Gunn Families

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I have, for some years, been researching a branch of my wife's family who originated in the parish of Kildonan.  Their first known places of abode were Corrish and Arichline in the upper reaches of the Strath of Kildonan and in the area of the homeland of the later chiefs near to Badanloch.  In this area of wild mountainous country with the majority of land being rough, heather-clad, hillside grazing the living must have been hard.  Though there were areas of good soil by the lochsides and in the valleys of the river Helmsdale and its tributaries the country, in the main, limited the agricultural and animal husbandry options open to the population.

Prior to the clearances to make way for sheep in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the grazing land was used for the traditional black cattle raised over much of the highlands and the lowland areas of Caithness.  The sheep that were kept were a small type descended from an ancient breed. Crops were limited and only bere and oats covered any significant area.  Potatoes did appear also but do not seem to have been particularly popular with those working the soil for the tenant farmers.  They were not exported and were generally a cheap supplement to a limited diet.

This diet of the average person was monotonous and mainly consisted of porridge, cabbage, bere bread and oatcakes.  Some wild fruits could be picked locally and fish could be caught from the sea or, more often, for those living inland, from the river.  Some goats and the ancient breed of sheep were kept for drinking milk with another favoured drink, whisky, being made from bere.

Since I am unclear as to the exact social station of the Gunns being investigated it is difficult to assess their relative wealth and style of life but I assume that they were sub-tenants and cottars.  Their dwellings, in any event, having been similar and only the degree of  'sophistication' and size might have signified their position in the social and class structure.

The houses of the sub-tenants and cottars would have been of very thick drystone walls.  Those walls were often constructed of a double thickness with earth or rubble filling the gap.  The height of the walls varied from house to house and sometimes even within the same building.  The height of the stone wall was low with either the roof coming low down to meet the wall or, more commonly, the gap between stone and thatch being made of turf.  Heather ropes weighted by stones and supported upon rafters held on the thatch of the roof.  Sometimes divots of heather were used as part of the roof covering.  Early dwellings had no chimney and generally had a central fire with the only escape for smoke being a hole in the roof.  A later improvement was the addition of a fire and chimney on the end wall.  The insides of the houses were dark and smoky due to the continual burning of peat.

The close proximity between people and animals is often mentioned with regard to living conditions.  The 'but and ben' is well known as home for both with the animals at one end and the family at the other.  Sometimes entry was by a common door with only a screen or low wall as a separation.  However, by the beginning of the 19th century it is possible that some houses in the upper Strath of Kildonan had more permanent and more secure division though the byre at one end and the family accommodation at the other was still probably the basic design.   

The earliest generations identified are all Gunns with the wives stated as having Gunn maiden surnames.  Alexander Gunn (born c1755), in Kildonan, and his wife Ann Gunn had a son William born in 1784 at Corrish.  The Rev. Alexander Gunn's history of Clan Gunn also indicates he had sons Donald and Robert.  I have been unable to confirm this but naming traditions would suggest that this assertion is likely.  The above William married Helen Gunn (bpt. 1787) whose parents were Alexander Gunn and Catherine Gunn.  Little is known of those first four Gunns and it is unlikely that further information will be forthcoming though one point of further research concerning the birth of daughter Helen might yield some new facts.  In the 1851 census Helen's birthplace was given as Kildonan but in the 1861 census it was stated as Reay.  At the time of her marriage the place of residence was stated as Brubster, Reay.   However, it is also possible that Helen was born in Kildonan parish near to the border with Strath Halladale but was resident in Reay parish by the time of her marriage or that there was some confusion over changed parish boundaries.  Prior to 1801 Reay parish figures for births included at least part of Strath Halladale but thereafter figures for Reay were considered separately despite the fact that Strath Halladale was still actually in Reay parish until 1891.

The language spoken by early generations of the family living in Kildonan was probably Gaelic.  When there was a change to English is unclear.  There would presumably have been a period when some family members, at least, were bi-lingual.  Probably those in contact with influences from the south and the lowland areas of Caithness would have had to acquire some rudimentary English.  The black cattle were sold in the south and driven there making some understanding of the tongue of the southerners essential.  It may have been that the men were more able to communicate in their new language than their wives who would be at home and using Gaelic around the house and in the neighbourhood.   

