Morsgail: the History of a Lewis Sporting Estate

David SD Jones, author of a number of books and articles on gamekeeping and sporting estates, has produced a new history of Morsgail, the 14,000 acre estate extending from Kinlochroag to Hamnway and Loch Langabhat. It was laid out in 1850 by Sir James Matheson and used as a summer residence and to entertain guests with grouse shooting, salmon fishing and deer stalking.

The book looks in detail at the development of the estate, the tenants under the Mathesons and Leverhulme, the subsequent owners (including Col Digby), the various keepers at Morsgail and Kinlochresort, extracts from the game books, reports by visitors and in newspapers, a detailed and dramatic account of a day’s stalking by Lord Granville Gordon in 1894, and photographs of staff and visitors.

The following is from the gamebook of Sir Francis Denys, favourite nephew of Lady Matheson:

October 22nd to 26th, 1894:

Left the Castle at 8am for Morsgail, walked thence to Loch Hamnaway with Rory Mackenzie and James Matheson. The latter had spied a good stag on his way across in the morning and we made straight for the shielings where we found him lying on the flat in an impossible position Waited until 5pm then had to leave him. Next day we hoped to meet with him again, but only found the two eight-pointers which were with him the previous evening. A crofter and dog spoiled the stalk; we saw nine men with dogs on different hills during the day who consequently swept the ground of deer. Much bad language ensued. On the 24th we walked the ground but saw nothing. Fished the loch and pool and caught 1 salmon, 6lbs, and 4 sea trout. The 25th was too stormy for the hill. Fished from 1pm and caught 1 salmon, 5lbs, and 3 sea trout. The next day, the 26th, I left Matheson’s at 8.30am to stalk my way back to Morsgail. Saw a fine stag with a herd of 30, which we were about to stalk, when they were frightened over the march by the inevitable crofter and dog. Then turned back for a shot at a seven-pointer which missed. Just as we reached the mark, a young stag with seven hinds crossed in behind us, and we again turned back. Mackenzie made an easy stalk and I had a missed shot which took effect through the liver. We lost him through our own stupidity in not keeping our glasses on him until he laid down, as after we sprang him the first time, as usual in such cases he would travel until he dropped, so we lost view of him. Arrived Morsgail 5pm without the 3 stags Gore-Langton had given me permission to kill.

Among the interesting snippets is the note that Matheson had begun to build a surfaced track from Morsgail to Lochresort, before being stopped by the Chamberlain who persuaded him it would spoil the shooting.

Morsgail is available from the museum (80pp;£12) or by post (email for detail); we also have some of David’s other books.

Gamekeeping and Sporting Tales from the Hebrides and the Highlands (new)
A collection of stories and histories from estates and associated activities around the North and West, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Small Isles and the Mainland. Lady stalkers, maharajahs, poachers and taxidermists, and the development of the industry, with many photographs and documents. 100pp; £12

Soval: the History of a Lewis Sporting Estate (new)
A richly illustrated history of the Soval sporting estate in Lochs, laid out in 1850 by Sir James Matheson for letting purposes. 60pp; £10.

The Sporting Estates of the Outer Hebrides
A detailed, insightful and account of the owners, tenants and gamekeepers of all the sporting estates in the Outer Hebrides, with many photographs. Already a classic. 144pp; £12.

Salmon and Seatrout Angling in the Outer Hebrides, Past and Present (updated)
The updated version of a previous volume, covering Lewis and Harris, now extended to the Southern Isles. Packed with detail about the rivers, the methods, the owners, gillies and visitors, and the development of angling. 110pp; £15. (Previous Lewis and Harris volume, £12)