of Skye in 1882-1883 The Social Revolution in the Braes
evictions have yet taken place in consequence of the social revolution
which has, during 1882-3, directed the attention of the world to the
position of landlord and tenant in the Isle of Skye. Considerable space
must, however, be devoted to what has already occurred. The writer went
over the ground, and he has carefully considered the whole question. The
following statement was published by him, on his return from the Island,
in the Celtic
Magazine 'for May 1882, and he has not
hitherto found it necessary to modify a single sentence of what he then
wrote, though he has watched all the proceedings which have since
occurred— including the evidence given at the trial of the Braes
crofters—with* great care. Indeed, it has been admitted by those more
immediately concerned on the landlords’ side, that his account was
exceedingly moderate in tone, carefully couched in temperate language,
and accurately stated in all its details. It is as follows:—
we were, and still are, on the verge of a social revolution in Skye is
beyond question, and those who have any . influence with the people as
well as those lairds and factors who have the interests of the
population virtually in their keeping, will incur a very grave
responsibility at a critical time like this, unless the utmost care is
taken to keep the
action of the aggrieved tenants within the law, and on the other hand
grant to the people, in a friendly and judicious spirit, material
concessions in response to grievances regarding any hardships which can
be proved to exist.
quite true that, though innumerable grievances unquestionably do exist,
no single one by itself is of sufficient magnitude to make a deep
impression on the public mind, or upon any mere superficial enquirer. It
is the constant accumulation of numberless petty annoyances, all in the
same direction, that exasperate the people. The whole tendency, and, it
is feared, the real object of the general treatment of the crofter is to
crush his spirit, and keep him enslaved within the grasp of his landlord
and factor. Indeed, one of the latter freely admitted to us that his
object in sometimes* serving large numbers of notices of removal, which
he had not the slightest intention of carrying into effect, was that he
might “ have the whip-hand over them ”. This practice can only be
intended to keep the people in a constant state of terror and
insecurity, and it has hitherto succeeded only too well.
most material grievance, however, as well as the most exasperating, is
the gradual but certain encroachment made on the present holdings. The
pasture is taken from the crofters piecemeal;
their crofts are in many cases subdivided to make room for those
gradually evicted from other places—in a way to avoid public
attention—to make room for sheep or deer, or both. The people see that
they are being gradually but surely driven to the sea, and that if they
do not resist in time they will ultimately, and at no distant date, be
driven into it, or altogether expelled from their native land. A little
more pressure in this direction, and no amount of argument or advice
will keep the people from taking the law into their own hands and
resisting it by
force. The time for argument has already gone. The powers that be has
hitherto refused to listen to the voice of reason, and the consequence
is that scarcely any one can now be found on either side who will wait
to argue whether or not a change is necessary. It is admitted on all
hands that a change, and a very material change, must take place at no
distant date, and the only question at present being considered in the
West at least, is, What is to be the nature of the change? This is what
we have now been brought face to face to, and, however difficult the
problem may be —and it is surrounded with endless difficulties on all
sides —the change must come; and it is admitted all round that the day
when it shall take place has been brought much nearer by the
inconsiderate action and unbending spirit of those at present in power
in the Isle of Skye. This is now seen and admitted by themselves. In
short, a great blunder has been committed. This opinion is almost
universal in the Island, and it will be a crime against owners of- land,
against the interests of society, and against common sense, if the
blunder is not at once rectified by the good sense of those who have it
in their power to do so. The error will soon be forgotten if rectified
with as little delay as possible; and the class of men who are willing
to sacrifice their own ideas of self-importance to confer a great boon
upon society is so limited, that we appeal with no slight confidence to
Lord Macdonald’s factor to retrace his steps, and arrange a settlement
with his people in the Braes; and thus assuredly raise himself to a
higher position in public estimation than he has ever yet occupied, with
all his power; and at the same time become an example for good to
others. He can do all this with the less difficulty, seeing that not a
single one of the grievances of the Braes tenants were originated since
he became factor on the Macdonald estates, and that
only thing with which he can fairly be charged in connection with them
was a too imperious disinclination to listen to the people’s claims, and
that he had not fully and sufficiently early enquired into the justice
of them. On his prudence very much depends at present the amicable
settlement of a great question, or at least the shape which the present
agitation for the settlement of the relations of landlord and tenant in
the Highlands will ultimately take.
believe that the sad consequences of the recent proceedings against the
Braes tenants is deplored by himself as much as by any in the Isle of
Skye, where the feeling of regret and shame is universal among the
people, from the highest to the lowest, irrespective of position or
is a very strong feeling that the law must be maintained; but the
opinion is very generally expressed that the people ought not on this
occasion, and in the present state of the public mind, to have been
brought into contact with the criminal authorities; and that by a little
judicious reasoning this could have been very easily avoided. We quite
agree that the law must not only be respected, but firmly vindicated,
when occasion demands it; but at the same time the owners of land who
press hard upon their poor tenants are living in a fool’s paradise if
they expect that harsh laws, harshly administered, will be allowed to
stand much longer on the statute-book if such as the recent proceedings
at the Braes are to be repeated elsewhere throughout the country. Just
now the facts of history deserve careful study, and we trust that the
lessons they teach will not be thrown away on those more immediately
concerned in maintaining their present position in connection with the
attempt has been made to show that the Braes tenants have no real
grievances; and our own opinion before we went to examine them on the
spot was, and it is so still, that
they are, from a legal standpoint, in a far worse position to assert
their claims than the tenants of Glendale, Dr. Nicol Martin’s, and other
proprietors on the Island. We are now satisfied, however, that they have
very considerable grievances from a moral standpoint, and no one will
dispute that grievances of that kind are generally as important, and
often more substantial and exasperating than those which can be enforced
in a court of law.
Braes tenants maintain that in two instances considerable portions of
their lands have been taken from them without any reduction of rent, and
their contentions are capable of legal proof.
There is no doubt at all that they had the grazings of Benlee—the
original cause of the present dispute—down to 1865, when it was taken
from them and let to a sheep farmer as a separate holding. It can be
proved that Lord Macdonald paid them rent for a small portion of it,
which he took into his own hands for the site of a forester’s house and
garden. It can also be proved that it was not a “common” in the ordinary
acceptation of that term, though it is called so in a map made by a
surveyor, named Black-adder, who, in 1810, divided the crofts from the
run-rig system into ordinary lots, while the grazings of Benlee
continued to be held in common
as before. The Uist people, and others from the West, paid a rent for
the use of it to the Braes tenants when resting their droves on their
way to the Southern markets.
The townships are, or were, divided into seven crofts, occupied by as
many tenants, and an eighth, called the shepherd’s croft, which that
necessary adjunct to a common or club farm received in return for his
services. The shepherd’s croft has been since withdrawn, and let direct
by the factor to an eighth tenant, and that without any reduction
of rent to the other seven crofters in each township, while they have
now to bear the burden of paying their shepherd from their own
resources. This is a virtual raising of the rents, without any
equivalent, by more than 13^ per cent., altogether apart from the
appropriation of Benlee.
grievances took shape long before the present factor came into power,
and he himself has stated that it was only since the present agitation
began that he became even acquainted with the complaint regarding the
shepherds’ crofts. For townships to have such a croft is quite common in
the Island, and the practice is well known and understood.
has been stated that the rents are now not higher than they were in
1810, but, apart from the fact that Benlee and the eighth croft have
since been taken away, why compare the present with 1810, a time at
which, in consequence of the wars of the period, and the high price
obtained for kelp, rents and produce of every kind were very high. The
rental of Lord Macdonald’s Skye property, we understand, was ^8000,
while in 1830, it fell to ^5000, but no corresponding reduction was made
in the Braes. The tenants maintain that they have repeatedly claimed
Benlee, and that the late factor told them if they had been firm when
the previous lease expired, they would have got it, though whether with
or without rent was nQt stated. This is admitted, though different views
were held by each as to the payment of rent —the tenants expecting they
were to get it in terms of their request, without any payment, while the
factor says that he meant them to get it on payment of the then rent. In
any case it is impossible that they can now obtain a decent livelihood
without additional pasture for their stock, for they have been obliged
to allow a great portion of their arable land to run into waste, to
graze their cattle upon it. They are
willing to pay some rent for Benlee, and it is to be hoped, in all the
circumstances, that the factor will meet them in a liberal spirit (as he
can, without difficulty, get the lands from the present tenant at
Whitsunday next),1 and thus avoid
further heart-burnings and estrangements between the landlord and his
tenants. That they have moral claims of a very substantial character
cannot be disputed, and the mere fact that the lands have been taken
from them so long back as 1865, can scarcely be pleaded as a reason why
this stale of matters should be continued. It has indeed been suggested,
with some amount of apparent justice, whether in all the circumstances
the people have not a moral claim to a return of the value of Benlee for
the period during which it has been out of their possession, seeing that
they still have the arable portions and part of the grazings of their
visited this property, some 30 to 35 miles from Portree, and 7 to 12
miles from Dunvegan, accompanied by the special commissioners for the
Free Press, the Dundee Advertiser,
and the Glasgow
Citizen. The whole surroundings of Glendale
at once indicate a more than average comfortable tenantry, indeed, the
most prosperous, to outward appearance, that we have seen in the
North-West Highlands. The estate is owned by the Trustees of the late
Sir John Macpherson Macleod. The people are remarkably intelligent and
well informed, and their grievances place those of the Braes men
entirely in the shade. The following account of them and their position
generally, largely from Mr. William Mackenzie’s account in the Free Press,
and taken down in the presence of the writer, may be accepted as a true
statement of their case :—
the people are thoroughly firm in their demands, it would be a mistake
to call their attitude and actions a “no rent” agitation. They are all
alive to their obligation to pay rent to the landlord, and where rent is witheld that is done, not in defiance of the landlord’s rights, but as
the best, and perhaps the only, means they can devise to induce the
landlord to consider the claims and grievances of the people. The estate
managed by the trustees of the late John Macpherson Macleod consists of
about a dozen townships. According to the current valuation roll, lands,
etc., of the annual value of £400 9s. are in the occupancy of the
trustees. Dr. Martin pays £133 for Waterstein, and the shooting tenant
pays £140. The ground officer pays some £30 for lands at Colbost, while
the rest of the estate is occupied by crofters, who among them pay a
rent of about £700. The extent of the estate is about 35,000 acres. Ten
years ago the rent was £1257, while now it is £1397 odds, shewing a net
increase on the decade of £139 16s. 1d. or slightly over 11 per cent.
tenants complain that the different townships were deprived of rights
anciently possessed by them ; that some townships were by degrees
cleared of the crofters to enable the laird or the factor to increase
his stock of sheep, and that such of these people as did not leave the
estate were crowded into other townships, individual tenants in these
townships being required to give a portion of their holdings to make
room for these new comers. They also complain of the arrogant and
dictatorial manner in which the factor deals with them. So the Glendale
crofters, wearied for years with what they have regarded as oppression,
have now risen as one man, resolved to unfold before the public gaze
those matters of which they complain, and to demand of their territorial
superiors to restore to them lands which at one time were occupied by
themselves and their ancestors, to lessen, if not to remove, what they
regard as the severity of the factor’s yoke, and generally to place them
in that position of independence and security to which they consider
they are fairly and justly entitled. The functions performed by the
factor of Glendale are exceedingly varied in their character. He is,
they say, as a rule, sole judge of any little dispute that may arise
between the crofters. He decides these disputes according to his own
notions of right or wrong, and if anyone is dissatisfied—a not uncommon
occurrence even among litigants before the Supreme Courts —the
dissatisfied one dare not carry the matter to the regularly constituted
tribunals of the land. To impugn the judgment of the factor by such
conduct might entail more serious consequences than any one would be
disposed to incur, and, further, the extraordinary and mistaken notion
appears to have prevailed that if any one brought a case before the
Sheriff Court the factor’s letter would be there before him to nonsuit
him. This factorial mode of administrating the law is probably a vestige
that still lingers in isolated districts of the ancient heritable
jurisdiction of Scotland;
and it is only right to state that Glendale is not the only place in the
Highlands where the laird or the factor have been wont to administer the
law. Among the privileges which the Glendale people formerly possessed
was the right to collect and get the salvage for timber drifted from
wrecks to the shore. Of this privilege it was resolved to deprive them,
as may be seen from the following written notice which was posted up at
the local post-office, the most public part of the district:—
Notice.—Whereas parties are in the habit of trespassing on the lands
of Glendale, Lowergill, Ramasaig, and Waterstein, in searching and
carrying away drift timber, notice is hereby given that the shepherds
and herds on these lands have instructions to give up the names of any
persons found hereafter on any part of said lands, as also anyone found
carrying away timber from the shore by boats or otherwise, that they may
be dealt with according to law.—Factor’s Office, Tormore, 4th January,
lands over which they were thus forbidden to walk, consist mainly of
sheep grazing, in the occupation of the trustees, and managed for them
by the factor. The people were also forbidden to keep dogs.
notices, it is stated, had the desired effect; trespassing ceased, and
the crofter, with a sad heart, destroyed his canine friend. Grievances
multiplying in this way, it was resolved by some leader in the district
to convene a public meeting of the crofters to consider the situation.
The notice calling the meeting together, was in these terms:—
the tenants on the estate of Glendale, do hereby warn each other to meet
at Glendale Church on the 7th day of February, on or about one p.m., of 1882, for the purpose of stating our respective
grievances publicly, in order to communicate the same to our superiors,
when the ground-officer is requested to attend.
a revolutionary movement as this, the people actually daring to meet
together to consider their relations with the laird, and make demands,
was not to be lightly entered upon, and it need not be wondered at if
some of them at first wanted the moral courage to come up to the
occasion. If any one showed symptoms of weakness in this way he was
encouraged, and on the appointed day the clansmen met and deliberated on
the situation. At that meeting their grievances received full
expression. It was in particular pointed out that the township of
Ramasaig, which fifteen years ago was occupied by 22 separate crofters,
reduced to two, the land taken from or given up by the other twenty
families having been put under sheep by the factor. The people, who
presumably were less valuable than the sheep, in some cases left the
country altogether, while those that remained were provided with half
crofts on another part of the estate.
instance, a crofter who perhaps had a ten pound croft, say, at Milivaig
was requested to give up the one-half of it to a crofter removed from
Ramasaig, a corresponding reduction being made in the rent In this way,
while the sheep stocks under the charge of the factor were increasing,
the status of the crofters was gradually diminishing, and the necessity
for their depending more and more on other industries than the
cultivation of their croft was increasing. To illustrate this all the
more forcibly, we may state that the crofters at Ramasaig had eight milk
cows and their followers, and about forty sheep on each whole
croft—altogether over a hundred head of cattle and from 300 to 400
sheep. Lowerkell was similarly cleared. At the meeting of the crofters,
to which I have alluded, it was resolved that, as a body, they should
adopt a united course of action. They were all similarly situated. Each
man and each township had a grievance, and no individual was to be
called upon to make a separate claim. Each township or combination of
townships was to make one demand, and if any punishment should follow on
such an act of temerity, it should not be allowed to fall on any one
person, but on the united body as a whole. To guard against any
backsliding, and to prevent any weakling or chicken-hearted leaguer (if
any should exist) from falling out of the ranks, they, one and all,
subscribed their names in a book, pledging themselves as a matter of
honour to adhere in a body to the resolution thus arrived at. The scheme
having thus been
formulated, each township or combination proceeded to get up petitions
embodying their respective cases, and sending them to the trustees,
Professor Macpherson, of Edinburgh, and his brother.
tenants of Skinidin claim two islands, opposite their crofts, in Loch
Dunvegan. Apart from this, they complain that they do not get the
quantity of seaweed to which they were entitled. This may appear to some
a small matter, but to the cultivator of a croft it is a matter of great
importance, for seaware is the only manure which he can conveniently
get, excepting, of course, the manure produced by his cows. The
quantity of ware promised to the Skinidin crofters was one ton each, but
the one-half of it, they say, was taken from them some time ago, and
given to the “wealthy men” and favourites of the place. The result is
that they have to cross to the opposite side of Loch Dunvegan and buy
sea-ware there at 31s. 6d. per ton. This is not only an outlay of money,
which the poor crofters can ill afford to incur, but it also entails
great labour, which is attended with no inconsiderable danger to life.
The crofters accordingly demand the quantity of ware to which, they say,
they are entitled.
