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GO TO VISUALLY IMPAIRED VERSION 

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The purpose of the archive page is to keep a record of major events in the life of the Museum, including news stories and feature articles


Miller House f f GO TO VISUALLY IMPAIRED VERSION A Vision Realised opening - girls performing opening - girls performing.jpg MILLER HOUSE opened to great acclaim on 8th April 2004. So busy has it been, and the ongoing developments so many and important, that only now – a year later! – has it been possible to record the historic event on this website. The warmth and extent of the response from visitors has astonished and delighted the staff, as the two comments quoted above make very clear. The museum is going to continue being “hot news” as it has been from day one – but April 8th 2004 was a milestone worthy of report, the culmination of almost nine years of striving. The building was bought back from private ownership by the National Trust for Scotland in 1995 for £55,000 and in 1997 the Trust’s governing Council carried by standing ovation the proposal of the then property manager Frieda Gostwick to convert it into a museum. It was intended to open in the Bicentenary Year, 2002, but funding difficulties came close to scuppering the whole project. Fortunately, in the end the delay was limited to a couple of years. The highlight of the actual opening was the gathering in Church Street of some 50 “VIPs”, people who had strongly supported the Hugh Miller enterprise in many different ways, over many years, and who demonstrated their pleasure that the long-sought new extension had finally become a reality. National Trust for Scotland chief executive Robin Pellew congratulated all concerned on a fine new visitor attraction which exemplified the Trust’s goals and policies. Hugh’s great great grand-daughter Mrs Marian McKenzie Johnston carried through the informal opening, unveiling a drape from the sign beside the front door, inviting all comers to walk In the Steps of Hugh Miller. Cromarty parish minister, Rev John Tallach, blessed the House. Then four children, pupils of Cromarty Primary School, performed, in costume, in the Parlour, a show called At Home with Hugh Miller. The show took the form of some readings about the Miller family life in the house, and two of his folk tales. Felicity Sampays played Lydia, and Caitlin Duncan was Lydia’s pupil, Harriet Ross Taylor. Katie Mackay was the Hallowe’en Bride, and Kimberley Oman the kindly Mother Ghost. It said a lot for their pluck and spirit that they completed the show in spite of two glass lustre lights crashing off a mantelpiece on to the hearth just behind them! Next day, April 9th, belonged to the people of Cromarty, in an invitation Open Day, and several dozen of them took advantage of the opportunity. opening - mackenzie-johnston speech opening - mackenzie-johnston speech.jpg EXTRACT FROM THE ADDRESS by MARIAN MCKENZIE JOHNSTON At the opening of Miller House, Cromarty, 8th April 2004 “I am very honoured to represent the descendants of Hugh and Lydia Miller at the opening of Miller House where they started their married life. There are 62 known living descendants – 21 of us still live in or regularly visit the Cromarty Firth area; the others are spread through Scotland, England, France, America, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Australia – where number 63 is soon to be born. I saw Miller House in its new glory only yesterday. On behalf of Hugh Miller’s family I should like to voice my appreciation not only of the work of the architect, but also that of the team of cabinet makers, carpenters, decorators, electricians, glazoiers, graphic designers, masons, painters, plumbers, restorer, technicians and anyone else I have inadvertently omitted. Hugh, to his wife’s sorrow, gave no thought to comfort, but as a journeyman himself, he did appreciate good workmanship. In 1927 my sister Bright and I – just back from India – were first shown the Cottage and told about Hugh Miller by our grandfather, Sir Thomas Middleton of Rosefarm. He had married Lydia Miller Davidson, the eldest granddaughter of Hugh and Lydia. Luckily for all of us my grandfather throughout his life had done extensive genealogical research, not only into his own family, the Middleton farmers who were brought to the Black Isle in 1797 by George Ross, ‘the Scotch agent’, but also into all the families the Middletons had since married. These were all families living in Cromarty at the time of the marriage of Hugh and Lydia in 1837, friends of both the Millers and the Frasers. TRACING THE FAMILY TREE My grandfather’s trunks of papers and letters were passed to me. They had references to the Miller family which I could not place, but with the kind help of Mary Fyfe, then manager of the Cottage, and by searching through the visitors’ books I was able to contact Bessie’s granddaughter, Ann Rider, who gave me the names of all Bessie’s descendants and lots of useful material. Ann also said she had seen a portrait of Lydia as a young girl – in white satin with a blue sash – in the house of Ada Stewart, William Miller’s only surviving granddaughter, who allowed me to borrow it and have it professionally photographed. We were thus able to present a copy to the Cottage. By now my husband and I were checking the Miller/Fraser ancestors, using My Schools and Schoolmasters for clues, and finally were able to produce the Tree which is available for study at the Cottage. From our researches we came to appreciate the part played by Lydia in Hugh’s lifetime and after his death. It was clear that despite her distress at Hugh’s suicide and the pain of her ‘spinal disease’, it was Lydia who edited and wrote prefaces for Hugh’s hitherto unpublished works, as well as getting his family educated. We asked Elizabeth Sutherland to turn our researches into a book, which she did most beautifully, and Lydia, Wife of Hugh Miller of Cromarty was published 18 months ago. My grandmother Lydia showed me a tea-set which she said had belonged to Hugh Miller’s mother. It was much mended, having been to India with her, and possibly also to Australia with her mother, Harriet. I inherited this and when Ann Rider sent me Harriet Ross Taylor’s Recollections of Hugh Miller, in which she describes Hugh’s mother serving tea in cups brought back from China by Hugh’s father, we took it to be dated. It was indeed Chinese circa 1780, so we have given it back to where it belongs. In the parlour you are going to hear a recording of a song. The words were written by Harriet Davidson(Hugh and Lydia’s daughter) in Adelaide under the blazing Australian sun where she was longing for Scotland and Cromarty. Her daughter, Lydia, my grandmother, set the words to music about 1916 for her daughter Margaret to sing with her fiancé, Lieutenant Geoffrey Hillier. Alas Geoffrey was posted ‘missing believed killed’ in 1918, just before the leave in which they were to be married. His name is on the Menin Gate. The song is now sung by our daughter Stephanie Kulesza, who trained at the Guildhall School of Music. It echoes the feelings not only of Harriet in Australia, Lydia in India, myself in Uruguay, Mexico and Trinidad, but of all those who are far away from their Scottish and Cromarty roots.” Here follows a report on how the Project was brought to fruition: The National Trust for Scotland formed a project team in the spring of 2003, and hired two firms of graphic designers to create the exhibitions. NTS PROJECT TEAM: (Project Manager) Glyn Young, Surveyor, Highlands & Islands Region; (Fund-raising) Lorna Stoddart, Head of Development & Danny Nugent, Grants Officer; (Interpretation) Caroline Tempest, Senior Planner & Kit Reid, Planner; (Curator) Ian Gow; (Background Research and Text-writing) Martin Gostwick, Property Manager; (Education) Sue Mackenzie, Highland and Islands Regional Education Officer. Specialist consultants: Dr Michael Taylor, Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, National Museums of Scotland; Dr Nigel Trewin, Reader of Geology, University of Aberdeen; Mrs Marian McKenzie Johnston, direct descendant. Graphic Designers: David Campbell & Co, Edinburgh (Ground and First Floor displays, inter-active media, audio tour); Roy Chillingworth & Associates, Visual Consultants, King Edward, Banffshire (“The Supreme Poet of Geology” exhibition, top floor) Main Contractors: Alastair Sim, Specialist Decorator, Inverurie; Richard Chamberlain, Main Building Contractors, Tain; Painting & Decorating (Exterior), Robbie Macintosh, Inverness. Main Suppliers: (Museum cases) Netherfield & David Craig (sub-contractor to R Chillingworth, purpose-specific, hand-built crescent case); (Fixtures & Fittings), Johnstone, shop-fitters, Inverness; (Commissioned artworks): Robert Crerar (medallion), Nicholas Kidd (sculpture and tapestry); (Photographic Services), Andrew Dowsett; Parlour furnishings; Comus, Edinburgh The team set out to combine Miller House, a handsome Georgian villa, with the late 17thC birthplace Cottage situated next door, so that they could operate together as a single, integrated visitor centre. We thus added a second building with space and appropriate environmental conditions, which enabled us to extend the interpretation of Miller’s story far beyond what had been possible before. The team worked intensively on planning, designing and writing for the exhibitions that summer and through the winter of 2003/4. Building works, fitting out, and installations were carried out up to 7th April 2004. Miller House had been for over 200 years a domestic dwelling, and contained interior features dating from a 1970s restoration which had to be gutted out. The design and interpretation of a new museum had to be in a real sense invented from scratch. The principal contents were to be artefacts hitherto crammed into the tiny, damp rooms of the birthplace Cottage, and several items which had been held in storage for over 20 years because of the inappropriate conditions. The following are the chief new resources and points of interest: 1) The life and work of Hugh Miller, and the key events of his time, are presented in much more accessible, clear and attractive displays. 2) Elements given new emphasis are, the history of the two buildings, Miller’s career as a stonemason, and the importance of his wife, Lydia. The fossil collection has been greatly augmented by the long-term loan of some 40 fossils from the NMS National Miller Collection in Edinburgh. 3) An Educational Resource, includes 3A The Inter-active Media (touch-screens) which provide an exciting new format for learning, with adventures of discovery for children, links to nine relevant websites, and a new, original exposition in Gaelic. 3B The Parlour on the first-floor, and the hands-on workbench in the geology exhibition, also offer direct physical contact with, and information on key aspects of Miller and his family. Living History events are planned to bring fresh appeal to the story. 3C A secure archive room contains many items not on display which are available for study and for use in future temporary exhibitions. 3D. A Reading Room has been established in the Cottage with over 150 titles, including all Miller’s own works, and albums of selected writings. 4) The Cottage and its grounds have been reinterpreted by NTS and Campbell & Co through an audio tour which evokes the place as the beloved home of generations of the Miller family, a tour which concludes with several of his most intriguing folk tales. Budgets: The total funds raised for the Miller House Project amounted to just under £300,000. Principal contributors were: Heritage Lottery Fund, £143,000; BP £50,000; Garth Weston Foundation £45,000. Ross and Cromarty Enterprise (RACE) £25,000, and some £12,500 was raised from appeals to National Trust for Scotland. Miller House opened on time, and within budget. The creation of the Miller House museum has helped us to forge a new partnership with the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh, and with Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, both of which contributed generously to the project with loans of artefacts and specialist advice. A mutual benefit partnership was also set up with our neighbours, Cromarty Courthouse Museum, in terms of a joint discount scheme, publicity, marketing and sharing of facilities. Miller House has opened up the potential of the museum which now embraces both the House and the birthplace Cottage, for learning, for “Living History” performances, and for temporary exhibitions. In its first season, it attracted a slightly larger number of visitors (5,741) compared with 2003 (5,500), an achievement in the context of a general downturn of between 5 and 10 per cent in NTS properties, and across Scottish tourist attractions nationally. A better indicator of improvement is a quadrupling of new NTS membership enrolments, from 25 in 2003 to 99 in 2004, the highest figure among the Trust’s smaller properties. The retailing operation, while still modest in scale, was considerably extended, raising revenue from £2,704 in 2003 to £4,129 last year.

