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The Isle of Skye in 1882-1883
The Autumn Campaign


Nothing of importance occurred for months after the trial, until the crofters appear to have allowed their sheep to take possession of Benlee, and, it is alleged, refused to take them back to their own ground.

[A cheque for the whole amount of the fines was shortly afterwards received from Mr. Norman Macleod, Bookseller, Bank Street, Edinburgh, on behalf of a few Highlanders in that city, who were quite willing to subscribe much more had it been found necessary. The whole of the other expenses of the Trial was paid by the Federation of Celtic Societies.]

Early in October, Lord Macdonald’s Edinburgh agents sent to the Braes crofters registered letters requesting them to withdraw their stock from Benlee without delay. These letters were, in the ordinary course, sent to the district postoffice. Delivery of two or three was accepted, but on their contents becoming known the rest of the crofters resolved to have nothing to do with them, and refused to take delivery. A copy of one of these letters appeared at the time in the Aberdeen Free Press. The burden of its contents was a request to the crofters to pay up their arrears and remove their stock from Benlee, otherwise proceedings would be taken against them. The rents had not been paid, the stock was still on Benlee, and the threat by Lord Macdonald’s agents was immediately followed up; the Court of Session granted notes of suspension and interdict against the crofters with regard to the grazings of Benlee. Mr. Alexander Macdonald, Messenger-at-arms, Inverness, proceeded from Inverness with the Court of Session writs in his possession. On Saturday morning, the 2nd of September, he left Portree for the Braes to serve the writs, accompanied by Lord Macdonald’s ground-officer. Gedentailler is the township nearest to Portree, and on arriving there the officer of Court proceeded to serve the docujpents on the different crofters. He appears to have got in smoothly enough there, but word seems to have been sent to Balmeanach, the largest of the three townships, that the 'officer and his companions were approaching. Thereupon the women and children of Balmeanach gathered in large numbers, covering their heads with handkerchiefs to disguise themselves as well as they could. They proceeded towards Gedentailler, and met the officers on the way. There the second Battle of the Braes began. Stones and clods were flying freely, the officers thought it expedient to beat a retreat, and the writs were not served in the township of Balmeanach, or Peinachorrain.

Mr. William Mackenzie, the special correspondent of the Aberdeen Free Press, to whom we are indebted for the narrative of these proceedings, visited the Braes on the following Tuesday, while the sheriff-officers were still in Portree, waiting for further instructions from the authorities at Inverness. He writes on Tuesday evening :—

The serving of writs at Gedentailler was evidently managed with great rapidity, for the work was done before the people realised their position. The people of the other townships got hurried word of -what was going on, and they mustered and drove the officers away before they reached Balmeanach. The whole of the people are now in a state of great anxiety, and every stranger visiting the district is watched. The children, indeed, run away weeping and crying “ Tha iad a’ tighinn, tha iad a’ tighinn ” (They are coming, they are coming), on the approach of any suspected person. An impression was abroad last night that the officers were again to proceed to the Braes to-day, and, accordingly, the women and children, in large numbers, gathered and formed themselves into two divisions—the one being detailed to watch and protect Peinachorrain—(the farthest south of the townships), in case of the officers coming on them from Sligach-an,' and the other to defend Balmeanach, the middle township, in case of their coming from Portree. They occupied their respective positions for a considerable time during the day, but ultimately as the “foe” did not appear, they retired to their homes, leaving sentries on duty, to warn them of the approach of danger. These sentinels soon saw me, and gave the alarm, and in a very short time I was surrounded by a large crowd of women and children, and a few men. .Each Amazon as she came up looked anything but friendly; but as I came to be known I received a cordial welcome. The old men who were present regarded the conduct of "the proprietor towards them as harsh; but they thought that the Court of Session writs should be peaceably accepted. The Amazons, -however, thought otherwise, and they expressed in no qualified terms their intention to resist.

Those who suffered in spring are looked upon as heroes and martyrs, and some feel themselves driven to such a state of desperation and exasperation that they are well nigh indifferent as to what may happen. “Whatever becomes of us,” they say, “we cannot he worse off than we are.” The application of force may crush them individually, but in the present frame of mind of these people, force will be no more a remedy in the Braes than in Ireland; and I am satisfied that any attempt at evicting them, or selling them out, without some attempt at an amicable settlement, will be attended with some rough work.

The officers were re-called to Inverness on the nth of September, having remained in the Island for nine days without again attempting to serve the writs.

The same correspondent, in one of a series of able articles, writes, under date of nth October, regarding a rumour which was then current in well-informed circles, to the following effect:—“During the week of the Argyle-shire gathering, when the gentry and nobility of the west were promoting social intercourse in Oban, an informal meeting of proprietors was there held in private, to consider the present position and future prospects of land ownership in the Highlands. The Skye question naturally formed a leading topic of discussion, and the opinion was expressed that Lord Macdonald, in the interests of his class, ought to have gone long ago to the Braes and to have endeavoured to settle the dispute between himself and the crofters; and it was felt that so long as the question remained in its present aspect it will naturally be kept before the country, and the popular mind will be imbibing doctrines with regard, to the land which may probably end in restricting the liberties in dealing with landed estates now enjoyed by their owners.” The Northern Meeting at Inverness took place on 21st and 22nd September (in the following week), and many of the gentlemen present at the Argyleshire Meeting attended the meeting in the Highland capital. Lord Macdonald was also present. Whether his lordship had any interview with those gentlemen I know not, but on Saturday, 23rd of September, he left Inverness, and on Monday, the 25th, he visited the Braes. The conference was fruitless. The tenants, who had hitherto demanded Benlee free of rent, now, in order to put an end to the present turmoil, offered to give about ^40. Lord Macdonald, who receives £128 from the present tenant, agreed to accept ^100. Possibly another interview might lead to a compromise between parties—the tenants offering more and the landlord agreeing to accept less. But whether there will be another interview or not is a matter that must lie with the proprietor, for in their present frame of mind the tenants are not likely to seek an interview at the stage which the case has now reached.

