The Story of Achanard

Achanard today

Achanard today

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, Lismore was an important source of grain for the West Highlands: every possible piece of cultivable land was used to produce oats for food and livestock feed, and bere barley for whisky distilling, as well as grain to pay the rent. Until around 1800, tenants farmed the township lands jointly under runrig, and the work was arduous. For each crop, the rigs were reshaped by plough or hand, the seedbed was harrowed, the seed sown, the rigs weeded, and the herdboys and girls were kept busy keeping the cows out of the corn. Harvesting was by sickle, with a team of followers binding the sheaves and gleaning the lost ears; and then there was the carting, storing, threshing and kiln-drying of the grain. The townships were full of people and their labour was needed.

Achanard (High Fields), an ancient land division ( a 4 merkland) in the south of the island, was particularly hard to cultivate. There is little level land, free of rock; most of the area is higher than in the surrounding townships of Fiart, Achinduin and Kilcheran; and the slopes facing Mull, are exposed to the full force of the prevailing SW winds. In spite of this, the landlords demanded a high rent: in 1751, at just over £11, it was much higher than more favoured townships such as Balnagowan and Killean.

Most of the people would have lived in the Achanard township, shown on the 1815 estate map, now lying in ruins above Loch Fiart. In the 1780s, there were at least eight resident families bringing children forward for baptism:

Archibald Black (Janet)
Duncan Black (child not named)
John Black and Christian MacColl (Colin & Alexander)
John Campbell and Mary Black (Dugald & Ewen)
Archibald Campbell and Sarah Black (Katharine)
James McDonald and Christian Colquhon (Agnes)
John McKeich and Mary Black (Mary & Hugh)
John McKillop and Christian McCarmaig (Duncan & Anne).

Using a conservative estimate of 3 children per family, and allowing for unmarried and older residents, the community of tenants, cottars and craftsmen of Achanard in 1785 cannot have been less than 50 and was probably more. These were the people that were evicted in the first clearance of Achanard.

Sketch map of Achanard & surrounding townships (approximate boundaries only)

Sketch map of Achanard & surrounding townships (approximate boundaries only)

The landlord was David Campbell of Combie. His father, John Campbell (son of Alexander Campbell of Glenamacrie), had prospered as a cattle dealer, and bought Fiart and Achanard from the Duke of Argyll around 1750. David Campbell was deeply involved in the movement for agricultural improvement, procuring cattle for the Duke and acting as factor for the Duke of Sutherland. Realising that Achanard was more suited to livestock production, with the potential for higher rent, Combie had the land divided up into grass parks by drystone dykes, and removed most of the people because there was no longer a need for such a large work force. Cheviot sheep were introduced. By 1789, John McKillop may have been the only remaining tenant and, as the following letter shows, he was about to be evicted. In the event, he did not get land at Achinduin, but moved to Kilcheran.

Lismore 7th Janry 1789
Alexander Campbell Esq of Barcaldine
Dear Sir
The bearer John M’Killop who and his predecessors has been always kindly men and followers of the family of Dunstaffnage, is at present a tenant with Combie at Achnard, but as the greatest part of the farm is now enclosed and divided into grass inclosures, he is under the necessity of turning away most of his tenants. I therefore beg leave to request you will be so good as let the bearer have half a merk of Achindown, which I suppose is the twelfth part, he will agree to pay what augmentation or input you get from others. Your compliance will much oblige.

Dr Sir Your very hum.servt.
Don. Campbell [of Dunstaffnage]

A charity subscription list in the Edinburgh newspaper, the Caledonian Mercury, includes two Achanard tenants around 1800 (Archibald Black and Lachlan Campbell, presumably men of some substance) but, between 1800 and 1810, only one tenant, successively John McPhail and Neil Black, can be traced. However, the parish baptism records show that other families began to move back from 1810, from the surrounding townships of Fiart and Achinduin. Some of these would have been cottars, driven to seek uncultivated land in an overpopulated island. The estate survey of 1815 recognised fourholdings on Achanard (of 84, 63, 48 and 20 acres, predominantly pasture) and the accompanying map (see below) shows that several small arable fields had been opened up on the east side. The fact that the incoming cottar families and their successors were able to stay for the next thirty years was probably because of difficulties with the Combie finances, and the fact that the family was losing interest in agriculture. David Campbell of Combie entailed his lands on Lismore in 1808 to prevent them from being sold by his heirs but, shortly after his death in 1814 (his elder son John had been killed in action in India in 1804), his second son Charles (1782-1835) was forced to sell up much of his unentailed inheritance including the family home. He retained his estate of Glencruitten and, for the rest of his life seems to have been absorbed in the development of Oban, joining the Duke of Argyll in converting the village to a burgh of barony in 1820, when he became provost. His role is remembered in at least two street names in the town.

