As the figures above quoted show, the Burgh of Stornoway is of considerable commercial importance, being now the largest town in Ross and Cromarty. James VI., in his zeal to civilise the Highlands, passed an Act for the erection of three Royal Burghs, one in Cantyre, one in Lochaber, and one in Lewis. This was in 1597. Following on the said Act the Burghs of Campbeltown, Fort-William, and Stornoway were built, but only the first of these attained to the rank of Royal. The efforts of the Fife colonists failed to do more than establish a garrison at Stornoway, and it was after the middle of the eighteenth century before the town made any material advance. Although it was not of much consequence at this period it was recognised by the islanders as one of the most important places in the civilised world. A saying attributed to a primitive native has passed into a proverb :
“ Steornabhagh mhor a‘ chaisteil~—baile ’s modha ’th’air an t-saoghal gu leir ach Bail’—ath-Cliath an Eirinn—’s iongantach nach ’eil an Righ fhein a’ tighinn a chomhnuidh ann.”
(Stornoway the great, with its Castle, the largest town in the Wide world except Dublin in Ireland; surprising it is the King himself does not reside therein !)
The character of the houses at the close of the eighteenth century may be inferred from a statement by the Parish Minister, the Rev. Colin Mackenzie [Old Statistical Account, vol. xix., p. 245.]. Writing in 1796 he says there were then sixty—seven slated inhabited houses in the burgh, twenty—six of which had been built since 1784. In a pamphlet describing this burgh, and published in Edinburgh in 1828, we read :—
“ Stornoway was, within the last twenty years, only a small fishing village, but from the spirited and patriotic exertions of Lord Seaforth, the proprietor, and the grant of irredeemable feus for building, it has become a place of considerable importance as a ﬁshing station. It has a post office; and a packet sails regularly once a week with the mail and passengers. No place in the North of Scotland, and in an insulated situation also, has made more rapid strides at improvement, both in a domestic and commercial point of view, than Stornoway.”
The development of the fishing industry, the large sums of money expended by Sir James Matheson, and other circumstances, have contributed materially to the growth of Stornoway; and from the village of a hundred years ago has sprung the present thriving town with its busy population. Three banks have agencies in the burgh, viz. :—The National Bank of Scotland, the British Linen Company, and the Caledonian. [During the Seaforth ownership the Lewis estate had its own paper currency or notes, designed and printed from plates in the same style as the modern bank pound note. A specimen before us, No. A/99, and dated Stornoway, 21st January 1823, runs :—“I Promise to pay on Demand to the Chamberlain of the Lewis or Bearer ONE POUND Sterling at the COUNTING Room here. No. A/99 J. A. Stewart Mackenzie.”]
The following figures as to population show its steady growth.
In 1817 the then proprietor caused a census of the whole island to be taken by the ground officers. According to that census, Stornoway, Bayhead, and Inaclet had a population of 2,032. The census of 1881 for the Burgh of Stornoway alone shows a population of 2,693. By 1891 it had risen to 3,386, while in 1901 the number was 3817.