Now, with regard to the threatened military invasion. That it was the intention of the authorities at one time to send one or two companies of soldiers to Skye is not denied; aud that these companies were to go from Fort-George. This would undoubtedly be very distasteful work to Highland soldiers, but if ordered they would have no alternative but to obey. That they were warned to be in readiness for “active service” in the Braes is certain; but I have good reasons for stating that military opinion at the Fort was decidedly against any such task being assigned to Highland soldiers, and that such remonstrances as could be made consistent with military discipline were sent to the superior authorities. The reasons for this are obvious. The country is now divided into regimental districts, and Skye is one of the recruiting districts for the Highland regiments which have their depots at Fort-George. The belief among Highland officers is that if a company of Highland soldiers were sent to Skye on such an errand there would be no more recruits from that island for at least half a century. That this opinion is a sound one will be readily admitted by any one acquainted with the Highland character.

It was ultimately resolved to make another attempt, with a larger force of police, to serve the writs on the tenants of Balmeanach and Peinachorrain, on Tuesday the 24th of October. The special correspondent of the Inverness Courier who accompanied the expedition, describes/the proceedings thus:—

At half-past eight this morning, in weather as pleasant as one could desire, there drove from Portree for the Braes two waggonettes containing Mr. A. Macdonald, messenger-at-arms, Inverness (who was to serve the writs); his concurrent; his guide, the ground-officer on Lord Macdonald’s estates ; Mr. Aitchison, superintendent of the County Police; Mr. Macdonald, inspector, Portree; and a body of nine police constables. Some newspaper correspondents followed in a third conveyance. All along the route there was manifested the most intense interest—I may say excitement.- Soon after leaving Portree we met two pleasant old men—crofters at Balmeanach—who had not heard that the officers were coming, but who, when asked as to what kind of reception they might expect, shook their heads, and indicated that their reception would be somewhat warm, but decidedly unpleasant. One of them told us that the officers had spoken to him as he came along, he having been pointed out as one of the crofters in question by Mr. Beaton. They asked him to accept the “paper,” but he would have nothing to do with it; he did not understand that it was anything else than a paper the reception of which would end in his being reduced to misery and want. Then, as we proceeded, we met people who told us that a reception was quite prepared at the Braes for the officers, and for the police. Here, and at several other points, information which we received in Portree last night was confirmed, information, namely, that the crofters had been advised that officers were approaching them, had been counselled to receive the papers, and that they had been on the watch all night. We passed on and on through a country which plainly had at one time been thickly peopled, but which is now a scene solitary to an extent that is painful to contemplate. At a little township near the Braes, women stopped their work at the peats to look at the passing carriages. A little further on the officers and policemen left their waggonettes, and walked to Gedintailler—a distance of over two miles—on foot. We adopted the same course.

The high green hill which, at the very entrance to the township of Gedintailler, rises right up from the roadside, was soon before us—a little over a mile ahead. 'We could see that there were groups of people on the height, and a couple of crofters belonging to a place immediately on the Portree side of Gedintailler, and who joined us here—going forward to see the fun—said that sixty people had been on the watch there ever since the dawn of day, and that they carried flags with which they were to wave to the whole community signals of approaching strangers. As soon as we approached the borders of Gedintailler, it was plainly seen that the officers, who were now a third of a mile ahead of us, were engaged in a task of a most delicate and difficult nature. A band of young men, and stout lads, and girls, occupied a height, from which, with stones, they could command the passage by the road underneath. Here we learned that the people whose writs were served successfully on the 2nd September last had driven their cattle off, thinking that the officers had come to seize them. Further on, we could see that the officers and the policemen were marching along a road, on each side of which were gathered here and there small knots of men, women, and children. As the officers and police force advanced, these knots of people retreated before them—all, however,, to concentrate at a point just within the march that separates the township of Gedintailler from the township of Balmeanach. The people were angry and excited. Some carried sticks. Others doubtless were quite prepared to use the stones that lay everywhere about. Many wore an aspect of determination which was ominous in the extreme. It was clear that a whole country-side was up in arms against the messenger-at-arms, the police, and the wits. One young fellow, in answer to a question by myself, spoke in a tone and with a look which were the opposite of encouraging; and only changed his behaviour when he heard that I had come from a newspaper. This much must be said of everyone else; they were kind and courteous to those who were not connected with the officials who came to visit them; they seem well disposed too so long as you did not propose to take Benlee from them; in appearance and demeanour altogether there was nothing when they were away from the officers, but what is creditable. They, however, hate the writs, and all connected with them; and they entertain a bitter aversion to the very word “police”—an aversion deeply rooted in the minds of the youngest—because presumably of the recollection of the visit which was made to them in April last. But extreme excitement is perfectly compatible with this courtesy towards those who they know are not connected with the writs. If I were asked to describe the Braes to-day, I should say the whole community resembled a barrel of gunpowder that only required the lighted match to produce an explosion.

