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Arran of the Bens, The Glens and the Brave
Chapter VII. Arran in the Eighteenth Century


Roofless the walls and all around is dreary,
Cold the ingle-side and bare,
Men called it home, 'tis now the wild bird's eyrie,
Yet I would that I were there!

Just to feel the wild wet breezes swirling
O'er the water and the whin,
To see the peat-reek o'er the cottage curling
And the hairst folk winning in.

To see the glens in Autumn's colours tender,
And the black Ben's misty wreath,
The birk and the breckan's dying splendour,
And the roaring linn beneath.

To see the foam from the white beach flying
And the boats leap through the waves,
And the ring of golden sea-tang lying
Strayed from Atlantic's caves.

To hear again the beach-nuts falling, falling,
When the plantin's winning bare,
To hear again the paitricks calling, calling,
Oh, would that I were there!
M'K. M'B.


At the beginning of the eighteenth century Arran was in much the same condition as the rest of the Highlands: the men tilled the lands of their forefathers and ate the crops they grew. They fished and shot game without hindrance, and the chiefs were more anxious that there should exist on the land a hardy race of strong men who could wield a claymore than to know what he received in bolls of meal from the "kindly tenants" of the lordship. The whole idea of Highland life was in most districts still patriarchal : the Highland chief had not developed into the modern landlord.

In places like Arran, Bute, and Kintyre, there was seldom a scarcity of food, and the men of these parts possessed exceptional hardihood. In Arran and Kintyre especially, the old stories of feats of strength were plentiful twenty years ago. Mr. Neil Munro has given us an interesting, and I think well-considered, picture of the mainland of Argyll fifty to seventy years earlier in his John Splendid, showing that the conditions of life as regards food were eminently suitable for the rearing of strong men and women. It is true that some of the Highland lairds, who held by the charter rather than by the sword, attempted to maintain a semi-feudal state of things, and had become aggressive, but they were the exception, and it seems to me that even the occasional tyranny of these men was better than the purely commercial relations between rich and poor, chief and clansman, which came into existence after the long absence of the attainted chiefs who took part in the Rising of 1745. Recently published letters show the intimate relations which existed in old times between the rich and poor, the chief and his clansmen, and the great difference that followed upon the return of the chiefs.

The late Mr. Patrick Murray thus describes the rise in the value of land which was then taking place in Scotland and England, due to the growth of industry and other causes :—

"The country assumed a settled condition to which it had long been strange. The first of our countrymen began to return from the Indies with fortunes acquired in our possessions there—new life was given to industry and enterprise of every kind, and the trade of Glasgow and the country generally made a fresh and vigorous start. As a consequence of all this the price of land rose considerably from the low level at which it had long stood, and landlords in different parts of Scotland took to farming on new and improved methods. Although it may seem strange now, these were introduced from England, and English servants and implements of husbandry were brought to Scotland for this purpose. Lord Eglinton was one of the first in this part of the country to set the example on a large scale, and his English servants introduced drill husbandry and the culture of turnips into Ayrshire. At the peace of 1763 large fortunes made during the war with great rapidity were brought home and invested in land, and money diffused itself amongst all classes. The price of corn rose at least one-third. The price of cattle, which had almost doubled in the previous thirty years, rose in 1766 still higher. Farming and improvements became the fashion, and every country gentleman took to them on a greater or less scale.

"The farms were let on leases of nineteen years' duration, and at their entry to them the tenants had paid a grassum, which was the last of this custom in Arran. These leases began to expire in 1766, the greater part of them falling out in 1772. In view of this, the tutors of the Duke of Hamilton, who was then a minor, determined to set about the improvement of the island, and appointed Mr. John Burrell, their factor at Kinneil, to reset the tacks and to advise the measures to be adopted for improvement, and to direct the operations resolved on."


