|Raid, Arrest and Trial of Pairc Deer Raiders|
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Park Deer Raid
DURING the whole history of the agrarian troubles in the Highlands, the very first thing the establishment thought of, was to bring in the military and police reinforcements in order to keep the ignorant crofters in their place by force. Park was no exception.
Neither the Platts of Eishken, Lady Matheson or the Government understood that the desperate action of the deprived and starving people of Lochs was a cry of distress and a plea for sympathetic understanding and urgent remedial action by the responsible authorities to solve the terrible social conditions imposed on them by the system under which they were forced to live.
Perhaps it may be said that the Raiders of Park provoked the establishment to over-react by the unusual and audacious way they marched openly in military style with pipers at their head, yet very peaceful. The establishment failed to understand that they were playing into the hands of the so-called ignorant crofters by reacting violently. The court case in Edinburgh proved that they did.
In retrospect we see the crofters struggling to emerge from a dark, dark period in their history. They were beginning to regain their self-confidence and attempting to throw off the yoke of oppressive Landlordism. We now know that their success was limited because the Park Deer forest is still in place but very few of the crofters of Park are left. :
Mrs Jessie Platt who was apparently a likeable and humorous person and was held in the highest esteem by the local people — some of them called their children after her — unfortunately reacted by sending a telegram to the Secretary of State of Scotland as follows:"Send military immediately as delay will be fatal".
Then the Estate Factor, acting on the reports he was getting from Lochs on the first day of the Raid, panicked and dispatched the following telegram to the Estate lawyers in Edinburgh:"Five hundred in Park and more pouring in from all quarters, three hundred deer destroyed. Despatch soldiers at once".
Horrified by the assaults on their clients property, the Edinburgh' lawyers passed the request to the Secretary of State and he acted at once on the side of the establishment, after consulting the local sheriff.
A military task force was assembled to deal with the outrage. Three gunboats were alerted, HMS Ajax, with 500 officers and men, which was berthed on the Clyde, was ordered to sail for Stornoway at once. On the way a gale blew up and Ajax broke down near Arran with rudder trouble and had to be towed back to the Clyde.
Then HMS Jackall, nicknamed locally ‘Jackass’, and HMS Seahorse, did arrive in Stornoway but too late to influence the situation because the Raiders had by that time achieved their purpose and they had returned to their homes peacefully.
A force of about twenty Ross-shire police arrived in Stornoway and they got a very hostile reception from a large crowd at Stornoway pier. Also, a military force of eighty-nine men and five officers of the Royal Scots were despatched from Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow. They were berthed at Manor Farm in Stornoway, now the site of the Cabarfeidh Hotel owned by a crofter's son from Lochs.
All in all, a mighty military task force to deal with a ragged band of trespassing deer poachers, as if they represented a mortal threat to the security of the nation.
The irony of it all was that both the military and the police consisted of ordinary people like the poachers of Park, and indeed many of the residents of Lochs served in the armed forces and the police as was subsequently acknowledged at the Raiders trial in Edinburgh. In this instance, as in so many others, the armed forces were misused by the establishment to keep down the common people and protect the spoils of the wealthy upper class who filched the land in question from the crofters in the first place.
On Thursday the third day of the raid Raid, Sheriff Fraser and Police Superintendent Gordon, having spent the previous night at Park Lodge, met a group of Raiders with guns, in the middle of the deer forest. The Gaelic speaking sheriff informed the Raiders that there was formidable police and military forces being assembled in order to deal with them, and he advised them to go home.
The Raiders sat down, removed their caps in deference to the sheriff and they proceeded to explain to him their reasons for coming to the deer forest. Thereupon, the sheriff read the Riot Act in English and explained it in Gaelic. By that time the Raiders were tired, wet, hungry and miserable after spending two November nights under canvas and now listening to the Riot Act being read to them.
Therefore they began to disperse and drift back home to their respective villages, reflecting on the manifest injustice of the social system under which they lived — a system, which spared no effort or expense to protect the privileges of the rich, while ignoring the intolerable social conditions of the deprived landless cottars.
As the Raiders were making their way home, Police Superintendent James Gordon and gamekeeper Farquhar Macrae of Seaforth came upon a lone Raider as it was getting dark. The thirty-year-old Raider, a Mr Mackinnon from Balallan, was carrying a gun and he had a stag head slung over his shoulder. The Police Superintendent gave chase, and the Raider, not realising the gravity of his action or failing to realise that it was the police, threatened to shoot. When the Superintendent identified himself the Raider ran off into the darkness and he was hotly pursued. On reaching the shore of Loch Seaforth well ahead of his pursuers, and finding that the tide was well out, he immediately waded quietly into the sea to his middle and kneeled down in the seaweed until only his nose was above the water among the seaweed.
The Superintendent and the gamekeeper made a thorough search of the whole area and when they could not find a trace of Mr Mackinnon, they concluded that he may have drowned and they gave up the search. When Mr Mackinnon was satisfied that his pursuers had left the area, he emerged and made his way to Balallan Schoolhouse where he arrived in an extremely agitated state of mind. He was advised to keep his head down until the furore died down.
A day or two later, Mr Mackinnon heard that Police Sergeant Hector Smith (Eachainn An-thuathanach) from Keose was in the district looking for the leaders of the Deer Raid and he panicked and made his way to the police station in Stornoway and gave himself up. He was kept in prison for two nights and when he was released he made his way to the Castle, ostensibly as a member of the Primrose League attending a tea party. The Primrose League was founded in memory of Lord Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli), whose favourite flower was the primrose. Mr Mackinnon was said to have made a contrite confession in return for a free pardon. He informed the police of the names of all the Raiders and details of the planning of the Raid and later on he testified in the High Court in Edinburgh as a Crown witness.