The officers and the police were stopped at the entrance to the township of Balmeanach—quite near the first house in the township—by a body of men, women, and children, variously estimated at from 140 to 160 individuals.

The scene, while officers and crowd were face to face with each other, was one both striking and picturesque. While officers and people discussed in Gaelic we wandered around to see what was to be seen, and hear what of English was to be heard. There they were, a great crowd engaged in loud and angry talk, varied now and again by strange cries and shouts from the women; and the very gathering and the noise and the excitement lent additional interest to the more distant scenes, which were already striking in solitude and grandeur. The girls, who were attending to the cattle on the green hill-sides, gathered in little knots to hear what was going on. The children who played on the roadside, or watched on the green turf infants of tender years, whose mothers were confronting the officers, seemed to have a perfect idea of what was taking place. At the beach, far down below the roadway, there lay a little boat in which three fishermen were engaged in shaking out of the nets some herrings which the night before they had got in Loch-Eynart. They, too, had to be apprised of what was going on. Occasionally one of the crew would land, ascend the steep brae, and look on the crowd. But while he was in the boat a knot of young women far up above the beach, would report the movements.

The interview between the people and the officers continued near an hour and a-half. The conversation was carried on in Gaelic. It would appear that every advice given to the crofters to receive the writs was lost upon them; they apparently did not know what the papers were, what they meant, or what the receiving of them would result in beyond the taking from them of Benlee. It is said they had been advised to receive the writs by two ministers and others; and in the afternoon we were shown the following telegram which had been handed in at Inverness at 4.52 p.m., Monday, and which had been received in Portree at 5 p.m.

“ From Dean of Guild Mackenzie, Inverness.

To Mr. Neil Buchanan, or any of the Braes Crofters, near Portree.

“Sheriff-officers, with body of County Police, left to-day with writs for Braes crofters. Be wise. Receive summonses peaceably. Trust to support of public opinion afterwards.”

But the unfortunate crofters declined the counsel thus given. They regard Benlee as belonging to their holdings, and Benlee, and nothing but Benlee they would have.

There were heads of families in the crowd, and these were pointed out to the messenger-at-arms by the ground-officer. The messenger-at-arms then endeavoured to effect the service of the writs, but his efforts were of no avaiL The officer tried them over and over again, but in vain. At length, he said he would go to the houses, and lodge the papers there. He endeavoured to go, but women rushed to intercept him, carrying stones and sticks, and all indieating that the proposed action on the part of the officers would not be allowed. At this stage, Beaton, the ground-officer, declined to go further to point out the houses, the enterprise threatening to be accompanied with danger. Shortly thereafter Mr. Macdonald said, “Very well, goodbye, ladies and gentlemen ”. Some women replied, “Good morning and a half to you, sir”. The officers and the police force—the “dismal brigade,” as they were once happily termed—turned their backs on the Braes, marched to the spot where the waggonettes were awaiting them, and returned to Portree, bearing with them the undelivered writs of the Court of Session.

During the interview with the officers, some of the women were weeping, and even at a distance from the crowd could be heard exclamations in Gaelic about the number of helpless widows and orphans that were in the Braes. Some called out that the curses of the orphans and widows would follow all these things. One woman said she would not like to see any one suffer greatly, but if those over them continued these actions much longer she did not know what she might wish them. Once a man was heard to say that the officers seemed to have come in a friendly way; but he was replied to with a chorus of voices that they came in no friendly way, that they were come to ruin poor people, and that they would not be allowed to go further. The police came in for a considerable share of the angry expressions of the women. One person reminded the police that there were people there who yet suffered from wounds they received in April. Actions and expressions were frequently greeted with cries on the part of the crowd, which were very far from encouraging to the officers. Occasionally, however, there were signs of good humour; but these were few, and disappeared as soon as the officers tried to go to the dwelling-houses. Altogether, as will have been clearly seen, the atmosphere was troubled in the extreme. A single injudicious act on the part of the messenger or police would unquestionably have produced an explosion of feeling which would have compelled the legal force to retreat with greater haste and with less dignity than that with which they did actually retire. At one point a row seemed imminent, but it was prevented by the officers and the police exercising prudence as the better virtue.

Judging from the appearance and the demeanour of the people to-day, my own opinion is that, if these writs are to be served by force, they must be served by men protected by the military. This, too, is the opinion of many people in Portree. The truth is, these frequent visits of officers and men in driblets to serve papers, which the crofters associate with impending misery, and possibly, eviction, are irritating and distressing the people. As it is, the people have become exasperated; and it will be absolutely cruel, considering their ignorance of legal forms, their extreme poverty, and their attachment to the soil, to serve the writs by any other force than one which, by previously overawing them, will preclude the possibility of inflicting personal wounds on either man or woman. The appearance of the military may possibly overawe them, if they be sent in sufficient force; but a police force will only still more exasperate them, and lead to a repetition of the painful scenes of April last.

