Family Matters, Sutherlands’ story, extracts from family history, compiled by George and Jean Chalmers.
Andrew Sutherland was born in Hilton in 1877, his mother was Annie Brown [nee Sutherland], his father’s name is not known, Andrew had a younger brother David. His grandparents, William and Christina Sutherland, brought Andrew and David up, also in the house in the 1881 Census were his aunts Isabella and Catherine and Uncle William [ known by the Gaelic Uillam, pronounced Eelam].
Andrew went to Hilton School in 1882, it was a new school built on the top of the hill in 1877, the year of Andrew’s birth. No doubt, as was common in those days, he missed school days to help at home but as an adult he could both read and write in both English and Gaelic, until the early 1900’s Gaelic was the general language in the area.
Andrew’s future wife was Jane MacKenzie or Jeana as she was always know. Jeana was a twin, born in 1883 to Donald and Sophie MacKenzie who lived at Lady Street, Hilton, sadly her twin brother died at birth. Her uncle John MacKenzie and his wife Jean brought Jeana up. Her uncle was known as ‘Ian Rudh’ [Rudh pronounced Roo] this was Gaelic for ‘Red John’ [because of the colour of his hair].
Andrew, like most men in Hilton, was a fisherman to trade. When he was 24 years of age he married Jeana, the marriage certificate says Fearn so presumably this meant Fearn Free Church which served the village of Hilton at the time. Andrew and Jeana conversed fluently in Gaelic.
The houses in Hilton were simple cottages, built of stone and thatched. The whole house had a door in the middle and a room on either side. The poorer families built a house and divided it into two ‘half houses’. A ‘half house’ had one room downstairs and an attic room, which was reached by a ladder. When Andrew married, he and Jeana lived in a halfhouse belonging to his uncle Uillam, who lived in the other half. When Uillam died, Andrew inherited the whole house at 21 Shore Street. Between the years of 1902 and 1923 Andrew and Jeana produced 15 children at 21 Shore Street. In later years Jeana would inherit Braemore Cottage from her uncle John MacKenzie, who had brought her up .
The children born at 21 Shore Street were:
Annie [Nan] was born on the 27th of June 1902, she married Alex MacDonald but was sadly widowed young, she brought up two children, Callum and Jean.
John [Jock] was born on the 20th of August 1903, he married Annie MacDonald and had a daughter Christine.
Christina [Teeny] was born on the 28th of December 1905, she never married and sadly died at the age of 31.
Jeannie was born on the 27th of July 1907, but sadly died at the age of 8 months.
Jane [Jean] was born on the 27th of August 1908, she married Dick Paterson and had 3 children, Davie, Audrey and Ian.
Andrew was born on the 23rd of July 1910, he married Jean Donaldson and had a son Andrew who unfortunately died at around 5 years of age.
Isabel [Bella] was born on the 7th of August 1912, she married John Cordiner and had 3 children, Betty, Ian [who was lost at sea] and Andrew.
Sophie was born on the 26th of June 1913, but sadly died when she was 18 months of age.
William [Willie, Williken] was born on the 12th of December 1914, he married Elizabeth Jack and had 2 children, Jean and Isabel.
Dolina [Dolly] was born on the 17th of January 1916, she married Willie Skinner [Buidhac] and had 11 children, Ann, Christina, Catherine, Andrew, Billy, Alexander, John, Jean, Diana, David and Graham.
Sophie was born on the 7th of February 1917, she married Tom MacKee and had 3 children Robert, Andrew and David.
Catherine was born on the 28th of January 1920, she sadly died at the age of 11 months.
Catherine was born on the 23rd of March 1921, she married Davie Lawson, and had 4 children Isobel, Sheena, Vivienne and David. [The previous Catherine died 22 days before Catherine was born].
Donald Hugh was born on the 7th of February 1922, he married Annie Skinner and had a daughter Anna.
Margaret [Peggy] was born on the 13th of June 1923, she married Alex Hill and 2 children Sophie and Alex.
The convention for the naming of the children was clearly defined. The first choice was Andrew’s choice, the second was Jeana’s choice, the third Andrew’s, the fourth Jeana’s and so on down the family.
Annie the first born was called after Andrew’s mother, John was called after Jeana’s uncle, John Mackenzie who had brought her up, Christina after Andrew’s grandmother, Jane after Jeana’s aunt, who had brought her up.
In the years between 1902 and 1923 [ from when Jeana was 18 to the age of 40] she gave birth to 15 children. Local women who were ‘ good at it ‘ helped with the births and delivered the babies, doctors who had to be paid for were only called out if the situation was bad.
