Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Irish Sea Cattle Trade and Galloway Levellers

This is work in progress...

Seventeenth Century Irish Sea Cattle Trade and the Galloway Levellers.

1. Galloway Levellers slaughter Irish cattle.

In the 1967 volume ( Third Series, Number 44) of the Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society [TDGNHAS] can be found a series of letters reporting the actions of the Galloway Levellers in 1724. These letters were sent to Sir John Clerk of Penicuik. They were found in the Clerk of Penicuik Muniments [Scottish Records Office], transcribed and edited by W. A. J. Prevost.

In 1724, John Clerk’s brother James was Collector of Customs at Kirkcudbright. In one of James’ letters to John dated 6 May 1724 (Old Style) he reports “ They [the Levellers] threaten to come to this town and oblige the officers of the Customs to assist them in seizures of Irish cattle that they pretend to find among the Enclosures.”.

A.S. Morton (The Levellers of Galloway TDGNHAS Third Series vol. 19/ 1936) provides some more detail based on a letter addressed by the Levellers to ‘The Right. Hon. Major Augustus Duquary, Commander of His Majesty’s Troops at Kirkcudbright’. Having demolished Sir Basil Hamiltion’s dykes near Bombie Muir [for which 23 named Levellers were subsequently fined £777 Scots]:

“ understanding that there were a considerable number of Irish cattle in the Parks of Netherlaw, we did, in obedience to the law, legally seize and slaughter them to deter the gentlement from the like practice of importing or bringing Irish cattle, to the great loss of this poor country as well as the breeders in England, too much the practice of the gentlemen here.”

Morton later adds the detail that the 56 cattle siezed were killed by a blacksmith named McMinn in the grounds of Dundrennan Abbey close to Netherlaw. From the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds [1623 to 1700] and Register of Sasines, I have found that in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright (east Galloway) there was an extensive family of blacksmiths called McMinn, who can be traced back to 1646 and of whom one - Francis McMinn - was ‘portioner of Gregory’ in 1724. Gregory was a croft [NX 705 455] 4 km from Netherlaw [NX 743 455].

That the illegal import of Irish cattle was a significant trade circa 1724 is confimred by the following [from McDowall’s History Of Dumfries, originally published in 1872, but taken from revised 1986 edition, page 556]

So rigid were the regulations at this period [i.e. 1724] that when some charitable people in Dumfries commissioned two shipments of oatmeal from Ireland that the poor might obtain it cheap when it was hardly to be had of home growth for love or money, the collector durst not permit the meal to be landed till he was specially authorised to do so ny his official superiors. The officers were also scandalsied by a daring innovation [but see below] which had sprung up, especially at Kirkcudbright, of importing Irish cattle , and they sorely bewailed the connivance given toot by the country gentlemen and their tenants.

That there was a ‘scarity of victual’ in Dumfries and Galloway in 1724 is confirmed by a ‘Levellers’ letter dated 2 May 1724 sent ot Clerk of Penciuk by his brother -in-law, the Earl of Galloway:

I shall alwaise doe whats possible for me to preserve my familie but at this time our countrie is in the worst situatione possible for monie becuase of the scarcity of victuall which oblidges our tennaties to send all they can to Irland for bread, and if we had not been provided thence I doe believe there had been a famine in this countrie, and I must say the running of brandie does ruin our countrie verie much , but you wold hear the insolencies of ane sett of people that have drauen togither and destroyed the whole encloasours in the Stewartrie , and if we have not the protectione of the Govert by allowing troops to march in to the countrie for our assistance I doe relie believe the whole gentlemen of Galloway will be ruined. Noe doubt you have heard of Mr Hamilton’s going to Edinburgh with Earlstoune to represent the grevances of our country on that score...

Note that the Earl uses ‘our countrie’ and ‘this countrie’ to describe Galloway - not Scotland. The ‘Mr. Hamilton’ mentioned is Sir Basil Hamilton, who was a Jacobite in 1715 and the ‘Earlstoune’ was Thomas Gordon of Earlston who was an anti-Jacobite in 1715.

