Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Friday 12 January 2024

The Paisley Sisters of Strond

 Although one sees many references to the ‘Paisley Sisters’ of Strond with regards to the birth of the Harris Tweed industry there are relatively few accurate references available online so I thought it timely to explore their story in detail.

Marion MacLeod and Christina MacLeod were two of at least three daughters born to Norman MacLeod and his wife Christina MacSween.

In 1851 the family is recorded in Strond:

Christina MacLeod, 80, Widow

Marion MacLeod, 47, Weaveress

Christina MacLeod, 40, Weaveress

Catherine Morrison, 7, Servant

Emily MacLeod, 40, Visitor

It appears that Christina MacLeod (M.S. MacSween) died prior to the introduction of official records in 1855 and hence in 1861 the household comprises:

Marion MacLeod, 37, Hand Loom Weaver (Wool)

Christy MacLeod, 30, Hand Loom Weaver (Wool)

Catherine Morrison, 16, Scholar, Niece

There are two interesting points to note. Marion’s birth year has shifted from 1804 to 1824 and Christina’s from 1811 to 1831 which is quite a leap even by the standards of other census records that I have previously researched. Secondly, we have confirmation that Catherine Morrison is a niece, and that therefore a third MacLeod sister must have been married to a Mr Morrison.

By 1871 the census records:

Marion MacLeod, 50, Weaveress

Christy MacLeod, 40, Weaveress

Catherine Morrison, 23, Weaveress

The sisters birth years are now indicated to be 1821 and 1831, and their niece had left school and joined them in their trade.

The next record we have for Marion is that of her death on 27th February 1880 in Strond. She is recorded as being a Weaving Mistress aged 67 and the cause of death was Pleurisy. The informant was her nephew, Donald Morrison, one of Catherine Morrison’s two younger brothers. This record clearly pushes Marion’s birth back to 1813, some nine years later than that recorded in the 1851 census but eleven years before that recorded in1861!

In 1881 the household in Strond had reduced to:

Christy MacLeod, 60, Weaveress (Wool)

Kitty Morrison, 30, Domestic Servant, Niece

Remaining thus in 1891:

Christy MacLeod, 74, Weaveress

Catherine Morrison, 40, Weaveress

Christina MacLeod died on 8th March 1893 in Strond at the age of 76, suggesting a birth year of 1817 which is six years later than the 1851 figure and fourteen years earlier than that claimed in 1861! The cause was ‘Senile Decay’ and, again, it was the nephew Donald Morrison who registered the death.

This, then, marks the end of the official record regarding the Paisley Sisters, but what of their sibling and mother of Catherine and Donald Morrison?

Mary MacLeod was born in 1811, the older of these three known sisters, married Alexander Morrison (1805-1869) and gave birth to five girls and two boys between 1836 and 1856. She died of old age on 28th December 1907 at An t-Ob (Obbe) and it should come as no surprise that it was her son, Donald Morrison, who registered her death just as he had done for her two younger siblings.

Wednesday 8 March 2023


Occasionally, something rather wonderful happens as was the case when I was contacted by a reader regarding Scarista Manse. He, together with his sister and her husband, had compiled a document based upon a handwritten account of holidays in Harris written by their late father (and father-in-law) Robert Rothes Goodall.

In addition to the manuscript they also possess two collections of photographs, one of which contains images taken by Rothes whilst the other is an album of photographs that Rothes' mother, Margaret Goodall, had taken.

The family, headed by John Murray Goodall who worked for the Church of Scotland, took many holidays across the nation and its islands including both Lewis and Harris. Margaret records one stay in Harris in 1923, following several earlier holidays based in Lewis, and Rothes' own photos probably date from another stay in 1928.

What follows is a truly wonderful account, transcribed and assembled into a unique document that I have the great privilege of publishing for the very first time.

I am sure readers will find it a fascinating read and also enjoy the evocative images that bring to life, in particular, the Minister John Kerr and his wonderful wife Adèle.

With grateful thanks to David, Alison, and John.

Sunday 5 March 2023

A (Tall?) Tale of Two Hills

It has been some time since I blogged about placenames but one aspect that particularly interests me is how taking a group of nearby names into consideration, or even just a pair, can help reveal new insights.

The example that I have been pondering recently regards the two hills at the northern end of Berneray which are shown on the latest Ordnance Survey (OS) map as Beinn Shlèibhe (with it’s 93m trig point) and Beinn Ghainche. These are usually rendered in English as Ben Leva and Sandhill, although Moor Hill is also sometimes seen for the first of them.

