An Dotair Ruadh

Valtos and Kneep

(picture of Valtos and Kneep by Chris Murray)

An Dotair Ruadh, Donald Macaulay, seventh in line from Dòmhnall Càm, was the son of Dòmhnall mac Sheorais, the tacksman of Linshader who himself became something of a legend because of his size and strength. His son has come down in tradition as equally renowned, but for being something of a chancer. He was a brother of Lily Macaulay who married Rev Robert Finlayson of Lochs, and it seems was also a cousin of Mac an t-Sronaich.

William Matheson reports that he was a small man in black with a red beard and a fiery temper. He studied medicine at Aberdeen but never practiced formally, apparently because he had been expected to succeed Dr Miller in Stornoway and when he was disappointed, he turned to farming instead.

He took a series of tacks, and seems to have made a practice of withholding the rent because of some alleged failure of the proprietor, and going to court over it. Over a period of nine years he brought 70 cases to the Sheriff Substitute at Stornoway. In 1817 he took Ranish, Crossbost and Leurbost and attempted to clear the 60 tenants, but his tack expired before he accomplished his aims. He was in Linshader and Ensay in Harris, and the late 1830s turned his sights on West Uig, offering £100 per annum for Pennydonald, Balnicol and Capadal, and £240 for the Fourteen Pennylands (Valtos, Kneep and Reef) and the small islands of Loch Roag. His idea was clearly in line with the new order – large tracts cleared of their tenants for intensive farming, rather than the traditional tacks with multiple small subtenants – and by 1839 he was in court, complaining that the tenants of Balnicol had not been cleared quickly enough and that some agreed improvements had not been implemented.

Dr Macaulay had intended to have the Valtos Peninsula cleared of its tenants too and evidently the Seaforth Trustees did consider this, but Valtos was a thriving fishing station then and the British Fishery Society intervened to prevent it. The estate was bankrupt by this point and in the process of being sold to James Matheson, and Dr Macaulay’s schemes delayed the purchase by a number of years. When the island was finally sold, Matheson broke an Dotair Ruadh’s lease (on the advice of Mrs Stewart Mackenzie, the outgoing proprietrix), bought up his stock and paid him compensation of “upwards of £4000”.

Dr Macaulay was not married but had a son by his housekeeper; young George went to India. The doctor died in Liverpool.