Colbost tenants, to the number of twenty-five, also sent in a petition,
in which they complained of high rents, and stated that owing to
incessant tilling the land is becoming exhausted, and ceasing to yield
that crop which they might fairly expect. In 1848, they say they got
Colbost with its old rights at its old rent with the sanction of the
proprietor. The local factor, Norman- Macraild, subsequently deprived
them of these privileges, while the rents were being constantly
increased. They accordingly demand that their old privileges should be
restored, and the rents reduced to the old standard, otherwise they will
not be able to meet their engagements.
shall next take the petition of the Harmaravirein crofters. The place is
occupied by John Campbell, who pays £9
15s. 4d; John Maclean, £8
3s. 4d.; John Mackay, £16
2s. 8d.; and Donald Nicolson, £4 12s. The petition, which was in the
following terms, deserves record :—
the crofters of Harmaravirein, do humbly show by this petition that we
agree with our fellow-petitioners in Glendale as to their requests. We
do, by the same petition, respectfully ask redress for grievances laid
upon us by a despotic factor, Donald Macdonald, Tor-more, who thirteen
years ago for the first time took from us part of our land, against our
will, and gave it to others, whom he drove from another quarter of the
estate of Glendale, to extend his own boundaries, and acted similarly
two years ago, when he dispersed the Ramasaig tenantry. We, your humble
petitioners, believe that none of the grievances mentioned were known to
our late good and famous proprietor, being an absentee, in whom we might
place our confidence had he been present to hear and grant our request.
As an instance of his goodwill to his subjects, the benefits he bestowed
on the people of St. Kilda are manifest to the kingdom of Great Britain.
We, your petitioners, pray our new proprietors to consider our case, and
grant that the tenantry be reinstated in the places which have been
cleared of their inhabitants by him in Tormore.
petition of the Upper and Lower Milivaig and Borro-dale crofters set
forth that, notwithstanding their going north and south all over the
country to earn their bread, they are still declining into poverty. The
crofts too are getting exhausted through constant tilling. Before 1845
they say there were only 16 families in the two Milivaigs and one in
Borro-dale. There are now 5 in Borrodale, 19 in Upper Milivaig, and 20
in Lower Milivaig, averaging six souls in each family. The rent before
1845 of the two Milivaigs was £40. At the date mentioned,
Macleod of Macleod, who was then proprietor, divided each of the oMilivaigs into 16
prayed that they might get the lands of Waterstein now tenanted by Dr.
Martin. The petition concluded:—
Further, we would beg, along with our fellow-petitioners in Glendale,
that the tenantry who have been turned out of Lowerkell, Ramasaig, and
Hamara by our ill-ruling factor be reinstated.
tenants of Holmesdale and Liepbein, 29 in number, stated in their
petition, that 48 years ago the place was let to ten tenants at about
and afterwards re-let to 25 tenants at about £85, besides a sum of £3
2s. 6d. for providing peats for the proprietor. The rents, they say,
have nearly doubled since then, and the inhabitants increased, the
present number being nearly 200, occupying 33 dwellings. There was much
overcrowding, there being as many as 15 persons upon crofts of four
acres. The petition contained the following estimate of factors :—“
Unless poor crofters are to be protected by the proprietor of the
estate, we need not expect anything better than suppression from factors
who are constantly watching and causing the downfall of their
fellow-beings, in order to turn their small portion of the soil into
sheep-walks.” These tenants prayed that the evicted townships of Lowerkell, Ramasaig, and Hamara, should be restored to the tenants, and
thus to afford relief to the overcrowded townships. The crofters of
Glasvein said they had no hill pasture for sheep, and no peat moss to
get their fuel from. When some of the present crofters, they say, came
into possession of their crofts, the township of Glasvein was allotted
to seven tenants, each paying an average rent of £5, whereas now the
township is in the possession of 12 crofters, paying each an average
rent of or so. They accordingly sought to have this matter remedied.
may be stated that most of the tenants of Glendale appear to be all
hard-working, industrious men, and their houses are better, on the
whole, than any crofter district that that we have yet visited in Skye.
The soil is more fertile, well drained, and comparatively well
cultivated. The men seem to be thoroughly intelligent, and some of them
not only read newspapers, but have very decided opinions in regard to
some of them. One of these, the Scotsman,
we heard them designating as “The United Liar”. But newspaper
reading—that is Liberal newspaper reading—is not encouraged in Glendale.
One man whom we met informed us that a crofter in Glendale was accused
of reading too many newspapers, a circumstance which the factor strongly
suspected accounted for the heinous crime of the crofter being a
Liberal. At one time there were some small shops in Glendale, but these
would appear to have practically vanished. Some years ago the factor set
up a meal store himself, and the crofters, we are informed, were given
to understand that shopkeepers would have to pay a rent of £2.
each for these so-called shops, in addition to their rents. No one,
however, appears to have ever been asked to pay this, but the shops
ceased to exist!
Perhaps the most indefensible custom of all was to compel the incoming
tenant to pay up the arrears, however large a sum, of his predecessor.
This appeared so incredible that no one present felt justified in
but on our consulting the factor personally, he not only admitted but
actually defended the practice as a kind of fair enough premium or
“goodwill” for the concern, and said it was quite a common practice in
the Isle of Skye. We would describe it in very different terms, but that
is unnecessary. It only wants to be stated to be condemned by all honest
men as an outrage on public morality.
left the district the crofters were in great glee at the prospect of a
visit from the trustees to arrange matters with them. They are hopeful
that important concessions may be made to them, and if these hopes
should not be realised, they appear to be animated with an unflinching
determination to stand by one another, and, shoulder to shoulder,
agitate for the redress of what they firmly maintain to be great and
have left ourselves but little space to speak of the condition of
affairs on the estate of Dr. Martin. This estate is one which is of
great interest to Highlanders. Borreraig, one of the townships in
revolt, was anciently held rent free by the MacCrimmons, the hereditary
pipers of Macleod of Dunvegan. The principal grievance complained of by
the crofters may be briefly stated. The crofters are required to sell to
the laird all the fish they catch at a uniform rate of sixpence for ling
and fourpence for cod, and we have actually been informed of a case
where some one was accused at a semi-public meeting of interfering in a
sort of clandestine way with the doctor’s privileges by buying the fish
at higher prices. The crofters were also required to sell their cattle
to the doctor’s bailiff at his own price. A man spoke of his having some
time ago sold a stirk to a foreign drover, and was after all required to
break his bargain with the outsider and hand over the animal to the
bailiff. This bailiff was, however, dismissed last Whitsunday, a fact
stated in defence by Dr. Martin’s friends. Tenants are also required to
give eight days’ free labour each year to the laird, failing which to
pay a penalty of 2s. 6d. per day; and while thus working, we were
informed that if any one by accident broke any of the
he used, he was required to pay for the damage. The breaking of a
shearing-hook subjected the man who did it to pay 2s. 6d. for it. We are
aware that the friends of the laird maintain that the labour thus
contributed by the people is in reality not for labour, but an
equivalent for a portion of the rent. This is a very plausible excuse,
but it will not bear examination. If it is regarded as a part of the
rent, rates should be paid upon it, and the “annual value” or rent
returned to the county valuator each year should be the amount actually
paid in money plus the value of the eight days’ labour. Thus, either the
labour is free, or there is an unjust and inequitable burden thrown on
the other crofters in the parish who do not perform such labour, as, of
course, the labour given by Dr. Martin’s tenants is not rated. The
tenants have now struck against performing this work, and Dr. Martin’s
work was done this year on ordinary day labour. ’
people also complain that the hill land was taken from the tenants of
Galtrigill, and the hill grounds of Borreraig, the neighbouring
township, thrown open to them. ' This was a very material curtailment of
the subjects let, but further, sums of from 10s. to 30s. were added to
the rent of each holding. No crofter on the estate has a sheep or a
horse, and they are obliged to buy wool for their clothing from a
distance, as Dr. Martin, they say, will not sell them any. The tenants
paid their rents at Martinmas last, but they have given notice that
unless their demands are conceded they will not pay the rent due at
Martinmas next. The leading points of their petition are that the rents
be reduced, the old land-marks restored, and the hill grounds as of old
given to them. This petition the tenants sent to Dr. Martin some time
ago, but he has not made any reply. The tenants do not appear to be very
hopeful that he
will make any concession, but they are evidently determined to walk in
the same paths as their neighbours on the estate of Sir John Macpherson
Macleod, and they are in great hopes that the friends of the Gael in the
large towns of the south will manfully aid them in their battle against
landlordism. This statement will enable the reader to form his own
opinion on the question which has produced such a feeling of insecurity
and terror in the minds of both crofter and proprietor for the last two
years in the Isle of Skye, indeed throughout the whole Highlands.
Summonses in the Braes.
shall next give a short account of what followed upon the refusal of
these proprietors to give favourable consideration to the claims of
their crofting tenantry. A correspondent of the Free Press,
early in April last, described what had occurred—after the tenants had
refused to pay any rent until their grievances were considered—in the
quarrel between Lord Macdonald and his tenants of Balmeanach,
Peinichorrain, and Gedintaillear, in the Braes of Portree, is developing
into portentous importance. His lordship, it appears, has made up his
mind to put the law in force against them, and not on any account to
yield to their demands; and on Friday a sheriff-officer and assistant,
accompanied by his lordship’s ground-officer from Portree, proceeded to
serve summonses of removing, and small debt summonses for rent upon
about a score of the refractory ones. The tenants, however, for some
time past, since they look up their present attitude, have been posting
regular sentinels on watch to give warning of any stranger’s approach,
and when the officer and his party were at the Bealach near the
schoolhouse, two youngsters who were on duty thereabout gave the signal,
and, immediately, it was transmitted far and near with the result of
bringing together from all quarters from their spring work a gathering
of about 150 or 200 men, women, and children, who rushed to meet the
officer before he had got near the intended scene of his operation,
viz., the townships of Peinichorrain, Balmeanach, and Gedintaillear,
and, surrounding him, demanded his business. Upon understanding it, and
being shown the summonses, the documents were immediately taken from him
and burnt before his eyes, and thereupon he was coolly requested to go
to his master for more of them. The officer, who is well known among
them, with good tact, humoured them, and so escaped with a sound skin,
so that no violence was used; but it appears the temper of the people
was such that had he been less conciliatory, or had he attempted to
resist the people, the consequence would have been inevitably very
serious for him. When they were gathering from the sea-shore, where many
of them were cutting sea-ware with reaping-hooks, their leaders
judiciously shouted out to leave their hooks behind, which was done, so
that the risk of using such ugly arms in the event of a melee
was avoided. The officer spoke lightly before proceeding to the place of
the resistance he was likely to meet, and thought there would really be
none, as he knew the people so well and they knew him, many of them
being his relations, but his impressions now of the real state of the
people’s minds is said to be very different, and he believes there would
be no use attempting any legal steps again by the employment of the
officers of civil law. The same paper in a later issue says:—
have received the following narrative of the manner in which the
summonses were burned on Friday last:—The
people met the officer on the road, about a mile from the scene of his
intended labours. They were clamorous and angry, of course. He told them
his mission, and that he would give them the summonses on the spot if
they liked. They said, “Thoir dhuinn iad,” (Give them to us) and he did
so. The officer was then asked to light a fire. He did so; and a fish
liver being placed upon it, that oily material was soon in a blaze. The
officer was then peremptorily ordered to consign the summonses to the
flames, which he did! The summonses were of course straightway consumed
to ashes. The interchange of compliments between the officers of the law
and the people were, as might be expected, of a fiery character. The
chief officer was graciously and considerately informed that his
conduct—as he had only acted in the performance of a public official
duty—was excusable; but with his assistant, or concurrent, it was
different He was there for pay, and he would not go home without it.
Certain domestic utensils, fully charged, were suddenly brought on the
scene, and their contents were showered on the unlucky assistant, who
immediately disappeared, followed by a howling crowd of boys.
March of the
summonses were never served, and the County Authorities after full
consideration determined to arrest and punish the ringleaders for
deforcing the officers of the law. Sheriff Ivory obtained a body of
police from Glasgow, and with these, twelve from the mainland of the
County of Inverness, and the Skye portion of the force, he, with the
leading county officials invaded the Isle of Skye during the night of
the 17th of April. After consulting with the local authorities in
Portree, an early start was made for the Braes to surprise and arrest
the ringleaders. The secret was well kept, but two newspaper
correspondents were fortunate enough to get an inkling of the
proceedings, namely, Mr. Mackinnon Ramsay, of the Citizen,
who followed the invading force from Glasgow, and Mr. Alexander Gow, a
special correspondent of the Dundee Advertiser,
who had gone to Portree a few days before the Battle of the Braes. These
gentlemen accompanied the county officials, saw the whole proceedings,
and sent a full description of the desperate and humiliating scrimmage
to their respective papers. We give below Mr. Gow’s graphic account,
every particular of which we found corroborated by the leading county
officials on our arrival in Portree the same evening. After describing
the state of feeling, and the acts on the part of the crofters which led
up to direct contact with the criminal authorities, Mr. Gow proceeds :—
we were, then—two Sheriffs, two Fiscals, a Captain of police,
forty-seven members of the Glasgow police force, and a number of the
county constabulary, as well as a couple of newspaper representatives
from Dundee and Glasgow, and a gentleman representing a well-known
Glasgow drapery house—fairly started on an eight-mile tramp to the Land
League camp at Braes, in weather that for sheer brutal ferocity had not
been experienced in Skye for a very long time. In the cold grey dawn the
procession wore a sombre aspect. It looked for all the world like a
Highland funeral. It was quite on the cards, indeed, that the return
journey might partake of the nature of a funeral procession. There could
be no doubt that every one was fully impressed with the gravity of the
mission on which we were proceeding. It is literal truth to say that no
member of the company expected to return without receiving knocks, if
not something more serious. We were perfectly aware that the crofters
had made preparations for giving us a warm reception. In front, some
distance ahead of the main body, walked the sheriff-officer, a
policeman, and another person occupying for the time being some official
position. Then came the police detachment, and the Sheriffs and the
Fiscals brought up the rear—the three unofficial persons already
mentioned forming what may be termed the rearguard. In this manner we
proceeded without incident for four miles, when the Sheriff and his
friends left the vehicle and sent it back. About half-past six o’clock
we reached the boundary of the disaffected district nearest Portree.
Hitherto scarcely a single soul was observed along the route, and some
surprise was expressed by those in charge. At the schoolhouse, however,
it was expected that a portion of the colony would be encountered, but
the place was untenanted. On another mile, and signs of life appeared
among the hillocks. Presently our ears were saluted with whistling and
cheering, and this was interpreted as a sign that it was time to close
the ranks. Gedentailler township was passed without any demonstrations
of hostility. At the south end of this township there is an ugly looking
pass, which seemed to cause some anxiety to the officers in charge. No
wonder, as there could not be a finer position for an attack on a
hostile body of men. On the west, a steep rocky brae rises sheer from
the road to the height of about 400 or 500 feet. On the other side, a
terrific precipice descends to the sea. We passed through it in safety,
however, but Inspector Cameron, of the Skye police, had reason to
believe that the return passage would be disputed.
Arrived at the boundary of Balmeanach, we found a collection of men,
women, and children, numbering well on to 100. They cheered as we
mounted the knoll, and the women saluted the policemen with volleys of
sarcasms about their voyage from Glasgow. A halt was then called, and a
parley ensued between the local inspector and what appeared to be the
leader of the townships. What is passing between the two it is difficult
for an outsider to understand, and while the conversation is in progress
it is worth while to look about. At the base of the steep cliff on which
we stood, and extending to the seashore, lay the hamlet of Balmeanach.
There might be about a score of houses dotted over this plain. From each
of these the owners were running hillward with all speed. It was evident
they had been taken by surprise. Men, women, and children rushed
forward, in all stages of attire, most of the females with their hair
down and streaming loosely in the breeze. Every soul carried a weapon of
some kind or another, but in most cases these were laid down when the
detachment was approached. While we were watching the crowds scrambling
up the declivity, scores of persons had gathered from other districts,
and they now completely surrounded the procession. The confusion that
prevailed baffles description. The women, with infuriated looks and
bedraggled dress—for it was still raining heavily—were shouting at the
pitch of their voices, uttering the most fearful imprecations, hurling
forth the most terrible vows of vengeance against the enemy. Martin was
of course the object of greatest abuse. He was cursed in his own person
and in that of his children, if he should have any, one female shrieking
curses with especial vehemence. The authorities proceeded at once to
perform their disagreeable task, and in the course of twenty minutes the
five suspected persons were apprehended. A scene utterly indescribable
followed. The women, with the most violent gestures and imprecations,
declared that the police should be attacked. Stones began to be thrown,
and so serious an aspect did matters assume that the police drew their
batons and charged. This was the signal for a general attack. Huge
boulders darkened the horizon as they sped from the hands of infuriated
men and women. Large sticks and flails were brandished and brought down
with crushing force upon the police—the poor prisoners coming in for
their share of the blows. One difficult point had to be captured, and as
the expedition approached this dangerous position, it was seen to be
strongly occupied with men and women, armed with stones and boulders. A
halt was called and the situation discussed. Finally it was agreed to
attempt to force a way through a narrow gully. By this time a crowd had
gathered in the rear of the party. A rush was made for the pass, and
from the heights a fearful fusilade of stones descended. The advance was
checked. The party could neither advance nor recede. For two minutes the
expedition stood exposed to the merciless shower of missiles. Many were
struck, and a number more or less injured. The situation was highly
dangerous. Raising a yell that might have been heard at a distance of
two miles, the crofters, maddened by the apprehension of some of the
oldest men in the township, rushed on the police, each person armed with
huge stones, which, on approaching near enough, they discharged with a
vigour that nothing could resist. The women were by far the most
troublesome assailants. Thinking apparently that the constables would
offer them no resistance, they approached to within a few yards’
distance, and poured a fearful volley into the compact mass. The police
charged, but the crowd gave way scarcely a yard. Returning again,
Captain Donald gave orders to drive back the howling mob, at the same
time advising the Sheriffs and the constables in charge of the prisoners
to move rapidly forward. This second charge was more effective, as the
attacking force was
driven back about a hundred yards. The isolated constables now, however,
found' their position very dangerous. The crofters rallied and hemmed
them in, and a rush had to be made to catch up the main body in safety.
