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Down Memory Lane: New schools in Inverness and a huge increase in spirits smuggling


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Columnist Bill McAllister looks back 200 years, when sailing, schools and smuggling were key issues covered by the Inverness Courier.

On January 7, 1821 the Highland Chieftain steamboat, despite severe gales, completed the 240-mile journey from Glasgow to Kyleakin, Skye, in 35 hours and 50 minutes.

A coach service every 10 days started up between Inverness and Cromarty for passengers catching vessels to London.

Mail coaches were also speeded up – Aberdeen to Inverness at eight miles per hour and Inverness-Thurso at a mile slower.

The Society for Education of the Highland Poor agreed to erect a Central School in Inverness for 300 pupils, the first west of the river. It was calculated that with the Academy and Raining’s School, some 900 boys and girls could now be taught.

Central School had 64 pupils when it opened on August 13.

The original Central School in Inverness opened in 1821.
The original Central School in Inverness opened in 1821.

Conservationists today would be appalled by the news that the Sutherlandshire Association paid £320 for “the destruction of vermin” – including 112 full-grown eagles, 18 young eagles, 211 foxes, 317 wildcats, pine martens and polecats, 516 ravens and 218 hawks!

A chap called William Cochrane set up "bathing machines at Seabank to encourage bathing in the neighbourhood of Inverness".

It was also reported that "a man named Gunn from Caithness, confined on a charge of sheep stealing, effected his escape, with considerable ingenuity, from the prison of Inverness".

The alarm was raised when Gunn awoke a public house owner to demand whisky and he was later captured a few miles east of Nairn.

Smuggling in the Highlands sharply increased following an Act banning distillation of spirits of less than 500 gallons.

In February, at Milton of Kilravock, near Croy, three Excise officers confronted two smugglers, a father and son who refused to surrender the whisky in their cart.

The father was badly hurt in the affray and later died.

Later that month, Excise officers surprised smugglers near Clachnaharry.

They intended to sell their whisky in Inverness but three horses and six ankers of whisky were confiscated.

The Courier then reported that, on March 1, "a smuggling lugger discharged part of a cargo of gin, brandy, tea and tobacco at a fishing village near Alturlie Point, below Culloden".

Mr Fraser, the Excise supervisor at Inverness, was tipped off about where the goods were hidden, but they were removed before he arrived.

However, raids retrieved £1000 worth of smuggled items.

The next reported episode was when Mr Fraser, accompanied by his colleague Mr Mackay, discovered, in the early hours of the morning, five men and three women "at the Abban, behind Huntly Place, conveying several small casks of smuggled whisky into the town for sale".

A fight began in which smugglers escaped with all their booty but for one cask.

The Courier reported:”Both parties were a good deal hurt in the affray and one of the smugglers is so ill he has been sent to the Infirmary.”

A week later Inverness Justice of the Peace Court heard that a vessel from Leith had landed a quantity of gin at Inverness, concealing it on the shoremaster’s premises. Excisemen uncovered 18 kegs of gin, hidden under cabbages in the shoremaster’s garden.

He denied all knowledge, even when several pints of the spirit were found in his kitchen!

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