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History of the Western Isles
A Chapter from the book "The Western Isles" by Alasdair Alpin MacGregor

THE earliest known references to the Western Isles are those contained in the Sagas; and it is unfortunate that even these are both scanty and vague. It is just possible, however, that in the ancient Irish records there may be allusions one might justifiably regard as referring to them. No written records of pre-Norse times exist.

The Outer Hebrides

In the ancient stones of these islands there is much prehistory. The duns and brochs, the menhirs and stone circles, the chambered cairns—all these, though mute enough in one sense, are eloquent in another. It would appear from them as though the Western Isles had been peopled by an organised society long before the Norsemen sailed over to the Scottish Isles—to the Orkneys and the Shetlands, as well as to the Hebrides—to conquer, to take possession, to settle down in numerous communities. The Standing Stones of Callernish were old when Rome was yet unborn, as W. C. MacKenzie puts it in one of the works from which we have already quoted. Ancient structures, such as the broch known as Dun Carloway, were in use centuries, if not millenia, before our northern kingdom became known as Scotland. The subterranean dwellings and stone huts of the Isles must have been very old, indeed, by the time the Scots crossed over from Ireland to Dalriada, in Argyll.

From the eighth century onwards, the Norsemen of Viking times continued to come over the seas and settle in these parts. They came not just as plunderers, ready to depart whenever they had despoiled the countryside: on the contrary, they arrived with the intention of remaining. And they certainly remained some centuries. But for the defeat and destruction of King Haco’s fleet at Largs in 1263, there is no saying how long thereafter the Norse domination of the Western Isles might have continued.

The physical characteristics of the Norsemen are still obvious among the Islanders; and, curiously, although the former did not replace the ancient Gaelic language with their own, they did succeed in bequeathing to the toponomy of these islands several thousands of names which are purely Scandinavian in origin. There is scarcely a geo, or creek, in the Hebridean coast-line without its Norse name, hardly a promontory. In Lewis, however, there are more Gaelic place-names than Norse, though it must be added that, in the case of farm names, the preponderance is the other way.

The Norsemen, when at the height of their power, dominated Scotland’s islands as far south as Arran and Bute. The Kintyre peninsula also came under their sway. It was agreed between Magnus Barefoot and the King of Scotland that the former might claim for Norway any territory on the west coast of Scotland, round which his galley could be steered, and that, in order to embrace Kintyre, he sat at the helm while his warriors dragged his galley over the isthmus linking Kintyre with Knapdale—that is to say, between West and East Lochs Tarbert. If the etymologists be right, it would seem as though the Norsemen were in the habit of transporting their craft across similar isthmuses, such as that between East Loch Tarbert and West Loch Tarbert, in Harris, and possibly the isthmus between Loch Long and Loch Lomond. The Tarberts, or Tarbats (literally, "draw-boats ") were simply shortcuts to avoid the longer journeys by sea.

So thorough was the Norse domination of the Hebrides that they were known among the ancient Gaelic-speaking people of the Highlands as Innse-Gall, the Strangers’ Isles. By this name they are still referred to, collectively, in the Gaelic.

By the time the history of the Western Isles becomes less obscure, five main clans shared them, each having a region of its own. The Clan MacNeil possessed Barra and the isles pertaining thereto. The Uists and Benbecula were the patrimony of the MacDonalds—the brave and adventurous Clan Ranald of the Isles. Harris belonged to the MacLeods of Harris, a branch of the MacLeods of Skye, or of Dunvegan. Lewis was divided between three powerful clans. In Ness, the northern part, the Morisons were in control. In Uig, the western and remotest part, the MacAulays flourished. The rest of the island belonged to the redoubtable MacLeods of Lewis, who, in the early years of the seventeenth century, were displaced by the artful and ambitious MacKenzies, who were, perhaps, a little more civilised. Two other Lewis clans of minor importance ought to be mentioned in passing, namely, the MacIvers, and the MacNicols or Nicolsons. There is a tradition that the latter were in possession of Lewis prior to the MacLeods.

The Maclvers, like the MacRaes and others who are of no great numerical significance in Lewis, are regarded as a fairly recent importation - recent, at all events, in comparison with the MacLeods, the Morisons, and the MacAulays, whose roots were deeply embedded there some centuries earlier. The Maclvers, like the MacLeods and MacAulays, are of Scandinavian origin; and it would appear as though most of them arrived in the island with the MacKenzies, as the MacRaes, a Celtic clan, certainly did. ["The common inhabitants of Lewis," according to an account of Lewis in 1750, are the Morisons, McAulays, and MacKivers, but when they go from home, all who live under Seaforth call themselves MacKenzies."] At the present day, Maclvers are to be found all over Lewis. They used to be most numerous in the neighbourhood of Achmore and Loch Ganavich (Gainmheich) two townships situated about ten miles to the south-west of Stornoway, on the road to Uig. Some twenty years ago, relatives living in Lewis took me on a visit to an old crofter named Maclver, living in a tumbledown, thatched cottage not far from the roadside at Loch Ganavich. This old man was regarded in Lewis as the Chief of the Clan Maclver—a piece of harmless nonsense, I had better add, lest some reader should feel himself called upon to initiate a newspaper correspondence, as the Scots are so prone to do in matters of clan-ship and genealogy. The Maclvers, one may safely say, had no chief in the accepted sense.

To this day, these seven surnames—MacNeil, MacDonald, MacLeod, Morison, MacAulay, Maclver, and Nicolson—are by far the commonest in the Western Isles; and to a large extent they have retained their ancient geographical distribution. MacKenzies, of course, are to be found all over Lewis, and especially in and around the town of Stornoway, where the first contingents of them landed early in the seventeenth century.

There are other surnames well known in the Western Isles, of course, among which might be mentioned MacAskill, and MacSweyn or MacSween. The name, MacAskill, is indeed ancient. In the Annals of Ulster, in 1171, one reads of "Ascall, son of Torcall, King of Ath-Cliath". Then the name of one, Gilbert MacAskill, appears in 1311 in connection with lands included in the bishopric of Durham. Askill is a name of Norse origin.

Of an origin no less ancient are the MacSweyns, if we believe their progenitor to have been Sweyn Asleifsson, one of the last of the Vikings. Somewhere about the year 1160, this illustrious sea-rover and all his men were ambushed and killed at Dublin, which they had captured and sacked. Sweyn was quite a common Scandinavian name.

And one might just add a word or two about my own surname, proudest and most romantic of any, if I may be forgiven for reminding you of this. MacGregors are not numerous in the Western Isles. They are to be found almost exclusively in Lewis, where a fugitive from Perthshire—from Loch Katrine-side—sought refuge in the days when the Clan Gregor was persecuted, and the very name of MacGregor proscribed. This fugitive settled in the west of the island, at a place called Tolsta Chaolais, by the shores of Loch Roag. The small colony of MacGregors still residing there are descended from him; and so am I.

