Friday, 14 September 2018


Donald E. Meek


The crofting township of Caolas, on the eastern edge of Tiree beside Gunna Sound, can be described as an arc of crofts and croft houses, now supplemented by numerous non-crofting homes, some of them only seasonally occupied, running round from Harbour and Milton in the south, to Mìodar and Urbhaig in the north.  Seen from Croish, on the highest contour on the main road before descending into Caolas, the neat arrangement of crofts and houses is striking, and, in good weather, eye-catching, with Mull, Coll and the northwest mainland of Scotland on the further horizon.   The layout of the township breathes an air of permanence, and it is easy to assume that it was ‘always like that’.  In fact, crofting in Caolas, as formally laid out, began around 1804, and has been in existence for only some two hundred years.  Before 1804, the township was very different, as it was arranged and operated according to the principles of run-rig settlement and cultivation.   This article will attempt to explain how the former arrangement operated, as well as the processes by which the township evolved into one in which the dominant agricultural unit was the croft.

The township of Caolas, Tiree, as viewed from 'Croish', and looking directly eastwards to Gunna and Coll
in the fine summer of 1976. 
The Campbells of Argyll were able to acquire Tiree through debt-purchase from the MacLeans of Duart, when the island was adjudged to the 8th Earl of Argyll in 1659.  As their interest in Tiree is, however, evident from the early seventeenth century, the records preserved in Inveraray relating to the island and its agricultural development are remarkably plentiful.  These form part of ‘The Argyll Papers’.  The Campbells were nothing if not meticulous in assessing the productivity of the island, and in formulating and implementing new policies of land use, mainly with an eye to increasing their own returns, particularly after 1760.   Although few estates can offer such comprehensive and relevant archives, especially with regard to a particular island, these have been relatively little utilised or exploited beyond the foundational studies of Eric Cregeen.  Cregeen’s fine editing of the Argyll Estate Instructions: Mull, Morvern, Tiree, 1771-1805, his splendid overview of ‘The Creation of the Crofting Townships of Tiree’, and his more detailed local assessments of social change at the west end of Tiree are extremely important, but no studies have been made of the processes and stages whereby individual island townships were transformed from run-rig farms to crofting communities.  The east end of Tiree has scarcely been touched in Cregeen’s papers.  This study of Caolas will be the first of its kind for the island, and it is hoped that it will help to redress more than one balance, as well as to encourage further studies of a similar type.
Caolas in the MacLean era: the 1674 rental
The Campbells did not gain an easy or immediate entry to Tiree after 1659.  Protracted resistance was offered by the MacLeans, and it was not until an agreement was reached in Moy in Mull in September 1674 that the Campbells acquired the rents of Tiree.  The rental for the Duart Estate in that year survives, and the ‘Rental for Tirie’ forms part of that (Argyll and Bute Council Archives, FH216-4).  Individual farms and their rentals are listed, and their ‘possessors’ are noted in most, though not all, instances. Lands held in wadset are also noted.  The ‘possessors’ include the MacLean tacksmen up to that point, where farms are held in tack, but in several instances farms are said to be ‘possesst by tenants’.  No such detail is given for Caolas, but it seems likely that it was among the farms ‘possesst by tenants’. This appears to have been the case in a rental for 1675 (summarised by Dodgshon, ‘Highland Touns’, p. 117), where three tenants hold one mail-land each, four tenants hold two mail-lands each, one tenant holds three mail-lands, another four, and another six (24 mail-lands in total), while two tenants, Hector McAllen v[ic] Charles and John McConnill each hold twelve mail-lands each.   The two last-mentioned tenants are thus large single-tenant farmers.   

The rental for ‘Keyles’, paid in money, amounted to £113.6.8, making it only one of four Tiree farms which paid over £100, the others being ‘Hodgh, possesst be Torloisk’ (£133.6.8), ‘Ballewilling, possesst be tenants’ (£118.6.8), and ‘Kennaway’ (£139.13.4).  In addition, ‘Keyles’ paid ‘Of victual 4 bolls’.  By way of comparison, the neighbouring farm of ‘Salim’ paid only £56.0.0, while ‘Kirkapoill, possesst be Lauchlan M’Learliche’, paid only £40.00.  The impression thus given is that Caolas was a productive and prosperous farm by the standards of the time.

Caolas is situated at the east end of Tiree, looking across the Sound of Gunna to Gunna and Coll. 

Tenurial reorganisation in 1737 and the emergence of the Caolas township

In 1737, the estates held by the 2nd Duke of Argyll were subjected to a thorough and far-reaching reorganisation, masterminded by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Lord President of the Court of Session, and principal manager of the Duke’s business affairs since 1716, as described by Eric R. Cregeen in his foundationally important paper, ‘The Tacksmen and their Successors: A Study of the Tenurial Reorganisation in Mull, Morvern and Tiree in the Early Eighteenth Century’.   This restructuring, as it would be called today, was aimed at increasing the economic viability of the estate by removing the traditional middlemen of the old social order, namely the ‘great tacksmen’, in favour of less grand and more industrious ‘lesser tacksmen’.   According to Cregeen (p. 51), Forbes of Culloden was able to report in 1737
‘that he had removed these [‘great’] tacksmen and put in their place some hundred tenants, large and small, to hold their farms directly from the Duke under written leases and on modern conditions’.
Prior to 1737, Tiree was (pp. 57-58, 90)

‘set in tack to Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglass, who was represented by three important sub-tacksmen, Campbell of Glenmacrie, Campbell of Barnacarry, and Alexander Maclachlan...Whether the tacksman resided or not (and only in Mull was residence customary) he sublet most of his tack-land.  The greater part of it, or even the whole, was rented to a fairly small number of gentlemen who were his kinsmen or friends…The remainder of the tack-lands was sub-let to commoners who had a share in a jointly-held farm…

‘Of the thirty-six farms in Tiree (some of which were normally combined), the Lord President had, it seems, successfully set twenty-five in tack in 1737.  His negotiations for the letting of the remaining eleven had proved abortive…and were simply let year by year to small tenants…’

The reorganisation of 1737 was, however, far from successful, as the 1740s brought severe challenges, including high rents and mortality of cattle.  Several ‘new’ tacksmen got into difficulties.  Among these was Hector MacLean of Gott and Vuill, who lost his tack, but his son and successor, Alexander MacLean of Gott, seems to have recovered the holding and his predecessor’s status, to the extent that he was able to lease the tack of the ‘South quarter’ of Caolas by 1762 or thereabouts (see Appendix F).

Tiree rentals from the 1740s give us our first glimpse of ‘Kelis’ as part of the new order.  The rental of 1743 (Argyll & Bute Council Archives, Lochgilphead, FH 208) provides the following list of joint tenants in the township:

Malcolm McArthur

John McArthur

Donald McDonald & his mother

Hugh McArthur

John Roy McKinnon

Donald McKinnon

Widow McDonald

Neill McPhaden

John McDonald

Finlay McLean

Dougald McDonald

Lachlan McDonald

Malcolm McDonald jun

Neill McLean

Angus Lamont

Neill McDonald

Donald McPhaden

Donald Morrison

Donald McLean

Donald Lamont

It seems likely that this transcription has not included the details of land-holding and payment, which one would normally expect to find in a rental.  The rental of Caolas for 1747 is available in the ‘Rental of Tyrie & Two Ends of Coll’ for that year (An Iodhlann, 2005.74.1), and it provides these essential details (see Appendix A, below).  The rental covers the 48 mail-lands of the whole Caolas farm, without a separate entry for Àird Deas.  In the 1747 rental, the names of John MacArthur, Widow McDonald, John McDonald, Finlay McLean, Donald McLean, and Donald Lamont are absent, but those of Malcolm Lamont and Hector McLean are recorded, presumably as successors to Donald Lamont and Finlay McLean respectively.
The joint-tenancy farm of Caolas appears to have survived the turbulence of the 1740s.  Twenty-five years later, in 1768-69, its physical outlines, main divisions, and fields, apparently cultivated in a form of run-rig, were recorded on a very fine map of Tiree produced by James Turnbull.

Caolas, viewed from Gunna Sound.  Photo: John Randall

Run-rig farming
Run-rig was used throughout Scotland in the eighteenth century and earlier, and was also known in other countries under slightly different names. In general terms, it consisted of farming units which were divided into ‘infield’ (or ‘inbye’) and ‘outfield’ (or ‘outbye’), though it cannot be too strongly emphasised that ‘run-rig’ is principally a mode of cultivation, with different layouts of the ‘rigs’.  The designations ‘infield’ and ‘outfield’ were not necessarily known or used in all areas, and seldom, if ever, in Caolas, Tiree.  They were essentially terms applied by Lowland surveyors like James Turnbull, when he and his team produced the Tiree map of 1768, and Turnbull was aware that they were not used in Tiree.

Cultivation was by means of raised strips (or beds), with the soil turned inwards, so that the strip looked like a ridge.   The strips could vary in size depending on the nature of the soil, and the extent of the area available for cultivation.  On small rocky holdings, where arable soil was shallow and wet, and the terrain generally rough, small strips called ‘lazy beds’ (feannagan in Gaelic) were common.  These would be turned by a spade or foot-plough like the famous cas-chrom (‘crooked leg’) of the Highlands and Islands.  On each side of a strip or rig were ‘runs’, or drains, which removed excess water from the rigs. The soil from the drain was laid on the rig, thus supplementing the height and depth of the rig.  In contexts where the arable land was more extensive and less rocky, the mode of cultivation was generally called ‘ridge and furrow’, with much broader and longer strips, which were usually turned by means of a plough and team.  In favourable sunlight, often in the evening, it is still fairly easy to identify the residual outlines of rigs and their runs, lying in parallel with one another.  On James Turnbull’s ‘plan’ of Tiree in 1768, the rigs are shown as parallel-line hatchings, set within distinctive fields.  The groups of rigs in different fields are commonly set in different directions from one another, quite probably depending on the nature of the field and the desired direction of water flow.  Some are aligned east-west, while others run north-south, and to and from other points of the compass.

Outlines of 'feannagan' / lazy-beds are clearly visible in evening light
at Milton, Caolas.

To ensure that each tenant was given a fair share of the different kinds of land, in some areas rigs would be reassigned by lot to tenants every year. Apparently, it was common practice for a third of the rigs to be reallocated each year, or all of the rigs every three years (according to the usual explanation of a system known as ‘periodic run-rig’). Although this might seem to be a sensible way to operate, it meant that there was little incentive for a tenant to develop his rigs, as they would be reassigned regularly.   The rigs themselves were inefficient, partly because of the runs, which occupied a considerable proportion of land which might otherwise be used for crop production.  Lack of fences also meant that animals were prone to wander on to cultivated strips, unless the herds (of which there were usually several in the township) were particularly vigiliant.  It was such inherent inefficiency, and accompanying low returns, which caused the Argyll Estates to consider other, more productive, forms of land tenure after 1760.   The Estate Factors in Tiree were generally very disparaging of the ‘promiscuous’ run-rig system and its abuses, especially sub-division. 
The Estate Factors, or Chamberlains, operating according to instructions from the Duke, and sometimes employing ground-officers, were the controllers of land-holding in Caolas, as in other townships in Tiree.  There is no evidence known to the present writer that anything approaching a local ‘court’ existed in Caolas to regulate the township’s affairs.   There may well have been the equivalent of a present-day grazing committee, consisting of the lease-holders of the joint-tenancy tack, to keep a watchful eye on souming and other matters of land allocation and use.  Good corporate leadership evidently existed when the transition to crofting tenure was negotiated (see below), and we may assume that such leadership kept the township on course in the earlier run-rig era.  Doubtless too, day-to-day tasks and shared responsibilities would have been discussed and assigned regularly by the principal tenants.  However, the model of township ‘government’ described by writers such as Robert Dodgshon for fermtouns on the mainland seems to be largely irrelevant to Caolas.

