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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Mulbuie Branch of the Highland Land Law Reform Association fought back over land reform fair rents for crofters

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An extract from the Ross & Cromarty Ordnance Survey 2nd edition sheet (LXXXVIII) showing Mulbuie.
An extract from the Ross & Cromarty Ordnance Survey 2nd edition sheet (LXXXVIII) showing Mulbuie.

On October 29, 1883, at Mulbuie Old Schoolhouse, a group of crofters and others from the district met to form what would become the Mulbuie Branch of the Highland Land Law Reform Association.

The objective was to inspire land law reform and secure fair rents for crofters.

The branch was a collective of the western upland districts of the Black Isle, including, Newton of Ferintosh, Newton Kinkell, Braes of Easter Kinkell, Bogbuie, Braes of Kilcoy, Drynie Park, Allangrange Park, Muir of Conon, Highfield Park, Muir of Tarradale, and Balvaird.

One special meeting was arranged to organise a reform demonstration in Dingwall on September 3, 1884. The branch had planned to meet at Leanaig Post Office at 9am, and to march the three-and-a-half miles to town led by a piper.

Banners were to be made up bearing the words “Bheir dunalas is cruadal buaidh air luchd forneirt” and “Remember who stole the Mulbuie Common and Success to Reform”. It was agreed to burn an effigy of Lord Salisbury in Dingwall.

Highland Land League minutes - Mulbuie demonstration, August 1884.
Highland Land League minutes - Mulbuie demonstration, August 1884.

The minutes from the meeting held following this event convey the sentiments of what the association stood for, “this meeting sympathise with and approve of the noble efforts of our brethren the Skye and other crofters throughout the Highlands to get restored to them the lands and commons which they and their forefathers held from time immemorial and of which they have been unjustly deprived by selfish and tyrannical landlords and factors.”

In response to the agitation of crofters like the Mulbuie Branch, they were given some land rights with the introduction of the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886.

For many, this was inadequate and did not go far enough. In minutes from February 18, 1889, a Mr Maclennan highlighted that of the 170 members in the Mulbuie Branch, only 60 benefited from the act, the rest were still “left to the mercy of the landlords”.

In the same meeting William MacDonald questioned why Highlanders were being given money to emigrate when the money could instead be invested in stocking new and enlarged holdings at home.

Highland Land League minutes - Mulbuie tyrannical landlords, September 3, 1884.
Highland Land League minutes - Mulbuie tyrannical landlords, September 3, 1884.

Angus Forbes substantiated this view stating, “the people are only offered emigration, and their native straths lying under sheep and deer, where hundreds of families could live in comfort.”

The Highland crofters had displayed solidarity with each other in their fight, and with those suffering a similar plight in Ireland. Donald Mackenzie forwarded a resolution condemning the treatment of political prisoners in Ireland by Arthur Balfour, claiming, “Some of the finest patriots in Ireland were being tortured in prison by Mr Balfour, and all this was done in the name of the Queen.”

Donald envisioned a rebellion if the same was administered on the people of Mulbuie, adding “Was not [Balfour’s] father the great evictor of Strathconon? And nothing better could be expected of the son whose Irish policy was making himself and his government stink in the nostrils of right-thinking men.”

One-quarter of the members in the Mulbuie Branch were descendants of people who had been evicted from Strathconon, a memory that no doubt invigorated their campaign for justice.

• The Highland Archive Centre in Inverness will be running an event for the 200th anniversary of the Caledonian Canal from 2pm-4pm on Saturday October 22, we hope to see you all there!

• The centre will also be running Archives for beginners classes every Wednesday morning online from October 19 to December 7. The cost is £40 (£32 concession) for each four-week session.

Email archives@highlifehighland.com for further details.

• An opportunity to join a Family History Class for Beginners in person at the centre in Inverness (subject to interest) throughout October on Wednesday mornings. Cost is £40 (£32 concession) for the 4 weeks. Please email genealogy@highlifehighland.com for further details.

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