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Antiquarian Notes, Historical, Genealogical and Social
(Second Series) Inverness-Shire, Parish by Parish
Chapter XIV. Sirath


THE MACKINNONS OF THAT ILK.

ACCORDING to Colonel Macleod of Tallisker's letter, of which an extract is after-quoted, the Mackinnons were "a very ancient honourable family." The chiefship is disputed, and a good deal has been written of late years connected with the family, though no satisfactory record has been given even from historic times. On the 3rd of July, 1557, at Inverness, Lauchlane Macfyngone of Strathwordill is served nearest and lawful heir to the deceased Ewin Macfyngone of Strathwordill, his father, in all lands and annual rents in which the deceased was vested at the time of his death. Duncan Bayne of Tulloch is Mackinnon's attorney.

On the 4th of July, 1851, Lachlan Macfyngon is served at Inverness, nearest and lawful heir to the deceased Lachlan Macfyngon of Strathwordill, in the lands and barony of Strathwordill.

The Mackinnons had been declining prior to 1745, while their neighbour, Sir Alexander Macdonald, a man, as we have shown, of great wealth and wordly wisdom, was on the watch to extend his already extensive bounds. John Dhu Mackinnon succeeded about 1712, and, marrying a daughter of Archbishop Sharpe, had a son, John Og, who predeceased his father, dying without issue in 1737. [Ed: Penelope Sharp, d/o Sir William Sharp 1st Bt Scotscraig (died 1712), s/o Archbishop James Sharp (1618-1678) so actually, Penelope Sharp was a granddaughter of Archbishop James Sharp.  Penelope Sharp married, as his first wife, John Dubh Mackinnon (died 1755) and their son John Og Mackinnon (died 1737) married 1727 Margaret Macleod of Ulinish, and had four daughters, the third Florence Mackinnon married 1759 Ranald Macdonald 18th Clanranald... Lady Saltoun, Chief of Clan Fraser, is descended from a daughter of Archbishop Sharp, and she made a point of telling me that the surname is Sharp, not Sharpe.]

The circumstances under which the estates forfeited in 1715 were restored and the peculiarity of the destination, which did not contemplate that John Dhu would again marry and have a son not affected by his continued forfeiture, are well known.

Sir Alexander bought up all the debts he could on the Mackinnon estates, and this, with the impecuniosity of Mishnish, who had entered into possession as heir of provision, was too much for the Mackinnon estate, which ultimately fell into the hands of the Macdonalds.

John Dhu Mackinnon, the faithful adherent of Prince Charles, still under forfeiture, after his son's death married again in 1743 Janet Macleod of Raasay, but there being no issue for some years, Mishnish continued in possession. In 1753 Charles Mackinnon was born of this marriage, and in 1754, Lachlan Mackinnon. John Dhu died in 1755, whereupon Malcolm Macleod of Raasay, on behalf of the infant Mackin nons, his grandsons, took steps to put Charles Mackinnon into possession and to recover what had been alienated. He was successful in dispossessing Mishnish, as also in the Court of Session in reducing the sale of the large portion of land sold to Macdonald. This decision was reversed on appeal to the House of Lords, and all that ultimately fell to Charles was the estate now known as Strathaird, for some time the property of the Macallisters; and Mishnish in Mull. Charles Mackinnon, the last of the race who held land, was in difficulties all his life. He appears by his letters to have been a man of some culture, and he had been a good deal abroad. He wrote a work, now scarce and forgotten, entitled "Essays," published by Creech, Edinburgh, in 1785, and I give short excerpts, showing his, and doubtless the minister of Strath's, views about the poems of Ossian, He writes—"I heard Gaelic poems repeated, containing combats of numbers against numbers, and single combats which were certainly not composed by Macpherson." Again— "It is with a good deal of diffidence I enter upon the specimen of the original subjoined to the English copy. One who hears the language constantly, and hears little in it he can study with pleasure, may, if he is a man of habit, feel a mechanical aversion to any new thing that appears in it, I applied to a clergyman in my neighbourhood, a man of taste, who said he was also of opinion that the English copy was superior to the Gaelic." In 1789 the crisis came. Colonel Macleod of Tallisker, on the 16th of March of that year, writes—" I suppose you have by this time heard that Mackinnon has sold the little that remained of his paternal estate (he had previously sold Mishnish) to Mr Alexander Macallister, one of Macleod's feuers, for 8400, a good price for a scrimp rent of 200 a year ; and there is an end of a very ancient honourable family."
The new proprietor desired to make the most of his purchase, and conditioned that Mackinnon would give possession of all except what was under lease, and the whole possessors of Elgol, Kirkibost, Upper Ringol, and Lower Ringol were warned out. No expense was to be spared in seeing that the evictions were thoroughly carried out, Mackin non rather cynically observing, that "since the pounds have been settled the farthings should be no obstacle."

