Mull Summary



The land-assessment situation in Mull is uniquely complex. Its conversion rate between ouncelands and merklands is the highest of all the Hebrides – by far. Moreover, Mull is the only Hebridean island to have more than one exchange rate operating within its borders. Most of Mull (if we discount the anomalies in Quinish) was converted at the rate of 1 ounceland to 25 merks (or 1d to 1¼m). However, the Ross of Mull was reckoned at the rate of 1 ounceland to 10 merks, presumably because it belonged to Iona.


Why was Mull rated so highly compared with the rest of the Hebrides – or indeed with the neighbouring mainland areas of Morvern, Sunart and Ardnamurchan? Is there some sort of mistake? Internally none of the data appears inconsistent. The earlier (fourteenth-century) pennyland data seems to fit with the later (sixteenth-century) material so it does not look as if the picture is somehow distorted. Neither is it the case that we are struggling with great gaps in the record. Most of Mull is covered in some detail and we cannot claim that there is inadequate or conflicting evidence. Mull just looks exceptional.


In ER XIII p 212 for 1509 Mull is given as 340 merklands. Iona, Ulva and Gometra are included in the listings which then follow but the total of merklands only comes to 324m 0s 10d.


In the document given by Skene, (Celtic Scotland III, Appendix III pp 434-436, c. 1577-95), Mull is given as 300m which is then broken down as follows:-


Maclean of Duart has 170 merklands

Maclean of Lochbuy has 60 merklands

The Bishop of the Isles has 30 merklands

Mackinnon has 20 merklands

The Laird of Coll has 20 merklands


In addition to these:


Ulva has 12 merklands

Gometra has 4 merklands

Iona has 30 merklands.

(The value of Inch Kenneth is not stated but it is rather implied it was 4 merklands – in fact it was 3¾m with Eorsa).


Nominally this comes to almost 350m.


In my tables for North and South Mull I have worked up from farm level. Using this data and the evidence from 1509 I have also set out a Summary Table of the theoretical valuations of the different districts of Mull. Let us therefore assume the 1509 total of 340m is correct. If we deduct 30m for Iona, and 30m for Ross, then the balance of 280m would suggest a pennyland total of 224d or 11 ouncelands and 4d. To this we should add the known 3 ouncelands of Ross (60d). This would make 14 ouncelands and 4d (284d) for Mull proper and 30m for Iona. 14 ouncelands and 4d seems a highly unlikely total. Another 16d (or 20m) would take the total to 15 ouncelands.


(In which case the breakdown would be as follows:

Mull proper, 12 ouncelands at 25m each = 300m

Ross of Mull, 3 ouncelands at 10m each =30m

Iona, 3 ouncelands at 10m each = 30m

Total 360m – which is the same merkland figure as that for Islay).


I am not generally in favour of inventing extra pennylands to make up round figures but there are some reasons for it in this case. Firstly there are very few places in the West Highlands or Hebrides where the full pennyland assessment survives. There are a few (such as Eigg) but in most cases there is more or less attrition. In some areas (such as Loch Awe) there are simply gaps in the record. In other districts (like Glenelg) I get the impression that pennyland data was lost as peripheral farms were abandoned and subsumed within other units. In the case of Mull we may be missing a pennyland or two amongst the satellite islands. Skene’s source of the late sixteenth century thought Mull and Iona etc were almost 350m. Accordingly I think a figure of 360m is not unreasonable. To lose 8d-16d (10m-20m) over 500 years is entirely feasible.


(There are a couple more historical totals we should refer to. In Argyll Estate Instructions p 209 there is a reference to Mull having 193 pennylands. In the Argyll Valuation Roll of 1751 the total number of pennylands given is just over 231 plus over 13 merklands).


If we step back from the detail of Mull one way of looking at land-assessment on the west coast is to view the differing conversion rates between ouncelands and merklands as a series of concentric circles expanding from Edinburgh. These fiscal ripples hit different parts of the Highlands and Hebrides at different times. The first parts of the west coast to be overcome were the Clyde islands which, although technically Norse, were being encroached upon by the Stewarts before 1200. Bute, Arran, the Cumbraes and the eastern part of Cowal seem to have been assessed at 1 ounceland to 120 merklands (or 1d to 6 merklands). Next we have western Cowal, Kintyre, Knapdale, Glassary and Lismore at 1 ounceland to 80 merklands (1d to 4 merklands). Lorn, Benderloch and the parishes around Loch Awe all seem to have been 1 ounceland to 40 merklands (1d to 2 merklands).


