A view of Broadsea

The fishing village of Broadsea was engulfed by Fraserburgh as it grew in the nineteenth century, and nowadays Broadsea is no more than an enclave, a conservation area of terraced cottages close beside the sea. It lies to the north of College Bounds, and is bordered to the east by the bay.

The village is famous as the birthplace of a remarkable woman, Christian Watt, who was born there in 1833, of a fishing-family who had lived in the village for generations. She died in her 91st year, in the Cornhill Asylum, in Aberdeen, having spent the last forty-odd years of her life as a patient there. It was while she was a patient that she wrote accounts of her early life. How Christian Watt came by her education is unclear, having been put to work at the age of about 8, but in later life she wrote a series of vigorous and readable accounts of her hard and tragic life, accounts which were collated and published in 1983 as The Christian Watt Papers.

Christian Watt's family was descended from a variety of noble sources both legitimately and illegitimately, and the head of her family three generations before her birth had been the last hereditary Constable of Broadsea, an office and title abolished by the British crown in 1747 with the abolition of hereditary justiciary.

The School in Broadsea had been founded by Christian's ancestor Andrew Noble, The Traveller of Zetland, and perhaps it was this hereditary involvement with education that set her family apart, in literacy and fluency in English, from their neighbours. In her reminiscences she noted 'My husband spent a lot of time teaching the children English. He wanted them to be able to speak to anybody properly, but to respect Buchan Doric as their mother tongue'.

The mixture of incongruous influences made Christian Watt a redoutable woman in whom beauty, pride of birth and education made her see herself as the equal or even the superior of noble suitors, who chose to remain a fish-wife, and to suffer the poverty and tragedy which was ultimately to drive her into the asylum.

Reading of her travails, it is hard to believe that she was ever more than in profound despair; and in her situation despair would have been inevitable, inescapable, a natural rather than an insane response to her circumstances including the accidental deaths of her husband, her son, and four of her brothers in the pursuit of their hereditary calling, the fishing.

(Revision date: Wednesday 22nd February 2012)