FORMATION OF CHARITY THE FRIENDS OF HUGH MILLER, APRIL 2006

 

The Friends of Hugh Miller has just been officially registered as a charity.

A letter, dated 12 June, from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) states the organisation meets the "charity test" under Section 72 of the Charity and Trustee Investment (Scotland Act 2005, in providing for "the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science."

The Friends' charity number is SC037351. It will operate under the auspices of its "parent" charity, the National Trust for Scotland, in support of the Hugh Miller Museum and Birthplace Cottage.

Its secretary is the museum manager, Martin Gostwick, and the treasurer is Sheona Leonard, finance manager of the Trust's Highlands and Islands Region.

The signed up membership now stands at 103. The organisation has three distinguished patrons: Mrs Marian McKenzie Johnston MA MSc; Dr Lester Borley CBE; and Professor Nigel Trewin.

Visitors to this website are invited to join the Friends, which has an annual subscription of just £10. They can do so by writing to the Secretary, Friends of Hugh Miller, c/o the Hugh Miller Museum, Church Street, Cromarty. They are also asked to include their email address if they have one.

They, and those who have already joined, will be helping the charity to support some of the exciting projects which are envisaged in order to advance the name and work of Hugh Miller, and the museum dedicated to him.

These include: A natural-sciences-themed Garden at the rear of Miller House; republication of Miller's geological masterwork, The Old Red Sandstone; temporary exhibitions; and "Living History" events in the museum buildings and grounds.

The Friends takes this opportunity to thank all those who have already joined up, especially in waiting to see their cheques cashed.

There has been an unforeseen delay of several weeks while the new Regulator caught up with a backlog of applications. Now that we have a registration we shall proceed with all possible speed to establish a bank account.

When that account is up and running, members will receive their membership cards, the constitution, a newsletter, together with standing order and gift aid forms, and other relevant information.

This is a very exciting development in the museum's history, which we hope is going to give a new concentrated focus of support for its work.

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MY RECOLLECTIONS OF HUGH MILLER

 

by Harriet M. Taylor

 

Harriet was the eldest daughter of Mr Ross, the banker's agent who employed Miller as an accountant at the Cromarty Branch of the Commercial Bank in 1835. Harriet was born about 1822-24, and would therefore have been in her early to mid-teenage years when Hugh and Lydia Miller got married and lived in this house.

