>South Harris Estate – The Final Dunmore Years & A Review of 1834-1919


You may recall that, in 1868, Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore, had relinquished ownership of the North Harris Estate to his bankers, in particular the Scott family.

Thus for the next forty years, until his death on the 27th of August 1907, the Earl’s interest in the island was confined to his South Harris Estate.

He was succeeded by his son, Alexander Edward Murray, but this 8th Earl of Dunmore was to finally sell the estate in 1919 marking the end of his family’s involvement in the island some 85 years after his great grandfather had initially bought Harris. (As an aside, the purchaser in 1919 was Lord Leverhulme who paid £20,000 for the Estate. Following his death only six years later it was sold at auction for £900.)

In fact, the 8th Earl was a soldier and it was really only the in years 1908-1914 that he was able to devote time to his Harris estate for he played an active and distinguished role in the First World War prior to lord Leverhulme’s purchase a year after the end of that bloody and, for the islands, especially debilitating conflict.

Thus ended the Murray family’s ownership that may be conveniently divided into seven eras:

The 5th Earl
1834 – 5th March, George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore buys Harris for £60,000
1834 – Duncan Shaw replaces Donald Stewart as Factor

The 6th Earl
1836 – Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore, inherits Harris
1836/7 – Poor harvests, particularly of Potatoes
1838/9 – Seilibost, Big Borve, Middle Borve and Little Borve cleared
184? – Raa on Tarasaigh Cleared for John Macdonald, tacksman
1843 – Church of Scotland fragments in Disruption – islanders join Free Church of Scotland
1843 – 6th Earl of Dunmore considers a harbour at W Loch Tarbert, with a link to the E Loch
1844 – John Robson Macdonald becomes Factor of Harris

The Dowager Countess
1845 – Alexander, 6th Earl, dies and Catherine, his wife, is ‘Tutor’ for her son, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1846 – Potato Famines begin
1847 – Borve, Harris resettled.
1849 – Countess of Dunmore establishes the Embroidery School at An-t-Ob
1851 – Crofts at Direcleit and Ceann Dibig bisected to provide homes for people cleared from Borve on Berneray
1851 – Potatoes Famines end.
1852 – Highland and Islands Emigration Society(HIES) formed – 742 leave Harris for Australia
1853 – Borve, Harris cleared again
1853 – Manish Free Church built
1854 – Road from Stornoway to Tarbert completed

The 7th Earl’s Limited Period*
1857 – 24th March – 7th Earl of Dunmore’s 16th Birthday
1857 – Lady Dunmore and Mrs Thomas start Stocking-Knitting industry
1858 – ‘In 1858 Lady Dunmore was a mother to her people in Harris.’ – Duchess of Sutherland writing of ‘The Revival of Home Industries’ in ‘The Land Magazine’, Vol 3, 1899.
1860s – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig cleared

*This marks the period during which, although he was still five years away from being of ‘Full Age’, the Earl would have had enjoyed enhanced rights regarding his property under Scottish law.

The 7th Earl
1862 – 24th March – 7th Earl of Dunmore’s 21st Birthday
1863 – Ardvourlie Castle built as Hunting Lodge for North Harris Estate
1865 – Harris Hotel built by Earl of Dunmore and originally called Tarbert Hotel
1866 – Marriage of 7th Earl to Lady Gertrude Coke
1867 – Abhainnsuidhe Castle built by Earl of Dunmore
1867 – North Harris Estate sold to Sir Ernest Scott for £155,000 (over two-and-a-half times what the 5th Earl of Dunmore had paid for the whole of Harris 33 years earlier!)
1871 – Alexander Edward Murray (8th Earl) born

The 7th Earl – South Harris Estate
1873 – Dunmore’s restore St Clement’s church
1882 – Nov/Dec –Thomas Brydone becomes Lord Dunmore’s Factor
1884 – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig recrofted
1886 – Catherine, Countess of Dunmore (7th Earl’s mother) dies in February
1886 – Telegraph Cable from Port Esgein, Harris to North Uist laid
1888 – Assisted emigration to Canada established
1897 – Golden Road linking Tarbert and Rodel through the Bays is completed
1897 – Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital built & endowed by Mrs Frances Thomas

The 8th Earl
1907 – Death of Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1919 – South Harris Estate sold for £60,000.

The first point that I need to make is that, as a result of the estate(s) being owned by four successive Earls punctuated by the Dowager Countess’s period as ‘Tutor’, there is a degree of confusion to be found in some writing about Harris (Yes, including my own!) and I hope that the selected extract from my Timeline shown above helps to clarify things.

(A similar problem exists with the previous dynasty of owners where we have, in turn, Captain Alexander Macleod, Alexander Hume Macleod & then Alexander Norman Macleod owning the island from 1779-1790, 1790-1811 & 1811-1834 respectively!)

Secondly, it is really the role of two generations, those of the 6th & 7th Earls from 1836-1845 and 1845-1907 respectively, upon which we should focus:

Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore, inherits the island and with it the first hint of the food crises that would, coincidentally, start the season after his death and dominate the early years of his widow’s control of the estate. He appears to do the islanders a favour in replacing the hated Factor Donald Stewart with Duncan Shaw Factor but the series of Clearances that Shaw oversaw suggests otherwise. The one good thing that the 6th Earl did consider doing was a revival of Captain Alexander Macleod’s plan to link East & West Loch Tarbert but he, just like the good Captain before him, died soon after having had this notion.

No, this is not an error but I want to look at these years before returning to what I believe to be the defining decades of the Dunmore dynasty.

The first five years see the finally fully fledged 7th Earl embark on an overambitious building program, gain a wife and lose an estate. I say ‘lose’ because, although it might appear that having sold North Harris for 250% of the sum his grandfather had paid for the whole island he had done rather well in the deal, it is believed that little or no cash was actually exchanged. The estate was provided in payment of monies that were owing to the Earl’s bankers.

