By the Rev.  Mr George Gordon, Lately Minister there, and
now one of the Ministers of Aberdeen.


THE name is very ancient. About 800 years ago, in the charter given by Malcolm the Second to the first Bishop of this early See, – and how long before, nobody can say, it was called Murthelack or Murthlac, much the same as present.


The word is most probably of Gaelic origin, derived from something local. Because the church is in a deep through narrow valley, some naturally enough think t a corruption of Morlay, Great Hollow. Others again chose to bring it from mortis lacus, the lake of death, alluding to a battle which was fought here, and which shall afterwards be taken notice of. But this seems only a fancy of Buchanan, and is far-fetched. More conjectures have been made, and on the whole the etymology is doubtful. Luckily however, like many an obscurity of the kind, it is of very little importance.


Mortlach is encircled by six other parishes, having Glass on the east, Cabrach and Inveraven to the south, Aberlour on the west, with Boharm and Botriphny towards the north; and several of these, it is not unlikely, are the offspring of the mother church. It is in the county of Banff, in the Commissariat of Aberdeen, and in the province of Moray; lying nearly 50 miles to the westward, but a little to the north, from the city of Aberdeen, and about 30 south west from the town of Banff, the capital of the shire. Since the 1706, it has been, by an act of the General Assembly, in the presbytery of Fordyce, the minister of Mortlach, it is said, has still a vote for delegates, from that presbytery of Strathbogie and synod of Moray: Before that time, it was in the presbytery of Fordyce and synod of Aberdeen: And in connection with Fordyce, the minister of Mortlach, it is said, has still a vote for delegates, from that presbytery, to elect the professors of Divinity of King’s College of Aberdeen, and has also some trust and management in certain lands or sums of money bequeathed to that university.

Extent, &c.

The form of the parish is irregular, and not easily described, so as to be understood. The best idea of it would be obtained by a map from actual survey. Its greatest length from the head of Glenrinnes to the opposite end, near the Spey, that is from the south to north, is eleven or twelve English miles; and its greatest breadth from the banks of Doveron to the foot of Belrinnes, that is from east to west, may be about as much. It consists of the lands of Edinglassie and Glenmarky, which are Lord Fife’s, – of the Lordship of Auchindown, Glenfiddich, and the greater part of Glenrinnes, the Duke of Gordon’s, – of Dullanside and a part of the Lordship of Balveny, Lord Fife’s again, – and of the barony of Kininvie, which is, and for centuries has been, in the possession of a branch of the old family of Balquhan, and of which James Leslie, Esq; the only residing heritor, is the present laird, and makes a very good one, being kind to his tenants, an honest hospitable gentleman, and an excellent farmer. Mr Duff of Drumuir is likewise proprietor in Mortlach, having a small piece of ground in it, called Loch-end, near the kirk of Botripny.

The arable fields which, by a rough guess, may be from 4 to 5 thousand acres, lie chiefly pretty high along the Fiddich and Dullan, two beautiful rivulets; or on the sides of rills falling into these; or on the more gentle declivities of the mountains. The lands of Glenmarky and Edinglassie are remote and disjoined from the rest of the parish. A small stream called Marky, running with rapidity down the glen, meets the Doveron near the house of Edinglassie where that river takes a pleasant winding towards Huntly on the east. There are some low or haugh grounds, but not very considerable. The extent of meadow grass, coarier greens, moor, and hills, –which last are in general covered with heath, and but little improvable except by planting, may amount to about twenty times as much as the cultivated field.


The appearance of the country is very fine. Variegated with hill and dale, wood and water, growing corns and pasture covered with flocks, it looks both beautiful and rich: And even in winter, the trees skirting the river banks with their snowy foliage, and the lofty maintain all in white, exhibit a diversity of view abundantly pleasing and grotesque. Fiddich-side is one of the loveliest straths to be seen in any country. There are some landscapes, especially in Glenfiddich, and about Pittyvaich, Tininver, and Kinninvie, which any one, who has a taste for such things, will not grudge a day’s ride or two to come and see. They are a mixture of the sweet and wild; and furnish a great deal of picturesque and very rural scenery: If a Thomson or an Alan Ramsay had lived here, they would have been famous in song. One of the most remarkable is the Craig of Balveny, with the old castle there, and the objects which accompany them. What goes by the name of the Giant’s Chair, formed by the wearing of the water of Dullan many an age ago, with a pretty little cascade, called the linen apron, and their surrounding drapery, is another.

Soil and Air.

The soil is almost entirely of the loamy kind, deep enough and fertile. Any exception of its inclining either to sand or clay is scarce worth the mentioning. The air is pure and wholesome, though it is rather moist than dry; and fair weather is sometimes enjoyed on the farms below, when there are fogs or rain, or perhaps snow, on the heights around. But this is no doubt more or less the case in every highland situation; though many a remark must one make in an account of this nature, equally applicable to a shire or even a larger district, as to a parish.

Health, Spirits, Ages, &c.

The writer of this knows of no distemper peculiar to the parishioners of Mortlach; nor of any, which can be said, above all others, to be prevailing; and on the authority of a Physician, who has long known the country and the people well, he can with greater confidence say, that there are none. Here, as in other places, while many of the ailments of the more affluent proceed from their living in luxury and too freely, to colds and too scanty a fare, may those of the lower class be frequently traced. There are no instances of very extraordinary longevity. But many arrive at the age of 70, some to 80, and now and then, though rarely, to 90 or upwards. The inhabitants maybe said, on the whole, to be lively, active, and vigorous; though from the backwardness of the seasons for several years, and other difficulties in the way of their getting a comfortable subsistence, both the spirits and strength of the ordinary farmer and the labouring man are weaker and worse than they were, it must be owned, –and owned with particular regret; for such men, engaged with heart’s ease in the healthful pursuit of agricultural employments, are the very nerves and permanent riches of a country.