 

As I am, so far as I know, the only one now living who knew him well it has occurred to me that I ought not to allow my pleasant memories of him to be wholly lost. What he was as a literary and scientific man is known to the world; but what he was as a man could only be known to those who freely associated with him, and with whom he was at perfect ease; and he was a man well worth knowing. From the time I was but a child I saw him very often.  I shall speak of him as Mr Miller for so I always addressed him and spoke of him; and to do otherwise now would be a constant effort which it is unnecessary to make.

 

My first recollection of him is seeing him in the parish churchyard bending over my mother's gravestone, hewing and lettering it; which he was considered to do with great neatness. I was then seven years old, and I used to play with my cousins in the "brae" above their father's garden, which adjoined the "minister's brae" above the churchyard. My sorrow at my mother's death was at the time intense, yet soon I played heartily with my companions in this favourite spot. Sometimes, however, a sick feeling at my heart would make me slip through the hedge which separated the two braes, and I would go down nearer and nearer to Mr Miller as he worked. This at length came to be a daily occurrence for he in the gentlest, kindest manner encouraged it. While I stood beside him he spoke of many things, yet never seemed to be speaking down to the intelligence of the little child by his side. Graves were around us and some of them had been there for from two to three hundred years, so that the stones were sunk in the earth and covered with moss and lichen.

 

I remember how he drew my attention to the first beginning of vegetable life on the smooth stone appearing to the naked eye simply as a grey stain; and how this decaying formed a soil for something more prefect; and he would tell me the names of the trees near us, bid me notice the different sorts of grasses etc and so I was interested and cheered. And withal there was a thoughtful seriousness there among the remains of those who had once lived, some of them our own ancestors, and by the grave of her who had been so dear to me.

 

It was in September of that year or the following one, he was still lettering stones in the churchyard, although my mother's was finished and set up, that talking with him there one day he said, “I think of going this afternoon to the Doocot Cave. Would you care to come with me, you and your sister Mary and two of your cousins?"  Of course I was delighted and so were they when I told them, and we joined him after school; Mary and I without dinner, and what was worse, without permission, either from our father or Betty, our nurse, whose rule over us was a very strict one.

 

Mr Miller brought us with exceeding care down the steep side of the Sutor, and provided us with a light to show us the white-lined cave with its stalactites and stalagmites, and shouted that we might see the flocks of pigeons which made their home in the sides and roof of the cave; showed how his Uncle Sandy caught crabs, a difficult thing to do, and picked up and gave to us two lovely shells not to be found elsewhere in the district; for the living creatures to which they had once belonged had found a restful home in the quiet cove in the centre of which is the Doocot Cave. Both shells were univalve; one which clung limpet-like to the rock, but of a smooth shining black with dotted stripes of turquoise blue; the other whelk-shaped but coloured pink white and buff. Our enjoyment was great; but safely at the top of the rock there flashed upon me the startling thought that Betty would be very angry; and that Papa would hardly be pleased at our having gone without permission. Our kind friend had enjoyed so much liberty in his boyhood that the necessity for this had not occurred to him. We came off better than we expected, and never repeated the offence. And in truth my father greatly appreciated Mr Miller's kindness, and thought with truth that excursions with him were a great privilege and advantage for us. On many a bright Saturday he led us across the hill to sunny Navity where we looked out on the noble Moray Firth with its encircling mountains. At Eathie he shared our lunch by the waterfall. Ever as we passed he drew our attention and interest to the objects around us - the sandstone rocks along the Navity shore, the Old Red fish-beds at Eathie, and what we admired more, the Lias bed; for as he raised fold after fold of the thick-set layers, ammonites, belemnites and many shells glittered like mother-of-pearl set in dark blue. Then there were the flowers, butterflies, moths etc. Those were happy days, and the memory of them is a happiness to me even now that I am old.

 

I am not sure when Mr Miller began to interest himself in what I read, and to lend me books; but it was from him that I had an old copy of Robinson Crusoe, and I was about nine years old when he lent me Ivanhoe, and was amused at the extravagant delight with which I read it. It was only twitches of conscience which made me tear myself away from it to prepare my school lessons. I well remember how kind his mother used to be when I went to return a book and carry away another and if her son was not within how faithfully she would deliver my message. She had a refined face and a superior cast about her, as all the Wrights had. She was most helpful to those around her in times of sickness or trial, and kind to poor people near her house; and in those days some old and feeble people were very poor indeed. I have been told by one who knew, that a few of these had a basin of gruel and oatcake by her kitchen fire every evening before retiring for the night. Old people have also told me how nobly she strove to support her three children when her husband in the ship of which he was master and owner sunk at sea, and she was left very poor. I have written these things because of Mrs Miller's very misleading notice of her mother-in-law in Dr Bayne's memoir, which many read with deep regret.’

To judge from what I saw of him in the earlier years of which I have been speaking, as well as at a later period, I do not think he had any desire to occupy a different social position than that in which he was born; he had indeed ambition; but it was to be recognised as a man of intellect in the scientific and literary world. I think he was happy in those days; for his wants were few, his time much at his own disposal, and he was greatly respected by all in his native town save those who disliked goodness, and they had felt his power more than once when they set themselves to oppose his minister - and his literary ability had by this time been acknowledged by good judges.

 

But having become engaged to our highly gifted teacher, Miss Fraser, he was now anxious to be in a position to marry, and at one time thought of going to Canada; but life there would have ill suited the delicately nurtured girl whom he wished to make his wife. The arrangement seriously displeased Mrs Fraser, her mother. The young couple were forbidden to meet in her house, so in the summer evenings we school-girls often saw them walking together on the wooded slopes of the Sutor - it was a favourite resort of ours - but as soon as we saw them we turned away and went elsewhere. Miss Fraser was greatly looked up to by those she taught, and for myself in those days I almost worshipped her. Mr Miller has himself told us how he could at length indulge in the hope of being able to marry. After his return from Linlithgow, where he went for a year to learn something of banking he took his seat in my father's office, and  then we saw him often to the great happiness of my sisters and myself. For my father and he became much attached to each other and were glad to enjoy a talk out of business hours and thus it was that, unless otherwise engaged, he had tea with us every evening. In those days and when alone we sat round the table; it was a light meal, not like the afternoon tea of today.  Isabella was always sent to tell Mr Miller when tea was ready, and immediately he would appear with the little one mounted on his shoulder. (At) the meal he and my father seated themselves on either side of the fire, Mary sat on her father's knee, and Isa on Mr Miller's, and I sat between them. Mr Miller was the principal speaker but my father spoke too - he was a highly intelligent man and well read, especially in history ancient and modern; had a most retentive memory, and having been in the navy in early life had seen a good deal of the world. We were much interested in Mr Miller's account of all he had seen in Linlithgow; for indeed he had eyes to see both men and nature, and had observed more in one year, and in one small town, than many would have done in a journey round the world.