It is worth noting that he wasn’t the first grandson to have to ‘sell’ land on Harris for Alexander Norman Macleod had preceded him in this regard when being forced to sell the whole island. In his case, the purchaser had been…the 5th Earl of Dunmore. It was also this Macleod who had brought Donald Stewart to Harris to act as his Factor.

The consequence of this was that, for the final forty years of his life, the 7th Earl only owned the South Harris Estate and thus could focus his attention upon that part of the island. There is, frankly, scant evidence of him paying the island any attention at all other than as a plaything and virtually none after his mother’s death in 1886. The few developments that did take place can all be ascribed to sources other than him.

As alluded to above, the Dowager Countess was greeted in the year following her husband’s death by the first of the Potato Famines that would last through to 1851 and lead, in part, to 742 people leaving Harris for Australia the following year. Borve on Harris was resettled, and then it & Borve on Berneray were Cleared. In amongst this turmoil the Countess decided to establish her Embroidery School at An-t-Ob which seems to have more in common with a child-labour sweat-shop than a serious attempt at addressing the economic issues facing the islanders.

She met their spiritual needs by finally acceding to demands for a Free Church to be built (although the site at Manish was not their first-choice) having claimed ignorance of all previous requests.

In the year of her son’s sixteenth birthday she and Mrs Thomas started the Stocking Knitting industry which appears to have been more financially robust for the women of the island than the Embroidery School of the previous decade. This event marks our first record of the latter lady’s presence on the isle, a presence that in my opinion was of great significance especially with regard to the early marketing of what was to become known as Harris Tweed.

Finally, in 1860, Direcleit and Ceann Dibig were cleared with a favoured few being allowed to dwell there as cottagers…

Overall what strikes me is not what the four Earls and one Countess are remembered for having done, but rather all that they failed to do and chief amongst these must be their not having established Tarbert as a fishing station with the two lochs linked by canal or rail.
One can only guess at the income it would have generated for the island and its owners and at what it might have cost, but it would certainly have been a wiser investment than the 7th Earl’s castle which was to prove so dear…

