Deforcement in Coigach

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This letter to the editor was published in the 6 April 1852 edition of the The Inverness Advertiser.


Sir,-- I have just seen in your paper of the 30th ult, an account of the "Deforcement and disturbance in Coigach" in consequence of an attempt to serve with summonses of removing certain lot tenants of the townships of Achiltybuie and Badenscallie, in the Barony of Coigach, the property of the Marchioness of Stafford. That narrative I am not going to object to or criticize ; but I would request of you to be permitted, through the medium of your widely read journal, to give a plain starement of facts touching the lot tenants of these tenants of these townships from the time I first became acquainted with them in 1831.

The measures proposed to have been carried out at this juncture originated solely in consequence of these lot-tenants being altogether unable to occupy beneficially the large extent of hill pasture attached to their little allotments of arable land. They neither are, nor ever have been, possessed of capital to stock, or skill to manage, such a subject. The arrear of rent of crop, 1830, given up to me as due by these lot-tenants, was £566 14s 1d. The rent of crop 1831 was £445 1s 9d. In 1833 the rent was reduced to £368 6s, although were it not for the densely peopled state of the townships, the rent ought to have risen instead of being reduced. The reduced rent came to be charged from and after 1833.

Well, from Whitsunday 1831 to Whitsunday 1838, notwithstanding what had been done by the landlord in favour of these people, the arrear had increased from £566 14s 1d to £1269 12s 3d -- more than a hundred pounds per annum.

At the latter term Messrs Wm. and Alex. Mackenzie, of the post office, Ullapool, became tacksmen of these townships, at a still lower rent on a lease of 15 years to issue at Whitsunday 1853. By their own account, at Martinmas last, the tenants were in arrear to the tacksmen £800. This was the cause of their seeking to be relieved of their lease both last year and this. At length their renunciation of it was accepted by the Marchioness, and as the the lease of the adjoining farm of Badentarbat will expire at Whitsunday next, I recommended to make a new arrangement about the way in which these farms should be occupied in future ; and this was to shift 17 or 16 families (for one of them is possessed of ample means, and need care for nobody) nearest the higher range of the extensive hill grazing, from their present possessions to the farm of Badentarbat ; and further, to resume possession of a portion of the hill grazing occupied by the people in Achiltybuie, and turn this hill ground into a sheep-farm to be in possession of the proprietor. The instructions to the local manager are dated 19th February. After stating the changes intended to be made at next term (which I have mentioned above), they go on as follows :-- "in lieu of the changes proposed, the tenants to be removed will be settled on the farm of Badentarbat, in such allotments and at such rents as it may be thought suitable to the parties severally, and within their power to pay ; and when certain lots in Achiltybuie are thought to be to large, these will be halved, or otherwise divided, so as to take in and provide for the future accommodation of all the tenants to be removed. Also a new rental and a new "sooming" of stock for Achiltybuie will be made in proportion to the hill grazing to be taken away from it.

And in order that these changes may involve as little inconvenience as possible to the people to be removed, it is intended that they shall remain in their present holdings till they shall have cut their crops, and have had time to erect their houses ; and this, with some assistance from the proprietor in the matter of wood, it is considered and expected, they may accomplish by the middle of September next to come." All the tenants in Achiltybuie (76) save one, signed a declaration, dated 24th February, acquiescing in the arrangement proposed ; but the 17 who were to be shifted refused to agree to the measures submitted to them, which led to the late deforcement and lawless proceedings consequent thereon. It is right that it should be also known that the proprietor is bound to take all the sheep stock bred upon the ground at a valuation, thus preventing loss to the owners by the sheep straying when removed to a strange pasture. The rent of Badentarbat is £80. Fifteen of the families to have been removed, when they held from the proprietor, paid a rent of £63 2s ; one £8 14s ; and another £17 8s. As the latter is possessed of ample means, he is quite independent of any proprietor in the county, and needs not to be cared for ; so Badentarbat was considered to be quite large enough to take in and support the families to be shifted.

I have just read in the Inverness Courier of to-day another version of the lawless proceedings in Coigach, when a second attempt was made to serve summonses of removing at Badenscallie and Achiltybuie on 25th ult. It contains a slight mistake -- for "forty small tenants in that locality" read eighteen, against whom summonses of removing "in that locality" were to have been issued. I shall not take up valuable space in your paper by reiterating the doings that came under my own eye on the 25th -- suffice it to say they were sufficiently disgraceful to the parties implicated, and cannot soon be forgotten by those who witnessed them. It was a distinguished triumph of brute force over law and order, and while it continues in the ascendant, the rights of proprietors must remain in abeyance.

-- I am, Mr Editor, your most obedient servant,

Factor for the Marchioness of Stafford.
Kildary, 1st April 1852.

Andrew Scott, writer of this letter, was as he signs himself Factor for the Marchioness of Stafford. The letter was his chief public justification of his actions which led in the early 1850s to the "Coigach Insurrection". That "tenant revolt" was a pivotal event in the Highland Clearances, when the tenants began to assert themselves; burning eviction notices and "deforcing" the officers sent to serve them.

Eventually the public backlash that followed the series of newspaper articles and letters (ironically including Scott's letter above) on the Coigach Insurrection and similar tenant revolts led to the land reforms that followed the Crofter's Commission of the early 1880s.

This file, and others dealing with history and genealogy of Coigach, links from my homepage at:

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Donald MacDonald-Ross, at:

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