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Antiquarian Notes, Historical, Genealogical and Social
(Second Series) Inverness-Shire, Parish by Parish
Chapter XXI. North Uist


THE great bulk of arbitrary removals of old were chiefly of small tenants, crofters, and cottars. Sometimes a largish farmer was attacked, as in the case of Mr John Maclean, of Hosta, now to be referred to. North Uist has suffered perhaps more than any other part of the Hebrides, and it speaks volumes for the good behaviour and industry of the people that they to this day bear up so well under intolerable rule.

The name of Maclean was once numerous and respected in Uist, as tenants under Lord Macdonald and Clanranald. There is in the papers after given a perfect romance in history. There was a great rise of rent, a fall in kelp, a rush to America, all within the short space from 1769 to 1773. Then followed, some few years thereafter, a revival in kelp, from the prohibition laws of the revolted Colonies. The legal steps against Mr Maclean, involving the hurrying back of the packet boat to Skye before he could write his agent at Inverness, and the undue expedition in extracting the decree of removal pronounced in absence, etc., may give a wrinkle even to the sharpest practitioner of modern times. A letter from the minister of North Uist on the subject is also given, showing the business talent) shrewdness, and legal capacity of the island clergy of the last half of the eighteenth century noted by all travellers. Readers will be glad to know that the oppressive legal proceedings fell to the ground. Here follow the papers:-

"My Lords, etc., your servitor John Maclean, tacksman of Hosta, in North Uist. That whereas I am charged to remove and threatened to he summarily ejected furth of the said lands of Hosta with their pertinents, etc., in virtue of a decree of removing, said to have been obtained against me before the Sheriff-Substitute of Inverness-shire upon the 4th clay of April last past at the instance of Lord Macdonald, proprietor of the said lands, most vrongously and unjustly. Considering that the said decreet is not only in absence but also improperly stolen out against me before I had an opportunity to state my defences.

For your Lordships will observe from the citation given me bearing date the 25th day of March last past, that I was cited to appear at Inverness on the 4th day of April thereafter, and from the charge given me on the decreet, it appears to bear date on the same 4th day of April, and that the decreet was extracted on the toth, being six days thereafter, altho' the reclaiming days were not then expired, with the avowed intention of cutting me short by giving me no opportunity to state my defences; For the matter of fact is that the foresaid citation was no sooner given me than the factor of North Uist hurryed away the pacquet boat for the Isle of Sky before I had any time to write a man of business at Inverness, and the consequence was that decreet in absence vent out and was extracted in manner already mentioned before my letters reached Inverness by the subsequent pacquet, so that it was entirely owing to the advantage taken by the factor and my great distance from the seat of justice that the proper appearance was not made on my part, therefore I humbly apprehend that no regard ought to be paid to the decreet in the present question, as having been improperly obtained.

"2. In the year 1769 when Lord Macdonald made a general sett of his estate in Uist and imposed considerable augmentations on his tenants, the farm of Hosta was sett in tack for 19 years from Whit. 1771, to Hugh Macdonald and John Maclean, the then possessors, at the yearly rent of L24 sterling ; but soon finding themselves unable to continue their possession, they sold off their whole stock, abandoned their farm, and emigrated to America, with many more of his Lordship's tenants who were reduced to similar circumstances, at Whitsunday, 1773. In this situation Mr Neil! Maclean, factor on the Island of Uist, communicated the proceedings of the tenants to Lord Macdonald requesting his lordship's directions how to proceed respecting the vacant farms, and his lordship apprehensive that they would lye waste oil hands, desired the factor to make the best he could with respect to a sett of them till his lordship should come to the country. The factor being thus instructed, he prevailed with me to take the said farm of Hosta off his hands upon the same footing that the former tacksmen held it, and as a further inducement put into my hands the foresaid lease which the tenants had delivered up to him before leaving the country, with an assurance that Lord Macdonald would not only confirm the same to me when he came to Uist, for the period yet to run thereof, but would probably make some abatement from the rent. Induced by these fair promises, I entered into possession of the farm of Hosta, and Lord Macdonald coming to the country a few months thereafter, was made acquainted with the factor's transaction respecting the deserted farms and mine in particular, when he was pleased to signify to the factor in writing his entire approbation of the measures which had been adopted to find tenants to these farms, as will appear from his Lordship's correspondence with the factor at the time on the subject. A short time thereafter I waited of his Lordship, when contrary to my expectations, he declined making any abatement from the rent, but at same time assured me that the transaction with his factor approven of by him, entitled me to possess the farm for the period yet to run of the foresaid lease granted to Hugh Macdonald and John Maclean, in the same manner as if they had assigned the lease to me with his consent, adding that his word of honor in support of the factor's agreement rendered me equally secure as if I had it under his hands ; and in terms of this agreement I continued peacefully in possession and paid my rents as tacksman till the citation was given me in the action of removing now under consideration ; but Lord Macdonald finding of late the advantage of occupying by his own servants all the kelp shores on his estate on account of the advance in the price of that commodity since the importation of poll- ashes was prohibited by the American Colonies, he it seems has been persuaded to attempt taking advantage of my want of a written sett or a formal assignation of the former tack, notwithstanding of the agreements solemnly entered into with his factor and confirmed by his Lordship in manner already stated ; but in this I am hopeful he will be disappointed, and that your Lordships will see cause to suspend the decreet for the following among other reasons, vizt.:—