The other children were sent to family members or friends when the birth was close and the father went to the next door neighbour, so he was close at hand to be called after the birth, fathers were not present at the birth.
Fishing was the mainstay of the village and was not an easy life. Before the First World War there were no boats with engines in the village. A fifteen foot wooden ‘yawl’ with on brown sail was commonly used. If the weather and sea conditions were not suitable for sail, and when they were putting out and taking in their long lines, the boats had to be rowed. The fishermen used nets in the herring season but did line fishing for the rest of the year.
After 1924 there was no boat builder in Hilton so the Hilton men bought their boats in Inver. There was a boat builder in Balintore but they did not seem to use him.
Between the wars, a change occurred, the herring stocks reduced and the men following the herring up the west coast of Scotland and to Orkney, Shetland and down the east coast as far as Yarmouth and Lowestoft nearly stopped, so it was rarer for Andrew and the others to be away and white fishing and salmon fishing locally became the main employment.
The preparation of the 800-hook lines for white fishing involved several members of the family. Somebody, usually Jeana or one of the older children, had to clean the line of the debris of the previous day’s fishing. This was called ‘redding the line’. Someone had to go to Nigg, four miles away, in the early morning to dig for lugworm, which was used as bait. [ Willie remembers having to miss school when he was quite young to go and fill a tin with lug]. Before the children were big enough Andrew would have done this himself and the women would have done it as well.
There is a skill in getting lug. The worms are remarkably fast in the wet sand and are gone before you get a chance to grab them. Jean and George Chalmers [granddaughter and her husband] would have to practically dig up the whole beach to get a couple of dozen, whereas, Willie was an expert.
Someone had to bait the hooks and set them out. This was always Jeana’s job; she would sit in the shed with an apron of rough sacking patiently putting worms on to hooks, laying them in a line and very carefully covering each layer with grass in a basket so they would not get tangled as the line was being lowered into the sea.
The boats were launched by manpower [and woman power]. The women actually carried the men on their backs to the boats, which had been pushed out from the shore, so that the water would not spoil the men’s leather boots [ no rubber Wellington boots in those days].
The women would have made up ‘pieces’, [i.e. a parcel of food], for the men to take with them. The piece was likely to be thick oatcakes or girdle scones, with crowdie, which is a home-made cheese very favoured in the villages.
The men had to make their way, by sail or oar, sometimes several miles, to the right fishing spots which will be known by the kind of sea bed and tide conditions, and therefore the kind of fish to be caught there.
Marker buoys were thrown into the sea followed by the baited lines. Each line had two buoys or one man’s line could be tied to another with buoys only at each end. Then it was matter of waiting, the men would eat their food, have a ‘warming’ drink, smoke their pipes and talk. Half an hour or so they had to start hauling. If they waited too long the dogfish would damage the catch. The hauling of the line could result in pleasure or disappointment since their livelihood depended on the catch.
No one in the villages ever fished on a Sunday, and twice yearly at the Communion Season, no boats went out from Wednesday to Tuesday. This was a real sacrifice, which these Christians made out of reverence for God and the keeping of the Sabbath.
Jeana was always careful that Andrew got good food when he came home. That is, as good as she could afford. The diet could be summed up in three words: fish, oatmeal and potatoes. Meat was a luxury, though in later years, when Andrew and his four sons fished, and with more money coming into the house, she made sure they had steak quite often.
They ate fresh fish either fried or boiled. They smoked fish and ate that fried and then lightly stewed in milk. They salted and dried fish, and cooked it on a ‘brander’ i.e. a wire tray. The brander sat on the open fire when the fire was fairly low. Every home had a barrel [cask] of salt herring in the shed. This provided winter food. It was considered a great delicacy. All these meals were eaten with ‘tatties’ i.e. potatoes. The preference was for dry, floury potatoes. Brander fish and salt herring were always eaten with your hands, not knives and forks.
Jeana made oatcakes and scones and ‘sleeshaks’ every day. Sleeshaks are tatties which have been boiled until soft and then mashed with a little milk and butter. It was then put on a flat plate and patted into a cake with the hands and left to cool. When required, the cake is cut into slices and fried in dripping or margarine. The children got ‘sleeshaks on a piece’ for their lunch. A ‘piece’ is a slice of bread. Andrew had oatmeal brose for breakfast and oatmeal porridge and a sleeshak for lunch and soup and fish in the evening with boiled potatoes.
