Giving evidence before the Deer Forest Commission of 1892, the late Mr. neas R. Macdonell of Camusdarroch, Arisaig, made an interesting statement. After mentioning that he was a member of the Scottish Bar, and had previously been proprietor of Morar, he proceeded:–
I am able to speak generally as to the population there used to be in Arisaig in my young days,—in fact, the whole tract of country seemed to be populated and to have numerous houses on all parts of it; but I want to confine my evidence almost entirely to that portion of the district which is now under deer forest. It is now called Rhu-Arisaig, but 100 years ago it was called Dubh-chamus.
Although I am only seventy-two years of age, I am able to speak of thirty years beyond that, from 1794. My grandfather occupied the various places or townships in Dubh-chamus or Rudha. These were Dubh-chamus, Rhu, Tirnadrish, Torbae, Rhubrec, Tormor, Rhuemoch, Claggan, Portavullid, Bal-ur, Ardgaserie, and Achagarrailt. I am able to speak concerning that period from an old account-book belonging to my grandfather, to which I had access a good many years ago, and it was in connection with a very melancholy occasion in which I was unfortunately implicated, viz., an emigration from the estate of Loch Sheil in Moidart. In that account-book I found thirty-seven names of individuals in the various families who were paying rent, as sub-tenants to my grandfather, Archibald Macdonald, Rudha, Arisaig, who died, I think, in 1828 or 1829. I don’t know where that account-book now is. At that time it was in the possession of my uncle, Macdonald of Loch Shell; and I may as well mention that it was in connection with Rudha that I came to examine the book.
First I should mention that these people occupied Rhu as cottars, and they had land for which apparently they paid no rent, but worked the land, of which Mr. Macdonald of Rudha cropped a portion. They paid rent for grazing,—a small nominal sum, and he himself paid a very small rent also to the then proprietor, Macdonald of Clanranald. In fact he, as well as Macdonald of Borrodale and Macdonald of Glen Alladale, came into possession of the various lands as being sons of the then Macdonald of Clanranald. They took these lands with the population on them, and occupied them.
The rents were paid to the tenants, to these Macdonalds, at a very small rate, because they themselves were not highly charged.
It so came to pass that in Lord Cranston’s time my uncle, Gregor Macdonald, who then occupied Rudha, had to give a large increase of rent, or be quit of it. Well, he could not under the old system on which he held it afford to give more rent. The consequence was that the farm was taken over him; and the cruel thing was, that he was obliged to remove all the sub-tenants upon it who had been there generations before him or his ancestors. The only thing that he could do was to get his brother Macdonald of Loch Sheil to take the people over to Loch Sheil in Moidart. Times grew black, and the potato famine occurred, and the consequence was that there was a redundant population, for Moidart had previously been well inhabitated, and the addition of so many families from Rudha, Arisaig, quite overwhelmed them when the potato famine occurred.
I was then puzzled to know how many came from Rhu, Arisaig, and I got access in that way to the old books from which I took an extract, and I have here a list of the names of the various people and the portions of Rudha that they occupied. In Ardgaserich there were 12, viz., Lachlan Mackinnon, Donald Roy Macinnes, John Macintyre, John Mackinnon, Patrick Maccormack, Neil Mackinnon, Ronald Macdonald, Mrs. Macdonald, Donald Macvarish, Duncan Macinnes, John Macdonald, and Allan Mackinnon. In Torbae there were 4, viz., Angus Smith, L. Mackinnon, J. Macdonald, John Maciasaac. In Dubh-chamus, ten, viz., John Kinnaird, John Macisaac, Finlay Mackellaig, Archibald Macfarlane, James Macdonald, Widow Maceachan, Patrick Grant, Allan Mackinnon, Dugald Macpherson, and Widow Maclean. In Rudha, zi, viz., Mrs. Donald Macdonald, Donald Macinnes, Roderick Mackinnon, John Maccormack, Rory Smith, Angus Bain Macdonald, Ewan Mackinnon, Peter Macfarlane, Dugald Gillies, Alexander Macleod, Angus Roy Maceachan. These are in all 37, and they are evidently of different families. The rents were given, and the payments made, and everything in connection with their holdings. The date of this is 1794.
I was going on to explain that these people, or rather the descendants of some of them, had to be removed to Moidart, and in the congested state of the estate it had to be considered what was best to be done. I was then a young man. I had just passed at the Bar, and I and the late respected James Macgregor of Fort William were appointed trustees to do what was best. W’Ve could see nothing for it,—it was impossible for the people to subsist,—but to assist them to emigrate, and we were assisted very materially in carrying out the emigration by the resident Catholic clergyman of that time, Rev. Ronald Rankine, who indeed followed them. So many of them went to Australia and a few of them to America. But never shall I forget until my dying day,—it is a source of grief to me that I had anything whatsoever to do with that emigration, although, at the same time, God knows I cannot understand how it could have been averted. Many of the people have succeeded well and are well-to-do, but if they had remained, they would have been impoverished themselves, and they would have impoverished the few that are still on the estate.