This man played an important part in the later history of Arran. He was, judging by name, probably English or of English origin. He was a perfect stranger, at any rate, and there is no one like a stranger for the work if you want the old landmarks removed, for a stranger knows no traditions, feels no sentimental scruples. This the Highland landlords realised perfectly a little later when they wished to evict the old tillers of the soil to make room for sheep or deer.

Mr. Murray says: "In carrying out his commission Mr. Burrell visited Arran from 1766 to 1782, at least nine times, for periods ranging from one to four months. He made what he calls a 'strict survey' of every farm, and reported fully his whole doings in the island.


"Of all his schemes, the most important was the making of enclosures, on which work large sums were spent by the proprietor on his recommendation. An overseer and workmen were brought from the mainland to make the dikes on several farms as a sample of what was wanted, and afterwards the tenants themselves were encouraged to do the work. Forty spades were ordered from Ayrshire to begin with, but Arran smiths were allowed to try their hands on more. The old turf dykes which are still to be seen in the island, some of them outside the limits of the arable land, are part of those laid out by Mr. Burrell at this time. Those at Drumadoon and at Torbeg and Tormore were some of the first made, and also those at Blairbeg, but in resetting the tacks a certain amount was stipulated to be done on every farm at the proprietor's expense. He opened the lime quarry in the Clachan Glen, and also the slate quarry at Lochranza. He made a trial for coal at the Cock Farm, and put down a bore at Clauchlands. He inveighed against the barbarous system of runrig and rundale which the tenantry of the Island of Arran were so fond of. He lamented the extravagant number of horses kept by the tenants, and ordered that a plough and oxen should be sent to the island, and a premium given to the tenant who first ploughed his land with oxen. In short, to quote his own words—

"'Many a serious thought and contemplation the memorialist has bestowed upon the cultivation and improvement of this island which had the effect to produce many a different idea.'"

The older families had exceptional rights, many of them the remains of their original proprietorship or of privileges granted long ago to their ancestors. Mr. Burrell introduced new men from Argyll and the low country, and gave them the same rights and privileges, or rather restricted the old rights to the same level as those granted to the new-comers, naturally causing much heartburning and discontent amongst the old clans of the island.


"At that time," Mr. Murray says, "farms in the island were arranged so that the whole were out of lease at one time in the year 1776. This was done to admit of rectification of marches and a better division of the farms and of the interior or hill grazings. This, we may be sure, was a serious enough business for both parties, but it did not altogether take the heart out of the tenants."

Of course the greatest revolution Mr. Burrell effected was in the conversion of the old runrig farms into lots or separate holdings. By the runrig system the farm was cultivated in strips by four to ten or more tenants, generally of the same family. The strips changed hands every two years. The plan was interesting, and essentially communistic in character. Mr. Burrell viewed it with horror, though it really stood upon a higher moral basis than the competitive method which followed. Nor was there anything inherently bad in it commercially, or need why it should fail, provided the farm and the individual strips were large enough to support the men who tilled them.

So far from reflecting upon the intelligence of the men who adopted it, as Mr. Burrell and Mr. Murray thought it did, the runrig system was based on a principle on which we are acting little by little to-day— the principle of real co-operation. Loudon says of it: "Absurd as the common field system is at this day, it was admirably suited to the circumstances in which it originated, the plan having been conceived in wisdom, and executed with extraordinary accuracy."

A kind of administrative committee, which was formed apparently by Mr. Burrell himself in 1770, included the following members: John Burrell, George Couper, William MacGregor, Patrick Hamilton, John Hamilton, Gershom Stewart (minister of Kilbride), Duncan Mac-Bride, John Pette, John Fullarton, Gavin Fullarton, John Hamilton, Thomas Brown, William Ogg, Hector MacAllister, Alexander MacGregor, John MacCook, and Adam Fullarton. Of these at least four were directly or indirectly employed by the Arran estate manager, while ten of the whole number were dependent on the Hamilton interest, and bound to support Mr. Burrell's measures; so that this committee cannot be taken as a popularly representative one for the whole island, anything of the nature of popular government being as yet unknown.