 

Before leaving school on Friday, Miss Fraser gave a subject on which each girl had to write, the paper to be given in on Monday morning; and I had a standing invitation to go to the office to show Mr Miller mine that he might comment on it before I made a clear copy. I well remember how I went in very quietly, and sat silent by the fireside till his long column of figures was summed up, when he would turn round, and taking my paper, would read it with interest; and carefully point out where I might have done better. In the same way when I had finished a drawing I was never satisfied until he had examined it; I wonder at his kindness now. Mr Miller had a very correct eye, and gave a neatness and finish to anything he himself drew.

 

When occasionally my father went from home Mr Miller slept in our house to safeguard the Bank money; and when he did so Betty allowed me to remain out of bed and sit at table with him while he partook of supper. On one of those evenings a large packet was brought to him, and opening it he said, "Those are the proofs of my 'Scenes and Legends'", and picking out some leaves he handed them to me saying, "My dear, read that story; you may yet like to say that yours were the first eyes that saw my book in print." It was the story opf Sandy Wright and the puir orphan.

 

Near Mr Miller's home there was to be seen on all fine days a group of children at play and among them, a boy not like other boys - an idiot he was considered to be, Angus Mackay or Captain, as he liked to be called, the son of an old soldier who had seen much service. This poor boy was devotedly attached to Mr Miller and though he had never before moved many yards from his father's door, when Mr Miller came to the Bank, which was at the other end of our little town he at once followed him and soon made himself at home in my father's kitchen, and had his dinner there every day while my father lived. "Bless Miller, good boy! Kind to me" was part of Captan's prayer before each meal. He was capable of the deepest attachment; and his love for what was good, and hatred for what was wrong and shrinking from bad company was assuredly heaven-taught. He lived to the age of sixty-three, kindly treated by everybody; and his mind seemed to expand as he grew older. Latterly he received a suit of clothes each year from the Poor Board, and it was carefully kept for Sunday until the next suit was given. In great business he was that day; and after my father's death came to my husband for his penny, and it must be a bright one, to put in the church plate. He went to the Free Church, and dearly loved Mr Elder who was for thirteen years its minister.

 

My sisters and I spent part of our holidays at the Hill Farm at Rariehig under Betty's care and before we left home Mr Miller wrote out for me a description of the obelisks in the churchyards of Nigg and Shandwick; bidding me observe them carefully; and also to be sure to go to see the fine caves of Carnuree which were of easy access from the hill. And when later on I went with my aunt to visit at Inverness he wrote to Mr George Anderson a lawyer then and a literary man, and a great friend of Mr Miller's, asking him to show me Craig Phadrig, and other objects of interest; which he most kindly did. Mr Miller was always so kind that I did not at this time realise how great was this kindness.

 

How my sisters and I did enjoy an evening spent with him in his study as I may call it, in his mother's house! The good woman had laid out the tea-table and waited on us but did not partake of the meal. He treated her with the utmost respect and tenderness, and he was a prince in her eyes. We had tea out of the cups brought from China by his father; and after tea he sustained us with tales, and choice pieces of poetry, some from Burns, and at length saw us home, carrying Isabella in his strong arms.

 

But quickly the year 1836 came to a close, and in January 1837 Mr Miller was married. This was a great event in the eyes of Miss Fraser's pupils, who all looked up to her and loved her; and now the school was to be broken up. It was the custom for bride and bridegroom to have best man and best maid and when arrangements were being made Mr Miller said to my father, "John Swanson cannot at this season come from Fort William, and I will have no other to be my best man than this my dearest friend; but I should like Harriet to stand by my side and take off my glove." I well remember the gathering round Mrs Fraser's breakfast table on that bright winter morning; and then the assembling of the most respectable people of the place in the drawing room; and of standing beside my kind friend. But when the time came to take off the glove alas! it would not come, for it was a tight fit and fully put on; but the bride's best man, he who was afterwards my husband, quickly and gently stepped forward and pulled it off. The newly married pair left immediately after the ceremony, as they had to reach Elgin, where was Isaac Forsyth's home, before nightfall. When having bade adieu to all, and received the hearty expression of their good wishes, I standing well behind older people, heard the bride say "Where is Harriet? I must not go without saying good-bye to her!" and when on going forward she kissed me affectionately, I was a happy girl indeed.

 

After a few weeks, and when they were comfortably settled in the "big house" which Mr Miller's father had built, my sisters and I and one or two other girls, went for four hours each day, save Saturday, to be taught  by Mrs Miller; in this way she added a comfortable sum to their small income. Mr Miller generally returned from the bank before we left. He came home by the shore; and on the beach, especially if it were ebb tide, he never failed to pick up something which interested him; and when he joined us explained what he knew or conjectured about it. And yet he had eaten nothing since breakfast time; but in truth dinner was not always in such a state of preparedness as might be desirable, for Mrs Miller had been occupied with her pupils, and the servant was careless. Most men would have been a little cross, but he most good-humouredly made jokes over failures and mistakes. I was a good deal with Mr and Mrs Miller in their early married life. "Come and take tea with is" was often said to me when school-hours were over, and I was well pleased to do this. Sometimes Mr Miller would sit and talk with his wife and with me; but oftener he wrote at a side table; and he always had a large Johnson's dictionary by him. There he wrote The Letter to Lord Brougham, and Whiggism of the Old School, and many papers for Tales of the Borders. Mr Stewart said to me once, years after this time, "I never fully understood Hugh until he wrote that Letter to Lord Brougham. I never could get him to talk much to me; he always managed to make me launch forth on a subject on which he wished to have my opinion, while he listened intently, saying "Aye!" Aye!" every now and again: but I have long since learned to know and value him."

 

On fine summer evenings Mr Miller took his wife out in a small boat which he had purchased, and in it sailed along the southern Sutor, and a little way into the open firth; and I was almost always with them. His step-father and the son of a cousin were the boat's crew. The former was rather talkative and not without some cleverness, but was what my father called "a trifling body;" however he seemed most willing to serve his step-son, whom he treated with great respect. His wife married him, I have been told, because of his importunity at a time when she was oppressed with poverty, and thus incurred the deep displeasure of her brothers. We only went out on fine evenings, and as we kept as close as was safe to the shore we saw the rays of the westering sun clothing each outstanding rock and pinnacle, and the trees in the hollows on the summit of the Sutor with a golden veil, while the opposite sides of these lay in deepest shadow - a poor description this of what was exquisite beauty, a beauty which caused a hush in the soul.

