Antiquarian Notes, Historical, Genealogical and Social (Second Series) Inverness-Shire, Parish by Parish
Chapter XIV. Sirath
THE MACKINNONS OF THAT
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
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.]
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.
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
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, wasbefore 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.
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
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.
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.
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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