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Stirkoke Sinclairs

I have found the following information on the Sinclairs of Stirkoke House and 
the family connection to Hempriggs House and Bilbster House. 
Stirkoke House
>From Descendants of George Sinclair, 4th. Earl Caithness, compiled by Pete 
Cummings. Francis Sinclair of Stirkoke (b. abt. 1640) was the son of Francis 
Sinclair of Northfield (b.abt. 1610). Francis of Northfield was the grandson 
of George, 4th. Earl Caithness. So either the house was built or acquired by 
the family in the early 1600s. Francis Sinclair of Stirkoke had sons, 
Patrick, John of Stirkoke, George of Sibster, Charles of Bilbster, and one 
daughter, Jean. John Sinclair of Stirkoke married Margaret Sinclair of Mey 
and had two sons. Francis of Stirkoke and George of Stirkoke. Pete had no 
more information on the Stirkoke line, so I am unsure where David, father of 
George of Norway fame comes in.
Stirkoke is a 559 acre estate and farm currently owned by Alexander William 
Sinclair and Allistair Fraser Sinclair.
Mentioned in Parliament
Mr. Alec Sinclair of Stirkoke in Caithness, who owns the farm of Munsary, 
which is a large area close to Dubh lochs of Shielton. The Dubh lochs were 
properly designated as sites of special scientific interest by SNH. The 
matter was originally handled very well, with suitable management agreements 
being entered into with the proprietors. However, when Mr. Sinclair wanted to 
sell his farm, which was certainly not in the same category of sensitivity or 
importance as the Dubh lochs of Shielton, the SNH moved in and proceeded, 
without adequate inspection, to have it declared an SSSI. It has thereby 
destroyed the prospect of afforestation in the area and the prospect of Mr. 
Sinclair using the resources drawn from the sale to develop appropriately his 
low-ground farming activity. That case is a very sharp illustration of how 
unsatisfactory the present arrangements are for considering multi-purpose 
land use. It should not be possible for an agency, which is ultimately able 
to dispose of such matters without appeal to the Secretary of State, to be 
able to intervene and destroy a venture of the kind on which Mr. Sinclair was 
embarked. Parliament will have to return to the question whether it is 
satisfactory not to have a democratic appeals system against intervention by 
such an environmental agency. I do not believe it is, but the picture is 
perhaps more kaleidoscopic than when I first discussed these matters in the 
early and mid-1970s

The Battle of Altimarlach
When Campbell of Glenorchy came north to take over the earldom, he was 
confronted by the defending force of Caithnessians near Stirkoke. The day 
being far spent and his men tired by their forced march from Braemore, 
Campbell wisely retreated to a safe encampment in the Yarrows hills, the 
Caithness men retired to Wick for the night. An early start the next morning 
saw Glenorchy make an unopposed crossing of the river Wick. From his position 
on the north bank he would see the local men advancing from the town and no 
doubt selected the steep sided spit of land at the junction of the burn of 
Altimarlach and the river, as the best defensive position. In a complete 
reversal of the previous evening, it was the Caithness troops who arrived 
exhausted by their dash from Wick. It can be seen that Glenorchy had been 
traveling north, the crossroad just behind the defensive sweep of the Haster 
burn was a natural assembly point for local troops arriving from all parts of 
the County. This was also the point where it would become obvious whether 
Glenorchy intended to attack Wick, via the Newtown Road; or whether he would 
bypass the town and head straight for Girnigoe. It would seem that Campbell 
had been pursuing the latter course when he was confronted by the enemy in a 
good position. The road system shows why the two encounters took place at 
Stirkoke and Altimarlach.

Mentioned in the History of Oldwick
Shortly after this the castles of Oldwick and Berriedale fell to separate 
owners. The Earls of Caithness retained Oldwick but as it was situated within 
a few miles of their chief stronghold of Girnigoe it fell into disuse. 
Berriedale was acquired by a junior branch of the Sutherlands of Forse, also 
descended from the ancient Earls of Sutherland. Afterwards it became the 
property of the Sinclairs of Ulbster and later still it passed to the Horne 
family of Langwell and Stirkoke. With the building of the splendid new 
mansion of Langwell House the old castle fell to ruin and decay. After the 
death of the weak sixth Earl of Caithness and the usurping of his estates and 
titles by his creditor Campbell of Glonorchy about 1680 Oldwick eventually 
passed by sale to the Dunbars of Hempriggs who had about the same time built 
Hempriggs House nearby. They were a branch of the Sutherlands of Duffus who 
had changed their name to Dunbar on inheriting the baronetcy of Hempriggs of 
that family. 