At this point several members of the constabulary received serious
bufferings, and had they not regained their comrades, some of their
number would in all probability have been mortally . wounded. Meanwhile
the crowd increased in strength.
rime within which summonses of ejectment could be legally served having
expired, the crofters had for a day or two relaxed their vigilance, and
not expecting the constables so early in the morning, they had no time ‘
to gather their full strength. But the “ Fiery Cross ” had in five
minutes passed through the whole township from every point. Hundreds of
determined looking persons could be observed converging on the
procession, and matters began to assume a serious aspect. With great
oaths, the men demanded where were the Peinichorrain men. This township
was the most distant, and the men had not yet had time to come up. But
they were coming. Cheers and yells were raised. “The rock! the rock!” suddenly shouted some one. “The rock! the rock!” was taken up, and
roared out from a hundred throats. The strength of the position was realised by the crofters; so also it was by the constables. The latter
were ordered to run at the double. The people saw the move, and the
screaming and yelling became fiercer than ever. The detachment reached
the opening of the gulley. Would they manage to run through? Yes! No! On
went the blue coats, but their progress was soon checked. It was simply
insane to attempt the passage. Stones were coming down like hail,' while
huge boulders where hurled down before which nothing could stand. These
bounded over the road and
descended the precipice with a noise like thunder. An order was given to
dislodge a number of the most determined assailants, but the attempt
proved futile. They could not be dislodged. Here and there a constable
might be seen actually bending under the pressure of a well-directed
rounder, losing his footing, and rolling down the hill, followed by
scores of missiles. This state of matters could not continue. The chief
officials were securing their share of attention. Captain Donald is hit
in the knee with a stone as large as a matured turnip. A rush must be
made for the pass, or there seems a possibility that Sheriff Ivory
himself will be deforced. Once more the order was given to double. On,
on, the procession went—Sheriffs and Fiscals forgetting their dignity,
and taking to their heels. The scene was the most exciting that either
the spectators or those who passed through the fire ever experienced, or
are likely ever to see again. By keeping up the rush, the party got
through the defile, and emerged triumphantly on the Portree side, not
however, without severe injuries. If the south end township had turned
out, the pass would, I believe, never have been forced, and some would
in all probability have lost their lives.
crofters seemed to have become more infuriated by the loss of their
position, and rushing along the shoulder of the hill prepared to attack
once more. This was the final struggle. In other attacks the police used
truncheons freely. But at this point they retaliated with both
truncheons and stones. The consequences were very serious indeed. Scores
of bloody faces could be seen on the slope of the hill. One woman, named
Mary Nicolson, was fearfully cut in the head, and fainted on the road.
When she was found, blood was pouring down her neck and ears. Another
woman, Mrs. Finlayson, was badly gashed on the cheek with some
missile. Mrs. Nicolson, whose husband, James Nicolson, was one of the
prisoners, had her head badly laid open, but whether with a truncheon or
stone is not known. Another woman, well advanced in years, was hustled
in the scrimmage on the hill, and, losing her balance, rolled down a
considerable distance, her example being followed by a stout policeman,
the two ultimately coming into violent collision. The poor old person
was badly bruised, and turned sick and faint. Of the men a considerable
number sustained severe bruises, but so far as I could ascertain none of
them were disabled. About a dozen of the police were injured more or
less seriously. One of the Glasgow men had his nose-almost cut through
with a stone, and was terribly gashed about the brow. Captain Donald, as
already stated, was struck on the knee, and his leg swelled up badly
after the return to Portree. Neither the Sheriffs nor the Fiscals were
injured, but it is understood that they all received hits in the
encounter on the hill.
the serious scrimmage at Gedintailler, no further demonstrations of
hostility were made, and the procession went on, without further
adventure, to Portree. Rain fell without intermission during the entire
journey out and home, and all arrived at their destination completely
exhausted. On arrival in town the police were loudly hooted and hissed
as they passed through the square to the jail, and subsequently when
they marched from the Court-house to the Royal Hotel. The prisoners were
lodged in the prison. There names are :—Alexander Finlayson, aged
between 60 and 70 years; Malcolm Finlayson, a son of the above, and
living in the same house (the latter is married); Peter Macdonald has a
wife and eight of a family; Donald Nicolson, 66 years of age, and is
married; and James Nicolson, whose wife was one of the women seriously
Unless appearances are totally misleading, the work which they were
obliged to accomplish was most repugnant to Sheriff Ivory, Sheriff
Spiers, Mr. James Anderson, Procurator-Fiscal for the County, and Mr.
MacLennan; and the hope may be expressed that they will never again be
called upon to undertake similar duties.
“Battle of the Braes” has been capitally hit off in the following
parody, published in the Daily Mail
of the 26th of April last:—
CHARGE OF THE SKYE BRIGADE.
a league, half a league!
iii the valley of Braes
Marched the half-hundred.
“Forward, Police Brigade!
front of me, bold Ivory said;
the valley of Braes
Charged the half-hundred.
“Forward, Police Brigade!
Charge each auld wife and maid!”
though the Bobbies knew
Some one had blundered!
Their’s not to make reply;
Their’s not to reason why;
Their’s but to do or die;
the valley of Braes
Charged the half-hundred.
“Chuckies” to right of them,
“Divots ” to left of them,
in front of them,
Volleyed and thundered!
Stormed at with stone and shell,
Boldly they charged, they tell,
on the Island Host!
the mouth of—well!
Charged the half-hundred.
Flourished their batons bare,
in the empty air—
Clubbing the lasses there,
Charging the Cailleachs, while
All Scotland wondered!
Plunged in the mist and smoke,
thro’ the line they broke;—
Cailleach and maiden
Reeled from the baton stroke,
Shattered and sundered;
they marched back—intact—
Missiles to right of them,
Brickbats to left of them,
wives behind them
Volleyed and floundered.
Stormed at with stone and shell—
Whilst only Ivory fell—
that had fought so well
Broke thro’ the Island Host,
from the mouth of—well!
that was left of them—
can their glory fade?
the wild charge they made!
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Skye Brigade!
the “Battle of the Braes” had been fought
and won, and the gallant Sheriff with his- brave contingent of
blue-coats covered with the mud of the Braes and the glory of their
masterly retreat before the old men and women of Gedintailler had
retired to their quarters in Portree, the friends of the prisoners began
to think of their defence when they came before the Law Courts for
hours after the Police Brigade returned to Portree, Dean of Guild
Mackenzie, Inverness, editor of the Celtic Magazine,
who had gone, as representative of the Highland Land Law Reform
Association, to report upon the alleged grievances of the crofters in
Skye, arrived In Portree. Him the friends of the prisoners consulted,
with the result that he dispatched a telegram to Mr. Kenneth Macdonald,
Town Clerk of Inverness, asking him to undertake the defence. Curiously
enough a number of sympathisers in Glasgow, who had formed themselves
into a defence committee, met about the same time, and they also,
through their secretary, Mr. Hugh Macleod, Writer, Glasgow, telegraphed
to know if Mr. Macdonald would defend the prisoners. Both telegrams were
delivered about the same time and to each an affirmative reply was
this time nothing definite was known of the charge preferred against the
prisoners, and it was not until the 26th of April, 1882, a week after
the arrest, and when they could no longer be legally detained without
having a copy of the charge delivered to them, that the prisoners were
committed for trial and allowed to see an adviser. Such is the humanity
of the Criminal Law of Scotland. During the week which a prisoner can
thus be legally kept in close confinement, he will not be permitted to
see friend or adviser of any kind, but he may be brought day after day
before the Sheriff and subjected to examination by a skilful lawyer
whose main if not sole object is to get from him admissions which will
tend to prove his guilt, and every word he utters during this time is
taken down for the purpose of being used against him at his trial.
the prisoners were committed for trial, they were visited by their
agent, with the editor of the Celtic Magazine as interpreter, and in course of conversation, and
in reply to questions, the prisoners expressed a desire to get home to
proceed with the spring work on their crofts. By this time the sympathy
with the prisoners among the outside public, not merely in the Highlands
but in the large cities of the south, had extended through all classes
of society. Many who were in entire sympathy with them in their personal
grievances thought that they saw in the proceedings taken against them,
and in the outrages perpetrated in Skye in the name of law, a means of
creating a public opinion which would compel the Legislature to take up
the question of land tenure in the Highlands. It was the desire of this
party that the accused should be allowed to remain in prison until their
trial came on, in order that the public sympathy which their
apprehension and imprisonment evoked should have time to take definite
form. If the calculations of these sympathisers should turn out
accurate, the infliction of a slight hardship upon these men would
result in permanent good to themselves and the whole class to which they
belonged. The desires of the men themselves, however, of their friends
in Inverness, and the interest of their families, naturally guided Mr.
Macdonald’s proceedings, and he presented a petition to the Sheriff to
fix bail. The bail was fixed by Sheriff Blair at £20
sterling for each prisoner —£100
in all—and immediately it became known that persons were wanted, to sign
the bond, gentlemen offered themselves, the required subscriptions were
obtained, and the five prisoners were liberated that night. The
gentlemen who signed the bond were: Mr. John Macdonald, merchant, Exchange; Dean of Guild Mackenzie; Councillor Duncan Macdonald;
Councillor W. G. Stuart; Mr. Wm. Gunn, Castle Street; Mr. T. B. Snowie,
gunmaker; Mr. Donald Campbell, draper; and Mr. Duncan MacBeath, Duncraig
Street—all of Inverness. On the following day the accused left Inverness
for Skye by the 9 a.m. train, accompanied to the station by several of
their friends, including the Reverend and venerable Dr. George Mackay.
following account of the reception of the liberated men on their return
to Portree is taken from the Aberdeen Daily Free
Press, whose special correspondent, Mr.
William Mackenzie, was on the spot:—
five men from the prison of Inverness arrived at Portree this evening,
and were received with unbounded enthusiasm. Early in the day a telegram
was received intimating that they had left Inverness in the morning, and
that the venerable pastor of the North Church, the Rev. Dr. Mackay, gave
them there a friendly farewell. Mairi Nighean Iain Bhain, to whose
poetic effusions on the men of the Braes and Benlee, I have formerly
alluded, went by the steamer from Portree in the morning to meet them at
Strome Ferry. She was accompanied by Colin the piper, and on the
homeward journey the men were inspired •with the songs of the poetess,
the music of the Highland war-pipe, and a scarcely less potent
stimulant, the famous Talisker, It was known far and wide that the men
were to come to-night, and their fellow-crofters in the Braes resolved
to give them a hearty reception. The Braes men accordingly began to
straggle into the town in the afternoon, and groups of them might be
seen along the street eagerly discussing the situation. Endeavours were
made to induce the “suspects” to leave the steamer at Raasay and row
afterwards to the Braes. This would, of course, deprive their friends of
any chance to give them an ovation at Portree, and lead outsiders to
suppose that the Portree people regarded the matter with indifference.
The liberated men were, however, warned against being caught in the
snare which was laid for them, and they came straight on to Portree. The
steamer did not arrive till about eight o’clock, but whenever she
reached the quay the assembled multitude raised a deafening cheer, again
and again renewed, which completely drowned Colin’s pipes. As soon as
the steamer was brought alongside the quay, Colin stepped out, playing "abhaidh sinn an rathad mor”. He was followed by the poetess, and after
her the five liberated men. Each man, as he stepped on the quay, was
embraced by the males, and hugged and kissed by the females, amid
volumes of queries as to their condition since they left, and
congratulations on their return. These friendly greetings were not
allowed to be of any duration, for each man was hoisted and carried
shoulder-high in triumph through the streets of Portree. The Braes men
themselves mustered in full force, and in the procession they were
joined by numerous sympathisers in the district and the village of
Portree. The crowd, headed by the piper and the poetess, proceeded along
the principal thoroughfare to the Portree Hotel. Bonnets were carried on
the tops of walking sticks, and held up above the heads of the people,
amid cries of “Still higher yet my bonnet,” while the women of Portree
waved their white handkerchiefs and shouted Gaelic exclamations of joy
as the “lads wi’ the bonnets o’ blue” were carried along in triumph. On
reaching the Portree Hotel a number of them, including the
“suspects,” went in, and Mr. MacInnes, the popular tenant of that
excellent and well-conducted establishment, treated the
suspects” to refreshments. Who should happen to turn up unexpectedly at
the hotel but the factor, accompanied by some of his friends, and when
that individual emerged from the door of the hotel, he was received with
a volume of groans. The Braes men left the hotel without any delay and
marched to their homes in a body, shouting and cheering as they
proceeded on their way. A carriage was sent after them to convey the
five men from Inverness to their respective places of abode.
the meantime an intimation had been conveyed to the Prisoners’ Agent by
Mr. James Anderson, Procurator-Fiscal of Inverness, that he had been
ordered by the Crown Agent to have the prisoners tried summarily before
the Sheriff for the crimes of deforcement and assault. This was,' so far
as known, the first time in Scottish Legal History that so serious a
crime, so seriously treated by the authorities at the outset, had been
ordered for summary trial. There was something suspicious in the order,
and although the letter of it was adhered to, it is probable that but
for the protests made on behalf of the prisoners, both in and out of
Parliament, the true meaning of the order would have been made evident
at the trial. On receiving intimation of the order, Mr. Macdonald wrote
to the Lord-Advocate for Scotland, requesting that he should instruct
the trial to proceed before a jury. To that letter the following reply
Whitehall, April 29, 1882.
directed by the Lord-Advocate to acknowledge receipt of your letter of
27th current, and to say in reply that he sees no reason for recalling
the order for trial of the Skye crofters charged with assault and
deforcement before the Sheriff summarily, and that the order will
therefore be carried out
Macdonald, immediately on receiving the reply, addressed the following
letter to the Lord-Advocate :—
Inverness, 1st May, 1882.
have received from your Secretary a letter stating that you “see no
reason for recalling the order for trial of the Skye crofters charged
with assault and deforcement before the Sheriff summarily, and that the
order will therefore be carried out ”. I thought when I first wrote you
that the request for a jury trial was so fair and reasonable that I did
not require to adduce any reason in support of it, and that it lay with
you, if you refused it, to give a reason for the refusal. Since,
however, you do not seem to take this view of the matter, you will
permit me to state some of the reasons which I think ought to induce you
to grant the request of the prisoners.
crime with which the men are charged is said to have been committed in
the Skye district of this county. In that district there is a Court
which has hitherto, so far as I can ascertain, tried all
summary cases arising in the district. And yet without any reason
assigned, the present case has been ordered for trial at Inverness. Had
the case been sent for a jury trial it would have been the usual, and
indeed, necessary, course to try the case here, but it is a thing
hitherto unheard of that a summary trial from one of the outlying
districts of the county should be taken here. With a complete machinery
for conducting summary trials in the District Court, the prisoners are
entitled to some explanation of the reason why they are put to the
expense of bringing their witnesses and themselves from Skye to
Inverness, when, in the ordinary course of things, they ought to go no
further from home than Portree. It may be answered that as the resident
Sheriff at Portree was engaged in the apprehension of the prisoners, he
ought not to try the case. That is perfectly true. The prisoners quite
agree that it would be improper to have the case tried by Mr. Spiers,
but they are not responsible for what he has done, and ought not to
suffer for it. If Sheriff Spiers has disqualified himself from trying
the case, that affords no reason for punishing the persons to be tried.
All that would be required to be done would be to have the trial
conducted in Portree by Sheriff Blair, who would, according to your
order, conduct it in Inverness.
