On 4 June 1883 the Napier Commission, chaired by Lord Napier, was in Miavaig to take evidence from crofters and others on issues surround land management and tenancy. Among those interviewed was Norman Morrison, crofter and fisherman at Brenish, aged 61, who stated he had two milk cows, three young beasts, between fifteen and twenty sheep, and no horse, on a croft which he shared with his brother, who kept similar stock. The following is slightly abridged.
Have you been fairly elected a delgate by the people of Brenish? Yes
How many people were present when you were elected? All the male population of the town.
Have you any statement to make on behalf of the people? I would say, in the first place, that they are crowded so much together that they have no way of living. Our places were crowded first when the neighbouring township of Mealista was cleared [in 1838]. Six families of that township were thrown in among us; the rest were hounded away to Australia and America, and I think I hear the cry of the children till this day. There were others came from various townships since at different times as these were being cleared, and I instance various examples – one from one place and one from another – and not one was placed in among us in that way, but accommodation was provided for him by subdividing the lots that were in the place. We were deprived of the old rights of the township moorland pasture. The half of the island of Mealista belong in the time of my grandfather to our township and a neighbouring township – we were deprived of that. We got no abatement of rent when we were deprived of that but when Cameron lotted out the township the rent was increased by £30.
As you are sixty-one years of age, can you perhaps remember how many families there were in Brenish before the township was cleared and the people taken to Brenish? Between twelve and sixteen.
How many are there now? Forty-three.
How many of those are crofters paying rent to the proprietor? There are twenty-nine names on the rent roll.
And the rest are cottars? There are some of them who pay from 5s to 10s.
Then the number of the families has increased from sixteen to forty-three. How many of that number do you think have come in from the outside and how many are the natural increase of the place? Seven came from the outside. We also consider we have a grievance with respect to the herd of the march. It is fourteen years since a herd was set apart for ourselves and the neighbouring tacksman, and we are quite willing to pay the half of the wages of that shepherd, but we have always had the idea that the neighbouring tacksman marching with us ought to pay the other half. We are also complaining about the dyke that was build about thirty-four years ago. It was built in the time of the destitution, and the people were paid for the building of it by so much Indian meal. Four shillings or five shillings additional rent was placed upone every one that was on the rent roll at that date for this dyke, and we were under the impression that when the expense of putting up the fence was paid this 4s or 5s would be taken away.
This unidentified sailor with the Naval Division is believed to be one of those interned in Holland in 1914. The picture was taken at Groningen, and comes to us from 10 Mangersta. Is he one of the Uigeachs listed below who spent the war in “HMS Timbertown”? The following was written by Dave Roberts for Uig News; more information about the 106 known internees from Lewis, and the conditions they experienced, are found at Guido Blokland’s comprehensive website.
On 5 August 1914 the postman delivered buff-coloured envelopes to all the reservists. War had been declared. There was no reluctance to answer the mobilisation call, and those on the Island made their way immediately to Stornoway, thence to Kyle of Lochalsh, and eventually to one of the Channel ports. The most pressing military need at the time was for infantrymen, not for ships’ crews, so the Naval Reservists found themselves issued with a rifle and ten rounds of ammunition. Their training had been as crew for warships, and the handling of big naval guns, not as infantrymen! But on 5 October they were transported to Antwerp in Belgium, via Dunkirk, to attempt to defend the strategic port from the advance of the Kaiser’s Army. The defences were built in the nineteenth century and were no match for the heavy artillery or the devastating fire from the ‘Big Bertha’ mortars. The ill-equipped and inadequately trained Naval Brigades had no chance and held out for less than three days.
They were facing overwhelming odds, and despite orders that they were to defend this strategic deepwater port at all costs, it was obvious that a retreat was necessary. There were also specific orders that on no account should the Naval Division be caught in Antwerp. Eventually the orders came to fall back, and two of the Brigades did so, but for some hours the third remained ignorant of the withdrawal. 3,500 men reached the Burght, crossed the River Scheldt by pontoon bridge and marched to St Niklaas, where they boarded trains and escaped. The other 1,500 men of the First Brigade, consisting of Hawke, Benbow and Collingwood Battalions, finally got their evacuation orders but when they arrived at the river the bridge was no longer in place. Fortunately there were some small boats available for ferrying them across, but valuable time had been lost. They arrived exhausted at St Niklass early on the morning of 9 October.
All the transport had departed and they were forced to continue on foot to St Gillis-Waas. There they discovered that the railway had been blown up, and they were almost completely surrounded by enemy troops. In fact some of the Naval Brigade had already been captured, including John Maclean Ungeshader (Shonnie Gorabhaig), John Buchanan Brenish, John and Angus Maciver Crowlista, and Donald Mackay Valtos. Only three of the Uigeachs who were sent to Antwerp managed to escape that day: they were Kenneth Maciver Geshader, Donald Macritchie Aird and Angus Mackay Valtos. The rest were now facing capture, being wounded or even being killed by the fierce bombardment they were suffering. Commodore Henderson was in charge and the lives of his men depended on him making the right decision. Reluctantly he chose the safest option: rather than become prisoners of war, they would cross the border. Once they were on Dutch soil, and had surrendered their weapons to the Dutch Army, they became internees in the neutral country of Holland.