The fisher families had an arrangement with the local farmer in respect of the humble potato, an essential food. Yearly, at tattie planting time they would rent a ‘drill’ i.e. a strip of the field. The farmer would prepare the field and the families would plant their drill with the potato seed of their choice [nearly always Kerr’s Pinks]. They marked their own drills with named sticks.
At harvest time, [October] they would gather their harvest and bag them. The farmer would deliver the bags to the homes in a horse and cart. Then each family would make a tattie pit near their home. The pit was designed to keep out the frost so that the tatties would last the winter. The pit could not be opened on a frosty day so they had to be careful, but a supply was usually kept in the house. If your supply from the house ran out you could borrow from a neighbour until the pit could be re-opened. The farmer used the field again after the tatties were removed and with crop rotation it was never the same field the next year.
As the family grew, so the tiny house seemed to get smaller. Jeana had to cook everything on a coal fire, heat water for washing and boil clothes on the same fire, and, as well as being pregnant and caring for the babies and children she had ‘her work’ on the lines to do regularly to keep the fishing going. She also looked after Uncle Ian Rudh who was quite ill in his later years. She was an extremely kind and hospitable lady and many passers-by had cups of tea and food in her house.
Jeana inherited Braemore Cottage from her uncle. This must have come as a tremendous relief to her and her family. At 21 Shore Street it has been already mentioned there was only one bedroom and Willie spoke of six children sharing a bed, three at the top and three at the bottom. Now, at Braemore, she had two big bedrooms upstairs and one small bedroom downstairs. She had a big family kitchen and a sitting room. Andrew and Jeana slept downstairs and everyone else upstairs. The kitchen had a big black cooking range to make cooking easier and space for more people round a very big table.
This being Hilton, there was no running water until the late 1940’s, so there was no indoor flushing toilet or a sink in the kitchen. They dug a well in the garden and built an outside wash boiler big enough to hold a huge washing. On washing days the children had to go out to find sticks and old boots and any other burnable material from the beach. A fire was kindled under the boiler and kept going until the washing was done.
Andrew acquired a small open motorboat called ‘Maggie’ in the early 30’s for the fishing and this made a great difference. His son Andrew was then twenty and had a natural aptitude as a mechanic. He also had a very good friend called John Paterson. John’s father had a fishing business, white fishing at first and then salmon fishing. The Paterson’s had boats and engines, Andrew spent every moment he could at John’s and learned more and more about engines. Young Andrew was a very useful member of the Sutherland family when it came to boats. He extended this ability to cars, and since they always had old cars, vans and lorries this was a great skill to have. Andrew was a very popular member of the family and Willie in particular hero-worshipped his brother Andrew.
In the Nautical Almanac of 1935, Andrew Sutherland is recorded as an owner of another boat called ‘ A.M. Euphemia’. This was a much bigger boat of 7.66 tons displacement. This was only the second seine net boat to come into the area and Andrew worked it with his sons Jock, Andrew and Willie. Son Andrew, of course was the engineer. Although it was quite a risk for them to take it on, this boat meant a great deal to the family. Willie still talked about the ‘Euphemia’ with great pride and affection when he was an old man.
The Sutherland family often left the ‘Euphemia’ at Cromarty for the weekends because Cromarty harbour could be entered at any state of the tide, whereas Balintore was a tidal harbour. This is the reason why Willie met and fancied a girl from Cromarty called Bessie Jack. They were married in 1935.
Bessie says that every Saturday Andrew would open up his locked cash box and share out the money for the week. First the boat got a share, then each of the crew would get a share of what was left. There were some weeks when very little was left. Fishing was a risky occupation, it greatly depended on the weather, availability of fish and being in the right place at the right time.
Andrew was a man of faith and prayer. He had become a committed Christian when he was in Yarmouth during the herring season. For the rest of his life his faith was extremely important to him and he was a loving Christian witness to his family. His life of prayer meant that he sometimes had extra knowledge of things about to happen. Andrew seemed to known that when Willie was a very sick new born baby that Willie would recover and grow to be an old man with grey hairs. Andrew was so sure of this that he told Willie to be obedient to his superiors when in the Royal Navy and to go wherever he was told to go, because God had promised he would grow old. He also knew when a neighbour, and fellow fisherman, had died in his sleep. He told Jeana about it before he went to the man’s house in the early hours of the morning. He also knew, when his little grand daughter Jean was only five years old, she would grow up to be a Christian, and on one occasion, much to the consternation of his sons after a fruitless night fishing, he required them to stop the boat and put down the nets because he was absolutely sure that God had provided fish for them at that spot. He was right.