>Clearance of Borve, Harris 1839


This is an unusually long piece purely because I have attempted to combine in one place all that can be gleaned from published accounts relating to this particular Clearance.
We start with the First Report from the Committee on Emigration, Scotland 1841 which is contained in the House of Commons Papers Volume 6 Thursday 19th March 1841 (I have provided the full text of this examination in a previous piece so what follows is an analysis of information specifically related to the events of 1839 contained in Duncan Shaw’s responses):
Henry James Baillie, Esq, in the Chair
Mr. Duncan Shaw, called in ; and Examined.
At the time he was Factor for Harris and North Uist having earlier been the Factor for South Uist. Shaw came to the ‘Long Island’ at Whitsuntide 1811 (or 12, depending on which part of his account you take the year from!) having previously spent six years on Skye since leaving his native Perthshire. He quotes a figure of £11,500 for the value of the Kelp made on Clanronald’s South Uist estate in one year alone. He remarks on the large population growth that has taken place on the isles since that time but was unable to give an estimate of the extent.
He cites the fall in the price of kelp and the lack of public works as key components leading to the present poverty of the population and informs us that the money made in kelp manufacturing was used by the people to pay their rent so that arrears were a relative rarity. The people were wholly dependant upon one industry to afford them the means to pay their rent and were actually more profitable tenants than the grazing farms. He actually makes the astonishing admission that ‘We got of course higher rents from the small tenants employed in the manufacture of kelp in labour, than they would have paid in money.‘ The word for this is exploitation…
Returning to the expanding population, he reminds us that ‘In 1803 there was a very great disposition on the part of the people in the Long Island to emigrate, and the Government became alarmed at the extent of the emigration. An Act was passed, regulating the terms of sending emigrants to America, which raised the freights so much that few could emigrate, owing to the expense. For the purpose, I believe, partly of keeping the people in the country, the Caledonian Canal and the Highland Road and Bridge Acts were passed, and this regiment of local militia furnished the people with so much employment, and brought so much money into their hands, that along with the kelp manufacture, then flourishing, it put an end to the desire to emigrate.’
Whatever one thinks about Shaw’s actions, he deserves grudging admiration for reminding the Government that it was their legislation, introduced at the height of the country’s demand for home-made kelp, that was in part to blame for the present situation.
As regards Harris, he gives figures of ‘about 440 families of crofters holding directly from Lord Dunmore, and I should think 2,300 people that do not hold of him, if at all.’
The context of this is that there were 4,300 people living on the island so by implication less than half the population were generating income directly for the 6th Earl.
A brief interlude in which we are informed that of the famine relief provided by the Lord about 1/3 will be repaid, and then he delivers his (prepared) account of the circumstances around events in 1839:(Please noteI have added a commentary within the statement)
“The small farm of Borve, in the Island of Harris, lately possessed by crofters, lies in the the middle of one of the largest and best grazing farms in the West Highlands.
This being the ever-expanding farm that Donald Stewart has rented for at least 30 years.
Borve is ill-suited for crofters, having no sea-weed for manure; no fishing, not even as much as a creek where, for a great part of the year, a boat could land, constant disputes occurred between the tenant of the surrounding grazings and the crofters.
The fertility of the area results from that unique combination of peat and shell-sand that is known as machair. One reason for a lack of sea-weed throughout the isle was, of course, the fact that it had been the raw-material in the manufacture of kelp. Fishing is a red-herring for it was the ‘improving’ of agriculture that had pushed the people into what had previously not been a major source of food or income. However, in referring to the ‘constant disputes’ that took place between Donald Stewart and those on the land that he craved, Duncan Shaw is inadvertently supporting the argument that it was the expansion of the sheep-farm that was the root cause of the call Clearance.
They were miserably poor; payment of rent, except by labour, was out of the question, and labour was unproductive : they were much in arrears, even for the price of meal annually imported.
Mr. N. McLean, an eminent land valuator from Inverness, who inspected and valued the estate of Harris, strongly recommended the removal of the tenants.
The extent of the poverty is not in question but the inhuman opinion of a land valuator, however ’eminent’, in recommending uprooting people from their ancestral land is simply disgusting.
The tenant of the large farm refused to renew his lease if Borve were not included in it. The proprietor, the Earl of Dunmore, could not afford to lose so good a tenant for a farm paying 600L a year in so remote a corner as Harris; it was determined to remove the crofters, providing for them elsewhere.
£600 was 1% of the price paid for the island in 1834 and about 17% of the total rental income. Nevertheless, the Earl could easily have advertised for a new tenant to replace this one man.
Three years were allowed them to prepare.
If this dates the decision to 1836 (and his next sentence suggests that this was so) then we can firmly place it in the hands of the 6th Earl of Dunmore who had inherited that island that very year. This is important and we have a letter from his wife, Catherine Countess of Dunmore, dated the 15th of April 1836 in which she complains about the rates paid by islanders for mainland roads. This informs us that the 21 year-old was already involved in matters relating to the running of the estate.
1836 was also the first of two consecutive years of poor harvests with the potato crop suffering particularly badly. It also happens to be the year that the 7th Earl, who was five years away from being born, alleged saw his mother start the Harris Tweed industry.
At Martinmas 1838, they were told they must remove at Whitsuntide 1839.
In 1838 their neighbours in Seilibost were not so lucky for it was then that they were Cleared.
Such of them as from age or other infirmities were unfit subjects for emigration, were offered better lands elsewhere in Harris; those able to emigrate were informed their whole arrears would be passed from, that they and their families would be landed free of expense, with the proceeds of their crop and stock of cattle in their pockets, either at Cape Breton, where their friends and countrymen were already settled, or in Canada, at their choice; these offers were then considered generous, and no objection was made to them.
Firstly, any talk of ‘better lands elsewhere in Harris’ has to be questioned for, as we know from Donald Stewart’s coveting of Borve and his existing holdings at Luskentyre, this are a mirage. Secondly, the fact that objections were not raised publicly by powerless individuals is not proof that they had no such objections. It merely confirms that they were too scared to raise them.
In the meantime, however, occurrences of an unpleasant nature had taken place in the neighbouring island of Skye. Some people on the estate of Macleod fearing a removal, wrote threatening letters to Macleod, of Macleod, and his factor. Inflammatory proclamations of the same description were posted on the church doors, and some sheep belonging to a sheep grazier were houghed and killed. Those guilty of these outrages eluded detection.
Duncan Shaw would have had a particularly intimate knowledge of these events because his son, Charles Shaw, began being an apprentice Writer of the Signet on the 11th of December 1834 and was assisting his father’s work on Harris from Whitsuntide of that year until Whitsuntide 1838. He would rise to Sheriff-Substitute of the Inverness isles by the end of 1841. He also just happened to be the Factor on Skye.
Exaggerated accounts of these occurrences soon reached Harris, and joined with bad advices from those who ought to have known better, wrought an immediate change on the tempers of the people; assured that no military would be sent to so remote a corner, they were advised to refuse the offer which had been made to them, and to resist the execution of the law.
Here he appears to suggest that the people were in his view erroneously ‘fired-up’ by a combination of factors but whether this stems from a certain respect for the normally quiescent nature of the islander or was included for some other reason I am unsure.
Every argument was used to bring them to reason, but without effect; they defied and severely maltreated the officers of the law.
A few years later the ladies of Loch Shell would be ‘de-bagging’ the officers of the law but in what way these ones were ‘severely maltreated’ is not recorded!
It was now ascertained that a conspiracy for resisting the law existed in all this quarter of the West Highlands, which, if not at once checked, would lead to consequences no lover of order would care to think of.
This is an outrageous allegation and his use of the word ‘ascertained’ seems to me to suggest that the existence of any such conspiracy was never proven. Shaw is retrospectively justifying the decision to bring in the troops.
An investigation took place before the sheriff, to which it was, however, impossible to bring any of the rioters; application was made to Government for military aid, which, under proper precautions, was granted; a lieutenant and a party of 30 men under the charge of the sheriff-depute of the county were sent to Harris.
No evidence, no arrests but still the military were summoned.