1st, The decreet was not only obtained against me in absence in manner already stated, but the citation to the action of removing was also informal and defective in so far as it did not contain a full double of the lybell and made no mention of the Act of Sederunt authorising such removings as required by your Lordship's decisions, and the practice of all the Sheriff Courts; 2nd, from the state of facts already given, I humbly apprehend that it is not now competent for Lord Macdonald to deprive me of my possession before expiry of the foresaid lease granted by him to Macdonald and Maclean. His Lordship authorised his factor to sett the farm of Hosta in manner most advisable till his arrival in the country, when he was pleased to confirm the factor's proceedings in the transactions with me both in writing and by his word of honor as above mentioned, and these facts, if denied, I am hopeful to instruct not only from his correspondence with the factor, but likewise by his Lordship and the factor's oaths, so that I humbly hope this noble pursuer will be found barred from betaking himself to the plea of locus penitentia that might be competent to him in a mere verbal lease, since the delivering the lease to me, my having entered into and continued the possession and paid my rents in the terms thereof, are circumstances forming such a rei inferventus as I humbly hope will exclude any plea founded on my not having an assignation to the foresaid lease reduced into writing. Herefore I beseech your Lordships for suspension in the premisses upon caution in common form according to justice.

(Signed) JAMES FRASER (of Gortuleg)."
Edinburgh, 19th June, 1780."

The bill was intimated to Mr Duncan Grant of Bught on behalf of Lord Macdonald, on the 23rd of June, as follows :-

"Sir,—Your letter of the 25th June enclosing a copy of a Bill of Suspension in favour of John Maclean, tacksman of Hosta, was returned to me from North Uist to this country, and I return you many thanks for your diligence and assiduity in the cause entrusted to your management. It was a great pity you was not properly supported to go on with it. I am sorry to inform you that the written tack granted to Mr Maclean's predecessors is not to be found. He was so stupid as, after Mr Neil Maclean, the factor, had given it to him to return it to himself again to keep as he had no proper keeping for it himself, and by letter I received yesterday from Uist I am informed that after Mr Neill Maclean had rumaged all his drawers for it he could not find it; however, I shall cause another search to be made for it how soon I go home. Enclosed is a letter from Mr Neil Maclean, the late factor to John Maclean, Hosta, which I think is a good deal in his favour; you have also a discharge for the rents of Hosta during Mr Neill Maclean's intromission. If the tack cannot be found can Lord Macdonald be obliged to give up the copy he has of it himself, or will you advise us to treat with Lord Macdonald before a discovery is made of the tacks being lost? I wrote you a letter by last post inclosing some papers that I think make for John Maclean, and two guinea notes which I hope have come safe to your hands. If nothing better can be made of this process you'll endeavour to keep it alive till we settle with Lord Macdonald.

"Any remittances required shall be made you. Direct as formerly by Dunvegan as I go to Uist in a few days.

"I always am, Sir, your most obedient and humble servant.

"Isle of Skye, 25th July, 1780."

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