Here are several steel or chalybeate springs; and some pretty powerful. One, in particular, near the old castle of Auchindown, has been found, on chemical examination, very much to resemble the Peterhead water, and to be as light as it. They are of use in gravelish complaints and disorders of the stomach. There is likewise, below the house of Kinninvie, a spring of a petrifying quality, on the limits between Mortlach and Boharm.


Fiddich and Dullan, the two little rivers of this parish, have been already mentioned. Doveron is much larger than either of them. But Mortlach can scarce claim any property in it; as it only borders, for a few hundred yards, upon one of its extremities. Fiddich rises in Glenfiddich, towards Strathdon; and Dullan, in Glenrinnes, on the boundaries of Glenlivet. They join a little below the kirk, near the house of Tininver, and fall into the Spey about 4 miles below. After their confluence, Fiddich is the name. Their whole run may be about a dozen or fourteen miles each; and there is good angling for small trout, in plenty, on them both.


From the public road, leading from this Botriphny, may be seen, on the left, in a den confined by two almost perpendicular hills, a small but deep lake, called Loch-park, the source of the Isla, which flows into the Doveron in the parish of Rothiemay. It is frequented by wild ducks, and said to have pikes in it. It belongs to Drummuir. Among the mountains, which encompass the parish, except an opening to the north, Belrinnes towers conspicuous. Its height above the sea, from which it makes a good land mark in falling into the Moray-frith, is above 2650 feet, and from its base, about 1680.


Besides the tame and domestic quadrupeds, which are everywhere, here are foxes, weasels, hares, some badgers and others. In the forest of Glenfiddich, there is abundance of red deer – a thousand and more with a few roes. The farmers round it think them by far too numerous. And yet 40 or 50 of them sometimes in one flock, with their stately carriage and branching, horns on the top of those sylvan and romantic hills, make a noble view. The Duke of Gordon has a summer residence in this glen, as a convenience for fowling, and a shot at the deer.


The shelter and accommodation of the wood bring together a great variety of singing birds, making an aviary of nature, the most innocent and melodious of all, happy and unconfined. The black bird and thrush, gold finch, bull-finch, linnet, and robin, blend their notes and compose a delightful concert. Many other birds there are, but none of them uncommon. The migratory cuckoo, green-plover or lapwing, and the swallow, pay their annual visit, and are always welcome. For the sportsman there are moors-owls or grouse, partridges, and a few snipe. The black cock also is to be met within Glenfiddich, and some ptarmigans have been seen on Belrinnes.


There is sufficient od moorstone for the purpose of building, with some slate quarries of a dark grey colour and pretty good. And the vast quantities of limestone here would be an exhaustless treasure to the husbandman, if the expense of fuel were not so high, as nearly to prohibit the use of it. There is the appearance of allum and vitriol, and likewise of a lead mine, on the burn of Tullich, which belongs to Kinninvie. In one or two places, there is a laminated rock, which some think of the nature of whetstone or hones. A kind of marble also there is, both on Dullan and Fiddich side. And in several parts, the surface of the ground would seem to indicate, that there are coals below, any discovery of which kind judiciously prosecuted would be of the greatest consequence both to the comfort of the people, and the improvement of the lands; for they are rather far from the sea, and many of them too poor, to reap any general benefit from the late repeal of the coal tax, the nearest port, at the mouth of the Spey, being about 16 miles distant from the centre of the parish.


From the list of baptisms, and the recollection of the oldest residenters, it would appear that Mortlach was more populous 50 or 60 years ago, than it is at this day. In the 1782, on an accurate survey for the information of the Barons of Exchequer, in the view of an approaching scarcity of grain, the inhabitants of every age amounted to 2169; of whom there were about 560 under twelve. Ten years afterwards, in the 1792, when again, in like manner, exactly taken by the same incumbent for this statistical account, the number was found to be 251 fewer than in the 1782, being in whole but 1918– of whom 901 were males and 1017 females, and of whom also there were,

Under 10 years of age          —————————————    412
From 10 to 20                       —————————————    398
——– 20 to 30                       ————————————— 304
——– 30 to 40                       ————————————— 251
——– 40 to 50                       ————————————— 230
——– 50 to 60                       ————————————— 145
——– 60 to 70                       ————————————— 113
——– 70 to 80                       —————————————  53
——– 80 to 90                       —————————————  11
——– 90 to 100                     —————————————   1

                                                In all                                    1918

These occupied 415 houses, for every family had its own separate dwelling, making between 4 and 5 at a medium in each, though very unequally divided, some as large as 18 or 20, including husband, wife, children, land servants, and some as small as one. Such solitary householders, however, and such numerous families were both but few.
Of the above 415 houses, farmers might be said to possess 176; and crofters, or cottagers, the remaining 239. And on the lands of the several proprietors, the proportions of the people and their habitations were as follows:

On the Duke of Gordon’s                  927     in 193 houses.

———  Lord Fife’s     ———              761     in 176 ditto.

———  Kinninvie’s    ———              226     in   45 ditto.

And on Drummuir’s ———                 4       in    1 house.

                                                            ——     ——————–

                                    As before        1918   in 415 houses.

The Subjoined statement of births, for 30 years, from the 1st of January 1763 to the 31st of December 1792 inclusive, arranged in 3 equal periods, is taken from the parish register, and is thought tolerably correct. An allowance may be made perhaps for 2 or 3 being omitted every year.