The people expecting nothing of the kind were taken by surprise.
Five of the ringleaders were taken into custody without opposition. The stay of the military in the island did not exceed a few hours. The only object Lord Dunmore and his agents had in view in applying for military aid, was the vindication of the authority of the law. This having been done by the seizure of the leaders in the riot, the tenants were at once forgiven ; they were allowed to continue in possession for another year, on the same terms as formerly.
Thus it was that five men were arrested and those left forced to accept the terms.
His Lordship solicited the liberation of the five prisoners, and sent money to defray the expense of their journey home.
This is odd – on the one-hand these men were supposedly some of those involved in a conspiracy to ferment revolt across the West Highlands and on the other their landlord got them freed and repatriated?
Thus terminated an outbreak which, but for the prompt measures of Government in sending the military, would have thrown the whole West Highlands into confusion for many years.”
I think the phrase we would use is ‘setting an example’ and I suspect that the rescue of the Borve Five had more to do with a lack of them having committed any provable crime rather than anything else.
Once the statement had been read, the questioning continued and we learn that the next year the ‘removal’ took place. A few stayed in Borve to service the farm, some were scattered elsewhere on the island either to land ‘from Lord Dunmore’ or to that of their families and none emigrated.
Despite all that they had been through, the people had refused to leave the land. However, and bearing in mind that he was addressing a committee on Emigration, Shaw then gives his interrogators assurances that now the situation is such that ‘…even in Harris the people are now willing to emigrate.’ He suggests removing 2,500 from North Uist and ‘…about the same number from Harris.’!
He, in all seriousness, wants to reduce the population by more than half. The motive for this is clear for it is the two proprietors who foot the bill to provide famine relief although when asked if the recipients are expected to eventually reimburse them, he stated ‘most certainly we expect it to be paid for in more prosperous years.’ This revelation produces from a Mr Dunbar the following response: ‘You hold the settlement over their heads?’ but whether he exclaimed it in horror or not is not recorded.
I do not want to continue with this examination for, although it certainly has much of value in the context of later actions on the estate, it takes us away from our focus which a contemporary account called a ‘Disturbance in the island of Harris‘.
The Inverness Courier in 1839 described it as ‘A circumstance of very rare occurrence in the remote and peaceful islands of the Hebrides…’ It continues by explaining that the Earl ‘…contemplating some extensive improvements in the culture and management of the land, had given notice to a number of the cottars, about fifty families, to remove their huts and little patches of ground.’
No mention of the duress applied by Donald Stewart but useful in providing the number of families involved although the image of them having ‘…to remove their huts and little patches of ground.’ is perhaps even more alarming than the reality of what they faced! The article proceeds and, in somewhat intemperate language states that ‘It was feared also that violent measures might be resorted to, and blood shed in the struggle.’ Those sent are then identified as ‘…a detachment of the 78th regiment…’ accompanied by ‘Mr Fraser Tytler, sheriff of the county, Mr A. Fraser, sheriff-substitute of the Fort William district, Mr Mackay, procurator fiscal, and Mr John Macbean, an active criminal officer of Inverness.’ The account was written before the ‘action’ took place and the article ends on a depressingly familiar note, reminding us that ‘Nothing can be more miserable than the condition of these poor highlanders, living in the most wretched huts, destitute of employment, and forever on the brink of famine. Emigration to America or Australia would be the greatest boon that would be conferred upon them. This is a point on which all well-wishers of the Highlands are agreed; and we sincerely trust that arrangements may be made for this purpose, of such a nature as to overcome, by moral force, the repugnance natural to our poor countrymen at quitting the land of their fathers.’ followed finally by the fact that ‘The population of the Island of Harris, according to the census of 1831, is 3900.
The story was taken up by the Aberdeen Journal which, on the 31st of July 1839, published in full the account from the Inverness Courier and then added the following update:
‘Subsequent accounts state that, after an absence of nine days, the party, which consisted of twenty-nine men and a searjeant, under the command of Lieutenant Neill, returned to Glasgow on Saturday last, having executed their mission – painful though it was – firmly, yet peacefully.
At Portree, the party was joined by the Sheriff of the County, Mr Mackay, Procurator Fiscal, and Mr Macbean, and active criminal officer from Inverness.
six the same evening. All the cottars or small farmers implicated in the deforcement, were requested to assemble at the village, and from the body five men, who had been most active in the illegal proceedings, were selected, and carried prisoners to Portree. Before leaving, arrangements were entered into for the tenantry finally leaving the island at a convenient term.
The visit of the military excited the deepest alarm among the poor islanders, who were heard to express in Gaelic their terror that the scene of Glencoe was about to be enacted over again.
Their condition is represented as being very miserable indeed; and though it may be bitter to break the tie that binds these poor people to the rugged land of their fathers, yet emigration anywhere would absolutely be a boon.
Agricultural improvement, too, is out of the question so long as the crofters are next to starvation on the very lands which they till, and this is still unfortunately the case in many parts of the Highlands, which would otherwise be fruitful and productive.’
So some fifty families, probably equating to about 260 men, women and children, were in ‘terror‘ as their homes were rendered uninhabitable and hence forced to break the tie that binds them to the ‘land of their fathers‘ and into emigration.
Because ‘Agricultural improvement…is out of the question…and this is…the case in many parts of the Highlands, which would otherwise be fruitful & productive.’
One can debate the ‘niceties’ as to what extent the Clearances were an economic inevitability, or whether they were as extensive or forced or terrible as I believe them to have been, but one cannot silence the cries of terror in the Gaelic tongue, dry the the tears of the terrified women and children, avoid the stench of the burnt milk on the quenched hearths, excuse the wilful destruction of the priceless roof timbers, feel the pain of separation and emigration, witness the grief of funerals and burials at sea of those who never reached those ‘promised’ lands, nor excuse the failure of future generations of the rich and powerful to restore to the people the use of the land that had been so cruelly and inhumanely taken from them.
Angus Macleod would later give us a description which I shall leave as the last words on the matter:
Donald Stewart of Luskentyre had a reputation of being an oppressor of the crofters of Park when he was there, but it was in Harris that he excelled himself by ruthlessly clearing the crofters from the West Coast of Harris.
In Borve, Harris, in 1839 he caused the fires on the hearths to be drowned with domestic milk while the thatch was ripped off the houses with hooks and even the roof timbers and the thatch was collected and burnt, until there was nothing left but the blackened shells of the once hospitable homes.”
Angus Macleod – ‘Lewis Maciver of Gress’ in the Angus Macleod Archive
Refs (Chronological by event):
NAS Reference GD46/13/45 Letter by Lady Dunmore per James Campbell Tait, her agent, to J A Stewart Mackenzie, M P relating to the injustice of assessments laid on the proprietors of the Western Isles for roads on the mainland and enclosing copy letters from Mr Duncan Shaw, Benbecula, factor on the Harris estate, and Mr Robert Brown, Hamilton. 15 Apr 1836
NAS Reference GD201/4/97 Duncan Shaw to Alexander Hunter, Esq. W.S. Dealing with the matter of application to the Government for assistance in sending the extra population of Benbecula to America. The proprietors should have influence in selecting the emigrants. Wishes to clear two parts of Clanranald’s estate for pasture where the poorest of the people and most of the subtenants reside. Refers to the miserable state of the tacksmen and subtenants. The emigrants wish to go to Cape Breton. Refers to unsatisfactory state of kelp and fishing industries, and to expense of emigration. Report on Canna 25 Feb 1827
NAS Reference GD201/1/338 Report by Duncan Shaw, dealing with arrears of rents on Clanranald estates sold in Ardnamurchan and the Small Isles: necessity of arranging remaining estates so as to draw a revenue independent of kelp; suggested arrangements for Benbecula and South Uist. At Edinburgh 19 Nov 1827
Register of Society of Writers to the Signet
Charles Shaw, apprentice to William Mackenzie 11 Dec 1834
NAS Reference GD46/13/45 Letter by Lady Dunmore per James Campbell Tait, her agent, to J A Stewart Mackenzie, MP relating to the injustice of assessments laid on the proprietors of the Western Isles for roads on the mainland and enclosing copy letters from Mr Duncan Shaw, Benbecula, factor on the Harris estate, and Mr Robert Brown, Hamilton. 15 Apr 1836
Previous Pieces that contain other references:
An article that is on my(pending) reading list:
TGSI 52 1980-82 Morrison Alick, ‘The Grianam Case, 1734-1781, The Kelp Industry, and the Clearances in Harris, 1811-1854 p20-89

