The Barony of Coigach: Estate of Cromarty

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The Barony of Coigach:
Estate of Cromarty

This file is an excerpt by permission from the July 1969 Doctoral thesis of Alan Gibson Macpherson, M.A. titled;

A reconstruction of the human geography of some
parts of the Scottish Highlands, 1747 - 1784

The entire thesis is scanned and online at the McGill University website, see;

A professional biography of Dr. Macpherson, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, can be seen at;

This file is one of many dealing with history and genealogy of the Coigach district of Scotland, they link from my webpage at;

Any suggestions for additional files or edits to existing ones please email me,

Donald MacDonald-Ross



        In the eighteenth century settlement and land use in the Highlands were intimately related to the prevailing system of land tenure. Tenure, in turn, was generally associated with formal denominations of land and their subdivisions. It might be said that, just as land tenure provided a framework for usufruct and residence, so land denomination provided a formal framework for land tenure. It is necessary, therefore, to consider the relationship which existed between the traditional system of land denomination existing in each district and the accepted forms and patterns of land tenure, preliminary to examination of settlement and land use.

[ CHAPTER II continues "This chapter will be concerned with defining this relationship in terms of the intricacies of the two systems. It will begin with a detailed examination of the situation on the Estate of Clunie, and then consider the relationship in more general terms as found on other estates." See unexcerpted thesis linked at top of file for continuation of this chapter ]

The Barony of Coigach: Estate of Cromarty

        Although the generalisation has been made that the davoch system was characteristic of the northeastern Highlands while the merkland system prevailed in the Western Highlands, there are exceptions. The annexed barony of the estate of Cromarty, the Coigach, was one of these. Unfortunately, the rental surveys of Coigach do not present a uniform or consistent picture of the system of land denomination prevailing in that district. But the judicial rental of 1748 refers to a feu of "the half-davochlands of Ballwin, the quarterlands of Achlunachan, the quarterlands and grazings of Strathnashallaig, commonly called Aultown and Larichinteavoir, and the oxgate-lands and grazings of Craigouer ...."; to a "half-oxgate of the Isle of Gruinard, Priest Island, Glassleack", part of a wadset; to "Scorraig, a pendicle of the quarterland of Keppoch"; and to the two oxgates of Glastullich and one oxgate of Dalivraid in the Strath of Achall. The same rental also refers to "four pecks of the six peckland of Lossitmore in Ullapool; the half-peck of Rimore in Ullapool; the half-peck of Pollichoir".(54) In another report of 1764-65 there is a reference to three conjoint tenants possessing "the four pecks of Inverpolly" in unequal shares of "two and a half pecks", "one peck", and "half a peck".(55)

        Although the quarterlands, oxgates and half-oxgates of Coigach are reminiscent of the ploughs, sauchtens and half-auchtens of Badenoch, there is nothing in the records of the annexed barony to permit the equation or even to suggest that the davoch system was ubiquitous throughout the district.

        If the records on the annexed barony of Coigach are reticent on the nature and extent of the formal system of land denomination, they are very forthcoming on matters of tenure not well exposed in the records of Clunie and the other annexations.

        The history of tenure on the barony for the period immediately preceding the Annexation is well expressed in the judicial rental report of 1755. "About fifteen years before the late rebellion the late Lord Cromarty sett in tack the whole Barrony of Coigeach to the possessors for fifteen years" (c.1730-45). In 1749, in terms of the clause in the Vesting Act empowering factors on the forfeitures to grant three-year leases, John Baillie, the first factor appointed on Cromarty, set the whole barony in tack to one, Alexander McKenzie of Fairburn for a rent of 2,615 - 18 - 4d Scots. The tack contained the invidious clause: "To outputt and input the tenants at the tacksman's pleasure", on which a later report laconically commented: "This was certainly too extensive a power, and might readily be supposed to be abused by the tacksman".(56) The tack was assigned or transferred immediately to Murdoch McKenzie of Achilty, proprietor of Achlunachan and Garvan at the head of Loch Broom, one of the feus of the Cromarty estate, and also possessor since 1745 of the Riddorach grazings in the easternmost part of the barony.(54) The arbitrary decisions of this Powerful tenant between 1749 and 1755 led to the belief among tbe small tenants that he was acting as sub-factor for the Crown factor, to vigorous complaints from the subtenants, and to a full-scale inquiry into his alleged abuses in 1755 from which much of the following data are derived. Christie's inquiry was immediately preceded by John Forbes' rental survey, the second of a series of such surveys, so the subtenants' complaints and the inquiry can be seen in historical context.

