Introduction / Westray Grays / George Gray and Margaret Seatter / George Gray and Jean Reid / Robert Gray and Christian Harcus / Barbara Gray and John Rendall / Jean Rendall and John Meil
Eviction of the Meils
The Rev George Smith followed the Rev James Brotchie as minister for the Established Church on Westray. Rev Brotchie had served from 1838 until he died in February 1872 and had built himself a large house at Fribo. This passed to a nephew and the new minister had to live in the old manse, which had been let out to tenant farmer in the interval.
Rev Smith came from Fraserburgh and in 1881 his household comprised also his wife, mother in law, sister in law, a daughter of seventeen, a son of thirteen and two servants.
Rev Brotchie had been the sole trustee for the Cleat estate. James Stewart of Brugh who was unmarried had started to build a large new house when he died on 25th June 1858. By a trust deed dated 11th May 1857, if his distant cousin William Bruce Stewart were to die without issue then the whole estate was to pass to Rev Brotchie as sole trustee for his lifetime and then to the North Isles Presbytery. Other trustees were nominated and Rev Smith became trustee following Rev Brotchie.
William Bruce Stewart (b. 1849) married Annie Dowling Smith in 1869 and the couple had certainly occupied the new house by 1871. They had a son but he died young and the couple divorced on 22nd November 1871. Annie Dowling Smith died shortly afterwards. William Bruce Stewart remarried but died in London on 22nd January 1873 at the age of twenty four. His second wife had liferent of the property. As she was not pregnant, the property passed transferred from the trustees to the Church.
As there were no tenants at Cleat House, Rev Smith decided that this would make a more convenient manse and it became his official residence in January 1893 when the Court of Session made an order allowing the exchange of the old manse and glebe on the West Side for Cleat House and its grounds. He had occupied it for some years previously. There was however no glebe. The ministers relied upon the income of the surrounding farmland as part of their stipend.
Rev Smith considered that Cott of Cleat would do admirably and the tenants were given an eviction order. It is noted that the land is good farmland and also that the Meils were not of the Established Church but Plymouth Brethren. In exchange the Meils were offered the tenancy of a part of the neighbouring farm of Banks, which already supported two families.
There were three families of Meils there: John Meil senior who had married to Jane Logie, John Meil junior who was married Jean Rendall and young John's brother, George Meil who was married to Mary Allan. They were known locally as the "dugged Meils" and put up a lengthy opposition. It appears that they were surprisingly well read and capable of correspondence with the law agents who became involved. They were in fact given just six days notice to quit in a short letter from the Kirkwall lawyers on 5th November 1889.
The process continued and a long letter appeared in the "Orkney Herald" newspaper from the Rev Smith explaining the situation. This was dated Cleat House, 28th November 1891. John Meil, presumably senior, replied to the newspaper and more or less called the minister a liar. There were second letters in the newspaper from each, the final being an undated one from John Meil, which was published on 30th December 1891.
Inevitably the Rev Smith was always likely to get his way and John Meil wrote agreeing to the move to Banks on 19th March 1892.
John Meil Senior and his family together with son George Meil and his family, and two aunts, moved to Banks. The place was not large enough for them all so John Meil Junior and Jean Rendall moved with their family to Breck, which is above Pierowall, where John worked for Murdoch Hewison.
John Meil senior did not last long after moving and died at Banks on 6th June 1892 at the age of sixty four. He had been attending by the doctor over the previous couple of years during which he had been in dispute with the Rev George Smith.
Interestingly, in 1892 after some 20 years of his ministry and obtaining the glebe, the Rev Smith resigned his ministry. He had been most unpopular and quarrelled with his co-trustees. With the eviction of the Meils, his congregation had almost deserted. He moved to Canada.