Saturday, 21 September 2019

Remembering 1919 on the Isle of Lewis

Related news story, BBC Scotland, 21-9-19

How war was followed by land raids in Scotland

When the war ended, many soldiers and sailors from the Highlands and Islands returned home believing they had been promised land as a reward for their service on the frontline.
They had expected to use the land to build homes, grow crops and raise livestock to feed their families.
But when they found this was not available to them as promised, they carried out raids to take control of areas of large estates.[...]

Forthcoming Conference

University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Centre for History

Celebration of The 1919 Land Settlement (Scotland) Act
Isle of Lewis, 26 - 28 September 2019
"...Opening with a celebratory dinner the event will explore the significance and legacy of the 1919 Act through talks, posters, displays and field trips. The event will show that this was not an isolated response to war and changing times but was part of a global impetus aimed at the restoration of a sense of balance in social relations around land and land ownership.
Registration and field trips are made free by generous support from the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures and the Historical Geography Research Group. The celebratory dinner will be charged at £25 - £30 per head."

Thursday 26 (Stornoway), 
Friday 27 and Saturday 28 September 2019 (Balallan)
Thursday 26th September, Stornoway (location TBC)
5:00pm – Registration opens
6:15 – Welcome to the conference and official opening
6:30 – Keynote - Professor James Hunter (UHI)
7:30 – Conference dinner
Friday 27th September, Kinloch Historical Society, Balallan
8:45am – Registration for those unable to attend on the previous day
9:15 – Panel 1: International Perspectives on land settlement (Chair: Dr Iain Robertson (UHI))
Andrew Newby (Tampere University, Finland) - “A violent decimation of landlord power”: Denmark’s Lensafløsningsloven of 1919 – A Centenary Appraisal
Roy Jones and Tod Jones (Curtin University, Australia) - "Antipodean aftershocks: World War 1, the 1919 Land Act and land (un)fit for heroes at the (other) end of the world
Barbara Arneil (University of British Columbia, Canada) - The Small Holdings Colonies Acts (1916 and 1918)
10:30 – Coffee
11:00 – Panel 2: Contemporary Perspectives and Legacy (Chair: Dr Micky Gibbard (Dundee University))
Helen Barton (UHI) - We express our Deepest Regret…
Seonaid McDonald (Archivist, Tasglann nan Eilean, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) - What the local government archive sources tell us (or don’t?) about the land struggles
11:45 – Keynote - Professor Ewen Cameron (University of Edinburgh), (Introduction and chair: Dr Anne Tindley (Newcastle University))
12:45pm – Lunch
1:30 – Trip to West Harris with the West Harris Trust
Three stops along the route between Balallan and Talla na Mara to look at community landownership, tour of Luskentyre until 4pm. Go to Talla na mara to visit café and look at exhibition, return to Balallan approximately 5:30pm.
Saturday 28th September, Kinloch Historical Society, Balallan
9:00am – Open
9:15 – Panel 3: Local Histories of Land Settlement (Chair: Professor James Hunter (UHI))
Malcolm Bangor-Jones (Independent Researcher) - The resettlement of Syre in Strathnaver by the CBD in the 1900s
Neil Bruce (UHI) - “Storm in a quaich”: the Uist Rocket Range, the crofters and the priest
Colin Tucker (Comann Eachdraidh Sgìre a’ Bhac) - There is only one home: that little house with its few acres of land in Eilean Leodhais
10:30 – Coffee
11:00 – Panel 4: Thinking around Land Reform (Chair: Professor Ewen Cameron (University of Edinburgh))
Mairi Stewart (Independent Researcher) - The planting of forest workers on the land is a more anxious … business than the planting of new trees: the 1919 Forestry Act and land settlement in Scotland
Lindsay Blair (UHI) - ‘Mutations from below’: An Sùileachan (2013) and The Land Raiders of Reef
Iain Mackinnon (Coventry University) - The role of historicism in accounts of land reform in modern Scotland
Rob McMorran (SCRU) - Current pathways to community ownership in Scotland and their effectiveness is supporting continued expansion of the Sector in the 21st Century
12:30pm – Lunch19
1:30 – Talk from John Randall (Comunn Eachdraidh na Pairc) on South Lochs
2:00 – Trip to the South Lochs with John Randall (return around 5pm)
5:00 – Closing remarks
For more information contact