At the time of the first OS mapping of Harris in the mid 1870s the Name Books provide us with an earlier name for Sandhill that came from Captain Otter's admiralty chart of 1857 and, more significantly, what they called the ’Old Map’. This is a reference to the wonderful work of William Bald performed in 1804/1805 under the watchful eye of his master (the celebrated mapmaker Mr Ainslie) on behalf of one ’Alexander Hulme’.

This was Alexander Hulme MACLEOD, the anglophile son of Captain MacLeod of Berneray who dumped his family name such was his ambition to remove any reference to his roots from his personage. This attitude is important because it perhaps explains Bald’s anglicisation of placenames on his otherwise astonishingly accurate map of the Estate of Harris.
The map title may be seen at:

The earlier name referred to by the OS is Green Hill and that name stuck until it was replaced by Sandhill at some point during the two decades separating the 1857 chart and the 1876 map.

It stuck, but it was quite possibly wrong.

If one looks closely at Bald’s map it is manifest that the name is written as ’Creen Hill’. There are two examples of the capital letter ’G’ in close proximity and the distinction between them and the capital ’C’ is unequivocal. There is also a capital 'C' at the clachan of 'Crockgunne' for comparison and it is a perfect match. Bald provided Moor Hill and Creen Hill for his master's client and that is, I believe, no mistake: 


What we have for sure is a big hill and an adjacent little hill. So what is the origin of ’Moor’ and ’Creen’, as rendered into English some two-hundred and twenty years ago? My (very) tentative conjecture is that they could come from Mor, meaning big, and Crìon meaning “little or diminutive”. There may well be alternative manglings of Gaelic that lead to the anglicisation ’Creen’ but this is one possibility that appears as if it might fit.

Oh, and as ’sleibhe’ can mean a ’mountain of the highest magnitude’ (and Beinn Shleibhe is indeed the highest peak in Berneray) does that not also add weight to the suggestion that what we may well have here is a big/little pairing, rather than a moor/green one? I think it's worth considering.

I’ll leave what appears to be the relatively recent adoption of Sand Hill for others to ponder, although the area is certainly susceptible to seasonal sand blow:

Sunday 20 November 2022


There is more than a local significance in the complete migration of the inhabitants of the island of Boreray to a settlement provided by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland on the mainland in North Uist. There were nineteen families on the island, which is situated in the Sound of Harris, about two miles from the larger island of Berneray, and something like the same distance from the Board of Agriculture's estate of Newton, where the islanders have found a new home.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Boreray is the exception to the fact that the islands in the Sound of Harris belong to the Parish of Harris which is why, to this day, sheep from Berneray, Harris are grazed on some of those islands.

This uprooting of a race of hardy independent people from the place of their birth has been brought about by the force of modern economic circumstances; they found it impossible any longer to eke out living in their cherished isolation from the ordinary haunts of men. The evacuation of Boreray the first definite indication of an inevitable process of decay which has set in amongst the more isolated outer islands of the Hebrides as they are now known. The stream of immigration from the outer isles, such as St Kilda and Berneray, has been growing in volume from year to year, and has now reached serious proportions. Since last year the population of St Kilda has dropped from 72 to less than 40, and the same tale has to be told of Berneray, while several other islands in the group are also feeling the pinch of modern competition.

Within five years of this article St Kilda would be evacuated, but Berneray still  survives and thrives.

Causes of Decline

The principal causes of this decline of these once virile island communities may be summarised as follows:

(1) The failure of the fishing industry owing to isolation from the world's markets;

(2) the low productivity of the soil, which is for the most part peaty;

(3) the inability of the islanders to compete successfully in the manufacture of Harris tweeds owing to the introduction of modern methods on the mainland; and

(4) the disinclination of the younger to follow the rough-and-ready life led by their forefathers.

An interesting list, the third of which is a reminder that the status of 'Harris Tweed' was still in a great state of flux during the interwar period. There is some wonderfully productive machair land, as well as the predominant peat, and commercial fishing has always been subject to periods of boom and bust. What is incontrovertible is the significance of the final cause which remains the greatest challenge almost a century after the article was published.