The chief matter discussed was the question of a scheme for a service of packet boats running between the island and Saltcoats. Other matters decided by the committee were—

Rogue and road money, and statute labour on the roads.
The suming and rouming of the island, which was immediately carried into execution.
Tenants to keep herds and to fold their cattle every night, according to Act of Parliament.
Multures to be commuted for a fixed payment per boll meal for grinding.
Sheep to be marked, and no cattle or sheep to be killed without calling together a jury of the three nearest neighbours.
All weights and measures to be taken to the castle, and compared with Ayr weights and measures.

With a view to encouraging improvements in husbandry in 1776, premiums were offered to the tenants as follows :—

To the tenant who shall produce the best three-year-old humbled bull of his own property, not under the value of £10 stg.—5 guineas.

To the tenant who shall produce the best two-year-old tup of Bakewell and Chaplin kind—full blood—not under the value of £5 stg.—2½ guineas.

To the tenant who shall produce the best three-year-old entire horse, not under the value of £15 stg., and not above 15 hands high—7½ guineas.

To the tenant who shall have the best field of turnips, not under 3 acres, sown broad-cast after a summer fallow by 3 ploughings, and manured—6 guineas. And to him who shall have the best field not under 3 acres, in drills 2½ feet distance, horsehoed no less than 3 times, and the ground well manured—5 guineas.

To the tenant who shall have the best field of cabbages, not less than 2 acres, well prepared, planted at 4 feet distance 'twixt rows, and ij feet distance in the rows, which will take about 20,000 plants—to be three times horsehoed (which, at 4 lbs. a plant, will fatten in 9 weeks 16 head of cattle, which should sell at £3 advance, or ,£24 an acre)—shall have 6 guineas.

To the tenant who shall have the first 10 acres enclosure finished in terms of the articles—5 guineas.

To the tenant who shall have the greatest quantity and best quality of wheat upon enclosed ground, and after a thorough summer fallow of 5 furrows, sufficiently manured, and no less than 2 acres—2 guineas.

To the tenant who shall have the greatest quantity of clover and rye-grass hay from at least 2 acres, sown with barley or wheat, after summer fallow, of 5 furrows, and properly manured, and not less than 100 stones an acre, and upon enclosed ground—2 guineas.

Amongst the prize-winners in the two years following were Angus MacKillop, Alexander Thomson, Patrick Crawford, Robert Shaw, John Currie, and Alexander MacKinnon.

The Duke also obtained the services of an experienced fisherman, one Andrew Wilson, to teach the art of line fishing to any of the islanders who applied to him.


As on other parts of the coast, at this time a good deal of money was made by the natives out of smuggling—possibly more than was in many cases made out of their crofts. Mr. Murray says: "No notice of Arran at this time is possible without a reference to the making and smuggling of the famous 'Arran water.' In spite of gaugers, excise officers, and frequent seizures of malt and whisky, it was persevered in. As the Arran people are pre-eminently law-abiding, I can only account for this peculiarity on the supposition that the product of their stills was so very good that they could not find it in their hearts to believe that any law could make the making of it bad. I find a list of 32 stills in Arran in 1784, of which 23 were in the south end. In that year an Act of Parliament was passed for the licensing of small stills in the Highlands of Scotland, by which proprietors were made liable, along with their tenants, for the heavy fines imposed in case of the latter being convicted of illicit distillation. After the passing of the Act 26 stills were collected and carried to the Castle. In 1797, when illicit distillation would appear to have been at its height, a letter from Arran describes whisky as a perfect drug in the market—it being supposed there were no less than 50 stills at the south end of the island. At that time the whole annual produce of bere (from 500 to 2000 quarters), would appear to have been used in the Island for distilling. It suffered no decrease until, in the early years of the nineteenth century, the Duke of Hamilton threatened to dispossess any tenant convicted of illicit distillation, and from that time it appears to have decreased, and then disappeared entirely. In the malt kiln, the ruins of which are still standing in the grounds of the Whitehouse, there was a licensed still of the capacity of forty gallons, from which, from December 1793 to November 1794, whisky was sold to the amount of ,£500 at 2s. per Scotch pint, or 4s. per gallon." Every one, including the Duke and Mr. Burrell, was shocked at the smuggling, and for it the islanders were roundly abused by the ministers.