1763           28
1764           29
1765           46  
1766           46
1767           45 
1768           39
1769           55 
1770           47
1771           38
1772           48
1773           39
1774           41
1775           39 
1776           61
1777           55
1778           50
1779           47
1780           42
1781           43 
1782           56
1783           48
1784           46
1785           33
1786           32
1787           35
1788           19
1789           39
1790           27
1791           31
1792           33
  Total             421   Total             473   Total             343

So the average for the first 10 years, is 423/10, for the second, 473/10. Here it may be remarked, that the rule for finding the population, by multiplying the births by 26, seems from this instance to be exceedingly erroneous, for the product of such multiplication would not in the present case be the half of the reality. The decrease in the last 10 years is very observable, and is probably to be ascribed to the calamitous eighty-two. The difference betwixt the 1766 and the 1788 in the forgoing table, the baptisms in the one being more than three times as many as those in the other, will also strike one. And for this difference no satisfactory reason can be assigned. It is likely, that, in the latter of those two years, the effects of the 1782, which reduced the country in general too much want and a train of consequent distresses, were at their height; that the greatest number of emigrants had then left the parish, in search of employment and maintenance, among the farmers towards the south or in the manufacturing town; and that, after that period, the began to return, to find home more comfortable, and to increase. Such is the attachment to one’s native soil, that is seldom deserted but either from necessity or the gratification of an ambitious desire; and as soon as circumstances will permit, or the passion is cured, it is commonly resorted to again. Of an old acquaintance, whether an agreeable friend or a favourite scene, it is natural to be fond. Early or established prepossessions are with difficulty removed, and it is hard to be put to the trial of eradicating in a distant land, the sweet remembrance of happier days.

In the register of marriages, there is, through some negligence or other, a chasm, which prevents from going further back, with any precision, than the last 20 years; viz. from the 1st of January 1773 to the 31st of December 1792. But this shall be done, as under, in two equal periods.

1773           12
1774           15
1775           16
1776           14
1777           13
1778           21
1779           17
1780           16
1781           24
1782           16


1783           11
1784            7
1785            8
1786           17
1787            6
1788           14
1789           17
1790           14
1791           17
1792           15

     164 Or 162/5 annually.       126 Or 163/5 annually.


Each marriage, at a medium, may produce 4 or 5 children. There is no register of deaths or burials kept. The number of men servants is 135, and of women servants 102 or thereabout, all for the purposes of husbandry or the care of children. This number may seem small. But many of the farmers have their sons and daughters to assist them; and servant wages have risen to such a height, that they must do with as few as possible.

The handicraftsmen are,

22 Weavers,
11 Masons,
10 Shoemakers,  
6 House carpenters,  
5 Smiths,  
5 Tailors,

4 Coopers,
2 Dyers,
2 Slaters,
2 Wheel wrights,
1 Plough and cart wright,
1 Harness maker,

in whole 71. And they have almost all of them a few acres along with their houses. The number of apprentices is about 20. There are likewise 4 shop keepers, 2 innkeepers, 3 distillers of whisky, 3 gardeners, 3 meal-millers, 1 oat-miller and 1 saw-miller.


Agriculture is on the improving hand. But short leases are the bane of every improvement. Who in his senses would make a farm more valuable, at his own dear expense, only to induce another to covet and to bid for it? Or if no such offerer should interfere, to tempt the proprietor, who in general is sufficiently apt to yield to those temptations, to take the advantage and squeeze too high a rent from his tenant, grown fond of the possession, and thus incautiously standing on very unequal ground? Some of the farmers are giving very good example, by dressing their fields with green crops, often in drill, or by a fallow, laying them down with grass seeds, and introducing a proper rotation. But winter herding is not yet much relished; and till it be the practice, a man’s fields, when in turnips or clover, are but half his own. There are very few complete enclosures, though on several farms, and particularly Pittyvaich, a good deal is done in the way of dikes and hedges too. The ploughs may be reckoned about 170, some of them of 8 or 10 good oxen, others of good horses, generally 4, but the greater part made up of horses and oxen mixed together, both a very indifferent kind. There are 3 or 4 wains or wagons drawn by oxen, and ploughing with a pair of horses introduced. The grain raised here is oats, bear, or barley and pease. A very small quantity of either rye or wheat, though for the latter, both soil and climate, in various parts of the lands of Balveny and Kinninvie, are well adapted. It is reckoned good and sufficient bear, which weighs about 18 stones the boll Banffshire, which is nearly the Linlithgow measure of standard for Scotland. And 16 pecks or boll of oats, in a favourable season, will yield about 8 stone of meal. Potatoes also are raised, and found very useful. And there is some flax; the experiments of which show, that it might turn out a profitable article, if the management of it, after being pulled, were better understood, and if there were a ready market. It is at present but a bye kind of a crop, and therefore neglected. For want of skill and attention in the grazing, watering, and milling, it is often injured. Failing in success through bad usage, it unjustly receives the blame; and the farmer is discouraged from extending his attempts.

This parish, which is a plentiful one, after supplying itself, can, in the opinion of some of the most intelligent on this subject, spare, in ordinary years, about a thousand bolls of bear, and five or six hundred of oats and oat meal. The oat feed season is from the beginning of March, or sooner, if the weather will allow, till towards the end of April. And bear is sown from the middle of April, to near the end of May. Barley harvest, generally speaking, begins about the first or second week of September; and the oats may be said to be reaped in the month of October, though sometimes earlier and often later. Early oats, which have been much and beneficially used since the 1782. Ripen almost in the same time as the bear. After the winter snows, however, or heavy rains, there must be the difference of 8 or 10 days, at least, in the time of sowing, in the different parts of this extensive country; and even in the same kind of grain, sown in the same day, will be ready for the hook several weeks sooner in Balveny and Kinninvie, then in Glenrinnes and Glenmarky. In this view, Auchindown and Edinglassie have an intermediate place, being neither so early as the two first of those districts, nor for so late as the other two*.

* The average rate of an acre is about 10s.; and the farms are of many a different size, from a 5l. rent, and even less, to 70l. or 80l.

Cattle and Pasturage. 

