A PEACEFUL church in a quiet Black Isle village has revealed unexpected links to heroism in the British Raj and darker ties to slavery in the West Indies.
Local writer Freda Bassindale uncovered Rosemarkie Church’s worldwide links as she was researching the follow up to her first book, Rosemarkie People and Places.
She turned to the parish kirk, built in 1819, as a good location to begin looking at the history of the village and its connections to the wider world.
Among those connections were the Fowler family from Raddery, three brothers – John, Andrew and James – who owned several estates in Jamaica in the 18th and 19th centuries and were among several Highland families to profit from slave ownership.
Perhaps the greatest celebrity to be buried in Rosemarkie churchyard, at least to his contemporaries, is London born doctor William Brydon.
A doctor with the East India Company, Brydon was the only man to escape from Afghanistan when the British garrison in Kabul was wiped out in 1842 and was the subject of a famous painting, Remnants of An Army, by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler.
However, this was not the only adventure on the Indian sub-continent for Dr Brydon, who was to retire to Easter Ross, where he died in 1873.
"I discovered that he and his wife, Colina, were in the Seige of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny," Bassindale said.
"She kept a diary in Lucknow, and I found a copy online. It was fascinating. People said that Dr Brydon was a hero, but by gum, I think his wife was even more of a hero! She brings to life what it was like in this cantonment. They were all starving and all the servant had gone, so all the officers’ wives were learning how to cook and wash clothes.
"Colina had a very close shave. She and another lady where walking when a shot hit the woman on her temple and she died. Colina was just in her 20s at that time and to deal with all these things, I thought she was very brave."
Bravery ran in her family. Her brother was Victoria Cross winner Major General Donald Macintyre, who is also buried in Rosemarkie churchyard and whose descendants still live in the Black Isle.
He was awarded the Empire’s highest decoration for gallantry for his part in rescuing Mary Winchester, the young daughter of a tea planter originally from Elgin, after she was held captive by a group of hill tribesmen.
"It’s amazing the history a wee placey like Rosemarkie has got," Bassindale said.
Other Rosemarkie connections she has uncovered for the book include the Wood family, who provided three generations of ministers to the Black Isle kirk over a 134 year period, the stories behind the names on the church’s World War I memorial, including two brothers who died on the Western Front, and World War II general Sir Richard O’Connor, a former prisoner of war who evaded the Germans in Nazi-occupied Germany.
There are also more local tales of local families and individuals, from businessmen to policemen and teachers.
Bassindale’s researches have attracted interest beyond the Black Isle and she has heard from people with Rosemarkie links in Canada, the USA and Iceland as well as a University College London lecturer studying the history of slavery.
"How it started was that Groam House, the Highland Archive Centre or sometimes Inverness Museum would put a photograph in the paper and if it was a local one, I would cut it out and take it round to someone who might know who was in it," Bassindale said,.
When one elderly local lady protested that having such archive material available online was of no use to her and they should be in a book, Bassindale set to work collecting material for what would become Rosemarkie People and Places.
"I’m not an academic, I’m not a historian, as such," she added.
"I’ve just been getting something of interest to local people and discovering its interesting to more than the locals – which I’m fair chuffed about."
• Rosemarkie Connections: A Village History Told Through Its Church and Churchyard by Freda Bassindale is published by Bassman Books.