About the Author

bruce-henderson.jpg
Bruce Henderson is a computer engineer living in Southern California. With the help of his cousins he is researching the history of the Henderson family of southern Caithness. You can contact him at bruce@sigalarm.com

Missing Families - Where Did They Go?

Dunbeath Bridge

By 1810, there is no further record of either William or Angus Henderson in and around the villages of Berriedale or Dunbeath.  No record of their death is transcribed in the parish records, and there is no further appearance in any official documents, including the first census of Scotland in 1841.
This begs the question – where did these men and their families go?  There are several intriguing possibilities.  As was cited earlier, the Red River colonies of Manitoba were a frequent destination for Caithness colonists seeking a new opportunity.  Is it possible the Angus or William sailed to Canada to join Lord Selkirk’s settlement, and found a way to survive the brutal Canadian winters, and the hostile living conditions.
Sadly the records of the early colonies that would become Winnepeg are not accurate enough to provide us with a list of names and places of origin to determine this.
There is some evidence that some young men from this region were transported to Australia either by choice or being sentenced to “Transportation” for even minor infractions.  One such example is the case of Donald Henderson who lived in Dunbeath at this time.  It is not known if Donald was in any way related to our Hendersons, but he provides a narrative of what may have happened to William and or Angus.
One summer’s night, the fishing fleet had come in from a successful day catching Herring, and many of the crew were enjoying the services of the inn near the harbor in Dunbeath.  Reports say that nearly 50 men were at the inn, mostly from Dunbeath and Berriedale, with a few visiting boats from the village of Helmedale further to the south.  As the night wore on, many of the men had quite a bit to drink, and there was a general rowdy drunkenness in the air.  Towards midnight, the inn keeper (who was also a Henderson), directed the most drunken of the bunch to leave the inn and head towards their beds.
While walking away, several of the men from Dunbeath and Helmsdale stopped on the bridge over the Dunbeath river, where a series of boasts were made between crews, each claiming to be the strongest, bravest and toughest from their village.  It did not take long before the boasts turned to action, with the fishermen lifting one another up and tossing men from the bridge into the icy river below.  At first this was good natured, but devolved into a fierce contests between the men of Dunbeath and the men of Helmsdale.
This would probably be the end of it, had not some travelers, not connected to the proceedings, happened to cross the bridge, and found themselves tossed into the river below.  One of these men proceeded to the inn, where the local sheriff (who was also the innkeeper) was alerted.  With several of his staff, the innkeeper went to the bridge to “break it up” and found himself mobbed by the drunken sailors.  When things were finally settled, several men, including this Donald Henderson, were in irons.  Later that month in court, he and his fellow ruffians were sentenced to 10 years “transportation” for their role in the disturbance, and were in essence exiled to Australia.

The old Dunbeath bridge and mill in the early 1900s

By 1810, there is no further record of either William or Angus Henderson in and around the villages of Berriedale or Dunbeath.  No record of their death is transcribed in the parish records, and there is no further appearance in any official documents, including the first census of Scotland in 1841.

This begs the question – where did these men and what family they had go?  There are several intriguing possibilities.  As was cited earlier, the Red River colonies of Manitoba were a frequent destination for Caithness colonists seeking a new opportunity.  Is it possible the Angus or William sailed to Canada to join Lord Selkirk’s settlement, and found a way to survive the brutal Canadian winters, and the hostile living conditions.

Sadly the records of the early colonies that would become Winnepeg are not accurate enough to provide us with a list of names and places of origin to determine this.

There is some evidence that some young men from this region were transported to Australia either by choice or being sentenced to “Transportation” for even minor infractions.  One such example is the case of Donald Henderson who lived in Dunbeath at this time.  It is not known if Donald was in any way related to our Hendersons, but he provides a narrative of what may have happened to William and or Angus.

One summer’s night, the fishing fleet had come in from a successful day catching Herring, and many of the crew were enjoying the services of the inn near the harbor in Dunbeath.  Reports say that nearly 50 men were at the inn, mostly from Dunbeath and Berriedale, with a few visiting boats from the village of Helmedale further to the south.  As the night wore on, many of the men had quite a bit to drink, and there was a general rowdy drunkenness in the air.  Towards midnight, the inn keeper (who was also a Henderson), directed the most drunken of the bunch to leave the inn and head towards their beds.

While walking away, several of the men from Dunbeath and Helmsdale stopped on the bridge over the Dunbeath river, where a series of boasts were made between crews, each claiming to be the strongest, bravest and toughest from their village.  It did not take long before the boasts turned to action, with the fishermen lifting one another up and tossing men from the bridge into the icy river below.  At first this was good natured, but devolved into a fierce contests between the men of Dunbeath and the men of Helmsdale.

This would probably be the end of it, had not some travelers, not connected to the proceedings, happened to cross the bridge, and found themselves tossed into the river below.  One of these men proceeded to the inn, where the local sheriff (who was also the innkeeper) was alerted.  With several of his staff, the innkeeper went to the bridge to “break it up” and found himself mobbed by the drunken sailors.  When things were finally settled, several men, including this Donald Henderson, were in irons.  Later that month in court, he and his fellow ruffians were sentenced to 10 years “transportation” for their role in the disturbance, and were in essence exiled to Australia.

Chances are, there are members of the family in North America or Austrailia to this day.  Hopefully one day they will find this site and thereby gain the means to re-connect with their past.

2 comments to Missing Families – Where Did They Go?

  • I was utterly hooked on reading your material. My gt grandmother Margaret Sutherland and her sister Marion (Merran) were from Berriedale according to every census and certificate I found them on. However I can find no trace of their parents John Sutherland and Margaret Bruce (wives names are less reliable). Your description of how these families were scattered by Clearances and emigration or transportation gives me hope that I will eventually trace them. Well done!

  • Dorothy Drake

    Excellent site and fascinating research. My husband’s ancestors were Robert John Henderson, bc 1790 and wife Christy Forbes, married by Rev. Robert Gunn, minister at Latheron, on July 1, 1812. They had 3 children baptised at Latheron then they left for Nova Scotia in 1818 or 1819. About that time Rev. Gunn ended his ministry at Latheron and I wonder if he also went to Canada as I have not found a cemetery record for him.
    I suspect but can not yet prove that Robert John Henderson was the grandson of David Henderson and Cecelia Honeyman of Gerston and Stemster, through their son William, of whom I can find nothing except he was probably bc 1760. His brothers entered the military and went to Jamaica and British Guyana, so I wonder if William also was a soldier, perhaps in North America.
    Please email me if it looks like we have connections.

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