Photocopied letter from the factor Hugh MacDiarmid dated 16/11/1898.
Letter from the factor Hugh MacDiarmid dated 16/11/1898 to the Duke`s chamberlain about the Campbells in Balinoe who lost their stock and are in rent arrears, Hector Lamont of Kirkapol who is requesting assistance to put a roof on the barn he`s built and the reasons why the cash balance for October is not as large as it appears.
This week we have a letter, which shows that history is a more complicated place than we often think. At the wonderful Napier Commission play at A’ Bhuain it seemed simple. The Duke’s ‘Black Factor’ had ruthlessly evicted scores of poor islanders on behalf of the estate. It seemed a pretty clear case of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’.
This letter is from a Kirkapol farmer, the 73 year old Hugh Lamont. He was supporting a petition from a family in Balinoe who had fallen behind with their rent. The letter was addressed to Hugh McDiarmid, from Blair Athol in Perthshire, the Duke’s Ground Officer in Island House, and to James Wyllie, the Chamberlain at Inveraray Castle.
16 November 1898
I am in receipt of your letter with enclosure.
D and J Campbell, Balinoe
Return the Petition from these people to the Duke. I find that they have stated their case truthfully, and that their losses have been considerable through no fault of their own. These are good people who have always [been] loyal to the Duke, and especially during the troublous times through which we passed. In fact, they suffered a good deal of persecution at that time, and Donald, who was a Sheriff Officer [an ancient position, acting to carry out the orders of the Sheriff Court] for years was obliged to give it up because he could not get anyone at last to act as witness with him. The brothers, who are unmarried, and an unmarried sister who keeps house for them, are getting old and frail, and the fact of their having lost their stock has crushed them a good deal. These people would never think of asking the Duke for assistance if they did not need it and I have no hesitation in recommending them to the Duke’s consideration. They were £13 11s 2d in arrears to Whitsunday last.
Hector Lamont, Kirkapol
The Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 had been in place for twelve years when this letter was written. This Act gave security of tenure to crofters, but Part 1, Section 1 stated that, ‘A crofter shall not be removed except for breach of statutory conditions [the first of which was that] the crofter shall pay his rent at the terms at which it is due and payable’. The Campbells of Balinoe, who may not have been on the side of the crofters rebellion on Tiree a decade earlier, had run up considerable rent arrears and were in danger of being evicted. It may have been that their apparent social isolation did not help as they tried to keep their croft viable in old age.
We don’t yet know what happened in this case, but it shows us that history has more than two colours: black and white!
Dr John Holliday, 2016