To the editor of the Northern Ensign


The Times, London, England, Tuesday, Feb 18, 1890; pg. 5; Issue 32938; col E
"The Caithness Peerage. - The late earl of Caithness died in May, 1889, having willed his lands out of his family, the title only being left to his nearest male heir. last month the Sheriff of Chancery, Edinburgh, gave judgement on a petition by Mr. James Augustus Sinclair, of Aberdeen, serving him as nearest and lawful heir male in general of the late Earl. Mr James Sinclair's peition to the Crown claiming the peerage will therefore come before the House of Lords at an early date. In the meanwhile the peerage is claimed on behalf of the Sinclairs of Broynach by Mr Thomas Sinclair, M.A., who alleges that this is the senior line of the family, that since 1772 the peerage has been usurped by a cadet branch, and that evidence has only recently become available establishing the legality of the marriage, in the year 1700, from which the Sinclairs of Broynach descend. Mr. Thomas Sinclair has just presented to the Committee of Privileges a petition on behalf of the Sinclairs of Broynach praying for such delay as may enable the rights of the case to be determined."

"...The ‘John O’Groats Journal’ was founded 1836. Of the other Caithness newspapers, once flourishing but now extinct, including the ‘Caithness Charter’, the most famous was the ‘Northern Ensign’, founded by John Mackie and managed by William Rae." [ ‘Caithness from 1800 to the present day’ in ‘The County of Caithness’ - The Third Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. XIXA - ed. John S. Smith ]




SIR, - His Honour, Judge Pitt Taylor, the great authority on what is evidence, admits hearsay and statements before law is moved as proper to pedigree. In July, 1843, at the Temple, London, he began his book for English lawyers, founded on Dr Greenleaf’s American treatise on the law of evidence. Declarations are not excluded till the suit is actually begun. "Pedigree is an exception to the general rule rejecting hearsay evidence, as enquiries are over many years before the trial, and grievous failure of justice would occur if the ordinary rules of evidence were enforced." Persons who are de jure related by blood or marriage are admitted to the extent of allowing hearsay upon hearsay, and even general repute in the family when the declarations may not be contemporaneous with the facts. As to this last point, Lord Brougham pithy fixed it, by saying that otherwise the statement of deceased person as to the maiden name of his own grandmother could not be taken, which would be totally absurd. The evidence of deceased persons is admitted as to facts which living witnesses can prove. Sir James Mansfield agrees with Brougham that "it being impossible to prove by living witnesses the relationships of past generations, the declarations of deceased members of the family are admitted." Pedigree evidence consists of oral declarations by deceased relatives; family ways or conduct as to recognising relationship and giving property; entries made in bibles, prayer-books, missals, almanacs, or in any book or document, as to birth, death, or marriage; deceased correspondence, marriage settlements, family deeds, wills, even cancelled wills and papers not of the family if in official custody; inscriptions on tombstones, on coffin plates, family portraits, engravings on rings, mural[?] monuments, and lineage trees, the inscriptions provable by copy armorial bearings, herald’s boks, legal inquisition, parish registers, and many other kinds of public documents, home and foreign. Dickson in his "Evidence in Scotland" says that conversations are admissable as to the pedigree of claimants; but he draws the curious line as to peerage books, that they can only be used to prove that names in them had died childless. The slander put upon the Broynachs, in a manner, quite unintentionally, by Burke, and other peerage writers is a good illustration of the acuteness of Dickson’s distinction.

But to avoid abstruse legal technicalities, let some family depositions of exactly the right and admitted type now come. That they have appeared unexpectedly, and from the most distant quarters enhances their intrinsic value.

