According to so called information reaching King James VI of Scotland, the Island of Lewis was a very pleasant land, a land flowing with milk and honey, yellow with corn and teeming with fish around it. Towards the close of the sixteenth century, a company of fortune-seeking adventurers undertook an expedition to the Island of Lewis in order to civilise the locals. More honestly was their goal of collecting dues and taxes from the lawless MacLeods of Lewis and the suppression of it’s chiefs by means of an organised company of Lowland speculators.
The expedition set sail from the shores of Fife in the late autumn of 1598 and upon arrival on Lewis they did not find things so pleasing as they had anticipated. They were able to effect a landing only after a prolonged struggle with the local MacLeods. At the time of the invasion of Lewis, the Government of the Island was in the hands of Murdoch and Neil Macleod. Murdoch was a man of superior education who could not only sign his name, but could actually draft legal documents. Neil could also write a good letter, but he was more at home with the sword than with the pen! The suggestion therefore that the locals were savages who were destitute of manners, morals and education was not borne out by the facts.
The stubborn resistance they encountered on reaching the Island disheartened them but gradually these adventurers gained a footing in Lewis, and, with the aid of the mercenary troops they had brought with them, they were successful at length in establishing a colony in that part of the town of Stornoway known as South Beach. Here, they were cruelly harassed by the MacLeods, who made frequent raids upon them.
There was very little food in Lewis and the people saw to it that the poor colonists received nothing that they could successfully conceal from them. In fact, the Adventurers were practically faced with starvation, because they had omitted to bring with them anything in the nature of emergency rations and they experienced the greatest difficulty in procuring supplies locally.
In short, they were in an awkward predicament. It soon became obvious to them that the rains were wetter, and the cold, biting winds of December harsher and stronger than anything to which they had been used in Fife. The rigours of a Hebridean winter were, indeed, too much for them and many of their number died from exposure and dysentery, as well as from want of food.
The Adventurers found themselves quite unable to contend with the opposition, particularly in such inhospitable surroundings. Neil Macleod, who lived on a small Island off the west coast of Lewis, continued to harass the Fife Adventurers for the next few years preventing the declared intention of the King to dispose of and root out the barbarous inhabitants of Lewis.
Three bold endeavours to establish the colony firmly in Stornoway had failed pathetically and the Adventurers suffered so many casualties that all hopes of ever colonising Lewis were abandoned.
At this time Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail saw the opportunity for which he had waited and negotiated a settlement in their own interests whereby in 1610 they became the hereditary owners of the Long Island. And there they remained for nearly two hundred and fifty years.
Neil Macleod resisted the Mackenzies but he was overcome eventually and beheaded in Edinburgh.