This leads to other questions about the nature of run-rig holdings, not only in Tiree, but also more widely in the Highlands and Islands.  Did all townships have the same form of ‘local government’?   Did run-rig always operate in terms of the generally-accepted ‘reallocation theory’?  Was it a universal ‘system’, applied identically in all places?  Was it a ‘system’ at all, as distinct from what are usually termed ‘field-systems’?   These are questions for the specialist, rather than the present writer, whose main aim is to provide an overview of the development of a crofting township.  However, as can be seen in the 1747 rental for Caolas (see Appendix A), the total area of rigs assigned to a tenant was measured in ‘mail lands’ (see further ‘Auditing the township’, below), and this was the general practice in Tiree.   Turnbull’s map demonstrates that the fields of rigs were indeed large, and we should not think of run-rig in this particular context as a patchwork of small plots, with which tenants played an agricultural version of ‘musical chairs’.  Rather, it seems more probable that Caolas tenants were allocated large infields, which would have allowed them to rotate their rigs within each field, without too frequent reallocation of these fields, in a manner closer to ‘fixed run-rig’ than to ‘periodic run-rig’.  It is also quite possible that the infields/outfields corresponded to what later became the main fields of particular crofts, and that some of the ‘rig fields’ were thus retained within, and to some extent determined the shape of, crofting apportionments. 

The two ‘systems’  – run-rig and crofting – were by no means mutually exclusive in any case, though the way in which they are presented by some historians might suggest this.  When Frank Fraser Darling published his monumental West Highland Survey in 1955, he and his co-authors noted that two crofts were still operated in full run-rig, and that ‘mixed systems’ were found in ‘23 townships in the Outer Hebrides with intermediate run-rig systems, i.e. some machair is broken every three years and the strips are ballotted’ (p. 208).  What crofting did pre-eminently was to assign a fixed portion of inbye land to each tenant, with very clear boundaries and a house on each holding, while retaining the concept of sharing the outbye in common grazing (for example).

Kelis/Caolas on James Turnbulls map

Turnbull's depiction of Kelis shows infields in yellow hatching, and outfields in dark hatching,
indicative of ploughing of both.  The brownish areas towards the shore on the east are sand-blow

James Turnbull’s map of 1768, which was itself part of a survey of the island’s productivity prior to possible tenurial reorganisation, provides not only an overview of the orientation of the Caolas rigs, but also a fine picture of the tenancies (farms).  Essentially, two tenancies (farms) occupied what would probably have been a single ‘tack’ prior to earlier estate reforms which removed the ‘great tacksmen’ within the pyramidical social structure.  What Turnbull calls ‘Kelis,Viz. three-quarters of it’, was a common- or joint-tenancy farm, with 154 Scots acres of infield and 102 Scots acres of outfield.  It was leased in tack directly from the Duke of Argyll for successive periods of nineteen years to the principal tenants, who were thus ‘tacksmen’ in terms of their lease. Their lease was essentially the same in style and formula as that of the single tenant of the ‘South quarter of Kelis’, whom we would regard more readily as a ‘proper’ tacksman.  Nevertheless, they would have had none of the prestige or advantages possessed by the latter, and in status they were never more than small tenants.


The ‘Tack To The Tenants of Kelis’, beginning at Whitsun 1781 and set until 1800, granted ‘All and haill thirty six mail Land of the Land of Kelis’ to ‘Donald McDonald Senr., John McLean, James McDonald, Archd McLean, Charles McPhaden, Lachlan McPhaden, Donald McDonald Jnr., John McArthur, John McDonald, Allan McLean, Neil McDonald, Don[al]d McArthur, John McPhaill, John McDonald, present possessors of the Lands underwritten…’  The ‘Tackduty’ (rent) was £50 St. per annum, ‘as also to give and perform days service of one man and a horse yearly at such work as the said Duke or his Chamberlain shall direct within the said Island.’  Further terms and conditions were laid down (see Appendix E (1)). 

The joint-tenancy farm of Caolas lay directly north of the boundary of Àird Deas (i.e. the southern boundary of what is now the ‘Coll View’ holding) and extended as far as Urbhaig in the north and Salum and Ruaig in the west.  The infields lay immediately round the township, to the east and south-west, while the outfields lay to the north-west and northwards towards Urbhaig. The outfields belonged to the category of land classified as ‘bad arable’by Turnbull in his key to the Tiree map. In practice, the distinction between outfield and infield was doubtless often blurred, as most areas of outfield were cultivated in rigs, as Turnbull shows.  The difference was apparently one of land quality.  Turnbull delineates significant areas of sand-blow on the eastern edges of the infields. He also distinguishes pasture land and grazings, providing different types of grazing for cattle. The grazings were not divided into rigs, but each tenant would be given an appropriate share of the grazing depending on his ‘souming’ (feeding required for a particular number of cattle and other animals for a year). Again, these fields are clearly visible on Turnbull’s map by means of darker shading, and also some ‘dotting’ or blocking to indicate rough terrain.  A significant proportion of the rough grazing identified by Turnbull has survived as the common grazing or sliabh of Caolas, used by the tenants of present-day crofts 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6, and lying in the Milton area to the east of Dùn Mòr.  

The tenants lived in the ‘baile’ (‘village’ or township), called ‘Kelis Village’ by Turnbull in his commentary, and drawn very precisely on his map.   It was built on the portion of the present-day ‘Coll View’ holding (croft No. 5) directly below the ‘Croish’ croft, on the west side of the Milton road, and probably extended eastwards as far as ‘Coll View’.  The present-day main road from Ruaig into Caolas forms (roughly) the northern boundary of the ‘baile’.  The township occupied a splendid location.  It was mainly on a southward-facing slope, enjoying good sunshine and excellent natural drainage.  It drained southwards into the ‘Loch Fadd’ (i.e. Loch Fada, ‘Long Loch’), which began roughly on the southern boundary of the ‘Coll View’ croft (with ‘Seaview’), and followed the route of the Milton road as far as the cattle-grid.  The tail of the ‘Loch Fada’ can still be seen as a boggy marsh to the immediate south-east of the cattle-grid. 

Although it is not marked on Turnbull’s map, the township evidently had its own graveyard.  It was very well remembered in the twentieth-century oral tradition of Caolas, which affirmed that it was located at the west end of the township in what became the stackyard of the ‘Croish’ croft, immediately west of its present-day outhouses.  An older ecclesiastical purpose for the site is reflected in the name ‘Croish’ itself, from Gaelic ‘crois’, meaning ‘cross’, which is said to have stood on the north side of the main road.  Hugh MacFadyen, a cottar on the ‘Coll View’ croft, informed the present writer that the last person to be buried there was said to have been an aunt (possibly grand-aunt) of Lachlan MacDonald, Lachainn mac Ruairidh, who lived near Dun Beag.   Such evidence, which cannot yet be confirmed in any written records, might suggest that the graveyard was deconsecrated when the crofts were created.  At least one sculptured stone, bearing a rough cross in relief and perhaps associated with this site, is now preserved in the dyke close to the junction of the Milton road and the main road (Fisher, Early Medieval Sculpture, p. 123, No. 264).   

Bright evening sunlight, shining over Croish, illumines the field, now part
 of the 'Coll View' holding, where the former township of Caolas once stood.
Kelis Mains

The other tenancy noted by Turnbull was ‘Kelis, Viz. one quarter’, referred to in the 1776 list of Tiree inhabitants as the ‘South quarter of Kelis.  Turnbull called this ‘KELIS Viz. The East Quarter’ in his commentary, and it appears as the ‘East quarter’ in other maps, with 55 acres of infield, and 38 acres of outfield.  The area evidently had an earlier Gaelic name representing a land measurement.  In the lease of the ‘South quarter of Kelis’ to Archibald Campbell, beginning in 1782 (‘Tack to Archibald Campbell’), it is referred to as ‘All and haill that twelve maill Land or fourth part of the Lands of Kelis called Kerralonamair’, i.e. ‘Ceathramh Lònamair’, meaning ‘Quarter of Lònamair’.  Lònamair is an inlet to the north of Port Bàn.  It was also known as ‘Ardess’, i.e. Àird Deas, which had superseded all the other names by the early nineteenth century.   As Turnbull notes in his commentary (see Appendix B), the southern extremity of the holding lay at Loch an Air, immediately to the east of the present-day Milton houses, and, as his map shows, its western boundary went through the middle of the Loch Fada, approximately on the line of the road to Milton.  It also had a couple of ‘pendicles’ within the lands of the Kelis/Caolis tenant township, and delineated in red on Turnbull’s map (Nos 273, 274), though it is not yet clear why this came about.

On his ‘plan’, Turnbull depicted a ‘baile’ which he called ‘Kelis Mains’. ‘Kelis Mains’ does not appear as an entity separate from Caolas in the Tiree rentals of 1743 and 1747, nor do any of the other names for the area, and it therefore seems likely that the ‘South quarter’ was turned into a single-tenant farm between 1747 and 1768. The name ‘Kelis Mains’ also suggests that the farm may have been relatively new.  In using the term ‘Mains’ to designate the principal ‘home’ area with its block of farm buildings, Turnbull seems to have been applying a Lowland model, and the name is not otherwise known beyond his map.  

As Turnbull records in his commentary in 1768, and as the lease to Campbell confirms, the ‘South quarter of Kelis’ was held in tack in 1768 by ‘Alexander MacLean in Gott’, son of Hector MacLean, formerly tacksman of Gott and Vuill (an area, ‘Bhaoill’, to the north of Loch a’ Riadhain, not to be confused with Vaul).  Àird Deas was leased again in 1782 for the standard nineteen years to a certain Archibald Campbell, and the earlier nineteen-year lease to MacLean would have begun about 1762/3. Although the identity of Alexander MacLean is clear, that of Archibald Campbell is still uncertain.  He is described as ‘drover in Tiry’ in the the 1782 tack (see Appendix E (2)), and he may have been associated with the Campbells of Fracadale (see Appendix D).

As the rental of ‘Kelis’ for 1747 makes no mention of ‘Ardess’ or ‘Kelis Mains’ or any large single tenant, but it appears as ‘Kelis Mains’ on Turnbull’s map of 1768, 1762 is probably a reasonable starting date for the first tack of ‘Ardess’.  The resetting of ‘Ardess’ in tack in 1803 (see further ‘Reshaping the township’ below) strengthens this deduction.  If we assume that it was held in tack previously for nineteen years, that takes us back to 1784.  If, on the same assumption, we go back nineteen years from 1784, that takes us to approximately 1765.  The tack was created, presumably, by consolidating the rig-fields of that part of ‘Kelis’ as a single unit of twelve mail-lands, though it is not clear why this was deemed necessary. The Gaelic name ‘Ceathramh Lònamair’ may, however, suggest that its principal advantage was access to the inlet and harbour of Lònamair, from which cattle could have been conveyed by boat to and from Coll, and also via Mull to Lowland markets.    Its lease to Archibald Campbell, a drover, in 1782 may reinforce this suggestion.  It would have been principally a cattle-rearing or cattle-holding farm. 

According to Eric Cregeen (‘Creation of the Crofting Townships’), MacLean, who resided on his Gott tack, was probably among those closest in style to the patriarchal tacksman of the old regime, though of significantly lower status (see Appendix F). Sub-tenants (called ‘hynds’, i.e. farm labourers or ploughmen, in the 1776 list) on MacLean’s farm would have made their own arrangements with the tacksman with regard to payment in terms of rigs or shares of the crops.  The farm of Ruaig just over the western boundary of Caolas, was operated by sub-tenants, or ‘mailers’, as they were usually known, and held in tack by Colin Campbell of Calve and Archibald Campbell of Treshnish, non-resident tacksmen of the Campbell ascendancy.  See Appendix D.

