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The Isle of Skye became the property of several proprietors, who, in the four decades following 1849, would serve 1740 writs of removal, involving nearly forty thousand people, all of whom, whether they were removed or not, had to pay 10s. for the cost of the summonses against them. On Harris the 78th Highlanders were called in to remove the proprietor’s sub-tenants. He had been paying them £2 12s. 6d. for the collection of a ton of kelp that was selling for £2 10s. only in Liverpool, and not unnaturally he decided that he would do better with sheep (due to foot-rot in parts of England and Scotland that year, the price of Cheviot wedders had rison handsomely). On the Isle of Mull, from Mornish to Glen Moire, evictions were particularly severe, and the bard Angus MacMhuirich lamented the bitterness which followed.
In 1849 Lord MacDonald decided to evict a hundred and ten families, more than six hundred people, from Sollas on the island of North Uist. He was Godfrey William Wentworth MacDonald, forth Baron of the Isles, descendant of the Macdonald chiefs of Sleat. His uncle, the second Lord (who had done so well out of fertilizer) had built a fairy-tale castle at Armadale on Skye to the design of James Gillespie Graham, the architect who introduced the horror of Gothic to the Highlands. Macdonald hoped that this absurdity would persuade his descendants to live on their property, and he also introduced the cultivation of hemp, drained marshes, built bridges, churches and mills. But it all depended on seaweed and an overblown population. The fourth baron had a wide property on Skye and North Uist, debts of £200000 and impatient creditors who soon formed themselves into a body of trustees to intercept some of his rents against the money owing them. Macdonald was a humane man, concerned for the well-being of his people (which is more than could be said for some of his ancestors), and during the Potato Famine of 1846 he spent all of his resources on the relief of destitution among them. It was therefore an irony that one of the most bitter and best-remembered evictions in the Isles should take place on his properly. But the pressures on him were as inexorable as those on less charitable lairds, the Great Cheviot could save him as much as them, and in the end he too was petitioning for ‘an armed force to enable to constituted authorities to compel the people to give obedience to the Law’.
A central stud of the Hebridean buckler, North Uist had once been one of the most profitable fo the seaweed islands, but in 1849 it was impoverished and wretched. ‘It is necessary,’ said Mr Finlay Macrae, minister of the parish, ‘to find some proper outlet for the excess of population by emigration, and thus to increase the amount of land possessed by each family. At present it is notorious that there are no less than 390 families paying no rent, but living chiefly on the produce of small spots of potato ground given them by some of their neighbours and relatives.’ Since the decay of the kelp industry, the five thousand inhabitants of North Uist had been living close to starvation, but their attachment to the island was fierce and strong. In 1847, Shaw, the Sherriff-Substitute, had told the Commissary-General that they stubbornly refused to go to the Lowlands for work. ‘Emigration seems to me to be the only means of permanently improving the conditions of the people in these crowded districts, and I think that the cost of maintaining them in idleness or unprofitable employment for a single season would suffice to effect the removal of the superfluous number.’