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North Kessock & District History

Meeting Reports

6 September 2023

Visiting Lumberjacks in Wartime Scotland

Alasdair Cameron

In the two world wars, wood was used extensively for the production of many thing from paper to telegraph poles and everything else in between. It became a priority to employ skilled people with experience of felling trees, cutting them in to boards, poles or pit props and transporting them out of the forests and in to the factories. The British government called upon Canadian and Newfoundland foresters and the Women’s Land army. Canada was a neutral country and corpse of foresters travelled to Scotland to be part of the war effort having undergone some basic training in military operations.  From Newfoundland, a British Protectorate, men were recruited who were not fit for active service (locally these men were nicknamed Newfies). The Land Army measured, counted and did the accounting – the landowners had to be paid for the wood. We were shown pictures of the badges which were created for the various groups. Sadly, the Land Army badge did not appear until sometime after the two wars. As you would expect with the army there were various ranks and they all had some training in forestry but also specialist trades were required eg blacksmiths, saw doctors and cooks. The Newfies were civilians who rushed to sign up when work at home became scarce. They were also used to cutting down trees in difficult terrain. They had to learn to cut as near the base of a tree as they could so as not to waste any valuable wood.

The first thing they all had to do was to build a camp and Alasdair showed us old photographs of the local camps near Beauly and on the Black Isle. As well as dormitories, canteens and wash houses there were recreation and games halls. We then shown group photos taken to send home to loved ones and eventually wedding photos of the men who married and either stayed in Scotland or went home with their new families.

In the future, Alasdair, has a whole new area to investigate. The British Hondurans who were in Golspie from 1942-46. The Australians and Leman Jews who were also involved.

We then watched a short film – ‘Wood for War’ which was a fascinating insight in to the life of visiting lumberjacks and showed us examples of some of the tools that would have been in use at that time.

This was entertaining and fascinating talk which was well received by the audience of over 39 people.

4 October 2023

Three Medics at Home and Abroad

David Alston

David described how up until the mid-1900s, Scottish universities produced a large number of doctors in comparison to the rest of the UK. They had to seek work outside of Scotland, many with the armed forces as army surgeons, others as general practitioners across the British Isles. A large number found work as doctors on slave ships and slave plantations,

William Brydon (1811-1873), was an army surgeon, immortalised in a painting by Elizabeth Butler, showing a tragic, but heroic figure under the title ‘The Remnants of the Army’, implying that he was the sole survivor of an attack during the First Afghan War. This was not true. Although Elizabeth Butler was the most popular military of the Victorian military artists, she wanted her paintings to impart a sense of heroism — but not to glorify war. Brydon never saw the painting which was produced after his death. He survived the sieges of Kabul and Lucknow and was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath and retired to Pitcalzean House, Nigg.

Dr Colin Chisholm (1754-5-1825) was from Inverness and studied medicine at Edinburgh University. He became a surgeon to the Fraser Highlanders, and embarked to America with them. On his return to Inverness in 1783, through family connections to the Baillies of Dochfour family who had their own established slaving business, he moved to Grenada where he looked after both settlers and slaves on plantations. He contributed many papers to medical journals. After a short sojourn Scotland he returned to Grenada as Surgeon-General to the Ordnance and then Inspector-General to the Ordnance in the Windward Islands. He retired to Demerara where he carried out medical research. Later, he returned to live in Bath and then Switzerland, continuing to write medical books. Although he never returned to the Highlands, he donated 100 guineas for the establishment of the Royal Infirmary in Inverness.

Dr George Gordon Smith (1805-1876), the son of a Forres minister, was a radical and possibly an atheist. His ‘claim to fame’ was fathering two children out of wedlock, for which he was summoned before Cromarty and Resolis Kirk Sessions and sentenced to be publicly rebuked before their congregations. He did not appear and appealed the decisions at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He agreed to one private admonishment. This was the last attempt to invoke public retribution for the crime of fornication. He also had battles in the civil courts which included prosecution and fining for kidnapping (with another Cromarty resident and radical, William Watson) a Tory voter to prevent him from voting in the general election of 1837. Both of these Cromarty radicals were Justices of the Peace at the time. However, he did win some battles, his gravestone can be seen in the Gaelic Chapel in Cromarty.

1st November 2023

Behind the Scenes at the Black Isle Show

Alasdair Cameron

Alasdair came to our rescue after the planned speaker, through a misunderstanding over the date, did not turn up to the meeting.

The Black Isle Farmers’ Society was formed at a meeting in Avoch on 22nd March 1836 and the first Black Isle Show was held at Fortrose on 6th October of the same year.

Volunteers of all ages are the backbone of the Show beginning well in advance of the Show dates with lots of cleaning and painting and continuing through to erecting barriers, gates and ends with taking down and removing for storage until the next year. As the Show date approaches there are numerous jobs to be done like grass cutting and organizing the 50 acres of carparking fields and laying lots of underground cables. There is also a tremendous amount of administration for the judges including preparation and delivery of rosettes and cards. All animals are given a number and every animal has to have a numbered neck card which is sent out a week before the Show. This is when all the washing stations are pressure hosed and put in place and fire extinguishers are checked. Every year there are 1800 pages of regulations to check and put into place. Also, signage on buildings and exits, ensuring all loudspeakers systems are set up and working and traders’ risk assessments completed. Not forgetting, most importantly, to organize food for the helpers.

