15014: Park Deer Raid, 1887

An account of the Park Deer Raid of 1887 from the notes of Angus Macleod, Calbost and Marybank.

There had been a great deal of unrest prior to 1887 throughout the whole of Lochs because of land hunger due to the rising population, in spite of the recent Napier Commission and Crofters Act. Park did not have a tenant from 1883 until 1886 and some crofters and cottars from Lochs had pleaded with Lady Matheson, the proprietress of Lewis at that time, to rent parts of Park Estate to them. She did not deign to reply, which caused anger and frustration among the Lochs people.

In January 1887, the famous Land League stalwart, Donald Macrae, became Headmaster of Balallan School and he soon won the favour of the crofters. After a series of meetings held in Balallan School organised by him, it was decided to raid Park Deer Forest and kill as many deer as possible in order to bring the dire straits and poverty of the Lochs people to the attention of the authorities and the public.

In 1886, Mr & Mrs Joseph Platt rented Park from Lady Matheson and they and the National Press were informed of the imminent Deer Raid which was to take place on Tuesday 22 November 1887.

The Raid was undertaken with gusto. The North Lochs contingent was led by a piper and others carrying flags. They met the South Lochs contingent at Ferishal, near Seaforth Head. Mr Joseph Platt was outwith the island at the time but his wife, head keeper, under keeper and ghillies met the raiders at Seaforth Head and she tried to persuade them to go back home. The raiders did not heed her but marched forward, someone muttering, "No English my lady!" From Tuesday until Saturday the slaughter of deer went on and a camp was set up at Airigh Dhomhnaill Chaim near Loch Seaforth where deer were boiled and roasted to satisfy the pangs of hunger of the people who had been without proper sustenance for so long.

The choice of the campsite by the raiders may have been of significance. Airigh Dhomhnaill Chaim was named after the famous or infamour one-eyed Donald Macaulay from Uig, who, despite his many misdeeds was a man of iron will and courage. Domhnall Cam at one time, had grazing rights in Park and he used to bring cattle from Uig across the moor to Loch Seaforth – a long trek. At slack tide at the ebb, the cattle were forced to swim across the narrows at the Sruth – the strong current opposite Airidhbhruaich – and it is said that the redoubtable Donald and his helpers were towed across hanging on to the tails of the cows. Tired and wet they rested for the night on the Park side, hence the name Airigh Dhomhnaill Chaim.

The authorities did not regard the Park Deer Raid with any sympathy and action was taken forthwith. A detachment of Royal Scots was despatched from Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow under the command of a Captain Farquharson. The soldiers were greeted in Stornoway by Lady Matheson and they marched, led by a piper, to barracks at Manor Farm.

An abortive attempt was made to send HMS Ajax from Greenock with 400 men aboard, some of them marines, to subjugate the raiders from Lochs. However, the rudder of the Ajax was broken in a gale off Ardnamurchan and she had to be ignominously towed back to port.

After much expense on the part of the authorities, the saga ended with six of the ringleaders being arrested and taken to court in Edinburgh for trial which lasted two days. A ‘not guilty’ verdict was returned on all six accused. The case had far-reaching effects, not only in Lewis but throughout the Highlands as the landlords realised that the Courts of Justice no longer favoured the rich against the poor.

Angus Macleod Archive

See also Angus Macleod’s further notes on the raid of 1887.

Record Type:
Historical Event
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Land Issues
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