February 2014

Certificate of membership of the Lismore Branch of the Highland Land Law Reform Association issued to John McDonald.

Lismore Document Archive LISDD:2007.B2

Highland Land Law Certificate

Highland Land Law Certificate

The Highland Land Reform Association (also known as the Highland Land League and the Crofters’ Party) was established in 1884 as a political movement to draw attention to the social problems of crofting communities. Modelled on the Irish Land League, its main aim was to widen access to land.  The motto Is treise tuath na tighearna signified that The people are mightier than a lord. 

As well as stimulating direct action (rent strikes etc), the Association was successful in sending five MPs to parliament in 1885, including Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, one of the Napier Commissioners.  At least some of its aims (security of tenure and fair rents) were met by the passing of the Crofters’ Act of 1886, and the establishment of the Crofting Commission. Progress then stalled with the fall of the Liberal government in 1886, and the influence of the Association had dwindled by the 1890s.

Further action, for example to release more land to crofters, had to wait for the return of a strong Liberal government in 1906 and the establishment of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland.

There is no record of direct action by the Lismore Branch of the Association, but they did manage to arrange for Donald MacFarlane, the Liberal/Crofters’ Party candidate, to address Lismore voters in the Bachuil chapel in August 1885, and he was duly elected to parliament for Argyllshire.

John McDonald and Mary McIntyre around 1900(identified by Donald Black)

John McDonald and Mary McIntyre around 1900
(identified by Donald Black) 

The member John McDonald has been difficult to identify, because he was a seaman, absent from the island at both the 1881 and 1891 censuses.In earlier years, he had lived on the mainland (sons born in Glasgow and Oban), and had been more prosperous (listed as a shipowner in Port Ramsay 1n 1861 and 1871).  Around 60 at the time of issue of the certificate, he was married to Mary McIntyre, and they lived in one of the cottages opposite the parish church.  Their sons Duncan and Donald followed their father to sea and, in 1900, they were both drowned in the tragic wreck of the smack Brothers of Brodick at the south end of the island.  The museum has a ship in a bottle that was made by one of the brothers.

John died in 1907, aged 85, without securing a croft for his family.  The certificate and the ship in a bottle were donated to the museum by their descendant, the late Donald Black, who did buy a croft on Baligrundle.

The Honorary Secretary of the Lismore Branch was probably Alexander McColl, farmer in Portcastle

McDonald Ship in a Bottle.  Museum Object LISDD:2006.2

McDonald Ship in a Bottle. Museum Object LISDD:2006.2