The tone and spirit of this communication was altogether different to anything that had hitherto appeared in the Courier. It began to dawn upon the landlords that there must be something in the complaints of the people, after all, when this newspaper published such an account of the Braes and its unfortunate inhabitants. The change in its views produced a sensation, and pressure was immediately brought to bear upon Lord Macdonald by some of the Highland lairds to bring about a settlement with his people, if at all possible; but hitherto, so long as he expected a military force to crush them, without avail.

The urgent appeals made by the County authorities to the Home Office for a military force completely failed. It is well known in certain circles that Sir William Harcourt would not even listen to the proposal, and that he openly ridiculed the idea of sending Her Majesty’s soldiers to settle a paltry dispute between a landlord and a few of his crofters, which, by the exercise of a little sound judgment and ordinary prudence, could be arranged by sensible men in a few minutes. In consequence of this attitude on the part of the Crown authorities further pressure was brought to bear upon Lord Macdonald to come to terms with the Braes crofters, and it is well known in well-informed circles that under this pressure he finally agreed to enter into negotiation, in the event of proposals to that effect emanating from the crofters themselves or from any of their friends. After a good deal of private correspondence in influential circles on both sides, negotiations were arranged, as we shall see hereafter, which ultimately ended in a settlement satisfactory in the circumstances to all concerned.

The special correspondence in the Courier had an effect also in other quarters than that of the landowners. Immediately on its perusal a patriotic Highland gentleman of means, who resides in the Channel Islands during the winter months, telegraphed on the 28th of October, as follows, to the writer of these pages :—

To Alexander Mackenzie, Esq., Dean of Guild of Inverness, from Malcolm Mackenzie, Vue du Lac, Guernsey.

“Tender by telegraph to Lord Macdonald’s agent all arrears of rent due by Braes crofters, and to stay proceedings. I write by post and send securities for one thousand pounds on Monday.”

These instructions were Carried out, and the following reply was received in due course :—

5 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, 30th Oct., 1882.

Sir,—We have received your telegram of to-day stating that you are authorised by a Mr. Malcolm Mackenzie, Guernsey, to tender payment of the last two years’ arrears of rent due to Lord Macdonald by the Braes crofters, on condition that all proceedings against them are stopped, and that you will be prepared to deposit securities for one thousand pounds to-morrow.

Although we know nothing of the gentleman you mention, we will communicate your telegram to Lord Macdonald. At the same time, we must observe, that you seem to be labouring under a misapprehension as to the matter at issue between his lordship and the crofters, the proceedings against whom were raised for the purpose of preventing trespass, and not for recovering arrears of rent.—We are, &c.,

(Signed) John C. Brodie & Soss.

To Dean of Guild Mackenzie, Celtic Magazine Office, Inverness.

To the above letter the writer replied as follows :—

Celtic Magazine Office, Inverness, Nov. I, 1882.

Sirs,—I am in receipt of your favour of Monday acknowledging my telegram on behalf of Malcolm Mackenzie, Esq., Guernsey, offering to pay arrears of Braes crofters on terms stated therein.

I was fully aware of the nature of the proceedings against the crofters, though possibly Mr. Mackenzie was not, and I simply carried out my instructions. I think, however, that, if Lord Macdonald desires to settle amicably with the people, this proposal, if it does nothing else, will give him an opportunity of doing so without any sacrifice of his position beyond showing a willingness to discuss the matter with a view to settle it in a way that will extricate all parties from a difficult position.

Mr. Mackenzie has now, through me, deposited securities amounting to over £1000 in bank here, and I shall be glad to hear from you when you shall have heard from his lordship.—I am, Sirs, your obedient servant,

A. Mackenzie.

Messrs. John C. Brodie & Sons, W.S.

Lord Macdonald’s agents having published their letter, as above, in the Inverness Courier of 2nd November, Dean of Guild Mackenzie wrote them another letter in the course of which he said:—

Referrring to the second paragraph of my letter of yesterday, permit me to express my opinion that a favourable opportunity has now arrived to compromise the question in dispute advantageously to Both parties, and if I can in any way aid in that object, nothing will give me greater satisfaction. I have had no communication either direct or indirect with the Braes people since the rccent trial, except the telegram which has appeared in the papers ; but if a desire is expressed for an amicable arrangement, I shall be glad to visit them and do what I can to bring such about. I believe if a proposal were made to appoint an independent valuator connected with the West, and one in whom the people might fairly place confidence as to his knowledge of the country and the climate, the question might be settled in a few days. This valuator should value the crofts and Benlee together, and name one sum for the whole. Though I have no authority for making this proposal, I believe it could be carried out to the satisfaction of all concerned, and it would extricate the authorities and Lord Macdonald from a most unenviable position.

To these letters no reply was received.

Mr. Malcolm Mackenzie followed up his telegram of 28th October with a letter, of the same date, at once published in almost all the newspapers in Scotland, in the course of which he said:—

On reading in the Inverness Courier an account of the proceedings of Tuesday last against the Braes crofters, I thought that something might be done to take everybody out of a difficulty, and wired you the following message :—“Tender by telegraph to Lord Macdonald’s agent all arrears of rent due by Braes crofters, and to stay proceedings. I write by post, and send securities for one thousand pounds on Monday.”

