Abstracts 2019-20

September 2019,   Archaeology and the Historic Environment  —  in Scotland’s National Forests,   Matt Ritchie

One hundred years ago the Forestry Commission was set up to increase the amount of woodland after the country’s forests had been depleted after WW1. Our speaker this month was Matt Ritchie from Forestry and Land Scotland — the new agency for managing and promoting Scotland’s forest estate. Matt came to tell us about what else there was to find in the woods other than trees — specifically in terms of the historic environment.

To put things in perspective, Scotland’s forests amount to 9% of the land surface of the country. Up until recent times, not much interest had been taken in archaeology within the forest estate, but that has now changed. Matt is an archaeologist and one of a team of national advisors giving guidance in relation to the protection, conservation and presentation of archaeological sites and historic environments.

He outlined three key priorities: to understand, to care and protect and to value. He used a number of case studies to expound these themes. Where culturally significant and scheduled sites are identified, then positive actions need to be taken, such as preventing future tree planting and active conservation management. Protection, interpretation, access to sites and public safety are also key considerations.

Methods such as laser scanning and drone photography can be used to survey and record places, providing the detailed archaeological information which can be used by artists to reconstruct these sites to express an historical narrative.

However, in all cases a pragmatic approach needs to be taken. Sometimes this can mean making an accurate record, but then allowing a site to decay naturally. The progress of time, exposure to the elements and the reclamation of nature are all part of history too.

Matt’s talk showed many examples of digital images and artistic narrative drawings to reconstruct and explain sites and celebrate the heritage within Scotland’s forests.

Please join us on Thursday 17 October at 7.30pm for our next talk on Healing Wells: their contemporary use, history and folklore. Our speaker that evening will be Roddy McKenzie.

Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

October 2019,   Healing wells  —  Their contemporary use, history and folklore,   Roddy McKenzie

No meeting took place owing to the illness of the speaker.

November 2019,   Cromarty Emigrants  —  and the Ships that took them,   Sandy Thomson

Sandy Thomson has spoken to the society many times and covered a wide range of topics for our audience. On this occasion he was motivated by the study of a former member, the late Jenny Fyfe, on “Cromarty Emigrants and the ships that took them”. Jenny’s book was published by the Cromarty Courthouse in 1998 and Sandy felt that he would be able to add to Jenny’s research.

Scots have always travelled abroad in search of a better life and the town of Cromarty found itself playing a crucial role in this story between the years of 1707 and 1850. 1707 was the date of the Treaty of Union, when the parliaments of England and Scotland united and the English colonies of North America were opened up for Scottish settlements. The 1850s was the period after the railway came to Invergordon providing easier travel to ports further south, thus diminishing the status of Cromarty as a key emigration port.

Cromarty served as an emigration port for the disposed of Sutherland, Easter Ross and the Moray Coast. Emigration agents were active in promoting the business from the town. Passengers often arrived some weeks before embarkation, so Cromarty found its population mushrooming with heavy demands on provision of food and accommodation. Jenny had listed 39 emigrant ships that left Cromarty harbour during this period, whilst the Cromarty Emigration Stone on the Links records 38. However, there were others unidentified.

Most emigration from Cromarty was to North America. North Carolina and Georgia were favoured places but after the 1783 War of Independence, emigration moved to Canada. The 1830s were peak years for the emigrant ships to take their passengers to Australia — a more hazardous journey. Sandy recounted the story of the colony of Topo in Colombia, South America (now Venezuela). In 1825, 191 Scots emigrated from Cromarty having been recruited by the Columbia Society of London with promises of land and houses. They ended up betrayed and destitute.

Potato famines, changes to agriculture and rent increases had led many people to seek opportunity and a piece of land of their own abroad. Landowners, after the 1845 Poor Law made them responsible for the support of local poor, would encourage their tenants to emigrate, sometimes paying their fares. Assisted passage schemes also became available.

There is no way of knowing how many of the emigrants were local to Cromarty and the Black Isle, but Sandy was able to talk about some individuals who are known — usually the ones that did well in their new country. Audience participation was encouraged with the singing of a Victorian emigration song!

Please join us for our Christmas meeting on Thursday 19 December at 7.30pm. Our speaker that evening will be David Ross, former Highland Correspondent with the Herald newspaper, “Telling the Highland Story”. Following custom, we will be serving mulled wine and festive eats for our social gathering.

Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

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