Sinclair's lands at Achingail and others in the parish of Bower being the collateral. In 1827 he lent Harry Craig 1150 pounds, the security for which was various small properties in and around Wick. [*9]

     In 1842 however, he became a borrower himself. A Bond & Disposition dated 5 November 1842 establishes the lands of Over and Nether Olrig, Kirkfield and Borgie as security for a loan of 7000 pounds from "Robert Lyme, sometime in the service of the honourable East India Company". [*10] Why James Smith should have been borrowing money now, when only a few years previously he had been a lender, can only be guessed at, however he had married again in the interim and there is a good chance it was to pay for the building works being undertaken at Olrig. The history of this mortgage is quite interesting, as it was sold later in 1842, by Robert Lyme's trustees (he having died in the meantime) to Capt. Robert Williamson Ramsay, late of the 42nd Highlanders (The Black Watch). The following year. Capt. Ramsay married Julia Maria Burgess Head, daughter of Sir Francis Bond Head Bart., and under the terms of the contract of Indenture (marriage settlement) had to set up a trust to the value of 20,000 pounds for his new wife. Half of the 7,000 pound Bond & Disposition was transferred into her name to form part of this trust. It is interesting to note that one of the witnesses to this document is James Smith's great nephew, William Smith "residing at Olrig, son of the late James Smith" (of Hayfield). Finally, on 25th November 1845, Capt. and Mrs. Ramsay renounce all claims to Olrig, the debt having been repaid.

     In 1842, under a Contract of Excambion between James Smith and James Traill of Rattar, the boundaries of Olrig were slightly redrawn. [*11] Traill wanted to build a road across the lands of Gothigill, Brae-edge and Quarryside, which formed part of the estate of Olrig, in order to provide access to a quarry of his at Sibmister. The land covered by the road was exchanged for a part of the estate of East Murkle, owned by Traill. In the same document they also agreed to exchange further land in order to tidy up their mutual boundary. Great lengths were gone to to ensure that the exchange was equitable, the lands involved being valued by an independent arbiter, before the exchange was finalised. An interesting reference is made to the right to take shell sand from the Bay of Murkle and from the sands below Castleton, which in those days was spread on the fields as fertiliser.

     In July 1848, a most interesting Instrument of Sasine was presented at Wick. [*12]In it, sasine was given to James Smith, of the considerable barony of Hempriggs. The barony consisted of large areas of land in and around Wick, including the manor house of Hempriggs and the castles of Old Wick, Girnigo and Sinclair. It would appear that there may have been some bad blood between James Smith and Sir George Dunbar of Hempriggs, because this Instrument of Sasine, instead of being established by mutual agreement in the normal way, was established by the courts after James Smith succeeded in obtaining a Decree of Adjudication from the Lords of Council and Session in Edinburgh, to establish his right of sasine over the barony, due to the fact that Dunbar of Hempriggs owed him money.

     The money owing was a considerable sum for those days, namely a principle sum of 18,600 pounds, plus interest overdue, which raised the total owing to 23,900 pounds. However, Dunbar does not appear to have wasted too much time raising the money, because in November of the following year, James Smith renounced all rights to the barony of Hempriggs, the moneys owing having been repaid.

     James Smith's will [*13] was recorded at Wick on September 4th 1853, and makes interesting reading, particularly the inventory and valuation of his possessions, some of which I list below:-
 
 
L
s.
d.
    Four-poster bed & curtains
 
15
-
   Writing desk old
 
2
6
   Night stool and pan
 
10
6
   Organ and stand
 
3
3
   Two frying pans
 
3
-
   A set of shoe brushes
 
1
6
   Four bedroom candle sticks
 
2
-
   Twelve drawing room chairs
15
-
-
   Old mahogany table
4
10
-
   Piano and stool
10
10
-
   Tray with shells
 
5
-
   Three wool door mats
 
7
6
   Four poster bed and curtains
8
8
-
   "Dressing table, mahogany"
1
1
-
   Gilded portrait and frame
1
1
-
   Basin stand & vase
 