One event which has proved popular involves four tractors being pulled or pushed with the driver wearing fancy dress. The Flower Show is also a popular event attracting a wide variety of flowers and vegetables. Other events which attract a lot of visitors are the Highland Cattle who cause a great deal of interest. There is always hot discussion about inter-breeding and whether designer sheep look ‘colourful’ in front of your mansion. Other popular attractions are pigs (spotted), local produce, ice cream and, in recent years, gin. Sheep shearing attracts international competitors from as far away as  Australia. There is a big demand for trade stands for agricultural machinery and products but also clothing and toys.

The costs of running the Show is astronomical, for example, two big expenses are traffic management and getting water on the showground which cost over £6000 a year.

The Black Isle Farmers Society works with schools showing children where food comes from and that it is not grown on supermarket shelves, they learn how to hand-grind corn using stones, milk cows, shear sheep and make paper cups to grow plants from seed.

Planning is already underway for the next Show which will take place on 1st August 2024.

You can find out more about The Black Isle Show at

6th December 2023

18th Century Surveying and Map-Making with reference to the Lovat Estate Archives

Roland Spencer Jones

The first part of Roland’s talk related to his journey into maps and map-making that began when he discovered drawers and drawers of maps in the Lovat Estate Offices in Beauly. Financed by the Lovat Estate, he and several other volunteers from NOSAS spent a whole summer digitizing 395 maps which are now available on the National Library of Scotland website

The maps we were shown illustrated the beautiful calligraphy and artwork that went into the production of early maps. More importantly, by comparing early editions with later ones it is possible to see the progress of urbanization of the landscape. Roland used Beauly as an example starting with the 1747 Roy map which showed a scattering of houses compared with the 1799 map showing a jumble of houses close to the river. By the 1832 map Beauly had become more organized into streets and roads and by 1872 the layout was very much like it is today.

In the second part of his talk Roland showed how the Scottish Enlightenment brought about changes in landownership, agricultural improvements and military requirements and resulted in the dramatic development of accurate and precise instruments to measure the natural world.

After Culloden (1745) the Government’s priority was to create military maps of Scotland. Two key players David Watson, commissioned by the Duke of Cumberland, and William Roy were appointed in 1747 to lead a large team of army surveyors in surveying the whole country using the new techniques of triangulation, eg theodolites and Gunter chains by which angles and distances could be measured accurately. Remarkably, Roy completed the task in 1753.

In 1784 The Commissioners of the Forfeited Estates decreed that rent from the estates was to be used for civilizing the inhabitants. They therefore needed to map the estates using the same techniques that Roy had demonstrated in the production of the Great Map. They also brought in agricultural improvements and Scotland’s rural settlements gathered together into farms.

Roland had brought along a modern theodolite and demonstrated how it worked to measure angles needed for map-making. Finally, he produced a heavy and bulky Gunter Chain, 22 yds long and containing 100 links each 7.92”, and with the help of a member of the audience, he demonstrated how it was used to measure distances.

7th February 2024

The Mystery of the Lion Tamer

Anne Fraser

Anne Fraser is the family history archivist at the Archive Centre in Inverness. She started by telling us that not all archives are documents and showed us a large disc penny and sword which had been deposited. However, this is the story of solving the mystery of how a lion tamer came to be living in Inverness.

It all began with a song sung by Dean Owens about his great great grandfather which mentions a man called Salvona who was a lion tamer. Ambrose Salvona belonged to the travelling circus and started appearing in records held in the Centre when he became too old for the traveller’s life. It helped that he had an usual name which made it slightly easier to trace where he was and what he was doing. Although, there were variations in the spelling of his name. Anne took us through the paper trail of his later life. Salvona spent some time in the Inverness Poor House and moved several times while living in Inverness until eventually he was in the centre of Inverness after he had become a member of the Salvation Army. In the census at that time he was listed in various jobs including as on ostler, which would be because he was skilled at working with animals.

The Salvona family were much more difficult to track down as their addresses continually appeared as ‘no fixed abode’. The family were all part of the travelling circus world which spent most of the year putting on shows all over the country.

Salvona’s death certificate states that he was a lion tamer. After a funeral and a cavalcade with a band playing he was buried in Tomnahurich Cemetery, Inverness with a fine tombstone paid for by donations and the Salvation Army. Subsequently, members of Salvona’s extended family travelled to Inverness to visit his grave.

To read in more detail how the project came about visit:

6th March 2024

Vikings - What a Load of Rubbish!

Lachlan McKeggie

Lachan’s talk was about an excavation that took place at Keiss, North West Scotland ahead of building work. He began by explaining how useful rubbish can be in finding out how people in the past lived.

A garbage dumpster and toilet on the streetDescription automatically generatedHe Illustrated this point by showing us two pictures of rubbish piled up during a bin strike in Edinburgh. The first showed cardboard, a toilet, cat food tins etc suggesting that this was a residential area; and the second was dominated by takeaway boxes suggesting a retail area. This tells us something about how the people in these areas lived.

The Vikings were in this region roughly between C780 – 1100 AD and the Norse C1100 -1300 AD.

The Viking rubbish dump (midden) equivalent to the cardboard and plastic ofA garbage dumpster in a cityDescription automatically generated today were primarily made up of shells amongst other things, The shells were periwinkle which they ate and limpets which they used for bait. Fish bones were also found, cod mainly along with saith and ling. There was no herring or fresh water fish such as salmon or eel. There were signs of butchery and preparation for drying. Lachan added that If the midden was earlier it would have a greater range of species and if later would have herring.

There were some animal bones, mostly cow, but also pig, seal, deer and sheep. There were a lot of cow bones and many of juveniles which is an indication of the production of dairy products.

Other artifacts made from bone were also found and identified as combs, gaming pieces and pins.

The excavation has now been completed and recorded and although the final report

has yet to b