Map based on a tracing (1863) of Turnbull by James Fergusson,
with several mistranscriptions of place-names,
and the 'South Quarter' noted as the 'East Quarter'
Although tenants of various kinds usually lived in the ‘baile’, it is by no means unlikely that other little hamlets existed on the outer edges of the farms.  These would be occupied by cottars, who sometimes worked on the farms, and received shares of crops, but were occasionally weavers or boatmen, though few such occupations are noted in the 1776 list.  Cottars continued as a class into the new era of crofting, as did other aspects of the run-rig system, in spite of its general unpopularity in the eyes of the Duke and his Factors. 

Townships, work and people

The township of the joint-tenant farm known as the ‘three-quarters of Caolas’ appears to have been a very substantial settlement.  On his 1768 map, Turnbull, whose eye for agricultural detail was remarkable, depicts a township of some 40 buildings, with four further buildings to the west near Croish.  The buildings of the main settlement would have consisted of thatched dwelling-houses and barns, as described by Eric Cregeen with reference to the standard pattern in Tiree (‘The Creation of the Crofting Townships’):

‘The townships consisted in 1768 of typically between ten and twenty families, living in close proximity in a group of thatched houses.  Their walls were composed of boulders outside and inside, with a packing of sand or earth between, and doors and windows were deeply recessed.  Bent grass (muran) from the machair was used to thatch the poorer houses, and straw for the tenants’.  At this date it is certain the floor would be of clay and that the hearth was in the centre of the living room and had no chimney.  The tenants’ houses would be somewhat bigger than those of the cottars, and would be distinguished by having barns nearby for threshing the corn and keeping implements, and stackyards, flimsily enclosed against straying animals, with stacks of barley and oats.  Barley was pulled, not cut by the sickle, and large mounds of earth gathered in the stackyards where the barley had been.  As cattle were kept out-of-doors, there would be no byre, but plenty of geese, ducks and hens would be around and in the houses.’

Turnbull's representation of the township of Kelis on his 1768 map.  The area
of land delineated in red and designated as No. 274 belonged to Kelis Mains.

The list of its inhabitants in 1776 enumerates 16 tenant families in the main township of Caolas, together with 7 cottar families, who would usually undertake work for the tenants, and it is thus among the larger townships described by Cregeen.  If we assume that each tenant had a house and barn, that would account for 32 buildings, and, if we assume that each cottar family had a house and no barn, that would add another 7 buildings to the township. We thus reach an estimate of 39 buildings –  which brings us close to the 40 or so apparently depicted on the Turnbull map.

By contrast, ‘Kelis Mains’, the centre of the ‘South quarter of Kelis’, was a fairly small settlement of only ten houses, according to Turnbull’s depiction. As a tack set to MacLean of Gott from 1762, and then to Archibald Campbell from 1782, it would require only a community of farm-workers to maintain it.   The 1776 list of the inhabitants of Caolas records three families of ‘hynds’ in the ‘South quarter’ – those of Donald McKinnon (with his wife, Mary McLean, and five children, plus Mar(i)on McPhaden), Alexander McKinnon (with his wife, Effie McDonald, and possibly a son and grandson), and Dugall McPhaden (with his wife, Flory McNiell, and three children).  It also notes a sole cottar, Kathrine McDonald.  The distinction between a ‘hynd’ and a ‘cottar’ is not always clear-cut, but it may imply that the ‘cottar’ had a looser relationship to the farm than the ‘hynd’, who was committed to the maintenance of the farm.  Again, the evidence given by Turnbull is broadly consistent with that of the 1776 list.   A reasonable estimate for ‘Kelis Mains’ on the basis of the list might include four or five dwelling-houses, plus one for the tacksman (if he was actually resident there at any time, given that he had other farms in Tiree), and perhaps three or four barns for implements and the threshing of corn.
Kelis Mains as depicted on Turnbull's 1768 map.
In his general description of Tiree townships (above), Eric Cregeen offers a neat picture of the agricultural concerns of the tenants of the main Caolas township.  The Argyll Estate Instructions (AEI, for short) provide further insights into their labours.  In 1785-86 (AEI, p. 6), it is reported by Donald Campbell, Factor, that ‘the tenants of Salum & Kelis have built 40 roods of stone dyke; the tenants of Kelis & Archd Campbell Ardess [the ‘South quarter’ of Caolas] have built 40 roods of dyke faced with stone…’  The dykes in question would have been the march dykes between the farms, and their building (and repair) would have been incorporated in the tenants’ leases as ‘burdens’.  In the later crofting era, the building of such dykes was known in Gaelic as ‘mòrlannachd’, or ‘service of labour’ to the estate (the Gaelic word coming from English ‘bordland’, the land that supplied food for the lord’s ‘bord’ or ‘table’).  

Aird Deas and Mullach nan Geall, looking east from Dun Mor.
'Kelis Mains' would have been on the slope below the white house.

In August 1787, the Factor reports (AEI, p. 12) that he ‘gave [i.e. granted] an order to John MacArthur and Donald MacDonald &ca, tenants in Kelis, for 21 couples with rubs and kabbers, 6 car-poles and 4 ploughs.’  This indicates considerable activity in the main township.  Houses are evidently being reroofed with couples, ‘rubs’, i.e. ribs to go across the couples to carry the sloping roof, and ‘kabbers’, from Gaelic ‘cabar’, meaning, among other things, a large piece of wood, but in this case roof-timber(s). In addition, ‘car-poles’, used as ‘skids’ for horse-drawn ‘cars’ which sat on top, are required, and, this, together with the request for ploughs, suggests that agricultural activity is likewise considerable, as if there has been some new surge of initiative or enterprise.  This evidently continued, as, on 24 June 1789, the Duke supplied from his woods in Lochsunart to John McLean, John McDonald, and Charles McPhaden in ‘Kelis’ no less than 8 car-poles, 20 couples, 20 pantrees (synonymous with ‘rubs’), 400 kebbers (sic), and 3 ploughs (AEI, p. 17).

The picture of relative, and increasing, prosperity thus given is borne out by the average value of items sold by the tenants of Caolas in the two years before November 1794 (AEI, p. 37).  These in summary are:

30 tons of kelp at £3.15 per ton…..£112.10.0

24 bolls barley at 17/- per boll……£  20.08.0

20 head of cattle at £1.10……….....£  26.00.0


The rent for the farm (presumably the ‘three-quarters’ of Caolas) was £66.  The lease of the joint-tenancy tack was due to expire in 1800.

The ‘Gross Sales’ from Caolas for 1792-94 exceeded those of all other farms in Tiree, including that owned by the Factor.  Most of the revenue came from the sale of kelp, which was substantially higher for Caolas than for any of the other island farms, and would be of growing significance to the entire island of Tiree in the years ahead.  We should note, therefore, that there was already (before the arrival of crofting) something of a kelping ‘boom’ for the Caolas tenants, and that they were also doing relatively well with their sales of cattle.  They must have faced the new century with some degree of optimism.   

In addition to their willingness to engage in communal labour on such matters as march dykes, Caolas tenants, like those of other island townships, were required to serve in the local militias.  This ‘calling up’ was known as ‘balloting’, though it is not clear how the procedure operated.   A list of tenants of Tiree and Coll eligible for ‘balloting’ has survived from 1799 (Argyll & Bute Council Archives, FH58-2), and the ‘residenters’ of Caolas noted as ‘liable’ are as follows:

Donald McDonald

Lachlan McDonald Senior

Charles McLean

Lachlan McDonald Junior

Roderick McDonald – ‘Taylor’

Auditing the township: Caolas in 1776

The succession of John, the 5th Duke of Argyll, in 1770 ushered in a new era of evaluation and assessment for the estate as a whole.  In Tiree, Duke John’s more obviously interventionist and broadly constructive policy of reform is evident in the creation of the village of Scarinish in 1773, incorporating a granary and a church.  Such projects increased the island’s links with the mainland, with the importing of Easdale slates, for example, by Tiree boatmen.  Attempts were made to establish a fishing community at Scarinish over the next decade, and the village grew rapidly, with a combination of villagers who held small plots of land, cottars and fishermen.  By 1791 a pier had been built there.  The development of kelping also played a significant part in initiating transport by sea to and from the island, mainly for the conveyance of kelp.

In tenurial matters, reform was also very much on the agenda.  In particular, a strategy sometimes called ‘the four mail-land policy’ was introduced.  A ‘mail-land’ was a unit for rent (màl, in Gaelic, corresponding to ‘mail’), offering, as Cregeen observes, three ‘soums’, that is, sufficient pasture for three cows or horses or their equivalent in sheep.  The island, Cregeen deduces, was probably divided formerly into ‘twenty large farms, each composed of 48 mail-lands or one “tirling” [from Gaelic ‘tìr-unga’, ‘ounce-land’] (‘Creation of Crofting Townships’).  Caolas, in total and at an earlier stage, would thus have been a farm of 48 mail-lands.  The creation of the tack of the ‘South Quarter of Caolas’ would have meant that the land available to the common tenants of the remaining three quarters would have been 36 mail-lands.  The general policy introduced by Duke John and his advisers was that no tenant should have less than four mail-lands in his holding, though this proved difficult to achieve in practice.

With reorganisation in mind, the island was ‘audited’ to enumerate those tenants with the requisite amount of stock to occupy four mail-lands.  This was the reason for compiling the list of the inhabitants of Tiree in 1776, and also a further list of the inhabitants of the Argyll Estate in 1779 (which we will consider in the next section).  Notes added to the names of tenants and their families indicated how much stock they had, and the number of mail-lands which they should be given.  Sometimes further, equally fascinating, comments are offered on their suitability as individuals and their service in the army, usually in Fencible Regiments, though no such comments are made in the case of Caolas tenants.

The field (with animals) in the upper half of this aerial view is the location of the old 'baile' of Caolas.
The house on the left, on higher ground, is 'Sea View', and 'Coll View' is the large white house on the right.
Across the main road, on the other side of the boundary dyke, is 'Caolis House'.

Eleven tenants of Caolas who had stock, and who were therefore worthy of consideration as tenants within the proposed reorganistion, appear on the 1776 list, with enumeration of their family members (not given here):

John McLean Senr. – ‘can occupy 4 maile land, he has 5 cows & 4 horses’

John McLean – ‘can occupy 4 maile land, he has 5 cows & 5 horses’

Donald McDonald – ‘can occupy 3 maile land, he has 4 cows & 4 horses’

Donald McPhaden – ‘can occupy 4 maile land, he has 5 cows & 5 horses’

John McArthur – ‘can occupy 4 maile land, he has 6 cows & 5 horses’

Donald McDonald – ‘can occupy 3 maile land, [he has] 4 cows & 3 horses’

James McDonald – ‘can occupy 4 maile land, he has 4 cows & 5 horses’

John McKinnon – ‘can occupy 2 maile land, he has 2 cows & 3 horses’

John McCannell – ‘can occupy 3 maile land, he has 4 cows & 3 horses’

Duncan McCannell – ‘Do.’

