Island Top Trumps #2: Sir James Matheson

April 29, 2009 § 2 Comments

James Matheson was born in Lairg, Sutherland and having made his fortune from the Chinese Opium trade returned to Scotland and, in 1844, purchased the Island of Lewis for £190,000.

Matheson commissioned the renowned architect Charles Wilson to design his new island residence, Lews Castle, on the site of the Mackenzies’ Seaforth Lodge. Building work started in 1847 and the £60,000 project took seven years to complete. A further £49,000 was spent on transforming the rough grazing land around the new Castle into extensive woodlands and private gardens.

The creation of the Castle Grounds involved the clearance of tenants and the re-routing of public roads, which did not endear the new proprietor to the local population. He also presided over a policy of encouraged emigrations from his land and heavy-handed evictions and treatment of crofters by his factor Donald Munro leading to the Bernera Riot of 1872.

To balance this, it must be noted that during his period of ownership, Sir James Matheson provided employment, funded famine relief and many other social and economic projects for the benefit of the island community. Sir James even had a plan to remove the island’s covering of peat, and transform it into tar, but this was unsuccessful.

On his death in 1878 at the grand old age of 102, the estate fell to his widow Lady Mary Jane Matheson and subsequently to his nephew Donald and grand-nephew Colonel Duncan Matheson.

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§ 2 Responses to Island Top Trumps #2: Sir James Matheson

  • sarah says:

    This series is a truly spectacular idea, btw.

    Can we quibble over the scores? I wouldn’t give him 10/10 for castles… it’s not that imaginative really. If land reclamation were on the scoreboard, he’d get about 2 at that. Factor recruitment not all bad as JM Mackenzie was sensitive and certainly hard-working, and it seems he tried to do better than his master – was a native but left quite soon and I don’t know the circumstances of that. (also I make him 82 at his death.)

    We await the next one. TB Macaulay would be worth a look – we’re planning some stuff in Uig to mark the 80th anniversary of his visit.

  • thecroft says:

    Score quibbling is encouraged!

    Def think the rules of Lewis Top Trumps should be one person plays a card and everyone else debates the scores :)

    Agree with castle score point actually but in my defence it was for actualy building a castle rather than design. Looks like something off a shortbread tin sometimes.

    Suggestions for future cards also welcome (if I can find their photos!).

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