William and Helen were married in Kildonan in 1808 and had at least seven children five of whom were baptised in Kildonan and two in Halkirk parish.  Alexander, Donald and Robert were probably born at Corrish, William and Kathrain at Arichline as their baptisms are recorded for those places.  The final two identified children, Angus and Ann, are listed as baptised in the parish of Halkirk.

Since William was baptised in Kildonan 1817 and Angus in Halkirk parish 1819 it is likely that the family were cleared from or left their croft in the Strath of Kildonan during 1818/19.  At this time many families in Upper Kildonan were being moved from their homes to various other places including Caithness.  One particular place of re-settlement was Helmsdale where herring-stores and curing-sheds were being made ready.  Those unable or unwilling to moved to work in the fishing industry were seen by the landowners as being lazy and they were, in many cases, forced to walk to Wick and Thurso to the emigrants' ships.

A first move to Halkirk parish would have been a reasonable transition in terms of distance travelled and culture.  The parish of Halkirk had good farming areas with arable, pasture and meadow put to good use.  However, it also had much land that could be cultivated in time to advantage and large areas of heather, hill bog and loch not unlike the hills of Sutherland.  In addition the language of the natives of Halkirk was probably a mixture of Gaelic and English often depending upon where in the parish they lived,  the nature of their occupation or the task they were engaged in.  It is likely that some only had one language, some the other and some varying degrees of understanding of a combination of the two.

It is interesting to note that the First Statistical Account of Halkirk Parish talks of grass for hay, the large number of cattle being reared and the beginnings of clover and rye grass cultivation.  It further mentions building techniques previously not available to Gunns moving from Sutherland.  The flagstones of Caithness are listed as having uses for flooring, roofing, walls and meal chests amongst others.   

The clearances in Upper Kildonan took place at the same time as the last Strathnaver burnings and were probably accompanied by equal brutality.  Those clearances in Strathnaver are well documented and in writing on the Kildonan removals Donald Sage, the minister in Strathnaver and the son of the Kildonan minister, states that 'the whole inhabitants of Kildonan parish, with the exception of three families, nearly 2000 souls, were utterly rooted and burned out.'  It is noteworthy that the birth records for William's family show that they were recorded by Alexander Sage the father of the more famous Donald Sage.  

Though I have been unable to find evidence of the move by the Gunns of interest to me, the records do show that four named Gunn families and two other unnamed families, who were possibly Gunn's, were removed from the land in Corrish in 1819.  Donald with four children and John with seven children went to Latheron, Robert with two children was noted as going to Caithness and Adam with two children remained as a servant.  All are listed as married so presumably their wives were alive and moved with them.  They were subtenants of Lieutenant William Gunn.

The first move by William and Helen was possibly a temporary one and may have been shortlived as they and some of the family appear in the 1841 census at Backlass, Watten.  Backlass is not very far from the southeastern boundary of Halkirk parish and close to the Banniskirk area where some of those Gunns later moved for a time.  This area to where they finally moved was probably also on the fringe of the English and Gaelic speaking divide though the major part of Watten parish was probably English speaking.  However, it is likely that the change from Gaelic to English speaking became complete for the family at about the time of their move to Backlass.

Movement around the north at the beginning of the 19th century was not easy.  Roads, where they existed, were merely tracks and often became mud-baths in wet weather and impassable except on foot in winter.  The number of carts while increasing at the turn of the century was still small and how movement of family and belongings took place is a matter for conjecture.  The most likely scenario is of a family with few belongings carrying personal goods on their backs in bags or baskets with some larger items on a pack horse.  Many families not only stayed in the open on their travels but also for a time until accommodation was found.  Though I have no proof, I think that the Gunns probably were well enough known in Halkirk parish, probably had friend or relatives there and were possibly close enough acquainted with, if not related to, the MacHamish line to have a temporary abode offered to them.  At a later stage the move to Watten parish would have been much easier once a position on a farm had been obtained.  

Both William and Helen died in Watten parish.  The former given as at Newton and the latter given as at Backlass though both are, in fact, holdings in very close proximity to one another.  It would appear that William was operating as both a cattle dealer and as a shepherd and probably also as a general farm labourer in the area of Newton of Dunn, Houstry, Watten.  In his business of cattle dealing it is difficult to know if he sold his own cattle, purchased for re-sale or was simply a drover taking someone else’s cattle to market either locally in Caithness or further afield.