Figure 2.5

Figure 2.6

Figure 2.7

Figure 2.8

        Figures 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, and 2.8 show the tenure pattern in the survey years 1748, 1755 and 1777. Figure 2.5 shows the pattern that existed after the Barons of Exchequer had assumed responsibility, but before the Fairburn-Achilty tack of the whole barony had been granted. Figures 2.6 and 2.7 show the pattern created by Achilty and as it had settled down under the Annexation. Figure 2.8 shows the pattern as it emerged from the policy adopted to carry out Christie's recommendations and those of a later enquiry conducted by Swinton, another officer of the Annexed Estates Office. The barony formed a major and continuous Part of the estate between Loch Broom and the Sutherland-shire boundary, while the rest of the estate in Wester Ross consisted of a number of detached feus and wadsets south and west of Loch Broom, none of which played any significant role in the history of the Annexation or its documentation.

        For the datum year 1755 Figures 2.6 and 2.7 show that the settled parts of the barony fell into two groups of contiguous farms, separated by the Forest of Coigach. The Forest, which included the deeply corned Torridonian peaks of Ben More Coigach (2458', Cul Mor (2786') and Cul Beag (2523'), was valued in both 1748 and 1755 at 100 merks Scots or 5 - 11 - 14/12d Sterling and described in 1748 as a rough grazing "fit only for pasturing for yell [barren] cattle in the summer season". The farms northwest of the Forest were known collectively as the Aird of Coigach (which included the Summer Isles) and the Kerrowgarve or "Rough Quarter" on the Lewisian gneiss north of the chain of freshwater lakes, Lochs Osgaig, Bad a' Ghaill and Lurgainn and centring on Loch Shionascaig. The farms southeast of the Forest lay along the outer shore of Loch Broom and in Strath Kanaird and Glen Achall.

        The most interesting feature in the geography of tenure on the barony in 1755 was the distinct difference in structure between the two areas of settlement: the Loch Broom-Strathkanaird-Glenachall area included all the farms in conjoint possession of small tenants, seven in all, while virtually all the farms where single tacksmen had installed or accepted subtenants were in the Aird and the Kerrowgarve. The distinction is even stronger if the tacksmen on the Kerrowgarve farms of Leorchircaig and Shianascaig were in fact subtenants of the former tacksman of Corrie on Loch Broom and of Achnahaird in the Aird as alleged in the judicial rental of 1748 (Figure 2.5), and when it is noted that of the two farms in Strathkanaird with subtenants Auchindrain was a wadset possessed by one Aulay McAulay, a merchant formerly of Stornoway, and South Langwell was claimed as a wadset in the 1748 rental by Kenneth McKenzie. It is perhaps significant that virtually all the subtenants - and certainly all the large groups of subtenants - in the Aird and the Kerrowgarve in 1755 were on farms possessed by McKenzie and McAulay tacksmen.

        An undated report entitled "The Barony of Coigach", referring to the population, notes that "The prevailing names are McKenzies and McLeods, a lazie ignorant people, but not addicted to thieving, nor are they so poor as the people of the Barony of Strathpeffer".(57) The McLeods in Coigach were a branch of the broken Clan McLeod of Lewis, and had formerly been the dominant clan in possession of land in the barony. Early in the seventeenth century, however, a series of marriages had brought various cadets of the McKenzies of Kintail into Coigach to supplant the McLeod tacksmen.(58) It is tempting to suggest that the three-year tack of the barony granted by the Barons in 1749 was simply a means towards furthering this process. The 1748 rental indicates that McLeods were prominent numerically among the conjoint tacksmen or small tenants in the Loch Broomsside farms of tillable (Ullapool) and Corrie, possessing more than half of the latter. It also indicates that the farm of Keanachrine-Morechyle, including Isle Martin, had formerly had a McLeod tacksman; that Dalkinloch in Glen Achall had a McLeod tacksman; and that McLeods conjointly possessed more than two-thirds of the Aird farm of Badintarbat, including Tanera More, the largest of the Summer Isles. McLeods were also numerically strong among the "maillers and subtenants" recorded on the farm of Achnahaird, a tack belonging to McKenzie of Corrie, prisoner in London since 1746. It is clear from Figure 2.5 and the above facts that the McLeods were indeed a very considerable component in the social structure of the barony in 1748, with a corresponding share in the control of resources. By 1755 they had lost Dalkinloch and Keanachrine-Morechyle-Isle Martin to McKenzie tacksmen, had been reduced in numbers in Corrie and Ullable, and had been replaced by McAulay and McKenzie tacksmen in Badentarbat and Tanera More. The effect of the 1749 tack of the barony was to install McKenzie tacksmen and small tenants at the expense of McLeods and others, and to reduce the latter to the status of subtenants. The tack held by McKenzie of Corrie for Achnahaird and Rieff must be construed as an earlier phase of the process represented by the Fairburn-Achilty tack of the barony.