I trust that Lord Macdonald will be advised to accept payment of arrears, and to leave the people of the Braes in peace until the Government of the country can overtake measures to judge between him and them. It will be a heavy responsibility and a disgrace to call soldiers to Skye at the present time. Her Majesty has more important work to do with her soldiers than to place them at the service of the Court of Session in vindication of an unconstitutional law which is not based on principles of justice, and which has, by the progress of events and the evolution of time, become inoperative. The Court of Session looks for precedents. Where are these precedents for the reign of Queen Victoria?

Our dual system is no longer possible. Lord Macdonald does not know what to do. Nobody knows what to do. There is an absence of law and justice. In Scotland the administrator of justice is the robber who deprives the people of their natural and indefeasible right to the soil and of the labour which they have incorporated with it. Is that not a terrible contingency for any country to be in? It is peculiarly disgraceful that it should be so in respect of the Highland race, who successfully defended their country, their lands, and liberties, against Romans and Normans. Wliat have we come to ? Are they going to send for the Highland Brigade from Egypt to slaughter the people of Skye?

We call for Mr. Gladstone. What can poor Mr. Gladstone do, with time against him, society in a state of revolt, a demoralised House of Commons, a recalcitrant House of Lords, and the Court of Session at its wit’s ends? Let us pray that he may be able to act as a governor on this rickety steam-engine of society which, under high pressure, and by reason of great friction, is in danger of tearing itself to pieces. In the meantime, and until the machine is put in some sort of order, by Rules of Procedure and alteration of the law, it is every man’s duty to keep her Majesty’s peace and prevent bloodshed ; and as you appear to me, sir, to be doing yours, like a good Seaforth Highlander, or Ross-shire Buff, allow me to subscribe myself, very faithfully and loyally yours.

The following letters explain themselves :—

TO THE EDITOR OF THE INVERNESS COURIER.

Celtic Magazine Office, 2 Ness Bank, Inverness, 8th November, 1882.

Sir,—I have just received the enclosed letter from Mr. Malcolm Mackenzie, Guernsey. Please publish it in the Courier, as you have already published the reply to my telegram from Lord Macdonald’s agents.

Permit me, at the same time, to state that the sum of ^1000, in actual cash, has now been placed by Mr. Mackenzie at my disposal in the Caledonian Bank, and, in the event of his offer being entertained by

Lord Macdonald, that I shall be ready at any moment to implement Mr. Mackenzie’s offer.—lam, &c., •

Alexander Mackenzie.

Guernsey, 4th November, 1882.

Alexander Mackenzie, Esq., Dean of Guild, Inverness.

Dear Sir,—1 am in receipt of your letter of the 1st, enclosing the reply of Lord Macdonald’s solicitors to your telegram tendering them payment of two years’ rent due by the Braes crofters.

From Lord Macdonald’s dignified position, he might be thought entitled to ask me for an introduction before accepting any assistance on behalf of his tenants ; but acting as I was, on the spur of the moment, to prevent bloodshed, and possibly to avert an act of civil war, I did not think that in these hard-money days his solicitors would raise any objections on the ground of my being unknown to them, especially as I made the Dean of Guild of Inverness the medium of my communication.

As the days of chivalry are gone, and as clan ties and feelings of patriotism and humanity are no longer of binding obligation, I could not imagine that a firm of solicitors would stand on so much ceremony.

Whatever misapprehension Lord Macdonald’s advisers are labouring under, I can assure them that I am labouring under none as to the real issues between him and his crofters. It would, doubtless, suit them to have the case tried on a false issue of trespass before a Court which must be bound by former decisions and prevailing canons as to the rights of Highland landlords. The plea of the poor people is that Lord Macdonald is the trespasser, in depriving them of their mountain grazings, without consent or compensation, and thereby reducing them to abject poverty. What can they do? It would raise the whole question of constitutional right, and, as I have said, the Court is bound by former decisions that the landlord has the right to resume possession, and to evict and banish the peasantry after having first reduced them to the last nettle of subsistence. A sentence of banishment used to be regarded as a punishment only next to death, but in the phraseology of landlords it is now an “improvement”.

In the days of “bloody” George of our own ilk, the Court of Session knew better how to apply the “boot” and the thumb-screw than constitutional law. Even later, such ruffians as old Braxfield recognised no right in the people, and according to their dog Latin, they found that the landlord was the only person who had a persona standi. It might, indeed, be an interesting question for more enlightened and better men to discuss, whether the Crown of Scotland conferred on the chieftains by their charters the right of wholesale clearances and forcible banishment of the people from their native country ; and when their military service was commuted into rent charges, if it extended to the landlord the right to make it so oppressive that they could not live without appealing to the public bounty for charity. But I fear it is now too late to expect the High Court of Scotland to remedy the evil, and that we must look to some other Court for redress.

It is in the hope that such a Court of equity may be established for Scotland as regards land and the well-being of the people, that I ventured to offer my assistance, and I thought that Lord Macdonald and his advisers would be glad to make it the means of getting out of a difficulty, and quashing a case that has become a public scandal, instead of standing on ceremony.—I am, sir, faithfully yours,

(Signed) Mal. Mackenzie.

