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Loch Broom
[57.81911441266979, -5.071966809676408]
Siobhán Beatson
Ullapool Museum

Yairs and Cruives have been in use in the rivers and lochs on the west coast of Scotland for thousands of years, to catch Salmon and on occasion herring, which was particularly prevalent in Lochbroom. Late Medieval records show that Salmon cruives were in situ on the river Laell and Broom supplying the communities with…

In the early 1830s Lochbroom was in the grips of severe destitution, the herring had become increasingly erratic in their migration routes and catches were poor, several crop rotations had failed and a Cholera outbreak confined any catches that were caught to rot. This created a desperate atmosphere within the Lochbroom communities and frustration and anger towards the fish traps bubbled over.

In September 1832, Alexander Matheson, Donald MacKenzie, alias Andrew Roderick McGregor, Allan Campbell, alias M’Iver, Murdoch Urquhart, Colin MacLeod, John Cameron alias Castle, Fisherman in Ullapool, Donald Fraser agent of the British Fisheries Society, Norman MacLeod, Fisherman at Gedaskaig, and Colin Ross, Fisherman at Toranachots cause ‘malicious mischief’ by destroying the two yairs at the head of Lochbroom, belonging to Sir George Steuart MacKenzie and Rev Thomas Ross. 

Sir George Steuart MacKenzie

The lawyer for the accused attempted to mitigate the crimes by citing the desperate circumstances in Lochbroom at the time and pleaded with Lord Medowbank to take this into account on their sentencing. Sir George Steuart MacKenzie of Coul was present in the court and ‘begged’ to give a statement in support of leniency on the accused. It was his belief that the men had been misled by ideas of the legality of the yairs but held no ill will towards them despite costing him a great deal.

The British Fisheries Society in Ullapool had recently weighed in on the subject of the legality of yair and cruives and had in effect outlawed their practice, however this was never converted into law. Laws on the regulation of Salmon fishing had been in place since the 1240s and a new wave of legislation was coming into effect in the early 19th Century.

Rev Thomas Ross of Clachan, was a bit more indignant on the suggestion that he may be operating illegal yairs and took to writing to the editor of the Inverness Courier to have his say on the matter, which did little for him local image after calling the accused a mob, and asked the paper to give him details of their sources so he can take the matter further.

Regardless of the legality of the yairs, the court case caused a massive rift in the community, and was written about as far as London as proof of the barbarous demeanors of the Highlands who rioted against their lords and ministers.

The Sun, Thursday 12th September 1833.

The Sun, Thursday 12th September 1833.