John McKinnon – ‘can occupy 3 maile land’


Five tenants were listed as ‘having no stock’:

John McDonald [the present writer’s great-great-great grandfather]

Neil McLean

John McPhaile

Donald McDonald

Charles McDonald

The proposed allocation of land to the stock-holding tenants thus comes to 37 mail-lands, only one mail-land more than the 36 available within the ‘three quarters of Caolas’.  As can be seen from the list, some adjustments below the four mail-land average were required, in order to fit all stock-holders into the available land.  When, and if, the proposed reorganisation was put into effect, this meant that the tenants without stock faced the prospect of having little or no land in Caolas.   The reorganisation, however, did not proceed, as the Factor had considerable difficulty in finding enough tenants throughout the island with sufficient stock to occupy four mail-lands, and the matter was left in abeyance until the decade before crofts were allocated in the early 1800s. 

Nevertheless, the four mail-land proposal was to some extent a foreshadowing of the Caolas crofting community which would emerge thirty years later, and it indicated that problems lay ahead.  In the crofting reallocation, the descendants of the stockless John MacDonald, the present writer’s great-great-great grandfather, for example, were given no more than a small patch of arable land on the southern edge of the ‘South Quarter of Caolas’, surrounded by rough moorland and an extensive shoreline.  This had serious consequences when the 1846 potato famine arrived.   The MacLeans at the top of the list of stock-holders, by contrast, received the best land in Caolas, right at the centre of the new crofting community, on both sides of the present-day main road into the township. The relationship between the 1781 lease-holders of the tack of the joint-tenancy of Caolas, the stock-holders noted in 1776, and the subsequent allocation of crofts, can be set out very simply on the basis of the available evidence. See Appendix C.

Looking across to Aird Deas (upper right) from the site of the former 'baile'
('township') of Caolas.  The main road is on the immediate left.

Tenant mobility in 1779 and the family of John MacLean, Poet

The 1779 list of inhabitants of Tiree and its farms forms part of a wider census of the Argyll Estate in that year.  It is not as detailed as that of 1776, and does not note the stock-holding status of tenants.  It does, however, differentiate between ‘tenants’ and ‘cottars’, and to that extent it provides a fascinating glimpse of the gains and losses of status among some of those on the Caolas farms within the three years since the previous list was made.  It also records several new families of tenants.

In the ‘South quarter of Kelis’, held in tack at that time by MacLean of Gott, three families previously classified as ‘hynds’ are listed as ‘tenants’, namely those of Donald MacKinnon, Dugall/Donald MacPhaden, and Alexander MacKinnon.  On other similar tacks, like Ruaig, for example, it was possible for sub-tenants to hold significant numbers of stock on their own behalf.  Presumably it was also possible for these tenants to achieve an ‘elevation’ in their status, or at least an acknowledgement that they were, in fact, the equivalent of tenants in all but name.  When crofting arrived in 1804, tenants in Àird Deas, the ‘South quarter’, are noted among those who chalked out their crofts.  Likewise, the family of Neil MacDonald, listed as a cottar and ‘boatman’ in 1776, has been elevated to tenant status by 1779.  On the other hand, the family of Charles MacDonald, noted as having no stock in 1776, is classified as ‘cottars’.  As suggested earlier, tenants with no stock were in potential danger of ‘demotion’ when new tenurial arrangements were made.

Among the new tenants who seem to have ‘arrived’ since 1776 is Charles MacPhaden, son of Donald MacPhaden, who was listed as holding sufficient stock for four mail-lands in 1776, and continues as a tenant in 1779.  This indicates that room could be made for younger family members, though it might have been through sub-division of existing holdings.  A tenant who was apparently wholly new to the Caolas ‘three quarters’ is listed too, namely Malcolm MacUalraig (‘MacUolrie’ in the available transcription), with his wife Katharine, a grown-up son and daughter, and a younger child.  Families by the name of MacUalraig were usually found at the west end of the island, and Malcolm is likely to be an ‘incomer’.

Another apparently new tenant family noted in 1779 is that of Allan MacLean (‘McLean’ in the transcription), married to Margaret MacPhaden, with their sons, Donald (10), John (5) and Charles (1).  John is none other than ‘Iain mac Ailein’, later to become well known as ‘Bàrd Thighearna Cholla’ (‘Poet to the Laird of Coll’), and, from 1819, living in Nova Scotia.  Allan MacLean is listed immediately after the family of John MacLean, one of the principal stockholders in Caolas in the 1776 list, and a direct ancestor of the present writer’s great-great-grandmother, Annabel MacLean.  It is possible that kinship among the MacLeans is responsible for the arrival of the poet’s family.   His father Allan was born at Hough, at the west end of Tiree, and worked in Coll as a distiller before returning to Tiree, and settling in Caolas.  Allan is listed as one of the lease-holders of the tack of the joint-tenancy of Caolas in 1781 (see Appendix E (1)).

If we can trust the ages ascribed in the 1779 list (and that is dubious), this means that John MacLean, poet, was evidently born outwith Caolas (possibly in Coll), and that his first home in Caolas, Tiree, was in the old township, and not within the new crofting township.  It would seem likely that it was after the creation of crofts in 1804 that the poet’s family moved to ‘Cnoc Mhic Dhùghaill’ (‘MacDougall’s Hill’), with which they were later associated, quite probably as cottars or as part of an extended family. The young poet therefore experienced several changes of home, and lived through what was a time of major tenural reorganisation.   Although it has been claimed recently that MacLean’s family was associated latterly with Urbhaig, the assertion is open to considerable doubt.  According to the present writer’s relatives, who had close MacLean connections through marriage, the poet’s strongest family links were with the MacLeans of ‘Carnan’, and it is presumably in that area that we should seek ‘Cnoc Mhic Dhùghaill’.   The ‘Carnan’ MacLeans also preserved the copy of the poet’s anthology of 1818, now in the writer’s possession.

Population growth too was more than evident, in Caolas as elsewhere in Tiree at this time, with the Caolas population rising from 100 in 1768 to 196 in 1792.  In such circumstances, further tenurial change was inevitable, and the community was to experience some very far-reaching reconfiguration with the creation of crofts from 1804.   Traditional society, relatively well maintained until about 1800, was about to face considerable upheaval in the nineteenth century.

John MacLean's volume of secular Gaelic poems, by himself and others, was published in Glasgow in 1818,
two hundred years ago.  This is the title-page of the copy owned by his MacLean relatives in 'Carnan', and specifically by Archd MacLean, Shoemaker, whose name was 'Written by Miss <C. MacLean>' in April 1864.  This well-used
copy, which was re-covered in leather, is now owned by the present writer.

The creation of the Caolas crofts

Between 1792 and 1803, Duke John tried ‘with great pertinacity’ (‘Creation of Crofting Townships’) to implement his plan to reorganise land tenure in Tiree, in accordance with his earlier idea to assign four mail-lands to tenants who could provide sufficient stock.  As Cregeen notes,  ‘The duke’s revived interest in improvement owed something to his urgent need of revenue and his awareness that the rents on his estate had fallen behind those of other Highland proprietors and were not keeping pace with the rising prices of grain and cattle.’  He was also aware of the value of kelp in increasing rentals, but, initially, he was disinclined to rely heavily on its potential. 

The Duke’s Chamberlain in Tiree, Donald Campbell, was suitably instructed.  His proposals were, however, far from easy to implement, and met with considerable opposition from numerous tenants at the west end of the island, who did not want holdings of four mail-lands, which they considered too large.  Others were also unwilling to relinquish run-rig tenure.  At the same time, the growing population of the island created something of a crisis, and the need for smaller units became overwhelmingly obvious.  The Passenger Vessels Act of 1803 added further pressure by making it difficult to promote emigration.  Tensions increased markedly at the west end of the island, when Donald Campbell, who was generally liked by the Tiree tenants, was succeeded by Malcolm McLaurin(e), who was heartily disliked by many tenants, and severely rebuked by the Duke (AEI, p. 95).  McLaurin wanted to achieve the same status as his predecessor, apparently by setting his sights on several tacks, including Balephuil, to accommodate his own stock.

Although tenurial reorganisation had been planned for thirty years or more, crofting thus came into existence in Tiree as a response to social and economic emergency, and in the midst of robust debate and disagreement.  By 1803, Duke John was compelled to abandon his commitment to the allocation of four mail-land holdings, and to accept that smaller divisions of land were essential.  McLaurin was instructed to implement this new policy, and a surveyor, George Langlands, came to the island. Tensions did not diminish, nevertheless.  Some potential crofting tenants now regarded their ‘lots’ as too small, rather than too large, and at the west end of the island friction was particularly marked.

At the east end of Tiree, however, tenants adopted a much less confrontational stance, and chalked out their own holdings.  This earned the approval, and even the praise, of Malcolm McLaurin(e), who reported in November 1804 (AEI, p. 94):

‘The factor under this article begs leave to inform your Grace, that the tenants of Colis, Ardess and Salum have chalked out divisions of their farms & would be perfectly satisfied with them if it were agreeable.  The factor view’d them, & was much surprised to observe the correctness & accuracy with which they have done it…The other farms of Ruaig, Vaul & Kirkapole, in that end of the island, mean to follow their example, & the factor could not discourage them till your Grace’s pleasure is known.’

Eric Cregeen comments (‘Creation of Crofting Townships’):

‘These divisions, which the tenants themselves proposed, were approved by the duke.  It is noticeable that McLaurine’s attitude to the tenants of the east end of the island was much more tolerant than to those of the south-west end, with whom he was more closely involved as a neighbour.’

It is doubtful if the physical distance between McLaurin(e) and the east end of Tiree had much, if anything, to do with his ‘attitude’.  What seems much more likely is that he was impressed by constructive co-operation, and by tenants who were evidently prepared to plan their own futures, and to adopt a strategy which they themselves wanted, rather than risk having an alternative (and potentially unhappy) ‘solution’ forced upon them by the Argyll Estate or its Factor or surveyor.

In the same report of November 1804, McLaurin(e) provides further evidence that the tenants of Tiree’s east end were a fairly pragmatic and sensible lot, who knew when it was wise to relinquish traditional practices (AEI, p. 95):

‘The factor has frequently had occasion to observe the bad effects of the small boats kept for the purpose of the ferry betwixt Tyree and Coll, in which neither cows nor horses can be ferryed without throwing them down and tying them on passage, a practice that often produces serious effects, and at times the death of those animals.  The ferryman on the Coll side will not alter the custom that was there when he got the tack, as it would subject him to the expence of keeping a proper large boat, but on the Tyree side there is no such restriction and relief should certainly be derived from this evil, which the factor begs to represent to your Grace.’ 

The Factor’s report for 1804 contains further grounds for believing that the Caolas tenants had a certain independence of mind.   The mills in Tiree had been ‘set for a year to Archd. Haggart, miln-wright and miller’.   Among the measures McLaurin(e) recommended to prevent ‘defalcation’ was ‘destroying an old miln in the farm of Coelis, fitted up many years ago upon the horizontal construction by the tenants, and very hurtful to themselves by the waste of grain, and of little value of itself’ (AEI, p. 90).  In fact, when crofting was established in Caolas, a mill on the ‘horizontal construction’ (with a horizontal paddle-wheel, powered by a lade, turning the mill-stones) was operated in the cottar community of Milton, which derived its name from the mill. 

McLaurin(e) also noted that the tenants of the east end of Tiree were in the habit of going to the Ross of Mull, rather than Coll, for their peats, and wanted them to use the peatlands of Coll, so as not to waste time that might be better devoted to harvesting kelp.  This recommendation, however, was refused by the Duke, who thought that ‘The tenants in the east end of Tyree have probably some good reason for going to Ross in Mull for their peats, in preference to my moss in Coll.  The quality of the peat may be better, and the harbour at Ross is a very fine one.  They must therefore be left to the freedom of their own will as formerly in that matter’ (AEI, pp. 83-84, 88).

