>The Board of Supervision and the Destitution in the Highlands

>(From a Correspondent) Glasgow Herald 23 April 1883 page 8

The special tour of inspection undertaken in the bitterly cold month of March by the two inspecting officers of the Board of Supervision, while it has fully corroborated the tales of distress from the Hebrides and the West Coast with which the public have for some time past been familiar, puts us in possession of nothing new regarding the deplorable condition of the able-bodied population in these regions.’
Thus begins a lengthy and very detailed article that proceeds to patiently, artfully and skilfully demolish the findings of the report published following the inspection. In this piece I am focussing upon the visit of ‘Mr Peterkin’ to Harris:
‘Mr Peterkin next visits Harris, North and South. A striking contrast appears between the two sections. In the North the proprietor, Sir Edward H. Scott, Bart., is doing everything needful for his people; while in the South, under the Dowager Countess of Dunmore as trustee, the people seem to be suffering, and have now been helped in money to the extent of £600 from the London Committee – evidently the result of Lord Dunmore’s recent visit to the metropolis to “beg aid for the distressed people.”’
A brief biography of Sir Edward H. Scott is to be found in this earlier piece which contains a link to further information on his family’s contribution to Harris. The visits of SS Dunara Castle to Harris, an innovation of the Baronet’s that did much for the island’s economy, are recorded in the censuses and may be read here , here and here . It is worth mentioning that the 1891 visit records Malcolm McNeill of the Board of Supervision as one of the passengers, reminding us that, even eight years after the publication of the article in the Glasgow Herald, the work of that Board in the islands remained very much ‘in progress’. (Those with an interest in ‘Society Gossip’ may also wish to read this from the Spring of 1899 regarding Sir Samuel Scott’s wife. )
The aspect that interests me the most is the identification of the suffering of the people in South Harris ‘…under the Dowager Countess of Dunmore as trustee…‘ . Firstly, why was the 42 year-old 7th Earl’s 69 year-old mother acting as trustee to the Estate at a time when her son was not performing military duties abroad as indicated by reference to his recent visit to London? Secondly, the fact that we are provided with a contrast between the situation in the North (thanks to the attitude and activities of the proprietor Sir E Scott) and the situation in the South (where we are told that the proprietor went to London “…to beg aid…”) is a clear statement as to where the writer considers the blame to lie.
A century earlier Rodel had been the powerhouse of development under Captain Alexander Macleod and Tarbert was no more than a small cluster of houses at the head of  the West Loch (as can be clearly seen in Bald’s 1804/5 map).
The Tarbert of the 1880s was a small yet thriving town strung mainly along the Northern shore of the East Loch whilst Rodel had been reduced to little more than an island retreat for an apparently absent landlord.
‘On this estate there are about 128 crofters, of whom 74 pay rents of from £4 to £5 each; 38 pay from £5 to £7 each; and 16 from £7 to £10 each. Some of these crofters are in arrears with their rents, and are now employed in working off this burden by roadmaking and trenching near the proprietor’s residence. It would have looked as well to have let the arrears to stand over in present circumstances and allowed the crofters to work their land and sow seed with a view to averting the calamities of famine next year.’
An interrogation of the 1881 census reveals 121 households headed by a Crofter which accords pretty well with the figure of 128 a couple of years later as given here. It is interesting to note that 58% of these were in the category paying the lowest rentals, 30% in the middle group and only 12% at the highest level as this gives us an indication of the distribution of rents, in this case one that is heavily ‘skewed’ towards the lower end.
The roadmaking was clearly limited to a small area around Rodel for, as can be seen in this evidence to the ‘recently appointed Royal Commission’ mentioned at the end of the article, the Bays were still in desperate need of a road and it would be another fourteen years before the ‘Golden Road’ was completed.
‘Mr Peterkin reports that some of them have poultry and some cattle and sheep, but that the crofters would not willingly sell any stock this season. He might have added that no one would buy them at this season.’
The writer was clearly unimpressed by the Edinburgh-born Mr Peterkin’s ignorance of island agriculture and ensures that we are made aware of it:
‘The Harris cattle possessed by crofters are not of a good stamp, and bring but poor prices at anytime. It is said, and there is little reason to doubt it, that they feed partly on sea-weed in winter and spring, and at this time they are fit neither for being eaten or being sold to advantage.’
We should remember that the Harris cattle possessed by others, notably those of the Stewart & McRa farming families, were prized beasts that won awards but, for some strange reason, the benefit of breeding wasn’t accorded to their crofting neighbours. I do have to take the writer to task on the matter of cattle consuming seaweed for my understanding is that this is actually beneficial to them and hence not a factor in their fitness for either sale or consumption?
The idea of poultry is rather comical. The poorest of the poor in the Highlands has two or three hens. If they are killed for food they will not last long, and there will be no eggs.
This is the writer’s final twist of his ‘pen/knife’ and he then ends with a prescient predication as to what the forthcoming Napier Commission would discover:
There seems to be a providence in the present state of matters, bringing the wretchedness of the people to the surface, to give plenty of scope to the recently appointed Royal Commission.
I would dearly love to learn who the author of this article was but meanwhile here is a compilation of ‘snapshots’ of his ‘target’, William Arthur Peterkin (1824-1906 ), taken from the censuses of 1851-1901 and with his occupation shown in bold:
1851 27, Senior Clerk board of Supervision, Lewis Castle, Stornoway Distillery, Stornoway, b. Nk
(As seen in this earlier piece )
1861 37, First Class Clerk, Civil Service Poor Law, 14 Grove Street, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 5 children aged 1 to 7, a Cook, a Nurse and a Nurse Maid)
1871 47, Civil Service Poor Law, General Superintendent of Poor, North District, Scotland. Inspecting Officer of Board of Supervision Under Public Health Act, Scotland, 9 Albert Street, Nairn, b. St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh
(Wife, 7 children aged 3 to 17, a Domestic Cook and a Housemaid)
1881 57, H.M.C.S. Board of Supervision, Visitor, 25 Union Street, Inverness, b. St Cuthbert, Midlothian
(25 Union Street was a hotel kept by a 35 year-old, Donald Davidson, from Elgin)
1891 67, Civil Service – Inspector, Terry Road (North Side) Fairholm, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 4 children aged 25 to 31, 2 Domestic Servants and 2 Visitors)
1901 77, Annuitant (Retired from Civil Service), 7 Eildon Street, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 2 children aged 39 & 47, 2 General Servants (Domestic) and a Visitor)
His occupational titles of 1871 are certainly the longest that I have yet read in the censuses!