Land Raiders' Cairn, Gress, Isle of Lewis
Extract  from 'As I See It' column by 'M.S.', Stornoway Gazette, 23-12-1955, addressing the somewhat different question of 'squatters and plot-holders' in the  post-Second World War context:
   It was of course the first world war that started it on a big scale.The returned warriors, especially the younger sons who were landless, tired of "roaming with a hungry heart" and wanted nothing more than to settle down on their native heath; and that is what many of them did. They staked their claims in common ground and were not to be gainsaid by stay-at-homes; and although their actions were watched by jealous and resentful eyes in some instances, they felt that they had fought for their privileges and - what impressed those who would oppose them - they looked as if they were prepared to do a lot more fighting. Furthermore they had many ex-servicemen friends among the crofters too...
  And so on the common pastures of almost all the townships of these islands the squatters established themselves, many of them doing really excellent work with the unpromising materials on which they started. Taking over laud which had produced nothing since the peat was skinned from it but heather, moss and poor-quality grass, they dug it up, trenched it, worked it into productive agricultural units which are today, in some cases, producing far more than the neighbouring crofts.
   ... "The genius raids - the common people occupy and possess" [T E Lawrence, Letter to Robert Graves,1935]. And the common people who occupied and possessed the barren land and made it fertile, who built houses and grew good crops by their own labours, who made oases where there were deserts, will leave the abiding earth the richer for their passing through it.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Fishcuring Fletts of Findochty

Founder of a Family Business

The Alexander Flett whose firm embarked on the Newfoundland Fisheries venture in 1907 was not the first nor the only one of his family to make a noteworthy contribution to the herring industry of north-east Scotland. That their surname became 'a name to conjure with' in the fishcuring context may be attributed to the energy and entreprise of his father, James, whose death in 1897 drew a remarkable double tribute from the county's weekly newspaper.

"A portrait of the late Mr, James Flett, Findochty, whose death we announced last week"
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 28 January 1897

DEATHS... At 42 Findochty, on the 14th inst., James Flett, Fishcurer, in his 80th year.
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 21 January 1897

By the death of Mr James Flett, senior partner of the firm of J. Flett & Sons, one of the best known, familiar and striking figures has been removed from Findochty. Mr Flett was born at Findochty in 1817, and was thus in his 80th year. His father was Alexander Flett, his mother Margaret Smith, both of Findochty. He served an apprenticeship as cooper with the late Mr Taylor, fishcurer, Findochty. After completing his apprenticeship, he worked for some time as a journeyman with Messrs Walter Biggar & Co., who were the first curers to send Scotch cured herrings to the German markets. He commenced fishcuring on his own account at Peterhead in 1839, and at Findochty, his native village, in 1849. Mr Flett married Catherine Pirie, daughter of the late Alex. Pirie, who belonged to Banff, and who went to Findochty many years ago as manager for Messrs Walter Biggar & Co. His wife died on January 3rd, 1868. Mr Flett's family of three sons and five daughters all survive him. The sons are all in the business so long carried on by their father. Of the family to which Mr Flett himself belonged, the eldest brother, Alexander Flett, died in Findochty in 1892, aged 88. There still survives another brother, William, surnamed [nicknamed], from his uncommon strength, "Wallace". This nonagenarian celebrated his 90th birthday on 5th January of this year. The deceased gentleman was a man of splendid and striking physique. Standing as he did six feet three inches in height, no one could fail to notice him. He was of a kind and genial disposition, a great favourite with everybody in the village, particularly so with the young. Of children, he was very fond, and to run up to him in the street, seize his hand or his huge staff, was sufficient to dtaw forth a "sweetie," from his capacious pocket and a blessing fron his generous heart. He had a fund of quaint humour, and was known and respected throughout the whole of the North of Scotland. Few strangers went to Findochty without giving him a call. 
    Although he never took an active part in public matters, he was a keen politician. Some years ago, a navigation class was started in Findochty, under the auspices of the County Council. What was the teacher's surpirse one night when the class was gathering to see the venerable form of Mr Flett walk into the room, pay his fee, and enroll his name among the rest. Anything that looked like the more scientific working on the sea and of its products was to him a source of personal interest. A Liberal in politics, Mr Flett was a Free Churchman, He was a life-long friend of the late Rev. Robert Shanks, the first Free Church minister in Buckie, and a correspondence was kept up between them till the demise of the latter. A few years ago, less than ten, another well known figure was seen paying a visit to Mr Flett in Findochty. This was "La Teste", the Elgin poet, To hear these two comparing notes, or to hear Mr Flett calling attention to points of similarity in the life and fortunes of himself and "La" was no ordinary treat. In the death of Mr Flett, his own generation see another place left vacant never to be filled; while the younger race, deprived of his portly figure in the street, and the kind smile from his open face, will feel the place srange, and the town less homely. It may be mentioned that the last work on which the deceased was engaged was in arranging volumes of Spurgeon's sermons, copies of which he had from the beginning of their publication. Mr Flett was a great reader and had a love of poetry, his favourite author being Scott. 
   The funeral took place on Monday and was largely attended, the coopers carrying the coffin when it left the house and also at the grave.
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 21 January 1897
The impression of warmth, sincerity and personal feeling in the above is reinforced by the author (possibly the same) of the paper's regular column of informal chat, local news and common-person views, written mostly in the Doric.