I give a list of the people warned out four years before, but apparently they had been allowed to remain, being therein 1789-

ELGOL TENANTS, 1785.

i. Donald Mackinnon.
2. Neil Mackinnon (Neil Roy's son).
3. Catharine Mackinnon (Neil Roy's widow).
4. John Macdonald, son to Donald Macdonald.
5. Hector Mackinnon.
6. John Mackinnon, son to Hector.
7. Neil Maclean.
8. Catharine Maclean.
9. Lachlan Maclean, son to Neil.
10. Neil dhu Mackinnon.
11. Ewen Mackinnon.
12. Donald Mackinnon.
13 Neil Mackinnon vic lain.
14. Donald Macdonald.
15. Donald Fletcher.
16. Donald Mac innes.
17. Alexander Mackinnon.
18. John Morrison.
19. Angus Mackinnon.
20. Lachlan Mackinnon.
21. Neil dhu Maclean.

CAMUSUNARY TENANTS, 1795,

22. Neil Grant.
23. Neil Mac Innes vic Conchie.
24. Lachlan Mackinnon.
25. Finlay Mackintosh.
26. Donald Mackinnon.
27. Alexander Macleod.
28. John Mackinnon, senior, vic Eachin.
29. James Grant.
30. John Mackinnon, junior.
31. Archibald Maclean (died), his son in his place.
32. Malcolm Mackintosh, Change Keeper in Aird of Strath.

The above is a list of tenants in Strath, who are to be warned out of their lands without delay.

Charles Mackinnon retired to the neighbourhood of Dalkeith, not only in poverty, but in actual destitution. In a letter dated Edinburgh, the 29th of February, 1796, it is said "I suppose you would have heard of poor Mackinnon's untimely end. He assigned as a reason for the step he took, that he was starving, and in vain applied to his friends for support." In another letter, also from Edinburgh, dated the 5th of March, 1796, the matter is thus referred to by an Inverness man—"I daresay you would have heard that the Laird of Mackinnon shot himself about the beginning of February. The reasons he assigned to Mr Macdonald in a card he wrote him about an hour before he despatched himself, was—before he would die of want, having only a little borrowed silver in his pocket. in this card he mentions that he had made known his destitute situation frequently to his rich brother (Colbecks) and his other friends without effect." He had married Alexandra Macleod of Macleod, who had a jointure of 150 a year, and had he been prudent they might have lived respectably.

Colonel John Macleod of Colbecks is unfavourably referred to in one of the preceding extracts, and is termed Mackinnon's "rich" brother. True, he was his brother uterine and seems to have been sorely tried, as seen by the annexed letter, dated Inveresk, the 1st of July, 1783, and marked on the back "John Macleod, Esq. of Colbecks." In this letter some difficulties arise, as he refers to his father and stepmother as then alive. Mr Mackenzie in his History of the Macleods states that Malcolm Macleod, 8th of Raasay's daughter Janet, married first John Macleod of the old Macleod's of Lewis, with issue, John Macleod of Colbecks. She married secondly as his second wife, in 1743, John Mackinnon of Mackinnon, with issue, Charles and others. This account is generally accepted, but if so, (1) the first John Macleod must have died prior to 1743, while the son speaks of him as living in 1783; (2) Colbecks refers to his stepmother as an ill-used person, while there is no evidence that his father married, or could have married a second time while Janet Macleod lived. Had Colbecks referred to his mother and to his brother as spendthrifts there would be no difficulty. He writes—

"Mr B. Macleod called for me to-day, and told me of my poor father's distress. God knows many a day and hour's uneasiness it has given me. Let the creditors know that what can be done will be done, but it must take time, and they should set him at liberty, for was I to pay the debt now, it would have to be done over again, so I cannot interfere further, only to give such help to my poor injured stepmother as will make her and the children somewhat easy. This I will become bound for."

THE MACKINNONS OF CORRY, AND OTHERS.

The Mackinnons of Corry stood for a long time in importance next to the chief. The old place of Corry, where Johnson was hospitably entertained, has long been vacated and the site, except for a few trees, can not be made out from the surrounding muir. Until very recently there were Mackinnons in Kyle, an old Mackinnon possession. From a letter of the John Mackinnon of more than a hundred years ago I make an excerpt, as he uses a word which I do not recollect of falling in with elsewhere. Dating from Kyleakin, the 29th of February, 1786, though that year was not a leap year, Mackinnon, writing to a young dandy merchant of Inverness, says—"I have no news, but that we had a very great ball at Broadford, and regretted that, to your great loss, you were not among the many pretty young ladies, and must say you was a fouterchang going away so soon." It was no doubt in anticipation of this ball that Miss Marion Macleod of Gesto writes, in January, 1786, in a most doleful strain, that the dancing shoes she ordered from Inverness for a ball were much too large and that she must be content with her old ones.