It must not be supposed from this, however, that Arran was a drunken island. Mr. Paterson, writing in 1830, says emphatically that it was not so, and Arran was prolific in preachers. The Rev. J. Kennedy Cameron says in his Memoir of the Rev. John Mac-Allister: "Smuggling was common in Arran at that time, and John MacAlister took his share in smuggling adventures like the rest. But a religious revival arose in Kilmorie, under the preaching of the parish minister, the Rev. Neil MacBride, and among the awakened people were Angus MacMillan, Finlay and Archibald Cook, Peter Davidson, Archibald Nicol, and John MacAlister—men who afterwards attained a great deal of religious influence throughout the Highlands."

And of course Arran was not the only place in which there was smuggling. It was carried on also in Kintyre and Galloway, and on every other coast of Scotland, including Mr. Burrell's own neighbourhood of the Forth! In the Essex district, to which reference has been made, it went on to an enormous extent, the houses of the wealthy, and even the very churches, being used as storehouses in which to hide spirits and other smuggled articles.

So that, though we can appreciate the valuable picture Mr. Burrell's diary gives us of the Arran of his day, we must remember that it was impossible for him to view things from the native's point of view. He supplies us with the facts, but we must ourselves put in the pinches of salt if we would get at the truth, without doing injustice to the men of our own hearths who lived through that time of revolution and bitter disillusionment in Arran and the Highlands generally.

For example, Mr. Burrell shows that husbandry was old-fashioned and poor, that there were no proper roads in the modern sense, that the bridges were of wood, the connection with the mainland irregular, letters being delivered haphazard as opportunity offered. That the boat fare to Ayr was 15s., that the boats were badly constructed and deficient in the matter of tackle, and that the whole of the island, save the park of Brodick Castle, was unenclosed.

But of course we must not assume that Arran was the only place without roads, or was necessarily behind very many, if not most, other districts of England and Scotland.

We are told that the first manure ever applied to land in Ayrshire was in 1758 and 1760. In Essex we read of a road having been ploughed with the object of levelling the ruts ; and that in 1768 " no road ever equalled that from Billericay to the King's Head at Tilbury. It is for nearly twelve miles so narrow that a mouse cannot pass by any carriage. . . . The ruts are of an incredible depth . . . and I must not forget the eternally meeting with chalk-waggons, themselves frequently stuck fast, till a collection of them are in the same situation, and twenty or thirty horses may be tacked to each to draw them out one by one."

Nor were the manners of the people all that could be desired, even in this enlightened county so near London. "The men were notoriously drunken, and the clergy ignorant, intemperate, and neglectful. It is said that the farmers who met at a certain Rochford hostelry used to set a hen on their arrival, and would continue their drinking bout until the chickens were hatched." [Rambles round Southend, by the present writer.]

Very different is the description of the Arran people given by Pennant and by Paterson, a later factor of the island, who says: "In moral character the people of Arran . . . are hospitable amongst themselves and to strangers. They are more confiding in each other than is altogether prudent. The money and other property of the more fortunate among them are freely lent to those in need, often when there is but a slight prospect of repayment. To their aged and infirm relations they are generally kind and dutiful, and scarcely any are ever allowed to beg their bread. . . . The people of Arran may justly be described as a religious community ... so far as recollected, there is not a single native who can with justice be called a drunkard."

It would have been well if those later writers upon Arran, like the Rev. Mr. Mac-Arthur, who talk of the introduction amongst its people of "the more practical and enlightened views of their lowland neighbours," had looked round to see what their lowland and English neighbours actually did before making their unkind reflections.


