Hallin Cottage, Waternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland
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climbing lodge isle of skye

climbing lodge isle of skye

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During the final years of the eighteen century emigration had been continuing despite the war with France, once it had become apparent that Britain had command of the sea. It was by this time no longer a case of the Tacksmen emigrating with a group of followers and their families. In some cases, priests went at the head of their flocks, but increasingly it was a case of contractors persuading people to take passage. It seems to have become an unsavoury racket.

In 1800 it was recorded that a certain major Simon Fraser at Fort William had ‘made a trade out of the business since 1799’. Sheriff-Substitute Brown of Inverness wrote about another contractor, George Dunoon, on whose ships fifty people died of cholera: ‘I saw the sips when at Fort William. They were much crowded. When the passengers landed in America they were shut up in a point of land... to prevent the contagion of the disease.’

At that time the laws which controlled he number of slaves to be carried in a slave ship did not apply to emigrant ships and on occasions 7800 emigrants would be carried in holds where only 500 slaves would have been allowed. Thomas Telford, who had been called on to establish the reasons for the high level of Highland emigration at this period, noted eleven ships sailing from Fort William in 1801, with as many as 3300 emigrants. Another port from which they sailed at this time was Ullapool. The exact number of emigrants carried by each ship was hard to substantiate since they might easily stop at more than one port on their way before finally sailing across the Atlantic.

With the peace of Amiens in 1802 it seemed as if the war in Europe might have ended at last. The fencible regiments were all reduced and men began to return to their homes in the highlands. For some it was to find that in the meantime their homes had been demolished, their families evicted, and that sheep now grazed where they once lived.

As early as 1782 the first evictions of 500 tenants had been made in Glengarry by the mother of the Chieftain, Alistair Ronaldson MacDonell, during his minority. In 1802 he was himself responsible for another massive wave of evictions and the majority of the Glengarry men took ship for Pictou in Nova Scotia while Dunoon fattened on the profits. In the same year 800 Roman Catholics from Barra in the Outer Isles sailed for Antigonish with their priests Alexander and Augustin Macdonald. In 1803 Thomas Douglas, eighth Earl of Selkirk and a firm believer in emigration as the answer for the Highlands, led 800 emigrants from Skye, Ross, Inverness, and Argyll to Prince Edward Island, where they settled successfully under his leadership.

This was a period for canal building in the Highlands. The Crinan Canal was first proposed by the Glasgow magistrates who approached the Commissioners of Forfeited Estates with the suggestion that a canal be built either at Crinan or Tarbert to save the long journey round the Mull of Kintyrer to and from the Clyde. James Watt surveyed both routes and in 1793 an act was passed authorising the building of a canal at Crinan. The company promoting it ran into financial difficulties and the canal was only finally opened in an incomplete state in 1801. Still unfinished in 1804 the Government was approached for aid. In 1812 Thomas Telford, who was then working on the Caledonian Canal, was called on to give his views and estimates on costs. On his recommendation the canal was finally completed.
Mary Branson, 23 Langside Avenue, London SW15 5QT
Tel/Fax: 020 8876 3054     Mobile: 07836 521103     mf.branson@virgin.net
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