The Hebrides appear to have been converted in 3 separate groups – presumably shortly after their acquisition by Scotland in 1266. The Southern Hebrides (Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Gigha) were all reckoned at the rate of 1 unit (neither the term ounceland or davach is ever used) to 10 merks. The mid-Hebrides (Coll, Tiree, the Small Isles, Uist and Barra) were all at the rate of 1 ounceland or davach to 6 merks. The Northern Hebrides (Skye, Raasay, Lewis and Harris) were assessed at 1 ounceland or davach to 4 merks. In the midst of all these Mull appears completely anomalous. The Ross of Mull (certainly), and Iona (probably), fit with the rest of the southern Hebrides because they too were exchanged at the rate of 1 ounceland or davach to 10m. Mull even seems out of kilter with neighbouring areas of the mainland because Morvern, Kingairloch, Ardgour, Sunart and Ardnamurchan all share the 1 ounceland (or davach) to 10m ratio of the Islay group of islands. Can the land-assessment data from within Mull give us an explanation?


On the basis of the evidence from the Exchequer Rolls for 1509 it is striking how many of the districts of Mull turn out to be worth 20m, not 25m. The figures in my Summary Table show that many of the internal divisions of Mull – Quinish, Mishnish, Aros, Kynnebir & Gribun, Ardmeanach, Forsay, Brolos – were 20m, whilst others, such as Learballeneill and Torosay + Moloros, were 40m. At first glance this is puzzling. A 20m unit was equivalent to 16 Norse pennylands which was 4d short of an ounceland. A 20m unit makes no sense in Norse terms, nor even in Scottish feudal terms where a £20 or 30m unit was accounted a knight’s fee.


But they do make sense in terms of davachs. If we look at Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Gigha all the internal divisions are not in terms of the Norse land-assessment system but in terms of an earlier, more basic system which I think was Pictish or British rather than Scottish. Each main unit – (we are never told its name) – was normally divided into quarterlands and eighthlands which composed the basic farm-units in all these four islands. Sometimes we have place-names to confirm these – names beginning with Ochto- (⅛) in Islay, or Kerr- (¼) in Colonsay. In Islay there was even further subdivision into 1/16th lands (leorheis) or 1/32nd lands (kerroran). So the subdivisions according to the British/Pictish system were 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 etc whereas under the Norse system, where 1 ounceland was 20 pennylands, (and conceivably under a Dalriadic system based on houses), the subdivisions were 10, 5, 2½, 1¼, ⅝ etc.


Let us suppose that from the point of view of the Scottish government what was being converted to merklands after 1266 was not ouncelands but davachs. That as far as Edinburgh was concerned each davach of Bute, Kintyre, Islay or Mull was worth so many merks. After all, the exchequer clerks would have long experience of converting davachs into merklands as other provinces in Scotland were brought within their reach. As far as the peoples of the newly-annexed Norse colonies in the Hebrides were concerned it made not the slightest difference whenever an ounceland and a davach were the same. Since there were always 20d to an ounceland on the west coast, that meant each pennyland was worth one-twentieth of whatever the ounceland rate was. Wherever davachs and ouncelands were functionally equivalent it was immaterial whether you adopted a Lowland or Hebridean perspective.


However there were two areas on the west coast where ouncelands and davachs were not the same. Mainland Argyll and the Clyde Islands were different to the Hebrides (and the mainland from Morvern northwards). Mull seems to have been different again. I think the Scottish government applied the same process in Mull as in the rest of the Hebrides – i.e. 1 davach was worth so many merks. Furthermore I think they applied the same rate to Mull as the Islay group of islands, Iona, the Ross of Mull, Muckairn, Morvern, Kingairloch, Ardgour, Sunart and Ardnamurchan. One davach was regarded as equivalent to 10m. If we look at it from this point of view Mull is entirely consistent with its neighbours in davach terms – but not in ounceland terms. If a davach was worth 10m and an ounceland (in Mull) was worth 25m then an ounceland (in Mull) must have been equivalent to 2½ davachs. What is odd is not the Scottish conversion but the Norse.


When the Norse overran the various parts of what later became Scotland they imposed their own fiscal system on top of whatever they found. To begin with this was just in terms of ouncelands. (I think pennylands were probably not established until after c. 1000 AD). Moreover they did not always adopt the same rate in the different areas of Scotland. When they met davachs in the far north of Scotland they set the rate at 3 davachs to an ounceland. In all the Hebrides except Mull they set the rate at one-to-one. (Setting the rate at one-to-one for Iona had the consequence of establishing the same one-to-one ratio in the Ross of Mull and Muckairn which were possessions of Iona). In mainland Argyll and the Clyde islands they set the rate at twenty davachs to the ounceland.


