OTD 1882: Crofters and police clash at Battle of the Braes

The spot where the Battle of the Braes was fought on Skye in April 1882. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk
The spot where the Battle of the Braes was fought on Skye in April 1882. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk
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A violent confrontation between police and crofters broke out during a planned mass eviction on the Isle of Skye 136 years ago today.

Battle of the Braes was sparked when around 50 Glasgow police officers were sent north by the Lord Advocate to deal with growing resistance of crofters at Braes who refused to pay rent until their grazing rights on Ben Lee were restored.

The memorial cairn to the crofters who fought the police sent to evict them. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk

The memorial cairn to the crofters who fought the police sent to evict them. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk

Their landlord, Lord MacDonald, owned 150,000 acres of the island at the time.

An earlier attempt to deliver eviction notices to Braes ended with the deputy sheriff and his associates forced to burn the documents after being surrounded by up to 200 villagers.

The temperature was rising in the struggle against increasing hardships in the townships with crofters receiving backing from the Skye Vigilance Committee, a political sub-committee of the Federation of Celtic Societies, who assisted the defence of tenants.

As the authorities sought to stamp down on the unrest, police reinforcements were called in from Glasgow to assist the eviction at Braes.

What followed was a full blown riot on a sodden morning south of Portree on April 19, 1882, with the case going on to draw national attention to the land struggle.

A team of journalists joined police on the train and steamer north to document the eviction which had the full backing of William Ivory, sheriff of Inverness-shire.

Violence broke out as soon as attempts were made to remove the crofters, according to David Gow of the Dundee Advertiser, with women declaring “with the most violent gestures” that the police must be attacked with stones then hurling through the air.

The police drew their batons and charged the crowd, with the riot then erupting.

Gow wrote: “Huge boulders darkened the horizon as they sped from the hands of the infuriated men and women. “Large sticks and flails were brandished and brought down with crushing force upon the police. Many were struck and a number more or less injured.”

The police baton charged twice but the crofters were undeterred - and stones kept flying.

The officers finally managed to break free from Braes with the evicted men in tow and return to Portree, where they were hissed by bystanders as they made their way through the town, according to historian Iain Fraser Grigor in his book Mightier Than a Lord.

The crofters were committed for trial in Inverness and held until the end of April, when they were charged with assault and deforcement.

They appeared in court on May 11, found guilty and fined with the Federation of Celtic Societies paying all fees and legal costs.

The crofters returned to Skye and moved their cattle onto Ben Lee. Despite several legal threats, the animals remained there.

Fears grew that a rent strike would spread across Skye and into the Highlands.

Grigor wrote: “Skye was now officially considered to be in a state of lawlessness.

“Sheriff Ivory was demanding that a warship and marines be ordered north to quell Skye, So nervous were the authorities that the Lord Advoctate agrees - and everyone agreed that there must never again be an incident such as that at Braes, which had so stained and besmirched the balance of class forces in the Highlands.”