        In 1755 seventeen subtenants on the McKenzie tack of Achnahaird jointly paid 220 Scots (330 merks) for occupying the "outskirts" of the farm, including Rieff, the whole farm paying 233 - 6 - 8d (350 merks). It was from Rieff that the spokesman for the complaining subtenants emerged in 1755: one Roderick McLeod. The case continued from 1755 to 1762 and involved refutation of many of the allegations of the subtenants. Nevertheless, the allegations represented strongly held views and are worthy of quotation as describing two classes of components in the population in competition for control of resources, and one of which was in a dependent position to the other. After alleging that arbitrary fines and doubling of rent had been imposed upon the subtenants on Achnahaird-Rieff, and that four evictions had occurred (three involving McLeods), the complaint continued by way of generalisation:

Those are only called tacksmen who possess a large extent of ground which they parcel out to sub-tenants and cottars. The tacksmen possess the best and most lucrative parts themselves; ten families are hampered in the small farm of Rive (Rieff) scarce sufficient to maintain one of them. While the Tacksman's possession, which besides arable lands has grass enough to maintain 30 or 40 cows, pays perhaps scarce 20 merks, these subtenants which cannot maintain 3 or 4 cows pay twice or thrice as much. ... They are forced to undergo the hardest slavery and perform the vilest drudgery in the way of carriage, and compelled to till all the lands they [the tacksmen possess, cut down their corns, cast and cure their peats, build and repair their dwelling and office houses, and do all other services. None but a tacksman durst keep a boat for fishing, so that they either fished none at all, or when they did, they employed the tacksman's boat and paid a fifth part of the profit of it.

In petitions which initiated and continued the case, McLeod summed up the situation and its social and political implications:

Thus a few persons enrich themselves with the spoils of, and with impunity tyranise over numbers of other families that were in as good and often better circumstances and of a character at least as good as those very tacksmen (no inconsiderable title amongst us nowadays) before they were made such. And he must beg leave to add, that the true source of Rebellions and Tumults in the Western Highlands, is the slavish dependence in which the commons are forced to live, which leaves their properties and almost their lives at the disposal of their leading men, as it is more this day in Coigach than ever.(59)

        A fine point concerning the relationship between tenure and sovereignty over resources occurred in the case of the subtenants on the Aird farm of Dornie, where William McKenzie, a principal tacksman installed by Achilty in 1754, was accused of failing to share with his alleged subtenants the shore dues "exacted from the shipmasters and herring fishers to the amount of 50". In replying to this charge at Christie's inquiry, the tacksman raised the very pertinent question: "But as these people pretend to be tacksmen and not subtenants it is submitted to your Lordships to determine how far that is the case, and consequently how far they are entitled to such a claim (to shares of shore dues)". The same point was made in the factor's summary of the situation immediately prior to Christie's visit to Ullapool

I thought the Commissioners had known that all the subtenants on the Annexed Estates as well as the greatest part of the North of Scotland are lyable to these very inconveniencys, and that it is not in the power of the factor to redress these grievances until such time as the Commissioners concert a proper method and lay down a regular plan for setting the lands in terms of the Annexing Act, which is partly designed to remedy that very evil. It is the custom in the Highlands and in the greatest part of the North, that when a tenant takes a large farm, he subsetts the skirt and worst part of it to poor people at as high a rate as he can, and takes them obliged to perform many services, and the rent and services paid by them is generally much higher in proportion than what is paid by the principall tacksman. Sometimes he subsetts so much of it this way, that he enjoys the best part of it himself for nothing at all; and that this is the case in Coigach and several other parts of the Annexed Estates, I believe to be very true, and don't at all doubt but that these poor creatures, the subtenants, are frequently oppress'd by these tacksmen, their masters. ... Many of the subtenants ... are some of them beggars, others, perhaps, thieves, and some not worth 20 shillings. This is the case with many of them, tho' not the whole, but they are all extremely impatient to be rid of the rents and services payable to the principall tacksmen, which will be reasonable to do in terms of the Annexing Act as soon as the nature of the thing will admit".(60)

