Work in Progress (May 2017)
Part 2. Achuaran: A Leading Township in the Improvement Era
The 1839/40 printed details of the Airds estate provide rare insights into how the township of Achuaran was rented out. At 276 acres (total rent £245), it was one of the bigger township on the estate – similar in extent to Fennachrochan (273 acres) but significantly bigger than Balure (172) or Cloichlea (120). The annual rent for each holding within the townships was traditionally in terms of cash, poultry, seal oil, hanks of yarn, meal and grots (hulled grain) and seeds, with a further payment in lieu of any income that could arise from wrecks. These items of kain rent probably date from at least the 17th century. In 1840, widow Cathrine Carmichael, one of the principal tenants (with her son Donald) was expected to pay £22 in cash but her traditional rent in kind (60 eggs, 3 fowls, 3 chickens, 1 pint of oil, 3 hanks of (woolen) yarn and 6 bolls of oatmeal, together with her responsibility for grots, seeds and wrecks) had, by that time, been converted to a further cash rent of £6 12s 9d.
Up to 1890, there were normally five tenants on Achuaran and, although a MacIntyre is listed as a farmer in 1841, the landholding on the township was dominated from the early 19th century by two families with larger holdings – John and Cathrine Carmichael, followed by their son Donald; and John and Cathrine MacGregor, followed by their son Dugald. Hugh, another prominent Carmichael in the early years of the century gave 2/6 in 1800 to a public subscription for the Defence of the Country and, in 1836, he was the only man on Achuaran who was qualified to vote in parliamentary elections – evidence that, under the new terms of the Scottish Reform Act of 1832, he was a tenant paying £50 (or, possibly, that he represented a group of tenants together paying £50).
The Carmichaels can be traced back into the 18th century, probably much further, and they generally sought wives from surrounding townships. The McGregors were undoubtably related to the three sons of Gregor McGregor in Achuaran who had emigrated to America by 1841 (see the McGregor family history by Laura Gloag).
Donald Carmichael (1807-1875) was the son of John Carmichael (c1773-1828) and Cathrine Carmichael (c1787-1863) in Achuaran. By 1851, he was farming 60 acres, rising to 100 acres in 1861, at a rent of £100. His farm is described as 90 acres, 60 arable in 1871. He died, a single man aged 65 in 1875. The farm then passed to his brother Alexander who, in his ‘fifties, was able to marry and start a family but, by 1891, a third brother, Dugald (73) seems to have taken over. He died in 1893.
John MacGregor (c1801- 1865) son of Dugald McGregor and Cat (Cathrine) McColl was probably born in Fennachrochan (where his sister Mary was born in 1787). He and his wife Cathrine Buchanan had at least 6 children in Tirfuir before moving to Achuaran by 1836 (birth of son Gregor). He was a farmer of 80 acres in 1851, employing 3 men, and, by 1861, he had 60 acres, at a rent of £86. His large household included his wife Cathrine (c1802-1866) and his married son Dugald with a wife and four children. Dugald (48) had succeeded his father by 1871; his household included eight children and two of his unmarried brothers. By the 1881 census, the holding had shrunk to 30 acres, 15 arable and, by 1891, this branch of the MacGregors was no longer in Achuaran.
These details are important because they reveal that, during the era of Improvement (beginning on Lismore around the 1830s), large areas of the township remained with the same tenants. The principal change was the arrival of the MacColls. In 1841, Donald MacColl (1780-1873) was the miller at Baligrundle in the south of the island, but he returned to Achuaran (where he had been born) when James Cheyne cleared Baligrundle of its tenants. In 1851, aged 70, he was tenant of 25 acres at Point/Ruardgainich, rent £26 (replacing the Black family, which had been in possession since early in the century) and, in 1861, he was “innkeeper and farmer of 30 acres at Point”. The 1871 census does not include his landholding but, when he was succeeded by his son Alexander in 1873, it was to 120 acres, 60 arable at Point. This was the modern Point and Park Farm, crossing the boundaries of the original Fennachrochain (see Parts 1, 4 and 5).
In addition to these farms, there were two smaller holdings on what became known as Stronacraoibh, held by another branch of the Lismore Carmichaels. Donald (36 in 1841) and Dugald (38) each had 10 acres in 1841 and their family held on to the holding well into the 20th century. The joint rent in the ‘fifties was £32. Duncan Black, was described as a crofter in Achuaran on his death certificate in 1886 (aged 88) but he was registered as a cottar in the 1881 census.