I have said is sufficient to show that your order is an exceptional one,
and the prisoners, and, I believe, the public also, will expect you to
justify it. Had these prisoners stood alone, their poverty would have
prevented them bringing a single witness from Skye to establish their
innocence, and your order would have meant a simple denial of justice.
further, the crime with which these men are charged is that of
deforcement of an officer of the Sheriff of Inverness, and your order is
that the Sheriff, whose servant is said to have been deforced, shall be
the sole judge of whether the crime was committed or not. It is not my
wish to draw historical parallels, but the circumstances will, no doubt,
suggest to your lordship a series of trials which took place in Scotland
nearly ninety years ago, when Muir and his fellow-reformers were
convicted of sedition. It is not for me to suggest, and I do not
suggest, that any of our local judges would deal unfairly with the
prisoners, but I ask what is your reason for refusing them a trial by
jury. It is to you
they look in the first instance, and it is your
reasons for pursuing an exceptional course with men who have already
been harshly dealt with that the public will canvass.
presume the object of the proceedings which have already been adopted
with regard to these men, and of the trial which is to follow, is to
inspire them and their fellows with a proper respect for the law. If
this is so, let them have no excuse for saying they have not got fair
play. If their crime was so important as to call for the exceptional
measures taken for their apprehension, it is surely too important to be
disposed of by a Court whose duties are usually confined to mere matters
of police. The belief of the prisoners is that the object of your order
is to secure their conviction at all hazards irrespective of their guilt
or innocence, and this belief is shared by a growing number of the
outside public. It is for you to dispel this misapprehension if it is
such circumstances as I have described a summary trial would be little
else than a farce ; and you will never inspire the Highland crofters or
their friends with respect for the law if you persist in enacting such a
farce in its name. I trust, therefore, you will reconsider your
resolution, and yet order the trial of the prisoners in a manner which
will inspire them with confidence in the administration of the law of
Honourable the Lord-Advocate
Office, Whitehall, London, S.W.
the same evening that the letter was written Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh (M.P.
for the Inverness Burghs), in the House of Commons, asked the
Lord-Advocate whether he would order that the Skye crofters now
committed for trial should, instead of being tried summarily, have the
privilege of being tried by a jury of their countrymen, and that the
presiding judge should be one disconnected with the exceptional
proceedings attendant on their recent apprehension ?
Dick Peddie had also the following question to ask the
Lord-Advocate—Whether it is the case that instructions have been given
that the five crofters recently arrested in Skye, and now released on
bail, be tried summarily; whether they have applied through their agent
to be tried by jury: and whether he intended to comply with their
Lord-Advocate, in reply, said he saw no reason for recalling the order
for the trial before a summary magistrate.
due consideration with his learned friend, the Solicitor-General for
Scotland, this decision had been arrived at when the case was before
them during the Easter recess. The people of Skye were generally
peaceful, and having reason to believe that they were misled by bad
advice, or they would not have resisted officers of the law in the
execution of a legal warrant, he, with his learned colleague, thought
that the offence would not be repeated if it was made clear to the
people as rapidly as possible that the law will be vindicated. The
charges preferred were of the least grave class that could be preferred
on behalf of the Crown, and summary trial proceedings afforded little
delay. The maximum sentence that could be inflicted was sixty days, and
of course a lighter sentence would be passed if in the discretion of the
magistrate it met the justice of the case. As to the last part of the
question, it was intended that the trial should proceed before the
Sheriff of Inverness who had not hitherto taken part in measures which
unfortunately became necessary to vindicate the authority of the law in
refusal of a Jury trial was final so far as the Crown was concerned.
Curious as it may seem, an accused person in Scotland has no right to
demand a trial by his peers. Our forefathers were not so careful of
their liberties in this respect, or not so powerful to enforce them as
our neighbours over the border. They took care centuries ago to secure
this right; we have not secured it yet.
might have occurred in this particular case but for the fear of public
indignation it is hard to say. Tyranny has a peculiar fascination for
weak men. Lord-Advocate Balfour, a good lawyer, but a weak politician,
the holder of an office which was long since stripped of most of its
power, and which immediately before his accession to it was so
emasculated that his predecessor declined to sacrifice his self-respect
by continuing to hold it,—desired to do one official act which had an
appearance of strength about it without the reality. He had brought
contempt upon the administration of the law by sanctioning or suggesting
the sending of a large body of police from Glasgow to Skye to arrest a
few old men of peaceful habits and general good character, whose worst
weapon, it has been proved, was a lump of wet turf, and when the whole
country was indulging in a roar of laughter over the ignominious retreat
of the invading army of policemen before the women of the Braes, and the
ridiculous ending of a performance which was intended to represent the
dignity of the Law, he, the person primarily responsible for the mistake
which had been committed, would naturally desire to cover his blunder by
securing a conviction against the few harmless cottars whom the
policemen in their blind panic had first laid hands on.
ever there was a case which ought to be tried by a Jury this was one. At
no time is the right of Jury trial more valuable than when the opinions
of the public, and the acts of the Crown, as represented by its
officials, run counter to each other, and when these acts are in any way
connected with the offence to be tried. At no time ought the right to be
more readily conceded. Here, however, it was determinedly denied. To Mr.
Macdonald’s second letter no answer was ever given. We believe none was
expected. Except in the answer given to the questions of Mr.
Fraser-Mackintosh and Mr. Dick Peddie in the House of Commons, at least
twenty-four hours before Mr. Macdonald’s letter reached him, the
Lord-Advocate did not attempt either to explain or defend his conduct.
In point of fact, complete explanation or defence was impossible. All
that time the Crown officers must have known what was not known to' the
prisoners’ advisers at the time, that there was no evidence against the
prisoners upon which any sane Jury would convict. But the Lord-Advocate
seems never to have forgotten that the officialism of the County of
Inverness had involved itself in the mess, and in a summary trial
officialism might be left to vindicate its own dignity. This would also
vindicate the dignity of the law, and the wisdom of its
administrators—at least so they thought. This theory was universally
accepted outside official circles as the reason for the resolution to
try summarily, and but for the protests made by outsiders, and
particularly a number of Scottish Members of Parliament to secure a fair
trial for the prisoners, most people believed that the trial would have
been even a greater farce than it turned out to be, but with a far
efforts of the Scottish Members to obtain a Jury trial did not end with
the questions in the House of Commons. Efforts were made privately by
some of these gentlemen to save the Administration of Justice in
Scotland from being sullied, but without result, and when all their
efforts failed, the members who had taken most interest in the matter,
published the following protest in the Times
of ioth May, 1882, from which it was quoted by almost every newspaper in
circumstances of the arrest, by a large body of police brought from
Glasgow, of half-a-dozen Skye crofters, accused of deforcing a sheriffs
officer who went among them to serve writs, and the attempt at a rescue
which attended it, must be fresh in the minds of your readers. We need
not say that the case has excited great public interest in Scotland. It
is most important, therefore, in order to secure any moral effect, that
the trial should be conducted under such circumstances as will place the
verdict above all suspicion. This, we regret to say, is not to be done,
and already many persons who sympathise with the men, and desire that
their case shall be fairly heard, openly accuse the Executive of
resorting to unworthy means to obtain a conviction. For
ourselves, we may at once state our perfect belief in the sincerity of
the Lord Advocate in his profession of a desire, while vindicating the
law, to provide for the accused that form of trial which will protect
them from an unnecessarily heavy punishment. But punishment pre-supposes
guilt, while what the accused contend is that they are not guilty. What
they claim is that they shall first have their guilt established in the
ordinary way, and if found guilty they are willing to take their chance
of that punishment their conduct may seem to deserve.
persons accused of crimes committed in Skye have ‘hitherto been
invariably tried in one of two ways. If the cases are considered so
trivial as to be dealt with summarily, they are tried by a
sheriff-substitute sitting at Portree. This course secures to the
accused the important advantage that evidence for his defence is
procurable at a
minimum of expense and inconvenience. If the
case is of a grave character, it is tried by a jury at Inverness. This,
of course, involves much more inconvenience and expense to the defence,
but it secures the services of a jury, a tribunal which, for the purpose
of deciding on matters of fact, is admittedly superior to a Judge,
however impartial, sitting alone. But in the case of the Skye crofters
the trial is to be at Inverness, without a jury. The defence thus incurs
all the incon-venience and expense usually attendant on a jury trial,
and obtains none of the advantages in the way of a tribunal the best
qualified to pronounce on the question of the guilt or innocence of the
accused. It is stated that Portree is in such an excited state that it
is unadvisable that the trial should take place there, and that,
therefore, it has to be removed to Inverness. There is not the smallest
reason, however, why, being held at Inverness, it should not be held in
the usual manner. The accused dispute the facts alleged by the
prosecution. Their agent has asked for a jury to decide on the question
of fact A jury trial is the invariable mode of disposing of Skye cases
tried at Inverness ; but a jury trial, though in this case specially
demanded, has been refused. The reason given for its refusal is that the
Crown authorities having originally intended that the trial should be a
summary one at Portree, though it has now been deemed advisable to
remove it to Inverness, they see no reason to change the form of trial
on that account. The reply is that at Portree there would have been
nothing unusual in a summary trial, and trial at Portree would have
secured material advantages to the accused. At Inverness the summary
trial of a Skye case is unprecedented, and the expense to the accused as
heavy as would be that of a jury trial.
the Lord Advocate has explained that if the cases had been tried by jury
the sentences might have been much heavier than those to which they
would be exposed on summary conviction. That is true, but it is equally
true that the judge might have awarded sentences as light as he deemed
proper. In the interests of justice it is desirable that the punishment
should be commensurate with the offence. There is no reason why a judge
sitting with a jury on circuit or in the Sheriff Court should not award
the slightest possible sentence. That is what the agent for accused
thinks, and, knowing their case, he is willing to take his chance of the
heavier sentence if they are found guilty and are thought to deserve it.
the point of guilt or innocence, however, he prefers the verdict of a
jury to the decision of a judge, and that has been refused. In criminal
cases in Scotland a bare majority of the jury convicts, and if the case
is not strong enough to convince eight men out of fifteen, the prisoners
are surely entitled to the benefit of the doubt. That is all that has
been asked, and that, despite the strongest representations, has been
refused. To us its refusal in this particular case, on grounds of public
policy, seems particularly regretable, and we beg through your columns
publicly to protest against it.
J. Dick Peddie.
of Commons, May 9, 1882.
Commenting on this protest the Pall Mall Gazette
of 10th May, said:—
hard to see what answer there can be to the protest on behalf of the
Skye crofters raised in the Times
this morning by seven Scotch members. Skye cases have hitherto always
been disposed of either summarily at Portree or by trial before a jury
at Inverness. If the accused had not the satisfaction of submitting his
case to a jury, he was, at least, relieved from the expense of being
tried at a distance from home. But in the present instance it is
proposed to try the crofters at Inverness, but without a jury. Why
should the crofters be subjected to the disadvantage of both methods of
trial without the benefit of either?
Whether if published earlier this Protest would have had any effect it
is hard to say. Probably not. As it was, it only appeared in the Times
the day before that fixed for the trial. By that time the arrangements
were complete. Some days before then Mr. Macdonald, the accused’s agent,
finding that the trial was to proceed summarily, had gone to Skye and
precognosced a large number of witnesses, several of whom were cited for
the defence. On the morning the.Protest appeared in the Times
the accused and the witnesses for the prosecution and defence left
Portree for Inverness, the trial having been fixed for the nth of May,
that day the accused took their place at the Bar of the Sheriff Court in
the Castle of Inverness. The hour of commencement was noon, and by that
time the Court-house was crowded. Sheriff Blair, the presiding judge,
was accompanied on the bench by Sheriff Shaw, late of Lochmaddy. Besides
numerous members of the Faculty, there were around the bar—Mr. Alex.
Macdonald, factor, Portree; Mr. Macleod, secretary of the Skye Vigilance
Committee, Glasgow ; Dean of Guild Mackenzie; Bailie Smith; Mr. Alex.
Macdonald Maclellan; Mr. MacHugh; Mr. Cameron of the Standard,
and several others.
indictment set forth that Alexander Finlayson, tenant or crofter; Donald
Nicolson, tenant or crofter; James Nicolson, now or lately residing with
the said Donald Nicolson; Malcolm Finlayson, son of, and now or lately
residing with, the said Alexander Finlayson ; and Peter Macdonald, son
of, and now or lately residing with, Donald Macdonald, tenant or
crofter, all residing at Balmeanach, had all and each, or one or more of
them, been guilty of the crime of
deforcing an officer of the law in the execution of his duty ; or of the
crime of violently resisting and obstructing an officer of the law in
the execution of his duty, or persons employed by and assisting an
officer of the law in the execution of his duty; and also of the crime assault, or of one or other of these crimes, actor or actors or art
and part, in so far as Angus Martin, now or lately residing at Lisigarry, near Portree, in the parish
Portree aforesaid, having been as asheriff-officer of the County of
Inverness, on or about the 7th day of April, 1882, instructed by
Alexander Macdonald, solicitor in Portree aforesaid, as agent for the
Right Honourable Ronald Archibald Macdonald, Lord Macdonald, of Armadale
Castle, Skye, to go to Balmeanach, Penachorain, and Geden-tailor, three
of the townships in the district of Braes, in the parish of Portree
aforesaid, to serve actions of removing, which, with the warrants
thereon, he delivered to the said Angus Martin for that purpose, raised
in the Sheriff Court of Inverness, Elgin, and Nairn at Portree, at the
instance of the said Right Honourable Ronald Archibald Macdonald, Lord
Macdonald, upon the tenants in the said townships . . . and also to
serve small debt summonses for debt . . . and the said Angus Martin
having upon the said 7th day of April, 1882, or about that time,
proceeded towards, or in the direction of the said three townships of
Balmeanach, Penachorain, and Gedentailor, in order to serve the said
actions and small debt summonses, accompanied by Ewen Robertson, now or
lately residing at Lisigary aforesaid, as his concurrent and assistant,
and by Norman Beaton, ground-officer on the estates of the said Lord
Macdonald, and now or lately residing at Shullisheddar, in the parish of
Portree aforesaid, the said Alex. Finlayson, Donald Nicolson, James
Nicolson, Malcolm Finlayson, and Peter Macdonald, did all and each, or
one or more of them, assisted by a crowd of people to the number of 150
or thereby, whose names are to the complainer unknown, actors or actor,
or art and part, at or near Gedentailor aforesaid [and at a part thereof
three hundred yards or thereby on the south of the schoolhouse, known by
the name of MacDermid’s Institution, on the lands of Olach in the parish
of Portree aforesaid, and now or lately occupied by Kenneth MacLean,
teacher there], wickedly and feloniously attack and assault the said
Angus Martin, well
knowing him to be an officer of the law, and in the execution of his
duty as such, and that he held the said actions and small debt summonses
and warrants for service, and the said Ewen
knowing him to be the assistant and concurrent and witness of the said
Angus Martin and the said Norman Beaton, and
did knock them, or one or more of them to the ground, and did by force
at or near Gedentailor aforesaid, forcibly seize hold of, and destroy
the service copies of the actions and ^small debt summonses before
mentioned, and did also upon the lands of Upper Olach, being another
township in the said district of Braes, and in the parish of Portree
aforesaid [and at a part of said lands occupied by Donald Macpherson,
crofter, there, forty yards or thereby on the south of the said
schoolhouse], forcibly seize hold of and burn, or cause, or procure to
be burned, the principal copies of the said actions and small debt
summonses and warrants thereon, and did further upon the said township
of Gedentailor, and upon the said township of Upper Olach, and upon the
high road leading from these townships to Portree aforesaid [and on that
part of said road lying between Gedentailor aforesaid and the said
Schoolhouse], throw stones and clods of earth and peat at the said Angus
Martin, Ewen Robertson, and Norman Beaton, by which they, or one or more
of them were struck to the hurt and injury of their persons ; and
by all which or part thereof the said Angus Martin, and the said Ewen
Robertson were deforced and by force, preventedfront executing and
discharging their duty and from serving the said actions and small debt
James Anderson, Procurator-Fiscal for the county, conducted the
prosecution, and Mr. Kenneth Macdonald, solicitor, and Town Clerk of
Inverness, appeared for the prisoners.
Procurator-Fiscal asked that certain amendments should be made on the
complaint with the object of more specifically defining the places at
which the acts charged against the prisoners were alleged to have been
committed. The amendments were not objected to and were allowed. The
lines introduced are those within the preceding copy of the
Immediately after the amendments had been made, Mr. Macdonald said that,
before the complaint was gone into, he had to state objections to the
relevancy of the indictment and also to the competency of the Court to
try the case. He objected to the competency of the Court on the ground
that the crime charged was of such a serious nature that it ought to be
tried by a jury; and he objected to the competency of the complaint on
the ground that the punishment attached by law to the crime charged in
the indictment is beyond that which could be imposed in that court. The
charge in this case was that of deforcing an officer of the law in the
execution of his duty, and that was said to have
done by the prisoners in concert with a crowd of 150 people; so that the
deforcement ran into the other serious charge of mobbing and rioting,
the most serious kind of deforcement known to the law. This was the
first time, he believed, in the legal history of Scotland that a charge
of such a serious nature had been tried in a Summary Court. The accused
had been brought to that Court; they objected to being brought there.
