Glen Tolsta

Parent Category: Timeline
Category: Pre-1900

Glen Tolsta  

First populated

The earliest recorded occupants of the Glen (as far as we have been able to trace) were Angus Murray and his son John. Records show that they paid rent to farm in the Glen c.1830. Angus Murray moved to Tong and his son John became tenant at 6 Tolsta and a son Angus became tenant at 11 Tolsta.

John and Angus later emigrated to Canada with their families and their brother Kenneth (see Seanchas No.49). One daughter Christina married Donald Macleod 53 Tolsta.

The Glen remained unoccupied until 1843, when five families came from Lemreway Lochs and settled there. The families had been ruthlessly cleared from their township in Lochs to make way for sheep. Catriona Macdonald (nee Macmillan) nighean Mhurchaidh Aonghais Ghil, as part of her studies for an HND Course at Lews Castle College in the early 1990s, chose Glen Tolsta for her project. We have used some of her research for this article together with our own records.

Catriona's research showed that the first commercial sheep farm on Lewis was established in 1802 at the southern tip of the Park Peninsula. In 1842 there was a change in the tenancy of the Park Sheep Farm and this provided the Lewis Estate management with an opportunity to extend the farm by evicting the people of Orinsay and Lemreway. As the crofters rent was fully paid up the estate could not use the usual excuse of rent arrears so they raised false charges of sheep-stealing and any other misdemeanour they could make up.

The evicting party that attempted to clear Lemreway and Orinsay on June 2nd, 1842 included the infamous Donald Munro who had newly arrived on Lewis. Catriona wrote in her thesis, “The crofters of Loch Shell were not intimidated. They vehemently denied the spurious charges of sheep-stealing and they told the sheriff they were not prepared to leave their homes with ruined reputations and character. They refused to leave until these allegations were withdrawn.

“Estate officials were never noted for their patience and humanity and they set about as usual to knock down the crofters homes. As the men looked on, there was a sudden and dramatic rush of women upon the wrecking party, which was obviously taken by surprise. The women selected one of the visitors for rough treatment, and why we were not told who was chosen or the nature of the treatment we do know that the villains got the fright of their lives and took off fast.

“The one thing that is certain is that the crofters of Loch Shell defended their humble homes successfully in 1842. But the victory was short lived. The evicting party was back in 1843 and cleared both Lemreway and Orinsay.”

It is not clear why Glen Tolsta was chosen as a destination for the Park families. Three men in particular were said to have influenced the decision: Donald Stewart, who was a previous tenant of the Park sheep farm; Lewis Maciver, tacksman at Gress, who wanted to keep the men folk together as a group to supply fish for his fish-curing business; Donald Munro, the Procurator Fiscal, who was also solicitor to the proprietor of the Seaforth Estate.

One person from each family walked round Loch Erisort and on to Glen Tolsta with their sheep and cattle, while the rest of the family came by boat. There were no ready-made houses waiting for them at the Glen! They had to spend the first while there sleeping in their upturned boats, until they got their turf shelters completed and later built their own houses.

John Carmichael's family had to spend most of the first winter in their boat and turf shelter, as he did not get his house built before the winter set in. John had a family of six, ranging in age from fourteen years to a babe in arms.

The five families, who went to Glen Tolsta were:-

Angus Macinnes
Angus Macinnes of No.1 Glen Tolsta was Aonghas Iain Mhic Phadruig from Lemreway. He was Tesh's grandfather and Am Brogga's grandfather also. The present tenant at No.1 is John Angus Campbell mac Storch.

Duncan Macmillan
Duncan Macmillan of No.2 Glen Tolsta was Donnachadh mac Thormoid a'Bhaird from Lemreway and he has many descendants in Tolsta and elsewhere. Donald (Toull) Macmillan, the last tenant at No.2, moved to Stornoway and 2 Glen Tolsta was amalgamated with 15 North Tolsta in 1961.

John Carmichael
John Carmichael of No.3 Glen Tolsta was Iain Ruadh mac Eachainn from Lemreway. In 1875 John Carmichael returned to Lemreway with his son in law Kenneth Chisholm and the croft passed to another son in law Hector Maciver of 28 Tolsta. In 1883 Hector Maciver emigrated to Carolina and the croft was added to 4 Glen Tolsta in 1884.

John Maclennan
John Maclennan of No.4 Glen Tolsta was Iain Bàn . In 1856 John's widow Jane Maclennan and family moved to 49 Tolsta and all the Tolsta Maclennans are descended from Iain Bàn. The croft passed to John Macmillan of 2 Glen Tolsta and later belonged to Murchadh Aonghais Ghill. The present tenant is John Macmillan Martin.

Norman Macinnes
Norman Macinnes of No.5 Glen Tolsta was mac Aonghais of No.1 Glen Tolsta. In 1853 Norman Macinnes lost his croft, which was added to 2 Glen Tolsta. Norman, who remained for a while as a cottar, was given a new croft, No.5A , in 1858, but in 1869 he lost this croft also!

Alex Macmillan mac Iain Dhonnachaidh of No.2 became a cottar in the Glen (Taigh Alasdair an Dhonnachaidh). His descendant Donald Macmillan and his wife Christine lived in this house for several years before selling it to the present occupants and moving to England. But the pull of the Glen was too strong!

Donald and Christine are now back in a brand new house at the top of the Glen.

Gress Shepherd
Donald Macleod mac Alasdair of 38 Back was a shepherd for Gress farm and lived in Glen Tolsta. One of his sons John Iain Dhòmhnaill Mhòir married as a cottar at 12 Tolsta (Bean Roigear's father) and another son Donald married at Hill Street, Tolsta (Taigh Barabal). When Donald Macleod moved from the Glen this ground passed to Kenneth Martin 21 Tolsta ( mac Dhonnachaidh Sealgair). Kenneth Martin moved to New Street, Sandwick when the Gress Farm was broken up and this site became 45 and 46 Gress.