The late 1840s were years of desperation in Lewis (as elsewhere), with much of the population near to starvation and dependent on ‘destitution meal’ from the Proprietor, Sir James Matheson, who according to the Poor Law Act of 1845 was obliged to do something about his famished tenants. Weakened, overcrowded and in many cases without stock, the tenants were accumulating rent arrears they had little prospect of ever clearing.
Sir James and his Chamberlain, John Munro Mackenzie, proposed that the worst off be helped to emigrate to Canada – see the detailed proposal. In February of 1851 the Chamberlain made his bi-annual tour of the island, collecting rents and deciding which of the families should be asked to go – both to avoid mass famine, and to allow the consolidation of small holdings into profitable sheep farms. The following table is drawn from his Diary (published by Acair) and extracts are below. In the event not all of these families did emigrate, at least not in 1851, though a total of 1772 sailed from Lewis to Canada in May and June of that year.
The townships not mentioned had already been cleared – Mealista, Ardroil, Erista, Timsgarry and Reef.
Wednesday 12 February 1851
I think Kneep can be cleared, and the whole pasture attached to it may be added to Reef which will improve that farm very much – there are several in Kneep far behind in arrears of rent and some in Valtos, those should be sent to America, and those remaining in Kneep removed to Valtos in place of the emigrants from that place – The greater part of the arable land of Kneep being adjoining to that of Valtos to continue in the possession of the Small tenants – By this arrangement Valtos would be the only township of small tenants left int eh peninsula of Fourteen Pence – Valtos is the best fishing port in Uig, and if small tenants can do in Uig, they should be able to support themselves here and pay their rents – Went to the Valtos School house, and with Mr Cameron & the Ground Officer’s assistance went over the circumstances and condition of each family in Kneep and Valtos, examining the State of their arrears, stock, etc – Explained to them the conditions offered them if they emigrated, their desperate prospects if they remained here, and the good prospects before them in America etc etc – From Kneep the number of families which we fixed on to emigrate is six, only one consenting – the number of souls 43, the total of the 6 families arrears £74 and the probably value of their Stock £27.5.0 – All these are destitute except one family and have now little or no food – From Valtos we fixed on sending 8 families only one consenting, the number of souls 50 – Total of arrears £111.15.0 and value of their stock £39.15.0. The greater number of these are also destitutes. They are also very ill off for Clothing and the value of their Stock will not purchase enough for them…
Thursday 13 February 1851
[…] Met with the people of Braenish, Islivick, Mangersta & Carnish and explained to them the condition on which they were to emigrate. Went over and examined the condition & circumstances of each family, the amount of their arrears, value of Stock etc, and arrived at the following results – We fixed on sending four families from Braenish none consenting, the number of souls 27 – The total of their arrears £52.0.10 – and the value of their Stock £6.5/- – From Islivick 3 families are to be removed consisting of 18 souls none consenting – The total of their arrears £54.9.4 and the value of their stock £14.6/- – From Mangersta we fixed on sending six families composed of 34 souls two consenting, the total of their arrears £72.15.5 and the probable value of their Stock £38.12/- – From Carnish we fixed on sending 12 families (five consenting) consisting of 61 souls. The total of their arrears £183.10/8 and the probably value of their stock £57.5/-. The greater part of the people fixed on today for American are even now destitute of food, several families have not even one meal of food – Carnish should be cleared altogether, the people left can be sent to Mangersta & Islivick in place of those to be removed, Carnish would make a good addition to Ederoel [Ardroil] adjoining […]
Friday 14 February 1851
Met the people of Crowlista, Aird Uig, Carishader, Gaeshader, Enaclate, Ungeishader and having explained the conditions on which they were to be emigrated, their condition state of arrears etc […]