When his boys were called for the Second World War Andrew had to sell the ‘Euphemia’. He very much needed to get the money for it, but when some fishermen came across the firth from Burghead on a Sunday to buy it he politely sent them away, saying he could not do business with them on this the Lord’s day. It was no surprise that God honoured his servant and the ‘Euphemia’ was sold shortly after.
A great sadness came to Andrew and Jeana when Teeny [Christina] their daughter died at the age of 31. She is likely to have died of T.B., Teeny was single and had worked in hotels and had helped her parents bring up the rest of their family by her regular money gifts to them. She had a very real faith and was greatly loved by her brothers and sisters. It was Teeny who bought new pieces of furniture so that Andrew and Jeana could have a nice sitting room for the first time in their lives. She died in that room with her family all around her and her father and mother loving her and caring for her. She was, and still is, remembered with fondness. In a family of open, generous people, Teeny was a very, very generous lady. When Teeny was very ill and close to death one Saturday night, the family gathered round expecting to die that night but Teeny rallied and told her father to tell the rest of the family to go home but come back next Saturday because she was not going to die before then. That is exactly what happened.
Andrew, Jeana and family walked the three miles each Sunday to Fearn Free Church. the family filled two pews and Jean remembers, years later, seeing family names carved into these pews by boys who were not paying much attention to the sermon. When Willie married, of course, he and Bessie also sat there. The family all had very good singing voices so it was a nice place to be. The minister for many years was the Rev. George MacKay, Andrew was an elder and the Rev. George liked Andrew very much.
Sunday lunch was always beef or lamb broth. This was cooked in a huge pan on the range while they were at church. The broth was served in large old fashioned soup plates with oatcakes. Then the meat and extra vegetables were served on the same soup plates with potatoes or ‘sleeshaks’. These plates were then stacked up to be washed on Monday because they did not do any work on Sunday. Bessie remembers some of the girls, when they were older, managing to secretly wash the plates when Andrew and Jeana were resting but leaving one dirty plate on the top of the pile so that Andrew would not see what they had done! It would be very surprising if Andrew did not know but he was a man of peace and he also had a sense of humour.
Fearn aerodrome was only about a mile from Hilton and Andrew and his daughter Peggy both worked at the aerodrome during the Second World War. Willie also worked there when he was invalided out of the Royal Navy. Son Andrew got on well in the Navy, Bessie described him as being ‘ Square Rigged ‘ i.e. he was a Chief Petty Officer. The Sutherland family were lucky, they never lost any sons in the war. Father Andrew was also in the Home Guard.
Andrew died aged sixty-six in 1943. He had cancer. He died in the same room as his much loved daughter Teeny. His family really mourned his passing, but were in no doubt that this servant of the lord was in a much better place. His end was peaceful with many family members in the room and Bessie remembers how moved she was in his confidence in God and also to hear his last tender words of love to Jeana his wife.
Jeana moved back to 21 Shore Street after Andrew’s death. She felt his loss very keenly. Her love was as strong as his. They had come through many hardships together over the years of their marriage and had been a strength and support to each other. Jeana died a eight years later.
The family went through various ups and downs in years that followed. they did not always see eye to eye with each other but they had a very strong sense of loyalty and they had inherited the spirit of generosity so apparent in their parents. They also had short memories so disagreements did not last for too long.
Andrew and Jeana Sutherland would have been out of the ordinary in any generation. They had strength, faith and a tremendous fortitude in adversity. They shared what they had with others. They accepted people for what they were. They had a sense of fun and a wonderful ability to be happy with very little of this world’s goods.
The 15 children are all gone now.
Ann, born 27/6/1902, died 1980, heart.
John, born 20/8/03, died 1962, heart.
Christina, born 28/12/05, died 1937, T.B.
Jeannie, born 02/7/07, died 1908.
Jane, born 27/8/08, died 1968, stroke.
Andrew, born 23/7/10, died 1975, cancer.
Isabella, born 7/8/12, died 1995, stroke.
Sophie, born 26/6/13, died 1915.
William, born 12/12/14, died 1994, lung cancer.
Dolina, born 17/1/16, died 2008, old age.
Sophie, born 7/2/17, died 2006, old age.
Catherine, born 28/1/20, died 1921.
Catherine, born 23/3/21, died 2011, bronchial pneumonia.
Donald Hugh, born 7/2/22, died 1987, lung cancer.
Margaret, born 13/6/23, died 1982, bone cancer.