Am Bratach No. 234
April 2011

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones

Evander McIver had been only a matter of months as factor when he was faced with several challenges to his authority from the small tenants of Assynt. A major source of trouble was the salmon bothy at Clachtoll being built for the new tenant of the fishings.

In January 1846 it was reported that the people of Clachtoll had pulled down the bothy during the night. McIver told the Duke of Sutherland that the tenants had “behaved in a disgraceful and outrageous manner. I went to the spot and made every inquiry, but Could not trace out who the delinquents were.”

When the Ground Officer had remonstrated with the people, “one Tenant stepped forward and openly told him there was no use to attempt erecting the Bothy, for they would pull it down a second time”. McIver advised that the man — Alexander Mackenzie — must be removed.

McIver asked the duke to write to the tenants, expressing “strong disapprobation of their Conduct — and saying you are resolved to punish severely any Tenant guilty of any outrage or of disturbing the peace of the District in any way.”

The tenants claimed — absurdly in McIver’s view — that the bothy would interfere with the ground on which they used to spread their herring nets. Few townships, according to McIver, had such an extent of dry sandy links fit for spreading nets.

The people had to be convinced that such conduct would be severely punished and that “the Factor’s authority will be supported by every means under such circumstances.” The duke followed McIver’s advice and a month later McIver reported that the people “have behaved themselves better — and the Fishing Bothy is nearly Completed.”

In May McIver suggested that some removals would be necessary to deal with cases of bad conduct. There was, he felt, “a turbulent feeling in the minds of the Assynt people — which requires Strong measures to quell, and I am Convinced one or two removals firmly and judiciously Carried on will do more for the benefit of the people themselves than any other mode of discipline I can think of.”

Mackenzie was evicted but it soon emerged that he had “broken into the House from which he was ejected and which had been secured by Lock & Key, and now with his family maintains violent possession — they having driven off with Stones the Ground Officer and a party sent to take possession of the House — and to prevent the possibility of any future possession had been instructed this party to take down the House.”

On a second attempt being made, Mackenzie and his family had “acted with Such violence that they were apprehended and he & his daughter imprisoned at Dornoch. His wife took to bed and we could not get them out.”

McIver admitted that he was finding the removal “a most painful & difficult business”. If the “most prompt and efficient steps” to evict Mackenzie were not adopted, McIver felt he “need never attempt a Removal in Assynt again — if the Tenants there see this case trifled with they will follow the same course also.”

McIver was also experiencing difficulty in preventing people building new houses without permission. One man had ignored the interdict: if he was “not severely punished and his House levelled to the ground I may just at once resign my Factory and abandon all thoughts of keeping rule or order in Assynt. I must say they are the most difficult people to manage I ever met with in Stoer.”

The spring of 1847 found Mackenzie still in “full possession of House, keeps Sheep and Cattle on the grass — and I have no doubt intends to Crop the Arable ground this year.”
The case required special attention as Mackenzie had been consulting the Laird of Dundonnell, who had written McIver “a curious threatening letter”. It also appears that Charles Spence, the Edinburgh lawyer who had assisted in other cases on behalf of Highlanders, had become involved.

By April, however, the effects of the potato famine were being felt and the duke was subsidising emigration. Mackenzie asked for assistance to go to America. McIver agreed and arranged for the eviction to be postponed. Mackenzie and his large family sailed from Loch Laxford in June on the Panama bound for Montreal.

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