David Sinclair of East Bellarine, Geelong, Victoria, landowner, second son of the Hon. John Sinclair and Barbara Cormack, Hempriggs, baptised 8th February, 1812, witnesses David Mackay and John Cormack as by Wick parish register, depones that his father’s father was James Sinclair, chamberlain at Thrumster House; that he remembers that this James, his grandfather, was at one time making salt in Sarclet Harbour; and that he also has a recollection of hearing that the chamberlain’s grandfather, his own great-grandfather, traded the salt made by James between Sarclet and Moray side. Depones that deponent’s great-grandfather was Donald Sinclair; and that he owned a ship, and was its captain. Depones that he heard that James the chamberlain and Donald his father were the descendants of the former earls of Caithness, and were wrongly put out of their inheritance; but deponent does not recollect hearing that either of them put in an actual claim to the earldom by legal process. Depones that James the chamberlain had a house in the village of Sarclet, and deponent remembers perfectly the names of the chamberlain’s brothers and sisters, his own grand-uncles and grand-aunts. Francis lived in Ulbster, and was married, but his wife died early in life; John was a farmer in Gansclett, and married; Robert was another of deponent’s grand-uncles; Henry, a fourth, in Milton, Wick, was lame; and their sisters were Christina, Catherine, Ann, and Elizabeth. Depones that he never heard of a William in the family of Donald; nor did he hear of such a person as being a farmer in Ross-shire. If Donald had a legitimate son William, deponent would have known his name, as the names of brothers and sisters, deponent’s grand-uncles and grand-aunts, are quite familiar to him; but if William was illegitimate, his name would not be mentioned, owing to anything approaching illegitimacy being held in such contempt by the family. Deponent’s grand-aunt Catherine was a school-mistress in Hempriggs, at a place called Charity, or at Brough; and about the year 1820 he attended her school. She was then unmarried. Depones that her brother, James the Chamberlain, deponent’s grandfather died about the time one of deponent’s sisters was born for he remembers that his mother, Barbara Cormack, was not strong enough to go with her husband to the funeral, but he cannot recollect which sister. Depones that the chamberlain died between 1820 and 1823, and that he was about 80 years of age. Deponent remembers that Elizabeth was the name of his second wife, and that his first wife’s family were Alexander Sinclair, farmer in Clyth, where he died, and Catherine (Mrs William Fraser), who went south in youth, but returned, and died in Sarclet. Depones that by his second wife James the Chamberlain had Francis, David , and John; that Francis was an officer in the Royal Navy, and left about £700, regarding which there was a scandal in 1816 as to its not reaching the proper heir, his brother John, deponent’s father; that David was Born in Sarclet, married to Catherine Mackay, and died without issue at Sarclet; and that only John, the youngest of the second family, had and has descendants. Alexander of the first family, deponent remembers, married Betty McRyrie (Elizabeth Sutherland).

James Sinclair, Point Henry, Geelong, retired railway contractor, shipowner, and merchant, fourth son of the Hon. John Sinclair and brother of the preceeding witness, aged 75, depones that he remembers going with his father to his deathbed of James the Chamberlain, and he thinks the old man would be about 78 or 80; that deponent had at the time a baby sister about two or three months old , and that she was Anne (Mrs Alexander Fraser), Helmsdale, Sutherlandshire (born in 1822). Depones that when his father left the position of chamberlain, he went fishcuring in Sarclet; that he once carried a herring net on his shoulder from Inverness to that village, and that he walked twice within twenty four hours from Thrumster House to Thurso for medical aid to the lady of Harpsdale at the birth of one of her children. Depones that the chamberlain’s father was Donald, shipowner and captain, a descendant of the elder lords of Caithness; that Donald’s children’s names were all known to him, and that there was no William, unless he was an unlawful child. Depones that the sister Christina, deponent’s great-aunt,was married to John Sinclair, a farmer in Tannach, and that she died early in life, between 40 and 50. Deponent knew Francis Sinclair in Scarclet well, a farmer with his father in Ulbster; and eldest brother to George and James of Adelaide, Australia, and further depones that James the Chamberlain was his grand-uncle, and therefore he was deponent’s second cousin.

This is the Ulbster chamberlain family, related by marriage to the Broynachs. It has to be added that the evidence of these two brothers came in a combined form, and that it has been separated for greater clearness, but that it is hardly possible to give the right proportions of what each has contributed. The union gives special strength, as both subscribe to the whole. They had the goodness and energy to meet specially at the house of John Sinclair (David’s son and James’s nephew) in Portarlington, Victoria in May 1890, to put down the truth accurately, as mutual recollection and comparison would enable them; and being men of sterling worth and important standing, their statement is of the very highest value. The elder, David, is married to Catherine, daughter of Peter, son of the William Sinclair of Freswick, who died aged 90 on 15th March, 1838; and when the couple left Caithness for Melbourne in 1851, he had considerable private means, while his wife had a good portion left her by her father; their success in the colony corresponding naturally with a condition of comparative affluence at the outset. James from the time that he was a merchant in Newcastle upon Tyne has shown all the signs of a man of real genius, including the skill of making money, his earlier life of theological effort being by no means the least interesting chapter of his remarkable career. The clever reporters of his and subsequent meetings of the aged but still vigorous brothers, particularly the younger, are the above John and his sister Isabella (Mrs Allen), also of Portarlington; and to the latter excellent additional evidence must be credited, at least as its faithful amanuensis, of date 24th June, 1891:-

Anne Crowe (Mrs James Sinclair, Point Henry) aged 67, of English birth, depones that, she remembers the late Alexander Sinclair, her husband’s eldest bother, who was quite an authority on the tradition and history of his ancestors, saying that his great-grandfather was a sea captain, and owned the vessel of which he was captain.