In working on the relatively good land around Backlass he would have had some opportunity to see better animal husbandry than previously and would undoubtedly have witnessed the introduction of new crops to the area.  The Statistical Account talks of the appearance of turnips, peas, beans and even of some of places trying wheat.  It also gives some indication of the uses of sheep at this time.  It would seem that much of the mutton produced in Watten parish was consumed in Wick and Thurso though some was used to feed the producing families and to provide them with some wool for spinning.  The reason for the lack of an export trade seems to lie in the nature of the animal being reared.  It was not particularly large or strong and did not do well in wet areas.  It also appears to have been overflocked along with the black cattle.

Reports of the dwellings in the area are little different from those to be found in Sutherland though by the 1820s some improvements were possibly beginning to take place.  It would appear that there had been no incentive to improve ones accommodation as there was little or no security of tenure and improvements, where they could be afforded, could result in losses.  Possessions being few also meant that limited accommodation was required and, of course, the smaller the dwelling the easier it was heated in winter.  This fact also accounted for the proximity of cattle and people as the animals certainly provided an effective though primitive form of central heating.

It is worth pointing out that at this time there was no village in Watten parish other than a small group of house at Achingale.  The area was a farming one with special skills, such as shoemaking, either being learned by the local population and practised along with their other work or provided by itinerant craftsmen.

William Gunn is interred in Halkirk cemetery.  The flat stone is inscribed with the details but there is no mention of Helen on the stone though I suspect she is probably in the same lair.  To the left of William's stone is an upright stone marking the last resting place of one son, William Campbell Gunn, and to the right is the stone marking the grave of another son, Donald Gunn and his spouse Wemyss Williamson.  This stone also remembers their daughter, Helen.

The above William Campbell Gunn may have been the author of notes entered on the flysheet of the Rev. Alexander Gunn's book on the Gunns.  William would clearly have known the Rev. Alexander and also would have been able to assist him in his recording of the Gunns of Kildonan. This point is worth considering when the accuracy of the Rev. Alexander's account of the Clan Gunn is being questioned.  An alternative William Gunn, who resided in Spittal and is mentioned in the Rev. Alexander Gunn's Genealogical tree, is the son of Alexander Gunn, a brother of William Campbell Gunn and Donald Gunn mentioned above. 

Also noted on the fly sheet is a Robert J. Gunn of Toronto, claimed to be a descendant of the Corrish Gunns, and with my search for North American connections this man was of some interest though it must be accepted that very large numbers of Gunns from Sutherland and Caithness crossed the Atlantic and he may not to be from the family I am researching.  At this point in time information received from Canada and a study of the circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate that this Robert J. Gunn is the son of William Gunn and Catherine Dunnett and born in 1881 and a second cousin to James Gunn (born 1839).

The area in which they were now settled was somewhat different from the wild country of Kildonan.  Though, as has been pointed out, there is much good land on the floor of the Strath of Kildonan and fertile pockets by the numerous lochs, including Badanloch where the Gunn chiefs resided, the hills around are much greater in size than those around Watten and the countryside more rugged.  Indeed the farming country in Watten parish is probably as good as any in the area and even though some of the hill ground between Watten and Halkirk parishes, which would have been well known to William Gunn, is rough grazing the scale of the 'bleakness' is quite different.

A William Begg whose first wife was Ann Gunn, a daughter of William (born 1784) and Helen, tenanted at least part of the land in this area.  Ann married William Begg in 1853 but was dead by mid-1859 from exhaustion after childbirth.  In this short time Ann had seven children, at least one set of twins and possibly two, and had been ill for several months after the birth of twins Margaret and Andrew.  Ann is interred in the Tomb of Dunn, a cemetery near to where she lived, and other members of the Gunn and Begg families are also probably buried there.   William Begg later married Johan McKay whose family ties were in Tongue, Sutherland and had a further five children at least. 

