Am Bratach No. 210
April 2009
editor@bratach.co.uk

 

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones

Handa Island was one of the few inhabited islands off the northern mainland. According to an account of 1726, it was inhabited by “one or two familys”. Later, however, it was cleared and given over to sheep, possibly in the early 1800s. By 1818 it was part of Badnabay sheep farm tenanted by William Munro of Achany and Ralph Reed at Scourie and inhabited by one of their shepherds, Donald Morrison.

Munro’s bankruptcy allowed the management of the Reay Estate to reconsider the best way of letting the island. In February 1827 Reed reported to the factor at Tongue, John Horsburgh, that he had examined the island and thought it could take about twelve tenants, allowing 1½ acres to each.

The whole island would be worth from £40 to £45 if let to “one Tenant to be occupied with thirtie Cattle, but as a Fishing Station I have no doubt It would be worth a good deal more, and from the Great command of sea ware it has Land in time might be taken in to render it capable of Keeping more tenants if thought necessary”.

Lord Reay appears to have decided on the latter course and in January 1828 Reed visited the island along with William and Hugh Morrison from Scourie village with “a view to the Lotting of it” — lotting being a common term at that period for laying out crofts. They considered that the island would “make Ten tolarably good lots, which lots will run from the Sea upwards and that the houses should be placed on the Heath Land at the heads of the lots”.

They had not had time to mark out the lots exactly, having only managed to “nearly come to an Idea how they should be”. Reed thought it would take another two or three days “to Finish them completely which we will do the First fine Weather, that is if it would get a little warmer for at present it is scarcely possible to stand to do them as they Should be”. He suspected that from the “variety of Soil we will scarcely be able to make all the lots of the Same Value”.

He had also begun to consider who should be tenants. “James Falkener Scoury more who has Five Sons all at home and all Fishers, I should think would be one of the properst for it”. Then there was a Hugh MacLeod in Scouriemore and his nephew Cathel Kerr who lived with him. Both were “good Fishers”. Hugh’s brother, Roderick, also in Scouriemore, had a similar reputation.

Hugh Mackenzie weaver in Scouriemore had three sons living at home, one of whom was a good fisherman. Donald Lamond junior, who had part of his father’s possession or “stance” there, was apparently a good fisherman. “Cormack the Boat Carpenter” wanted a possession, and “although no Fisher he would be usefull for keeping their Boats in repair”.

By February 15 Reed had laid off the lots and sent the regulations accepted and signed by the new tenants off to Horsburgh. The shepherd, Donald Morrison, was to retain his existing house, the only one then on the island. To allow for this, Reed, subtracted ten shillings [50p] from the value of the three worst lots and added 10 shillings to Morrison’s lot.

Reed then made “Tickets for the other nine Lots” and allowed the tenants to draw one. As Robert Mackay in Achriesgill “seemed not to be so Anxious about a Lot in the Island as the rest were I prevailed upon him to give up” as Horsburgh wanted a spare lot for letting later. Robert’s family, however, were not happy, and Reed suggested that Robert should have second choice of the spare lot as he had two sons who would prove good fishers. On the other hand, Eric Mackenzie from Scouriemore also wanted the spare lot. In fact, as Reed reported, there were “plenty of Tenants applying for it”.

A day or two later Reed returned to Handa to point out the stances for the houses. He suggested that whoever got the vacant stance should know as soon as possible “in order that he may get a fair Chance of the Stones (which are Scarce enough) with the rest of the Tenants”.

To be continued...

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