Friday, 20 January 2012

Where do I come from?

This question generally elicits an embarrassed cough and an “Ask your mother” but Cam’s Fam, you can now answer with confidence that you come from...

On the left bank of the River Spey as it flows north towards the Moray Firth, Garmouth, aka the Barony of Germach or the even less pronounceable Geàrr Magh in Gaelic [1] as it has previously been known,  is a small town towards the north east of Scotland. Eleven years ago the population of Garmouth was 494 [2] which is surprisingly less than the 675 inhabitants in 1835 [3]. So, when I say small town, I mean it! 

To its credit though, by 1863 the town had a gasworks, proving light to both it and Kingston-on-Spey a few miles upriver, a public school, a Gothic Free Church with an octagonal tower [4], “three inns, a post office, savings bank and three agents for insurances” [5] and a sawmill. There isn’t a lot there now from what I saw - just the Church, the Garmouth Hotel where Mum and I enjoyed lunch and narrow-winding streets, dotted with small cottages, many of whose foundations were laid before there were white men in Australia.

The major social event of the year is the Maggie Fair, held annually in June and has been every year since the town was deemed a burgh of Barony in 1587 by Robert Innes, the 19th Laird of the Innes Clan (think Clan Chief), by virtue of a Crown Charter and granting it the right to host a fair.

Another event of import that seems to pop up when searching Garmouth’s history is that in June 1650, after the execution of his father and return from exile in Europe, Charles II first set foot on the land he now ruled in Garmouth and it is where he signed 1638 Scottish National Covenant and the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant shortly after coming ashore.

The final event that gets some mention is the flood of 1829. It’s strange though, upon visiting Garmouth, the Spey River does not seem so close now that you would expect that Garmouth was a. flooded to a height of 10 feet 2 inches above ordinary level so that “there was scarely a house in the lower quarter of the village which was no injured or a garden wall which was not swept away” [6] and b. part of a thriving ship building industry that grew from the late eighteenth century to its height in the mid 1850s . Between 1785 and 1920 over 500 ships were built and launched in the Spey, varying from 99 ton schooners and East Indiamen of over 1000 tons burthen [7].

The industry dwindled in the early years of the 20th century but not without employing a number of rels, including our Robert, his brother and his father. (More on this another time). Hand in hand with the shipbuilding was a large timber industry, which floated logs from the forests of Glenmore, Abernethy, Rothiemurchus, and Glenfishie to the port of Kingston, all part of the Scottish shire or county of Moray, in which Garmouth is located.

Moray is pronounced Murray in that gorgeous Scottish burr. The Innes Family claim Moray as their traditional lands, as does Clan Gordon, with Gordon Castle built in the eastern corner of the shire, which stretches from the River Spey to the Lossie River, along the North Sea coast. 

One fan of the region in 1775 wrote of Moray that “no Country in Europe can boast of a more pure, temperate, and wholesome air. No part of it is either too hot and sultry in Summer, nor too sharp and cold in Winter; and it is generally (and I think justly) observed, that in the plains of Moray they have 40 days of fair weather in the year, more than in any other country in Scotland.” [8]

It wasn’t one of those 40 days when Mum and I visited the area. So while the weather wasn’t that inviting, the people were hospitable and the area beautiful and I can only imagine how difficult a decision Robert had to make, leaving everything and everyone familiar and a town our family had called home for at least 100 years (from what I have found). But, thank goodness he did!

[1] which means narrow plain,_Moray   
[3] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p.11

[5] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p.6
[6] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p. 10
[7] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p. 11 (and no I don’t know what 100 tons burthen is either!)
[8] 1882, The History of the Province of Moray.

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