As to the live stock here, there will be about 2000 black cattle, from 300 to 400 horses for plough, cart, and harrow, 4000 or 5000 sheep, some goats, and a few swine about the mills and distilleries. The black cattle are of the middle sized and handsome highland breed; the ox from 5 to 8 guineas, and the cow worth 4 or 5, as the prices happen to go. Many of the farms, having plenty of summer grass, are well suited for cattle and corn too. There are also some very good sheep-walks, one of the best of which is in Glenmarky. The ewes and lambs, which are mostly now of the black-faced Linton sort, sell from 5l. to 7l. the score; and wedders much about the same. But all such calculations must be understood with a little latitude, and as only there and thereabout. It is impossible to make them otherwise. The white-faced sheep, who may be stiled the aborigines of the country, are wearing out; and yet, tho’ smaller, they are allowed by many to yield both the sweeter mutton and the finer wool. Wool sells from 10s. to 16s. per stone, according to the quality and demand; but the stone consists, it seems, of 22 lib. Dutch; one instance, among a thousand, of the great propriety of simplifying our weights and measures, and making them everywhere alike, by the same general standard. The breeding of horses is but little practiced here, though it would probably answer very well. As a specimen, some have lately been reared to the value of 15l. and 20l. Sterling


There are several plantations of firs in Mortlach, and some of them full grown, the property of Lord Fife and Kinninvie; in whole from 300 to 400 acres; and about the like quantity of natural wood, chiefly aller and birch. The oldest fir wood is on a piece of rising ground, planted about 60 or 70 years ago, then arable, and so fertile as to be called the meal-girnel of Tininver, of which farm it was a part, and still is. It seems it has been the opinion, that a rich mould, if not necessary, was at least very favourable for such a purpose; though it is since known, that firs will prosper in wastes fit for nothing else. Some elms, planes, and oaks, have thriven pretty well. One old oak, in particular, in the Craig of Balveny, though not a very large tree, has a respectable appearance. The ash, too, appears very congenial to the soil, and shoot up luxuriantly; and amidst the trees of native growth, there is a great variety of shrubs, many of them flowering. There is, however, an ample scope for planting here; and, when it is set about, attention will no doubt be paid to the useful and beautiful larix. If coal be not discovered, timber, as a fuel, will, ere long, in many parts of the parish, be a much wanted succedaneum for the exhausted mosses.


The language is a dialect of the Scottish and English blended together. There is hardly a word of Earse now spoken in any part of the parish. If anywhere, it is in Glenrinnes, where the inhabitants do also most retain the look, manners, and genius of the Highland Caledonian, as appears from their dress, their vivacity, their social and merry meetings, their warm attachments, their keen resentments, their activity on occasions, and indolence on the whole, their intelligence, and their love of their country.

Names of Places.

The names of places, except such as are of late cultivation, are all Gaelic, and commonly descriptive either of the situation or of some noticeable circumstance. Of this, examples would be needless. Let the two rivulets suffice. Fiddich, or Fiodhidh, means woody; and its banks are almost covered with trees. Dullan, or Tuilan, signifies rapid; and it tumbles from pebble to pebble all its course.


The real rent of this parish, which arises entirely from lands, is 2000l. Sterling and upwards. Some necessary information on this head having been with-held, from a jealousy of an improper use being made of it, it cannot be exactly stated. But the valued rent, as taken in the year 1690, is 3900l. Scotch.


There is neither town nor village in all the parish. The whole is country. The Kirktown of Mortlach is only 2 or 3 houses on the glebe, or about the church. The farm-houses are getting a more decent look than they had; and it is to be hoped they will yet mend in this respect. They are built for the most part of granite stone, and thatched with straw. A few, however, are flated; and several gentlemen farmers, some of whom have retired from the army, beating their swords into plough-shares, have both their dwelling houses and offices very substantial and commodious. It were to be wished that heritors would be somewhat more liberal in granting an allowance for meliorations of this sort. Under proper limitations, much advantage would accrue from it, both to their tenants and themselves too.


The parishioners are all of the Established Church, except about 30 or 40 Roman Catholics, perhaps as many Seceders, and 1 Episcopalian. Any ill-will or violence of temper, arising from a difference in religious sentiment, is rare.

General Character

As to the character of the people at large, much may justly be said to their praise. Like the people of other districts, they are not without their faults; and there are some instances of great worthlessness, almost in every parish, to be regretted. It here obviously occurs, that a minister may be induced, from various motives, to go to the extreme of truth, on the favourable side for his flock. His regard for them may blind and mislead him; or, by condemning them, he may think he obliquely condemns himself; at least, if another did it, he might perhaps be led to readily think so. Few chose to depreciate their own importance; few to diminish the happy effects to their pastoral care; and fewer still are inclined to render themselves ungracious. Thus it may often place a clergyman in a delicate situation to be obliged to characterize his parishioners; and, though a man of honesty and resolution would, in any necessary case of the kind, immediately determine that he is to speak or write the truth, yet such characters, which in general will be found to be only an indiscriminate repetition of the same and the same good qualities, are surely to be received as probably partial. But, unless there be an egregious delusion indeed, it can be told with pleasure and with the strictest impartiality, of the people of Mortlach, that with a few exceptions, they are, and long have been, industrious, honest, neighbourly, sober, and humane; peaceable, orderly, and affectionately attached to the free and glorious constitution of Britain; decent in observing the ordinances or religion, and rationally impressed with the great end of them all, as aiding and subservient to piety of heart, uprightness of conduct, and purity of life. If some of them be still too much given to frets, or superstitious remarks, they are commonly of the harmless kind.


One thing, however, truly to be lamented, is their yet too great dislike to inoculation for the small-pox, the neglect of which though it is in use rather more than it was, makes this infectious and virulent disease frequently mortal; and it is more difficult to overcome to unfortunate a prejudice, as, in a great degree, it has its origin in conscience, however erroneous and misinformed. But it is to be hoped, both for the sake of their children, and as an expression of their thankfulness to God for so gracious a discovery, that they and others around them, for they are not singular, will soon see this matter in another and juster light, and cheerfully, with a dependence on success from Heaven, embrace the benefit of so kind a mean afforded by Providence. They are, in general, much disposed to cheerfulness and contentment, but keenly alive to a sense of injustice, rigorous exactions, or any species of oppression whatever. That they have a martial genius, there is little doubt; but our ordinary wars, it appears, do not call for it forth; for they are not fond of a military life. Indeed, the business of a soldier is held rather in low estimation among them. They seem to consider it as poor, dissipated and slavish. As to size, strength, complexion, abilities, or any other personal or mental qualification, there is nothing remarkable.


