Published: 12/01/2007 00:00 - Updated: 29/11/2011 16:56

Mrs Jessie Morrison, Durness

Jessie Morrison in 1983
Jessie Morrison in 1983

JESSIE MORRISON, who died in Oversteps Home, Dornoch, on Saturday at the age of 95, was among the last of the old side-school teachers who taught children in remote communities throughout the Highlands in the first half of last century. She was also one of the few remaining fluent speakers of North West Sutherland Gaelic, and had been interviewed in the language on a number of occasions by the BBC. Jessie, as she was known throughout her lifetime, was born Janet Corbett at Inchnadamph in 1911, of a Kinlochbervie father and an Achlyness mother. Her maternal grandfather Robert Ross was the penultimate child to be born on the island of Handa, off Scourie, before its evacuation in the mid-1840s. Her father Donald had gone as a coachman to Inchnadamph Hotel and on the advent of the motor car retrained as a chauffeur-mechanic in Dumfries, gaining his driving licence in 1905. Jessie was educated first at Assynt Side School, Inchnadamph, and finished her primary education at Inshegra School, Kinlochbervie, before continuing to Scourie, then a senior secondary school. After leaving Scourie School at 16 with a Higher Day School Certificate, she found a post as an unqualified side-school teacher, teaching crofters children at remote Ardmore, now the site of Captain John Ridgways adventure school. From there in the early 1930s she moved to Gualin Lodge, between Rhiconich and Durness, to teach the caretakers family, and in the middle of that decade went on to teach shepherds children in what was arguably Britains remotest side-school, a tiny corrugated iron hut at Achiemore, on the Cape Wrath side of the Kyle of Durness. At that time more than 40 people were still living on the Capeside. Finally she returned to teach at Ardmore in 1938, the year before she married Durness crofter-fisherman George Morrison. They settled briefly at Sangomore, where their first son Willie was born, but on the death of Jessies father-in-law, George inherited the family croft at Sangobeg where their two other children David and Violet were born. For many years from the 1950s Jessie provided bed and breakfast for summer tourists to supplement the family income, making many lifelong friends from all over Britain and the Continent. Even in her last weeks of life she received Christmas cards from old acquaintances who had stayed with her many years before. Jessie attended George devotedly in his own last years, until his death at the age of 83 in 1989. Thereafter she became progressively more arthritic, but continued to live in her own home, helped by carers, until December 2005 when she sustained a severe fall. She spent several months in the Assynt Centre, Lochinver, before moving in August to Oversteps where despite excellent care she gradually faded away. A pillar of Durness Church of Scotland, she was a former chairwoman of the Womens Guild and also taught at Sunday School. In the mid-1960s Jessie, along with local postman Billy Whyte and doctors wife Rhona Sandeman, was one of the trio who beat teams from all over her home county to win the Round Sutherland Quiz. Until blindness struck a few years ago Jessie was an avid reader, a crossword enthusiast and very forthright in her opinions. She was particularly keen on local history, and something of an authority on family relationships in North West Sutherland. A passionate cat lover, she was still caring for seven strays before her fall. She is survived by her three children, five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two of her three younger sisters. Her only brother George was killed tragically by a car at Inchnadamph in 1919, aged six. WM

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