There are indication from OPR records and the statutory records that Beggs farmed in the area for sometime before the arrival of the Gunns in question and that they appear to have tenanted property of reasonable size for the period.  There are other Gunns listed in OPRs and other records for the Backlass and Dunn areas and they do appear to have names in common with the Corrish/Arichlinie group but since so many names were common to all families research at present might just lead up a blind alley.

The direct line of my particular interest from William and Helen comes through son Donald who was married in Halkirk in 1833 to Wemyss Williamson.  Wemyss was born at Stanstill in Bower parish and given on the Mormon fiche as from the parish of Bower at her marriage.  From the fiche it was not clear in what area of the parish she resided at the time of her marriage.  Examination of the OPR showed that she was from Clayock which, it is interesting to note, is only a short distance from Banniskirk, in Halkirk parish, where Donald Gunn was a labour in 1841 and a day labourer in 1851.

It would be normal, even in those times, for the marriage to take place in the parish of residence of the bride.  Why it should take place where the groom was employed is unclear except that they were both possibly working on the same farm or estate and, of course, their first child was born five months after the marriage.  Unfortunately this first child, named Benjamine, appears to have died.  Whether the name is a mis-spelling of Benjamin or that of a girl is also unclear but it may contain a hint to the employment of the couple.  The owners of Banniskirk House were Williamsons, though probably not connected to Wemyss, and the name Benjamin seems to have been favoured in this family.  Possibly the couple's marriage was sponsored or approved by their employer.  An alternative explanation might be that some, or all, of the  large number Williamson's living in the Banniskirk and Achalone area, some whom were called Benjamin, were related to Wemyss.

Donald's exact residence at Banniskirk before and after his marriage is not known.  However, it was a more substantial dwelling than he had been used to in Kildonan and on his first arrival in Halkirk parish.  This can be seen from a picture of the property, taken in 1910, recently sent from Canada by a direct descendant, Robert Gunn of Toronto.  Houses had become better constructed and landowners were giving encouragement to their tenants to build better accommodation and to use newly available materials.  There was a greater separation of people and animals and windows were appearing and they were being glazed.  Also furnishings and personal possessions were becoming more common.  The houses were often being constructed by groups of families working to construct one another's dwellings and financing the project through assistance from the landlords and loans repayable over a period of time.

By the 1861 census Donald was being described as an agricultural contractor while some of his family were labourers and his son in the direct line, Alexander, was listed as a mason.  They may have worked together in business or simply been employed together or separately on the estate.  The fact that Euphemia and Helen were still scholars at an age when they might have left school and James was a Free Church Teacher in Halkirk would suggest a family of, a least, a little substance for the period and maybe a certain amount of upward mobility.

Donald Gunn, born 1811 and the grandson of the earliest known ancestor in this family line, died in 1866 and by 1871 his wife, Wemyss Williamson, and two of their children were residing at Assery.  Donald's son Robert living in Assery married Jessie MacKay from Shebster there in 1870 and may have been that either she followed Robert to Assery or she was residing there with her family when Donald died.  The final reference to Wemyss in the census is in 1881 when she was living in Manson's Lane, Thurso.  With her she had unmarried daughter Helen, Helen's two sons Donald and George Dunnett and Agnes Matheson the daughter of Euphemia.  A year before the 1891 census Wemyss died in Gladstones building which, I believe, was between Traill Street and the Cowgate area of Thurso.

The parents and siblings of Wemyss Williamson have not been easy to trace.  Her parents are known and some of her brothers and sisters also with certainty.  Her father was a farm manager and this would indicate some degree of ability and possible education.   Wemyss, Janet, Diana and Donald were born to William Williamson and Euphemia MacKay in Bower parish while Isabel, James, William and Benjamin were born in Halkirk parish.  Examination of the OPR shows that some births were in areas of the parishes adjacent to one another.  It is probable that all were from one family as research has not shown another William and Euphemia marriage, the family names tie with earlier and later generations and the geographical information is significant.  In addition dates of births do not clash and though they occasionally jump from one parish to the other this could be explained by family movement or the existence of parents of the couple residing in adjoining parishes.

A child Christian born to William Williamson and Euphan Hall is recorded as a baptism on the microfiche for Halkirk parish for 15th October 1802.  The actual place is Banniskirk as shown by the OPR and the name appears to be more like Gall or Gaull.  I can find no other Euphan Hall or similar and an error in the record is possible.  One of the baptismal witnesses was a Catherine Sutherland who was present as a witness at the baptism of one of William Williamson and Euphemia MacKay's children.  This could be another child to this couple. 