 

Toward the end of the year a little daughter came to their home with wonderful eyes like her father's; she seemed to be observing and thinking all the time. Those who do not know say that all babies are alike; but this is very far from being true. The dear child lived for only seventeen months and latterly her life was a suffering one. Parting with her was a painful experience, and was deeply felt by both father and mother. The father carved the memorial stone in the garden behind his house, which was then a good-sized and pleasant one, and it now stands where the cherished little one had been laid in the old burying ground of St Regulus.

 

After my father remarried we sat in the church in one of the three table seats, as they were called, in the gallery facing the pulpit; and in another of the three the Millers sat; thus I could not help noticing how intently he listened to Mr Stewart's wonderful sermons, sometimes leaning on the table with a hand on each side of his head as if to shut out the sight of everyone but of him who was speaking to us.

 

Towards the close of (18)39 a call came which could not be resisted to go to Edinburgh to help, as he was well able to do, in carrying out the great and important struggle which led to the Disruption. He waited till Mrs Miller had recovered from the severe illness which had followed the birth of a daughter, and then he went and took up vigorously the arduous duties which he had undertaken. Mrs Miller and her household were to follow him in April; and I had been so far from well during the winter that she most kindly proposed to my father and mother that I should accompany her in order to get good medical advice. This I did and remained with them till the end of July. We had a stormy passage to Granton so that the steamer which should have arrived there early on Saturday did not get into the harbour until daylight on that April evening had faded, and darkness had something set in. Mr Miller had been waiting for us since the morning, and must have been faint and weary though he did not show it but said he had been geologizing, and so had kept mind and body occupied. Sea-sickness had so prostrated me that I hardly remember how we got up to town; but we were sat down at the end of Princes Street, in the midst of a crowd under the theatre which then stood there; and its glaring lights illustrated in weird fashion the faces of probably not the choicest class of citizens. But we did not stand there long, but soon drove on by the Bridges to St Patrick's Square where Mr Miller lodged in the house of a young artist with whom his mother and the younger members of his family lived. It was a clever family struggling hard to earn a respectable livelihood, and sympathy with them had I think, much to do with Mr Miller's choice of lodging. Long and very wearisome was the ascent to it, being on the third, or rather I think the fourth story of the building. Mrs Miller had been expected to come early in the day, and that she would then arrange about the night accommodation of so large party; and now at ten o'clock at night this was no easy matter; but we managed somehow till Monday when all were made more comfortable.

 

The days which followed were fatiguing ones for Mrs Miller for the house which had been taken in Sylvan Place must be furnished and she had to be out the livelong day making purchases. Her husband was too busy to help her, and even if he had leisure would not have been well suited to the task. In a few hours of leisure on a Wednesday afternoon he brought his wife and me to the Greyfriars Churchyard and as we entered pointed out the newly-made grave of Miss Fanny Allardyce, a Cromarty young lady who had been for a short time resident in Edinburgh; and he told us that a few weeks before he had met her in the street when she appeared to be in blooming health, and only a week after he was invited to attend her funeral. Her mother, Mrs Allardyce, herself a gifted woman, valued Mr Miller highly; and Miss Catherine, her younger sister, was the close friend of both Mr and Mrs Miller - a person of singularly clear intellect, high-toned principle, and admirable good sense. The old churchyard for many reasons so full of interest I have visited again and again since then; and now there rests there the dust of one very dear to me.

 

It was I think on the same afternoon he brought us to see a review of troops on Bruntsfield Links. What impressed me most was how those companies of strong men were swayed, and every muscle moved in obedience to one will. Ever since that day I have better understood when I read alas what forms so large a part of history, the marshalling of armies and the record of battles. I felt no stirrings of enthusiasm because I was a girl; a lad would certainly have done so.

 

The house in Sylvan Place was pleasantly situated; for from the windows in front we saw Arthur's Seat, and from the drawing room windows an extent of the richly green meadows with fine trees here and there - much built upon now and different. Mrs Miller furnished the other rooms of the house, but did not find it convenient at that time to fit up the drawing-room suitably; a few things however were put into it and we found it a pleasant sitting-room. Books, which we had brought from Cromarty, and many new ones which came to Mr Miller as the editor of a newspaper were piled up around the walls; and at the foot of the room which was not a small one, his desk was placed. There he wrote all the long day and far into the night, except on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons when he took long walks into the country. Mrs Miller and I sat either working, reading, or writing, and took good care never to disturb him. He never sat, but walked up and down, repeating his sentences until they were moulded to his liking; occasionally coming up to his wife, and saying, "Do you think this is the best way to put it?" And when satisfied went to his desk and wrote. At meals that on which he was writing was the subject of conversation, for we were generally alone and often a book was laid on the table out of which something was read. One day he said, "I am thankful to have my books; but," addressing his wife, "you know, my dear, I took no books with me from home, and often during the past months I have quoted various passages from authors and in controversial articles on church questions from books of law entirely from memory, and their correctness was never questioned."

 

I liked to nurse the good-humoured baby and sometimes when pacing up and down he would stop to caress it, and more than once asked me if I thought she grew at all like her sister. There was a family likeness, nothing more. Harriet was the prettier child, and she was spared to grow up a pretty and clever woman; but there was a wonderful depth of expression in the baby Liza's face, and this child was soon taken where sin and sorrow are not. During night, although my room was not quite near the room in which he wrote, I could often hear him speak loudly as if arguing with an opponent. I have known him write continuously for eleven hours, and I heard him tell his wife that after writing many hours a pain seized him in one particular spot in his head on which he laid his finger, and she said, "O Hugh, take care that you do not injure your brain." He replied "Dr Chalmers..."

 

The narrative breaks off at this point, and the rest of the memoir has been lost without trace. It is a most regrettable loss, for it may well have added important information about the circumstances of Miller's death.

 


NEWS

KEY NEWS ITEMS OF 2002 BICENTENARY YEAR

RESCUING SHRUB MOUNT

STUDENTS of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies at Edinburgh College of Art have carried out an extensive investigation into the interior of Hugh Miller’s last home, Shrub Mount, Portobello.

This is the latest step in what could yet turn out to be one of the most outstanding and unexpected buildings rescue and conservation stories in Scotland.

Ian Campbell, reader in architectural history and theory at the college, who led the project from October to December 2002, hoped the students could be "taking the nest steps towards the house’s renaissance."

Last year, on Monday 29 April, a simple plaque was unveiled by Scotland’s Historiographer Royal, Sir Christopher Smout, outside the tenement block, 78-80 Portobello High Street, before a large invited audience. The plaque simply tells the world this was Miller’s last home.

The ceremony was followed by the opening at the local public library of a superb exhibition on Miller’s Portobello connections and geological work in the surrounding Lothians coal measures. These were two of the most worthwhile events in the whole Bicentenary Year.

Portobello Public Library’s exhibition inspired Mr Campbell and his Edinburgh Art College team to carry out the project of survey drawings, historical research, survey of repair, and assessment of Shrub Mount’s possible future.

