1886 William Cramond:  ‘The Pirates of Barbary and the Presbytery of Fordyce’
I confess that the rather Pythonesque visual image suggested by this title first drew my attention. But it is only appropriate that an article by William Cramond should be one of the first selected of our Transactions of the Month.
Anyone who has worked on the local history of Banffshire will have come across Dr Cramond (1844-1907). His two thick volumes of the Annals of Banff are just the start. He worked on the archives of parish after parish. Naturally enough he was a founder member of the Field Club, and three times served as its President. As I look back in the Transactions I see he was not just an antiquarian. There is a paper there in 1882 on the shells of Banffshire. He made his living as a parish schoolmaster in Cullen, probably an inspiration to his best students but a holy terror to most.  And here is a paper by him on ‘The Pirates of Barbary and the Presbytery of Fordyce’.
No, the pirates off our coast were technically Christian, and the presbytery never embarked on missions in Morocco. But if like Dr Cramond you work through the presbytery records of Fordyce, you discover that up in Banffshire we did have a wider perspective. In 1621, for example, collections were made in all the parish churches of Scotland ‘for the relief of Scotch prisoners in Tunis and Algiers’. We hear of men from Montrose, from Pittenweem, from Inverness, all prisoners needing ransom. In 1704 the Kirk at Cullen raised £4.4/- for poor John Thomson from Turriff. That’s getting close to home. And not only were there captives who needed to be ransomed, there were the poor mutilated creatures who returned. (The usual term of sympathy used to be ‘a poor object’.) Here we have the image of those who gathered round the church doors hoping for charity. “In 1723 there was collected in the Kirk of Rathven the sum of 2s 10d for a distressed seaman who had his tongue cut out by the Turks”. 
Dr Cramond has all this evidence at his fingertips. But what I thought was how could we follow it up using our new ‘search’ facility? There on the first page of his paper is a list of typical ‘poor objects’ at the church door. Could I pinpoint one? There was ‘a woman on a barrow’. I tried the search for ‘barrow’. The word came up 16 times. 12 of them were archaeological – good news to archaeologists, not to me. But there in a paper of 1932 from the records of Forglen was “1720 July 23 To a poor woman carried from house to house on a barrow 00.04.0”. That’s 4 shillings.  The search had worked.
But distractions are more fun. In the old kirkyard of Banff is the Victorian grave of Mr McPetrie, ‘chief of police in Banff’. He had three policemen under him. Searching for ‘barrow’ I discovered that none of them were young, and they doubled as street-sweepers. “They suspended their work at their respective dust barrows” and chased criminals. My image of Victorian policemen shifted when I learned that. Did yours?

To find this Transaction in its entirely, follow the link to … yce_WM.pdf.

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