Archibald MacDonald from Gaskan takes some firewood from Gorten in 1854 - and is charged with theft
by John Dye

Transcribed handwritten material from the office of the Procurator Fiscal of Tobermory, currently held in the Argyll Archive at Lochgilphead.

The Riddell estate intended to use the wood themselves, but found that somebody was rowing across Loch Shiel and taking it. So they asked shepherds to keep a look out and Archibald was identified as the culprit. But, when he came to court, Archibald himself felt he had done no wrong.


Gortenmhoiran 1 Feby 1854
Compeared Dugald Cameron, Shepherd residing at Gortenmhoiran in the parish of Ardnamurchan & Shire of Argyll who says:

His herding included an oakwood on the shore of Loch Shiel

I am 50 years of age. I herd a portion of the farm of Gortenmhoiran under Mr James Milligan. Sir James Milles Riddlell is proprietor of the farm and his Trustee Mr Charles Murray Barstow Manages the Estate. On my herding there is an oak wood which has partly been cut and the bark peeled and taken away - and the trees root grown and branches have been left as they were cut. The wood referred to skirts the margin of Lochshiel. The wood is continued to Rhunaluing, a point on the farm of Polloch also occupied by Mr Milligan and owned by Sir James. Rhunaluing is not in my herding but is in that of James Monsey, another Shepherd.

Colin Cameron, Woodman on the Estate and who has charge of the timber, about the term of Martinmas last, 22nd November 1853, came to my house and said that portions of the cut timber had been stolen and asked me to keep a watch over it and to report to him or to Mr McLaren the head Forester if I saw any person interfering with it or carrying it away. I agreed to do so. A few days after Cameron was here, tho' I cannot remember the precise date, I was going my rounds as usual over the farm and seeing a small Boat at Clash, ( a portion of the farm of Gortenmhoiran which goes by that name) distant from my house which is the nearest about three quarters of a mile. I went to see what was going on. I was accompanied by John Cameron, my nephew.

In due course he saw Archibald McDonald and his son row across the loch from Gaskan and load up their boat with firewood from Clash

I found Archibald Gordon Macdonald, and Alexander his son, whose residence is at Gasgan on the opposite side of Loch Shiel from my house, and about a mile or less distant, busy loading their Boat with the cut oak wood. The Boat was about 14 feet Keel and Broad for her length and was more than half filled. I spoke to Macdonald and said that he should not take the timber, that I had instructions from Mr McLaren to look after it and to report to him the name of any person whom I might see interfering with or removing any portion of it.

His reply was 'What would they do with it, all that I am taking would never be missed' or words to that effect. About a burden of the timber was laying on the Beach near the Boat & he threw that into it & he & his son went away home. I saw them pull direct for their house, having in their boat fully more than a cart load of the oak wood referred to. I can't say whether or not he would have two carts but I am sure he had considerably more than one. None of the pieces he had in the Boat was of larger size than he could conveniently carry and some of the pieces were much smaller. He told me that he was going to use it for firewood. I never saw Macdonald take any of the wood before, but I had frequently seen his Boat cross to the spot and recross the same day but I can't say whether he was with the Boat or say what was in it.

He saw wood being taken by them at other times too and subsequently went across to Gaskan with Constable John MacGregor to confront Archibald McDonald

On Saturday 14th Jany 1854, I saw a Boat crossing Lochshiel going towards Macdonald's house and coming in the direction leading from Rhunaluing before referred to. I watched the Boat and saw it land immediately under McDonalds's house at Gasgan and I saw a man land timber out of it and take it up to Macdonald's house. I could not recognise the man but I had no doubt it was McDonald. I can't say where this wood was got but it must have been taken from Sir James' property as there is none to be got anywhere else.