Some Caolas houses as seen from Gunna Sound: top left, 'Croish'; centre, 'Coll View'; top right, 'Caolis House';
bottom right, 'Eyebrow Cottage', formerly a cottar's house on the 'Coll View' croft.  Photo: John Randall

Reshaping the township

The logical manner in which the Caolas crofts were laid out is very striking, even in the present day, and reflects very creditably on the former run-rig tenants who undertook the measuring and chalking exercise.  This surely bears witness to a good, constructive spirit among the tenants, as well as to the role of capable leaders, able to take the township into the new era. The processes by which the land was allocated, and how the allocations were agreed, are, however, now lost to us.  Hard decisions had to be made and implemented, with regard to who was given land for a croft, and the kind and quality of land which each crofter received.  Some former township residents received no land at all, and became cottars, while others became crofters with a status not much higher than that of cottars.

Most of the crofts run parallel to the line of the main road into Caolas, and can be seen without difficulty when descending from Croish to Bealach na Gaoithe (‘The Windy Cart-track’), just above the site of the old run-rig township, which occupied the field immediately to the south, known to the present writer’s family as ‘Am Bruthach’ (‘The Brae’).  With this east-west orientation, most of the crofts had their own stretches of shoreline on Gunna Sound.  Those crofts which did not have access to seaware made arrangements to share the shoreline. 

The pink-shaded area, drawn on Turnbull's 1768 map, delineates the present
 'Coll View' holding, which consists of Nos 5 and 6, Caolas. Present-day
 roads are represented by the stronger red lines. The former township
 can be seen in No. 5, immediately to the west of the road due south through
 the Loch Fadd.  'Coll View' is located near the 'circle' of houses immediately
to the east of that road.   

The best land lay on what was roughly the centre-line of the new crofting community, and was occupied by those MacLean families who were recorded in 1776 as having sufficient stock for the proposed four mail-lands.  The descendants of John MacLean (second on the above list), the two brothers John and Hector, held crofts on each side of the main road – John in the ‘Caolis House’ croft, and Hector in what is now the ‘Coll View’ croft, which was formally assigned to the present writer’s family of MacDonalds in 1865.  MacFadyens (MacPhadens), likewise noted as stock-holders in 1776, held the ‘Croish’ croft, and also that to the immediate west of the road to Milton, where the old township was located.  The MacLeans and the MacFadyens were probably the ‘top dogs’ in the new crofting community of Caolas.  To the south of the centre-line of the new community lay crofts held by MacDonalds (‘Seaview’) and MacArthurs (‘Harbour’).  To the north lay further MacDonald and MacLean holdings.  More detailed research is needed to determine all the first allocations precisely, but it seems more than apparent that stock-holding was the key to land tenure within the new dispensation.

The location of 'Tobhtachan Mhurchaidh'

Those former township tenants who were recorded in 1776 as having no stock fared less well.  The present writer’s ancestors – the family of John MacDonald – moved to a holding of rocky moorland, shared with others, in Àird Deas and immediately to the west of Port Bàn, within sight of Milton.  It was known in family tradition as ‘Tobhtachan Mhurchaidh’ (‘Murdoch’s Ruined Walls’), and also as ‘Am Beannan’.  Its inbye consisted of barely an acre of land, with three houses, presumably thatched, on a north-south axis in the centre, and a fourth to the north on an east-west axis.  Although technically described as ‘crofters’, the MacDonalds were hardly above the status of cottars, and seem to have eked out a precarious existence mainly as fishermen and kelpers until the time of the potato famine in 1846, when Donald MacDonald and his second wife Mary (from Coll) decided to emigrate with six of their children.  Taking advantage of the Marquis of Lorne’s scheme, ‘Donald MacDonald Tenant’, with eight family members, received £8.00 for the passage, and ‘pulled down House’, the demolition probably being a condition of the payment.  He appears as no. 12 on the list of payments made ‘To Emigrants from Tyree to Canada 9 June 1846’ (An Iodhlann, 1998.151.11).   Donald’s brother, Archibald, seems to have maintained the holding for a period thereafter.

'Tobhtachan Mhurchaidh' lay in the patch covered by Turnbull's
note No. 277.  The map shows cultivation there and in five other
 plots in this part of Aird Deas.  Port Ban lies directly to the east..

The venture almost ended in disaster.  Donald and Mary contracted a fatal illness on board ship, and died soon after their arrival in Canada.  Mercifully, their children survived, probably because of the kindness of relatives.   It is interesting that the 1846 list of payments notes (no. 3) another Donald MacDonald, a cottar in ‘Ardess’, ‘who lived in Brors House’, and was given £4, the number of his family being three.  Could he have been a relative of ‘Donald MacDonald Tenant’?

The ruins of 'Tobhtachan Mhurchaidh', looking north-west, with 'Coll
View' on the skyline to the right

Before emigrating, Donald and Mary took the decision to leave behind in Caolas two other children, by Donald’s first marriage to Annabel MacLean, daughter of Hector MacLean, one of the main Caolas crofters noted above.  Annabel had died very shortly after the birth of the present writer’s great-grandfather, Hector MacDonald, in 1835.  He and his sister Christina were brought up respectively by MacLean and MacDonald relatives, and may have been ‘fostered out’ before Donald and Mary decided to emigrate.  It was as a result of this arrangement that Hector inherited the holding of Hector MacLean, which became the ‘Coll View’ croft, and remains in the family to the present.

It also appears that those who arrived in the Caolas township in 1779, and might have been seen even thirty years later as ‘late arrivals’, were unable to acquire land in the new township, and became cottars, or lived with other members of the family who gained crofts.  The immediate family of John MacLean, Poet to the Laird of Coll, does not appear to have acquired a holding in the new crofting township.  John’s older brother, Donald, a cooper to trade, was later able to move to a croft in Balephuil, at the extreme west of Tiree.

The new crofting township of Caolas was fringed with cottars’ houses and settlements, most notably that of Milton on its southern edge.  Milton became largely a community of cottars, who, though mainly fishermen, had a range of practical skills, as millers, boatbuilders, and seamen of note.  Other cottars on the eastern and northern edges of the community round Gunna Sound included blacksmiths, ferrymen (to and from Coll), and tailors.  The Milton cottars lived on the southern limit what became the common grazing of several of the crofts in the main ‘Upper Caolas’ township, and what was previously part of the pasture of the former run-rig community. 

Some holders of land in Caolas were also ‘dispossessed’ in this period.  The Instructions for 1803 (AEI, p. 75) include the following enigmatic reference:
‘10th. As the change-keeper at Scarinish [Archibald Campbell – DEM] is to be dispossessd [sic – DEM] of that part which he holds of the farm of Kiels [Kelis], he must get in addition to his present possession at Scarinish the small crofts situated between it & the road to Gott, and the possessors of these crofts to be accommodated with other crofts upon Gott.’

Àird Deas

In Àird Deas, the new arrangements, which permitted the emergence of four official crofts recorded on the Rental for 1830, seem to have allowed a significant portion of the ‘South Quarter of Caolas’ to remain in tack.  ‘Ardess, part of Kiels’ was reset in tack in 1803 for an annual rent of £45 for nineteen years,  ‘the last being £3 str. under the offer of the tenants’ (AEI, pp. 77-78).  This would imply that it would not have been ‘put under crofts’ until at least the expiry of the lease in 1822.   There were other enthusiastic bidders within the period of the 1803 lease; for example, in 1806 Lachlan MacPhaden and others offered £60 annually for the tack, as recorded in the Estate’s Memorial Books.  (My thanks to Flo Straker for this reference.) This may suggest some degree of proprietorial change or uncertainty, with ‘tenants’ (plural, and from other parts of Tiree?) bidding for the lease.  By 1823 Àird Deas was one of the ‘farms out of lease’ in Tiree, and Donald Campbell of Knock, the Chamberlain at that time, recommended an augmentation of £12 to the previous rental of £53.19/-, when several other Tiree farms were given deductions (Argyll Papers, NRAS 1209/3080, pp. 11-13). 

At some point thereafter, possibly around 1840, the Àird Deas farm finally appears to have been taken out of tack, and the newly available land seems to have been added to the existing four crofts. Alongside enlargement, however, consolidation (now termed ‘amalgamation’) took place, and the four principal crofts were reduced to two after 1850, namely the ‘Port Bàn’ croft and that presently owned by the MacFadyens, but previously owned by Archibald and Mary MacDonald  (‘Detailed History of Crofts’).  Given the links of the earlier tack with Gott families, it is interesting to note that, sometime in the 1860s, a new family from Gott was introduced to Àird Deas, namely the MacCallums, who became the tenants of ‘Port Bàn’, and are first recorded there in the 1871 Census. (This will be discussed further in another chapter provisionally entitled ‘Caolas and its Crofts in the Nineteenth Century’.  I am most grateful to Catriona Smyth for providing copies of sources relevant to Àird Deas.)
The impression given of Àird Deas in the available sources in the early 1800s is of a rather untidy area of land, with a large tenant (and his sub-tenants) holding a tack, surrounded by crofting tenants with good land, as well as the low-status MacDonald ‘crofters’ on rough land at ‘Tobhtachan Mhurchaidh’, cottars, and various other ‘occupiers’.   Some of the arrangements seem to have been rather ad hoc, and are difficult to confirm in the surviving records.  The shoreward area between Port Bàn and what is now Milton seems to have been the area initially crofted, but it also seems to have afforded temporary shelter to various families ‘in transit’ – cottars and crofters with little or no stock – who later moved elsewhere within Caolas, migrated to other townships in Tiree, or emigrated about 1846 or later, as the history of the writer’s MacDonald family demonstrates more than amply. 

Caolas as shown in the O.S. First edition 1885

Logistics and support

Duke John was well aware that the creation of the Tiree crofts would be a massive logistical exercise, and he did not abandon his tenants to their own devices. In his Instructions to his Chamberlain in October, 1803, he wrote (AEI, p. 73):

‘The scheme of bringing the farms to 4 mail lands each must be given up in so far as not already executed effectually, and different farms must be broke down into small crofts to accommodate the people who are in want of possessions.  Such as were formerly tenants to have from 6 to 10 arable acres, and those who were only cottars and tradesmen to have four arable acres, and both to have what accommodation can be given in the article of summer grass.  As these people will have much to do in the article of building houses & division fences at the beginning, I agree to allow the first year free of rent to such as shall deserve it by building houses, and other exertions in that period.  I must also be at some expence in quarrying stones for these buildings – perhaps my furnishing  tools and powder for blasting may be sufficient – but do not let the work stand for want of further exertion on my part if it should be necessary.’

Incentives in the form of prizes were offered for ploughing with horses, crofters were shown by the factor how to sow ‘turnips, carrots, grass seeds, and planting winter cabbages’, craftsmen of various kinds arrived, and dykers were brought in to demonstrate and facilitate the building of march dykes in a manner more durable than the traditional style.

How were the Duke’s aspirations fulfilled in Caolas?  We have, as yet, no precise details, but it would seem that Caolas was divided into crofts of very different sizes, ranging from about 20 to 30 acres on the best land of ‘Upper Caolas’, to little more than one acre, in the case of ‘Tobhtachan Mhurchaidh’.  Occupying these crofts would have meant, initially, building march dykes, before dismantling each relevant house and barn in the old township, and then carting the stone to the site of the new house, within the boundaries of the new croft.  This must have taken considerably longer than one year, and would have required a high degree of co-operation and understanding between tenants.  There is, so far, no evidence to indicate whether the Caolas tenants received any ‘rent relief’ for their efforts in building their boundary dykes and new houses.

The old ‘baile’ or ‘village’ itself was razed, leaving a fine green field on a sunward slope (‘Am Bruthach’), with only some residual boulders lying below the ground, to bend or break the ploughshares of later crofters.   The homes of individual crofters lay within the boundaries of their own crofts, separated by a considerable distance from one another, and not huddled together in a communal ‘village’.  