Altogether the pattern of landholding was very stable until around 1890, when the MacGillivrays arrived from Mull. In 1901, Alexander MacGillivray (40) was the farmer at what is now known as Achuaran Farm; Alexander MacAskill (56), born in Gairloch, had Point and Park Farm, and also acted as ferryman; Donald Carmichael (45, the last remaining representative of the 19th century landholders) had Stronacraoibh; and Duncan MacPhail (54) had exchanged a croft at Laggan for one on Achuaran.
In addition to the five tenant households, between 1841 and 1901 there were between 7 and 11 cottar households. Although the 1804 List of Fencible Men (the list of men liable for service in the Argyll Militia) included a weaver and a cooper, Achuaran was not a centre for craftspeople in the first half of the century; most cotters were labourers, general servants, ploughmen or herds. This is consistent with an agricultural economy that still relied on unenclosed arable cropping by rig and furrow, with the need for a great deal of seasonal labour for ploughing, sowing, weeding, harvesting and keeping the cows out of the corn. Later, the population became more varied: quarriers in 1861, 1881 and 1901; fishermen in 1871 and 1881; merchant/shopkeeper in 1871 and 1891; stonemasons from 1881 to 1901; blacksmith in 1881; joiners in 1891 and 1901; postman in 1891 and road contractor in 1901. Women were domestic servants or housekeepers, although there was dairy work and, by 1881, Maggie MacGregor had found work as cook in Achuaran Cottage, the summer cottage of the Gregorsons, later the Elphinstone/MacLachlan family. During much of the century there were few paupers, supported under the Poor Law, but there was a sharp increase in the 1880s, with four elderly islanders requiring support. At least three households were headed by a retired individual in 1901.
Fig. 1. North End Boundaries today
Fig. 2. Possible North End Boundaries in the past
There was a continual turnover of cotter families. From 1810, there was a steady movement into the developing community at Port Ramsay (see Part 3). From 1841 to 1901, Carmichael and MacGregor heads of household tended to dominate – landless younger sons, widows and retired men. Of the ten cottar households in 1841, five (four headed by widows or single women) continued until at least 1851 but the others disappeared from the island. Of the ten cotter households in 1871, six (4 Carmichael & 1 MacGregor) continued to 1881. In 1891, there were 8 households of cottars and retired individuals but, by the 1911 census, the original Achuaran township had four farmhouses, three private houses and one villa (Achuaran House)
Population/Births recorded for Achuaran
There are no accurate population numbers for Lismore townships before the first census in 1841, although some idea of the density of settlement on Achuaran can be gained from the births recorded in the Old Parish Records
Period No of births No of couples having children
1766-1779 26 17
1780-1800 36 16
1800-1819 43 16
1819-1833 41 19
1834-1854 27 15
Total numbers No of households
1841 59 16
1851 49 13
1861 72 13
1871 78 15
1881 59 16
1891 50 12
1901 52 10
1911 41 9
Although the population did dip slightly in the 1840s, this cannot be attributed to results of the potato famine, particularly as Achuaran was both a source of families moving to Port Ramsay and a receiving area for families moving within Lismore. The main finding is that the original township area retained a similar level of population throughout the century.
The landlord for much of the 1850s and 1860s, Alexander Haig, was an Improver, one of the founding members of the Lismore Agricultural Society in 1853, maintaining a active involvement (including an annual subscription of £5) well into the ‘sixties. Two of his tenants, Donald Carmichael and Donald McColl, were members of the first “committee of management” of the society, Carmichael serving in the 1860s as secretary. John McGregor was also a founder member. Following the example of the Highland and Agricultural Society, the main activity of the Lismore Society was to recognize good farming practice by a series of “premiums” or prizes in cash or equipment, assessed by island and mainland experts at the annual ploughing match in February/March, during the growing season for crops, and at the annual livestock show in August.
The Achuaran tenants featured very prominently in these awards: nearly every year from 1854, Donald Carmichael was awarded premiums for his livestock, particularly breeding cows, stirks and horses. His oat and turnip crops also attracted prizes. In the same years (1854 to 1863) his brother Alexander Carmichael progressed from third place in the annual ploughing match to a consistent first, out of fields of 16 or more contestants.