    Willie -- I was unco' sorry to learn that ane acquaintance o' mine, in the person o' Mister Flett, fishcurer, Findochty, had passed awa' fae this weary warl' last week, Nae doot he's been spared to his family an' freens for a gie puckle longer than is the lot o' mony, bit for a' that fin death comes an' tak's awa' even the aul'est o' oor freens an' neepers, peer, frail, human natur' canna keep back the fa'in' tear or hide the pang o' sorrow an' regret at the pairtin'.
    Geordie -- The curer 'll be unca mair missed in Finachty. He wis aye ready to help the needy, to cheer the dooncast, an' to encourage the young. Nae doot to some he may at times hae appeared to be caul' an' stern, bit fatever may hae been the appearance ootside there wis aye the warm, kin'ly heart within.
     Jamie -- I speak from personal experience of the sympathetic heart which beat in the bosom of Mr Flett. Of course it would be sheer mockery on my part to say that he was perfect (the perfect man must be translated to some other sphere as it has never been my lot to meet him yet-------
    Maggie -- I cud tell ye faur ye wid see him, bit I winna dee't evnoo.
    Jamie -- There were many traits in the deceased's character which it would be well worth our while to seek to emulate, These points I need not dwell on now as they will readily come up before those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Of him I think it may truthfully be said
To all he was pleasing -- to auld and to young --
To the rich and the poor, to the weak and the strong;
He laughed with the gay -- moralised with the grave
The wise man he honoured -- the fool he forgave. 
   Geordie -- That wis the curer's character to a T. He wisna ony o' yer harem-skarem patienceless creatur's that the warl's sae foo o' noo-a-days.
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 21 January 1897 
Quayside, Findochty harbour
Findochty harbour from the West
Biographical details given by the paper are confirmed and amplified by census and other records:

James can be found at James Street, Peterhead, although his birthplace is given as Aberdeenshire not Banffshire. There are a lot of other people in the same 'household', possibly some kind of lodgings or digs for migrant or temporary workers as there is a range of surnames, ages and occupations.
His mother Margaret and father Alexander, White Fisher, were in Findochty, Rathven, both ages rounded down to 60, with Female Servant Janet Copland, 20; all born Banffshire.
His future wife Katharine (Catherine) Pirie was 12, living in Findochty, Rathven, with her sisters Ann, 15, Spirit Dealer; Margaret, 9; and Isabella, 6, born in England (others in Banffshire). Intriguing as Ann's apparent role is, most likely it was very temporary, their parents being away from home on census night. Alexander Pirie's occupation is given elsewhere as both cooper and 'vintner'.

Alexander Flett b. 9-4-1776        Parents: George Flett and Isobel née Mackenzie
Margaret Smith b. Rathven, 20/01/1777    Parents: William and Anne [née] Smith m.16-10-1773
Margaret Smith m. Alexander Flett, Rathven, 18-2-1798

James, aged 33, Fish Curer, Unmarried, was living in Victoria Square, Rathven, with his now widowed mother Margaret Flett (née Smith), Stocking Weaver, Head of Household, and her two grandsons, Alexander Smith, 22, Cooper, and George Smith, 13, Apprentice Shoemaker. All born in Rathven (the parish/registration district for Findochty). 
Catherine Pirie was 22, Unmarried, living in Road Leading West with her father Alexr. Pirie, Cooper & Vintner. born Turriff, Aberdeenshire (1795); mother Isabella, 50, born in Rathven; unmarried sisters Margaret, 19, and Isabella,15; also two grandsons of the household head - John Pirie Legg, aged 2, and Walter James Flett, 2 months. The latter was the acknowledged son of James and Catherine, the former possibly Margaret's son. Reputedly it was not unusual, and not socially unacceptable in the fishing villages of north-east Scotland, for a couple's eldest child to be born before their formal marriage.

