60867: Park Deer Raid Trial in Edinburgh

The Park Deer Raid Trial in Edinburgh, 1888
Scotsman newspaper

Notices were served yesterday on six of the men charged with complicity in the Deer Raid, calling on them to appear before the Sheriff of Ross, in Stornoway, on 6th January 1888 next, for the first diet, and also before the High Court of Judiciary in Edinburgh for the second diet, to answer the charges made against them.

The accused were:-

Donald Macrae, teacher, Balallan.

Roderick Mackenzie, merchant, Balallan.

Murdo Macdonald, (John Tailor’s son), Balallan

John Matheson, (John), Gravir

Malcolm Mackenzie, (Alexander’s son), Crossbost

Donald Macmillan, (Angus’ son), Crossbost.

The indictment charges the first three, with

a) planning he scheme for raiding Park

b) at a meeting in Balallan School on 11th November, instigated and incited, Murdo Macdonald, Malcolm Mackenzie, Donald Macmillan, and others, to from part of a riotous mob, armed with firearms, and other weapons etc, etc and did intimidate.

On January 6, the men appeared in Stornoway Court and were told the trial in Edinburgh would be on the 16th. All pleaded not guilty.

The trial of the Deer Raiders started on January 16, 1888 in Edinburgh, in the High Court of Justiciary. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Lee, and Lord Maclaren. The Court was crowded half an hour before the start of the proceedings. Many were unable to gain admission.

The accused are all men of middle age. Macrae the Schoolmaster, is highly intelligent, well-dressed, and has a city look.

Roderick Mackenzie is a burly Highlander, broad shouldered and with a bushy beard. The others are typical west coast crofters, pretty fairly dressed in tweed. The Deputy Procurator Fiscal fainted shortly before the proceedings started, and was taken to a hotel.

The Indictment read, "you are indicted at the instance of he Rt. Hon John Stay Atholl Macdonald, H.M Advocate, etc, etc. The charge against you is that etc, etc.

The first witness was Murdo Macrae, head keeper, who stated that the whole forest marched with (crofters’) land, and that it was enclosed, partly by a fence, and partly by a turf dyke. There were 500 – 600 deer in the park which was of, approx., 30,000 acres.

The remainder of the shootings extended to 75,000 acres. He described the morning of the 22nd, with the raiders approaching from two directions – from Balallan and from Gravir. He knew beforehand of the proposed entry into the forest. He saw a crowd of between 120 and 130 approaching from Gravir. When first seen they were at the northern end of the territory, where there was a turf dyke 3 1/2 feet high; a little after daylight, about 9am. Raiders appeared; a flag was carried. There were 50 guns; the rest had sails, ropes, pails and bags of oatmeal.

Mr Maclennan, the sub-factor, and Mrs Platt, spoke but they were ignored, and the men passed on. He did not try to stop them. There were too many raiders.

Another band arrived from Balallan, and joined the first band. There were 40 persons in this lot, some carrying guns. Both groups went south-west into the forest, in extended order, for six miles. The men with guns were posted at intervals. They all advanced two miles. His party, Mr Macrae’s, went in front to drive away the deer, until mid-day. Some deer were shot. Later crowds congregated at one place beside Loch Seaforth, near Silver Hill (Sithean an Airgid). Some men unroofed the bothy there and the materials carried to the camping site.

At daylight, shooting started again. Crowds went over nearly the whole forest. The raid lasted two days. On the second day the Sheriff came, and the raiders left that night. His men found many dead deer. About 20 deer were killed or wounded. Previous to the raid the deer had been driven off the northern part of the forest. Some deer were driven across Loch Seaforth. He saw Donald Macmillan with a gun. If deer escaped from the forest they might go to Harris or to another part of Lewis. It was hard to say if deer went to Harris.

He saw Donald Mackinnon – one of the Crown witnesses – in the crowd. He had a gun. Macrae admitted that a 3 1/2 foot dyke would not keep deer in, though it would keep sheep out. Two or three men accompanied each gun bearer. He knew the date of the raid before.

Farquhar Macrae, gamekeeper, corroborated the previous witness. He estimated the crowd at 150; the watchers at 18. There were 50 guns, muzzle loaders, old single-barrelled military muzzle loading ones. He identified Macmillan, Mackenzie and Macdonald. He knew Mackinnon had a gun, but he had not seen him threatening to shoot Gordon, but Gordon told him he had done son.