>Factors linking Factors


In an earlier piece we saw that Alexander ‘Fear Huisinis’ McRa and Mrs Donald Stewart were 1st Cousins and that Donald Stewart’s son, John Stewart, and his wife Jessy Macrae were 2nd Cousins.
The connection was the Macrae family of Ardintoul who were Roman Catholics (Hence in 1861 ‘Fear Huisinis’s sons Archibald Alexander & John were boarding with the Rev William Davison, a Roman Catholic Priest, at St Mary’s Church in Huntly St, Inverness) and this leads me to think that the Stewart’s were possibly of the same faith?
Donald Stewart was the Factor of Harris for Alexander Norman Macleod who inherited the isle in 1811 (I am unsure whether he inherited the Factor, too) and it was in 1834, when he purchased Harris, that the 6th Earl of Dunmore appointed Duncan Shaw to the role.
There is a reference to his successor, John Robertson Macdonald who died in 1874, having been the Dunmore family’s Factor for 35 years implying that he was in the role by 1839 but the census of 1841 only confirms that he was farming from, I believe, Rodel House. The Estate Officer living in Rodel was John Lindsay.
By 1881 the Factor for South Harris was Kenneth Macdonald and he had become Factor for North Harris by 1883. He was Assistant Factor of Harris in 1847.
Let us look at where each of these men were in 1841:
Donald Stewart – Farmer of Luskentire (Previously Factor of Harris)
Duncan Shaw – Factor of North Uist (Previously Factor of Harris)
John Robertson Macdonald – Farmer of Rodel (Later? Factor of Harris)
Alexander ‘Fear Huisinis’ McRa – Not found, but by circa 1844 he was in Harris.
Kenneth Macdonald – Not found, but by 1832 according to his evidence to the Napier Commision.
Hence we can place the Catholic Alexander McRa joining his cousin’s husband, Donald Stewart, as a fellow farmer on the fertile West Coast near the time that John Roberton Macdonald became Factor. John Robertson Macdonald’s sister, Isabella Maria Macdonald, was wife of the Rev Finlay MacRae, Minister of North Uist, who was a son of Donald Macrae of Achintee, Lochcarron.
The Factor of North Uist was Duncan Shaw whose son, Charles Shaw, informed the Napier Commission of 1883 that he assisted his father in that role from ‘Whitsuntide 1834 to Whitsuntide 1838’ which provides us with the earliest date for John Robertson having become Factor and that is a good match for the 35 years alluded to above. Charles Shaw, whos was already a ‘Writer to the Signet’ by 1841, had married John Robertson’s niece circa 1844.
Another person interviewed in 1883 was Kenneth Macdonald from Applecross who by that time was farming at Scaristavore but had been the Farmer of Borve, Harris at the time of the Clearances. In 1881 he was Factor of South Harris, a role that he had relinquished by the time he was interviewed. His wife, Mary Macrae, was of a Lochcarron family from Achintee. She was, in fact, a niece of Finlay Macrae, the Minister of North Uist.
Donald Stewart was married to a Catholic Macrae of Ardintoul descent and John Robertson Macdonald’s sister was similarly attached to a Macrae of the Achintee lineage and through them to the Established Church of Scotland.
Kenneth Macdonald had also married into that same Achintee Macrae family and Charles Shaw was married to John Robertson Macdonald’s niece which appears to rather neatly connect these three men. Alexander ‘Fear Huisinis’ McRa had been in the 75th Highlanders and John Robertson Macdonald a Lieutenant in three regiments. There were 20 years & a religious divide between these two men but they had the Army (whose force they could resort to) in common.
These factors linking Factors seem to me to be important in understanding their respective roles in the history of Harris.There were several family ties between these Factors (& Farmers) and one could, if so desired, continue to explore them further but I hope to have shown that the Messrs. Stewart, Shaw, Macdonald(s) and McRa had plenty of personal (as well as professional) incentives to ensure that they acted in unity.

