The ‘most hated man in Scotland’ is killing my buzz in the Islands

In the mid-19th
century, he was “the most hated man in Scotland.” For sure he had competition,
but Colonel John Gordon lived in a fabulous castle (see below) and was also known as Scotland’s
“richest commoner.”  Here in the
Highlands and Islands, Gordon’s ghost has been killing my buzz. 
That’s not
because he was wealthy, but because he stayed that way by ruthlessly squeezing the
lifeblood out of poor crofters eking out a living on his massive estates –
among them, as of 1838, the entire island of Barra.

Today, we
visited the scene of some of Gordon’s handiwork – an archaeological site called
Balnabodach (above). You won’t find it in the usual guidebooks, or even on most
maps, and good luck working with google. But after making one false downward-scramble
off the eastern side of the one-lane highway that encircles Barra, and getting turned back by marshy ground, we tried
again and managed to reach it.

People have
lived in this location for centuries. But at Scotland’s first census, in 1841,
Balnabadoch was home to eight households and twenty-six people.  They lived in typical Barra blackhouses,
which had thick walls and single doors in one long side.  Families lived on the earth floor, and cooked
and slept around the fireplace at one end.

In 1851, with
the potato famine wreaking havoc, killing two islanders and, less acceptably,
reducing the Colonel’s income, Gordon decided to solve the problem by evicting crofters and shipping them to Canada. He sent men here to Balnabadoch, where
they forced farm families onto small boats that transported them
to a ship waiting at Lochboisdale. According to oral tradition, one young woman
was milking the family cow when Gordon’s agents hauled her off with nothing but
the clothes on her back. 
By the time the ship
reached Quebec, well, that is a subject for another day.


  1. The Furry Gnome on February 1, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    I 've been thinking of Barra today. Very sad.

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