Mr. Burrell was a man of exceptional ability, and introduced many valuable agricultural reforms, but his hand was undoubtedly against the natives, and the inevitable result of the "lotting " of the island into large farms and the restriction of the hill grazings, was that wholesale evictions followed about the year 1812 to 1815. Again, about the year 1821, it is stated that 500 persons were sent away chiefly from the Sannox district. About half the passage money was paid by the Duke, who also obtained for them grants of land from Government amounting to 100 acres per family. Many of the people settled in lower Canada and Chaleur Bay. The Rev. Alexander MacBride states in his New Statistical Account of Kilmory, that many of the ejected families emigrated to North America but by far the greater number removed to Ayrshire towns.

But long prior to this, in 1770, five years after Mr. Burrell's advent, the people were leaving the old home which was undergoing so radical an alteration. In that year Burrell considers that it was dangerous to suspend the "Baron" Court for six months, "finding that so many people intending for America, to leave the place at the time without a judge would be leaving it in the power of these emigrants to rob both his grace and their neighbours."

The suggestion that Highlanders would at that time rob their own unfortunate kinsfolk, when themselves broken-hearted at the prospect of leaving all they knew and loved, seems wanton and without justification in fact or precedent. It is fortunately clear from his own arrangement made previously, to defer the sitting of the Baron Court for six months (which he thus wished to alter), that the men of Arran could not have been other than the quiet, law-abiding folk visitors find them to-day. Imagine us in 1910 deferring the sittings of a court for six months in a community of six thousand persons!

Of course bitter feelings and keen opposition were aroused by the revolutionary changes, just as in the years following the introduction of the black-faced sheep (from about 1790) and the consequent clearing of the Sannox district, we are told by another able and not unkindly factor of the estate, John Paterson, that the people "opposed the changes in every way short of physical resistance." It is made clear in the "Diary" that Burrell's stern and iconoclastic measures had roused the people to hatred and despair, and he complains of them plotting against the Duke.

Whatever else they accomplished, Mr. Burrell's efforts do not seem to have improved the comfort of the people, for we are told that about 1810 the condition of all save the few big tacksmen was miserable, that their houses were the meanest hovels, while they were clad in the coarsest garments of home manufacture.

It seems that, as happened with the introduction of purely commercial methods into England, the people were robbed of many privileges and perquisites which they had long regarded as their own. Their condition thus became worse than it was in 1766, when the changes commenced, though it is pretended by Mr. MacArthur and others that in the Highlands all good things followed the introduction of modern methods after the Forty-five, when strangers of Mr. Bunnell's type were set to work to "reform" the Highlands by reducing men and things therein to what Mr. Cunningham Graham would call their " lowest common multiple "—the principle of commercialism. In this work it is to be feared that many of the old ministers unconsciously lent a hand, by their efforts to beat the harmless and already well-cudgelled natives into "reform." For in their ardour they were unable to discriminate between those customs that lent gaiety and brightness to Highland life, and were in themselves a valuable possession which made for refinement, and those which were really harmful.


Pennant, an Englishman, writing in 1776, or just ten years after Mr. Burrell was sent to modernise Arran, says: "The men (of Arran) are strong, tall, and well made ... all speak the Erse language. Their diet is chiefly potatoes and meal, and during winter some dried mutton or goat is added to their hard fare. A deep dejection appears in general through the countenances of all: no time can be spared for amusement of any kind, the whole being given for procuring the means of paying their rent, of laying in their fuel, or getting in a scanty pittance of meat and clothing." Pennant, in 1771, again points out that the farms were "set by roup or auction, and advanced by unnatural force to above double the old rent." He says further that "the late rents were scarce £ 1200 a year; the expected rents ,£3000."

The actual rent-roll of the island in the year 1778 was roundly, according to Mr. Burrell's own figures, £5550, or with some additions £5880.

From this it will be seen how greatly his efforts had improved his employer's property, and had stimulated the rent-roll, while they had ruined and impoverished the lives of the people.