The writer of this was minister of Mortlach, being the fourth since the revolution from August 1781 to December 1793; when he was translated to Aberdeen or St Nicholas; he is married, and has four sons. Mr George Grant, who was one of the ministers of old Machar, has succeeded him, a bachelor. As to his predecessors, Mr Shaw’s History of the Province of Moray will inform those who have curiosity to know.

Patron and Stipend.

The Crown is patron. The stipend is 63l. 2s. Sterling, including in that sum communion element money, one chalder of bear and two chalders of oat meal at 8 stones per boll.


There are five or six acres of glebe, with a pretty good orchard and kitchen garden, pleasantly situated on the bank of the Dullan.

Manse and church. 

The manse has been a spacious on in its day, but is now going to wreck, and must soon be either rebuilt, or have a thorough repair. The church is indeed venerable, but is only because it is old; having none of that magnificence, nice architecture or elegant decorations, which we so justly admire in the more modern cathedrals of after times. Tradition reports that its walls are the very same as in the beginning of the eleventh century; and they are so strong that it is thought they might stand for hundreds of years to come. But the roof, which it got about 80 years ago, is ruinous. The doors and windows, and the simplicity of the whole edifice bear witness to its age. The windows are long narrow flits of six feet high, and only 10 or 11 inches wide on the outside, but so much sloped away as to measure at their utmost projection ten or twelve feet within. And as its shape, that of an oblong square of about 90 feet by 28, is a very incommodious one, as a place of public worship, both for the speaker and hearers, it will probably be found advisable to get over the veneration for its antiquity, and new model it into a more convenient form. The choir on the east end, where the music was, and where the altar also would be is 27 feet long, and a few feet higher than the rest of the building. Here the door to the organ loft is still to be seen; and on the ridge of the choir, is what they call the Three Bishops, a pyramid like stone of little show, with semblance of a face on each of its sides, right rudely cut. It has been said that the effigy of Bishop Beyn is to be seen in the wall near the postern door; whereabout it is imagined the tomb of the three first bishops might be found under a vault. But this, as to the effigy, is not the case. And for the tomb, there has been no search; nor are there any effigies in the church, except one at full length, over the door which leads from the choir to the Leslies Aisle or burying ground, with no inscription, but called a predecessor of the Kinninvie family, and celebrated as a man of marvellous gallantry; and two half lengths, Allexander Duff of Keithmore and Helen Grant of Allachie his spouse*, on the south side of the choir, with a Latin inscription; all in freestone and basso relievo. There is another inscription in marble , on a monument of Mr Hugh Innes.

* Great grandfather and great grandmother of the present Earl of Fife.

Innes first presbyterian parson of Mortlach after the revolution. It is in the wall, beside the minister’s seat, under which he was buried*. There are likewise some very ancient looking grave stones with Saxon characters, below the seats and in the passages; but it would take a great deal of trouble to make out what is upon them, and, except to a patient and inquisitive antiquary, the labour would perhaps be very ill repaid†.

* This gentleman, it is said, was possessed of a considerable share both of bodily strength and personal courage; and, in those days, if various anecdotes which are told of him be true, it seems he had occasion for the exercise of these qualities, in the discharge of his clerical functions.

On the banks of the Dullan, a little below the present church or ancient cathedral, appears the foundation of a house, overgrown with grass, which would be walked over with little notice, if one were not told, that here was the bishop’s palace. And not far from thence is a part of the public road, on the opposite side of the same rivulet, leading to the east, called Gordon’s Cross; the design or use of which cannot now with certainty be discovered; and suppositions are endless. It might be for some religious purpose, or it may have been a market place. A round stone, which is thought to have been the pedestal of the cross, remains to be seen.


The school is very useful; but the schoolmaster as in most places, is poorly rewarded for his trouble. Mr Alexander Thomson, the present one, has been long esteemed as a teacher, and is a very deserving man. The whole emoluments, including salary, fees, a donation by Duff of Dipple, with perquisites as session clerk and keeper of the register, amount to but twenty guineas, for which, besides the other duties of office, a most faithful charge is taken of 30 or 40 scholars, at least, through all the year.

Moir’s Bursaries

There are four bursaries at the King’s College of Aberdeen for boys educated here, an endowment which is a great encouragement, and has been of important service to many young men in the parish, and merits particular notice. It is a privilege indeed, which, for the sake of the parishioners, will no doubt be always most sacredly preserved. They arise from 600l. Sterling, bequeathed to the above university, between 30 and 40 years ago, by Dr Alexander Moir, an Auchindown man, and for some time the parish schoolmaster, for the education of four boys annually at the College, from this school, to be recommended by the minister. If two or more boys should happen to be sent at the same time, the best scholar, other things equal, is preferred. But if only one goes, he is entitled by use and wont, and writings explanatory of the will, without any competition, to the benefit of this legacy; if found habile or fit for being received at a college at all, and if attested by the parson. Of Mortlach as a proper boy and from this school, for there must be one bursary to be given away every year. Dr Moir died in St Croix, where he had made his fortune, which was handsome, as a physician.

It is said that Dr Lorimer of London, a native of this parish and extremely fond of it, means to give a sum of money for any burse to the boys of this school. And if at the same time he could think of the schoolmaster, and leave anything for him, it might be of much utility, as an inducement to a proper man either to come or to continue in the place.

The Poor.

The number on the poors roll, at an average, is from 50 to 60, and the funds for their relief, being the produce of all the collections in church, except the yearly one for the infirmary of Aberdeen, and interest of 1000l. Scots, a bequest of the same Duff of Dipple who left a thousand merks for the school, do not exceed twenty pounds per annum. So it is only a small assistance, and not a support which can be derived from them. But even in the 1782 nobody perished for want; though many were on short allowance. With some savings of former years, laid out in purchasing white pease, almost the only grain then to be got, and the help of some meal from government, a shift was made to meet the succeeding crop. And, most luckily for the poor, the prices for spinning linen yarn, the chief employment of the women in this part of the country, were then very high.

Price of Provisions and rate of Wages.

