Isleornsay Inn




Large-scale emigration from Sleat probably began at much the same time as in the rest of Skye. This was the early 1770s when emigration from Skye to North America really began. The favoured destination was North Carolina.

In 1802 the estate factor reported that 90 to 100 families were about to leave the parish for North Carolina. A look at the population chart shows that there were probably many more unrecorded emigrants leaving Sleat at this period. At a time of rapidly rising population that of Sleat rose from 1903 people in 1801 to 1936 in 1811 – an increase of only 33.

MacDonald and Elder, the company that ran the stores in Isle Ornsay in the early 1800s, also acted as emigration agents. They advertised in the Inverness Journal in 1822 that they were intending “to fit out transports for the conveyance of passengers from Inverness & the West Coast” to Nova Scotia and the adjoining islands of Canada (ie Cape Breton and Prince Edward Islands)

The mid 1830s were a time of great hardship and food shortage in the Highlands and Islands. The government did little to help. An impassioned plea for help by Caraid na Gaidheal, Dr Norman MacLeod was heard, and acted on by Rev Dunmore Lang, a Presbyterian minister based in Australia. He instigated a programme of assisted passages to Australia from the area. The first boat to leave was the William Nicol, which sailed from Isle Ornsay in July 1837 with 70 families from Sleat, the neighbouring parish of Strath and the adjoining mainland. Of the 322 passengers, 107 came from Sleat. The Edinburgh Courant of July 10 1837 reported that it took three days to complete the embarkation of the emigrants. It also reported that so many people wanted to emigrate that more people turned up than the ship could actually accommodate.

The passenger list does not indicate where families came from, but over the years some of the Sleat emigrants have been identified, including Macdonalds, MacKenzies and MacKinnons from Calligarry and MacGillivrays from Aird.

There was another mass emigration to Australia following the potato famine of the late 1840s. Between 1852 and 1854, 55 families totalling 302 people left Sleat under the auspices of the Highlands and Islands Emigration Scheme. Ten of these families were from Camuscross.