As a contrast to the description of the Arran islanders by Pennant above quoted, may be taken his description of the songs, the gaiety, the pleasant lore, and the colour generally by which life in the Highlands had been everywhere characterised. Describing the Island of Skye in the same year he says: "They sing in the same manner when they are cutting down the corn, when thirty or forty join in chorus, keeping time to the sound of a bagpipe, as the Grecian lasses were wont to do to that of a lyre during the vintage in the days of Homer. The subject of the songs at the Luaghadh, the Quern, and on this occasion, are sometimes love, sometimes panegyric, and often a rehearsal of the deeds of the ancient heroes." All these things, surely a splendid inheritance and worth preserving, surely a fine contrast to the silly songs of the music-halls of Glasgow and London, have gone, swept away in the desire to modernise and get more money out of life instead of gaiety, refinement, good feeling, character.

I have heard it stated that in Sannox the people were evicted because there had been so much intermarrying that there were great numbers of deaf and dumb persons in the villages! I have not, however, found any justification for this statement. There was in Arran generally, as there is in all country districts, a certain amount of intermarrying, but it does not appear to have been commoner than in any other part of Scotland, nor than in English rural districts, and it was certainly less common than in Norway and many other parts of the Continent. My judgment is based upon a list of the surnames then in Sannox, many of which were those of comparatively new-comers, and not of Arran origin. In view of the nearness of the island to Kintyre, Bute, the mainland of Argyll, and to Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, I doubt much whether the intermarrying has at any time been great enough to affect the health and physique of the people in the slightest degree.

The fact is, that the people stood in the way of huge farms, of the deer, the sheep, and of absolute ownership; as Mr. Somer-ville of Lochgilphead, quoted by MacKenzie, said of that time : "The watchword of all is exterminate, exterminate the native race. Through this monomania of landlords the cottar population is all but extinct, and the substantial yeomen is undergoing the same process of dissolution." To give an example, " On the west side of Loch Awe," MacKenzie says, "once forty-five families were maintained ; the place is now rented by a single sheep farmer."

Dr. Donald MacLeod, writing in 1863, said, "Is not a man better than sheep? They who would have shed their blood like water for Queen and country are in other lands, Highland still, but expatriated for ever."

If you want men to-day,
Pipe you never so loudly,
No lads come away
With their cheeks glowing proudly;
You may call on the deer,
On the grouse and grey wether,
But not on the lads
With the bonnet and feather:
When you called to the fight
Then they ever were ready,
They, light-hearted and gay,
They, the strong and the steady!


The Hamiltons are said by Mr. Andrew Lang not to have been on the side of the Stuarts at the time of the famous rising, but Mr. James MacBride, writer (of Glasgow), states that his great-grandfather, James MacGregor, was sent by the duke with a letter to Prince Charles. When MacGregor, whose papers seem to confirm this story, reached the prince, he was at Culloden, and seeing that the letter could now only bring certain trouble to his chief, he took it back to the duke, who was pleased with his shrewdness. Years after, when MacGregor was about to be ejected from his farm at Clachan, by the side of the old graveyard of Shisken, he wrote a letter to the duke, which is still, I understand, preserved, in which he appealed against the factor's action in ejecting him, and reminded him in guarded language of the service he had rendered years before. MacGregor, a fiery and outspoken old Highlander, and his brother, came from Bracklin, and were at one time high in the duke's favour.

Mr. MacBride, who tells the story, is the grand old man of Arran, being over ninety years of age. He is as handsome, as rosy cheeked, and as alert as a man of sixty, and still goes down to his business every morning at nine o'clock and discusses his clients' causes, or, in unoccupied moments, will crack over old Arran memories with much enthusiasm.

The writer of the New Statistical Account of Kilmory states that the Hon. Charles Boyle, son of Lord Kilmarnock, fled, like his ancestors had done in Bruce's time, to Arran, and lay concealed in the farm of Auchalef-fan till he found a chance of getting across to France. This, says the writer, was the Mr. Boyle who received Dr. Johnson at Slanes Castle many years later.

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