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The Orinsay Trials III: the Defence
The Orinsay Trials III: the Defence
An account of the Orinsay Trials of 1891, in the wake of attempts by crofters to resettle the farm; from Tional, 1996.
For the defence, Donald MacMillan a cottar and fisherman from Crossbost testified that the best fishing banks in the Minch were around the Shiant Isles. There was no more suitable or convenient place on the coast to fish them from than Orinsay. A successful fishing industry had existed before the evictions and the plan was to start up the fishing again and till the land so that they might be more comfortable. Donald MacKenzie, a 76 year old crofter from Crossbost gave evidence as to the evictions from Orinsay over fifty years earlier.
In his summing up the Sheriff said that Lady Matheson was entitled to let these lands to whomsoever she wished and without knowing more of the circumstances he could not say whether she had acted judicously in preferring Roderick Martin as a tenant to the men who had petitioned her for it. Orinsay was a small farm rented at fifty pounds per annum and he was generally in favour of having such farms in districts where the population was large. By industry and thrift, Roderick Martin had advanced to his present position and it was clear from the evidence that neither he nor Lady Matheson consented to the re-settlement.
The statute that permitted fishermen to go ashore and establish settlements was clearly intended for the protection of fishermen temporarily and did not apply to men who wanted to settle down. By digging and cultivating the ground as well as their statements to people who met them, it was plain that they were on a special excursion to sieze the ground. A lot had been said about the fishing advantages of Loch Shell, but if the best banks were around the Shiant Isles they could be got to just as easily from Crossbost or other places. The settlers were not like tinkers who pitched camp for one night and then moved on and were clearly committing a trespass to prevent the tenant from having peaceable possession, or so annoying him that he would give up the lands to them. He had endeavoured to discover some circumstances in their favour, but could find none. It might be that evil counsellors had been to blame for leading them astray, but they were not obliged to follow such advice and had to be prepared to bear the consequences of it.
The submission that they were entitled to these lands because their ancestors lived there until forcibly evicted was absurd, even in common law. Those removed had been granted lands elsewhere and their children were on these holdings still. They had created their own problems by squatting on other men's crofts, through the indulgence of the estate authorities, instead of betaking themselves to seek their fortune in other parts as younger sons all over the world do. It was also a very foolish and mischievous doctrine that because people had no land or work they could take whatever they could lay their hand on. This was a very serious case of trespass as their conduct amounted to robbery by taking land by force that was already leased and paid for by a tenant farmer.
He sentenced the men to fourteen days imprisonment.
The men were kept in cells in Stornoway overnight and were conveyed to Dingwall next day by Chief Constable Gordon and twelve of his constables. At Dingwall the escort was reduced to six officers for the journey by rail to Inverness. They were marched, handcuffed in pairs from the station to gaol in Inverness Castle, attracting a lot of popular attention along the way.