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the chase. They broke in from the waste the furrowed
patches on the slopes of the valleys, they reared herds of
cattle and flocks of sheep, their number increased to
nearly five hundred souls, they enjoyed the average
happiness of human creatures in the present imperfect
state of being, they contributed their portion of hardy
and vigorous manhood to the armies of the country, and
a few of their more adventurous spirits, impatient of the
narrow bounds which confined them, and a coursr of life
little varied by incident, emigrated to America. Then
came the change of system so general in the Highlands ;
and the island lost all its original inhabitants, on a wool
and mutton speculation, inhabitants, the descendants
of men who had chased the deer on its hills five hundred
years before, and who, though they recognized some



wild island lord as their superior, and did him service,
had regarded the place as indisputably their own. And
now yet another change was on the eve of ensuing, and
the island was to return to its original state, as a home of
wild animals, where a few hunters from the mainland
might enjoy the chase for a month or two every twelve-
month, but which could form no permanent place of
human abode. Once more a strange, and surely most
melancholy cycle ! "*

In another place the same writer asks,

" Where was the one tenant of the island, for whose
sake so many others had been removed ? " and he
answers, " We found his house occupied by a humble
shepherd, who had in charge the wreck of his property,
property no longer his, but held for the benefit of his
creditors. The great sheep farmer had gone down
under circumstances of very general bearing, and on
whose after development, when in their latent state,
improving landlords had failed to calculate."

HARRIS and the other Western Islands suffered in a
similar manner. Mull, Tiree, and others in Argyllshire
are noticed in dealing with that county.



In many parts of Argyllshire the people have been
weeded out none the less effectively, that the process
generally was of a milder nature than that adopted in
some of the places already described. By some means or
other, however, the ancient tenantry have largely dis-
appeared to make room for the sheep farmer and the
sportsman. Mr. Somerville, Lochgilphead, writing on
this subject, says, " The watchword of all is exterminate,
exterminate the native race. Through this monomania of
landlords the cottier population is all but extinct ; and

* leading articles from the Witness.


the substantial yeoman is undergoing the same process of
dissolution." He then proceeds :
- " About nine miles of country on the west side of
Loch Awe, in Argyllshire, that formerly maintained 45
families, are now rented by one person as a sheep
farm } and in the island of Luing, same county,
which formerly contained about 50 substantial
farmers, besides cottiers, this number is now reduced
to about six. The work of eviction commenced
by giving, in many cases, to the ejected population,
facilities and pecuniary aid for emigration ' but now the
people are turned adrift, penniless and shelterless, to
seek a precarious subsistence on the sea-board, in the
nearest hamlet or village, and in the cities, many of whom
sink down helpless paupers on our poor-roll \ and others,
festering in our villages, form a formidable Arab popu-
lation, who drink our money contributed as parochial
relief. This wholesale depopulation is perpetrated, too,
in a spirit of invidiousness, harshness, cruelty, and in-
justice, and must eventuate in permanent injury to the
moral, political, and social interests of the kingdom. . .
The immediate effects of this new system are the dis-
sociation of the people from the land, who are virtually

denied the right to labour on God's creation. In L ,

for instance, garden ground and small allotments of land
are in great demand by families, and especially by the
aged, whose labouring days are done, for the purpose of
keeping cows, and by which they might be able to earn
an honest, independent maintenence for their families,
and whereby their children might be brought up to labour
instead of growing up vagabonds and thieves. But
such, even in our centres of population, cannot be got ;
the whole is let in large farms and turned into grazing.
The few patches of bare pasture, formed by the delta of
rivers, the detritus of rocks, and tidal deposits, are let for
grazing at the exorbitant rent of 3 10s. each for a small
Highland cow ; and the small space to be had for garden
ground is equally extravagant. The consequence of these
exorbitant rents and the want of agricultural facilities is a
depressed, degraded, and pauperised population."


