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Land Dispute - Valtos and Kneep

Land Dispute - Valtos and Kneep

The tenants of Valtos and Kneep in West Uig were by the 1880s increasingly frustrated by the actions of the landlord and their agents regarding their tenancy. In 1883 they rose up to defend their rights and the severity of the situation escalated.

1883 (February) - Crofters announced their intention to withhold their rents, until they were given more land.

1883 (June) - Napier Commission visits Uig where Murdo Maclean from Valtos and Donald Matheson from Kneep are interviewed; they recount the story of the loss of their island grazings as far back as 1827, when the Seaforths were landlords.

1884 (September) - On September 29th William Mackay, Chamberlain of the Lewis Estate arrives in Miavaig to collect rents, a large crowd is gathered when a band of young men arrive with two banners. The banners read DOWN WITH LANDLORDS and IS TREASA TUATHA NA TIGHEARNA (The tenant is stronger than the laird); the men also presented William Mackay with a list of requests - a demand for more land and the removal of squatters. A similar gathering of young men appeared the following day when the chamberlain went to collect rents at Glen Valtos.

1884 (October) - Two mass demonstrations were staged in Stornoway one on October 2nd and the other on the 16th, both were attended by men from villages all over the island. Champion of the crofters, Rev Angus Maciver (Church of Scotland) of Uig, was a prominent demonstrator. He stayed loyal to the crofter's cause even though Lady Matheson (proprietor of Lewis) tried to persuade him to abandon the crofters.

1884 (November) - Action of interdict (To prohibit or place under an ecclesiastical or legal sanction) begun by James Mackenzie (tacksman), Linshader, tenant of the islands grazing of Little Bernera, and Pabbay Mór and Alexander Macrae of Ardroil, who had Vacsay and Vuia Mhór.

1884 (December) - Early in December George Nicolson, a messenger-at-arms, from Edinburgh was prevented from serving notice of interdict by a group of young men, who barred his entry into 3 houses in Valtos and assaulted him and his men with stones and clods.

December 25th, when the people of Uig were enjoying a quiet Christmas, the gunboat Seahorse steamed into Miavaig and set anchor. County officials were on board, Chief Constable Munro, Sheriff Macintosh, Procurator Fiscal William Ross from Stornoway and Superintendent Donald Cameron from Tain, a small party of police, the ships crew and a force of 75 Marines. Cameron (who was against the use of force) left the Marines on board the gunship and walked from Miavaig to Valtos, he was met by a group of men. The wanted men surrendered when their names were read out. The prisoners, aged between 17 and 28, from Valtos and Kneep, were taken onto the gunboat. The Marines were then sent ashore to intimidate any men who were thinking of revenge. The Seahorse then steamed to Stornoway around the Butt of Lewis where the prisoners were marched to prison, watched by large muted crowds that had gathered there. The next day the men were out on bail.

1885 (February) - Sheriff Black of Stornoway heard the case on February 6th but with setbacks and adjournments he did not make his decision until the 21st.

1885 (February) - February 21st Sheriff Black gave the following sentences;

John Macaulay, Valtos (one of the youngest), 50 days in prison

Donald Morrison, Valtos (one of the oldest), 40 day in prison

Peter Macdonald, Valtos, 30 days in prison

Malcolm Matheson, Valtos, 30 days in prison

Murdo Macdonald, Kneep, 10 days in prison

Peter Matheson, Kneep, 10 days in prison

Sheriff Black and Procurator Fiscal Ross were criticised severely in the press for the way they handled the case, the Scotsman (usually a supporter of landlords) condemned their lack of discretion in this case. Sheriff Black had told the Rev. Angus Maciver in cross examination that it was "the parson's duty to persuade the people to give up their occupation of the tacksman's grazings and to pay their rent" he also said that the Lewis crofters were "a shocking bad lot".

1885 (March) - March 6th the sentences were appealed and quashed.

1885 (May) - On May 5th William Mackay, chamberlain of the Lewis estate, chartered the steamship 'Norseman' from Glasgow. He was attempting to remove crofter's cattle from several small islands in Uig including Mealista island. When he reached Valtos and removed cattle and sheep from Pabbay Mór (the grazings of James Mackenzie, tacksman, of Linshader) the alarm had been sounded. Valtos and Kneep men jumped into boats to block the 'Norseman' party, which by this time had steamed to Vuia Mhór to remove a bull (which belonged to the people of Aird Uig). The crofters stopped the chamberlain's party from taking the bull, recovered the livestock taken from Pabbay Mór and took one of the Norseman's small boats (including all occupants a sheriffs officer and seven assistants) and towed it to Valtos, where the boat was carried a quarter of a mile inland. The trial of the crofters was set for September 22nd 1885. The summonses were ignored.

1885 (August) - On August 28th Lewis estate officials tried to transport cattle from Reef farm, James Mackenzie (tacksman) of Linshader being the tenant, to Pabbay Mór. The animals were under the control of William Maclennan (sub-factor), estate employees and shepherds when they were set upon by a mob, consisting mostly, of women. The women were brandishing sticks, and making a loud noise, banging and shouting. That day, the estate employees were prevented from moving the cattle.

The women involved were;

Mary Smith, Valtos

Margaret Maclennan, Valtos

Ann Maciver, Valtos

Christina Morrison, Valtos

Ann Mackay, Valtos

Margaret Maciver, Aird Uig

The women also ignored the summonses.

1886 (March) - Prior to this date, Superintendent Donald Cameron of Tain had been asked to act as go-between and persuaded the Valtos and Kneep men (who were involved in the May 5th 1885 incident) to appear in court on March 6th 1886 (the same day as the women from the August 28th 1885 incident). An unusual letter written to the Stornoway Sheriff by the men of Valtos and Kneep declaring that they would be in court if punishment was just a fine and not prison; this and statements of regret in court may have influenced his decision, sentences were light.

The Sheriff gave the following sentences to the Valtos and Kneep men;

Peter Macdonald - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Malcolm Matheson - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Donald Smith - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Angus Macleod - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Norman Maciver - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Murdo Macdonald - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Murdo Macleod - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Allan Morrison - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

Donald Maclennan - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

William Macdonald - 20 shillings fine or 18 days in prison

The women also pled guilty and were sentenced on the same day, they were ordered to pay a fine of 5 shillings each or 3 days in prison.


Title: Land Dispute - Valtos and Kneep
Record Type: Historical Events
Time Period: 19th Century
Record Maintained By: CEU
Subject Id: 21852