How far the island clans were of None or of Celtic origin or how far an admixture of both, it is impossible to say. Their descendants in the Isles at the present day exhibit marked characteristics of both. The Norse were like sandwiched between two layers of Celts. Then there were, at all times, the descendants of the prehistoric people, still much in evidence in some parts of Lewis, especially in the parish of Barvas, where one finds traces of the Iberians.

Besides the descendants of the Norse, whose Scandinavian characteristics are obvious, the main body of the Western Islesmen is composed of Celtic stock, Gaelic in speech. In certain parts of Lewis, too, descent is traceable from the short, however, a serious feud between the Morisons and the MacLeods took root. It began as a minor domestic dispute, but eventually involved both clans in their entirety. This feud, prosecuted by both sides with the utmost zeal and ferocity, led to the decline and ultimate ruin of the MacLeods.

In mediaeval times, and even subsequently, the Brieves were greatly respected in Lewis. Their verdicts were accepted as final: their knowledge of ancient law and usage was never questioned. Indeed, where matters juridical were concerned, they held a position almost identical with that of the Brehons in Ireland. The basis of their jurisprudence was the eric. That is to say, the compensations paid by offenders judged guilty. The eric corresponded with the Welsh galanas, and with the Teutonic weregild. To the Brieve went an eleventh part of the compensation claimed. To the relatives of the victim, as in the case of murder, went the remainder, after the chief had taken what he considered to be his share.

Of course, in this somewhat primitive and arbitrary administration of justice there must have been much that, to-day, we should regard as highly improper. Yet, the position of the hereditary brieve continued unchallenged in Lewis for many a generation. Eventually, it was displaced by the system of heritable jurisdiction. This increased enormously the power and authority of the chiefs, with their right of pit and gallows. Indeed, it is more than probable that justice, as administered in Lewis by the Brieves, was much closer to our modern concept of what constitutes justice than was that of many a chief exercising his authority as a hereditary judicator.

For all this, the Brieve-ship survived long after it had become an anachronism, as did also the principle of hereditary jurisdiction. The latter, long before its abolition, which followed the final defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, had become intolerable, as had, in fact, many another remnant of feudalism, swept away about the same time. Such power in the hands of a cruel and unscrupulous chief, as so many of them were, must have resulted in untold misery and oppression. We like the romantic idea that the chiefs of old were all generous and magnanimous men. But this idea is soon demolished when one delves into the social and domestic history of the times. They were good and bad, just like the rest of us, though some of them were excessively bad.

The Brieve was to be found elsewhere than in Lewis. It would appear that, during the heyday of the Lords of the Isles, every island of any size and importance had its own Brieve, whose powers, however, may not have been quite so extensive as those exercised by the Morisons. Such judges acted in matters of local import. Where minor disputes were concerned, they probably had complete autonomy. In the days of the Lords of the Isles, the principle Brieve in the Hebrides resided in Islay, southernmost of the Inner Isles. As there seems to have been a right of appeal to him, he was, in effect, what W. C. MacKenzie suggests, namely, Lord Chief Justice of the Isles.’

Remnants of the species of justice obtaining in the Western Isles in the days of the Brieves survived there, at any rate in spirit, long after these hereditary judges had become but a historical memory. MacKenzie cites the case of a sheep-stealer who, in 1788, was placarded and led through the streets of Stornoway by the common executioner, to receive, upon his bare back, and at each of five appointed places, no fewer than ten lashes. What the culprit must have looked like, and felt like, at the last stance, if indeed he were capable of feeling anything at all, one must leave to the imagination. Of course, we do very much the same sort of thing in our prisons at the present day, with this difference, that the flogging now takes place in camera, a provision which, in my view, greatly hinders fundamental penal reform.

Banishment, either for life or for a long period of years, usually followed public whippings for such offences as sheep-stealing which, in olden times, was considered as heinous an offence as anyone could commit.

A woman convicted of theft in 1820 was sentenced to be led from prison by a rope tied round her neck, and to carry on her breast a placard proclaiming her, in large letters, to be a habitual and reputed thief. Thereafter she was put in the pillory for a couple of hours. Her sentence included seven years’ banishment.

Traditions concerning the Brieves persist in Lewis to this day, especially in Ness, where they lived and functioned. The folk-tales of this island are full of references to them, as also to the instances in which they and their Morison clansmen came to bloody blows, either with the MacLeods or with the MacAulays.

The Brieves are also remembered in Sutherland-shire, where Morison is by no means an uncommon surname. Indeed, one of the several islets situated off Eddrachillis, a coastal parish in the north-west of the county, is named Eilean a’ Bhreitheimh, the Brieve’s Island. Here, towards the close of the sixteenth century, were interred the bowels of John Morison, Brieve of Lewis at the time. Morison and a handful of his henchmen, while in Assynt, came to daggers with a party of MacLeods. All the Morisons were slain in this encounter, which appears to have been one in which the MacLeods were anxious to get even for some insult they had suffered. Now the galley, aboard which the Brieve’s body was placed, attempted to sail for Lewis; but contrary winds cast her ashore on this isle. There, according to tradition, the corpse was disembowelled, and the bowels buried.

The other great tribe of undoubted Lewis origin is the Clan MacAulay. It occupied the wild and remote west of the island—that part of it known as Uig. Aulay, of course,. is really the Norse, Olaf, or Olave; and there is reason for believing, therefore, that the MacAulays have a Norse ancestry similar to that of the MacLeods. It is the proud boast of the Lewis MacAulays that the forebears of one of the most distinguished of their name—Thomas Babington MacAulay—lived at Breidhnis, a crofting township by the Atlantic seaboard of Uig. The ruins of their humble home are still pointed out by the older inhabitants. At the present time, MacAulays are almost as numerous in Uig as are Morisons in Ness.

Of the internecine struggles in the Western Isles one might write much. They would appear to have been the principal concern of the inhabitants, continuously, throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is doubtful whether anywhere else in Britain, in historic times, so much blood was spilt in proportion to the population. Warfare between the Miorisons and the MacLeods was no less ferocious than that between the Morisons and the MacAulays. Even more sanguinary however, was the protracted feud between the MacDonalds and the MacLeans, conducted in the more southerly of the Hebrides. In fact, the history both of the Inner and of the Outer Hebrides at this period is almost solely confined to clan rivalry and inter-family machinations, and to the appalling waste and misery they occasioned. These are too numerous and complicated to be of interest for our present purpose. They may be studied in appropriate detail in MacKenzie’s monumental work, The History of the Outer Hebrides, or in his Book of the Lews.