>’…one pound sterling a-head…’

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On the 2nd of September, 1841, the Caledonian Mercury reported:
EMIGRATION. – There are three ships at Lochmaddy, North Uist, taking in emigrants from the neighbouring parishes of Harris and South Uist, for Cape Breton. The Earl of Dunmore gives one pound sterling a-head to the most destitute families from his property.
(Sourced from Inverness Reference Library via Am Baile’s newspaper archive search facility)
The Scots To Canada Web Site lists three ships, the Banffshire, the George and the Tay, leaving Lochmaddy in August 1841 ‘taking 1300 emigrants from N Uist to Cape Breton. ” of the poorest class”.’ so I think that we can be reasonably confident that these are the same vessels that appeared in the newspaper’s article.
The 6th Earl of Dunmore, Alexander Edward Murray, , had inherited Harris upon the death of his father on the 11th of November 1836 and would in turn be succeeded by his son, Charles Adolphus, following the 6th Earl’s death on the 14th of July 1845 . Thus the Earl was about halfway through his proprietorship of the island when he was providing a pound per person for those electing to leave.
But what does that ‘one pound sterling a-head’ of 1841 represent 170 years later?
To try to discover an answer I will examine three options, starting with the excellent  Measuring Worth site and see what values it provides us with:
In 2009, the relative worth of £1 0s 0d from 1841 is:

£72.10 using the Retail Price Index (RPI)
£105.00 using the GDP Deflator
£766.00 using the Average Earnings
£1,160.00 using the Per-Capita GDP
£2,690.00 using the Share of GDP
Faced by these five options, ranging from mere £72 to a more substantial £2700, it is important that we choose the correct comparison. The RPI is rather narrow and a better indication of the buying power of £1 in 1841 is given by the £105 of the GDP Deflator.
The remaining three indicators, including that of ‘Average Earnings’ (which might appear particularly attractive) are actually not appropriate in the current context.
Using the the National Archives tool for the same calculation will show you that £1 in 1840 would only buy £44.10 worth of goods today so my choice of the figure of £105 might appear, if anything, slightly over-generous?
Our third option is to look at what the Reverend John Macivor had to say about wages on Harris in The New Statistical Account of 1845*:
Farm-servants receive from L.3 to L.3, 10s. in the half-year…’ so our £1 would represent between perhaps 1/7th & 1/6th (14-17%) of such a man’s annual income. We may also wish to note that the annual value of all the Produce of the island is given by the Reverend as ‘L. 11,900’ and that over 10% of that, ‘L. 1300′, even as late as 1845, was still coming from Kelp.
So, depending upon how you choose to compare it, the Earl’s £1 per person was equivalent to either a miserly £44 in today’s money, or even as much as two-months wages for an agricultural labourer of the time!
Perhaps, though, to attempt to place any monetary value upon the Earl’s inducement is rather to miss the point:
People were being ‘required’ to leave because so many had been forced to live crowded-together upon the meanest of land to make way for the ever-expanding sheep farms which, the Reverend helpfully informs us, were bringing in a an income of some £2800, or almost a quarter of Harris’s total income from Produce at that time.
The population of the Parish of Harris in 1841 was 3,056** according to the census earlier that year.
Even if every person had elected to emigrate, the ‘one pound sterling a-head’ would only have amounted to three-quarters of one year’s income from Kelp & Sheep combined…
(Note: I appreciate that not all of the income from Produce went to the proprietor himself, but consider the comparison to be justified in demonstrating the affordability of his scheme with respect to the economy.)
Sources:
*New Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol XIV, p157

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

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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:

1836-1845
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.

1862-1907
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.

1845-1862
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…

>Importation of Deer – Or where the one on Barra came from!

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HARRIS, August 2. – IMPORTATION OF DEER. – Early on the morning of Saturday last, the 27th ultimo, the inhabitants of Tarbert were agreeably surprised by the arrival there of nine magnificent stags from Atholl forset, in Perthshire, being a present from Lord Glenlyon to the Earl of Dunmore. The noble animals were, on the same day, marked, and turned loose into his Lordship’s forest, amidst hundreds of admiring spectators, who collected to witness the noble scene, and from the gallant style in which they bounded off to the hills, it was quite evident that they had not suffered the slightest injury on their passage to this country. The object of importing them is to improve the breed in Harris, as the Atholl deer are well known to be among the finest in Scotland.
The Aberdeen Journal August 21st 1844
The story of the stag who went for a holiday including a month of turnip munching at Eolaigearraidh (Eoligarry) on Barra is told in this previous piece. 

>Renting Rodel

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Isle of Harris.
TO LET with Entry Whitsunday next (1887),
the FARM OF RODEL,
consisting partly of Arable Land
and partly of Hill Grazing.
Apply to Mr BRYDONE, Luskintyre, Harris,
or Messrs. DONDAS & WILSON,
15 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh
This advertisement appeared in the Scottish Highlander on the 17th March 1887 and it interests me greatly:
Firstly, ‘Mr Brydone’ is Thomas Brydone, who had been the Factor of the South Harris Estate for only 6 months when he appeared before the Napier Commission. His life has been explored more fully in this piece from ADB’s ‘Pentland Road’ blog.
Secondly, six years before the advert my relative Angus Kerr was the Farm Manager at Rodel but was no longer in that role in 1891. We also know that in 1883 Rodel House was unoccupied and, apparently, being readied for the 7th Earl of Dunmore. From that same piece we see that in 1891 my relative was a ‘Retired Groom’ and then in 1901 a ‘Retired Coachman’, so if the Earl did indeed return to Rodel House anytime between 1883 & 1891 then Angus was probably the man driving him & his guests around in their coach!
Finally, although there is no Farmer listed at Rodel in 1891, those shown there in 1901 were Roderick Campbell and his son John, who was living with his wife Marion and her parents – Angus & Lexy Kerr.
It must be remembered that all those, including my relatives, who thrived at Rodel Farm were able to do so because of the dreadful event that took place there in 1818. and that it was one Mrs Anne Campbell, holder of the Tack of Strond & Killegray, who kindness at this particular time was remarked upon. 
Was this the real reason for her incurring the wrath of Donald Stewart in 1834?  I suspect so!