The original Mackinnon estate stretched across Skye from east to west, and according to the weather Strathwordill is beautiful or depressing. My first acquaintance with it was under pleasing circumstances and in magnificent weather. Upwards of forty years ago I had occasion to visit the Outer and Inner Hebrides on legal business. The journey from Inverness to Skye now by rail is far from what it ought to be in the matter of speed, but in those days it was serious, and the misery and discomfort of the old three-horse coach from Dingwall, with no inside, can only, be imagined. By the time Kyleakin Ferry was crossed it was dark, and then the weary drive to Broadford towards Portree was intoltrable. The day had been wet all along from Dingwall, and the evening in Skye pitch dark. Next day, however, broke beautifully, and I resolved to take the opportunity of visiting the Spar cave and Coruisk, and to rejoin the main road at Sligachan. The drive up Strathwordill was delightful, and so was the sail from Loch Slappin, by the cave and to Loch Scavaig. I recollect being much amused listening to a dispute between the boatmen how much they were to charge me, they being in doubt whether I was a stranger or countryman. I of course said nothing, and it carried that I was a Saxon and would be charged double. At parting, I thanked them in Gaelic, and said, offering the smaller sum, that I presumed that that would satisfy them. The sum was taken quietly, and nothing said, but I fancy it was well discussed on their way home. I have seen Coruisk since, and been more impressed with its grim surroundings than by the loch itself. Some days afterwards at a dinner table in Stornoway an Englishwoman with some literary pretensions said that it resembled a "huge ink-pot"—a simile I have never forgotten.

A youth desirous of going to Sligachan volunteered, if I took him in my boat with me, to guide me and to carry my belongings. A more execrable track than that from Coruisk to Sligachan does not exist in the Highlands.

During the Mackinnon greatness, part of their estate was used and known as Mackinnon's forest, and lay, as I understand, between Lochs Slappin and Oynart, comprehending the surrounding mountains.

A severe contest lasting for several years took place about 1766-1770 between the Rev. Donald Nicolson, minister of Strath, and tacksman of Torrin and Kilchrist, on the one part, and James Macdonald, Change-keeper at Sconser, on the other. The minister was pursuer, and he is described as "a man of uncommon probity and goodness." Not only was there a question of kelp shore on Loch Oynart, but also of hill marches in which the ancient boundaries of the Macdonald and Mackinnon estates cropped up. John Macrae, born in 1702, said that he heard "that Altnachaoirin was the reputed march betwixt Trotternish and Strath; but he also heard that the Tutor of Macdonald insisted that the river at the head of Loch Oynart was the march, though those of Strath alleged the said burn to be the march. That he knew the forest of Strath, and that it lies south-west of the head of Loch Oynart." Many old witnesses were examined, whose evidence and hearsay went back to the end of the seventeenth century. I had often heard of the "Cro" of Kintail, but did not know that there was a district known as the Cro of Strath. One witness, born in 1719, said "that he knew the Cro of Strath and reckoned that it is composed of and includes the tacks of Corrychatachan, Swordell, Kilchrist, Kilbride, and Torrin." Alexander Macdonald of Kingsburgh and his son Allan, were both examined, the former at his own house, being valetudinarian, of great age, and unable to travel, as represented on his behalf. By 1769 the Macdonalds had ceased to be factors for Macdonald, and one Maclean was appointed.

The reverend gentleman, who is accused in the pleadings of being unduly concerned with his secular affairs, lost his case. His tack gave him a right to the kelp ex-adverso of his subjects on Loch Slappin, but he tried to extend the right to Loch Oynart, which was miles distant, because his predecessor in the tack, Macleod, wadsetter of Balmeanoch, had been in use to cut seaware on Loch Oynart.

Alexander Macallister, who purchased Strathaird, was of good family, though Tailisker describes him as "one of Maclead's feuers." He had before 1789 purchased the lands of Clack-hamish and Triaslane. He was treated somewhat cavalierly, not only by Lord Macdonald but also by the schoolmaster of Strath, and in i8o8 he had to take steps against Macdonald of Lyndale, his neighbour, in connection with the road. Though there was a good road on the hard by the sea-shore, Lyndale Was accused at his own hand of beginning to form a new straight road through Macallister's arable and green pasture lands.

It cannot be said that the condition of the people improved under the Macallisters; indeed most of those who did not leave altogether were pressed into Elgol, a place visited with a grievous epidemic in 1883. From personal observation I can say that Elgol is much congested, and while the late Sir William Mackinnon is entitled to full credit for the carriage road which he had made from Kinloch Slappin, by Kilmorie to Elgol, yet the distribution of the people is most unsatisfactory. On my last visit I was concerned that a valued friend, Lachlan Mackinnon, had recently died. His widow, a most pleasant speaking person, though I fear indifferently endowed with this world's means, received me with old Highland hospitality. Lachlan Mackinnon, and indeed all the Elgol people I have met, impressed me very favourably by their courtesy and intelligence.

The estate is again for sale, at by no means an extravagant price, and it is to be hoped that it will fall into good hands. In any case it is a matter of satisfaction that the last time I spoke in Parliament was mainly in urging the necessity of improving the congested condition of the people of Elgol, and the estate of Strath generally.


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