It should be added, nevertheless, that all this strife and bloodshed are the foundation of an enormous amount of island legendary, folk-tale, and tradition. Conspicuous among the recorders of these, and perhaps the most indefatigable prior to the present century, was John Morrison. (He spells his name with an extra r, although the Morisons of the islands usually have only one.) John Morrison was born in Harris in 1787. Most of his youth was spent in Uig, in which parish he was, for a time, a schoolmaster. Uig was then unbelievably remote. Immense moorland, diversified with lochs and swamps, isolated it from the rest of the Northern Hebrides. Among the valleys intervening between its lovely hills, or by such stretches of its Atlantic seaboard as allowed of a certain amount of fishing and crofting, its inhabitants lived very much inter se—very much as a people apart. Only when foraging on neighbours’ territories did its men-folk leave their own confines. This isolation meant that the ceilidh (the social gathering, usually held round the peat-fire in the evening, for the telling of folk-tales and the singing of folk-songs) remained the sole venue of social intercourse at a time when, perhaps, its importance was already diminishing elsewhere. At the Uig ceilidhs John Morrison, in early manhood, was afforded the unique opportunity of hearing many a story recounted in the ancient, traditional fashion of the Isles. These he diligently noted down.

Morrison eventually removed to the town of Stornoway, where he was employed none too felicitously as a shop-assistant. Later he earned a livelihood there as a cooper. He was the father of twelve children, and he died in 1834, at the age of forty-seven. He occupied his spare time in collecting, collating, and recording such traditions as were then to be found abundantly in the Western Isles. The result of his labours, as we can now appreciate, has been most gratifying, particularly when we consider the handicaps under which he must have worked. He possessed no desk of any kind. His MSS., now bound in seven volumes, and containing nearly a hundred stories of varying length, were written with "only a board across his knees". They represent a colossal amount of industry and applications of which those of us belonging to, or interested in, the Western Isles cannot be too appreciative, for he rescued from oblivion much to which we now have access. His MSS. were entitled:


The Conflicts of the Western Highlanders; or the
Various and Repeated Struggles of the Most
Illustrious Heroes of the Isles of Lewis, Harris,
Uist, Barra, as well as of the Mainland, Skye,
Eigg, Mull, etc.


The Various Forays committed by the Clans upon
each other, and how the same were resented,
bravely repulsed, or retaliated; during a period of
263 years.

Hebrides - Islands on the Edge Ep 1 Scotland

On Morrison’s death, these MSS. passed into the possession of Captain Thomas, R.N., a careful and enthusiastic antiquary who, about 1880, contributed to the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland two lengthy papers based upon them. Later, they became the property of Sir Arthur Mitchell, another noted antiquary and archaeologist. On Mitchell’s death they were sold to the firm from whom W. C. MacKenzie, mentioned so often in these pages, bought them. MacKenzie appropriately presented them to the public library in his native town of Stornoway, where they are accessible to anyone who may care to consult them.

The impoverishment of the Western Isles by clan and tribal strife may well be imagined. Murder and rapine were the order of the day. Lawlessness and destitution stalked the land. This was as much the case in Barra and the Uists as it was in Lewis and Harris. Yet, the Islanders, on their limited and precarious resources, managed to conduct warfare abroad as well as at home. Fifteenth-century records are full of their exploits elsewhere than in and about their own particular isles. They raided the Scottish mainland frequently, and on more than one occasion visited the Orkneys with fire and sword. Under the banner of Donald, Lord of the Isles, who claimed the Earldom of Ross, the MacLeods of Lewis and of Harris fought at Harlaw in 1411.

Scarcely a home in the Western Isles was not affected by the feud between John, Lord of the Isles, and Angus, his bellicose son. This feud, one of the bitterest in the annals of the Western Highlands and Islands, came to issue in that sanguinary sea-fight, the Battle of Bloody Bay, where Angus defeated his father. In this contest, the heir to MacLeod of Lewis was mortally wounded, and MacLeod of Harris was killed. Both of them fought on the losing side.

During the sixteenth century, things went from bad to worse in the Long Island. Notorious among the leaders of disorder was Roderic, almost the last of the MacLeods of Lewis. It was he who, according to Donald Monro, High Dean of the Isles, was in the habit of retiring to Pabbay, an isle in Loch Roag, "quhen he wald be quyeit, or yet fearit ". [Description of the Western Isles of Scotland called Hybrides (circa 1549). Published from the manuscript in 1774 by William Auld, Edinburgh.]

Roderic lived to a great age, despite his arduous and adventurous life. In an official document dated 1593 (written about the time of his death) he is alluded to as an old man "famous for the massacring of his own kinsmen".

It is not surprising that Roderic should have been one of the chiefs whom James the Fifth was anxious to interview during the royal expedition to the Western Isles in 1540. This expedition, as an authority already quoted so often puts it, had a close analogy to the sporting adventure. "The King was like a Saxon sportsman in modern times, who stalks ensure that, hereafter, there should be some reasonable prospect of his being able to collect from the MacLeods certain dues, such as maill and greffum, to which the Crown was entitled, and of which, for many a year, it had been deprived. So the Fife Adventurers, or the Gentlemen Adventurers from Fife, as they are sometimes called, made their first expedition to Lewis late in 1598, in an endeavour to gain a permanent footing there. Though they took Stornoway Castle, they were unable to make much headway. The hostility of the Islanders, now banded together against them under the leadership of the intrepid Neil MacLeod, one of Roderic’s five bastard sons, soon proved to the would-be colonists that they would have to abandon their enterprise, at any rate for the time being.

In 1605 they made a second attempt; but again Neil was able to organise sufficient local opposition to render their permanent settlement impracticable, if indeed it did not entail their slow extermination. Four years later, the Fifers made their final bid to establish themselves in Lewis, and to bring the island and its none too lucrative resources under their control. Again they failed.

All this time, the wily Kenneth MacKenzie of Kintail had been waiting an opportunity of making good his own claim to Lewis. The opportunity came in 1610 when, with the collapse of the Fife Adventurers’ third attempt, they sold to him their charter rights in Lewis, and also such rights as they had in the Trotternish district of Skye. Just before their final debacle, Kenneth had been raised to the peerage, ostensibly for the assistance the Crown imagined he had given to the Fifers in their struggle against the lawless and dauntless MacLeods. As Lord Kintail, and with the support of his brother, Roderic, he landed in Lewis with a strong contingent of his clansmen. In a short time the island was under his control, though for a year or two Neil, the last of the MacLeods of Lewis, held out. Neil and a number of his confederates eventually took refuge on the islet known as Berisay, in Loch Roag, which they fortified, and from which they pursued a reckless career as pirates. The story of their ultimate dislodgement from Berisay, and of how Neil himself went to his execution "verie christianlie", is narrated in the chapter dealing more particularly with the several attempts that have been made to improve the island of Lewis economically, since the days of the Gentlemen Adventurers.

The MacLeods of Lewis, hapless as they were feckless, now disappear from the history of the Western Isles, although from time to time thereafter they engineered spasmodic insurrections, and gave trouble through their piratical behaviour. They had been in possession of Lewis for three-and-a-half centuries.

