'Removals' from Easter Aberfeldy
After Alexander was caught red-handed in the act of cutting down a tree in 1895 the Fisher family were removed from Acharn and found themselves in Mains of Murthly. Forty years later they again lost their tenancy in what became known as 'The Breadalbane Clearances'.
This section of McArthur's survey of Aberfeldy includes most of the farms that were involved;
Documents from the Breadalbane Muniments
Between 1770 and 1839 the 4th Earl /1st Marquis doubled the rents and focused on improving the land by trying to persuade existing tenants to rotate crops, build fences, drain land, bring unused land into cultivation and remove rocks obstructing the proper use of the plough.
The Breadalbane muniments contain several documents that shed light on events leading up to the removals from Easter Aberfeldy;
- In 1822 Thomas McLagan's 'Report of Tenants most deserving of the Premiums allowed by His Lordship for the encouragement of a proper system of management on his estate' did not include my Fisher and McLaren ancestors living on the 'East Side Of The (Pitillie) Burn'.
- In 1829 Robert McGillewie 's 'Instructions for ground officers' , written in response to Breadalbane's complaints about lack of progress with improvements,threatened financial penalties or removal for those that failed to comply.
- James Wyllie's report of 1831 set out his suggestions which included a more direct and radical approach. He wanted the worthless and idle removed from the land, keeping the neat and industrious to farm amalgamated farms. To significantly reduce the number of tenants and farms on the estate was new policy. Attempting to change the behaviour of the bad tenants was not part of his strategy.
- In February 1836 the Ground Officer's report on the Management and Character of Tenants noted that Alexander Fisher and the other possessors of Murthly had been assigned Class 3 status whereas almost all of the other tenants were assigned to Class 1 or 2. Alexander, like so many others, had fallen prey to taking 'two white crops in succession from his ley'. (White crop referred to a crop of grain which loses its green color, or becomes white, in ripening, as wheat, rye, barley, and oats, as distinguished from a green crop, or a root crop. Ley referred to ground, generally outfield, that was supposed to be left fallow and to grass. Years in which the ground was used for white crops should have been interspersed with years in which the ground was left fallow).
The 1st Marquis insisted that, during his lifetime, he would not 'disturb' the tenantry but he died in 1834. The second Marquis, who largely left the management of his estate to others, almost certainly gave Wyllie carte blanche to get on and do what he felt had to be done. There is some suggestion that the Marchioness colluded in this process. The Ground Officers' report probably formed the basis for Wyllie's subsequent actions. The 'worthless and idle' were removed leaving those that would do as they were told to manage their land properly and keep their farms tidy. Rain and early frost made 1836 a bad year for crop failure but Wyllie was unsympathetic to petitions appealing for abatement of rent. Many of those that could not pay their rent lost their land.
The 1841 census shows that there had been radical changes in Easter Aberfeldy in the 5 years since the ground officer's report;
- Widows that previously had holdings remained in their dwellings but were now deemed to be 'Independent' suggesting that they had been deprived of their land and were effectively unemployed. John McLaren in Tomcalden was rated Class 1 but died by 1841: his widow, Janet, was denied his land.
- Men in Class II and III had disappeared from Easter Aberfeldy. Alexander and his family were in Lawers on the north side of Loch Tay. They had seen the writing on the wall and moved to Lawers by May 1838 when their first son was born. He too was described as of 'Independent means'.
- Gatehouse and Braes of Murthly no longer had a farmer resident on them and Tominella disappeared completely suggesting their lands had been absorbed into other farms.
- McLeans and MacDonalds appeared to be in favour. They had either held onto their original holdings or, in the cases of Duncan MacDonald who moved to Mains of Murthly and Alex MacDonald who moved to Tombane, taken over a cleared farm. The MacDonalds got most of the land east of the Pitillie Burn and the McLeans most of the land to its west.
I have added comments to a portion of the ground officer's report pertaining to Easter Aberfeldy - comments in red relate to individuals that were dispossessed and comments in green to those that retained or gained land. Text in brackets = employment.
At the end of each section of a census is a page in which remarks are invited of the schoolmaster or other person appointed to divide the parish by the sheriff or provost. In the 1841 census of the portion of Easter Aberfeldy in the Parish of Weem John MacGregor wrote; 'At Whitsunday some of the farms were left vacant by removals to other farms, such as in Murthly. None have emigrated from this district of the parish within the last 12 months, nor, is there any thing to report of decrease nor of influx of inhabitants'. Alexander McGregor, the schoolmaster of Dull, saw things quite differently. He noted that the population of his parish was falling and had been doing so for some time.
It is not clear exactly when the removals took place but they happened after 1836 and before the census of 1841. For the census officer to comment particularly on Murthly and report that it had been left largely vacant by the preceding Whitsunday, as a result of removals, would suggest it was particularly hard hit by Wyllie's actions. Were it's four farmers all particularly bad or had William Menzies, by excessive division of the farm, made it impossible for the four families to survive without breaking the rules of crop-rotation? I guess we will never know but 10 years later Alexander Fisher had left Breadalbane and was successfully farming Culdaremore, part of John Stewart Menzies's Chesthill estate.
The word 'clearance', which became fashionable years later, implies that the population was removed en masse but that did not happen. People could keep their dwellings, at least for a time, but a great number lost their land and had to find alternative occupations. By 1841 many of them were unemployed.
Contrary to popular dogma, the word 'sheep' barely appears in any of these documents. There appears to have been no plan to bring about a wholesale replacement of people with sheep in this part of the Breadalbane estate. It is however not possible to extrapolate what happened in Easter Aberfeldy to other parts of the estate where the largest part of a farm was its moor.
The bulk of the land was given to McLeans and MacDonalds. With the passage of time, farms were further amalgamated, the population of Easter Aberfeldy fell further and even they disappeared from Easter Aberfeldy.
Page last updated - 27/10/15