Thursday, 22 July 2010

Lady Matheson's Memorial

Lady Mathesons Memorial
Lady Matheson's Memorial
This small memorial stands prominently above Cuddy Point in Stornoway. It is a memorial to Sir James Matheson, proprietor of Lewis from 1844 until his death in 1878, erected by his wife. The memorial was recently restored and a ceremony was held to celebrate the event.
Sir James was a controversial figure in history, both on the international (opium) and national stages. In recent times, I have transcribed the findings of the Napier Commission into the conditions of crofters in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, which took place in 1883. His chamberlain, William Mackay, waxes lyrical about Sir James’ achievements, listing all the improvements he has made in his 34 years in the Lews in reply to question 16833 on the link here. Be warned: it is a lengthy statement.
By the time of the Napier Commission’s visit to Lewis in June 1883, Sir James Matheson had been dead for five years. His wife, Lady Mary Jane Matheson, showed herself to be a less than sympathetic landowner. Another blogger from Lewis (”Croft”) has written a good summary why that description is apt.
It is beyond me why the memorial to the Mathesons was restored and their memory lauded in recent years. It is my personal opinion that Sir James and Lady Matheson have been a disaster for Lewis, and a disaster for Great Britain.
I’m closing with some correspondence, quoted at the Napier Commission’s hearing at Keose on 12 June 1883. It is worth pointing out that 14 months passed between the first letter and Lady Matheson’s inexecrable reply.
Mr Cameron and Mr Fraser-Mackintosh are members of the Napier Commission; Mr Mackay is chamberlain to the Lews Estate.
[Question 17454]
22nd Nov. 1881.
—Unto Lady Matheson, liferent proprietrix of the island of Lewis, residing at Lewis Castle.
—We, the undersigned fishermen, labourers, and royal naval reserve men residing in the villages of Gravir, Calbost, and Marvic, in the parish of Lochs, Lewis, understanding that the present lease of the farm of Park, Lochs, expires at Whitsunday 1883, would take the liberty of approaching your Ladyship on the subject. At present we are either squatters, or hold small patches of land from other crofters in these villages, all of which are quite inadequate for the support of ourselves and families; and unless some means are devised to extend our holdings, to enable us to support our families, we must either have to emigrate or become a burden to the estate; and that, in the opinion of the undersigned, were a portion of the land of Park farm, which comprises the low land adjacent to the sea, let to crofters and fishermen, the doing so would not militate against or depreciate the farm for shooting, sporting, and other purposes. The undersigned would therefore most respectfully solicit that the portions of the land of Park farm, known as Orinsay and Steamerra, on the north side of Lochshell, which were at one time let to tenants, be set aside in order to be let to the undersigned in such lots or parts, and at such reasonable rents, as may be arranged under the management of your chamberlain or other officers. Should the prayer of the petitioners be granted, they will bind themselves to conform to and obey all the rules and regulations of the estate, and submit to any new rules that may be considered necessary; and further, so far as they themselves are concerned, they bind themselves to do all they can to protect the interests of the proprietrix and the sporting tenant or tenants occupying the farm of Park and adjacent lands. Copy petition signed by thirty-two fishermen.’
—Calbost, Lochs, by Stornoway, 23rd December 1882.
—Lady Matheson of the Lews, Honoured Lady, On behalf of a number of fishermen residing at Calbost, &c. Lochs, I beg leave most respectfully to send you herewith copy of a petition addressed by us to your Ladyship through Mr Mackay, chamberlain of Lewis last January, and to which we had no reply. May I take the liberty of asking that you be so good as let the petitioners know your own views regarding the matters contained in the petition. I have the honour to be, your Ladyship’s obedient servant, KENNETH NICOLSON
Park, Parish of Lochs, 5th December 1882.
—William M’Kay, Esq., chamberlain of Lewis, Sir, Understanding last year that Mr P. Sellars’ lease of the Park farm was on the eve of expiring, we addressed to you a petition, signed by thirty-two inhabitants of this part of the parish, with reference to that subject. We have patiently waited for the last twelve months for your reply, having called for the same at your office repeatedly to no purpose. We most respectfully request a reply in writing, so that we may consider what steps should be taken so as to secure our object. We expect that the prayer of said petition has been favourably received by Lady Matheson and all concerned, and that our very distressing condition, which is becoming more and more serious, may induce you to give us an opportunity of earning an honest livelihood in our native island, specially when such a suitable opening occurs. Waiting your reply, in name and on behalf of said petitioners, we respectfully remain your obedient servants, KENNETH NICOLSON, KENNETH M’ KAY, KENNETH M’LEOD, JOHN M’LEOD, RODERICK M’KENZIE, ANGUS MORRISON, DONALD M’KENZIE, DONALD KENNEDY, ANGUS M’ PHAIL , &c.
To certain of the fishermen, labourers, and royal naval reserve men residing in the villages of Gravir, Calbost, and Maravich, in the parish of Lochs, Lews.—Lady Matheson regrets that the above named respectable class of Lewis men should have been led to address her on a subject of such importance as that contained in their petition by adding to it a letter which causes her to set aside their request, as Lady Matheson is too devoted to her Queen and the laws of which Her Gracious Majesty is the representative, to listen for one moment to a petition accompanied by a threat from them to infringe the laws by which all are governed, and by the support of which, as individuals, the well-being of the land and its communities at large can alone be promoted.—13 Cleveland Row, St James’s, London, 3rd January 1883.’]
17455. Mr Cameron.
—Where is the letter containing the threat referred to by Lady Matheson ?
—So far as I understand, all the papers are there, and you yourselves can judge whether there is a threatening letter among them. I myself am of belief the people have not threatened. I am convinced they uttered no threats ; but it may be put in this way, that if they did not get their request they might persist in asking it.
17456. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh [to Mr Mackay.
—Have you a copy of the letter that was sent with the original reply ?
Mr Mackay.
—No, I never saw the reply from Lady Matheson.
17457. But the paper says the original petition was sent to you?
—I got more than one petition, and I sent them to Lady Matheson.
17458. Do you recollect ever seeing any letter or paper in the form of a threat?
—No. There was a petition presented to me at one time which I sent to Lady Matheson—a second petition—and I remarked to the people that Lady Matheson had refused it already, and it was in vain to apply, but that I would send the petition. They remarked that they would have it, should they lose their blood.
17459. Was that by the word of mouth ?
—By word of mouth.

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