2. Covananters and Cattle

Thanks to Tom Devine I have found Donald Woodward’s very useful ‘ A Comparative Study of the Irish and Scottish Livestock Trades in the Seventeenth Century’ [In Cullen and Smouts Comparataive Aspects of Scottish and Irish Economic History , 1600- 1900].

This shows that in the 1660s around 50 000 Irish cattle/ year were being exported to England. Most of these Irish cattle were landed at Chester (at that time still a major port), but some reached England via the North Channel and Galloway. In 1666, 7287 Irish cattle were recorded at the border customs point of Allisonbank (Gretna/ Graitney).

English farmers and landowners resented these imports and managed to use their influence in the English parliament to pass ‘An act for the encourgement of trade’ in 1663 which imposed a temporary ban on the import of Irish and Scottish cattle. This was followed in January 1667 by an ‘act against importing cattle from Ireland and other parts beyond the seas’ (exempting Scottish cattle). In March 1667, the Scottish parliament passed a similar ban on the import of Irish cattle.

Unfortunately there seems to be a gap in the border customs records between 1667 and 1680, but when they begin again the figures for cattle recorded at Dumfries are:

1681 6 204
1682 8 747
1683 10 763
1684 4 861
1685 9 184
then a gap until
1689 7 709
1690 5 436
1691 7 846

These were in theory all Scottish cattle and since they were recorded at Dumfries, would have come mainly from Galloway. This is partially confirmed by Woodward who identified Patrick Heron of Little Park (NX 456 658, height 10 m.) as sending 1 000 + cattle to England via Dumfries each year between 1689 and 1691.

This Patrick Heron (younger) was a key player in the cattle trade, having begun his career as an agent for Sir David Dunbar (senior, died 1686) of Baldoon. He became an MP (UK parliament) and built Kirroughtrie House - now a hotel- near Newton Stewart. Heron had helped raise anti-Jacobite forces in 1715 but was accused by the Levellers in 1724 of turning the town of Minnigaff into a ‘nest of beggars’ through his cattle enclosures. According to McKerlie’s Lands and their Owners in Galloway, Heron kept stock upon “Glenshalloch, Poldenbuy, Tonderghie, Craigdews, Kirouchtrie, the Lessons, Torwhinock and Torrshinerack”, with Dreighmorn, Craignine, Drumnaight and Glenamour also mentioned as Heron lands. Including Litte Park, most of these can still be identified.

1. Little Park - farm steading NX 456 658, height 10 m.

2. Glenshalloch - still a farm steading NX 433 701 height 120m plus Glenshalloch Hill NX 436 708 height 201 m.

3. Poldenbuy/ Polrubuy - now only as Poultrybuie Hill NX 491 739 height 354 m.

4. Tonderghie - now only as Bridge, Burn, Glen and Hill. Hill at NX 500 705 height 300m.

5. Craigdews - farm steading NX 524 723 height 130m and Hill NX 495 723 height 269 m. Note: Craigdews Hill now ‘Wild Goat Park’ in Galloway Forest Park.

6. Kirouchtrie - now Kiroughtree hotel at NX 422 600, height 50 m but also Kiroughtree Forest

7. The Lessons - now only Lessons Park NX 427 659, height 50 m.

8. Torwhinnock - now only Torwinnoch Hill NX 425 670, height 136 m. Under forestry.

9. Torshinnerack - not found.

10. Dreighmorn - now Drigmorn farm steading NX 460 722, height 150m. and Drigmorn Hill NX 468 745 height 545 m. Note: this farm stands out clearly from surrounding forestry and a single dyke encloses approx. 8 sq km. of highland, including Millfore 656 m. / 2164 ft. high.

11. Craignine - Craignine farm steadingNX 460 665 height 25 m, and Craignine Hill NX 453 654 height 134 m.

12. Drumnaight - not found.

13. Glenamour - farm steading NX 442 675 height 70m.


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