Provisions of all kinds are considerably dearer than they were about 20 or 30 years ago, some articles a third, and others a half, and they are still rising in their value. The prices at present are so much similar to those which will be mentioned in the neighbouring parishes that it is needless to be particular. And the same may be said of the rate of wages, whether for artificers, servants, or day labourers. Of the three, however, farm servants have come to the most extravagant pitch. Indeed, as to the labouring man at sixpence a day with his victuals, when married and with a few young children, it is rather surprising how he makes out at all, considering that he cannot get work all the year round, unless the winter season be uncommonly mild. Much, especially for clothing, must depend on the industry and economy of the wise; and after all, on their small and honest earnings, one would imagine there is a portion of such a blessing, as in the days of old, there was in the widow’s barrel of meal and cruise of oil.

Advantages and Disadvantages.

It may be remarked as a peculiar advantage to this parish, that it is plentifully supplied with timber, both for the purpose of building and for all farming utensils, chiefly within itself, and partly from its vicinity to the Spey, which floats down conveniently and at an easy expense, the trees of Glenmore and other highland forests, on the banks of that stately river. And, as to its natural disadvantages, it has few or none, but such as are almost inseparable from an inland and mountainous situation.


But, undoubtedly, the condition of the people might in many respects be made better.


Services or bondage, as a part of the value of their lands, do still disgrace the rentals of some of the heritors. And though they are required with great indulgence, and not nearly to the extent of the obligation in their tacks, yet they hang over the heads of the tenants, like a depressing weight, and ought most certainly to be abolished.


Multures, or astrictions in the way of thirlage to any particular mill, should also be reasonably converted, and done away. The farmer would then go with his victual, wherever he pleased, and have nothing to pay but to the operative miller for his trouble and expense. Thus, it would become the interest of the workman, and it is always safest to make interest and duty go together, to grind the corns well, give ready service, and not to overcharge; and it would also be the interest of the farmer to go to the nearest mill, if properly conducted.


Leases ought to be longer than they are. The longest just now is nineteen years.


Our bad roads are a great inconvenience and a great loss; and very bad they are in general, except where it is almost impossible to make them so. They are much neglected, and never will be tolerable, it is to be feared, till either the statute labour be commuted, or turnpikes established. The people turn out to this work with reluctance, because they do not experience the benefit of it; for, by unskilful management, the roads are often worse rather than better of all they do. And the overseer, loth to impose a hardship on those who are generally his neighbours, or to offend them, is too easy in his duty; and, on the whole, their work is a mere farce. The difficulty of providing fuel is another evil. Cutting, setting up, and leading home the peats and turfs occupy the greater part of the summer, from the end of the bear seed to the beginning of harvest.


Coals must be the remedy for this. Even with our present roads, it is allowed, by those who have made the trial, that they are the cheapest firing. And if the roads were good, or, which would be better still, if one indulges the idea of a canal, there would be a most comfortable relief in this requisite article.

Game Laws.

The game laws, though not immediately connected with agriculture or the necessaries of life, are loudly complained of, by numbers in this part of the country, as a heavy grievance. It is thought exceeding hard, that a man dare not shoot a hare or a partridge, on his own farm or in his own garden, but like a poacher or a thief, and that others may come and do so at his very door, to his great mortification, and perhaps to the injury of his crop.

            Surely the tax on licenses of this kind can be no mighty object for the revenue; and it aids in supporting and riveting this purse proud and unjust procedure. In truth, those arbitrary acts are the vilest and vestige of feudalism and aristocracy now remaining in our free and happy land; and it is to be suspected that Britain may one day sadly mourn their effects. For nothing can have a stronger tendency to enervate and enslave the inhabitants of any country, than a prohibition of the use of arms, to which these laws eventually do amount. In the time of need, they will neither know how to load nor fire. And if ever an invasion come upon us, we will be able to do but little in our own defence. Instead of lounging over the coals in an idle morning, inactive and spiritless as he now must do, when the operations of husbandry are arrested, by the frost and snow, the peasant, sportsman, and there is no inconsistency, especially in the highlands, in one’s being both, was wont to range over the fields and hills, with his dog and his gun, in manly exercise, which gave health to his body and vigour to his mind. On this subject it is frequently observed, and the observation seems just, that there was greater plenty of all sorts of game before these confinements than since. And the reason is pretty plain. Everybody almost then had an interest in destroying hawks and other ravenous animals, and likewise in taking care of the eggs and young in the spring; whereas now, as they are to have no share either of the pleasure or profits afterwards, to use no stronger language, they are entirely careless and indifferent about the matter.


There was an uncommon mortality in this parish in 1763, occasioned by a putrid fever; and, during the rage of the disease, the frost was so very intense, that it was necessary to kindle fires in the church-yard to soften the ground for digging the graves. In the month of January Mr Walter Sime the minister was one of thirteen corps unburied at the same time.

Balveny house may be admitted here, a large and modern mansion, one of the seats of Lord Fife, and built by his father, about a quarter of a mile below the old castle, which will be mentioned soon. It has a flat roof, and is covered with lead.

 It is a pity that this house is so ill set down, and that it has no inhabitant. Lying too low, the architect has contrived to sink it lower still. And yet, with the association of life and plenty and cheerfulness within, it would communicate the sensation of a very shewy and pleasant dwelling, but, as it is, it looks solitary and forlorn.