Old Parish Records for Rathven 1821-22, 10th Dec:
Alexr. Pirie and Isabel Campbell both [residing] in this parish were matrimonially contracted
and after publication of banns were married.

James, now 43, Fish Curer, and Catherine, Fish-curer's Wife, 31, were living in a Private House, Rathven, with James's mother, Margaret Flett, Fisherman's widow, 84, and their children: Walter Jas (James), 10; Alexander, 7; Margaret, 5; William D (Downie), 3; and Catherin(e), 10 months; also Isabella Taylor, Domestic Servant, 23.

1865 Scottish Valuation Rolls

1868 Sadly, Catherine died of peritonits, while still only in her 30s.

In 1871 James, now a widower, 53, Cooper & Fish Curer, was living at 20, Rathven with his children (except the eldest, Walter James): Alexander, 17, Cooper; Margaret, 15, House Keeper; William, 12; Catherine, 10; Isabella, 8; Ann, 6; Mary, 3.

In 1881 the census transcription gives James's address as house name 'Wesleyan Chapel', house number 41 (Rathven parish), where he wa living with his two youngest daughters: Isabella, Governess, and Mary, Scholar.

By 1891 Mary had moved on but Isabella, 28, was still unmarried and a Governess, living with James, now designated a Fish Oil Manufacturer (a new entreprise?), at Main Street (Rathven parish).

In 1882-4, Frances Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland described Findochty

In 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles described Rathven

In 1934 a review of the novel Bid for Fortune by James's grandson Joseph appeared in the Stornoway Gazette and decades later the reviewer remembered the book:
The ruse with the diamonds was a natural for Joe Flett. He belonged to one of the leading families in the herring trade.  Flett was a name to conjure with when I was young...  - The Hub of My Universe by James Shaw Grant. Edinburgh, James Thin, 1982. Ch. 41, 'They Hid the Diamonds in a Barrel'.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Fletts in Newfoundland Fisheries Venture 1907-1908

This blog has previously looked in some detail at the novel Bid for Fortune, by "J.S.[Joseph] Flett" (Moray Press, 1934), and in particular among other aspects at the ways in which its author drew on his experience of living in Canada, or more accurately Newfoundland, at that time a distinct 'colony' or dominion of Britain with its own government. But 1915 was not the first occasion on which he had made the transatlantic crossing in the interests of the family fishcuring business. Eight years previously, aged 19, he had been delegated to take responsibility for a pioneering attempt to transform the Newfoundland herring fishing industry, a venture which not only drew the attention of newspapers but involved government sanction and international repercussions.

Banffshire Advertiser, 9-5-1907, p.8

New Departures in Fishcuring
Local Workers off to Newfoundland 
Interesting Experiment
   Much local interest is evinced in a fishing experiment undertaken by Mr Alexander Flett, fishcurer, Buckie, Findochty, and Aberdeen, who has entered into a three years' agreement with the Government of Newfoundland* to carry on drift net fishing for herring and curing after the Scottish method in Newfoundland. This experiment differs from that of Mr Cowie of Lossiemouth, who is in the service of the Canadian Government, while Mr Flett's venture is in charge of Mr Joseph Flett, his son, who sailed in company with Mr G. Flett "Crawford" [nickname/tee-name], Findochty, on 9th April. Mr Flett has already shipped Buckie-made curing stock, and to-day the staff will leave here for Liverpool, whence they sail for Newfoundland on Saturday. [Details of those engaged: 3 fishermen, all Fletts from Findochty; 4 coopers, 3 from Buckie and one from Findochty; 6 (female) fishworkers, 3 surnamed Reid from Buckie, and 3 Mair from Portknockie, 'also three girls from Nairn'.] One of the stations to be opened up will be at Twillingate Island, Notre Dame Bay,. The output of cured herring for export from Newfoundland at present ranges from 100,000 to 200,000 barrels per annum, and everyone will join in wishing that success may crown the venture, so that new markets may be opened up and the present ones extended.
 * "Newfoundland was a British dominion from 1907 to 1934 when it surrendered dominion status by ending self-government..."

