Kebbock Battle

In "The Highland Notebook"1 by R. Carruthers there is an eyewitness account of "A rude riot and slaughter at a fair in Inverness, called the Kebbock day"1, from a clergyman, Rev.James Fraser of Wardlaw (Kirkhill).

On August 18th 1668, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the Marymas fair was held. On the castle hill the horse market stood and at the southern edge of the hill were women selling bread and cheeses. Finlay Dhu, an Invernesian, picked up a kebbock (Gaelic: càbag) and asked the price, he then dropped the cheese which rolled down the slope and into the river. Our eyewitness seems to be open to both possibilities that this was either a deliberate mischief or just clumsiness.

The woman expects him to pay for the lost kebbock but "he (a crabbed fellow) gave her cross language of defiance"1. A bystander requested Finlay's hat to keep as a pledge until the woman was compensated but a relative of Finlay's told the bystander to mind his own business. The bystander said that as a witness, it was his business, the situation got more heated and a fight started. The fight somehow spread and it seems that most of the hill market ended up embroiled in one almighty scrap.

Guards were called and their captain, Joe Reed, "runs betwixt the parties, to separate them"1. Other "gentlemen" who were present also made attempts to calm things down, but to no avail. "Swords are drawn, guns presented, and some wounds given"1.

It was reported to the provost, Alexander Cuthbert, that his guards are ignored, he armed himself with a "steel cap, sword and targe", had the alarm bell rung and went to the scene, "many pretty fellows with him" - maybe referring to uniformed men. The guards seem to have been under considerable pressure and fired shots, two men were killed immediately and there were upwards of ten wounded. "The noise is hushed, and matters examined; the guard is blamed"1.

The provost supported the guard "for who durst disturb the king's free burgh at market time?"1. But the highlanders persisted and it seemed that further violence took place resulting in further deaths.

Our eyewitness goes on to give a brief account of the apportionment of blame, the result was "post naufragium"4, in other words Finlay got away with it. The dead and wounded were carried over the Ness bridge "as an odium to the town"1, the dead taken to Kirkhill for internment.

John MacLean in his book "Historical and traditional sketches of highland families and of the highlands" describes a "scene of a most sanguinary affray, arising out of a circumstance of a trifling and ludicrous nature"2. His details of the story differ somewhat from the eyewitness account but nonetheless provide an interesting illustration of the incident.

The Marymas Cheese Market used to be held at the southern end of the castle hill until one August evening in 1666.

John MacLean's account tells of a burly dairymaid from Strathnairn who had had a disappointing day sales-wise and was in a bad mood. She was packing away her unsold cheeses or kebbocks when she dropped one which rolled down the hill into the river Ness. Two or three Inverness boys ran down to the river and retrieved it and the dairymaid sent two or three boys from her own region to retrieve it from them.

The Inverness boys weren't going to give up their cheese too easily and a fight started. The visitors apparently were not doing too well so some "grown-ups" from their own area went to their aid. In response to this some "grown-up" Invernesians joined in aswell. The escalation continued until such a point that the Provost got wind of what was happening and he rushed over there accompanied by the sheriff and some soldiers from the castle. They failed to stop the fight they only made it worse. John MacLean refers to "mountaineers", not likely to be energertic tourists in climbing gear but more probably the highlanders of the older eye-witness account.

The scrap went on for more than three hours, the sides were too evenly matched and neither was able to gain the upper hand. Eventually people stopped joining in and both sides then gave in. The Ness was red with blood and the battlefield strewn with wounded - both sides then realised the full extent of the mayhem they had caused.

The dairymaid later recounted that as the milk for that particular kebbock was yearning in the "muckle-pot"3 it appeared like blood, covering her hands and arms too.

The cheese market was never held at this location again but was incorporated into the Marymas fair held in the town. The Marymas fair is currently held on the second Saturday of August at the Northern Meeting park on the other side of the river.

References and Notes

1. CARRUTHERS, R., 1843. The Highland Notebook or Sketches and anecdotes Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.
2. MACLEAN, JOHN., 1895. Historical and traditional sketches of highland families and of the highlands. 2nd edition. Publisher?, (printed by John Noble, Castle Street, Inverness).
3. "Muckle" is a Scots word meaning a lot, or a large amount. There is also an Old Norse word "mikill" meaning large. The Old Norse "mikla" is a verb meaning "to make great" this gives us place names such as "Muckle Flugga"
4. "post naufragium": after a shipwreck, presumably referring here to the latin proverb "post naufragium maria temptantur" referring to the futility of putting the sea on trial after a ship is wrecked.