About a week ago I accompanied John MacGregor, Police Constable, to Macdonald's house at Gasgan. I saw Macdonald but had no conversation with him. I saw fully a cart load of oak wood of the same description as that at Claish & Rhunaluing laying in two heaps near Macdonald's house. This was on the Monday or Tuesday after I saw him land it as aforesaid. I understand the Timber was taken to the south for the purpose of being converted into Vinegar and it is also used for farm purposes & on boat building. All of which I declare to be truth.
Signed, Dugald Cameron


Compeared Mary Cameron, wife of and residing with Dugald Cameron, Shepherd at Gortenmhoiran aforesaid in the parish of Ardnamurchan aged about 40 years who says:

She had already warned Archibald McDonald that the estate had missed the wood and that her husband had been asked to keep a look-out

I concur with my husband, which the following additions & Exceptions - Before the occasion referred to by my husband when he saw McDonald take the wood from Clash, I was in Macdonald's house & told him that he was not to take any wood from Sir James Riddell's Estate. This was after Cameron gave my husband the instructions to look after it. Macdonald made no reply farther than an admission that he had before taken some for firewood & that he saw no harm in continuing to do so until he was prevented by "The Officers". I told him that my husband had authority to look after it and warned him against meddling with or removing any portion of it.

Not many days after this my husband informed me that he had caught Macdonald at Clash taking away a Boat Load & that he had desired him not to touch it. That day I saw a Boat cross Lochshiel from Macdonald's house & recross again apparently deeply laden and land at the spot from whence it started. I saw timber being taken out of it. The distance betwixt the houses is not more than ½ a mile, and I can see distinctly all that goes on tho' I can scarcely identify persons. I did not accompany my husband & MacGregor the Officer to Macdonald's house on the day referred to in my husband's statement.


Gortenmhoiran 1 Feby 1854
Compeared John Cameron, nephew of and residing with Dugald Cameron, Shepherd at Gortenmhoiran in the parish of Ardnamurchan and shire of Argyll, aged 16 years who says (Gaelic):

He stood by and watched his uncle go and talk to Archibald McDonald when he was loading wood off the beach at Clash

I was out over the hill looking after the sheep with my Uncle Dugald Cameron on a day in the month of November last and when at Clash we observed a Boat on the Beach having some wood in it. My uncle went to see whose it was & I stood on an Eminence a little above him. I saw him go and speak to Mr Archibald Gordon McDonald, Gasgan, who, along with his son Alexander, were busily engaged filling their Boat with peeled oak wood which they carried from the wood. I recognised the parties distinctly but I was not near enough them to hear the conversation which passed between my Uncle and them. I saw them go away shortly after my uncle left them and pull direct to the landing place under their house at Gasgan. The Boat was more than ½ filled with peeled oak wood. I heard my Uncle say that he had been authorised by Mr McLaren to look after the woods and to report any interference with them. This was both before & after He saw Macdonald carry the wood away as aforesaid.

He also saw a boat loading with wood another time and row across to Gaskan

On a Saturday about three weeks ago I saw a Boat leave McDonalds's at Gasgan early in the forenoon & pull towards Rhunaluing. I watched it till it was more than ½ way up the distance being about 3 miles. I did not observe where it landed but in the afternoon I saw it recross the Loch deeply laden & land immediately under Mr Macdonald's house. There were two people on the Boat, whom I took to be Macdonald & his son. I saw them land wood from the Boat and Beach it. I observed them from my Uncle's house which is immediately opposite & not more than ½ a mile distant. All which is truth.


Camusachoirk 31 Jany 1854
Compeared Colin Cameron, Parker, Residing at Camusachoirk in the parish of Ardnamurchan and sire of Argull, who says:

The woods contained oak and birch which had been cut and left where they lay; the oak had the bark removed and disposed of

I am 50 years of age. I have charge of the woods on Sir James Milles Riddell's Estate under Mr John McLaren, the Head forrester. The woods on the farms of Polloch and Gortenmhoiran both rented by Mr James Milligan are under my charge. Large quantities of oak and birch which grew on these farms have been cut. The oak has been peeled and the bark disposed of. Both descriptions of wood was left as it was cut. It had not been gathered into heaps, as that was reserved till it was disposed of.