Lord Kintail soon proved himself to be a conqueror who was both competent and conscientious. In matters of administration, he was as efficient as his predecessors had been incapable. He took over the control of the whole of the island. This was an onerous undertaking, as one realises from contemporary documents. The chaos and conflict he found there can scarcely be imagined. All respect for authority had gone. Murder and robbery were the order of the day. With the help of clansmen from Wester Ross—from Kintail and the surrounding country—MacKenzie and his successor, Colin, first Earl of Seaforth, earnestly strove to introduce some measure of civilisation into an island that, hitherto, had known little, if indeed any. Yet it seemed impossible to do this without recourse to methods of extreme stringency. At the outset, therefore, he assigned to his brother, Roderic MacKenzie (known as the Tutor of Kintail, which was the title given to the heir’s guardian) the task of bringing the rebellious MacLeods completely under his control.

Roderic was as bold and resolute a fellow as was to have been found anywhere. By one means or another, he had already proved himself more than a match for those who had tried to circumvent his clansmen in attaining the ambition upon which their hearts had long been set, namely, the taking over of the island of Lewis for their own purposes. It was he who, by stratagem, dislodged from Berisay that desperado, Neil MacLeod, together with his sea-rieving band, and in so doing broke the back of all serious resistance to the Clan Kenneth - to the Clan MacKenzie.

It may be said of the MacKenzies that they applied themselves conscientiously to the bettering of the island. During the two-and-a-half centuries they remained its overlords, the condition of the inhabitants improved out of all recognition. "At the end of the seventeenth century," writes W. C. MacKenzie, "the picture we have of Lewis is that of a people pursuing their avocations in peace, but not in plenty. The Seaforths had been extravagant, and the people had to pay for their extravagance; they were politicians, and the people had to suffer for their politics. Yet it is clear that, besides establishing orderly government in the island, they had done a good deal to rescue the people from the slough of ignorance and incivility in which they found themselves immersed. But in the sphere of economics their policy apparently was of little service to the community."

Certainly, the closing years of the seventeenth century and the first few decades of the eighteenth saw considerable poverty and wretchedness among the inhabitants. To his report in 1721 that they were amenable to the government’s authority, Zachary MacAulay, Seaforth’s Chamberlain in Lewis, appends the following rider: "But I can assure yee, yee shall find one rugged hag that will resist both King and Government, vizt., Poverty."

It cannot be doubted that this poverty, by no means confined to the Outer Hebrides, was greatly accentuated by the wholesale spoliation of one clan by another. Where there was no security against rievings and raidings by neighbours, there could be little foundation upon which to build an economy calculated to improve the conditions of the people. The whole of Celtic Scotland (that is to say, the Highlands, as well as the Western Isles) remained impoverished by this kind of thing long after the Lowlands were settling down to civilised habits and peaceful pursuits. Theft from a member of one’s own clan was considered an offence of the utmost gravity, whereas theft from someone belonging to another clan was not merely excused, but extolled. It was regarded as right and proper. Indeed, the greater such theft, the more commendable. The larger the spreagh driven off in some murderous foray, the more did the chief and his clansmen approve this mode of acquisition. But the clan enriched to-day by such means might be the clan reduced to-morrow to direst straits. However, as long as the ordinary people were buoyed up with the notion that retaliation would more than recoup them for any loss they had sustained, this reckless attitude to life continued.

In Barra and in Uist there existed a similar state of affairs. The MacNeils and the Clan Ranald spent much of their time in despoiling one another, or, perhaps, in despoiling their neighbours on the Scottish mainland. Both of these clans had their pirates; and, indeed, it was doubtful at one time which of them was to gain the mastery of the island seas. The tide of fortune ebbed and flowed between them for many a day. In the end, the MacNeils won. There was a period during which the piratical enterprises of the Chiefs of Barra exercised not merely James the Sixth of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth of England, but also the courts of France, of Spain, of Portugal. With the NacNeils, piracy was a highly organised profession during the closing years of the sixteenth century, and the first decade or two of the seventeenth. Reprisals led to reprisals, as reprisals always do, until in the end there arises a state of utter desperation and callousness. We have only to look at our own twentieth century to realise the truth of this; and, having done so, we can scarcely feel ourselves justified in criticising the conduct of the clans in earlier and, presumably, less enlightened centuries.

From such records as are available, it would appear as though the condition of the inhabitants of the Western Isles at the end of the eighteenth century showed little improvement upon that obtaining at the end of the seventeenth. The Rev. John Lane Buchanan, who visited the Long Island at this time, paints in his Travels in the Hebrides a pathetic picture of circumstances there. The tacksmen, or tenant farmers, had reduced their sub-tenants to a state of abject misery. Especially was this so in Harris. Lane’s testimony is supported by others.

On the whole, it seems as though conditions in North Uist and in Barra were slightly better at this time. Lord Mac-Donald in the former, and MacNeil in the latter, were pursuing a policy designed to reduce the size of the tacksmen’s holdings, and to substitute for the somewhat arbitrary tenure then prevailing a system devised to give greater security to the ordinary inhabitants.

In Lewis the Seaforths had done little to rescue agriculture, if indeed it could ever be rescued in the true agricultural sense. They were too preoccupied with their richer possessions on the Highland mainland to be much bothered with an island, the climatic and natural conditions of which, in their view, offered little prospect of a return on capital they might have sunk in it. They, therefore, tended to regard Lewis as a sort of romantic adjunct; and, albeit they had done something to replace with a better conception of society the former lawlessness based on mutual pillage, their neglect had serious repercussions. True, they could not have been held responsible for the weather, nor for the failure of crops largely resulting therefrom, nor yet for an increase in the native population in excess of what the island, in its primitive condition, was able to support. On the other hand, there was much within their power which they might have done to ameliorate the poverty of the people.

The only member of the family to show any real concern for the welfare of the island was the last Lord Seaforth. He did much to improve the town of Stornoway by extensive building schemes. He encouraged fishing and agriculture, and did his best to wean the natives from many of their less economical methods of tillage. He developed the burning of kelp, built roads as well as houses, and took an interest in education. He even resided for some months of the year in Lewis, a matter which helped considerably, for it is difficult to estimate the harm which, throughout many generations, absentee landlordism has wrought in the Highlands and Hebrides. Indeed, it has been as great a curse as alcohol! Of the Islanders’ long-standing partiality to the bottle, you will hear something later.

It was during the Seaforths’ tenure of Lewis that there took place in Britain two events of major political and historical significance, which had far-reaching repercussions even in the Western Isles. The first of these occurred during the Cromwellian period. The other was the series of attempts, known as the Jacobite Risings, made during the earlier half of the eighteenth century to restore the Stewarts to the throne. Hitherto, the Isles had played little part in Scotland’s political intrigues. Trouble they certainly had given to the central authority, as we have seen; but at no time previously had the conduct of the island chiefs threatened the security of the established order by their taking sides with the not inconsiderable forces sworn to oppose and, if possible, overthrow it.