These remarks are only too true, and applicable
not only in Argyllshire, but throughout the Highlands

A deputation from the Glasgow Highland Relief Board,
consisting of Dr. Robert Macgregor, and Mr. Charles R.
Baird, their Secretary, visited Mull, Ulva, lona, Tiree,
Coll, and part of Morvern, in 1849, and they immediately
afterwards issued a printed report on the state of these
places, from which a few extracts will prove instructive.
They inform us that the population of


according to the Government Census of 1821, was 10,612 ;
in 1841, 10,064. I n I 87 I > we find it reduced to 6441,
and by the Census of 1881, now before us, it is stated at
5624, or a fraction more than half the number that in-
habited the Island in 1821.

TOBERMORY, we are told, " has been for some time the
resort of the greater part of the small crofters and cottars,
ejected from their holdings and houses on the surrounding
estates, and thus there has been a great accumulation of
distress." Then we are told that " severe as the
destitution has been in the rural districts, we think it has
been still more so in Tobermory and other villages " a
telling comment on, and reply to, those who would now
have us believe that the evictors of those days and of our
own were acting the character of wise benefactors when
they ejected the people from the inland and rural districts
of the various counties to wretched villages, and rocky
hamlets on the sea-shore.

ULVA. The population of the Island of Ulva in
1849 was 360 souls The reporters state that a " large
portion " of it " has lately been converted into a sheep
farm, and consequently a number of small crofters and
cottars have been warned away " by Mr. Clark. " Some
of these will find great difficulty in settling themselves
anywhere, and all of them have little prospect of employ-
ment Whatever may be the ultimate effect

to the landowners of the conversion of a number of small


crofts into large farms, we need scarcely say that this
process is causing much poverty and misery among the
crofters." How Mr. Clark carried out his intention of
evicting the tenantry of Ulva may be seen from the fact
that the population of 360 souls, in 1849, was reduced to
51 in 1881.

KILFINICHEN. In this district we are told that " The
crofters and cottars having been warned off, 26
individuals emigrated to America, at their own expense
and one at that of the Parochial Board j a good many
removed to Kinloch, where they are now in great poverty,
and those who remained were not allowed to cultivate
any ground for crop or even garden stuffs. The stock
and other effects of a number of crofters on Kinloch
last year (1848), whose rents averaged from 5 to
15 per annum, having been sequestrated and sold, these
parties are now reduced to a state of pauperism, having
no employment or means of subsistence whatever." As
to the cottars, it is said that " the great mass of them are
now in a very deplorable state." On the estate of

GRIBUN, Colonel Macdonald of Inchkenneth, the pro-
prietor, gave the people plenty of work, by which they
were quite independent of relief from any quarter, and
the character which he gives to the deputation of the
people generally is most refreshing, when we compare it
with the baseless charges usually made against them by
the majority of his class. The reporters state that
" Colonel Macdonald spoke in high terms of the honesty
of the people and of their great patience and forbearance
under their severe privations." It is gratifying to be able
to record this simple act of justice, not only as the people's
due, but specially to the credit of Colonel Macdonald's
memory and goodness of heart.

BUNESSAN. Respecting this district, belonging to the
Duke of Argyll, our authority says : " It will be re-
collected that the [Relief] Committee, some time ago,
advanced 128 to assist in procuring provisions for a
number of emigrants from the Duke of Argyll's estate,
in the Ross of Mull and lona, in all 243 persons 125
adults and 118 children. When there, we made inquiry


into the matter, and were informed [by those, as it proved,
quite ignorant of the facts] that the emigration had been
productive of much good, as the parties who emigrated
could not find the means of subsistence in this country,
and had every prospect of doing so in Canada, where all of
them had relations ; and also because the land occupied
by some of these emigrants had been given to increase
the crofts of others. Since our return home, however,
we have received the very melancholy and distressing
intelligence, that many of these emigrants had been seized
with cholera on their arrival in Canada ; that not a few
of them had fallen victims to it ; and that the survivors
had suffered great privations." Compare the " prospect,"
of much good, predicted for these poor creatures, with
the sad reality of having been forced away to die a
terrible death immediately on their arrival on a foreign
shore !