The new houses were built in traditional Tiree style, and seldom of stone and lime, as the Duke had expected.  The present writer’s family – who succeeded to Hector MacLean’s holding –  recollected that, before the building of ‘Coll View’ in 1891, they lived in a felt-roofed cottage (probably originally thatched) behind ‘Coll View’.  The cottage was built with double walls, packed with earth, and, when it was demolished, the rubble was used to infill and reclaim a sloping area of ground which later became a stackyard.  Most croft houses in Caolas would have followed much the same style, with thick walls, thatch, and later felt roofs.  For the MacLeans, who built the cottage, the effort of hauling the stones from the old township would not have been anything like as demanding as it would have been for those whose new crofts lay at some distance from the earlier ‘village’. 

Taigh nan Suacan, Milton, as it looked in the writer's time, before being
incorporated into a modern, felt-roofed holiday-home.

The building of larger stone and lime houses, which are now such an obvious feature of the Caolas township, was in all likelihood not initiated until the 1880s, and quite probably after the passing of the Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act in 1886, when crofters received security of tenure.  These were modelled on Lowland farm-houses, and followed a standard design (presumably with some initial guidance from knowledgeable masons?), with two storeys, and three upper-storey storm windows – two at the front, facing Gunna Sound, and one at the back, defying the prevailing winds from the west and south-west.  The process of building such houses continued well beyond the 1880s, with the survival of only a handful of felt-roofed houses.  Excellent examples, still in use, are preserved in Milton and Port Bàn.   Thatched houses had all but disappeared by the present writer’s time, the last in Caolas being ‘Taigh nan Suacan’ in Milton, technically a squatter’s house on common grazing, and now incorporated into a modern holiday-home.

The main road to Caolas, looking eastwards from Croish, in 2018.  The west-east layout of crofts can
be seen clearly.
The transition from a run-rig township to a crofting community transformed the appearance of Caolas, not only in the building of new marches, dykes and houses, but also in matters of land reclamation.  The township boundaries were straightened, most noticeably the section of the march with Ruaig, which is shown on Turnbull’s map (at No. 266) as ‘bulging’ westwards far beyond the present-day boundary.  The Loch Fada was drained to allow the construction of an ùtraid (‘out-road’) to the ‘out-run’ or common grazing in Milton.  Broadly in line with what Turnbull suggested in 1768 (Appendix B, No. 270, below), this required a drainage system for the surrounding wetlands, which even now remain susceptible to flooding, and deep ditches on both sides of the road.   The extensive areas of sand-blow on the eastern edges of what are now the machairs of Caolas and Àird Deas, noted as Nos 268 and 278 on Turnbull’s map, were evidently reclaimed in what must have been a major operation, though it remains unclear when or how these important improvements were undertaken.

By the early nineteenth century, the former tenants of the old run-rig township had become, in effect, ‘mini-tacksmen’, crofters holding their own portions of land, and paying rent directly to the Factor and the Estate, though there were still many matters to be resolved as the nineteenth century progressed.  Today, hardly anyone remembers that it was ever any different.  Even so, traces of the old run-rig ‘system’ remained, and can be seen to the present.  ‘Bealach na Gaoithe’ (‘The Windy Cart-track’) above the old township, and now part of the main road, was almost certainly the main route from that township to the shore known as ‘Am Port Ruadh’ (‘The Red Harbour’).   The common grazing in Milton, where the animals of successive generations of crofters have grazed, was formerly part of the outbye of the run-rig era.  Cottars continued as a distinctive ‘class’ too, often as craftsmen, tradesmen and fishermen, and some gave the crofter (on whose land their cottage stood) several days of labour, in exchange for the right to a share of  potatoes, in a manner rather similar to the pre-crofting arrangement they would have had with a single tenant on a tack.  And, from time to time, the present writer and his father would dig a lazy-bed or two to nurture an early crop of potatoes, with considerable awareness that these feannagan, as they were known in Gaelic, belonged to the era before crofting had been invented.

An aerial view of Caolas, Tiree, as it is today, looking from Milton (south) to Urbhaig (north).  Aird Deas is off the picture on the middle right.  The Milton road can be seen clearly, with 'Coll View' on the right of its junction with the main road.  The field where the old township stood is on the immediate left of that junction.


‘Articles in the Rental of Tiree Given up for the Year 1843’.  Argyll Papers, Inveraray.

Bennett, Margaret (ed.), ‘Recollections of an Argyllshire Drover’ and other West Highland Chronicles; Eric R. Cregeen. John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh, 2004.
Cregeen, Eric R., Argyll Estate Instructions: Mull, Morvern, Tiree 1771-1805.  T. and A. Constable for the Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1964.
Cregeen, Eric R. (ed.), Inhabitants of the Argyll Estate, 1779.  J. Skinner & Co., Edinbugh, 1963. Available on-line.
Cregeen, Eric R., ‘The Creation of the Crofting Townships in Tiree’.  Typescript in writer’s possession.
Cregeen, Eric R., ‘The Tacksmen and their Successors; A Study of Tenurial Reorganisation in Mull, Morvern and Tiree in the Early Eighteenth Century’, in Bennett (ed.), pp. 50-107.
Darling, F. Fraser (ed.), West Highland Survey: An Essay in Human Ecology.  Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1955. 

‘Detailed History of the [Tiree] Crofts.  Argyll Papers.

Dodgshon, Robert A., ‘Highland Touns before the Clearances’ in Fenton and Veitch, pp. 111-32.

Fenton, Sandy, and Veitch, Kenneth (eds), Farming and the Land, Volume 2 of A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology.  John Donald, Edinburgh, 2006.

Fisher, Ian, Early Medieval Sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands.  RCAHMS and Soc. Ant. Scot., Edinburgh 2001.

Hogg, Martin, ‘Leases: Four Historical Portraits’, in Reid and Zimmermann,  A History of Private Law in Scotland, pp. 363-98.
List of Inhabitants in the Island of Tiry and Amount of their Particular Ages in 1776, transcribed by Keith Dash.  Available on-line. 

List of Men Liable to be Balloted from Islands of Tiree & Coll 1799. Argyll & Bute Council Archives, Lochgilphead. FH58-2.  Available on-line. 

‘List of Tiree Tacks 1772-1821’.  Argyll Papers.

MacDonald, Fr. Allan, ed. J. L. Campbell, Gaelic Words and Expressions from South Uist and Eriskay.  Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, 1958.
Maclean-Bristol, Nicholas, ‘Tiree and Coll: Together but Different’, Secret Island, pp. 382-403.

Memorial Books of the Argyll Estates.  Courtesy of Flo Straker.
Payments made to Emigrants from Tyree to Canada 9 June 1846. An Iodhlann, 1998.151.11.  Available on-line.

Petre, James, Tiree and the Dukes of Argyll 1674-1922. Shaun Tyas, Donington, 2019.

Reid, Kenneth G. C., and Zimmermann, Reinhard (eds),  A History of Private Law in Scotland: Volume 1. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000.

Rental of Maclean of Duart Estates in Mull, Coll, Jura, Morvern & Tiree, 1674. Argyll & Bute Council Archives, Lochgilphead. FH216-4.  Available on-line.

Rental of Tiree, 1743. Argyll & Bute Council Archives, Lochgilphead, FH 208.  Available on-line.

Rental of Tyrie & Two Ends of Coll Pertaining to his Grace Archibald Duke of Argyll for the Year 1747.  An Iodhlann, 2005.74.1.

Rental of Aird Deas, 1830.  Argyll Papers.

Report on Tiree by Donald Campbell of Knock, 1823. Argyll Papers, NRAS 1209/3080. 

Scott, Gordon D. W., ‘Building on Faith: Church Building on Tiree by the Church of Scotland in the 1840s’, Secret Island, pp. 121-29.

The Secret Island: Towards a History of Tiree.  Islands Book Trust, Lewis, 2015.

Smout, T.C., A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830.  Fontana/Collins, Glasgow, 1969.

Turnbull, James, Map of Tiree, 1768-69. Argyll Papers, R038.  The images above are reproduced courtesy of the Argyll Papers.



This overview is part of a work in progress, and will be corrected, updated and expanded as research proceeds, and more information comes to hand.  The article was updated most recently in August 2019. 


I am most grateful to Alison Diamond, Archivist at the Argyll Archives, Inveraray, for providing a particularly fine image of the east end of Tiree as portrayed on James Turnbull's map, and also for her assistance with the location of other documents.  A visit to Tiree by the team of the Argyll Papers in May 2019, with an excellent display of documents, was extremely helpful.  Likewise I am deeply indebted to staff at An Iodhlann, Tiree, for their generous support and immediate response to my requests for relevant material.  Other individual helpers are acknowledged in the course of the article. 




  L. S. D.  (Scots Money)
Donald McPhaden
Neill McPhaden
Malcom McDonald
Dugald McDonald
Donald Morison
Donald McDonald & Nine Dhoill Roy
Donald McKinnon
Neill McLean
Neill McDonald Jun[ior]
John Roy McKinnon
Lachlan McDonald
Hugh McArthur
Angus Lamont
Malcom Lamont
Malcom McArthur
Neill McDonald Sen[ior]
Hector McLean





BEAR               MEALL
 B.F.P.L.         B.F.P.L.
Donald McPhaden          1.1.1.-
Malcom McDonald          1.1.1.-
Neill McPhaden
  -.3.2.2           - 3.2.-
Dugald McDonald
  -.3.2.2            -3.2.-
Donald McDonald          1.1.1.-
Donald Morison          1.1.1.-
Donald McKinnon
 -. 3.2.2           - 3.2.-
Neill McLean
  -.3.2.2           - 3.2.-
Neill McDonald Jun[ior]          1.1.1.-
John Roy McKinnon          1.1.1.-
Lachlan McDonald
Hugh McArthur          1.1.1.-
Angus Lamont
  -.3.2.2           - 3.2.-
Malcom Lamont
 1.3.1.-           1.3.1-
Malcom McArthur
  -.3.2.2           - 3.2.-
Neill McDonald Sen[ior]          1.1.1.-
19.-.-.2         18.1.2.-


B. = Boll (4 firlots)

F. = Firlot (4 pecks)

P. = Peck (4 lippies)

L. = Lippie
These are found in the ‘Book’ accompanying the 1768 map, which discusses the island as a whole, and comments on the land-types and soils of individual farms.  The numbers refer to the ‘Plots’ thus numbered on what Turnbull called the ‘Plan’.  The ‘opposite page’ provides detailed measurements of both parts of ‘Kelis’, which have not been transcribed here.
34th KELIS, Viz ¾ of it.
No. 262 Infield, Situate around but mostly South from Kelis Village, a Mixture of Loam, Sand & Clay, a good Soil.
[No.] 263 Outfield, this [is] a Mixture of Loam & Sand, a good Soil, with Rocks intersperced through Part of it, Situate North of the Village.
[No.] 264 Meadow, a good Natural Spott, lyes low, & Wett, might be <easily>   drained.
[No.] 265 Pasture, the Soil is a Mixture of Sand & Clay, some Rocks inter-sperced throughout, this is a good Pasturage with some Spotts of Arable.  This is Situate North from Kelis.
[No.] 266 Pasture, Situate on West end of Farm, is a bare gravelly Moor<ish> Soil, inclining to Heath, & mixt with Rocks.
[No.] 267 Pasture, Situate on South East end, is a bare Moorish, gravelly Soil in part, & part a good Pasturage, mixed with Rocks, this Plott includes Down Kelis.
[No.] 268 Blown Sand, Situate along North East Coast, the Blowing is increasing here, this is much Blown.
[No.] 269 Moss, of a Bad Quality, and partly overflowed with water which [might] be easily Drained – There is an Old Fort in it.  This is all the Moss, properly so called, that’s in the Farm.
[No.] 270 Loch Fadd, this might be Drained, by making a proper <Culvert> Drain along the Course of the present Runner, that <falls> into the Sea a little East from the Harbour of Down Kelis.  The half of this Loch belongs to Kelis East Quarter.
[No.] 271 Loch Nantomar, a Small Loch Situate on West Corner of the Farm, Marching with Ruaig, this might be Drained, as <there> is a great Descent a little to the South of it.
[p. 88]
34th KELIS Viz. The East Quarter,
that is Set in Tack to Alexander McLean in Gott.
No. 272 Infield, Situate West from Houses, is a good Loamy Soil mixed with some Rocks.
[No.] 273 Infield, a Small piece, situate in the middle of No. 261, is a good Loamy Soil.  Distinguished with a red Colour around it.
[No.] 274 Infield, a Small piece, Situate at West end of Kelis Village, distinguished with a Red Colour around it.  This is of a good Loamy Soil.
[No.] 275 Outfield, a Mixture of Loam, & Sand, in general a light Soil, and part of it mixt with Rocks.

