The new postscript should not be the end of the story

‘Alone in his attic study John Lorne Campbell made an astonishing discovery. Painstakingly going through old papers, he uncovered the family secret which had caused an unbridgeable emotional gap with his father and burdened his early years with heavy debt.’

So says the new blurb on the back of the new paperback edition of The Man Who Gave Away His Island which arrived in the post today.  Hard to believe it is now more than two years since the hardback was published, even harder to think that it is a full six years since I began the long journey, tracing John’s life story from the house where he was born, through Barra and South Uist to Canna.


Taynish House

Taynish House in Argyll. Secret debt forced the sale of John’s family home – and inheritance

As the blurb continues:

The Man Who Gave Away His Island is an extraordinary story of changing fortunes with unexpected twists and turns. It explores how a disinherited landowner came to buy a remote Hebridean island in 1938 with idealistic and radical aims of preventing it becoming a rich man’s playground, preserving traditional Gaelic culture and showing how efficient farming could work in harmony with wildlife and a sustainable way of life. For much the same reasons he was to give the island away, to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981 – with still uncertain consequences.

Indeed.  Sadly I had a very painful duty of writing a new final chapter. When I left Canna in 2010 the future looked bright but that very quickly changed. The postscript to the new paperback traces the sudden decline of population, the closure of the school and the end of a very welcome and thriving restaurant, The Ghille Brighde.

There is also the challenging question of how best to celebrate and share John and Margaret’s invaluable legacy: the wealth of Gaelic folklore and song preserved and curated with great care and dedication in the now decaying Canna House.  The former home of the Campbell’s is the largest house on the island but the least used, it is now in need of sensitive restoration.

canna house hall

Canna House hall welcomed family and friends for decades

As my new last chapter concludes: “When John Lorne Campbell gave away his island he passed on its problems as well as its benefits. He spent forty years of his life in dealing with them without reaching a settlement which would endure after his death. Can one be achieved now?  Money alone is not sufficient nor are good intentions. Finding a solution will not be easy but all those who care about his legacy will have to try.”



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One Response to The new postscript should not be the end of the story

  1. C White says:

    I was disappointed to read that the new edition of your book only had minor corrections apart from the last chapter.
    The account of the valuation of stock in Canna when JLC took over is not correct. According to the document JLC signed when he bought Canna states the normal practise which is to have a valuer for buyer and one for the seller and the stock valued is what is alive and I think what is presented on the valuation day which is also close to the hand over date. My father’s diary 26th May 1938 ” In her [the Lochmor] were travelling Fletcher, Laudale and others from the Canna valuation. Capt. Robertson thinks very little of the new manager there a Lewisman. £9000 is said to be the price, anyway the Thoms are pleased.” JLC’s ability to pick duds extended to his valuer who was well known here. His Nephew Dr Archie Norman described him in print as unscrupulous and that is the kindest assessment I have heard. I have not seen the sale particulars but there must have been some idea of the stock in it. JLC bought just before lambing and the valuation was a few weeks after lambing so until the valuation no one could predict accurately how many ovines had to be paid for. Robin Thom would never have refused to gather for the Valuation as he would have looked a complete fool in front of his valuer and he, or the family, was getting the money. I suspect the Annals of Canna as a source has to be checked.
    When JLC gave the island to the NTS it was inalienably so they have no latitude for doing what most people coming to the island seem to want. He must have known what he was doing, though he does seem to have acted first and thought about the consequences afterwards on a number of occasions

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