Am Bratach No. 256
February 2013

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones

James Anderson, tenant of Rispond, is well known for clearing several neighbouring townships and sparking off the Durness riots in 1841. However, the origins of his association with the Reay estate lay considerably earlier.

His father, also James Anderson, had come to the north west Sutherland in the early 1770s when the estate was in the charge of the tutors of Hugh Lord Reay. James was one of a number of merchants who set up in the northern Highlands to profit from the fishings and kelp manufacture.

In 1773 Thomas and James Arbuthnots, merchants in Peterhead, had entered into possession of the salmon fishings and kelp-shores on the Reay estate. Under their agreement made in 1775 with George Mackay of Skibo, as one of the tutors, they obtained a 21-year lease and undertook to pay £94 rent (a rise of £36).

In 1775 James Anderson obtained a 19-year lease for £47 of the lands of Keoldale and the store-house at Islandrannich, near Kylestrome “for the purposes of the herring and cod-fishery”. It appears that Anderson and the Arbuthnots were in partnership, with Anderson acting as the local manager.

By the mid 1780s, however, it was clear that the store-house on Islandrannich was of limited use and they decided to erect a fishing station elsewhere.

With their leases having only seven years to run they negotiated new leases with the managers of the estate “of such endurance as would give the petitioners a reasonable prospect of reimbursement of the large sums that would be unavoidably sunk upon the storehouses and other buildings which they proposed to erect.”

Lord Reay’s tutors realised, as the merchants later claimed, that if the venture was a success, it would “be the means of employing 600 or 700 people upon the estate, who had hitherto spent almost their whole time in idleness, and, of course, would enable them to give much better rents for their own small possessions than otherwise they could possibly do.”

Under a new lease signed in 1787 Lieutenant General Alexander Mackay, one of the tutors, set the merchants the lands of Rispond, with the grazings of Clowrick and Lochsion, the lands of Keneabin and Island-hoan, the lands of Easter Kylestrome (excepting a small pendicle set to Hugh Mackay tacksman of Wester Kylestrome), and the lands and grazings of Giesgill, Dalachrackpoll, Drimnahaven, Ardbeg, Skeracha, Ardmore, Portilvorchie and Kinlochbervie, and the storehouse of Islandrannich.

The salmon fishings comprised those on the Rivers Hope, Durness and Laxford and “the haill creeks and other fishing places with the privileges of fishing salmon at and upon any other place on the estate of Reay, where they may think proper to fish for salmon (excepting the Salmon-fishings of the bay and water of Inchard and Achowriesgill)”.

The lease included the “sea-ware and tang growing upon the shores of the estate of Reay, running from the bay of Torisdale to the bay of Kylscow, comprehending the west side of the former, and the east side of the latter, for the purpose of manufacturing the same into kelp, according to use and wont, reserving always to the tenants of the estate of Reay, the liberty of using and cutting so much of the said sea-ware and tang as they shall find necessary for manure to their several possessions, conform to use and wont.”

There was additional rent to pay and the merchants were bound to “perform the usual services of peats and Shearing to the possessors of the farm of Durness”. The lease was to endure for four times nineteen years.

The partners proceeded to erect “the various buildings necessary for their business” including at Rispond “a dwelling-house for the manager of the concern, another for a ship-master, a copper’s shade, salt-cellar, sail-loft, net-room, two store-houses at Rispond, one at Laxford, and one at Kylend, besides the quays of the harbour of Rispond”. The cost of this amounted to no less than £1,100.

However, Eric Lord Reay who succeeded in 1797 looked for a considerable increase of income from the estate. Not surprisingly, he considered the length of the lease excessive and the rent quite inadequate. The parties went to law and his Lordship won. The Arbuthnots pulled out, though they did receive compensation for their expenditure, and James Anderson junior eventually took over at Rispond.

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