Kenneth Macmillan, gillie, Lemreway, employed by Platt, saw Macmillan, Malcolm Mackenzie and John Matheson in the forest, as well as Murdo Macdonald.

John Kennedy, gillie, Lemreway, saw the above three accused in the Park. A Donald Macdonald and Malcolm Mackenzie also had guns.

Roderick Smith, Balallan, labourer said that he was at a meeting in Balallan School in November, the Friday before the Raid. The meeting began at 6.30. John Matheson, the Chairman, said that everyone who was not agreeable to the meeting must be put out. He stayed, but one person was ejected, and Donald Macrae said he thought it proper that young men should go to the forest. He asked Murdo Martin to stand up, as the person to go first, but he would not stand, saying that the leader should go first. Roderick Mackenzie was also at the meeting, and in favour of the raid. He asked who were willing to take part, and many hands went up.

A statement was made that 300 bolls of meal were coming for those who raided. Smith also said that Macrae remarked that the young men should go forward and kill the deer, and those they could not kill, drive them into the water. Macrae, he stated, called the meeting, sending notices through the children. The raid seemed to have been discussed at other meetings.

Donald Mackinnon (Murdo’s son), labourer, stated he attended the meeting in the school on November 11, a Friday. John Matheson was speaking as he entered, referring to their poverty. Macrae remarked that as long as there were deer in the Park Forest, the people would not get ground. These deer should be killed; the young men ought to go first. Until the warships came to this place, the price of material would not go any higher, but when they did, they would be as well off as the people of Skye. He would lead the people.

John Matheson mentioned the date of the Raid, and that there would be plenty of guns. Roderick Mackenzie said that they would not be happy until Mr Platt was out of Park. There had been previous meetings and the Raid was fixed for Monday 22nd November, and he took part.

Mackinnon continued that he was in Stornoway the previous day and that Macrae had given him 10/-, 15/- and 2/6. The 20/- were for two gun licences; a half pound of gunpowder for 2/6, some caps for 3d. He took out a licence for himself and Roderick Montgomery. The 15/- were used for necessaries for the house and shoes for the "girl". The gun licences were got to go to Park. He found a half-boll of meal in his house on his return. Fifteen persons went on the Raid with him from Balallan. He killed a stag on Wednesday, and took the head home to give to his sister, who gave it to Donald Macrae, the schoolmaster, to whom he had promised it.

Although examined by an interpreter, ha had been a substitute teacher and a pupil teacher, he pretended to be lacking in a knowledge of English. He was not aware that Macrae, the schoolmaster, gave assistance to poor people.

Donald Mackinnon (Dollaidh na Gile) swore he had neither met nor threatened Gordon (He pretended to be daft here by asking if the questions being asked him referred to this present case). He had been imprisoned for two days and two nights after going to Stornoway to say he was sorry for taking part in the Raid and broken the law, and after that he became a witness for the Crown.

Murdo Martin, fisherman, Balallan, stated that he was at the meeting at which Macrae advised them to go to Park, to kill deer, for if the deer were killed the Platts would not come there any more. He agreed to go to Park.

James George Macpherson, merchant, Stornoway had heard rumours of the intending raid, and out of curiosity went to the scene, and sent reports to newspapers. He visited the Camp with Macrae on 22nd November.

Gordon reported on Donald Mackinnon’s threat to shoot him.

Donald Martin, Balallan, gave a frank and free account of the proceedings at the school meeting, and seemed to indict Donald Mackinnon. He supported Macrae and Mackinnon and neither saw nor heard anything but what was right and good.

Hector Montgomery, like Donald Martin, thought the purpose of the meeting in the Balallan Schoolhouse was not to incite men to raid, but to collect money to secure the services of a law agent before the Crofter’s Commission.

Murdo Morrison, deacon, Laxay, agreed that the meeting was held to collect money for a law agent to appear before the Crofter’s Commission. That was the sole object for which the meeting was convened, but Donald Mackinnon announced that he was going to Park, supposing no one else did, while John Matheson announced that the four townships of Park were going to raid, a week the following Tuesday after the meeting.

John Mackenzie, Balallan, gave similar evidence to Morrison’s.

