Sunday, 9 October 2011

The trial of the Bernera rioters - 1874

The Glasgow Herald, 22 July 1874



Angus Macdonald, Norman Macaulay, and John Macleod, fishermen, Bernera, have just been tried before Sheriff Spittal and a jury, at Stornoway, for assaulting Colin Maclennan, sheriff officer, in revenge for serving summonses of removings, in March last, upon 58 crofters in Bernera, "by surrounding him in a violent and excited manner, seizing hold of him by the breast or collar, or parts of his person, and pulling and jostling him, and also seizing hold of his topcoat, waterproof coat, and leggings, and maliciously tearing and rendering the same useless, thereby putting him into a state of great terror and alarm." Mr Ross, Procurator Fiscal, prosecuted, and Mr Charles Innes, solicitor, Inverness, defended. The accused pleaded not guilty. In the course of the trial, which lasted eleven hours, it came out that the present crofters in Bernera and their forefathers had held, in connection with their crofts in Bernera, shielings or summer grazings at Cualinhall for a long number of years. From these they wer removed three years ago to Earshader, and Cualinhall grazings were turned into a deer forest or shootings, on the apparent understanding that they were not to be removed from Earshader so long as they paid their rents and held their crofts in Bernera; and after, they say, a verbal promise was made them to that effect by the factor, they built, at much expense, a dyke extending from six to seven miles round the new grazings ground, so as to separate it from some shootings. But from Earshader grazings, as well as their crofts and houses in Bernera, the people were summoned to remove last March without any clear promise made them of remuneration for the dyke. The people, considering that faith had been broken with them, and although the new grazings offered them in exchange were more valuable or extensive, felt somewhat indignant at the way they had been used, and it was while serving these removings that this alleged assault was committed. It was further stated that after they had served most of the summonses, the officer and his assistant were attacked in the dark with stones and clubs, and the officer, getting exasperated at his treatment, vowed, if he had a revolver, he would have shot at his assailants. This threat he repeated several times next morning in Bernera; and further, that if he had a revolver, there would be lamenting in Bernera. His remarks, having become reported, the excitemeent of the islanders increased, and it was determined to demand an explanation from him. Accordingly, the accused and ten others followed after the officer and stopped him, and the alleged accused then took place. At the close of the evidence, Mr Innes made an able and eloquent address, in which he commented very severely upon the way matters were managed in Lewis, and the poor Bernera men were used by the proprietor or his factor. After a lucid summing up by the sheriff, the jury, without retiring, found all the accused not guilty. The verdict was received with much applause. Throughout the day, the Court House was crowded to suffocation, and the trial was watched with intense interest and keen excitement by all classes of the community.

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