George, second Earl of Seaforth, had spent much of his active life in opportunist ways. His sympathies were divided. At one moment he showed himself a half-hearted Royalist: at another a half-hearted Covenanter. At Auldearn in 1645, however, he supported the Covenanters, when Montrose routed them, decimating the large contingent of Lewismen Seaforth had brought with him into the field. In the end, he joined Montrose; and he died a Royalist.

Five years after Auldearn, the national levy reached the Hebrides. There the historic cry, "For King and Covenant", found many a sympathiser, which explained, among other things, how Colonel Norman MacLeod of Bernera, in Harris, fought at the Battle of Worcester with a force of MacLeods believed to have been a thousand strong.

That year—1651—Earl George died. He was succeeded by his son, Kenneth Mor, third Earl of Seaforth. Kenneth, then a lad of sixteen, and full of the fervour of his years, was even more Royalist in his sympathies than his father had been. He was prominent among those who refused to submit to the dictates of General Monk, then commanding in Scotland on behalf of the Commonwealth. The young Earl was by no means in a negligible position, for by this time the Seaforths had waxed powerful—so much so that in a Commonwealth news-sheet it was said of them that in Lewis they "played Rex". It was known that, at a moment’s notice, Kenneth Mor could muster several hundred men. That, in itself, was regarded as some threat to the Commonwealth, and doubly so when, with the outbreak of hostilities between the Commonwealth and Holland, the young Earl disclosed his Royalist sympathies by openly supporting the latter. The danger that the Royalist clans might cooperate with the Dutch was one with which the Commonwealth dealt promptly. Thus the Western Isles were fortified by English garrisons against the possibility of a Dutch occupation. Attempts to dislodge the garrison in Lewis were unsuccessful. Cromwellian troops remained in Stornoway until all Highland and Island resistance to the Commonwealth had either been crushed, or had petered out. During their stay in the island, they built for themselves a fort, not a trace of which remains. Before finally quitting Lewis, they reduced to ruins old Stornoway Castle, once the stronghold of the MacLeods.

The Inner Hebrides - Scotland's Island Paradise
And the Stone Skimming World Championship

Peace between the Commonwealth and the Dutch came so unexpectedly that it "did strike all dead". It placed young Seaforth in a position so invidious that, before long, he was obliged to seek conciliation with the English.

Not in all Scotland was there a man more rigorously opposed to the accession of William and Mary than the Romanist, Kenneth Og, or Young Kenneth, fourth Earl of Seaforth. After the Revolution, he steadfastly espoused the cause of the exiled James, who in course of time created him Marquis of Seaforth in recognition of his services. In 1689 Kenneth Og landed with James in Ireland, where he took part in a number of Jacobite enterprises, including the siege of Londonderry. When he crossed over to Scotland, in order to assist in the Jacobite Rising there, ill-fortune attended him. Circumstances compelled him to surrender to the Government. He was afterwards granted his release on finding caution for himself and for some of those who had been associated with him in his rebellious behaviour. The year, 1691, saw him once more in conflict with the government; and a year later he was arraigned for treason "for his invasion with forces from Ireland, and his behaviour since". Until 1697 he was a prisoner in Inverness Castle. On his release, he went to France, where he died in 1701.

Kenneth Og’s misfortunes in no way cooled the Jacobite ardour of his son, Uilleam Dubh, or Black William, who, when still a lad, succeeded him as fifth Earl of Seaforth. William, like his father, was a Catholic, so that everything he stood for seemed bound up with the interests of the Old Chevalier. So whole-heartedly did he throw himself into the Jacobite cause that, in the summer of 1715, he was attainted for treason, and his estates were forfeited to the Crown. No one was more active in ‘The Fifteen’ than he. With a force of two thousand foot and five hundred hone, he joined the Earl of Mar, and fought at Sheriffmuir, where many a Jacobite Islander fell, prominent amongst them being young Clanranald, a chief of much promise, and dearly beloved by his clansmen. So indecisive was this battle that the Jacobites were hopeful of yet another opportunity of proving their loyalty to the Stewarts. That opportunity came soon afterwards, when the Old Chevalier himself landed in Scotland, and Seaforth and Sir Donald MacDonald of North Uist took a leading part in the abortive measures that followed the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

Seaforth’s participation in ‘The Fifteen’ had made things pretty unsafe for him, even in Lewis, which was now occupied by a Hanoverian garrison in order to restrain him and his partisans, just as the Cromwellian garrison had restrained his grandfather. So he betook himself to France, the country where so many of the more prominent Jacobites had found asylum. But he returned to Scotland to take a leading part in ‘The Nineteen’, the plans for which Rising were actually laid at Seaforth Lodge, on the site of which Lewis Castle now stands. At the Battle of Glen Shiel, where, yet again, the Jacobites were routed, Seaforth fought bravely, and was badly wounded. He left the field accompanied by Tullibardine and George Keith, and remained in hiding until he managed to escape to France once more. In 1726 he returned to Scotland, when he was granted a pardon. His adherence to the Jacobite cause had cost him dearly; and there is no saying what it must have cost his poor tenants in Lewis. His property was taken over by the Commissioners and Trustees of Forfeited Estates, to be administered with the object of reducing the enormous debts incurred in these Jacobite ventures of his.

In 1740 William, fifth Earl of Seaforth, died in Lewis, attainted; and it is believed that he was buried within the old Church of St. Columb, at Eye—at Aignish—near Stornoway, among the Chiefs of the old MacLeods of Lewis, whom his ancestors had so successfully dispossessed.

Little wonder that Earl William’s son, Kenneth, kept clear of Jacobite politics! Five years after his father’s death, ‘The Firty-five’ was upon Scotland. Kenneth was resolved not to be drawn into it, which meant that the island of Lewis was in no way involved in the last and greatest endeavour of the Jacobites to recover their throne. This gave the inhabitants some respite, which they greatly needed. It may be remembered that, when Prince Charlie and his faithful pilot, Donald MacLeod of Gualtergill, landed near Stornoway after Culloden, the townsfolk showed them open hostility, fearing, no doubt, lest they might again be embroiled in circumstances like those which, but thirty years earlier, had placed upon them and their resources so heavy a strain.

Although Lewis took no active part in ‘The Forty-five’, the more southerly of the Western Isles did. Barra, Benbecula, and South Uist were all Catholic in religion, and Jacobite in sympathy. Their people succoured the Prince during his wanderings; and from South Uist came the heroine who, more than anyone else, enabled him to reach the French privateer which bore him away to permanent exile.