The another child of William (born 1784) and Helen, named Alexander, married Elizabeth Swanson in Reay in 1842 and died at Achscrabster in 1872.  He worked in the flagstone quarries as did members of his family.

The remains of the Caithness Flagstone quarries are to be seen throughout the county.  The industry developed greatly from 1825 after James Traill began to ship flagstones for paving from the quarries at Castlehill, Castletown.  The stone was sent all over the world and as the business grew more and more quarries developed and more men previously from farming backgrounds went to work in the quarries.  The family of Alexander worked in the quarries at Achscrabster, Spittal and Castletown.  Over the years their jobs changed as they became more proficient until finally William Gunn, son of the Alexander born 1809, was described as Manager of the Pavement Works.

Rev. Alexander Gunn of Watten mentions this Alexander, along with his father William and his grandfather Alexander, in his history of the Clan Gunn.  He notes their descent as being from George of Corrish who was a member of the main line of the MacHamish Gunns.  As stated earlier, proof of this placement of the main line under examination in the main MacHamish line is not available and is in some quarters disputed.  In another source it is claimed that numerous descendants of George of Corrish are extant but that evidence to support such a claim cannot be found.  A further Clan Gunn record, by Mark Rugg Gunn, gives yet another version of the descent to and from George of Corrish.  It is likely that the oral history on this point is accurate but that the line is from an illegitimate son of George of Corrish.

This line from the Alexander of William and Helen has a number of interesting links with other families and those are held on my Brother's Keeper database.  Children were born to the family of this Alexander but they died young, remained single or were females whose lines have not been traced.  However, information is slowly appearing, often by accident when other lines of research are being followed, and maybe a line will come to light which contains present day Gunns who are not far removed from the main line under examination.  Iain Gunn of Banniskirk, Commander of the Clan Gunn, has indicated that there are descendants of William Gunn of Spittal but the opportunity has not arose yet for follow up this branch of the family.

Donald and Wemyss had nine recorded children between 1833 and 1851.  Benjamin(e), as indicated is not in later census returns,  probably died young and Donald and Angus have so far not been traced in as much as that the particular names cannot be put to individuals who did certain jobs or went to certain places but more of that later. Donald was residing at Broadhaven, Wick in 1899 when he reported the death of his brother Alexander.  James was, as noted earlier, the Free Church Teacher in Halkirk in 1861

James Gunn went to Canada to make a new life and gained some success for himself and his family.  He returned for two visits early in the 20th century - in 1902 and 1910.  He stayed in the Royal Hotel, Thurso - a sure sign that he was a man of means.  He sent money for the erection of the headstone to his brother, Alexander Gunn, and he paid for some outstanding bills for relatives in Scotland. Below can be seen a copy of a receipt for the cost of transport to Halkirk Cemetery for undertaker's transport and the copy of an account sent directly to Canada for payment by a frustrated Thurso merchant.  A descendant, Robert Charles Gunn indicating James's success in Canada, has provided much information. A final pointer as to his possible high social and economic standing comes by way of a comment made by a resident of Toronto to the effect that she knew of those particular Gunns but they were away above her station.  

Little had been known of the Canadian connection until a chart left by a caller at the Inverness Library with the Genealogist there matched the chart produced by the Rev. Alexander Gunn of Watten and my continuation of it with reference to the family of Donald and Wemyss.  This chart showed that one of the sons who went to Canada was James Gunn, the son of Donald born in 1839, last noted as a Free Church Teacher in Halkirk in 1861. The only other certain information from the new discovery at that time was that this James was married with four sons, William, Donald, James and Norman.

 Of the other two sons little is known except that Robert Gunn, who was in employment in Assery, married Jessie MacKay from Shebster in 1870 and the final  'unidentified' son, William, was with the Customs and Excise and moved to England.  It is now clear that he moved to Loughborough in Leicestershire and died there in 1888. Upon his death some belongings, including silver ware and silver cutlery with initials upon it, were sent to his niece Williamina Gunn in Thurso.  His executor was his brother Donald and brother Robert appears to also have been involved in the closing of his estate.  It is not as yet clear when or where William's wife died.