The last reason the most potent cause of all of the changes which we overtaking the western island peoples. The introduction of modern education has brought about a metamorphosis in the outlook the younger generation. Whereas the older islanders were content to go about their simple rural tasks and converse in Gaelic, which was the only language known to them, the younger people have had instilled in them broader ideas of the purpose of life, and at an early age seek the greater attractions of city life or the more spacious atmosphere of life in the Dominions.

Present indications, says the Observer, are that within the next few years many of the islands of the oft-sung Outer Hebrides will become but relics of history.

Source: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000563/19251012/031/0003

Dundee Evening Telegraph-Monday 12 October 1925

Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd.

Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.


 Poor Crops in Hebrides


A memorandum has been prepared and issued by the Office of Edinburgh at the joint request the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Health, and the Fishery Board showing the abnormal weather conditions experienced in the Hebrides last year, together with statement by the Board of Agriculture regarding the effect of the weather on the crops in Skye and the Outer Hebrides.

The memorandum concludes as follows:

There no doubt that in the Hebrides and the north-west of Scotland the six months' period from May to October, 1923, was exceptionally wet and stormy. The persistence of the rainfall was abnormal, and apparently unprecedented. The exceptional character of the month June in respect to sunshine must have been a factor of great importance.

In the course of its statement the Board Agriculture states that Skye and the Outer Hebrides extend altogether area of 1,145,000 acres, or 1800 square miles. But of this great area only 80,000 acres, or one in fourteen, are under crops and permanent grass.

Rough Pasture

There are 850,000 acres of rough glazings, and the remaining area mainly accounted for by deer forests in Lewis and Harris, extending to over 100,000 acres.

Of the farm and croft land, 32,000 acres are arable and 48,000 acres are under permanent grass. This land is divided into 7700 holdings, of which 99 per cent, are under 50 acres and about 3600 do not exceed five acres. The rough grazings, which extend more than ten times the area of the farm and croft land, carry a stock of about 100,000 ewes, the total sheep stock in June being about a quarter million.

The article proceeds with the following tables:

The meteorological conditions prevailing during the period May to October, 1923, give the reason for these startling figures. The total rainfall during these six months was not the largest on record, nor was the total deficiency of sunshine. But the uniform occurrence of these phenomena throughout the summer and autumn, without relief, was unprecedented, and fully accounted for the poor crops of cereals and potatoes that were obtained. Turnips and hay, on the other hand, thrive better in a damp season than cereals and potatoes. The cumulative effects of the failure in varying degrees of crops, fishing, peat-digging, and kelp-burning on the social and economic life these districts, where at the best there is but a poor living to be won from the land or the sea, are indeed disastrous.

Percentage Deficiencies for each Crop by Location

                    Oats    Barley/Bere    Potatoes

Skye            57%         n/a                  73%

Lewis           56%         50%                81%

Harris etc     37%        40%                57%

Overall the deficiency in 1923 was 73%, almost three-quarters of the total.

Source: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000577/19240117/100/0008

Aberdeen Press and Journal - Thursday 17 January 1924

Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd

Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD

Wednesday 7 September 2022

Civil Parish of Harris - Population 1801 - 1931

 I have extracted data from an official publication that had been created following the 1931 Census and which tabulated the population by all the Civil Parishes in Scotland.

The graph shows (apologies for the lack of labels on the x-axis!) how the population of the parish fluctuated over that 130-year period. All the islands that had once been in the domain of the MacLeods of Dunvegan and Harris are included which is why these figures may not always tally with those seen elsewhere.

As we draw close to the 100th anniversary of the start in 1923 of the mass emigrations of the 1920s, evoked in particular by the names 'Metagama' and 'Marloch', we can clearly their impact on the population of Harris.

Tuesday 6 September 2022


"On the 10th of March, Mr. R. Mackenlar, Chairman of the School Board of Harris, wrote to Mr. James Nicol—

If Dr. Cameron's Seeds Bill does not pass I look with great alarm to the future. Next year, and in all probability many more years, must be equally trying to the great majority of our people; £30 a-week would only give 2½ stones of meal (5s. worth) to each of 120 families. I am confident this is under what the last few days' experience warrants me to give.

The Rev. Donald Maclean, Established Church Manse, Harris, wrote—

I beg to bring to your notice the case of about 20 families in my parish and neighbourhood who are actually in a state of great starvation.