[No.] 276 Meadow, a good Natural Spott, lyes low, & Wett, might be easily Drained.

[No.] 277 Pasture, a bare gravelly Soil in general, and greatly mixt with Rocks.

[No.] 278 Blown Sand.  This is very much blown.

[No.] 279 Loch Anair. The March, between this Quarter, and the rest of Kelis, goes through the Middle of this Loch, situate on South point of the Farm.



Lease-holders of Caolas in 1781, stock-holders in 1776, and the holders of crofts in 1830-1887



Lease-holders for 1781 tack of Caolas ¾
Stock-holding in 1776 audit
Crofting tenancies 1830-1887
Donald McDonald Snr
can occupy 3 m.l., has 4 c.s and 4 h.s’
Croft 11 (Dùn Beag)
John McLean
J. McL.Snr ‘can occupy 4 m.l…5 c.s and 4 h.s’
J. McL.‘can occupy 4 m.l…5 c.s and 5 h.s’
Crofts 3 (Caolis House – John) and
6 (Coll View – Hector)
James McDonald
‘can occupy 4 m.l….4 c.s and 5 h.s’
Croft 7?
Archd McLean
Croft 13 (Urbhaig)?
Charles McPhaden
Donald McP ‘can occupy 4 m.l…5 c.s and 5 h.s’
Crofts 2 (Croish), 5 (Croit Iain) and 12 (Mìodar)
Lachlan McPhaden
Donald McDonald Jnr
‘can occupy 3 m.l…4 c.s.’
Croft 4 (Seaview)?
John McArthur
‘can occupy 4 m.l…6 c.s and 5 h.s’
Croft 10 (Ferry House)
John McDonald
‘No stock.’
Croft 2 Aird Deas.
Neil, sons Don. and Archd 1830-1845
Allan McLean (father of bard John McLean)
Not then in Caolas twp.  Arrived betw. 1776 and 1779.
No known croft.
Neil McDonald
Donald McArthur
John McPhaill
‘No stock.’
John McDonald




The Campbells of Treshnish

Archibald Campbell was born about 1734.  The 1779 List (p. 92, under ‘Treshnish’) gives the following details of the family:

Archibald Campbell tacksman [age] 45
Duncan Campbell his son [age] 13

Angus Campbell his son [age] 12

Alex[ande]r Campbell his son [age] 8

Dugald Campbell his son [age] 1

Mrs Campbell and her daughter [number] 2


John Campbell was married to Katherine Smith.  His son Duncan was baptised 1766, and married Grizel Campbell, who was probably the daughter of John Campbell of Fracadale (Rootsweb, 30 March 2015, query by Andrew Campbell).

Archibald of Treshnish was also a non-resident tacksman of Ruaig, Tiree, and he was succeeded by his son Duncan.  Duncan of Treshnish was appointed chamberlain of Tiree in succession to Donald Campbell, who retired to Ardnacross in Mull in 1800, ‘but he seems not to have taken up residence and was replaced the following year’, possibly because of his unease with the Duke’s policy of granting farms previously held by non-resident Mull tacksmen to small tenants (AEI, p. 49, n. 1). 

The Campbells of Fracadale and Archibald Campbell of Àird Deas

John Campbell, tacksman of Fracadale, Mull, had ‘a family of three sons and three daughters’ (AEI, xxiv).  In the 1779 List (pp. 95-96, under ‘Freckadill’), the family is recorded as:

John Campbell tacksman [age] 54

Archibald Campbell his son [age] 11

James Campbell his son [age] 6 

Duncan Campbell his son [age] 12

Mrs Campbell and her daughters [number] 5


The identity of Archibald Campbell of Fracadale as the tacksman of Àird Deas was suggested by Eric Cregeen in a hand-written note in his copy of Inhabitants of the Argyll Estates in 1779, p. 26, under ‘Gortandonuil’, where a certain Archibald Campbell, aged 31, is recorded as ‘overseer’.   Cregeen noted further: ‘See Observations, by Archd. McColl, 1786, p. 30’.  This note accompanied his original typescript of ‘Making of the Crofting Townships’.

There are, however, problems with this identity.  At the age of 11 in the 1779 List, Archibald seems much too young to have been a tacksman.  This may reflect the inherent inaccuracy of the recording of ages in such documents, but it is also possible that Archibald held his Tiree tacks in name only, and that his father John was the ‘real’ tacksman.  John also seems to have had four daughters, and not three, as Cregeen states.


The ‘List of Tiree Tacks 1772-1821’ (with reference to p. 29 of the ‘Tack Book’) notes the 1777 lease to ‘John Campbell, tacksman of Frackadale, of the 8 merkland of Barrapole and Kenvar being 64 mail lands’.  His son, Archibald, was therefore not the tacksman of Gortandonuil, and Archibald Campbell, ‘overseer’ of Gortandonuil in 1779, seems to have been a different person.   

It is, however, entirely possible that Archibald Campbell, ‘overseer’ of Gortandonuil on behalf of the non-resident tacksman, John Campbell of Fracadale, is to be equated with Archibald Campbell, ‘drover in Tiry’ and tacksman of Àird Deas.





‘Tiree Tacks 1772-1821’, pp. 49-52.



The Tenants of Kelis

It is contracted agreed and finally ended betwixt John Duke of Argyll heritable Proprietor of the Lands and other underwritten on the one part & Donald McDonald Senr., John McLean, James McDonald, Archd. McLean, Charles McPhaden, Lachlan McPhaden, Donald McDonald Junr., John McArthur, John McDonald, Allan McLean, Neil McDonald, Dond. McArthur, John McPhaill, John McDonald present possessors of the Lands underwritten on the other part in manner following That is to say the said Duke has sett and in Tack and assedation Lett and by these presents for Tackduty and with and under the conditions and reservations after specified Setts and assedation Letts to the forenamed Tenants and their Heirs excluding assignees and subtenants All and haill thirty six mail Land of the Land of Kelis with houses biggings yards mosses muirs meadows grassings sheallings parts pendicles and pertinents of the same whatsoever lying in the parish of Kirkapol Island of Tiry and Sheriffdom of Argyll And that for the space of 19 full and compleat years and cropts from and after their entry which as to the houses grass & pasturage is hereby declared to have been and begun at the term of Whits. 1781 years and to the arable land at the term of Marts. thereafter With full power to the forenamed Tenants and their foresaids to occupy posssess labour good and manure the said Lands with the pertinents freely and quietly without any stop or impediment  Which Tack the said Duke binds and obliges himself and his heirs and successors to warrant to the forenamed Tenants and their foresaids at all hands

                                                                                                            / and
and against all deadly as Law will Declaring always that no bygone possessions or customs shall entitle the said Tacksmen to any servitude upon the said Dukes woods in Mull and Morven other than is at present allowed to the Tenants in these Countrys by their leases and that the Duke shall ever have it in his power to take away that servitude altogether whenever he shall think proper so to do For the which causes and on the other part Donald McDonald Senr., John McLean, James McDonald, Archd. McLean, Charles McPhaden, Lachlan McPhaden, Donald McDonald Junr., John McArthur, John McDonald, Allan McLean, Neil McDonald, Donald McArthur, John McPhaill, and John McDonald bind & oblige themselves their heirs Executors and successors to content and pay to the said Duke & his abovewritten or to his or their assignees or Chamberlains in his or their names the sum of £50 Str. of Tackduty at the term of Marts. yearly with a fifth part of penalty for each terms failure and annulment of the said Tackduty and after the said term of payment during the <net> payment beginning the first years payment of the said Tackduty at the term of Marts. 1781 for the years possession from Whitsunday immediately preceeding to the Whits. following and so forth to continue in the punctual payment of the like Tackduty at each Marts. yearly thereafter during this Tack  Likeas the forenamed tenants oblige themselves and their foresaids that they shall bring all their grindable corns grown upon the said Lands (seed and horse corn excepted) to the mill to which they are or shall be thirled and to pay the accustomed multure therefore and to perform the accustomed services for upholding the said mill and mill dam & bringing home mill stones As also to give and perform days service of one man and a horse yearly at such work as the said Duke or his Chamberlain shall direct within the said Island And that they shall
                                                                                                       / reside
reside with their familys upon and possess the said Tack lands by themselves and servants allenarly and shall not directly or indirectly subsett or allow any precarious possession of all or any part of the premisses to any person or persons whatsoever and that they shall not pull up any barley [1] but cut the same regularly & that they shall not burn or make graddan [2] of any part of the corns growing upon the said Lands  But that they shall duly thrash and kilndry the same in the manner practised in the divisions of Lorne & Argyll neither shall they dig for Reugh [3] under the penalty of 10 /- Str. for every such offence in each of these Articles As also that they shall bestow the sum of £50 st in building sufficient march dykes or other enclosures of stone walls or ditch where stone cannot be got upon the Lands hereby Sett or between them and the neighbouring Farms and that within the first nine years of this Tack beginning the 2d. year from the commencement the half to be laid out before the expiration of the fifth year and the remainder before the end of the 9th. year failing of which they are to pay to the said Duke and his foresaids ten per Ct. per annum for such part of the said sum of £50 as shall not be laid out in the manner foresaid and that from and after the terms at which it should be laid out during the remainder of this Tack  And that they shall make and build of stone walls all houses that shall be judged necessary for their own and servants accommodation upon the said Lands and that upon their own expences & that they shall maintain and uphold the said dykes fences and houses so to be built as well as these already built and leave the same in sufficient repair at their removal without any allowance whatsoever for the same  And that they shall cut their peats regularly to the satisfaction of the Chamberlain & shall preserve the woods and planting upon the said Lands from being cut and destroyed and that they shall not keep any kind of Goats [4] upon the Lands  And that they shall compear before the said Dukes Baron Baillie Courts [5]
                                                                                           / holden
holden on that Estate as oft as they shall be cited thereto and obtemper and fulfill all the lawful Acts of the said Court and submit to all the regulations that shall be made for the improvement of that possession and the good government of that country in general which the said Duke shall from time to time prescribe  And it is hereby expressly provided and declared in the rent not only of one years Tackduty becoming due and remaining unpaid for the space of six months after the same became due But also upon the aforenamed Tenants and their foresaids their failure in the performance of any of the conditions above specified this present Tack shall ipso facto become void and null upon the part of the forenamed Tenants and their foresaids And it shall be leisome and lawful for the said Duke and his abovewritten not only summarily to apprehend the possession of the said Lands brevi manu But also to sett and dispose thereupon to any other they shall think fit as fully and freely in all respects as if this present Tack had not been granted and that without any declarator or process of Law to be intended upon the said contravention  And the said parties oblige themselves and their foresaids to perform the promisses hinc inde under the penalty of £20 Str. money to be paid by the party failzier to the party observer or willing to observe the same by & allow performance  And they consent &c.