        The solution was laid down in principle in a letter given to Roderick McLeod on a visit to Edinburgh in August 1756, "that since Whit. 1756 he is a King's Tenant and is to pay rent to Captn Forbes".(61) It was not in "the nature of the thing" that this could be applied immediately, and in fact oppression of the subtenants continued in various forms till 1762. But the rental of 1777 indicates that subtenancy had been abolished by that date, and that much of the barony remained in conjoint farms. On the other hand, all the surviving single-tenant farms were then under regular lease to McKenzie and McAulay tacksmen (Figure 2.8).


  1. F.E.P. Vol. 141: Judicial Rental of Coygach, 1748.
  2. Coigach 3: Swinton's report on petition of Lieut. McLeod in Inverpolly, read 18 Feb. 1765.
  3. F.E.P. Vol. 142: Rental of Cromarty, 1755; Coigach 3: Report concerning McKenzie of Achilty, 1762.
  4. Coigach 3.
  5. CLARK, J.T., 1900: 86, 94, 96.
  6. Coigach 3: Petition, Roderick McLeod in Rive, 16 Sept. 1755 and 20 Jan. 1756.
  7. Coigach 3: Letter, John Forbes, Castle Leod, 8 Nov. 1755.
  8. Coigach 3: William Alston, Report on Examination of Roderick McLeod of Rive, 12, 14 Aug. 1756.


Auchten, Auchten part

A common division of land in Old Scots; half a plough or an eighth of a davach (q.v.); equivalent to the merkland (q.v.). Probably from aucht, eight, but possibly related to aucht to own, to be the owner of, possessed of.

Barony, Baron Baillie, Baron-baillie court

A freehold estate on which civil and criminal jurisdiction could be exercised, usually through a deputy or baillie; the court of justice held by a baron or his baron-baillie.


A dry measure used in Scots agriculture. A boll of oats, barley or potatoes contained about 6 imperial bushels.


A man having charge of, or a tenant occupying, a 'bow' or cattle farm. From Scots bow, a homestead, or Gaelic bo cattle.


The sail-fish or basking shark; Gaelic.


A farm-cluster or hamlet occupied by conjoint small tenants on a Highland grass farm; one of several such hamlets where several tenancies occupy a grass farm conjointly, each enjoying exclusive right to its own area of arable. From Gaelic, the stones.


A patrilineal kin-group, bearing the same surname and descended from a common ancestor. The term was used comprehensively, and has entered English in this sense; it was also used to refer to the living members of a single lineage, particularly where it was highly localised. From Gaelic cloinne, plural clann, children.


Equalisation of different kinds and ages of livestock; the local equation for converting units of carrying capacity for a grass farm or grazing into different kinds and ages of stock. Gaelic.

Daugh, davach, davochland

A formal division of land formerly used in the north and east of Scotland, generally equal to four ploughlands (q.v.); a unit for assessment, and possibly a measure of productivity. From Gaelic dabhach, a vat or measure of land.


Gaelic: the place of one's birth; a hereditary right; the possession of land by whatever right if one's ancestors have lived in the same place; the right of ancient possession, allegedly established by the continuous residence of three successive generations.

Endogamy, Exogamy

Prevalence of marriage within and outside the clan (q.v.). When marriage within the local farm-community is discussed, the term farm-endogamy is used.


Mating. From Scots eassin or eisin, to desire the male, e.g. of a cow; to be in heat. Possibly cognate with oestrum, in heat.


One who has charge of the administration of an estate.

Farthingland, Farthing

The quarter of a pennyland in the West Highlands.

Hog, hogg

A sheep retained till a year old; a sheep smeared at the end of harvest but not yet shorn of its first fleece.

Heritable Jurisdictions

A collective term for various ancient rights attaching to certain lands entitling their owners to hold local courts of justice, and which were abolished by the Heritable Jurisdictions Act, 1746.

Liferent, liferenter

A right to receive till death (or some other specified contingency) the revenue of a property without the right to dispose of the capital. A man or woman (liferentrix) who has a liferent.