He had also a letter which he had received from Rev. A. Davidson, Free Manse, Harris, on the 9th of March, who wrote—

I have had occasion lately to be extensively among my people, which afforded me an opportunity of knowing their state. Some said the destitution was not greater in 1846, the year of the potato famine, than in this year. All parties agree that potato seed would be the best help that could be sent to the people. At present, there are 200 or 220 families in my district that would require help. I understand that the grain crop, oats and barley, was as much a failure with many of them as the potatoes were. What could be done for grain seeds I do not know, and I am painfully informed that there are some families quite destitute and without food. The Earl of Dunmore has given some work at the Home Farm to those who were in arrear of rent, very useful in itself, but confined to a certain class, and far from meeting a want that I may say extended to all parties."

This, then, was the desperate situation in Harris in the Spring of 1883.

Examining each piece of correspondence in turn:

Mr. R. Mackenlar, Chairman of the School Board of Harris:

2½ stones, at 14lbs (pounds) to a stone, is 35lbs of meal per family per week.
Thus each family would get a daily allowance of 5lbs of meal.

At this time the average household in Harris had five or six mouths to feed so each person would be subsisting on 1lb of meal per day. That is 450g. If the families were larger, and ten to twelve was far from uncommon, then the mass of meal drops to 250g per mouth.

Rev. Donald Maclean, Established Church Manse, Harris:

To highlight that 20 families are in a state of great starvation, within the context that the other letters provide, suggests that these families, who could total perhaps as many as 200 people or more, were in peril.

Rev. A. Davidson, Free Manse, Harris:

The comparison with 1846 provides further proof of the dreadful situation in 1883 and it should be remembered that the potato famines in the islands continued only ended in 1851 but their effect was less severe in the islands, especially when compared to what was allowed to happen in Ireland.
Alexander Davidson was in Manish. and it is safe to suggest that his district would include a large part, possibly all, of the Bays and along the southern coast of Harris perhaps as far west as An-t-Ob. It may well have included the whole of South Harris ie everywhere south of the isthmus at Tarbert.

The 200-220 families he refers to would probably contain between 1000 and 2500 people.Together they formed from at least one-quarter up to to more than half of the recorded population of Harris at the time.

Incidentally, there were only 673 separate families living in the Harris ‘mainland’ in 1881, with another 98 in Scalpay, 42 in Scarp, and a total of only 34 more families in all of St Kilda, Taransay, Ensay, Killigray, and Pabbay. Berneray had 85 families but is unlikely to have been included in the district under discussion. 

For reference, I have a couple of brief pieces on the populations of North Harris and South Harris:

I am not completely confident as to the location of the ‘Home Farm’ in 1883 but if it was Rodel then my relative Angus Kerr, age 48, was the Farm Manager but I think by then Borve had become the centre of operations. Thomas Brydone had been appointed as the Factor of South Harris in November/December 1882 and his predecessor, Kenneth MacDonald, Farmer and Factor, had resided in Borve which points to that perhaps being the location? That the jobs created by the Earl of Dunmore were “...confined to a certain class, and far from meeting a want that I may say extended to all parties.” is a pretty damning indictment as to the relevance of them to tackling destitution. 
They were merely working in lieu of paying rent.

There is also this report from March 1883 which I examined that helps to amplify the situation:

Later that year, on Thursday 31st May 1883, the Napier Commission met in An-t-Ob and a wider demographic from South Harris was, at long last, given an opportunity to be heard:




Sunday 11 July 2021

The Highland Clachan Fair – Quaint and Attractive Exhibition

 Mrs Stewart Mackenzie is working almost on the same lines as my late mother, whose name will remembered and memory revered in Harris for all time. (Applause.) She began her work in Harris between 60 and 70 years ago, and when I was sorting some old papers connected with our estate in Harris I came across a number of cuttings from old newspapers dated 1832 to 1839. It appears it was at this latter date that my mother laid the foundation-stone of the homespun industry in the Long Island. In those days the webs were taken by the women to the houses of Rodel or Amnsuidh, where they were duly inspected, measured, and valued according to quality. As soon the price per yard was agreed upon, my mother paid cash down for the web. These webs were then stored in Harris, and, at the end of the season, were forwarded to Dunmore House in Stirlingshire, from which depot the cloth eventually found its way to the various clothiers in London and the large provincial towns. My mother’s system was one of pure philanthropy, because whatever profit she was able to make on a resale of the web was credited the weaver in Harris, whereas, if there was any loss on resale, it was sustained by mother herself. That was the system my late mother inaugurated between 60 and 70 years ago, and continued to work upon for 50 year, and until her death. (Applause.) During that period of half-century she conducted the homespun industry single-handed, and without any extraneous assistance from irresponsible philanthropists. I purposely make point of mentioning this, because I have noticed that some contributors to the public press have lately written a lot of nonsense about this Harris tweed industry. They talked about it if it was mushroom creation of the last few years, and the direct outcome of some new and carefully-considered system of philanthropy, whereas, as a matter fact, it was in active operation before those who are now interesting themselves in the work were born. (Laughter and applause.)

