As a result of the potato famine of 1846, the 8th Duke of Argyll devised a strategy to deal with the endemic poverty and overcrowding on Tiree: assisted emigration of cottars and the smallest tenants, prohibition of the subdivision of crofts, consolidation of small tenancies and the creation of small farms.
This led to a reduction in the numbers of small tenants, increased numbers of larger tenants and an increase in rental income. However, these policies also contributed to the continuing fall in the island’s population. An estimated 3670 people left Tiree between 1841 and 1881.
A second wave of emigration in 1880s confirmed the decline which was sustained throughout the 20th century with many islanders leaving to find work elsewhere.
In 1849, 364 men, women and children left Tiree to emigrate to Canada, 339 of them on board the ‘Charlotte’, the remainder on the ‘Barlow’. Nearly three-quarters of them were landless cottar families. Over half were aged under eighteen.
After three years of blighted potato crops, conditions on the island were appalling. The implementation of the ‘destitution test’ in the previous year meant that no-one was eligible for relief unless all their means were exhausted. All able-bodied persons were excluded.
Argyll Estate papers show a fall of 1795 in the population of Tiree between 1841 and 1849, of which some 950 can be accounted for through emigration. The rest presumably left to find employment on the mainland.
In 1850 a hundred and sixty-seven men, women and children from Tiree left for Canada on board the ‘Conrad’. Between 1847 and 1853, 1354 islanders were given assistance by the 8th Duke to emigrate. This was equivalent to 27% of the island’s population in 1841.
The majority of those who emigrated were small tenants and landless cottars. Argyll Estate papers recording Tiree rentals show that between 1847 and 1861 tenants paying under £5 rent were reduced by 78% while those paying over £10 were increased by 120%.
The total number of tenancies was reduced by a third while the income in rentals increased from £2,618 to £3,394. It is undoubtedly true that the island was left more prosperous but it was at the cost of considerable social suffering.
Payments to emigrants from Tiree to Canada in August 1849
Transcription of a list of payments made to emigrants to Canada in August 1849.
Courtesy of His Grace the Duke of Argyll
In 1847, the second year of the potato famine, the Central Relief Board assumed overall control of the relief efforts of the Free Church and the Destitution Committees of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The following year inspectors were appointed to ensure that all recipients passed the ‘destitution test’.
No-one was eligible for relief until all their means were exhausted. Able-bodied labourers were excluded as were those who had a legal claim to subsistence from the Parish. Those considered fit enough were expected to labour outdoors on public works, the rest to spin, knit or make nets.
To ensure that only the truly destitute would accept relief, the meal ration was cut to one pound a day and paid for by the whole labour of the recipient. Such harsh conditions and the promise of assisted passages from the Estate persuaded a further 364 to emigrate from Tiree in 1849.
Letter written in 1899 to Lady Victoria Campbell about Gott Bay pier
Transcription of a letter written in 1899 by an unknown correspondent to Lady Victoria Campbell about Gott Bay pier.
Courtesy of His Grace the Duke of Argyll
The new pier at Gott Bay was built between 1909 and 1913 after many years of political pressure by Lady Victoria Campbell, Lord Archibald Campbell, the island’s surgeon Dr Alexander Buchanan and many others.
As stated in the letter, the Duke of Argyll was concerned about the increasing estimated cost of successive surveys. In the end the pier cost over £20,000 to build; £16,000 were spent on construction and plant, over £2,000 on fees and around £2,000 on interest.
It was paid for by contributions of £14,000 from the Congested Districts Board and the Board of Agriculture, £2,250 from the Duke, and the public and the Tiree Association each raised £250. The balance of £3,417 was supplied by an interest-free loan from the Agricultural (Scotland) Fund.
This petition was sent in 1851 to Sir John MacNeill, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors for the Relief of the Poor in Scotland. Sir John was married to a daughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll, who appended the petition to his ‘Crofts and Farms in Hebrides’ addressed to the Napier Commission of 1883.
A hundred and thirty-six islanders signed the petition. Ninety-nine of them were landless cottars; the remainder were small tenants, of whom only four paid rent over £10 a year. They represented the class of islanders that the Duke was anxious to clear from his estate.
Around a third of the petitioners were given assistance to emigrate with their families on board the ‘Conrad’, ‘Birman’ and ‘Onyx’ in July 1851. Another twenty-seven families from the island left with them.
Documents and letter re the medical studies of Dr Hugh MacDougall, Vaul (1857-1929), at Glasgow University, 1876-9.
Photocopied pages from Glasgow Unversity Degree and Prize Lists between 1876 and 1880 showing entries for Hugh McDougall, from Glasgow University Album Session 1878-9 showing Hugh MacDougall with matriculation number 1782, and a letter dated 6/10/94 from Glasgow University Archives giving a summary of the classes Dr McDougall attended.