5
-
   Stair carpet with 24 brass rods and eyes
1
5
-
   Copper coal scuttle
 
5
-
   Mahogany sideboard
2
2
-
   Rose wood table
4
4
-
   Dining table in five parts
8
8
-
   Plated stand with 3 wine decanters
1
1
-
   Three crystal butter coolers
 
2
6
   Seventy two wine and spirit glasses
1
2
-
   Two barometers
 
15
6
   Coffee mill and pan
 
4
6
   "Silver tea pot, sugar bowl & cream jug 52oz."
13
13
-
   Forty five tea towels
 
11
3
   One hundred & fifty bedroom towels
1
6
6
   Family bible
 
10
6
   Four hundred and fourteen books
10
7
-
   Two portraits in frames
6
6
-
   "Gold watch, chain, two seals and three keys"
8
10
-
   Eye glass set in gold
1
5
-
   Silver mounted spectacles
 
10
6
   One hundred & fifty one bottles of wine
16
9
9
   Ninety two bottles of whisky
4
12
-
   One four wheeled carriage
6
10
-
   Two carriage horses
24
-
-
   Cheese press
1
1
-
   A white cow
5
10
-
   A dung cart
3
-
-
   Turnip sowing machine
1
10
-
   Five sets of cart and plough harness
13
13
-
   Machinery of threshing mill
50
-
-
   Thirty five ewes
31
10
-
   Thirty five hogs
27
-
-
   Two acres of turnips
12
-
-
   Seven hundred stone of clover hay
17
10
-

...... and so on, close to five hundred items in all. I have always wondered what happened to the family bible, and in whose house the portraits now hang.

     The will itself is a long and involved document, full of much legal verbiage, but showing that James Smith was a very punctilious man, taking great care that his wife and younger children would be properly provided for, while at the same time protecting his heir's inheritance. To this end, his will, which was first written and recorded in 1844, and the codicils added between 1844 and 1851, runs to thirty five pages.

     The executors of the will were established in 1844 as his wife Isabella, her brother Robert Pope Ross and their brother in law, Hugh Duff of Edderton (although the latter was outlived by J.S. himself). The fact that there are no Smiths among the executors suggest that there were few if any other members of his family apart from his own and his brother William's descendants.

     The terms of the will were, that on his attaining his majority, his eldest son should inherit the entire estate of Olrig together with the properties of London, Londonderry and Achalybster in the parish of Halkirk (the shooting property). Also the Thurso Tanworks and other property in Thurso originally owned by his first father in law. In short, the "entire estate" including the mansion house, furniture, silver, books and farm stock, but subject to certain burdens, which were as follows:-
1. His wife Isabella was to receive from the estate a yearly annuity of 200 pounds, this to be reduced to 150 pounds in the event that she should remarry.
2. Isabella was to continue to be able to live at Olrig House until his heir reached the age of 25. However, if she remarried she had to move out of Olrig at once and was no longer to be a trustee of the estate!
3. A sum of 1000 pounds was to be paid to each of his younger children on their reaching the age of 21, and a sum of 5000 pounds was to be paid to each younger child upon his heir attaining the age of 21.
4. The estate was to provide legacies of 250 pounds to his two grand nephews, William and James Smith (in addition to the 150 pounds already given to William), and a legacy of 1000 pounds to his grand niece Flora Smith.

     James Smith of Olrig died at Olrig House Caithness on February 25th 1853, aged about 93. I assume that he is buried in the railed family enclosure in the old kirkyard at Olrig, although the only headstone there is that of his grand-daughter.



Sources:-
 
[*1] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02386
[*2] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02386/2
[*3] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02386/5
[*4] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02386/4
[*5] Aberdeen University records.
[*6] Letters from the Lord Lyon's office, in my possession
[*7] Marriage certificate of HWPS and AJB.
[*8] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02386/3
[*9] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02389/2
[*10] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02389/6
[*11] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02389/3
[*12] Scottish Records Office: reference # B02390/4
[*13] Scottish Records Office: reference # SC 14/40/4/P.380-416
[*14] Extract from "The Baronage of Angus and Mearns"
[*15] Correspondence with Miss Georgette Kinloch-Smyth
[*16] Source: Mrs Morris of Olrig, Caithness.

 
      Go to The Family Card of James Smith & Isabella Ross

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