Book Review – The Photographs of Archie Chisholm by Michael Cope

Before I move on to my review of a fascinating book, apologies for the lack of new blogs so far this year. I have been really busy re-vamping Wildlife and the Law in Scotland to produce a new edition incorporating changes in wildlife legislation in Scotland since the first edition in 2012. PAW Scotland has kindly agreed to support the new book financially and I hope it will be published at the end of April or, at worst, early May.  I am also writing another book on wildlife on a lowland Perthshire estate to complement an earlier book, A Wealth of Wildlife: A Year on a Highland Perthshire Estate. I began my regular walks over the estate in August and will continue until July. The wildlife on this estate is equally as enthralling and I am writing the chapters and taking photographs as I go. This book should be published in the autumn.

I recently received a present of a new book The Photographs of Archie Chisholm: life and landscapes in the Outer Hebrides 1881 – 1913 by Michael Cope. For several reasons this book was of great interest to me. Firstly the Outer Hebrides, particularly North Uist, is my favourite holiday destination and I am familiar with many of the places described in the book. Next, many of the recent photos comparing the old photos taken by Archie Chisholm were taken by his grandson, Alistair Chisholm, whom I knew well. Lastly, at the time of taking the photos Archie Chisholm was the procurator fiscal for the area and based in Lochmaddy. I knew one of the much more-recent procurators fiscal at Lochmaddy, John Bamber, through his interest in dealing with wildlife crime and we met or communicated on many occasions. Hardly surprising then that I delved into this book with great interest.

One of the first things that struck me in the book was the power over other peoples’ lives held – and often wielded – by landowners. Archie Chisholm, as befits the role of a procurator fiscal, was clearly a fair man. As well as his public role he also ran a private solicitor’s practice and had refused to act for the landowner of the time, Sir John Campbell-Orde, in connection with eviction disputes with Campbell-Orde’s tenants. One of the solicitors in the practice was more than happy to act for the tenants seeking to avoid eviction. As a consequence Archie Chisholm was forbidden by Campbell-Orde from taking lodgings at any house on the estate, to purchase a feu so that he could build a house or even to stay in the hotel in Lochmaddy, making it extremely difficult for Archie to reside near to his place of work. To this day there remain many inconsistencies with the bestowing of a knighthood on a person and that person’s regard for humanity, fairness or public interest.

Archie’s photographs give an amazing insight into life in the Western Isles just over a century ago. He operated a small business, having many of his photographs professionally printed by a Manchester company as picture postcards and many of these appear in the book with the photograph overlaid by an apt description. The author, Michael Cope, whose wife is the granddaughter of Archie, covers a wide range of occupations and interests relating to Hebridean life, naturally illustrated by the photographs. Chapters include landscapes, the post offices and the post system (which again was much manipulated by landowners), crofting communities, churches and field sports, where the deer, salmon and trout on the islands attracted wealthy tourists for shooting and fishing.

This is a fascinating book which is complemented by the author’s research and text. Yet the photographs could probably stand alone, leaving this ancient lifestyle, so different to mainland life but maybe not so different even now to Hebridean life, to the readers’ imagination.

The Photographs of Archie Chisholm: life and landscapes in the Outer Hebrides 1881 – 1913 by Michael Cope. Thirsty Books, Edinburgh. £14.99  The book is available post-free within the UK using the link

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2 Responses to Book Review – The Photographs of Archie Chisholm by Michael Cope

  1. Alex Milne says:

    Your book “Wildlife and the Law” has been very helpful to me. I’m pleased that it will be revised. I’ve ordered the Uist book from the link. I hope that they have it in stock. No one else seems to have it.

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