The lists of families shown at the end of this article show that, between 1810 and 1840, there were normally six or seven families of Blacks, Campbells, Carmichaels, Kieths and McDonalds living on Achanard but there was a great deal of turnover, with families shuttling between the township and Fiart, Achinduin, Kilcheran and Craignich. Although the ruins at Achanard show that the living conditions for these cottars were very basic, over the forty years from 1800 to 1840 over 55 children were born in the township. Some of them would seek a new life in the New World. Thanks to the work of Cheryl McIntosh of Massachusetts, we now know that Archibald Black, tenant in Achanard, emigrated to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, around 1820, and, by 1823, had bought a farm of 270 acres there for 85 Nova Scotia pounds (slightly less than £85 sterling). Clearly he was a man of substance and initiative, showing that emigrants should not necessarily be classed as victims. Letters from Cape Breton to Frackersaig in the 1840s show that the Blacks were part of a sizeable Lismore colony. Archibald died in 1846 but Ms McIntosh’s researches show that his family prospered and multiplied in the New World.

Meanwhile, Charles Combie had tried to sell Achanard and Fiart to James Cheyne, a wealthy Edinburgh lawyer, but other members of the family had intervened, because the estate was entailed. The case eventually went to the House of Lords, which ruled that the sale could go though and, by the time that James Cheyne took possession in 1842, Achanard had been cleared for the second and final time. At the 1841 and 1851 censuses, there was only one resident family, headed by a shepherd (in 1851, Peter Kieth, who had lived there in the 1820s and 1830s) but, by 1861, the township was finally deserted.

The Achanard people evicted around 1840 moved into the surrounding townships but they were not given much peace by the incoming landlord. During the 1840s and 1850s, the Cheyne family cleared the townships in the south west of the island (Fiart, Kilcheran, Baligrundle and Craignich), amounting to more than 200 people. For most of them, there was no choice but to emigrate from Lismore.

Acknowledgement I am grateful to Catriona White for her detailed knowledge of the south end of Lismore; and to Cheryl McIntosh of Massachusetts, USA, who has provided a great deal of information on the Lismore colony in Cape Breton Island.

Section of the 1815 estate map of Fiart & Achanard. The Bishop's land was Kilcheran.

Section of the 1815 estate map of Fiart & Achanard. The Bishop’s land was Kilcheran.

Families living on Achanard 1790-1840 (from Lismore Parish Records of baptism)

John McKillop (Kilcheran by 1793)

John McPhail

Niel Black & Mary McIntyre

Archibald Black & Bell McColl
Hugh Black & Effy Black (from Point of Fiart after 1808)
Neil Black & Mary McIntyre
Colin Campbell & Chirsty Black
Hugh Carmichael & Chirsty McArthur (from Achinduin after 1810)
John McIntyre & Cathrine McNicol

Archibald Black & Bell McColl
Duncan Black & Janet/Nelly Kieth (Fiart by 1823)
Niel Black & Mary McIntyre/Black (Point of Fiart by 1822)
Colin Campbell & Chirsty Black
Hugh Carmichael & Chirsty McArthur (back to Achinduin by 1819)
Duncan Kieth & Janet Carmichael

Colin Campbell & Chirsty Black
Duncan Black & Janet McKellaich
James Black & Cathrine McColl
James Burns & Lilly Campbell
James Campbell & Bell Black
Duncan Campbell & Peggy McColl
Niel McDonald & Flory/Flora McKellaich (McDonald) (from Point of Fiart after 1820)

Colin Campbell & Chirsty Black
James Black & Cathrine McColl (Kilcheran by 1830)
Duncan Campbell & Peggy McColl
James Campbell & Bell Black
Myles Kieth & Chirsty McGlashan
Peter Kieth & Janet McKellaich
Niel McDonald & Flory McKellaich (McDonald)

Archd Campbell & Peggy Kieth (from Craignich after 1832)
James Campbell & Bell Black
Myles Kieth & Chirsty McGlashan
Peter Kieth & Janet McKellaich (in Craignich by 1838)
Dugald McIntyre & Peggy Campbell
James Burn & Mary Black

Archd Campbell & Peggy Kieth (in Kilcheran by 1840)
James Campbell & Bell Black (in Craignich by 1841)
Myles Kieth & Chirsty M’Glashan (in Kilcheran by 1840)
Dugald M’Intyre & Peggy Campbell

Robert Hay