Matrilocal residence

Where baptisms occurred on the farm on which the mother resided at time of marriage; identical with uxorilocal.


A formal denomination of land used for purposes of assessment. As the term is derived from Scots, a merk, a silver coin valued at 13s.4d Scots or thirteen and one-third pence Sterling, the merkland was divisible into such fractions as a 6s.8d-land (half-merkland), a 3s.4d-land (quarter-merkland), a 10s.-land (three-quarter-merkland), or a 5s.-land (three-eighth-merkland).

Nurse, nursehound

The dogfish or shark (various species).

Patrilocal residence

Where baptisms occurred on the farm on which the father resided at time of marriage; identical with virilocal.

Patri-matrilocal residence

Where baptisms occurred on the farm where both parents were resident at marriage, i.e. where the marriage was farm-endogamous.


A dry measure used in Scots agriculture: about one-quarter of a bushel. There were 24 pecks to the boll (q.v.)


An attached piece of ground; a small piece of ground, either depending on a larger farm or let separately by the owner.


Usually defined as a division of land in those parts of Scotland at one time under Norse occupation; an eighteenth or twentieth of an ounceland or urisland. In the West Highland districts of Morar and Knoydart, however, it was equivalent to a merkland (Q.v.). In Lochaber it was used in the sense of a fraction of a merkland, e.g. a 20-pennyland was one-eighth of a merkland, i.e. ls.8d Scots. Lochaber also provided one example where a 20-pennyland was an expression of land denomination in Sterling, equivalent to a 20-shilling or pound land in Scots money, that is, to one and a half merklands.

Plough, ploughland

A formal subdivision of the davach (q.v.): a quarterland or quarter of a davach, and containing two auchtens (q.v.).

Possession; possessors

A tenancy or tack; a piece of ground; a small farm held under lease, often by verbal agreement; a share in a communal or conjoint farm. Persons enjoying such possession.

Poynding, poindler

Rounding up and confining stray animals as surety for compensation for damage committed by them. A herdsman or shepherd empowered so to act.


A formal division of the davach (c.v.) in the Northern and North-eastern Highlands. From Gaelic ceathramh, a quarter, as in many placenames, e.g. Kerrowmianach, the middle quarter.

Shealing, shealling, shieling

A summer hut or residence for those who have the care of stock; a bothy or cottage made of turf; the dairyhouse where the Highland herdsmen and dairymaids lived with their herds and flocks, and during the fine season made butter and cheese. Such huts usually occurred in clusters and formed summer hill-villages.


Gaelic: posterity or descendants, always patrilineal in the Highlands and including women after marriage and all illegitimate children; a tribe or clan including dead generations.


A livestock unit equivalent to the grazing of one milk cow and her followers.


The proportional relationship of stock to grazing land; the process of calculating and fixing the stocking appropriate to a grazing; the just apportioning of stock among conjoint tenants.

Steelbow tack

A tenancy in which the gear, seed and breeding stock are supplied by and continue to belong to the landlord; a Highland form of metayage.


One who has taken a sublet of part of a farm from its principal tenant.

Tack, tacksman

The lease or possession of a farm or share of a conjoint farm; one who holds such a lease or possession. The principal tacksman was one who leased one or more whole farms, and who undertook to guarantee the rent of the lesser tacksmen or conjoint small-tenants, the term tacksman eventually coming to be restricted to the class of principal tacksmen. Cognate to English, to take.


Lowland Scots: a breeding ram.

Wadset, wadsetter, wadsetland

A tenure by legal deed, whereby a debtor gives his lands or other heritable property into the hands of his creditor, that the latter may draw the rents in payment of the interest; one who enjoys such tenure; the lands held under wadset. In the Highlands the wadset was usually an agreement between landlord or baron and one of his principal tacksmen (q.v.), such that the annual rent of the farm was exactly equivalent to the interest (generally 5 per cent) on the principal wadset sum loaned by tenant to landlord. Redemption of the wadset was usually prohibited until an agreed period of time had elapsed, e.g. twenty years, three generations. From Scots, wad, a pledge; to wad, to pledge, promise or engage.


Scots for wether, a castrated male sheep.

Yell or yell cattle

Barren cows; cows too young to bear; the preferred meaning in the Highlands in the latter half of the eighteenth century was: cows not giving milk though old enough to take the bull; dry cows, part of the breeding stock and taking up one whole soum (q.v.) of the grazing. From Icelandic gelid, gall, barren.

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