Source: Inverness Courier – Friday 28 September 1906.


The above is an extract from the address given by the 7th Earl of Dunmore during the lengthy opening ceremony of an exhibition, which the reporter suggests ‘should be seen by everybody with an interest in Highland scenery’ (italics added), held in the Market Hall (presumably in Inverness?) for just three days.

There is much to dissect in this part of the Earl’s speech. He refers to newspapers from 1832, which was two years before his grandfather purchased the estate on 5 March 1834, and 1839. He suggests this very early date, five years earlier than the popular story of the industry’s birth in 1844 as described by Mrs S Macdonald (Sarah Grant) in a publication for The Scottish Home Industries Association in 1895, and states that ‘Amnsuidh’ was the destination for some of the webs of cloth. If so, they would have lain on the moss and grass for over a quarter of a century to be collected for it was he who had the ‘proposed lodge’ (to quote from the notated 1804 Plan of Harris), that became Amhainnsuidhe Castle, built in 1867.

It is interesting to note that during those same twenty eight years Big Borve, Middle Borve and Little Borve (all 1839) were cleared, as was Raa on Taransay (1840s), and crofts at Direcleit and Ceann Dibig were bisected to provide homes for people cleared from Borve on Berneray (1851). Borve in Harris had been resettled but was cleared again (1853) and finally Direcleit and Ceann Dibig were cleared (1860s). The potato famines also took place (1841-1856) and perhaps mention should be given to the clearance of Seilibost (1838).

Amidst all this turmoil it is certainly true that the Embroidery School was established in An t-Ob by the Earl’s mother (1849) but was she really conducting the ‘homespun industry single-handed’?

This is where we reach the irritation that is clear in this speech, the fact that ‘some contributors to the public press have lately written a lot of nonsense about this Harris tweed industry. They talked about it if it was mushroom creation of the last few years, and the direct outcome of some new and carefully-considered system of philanthropy, whereas, as a matter fact, it was in active operation before those who are now interesting themselves in the work were born. 

Almost a quarter-of-a-century earlier the Napier Commission had revealed the work of ‘Mrs Captain Thomas’; the wife of navy hydrographer, pioneer photographer and archaeologist, Frederick William Leopold Thomas the naval hydrographer, in supporting the nascent Harris Tweed industry and it would appear that her story had been recently reinvigorated in the press. I have yet to discover these articles but this speech by the Earl suggests that over a hundred years before I began researching the true origins of the industry the popular narrative was already being questioned.

Less than a year after he spoke these words Charles Adolphus Murray died on 27 August 1907at the age of 66.

Friday 25 June 2021

'Map of Harris - The Property of the Right Honourable The Earl of Dunmore - 1871'

This map is fascinating and what follows is merely an initial scratching of the surface to see what may be learnt from it regarding the situation in Harris at this time.

 The first point is a general one for, although the map is dated 1871, the division of Harris into North and South occurred in 1867 and so the 7th Earl's property by the time of publication had been reduced to the area south of the border in Tarbert. Hence the two residencies that the Earl had built, labelled 'Ardvourlie Castle' and 'FINCASTLE' on the map, were no longer his.

In Tarbert itself, it is interesting to see what appear to be two roofed buildings at Am Faoilinn, the area on the shore of West Loch Tarbert in the fork between the road to Stornoway and Old Pier Road. I understand that one of these at this time was home to Malcolm Kerr (my 1st cousin 4x removed) who was one of five children born there between 1811 and 1831 to Alexander Kerr (1796-c1845) and his wife Ann MacLeod (1791-1863).

Further south, we see 'Luskintyre House' and a 'Scarrista House' which is near the shore abutting the Glebe of the Parish Church and Manse, each of which are on the other side of the track that leads to the substantial settlement of 'Nishishee'. The two settlements of 'North Town' and 'South Town' are shown, these two being mentioned by William MacGillivray in his book 'A Hebridean Naturalist's Journal - 1817-1818'. 

