Image of Lachlan MacPhail. Unless there was someone of the same name from Crossipol, this was the kelp-gather of that name who gave evidence for Kilmoluaig and Balevuilin in Tiree to the Napier Commission in 1883
Picture is courtesy of An Iodhlann and Keith Dash.
‘Kelping was the reduction of seaweed to ash to extract salts, potash and soda for factories that sprung up during the Industrial Revolution. Demand was vital to the manufacture of explosives and an initial price of one guinea a ton rapidly doubled. By the time of the French Revolution, when imports of barilla were impossible, it had reached a peak of £20 per ton. Kelping was labour intensive and the need for labour led to the introduction of crofting by 1818. Lands were barely sufficient to support a family and kelping was the only way to raise rent. With the end of the wars, demand reduced and, following pressure from soap manufacturers, import taxes on salt and barilla were removed in 1826. The price of kelp collapsed to an average of £2 per ton’. Angus MacMillan, ‘The Sea is Wide’.
As well as the Small Isles, this site is now also opening up to the inner Hebrides for certain topics of shared interest. Mull, Islay, Iona and other inner islands share many of the same proud traditions as the Outer Hebrides. Associated websites for these islands continue to be the Argyllshire Genweb site and Isle of Tiree Genealogy.
Raasay (Scottish Gaelic: Ratharsair) is an island between the Isle of Skye and the mainland of Scotland. It is separated from Skye by the Sound of Raasay and from Applecross by the Inner Sound. Traditionally the home of Clan MacSween, the island was ruled by the MacLeods from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
Subsequently a series of private landlords held title to the island, which is now largely in public ownership. In 1843 the last laird, John Macleod, was deep in debt and chose to emigrate to Tasmania having sold Raasay for 35,000 guineas to George Rainy. After the failure of the potato harvests in the 1840s the new owner decided to convert as much arable land as possible to sheep farming. This required the removal of the islanders and his solution was to ban marriage. Several townships were cleared including Hallaig and Screapadal. Two boat loads of emigrants left for Australia in 1852 as a result and another 165 left for the same destination in 1865. The estate was then sold to Edward Wood and conflicts between the laird and the islanders grew as he decided to turn the island over to sporting purposes. A portion of the island served as a prisoner-of-war camp for Germans during the World War I. who were used to work the iron mine.
Bu tu camhanaich air a’ Chuilitheann
‘s latha suilbhir air a’Chlaraich
grian air a h-uilinn anns an or-shruth
agus ros geal bristeadh faire
Rather than have an English translation handed to them, visitors to this page can flex their languistic muscles and use the SMO Gaelic Dictionary (link at the top right hand of this page) to translate the verse for themselves.
Everyone has heard of the Cutty Sark but less well known is that the Island of Tiree has produced the finest sailors, the best being Donald MacKinnon who won the most famous tea clipper race of all time in 1866. London tea importers paid a premium for the first China tea of the season to arrive in London and a fleet of fast tea clippers was built and lined up each year for the dash home to London.
On May 30th, 1866, 16 clippers were ready at the Pagoda Anchorage, Foo Chow Foo. The Fiery Cross was away first, followed by the Ariel, the favourite, and two hours later the Taeping, captained by Donald MacKinnon and loaded with 1,108,709 pounds of tea. Donald MacKinnon’s boat, The Taeping, arrived at London’s East India Dock half an hour ahead of its nearest rival, 16,000 miles and 99 days after leaving China.
Tiree lies southwest of Coll and crofting, alongside tourism, are the main sources of employment for the islanders. It is twenty-two miles west of the nearest point on the Scottish mainland, is at the same latitude as southern Alaska and is at the same longitude as the border between Spain and Portugal. A walk of forty six miles would take you around its coastline, much of it along white beaches of shell sand. It is the most fertile of the Hebrides.
Like all the other Western Isles, Tiree suffered from the Highland Clearances and, in 1847, the Marquis of Lorne transported 340 tenants to Canada. Between 1847 and 1853, 1354 people emigrated from Tiree or 27% of its entire population which was about 10% of the 16,000 people that emigrated from the Highlands and Islands as a whole during this period.