Shrub Mount was a handsome sandstone villa, with grounds stretching from Portobello High Street to the sea. Miller lived there with his wife and four children for four years until he took his own life on Christmas Eve, 1856. It was where he kept a priceless museum of his lifelong fossil collection, and where he wrote his last work, Testimony of the Rocks.

Until the early 1990s, it had been thought there was almost nothing left of the original villa, since it had been built round in the late 19th Century by the large tenement block which stands there today.

Nothing of the original building could be seen from the High Street. However, enthusiastic investigators, among them Edinburgh solicitor Gerry Shepherd, Portobello History Society activist Archie Foley, and Hugh Miller’s Cottage property manager Frieda Gostwick, made a series of visits to the site.

They discovered that the Doric columns at the porch entrance to the villa were still standing in the tenement close, as was what appeared to be the original front door. The adjoining museum was also visible from what had one been the villa’s garden to the rear of the tenement.

Further investigations were made by Eddie Davidson, of Wisp Green, Portobello, and he has since made a comprehensive photographic record of the existing state of the surviving Shrub Mount interior, which had been divided into flats forming part of the tenement.

A campaign was waged in which all the authorities responsible in one way or another for buildings conservation, including Historic Scotland, the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments, and Edinburgh City Council were alerted to the existence of the building remains, and articles appeared in the press.

On 24 August 1999, Nos 78-80 Portobello High Street, former Shrub Mount, was given C-listing as a Historic Building.

The History Society and public library have between them since taken forward the rescue of Shrub Mount’s identification, recording and conservation. The collection Miller housed there – part of his mounting distress lay in his fear of its being robbed – was subsequently purchased from his family for the nation, and became a founding core of today’s national collection in the Royal Museum (NMS) in Chambers Street.

THE "WITNESS" WITNESSED

A PLAQUE recording the site of the offices in Ediburgh’s Royal Mile of Miller’s paper, "The Witness," testifies to a second remarkable "rescue act" of recovering and recording the key places in the capital associated with him.

A joint initiative of the Portobello History Society and the Cromarty Arts Trust, the plaque is mounted on a wall at the entrance to Edinburgh City Council Chambers, the massive edifice which superceded "The Witness" building and several adjoining.

It records that Miller edited the newspaper at 297 High Street from 15 January 1840 until his death on 24 December 1856, and quotes from the closing observation of his autobiography, My Schools and Schoolmasters: "Life itself is a School, and Nature always a fresh study."

The plaque was unveiled on Wednesday 9th October 2002 by Magnus Linklater, former editor of the main rival to The Witness – The Scotsman. Mr Linklater’s speech was so pertinent, and with so many pointed allusions to the contemporary scene, that it is worth reprinting in full.

Address on the unveiling of a plaque to Hugh Miller: Wednesday 9 October 2002

by Magnus Linklater.

"I am delighted, as a former Editor of The Scotsman, to be honouring another former editor, albeit of a rival newspaper.

Hugh Miller, apart from being a seminal figure in the history of geology, was also a writer, polemicist, columnist and editor. He was the founder-editor of The Witness, from 1840 until his death in 1856 - a rather longer stint than most of today's editors. The Witness competed with The Scotsman for top circulation in Edinburgh, reaching the then remarkable combined total of 6,000 copies a week. More important, it engaged in weighty debate on the serious issues of the day, making much of the agenda of a modern newspaper seem mere tittle-tattle in comparison.

It held diametrically opposed views to The Scotsman on a whole range of topics, from the Highland Clearances, the Evangelical movement in the Kirk, and the origins of the Earth. Miller wrote in The Witness in passionate support of Dr Thomas Chalmers, who opposed patronage in the Church, and whose campaigning led to the Disruption of 1843. So powerful were Miller's arguments in The Witness that one leading cleric of today – the Rev Donald Macleod of the Free Presbyterians - believes that the Disruption would not have happened without his support.

The Scotsman took the opposite view, and in resounding prose dismissed Miller's views: "This political sermon is such a discourse as the Mufti of Constantinople might

deliver before the Grand Signior ....We have not seen, even in the doctor's own works, so much affectation, tawdriness, Baylonish imagery and confusion of ideas, directed to proving our duty of submission to the existing Government as to an ordinance of god."

Dr Chalmers, in his turn, accused journalists of being "men of deep contrivance who have made their own harvest of the passions of the multitude."

But then, in a remarkable U-turn, it accepted that it might have been wrong, and apologised handsomely. I cannot help feeling that there is a modern parallel in the way that paper opposed Devolution tooth and nail in the run up to the White Paper of 1998, and then fell into line with the majority view.

There is, however, one remarkable similarity between Miller and his rival editor at The Scotsman, Charles McLaren. Both shared a passionate interest in geology, and both were influenced by the Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz, the pioneer of the Ice Age theory. Agassiz came to Scotland in 1840 and made some important discoveries about the effect of glaciers in the Highlands. He was convinced that the Ice Age had once covered the whole of Europe. McLaren published his work – there is a fascinating account of his role in Neal Ascherson’s new book, Stone Voices. In effect, McLaren came out with one of the greatest scoops of the 19th Century – he revealed the existence and effect of the Ice Age, some 19 years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

Miller shared McLaren’s enthuisiasm but could not bring himself to echo his conclusions. As a scietnist he was drawn towards the clear inference of Agassiz’s discoveries – that the world had been shaped, and life had developed, over many millions of years. As a theologian, he found it very hard to reconcile these facts with the story of God's Creation of the world in seven days.

In the end he could not rush into print in the same way as McLaren did, and instead wrestled with the conclusions in an attempt to make sense of them. There are those who claim that his suicide in 1856 was a direct consequence of the agonising conflict in his own mind. But the Rev Macleod believes that he was driven to his death by the sheer effort of producing his newspaper almost single-handed.

Certainly, The Witness was, by any standards, a remarkable publication. Miller was fascinated by the new ideas of the time, including photography, in which he took a passionate interest - he can be seen in many of the early pictures taken by Hill and Adamson, and so recently on exhibition in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. His columns ranged over politics, science, philosophy and human rights. He took up issues such as urban poverty and employment rights. He was a campaigner and a radical.

It is therefore entirely right that we should be commemorating him today and marking the place in the High Street where his newspaper. The Witness, was edited, printed and published. Hugh Miller was a great writer, a great thinker, a man of faith, a pioneer in the science of geology and an explorer of the origins of life.

He was also, I might add. A journalist of distinction in an age when journalism was still an honourable trade."


LOTTERY GRANT AWARDED

NB: PROJECT UPDATE SHORTLY

22nd March 2003

The Miller House Project is at last "live" again and all set to make progress, with the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) award on Thursday, March 6th, 2003 of a grant of £140,000.