            Within this century, the mode of living is much altered here and not to the better. On the whole it is not so strengthening. The drinking of whisky instead of good ale is a miserable change, and so likewise is the very general use of tea. These put together have been exceedingly hurtful both to health and morals. Hence too many become tipplers, neglect their business, and go to ruin. And hence it is thought that consumptions, stomach complaints, and a multiplicity of disorders, which go under the name of nervous, are more frequent than they were. It will probably be considered as a pretty curious fact, that instead of two or three tea kettles, about 60 or 70 years ago, perhaps on for the laird, another for the parson, and a third for the factor, there are now two hundred least. But while these remarks must be made, as impartiality requires, it is agreeable, on the other hand, to observe a circumstance of a very different aspect. Some time ago, the country hereabout was too much given to the indulgence of a litigious spirit, a spirit, which, wherever it prevails, will not fail to sour the temper, waste the substance, and corrupt the principles of honesty. But now a law suit is scarcely heard of among them; and when any little difference arises, they refer it to a friend or two in the way of amicable decision. This happy alteration is owing partly to dear bought experience; and partly to the removal of a judicatory at Keith, a village within a few miles of them, where a substitute of the sheriff of Banffshire was wont to hold his meetings and dispense the law, and where some pettifogger or other was never wanting to foster, if not to instil, an inclination to a process, as often as he could. A blessing when abused is converted into a curse, and now the people find, that though they are farther from the court, they are nearer to justice. To Keith, they had frequent occasions for the post office, or the shop or the market, and if the smallest disputable trifle happened to be rankling them at the time, the coal was blown, and they came home, buoyed up by their counsel, with the insurance of ample satisfaction and all their expense, though the affair generally ended in their pockets being picked, and their peace and good neighbourhood destroyed. A cause not worth a groat, on either side, has been known to be contested for years, through all the rounds of the most quibbling and tedious forms, and to cost each of the contending parties pounds instead of the original pence.

            Mortlach, though it has not much to show that it is favourite of the muses, claims a relation to two Scotch songs of no little vogue, Roy’s wife in Aldevallach, and Tibby Fowler in the Braes. There are some old men yet alive who remembered to have seen the heroine of the latter. She lived in the braes of Auchindown. And was a plain looking lass with a swinging tocher. The Glacks of Ballach, mentioned as the scene of the former, is a narrow and remarkable pass, near the old castle of Auchindown, between this parish and the Cabrach. Both ballads are said to have been composed by disappointed woers.

Antiquities and Families of Note.

There are two old castles, in this parish, well worthy of notice. Auchindown, or Auchindune, and Balveny. And when a stranger is traveling through this part of Scotland, for curiosity or pleasure, they deserve his attention, and will contribute to his amusement. Less than a hundred years ago, both were inhabited. When they were first built, it is not known, or by whom. The castle of Auchindune stands on a green mount of conical shape, over the Fiddich. Its situation is bold and commanding. In the central apartment of the building, there is a piece of admirable workmanship, in grand and gothic stile. It has been in the possession of the family of Gordon since 1535; and of that name, there have been both Knights and Lords of Auchindune. Before that period, it belonged to the Ogilvies; and, with all its barony, was a part of the Lordship of Deskford. Balveny castle is another magnificent structure. It is placed on a beautiful eminence, on the banks of Fiddich likewise, a little below its confluence with the Dullan, and has a variety of charming scenery in its view. Tradition calls the oldest part of it, for it has evidently been built at different times, a Pictish tower. In days of old, it successively owned as its masters the Cummings, the Douglasses, and the Stewarts; and, after them, passing through several other families in the 16th and 17th centuries, it became the property of Duff of Bracco about the year 1687, and is now the Earl of Fife’s. In the 1446, there was a Lord Balveny of the name of Douglas. In the front, and high over its iron and massy gate, which still remains, is a motto of the Stewarts, Earls of Athol, descriptive of the savage valour and unhappy circumstances of the times. FVRTH. FORTVIN. AND. FIL. Thi. FATTRIS. The situation of both these ancient fortalices are well chosen for defence. They have also had their walls, their ditches, and their ramparts, and have been strongly fortified by art. For prints of them, and more minute observations, see Cordiner’s Remarkable Ruins, No 11. and 12. Such objects, presenting themselves to the eye, lead the mind to reflect on the transitory nature of human things, and inspire a contemplative and melancholy pleasure. Although now they are ruins, they were once the scenes of festivity and triumph. Many distinguished fame, though chiefly as warriors, have dwelt within them, for warlike seats were almost the only accomplishments, which, in the days of their glory conferred renown.

            There was another old building here, though of inferior note, at Edinglassie. One occurrence about it, however, is very memorable. In 1690, the year of the engagement on the haughs of Cromdale, some of the highland clans on their march from Strathspey, through Mortlach to Strathbogie, and in a connection with the public dissentions of the day, burnt this house. For which, the laird, whose name was Gordon, took his opportunity of revenge, in their return a few weeks later, by seizing eighteen of them at random, and hanging them all on the trees of his garden*. A shocking instance of the miseries of a civil war, and also perhaps of the tyrannical and detestable power then too often exercised by chieftains or haughty landholders, over the property, liberty, and lives of their fellow men, for either without any trial at all, or with a mere shadow of one, they condemned even to death, by pot or gallows. It is well known, that the abuses of these hereditary jurisdictions became so intolerable, that they were put an end to, by an act of Parliament, in the reign of George II. And a great and happy reform it was.

* There is a piece of moor-land on the estate of Edinglassie, called the Highlandmen’s mossie, where it is currently said they were all buried.

On the declining side of a hill, bordering upon this parish, betwixt Glenrinnes and Glenlivet, the battle of Glenlivet was fought, on the 3d of October 1594. The Earls of Huntly and Argyle were the leaders of the two armies, of whom the latter, according to some accounts, brought 10,000 men to the field. Huntly was victorious, though his numbers were, it is said, but as 1 to 10. Many a gallant man was killed. Adam Gordon’s cairn, on the side of the burn of Altonlachan, is a testimony of the place on which he fell. He was Sir Adam of Auchindune, and Huntly’s uncle. Argyle was only 19 years of age, of a resolute and noble spirit, and felt severely on the defeat. For the cause of this battle, and its more particular circumstances, see the History of the Family of Gordon, &c.