The public prosecutor had no right to dictate what was the competent
Court for the trial of a case; it was for his lordship to say whether
the Court was competent or incompetent. The public prosecutor had
refused to go to a higher Court; he had refused to give these men the
benefit of trial by jury; and it was now for his lordship to say whether
these men were to have that benefit. It had been said that the reason
for bringing the trial in the Summary Court was the fact that the
maximum sentence was so small, but his lordship had the same power in
the Jury Court as he had in the Summary Court
Sheriff said there was no question whatever in regard to the power of a
judge sitting in the Jury Court to inflict the minimum punishment in a
case of deforcement; and he instanced a case of that kind, tried by Lord
Young at the Inverness Circuit Court, in which the sentence was a fine
of 40s., with the alternative of one month’s imprisonment. .
Macdonald quoted the acts of the Scottish Parliament of 1581 (C. 118),
1587, (C. 85), and 1591 (C. 152), which regulated the punishment which
by statute followed on conviction, to show the serious nature of the
charge against the prisoners, and argued that as the libel concluded
generally for “ the pains of law ” and these pains were statutory and
such as were beyond the power of a Court of summary jurisdiction to
inflict, the Court was incompetent to
dispose of the cause. He also quoted from Hume and Alison to show that
the High Court had frequently suspended sentences pronounced in a
Summary Court when the crime charged was too serious for such a mode of
trial. He maintained that before 1864 there never was a case of such
magnitude tried before a Summary Court, and if not before 1864 there was
nothing in the Act of that date which would entitle them to try it. .
Sheriff said that this was an offence at common law as well as under the
statute. They were proceeding at common law, and the pains and penalties
which the prosecutor asked should be inflicted, were the pains and
penalties applicable under the Summary Procedure Acts.
Macdonald held that the punishment was statutory, even though the
offence was charged at common law.
Sheriff said the punishment was statutory if the prosecution was under
the statute; but if the prosecution was at common law, it was not
necessary for the Court to take the statutory penalty.
Macdonald contended that when his lordship was asked generally, as in
this complaint, to inflict the pains of law upon defenders, that carried
them back to the statute law.
Sheriff—That carries you back to the statute under which you are
proceeding; and the statute under which you are proceeding is the
Summary Procedure Acts.
Macdonald—If that is your lordship’s view, there is no use in any
further pressing my contention.
Sheriff said that was the view he was inclined to take. He might mention
that he had been aware that some objection of this sort might be taken,
and he had given the point careful consideration. Personally he should
have preferred that the case had been tried by jury, on the ground that
it would have relieved him of a considerable deal of personal
responsibility; but it was not what he desired, but what was really the
law on the point. It was quite true, and it had been the opinion of most
distinguished lawyers in this country, that there was no point less
fixed than as to when a trial was to be by jury or not. In the present
case, even should he have been of opinion—which he was not—that the
nature of the offence as detailed in the complaint before him was unfit
for summary trial, he did not think he could interfere with the
discretion of the public prosecutor in trying under the Summary
Procedure Acts, as the penalty craved did not extend beyond the limits
set forth in these Acts.
Macdonald then stated that he objected to the relevancy of the
indictment. The libel amounted to this—that Angus Martin, who lived at
Portree, proceeded on a certain day towards, or in the direction of,
certain townships; and that on the way there, at a certain place, he was
met by certain people, and had his warrants taken from him. The question
for his lordship was whether that amounted to deforcement. The act
charged in the indictment, Mr. Macdonald contended, might be theft, or
mobbing and rioting, or assault, but it was not deforcement. To be
deforced, an officer must be assaulted, and be in bodily fear while in
the execution of his duty; but in the libel it was not mentioned that
Martin ever made an attempt to execute the warrants he carried. There
was nothing to show that the officers had got near to the residences of
any of the persons upon whom they meant to serve the summonses— nothing
even to show that even on the road they were near to any of the men
against whom they held summonses. He quoted from Hume, Alison, and
Macdonald’s works on Criminal Law to show that an officer could only be
he was actually in the execution of his duty as an officer, or in actuproximo
to its execution. There was nothing in the libel to show that the
officers in this case were in the execution of their duty, or on the
point of executing it, or even near any of the places where their duty
fell to be executed, indeed, the presumption was, from the terms of the
libel—and this presumption was strengthened by the amendments just made
by the Public Prosecutor—that they had not reached the place when they
were met by the people.
the alternative charge of violently resisting and obstructing an officer
of the law in the execution of his duty, that was simply an unsuccessful
attempt at deforcement, and would only be committed in circumstances
which, had the resistance been successful, would have amounted to
deforcement. In short,’ here also the officer must be executing, or on
the point of executing, his duty, otherwise the crime would not be
committed. If, therefore, the libel was irrelevant as regarded the
charge of deforcement it was necessarily so as regards the less serious
charge of obstructing also.
Procurator-Fiscal, in reply, quoted from Alison and Macdonald to show
that it was unquestionably deforcement if when a messenger had come near
to the debtor’s house he was met by a host of people who drove him off
on notice or suspicion of his purpose. In this case the officer was in
the immediate neighbourhood of the place where he intended to serve his
warrants, as stated in the libel; and therefore the act charged amounted
Sheriff, after full consideration, said—The objection taken to the
complaint is one of very great importance, and if sustained detracts
very materially from the gravity of the offence with which they are
charged. The offence of
deforcement, as Mr. Hume says, is not to the individual, but to the
officer and the law, which is violated in his person ; and it lies in
the hindrance of these formal and solemn proceedings, which took place
under regular written authority, which it belongs only to an officer of
the law to perform. It therefore appears to me to be indispensable that
the complaint should bear that the officer said to be deforced was at or
near the premises of the parties against whom the writs were issued; or
that the officer had assumed that official character and entered on his
commission, being in the near and immediate preparation with proceeding
to the first formalities in the execution of that commission. This
complaint does not, in my opinion, contain those essentials; and
therefore, to the extent that I have now stated, the objection must be
Procurator-Fiscal—In these circumstances, there is no case of
deforcement, and I propose now to proceed with the case as one of
Sheriff—Of course the offence, though not deforcement, may be assault
and battery, aggravated certainly by the station of the officer.
Macdonald—All that there is in the complaint regarding assault is the
phrase, “as also of the crime of assault”. There is not a single word
about aggravation. I hope there will be no attempt to prove aggravation
when there is no aggravation libelled.
Sheriff—The offence now to be tried is that of assault. Assault, as we
know, may be of various degrees. It may be .of such a character as would
be met by the minimum sentence, and it may be a serious assault I used
the word “aggravated” in the popular rather than the technical sense.
The case to be tried was not an assault with an aggravation, but an
assault which might or might not be of a serious character.
effect of this judgment was that the charge of deforcement was struck
out of the libel and the words printed in italics were held as deleted.
prisoners were then asked to plead to the charge of assault, and Mr.
Macdonald stated that their plea was “ Not Guilty ”.
SHERIFF-OFFICER AT THE BRAES.
Martin, sheriff-officer, Portree, was the first witness called. Examined
by Mr. Anderson, he said—A few days before the 7th April last I received
instructions to go to the Braes for the purpose of serving summonses. I
went on the 7th April to the Braes, which is about eight miles from
Portree. It is on the estate of Lord Macdonald. The summonses I had
were’ for removal, and I had also some small debt summonses for arrears
of rent. I left Portree about twelve o’clock, accompanied by Ewen
Robertson, and Norman Beaton. As we were going towards the Braes, my
attention was directed to two little boys, who;came out on the road and
looked at us. They ran away, but returned a second time with small flags
in their hands. Then they ran towards the townships of Balmeanach,
Peinachorrain, and Gedintailler. When I went to Gedintailler I saw two
young men with flags. They were bawling out and waving the flags, the
boys were also waving their flags. When I got to Gedintailler a great
number of persons came out.
Sheriff—Were there two flags? Witness—Yes.
Sheriff—After the waving a great many people came?
Witness —Yes. A
crowd came from the townships.
Sheriff—How many would there be?
Witness—I should say there would be
from 150 to 200, including women and children. (Laughter.)
Anderson—When you say women and children do you also include men? Yes.
they surround you? Yes, sir, they did.
Sheriff—They came towards you and surrounded you? Yes, my lord. I had
not then gone off the public road.
Anderson—Did they ask you anything?—They called out to me to return. I
had the summonses in my pocket, and I took them out and told them my
name was Angus Martin, and that I. was a sheriff-officer from the
Sheriff. When I took out the summonses they rushed forward and snatched
the summonses out of my hand. This was done by Donald Nicolson.
Macdonald—I think we might stop this line of examination now.
Anderson—On what principle?
Macdonald—The charge is one of assault merely, and the evidence with
which it was intended to support the charge of deforcement is now being
led for the purpose as I take it of proving an aggravation which is not
Sheriff overruled the objection.
Anderson—Were the crowd quiet at that time?—No. They were very excited.
was done with the summonses?—They tried to tear them up and threw them
on the ground.
any person come up to you then?—Yes, Alex. Finlayson, who had a staff in
his hand. He told us that unless we turned back we would lose our lives,
meaning myself and the ground-officer.
he dare you to proceed further?—Yes. He was also brandishing the stick.
Stones were thrown by the crowd, and the whole five prisoners were
amongst the crowd. I cannot say who threw the stones. My concurrent was
taken hold of by Donald Nicolson, who said, “Get away
you b-”. He had a hold of Robertson about the back, and
Robertson was afterwards thrown to the ground. Nicolson said (evidently
referring to the summonses), “Lift them now, and take them away,
yon-”. I do not know who it was among the crowd who threw
Robertson on the ground. The women were very busy at that time.
(Laughter.) I saw James Nicolson when my concurrent was on the ground.
He rushed forward with his two hands closed, and asked who
was that? On being told, he said, “Kill the b-”. I can’t say
what Robertson did then, as I did not like to turn my back. I wished to
keep my front to them. (Laughter.) 1
think he ran towards Portree. He was followed by a large crowd. The
crowd continued to threaten me. I spoke to them, and tried to pacify
them as best I could, though I was very shaky. (Laughter.) I proceeded
towards Portree, but the crowd followed, and continued to threaten me.
Stones were thrown by the crowd from Gedintailler until I reached the
schoolhouse at Olach, when I got rid of them.
Anderson—Did they say anything about you not coming back there again?—Yes. They told me not to come back, because I might be killed, and
said if it had been any other officer he would have been killed.
Anderson—Did Malcolm Finlayson do anything?—He came to me in a great
hurry and said the people wished to speak to me; and I said I would be
very glad. He asked me, If I had any summonses, and I told him I had the
principals and copies. He snatched them out of my hand, and after trying
to tear them threw them on the ground. The crowd were about me at this
time, and one of the prisoners, Peter Macdonald, said something about
burning the summonses. He said, addressing me, “unless you burn these
you will not go home alive”. There were murmurs among the crowd and I
was asked to burn the summonses. They tried to bum the summonses
themselves first, and tried to light them at a burning peat, but were
unsuccessful. When I was threatened with my life, I asked for a piece of
paper, and one of the crowd handed me a bit of the torn summons. I blew
the burning peat as hard as I could to make it burn and I lighted the
piece paper at the burning peat, and handed it to some one in the crowd,
crying “go ahead I was induced to do this, because I was afraid of my
life, as I had been told before I went up that I would be killed.
Nothing else induced me to bum the summonses.
Anderson—You were afraid of your life?—Yes; I was, and I was very glad
to get away. (Laughter.)
Between the place where the summonses were tom and where they were
destroyed was there much stone-throwing?—Yes, stones and clods, but I
was not struck with them.
you see your assistants struck?—Well, I did not like to look
back—(Laughter)—but I think they must have been getting some of them.
you got home you reported the matter to the Fiscal?—Yes.
Cross-examined by Mr. Kenneth Macdonald—What do you do?—I am a
sheriff-officer and auctioneer.
you also a clerk in the office of Lord Macdonald’s factor?—I am.
Macdonald—Anything else?—I am sanitary inspector, clerk to the Local
Authority, and clerk to the Road Trustees.
you hold many other offices?—I am a crofter. (Laughter.)
which capacity did you go to the Braes?—I went in my capacity as
sheriff-officer. I called in to Mr. Macdonald, the factor’s office, that
morning to tell that I was going away for a time. I did not get the
summonses against these people signed as the Factor’s clerk. They were
handed to me by the Sheriff-Clerk. I was instructed to get them from him
by Mr. Macdonald, and I proceeded to the Braes to serve them.
I was quite sober then, as sober as I am now, and I think I am sober.
Donald Nicolson snatched the summonses from me.
Macdonald—Will you swear to that?—Yes.
saw him?—Lots of people, besides my concurrent and the ground-officer.
He tore some of them and did not hand them back to me. I turned my back
shortly afterwards, but by that time the papers were lying on the
Nicolson ask you for the summonses? —No.
did he come to get them from you?—I did not give them to him.
did he come to have them then?—I took them out of my pocket and said I
would give the summonses to them as I saw some of the persons for whom
they were in the crowd.
the bundle tied up?—There was an elastic band about it
you hand the summonses to anyone?—They were snatched out of my hand by
you swear that he did not hand them back?—No. I swear that, so far as I
must remember that?
Sheriff—Have you any doubt about it?—No, my lord.
Macdonald—What became of the summonses?—I don’t know. They were lying
on the road.
were not struck by a stone?—No.
anything else?—One of the women, I think, struck me with some soft
stuff on the head.
of the women?—I think so.
that Mrs. Flora Nicolson? Witness—Which Mrs. Nicolson?
Macdonald—You know Mrs. Nicolson?—There are so many Mrs. Nicolsons.
you know Widow Nicolson, to whom you made the statement about the widows
of Gedintailler?—I know two widows of that name.
you remember a widow you made remarks about before that?— There are so
many of them I can’t remember.
you know Widow Nicolson of Gedintailler to whom you made a statement
about the widows of Gedintailler?—I know more than one Widow Nicolson
in Gedintailler, but I don’t know their first names.
Sheriff—Did you see any of these widows?—Yes, I saw Widow Nicolson, Balmeanach.
Mr. Macdonald—Did she strike you?—No, Sir.
she call upon the widows of Gedintailler to come round Martin to get
their character?—No, I am not sure.
you make a statement about the widows of Gedintailler in Portree before
that?—I do not think it. I would always be speaking to them about
you make a statement about the character of the widows?—No, no.
you rebuked by Norman Beaton about the filthiness of your language about
these women?—Filthy language! I do not remember. I was not checked by
Norman Beaton or any other.
Sheriff objected to this, but Mr. Macdonald said he wished to show that
the whole of the disturbance arose out of an attack made by Martin a
short time before, on the character of the ladies who formed the major
part of the crowd.
Macdonald—Did Widow Nicolson strike you?—-No.
any one strike you?—No, but it was a narrow shave.
any one threaten to strike you?—Yes, Donald Finlayson with a stick.
you did not attempt to proceed further?—No,
you make any attempt to regain the doubles of your summonses? I just
let them go. '
suppose you were glad to get rid of them?—Oh no, not in that way.
far had you gone back towards Portree before you were again overtaken by
the crowd?—Well, I think it would be about three-quarters of a mile.
Malcolm Finlayson came up to me then, and I took the summonses out of my
pocket. He snatched them from me, although I had a good hold of them. He
did not return them, and I heard nobody tell him to return them to me.
said some one tried to burn the summonses and failed?—Yes.
then you said “I have a good breath,” did you not?—I was hearing
murmurs in the crowd that they would make me bum them, so I took a piece
of paper and set fire to a bit of one of the summonses.
did you say then?—I handed it to some one in the crowd, and immediately
there was a great clapping of hands.
did you not set fire to the summonses?—No, I set fire to a bit of one
of them with a piece of paper which I lighted at a burning peat.
you not bend down and set fire to them?—No, I am quite certain I did
you not, Martin, in setting fire to these summonses say, "Now, keep
back, boys, and give it air?”—I did not set fire to the summonses, but
after they set fire to them there was a great cheering.
you call on the crowd to keep back and give it (the fire) air?— I may
have said stand back, but not to give it air.
why did you say that?—In order to please them.
you make a speech after that?—Yes, for their kindness. I thanked them
because they had not struck me, and as I waited to get rid of their
anybody say—“Angus, boy, you need not fear?”—Yes. That was at the first
stage of the proceedings, when I said don’t kill me.
you say you were not afraid of anything?—I said I was there independent
of factor or anybody else.
you say you were not afraid of anybody?—Well, I might have said so.
that true?—No, it was not (Laughter).
you say that all the people of the Braes would not hurt you?— Very
that was not true?—Well, I saw it was not true at that stage.
you tell any more lies that day?—Well, I do not remember. It is not my
profession to tell lies.
seem to practice it occasionally. (Laughter).
asked for a smoke?—Yes.
did you ask for that?—I was not a smoker, but I asked for it to please
long did you smoke?—For five or six minutes.
answer to further questions, witness said that when leaving he shook
hands with a number of the men in the crowd. He denied having advised
the crowd, in his speech, to be smart and hard about Ben-Lee, and that
they would get it. He had no whisky that day, and denied emphatically
that he had lately been dismissed for drunkenness. He reported the case
to the Fiscal when he went home.