Mentioned in the False Coin Scandal between the Sutherlands and Sinclairs.
They accordingly rushed to the street; and shortly after, John Sinclair, 
younger of Stirkoke, James Sinclair of Durran, James Sinclair, brother of the 
Laird of Dunn, and other relatives of Lord Caithness who happened to be in 
town on a visit to Lady Berriedale, made their appearance. Mackay and Gordon 
showed their commission and endeavored to satisfy them that they were acting 
under the King’s authority; but Sinclair of Stirkoke, in a defiant tone, 
swore that he would not allow his uncle’s servant to be apprehended without 
his knowledge, and in his absence. The commissioners replied sharply that 
they were determined to do their duty, and not suffer the Royal warrant to be 
resisted. High words were exchanged, and a serious scuffle ensued, which was 
maintained for some time with great obstinacy on both sides. The party that 
guarded Smith, hearing a great noise in the town, killed him in order to 
prevent his escape, and hurried in to assist their countrymen. The 
inhabitants, who were not so well armed as their opponents, finally gave way, 
and retreated to their houses. John Sinclair of Stirkoke was killed, and 
James Sinclair of Dunn severely wounded. James Sinclair of Durran saved 
himself by flight. None of the Sutherland men were killed, but many of them 
were badly wounded. Sir John Sinclair of Greenland, who then lived at Ormlie, 
and the Laird of Dunn arrived when the fray was concluded. Dunn proposed to 
renew the attack, but Sir John Sinclair, considering what had already 
happened, would not agree to any hazardous attempt of the kind. The 
Sutherland men withdrew from the town, and soon after proceeded homeward, 
carrying their wounded along with them. When the Earl of Caithness, who 
happened to be in Edinburgh at the time, was informed of the occurrences in 
Thurso, he immediately instituted a criminal prosecution against the Earl of 
Sutherland, Sir Robert Gordon, and Donald Mackay, for the slaughter of his 
nephew, John Sinclair of Stirkoke; while they, on the other hand, raised a 
similar process against the Earl of Caithness, his son, Lord Berriedale, and 
their coadjutors, for sundry past outrages, and particularly for resisting, 
at Thurso, the King’s commissioners, and attacking those employed in its 
execution. On the day appointed for their appearance at Edinburgh, the 
parties, with the exception of the Earl of Sutherland, met, attended by their 
respective friends. The Earl of Caithness and Berriedale were accompanied by 
Lord Gray, Sinclair of Roslin, the Laird of Cowdenknowes, a son of the sister 
of the Earl of Caithness, and his two brothers, Sir John Sinclair of 
Greenland, and James Sinclair of Murkle. Sir Robert Gordon and Mackay were 
attended by the Earls of Winton, Eglinton, and Linlithgow, Lords Elphinstone 
and Forbes, Munro of Foulis, and the Laird of Duffus. The Council spent three 
days in hearing the parties and deliberating upon the matters brought before 
them; but they came to no decision, and adjourned the proceedings until the 
King’s pleasure should be known. The King proposed that their differences 
should be submitted to arbitration, and after some discussion, the parties 
were induced to sign a submission to that effect. Arbiters were accordingly 
appointed, but finding the parties obstinate, and determined not to yield a 
single point of their respective claims, they declined to act any further in 
the matter, and remitted the whole case back to the Privy Council. At a 
meeting of the Council, the Earl of Caithness preferred a very serious charge 
against Sir Robert Gordon. He said that he had procured the commission solely 
with the intention of ruining him and his house, and that previous to the 
affair at Thurso he had on one occasion lain in wait to kill him at the 
Little Ferry. Sir Robert, of course, indignantly repelled the charge. The 
dispute, from all that appears, was never settled; and the Earls of Caithness 
and Sutherland continued to maintain the same hostile attitude towards each 
other as before.

Colonel George Sinclair, in Norway. George Sinclair was a natural son of 
David Sinclair of Stirkoke, and nephew of the Earl of Caithness. Like many 
other Scotchmen of the period, he was a soldier of fortune, and had entered 
the service of Gustavus Adoiphus, King of Sweden, who was then at war with 
Denmark and Norway. Having raised a regiment in his native county, amounting, 
it is said, to some 900 men, Sinciair embarked for Norway, and after a 
favorable passage of four days, landed on the coast of Romsdal. 

