Raasay: The Island and Its People

By Norma Macleod | Go to book overview

5
The History of Raasay, c.1800-1846

THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY

In 1805 James MacLeod married Flora Anne MacLean of Muck. Their children, born on Raasay, were Hannah Elizabeth in 1811, Loudoun Hastings in 1820 and Francis Hector George in December 1824, probably after his father's death. The birth of their oldest son, John, who inherited Raasay in 1824, is not found in the record of births for Portree parish. There is recorded, however, the birth of a child, Mary, in 1802 to James MacLeod Esq. of Raasay and Mary Reid. No further information has emerged about either mother or child.

By 1809, the perceived threat of a French invasion caused a flurry of activity in the north-west. The government, mindful no doubt of the 1745 rebellion that had originated in that country, were taking no chances. Sir James Grant, Lord Lieutenant of Inverness-shire, had suggested that five companies and a 200 stand of arms should be set up on Skye in case the enemy attempted a landing in the islands. In February 1809 two battalions, numbering over 500 men, were formed for home defence. James MacLeod of Raasay was lieutenant colonel of one battalion. He approached Lord MacDonald for permission to use one of his new buildings in Portree, as a store for the arms. About this time the Battery was built, near the landing place in front of Raasay House. One cannon is still on site at the Battery. Looking somewhat out of place, outside the perimeter wall, are two mermaids. Originally planned for the front of the mansion house, they now seem rather sad, and the worse for wear. It is unclear where the funding for either the militia or the Battery came from. However, as Lord MacDonald was unwilling to bear the full costs for his part of the set-up, it is likely that most of the money came from government, either local or national. The battalions were disbanded about 1815, after Wellington had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and all danger of invasion had passed.

The circumstances of the people of Raasay had deteriorated by the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century. Conditions for the people of Skye, by then, were possibly even worse.

The kelp trade, which had begun in the eighteenth century, had reached its height by about 1810. Although this trade continued into the 1830s, the price by then was fluctuating and eventually production became uneconomic. This trade grew up to supply the growing demand for industrial chemicals. An alternative was barrilla from Spain. This was an impure alkali, made from burning salt-rich marine plants. Manufacturers in the growing industrial cities of the south of Scotland and in England preferred barrilla because it was of better quality than kelp, but during the Napoleonic War with Spain it was unobtainable. At that time kelp production reached its peak. Even after the war ended, there was a tax of £12 per ton on barrilla. Chemicals, such as barrilla and salt, were subjected to a host of taxes and duties.

-75-

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