No further reply was received from Lord Macdonald or his agents to Mr. Mackenzie’s munificent offer, the accepting of it being understood by them as equivalent to giving up the grazings in question to the people, without any rent whatever, the only proceedings then current against them being the Note of Suspension and Interdict to remove and keep their stock off Benlee. They quite understood that, if these proceedings were withdrawn, as conditioned in Mr. Mackenzie’s offer, the Braes Crofters would have the grazings in dispute on their own terms, until some settlement was arrived at between them and Lord Macdonald; and rather than agree to this, his Lordship, if the crown authorities had been pliant enough, would have chosen to see them slaughtered by a military force. Better counsels have fortunately prevailed, and his Lordship was saved by others from making his name for ever infamous among the Highlanders, especially among his own clansmen, and this although it was only through the strong arms and trusty blades of their forbears that his ancestors were able to leave him an inch of his vast estates !

While strong efforts were being made in private to induce his Lordship to yield, the following letter, refusing the expected military force, was received from the Lord Advocate by the Sheriff of the County:—

Whitehall, 3rd November, 1882.

Sir,—I received on the 28th ulto. the Report of the Procurator-Fiscal at Portree, relative to the occurrences which took place at Braes on the 24th, and the precognitions referred to in the Report reached me on the 30th. These documents have been carefully considered, along with the previous papers, and I have now to communicate to you the view entertained by the Government on the subject to which they relate.

It is clear that Lord Macdonald is entitled to have adequate protection for the Messengers-at-Arm# whom he may employ for the purpose of serving writs upon the crofters at Braes, and the question to be determined is, by whom should that protecting force be provided, and should it consist of police or soldiers ?

The duty of preserving the peace and executing the law within the County rests upon the County Authorities, who are by statute authorised to provide and maintain a police force for these purposes. The number of the force must necessarily depend upon the condition of the county, and the nature of the services which require to be performed in it. Recourse should not be had to military aid unless in cases of sudden riot or extraordinary emergency, to deal adequately with which police cannot be obtained, and soldiers should not be employed upon police duty which is likely to be of a continuing character. From the various reports which have been received, it appears that one or more places in the Island of Skye are in a disturbed condition, though actual riot or violence is not anticipated unless on the occasion of the service of writs, or the apprehension of offenders, and it further appears, that any force employed in protecting the officers performing such duties would probably be required not once only, but in connection with services falling to be made throughout the successive stages of the process of Suspension and Interdict, and of the Petition for Breach of Interdict, by which it would, in all likelihood, be followed. It further seems to be the view of the Authorities in Skye that the force would require to remain in the Island for a considerable time. These considerations have led the Government to the conclusion that they ought not to sanction the employment of a military force under existing circumstances, but that the County Authorities should provide or obtain the services of such a force of police as they may consider necessary for preserving the peace and executing the law within the county. It is not for the Government to prescribe or even to suggest the particular mode in which the County Authorities should fulfil this duty, whether by adding to their own police force, or by temporarily obtaining the services of police from other Counties or Burghs, but I am authorised by Sir William Harcourt to say, that if they should resolve to make an addition to the number of their own police, he will be ready to grant his consent, in terms of section 5 of the Police (Scotland) Act of 1857, to whatever addition they may consider requisite.—I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant,

(Signed) J. B. Balfour.

To William Ivory, Esq., Sheriff of Inverness.

This letter was a bitter pill for the County Authorities, who naturally desired to escape the serious responsibility of serving the writs in Skye by the small police force at their disposal. The Police Committee held a meeting on the 13th of November to consider the document, and to decide what was necessary to be done in the altered circumstances. After serious deliberation Mackintosh of Mackintosh moved:

“That while protesting against the assumption that under existing circumstances the county was bound, without the special aid asked for from the Government, to execute the Supreme Court’s warrants within the disturbed districts ; and while disclaiming all responsibility for any consequences which may result from the action which is now forced upon them, the Committee ageee to make a strenuous effort to execute the Court’s warrants, and with that view they resolve that the police authorities of Scotland be immediately communicated with, asking them to furnish the largest number of constables they can possibly spare on a given date, and to place this force at the disposal of the executive of the county;” which motion was seconded by Mr. Davidson of Cantray, and unanimously agreed to.

Lord Lovat then.moved “That the Committee recommend to the Commissioners of Supply to increase the present force by 50 constables which motion was seconded by Mr. Davidson, and unanimously agreed to.

It was also agreed to recommend that a meeting of Commissioners be held on Monday following to consider and dispose of this recommendation.

The meeting of Commissioners of Supply was duly held on the following Monday, when the subjoined interesting Report, dated Edinburgh, 18th November, was submitted by Sheriff Ivory:—

1. The second deforcement at the Braes took place on 2nd September, 1882. A full account of that and the previous deforcement is given in my report to the Home Secretary, and appending which is sent herewith.

2. On 6th September an order was issued by Crown Counsel, after consultation with the Lord Advocate, to serve on upwards of fifty crofters at Braes notes of suspension and interdict prohibiting them from trespassing on Benlee, which was then, and had been for seventeen years previous, occupied by another tenant, at a rent of £130.