IONA, at this time, contained a population of 500,
reduced in 1881 to 243. It also is the property of the
Duke of Argyll, as well as

THE ISLAND OF TIREE, the population of which is
given in the report as follows : In 1755, it was 1509,
increasing in 1777, to 1681 ; in 1801, to 2416 ; in 1821, to
4181 ; and in 1841 to 4687. In 1849, " after considerable
emigrations," it was 3903 ; while in 1881, it was reduced to
2733. The deputation recommended emigration from
Tiree as imperatively necessary, but they " call especial
attention to the necessity of emigration being conducted
on proper principles, or, ' on a system calculated to pro-
mote the permanent benefit of those who emigrate, and of
those who remain,' because we have reason to fear that
not a few parties in these districts are anxious to get rid of
the small crofters and cottars at all hazard, and without
making sufficient provision for their future comfort and
settlement elsewhere ; and because we have seen the very
distressing account of the privations and sufferings of the
poor people who emigrated from Tiree and the Ross of
Mull to Canada this year (1849), an d would spare no pains
to prevent a recurrence of such deplorable circumstances.
As we were informed that the Duke of Argyll had ex-


pended nearly 1200 on account of the emigrants (in all
247 souls) from Tiree ; as the Committee advanced
131 153. to purchase provisions for them ; and as funds
were remitted to Montreal to carry them up the country,
we sincerely trust that the account we have seen of their
sufferings in Canada is somewhat over-charged, and that
it is not at all events to be ascribed to want of due pro-
vision being made for them, ere they left this country, to
carry them to their destination. Be this as it may,
however, we trust that no emigration will in future be
promoted by proprietors or others, which will not secure,
as far as human effort can, the benefit of those who emigrate,
as well as of those who are left at home. . . . Being
aware of the poverty of the great majority of the in-
habitants of this island, and of the many difficulties with
which they have to contend, we were agreeably surprised
to find their dwellings remarkably neat and clc an very
superior indeed, both externally and internally, to those
of the other islands ; nay, more, such as would bear
comparison with cottages in any part of the kingdom.
The inhabitants, too, we believe, are active and enter-
prising, and, if once put in a fair way of doing so, would
soon raise themselves to comfort and independence."
Very good, indeed, Tiree !

THE ISLAND OF COLL, which is separated from Tiree by
a channel only two miles in width, had a population, in
1755, of 1193 ; in 1771, of 1200 ; in 1801, of 1162 ; in
1821, of 1264. In 1841 it reached 1409. At the time
of the visit of the deputation, from whose report we quote,
the population of the Island was down to 1235 ; while in
1 88 1 it had fallen to 643. The deputation report that
during the destitution the work done by the Coll people
" approximates, if it does exceed, the supplies given ; "
they are " hard working and industrious. . . We saw
considerable tracts of ground which we were assured
might be reclaimed and cultivated with profit, and are
satisfied that fishing is a resource capable of great im-
provement, and at which, therefore, many of the people
might be employed to advantage ; we are disposed to
think that, by a little attention and prudent outlay of


capital, the condition of the people here might ere long
be greatly improved. The grand difficulty in the way,
however, is the want of capital. Mr. Maclean, the prin-
cipal proprietor, always acted most liberally when he had
it in his power to do so, but, unfortunately, he has no
longer the ability, and the other two proprietors are also
under trust." Notwithstanding these possibilities the
population is undergoing a constant process of

We shall now return to the mainland portion of the
County, and take a glance at the parish of


" Uaine gu'm mullach " (green to their tops !). So Dr.
Norman Macleod described the bens of Ardnamurchan
in his inimitable sketch, the " Emigrant Ship," and so
they appear even to this day. Their beautiful slopes show
scarcely a vestige of heather, but an abundance of rich,
sweet grass of a quality eminently suitable for pasturage.

As the steamboat passenger sails northward through
the Sound of Mull, he sees straight ahead, and stretching
at right angles across his course, a long range of low
hills culminating in a finely-shaped mass which seems to
rise abruptly from the edge of the sea. The hills are those
of Ardnamurchan, and the dominating pile is Ben Hiant,
1729 feet in height, and " green to its top." Around the
base of the mountain and for miles in every direction the
land is fair, fertile, and well adapted either for arable
or grazing purposes. It comprises the farm of Mingary,
and, to-day, is wholly under deer.