The Uig contingent were: Malcolm and Murdo Buchanan (cousins) Brenish; Angus Morrison Islivig; Angus Macdonald Geshader; Donald Morrison, John William Macleod, Angus Macaulay, and James Morrison Valtos; Donald Maclennan Cliff; Kenneth Nicolson Crowlista and Norman Macritchie Aird. Out of the twenty Uigeachs who were sent to Antwerp only Kenneth Maciver Geshader, Donald Macritchie Aird, and Angus Mackay Valtos avoided capture or internment.
From an article in Uig News by Dave Roberts.
It appears that shielings were constructed so that one airigh could easily be seen from another, but it is said that very often the girls from a number of shielings would sleep in one building for company. The ancient shieling grounds for Brenish, Islivig and Mangersta were way beyond Raonasgail valley, in the moors north of Loch Craobhaig, at Fidigidh. The people of Carnish had their shielings by Loch Raonasgail, and at Ceann Chuisil. There are also ruins of old shieling structures closer to home, west of Mealisval, Cracaval and Laival. In the late nineteenth, and into the twentieth century, shieling activity was largely restricted to these closer locations.
About half a mile from Tealasdale is one of the shieling grounds of Old Mangersta, situated north of Ron Beag and west of Loch Faorbh. At the west end of Tealasdale is Sgorr Reamher and Bealach nan Imrich – “the pass of the flitting”, and below the Sgorr is the ruin of a very large and well built airigh. It is marked clearly on the first edition ordnance survey map. Its location is not very inviting. It is sheltered from the easterly winds but not from the southwesterlies. Even in summer the sun does not reach it until well into the day. This is Airigh na h’Aon Oidhche – “the one night shieling”.
Dol’ol at the loom (photo by John Blair). From an article for Uig News by Dave Roberts:
After the First World War there were ex-servicemen who had lost a hand, and one of the reasons for introducing the Hattersley domestic semi-automatic treadle powered loom to the island, was to give them an opportunity to make a living for themselves. Originally designed for the Balkans, Turkey and Greece, these looms eventually caught on for everyone in Lewis and Harris, because of the superior speed of cloth production and the more intricate patterns they could weave. Lord Leverhulme’s interest in the industry, coupled with the serious decline of the herring fishery and the poor price of cured fish from the long line fishery, meant that weaving became a much more important part of the island economy. He had great plans to build weaving sheds close to townships to house a number of Hattersley looms. The weavers would be employed from nine to five, six days a week, weaving tweed for a wage. However this arrangement did not suit crofter-weavers, who would only weave when the croft work allowed, and the idea was eventually dropped.
Hugh Mackay, Carishader, bought the very first Hattersley loom in Uig; it was a single shuttle model. He was a marine engineer, trained in Glasgow, and could strip down the loom and reassemble it without difficulty. If he had a problem, he had no one locally to ask for advice, so he would get on his motorbike and go to Stornoway. However he admitted that quite often he had forgotten the solution, by the time he got back home! In 1936, John Buchanan of No7, Valtos, organised a meeting at Valtos school for local people. Pat Skinner from Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd was there and they arranged for Alasdair Hare from Lochs (mac piuthair Tharmoid Doinn), known as ‘am Breabadair’, to stay in the village for a few weeks. He went from shed to shed teaching as he went.
A large number of Lewismen settled in Duluth, Minnesota in the 1870s and 1880s, many becoming prominent citizens in the town. The first was William L Maclennan (1834-1888), son of Donald Maclennan. This family seems to have originated in Kintail or Lochalsh; in 1841 Donald was a shepherd in Bunavoneadar, Harris, and soon thereafter became a small tenant at Kinlochresort, Uig. The family emigrated to Bruce County, Ontario in the 1850s. The following appeared in the Stornoway Gazette in the 1940s:
It is uncertain who were the first Lewismen at the Head of Lake Superior or when they came. It is a well-known fact that in the early days of the Hudson Bay Company, they preferred to recruit men for their service in the Isle of Lewis, as Lewismen were found to be very hardy and able to carry on in the severe work of trading, and it was also found that they were more capable of making friends with the Indians of Northwest America than was any other group of people. It is known that Morrison County, in the central part of Minnesota, was named for a descendant of the last Brieve of Lewis.
However, the first Lewisman who made his permanent home in Duluth was William L Maclennan, whose home in Lewis was near Loch Hamnaway. His family emigrated to Ontario in the ‘fifties. After a short period there, Mr Maclennan conceived the idea that there might be better opportunities for a young man in the United States, so he moved to Duluth in the late ‘sixties. Duluth was then only a small pioneer town on the outskirts of civilisation. He went into several lines of business in the new town, principally contracting and real estate. He was the builder of the breakwater in Lake Superior that formed what was then the outside harbour of Duluth before the canal was opened to the main harbour.
After settling in Duluth, he brought Miss Julia Macleod to this country in 1872 to be his wife. She was a daughter of Roderick Macleod, a well-known builder in Stornoway at the time. Shortly after they were married, Mr Maclennan became one of the organisers of the first bank in Duluth. After organising the bank, the promoters were looking for a capable man to manage the new bank. Mrs Maclennan suggested Mr AR Macfarlane who at that time was in a bank at Toronto, Ontario. Mr Macfarlane, a native of Stornoway, got his early training in the banks there. Mr Macfarlane accepted the new position, and under his guidance the American Exchange Bank of Duluth grew to be one of the largest in the Northwest. Mr Alexander M Morrison of Stornoway, an acquaintance of Mrs Maclennan and Mr Macfarlane, moved to Duluth in the early ‘seventies. He entered the grocery business and made a success of it.