Serious crime is of rare occurrence in Lewis. Occasionally a wave of excitement passes over the community, and during its continuance excesses are committed which reflect on the general good conduct of the inhabitants. But apart from such excesses and occasional brawls in Stornoway, the behaviour of the people as a whole, in so far as matters calling for police intervention are concerned, is exemplary.
In the statistics of crime published annually by the Police authorities charges are divided into three classes——(1) Offences against the person; (2) Offences against property; and (3) Miscellaneous. In the first of these classes are included assaults of a serious nature, deforcement, and refusal to aid the officers of the law; concealment of pregnancy, &c.; and in the second, thefts, falsehood, fraud, and wilful imposition, wilful fire-raising, rioting, &c. The third category embraces disorderly conduct and breaches of the peace, petty assaults, cruelty to animals, the being drunk and incapable, perjury, contravention of various statutes, including the general Police Act, 1862, the Education Act, the Fishery Acts, &c.
An examination of the criminal statistics applicable to Lewis for the period from 1880 to 1900 shows that the number of offences under the first and second classifications is very small, particularly in the rural districts. It may be, however, that there are undetected crimes committed in these districts, and a Gaelic proverb current in the Lewis, “Is iomadh fear a ghoid caora nach deach leatha air taod gu Steornabhaigh ” (Many a man stole a sheep who did not lead it on a halter to Stornoway), lends weight to this surmise. The number under the head of Miscellaneous is considerable as compared with the other two; but having regard to the population of the island and the large influx of strangers to Stornoway during the fishing season, it is really small, and furnishes ample testimony to the law—abiding character of the people.
In these statistics, Stornoway presents an unenviable contrast to the other districts of Lewis, for the number of offences against the person and against property committed within the Parish is, as a rule, greater than the number in all the rest of the island; while as regards miscellaneous offences an overwhelming proportion of the same is recorded. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the offenders are all residents in Stornoway. A great many of these offences consist of petty assaults, breaches of the peace, and disorderly conduct—offences which, as a rule, are the result of intoxication.
The total number of miscellaneous offences committed in the island in 1880, for instance, was 76, of which two were in the Parish of Uig, and the remaining 74 in that of Stornoway. Of the latter, assaults, etc., number 20, and drunk and incapable 5, while there were 45 contraventions of the General Police Act. In the following year the total number of miscellaneous offences was 60, two of which were committed in Barvas, and the remaining 58 in Stornoway. Of the latter, 28 were petty assaults, breaches of the peace, &c., while 5 were the result of drinking to excess, and 22 were contraventions of the Police Act. Without going into details for each year, it may be remarked that in
1885 there were 146 miscellaneous offences dealt with by the police in Lewis. Of these 121 were in Stornoway—one—half consisting of petty assaults, etc. In 1890 the total number had increased to 255, of which 184 were committed in Stornoway. Of the latter 100 were petty assaults and disorderly conduct, etc. In 1895 miscellaneous offences numbered 271, 207 being in Stornoway. Of that number, 105 were under the category of petty assaults, etc. Lastly, in 1900 the total had risen to 371. Of these, 306 were in Stornoway, of which 118 were petty assaults, and the remainder contraventions of various statutes. It may be remarked that in 1899 nineteen persons a very small
number——are returned as “drunk and incapable” in Stornoway. The explanation of the large number of offences, more or less traceable to drink,in Stornoway is that there are no licensed places in any other part of the island. Stornoway, as the chief business centre, attracts men from all parts of Lewis throughout the year. Arriving there, often fatigued and hungry, recourse is had to spirituous liquors They forget the moral contained in the Gaelic proverb, Is fhearr an teine beag a gharas na ’n teine mor a loisgeas (“ Better the little fire that will warm than the great fire that will burn”), and more is consumed than the dictates of prudence would sanction.
The evil effects of drinking under such conditions were so serious that in 1868 Sir James Matheson addressed a circular letter of remonstrance to his Lewis tenants. According to this letter, offenders came from all parts of the island, but “the young men” of the districts of Point and Back, and “ persons of various ages” from different quarters of the Parish of Lochs, were singled out as offenders above all others. The letter conveyed wise counsel to the tenants in the matter of behaviour in Stornoway, and concluded by threatening that parties afterwards found guilty of the misconduct complained of would be deprived of their holdings. The letter is in Gaelic, and is quoted
in full in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (vol. vii., pp. 116-118).