>Duncan Shaw & Charles Shaw of North Uist


I have previously written about Charles describing assisting his father as Factor of Harris from 1834 until 1838. Duncan Shaw was appointed to the role when the 5th Earl of Dunmore purchased Harris and replaced as Factor by the 6th Earl just two years after he had inherited the island.
What I hadn’t realised was that, thanks to the of story of some cutlery, we can learn a little more of these two men:
Duncan Shaw of Dalnagar was married to Miss Macleod, a daughter of Kenneth Macleod of Ebost. Their son, Charles Shaw, married Miss Macdonald of Balranald.
How do we know this? Simply because Charles Shaw inherited ‘The silver knife, fork and spoon given by Prince Charles Edward Stewart to Murdoch Macleod, 3 July 1746’ as can be read in the paper of that name by George Dalgleish in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 118 (1988), 291-300. The original document may be accessed via this Table of Contents page.
The tale is a fascinating one, and well worth reading, but my interest lies not in the provenance of the silverware but in the families of the two men and their respective spouses.
Duncan Shaw of Dalnagar: Dalnagar is in Perthshire and Duncan Shaw appears in the 1841 Census as Factor of North Uist. His age is shown as 60 with a birth year of about 1781
Miss Macleod of Ebost: The 1851 Census for the household of Charles Shaw in North Uist clearly shows ‘Anne Shaw, 60, Mother, b. Duirinish, Skye’ so I can now reveal that ‘Miss Macleod of Ebost’ was Anne Macleod of Ebost who was born in about 1791.
Charles Shaw was born in about 1812 in the same parish as his mother.
Miss Macdonald of Balranald was born Anne Margaret Macdonald in 1824 in North Uist and her name we have seen before in this piece from the Carmichael Watson Project. 
All this is gleaned from the 1851 Census (apart from Duncan Shaw’s) and the subsequent censuses confirm each year and place of birth as described.
To recap, Duncan Shaw of Dalnagar (b 1781) married Anne Macleod of Ebost (b 1791) and they had Charles Shaw (b 1812) who married Anne Margaret Macdonald of Balranald (b 1824).
I am quite pleased to have stumbled across the means of assembling these details for all four of these people and it might be worth retreading our steps and looking again at Duncan Shaw’s Examination on Thursday 19th March 1841 by those compiling the First Report From The Committee on Emigration, Scotland 1841.
He tells us that he has been resident in the ‘Long Island’ for ’29 years last Whitsuntide’, ie since May/June 1811. He later states that he first reached there in 1812 and had spent the previous 6 years in Skye where he had come to from his native Perthshire. So he was in Skye from 1805 or 6 until 1811 or 12. The missing year might be simply an error on his part or it could be that it was the time that he spent as Factor of South Uist? It doesn’t greatly matter, but I do like to get these details correct if at all possible! What interests me is that, assuming that he was born in 1781, then he went to Skye when he was 24 or so, remained there until he was 30 and clearly met & married Anne Macleod who gave birth to their son Charles around the time that he became a Factor in the ‘Long Island’.
This all seems to fit with the details so far described and acts as a form of corroboration which is always nice to have.
I trust that this hasn’t been too long-winded an account and you will be glad to learn that I am going to finish now and have some dinner – Now, whatever did I do with that cutlery?…

>A Tale of Two Tyrants


Cases Decided in the Court of Session, November 12th 1834 p4-7
These are the edited & annotated highlights of the second case heard by their Lordships that day:
Donald Stewart, Pursuer
Alexander McRa, Defender
…Macleod of Harris granted a nineteen years’ tack of a sheep-grazing to Archibald McRa of Ardintoul, who was succeeded during the currency of the tack by his son, Alexander McRa.
The successor being ‘Fear Huisins’‘Fear Huisinis’ and the house that the McRa’s built was Kyles Lodge ‘Kyles Lodge’ which would later become home to Mrs S Macdonald ‘Mrs S Macdonald’ following Fear huisin’s death in 1874.
The term of entry was Whitsunday, 1814; the rent was £400 per annum, payable at Martinmas and Whitsunday; and the tack contained the following clause:
“It is hereby declared, that the said Archibald McRa and his foresaids shall have liberty to build a dwellinghouse and stone dikes upon the lands hereby set, and that, at the expiry of the present lease, he or they shall receive payment for the same; but that only on the express condition that the said dwellinghouse is built of stone and lime, and slated, and that the dikes are sufficient stone dikes; and it is declared that fanks for sheep are to be paid for as stone dikes; which dwellinghouse and dikes are to be valued by persons mutually chosen by the parties at the expiry of this lease; and it is declared, that the claim of the said Archibald McRa, and his foresaids, for building such dwellinghouse and dikes, is on no account to exceed the sum of £800 sterling, and that the said Alexander Norman Macleod, and his foresaids, shall be liable to that extent only,”
Now, by the time of this hearing, Alexander Norman Macleod had sold Harris to Lord Dunmore and the details of the case hinged upon the complex issues that Macleod’s debts introduced but they are not what particularly interests me about this particular case.
McRa made meliorations during the currency of the lease; and, at the term of Martinmas, 1832, retained the sum of £100 of the rent, to account of the meliorations.
The house was built in 1820 so it seems likely that the sum retained was a reflection of that particular melioration, or improvement.
In 1830, one of the creditors of Harris had raised a ranking and sale of the estate ; in the course of which process, a sequestration of the rents was awarded, and Donald Stewart, tacksman of Luskintyre, was appointed judicial factor.
So in 1830 Donald Stewart became involved as ‘judicial factor’ and I have previously written of his actions in this role in a piece relating to the church on Berneray Church on Berneray.
The heritable debts exceeded the value of the estate. The judicial factor raised an action against McRa, for payment of the £100 of arrear of rent at Martinmas, 1832, and the £200 due at Whitsunday following; but the creditors, in whose right he insisted, were not possessed of any real right, until several years after the date of the lease granted to McRa.
Here we learn of Stewart acting on behalf of those to whom Macleod was in debt and attempting to reclaim the monies that had been retained by McRa because of the improvements that he had made upon the land that he rented.
McRa pleaded a right of retention of both sums, as being less than the amount of the meliorations to which he was entitled under the lease. Valuators were jointly appointed, in terms of the lease, but reserving the rights of the judicial factor and of McRa respectively. The valuators made an estimate, amounting to £506 ; and although some of the items, particularly as to the expense of a manager’s house and storehouse, were objected to by the factor, there remained a sum of meliorations exceeding the amount of rents retained by McRa.
Even excluding the improvements that Stewart felt should be excluded, the amount that McRa had kept was still less than the value of the other improvements that he had made.
Lord Balgray.—The case involves a general principle which is of importance…I conceive it is as good against him as it would be against a singular successor.
Lord President.—I am of the same opinion…I am clearly of opinion that the note for Stewart should be refused.
Lord Gillies.—I concur….
Lord Mackenzie.—I am of the same opinion….
The Court refused the reclaiming note for Stewart, and awarded expenses against him since the date of the Lord Ordinary’s interlocutor; and in regard to McRa’s note, their Lordships remitted to the Lord Ordinary to bear parties farther.
Donald Stewart lost, and lost comprehensively, but things were to get worse in the next case that was heard and which I have already described in Mrs Campbell’s Mill at An-t-Ob. . It is perhaps no wonder then that, in 1834, Lord Dunmore appointed Duncan Shaw Duncan Shaw to be his Factor and that, although Donald Stewart remained on the island as the Farmer of Luskentire for a few years, he spent his.final days back on the mainland.
He and McRa were equally disliked by those who suffered at their hands as they cleared whole settlements in their lust for land and, although this evidence concerns an apparent conflict between them, perhaps that was merely because of the role that Stewart was acting under and, for all we know, he may have been privately pleased to see his fellow farmer avoid making any additional payment to benefit Macleod’s creditors? Stewart had certainly boasted in the past of enriching himself at the expense of this Macleod’s father a quarter-of-a-century ago…
Update: I suspected a closer connection might exist between the two supposed adversaries in this case and think that I have found it:
(Please note that, although I have inspected the records as carefully as possible, I have not drafted a full family tree for the following folks but I believe the links as described to be true)