Continuing past the 'Parish School', 'Embroidery School', and the 'School House' in Obbe (or 'OBEE', as it appears here!) we reach Rodel where Malcolm Kerr's cousin Angus Kerr - son of Angus Kerr (1792-1867) and Marion MacSween (1793-1874) is the Farm Grieve, or manager. Rodel House, built by Captain Alexander MacLeod, is conspicuous for being un-noted, perhaps reflecting its significance in the the eyes of the Earl, whilst we see the old church promoted to being 'St Clement Cathedral'.

Traversing the Bays of Harris we see several 'Oyster Beds' marked by shading before reaching Malcolm and Angus Kerr's late uncle John Kerr's (1789-1867) home in ' Dieraclate' where his widow Margaret lives with two of Malcolm and Angus's many cousins, her children Effie and Donald.

I have completed this swift circumnavigation of South Harris, pointing out a few things that drew my attention and including elements from the stories of the three sons of Strond, Alexander, Angus, and John Kerr at the time of the map.

The whole of Sir Edward Scott's North Harris awaits our attention but meanwhile I recommend a close perusal of this particular piece of cartography for what it may reveal regarding the history of Harris.

NB - The image is copyright National Records of Scotland and has been used in accordance with their terms and conditions as per https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/content/copyright

Wednesday 12 May 2021

HARRIS NEWS NOTES - Highland News - Saturday 07 August 1897


(Highland News - Saturday 07 August 1897 -Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

This edition of the Highland News included a section with several snippets of news from Harris (transcribed below in italics) to which I have appended some observations together with links to further reading:


WEATHER AND CROPS.—The weather this summer has been very favourable, only that it was a little too dry and warm; yet this has been compensated by recent showers. Crops of all kinds look well, and a fair yield is anticipated.

Ah, “a little too dry and warm”, but then a century-and-a-quarter ago the whole island would have been swaying with oats and barley, glad to slake their thirst on those 'recent showers'.

POLITICAL DISSATISFACTION.—Great dissatisfaction is felt with Mr Baillie's inactivity in matters pertaining to the Hebridean portion of his constituency, and the fact that he voted against a proposal to make the acquisition of land compulsory has caused deep regret.

James Evan Bruce Baillie (1859 – 6 May 1931) was the Unionist MP for Inverness-shire from June 13, 1895 - October 1, 1900. He is recorded in Hansard a mere 7 times during his time in Parliament.

SPECIAL BENEVOLENCE.—Mrs Beckett (late Mrs Thomas), Edinburgh, who by her personal influence has often acted as a benefactress and philanthropist to Harris, has this year decided to appoint a qualified nurse in the district of Manish, South Harris. A suitable house to accommodate such nurse is in course of erection.

I first wrote about this development over a decade ago and that piece, including an invaluable clarification regarding the use of the building, may be read here.

CATTLE MARKET.—The annual cattle market recently held in Harris caused great disappointment to farmers and crofters. Somehow or other the buyers were not so numerous or conspicuous as on former occasions. Consequently most of the people brought home their cattle, so that at present a large number of purchasable stock is on hand.

A hundred years prior to this, Harris cattle ,of which more may be read here , were being taken by drovers on the long journey south.

FISHERIES.—The Harris fisheries. once so famous, especially for quality, are practically dead since the great fishing in Loch Seaforth in the winter of 1890. In Harris at present there is not one fishing boat of the first, or even the second class; but the fishermen are fairly supplied with small boats, which diligently ply along the neighbouring coasts, and visit such fishing centres as Stornoway, Portree, and Loch Hourn when herrings are near hand.

A reminder that Tarbert was never to be developed along the lines envisaged by John Knox in the 18thC, and that Captain MacLeod’s plans for Rodel were cut short. 

I believe Knox also penned this interesting account of the interior of a house in Tarbert.

TOURIST SEASON.—The number of tourists calling here this summer has been fair considering the recent Jubilee attractions in the South. Some come by the daily mail boat; while others come on a "weekly tour to the Hebrides" by the "Dunara," which visits Tarbert every Saturday, staying till Monday morning, and making an occasional call at St Kilda. Many yachts of various descriptions also call and stay for a day or two.

Interesting that tourism was already noteworthy at this time, and it may well have been some of the yachtsmen recorded here who were crewing some of the visiting vessels.