He lived a long way off and only got across to Gorten once a month, but soon felt that some of the wood was missing

My residence is as Camusachoirk, a distance of 15 miles across a very hilly country from the nearest point of the wood in question and I visit it only once a month. On my three last visits I missed large quantities of the peeled oak trees which had been taken between the interval of my visits. I cannot say exactly the quantities that had been taken but they must have been large. I missed portions in Clash, from Gortenmhoiran & from Rhunaluing on Polloch. These two places skirt the Margin of Loch Shiel on the Argyll side.

He asked Dugald Cameron and his wife to keep a look out

I know Gasgan, the residence of Archibald Gordon Macdonald. It is on the opposite, or Inverness side, of Loch Shiel and more than 3 miles distant from either of the places above mentioned. I had no idea of the party who carried off the wood in question tho' I was perfectly aware that it was done without permission. I reported on my return home the fact that I had missed the wood to Mr McLaren, the Head forrester and he desired me to ask Dugald Cameron, the Shepherd on the farm to keep a look out and to report the names of any parties whom he might see interfering with or carrying away the wood. I went to Gortenmhoiran for this purpose & saw Cameron & his wife & they promised and agreed to undertake the Office. This was about the middle of November last and I have not seen or heard from him since. My last Visit to the woods was in the end of December last, just a month ago, and I intend to be there Early next week.

The wood was used by the estate for farm use, timber for boats and for making vinegar

The purposes for which the wood in question is useful are Various - the trees are not large, averaging from three to 6 & 8 Inches in diameter. They are used for farm purposes, for timber to Boats & it is also useful for converting into Vinegar. Archibald Gordon Macdonald had no right to interfere or carry away any portion of it & he never received or asked permission to do so. The wood lays in a Very Exposed place and it is impossible from the nature of the ground, until it is taken away altogether, to protect it. It is the property of Sir James Milles Riddell of Ardnamurchan & Sunart Baronet or of Mr Charles Murray Barstow, accountant in Edinburgh, his Trustee. It is under the charge of Mr John McLaren, the Head forrester residing at Camusine in the said parish of Ardnamurchan. All which is truth.


Gasgan 2 Feby 1854
Compeared Alexander Macdonald, son of and residing with Archibald Gordon Macdonald at Gasgan in the parish of Ardnamurchan and shire of Inverness, who says:

He used to help his father on the firewood gathering trips across the loch

I am 12 years of age. At the time we were lifting our potatoes last year about the middle of October, being ill of for fuel, my father desired me to go with him in our Boat to the Wood on the opposite side of Lochshiel on the Estate of Sir James Milles Riddell for the purpose of getting some firewood. I accompanied him and we landed at a spot on the farm of Gortenmhoiran, about a mile from Dugald Cameron's house, where we found large quantities of peeled oak and some Birch Wood laying as had been cut. We more than half filled the Boat with this wood which we immediately took home and which my father afterwards cut into small pieces suitable for the grate. I can't describe the wood further but none of the pieces which we took were larger than I could conveniently carry while others were small resembling branches. Our Boat was about 14 feet in length and of corresponding Breadth.

He remembers Dugald Cameron coming across and speaking to his father

About a month after this tho' I can't remember dates, my father and I again crossed the Loch for anther Boat load and landed near the same place. While we were busy putting the Wood into the Boat, Dugald Cameron came upon us and spoke to my father and I don't recollect any part of the conversation. We brought home with us almost the same quantity as formerly and of the same description. My father also cut this into pieces and it was used as firewood. On a Saturday about a fortnight ago, we again crossed the loch in the same Boat for a similar purpose. We landed at a place called Rhunaluing and filled the Boat until it could hold no more of the same description of Wood which we also took home and which has been partly burnt.