Down to the second decade of last century it supported
about twenty-six families, which were distributed over
the component townships of Coire-mhuilinn, Skinid,
Buarblaig, and Tornamona. At one sweep, the whole
place was cleared, and the grounds added to the adjacent

""Compiled partly from evidence submitted to Deer Forest Com-
mission of 1892 (see Minute of Evidence, vol. ii., pp. 884-5
and pp. 912-3), and partly from notes of conversations which
the Editor has had with actual witnesses of the incidents


sheep farm of Mingary. The evictions were carried out
in 1828, the process being attended with many acts of
heartless cruelty on the part of the laird's representatives.
In one case a half-witted woman who flatly refused to
flit, was locked up in her cottage, the door being barri-
caded on the outside by mason- work. She was visited
every morning to see if she had arrived at a tractable
frame of mind, but for days she held out. It was not
until her slender store of food was exhausted that she
ceased to argue with the inevitable and decided to capi-
tulate. It is to cases of this character that Dr. John
MacLachlan, the Sweet Singer of Rahoy, referred in
the lines

" An dall, an seann duine san oinid
Toirt am mallachd air do bhuaireas."

(The blind, the aged, and the imbecile calling curses on
thy greed.) The proprietor at whose instance these
" removals " were carried out was Sir James Milles
Riddell, Bart. Of the dislodged families a few were given
small patches of waste land, some were given holdings in
various townships on the estate the crofts of which were
sub- divided for their accommodation and some were
forced to seek sanctuary beyond the Atlantic.

Additional clearances were effected on the Ardna-
murchan estate in 1853, when Swordle-chaol, Swordle-
mhor, and Swordle-chorrach, with an aggregate area of
about 3000 acres, were divested of their crofting popula-
tion, and thrown into a single sheep farm. Swordle-
chaol was occupied by four tenants, Swordle-mhor by
six, and Swordle-chorrach by six. Five years previous
to the evictions, all the crofters came under a written
obligation to the proprietor to build new dwelling-
houses. The walls were to be of stone and lime, 40 ft.
long, 174 ft. wide, and 7^ ft. high. The houses, two-
gabled, were to have each two rooms and a kitchen, with
wooden ceiling and floors, the kitchen alone to be floored
with flags. By the end of 1851 all the tenants had
faithfully implemented their promise, and the work of
building was quite completed. Tradesmen had been
employed in every case, and the cost averaged from 45


to 50. When the people were ejected, two years later,
they received no compensation whatever for their
labours and outlays. They were not even permitted to
remove a door, a window, or a fixed cupboard. Some of
the houses are still intact in this year of grace, 1914, one
being occupied by a shepherd on Swordle farm, and an-
other used as a byre. They compare favourably as re-
gards size, design, and workmanship with the best and
most modern crofter houses in the Ardnamurchan dis-
trict. The Swordle tenants were among the best-to-do
on the estate, and not one of them owed the proprietor
a shilling in the way of arrears of rent. When cast adrift,
the majority of them were assigned " holdings " of one
acre or so in the rough lands of Sanna and Portuairk,
where they had to start to reclaim peatbogs and to build
for themselves houses and steadings. Sir James Milles
Riddell was the proprietor responsible for clearing the
Swordles as well as the Ben Hiant townships.*

Other places which he divested of people and placed
under sheep were Laga, held by eight tenants, and Tar-
bert, which was in the hands of four.

About sixteen years ago Ben Hiant, or Mingary, as
veil as the Swordles, Laga, Tarbert, and other farms,
was swept clean of sheep and converted into a deer forest,
the preserve having a total area of 22,000 acres. The
woolly ruminants met with a retribution, direful and
complete, and the native people viewed the change with
mild amusement. Sheep had been the means of ruining
their forefathers, whereas deer had never done them or
their kinsfolk the smallest injury.

The highest hill on the estate of Ardnamurchan is
Ben Hiant, the altitude of which is 1729 feet. It may
be described as an isolated peak. It forms no part of
any definite mountain range, although, when viewed
from the sea, it seems to blend with Ben an Leathaid
and other local eminences. For the most part, the
elevation of the area embraced in the Ardnamurchan
deer forest varies from 600 feet or 700 feet to sea-level.

* See Note C in Appendices.