Records of such visits by the “Dunara”, serendipitously caught during the censuses of 1881-1901, are described in each of these pieces:




THUNDERSTORM.—On Sunday evening, between seven and eight o'clock, a terrible thunderstorm, accompanied with lightning and occasional showers of rain, burst over Harris, and continued till after two o'clock on Monday morning. The thunder pealed incessantly, and the lightning flashed uninterruptedly, zigzag rents of deep red being often visible in the clouds. Persons of intelligence and experience, who sometimes witnessed a similar scene in America, declare that they only very seldom saw anything to equal it in point of display, but never in duration. But, happily, no accident or disaster occurred.

I like the comparison with meteorological events ‘in America’ as a means of emphasising the scale, and scarcity, of such a storm.

GOVERNMENT GRANT Of £3500 LOST.—It will be remembered that some time ago the County Council sanctioned the construction of two piers in Harris—one at Scalpay and another at West Tarbert. The estimated cost was £2500 for the one at West Tarbert, and £1500 for the one at Scalpay; but we are informed that Sir Samuel Scott agreed to pay £500 of said expense, thus making the Government grant amount to £3500. Proceedings went so far that tenders were asked by public advertisement., and an offer accepted, but before a start could be made the Tory Government withdrew the money. Surely there is need in Harris for the Congested Districts Bill. Piers, roads, footpaths, and other public works demand special attention, as well as the fact that there is not one first or second-class fishing boat in Harris.

The story of these two piers, which did eventually get constructed, is for another time but what we can glean from this is not only the huge disappointment at the Government withdrawing the grant but also yet another example of how well the North Harris Estate was treated by its Scott landlords. The contrast between the situation in the two Harris estates following Sir Edward Scott's purchase of North Harris when the original estate of Harris was divided in 1867 cannot be overstated.

Although these eight wee 'News Notes' are, in themselves, just that, when placed within the wider context of island history they each add yet another new and welcome element to our understanding.

Thursday 7 November 2019

Contempt, Sympathy and Romance - Krisztina Fenyo

I have been intending to write about Krisztina Fenyo’s book, Contempt, Sympathy and Romance, for several years and, in particular, to focus upon one particular nugget that it contains.

The book, subtitled Lowland Perceptions of the Highlands and the Clearances During the Famine Years, 1845-1855, is a scholarly (the book is essentially her PhD thesis of 1996) but extremely readable account of contemporary Scottish newspapers’ attitudes to Highlanders and Islanders during these turbulent and troubled years, attitudes which she categorises into the trio that gives her book its title.

However, it is a letter* written by Sir Charles Trevelyan in 1852 upon which I intend to focus, a letter in which he:

contemplated with satisfaction...the prospects of flights of Germans settling here in increasing number – an orderly, moral, industrious and frugal people, less foreign to us than the Irish or Scottish Celt, a congenial element which will readily assimilate with our body politic.” (Italics as in the quote in the book).

At this time Trevelyan was Chairman of the London Committee of the Highland and Island Emigration Society (HIES) which he co-founded with Sir John McNeill (** for links to previous pieces), publicly voicing the view that emigration benefited the emigrants themselves and was an economic necessity, but this quote clearly shows the racism underlying the removal of Gaels from Scotland. The Gaels weren’t being removed because of overpopulation but because they were deemed to be the wrong people to inhabit the Highlands and Islands!

Sir Charles Trevelyan’s ‘day job’ was Assistant Secretary to the Treasury and, in the climate of hostility to the Gael that Fenyo describes so brilliantly in her book, it is inconceivable that the attitude he so boldly elucidated in private wasn’t a core belief underlying his chairing of the HIES.

To have such a clear statement of an aim of ethnic-cleansing from such a senior civil servant in the mid-nineteenth Century is extraordinary but even today, as attempts are made to right the wrongs of the Clearances and repair the damage done, particularly in terms of Highlands and Islands depopulation, Gaelic language and culture remain under attack. 

I highly recommend reading Contempt, Sympathy and Romance and will end with these closing words from the book:

“In the mid-nineteenth Century, the Highland Gaels were viewed in many ways – from inferior race to picturesque and poetic heroes - but, with few exceptions, they were never seen as equal, fellow human beings.”

