Am Bratach No. 301
November 2016

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones

The proposal by Captain Jespersen to establish a whaling station at Weaver’s Bay on Loch Laxford became a source of public debate. In November 1949 the Duke of Sutherland again raised concerns about the financial backing.

The Sutherland County Council, however, had obtained confidential reports which gave “every satisfaction as regards the financial stability of the Company”. The council considered that £50,000 was sufficient for the company’s initial requirements and that additional capital would be forthcoming if required as a later stage.

Jespersen himself pointed out that the price of whale oil had risen significantly since 1929 and almost every part of a whale could now be utilised. Modern processing techniques eliminated smell and there would be no residue left at the site.

As many as fifteen men would be employed on the whaling vessel and thirteen men at the station along with others involved in transport and producing “numerous by-products” — including flour­meal for cattle and poultry, pig food stuffs and materials for brush making. The company would prefer to dispose of their Isle of Harris project altogether and confine their activities to Weaver’s Bay.

The council informed the Duke of Sutherland that they were most anxious to acquire the site through negotiated agreement but that they had powers of compulsory acquisition. In the council’s view, the establishment of the factory outwith Sutherland “would be calamitous to the County.”

Eventually the duke stated that he was unable to give his consent, though he quite understood if the council decided to proceed with a compulsory purchase. In the meantime he was off to South Africa for 21/2 months. The council then met with representatives of the Duke of Westminster who provided details of his proposals to meet the “unemployment problem” in north-west Sutherland, particularly through forestry. The duke’s lawyer stressed that whaling could not be carried on “without it becoming thoroughly obnoxious”: the establishment of a whaling station at Weaver’s Bay would be “a calamity”. After visits to Norway and consulting with advisers, the duke felt that a whaling station “would drive him from Lochmore”.

Faced with this situation the council sought advice and guidance and an informal meeting was held with senior officials at the Scottish Office. In February 1950 the local MP, Sir David Robertson, made several criticisms of the whaling project, suggesting that it was “seriously under-capitalised”.

In the meantime, two companies had been formed: North of Scotland Whaling Co Ltd and Scottish Whalers Ltd. The latter was to operate out of Harris which would be a feeder site for the main depot at Weaver’s Bay. A month later the company had chartered two whale catchers for two years at a cost of £600 each. Notices appeared in the newspapers stating that the company were about to apply for a license to land whales and manufacture oil and other products at Weaver’s Bay.

Objections were duly lodged by Colonel Robert Neilson of Garbat Hotel, owner of the Kinlochbervie estate and partner in the firm of Neilson and MacLeod, fish salesmen, Kinlochbervie, citing the impact on tourism, the fisheries, and local amenity and claiming that the scheme would only provide limited employment for local people. On the other hand, Peter Corbett revealed that the people of Ardmore and Portlavorchie had refused to sign a petition opposing the application.

The council decided that they had no objections to the granting of a license and issued a statement to that effect that the project would “materially arrest the depopulation of the County and the drifting of its young people to the South”, would fit into the life of the county, and would have no injurious effects on health nor produce any nuisance. The council was prepared to compulsory purchase the site if a license was obtained. However, the Ross and Cromarty County Council feared that the whaling station would have an adverse effect on the herring fishings in the Minch and had called for a public enquiry. It was noted that the Secretary of State for Scotland might quite possibly hold an enquiry.

Several months later it emerged that Jespersen intended to apply for a license with a view to commencing operations the following year. However, by May 1951 no application had been made and the council eventually decided to withdraw its support.

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