After yet another collecting trip, the policeman from Strontian came across

A Policeman from Strontian whom I now see (John McGregor) came two or three days afterwards and saw my father. The Wood which he saw laying on the shore & near the house was the wood which on the last occasion was taken by us from Rhunaluing as aforesaid. I don't know what conversation took place between McGregor & my father as I was not near them to hear it. I don't know whether or not my father had permission to take the wood. All which is truth.


Strontian 31 Jany 1854
Compeared John MacGregor, Police & Sherriff Officer residing at Strontian in the parish of Ardnamurchan and Shire of Argyll aged 30 years who says:

A week after being told of the theft, Constable MacGregor managed to cross the loch in poor weather

I got information on 10th Jany 1854 from William Robertson Esqre. the factor in Sir James Milles Riddell's Estate, that large quantities of cut peeled oakwood had recently been stolen from the wood on the farms of Gortenmhoiran & Polloch & desired me to go over & make enquiry and to report the result to the P.F. At the time I received the information the weather was so rough that I could not travel the hills but I reached Gortenmhoiran on Tuesday 17 Jany 1854, and hearing from Dugald Cameron that Archibald Gordon Macdonald, residing at Gasgan, had been seen in the act of taking away portions of the wood referred to, I proceeded across the ferry on that date & found Macdonald at home. I told him my errand, I saw a quantity of peeled oak wood laying on the Beach immediately under his house & a quantity of the same description cut into pieces suitable for the grate laying near the door. I think, judging from its appearance that there would be about a Ton in all. Part of it appeared to be root grown & part smaller, resembling branches. The largest that I saw was 3 or 3½ Inches in diameter.

He confronted Archibald MacDonald at Gaskan, who confirmed that he had taken wood from the other side of the loch

I asked whether he had taken any wood from Rhunaluing. He said at once that he did and pointing to the parcels of wood which I have described, said that he had been there on the previous Saturday and brought it away with him. He admitted that he had been there on former occasions & that Dugald Cameron had seen & spoken to him and desired him not to touch it. He also sd. that he did not think it any harm & alleged as his reason that peats were not to be got in his neighbourhood & that it was impossible for the want of Roads to bring coals to his house. All which is truth.


Tobermory 13th day of February 1854
Compeared Archibald Gordon McDonald, residing at Gasgan in the Parish of Ardnamurchan and Shire of Inverness, married aged about fifty years at present in custody who being examined by the Judge Examiner and warned That he need not Emit any Declaration or answer any Interrogatory to be put to him unless he thought proper and that such Declaration will be used in Evidence against him at his trial and being Examined and Interrogated Declare:

Archibald McDonald owned to taking peeled oakwood scraps twice from Gorton and Polloch

Upon two occasions I carried away some small Oak Wood off which the Bark had been taken, from the woods of Sir James Riddell. The wood lay when I took it on the farms of Gortenmhoiran or Polloch, I am not quite certain of the time when I so took away the wood, but I think the first occasion was about Martinmas and the other occasion was some time afterwards and two or three days before John McGregor, Police Constable at Strontian, came first to my house.

But he also had wood at Gaskan which he had obtained from McDonald of Glenaladale

I pointed out to McGregor then the wood I had taken from Sir James Riddell's Property and which was mixed up with some Fire wood I had got from Mr McDonald of Glenaladale's Property, on which I live. I never excepting on these two occasions took wood from Sir James Riddell's property. When taking away the wood on the first occasion spoken to Dugald Cameron, Shepherd on the Farm came up to me and said that there was some talk about Wood having been stolen, that had been laid aside for cabers for a House building for a Minister down the Country and that I must not take away any Wood excepting the small kind of wood he had at his own house for fire wood.

He took no more wood than his neighbours did and, in broad daylight

I took no more wood on that occasion after Cameron spoke to me. I went in broad daylight and took away the wood as many of my Neighbours did and thought I was doing no wrong. All the wood I took was used for Fire Wood. All which is truth, (one word deleted before signing).

There is no note as to the outcome of this trial - JD