Macdonald—Is this the first criminal charge against the Braes
was a charge of intimidation, but it broke down?—Yes.
you go to the Braes with the intention of serving these summonses?—Yes,
and I thought I was safe in serving summonses in any part of Skye up to
not the case that you were sent to the Braes with the view of getting up
a charge of deforcement against these people?—It was not, sir.
EVIDENCE OF EWEN ROBERTSON, PORTREE.
Robertson, who spoke through Mr. Whyte as interpreter, said—I am a
labourer, residing at Portree. On the 7th April last, I went as witness
with Angus Martin to the Braes with summonses. The ground officer,
Norman Beaton, was also with us. When we came to Gedintailler we saw two
boys, and they had flags in their hands on the point of a stick. They
ran ahead of us. They were waving the flags, and ran away to a knoll on
the low side of Gedintailler. When we went on we saw a man, and he came
down where we were. A number of people collected, but I do not know how
many. The crowd surrounded us. I knew the people, but did not see but
Donald and James Nicolson. The crowd knocked me down three times. I was
pushed down on the road. The crowd was much excited. I was hurt every
time they knocked me down. I went off when I got on my feet. I heard
them saying to us that they would kill us. I heard James Nicolson saying
so. I did not hear Donald. After throwing the summonses down, Donald
seized me by the back of the neck. Donald plucked the summonses from
Martin and tore them, and then seized me. He did not throw me down, but
caught me by the back of the neck and told me to lift the pieces, and I
said there was no use of them. He told me where the summonses were. I
was frightened at that stage, “and it was not little”. The crowd were
excited, and I took myself away, and was followed by about a dozen
youths throwing mud at me. I do not know who knocked me down, but I was
thrown down three times. They also threw a pail of water at me, but I
don’t know who did. When I ran away a great deal of stones and earth
were thrown at me. Some of them struck me, but I was avoiding them as
well as I could. It was only a few youths who followed me. The youths
were among the crowd first.
did not go back again?—Oh, indeed, I would not go. I did not see the
summonses burned, and was frightened for my life.
Mr. Macdonald—What is your occupation?—Anything I can do if I get
payment for it.
you in the habit of accompanying Martin?—Yes, and his father before him
for forty years, and others of the same kind before him, and nothing
ever happened to me.
profession I take it is not very highly respected in the Island of Skye?—I never heard anything about it. Before that time everything went on
quietly, and we did our message and got the best in the house before we
you see anything happen to Martin?—No ; I did not. I went away.
you were asked in Portree to submit to precognition on behalf of the
Prisoners, what was your reply the first time?—I said who asked that of
you refuse to answer any question when I asked you?—I said I had been
already examined, and until I would go before the judge I would not
answer more questions.
came the following day and gave information. What led to the change in
your opinion?—Yes; I did that when I heard who it was.
not tell you the first night who it was?—Oh, yes, you did. (Laughter).
brought about the change?—I did not wish to be examined.
Martin tell you not to answer any questions?—He did not.
you see Martin that night?—Yes.
Where?—On the street at Portree.
the hotel door?—Yes.
Waiting for you?—I do not know whether he was or not.
he tell you to refuse to answer questions?—No! he did not indeed.
did Donald Nicolson come to get hold of the summonses?—He just came
over from where he was and took them from him.
long had Martin the summonses in his hand before Nicolson got them?—No
time ; and he said he had come to deliver the summonses with the
he take them out of his pocket?—Yes.
long was that before Nicolson got them?—I cannot say what time. I had
Martin offer the men the summonses?—I did not hear him. The people
would not take them from him.
he did offer them?—He did not offer them at that time.
had he the summonses in his hand?—There were some there for whom the
summonses were. .
question was, why had Martin the summonses in his hand?—Oh, God ! How
could I know what they were in his hand for.
he offer them?—He did not require to offer them.
long were you beside Martin at this time?—I was not long when I was
thrust away by the people.
you know all the people?—I did not know them all.
they anything on their heads?—The women had handkerchiefs on their
heads, but I do not know was it to protect them from the sun or hide
did you not lift up the summonses?—Why should I lift them when they were
tore them?—Nicolson did.
you see him?—I will swear that.
you see the destruction of the other summonses?
Witness (before interpretation)—No.
Macdonald—This witness had good English a week ago. (Laughter).
you see any person touch Martin?—No, I did not see them.
Beaton?—No, I do not, but they might have killed him for all I know. •
ran home?—I ran back as fast as I could.
any of them touch you?—I am not aware of any of them touching me.
EVIDENCE OF NORMAN BEATON.
Norman Beaton, ground-officer, said—I reside at Shullisheddar. I
accompanied the sheriff-officer on 17th April last. I want to point out
the places. He had summonses to serve at Penachorrain, Balmeanach, and
Gedintailler. On coming near Gedintailler we saw two boys, and they ran
away. We afterwards saw a man with a flag waving it. They came and asked
where we were going, and Martin said he was going to serve summonses on
them. He took the summonses out of his pocket. Alexander Finlayson said
he would not allow them to go on. He said lifting his staff, “ You won’t
go any further ”. He said, “Surely you all know me, I came here by order
of the Sheriff”. Donald Nicolson took the summonses out of Martin’s
hands and threw them on the road, but I could not say who tore them. I
saw them in bits on the road. The people were gathering. There was about
150 altogether—men, women, and children and girls. I saw them all in the
crowd. Martin I and returned back towards Portree. Robertson turned
first, and after he left I saw him knocked down in the road. The crowd
followed us when we turned back to Portree, and some of them were
throwing stones and clods at us, near Gedintailler on the road, Not many
of them struck me. Near Murchison’s schoolhouse, about three-quarters of
a mile from the place where the summonses were destroyed, the crowd
followed us, and amongst them were James Nicolson, Peter Macdonald, and
Malcolm Finlayson. They were very much excited, and using threats. They
ran after us, and asked if we had any more summonses. Martin said he had
the principal summonses to bring them back to Portree. He took them out
of his pocket and showed them, and Malcolm Finlayson snatched them out
of his hand and threw them in the road. They were not tom, and I could
not say if they were afterwards torn. 1 saw peat lying beside them; it
was alive. Martin stood on the road, and I stood nearer Portree. I saw
smoke, but could not say if the summonses were burning. I was alarmed
but not hurt, and afraid to go on.
Cross-examined by Mr. Macdonald—In what capacity did you go with Martin
to the Braes?—I think I went as ground-officer—as Lord Macdonald’s
did not go as Martin’s concurrent?—I was sent there by Lord Macdonald’s
factor, by whom I was employed. Martin was not to pay me.
the crowd principally women and children?—Yes, and men.
they principally women and children?—No answer. Were there more women
and children than there were men? I believe there were more men. To
make three shares of them, I believe there were more men. More than one
third were men.
said that Robertson was knocked down by some women and men?—Yes.
had gone away from the crowd at that time?—Yes.
Martin came up first with the summonses, how was it he happened to take
them out of his pocket?—They asked him where he was going, and what
brought him there, and he took the summonses out of his pocket. He told
them it was for that purpose he came. He kept the summonses in his hand.
to his body?—He held them out a little. He said, “Here they are”.
Donald Nicolson then took them. He was not very close to them, just past
him a yard or two.
not this what took place? Did not Nicolson put out his hand and take
them?—He was not so close as that.—Was Martin offering them at the time
Procurator-Fiscal—Martin did’nt say that. You are putting words in the
witness’s mouth he never used.
Macdonald—If I put a question, it is not the part of the
Procurator-Fiscal to instruct his own witness what to say in answer to
Cross-examination continued—What were Martin’s words?—He said, “Here
they are”. I swear he did not say, “Here they are to you I will swear to
they pointed in the direction of Nicolson?—They were pointed in the way
of the crowd as well as Nicolson. He was along with the crowd.
he took the summonses?—Yes.
he offer them back to Martin?—I did not see that. I was close to Martin
all the time and I did not see that. I was very close behind.
they have been offered to Martin without you seeing it?— They could
not, and I did not see them offered. He tore the summonses. I could not
see Nicolson put them on the ground.
they torn then?—No, they were not torn when he put them on the ground.
long after you first saw them on the ground did you see them torn?—I
could not say. It was some little time.
you see them in anybody’s hand between the time you saw them on the
ground untorn and when you saw them torn?—No.
whole crowd was walking over them. I cannot say if that would account
for the tearing of them. The band which bound the summonses was off when
I saw them on the road. It was torn off about the time they were dropped
upon the road. Nicolson took the band off and threw it upon the road. By
the time I went down to the school-house, I was struck with stones and
clods by some women—not by men—in the crowd. _
you hear anything said by Mrs. Nicolson there as to the character of the
women of Gedintailler ?—I did not.
not you hear her say, “Now, come, women of Gedintailler, and hear your
character from Angus Martin?”—I did. I heard her also say that he
should burn the summonses. I heard her say that he was saying some words
to her in Portree about the character of the women of Gedintailler. She
told words to me herself at that time.
what time?—At Olach. Not in the presence of Martin. It was said to me
near Murchison’s school-house. Martin was not there at the time.
complained of the language Martin had used?—I cannot remember what
words he had used. It occurred after the meeting of the Disaster
Committee in Portree. I did not hear anything about the language till
she told me there that day.
not a fact that you and Lachlan Ross checked him for the language in
Portree?—I can’t remember of it. Was it filthy language? —Yes, very
she referred to it this day at Gedintailler?—Yes.
you got down to near Murchison’s school-house the principal summonses
were produced by Martin?—Yes. He was asked if he had any more of them,
and he took them out of his pocket. He caught them in his hand and told
me to bring them back to Portree. He did not offer them to Malcolm
Finlayson. He said, “I have them here, and I have to take them back to
Portree”. I did not hear him ask for a match. I heard some one in the
crowd ask for a match to bum them. I did not see any weapons in their
sticks or anything of that sort?—No.
heard Martin asking for a smoke from some of the crowd who were about. I
think he got a smoke. • I believe Martin was afraid.
yet he asked for a smoke?—Yes.
long did he stand smoking?—I could not say. I saw him on the road and
some of the crowd speaking to him. It was about that time Mrs. Nicolson
came, and there were some women with her.
wanted Martin to repeat what he had said at Portree?—I could not say.
you hear Martin make a speech?—No, sir.
you observe her speaking to the crowd—can you tell us what was said?—No. I could not say how many he shook hands with. There was not many
about that time. I was struck in Gedintailler with stones and clods by
the women. They did not hurt me. I was struck at Olach with stones and
clods again, but they did not hurt me. Some women were throwing them.
one of the men wipe off the mark of a clod on Martin’s clothes with the
sleeve of his coat?—I saw that done to Martin. A woman before that had
taken a handful of turf and rubbed it on his jacket.
one of the men come and wipe it off with his sleeve?—One of the men of
the crowd came and wiped off the mark with his coat.
Macdonald here turned to consult his notes, and witness, who was
apparently getting rather uneasy, hurriedly left the box. Mr. Macdonald,
without turning fully round, put the question, “Did Martin make a
speech, ” but getting no answer he found to his surprise that the box
was empty, and the witness escaping rapidly by the door of the
Court-room. He was recalled amidst much laughter, and, having answered a
few questions, was allowed to go,
ESTATE MANAGEMENT IN SKYE.
EVIDENCE OF MR. MACDONALD, If ACTOR FOR LORD MAODONALD.
Alexander Macdonald, factor, examined—I am a solicitor at Portree, and
act as factor for Lord Macdonald. In the middle of April, I instructed
summonses against Donald Nicolson, Balmeanach; Alex. Finlayson, do.;
Samuel Nicolson, do.; John Nicolson, do.; James Matheson, Widow C.
Matheson, Widow C. Nicolson, Widow Mackinnon, John Stuart, and Donald Macwilliam. I instructed Martin to go and serve the summonses, and he
proceeded to do so.
Cross-examined by Mr. Macdonald—Is Martin your clerk?—Yes, and has been so for a long time.
long has he been so?—I think he entered my office first, at the very
beginning, and then he went to Glasgow, and came back, and has been with
me for the last eight or ten years.
the beginning of what?—Of his career. .
many years will that be?—I cannot tell you, Mr. Macdonald.
was in your office before he became sheriff-officer?—Yes.
your clerk still?—Yes.
he absent for a time recently?—Well, I think he was.
was that for?—I cannot tell you. I was away (a pause). Let me see
(another pause). I think I was away in the south somewhere, and when I
came home (a pause)-
K. Macdonald—Oh, don’t be afraid—(laughter).
Witness—I am not afraid at all. I beg to assure you-
Macdonald—Well, go on then.
Witness—I was absent from the office lately, and, during my absence from
home, I understand he was absent.
Sheriff—What was the cause of the absence?
Witness—I don’t know. He was absent when I returned. I think he was
absent for a fortnight, or nine or ten days.
you enquire what was the cause of his absence?—No, I did not enquire
Sheriff—Did you not enquire at all?—Yes.
Mr. Macdonald—And what was the result of your enquiries?— I heard a
suspicion cast on him by some people that he was rather unsteady, but I
do not think it is true at all.
you dismiss him?—No, certainly not.
took him back whenever he came?—I forget the circumstances. I was not
prepared to speak to this. I took him back.
made little enquiry?—I asked of his mother and wife, but I don’t
remember much about it,
Martin is your clerk and a sheriff-officer. Does he hold other offices?
—He is clerk to the Road Trustees and collector of rates for the parish
of Snizort, about five miles from Portree, and collector of poor rates
for Bracadale, nine miles away. I do not recollect if he is collector
for any other parish.
many proprietors are you factor for besides Lord Macdonald?
—Macleod of Macleod, Mr. Macallister of Strathaird, Mr. Macdonald of
Skaebost, and Major Fraser of Kilmuir.
suppose that is the greater part of Skye?—Yes, decidedly.
in addition to this you are also a landed proprietor yourself?— Well, I
believe I am. (Laughter).
are also a solicitor and bank-agent?—Yes.
1 believe you are
agent for Captain Macdonald of Waternish?— Oh, I have a number of
appointments besides these, and lots of clients.
your influence extends all over the Isle of Skye?—I do not know about my
influence, but I hold the positions mentioned.
are distributor of stamps?—Yes.
Clerk of the Peace for the Skye district?—Yes, Depute under Mr. Andrew
other offices?—I may have some, but I do not remember any more. I do not
see what right you have to ask these questions. Do you mean to assess my
income? I will tell the Assessor of Taxes when he asks me, but you have
no right to inquire.
are also a coal-merchant?—I am not aware, Mr. Macdonald. (Laughter).
how many School Boards and Parochial Boards are you a member
Sheriff—I don’t want to interrupt you, but what has this to do with the
K. Macdonald—To show that this gentleman is the King of Skye —the
uncrowned King of the Island—(laughter)—an absolute monarch who punishes
a murmur by transportation to the mainland. There are some other offices
which you hold in Skye? Witness—Yes.
Macdonald—In point of fact, you and Martin hold between you pretty much
all the valuable offices in Skye except that of parish minister?—(great
laughter). Witness (warmly)—Not all, sir ; not at all—(laughter).
the people of the Braes petition you about Benlee?—They lodged a
document, but I do not call it a petition. I call it a demand or
ultimatum. The witness read the document, which was to the effect that
the petitioners “demand” the grazings of Benlee, otherwise they would
not pay their rents.
K. Macdonald—These people of the Braes are not very well educated?
Witness—Some of them are.
did you do with that petition when you got it?—I kept it.
you send it to Lord Macdonald?—No, but I wrote to Lord Macdonald about
you make any inquiry on the spot as to the grievances of these people?—I understood what they meant by the petition itself.
you make any inquiry to ascertain if their grievances could be
substantiated?—Yes, I made inquiries of a number of people.
you go to the place to make the inquiries?—No, I do not require to do
that, as I know the place perfectly well.
the statement which they made true or not?—I believe that the demand
for the exclusive possession of Benlee is not a well founded claim.
