Object of the Month: May 2015

Object of the Month, May 2015

Records of the Baron Court for the Glenorchy Lands on Lismore, 1615-1643

Title page from the 1616 record.

Title page from the 1616 record.

In the early 1600s, the Campbell Lords of Glenorchy, soon to be the Earls of Breadalbane, owned one third of Lismore – the townships of Baligrundle, Achnacroish, Tirlaggan, Killean, Baleveolan and Balimakillichan, looked after by a cadet family of Campbells planted in the ‘Black Tower’ of Barcaldine.

At that time, those who held land directly from the crown were responsible fornearly all of the processes of law on their land (the ‘heritable jurisdictions’, not withdrawn until 1746 in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion).

The Black Tower of Barcaldine

The Black Tower of Barcaldine

Black Duncan, 7th Lord of Glenorchy (1545-1631) expected his Lismore people to walk at least once a year to Drisaig (next to his castle at Kilchuirn), Ferlochan (near Barcaldine Tower) or Achnaba in Ardchattan to submit to his authority. He had power of ‘pit and gallows’ over his people but, unlike other barons, who used their courts to control the behavior of their people, he was most concerned with enforcing his regulations for land use.

The surviving baron court records (1615-20, 1624, 1625, 1628-30, 634,1636, 1638 and 1641-3) show that the subtenants and cottars were generally left to regulate their communities themselves. They were prosecuted and fined for not growing the prescribed crops; not maintaining kailyards; not planting trees; cutting ‘green’ wood; using the wrong type of peat spade; and using querns rather than the lord’s mill.

Kilchuirn Castle

Kilchuirn Castle

Over the years there were only three cases of violence brought to the court, each involving ‘blude and trublance’ (bloodshed and breach of the peace). The most spectacular of these involved Ewen MacGillespic in Killean, who confessed to biting a piece from the nose of Duncan MacIan, who, in turn, was found to have bitten off one of MacGillespic’s fingers. There were also a few cases involving familiar themes: holding on to property (‘wrangful detent of ane fute spade’) and theft of alcohol.

Copies of the original court proceedings, from the Court Book of Disher and Toyer (National Records of Scotland GD112), with transcriptions of the text by Linda Fryer, can be consulted in the museum archive. The texts may be of value to some genealogists in providing the names of the main subtenants and cottars during this period.

Fuller accounts of the contents and their significance can be found at:

Hay, R K M (2012). Keeping the peace on Lismore. Historic Argyll 17, 37-48

Hay, R K M and Fryer, L (2015). Island Life in the 17th Century. History Scotland 15, 44-50.

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