‘Tiree Tacks 1772-1821’, pp. 73-76.


Archibald Campbell
South quarter of Kelis
It is contracted agreed and finally ended betwixt John Duke of Argyll heritable Proprietor of the Lands and other underwritten on the one part and Archibald Campbell Drover in Tiry on the other part in manner following That is to say the said Duke has sett and in Tack and assedation Lett and by these presents for payment of theTackduty and with and under the conditions and reservations after specified Setts and assedation Letts to the said Archibald Campbell and his heirs excluding assignees and subtenants All and haill that twelve mail Land or fourth part of the Lands of Kelis called Kerralonamair formerly possessed by Alexander McLean in Gott with houses biggings yards mosses muirs meadows grassings sheallings parts pendicles and pertinents of the same whatsoever lying in the parish of Kirkapol Island of Tiry and Sheriffdom of Argyll And that for the space of 19 full and compleat years and crops from and after his entry thereto which as to the houses grass & pasturage is hereby declared to have been and begun at the term of Whitsunday 1782 notwithstanding of the date hereof and to the arable Land at the term of Marts. thereafter With full power to the said Archd. Campbell and his foresaids to occupy posssess labour good and manure the said Lands with the pertinents freely & quietly without any stop or impediment  Which Tack
                                                                                                       / the
the said Duke Binds & obliges himself his heirs and successors in the Estate of Argyll with and under the conditions afterspecified to <warrand> to the said Archibald Campbell & his foresaids at all hands and against all deadly as Law will Declaring always that no bygone possessions or customs shall entitle the said Tacksman to any servitude upon the said Dukes woods in Mull and Morven other than is at present allowed to the Tenants in these Countries by their Leases and that the Duke shall ever have it in his power to take away that servitude altogether whenever he shall think proper so to do For the which causes and on the other part the said Archibald Campbell Binds & Obliges himself his heirs Executors and successors to content & pay to the said Duke & his abovewritten or to his or their assignees or Chamberlains in his or their names the sum of £16 Str. money of Tackduty for the said Lands at the term of Marts. yearly with a fifth part of penalty for each terms failure & annulment of the said Tackduty from and after the said term of payment during the <net> payment Beginning the first years payment of the said Tackduty at the term of Marts. 1782 for the years possession from Whits. immediately preceeding to the Whits. following And so forth to continue in the punctual payment of the like Tackduty at each Martinmas yearly thereafter during this Tack  Likeas the forenamed tenant obliges himelf and his foresaids that he shall bring all his grindable corns growing upon the said Lands (seed & horse corn excepted) to the Mill to which they are or shall be thirled and to pay the accustomed multure therefore and to perform the accustomed services for upholding the said Mill and Milldam and bringing home mill stones As also to give and perform twenty
                                                                                                              / four
four days service of a man and a horse yearly if required at such work as the said Duke or his Chamberlains shall direct within the said Island and that he shall reside with his family upon and possess the said Tack lands by himself and servants allenarly and shall not directly nor indirectly subsett or allow any precarious possession of all or any part of the premisses to any person or persons whatsoever And that he shall not pull up any barley [1] but cut the same regularly & that he shall not burn or make graddan [2] of any part of the corns growing upon the said Lands  But that he shall duly thrash and kill [sic] dry the same in the manner practised in the divisions of Lorne and Argyll neither shall he dig for Reugh [3] under the penalty of 10 /- Str. for every such offence in each of these Articles As also that he shall bestow the sum of £16 str in building sufficient march dykes or other enclosures of stone walls or ditch where stone cannot be got upon the Lands hereby Sett or between them and the neighbouring Farms and that within the first nine years of this Tack beginning the second year from the commencement, the half to be laid out before the expiration of the fifth year and the remainder before the end of the ninth year failing of which he is to pay to the said Duke & his foresaids 10 per Cent per annum for such part of the said sum of £16 Str. as shall not be laid out in the manner foresaid and that from & after the Terms at which it should be laid out during the remainder of the Tack  And that he shall make and build of stone walls all houses that shall be judged necessary for his own & servants accommodation upon the said Lands and that upon his own expence And that he shall maintain and uphold the said dykes fences and houses so to be built as well as those already built and leave the same in sufficient repair at his removal without any
                                                                                                    / allowance
allowance whatsoever for the same  And that he shall cut their peats regularly to the satisfaction of the Chamberlain and shall preserve the woods & planting upon the said Lands from being cut and destroyed And that he shall not keep any kind of Goats [4] upon the Lands  And that he shall compear before the said Dukes Baron Baillie Courts [5] holden on that Estate as often as he shall be cited thereto and that he shall not only obtemper and fulfill all the lawful Acts and rules of the said Court But will submit to all the regulations that shall be made for the improvement of his possession and good government of that country in general which the said Duke shall from time to time prescribe  And it is hereby expressly provided and declared that in the event not only of one years Tackdutys becoming due and remaining unpaid for the space of six months after the same becomes due But also upon the said Archd. Campbell and his foresaids their faillure in the performance of any of the conditions above specified this present Tack shall ipso facto become void & null upon the part of the said Archd. Campbell and his foresaids And it shall be leisome & lawful for the said Duke and his abovewritten not only summarily to apprehend the possession of the said Lands brevi manu But also to sett & dispose thereupon to any other they shall think fit as fully and freely in all respects as if this present Tack had not been granted and that without any Declarator or process of Law to be intended upon the said Contravention  And both the said parties oblige themselves and their foresaids to perform the promisses hinc inde under the penalty of £16 Sterling to be paid by the party failing to the party observing or willing to observe the same by & allow performance  And they consent &c.



Both tacks or leases follow standard eighteenth-century conventions and terminology, which have been analysed by Martin Hogg, ‘Leases: Four Historical Portraits’, in Reid and Zimmermann (eds),  History of Private Law in Scotland: Volume 1, pp. 363-98.  Hogg notes (p. 390) that the content of such tacks or leases covers ‘(a) a general statement that the land is set in tack and assedation; (b) designation of the property; (c) statement of the term; (d) statement of warranty against all hands and deadly; (e) an obligation on the tenant to pay the tack duty, and statement of the dates for payment; (f) a penalty clause; and (g) a clause of registration.’

The language used in the leases is essentially English, combined with Scots legal phrases.  In three instances, the names of Gaelic places and traditional practices are presented in a spelling based to some extent on Scots; thus the place-name Kerralonamair in (2) for Ceathramh Lònamair, and Graddan and Reugh in both leases.  See notes [2] and [3] below.

[1] Although Eric Cregeen claims in his summary of township life (‘Creation of Crofting Townships’) that barley was pulled, this practice is expressly forbidden in both leases.


[2] Graddan:  From the Gaelic gradan, referring to the process of igniting a sheaf, burning the husk, and beating the hardened grain off the ears, commonly with a stick called maide-gradanaidh.   This was a very wasteful way of drying and hardening grain prior to grinding on querns, and it is therefore forbidden in the leases, with a strong direction to use kilns and designated mills.  Cf. AEI, p. 2.


[3] Reugh:  A Scotticised form of Gaelic rùgh or rùigh, meaning ‘roots of grass for dyeing red found in Machaire’ (MacDonald, Gaelic Words from South Uist and Eriskay, p. 206, s.v. Rùth).  Rùgh was found in the sandy banks of machairs, and digging was dangerous, in that it could lead to serious sand-blow.  Landlords therefore disapproved strongly of the practice.  There are Gaelic tales of tenants who go to dig for rùgh at night, to avoid detection by the ground-officer or Factor.


[4] Goats:  Goats were regarded as highly destructive animals, ‘injurious to plantations’, and were banned not only in leases, but also in instructions to Chamberlains and Factors.  Those who kept them risked being put out of their tacks.  Cf. AEI, pp. 120, 174n.


[5] Baron Baillie Courts: ‘Obedience to tradition was supplemented as a means of achieving co-operation by the institution of the Baron Court.  This had two functions.  On the one hand, it served as a place where the tenants of a laird’s estate, often comprising many farmtouns, could come together and interpret custom.  On the other, it acted as the laird’s private court of jurisdiction through which he could exert control over society, compel payment of rents and services due to himself and punish crimes committed by the peasants against himself or against the community’ (Smout, History of the Scottish People, p. 115). 


Alexander MacLean of Gott


Alexander MacLean (1727-97), tacksman of Gott and also tacksman of Àird Deas (1763-82), belonged to a distinguished family of Tiree tacksmen.  The family was descended from Hugh MacLean, tacksman of Balephetrish (1663 x 1698) and Joint Baillie of Tiree, and his wife Catherine, daughter of John Garbh MacLean.  Their son Hector succeeded his father in the Balephetrish tack (1695 x 1741), but he also held the twelve mail-land tack of Gott and Vuill (Bhaoill, in Gaelic), probably from 1737 to 1743, when he was recorded in an official Argyll Estate paper as ‘Desperate’, i.e. with significant debts which cannot be recovered (‘Articles in the Rental of Tiree Given up for the Year 1743’). His difficulties followed the displacement of the larger tacksmen from the Argyll Estates in 1737, when their former sub-tacksmen tried to obtain the vacant tacks, and submitted excessively high bids.    As a result, Hector lost the Gott and Vuill tack, and it was reassigned to Colin Campbell, who was said to be ‘in a better way of paying his tack duty’.  The Balephetrish tack was probably also lost at the same time, as it was held in 1747 by Dugald Campbell of ‘Clenemacrie’, i.e. Clenamacrie in Glen Lonan (‘Rental of Tyrie & Two Ends of Coll’).   Hector’s son, our Alexander, appears to have restored the family’s standing, and to have regained the tack of Gott and Vuill, possibly from 1762 (assuming a nineteen-year lease to Campbell from 1743).  Balephetrish, however, remained with Campbells.  Evidently around the same time, Alexander obtained the tack of Àird Deas (also twelve mail-lands).  ‘Mr. Alexander McLean’ (52) and ‘Mrs. McLean’ (60), with daughter Lillie (30), and two sons, John (26) and Donald (26), are recorded as resident at Gott in the 1779 List (p. 53).   

Alexander appears to have relinquished both tacks when their leases expired in 1782, and to have removed to Kilninian, Mull, taking a later holding at Mingary on the lands of MacLean of Coll. See Maclean-Bristol, ‘Tiree and Coll’, pp. 393 and 404, Annex A, for very useful details of the family.

As Miss Babs MacIntyre, Gott, kindly informs me, the MacLeans of Gott are remembered to the present in the tradition of her family.  As their departure to Mull might suggest, Gott tradition avers that the Duke was not well disposed to the MacLeans.  This almost certainly reflects the long-standing tensions between the MacLeans and the Campbells, and the gradual displacement of MacLean tacksmen in favour of Campbells.  The family home was at Loch a’ Riaghain in Bhaoill, beside Miss MacIntyre’s home.  The Gott and Bhaoill tack later became Gott Farm.

The links of the MacLeans of Gott with Tiree were continued into the nineteenth century in the person of the Rev. Neil MacLean, M.A., parish minister of Tiree (1815-59), whose mother was Lillias, or Lillie, daughter of Alexander MacLean, and who is buried in the old cemetery in Kirkapol.   See Scott, ‘Building on Faith: Church Building on Tiree by the Church of Scotland in the 1840s’, for an account of ‘Maighstir Niall’, as he was known.













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