Alexander McRa was the son of Archibald MacRae of Ardintoul who was the son of Alexander Macrae of Ardintoul.
Donald Stewart was married to Isabella MacRae who was the daughter of Margaret MacRae who was a daughter of Alexander MacRae of Ardintoul – ‘Fear Huisinis’ and Mrs Donald Stewart were 1st Cousins!
Better still, John Stewart, son of Donald & Isabella, was married to Jessy MacRae a daughter of Jane Macrae who was a daughter of Archibald MacRae of Ardintoul.
Thus they were 2nd Cousins each being a great-grandchild of the first Alexander MacRae of Ardintoul.
There are, undoubtedly, several similar occurrences where members of this strata of society are concerned (as hinted at previously with regard to the Factor of Harris and the Ministers of North Uist) but in this particular case I think it adds weight to my suggestion that the interests of Donald Stewart & ‘Fear Huisinis’ were not as polarised as their adversarial roles in the court case might have led one to originally assume.
I rest my case…

Crofting, Kelp, & Clearances

“Until after the middle of the last century, the land appears to have been occupied exclusively by tacksmen, generally kinsmen or dependents of the proprietor, with sub-tenants, who held of the tacksmen, and by joint-tenants, who held farms in common, each having a stated share. About the time referred to, many of the farms held by tacksmen seem to have been taken directly from the proprietor by joint-tenants. They grazed their stock upon the pasture in common, and cultivated the arable land in alternate ridges, or ” rigs,” distributed annually, and called ” run-rig.” By this arrangement, each got a portion of the better and the worse land; but no one had two contiguous ridges, or the same ridge for two successive years, unless by accident. Since the commencement of the present century, the arable land has, in most cases, been divided into separate portions, of which one was assigned to each of the joint-tenants or crofters, the grazing, as formerly, remaining in common.”
Ref: Report to the Board of Supervision by Sir John McNeill, GCB,  on the Western Highlands & Islands, 1851. page viii. (Further quotes are from this Report)

This system, which is known as ‘Ridge & Furrow’ in ‘South Britain’ (or England, as it is more usually named), received its first legal assault in the 1695 General Enclosure Act (Scotland) but, as the above article from ‘British Archaeology’ informs us, the eradication of this equitable system of agriculture took place at varying speed and over a considerable period of time in different parts of the British Isles.

What is interesting is that Sir John then goes on to explain that when crofting was introduced as the replacement for run-rig, it allowed for the sub-division of crofts, a situation that had been impossible when the arable land was held in common and the cultivation strips were rotated annually amongst the whole populace.

This new possibility to sub-divide what had been intended to be sufficient land to support one crofting family coincided with the kelp-fuelled population explosion. In the boom years of kelp-manufacture this was not an issue, indeed it was necessary for the workforce to expand to keep-up production with the ever-increasing demand, but the new mouths could only be fed because of the wages earned from this somewhat early branch of industrial-scale chemistry. As an aside, Sodium Carbonate (or Soda Ash or Washing Soda) was used in glass-making and the manufacture of Soap and it was a man who made his first fortune from selling soap, Lord Leverhulme, who would become the owner of Lewis & Harris within 70 years of Sir John’s report.

Crofting also allowed the architects of the Clearances to sub-divide crofts to ‘create space’ for those whom they were displacing from elsewhere thereby diminishing the livelihoods of two families for each Cleared family as described by the Sheriff-Substitute, Charles Shaw:

“The conversion of crofters’ farms into grazings in Harris, many years ago, before the estate came into the Dunmore family, without providing for the people removed from these farms in any other way than by giving them portions of the land occupied by other crofters— the same system followed recently in South Uist and Barra, with the addition of locating the ejected tenants on barren moss crofts—has also affected the circumstances of the people.”

When boom turned to bust, and it was inevitable that it would as the price of kelp had been artificially inflated by the effect of the Napoleonic Wars to an unsustainable £30 a ton in 1815 compared to only £1 a ton before the wars began, then suddenly there were hungry mouths to feed but neither enough land to grow sufficient food nor the wages being earned to purchase it.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the third and final blow came in the form of the Potato Famines of 1846-51, these being exacerbated by the twin factors of people forced to attempt to grow food on land that could only be cultivated as ‘feannagan’ (a system requiring vast quantities of kelp as fertilizer) and the repeated planting of the crop on the same meagre patches of land.

Of course, there was one other factor at work during this time and that was the development of sheep-farming as a commercial venture, again something that the removal of Run-Rig made possible. Proprietors looking for the best return on their investment had wallowed in wealth during the years of the kelp-bubble but when it burst they were left with a populace living in poverty and no obvious alternate employment. Sheep-runs were the answer for the Farmer class that was connected to the Factors of Harris either by marriage or occupation, or both.

To add insult to injury, when those Cleared away from the fertile soil to make way for sheep were unable to grow sufficient produce to pay their rents, the blame was passed to them for being unable to do so! There was the attempt to re-settle the Borves on the West coast of Harris and John Robson Macdonald gives his side of that story in great detail. What is significant in that account is that he places the blame upon the failure of the 1848 project as due to the fact that the crofters had insufficient capital to be able to develop the land they were renting. He neglects to mention that the re-settlement was undertaken against his wishes (and those of his accomplices farming that area), that it took place during some of the worst years for crop failure all over the isles, and that there is no evidence that any consideration was given to providing a system whereby capital could be made available to the crofters. What Macdonald does do, however, is turn the failed project to his advantage by using it as proof that giving the crofters land is not going to solve the problem of their destitution.