>Clearance of Borve, Harris 1839

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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.
Why?
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

>VALUABLE AND EXTENSIVE ESTATE,

>

IN INVERNESS-SHIRE,
FOR SALE
The Estate of Harris will be exposed to sale in the course of next winter.
This Property forms part of the chain of Islands commonly denominated the Lewis or Long-Island.
Beside the main land of Harris, the Estate comprehends a number of Islands, of which seven are of considerable extent.
The Property extends to about 93,500 Scots acres, whereof about 7000 are Arable, and the greater part of the remainder Hill Pasture.
The Land Rent is about L3600, and the public burdens are moderate.
A Freehold and Church Patronage are attached to the lands.
There are valuable Fishing Banks, and the Shores, which are extensive, produce annually about 600 Tons of Kelp, well known in the market to be of very superior quality.
There are also several safe and accessible Harbours, and there is an excellent carriage road of considerable extent leading though the south and west parts of the main land.
The extension of steam navigation must be attended with important advantages to the Property.
Further particulars will be given in future advertisements.
Applications may be made to Messrs. Dickson and Steuart, W. S, 3 Royal Circus, Edinburgh.
Mr Donald Stewart, Factor of the Estate, resident Luskintyre, in Harris, will give directions for shewing the property.
Edinburgh, 20th April, 1832
Source: Inverness Journal, 18th May 1832 via Am Baile & Inverness Reference Library
This is what George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore, bought from Alexander Norman Macleod for £60,000 in 1834. He considered it to have been a bargain and, with an apparent annual rental return of 6%, it is easy to see why he thought so.
One can easily imagine Donald Stewart making an excellent job of ‘shewing the property’, no doubt emphasising the opportunities to extend the sheep farms but perhaps forgetting to mention his ongoing legal disputes regarding the church on Berneray or the lease held by Mrs Anne Campbell of Strond & Killegray?
Confusion regarding the naming of the isles, which continues to rumble-on today, is shown by the reference to ‘The Lewis’ for if anything the phrase is more correctly ‘The Lews’ but I do not intend following that particular diversion today.
The seven islands ‘of considerable extent’ that accompany ‘the main land of Harris’ are Berneray, Ensay, Killegray, Pabbay, Scalpay, Scarp and Taransay all of which were within the Parish of Harris. The Freehold was presumably Rodel House whilst the church patronage refers to the appointment of the Minister to the Parish Church at Scarista.
Whilst there were ‘valuable Fishing Banks’ it was already Stornoway that was profiting the most from these for Tarbert had been overlooked by the British Fisheries Society four decades previously.
The 600 Tons of Kelp being produced at this late stage comes as a surprise for the market had collapsed 20 years ago but on the other hand we know that in 1821 the Farm of Strond had manufactured 115 tons of high-quality Kelp.
The ‘extensive carriage road’ was that running from Rodel to An-t-Ob and thence along the West coast to Luskintyre but the majority of overland travel was along unmade tracks and the sea remained the main ‘road’, a term that was still commonly used to describe such sea-routes.
Steam navigation would indeed provide improved communications however not during the lifetimes of the 5th or 6th Earls but in that of the Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore.
Note: Many more references to these matters appear elsewhere in this blog and I have merely directed readers to those pieces that might otherwise be overlooked!