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Floggings, soup and wool were making the headlines 205 years ago in Inverness

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A soup kitchen. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.
A soup kitchen. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

This is the 205th anniversary of a woman being sentenced to death in Inverness merely for helping in a housebreaking – while another woman was flogged through the town’s streets three times in a fortnight.

In that same year, 1817, Inverness’s first soup kitchen opened and despite all the social and technological progress since, we still require food banks.

Barbara MacKay, from Caithness, was tried at Inverness Circuit Court for being one of several people who broke into a shop.

She confessed to being the lookout while the break-in happened and that she had received silver and copper coins. When the jury found her guilty, she was sentenced to be executed!

After seven months in Inverness Tolbooth under the shadow of the death penalty, her sentence was commuted to two years’ imprisonment.

The ‘Inverness Journal’, a predecessor of the Courier, reported in March 1817, that “a woman named Grant” received a public flogging through the streets, her third in 14 days. The writer said that an example had been made ‘with best intentions’, but added: “The public flagellation of a woman is repugnant to feelings of respect and delicacy. On the unfortunate object in question, a young and handsome woman, the hardened indifference with which she bore and ridiculed the punishment, showed that it failed of effect – so much so that she returned from her ‘banishment’ the same evening.” The Journal confirmed a few months later that, mainly as a result of the Grant case, an Act of Parliament abolished the power to whip women publicly.

When a former chief magistrate of Nairn was jailed for six months for assaulting a lawyer, the court ruled he could not serve his sentence in Nairn jail because of its “notorious insufficiency”.

The same court sentenced a man to 14 years’ transportation for sheep stealing – while a woman who admitted ‘numerous acts of theft’ was sentenced to be transported, presumably to Australia, for seven years. The advocate general restricted the case to ‘an arbitrary punishment’ – otherwise both could have faced the death sentence!

When the Chisholm clan chief’s funeral took place, the paper reported “a degree of splendour which rivalled the usage of ancient times in the last tribute of home and respect to the remains of deceased chiefs... near 240 people sat down to a sumptuous entertainment provided by Mr Cant at Beauly.”

Bread, cheese and copious amounts of whisky were supplied but Mr Cant’s stores of wine and liquor were raided. The Journal revealed: “We regret to understand that a man and two women died of the effects of intoxication.

“Many battles with sticks and fists were fought and many crowns were cracked.” Horsemen also lost their dressed leather saddle flaps which thieves discovered “would make superior brogue soles”.

Another death reported was that of 108-year-old labourer John Munro, of Mountgerald, Black Isle. The paper, though, may have exaggerated when it stated that until shortly before his death Munro “could see from his own house a ship at the entrance of the Cromarty Firth 20 miles away”.

Inverness held its first Sheep and Wool Market that June, with Mr Grant of Corrimony, a pioneer in introducing sheep farming locally, presiding.The Journal reported that Highland flocks were increasing so rapidly that Sutherland alone hosted 100,000 Cheviots.

In a difference of terminology to modern times, the paper reported that Strathpeffer’s spa well had “a much gayer and more numerous attendance this season than ever before”.

It was reported that Strathnairn district had contributed £40 towards improving the entrance to Inverness via Castle Street, using unemployed labour.

The location of Inverness’s first soup kitchen is not disclosed, but in today’s energy-conscious times it’s interesting to note that 700 needy people were given an allocation of coal. An idea that might catch on, the way things are going!

n Sponsored by Ness Castle Lodges.

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