The opening years of the nineteenth century found the Seaforths so much in debt, and their properties so heavily entailed, that in the spring of 1825 the Island of Lewis, excepting the parish of Stornoway, was exposed for judicial sale in Edinburgh. The sale realised £10o,000, more than £22,000 in excess of the upset price. The purchaser was Mr. Stewart-MacKenzie. He retained it for nineteen years. In 1844 it passed finally from the ownership of the Seaforths, whose connection with it had lasted two hundred and thirty-four years, during which period their influence on the tenantry of the island had been great, and, on the whole, beneficial. During their suzerainty, the name of Seaforth had become synonymous with Lewis, and Lewis had become synonymous with Seaforth. Memories of them persist in the island, where still reside many of the name of MacKenzie. They took their title from Loch Seaforth, that long, narrow sea-loch penetrating far inland between Harris and Park, or Pairc, the southernmost parish of Lewis. And we must not forget that they raised the Seaforth Highlanders, the county regiment of Ross and Cromarty.

It was in 1787 that, in an endeavour to attract recruits to the army, Lord Seaforth first offered to raise, for the King’s service, a regiment from his own estates. Not until 1793, however, on the outbreak of war with France, was he permitted to do so, with himself as Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant. At his bidding, notices of a recruiting campaign were posted throughout the county, and also in the Island of Lewis, encouraging "all lads of true Highland blood" to sign on for a period of service, such as would afford them an opportunity of dealing "a stroke at the Monsieurs". The response was immediate. Recruits came in so rapidly that within a few months Lieutenant-General Sir Hector Munro was able to inspect the first battalion of them at Fort George. Encouraged by this notable achievement, Seaforth sought permission the following year to raise a second battalion. After some vexatious delay, permission was granted; and the regiment became known as the Ross-shire Buffs. In 1796 the Seaforth Highlanders had their beginnings, when Seaforth’s two battalions were amalgamated to form the second battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, a regiment largely recruited from Lewis, not only at that time, but also during the two major wars of the present century.

Though Seaforth did not actually accompany the regiment overseas, his services to king and country in connection with it were recognised in 1797, when he was raised to the peerage of the United Kingdom by the titles of Lord Seaforth and Baron MacKenzie of Kintail. He also became Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Ross; and for six years (1800-1806) he administered Barbadoes. In 1808 he was made a lieutenant-general.

Ever since those days, the martial tradition of Lewis has been associated with the exploits of the Seaforth Highlanders, just as the martial tradition of the remainder of the Outer Hebrides (Harris, North and South Uist, Benbecula, and Barra) has been associated with those of the Cameron Highlanders, the county regiment of Inverness. The proportion of Lewismen serving with the Seaforths during the two wars of the present century was indeed high. Such of the islanders as were not already serving in the Navy, primarily through their connection with the Naval Reserve, were to be found in one of the several battalions of the Seaforths.

The MacKenzie origin of the regiment is perpetuated in the tartan it still wears, which is the MacKenzie tartan, and in its crest and motto, which are those of the MacKenzies of Seaforth—the cabar feidh, or deer’s antlers, with the motto, Cuidich ‘n Righ! Help the King! Crest and motto are said to have had their origin in the tradition concerning Colin Fitzgerald, the legendary founder of the Clan MacKenzie. Colin, in answer to a summons for help, rushed forward and rescued the King of Scotland (according to legend, Alexander the Third) from an infuriated stag which had attacked him. This legend has been conveyed to canvas by Benjamin West, from whose oil painting the famous engraver, Bartolozzi, perpetuated the legend in his fine engraving of the supposed event.

In 1844 the Seaforths were succeeded in Lewis by the Mathesons. That year, Mr. (later Sir) James Sutherland Matheson, a native of Achany, in Sutherland, who had made a considerable fortune in the East (he was one of the founders of the house of Jardine, Matheson, & Co.) purchased the island from the trustees of the Seaforth Estates for the sum of £190,000. In May, 1844, Mrs. Stewart-MacKenzie, the previous proprietor, brought before Parliament a Bill for "investing in trustees certain parts of the entailed estates of Seaforth to be sold, and the price applied in payment of entailers’ debts, and the surplus laid out in the purchase of other lands; for enabling the heiress in possession to borrow a sum of money on the credit of the said entailed estates; and for other purposes connected therewith ". The Bill passed both Houses of Parliament, and two months later it received the Royal Assent. In this wise, Lewis, an island which had had so many ups and downs, passed from the gay and historic Seaforths to the Mathesons.

For many years, Sir James Matheson sat as Member of Parliament for Ross and Cromarty. With the handsome fortune he had behind him, he sought to improve Lewis in a variety of ways, and to an extent hitherto undreamed of. The financial outlay his schemes entailed was enormous. In 1878 he died without issue, leaving to his widow the life-rent of the heritable estate. Lady Matheson survived her husband by eighteen years, during which she endeared herself to the Islanders. She was not so popular, however, as was her mother, Mrs. Percival, of whose goodness the oldest inhabitants still speak as though she had just departed from their midst. In Stornoway, especially, Mrs. Percival is remembered for her munificence in large ways, and her generosity in small. Her name survives in Percival Square, where the island’s pipe band, in colourful regalia, disports itself in the summer evenings.

When Lady Matheson died in 1896, her estate, in virtue of the entail, passed to her husband’s nephew, Mr. Donald Matheson, who, three years later, and two years before his death in 1901, handed it over to his son, the late Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Matheson, my father’s friend and contemporary.

The Mathesons’ connection with Lewis came to an end in 1918, the year in which Colonel Matheson was constrained to sell the island to Lord Leverhulme. They had been in possession for less than three-quarters of a century. Yet, they had built up between themselves and the Islanders a bond of affection and esteem so largely absent elsewhere in the Outer Hebrides, as between proprietor and people.

Lord Leverhulme’s advent looked promising at the outset. I well remember his discussing with my father in Edinburgh the projects he had in mind. The latter assured him that, whereas it was doubtful whether he would ever live to take a penny out of Lewis, he would find in its peat-mosses ample scope for sinking a million or two. However, Leverhulme was not to be discouraged by such frank talk, for he was a visionary as well as a man who had been highly successful in the world of business. For the failure of his gigantic schemes in the Long Island (in Harris as well as in Lewis) he was little to blame, as we shall see later. An unfortunate concatenation of circumstances obliged him to abandon Lewis and all his vast works then in progress there, and to devote himself to the development of Harris instead. In Harris he began to sink wealth as he had been doing in Lewis. Not until after his death in 1925 were his Harris projects brought to an end.

Leverhulme was not the last benefactor to arrive in Lewis with ideas as to how the island’s resources might be tapped, and the condition of the islanders materially improved in consequence. Scarcely had he shaken the dust of Stornoway from his brogues when there arrived on the scene from Canada the late Thomas Basset MacAulay, of Montreal, grandson of a Lewisman, and a descendant of the MacAulays of Uig, to whom we alluded earlier. MacAulay had the romantic notion that the island of his fathers possessed considerable agricultural possibilities, if only it could be reclaimed from peat. This idea was no new one, even where Lewis was concerned. Had not Sir James Matheson brought to Lewis Alexander Smith, that celebrated reclaimer of waste land? Smith, who hailed from the Perthshire village of Deanston, is said to have converted many of the bogs of Scotland into fertile farmlands. The Carse of Gowrie is given as an instance of his success in this field as a thoroughly competent agriculturist. But the moors of Lewis proved more intractable than the Carse, even though Sir James placed at Smith’s disposal so handsome a sum of money for their exploitation, if not actually for their reclamation.

