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The Lost Families of Stratherrick, Strathnairn, and Dunmaglass, Inverness-shire, Scotland

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Flora MacTavish

Does anyone know who her parents were?? 

According to her tombstone inscription: “this much regretted individual” died in 1831.  “She exercised her profession throughout the extensive districts around Loch Ness” her profession being that of “accouchouse”, for which she was “instructed at the University of Edinburgh…under Dr James Hamilton, M.D.

            Note that she is not called a midwife; her university training being deemed to merit the more dignified designation of “accouchouse”.  It seems likely that she was the first trained medical aid the people of Stratherrick had.  Of course, there were chirurgeon-apothecaries in Inverness from at least the 17th century and there would be a medical officer with the garrison at Fort Augustus, but ordinary families would not be able to afford the services of these gentlemen.  Most country communities had among them a ‘wise woman’ well versed in the properties of herbs and in traditional remedies.  Many of these were loathsome and useless – but then so were the remedies of the professionals, until well into the 18th century.  Cures based on superstition, such as bath in hold wells, were common, but mainly harmless, and some herbal remedies used by the wise women were just as efficacious as those prescribed from the orthodox pharmacopoeia of the day.  Failing relief from such treatment sufferers endured their ailments, or as one old Highlander put it, “just died a natural death”.

            Women in childbirth relied on the help of experienced neighbors and the many cripples and the high infant mortality show the shortcomings of these well-intentioned persons.  Infectious diseases were mysteries, accepted as the will of God.  With poor housing, virtually no sanitation, dung heaps at the door, vermin in the thatch and little thought of hygiene it is not remarkable that illness, disease and early death were commonplaces.

            Flora MacTavish was a sign of changing attitudes.  By the end of the 18th century medical knowledge and training were much improved and the Poor Law Act of 1845 led the parochial boards to employ medical officers so that the able-bodied poor and the sick poor could be discriminated between.  Shortly the boards were obliged to concern themselves with sanitation and the control of infectious diseases, by inoculation and other means.  In Stratherrick these doctors seem to have come out from Inverness as required by the Parochial Boards and later the School Boards of Dores and Boleskine.  There is no evidence of resident doctors until the end of the century.  Then the arrival of the British Aluminum Company and the growth of the  village of Foyers made it possible for a doctor to sustain a modest practice in the district. 

            But Flora MacTavish who “stood high in the public estimation from her unwearied exertion and success in her professional calling” was surely the forerunner of it all. 

taken from "A Country Called Stratherrick" by Alan Lawson