The first school in the Western Isles was founded shortly after 1610, when the Seaforth Mackenzies gained possession of the island, and in 1680, a report by ‘Indweller’ says that the Seaforth school had done much good, not only for Lewis but also for the adjacent isles. Other schools followed.
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.