Meanwhile the MacGregors were also high achievers. Over the years from 1856 to 1862, John gained premiums for both crops and livestock, winning first place on the island for his stirks (1858), horses (1859) and grass crops (1860). His son, Dugald, was a rival for Alexander Carmichael at the ploughing matches, placed each year and winning in 1856 and 1858.
The active interest of the landlord, and the achievements of his tenants (including the McColls, who also won premiums for crops and livestock), provide clear evidence that the important stages of Improvement (drainage, abolition of rig & furrow cultivation, enclosure, rotations, livestock selection etc) had been completed on Achuaran at least by the 1850s if not earlier. These changes took place without the major social disruption experienced elsewhere on the island: between 1841 and 1891, the population of the island fell from 1148 to 561 (loss of 51%) whereas the population of Achuaran actually rose in the 1860s and 1870s, with an overall reduction over the 50 years from 59 to 50. This stability arose out of the continuity of Carmichaels and MacGregors, with renewal by the influx of individuals from elsewhere on the island.
The Independent Chapel
The 1840s was a time of evangelical renewal in Scotland, culminating in the Disruption of 1843. Dissenters on Lismore, led by John McDugald, weaver in Balimakillichan, established a meeting of Congregationalists on the island, building a Chapel at Cachiladrishaig in 1844, where he started a Sabbath School for island children. The land was given by Sir John Campbell of Airds and there is an island tradition that the chapel was built by voluntary labour. It is not known to what extent the inhabitants of Achuaran attended the chapel but, in the absence of a parish church hall, it did serve as a social centre, accommodating ecumenical church soirées at least into the 1870s.
The Independent/Congregationalist Chapel, now a farm building
The first Ordnance Survey Map of Lismore, surveyed in 1870/1, shows schools at Achuaran, Kilandrist and Baligrundle but that does not mean that the Achuaran School was active. The 1872 Education Act provided state-sponsored schools, with compulsory attendance for all children from 5 to 13, run by local school boards; on Lismore, this meant the establishment of state schools at Baligarve and Baligrundle, and the closure of the long-standing parish school at Kilandrist.
There is very little documentary information about the Achuaran School, which was on the site of Jack Reynold’s house. In 1841 Allan McArthur, schoolmaster, not native to the island, was a lodger with Dugald McIntyre, farmer in Achuaran. Ten years later (1851) he was schoolmaster in Duror. Peter McDougall, later a farmer on Baleveolan, is described in the 1841 census as schoolmaster on Lismore, but resident in Duror. There were no resident teachers in Achuran at later census dates; the nearest were John McGregor and Anne McGregor (Society teacher), not living together, in Baligarve in 1851; and Malcolm McIntyre (lodger in Port Ramsay) and Anne McGregor (sewing school teacher) in Baligarve in 1861. Further research is needed but it appears that the situation on Lismore in the mid-19thCentury, before 1872, was:
Kilandrist. Parish School. Schoolmaster Samuel McColl (1809-1862).
Baligrundle Parish school from around 1830. Schoolmaster Peter McDougall in the 1840s & 1850s
Achuaran School. 1840s-1860s. Possibly a SPCK sewing school for girls.
Further information would be welcome.
Census data 1841-1911
Extract from the Caledonian Mercury 10 May 1800. Subscription list from the
United Parishes of Lismore & Appin for the Defence of the Country. Copy in the Lismore archive.
Hay R K M. (2013). How an Island Lost its People. Islands Book Trust.
LISDD:2007.C Lismore Agricultural Society archive
LISDD. 2009.N Emigration and Overseas. McDugald archive.
List of Lismore men liable to serve in the militia. 1804. 18 September. Copy in
the Lismore archive.
NRS GD170/572 Schoolmasters’ salaries paid by Breadalbane
NRS GD174/1166 Particulars and Rental of the Farms for sale by Campbell of
Airds.. Copy in the Lismore archive.
Old Parish Records, Lismore Parish. 1766-1854. Copies in the Lismore archive.
Register of Voters for Parish of Lismore 1836. Copy in the Lismore archive.
White A M. (2009). St Moluag’s Church, Isle of Lismore. Transcription of the
Gravestones in the Old Graveyard. Published privately.