Battle of Mortlach

In the year 1010, Malcolm II. obtained, in this parish, that signal victory over the Danes, which has ever since given the place a superior degree of fame, and makes it respected as classic ground. Human nature is inclined to regard, with a peculiar reverence, the very spot of earth on which was of old transacted any remarkable event. Malcolm had been beat the year before by the Danes, and was obliged to leave them in possession of the lands of Moray. Anxious, however, to expel such intruders, he now returns upon them from the south, with a powerful force; and the Danes, having intelligence of his motions, came forward to give him battle. The armies get their first fight of one another not far from the church of Mortlach; and a very little northward of it they engage. In the beginning of the attack, while pushing on with too ardent an impetuosity, Kenneth, Thane of the Isles; Dunbar, Thane of Laudian; and Graeme, Thane of Strathern, are unfortunately slain. On the loss of three of their generals, the Scotch are struck with a panic, and go into confusion. Everything was now in a most doubtful suspense, and too likely to be decisive. The King, who has the character of a brave, sensible, and pious man, is most reluctantly borne along with the retreating croud, till he was opposite to the church, then a chapel dedicated to Molocus. The narrowness of the passage here abated a little the career of the pursuing Danes; the flying army got a minute to breathe, and, from the very situation of the ground, were again almost necessarily collected. On a mere incident, a presence of mind, or a happy thought, under providence, often depends the fate of war. The monarch was seized, perhaps from the very appearance of the consecrated walls in that area of superstition, with a devotional impulse. He prays, pays his homage to the Virgin Mary, and the tutelary saint, according to the manners of the times, makes a vow, is inspired with a confidence of the aid of Heaven, and addresses himself, in an animating speech, to his countrymen and fellow soldiers. It was the critical moment–his crown, his all was at stake, and the Danes were a cruel enemy. He immediately takes the lead; presses on the foe; throw Enetus, one of the Danish generals, from his horse, and kills him with his own hand. Without a certain degree of enthusiasm, there is nothing great to be done. The charge, without delay, is generally and vigorously renewed; and, under the mingled influence of patriotism and religion, the Scotch carry everything before them, and win the day. And a bloody day it is reported to have been, though a glorious one, for Malcolm and his victorious troops. Some think that, for conveying its celebrity to future ages, was erected the stately obelisk still standing at Forres. Certain it is, that soon after the Danes finally left the kingdom. There is an appearance, that the second and finishing conflict, after rallying, happened a few hundred yards to the south west of the castle Balveny; and probably the more ancient part of that building was then in existence; for a fort is mentioned as near the field of battle. Perhaps it will be expected, that the stratagem of stopping the course of the Dullan for a night should be taken notice of here, and the letting down in a prodigious torrent on the surprised Danes, thought to have been drawn op on each side of this little river, by which their army is said to have been divided, and to have become an easier conquest. Such a thing may have been, and, from the present face of the ground, is not incredible; for the rivulet runs, about an English mile above the church, in a very contracted channel, between high rocks; and beyond that there is a most capacious bason, for the water to flow quietly back for a long time indeed. But if such a manoeuvre was practiced at all, it’s more likely that it had been on some other occasion than that of the engagement just now related. See Fordun, Boece, &c.

            As traditional and pretty sure memorials of this famous battle, are pointed out;

  1. The vestiges of an intrenchment, very distinct at this day, on the summit of the little Conval-hill, called by the neighbourhood the Danish Camp.
  2. A number of tumuli, or cairns, supposed to have been collected over the bodies of the fallen.
  3. A huge and irregularly roundish stone, formerly, it is said, on the grave of Enetus, but now rolled a few ells from its station over the corpse, and made a part of a fence about a field of corn; where it is denominated the Aquavitae Stone. To account for this appellation, and to prevent antiquarians from puzzling their brains with dark and learned hypotheses in time to come, it may not be improper to tell, that the men, whose brawny strength removed this venerable tenant, finding it rather a hard piece of work, got, as a solace for their soil, a pint of whisky, out of which, immediately, around the stone, they took a hearty dram. Everybody knows that, in Scotland, whisky and aquavitae are the same.
  4. A square bit of ground, almost covered with whins, into which multitudes of the dead we tumbled. This is very near the north-west corner of the fir-park of Tomnamuid, and about 120 yards of so from the above stone, almost directly south.
  5. The length of Malcolm’s spear added to the church, at the west end, in performance of a part of his vow. It has been the spear of Goliath, 23 or 24 feet long.
  6. Three holes, exactly of the shape of skulls, in this additional and votive part of the house, yet to be seen; where the heads of three Danes of distinction had, with too barbarous a triumph, been originally built in the wall. At whatever time, or in whatever way, three skulls may have first been put here, there they surely were; and, not longer than about 30 years ago, was the last of them picked out, and tossed about by the school boys.
  7. A standing stone on the glebe, having on two of its opposite sides some rude and unintelligible sculpture.

Human bones, broken sabres, and other military armour, have been at different time accidentally discovered in this part of the country. And in plowing the glebe, about 40 or 50 years ago, there was a chain of gold turned up, which looked like an ornament for the neck of one of the chiefs.

Bishopric of Mortlach. 

It is clear, from the evidence of history, that on this occasion, by the pious gratitude of Malcolm, and in fulfilment of a sacred engagement, Mortlach was exalted to Episcopal honours. One Beyn, or Bean, was, by Pope Benedict, made its first bishop who, about 30 years after, died, and was buried here. Donortius was the second, and next to him came Cormac. These two, between them, enjoyed their preferment more than 80 years, an, on the death of the latter, succeeded Bishop Nectan, the fourth and last of Mortlach; for in his fourteenth year, he was translated by King David I. to Aberdeen, which soon got the name and became the seat of the diocese. And thus Mortlach, from a dignified bishopric, sunk into a humble parsonage. The see was at Mortlach 129 years, from 1010 to 1139*. Bishop Ramsay of Aberdeen, in the year 1246, appointed 13 prebendaries, of whom the 7th in order was the parson of Mortlach.

* Its jurisdiction and revenues were but small, comprehending no more than the church of Mortlach, the church of Cloveth, and the church of Dulmeth with all their lands. But in regard to precedence, it was the second in Scotland, that of St Andrews being the only one before it, which extended over all the kingdom and whole bishop was then designed Episcopus Scotiae, or Episcopus Scotorum.