Of the two daughters recorded to Donald Gunn and Wemyss Williamson both add interest to the family history research.  Helen never married but had three sons and a daughter.  She died of cancer in her early fifties in Gladstones Building.  The sons require further research, there being some dispute and even court proceeding concerning their paternity, but the daughter married in Edinburgh and finally lived and died in Brora and produced a large family. 

The search for this daughter, Wemyssina Williamson Gunn proved interesting.  Having failed to find Wemyssina in Thurso records after her birth a friend checked the records in Edinburgh for me and reported that she had married a painter, William Miller, in Leith in 1908.  This William's parents apparently came from Wick and Wemyssina and William later moved to Brora and settled there.  It was while looking for Melville graves in the Brora cemetery that I came across Wemyssina's last resting place.  It was then that I realised the connection between the Thurso Gunns and friends from Brora who occasionally visited Thurso.  It is also interesting to note that when I mentioned Wemyssina to my own mother she immediately remembered her.  It appears that Wemyssina used to visit neighbours of my mother at Culmaily Farm, Golspie.  My mother remembered her as a small, well-dressed woman with an air of quiet superiority.

Wemyssina's father has yet to be identified and his identity is one of the puzzles of this family history.  No father was given for Wemyssina at birth but at marriage she gave her father as Hugh Ross Gunn.  At first I thought that this was probably a claim made to hide her illegitimacy at the time of her marriage and this may indeed be the case.  However, further research revealing a son, Hugh Alexander, to Helen Gunn opens the possibility that there was indeed a Hugh Ross Gunn around at that time.  This is an area where further study of the statutory records may show the existence of such a person in the 'right place at the right time'.


The other daughter, Euphemia, also had both legitimate and illegitimate children.  She married a John Matheson, a plasterer, from Helmsdale who was residing in Reay at the time.  They had children in Reay and Thurso and finding later generations of this line was assisted by the finding of a renovated gravestone.

On returning to visit the grave of Donald Gunn and Wemyss Williamson, in Halkirk Cemetery, I found, to my great surprise that the stone had been sand blasted, re-polished and the lettering redone.  I was at a loss to know who was responsible.  A visit to the local stone sculptures yard with a photograph resulted in a check with the Wick branch of the company who were able to give me the address of a company in Aberdeen who had sub-contracted the renovation work.  This company were kind enough to give me the name of their customer.  She was Miss A McKay, from Aberdeen, and the great, grand-daughter of Donald and Wemyss.  Her descent was through Euphemia Matheson (nee Gunn) the daughter of Donald and Wemyss.  This contact has resulted in an exchange of information including additions to and correction of some of my charts on this part of the family tree. 

Miss McKay has a great interest in family history and is a member, like myself, of both the Highland Family History Society and the Aberdeen and North East Family History Society.  She is a librarian by profession and also the librarian for the latter named society.

There is an illegitimate daughter to Euphemia, who does not apparently appear in later records, and a legitimate daughter, Angusina or Agnes, who appears in census records and has a death record but who was 'never' born.  It is likely that Euphemia and Agnes were one and the same person.  All the information points to this.  Euphemia was either registered with Agnes or Angusina as her second name or the registrar wrote the mother's name on the certificate where the child's should have been entered.  It is interesting to note that, as Angusina, the child was with her granny, Wemyss, and her aunt Helen and her family in the 1871 census and, as Agnes, in the 1881 census she was still with granny, aunt Helen and Helen's family.   Whatever the cause of the confusion, the charts show what is likely to be an accurate listing of Euphemia's family.  

Alexander Gunn was born in 1844 and married twice.  Calculations from the statutory records are at variance on his date of birth but the OPR records his birth as the 2nd January and baptism as 12th January 1844.  He was firstly married to Christina Hay and later to Mary Sutherland. He was 29 years at first marriage and 41 years at the time of his second marriage.  As yet little information has been collected on Christina and it is doubtful if much personal detail will be forthcoming.  Relatives remember a few points about Mary, whose family details are below.  She appears to have been good with her hands making much of the clothes for her daughters and also being proficient in crochet work.  It would also seem that she had the Gaelic and used it to communicate with similarly skilled friends who might visit.