A second grant, of £25,000, from Ross and Cromarty Enterprise was also confirmed. The two awards complete a funding package totalling some £250,000 towards which a major company, BP/Amoco, a charitable trust and many individual donors all contributed generously.

The HLF grant is a glorious success for the National Trust for Scotland, custodians of Miller House and Hugh Miller’s Cottage, which resubmitted a much revised application in the late summer of the Bicentenary Year, 2002.

Plans for Miller House to be established as an extended museum were first approved by the Trust Council’s in 1997 at a meeting in Cromarty addressed by property manager Frieda Gostwick.

The completed funding should open the way to an opening of Miller House in the Spring of 2004.

An NTS press release, dated 20th March, announced "HUGH MILLER’S MUSEUM EXPANDS INTO 21ST CENTURY."

NTS communications director Francoise van Buuren stated : "The extension and enhancement of Hugh Miller’s Museum, has been made possible thanks to generous grants totalling £165,000 from HLF and RACE.

"As a result of these awards, the existing museum will be more than doubled by extending from its present location in the Category A-listed Hugh Miller’s Cottage and birthplace of this remarkable scientific and literary Scottish genius, into the adjacent Category A-listed 18th Century Miller House, which the public will be able to visit for the first time.

"This support from the public sector, together with private sponsorship, will enable the Cottage to be returned to its original status as the modest dwelling place that was Miller’s childhood home, in which he grew up to become one of the Nation’s outstanding lads o’ pairts. In Miller House, where Hugh and his young wife, Lydia, spent the early years of their married life, the enhanced Museum will depict the life of this almost entirely self-taught 19th Century stonemason, scientist, journalist, storyteller, bank accountant, sculptor and devout Christian who was, undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable of Scotland’s famous sons."

NTS Highlands and Islands regional director Alex Lindsay said: "Hugh Miller’s Museum is modest in size but it belies a history rich in human effort, resourcefulness and influence that permeated throughout the length and breadth of our Nation.

Mr Lindsay added: "The Heritage Lottery Fund and Ross and Cromarty Enterprise, to whom I am very happy to extend the sincere gratitude of the National Trust for Scotland, have made possible, today, the extension of the renaissance of interest in Hugh Miller, occasioned by his 2002 Bicentenary.

"We are proud to be the Nation’s custodians of this remarkable Museum, complete with artefacts depciting the life and works of this famous Scot. Ian Gow, our Curator, said that it would simply be impossible to create or match such a collection today, even with unlimited resources."

Extensive reports of the award were carried in the Inverness Courier, and Ross-shire Journal last week.

HLF's view of the initial application was overwhelmingly positive, indicating it would be a "high value cultural asset."

The advisers concluded that they were "very clear in recognising the importance of Hugh Miller's work and the benefits in making information about this nationally important figure more accessible to the public."

Miller House is intended to function side by side with Hugh Miller's Cottage, as a unified visitor attraction and educational resource.


hughwho

FEATURES 

 

2002 RETROSPECTIVE "WRAP-UP" ARTICLE

 “OH WELCOME YOU TO CROMARTY”


MARTIN GOSTWICK gives a personal recollection of some highlights in the celebrations in Cromarty. Slightly shorter versions of this article appeared in the Inverness Courier, Tuesday, 31st December 2002, and the Ross-shire Journal, Friday, 3rd January 2003.

HUGH MILLER’S strange, armour-plated "winged" fish, 350million-or so years extinct, is still swimming in the Cromarty Firth - in another form.

The Old Red Sandstone creature, which he discovered and so painstakingly reconstructed, as he said, "plate by plate, as a child sets up its map or dissected picture, bit by bit," has mutated into a sculpture in dazzling white Portland stone.

The sculpture sits in the window of Hugh Miller’s Cottage, his birthplace in Church Street, Cromarty. Carved by artist and amateur geologist Nicholas Kidd, it was specially commissioned for the anniversary by the Cottage’s custodians, the National Trust for Scotland. He also hand-embroidered in silk thread a delicate, small embroidery on an ammonite theme.

Meanwhile the Cromarty Courthouse Museum next door commissioned from Barry Grove a replica of the elegant stone eagle Miller probably carved himself as a showpiece for his workshop.

Another commission for the Cottage was the head of Miller (1802-1856) on a solid silver commemorative medallion, an exquisite work by goldsmith Robert Crerar. It is the image of a man with a mission, both achingly sensitive and unceasingly determined.

A fine new biography was published of his wife, Lydia, by Black Isle writer Elizabeth Sutherland. Much of the National Museums of Scotland’s superb Miller exhibition was transferred from the Royal Museum, Edinburgh, to Groam House Museum, Rosemarkie, where it is still on show. It is hoped that some important items will later this year find a permanent home at the Cottage.

The Cottage opened a reading room for visitors, and welcomed a new generation of Cromarty Primary children, exploring the man’s home, seeing and re-enacting how folk lived in the early 1800s, and, in the wild garden, how they used wild plants and flowers.

Of all the lasting benefits likely to come out of this anniversary year, the greatest is likely to be the children’s excited discovery of the town’s "local hero," and their stunning, miraculous performance of their opera, "Hugh Who?"

Beginning as a dream in the mind of Cromarty Arts Society’s Jenny Gunn, "Hugh Who?" ended up as £30,000 grant-aided professional production with a cast of over 100 aged four to twelve, whirling round the Victoria Hall (October 4 and 5). The production subsequently featured in a BBC2 Scotland Artworks programme.

It was "magicked" into existence by Glasgow-based theatre company, GMG Productions, specialists in educational projects, but who had never attempted anything so ambitious before as working with an entire school. Congratulations and thanks again to David Munro, Julie Gilchrist, Elena Goodman, Ross Stenhouse and their team.

Four songs captured the essence of the town and the man. We had the self-mocking, witty Welcome to Cromarty; sad young Hugh looking out for his father lost at sea, and the ship with The Two White Stripes and The Two Square Sails; the truant boy in the School Song who, "instead of learning lots of words that really were no use, kept his classmates rapt with tales of Wallace and of Bruce;" and the rousing, thunderous Chipping Away at the Rocks.

Young Hugh, Mark Paterson, and his sweetheart Lydia, Ciara Newman, made an affecting couple, while grown up Hugh, professional actor Ross Stenhouse, could play off the scores of youngsters giving their all to the script and lyrics he had written himself.

Every adult in the town cheered, whistled, and in many cases, tried not very successfully to hold back tears. The show united the whole community in surprise and joy; surprise in the quality of the children’s performance and the show itself, joy in discovering so much new potential.The whole experience brought many children and their parents much closer together. And now they all know who Hugh was, too.

A mini-festival could be the best way to picture the Victorian Street Fair (May 11), which launched the whole year’s events, and first brought the community together, as well as hundreds of visitors on a day so unusually fine it seemed blessed from heaven.