Fishing, which might alleviate the suffering in some ways, was never going to support a population that had perhaps doubled within as little as two generations, especially as those moved to ‘fishing crofts’ were not always in possession of boats etc and only some of those who lacked them were provided with the means to fish by the relief committee Even if the dreams of Captain Macleod and the desires of John Lanne Buchanan been realised, it would merely have meant that Tarbert would have temporarily shared in some of the wealth that went to Stornoway before the fishing fell into decline. The solution was simple. Move them off the better land, make their miserable existence even less unbearable and then portray yourself as a philanthropist by offering to offload them across the Atlantic at, in part, your own expense.

I doubt it was quite as calculated as that at first, but it seems significant that John Robson Macdonald in his evidence to McNeill clearly states that it was in 1847, the year after the first widespread failure of the potato crop, that the Countess of Dunmore offered to export some of her son’s excess population to North America and this was repeated the following year with the suggestion that a dozen families might like to emigrate to ‘there be settled on the property of the Honourable Charles Murray, uncle of the proprietor of Harris.’

Nice – the brother-in-law needs labour and you are happy to supply it for him!

Unsurprisingly, neither offer was met with any takers from the non-English speaking, half-starved, close-knit, Cleared and castigated islanders who had by then turned their backs on the Established Church of Scotland and fully-embraced the five-year-old Free Church.

If it is thought that I am being a little uncharitable regarding these gestures and the motivation that lay behind them, I would ask you to take into consideration the attitude of the widowed Countess’s late husband to his people, to the testimony given to the Napier Commission in 1883, to the profligate behaviour of Alexander Norman Macleod who had wasted the wealth that the kelp brought to the isle, to the similarly excessive activities of the 7th Earl of Dunmore that led to the 26 year-old having to sell the North Harris Estate in 1867, and to the lack of evidence that the early development of ‘Harris Tweed’ by the Countess was anything but a nice marketing tale spun much later by the Duchess of Sutherland, and that if any woman should be credited with the early promotion of the industry it should be ‘Mrs Thomas’, whom I have identified as Frances Bousfield Thomas, the wife of Lieutenant FWL Thomas RN.

It was Fanny Thomas who endowed the hospital at Manish, in the settlement where the Countess eventually, after protracted prevarication, allowed the first Free Church to be built, it was she who had depots in London as well as Leith and it was she who took-in the children of destitute (Free Church) Ministers and other families in order to enable them to benefit from the experience and, most intriguingly of all, it was she whose obituary appeared in a magazine of the ‘Quaker’ (Society of Friends) movement.

The Countess certainly did provide some early assistance as described in the letter from the Parochial Board of Harris:

“In the spring of 1847, Lady Dunmore, from her private funds, supplied seed oats, and a considerable quantity of seed potatoes, to the tenants. Some have repaid their advances, but a greater number have not. Her Ladyship also provided materials for employing females in woollen manufactures, partly knitting and partly spinning. For these two purposes she expended above £1800. Nearly £1200 have also been expended on boats, fishing-gear, and the erection of a pier at West Tarbert, for the encouragement of the fishery.”
It is not entirely clear if the sum of £1800 refers solely to the knitting and spinning manufactures, or if it includes the seed oats and seed potatoes too, but the Board includes this total expenditure of £3000 some four years previously merely as evidence that “…the parish of Harris cannot be made self-sustaining, unless a portion of the people remove elsewhere.” They were using McNeill’s enquiry as a means of promoting emigration and supplying supporting evidence to suggest that it was merely a last resort rather than the inevitable consequence of the (man-made) factors that I have described.
I do not doubt that many of those who did emigrate and then thrived on the North American continent, in Australia, and in many other places too, felt that they had made the best choice in the circumstances. I am also aware that many readers are descendants of those same people and that the hunger of their ancestors has been replaced by a hunger to know as much as possible about the land they left.
And ‘land’ is the key for under the run-rig system one would have been reminded each year, in the allotting of the strips, that no man ‘owns’ the land, that it is the land supports us, that by sharing in communal activities we communicate & develop a sense of community, & that as soon as one person’s motivation is deemed superior to another’s & greed becomes the guiding principle, we sour the land, encourage disease and pestilence and are forced to turn our backs on the land to face the sea, and towards those other lands that lie far across the ocean…

I assisted my father as factor of Harris…

…from Whitsunday 1834 to Whitsunday 1838; as factor of North Uist for several years, having the chief management of it from Whitsunday 1835 to Whitsunday 1838; and as factor of the greater part of South Uist for many years. I was factor of Barra from Martinmas 1836 to Whitsunday 1838, and I have been sheriff-substitute of the whole district since November 1841.
This was the opening sentence of the answer given by Charles Shaw, Sheriff-Substitute, to a question put to him by Sir John McNeill in Lochmaddy, North Uist, on the 7th of April 1851.
His father, Duncan Shaw, was the first Factor of Harris appointed when the 6th Earl Dunmore purchased the island in 1834 and his wife Anne Margaret Macdonald’s connection to the islands is to be found in this piece from the Carmichael Watson Project.
The couple resided at Sponish House, Lochmaddy, North Uist and in 1851 they and their three children were joined there by Charles’ 60 year-old mother, Anne Shaw, who hailed from Duirinish in Skye. The Shaws are seen in each of the successive three censuses but it appears that the first Anne Shaw, wife of the Factor Duncan Shaw, died between 1871 & 1881.
What led me to take this brief excursion across the Sound of Harris was the information regarding Charles assisting his father as Factor from 1834 until 1838 but the document in which it appears, the ‘Report to the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor in Scotland by Sir John M’Neill…’ which is described here is one that I intend to explore in detail.