There is reason for supposing that Lord Leverhulme (in addition to his believing, as did the Fife Adventurers and others before him, that the prosperity of the island depended on the proper organisation of the fishing industry) was not averse from considering what might have been done by way of land reclamation, and the utilisation of any mineral resources the island might possess. I think he was also interested even in the possibility of exploiting its peat deposits. According to the report on such matters, which was prepared for him by an expert, "Lewis has 710 million tons of peat, containing a valuable proportion of carbon and nitrogen, two of the most crying and essential needs of the day. Is it an asset? What can be the economic contribution of Lewis to the world? Can the peat, before and after use, be profitably cultivated at an expense not materially exceeding that of cultivation on an average soil?"

All these vicissitudes in Lewis throughout the centuries had their repercussions upon the other inhabitants of the Western Isles. The chiefs of the other isles viewed with growing concern, for instance, the fact that a band of Lowlanders had dared to make an attempt to dispossess their Lewis neighbours. Whatever feuds they had amongst themselves, they were united when it came to foreign intervention, such as they certainly regarded this to be. If the Fifers succeeded in gaining a foothold in Lewis, what next? How soon would it be ere they tried to establish similar settlements at Lochipaddy, at Lochboisdale, at Castlebay? If the lure of fish had taken them to Stornoway, how long would it be before the same lure brought them south to Barra, off which lay some lucrative fishing-grounds? They therefore decided that attack was the best defence against any such contingency. To begin with, they did all in their power to hamper the Adventurers from behind the scenes. However, when it looked as though the Adventurers meant to go on trying, they felt themselves called upon to render aid in a form more tangible. Thus, in course of time, contingents of MacNeils from Barra and of MacDonalds from Uist arrived in Stornoway, and attacked the Fifers’ encampment there, committing "barbarous and detestable murthouris and slauchteris upon thame ".

Apart altogether from the temporary fear that they, too, might be invaded by such speculators, matters were anything but agreeable in the more southerly of the Outer Isles. In Barra, the MacNeil chiefs were even more lawless than their subjects. Indeed, they greatly encouraged the latter to follow their example. In South Uist and Benbecula, rival claims by the two principal branches of the powerful Clan Donald kept the country in a constant state of tension. Things were no better in North Uist, where MacDonald of Sleat and MacLeod of Harris strove for the ascendancy. In all this the Crown, to some extent, was involved; but, as a rule, it acted in such matters in the interests of expediency. As it seemed incapable of taking over and pacifying the Isles, it pursued the only course open to it, namely, that of playing the chiefs off against one another as best it could.

Nevertheless, during the opening years of the seventeenth century, the Crown did make some attempt to bring the Western Isles into line. The Statutes of lona were designed solely with this object in view. Yet, the more recalcitrant of the chiefs, in their relations with the Crown, maintained an air of contempt and defiance. Among the worst offenders was Clanranald himself. No statutes were going to curtail him, if he could help it! He meant to continue as he and his proud forebears had always done. He well knew that the Crown’s invitation to a parley was but a prelude to the pruning of his autonomy; and he was resolved to combat remis atque velis---with oars and sails, tooth and nail—any encroachment upon his lawless existence. The mainlanders found him particularly trying. At the instance of the Scottish Burghs, he was summoned to compear before the Privy Council on a charge of interfering with fishermen peacefully pursuing their calling in Hebridean waters. He and his seamen, as is stated in the charge, had made a practice of boarding Lowlanders’ smacks, destroying their nets, and seizing their catches. There is actually recorded an instance in which Clanranald compelled the owner of a fishing-boat he had taken to buy it and its lastage back from him at an extortionate price! For the three lasts of herrings she had aboard her, he demanded one hundred and twenty pounds per last, and for each of the three nets forty pounds.

In order to protect against such unscrupulous conduct the fishermen frequenting the Hebrides, the Council compelled Ruairi (Roderic) MacLeod, Donald Gorm of Sleat, Clanranald of the Isles, Ranald MacAllan of Benbecula, and Sir Lachlan MacKinnon of Strath to enter into a bond that they would behave themselves, and at the same time see that others did so too. The first of them openly to break this bond was Clanranald. So in 1625 Ruairi MacLeod, "all excuissis sett asyde", was directed by the Council to assist in bringing him to account. Ruairi was none too willing to cooperate in such an undertaking, since Clanranald happened to be his son-in-law, and a good fellow-pirate to boot. But the Council, distrustful of Ruairi, and not without reason, made it plain to him that in no way could he "eshaip the weyght of his Majesteis arme". Under pain of heavy penalty, therefore, it was determined to enforce his compliance with this direction, for he had given a deal of trouble, and the Council’s patience was now exhausted. Only a month or two previously, he had been held responsible, along with Clanranald and MacLean of Coll, for fostering piracy in the Hebrides.

In face of Ruairi’s record, it is comical that, in August, 1622, a letter should have been addressed to the Privy Council, on behalf of himself and his son-in-law, complaining of the hardships it had imposed. Ruairi found it irksome that, in such a "dilectable tyme of peax", he should be obliged to enter an appearance annually before the Council for his good behaviour! He even went so far as to petition the Council to be permitted to stay at home, undisturbed and unmolested, for the next seven years, so that he might improve his property, and thus pay his clamouring creditors. As Clanranald’s financial position was even worse, Ruairi petitioned on his behalf that he might be immune for seven-and-a-half years from all civil actions brought against him in respect of the monies he owed. They were anything but blate, those unruly chiefs of the Western Isles!

It was at this time that the MacLeods, the MacNeils and the MacDonalds resorted to wholesale piracy, robbing ships of wines and spirits, and carousing and quarrelling for days thereafter. One of the Privy Council’s main indictments against the islanders in 1622 was that they seized any cargo of wine, and spent "bothe dayis and nightis in thair excesse of drinking ". The Council therefore enacted that masters of vessels should carry no more wines to the Isles. It has been suggested that, as a result of this and similar measures, which were calculated to reduce insobriety, the islanders may have first resorted to a practice for which they long remained notorious—the illicit distilling of whisky. When the wines of France and Spain were no longer procurable, either through peaceful trading or through piracy, they may have turned with determination to whisky, Scotland’s national beverage, and her greatest curse, even at the present day.

