Am Bratach No. 313
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by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In his booklet, “The Highland Estate Factor
in the age of the Clearances”, Eric Richards describes the responsibilities
and power exercised by factors. Highland factors have gained notoriety for
the role they played in the Clearances, but their influence was to be felt
long after the Clearances were effectively over.
There had not been a
resident factor in Assynt since 1824 when George Gunn had taken over at
Dunrobin. After the purchase of the Reay estate in 1829, John Horsburgh the
factor at Tongue had supervised arrangements in Assynt, with Ralph Reed
assisting as subfactor at Scourie.
In 1832 the Marquis and
Marchioness of Stafford, no doubt advised and guided by James Loch the
estate commissioner, decided that the management of the Reay estate should
be divided into two separate factorships. There would be a new factor for a
Scourie district comprising the parishes of Assynt, Eddrachillis and most of
The instructions which Loch gave to the appointee, John
Baigrie, are particularly revealing in terms of Loch’s perceptions of the
people. We must assume that what Loch wrote had been agreed to by the
All three parishes would require the factor’s “frequent
and vigilant superintendence”. The factor “must be active and very
industrious, look carefully and kindly toward the people, but at the same
time strictly enforce the regulations of the estate and the improvement
required”. To this the Marchioness had added a knowledge of Gaelic.
The completion of the coast road from Inchnadamph to Tongue that year would
mean that the district would no longer be so remote. Lochinver was
twenty-nine miles and Rispond twenty-eight miles from Scourie — this was the
“real distance of active and real management”.
Loch stressed that “it
must be distinctly understood that all the great outline of arrangement as
determined on by the Marquis of Stafford, and communicated thro’ me, must be
implicitly adhered to”. Though the judgement of the local factor must
determine how it things were effected or “the degree to which it is to be
pressed, yet no material departure from it must be made”.
principal duty of the factor will be to watch over the interests of the
people and by explanation and continued perseverance to induce the people to
adopt better habits of industry, more cleanly and tidy customs, an improved
and increased cultivation of their Lots and in building new houses.”
One reason for a separate factor was to restrict and control expenditure.
There was no farm to improve at the expense of the landlord: the factor’s
expenditure would be limited to some new buildings which would be built
under contract, construction of some branch roads and draining, but only
where it would benefit more than one tenant.
In Loch’s view, the
people of the district were “necessarily from their position among the most
backward in Scotland”. They had “hitherto been unaccustomed to the presence
of any immediate management”. The factor would require “much firmness,
perseverance, and determination, accompanied by still more patience and
According to Loch the Staffords took “the greatest interest
in the welfare, and watch with the greatest earnestness every thing
connected with the prosperity and contentment of their smaller tenants”.
Donald Macdonald, tenant of Lochinver sheep farm and owner of the
fishing station at Culag, was singled out as a particular challenge. Loch
informed Baigrie confidentially that Macdonald had been “long accustomed
virtually to direct the affairs of Assynt as he chose [and] the influence of
the Landlord’s authority was little felt”. Although Loch did not explain,
Macdonald had commercial dealings with many of the small tenants, and most
of the other sheepfarmers in Assynt who might have been a competitor had
gone bankrupt in the 1820s.
Loch was confident that he and Baigrie
would be “able to inspire into these remote districts the same spirit of
Improvement that has commenced in other quarters of these domains and that
we shall be able to teach the people the value of having so kind and wise
and so just a Landlord as the Marquis of Stafford and her Ladyship”. While
the residents of the Reay country might regret their transfer to the
Sutherland family, Loch and Baigrie would “succeed in convincing them that
they are as much considered as the people of the Ancient Clan [of