Alexander Macfarlane, Marvig, delegate to the Balallan meeting, also gave similar evidence. He was at the Camp when Donald Macrae and the reporters arrived and heard him use no inciting words. He was the last witness.

Evidence for the defence was resumed with the view of showing that the meeting at which the incitement to the Raid was alleged to take place was held for quite another purpose – to collect funds for a law agent and that those of the accused charged with the incitement, took no part in the arrangement for the Raid, and that the resolution to make this raid had been initiated elsewhere, and some time previously.

The Solicitor General told that the case for the Crown had been clearly established, and that the crime committed amounted to mobbing and rioting, and that what offence was committed was covered by the Day Trespass Act.

The Solicitor General was very hard on Macrae, whom he called a poor leader, who sheltered behind men’s backs, the rest of the accuses being more or less ignorant men, and probably poor also, easily led as tools by Macrae, for whom he had no use, a man who used his position in order to lead the men to lawlessness, and while they were thus engaged, kept himself safe, and left them in the lurch.

Shaw, for the accused, said that society in the Highlands was divided into two classes, (1) those allied to sport, and (2) those who were numerous, poor and oppressed.

No mobbing or rioting occurred; 15 deer were killed; 150 men, rioting and mobbing in an area of 144 square miles, was a daft suggestion. Everyone knew this Raid was to take place. Why was nothing done to prevent it?

Shaw stated clearly that the men were guilty of poaching and trespass, but not of the indictment of mobbing and rioting. Facts did not justify the charge of mobbing and rioting. The Crown had an instrument to deal with trespass, but they wanted something heavier than a 5 fine.

He claimed the leaders of the raid were Donald Mackinnon, Murdo Martin, and Malcolm Kennedy – witnesses for the Crown, who should be at the Bar, and but for Donald Mackinnon, there would have been no case for the Crown.

What the accused had done was trespass in the pursuit of game, not mobbing and rioting. It was the height of absurdity to speak of their offence as mobbing and rioting.

The rioting was a bogus constructed by the Solicitor General, out of a deerskin and a head. The men should not be punished for a crime which they never committed nor intended to commit.

The Lord Justice Clerk in his charge to the jury explained the law as to mobbing and rioting, and pointed out that the essential question for the jury to decide was whether the facts brought before them, proved to their satisfaction, that such an offence had been committed.

After an absence from the Court of twenty-five minutes, the jury returned with the verdict of "not guilty as libelled", and the accused were dismissed.

The declaration of the verdict was received with loud and prolonged cheers. Parliament Square was packed to hear the verdict, and as the men left the precents of the Court, they were warmly greeted, and half a dozen men raised Donald Macrae, the schoolmaster, shoulder high and carried him down the High Street, and down past the Scotsman Office , (hostility was shown to the paper for its views on the raid).

Macrae thanked the crowd on behalf of all Lewismen and Highlanders and on his own behalf and that of his fellow accused for the reception given him. This was not the first occasion on which he had evidence of their warmth and affection for Highlanders.

At 7pm, the liberated men were entertained for tea in the Prince f Wales Hotel, where Macrae and Matheson thanked those present. A collection, which raised 5,6/-, was made for the fares home. Later the men proceeded to Glasgow where a meeting was held.

If a large crowd gathered on Stornoway Pier on the morning of January 13, to see the Park deer raiders away on the S.S Lochiel to face their trial in Edinburgh, it was nothing in comparison with the very excited crowd that met them on the evening of the 23rd, on their return to the Island on the S.S Clansman.

The wildly enthusiastic and cheering multitude escorted the raiders to Perceval Square, where congratulatory speeches were delivered. Later they entered the Crown Inn where a magistrate, Murdo Smith, addressed those assembled outside, from a window.

In one of his many speeches after the trial, Mr Donald Macrae expressed his admiration for the intelligence of the Edinburgh jury, that had acquitted them of mobbing and rioting, and declared in favour of the restitution of deer forests and sheep runs to the landless cottars.

He thanked Lord Moncrieff. If he had not known his proper name, he would have called him "Old Sheepskin". His lordship made it plainly and emphatically clear, that deer were no more the landlord’s property than the sun that shines in the heavens, so that his friends, the crofters, were strengthened in the faith, and faith, without works, was dead.

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