3. That order was given to the Procurator-Fiscal of the Skye district, who was directed to judge of the amount of the police force that would be required, and to ask the police authorities to furnish it, the particular mode in which the writs were to be served being distinctly specified in Crown Counsel’s order.

4. The above order was on the 7th September communicated by the Procurator-Fiscal (Skye District) to the Clerk of the Police Committee, the former intimating at the same time that he and Sheriff Spiers considered 100 police necessary, and that they should be supported by troops. The order was thereafter communicated to me as Chairman of the Police Committee, whereupon I at once put myself in communication with the Lord Advocate, and asked for instructions.

5. The Lord Advocate thereafter requested the Procurator-Fiscal of Inverness-shire and myself to go to Edinburgh, and consult with him there. We went, and on the 16th September, after a long and anxious consultation (in the course of which I strongly advocated an expedition with a Government steamer and marines), it was finally resolved that, as the calling in of strange police had caused a serious riot on a previous occasion, and would be likely on the next occasion to cause much more disturbance and bloodshed than a military force, it was the best course to prevent a serious riot and perhaps loss of life, to call in the aid of the military, and I was requested by the Lord Advocate to make the necessary requisition to the military authorities.

6. On 21st September I intimated to the Home Secretary that, after consultation with the Lord Advocate, I intended to make a requisition for troops, and sent him at the same time, through the Lord Advocate, a full report in regard to the disturbed state of Skye, and the previous deforcements and assault on 50 Glasgow police and myself at Braes.

7.- The requisition for troops was made by me on 23rd September, and on my informing the Lord Advocate of the fact, his lordship wrote me on 25th September that he did not see that the county authorities had then any alternative but to request military aid.

8. On 30th September the Home Secretary wrote me deprecating the use of military, unless it was absolutely necessary, and suggesting that if the expedition had not started I should again consult with the Lord Advocate on the subject.

9. On 30th September, and again on 1st October, I pressed on the Lord Advocate my decided opinion that (failing the Government furnishes a steamer and marines) it was absolutely necessary to make use of the military.

10. Shortly after this Lord Macdonald visited .Jhe Braes, and in consequence the Lord Advocate directed me to suspend the requisition for the military; and on 12th October, I intimated this order to Colonel Preston.

11. On 17th October, the Lord Advocate wrote me that the Braes arrangement was at an end; that the position of matters had altered since the requisition for the military was made ; and that, in his lordship’s opinion, a further attempt should be made to ascertain, by the test of experience, whether a military force was absolutely essential.

12. That further attempt was made on 23rd October and failed. A full report of the expedition was afterwards communicated to the Lord Advocate.

13. Considerable misapprehension exists in regard to this expedition. The Lord Advocate was of opinion that, from what passed during the negotiations between Lord Macdonald and his crofters, the latter had indicated a more peaceable frame of mind, and that there was no ground for assuming that they would forcibly resist a well-conducted service. The Police Sub-committee and I entertained doubts as to the propriety of sending such a small force of police to the Braes, as in the present excited state of the people they might suffer severe injury. These doubts were intimated to the Lord Advocate and Home Secretary, but at the same time, in deference to the views of the former, the expedition was carried out. In giving their consent to this expedition, the Sub-committee stated that they ‘ were decidedly of opinion that if the messenger should be deforced on this occasion it will be absolutely necessary that a military or naval force should immediately thereafter be sent with the messenger to insure service and the vindication of the law. The committee were strongly of opinion that a gun-boat and naval force would be preferable, and that the boat should remain for some time in the district.

Sheriff Ivory here relates, in paragraphs 14, 15, and 16, the resolution of the Police Committee to apply to counties and burghs in Scotland for a special police force, and to permanently increase the force of the county by 50 men (see excerpt from their minute already given). He proceeds—

17. These resolutions on the part of the Police Committee are in my opinion highly creditable to them, and I sincerely trust that they will be unanimously approved of and adopted by the Commissioners of Supply. For, while the latter have no doubt great reason to complain of the great delay that has already occurred in consequence of the manner in which the Government has acted, and of the delay that in all probability must still take place, if the Government adhere to their resolution to refuse military aid, and while I think the Commissioners ought to protest against the present attempt of the Government to throw on the county authorities the whole responsibility of serving writs, apprehending offenders, executing the law, and preserving the peace of the county, without naval or military aid, in the present disturbed state of Skye, and to disclaim all responsibility for the consequences, should serious bloodshed or loss of life ensue—I am of opinion that the conduct of the Government in the matter renders it all the more necessary for the county authorities to do their utmost in the meantime to preserve the peace, and vindicate the authority of the law in Skye.