Why? Our answers can only be speculative but perhaps a clue can be found in the ounceland’s fiscal role. An ounceland was either thought to be capable of rendering an ounce of silver as tax or it represented a purchase price. Either way whoever took an ounceland on mainland Scotland had it easier. An ounceland in the far north would mean land equivalent to three ouncelands in Lewis. An ounceland in Kintyre would mean land worth twenty ouncelands in Skye. Was this differential a reflection of the fact that settlers could expect more opposition in mainland Scotland? Was it an encouragement to settlers and colonists? Were they offered lands on better terms because of insecurity or their border status?


In Mull an ounceland of 2½ davachs would mean a Norse colonist was getting the equivalent of 2½ ouncelands in Uist. Why should such a ratio prevail in Mull? It would be difficult to argue that this represented a border area unless we suppose that the rate was established at a very early stage in the process of Norse colonisation. It is possible that it reflected a feeling that Mull was not worth as much as its neighbours in agricultural terms. For instance under the British/Pictish system Mull, (with Iona etc), contained the same number of davachs as Islay. The Norse may have felt this was an inaccurate reflection of their respective productive capacities. Or it may just be that a one-off purchase price became embedded in the more general system.


Let us assume that the rate of 1 ounceland to 2½ davachs was established at a relatively early stage. In general terms pennylands were probably introduced into the Hebrides after c. 1000 AD. They were not imposed on the Islay group of islands – possibly because these were regarded as part of the royal estate. However they were introduced to Mull – which argues for a different type of ownership. The arithmetic consequence was that each pennyland of Mull (except Ross) was the same as 1/20th of 2½ davachs. Now 2½ davachs is the same as 10 quarterlands so 1/20th of 10 quarterlands would be an eighthland. An eighthland is therefore 1d and a davach is 8d. When the Scots reclaimed Mull after 1266 each davach was treated as 10m, just as in islands like Islay, so each eighthland was 1¼m. Consequently each pennyland was also equivalent to 1¼m and an ounceland became 25m.


The conservative men of Mull stuck with the pennylands with which they had become familiar whilst official documents reckoned increasingly in merklands. I think the situation in Mull also affected the smaller islands between Mull and Jura and eventually even the upper part of Jura itself. Jura never really had pennylands but we find that the ratio of 1d to 1¼m crept south through Scarba into the northernmost farms of Jura (q.v.).


There is one other type of evidence we can use to outline a davach framework for Mull and that is early church-sites. Depending on how strictly we interpret the data there are between 22 and 25 sites in Mull that have kil- prefixes and land-valuations of at least 1d or 1¼m. (Most of these are in fact 1d/1¼m but there are three with valuations of more than 1d. It is possible that these were particularly important churches or they may just represent more than one farm). Now these pennyland kirks cannot be ounceland chapels. The 12 ozs of Mull (excluding 3 oz Ross) would make 30 davachs at 1 ounceland to 2½ davachs. With Ross at 1 ounceland (or davach) to 10 merks, Mull may have originally totalled 33 davachs but no more than 15 ouncelands. However we look at it there is more than one pennyland kirk per ounceland. A ratio of one pennyland kirk per davach looks much more likely. Is it the case that these pennyland kil-sites translate into one eighthland per davach dedicated for religious purposes?


The 15 ouncelands or 33 davachs then reduced into the seven medieval parishes of Mull (excluding Iona) as mentioned in Munro’s Monro (p 61). Six of these are straightforward:


Kilcolmkill (Argyll Vol III No 295)

Kilfinichen (Argyll Vol III No 296)

Kilninian (Argyll Vol III No 305)

Kilviceuen (Argyll Vol III No 308)

Killean (Argyll Vol III No 300)

Inch Kenneth (Argyll Vol III No 288)


The seventh will either be Ulva or the important chapel at Pennygown in Forsay. By the end of the eighteenth century these 7 parishes had further reduced to 3.


Most of the evidence, from both charters and Exchequer Rolls, comes from the period 1490 onwards – i.e. after the collapse of the Lordship of the Isles. The structure of Mull is referred to in terms of district names – not parishes – so we have Treshnish, Mornish, Quinish, Mishnish, Learballeneill, Aros, Forsay, Torosay, Ardmeanach, Moloros, Brolos, Ross etc. If parishes can be seen as collections of davachs (or ouncelands) then tracing the early parish boundaries may help us to determine the davach-structure and its relationship with named districts.


Because the situation in Mull is so confusing I have set out the various types of assessment data in a table.


  Mull Ross of Mull Iona Total
Davachs 12 x 2½ = 30 3 3 36
Ouncelands 12 3 3 18
Pennylands 12 x 20 = 240 3 x 20d = 60d ? 300 + ?
Merklands 12 x 25 = 300 3 x 10 = 30 3 x 10 = 30 360



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