Mary died in 1910 after having been confined to her bed for six years due to a stroke.  Her daughter Wemyss who left school at twelve to take up the task looked her after for at least part of this time.   

To Christina, Alexander Gunn had three sons, Donald, Thomas and Alexander, and to Mary a son, George, and three daughters, Wemyss, Williamina and Christina.  Donald was variously described as an agricultural labourer, a mason and a contractor on certificates.  His most likely steady employment in later years was probably in the building business.  He appears to have worked outwith the county, in the Glasgow area and possibly elsewhere, and also in his local area.  He is said to have worked on the building of Ulbster Villa by the Toll at the junction of Castletown Road and the main road into Thurso. 

Alexander Gunn was in Shore Street, Thurso at the time of his first marriage in 1879 and in Assery for the 1871 census.  When he moved into Thurso to reside in Rose Street is not clear but if he had been there in 1874 he might have been one of the throng who gathered at Thurso station to see the first train to come north on the newly opened line.  He might have made his first journey on the trips arranged between Wick and Thurso or he might have used the latest mode of travel as he left the county to work in the south.  Another event drawing the crowds about the time of Alexander's settling in Thurso was the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales.   From the time of the construction, between 1811 and 1818, of Telford's road from Inverness through Wick to Thurso to the end of the century many changes in communications, buildings and social conditions were to take place.  Many new streets with impressive building were appearing and one of those streets, the product of the renaming of three 'separate' streets, Prince's Street, was named to commemorate the Royal visit. Alexander Gunn  would have witnessed many of the changes at first hand and as a mason he would almost certainly have been involved in them.

Alexander's first wife, Christina was the daughter of an army pensioner, Thomas Hay, and her mother was Catherine Swanson.  The Hays moved around due to army service with some time spent in Gibraltar where some family members were born.  Christina, a domestic servant, died in 1887 at the family home in Rose Street, Thurso. 

Alexander's second wife, Mary, whom he pre-deceased, came from Latheron and was probably born about 1849.  There is some doubt as to the exact year as it has not been found in the OPR and later certificates are at variance.  There is also some doubt as to Mary's mother's name though it is likely she was Christina McLean, a former domestic servant.  The doubt arises because her death certificate indicated her mother to be of the same name as herself.  Mary was illegitimate and her reputed father was a shepherd called David Sutherland.  Some research has been carried out in this area but much work still has to be done to clear up the tangle of Mary's parentage.  It would also appear that the situation is further confused by the fact that Mary had two half brothers, George McLeod and Alexander MacKay.  The latter one born in 1846, whose father was given as Alexander MacKay,  married an Alexandrina Sutherland.  Her uncle and aunt brought up another Alexandrina Sutherland, the daughter of the above Mary, Alexander MacKay and Alexandrina Sutherland.  It would appear that Alexandrina Sutherland had an illegitimate child, Mary Sutherland, herself.   Because of so many similar names and the confused parentages the description of this area of the family is difficult without the use of charts.

Alexander MacKay may have been the teacher at Newlands in Latheron parish known as 'Bonnie Alec'.  His pupils there would have been the children of crofter-fishermen who struggled to make a living on poor farm land on an inhospitable coast.  He might also have taught the families of locals and incomers engaged in the cottage flax industry introduced in the area for a time.               

Alexander Gunn's sons to Christina are Donald, Alexander and Thomas.  Little is known about Donald except that he was for a time a shop manager with the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society before he moved south to the Glasgow area.  It would appear that he worked on the railways in the south and was killed in a works accident. Thomas and Alexander did not marry and, in fact, they lived in Thurso until their deaths in 1954 and 1955 respectively. 

Alexander's family to Mary is rather better researched as it comprises the direct line.  George died of TB at the age of 16 years in 1901 and his death was reported by half-brother Donald, Wemyss married merchant seaman Henry Fyfe, Christina married Arthur Brown and moved to England while Williamina married George Booth in Thurso in 1917.  George, from Aberdeen, was a steward on the St. Ola as well as working on other ships journeying further afield. 

And thus a family of Gunns from Arichline and Corrish in Kildonan, possibly related to the main MacHamish Chieftainship line, entered the 20thCentury.


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