The first half of the nineteenth century saw great changes in the ownership of the various islands comprising the Outer Hebrides. With those affecting Lewis, we have already dealt in some detail. In 1834 MacLeod of Harris sold his patrimony to the Earl of Dunmore for roughly £60,000. In 1868 Dunmore sold North Harris to the Scotts. In 1858 General MacNeil, last of the MacNeils of Barra, sold his estate to Lleutenant-Colonel John Gordon of Cluny. Soon afterwards, both South Uist and Benbecula were in the market; and in 1856 North Uist, the last island of any size to remain in the hands of its old proprietors, was sold by Lord MacDonald to Sir John Orde. Long before the closing years of the nineteenth century, not one of the Western Isles was owned by any of the old, Hebridean families. The MacLeods and the MacKenzies had each lost Lewis in turn. The MacLeods had parted with Harris, the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald with Uist and Benbecula, and the MacNeils with Barra.

Lady Gordon Cathcart, who had inherited from her first husband, John Gordon of Cluny, aforementioned, the estates of Barra and South Uist, together with Eriskay and Benbecula (a total of roughly a hundred thousand acres) died in 1935. She had already sold the Barra estate (excluding Vatersay and the north end of Barra, which had been bought for land settlement purposes by what was then known as the Board of Agriculture for Scotland—now known as the Department of Agriculture) to Robert Lister MacNeil, XLVth Chief of the MacNeils of Barra, who lives in New York. MacNeil owns approximately 8,000 acres of the isle of his forebears.

At Whitsun, 1944, Lady Gordon Cathcart’s trustees sold the residue of her island estates (that is to say, some 92,000 acres) minus the north end of Benbecula (which the Air Ministry had purchased from them in 1942) to Herman Anton Andreae, a London banker, for a sum in the region of £75,000. South Uist, which represents roughly nine-tenths of the area, is essentially a sporting estate. From nothing else but its shootings and fishings could any revenue be derived under existing circumstances. The general poverty of these properties is shown in their comprising the lowest rented estate in the West Highlands and Islands. A total of about 1,200 small-holding tenants, representing a population of between six and seven thousand, on an area of approximately 92,000 acres, has an annual rental value of no more than £4,000, even when the landlord, or the factor acting on his behalf, is able to collect all the rents due. In South Uist, as elsewhere in these parts, many of the crofter-tenants are often years in arrears with their rents. If less were spent on alcohol, few would be in arrears. All of these tenants come under the Small Landholders’ (Scotland) Acts of 1886 and 1931, which give them complete security of tenure, provided they pay the very reasonable rents fixed by the Land Court, and comply with modest requirements as regards good husbandry. However, their husbandry is seldom good. The crofters who husband well are few.

As an example of how little they are asked to pay, a crofter with, let us say, eighty acres (twenty arable and sixty rough pasture) usually pays no more than six pounds annual rental. At the other extreme come the crofters in Eriskay. There the most highly rented holding is but thirty shillings a year. Most of the Eriskay holders, however, pay rents ranging from no more than five shillings to seven-and-six.

Apart from what is known as the South End Shoot (that is to say, the South Uist shootings to the south of Daliburgh, which are let to the proprietor of the Lochboisdale Hotel at the negligible rental of ten pounds a year) and the South Uist fishings situated to the south of the Bornish road (in which, meanwhile, the hotel proprietor, aforesaid, at an annual rental of £114, and Mr. Andreae have coequal rights) and excluding Loch Bharp, at Lochboisdale (the fishing rights of which the hotel proprietor purchased outright) the new owner of these estates does not let the shootings and fishings, but reserves them for his own private enjoyment. A good deal of poaching goes on in his absence, however, as I myself have seen. In the Western Isles, crofters and professional people, alike, have no qualms about other people’s game preserves and fishing rights. But they would very soon squeal if the landlord in any way encroached on their rights! The wholesale introduction into the Islands of the motor-car in recent years has made poaching much easier than it used to be. It enables the owner to reach, in ease and comfort, many a distant loch noted for its brown trout, or a remote spot where a bit of shooting can be done on the sly. He will often pack into his car such of his friends as know precisely where the best sport may be poached. Much of this poaching is done at night, of course, when conditions are favourable. The whisky bottle is usually an indispensable accessory on such unlawful occasions.

Six Week Road Trip to The Outer Hebrides

A Guide to The Isle of Lewis & Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

See also Behold the Hebrides

Report by the Crofters Commission
On The Social Condition of the People of Lewis in 1901, as Compared with Twenty Years ago.

Description of the Western Isles of Scotland
Called Hybrides with the Genealogies of the Chief Clans of the Isles by Sir Donald Monro, High Deal of the Isles, who travelled through most of them in the year 1849. (1884)

I've been aware of this book for quite some time but it was one where the letter s was spelled as an f and so was a little hard to read.  That said I have just found this later version which fixes this problem and so I now make this available for you to read.


THE earliest description of the Western Islands made from personal observation. The first printed issue of this extremely rare work was published in Edinburgh in 1774, and comprised the first portion of a small 12mo. volume containing several early works on the Western Islands. Of this volume only fifty copies were printed; it is now extremely rare, very few copies beyond those in three or four of the great public libraries being known to exist. The title in full, of the above curious volume is as follows:

"Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, called Hybrides; by Mr. Donald Monro, High Dean of the Isles who travelled through the most of them in the year 1549, with the genealogies of the chief clans of the Isles, now first published from the MS. To which is added An account of Hirta and Rona, by the Lord Register, Sir George M'Kenzie of Tarbat, never before published. A Description of St. Kilda, by Mr. Alexander Buchan, late minister there. A Voyage to St. Kilda, by M. Martin, gentleman."

In addition to the issue referred to above, the work has also been included in, and forms a small portion of one of the volumes of the Miscellanea Scotica published in four volumes. But unfortunately it appears there labouring under two serious disadvantages. The year in which the Dean travelled through the Isles is given as 1594, whereas it should be nearly finy years earlier, namely 1549; and the "Genealogies" is omitted altogether, both matters of some interest and importance.

The present edition is a verbatim reprint with all the old curious spellings and names strictly retained. In these respects the work is different from the modern renderings, that this, in itself, is a feature of exceeding interesl With regard to the genealogies, appearing as they do in two or three instances rather confusing, possibly the printer of the 1774 volume had some difficulty in making out the Author's MS, however, it is reproduced exactly as it appeared there. The number printed is strictly limited to two hundred and fifty copies.

You can download Description of the Western Isles of Scotland here

Observations on a tour through the Western Isles
Particularly Staffa and Icolmkill by T. Garnett, M.D. in two volumes (1811)

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

Annals of Lodge Fortrose
 No. 108. Stornaway, compiled from the Lodge Records by J. Campbell Smith, The Forwood and Sketch of the Hebrides by M. W. Bro J. Ross Robertson, Toronto, Canada. This volume has been printed, published and presented to the Brethren of Lodge Fortrose, by Bro. J. Ross Robertson, Most Worshipful Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada, etc., etc. Canada (1905) (pdf)

Our Journey to the Hebrides
By Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1889) (pdf)

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