With regard to the question of licensed premises it may be stated that in 1833 there were 20 in the island. Of these, 18 were in Stornoway—4 inns or hotels, 7 shops, and 7 cellars or taverns. There was one in the Parish of Uig and another in the Parish of Lochs, The latter was at Loch Shell, near where the shooting—lodge of Park now stands.
There was no resident population there in 1833, but the place served the wants of seafaring people.
In the Appendix to Sir John Macneills Report on the Condition of the Highlands in 1851 the number of licensed premises in Stornoway then is stated at 11; 5 inns or hotels, 5 cellars, and 1 agency for a distillery. There were 3 in the rural districts, 1 at Callernish in Uig, 1 at Dalbeg in Barvas, and 1 at Glen, “ a half-way house” between
Stornoway and Barvas.
In more recent times a great diminution has taken place. In 1880 there were 9 licensed places in Stornoway—5 inns or hotels, 3 dealers in spirits, and 1 dealer in porter and ale. The licensed places in the country were then reduced to 1 in the Parish of Uig, presumably Garynahine, which superseded Callernish. In 1890 all the licensed places in Lewis were in Stornoway, and consisted of 3 inns or hotels, 2 dealers in spirits, and 1. dealer in porter and ale.
In 1900 there were only 3 licensed places in the island—viz., 3 hotels in Stornoway. So far as known, shebeening does not prevail to any extent in the country districts, and it may be inferred that the absence of drinking facilities in these quarters explains the absence of offences which are frequently the outcome of drink; while the concentration of the drink traffic at Stornoway accounts for their frequency there.
In 1888, as will be remembered, the Education Department addressed a letter to the School Boards of Barvas, Lochs, and Uig, in which inter alia complaint was made that the School Board authorities did not enforce the provisions of the Education Act in the matter of school attendance. This remonstrance appears to have had the desired effect, and the Boards concerned, as also the Board of Stornoway, took active steps to ensure regular school attendance. These proceedings resulted in swelling the number of miscellaneous offences throughout Lewis, as the statistics applicable to 1888 and 1889 show. In 1888 the total number of miscellaneous offences was 160, but in 1889 it had increased to 281. Of these, 110 were in respect of contravention of the Education Act; thus leaving the ordinary offences at 171, or 11 more than in the previous year. Of the 110 cases in which the parents were charged with failing to educate their children, 44 were from the Parish of Barvas, 22 from Lochs, 33 from Stornoway, and 11 from Uig. The largest number of contraventions of this class took place in 1889, but the Educational authorities have not wavered in their resolve to insist on the education of the young.
The following Table shows the number of cases of contravention of the Education Act, and the number of miscellaneous offences, including said contraventions, in each Parish, the total number for Lewis, and the total number of miscellaneous cases, also including said contraventions, in each year during the period from 1889 to 1900 :—
The significance of the foregoing figures consists in this, that the first prosecutions had such a salutary effect on offenders that in succeeding years the Educational authorities were not called upon to take legal action in anything like the same degree. In 1899 the total number of such prosecutions was only 21. The effect of these prosecutions on school attendance has been observed upon in the section dealing with Education.
Stornoway has a monopoly of contraventions of the Police Act. The lowest record of this was in 1893, when the number stood at 21, but in the preceding year it was 68. Taking every fifth year, the numbers of these offences in Stornoway were as follows :—
1880, 45; 1885, 50; 1890, 36; 1895, 57; and 1900, 55.
It may be confidently asserted that offences against the person and offences against property are exceedingly few, when the population of the island, and the large numbers of people from other quarters who visit Stornoway during the year, but particularly in the fishing season, are considered.
Details of the three classes of offences enumerated applicable to each Parish in Lewis in each year from 1880 to 1900 inclusive will be found in Appendix N (pp. 41-46), as also a classification of the offences under the category of Miscellaneous, showing how many consisted of (1) breaches of the peace, petty assaults, and disorderly conduct; (2) contravention of the Education Act; (3) contravention of the General Police Act, 1862; (4) poaching; and (5) various minor offences.