Co-ordinated by Susan Christie, just about every organisation in the community manned stalls from one end of Church Street to the other, their supporters decked out in top hats, bonnets, shawls and long dresses. A procession was led by 15-year-old piper Angus Binnie to the new air, "Hugh Miller of Cromarty."

The fair was opened by Miller’s resplendent great great grand-daughter Bright Gordon. A celebratory ale, "Hugh’s brew" from the Black Isle Brewery, displays of falconry, wild strains of music, and many more jollifications were such as would have been recognised by the throngs at Cromarty’s market-days and craft pageants of old.

The Camera Club went in search of Miller’s adventures, and came back with striking images of rock faces and outcrops, kirk yards and vaults, a green lady, fossils galore. The Boat Club staged a regatta, the Parent Teachers a fireworks finale, and the East Church, a flower festival of gorgeous sprays in every window.

The big artwork which transported us from the time of Highland Clearances pain into a future of renewed intercontinental links was the Emigration Stone on The Links, carved mostly on site by the celebrated architect and stone-cutter Richard Kindersley on a commission from Cromarty Arts Trust.

A massive tribute in Caithness flag from Spittal quarry, the stone is over four metres high and more than a tonne weight, to the thousands of emigrants who departed Cromarty for the New World on scores of ships during the 1830s. Many of the ships are named on the margins, and in the middle is an eloquent passage by Miller describing the leaving of one, the Cleopatra.

Its unveiling of the stone took place on Miller’s actual birthday (October 10) and that was only one of the rich, multi-layered significances of the event. A new standing stone had been erected, raising echoes of the Pictish forbears.

Dr Margaret Mackay, director of the Scottish School of Studies archive, who performed the ceremony, "felt tremendous pride, affection and humility" for what her ancestors, who sailed on the Cleopatra, went through. It was a monument also to Miller the itinerant stonemason, the eyewitness reporter and the geologist.

We processed straight from the Stone to the East Church for a moving commemoration service led by our minister, Rev John Tallach, surrounded by flower tableaux in which also nestled books, ships, rocks, shells, fossils, photos and other personal mementoes related to the man.

Former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a choir, and a hushed, packed congregation praised Miller’s "vigourous zeal for his Lord and Master," and said we should "seek to be inspired by his example of what can be done to make the best use of the opportunities offered us."

The Cromarty Arts Trust’s International Bicentenary Conference (October 10 - 12) brought more than one hundred academics and intellectuals to the town, many of whom had spent much of their professional lives in Miller’s fields of natural history, geology, folklore, church and public affairs. Many new fields of development will follow, and the Trust plans to publish the papers of more than 20 speakers later this year.

My particularly treasured memory of so many outstanding presentations was that made by Dr Philippe Janvier, of the National Museum of Natural History, Paris. Dr Janvier had never been to Cromarty in his life, yet he has toured the world, as he said, in search of the "armoured fish of deep time" – and with him, whether in South Vietnam or the Middle East, he carried a copy of Miller’s Old Red Sandstone as a source of reference and inspiration. But I shall also remember Emeritus Professor John Hudson, paying his first visit to the birthplace, after spending 40 years following Miller’s footsteps on the Isle of Eigg.

Cromarty Arts Trust has also initiated an outdoor "Hugh Miller Trail" on the Black Isle, which should help future generations pursue his quest for the earth’s story. It takes the form of interpretation panels at three key sites – the Links, in the town of Cromarty, at the foot of the South Sutor headland, and at the entrance to the Eathie beach footpath. The old ruined fishing bothy on Eathie beach is presently being restored and is intended to become accessible as an outdoor interpretation centre in the months to come.

And so to the fireworks finale (November 2), a night of a particularly sharp easterly, and a sepulchral dark, with all the town-lights switched off. They say walking through Cromarty is like being in a time warp, and in the darkened streets, we might have been living in any of the centuries past as we bore our torch-brands aloft from the Harbour on a loop route to the Links.

All the children wore light-bands in electric colours as they scurried through the streets, followed by their mums and dads, the whole town making for the shore to participate in the climactic event. The easterly threatened to douse the brands, and abort the torching of the old Admiralty pinnace waiting for its last rites, but we re-dipped the rags in kerosene pots.

We warmed when the boat slowly caught, and the night sky became split by rockets, spewing showers of explosive lights over the sward, while the old boat burnt out in glory, her golden flame-fountains intermingled with scudding smoke-clouds. How Hugh would have revelled in this, who liked nothing better than a good bonfire.

And after the rockets, came the piece de resistance, the lighting up of Hugh Miller’s name in letters over two feet high, on a giant frame like a theatre billboard, only instead of flashing neon, the letters were formed in chains of specially treated rope. After the fire, the dance, a ceilidh whose furious joyous energy would have reminded Hugh of the craft guild balls of his day.

Hugh Miller’s long walk to discovery and enlightenment continues in the little town and its environs which were the whole world to him. "Life itself is a school and nature always a fresh study," he wrote. As it was for him, so it is for us, and always will be, as long as we aspire to seek and find, learn and know.

 

ENDS

*Dr Margaret Mackay’s speech at the Emigration Stone unveiling, and Lord Mackay’s address at the East Church will both be found on the Honours page of the site.


 

PAST EVENTS

Hugh Miller - Local Hero

Extended Temporary exhibition at Groam House Museum, High Street, Rosemarkie IV10 8UF (01381 620961).

Open at weekends 2pm-4pm, and in Easter Week, 18th-27th April, 2003, 2pm-4.30pm. Entry free.

Those who did not catch the NMS national exhibition, "Testimony of the Rocks," in Edinburgh last year, and who have not yet seen this outstanding local exhibition on the Black Isle, have from now until nearly the end of April to make sure they don't miss it.

Groam House curator Susan Seright reports her museum's popularity last year was due largely to the high standard and interest of this exhibition. She had over 7,000 visitors, 42 per cent up on 2001.

Produced in association with the National Museums of Scotland.


 

 


ANNOUNCING A NEW PLAY!

A Meeting with Monsieur Agassiz

 25-minute play celebrating Hugh Miller's collaboration with the famed naturalist Louis Agassiz, ande the Moray Association of geologists' heroine, Lady Eliza Gordon Cumming.

STARRING

Duncan Cook, Louis Agassiz

Shaun Hastings, Hugh Miller

Julia Duncan, Lydia Miller

Victoria Lochore, Lady Eliza Gordon Cumming

DATES

Friday 15 July; Saturday 23 July; Sunday 31 July; Wednesday 3 August; Thursday 11 August; Friday 19 August; and Saturday 27 August.

Performances: 12.30, 2.00 and 3.30pm. Tickets: £2 per person; £1 for senior citizens and under 18s.

 


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