by Anne Coombs
Caithness at the end of the 18th century was an exciting place to be. While maybe not the centre of the world, it was home to some of the big names of the time. Sir John Sinclair, ‘Agricultural’ Sir John, of Ulbster is a name we should all know. He instigated the Old Statistical Accounts of Scotland, an amazing resource which is often the first place we look for details of life in the 1780s and 90s. His name appears in many of the forward-thinking documents of the time, not just the OSA, he was author of the General View of the Agriculture of the Northern Counties. He was a member of the British Fisheries Society and a Trustee of the Board for the Improvement of Fisheries and Manufactures along with his near neighbours in Sutherland, George Dempster of Dunnichen, founder of Spinningdale mill, and Lord Gower, later the Marquise of Stafford and then the Duke of Sutherland.
This group instigated several moneymaking (Improvement) schemes, one of the most successful was the development of the herring fishing industry off the coast of Caithness during the 19th century. The British Fisheries Society was responsible for building Pultneytown immediately south of the Wick River. It was laid out by Thomas Telford in 1786 and was so successful it became known as ‘Herringopolis’ with the harbour so full of fishing boats which meant you could walk across it without touching water. But Pultneytown was just one of many harbours developed along the coast of Caithness during this period.