18. For my own part I regret exceedingly the delay that has already occurred, and that will in all probability still occur, before the law is duly vindicated in Skye. Such delay will be most prejudicial, in my opinion, to the best interests of the island. Had I foreseen the course which matters have unfortunately taken, I should at once have recommended the county authorities—when application was made to them for a sufficient force to serve the writs—to do then what they propose to do now—viz., to apply to Glasgow and other police authorities for a larger force of police to ensure the due service of the writs. But this course appeared to me objectionable in many respects. In particular, nothing gave such great offence to the crofters and their friends as the sending on the last occasion a large force of strange police to Skye, and I am credibly informed, and believe that if such a force was sent again, a serious riot, and probably bloodshed would ensue. Further, it appeared to me far from a judicious course to apply to Glasgow and other burgh and county authorities for police, thereby necessitating innumerable discussions regarding the rights of crofters before the Police Committees of Scotland, while at the same time it was very doubtful whether these authorities could or would supply the necessary force. On the other hand, I was assured by many persons who were much interested in Skye, and who knew the people well, that if a force was sent by Government—whether naval or marine—the people would see that the Government were determined to vindicate the law in Skye— that in that case in all probability no resistance would be offered, and the writs would not only be served in peace and quietness, but in all likelihood the people would in future refrain from trespassing on ground to which they had no right or committing breaches of interdict, or otherwise setting the law at defiance. On these grounds when I failed to get the use of a Government steamer and marines, I willingly accepted the other alternative of making a requisition for military aid. It must be kept in view, however, that the suggestion for military aid came neither from the county authorities nor from myself. It was originally insisted on by the Procurator-Fiscal of Skye (acting as the hand of the Lord Advocate in the matter) as necessary to enable him to fulfil the order of the Crown Counsel to serve the writs at Braes ; it was afterwards adopted by the Lord Advocate, after long and anxious consultation with the parties on whose judgment his lordship thought proper to rely—as the best course to be followed in all the circumstances; and while the formal requisition was made—as it could only formally be made by me as Sheriff of the county—in point of fact the requisition for military aid, which has now after two months’ delay been refused by her Majesty’s Government, was truly made at the request, and for the purpose of carrying out the views of the Lord Advocate, who at the time represented her Majesty’s Government in Scotland.

(Signed) W.

The following excerpt from the Minutes of the Police Committee Meeting, held on the 18th of September was also read :—

The Committee, having reference to the Procurator-Fiscal’s letter, as to the nature and extent of the force necessary to be employed, and to the reports made to them at the time of the previous disturbances at the Braes, were of opinion that no force of police at their disposal will be adequate to the duty the county authorities are now called upon to perform, and that with the view not only of securing the service of the writs, and the apprehension of the accused parties, but of duly impressing the people of Skye with the resolution of the authorities to maintain the law, a military or naval force should accompany the authorities in their endeavour to enforce the law, to be employed as a protection and aid to the civil officers, in the event of their being overpowered; and the Sheriff was requested to make requisition to that effect in the proper quarter.

It was agreed that the county police force should be placed at the Sheriff’s disposal, but they do not think it advisable again to apply for police from Glasgow. Especially, seeing that a strong feeling of irritation was excited in Skye against them on the former occasion, the moral effect would be less than were the military employed, and also because difficulties may be anticipated with the Glasgow Town Council in procuring the necessary force.

After considerable discussion and some opposition, it was * resolved to increase the police force of the county from 44 to 94 men ; at an estimated cost of over ^3000 per annum. It was also agreed

To make a strenuous effort to execute the Court’s warrants, and with that view they resolve that the police authorities of Scotland be immediately communicated with, asking them to furnish the largest number of constables they can possibly spare on a given date, and to place this force at the disposal of the executive of the county.

The police authorities of Scotland had been applied to, and the response was of so discouraging a character that the proposed police force has not yet been sent to Skye, and it is most unlikely that it ever shall be. A few counties agreed to send small detachments, which resolution some of them afterwards rescinded. All the burghs point blank refused to send any. This indicated an ominous state of adverse feeling throughout the country regarding the proposed action of the Inverness County Authorities, and they became paralyzed in consequence. The Commissioners of Police for the Burgh of Inverness, on the motion of the present writer, refused the application of the County Authorities (on the evening of the day on which the Commissioners of Supply resolved to ask for it), by a majority of 14 to 5, the minority, it has been pointed out, consisting of three factors— Culloden’s, Sir Alexander Mathieson’s, and Flichity’s, with Lord Lovat’s Law Agent, and the local architect of Mackintosh and Sir John Ramsden;

What was to be done next? Neither military nor police could be had to serve Lord Macdonald’s writs; the county authorities were virtually powerless, and various efforts were made to secure a settlement They had in fact to fall back on the friends of the crofters, one of whom, a gentleman in Skye, was communicated with by his Lordship’s agents, urging him to use his good offices to get the crofters to let his Lordship drop easy, by getting proposals of settlement to emanate from them. The result was a visit by the factor, Mr. Alexander Macdonald, to the Braes, on the 27th of November last; a long conference with the tenants, and a final settlement, the people agreeing to pay a rent of £74 15s. a year for the now celebrated Benlee, for which the late tenant, Mr. John Mackay, had been paying £128 per annum, and he, who was joint-petitioner with Lord Macdonald, in the Note of Suspension and Interdict, in the Court of Session, having given his consent, the case was withdrawn in the month of December, and peace, which, with a little prudence, and the exercise of the smallest modicum of common-sense, need never to have been broken, now reigns supreme in the Braes.

It should be mentioned that the Braes crofters told their friends from the beginning that, although they considered themselves entitled to Benlee without any rent, still they were willing to pay a fair sum for it, if Lord Macdonald or his factor would only listen to their grievances or condescend to discuss with them, with the view of arriving at any reasonable compromise, such as that which has now been agreed upon, apparently to the satisfaction of all concerned.


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