Sheriff—That is irrelevant; we need not go into that matter.
Anderson was of the same opinion, but would not object.
K. Macdonald—If your lordship wishes me to stop, I will do so. I am
probably outside of the immediate issue now, but I am led on by the hope
that if an explanation is now made of the position taken up by Lord
Macdonald and his factor in relation to the demands of the prisoners and
their neighbours in Skye, an arrangement may be come to which will
prevent a recurrence of the events which have led to the present trial.
Sheriff—If any opposition was taken by the prosecution, I would stop
this course of examination at once.
Anderson—I do not object, my lord.
Sheriff—I do not see what bearing it has on the case.
K. Macdonald—Did these people refuse to pay their rents until the
grievances complained of were inquired into and redressed?—Until they
got Benlee. I sent them circulars and letters, copies of which are
state in the printed letter that they have each 6| acres arable land,
with a right to keep 5 cows, 20 sheep, and I horse ?—Yes.
you ascertain the accuracy of that statement before you made it? —I have
only acted as factor for two and a-half years, and that statement
regarding the townships was given to me shortly after I entered, and I
think it is quite correct.
you not aware now that, if these tenants would put all these cattle and
sheep on the ground, they would die from starvation ?—I am not aware of
anything of the sort, sir, but we are quite prepared to look into that.
The request was never civilly made.
deputation of these people come to you in November last?— There was a
deputation of their sons, but there were no tenants except one.
old man of 85 ?—I do not think he was 85. I told them the tenants must
come themselves, and not their sons. I saw this man
Nicolson, but I do not think Nicolson came into my office, though I met
him on the street.
there a man Angus Stewart there?—Well, I don’t remember.
not Angus Stewart, a tenant of Lord Macdonald for the last 65 years,
their principal speaker?—You refer to a different occasion.
was that?—When they came arm-in-arm and shoulder-to-shoulder with a
piper at their head. (Laughter).
not the case that they were met by this piper, who plays for money in
Portree?—On the first occasion there was no piper, but on the second
occasion they came with this piper, and would scarcely listen to me.
They never came quietly to me. (Laughter). The time they came with a
piper they entered the rent collection room and would scarcely listen to
me. I called over their names to see I had nobody but tenants to deal
was the object of this, Mr. Macdonald?—I told you before that it was to
ascertain that I had nobody but tenants to deal with'.
intimidation in it?—I do not believe the men were ever afraid of me,
nor that they are so yet. (Laughter). I do not see why they should be so
unless they were doing wrong.
you prefer a criminal charge against some of these men before this
charge was made?—Two widows-
Kenneth Macdonald—Never mind the widows.
Witness (excitedly)—You have asked me a question, and I must answer it.
Sheriff—Did you make a criminal charge against these people? Witness—I
cannot answer no or yes, but two widows came to me weeping, saying they
had been intimidated by a number of men in the Braes for paying their
rents, and 1
\vent with these two widows to the Fiscal. .
Macdonald—Was there a charge of intimidation made to the Fiscal?
Sheriff—He says the two old ladies-
K. Macdonald—They are widpws, my lord, but not old. (Laughter.)
Sheriff—The question is a simple one. Did you or did you not?
Witness—They made a charge of intimidation.
Macdonald—But the charge fell through?—Not so far as I know.
did you hear the last of it?—I do not know if I have heard the last of
it yet. (Laughter.)
you hear that Crown Counsel had ordered no further proceedings to be
taken on that charge?—Yes.
it after that you caused the summonses of removing to be prepared?—Yes,
but the one thing has no connection with the other. There may have been
a coincidence of time, but there was no relation between the two cases.
The summonses were for ejectment for nonpayment of rent.
it not the fact that Martin arranged to be deforced before he left
Portree?—Certainly not ; he did not expect it. (Laughter.)
Sheriff—Is Martin a native of the Braes?—No ; he is a native of Portree. His people belong to Kilmuir.
K. Macdonald—Is it your practice to fcsue summonses of removing that you
have no intention to enforce?—No, of course I do not enforce them if the
cause for which they were issued has been removed.
Question repeated?—No, but they may not be followed out, because if the
rent be paid there is nothing more about it.
you intend to evict these people?—Certainly, if they do not pay their
rent, or show good reason why they should not.
you Lord Macdonald’s authority for evicting these people?—I did not
want to evict them, nor do I intend to evict them if they pay their
Macdonald—Kindly answer my question. Had you Lord Macdonald’s authority
for what you did?—I cannot give you a more direct answer. 1 believe I said
something to Lord Macdonald that it would be necessary to do something
to the ringleaders. I did not ask for any instructions to evict, but
said it would be necessary to warn them out for not paying their rents.
you Lord Macdonald’s authority for evicting these people?—I did not
require his authority for that.
Sheriff—Were your instructions special or general?—I had no special
instructions, as I did not ask for them.
Anderson—When you got the petition, Mr. Macdonald, did you write to say
that they would get the hill according to the value of the present day,
and expressed your wish to have it valued by an experienced person, and
sent to Lord Macdonald for his consideration?
Witness—Yes, but I got no answer from them.
you also offer them Benlee?—I offered them Benlee if they would pay for
it, and would give a lease of it to any tacksman who would come forward.
Sheriff—That will do.
Witness—(sharply)—Are you done, Mr. Macdonald? (Laughter.)
K. Macdonald—Oh, yes.
prisoners’ declarations were then read. They are as follows :—
Donald Nicolson, Balmeanach, sixty-six [years of age, declared—I know
Angus Martin, Portree, and I know that he is a sheriff-officer. .1 also know, but only
by sight, Ewen Robertson, residing at Lisigarry, Portree. I also know
Norman Beaton, ground-officer, Portree. I saw the three of them at Braes
about a fortnight ago. They were on the township of Gedintailler, and
there was a crowd about them. We were hearing that they were going up
with summonses of removing. I was in the crowd, and I saw papers in
Martin’s hand. I could not tell what they were.
you take the papers out of his hands?—He' knows himself. There were
plenty of witnesses if they saw me do so. I did not catch hold of Ewen
Robertson or touch any one there; neither did I throw anything, nor was
I swearing. I asked Robertson to lift up the papers which were at the
time scattered on the road.
Nicolson, son-in-law, residing with the above Donald Nicolson, is 30
years of age. He knew Martin to be a sheriff-officer, and he also knew
Robertson and Beaton. He saw the three of them at Ged. intailler on the
occasion in question. The Declaration continued— There was a crowd about
them when I saw them. I joined the crowd. I knew that it was with
summonses of removing they had come. When I joined the crowd I did not
cry out to kill Martin. I have no recollection of saying, or hearing
said, that even with the support of the Volunteers no one would dare to
come to Braes to put us out. I saw Martin having papers. I did not know
what the papers were, but I thought they were the summonses. I saw
Martin handing out the papers, and some one taking them out of his hand,
and I afterwards saw them on the road torn. I did not see Ewen Robertson
down on the ground. I saw a crowd of boys and girls after him along the
road. They were saying that I was cursing and swearing, but I was not,
and I did not put a hand on any one that day or on the papers which the
sheriff-officer had. I did not think there was any harm in anything I
Macdonald, Balmeanach, aged 48, and married, said he heard that Martin
was a .sheriff-officer. He saw Martin and Beaton at the Braes, but not
Robertson. He was not present when Martin arrived. The Declaration
continued—We were thinking it was with the summonses of removing he
(Martin) came. There was a crowd gathered about him when he arrived of
about 150 women and children. I did not see papers with him until I saw
them on the road at Olach. I saw them before they were burnt. The crowd
called out—that is, the women called out—that Martin and his assistants
would require to bum them themselves. I did not say to Martin that he
would be made to bum them himself. It was at Olach that I joined the
crowd. I have nothing further to say but that Martin burned the papers
himself. The place Olach above alluded to is about half a-mile from
Gedentailler, in the direction of Portree.
Alexander Finlayson, Balmeanach, 70 years of age, declared that he did
not know until Martin arrived that he had come to the Braes to serve the
summonses. He was not present when Martin arrived, and he saw him first
among a number of men, women, and children at Gedentailler. He did not
know that Robertson was helping Martin. The Declaration continued—I told
him to return and bum them. At this time there was some torn papers
scattered about the road, and it was to these papers I referred. The
papers were tom and on the ground before I joined the crowd. I did not
know that these papers were summonses of removing, but some of the
people were saying that they were. I did not know that Martin was going
with summonses to us that day, but we were hearing a rumour that we were
to be warned. I did not dare Martin to proceed further with his
summonses that day. I had a staff in my hand. I was not flourishing it.
I did not hear Martin say that he had the Sheriff’s warrant for serving
the summonses that day. I thought we ought to get justice concerning the
matter in dispute, which was the hill pasture of Benlee, which we ever
had. When had you the pasture?—We had it ever in connection with our
town-ships. It was taken from us about sixteen years ago by bad rulers.
We have not possessed it for the last seventeen years. It was let to
another tenant. I and my father before me, and my grandfather,
great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, have been living in the
township of Balmeanach, and the hill of Benlee was all that time
connected with our township.
Finlayson, son of and residing with the said Alex. Finlayson,
Balmeanach, is married, and about thirty years of age. He saw Martin at
the Braes on the day in question. The Declaration continued—I did not
know then that Martin was a sheriff-officer. I only knew that he was the
factor’s clerk when I saw him at the Braes on that occasion. Martin had
a bunch of papers. I did not know what the papers were, but he told us
they were summonses, some of removing and some of rent. I did not take
these papers out of Martin’s hands, but after seeing them in his hands,
I saw them torn and scattered on the road. I saw some of the papers
which Martin had burnt at Olach that day, but these were different
papers from those I saw scattered on the road at Gedentailler. It was I
who took the papers which were burnt at Olach •out of Martin’s hand. He
stretched out his hand holding these papers, and I took them out of his
hands. Somebody said I should not take them, and I offered them back to
him, but he would not take them, and I let them fall on the road. At
this time there were a good many people about Martin, and some of them
cried out to burn the papers, but I am not sure whether I said this or
not. Martin then asked for a match, but there was no match to be found.
A lighted peat, however, was produced, and Martin set fire to one of the
summonses, and then the whole caught fire and were burned. The crowd did
not very much force Martin to burn the summonses. They told him to burn
them, and he did so. The crowd did not call bad names to Martin, but he
told the people he would be put out of his situation by the factor if he
had not come to give them the summonses that day. They did not say
anything worse than his name to him. I told him to move on, as I was
afraid the scholars and women would come and hurt him. He then asked us
to see him safe over the bum, and we did so.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENCE.
Donald Macdonald, Tormore, examined by Mr. K-. Macdonald —You
were factor for Lord Macdonald until about two years and a-half ago?—Some time about that.
know the Braes?—I do.
you were factor did the tenants of the Braes townships complain to you
about the want of the hill of Ben-Lee?—They may have done. I have no
distinct recollection about their making any specific charge.
know the story about the shepherd’s house being built, about which some
of the crofters complained?—Yes.
did you do?—Well, the complaint was that the tenant of Benlee was
building a house on a portion of what they considered their land.
Sheriff—All this occurred two or three years ago, Mr. Macdonald?—Yes.
Sheriff asked Mr. K. Macdonald if he meant to justify the action of the
prisoners by this evidence? He did not see that it had any relevancy.
K. Macdonald—It has a bearing on what followed.
K. Macdonald (to witness)—There was a lease of Benlee which expires at
Whitsunday 1882. Is not that so?—I believe it does.
the people wished to get the land back at that term?—There was some
indication that way.
you make them any promise?—I made no promise.
you hold out any hope?—No ; certainly no distinct hope.
was it from you they got their information?—I don’t remember, but it is
you renew the lease during your factorship? I believe I did.
further period?—Yes. And without informing them? I don’t remember, but
it is quite possible.
answer to Mr. Anderson, Mr. Macdonald said Benlee had not been in the
possession of the crofters for the past 16 or 17 years.
Sheriff.—Benlee is advertised to let now.
K. Macdonald—Yes, in the
Courier of to-day.
A. Macdonald, factor—And the tenants may have it if they like to pay
rent for it.
EVIDENCE OF CROFTERS.
Finlayson, a tenant of the Braes, said, in reply to Mr. Macdonald—I was
at the Braes when Martin arrived, and saw him with the papers in his
hands. He handed them over to Donald Nicolson, who took them and threw
them back to Martin, who turned his back, and I think refused to take
them back. Some one in the crowd said to Nicolson that he had no right
to the papers, and he then dropped them on the ground, and the children
trod upon them. No one struck Martin, or even threatened to strike him.
I heard some one saying to Martin, “
Be not afraid, no one will touch you ”. Robertson at this time had gone
homewards, the children following him. Martin also followed, but after
he had gone some distance he stopped, and asked for a light. He got an
ember of a peat, with which he set a paper (a paper about the size of a
summons) on fire, and put some more with it. He said, “Stand back and
don’t smother it,” and added, “There it is for you, boys ”. He appeared
to be laughing, and did not seem to be afraid. He afterwards had a smoke
and chatted with the people. He made a speech before leaving, in which
he said, “Be hardy and active ; you will not see me again, and you will
get Benlee ”. He also said he did not blame them for what they had done,
and said if he had been in their place he would have done the same
thing. He shook hands with a number of people before leaving. I did not
see any person strike Martin. .
Mr. Anderson—I joined the crowd when they began. I went there just
because I followed the rest.
saw some boys with flags on the watch?—There were.
what were these boys to do?—They were to give us notice.
what?—About the force that was being sent to us.
that a sheriff-officer you expected?—We did not know that it was a
you expect Martin?—No.
you expect summonses?—Yes, I expected a summons.
was it for persons coming with summonses that you placed the boys on the
it was arranged that as soon as a boy saw them he was to give warning?—Yes.
you were to collect then?—Yes.
Macdonald objected to this line of examination, as being really an
attempt to prove the charge of Deforcement which the Prosecutor had not
been able to libel relevantly. The Sheriff however allowed it.
it said that he would not be allowed to serve a summons?—I did not hear
were you going to do when you met the persons comiug with the summonses?—To return them.
is to return him to Portree?—I do not know where. (Laughter.)
suppose you know that you were to turn him off' the Braes?—Yes, we were
going to turn him off the Braes.
you any relation of Finlaysons in the box?—I am a brother of Malcolm’s
and a son of Alexander Finlayson.
you see any stones thrown?—No.
clods of earth?—No.
you see Robertson on the ground?—Yes.
you see him lying on the ground?—No.
you see anybody touch him?—No.
became of him?—I saw him going away, and the children were cheering him
they throwing anything after him?—I did not see, I was far from him.
Witness saw only two of the prisoners, Malcolm Finlayson and Patrick
Macdonald following Martin to the second crowd, near Murchison’8
Alexander Finlayson, Peinacliorrain, was at Gedentailler on the day when
Martin came with the papers. He knew that Martin was the factor’s clerk,
but did not know that he was a sheriff-officer. The papers were lying on
the road when he saw them first, and Martin was laughing and talking,
and did not appear to be frightened. He
generally corroborated the previous witness regarding the burning of the
papers, and said he did nof see any stones thrown at Martin. In answer
to Mr. Anderson, he said he was a son of Alexander Finlayson, one of the
prisoners, and brother of Malcolm Finlayson, another of the prisoners.
Martin did not seem to be in the least afraid.
Mathieson, on being asked to take the oath in English, declined. He
said—Oh no. All the speaking in this case has been done in Gaelic, and I
am not going to interpret Gaelic into English. (Laughter.) The oath
having been administered in Gaelic, he said he resided at Balmeanach,
and was at Gedentailler on the 17th April when Martin came to serve the
summonses. When the people came up Martin held out some papers in his
hands. He held them out in the direction of Donald Nicolson, and said,
“There they are, take them”. I don’t know whether he said this to
Nicolson or to the rest of the people. Nicolson, however, took them. He
did not snatch them from Martin, and Martin did not endeavour to keep
them from him. In answer to other questions, witness said Martin did not
appear to be frightened, and had no occasion to be so.
occurred near Murchison’s schoolhouse?—I saw him with more papers
there. When I arrived he had them in his hand as at first. He was
offering them to anyone who would receive them. I don’t know where
Robertson was. He went along before them. I don’t know if they were
following him at that time, but they were before that, and some
Martin quite sober at that time?—Well, I don’t know. I would think him
like a man that would have a little.
you hear Martin ask for a match?—Yes. He said, Was there no one there
had a match? They replied that they had a burning ember for lighting
his pipe. After this Martin asked where it was. They said, It was here.