W.W.I General Horne. Lord Horne was born Henry Sinclair Horne at Stirkoke on 
19 February 1861, the third son of Major James Horne and his wife Constance 
Mary. The family was one of the best known in Caithness and had lived at 
Stirkoke for several generations. He was educated at Harrow and at the Royal 
Mentioned about the pipe tune, The Stirkoke Woods.
The attractive waltz tune composed by Robert George Harper. He wrote it many 
years ago when he left Stirkoke. The Lily Pond was a beauty spot in the 
Stirkoke Woods on the estate of the late General Lord Horne. 

During W.W.II three aircraft where flying over the vicinity of Stirkoke, when 
one plane crash landed near the spot of the battle of Altimarlach. The two 
crewmen scrambled from their plane without much injury.

Hempriggs House.
On or about 1680 Oldwick eventually passed by sale to the Dunbars of 
Hempriggs who had about the same time built Hempriggs House. There are great 
cliffs with natural arches and stacks off the coast behind Hempriggs House. 
There is also an overgrown path that leads from Hempriggs House past the 
Castle of Oldwick and into the town of Wick that is till in rare use today.

Anne Dunbar of Hempriggs House married John Sinclair of Strikoke. My own line 
comes from William Sinclair, Natural son of Donald the Sailor Sinclair. 
Donald the Sailor is of the Murkle Sinclairs. William was born in Hempriggs 
house abt. 1790 and came to America in 1805 Where he married Henrietta Dunbar 

Lady Maureen Daisy Helen Dunbar of Hempriggs was recognized in the name of 
Dunbar of Hempriggs by the Lord Lyon Court in 1965. The male heirs of the 
first baronet having died out, this Nova Scotia Baronetcy was conferred with 
remainder to heirs whatever, ie, it can be and has been inherited through or 
by a female representative of the family. The crest of Hempriggs reflects the 
families through whom the title has passed. First, quarterly is Dunbar, 2nd 
is Sutherland, 3rd is Duff, and 4th is Randolph. Lady Dunbar has a son, 
Richard Francis Dunbar of Hempriggs, so the baronetcy will return to a the 
male line. 

Bilbster House
Charles of Bilbster Sinclair (b. abt 1680) was the son of Francis Sinclair of 
Stirkoke. Charles earned the unenviable sobriquet of the Earl of Hell.  
Charles married Katherine Dunbar of Hempriggs house and had one son, Sir 
George Sinclair of Bilbster and Clythe. Sir George married Jean Daughter of 
William? Charles, Earl of Hell, and Katherine also had one daughter, Fenella 
whom married Donald Sinclair of Olric (and now Bilbster).
Bilbster Mains is a working farm straddling the delightful Wick River in a 
fertile little valley just to the east of that famous wild brown trout water 
Loch Watten. It is an area of green fields and open spaces yet it is within a 
fifteen minute drive of either the town of Thurso or the town of Wick. The 
estate of Bilbster House covers some 1300 acres and guests are welcome to 
walk in most of the area. The atmosphere is exceptionally tranquil and offers 
the visitor a relaxing and secluded holiday of a very high standard yet with 
the freedom to drive quickly and easily to any of the major salmon rivers or 
trout lochs within Caithness. Research on Bilbster House so far has dated it 
to before the 1690s being the local 'Manor House' to the estate of Bilbster. 
Category C(s) listed building status (Scottish category), Every effort has 
been made to keep the character since being bought over by the Stewart family 
in 1970. Previous owners include Gore Brown Hendersons, Macleays and 
inevitably for any large estate in Caithness, Sinclairs. As well as the 
estate of Bilbster the Gore Brown Hendersons also owned the local distillery, 
Pulteney Distillery which now has the renowned 'Old Pulteney collection' of 
Scotch Whisky. The estate of Bilbster was handed to the son 'Hamish' in 1955 
and Mrs Gore Brown Henderson moved to Malveny house, Edinburgh which she 
subsequently left to the National Trust. The Trust now open the gardens at 
Malveny. The donation of a Telford designed house to the medical profession 
resulted in a nurses home being set up. This building became the maternity 
unit for Wick and then was controversially bulldozed to make way for the new 
hospital. The maternity wing in the hospital is now called The Henderson 
wing. His offspring continued in the same vein and built upon his collection 
and contributions to science culminating in the donation of his collection to 
the University of Sydney. This has resulted in the Macleay Museum. In 1825 he 
was appointed as Colonial secretary to New South Wales in Sydney and amongst 
other things, was chairman overseeing Sydney's botanic gardens. Tracing the 
family of Henderson back leads to the name of Macleay and Alexander Macleay. 
Alexander Macleay was a collector of insects to the extent that by 1805 his 
collection was the most important in Britain and was extensively used as a 
source of reference. 

Donald Sinclair, Indianapolis

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