The population of this extensive parish in 1755 was
1223 ; in 1795 it increased to 1764 ; in 1801 to 2000 ; in
1821, it was 1995 ; in 1831, it rose to 2137 ; and ui 1841
it came down to 1781 ; in 1871, it was only 973 ; while
in the Census Returns for 1881 we find it stated at 714,
or less than one-third of what it was fifty years before.

The late Dr. Norman Macleod, after describing the
happy state of things which existed in this parish before
the clearances, says :

" But all this was changed when those tacksmen
were swept away to make room for the large
sheep farms, and when the remnants of the people
flocked from their empty glens to occupy houses in
wretched villages near the sea-shore, by way of becoming
fishers often where no fish could be caught. The result
has been that ' the Parish/ for example, which once had a
population of 2200 souls, and received only 11 per
annum from public (Church) funds for the support of the
poor, expends now [1863] under the poor law upwards of
600 annually, with a population diminished by one-half
[since diminished to one-third] and with poverty increased

in a greater ratio Below these gentlemen

tacksmen were those who paid a much lower rent, and
who lived very comfortably, and shared hospitality with
others, the gifts which God gave them. I remember a
group of men, tenants in a large glen, which now has not
a smoke in it, as the Highlanders say, throughout its
length of twenty miles. They had the custom of enter-
taining in rotation every traveller who cast himself on
their hospitality. The host on the occasion was bound
to summon his neighbours to the homely feast. It was
my good fortune to be a guest when they received the
present minister of ' the Parish/ while en route to visit
some of his flock. We had a most sumptuous feast
oat-cakes, crisp and fresh from the fire ; cream, rich and
thick, and more beautiful than nectar, whatever
that may be ; blue Highland cheese, finer than Stilton ;


fat hens, slowly cooked on the fire in a pot of potatoes,
without their skins, and with fresh butter ' stored
hens,' as the superb dish was called ; and though last,
not least, tender kid, roasted as nicely as Charles Lamb's
cracklin' pig. All was served up with the utmost pro-
priety, on a table covered with a fine white cloth, and with
all the requisites for a comfortable dinner, including the
champagne of elastic, buoyant, and exciting mountain
air. The manners and conversations of those men would
have pleased the best-bred gentleman. Everything was
so simple, modest, unassuming, unaffected, yet so frank
and cordial. The conversation was such as might be
heard at the table of any intelligent man. Alas ! there
is not a vestige remaining of their homes. I know not
whither they are gone, but they have left no representa-
tives behind. The land in the glen is divided between
sheep, shepherds, and the shadows of the clouds." *

The Rev. Donald Macleod, editor of Good Words
describing the death of the late Dr. John Macleod, the
"minister of the Parish" referred to by Dr. Norman
in the above quotation, and for fifty years minister of
Morven says of the noble patriarch :

"His later years were spent in pathetic loneliness.
He had seen his parish almost emptied of its
people. Glen after glen had been turned into
sheep-walks, and the cottages in which generations
of gallant Highlanders had lived and died were
unroofed, their torn walls and gables left standing
like mourners beside the grave, and the little plots of
garden or of cultivated enclosure allowed to merge into
the moorland pasture. He had seen every property in
the parish change hands, and though, on the whole,
kindly and pleasant proprietors came in place of the old
families, yet they were strangers to the people, neither
understanding their language nor their ways. The con-
sequence was that they perhaps scarcely realised the
havoc produced by the changes they inaugurated. ' At
one stroke of the pen,' he said to me, with a look of sad

* Reminiscences j>f a Highland Parish.


ness and indignation, ' two hundred of the people were
ordered off . There was not one of these whom I did not
know, and their fathers before them ; and finer men and
women never left the Highlands.' He thus found him-
self the sole remaining link between the past and present
the one man above the rank of a peasant who remem-
bered the old days and the traditions of the people. The
sense of change was intensely saddened as he went
through his parish and passed ruined houses here, there,
and everywhere. ' There is not a smoke there now,' he
used to say with pathos, of the glens which he had known
tenanted by a manly and loyal peasantry, among whom
lived song and story and the elevating influences of
brave traditions. All are gone, and the place that once
knew them, knows them no more ! The hill-side, which
had once borne a happy people and echoed the voices of

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Online LibraryAlexander MackenzieThe history of the Highland clearances → online text (page 20 of 25)