I was standing at the side of the road, and I saw him go over by the
papers. I saw him point to them and say, ‘ ‘ Lads, there is a fire,
stand back and don’t choke it I saw the papers on fire after that. I saw
him drink at the well. He was inclined to bend at the well, but they
told him there was a pail. He asked, Have any of you a pipe till I smoke
? Alexander Nicolson went to give him his pipe, but it was broken.
Nicolson then went to get another man’s, and after cleaning it so (here
the witness made a movement as if wiping a pipe clean) he handed it to
Martin, and Martin smoked it He (Martin) was in the very middle of the
crowd smoking it.
he talking to them and smoking?—Yes, smoking and talking. I did not see
any appearance of fright about him. There was no occasion for his being
you hear Murdo Nicolson say anything to him?—I heard some one say, I am
not very certain if it was Angus Nicolson, but I heard some one say, “No
one here will do anything to him”.
did he say to that?—He said, “Oh, I had no fear. I know that the Braes
people will not do anything to me. ” He was shaking hands with the
people before he went away. He was shaking hands and thanking them for
dealing so gently with him. He told them to be active after this, as it
was now they had it to do. I don’t know what he meant by that. I did not
hear him say he was a sheriff-officer, or that he came from the Sheriff.
I know he is the factor’s clerk in Portree. I thought the “bailie” sent
him there that day. I saw the widows standing up as if they were
speaking to him. One of them, Widow Nicolson, seemed to be angry. I did
not hear Martin say anything to her at the time. She was done speaking
to him before I came. I don’t know what they were talking about, but
people were telling me afterwards. I did not see anyone touching Martin
other than to shake him by the hand.
Nicolson, Gedintailler, gave corroborative evidence. He saw no one
putting a hand on Martin, and said Martin seemed quite pleased, and put
the papers on the top of the fire.
Nicolson, Peinachorrain, also gave evidence regarding the proceedings at
Martin’s visit. He saw no stones thrown. In crossexamination by Mr.
Anderson, he admitted that clods had been thrown by the school children,
but if Martin was frightened it was only at seeing so many women.
Maclean, Balmeanach, described the scene at the schoolhouse where the
papers were burnt. He said Martin stepped into the centre of the crowd,
and getting a fire-brand blew it until he had lighted the papers. He
then set them on the ground, and said, “Men of the Braes, I am obliged
to you for your kindness ”. He appeared quite hearty, and shook hands
with the people. There was no reason for Martin fearing anything. He
added, I was in the factor’s office in November last as one of the
deputation. Our names were taken down at that time, and we were charged
with impertinence. The factor was sending us letters after that
brought the evidence to a close. Mr. Anderson did not address the court,
but simply asked a conviction for assault. Mr. Macdonald began by
showing the effect upon the indictment, of the judgment sustaining his
objection to the
relevancy of the charge of deforcement, and the minor charge of
obstructing an officer of the law in the performance of his duty; and he
read what was left of the indictment, to show that all that remained was
a charge of simple assault against the prisoners. He went on to
say:—When I first addressed your Lordship to-day, I attempted to show
that the case as it then stood was too important for trial in this court
It has now been reduced to such slender proportions that the wonder is
it was ever brought into any court. It has been attempted, by leading
irrelevant evidence, to give the case a fictitious importance, but the
prosecutor has been flogging a dead horse. A common assault such as is
now charged would never have justified the measures taken to apprehend
the men now in the dock. Would the public have looked on in silent
wonder if they had been told that the army of policemen sent to Skye had
been sent there to apprehend a few men—most of them old men—whose only
crime was that they looked on while a few respectable women threw dirt
at a man who had slandered them. I rather think they would then do what
those of them who have not to pay for it will do now—they would laugh
outright. I really feel some difficulty in discussing seriously the very
small mouse which this mountain in labour has brought forth. The charge
is assault. What is the evidence in support of it ? It is certainly not
the sort of evidence usually led in cases of assault. We heard of a
sheriff-officer being sent from Portree to serve writs at a place nine
or ten miles away, of his seeing boys with flags and afterwards being
met by a crowd of people, of his papers being burnt by himself, and of
his making a speech thanking the people for their kindness to him, and
encouraging them to persevere in their demands; but very little, and
that unreliable, of an assault by anybody, nothing of an assault by the
men at the bar. In fact the public prosecutor never anticipated having
to prove a charge of assault, and had no evidence to support it. The
turn the case took when the Court held his main charges irrelevantly
stated had taken him by surprise, and he ought then to have thrown up
the whole case. He had not done that He had led evidence which showed
that the prisoners had done certain things which might or might not be
criminal, but which certainly did not constitute the crime with which
they now stood charged, nor, for that matter, any of the crimes with
which the indictment, as it originally stood, sought to charge them. The
prosecutor had not stated the grounds upon which he asked for a
conviction on the charge of assault,—there were none to state. The only
hope he could have was that the Court would convict them of a crime of
which they* were not guilty, because the evidence showed that they came
near committing another and a totally different offence with which they
could not be charged. If this was the hope of the prosecutor, he hoped
it would be disappointed, and that these men would not be convicted of a
crime of which they were not guilty simply because some victims were
required to shield officials from the charge of playing a huge practical
joke at the expense of the public. I shall now, with your Lordship’s
permission, go over the evidence shortly, and I think I shall be able to
show that there is no evidence—no reliable evidence—that any one of the
accused committed an assault, while there is a considerable amount of
reliable evidence to show that not only was no assault committed, but
that Martin and the ground-officer were on the best of terms with the
prisoners while they were together—terms so friendly that the idea of an
assault having been committed during the interview is utterly precluded.
As to Robertson, he was clearly not a popular favourite, and he
towards Portree at an early stage, followed by some children. If he was
assaulted at that time, the prisoners were no parties to it. Robertson
was, however, the only person who was said in evidence to have been
touched by one of the accused; but the evidence on that point came from
so suspicious a source, and was, as would be sh6wn immediately, so
strongly contradicted, that I have no hesitation in asking your Lordship
to disbelieve it. Mr. Macdonald then proceeded to review the evidence
for the purpose of showing that Martin, Robertson, and Beaton had
contradicted each other in important particulars in their account of
what had taken place, and that the story told by the witnesses for the
defence was consistent throughout, and entirely inconsistent with those
of Martin and his associates. Martin, he said, had to account to his
master, the factor, for his failure to serve the summonses, if, indeed,
it was not intended before he went that he should fail; and this was the
story he told on his return. The enlightened management of Lord
Macdonald’s estates in Skye by his omnipotent and unapproachable factor
had brought about a state of matters which the usual machinery of the
factor’s office—summonses of removing and occasional evictions,
supplemented by threats of undefined pains and penalties—was unable to
deal with. An attempt even to get up a criminal prosecution had failed.
What more natural, then, than to get up a sensational charge which would
bring a large force to the rescue of the powerless factor without
expense to his employer. I do not say this is the explanation of what
took place, but it is a possible interpretation of the evidence, and it
would go a long way to account for the peculiar “ coincidence,” as Mr.
Macdonald calls it, that while the criminal authorities intimated the
abandonment of the first criminal charge on ist April, the attempt to
serve the summons of removing was made on the 7th of the same month. Be
that, however, as it may, the evidence which, by the forbearance of the
Court, I was permitted to lead, showed that the present unhappy State of
matters among Lord Macdonald’s tenants was entirely attributable to
mismanagement on the part of successive factors. Before 1865 those
people were comfortable and contented. They had their patches of arable
land near the sea and the hill grazings beyond. The grazings were on
Benlee, of which so much has been heard. The rent for both lands was
paid in one sum, and was fixed on the basis of the number of cattle,
sheep, and horses each tenant was able to keep. In 1865, however, a
factor deprived them of the hill while their rents remained the same.
They were pushed down towards the sea-shore, and there, under the shadow
of their mountain, and a few inches above highwater mark, on what was at
no very distant date a sea-beach, they eked out a precarious living from
their patches of mixed rock and sand, dignified with the name of arable
land. For years these people went on uncomplainingly, while year by year
they became poorer. Their horses first went,—in 1865 every man had a
horse—most of them several; now there is not a horse for every three
tenants. Then the little stocks of sheep and cattle gradually dwindled
down, while all the time their owners were paying rents for the grazing
of three or four times the number of sheep and cattle the grazings left
to them would feed. At last the inevitable came—the people saw
starvation or pauperism staring them in the face, and they made a humble
appeal for redress. To whom? To Lord Macdonald ? No! To his factor, and
the factor made fair promises—at least so say the people. He told them,
they say, that the hill was let on lease, but the lease would expire in
1882, when they would get it. How does he keep his promise? Several
years before 1882, he, without saying anything to the crofters who were
patiently enduring poverty and hardship waiting for the fulfilment of
his promise, let the hill on a new lease, and then leaving this little
complication for his successor to settle, he resigned his factorship.
The successor was Mr. Alexander Macdonald. It was Mr. Macdonald’s
misfortune that in his time the crofters found out how they had been
deceived, and that, not taking the trouble to understand their
grievances, he threatened them when he ought to exhihit at least the
appearance of sympathy, and to attempt to conciliate them. To the
crofters Martin was simply the factor’s clerk, Beaton the factor’s
underling, and with the factor and all his belongings they resolved to
have nothing to do. To Lord Macdonald they must appeal. They believed
that he had never authorised the harsh measures adopted towards them,
and the evidence led to-day shows that their belief was well founded.
Lord Macdonald, in whose name these proceedings were carried on, never
authorised them, was never even consulted about them. Proceedings which
had for their ostensible object the eviction of the inhabitants of three
townships,— several hundred people in all,—were not important enough
forsooth to lead the factor to consult his master. The people knew well
that less than thirty years before similar proceedings had been carried
out to their bitter end in the name of their landlord’s father without
his authority, and they knew that to the day of his death that Lord
Macdonald bitterly regretted these proceedings. Well might they believe
that this Lord Macdonald would not lightly consent to their wholesale
eviction and expatriation. They knew, and he knew, that the strong arm
ancestors was the only title deed by which his
ancestors held their land, and that but for the sturdy clansmen of the
Isles, Lord Macdonald would not now hold an acre of land in Skye. It was
not, therefore, the law in the person of its officers, it was not even
their landlord, these men resisted, it was the factor—the man who was in
their eyes the impersonation of all the injustice and hardship to which
they had been subjected, and I ask was there not some justification for
their resistance ? This being the position taken up by the accused and
their neighbours, was it probable that they would degrade themselves and
their cause by assaulting a person in Martin’s position ? I think not.
Further, was Martin’s own story consistent with the theory of an
assault? Would a man who had just been assaulted, and who was in mortal
terror, as Martin says he was, find himself so sound in wind as Martin
admits he was. When a lighted peat was procured to burn the summonses,
some of the men in the crowd tried to blow it into a flame but failed.
Martin, however, notwithstanding his terror found himself, as he admits,
“in better breath” than his alleged assailants, and succeeded in blowing
the peat into a flame when they had failed to do so. (Laughter.) Though
terror-stricken and in mortal fear he managed somehow to enjoy a smoke
quietly. When he wanted a drink of water he was not afraid to go off the
road to a well, and to go on his knees and dip his head into it. It
never occurred to him that this dangerous crowd finding his head in the
water might keep it there. He gauged the crowd correctly enough as his
conduct showed. He stood among them, chatted with them, drunk out of
their pails, borrowed and smoked one of their pipes, and on parting made
them a speech. That was the evidence of the prosecution, as well as of
the defence. The Prosecutor did not make an attempt, after hearing the
evidence, to argue that Martin had been assaulted. To do so in the face
of such evidence would be an outrage on common sense. Mr. Macdonald
concluded by asking for a verdict of not guilty. (Applause.) •
THE PRISONERS FOUND
Sheriff said—The charge now is one of assault against these men
combinedly or against one or other of them, “actor or art and part,” so
that if the prosecution has proved that one of them assaulted one or
other of the men said to be assaulted, and that the other prisoners
aided and abetted them in that assault, that, I take it, would be
sufficient to enable me to find the whole of them guilty as libelled.
Throwing aside all that is really unnecessary, the simple question for
me to determine is this—Did these men “ or one or other of them ” do
something to one or other of the three men, Martin, Beaton, and
Robertson, which in the eye of the law is assault ? Now, it is quite
true that there are certain discrepancies in the evidence which has been
adduced. There is no doubt whatever that the witnesses for the defence
do not support the evidence- for the prosecution; but the evidence for
the defence confirms to a very great extent the statements that are made
by the principal witnesses for the prosecution. And part of the evidence
of the defence is really of a mere negative character. Certain of the
witnesses —the first three—say that they were not present at the
beginning of this disturbance. They came to the ground after the papers
were taken out of Martin’s pocket. Now, Martin says that when he came to
the place he had the papers in his pocket, and they were only taken out
of it when he was asked for them. I may mention, before proceeding
further, that I see no reason whatever to doubt Martin’s statement.
Martin gave his evidence fairly, and in a way which convinced me at
least that he really was telling the truth, and I do not think there was
anything in his cross-examination which tended to render Martin’s
evidence untrustworthy. Now Martin says that Donald Nicolson took a
leading part in this affair, and he stated that Donald Nicolson caught
hold of Ewen Robertson by the back of the neck “and called out to me in
language which was not very polite,” but it had reference to things
which had taken place before then. Robertson tells us more particularly
how Donald acted after the summonses had been plucked from Martin. He
laid hold of him by the neck and so on. Now, I take it that this is an
assault within the four corners of this complaint. It will not do for
any one to say that because five or six witnesses did not see this that
the affair did not take place. There is the direct evidence of two
witnesses which is a great deal better than the indirect evidence or
negative testimony of a score. Therefore, if Robertson’s and Martin’s
evidence were true, Donald Nicolson was guilty of an assault Now, if
Donald Nicolson was guilty of an assault, the question will then come to
be, what part did the others take in regard to this ? Donald Nicolson,
according to Martin, came forward and took the papers from him. The next
person who comes on the scene is Alex. Finlayson, and the proceedings
that he adopts are certainly of a most threatening character. There is
no doubt whatever that he had a stick in his hand, and the testimony
given by Robertson and others is that he comes forward and threatens
them, flourishing his stick and daring them to proceed further. And then
he proceeds to tell us of the throwing of stones, in which Finlayson
took an active part, and in this way he became “art and part” with
Nicolson in the assault upon these men. I therefore take it that when
you have Nicolson behaving as he had done, and Finlayson being there
with him, and taking the part he did, that Finlayson is guilty of the
assault as a party—as one acting art and part with Nicolson. Then the
next persons who come before us are James Nicolson and the other two.
three men are not said to have done anything except to be accessories
along with these people. Peter Macdonald, indeed, after a time, comes to
make himself conspicuous by telling Martin that unless he burns his
papers, Martin would not get home alive; but there is no evidence of
Macdonald doing anything in particular beyond threatening Martin and the
others. Malcolm Finlayson appears afterwards near the schoolhouse, and
all three form part of the threatening crowd. It appears to me, however,
that Peter Macdonald, Malcolm Finlayson, and James Nicolson did not take
thst conspicuous part which Donald Nicolson and Alexander Finlayson
took. And, therefore, although the case against each and all of these
prisoners has been proved, I think there is a distinction between the
conduct of Donald Nicolson, and Alexander Finlayson, and the others.
These two are really the persons who committed the assault, and a
distinction must be made between them and the others. The judgment of
the Court is that Donald Nicolson and Alexander Finlayson be each fined £2
10s., or, failing payment, one month’s imprisonment; and the other three
prisoners, Peter Macdonald, Malcolm Finlayson, and James Nicolson, be
each fined 20s., or fourteen days’ imprisonment.
LIBERATION OF THE
result was received with some surprise, though not with dissatisfaction.
As the Sheriff summed up strongly against two of the prisoners it was
anticipated that the full penalty in their case, at least, would be
inflicted, and that on the other three prisoners the sentence would have
been more severe than that pronounced. The leniency of the judgment,
therefore, was satisfactory to the audience. Dean of Guild Mackenzie at
once passed a cheque for the full amount of the fines to Mr. Anderson,
but the agent for the prisoners (Mr. Macdonald) intimated that it was
paid under protest in order to enable him to lodge an appeal if this
should afterwards be resolved upon.
prisoners, who had been confined between two policemen throughout the
day, were then liberated. As they emerged from the Castle, they were met
by a large crowd, who greeted them with cheers and calls for a speech.
They, however, were allowed to proceed to their hotel without any
men and the witnesses were lodged, and provided with a liberal supply of
all the creature comforts, in the Glenalbyn Hotel, where they were
visited by many of those in Inverness who sympathised with their
position. Next morning they left by train and steamer for Portree’,
their fares having been paid, and provision made for anything they might
require on the journey. On their arrival the same evening in the Capital
of Skye they were met by their friends and the people of Portree, who
greeted them with great enthusiasm, and many of whom convoyed them the
greater part of their way to the Braes.
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