The present Australian contribution of evidence, which effectively aids the claim of James Sinclair, Mid Clyth, to be the rightful Earl of Caithness, and head of the blood, closes with a signed statement by a New Zealand member of the Broynach family:-

Peter Sinclair, Prebbleton, Christchurch, New Zealand, married, with four sons and two daughters, road surveyor and landowner, aged 51, eldest son of David Sinclair of East Bellarine, Geelong, depones that he quite remembers his father stating many years ago his great-grandfather was Donald commonly called Donald the Sailor. Deponent also remembers that deponent’s uncle, the late Alexander Sinclair, brother of his father, David of East Bellarine, said that Donald had a craft of his own, and traded with her round the coast of Caithness and the neighbouring countries. Deponent remembers that Alexander stated that it was Donald the Sailor who completed the task of carrying a herring net from Inverness home to where he lived in Wick parish. James the chamberlain was Donald the Sailor’s son according to Alexander’s statement, who asserted on several occasions that James was the proper heir to the title which the laird of Mey held, and that the so earl knew it, and that this was why he was kept so long as chamberlain at Thrumster House. Deponent remembers that Donald, or his eldest son the chamberlain, was reputed to be very fleet of foot, and could run nearly as fast as people rode in the north at that time. This made a great impression on deponent and he remembers well the statement on the point, made both by his uncle and his father, as, being a Victorian rider then, 30 or 40 years ago, deponent thought it would be a sharp man who could keep alongside of him, though he now knows the way in Scotland was different in the time of Donald and his son James. Deponent had been 18 years in New Zealand,and though he visited Victoria in January, 1889, he had not, because of the pressure of business and time, the opporunity of conversing with his people, especially his father and his uncle James, on their ancestry; but deponent thinks that being the eldest, he may remember better than his sister, Isabella, their uncle Alexander’s statements before he died in Victoria. (Signed Peter Sinclair. July 24th, 1891)

In Wick parish register, the following entry will explain this uncle Alexander, who was so good an authority on his family’s history:- "January 8th, 1810, John Sinclair in Thrumster and Barbara Cormack had their eldest and lawful son Alexander baptized, the witnesses James Sinclair in Clyth" (the Chamberlain) "and John Cormack in Hempriggs." His opportunities of knowledge were only second to those of his eldest sister Elizabeth (Mrs Cormack, Reiss), baptized in 1806, whose evidence has been already extremely valuable, and will be more so in new fields of of consideration, especially with reference to "Scrutator’s dilemma" which, with the greatest respect for the acuteness of his intellect, is in the light of the facts now in possession, published and unpublished, no dilemma at all, but the plainest state of the case possible in favour of James, Mid Clyth. But this will develop in due time, and to the satisfaction of the most trenchant logician, on the accepted lines of ordinary legality. - Yours, &c.


Falmouth, September, 1891

P.S.---In the Government offices of Somerset House, London, I have just discovered the will of Captain James Sinclair of Broynach, H.E.I.C.S., written at Calcutta in 1785, with a codicil added at London in 1787; and by this remarkable document it is clear that he was not in correspondence or sympathy with his heir-presumptive, James the chamberlain, his first cousin. Being still a comparatively young man, there was the possibility of him having a son to be his heir; and there seems besides to have been a jealousy between the families of the two brothers, David and Donald the Sailor, on the ground of the popular but false repute that bastardy was attached to David. At all events, for substantial reasons, the solicitor and executors of Captain James, the rival of the Ratters, did not send the knowledge which had been acquired of the marriage of Hon. David of Broynach and Janet Ewen to their grandson and true representative after 11th January, 1788, James the chamberlain. There is considerable proof that this was the cause why he did not claim publicly, but accepted favour from the conspirators of the Mey connection.     T.S."