A slightly shorter story appeared in the Aberdeen Daily Journal (Press & Journal) 9-5-1907

The Newfoundland Herring Fisheries
The herring exports of Newfoundland at present total from 100,000 to 200,000 barrels annually, and with a view to increasing the output, the Newfoundland Government has - as briefly reported yesterday - concluded a three years' agreement with Mr Alexander Flett, fishcurer, Buckie, Findochty, and Aberdeen, to introduce into Newfoundland waters the Scottish method of catching herrings by drift net, and curing them as is done in this country. Mr Flett has already shipped salt and barrels and to-day a party leaves the Moray Firth shores for the Atlantic voyage. The venture is in charge of Mr Flett's son, Joseph...
Newfoundland in 1907
Four months later the 'P&J' returned to the topic, evidently quite a hot one in the context of a long-running dispute over access to fishing grounds involving diplomatic wrangling with the USA, In a column on 'The Newfoundland Fisheries' (under 'Sir Robert bond's Speech: American Opinion') the paper noted:

Aberdeen Daily Journal (Press & Journal) 12 September 1907 

Important Development
Agreement with Buckie Fish Curers
   The "Standard" says an arrangement has been entered into between the Newfoundland Government and Messrs Alexander Flett and Son, fishcurers, Buckie, Banffshire, to carry on herring fishing operations off Newfoundland upon the Scottish system. Whether the project will have any effect on the differences with the United States remains to be seen, but the experiment is to be tried in earnest. It is not a private speculation on the part of Messrs Flett. A formal agreement has been entered into between the Newfoundland Government and Messrs Flett and Son for three years to develop the herring fishing in the manner in which it is carried on upon the east coast of Scotland. A few months ago a number of fishermen, coopers and girls went out from the east coast of Scotland to train the Newfoundlanders in conducting the industry. It is understood that the Newfoundland Government have granted a substantial subsidy in order to give the venture a fair trial. There will be no curing at sea. The fish will be landed at convenient places, and cured in barrels both for home consumption and export. The advantage of the Scottish system is that Newfoundland will reap the full benefit from the fishing, and it is understood that there is an abundance of herring off the Newfoundland coast. The value of the herring fishing on the east coast of Scotland this year is estimated at £1,300,000 sterling, and it can be understood that to a fishing country like Newfoundland the adoption of fishing methods that bring in such a splendid harvest would be a matter of the highest importance. Naturally the Messrs Flett are very reticent on the matter, but they are very hopeful of success, and a member of the firm has gone out to superintend the operation.

Unfortunately the hopes of success were looking rather forlorn within less than a year.

26 March 1908 - Banffshire Advertiser

Newfoundland Herring Fishing Experiment Reported a Failure
Some time ago, Messrs Alexander Flett & Company, fishcurers, Buckie, sent out a representative and workpeople to Newfoundland by arrangement with the Government. St. John's " Evening Chronicle " contained the following reference hereto:-  
  We understand that Mr Flett, the Scottish herring packer, who is described by the "Herald" as having the profoundest faith in the future of the herring industry in the island, but is alleged by Captain Eli Dawe to have lost 26,000 dollars in the venture here, is reported in Government circles to be desirous of leaving the Colony and abandoning the venture entirely, if he can induce the Government to recoup him for the outlay he has made in the drift-net fishing so far. This would include the Schooners, outfits and gear he provided, and it is held on behalf of Mr Flett that it would be cheaper for the Government to do this than to continue the project for another two years and pay out 5000 dollars each year as a subsidy to him, which will have to be done in the event of no arrangement being now arrived at. Probably outside of a comic opera there is nothing to equal the Government's bungling with this drift-net project... [Details of false starts and failed arrangements since 1905] ... Now, after a season's trial in Green Bay, it is found that he caught just twelve barrels of herring in the outer waters, and for this the Colony has to pay him 5000 dollars.
Neither family tradition nor public records so far discovered give the full story of how and when the 'venture' ended; it may have been affected by a 'modus vivendi' accommodating US demands with regard to the Newfoundland Fisheries (reported in the Press & Journal 14-8-1908). Whatever its losses, however, the firm survived and was evidently sufficiently well regarded and prosperous for a renewed attempt to establish itself in the 'Colony' to appear a reasonable proposition in 1915. This time Joe as its representative stayed for nearly six years, and it was the death of his father Alexander which brought him and his young family back to north-east Scotland in 1921.
Record of Joe's voyage out in 1907 (last name in the second column)