In September 1806 the ship “Spencer” landed at Prince Edward Island with over one hundred people from the island of Colonsay. Travelling in large extended families they had responded to a local laird, John McNeill, who offered to “improve” their lives and to the Earl of Selkirk who offered land across the Atlantic. Selkirk wanted Gaelic-speaking emigrants to block colonial America on the verge of expansion. His promotion of Prince Edward Island led to the “Baldoon” settlement in the Great Lakes and to the “Red River” settlement at Lake Winnipeg. Success of the Colonsay settlers started a “chain of migration” into Canada that depopulated the isolated, tiny island.
Early 19th century emigrations from Gaelic Scotland often involved planners and sponsors reacting to the politics, personalities and changes in the era of Jefferson and Napoleon. The 5th Earl of Selkirk was an energetic young Scotsman, little more than a year from extended time in North America, who was rumoured to be the next Minister to the young United States. Impatient over his confirmation, Selkirk did not hide his strong opinions about the Americans, “a set of lawless vagabonds, straggling upon the frontiers of our provinces.” He had a very favourable opinion of Western Islanders whom he saw as ideal pioneers and he announced that “our own colonies should be peopled by these men whose manners and principles are consonant to our own government.”
St. Kilda, the remotest once-inhabited place in the British Isles, lies some 110 miles west of the Scottish mainland. It is a small archipelago of islands and to the north of the main island, Hirta, are the remains of the Tigh na Banaghaisgich, or House of the Female Warriors. Descriptions of the house and St Kildian folklore has led to speculation of an iron age matriarchal culture, first recorded by Martin Martin in 1698.
On the islands, consisting of 1575 acres of Hirta, a further 244 acres on Soay & 79 acres on Dun, the 180 islanders had developed a self-sufficient communal economy based on seabird (meat, oil & eggs), Soay sheep, fishing, and small scale crofting. A form of primitive socialism prevailed on the island. All grazing land was held in common. All property on which they depended for their livelihood was held in common; including boats, climbing ropes and fowling gear. All the island’s produce of seabirds and fish was divided equally according to the number of households on the island, with provision made for the sick and elderly.
The main settlement on the island, at village bay, was rebuilt in 1836-8. It consisted of 25 stone built cottages with barns & outbuildings in typical Hebridean style. The islands are also dotted with distinctive stone built/turf roofed cleits, or storehouses. Decisions concerning all matters were made by an informal meeting that took place each weekday morning – known as the `St Kilda Parliament’ it consisted of all the adult males on the island. It had no rules, no chairman and ‘members’ arrived in there own time. Once assembled the ‘parliament’ would consider the work to be done that day.
Whilst some of their customs showed a possible early Christian influence, the beliefs of the islanders were seen as a mixture of ‘popery and druidism,’ prompting the Church of Scotland to send out a series of missionaries from 1705 onwards. However in 1844 the islanders were won over to the doctrines of the Free Church and from 1863-1889 came under the severe rule of a Rev John Mackay whose adherence to a strict Christian doctrine played a large part in the eventual downfall of the island republic. Mackay’s autocratic rule undermined the traditions that had grown up on the island to such an extent that religious worship often left little time to carry out the essential tasks necessary for survival on the island.
In the late 1800s the island economy was given a boost by becoming part of the Victorian cruise itinery. This introduction to the cash economy (the tourists bought tweeds, knitwear & sheepskins) further undermined the subsistence economy of the island and also led to emigration from the island to the mainland. As the cruise ships declined in the early1900’s the islands dwindling population was supported by trawlermen fishing the seas around the island and from public funds.
On 10 May 1930, a petition was signed by 20 islanders `We the undersigned . . . hereby respectfully pray and petition Her [sic] Majesty’s Government to assist us all to leave the island this year and to find homes and occupation for us on the mainland.’ The evacuation took place on 29 August 1930. The Surgeon of HMS Harebell recorded the death of the community:”…..all the houses were locked and the people taken on board. Shortly afterward they were looking their last at St Kilda as the Harebell, quickly increasing speed, left the island a blur on the horizon. Contrary to expectations they had been very cheerful throughout, though obviously very tired, but with the first actual separation came the first signs of emotion, and men, women and children wept unrestrainedly as the last farewells were said.” A. Pomfret
So ended the longest surviving ‘Communal Republic’ on British soil. Somewhat ironically many of islanders found work with the Forestry Commission at Ardtornish in Morvern, where these refugees from a treeless island found that their climbing skills were in demand to tend trees.