James Anderson Sr was a merchant based out of Peterhead who first got involved in the northwest of Sutherland in partnership with Thomas and James Arbuthnot, also merchants from Peterhead. In 1775, he leased the Reay estate for 21 years, which included the rights to the fishing and kelping industries, for the price of £94.0.0. They initially established a base at Islandrannich (Eilean Rainich) at Kylestrome, where a storehouse appears to have been erected. Anderson initially acted as the local manager and may have moved to the area during this time. By the 1780s Islandrannich was abandoned as it had been deemed unsuitable and they sought another appropriate site for a fishing station on the coast of the estate.
In 1787 a new lease was signed between Lieutenant General Alexander Mackay, one of the agents for the estate, for a period of ‘four times nineteen years’. This time the parameters of the lease were extended, not only did it include the kelp and fishing rights, but it now incorporated a significant portion of land. This included Rispond, as well as the neighbouring ground at Ceannabeinne, Eilean Hoan, Giesgill, Dalachrackpoll, Drimnahaven, Ardbeg, Skeracha, Ardmore, Portilvorchie and Kinlochbervie, and the storehouse of Islandrannich.
The partners then set about constructing a solid harbour and facilities at Rispond, after observing the advantages of the sheltered inlet nestling into the northwest corner of Loch Eriboll. The harbour boasts excellent protection from the south and southwest, and only about four miles away from Durness. The list of buildings and construction includes:
“a dwelling-house for the manager of the concern, another for a ship-master, a copper’s shade, salt-cellar, sail-loft, net-room, two store-houses at Rispond, one at Laxford, and one at Kylend, besides the quays of the harbour of Rispond”.
This totalled the not inconsiderable sum of £1,100, which was quite an outlay for the time. Although, it seems that the harbour itself may not have been fully finished until 1818. The harbour enabled local fishermen, as well as fishermen from the east coast, to sell their herring to the Peterhead merchants.
The dramatic increase in the value of kelp due to the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, left the MacKays feeling that they weren’t getting a fair return for their resources under the terms of the 1787 lease. This led to the Arbuthnots quitting the partnership leaving James Anderson and his son to take over the lease and its associated lands and facilities. In 1806 Lord Reay proceeded to take a half share in kelping, and possibly in other joint enterprises, with James Anderson Jr.
James Anderson Jr retained control of Rispond and the associated lands until his death in 1854. The collapse of kelp prices and rising arrears from the subtenants, led in turn to Anderson being behind in the payment of his rents to the Sutherland Estate. This affected the communities on the western shore of Loch Eriboll, where he had started to clear people from the townships of Portchamuil and Port Siân in 1839.
In 1841 he proceeded to try and clear Ceannabeinne. This ultimately led to the ‘Durness riots’ where the sheriff officers and other officials were set upon in Durine, before they could serve their notice to quit. However, Anderson did eventually get his way by 1842, however ultimately this did little to improve his financial state and in 1852, Anderson was declared bankrupt.
Crofter-fishermen at Rispond, Durness, 1890s: Copyright Willie Morrison Archive Source: Willie Morrisson Collection, Willie Morrisson Archive, Am Baile: 29290
OS Map, Sutherland Sheet VI, (1878), https://maps.nls.uk/view/228781039 ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’