*Source: National Records of Scotland: HD4/2 Letterbook of HIES (2)
Trevelyan to Commissary-General Miller, 30 June 1852

**Sir John McNeill:

Tuesday 12 June 2018

Olaf the Black and North Uist

Óláfr Guðrøðarson, perhaps better-known as Olaf the Black, was a 13th century sea-king
who ruled the Isle of Man and, at least, parts of the Hebrides. He was a younger son of Guðrøðr Óláfsson, King of the Isles, King of Dublin, and his wife Finnguala, a grandaughter of Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn, High King of Ireland, King of Cenél nEógain.

Uist in the Sagas

Godred, a son of Olaf the Red, left three sons, Reginald, Olaf , and Ivar, of who, shortly before his death, he recognised Olaf (born in 1173, and afterwards known as Olaf the Black) as his lawful heir.”

“In 1202 King Olaf was residing at ‘Sandey’, in the Sudreys which Captain Thomas identifies as being the district and former parish of Sand, in North Uist, which...both from its central position and comparative fertility, would appear in every way the more likely residence to be chosen by a ruler of the Long Island.”

(Source: North Uist, Erskine Beveridge, 1911, p20-21)

According to the saga of the celebrated chief and physician, Hrafn Sveinbiarnson c1166-1213 (as cited in A.W. Moore’s 1900 publication A History of the Isle of Man), Hrafn “and the bishop-elect, Gudmund, sailed from Iceland towards Norway in the year 1202, but were driven by storms to Sandey, one of the Sudreys, where they happened to find Olaf and the bishop, and were compelled by the former to pay a tax, that Reginald had assigned the Hebrides to Olaf.” This saga was presumably the source that Captain Thomas and Professor Munch had used in their earlier respective researches into the matter and it was the Captain’s interpretation regarding the location of Sandey that Beveridge referred to in his book.

Thus, thanks to the scholarship of Captain FWL Thomas, we have evidence suggesting that Olaf the Black lived in North Uist in the area of Cill Chaluim Cille (Kilcolmkill) in the vicinity of the burial ground at Clachan Sands and near to Tobar Chaluim Cille , the well of St Columba’s Chapel.

In the Sleat History or History of the MacDonalds it is recorded that Olaf the Red, Olaf the Black’s grandfather, killed a MacNicoll in North Uist, although it has also been suggested that it may have been the grandson Olaf the Black who was responsible. Either way, we have two clues pointing to the presence of one or both of the Olaf’s in the island during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Erskine Beveridge also notes that nearby Loch Amhlasariagh derives its name from this period:

Loch Aulisary; Norse, from Olafs-erg or Olaf’s shileling” (Source: p105, as previously)

It would therefore appear possible, perhaps even likely, that it was Olaf the Black who had his summer residence somewhere on the shore of this tidal lagoon which is located within the old farm of Newton and Cheesebay, now known as the Newton Estate, and who gave his name to the loch.

Beveridge remarks that:

On the north side of Portain, near Loch Aulasary, occurs a group of three place-names, Cnoc Mòr an t-Sagairt, Cnoc Beag an t-Sagairt, and Loch an t-Sagairt – all obviously referring to a priest, and at least suggestive that a chapel formerly stood in that vicinity. (Source: Beveridge, p278)

Is this, perhaps, a further link to Olaf and the bishop (possibly Michael) cited in the saga?

We shall never know for sure but it is tantalising to think that more than 800 years ago this ‘remote’ corner of Uist was in fact sufficiently well-connected to attract a Norse ruler and his ecclesiastical ally to make their respective marks by leaving clues within the naming of the landscape.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Eureka - 59781

What began with the discovery of two seafaring brothers who died on consecutive days in September 1872 has developed into the story of the vessel that they were serving on at the time of their deaths.

The Eureka arrived at King William’s Dock, Dundee from St Petersburgh on 27 August 1872 with 494 bales and 1431 bobbins of flax weighing more than 170 tons.* She was owned and sailed ‘In the General Coasting Trade’ by Ewen Campbell of Scadabay, Harris but all 240 tons of this brigantine had been built in 1870 across the Atlantic in Prince Edward Island for John F Robertson.

Malcolm and Ewen Campbell appear to have been joint owners of the Eureka from the outset, Lloyd’s Register 1871 showing the owners as M & E Campbell. There were many fine sailing ships built at that time in Prince Edward Island for Scottish shipowners.

A week before her arrival in Dundee, on 20th August 1872, the Eureka had collided near Elsinore with another vessel, the Mercurius of Harlingen, and the latter ship appears to have suffered some little damage in consequence.* This was not the last incident to befall the vessel in the autumn of 1872 for on 27th September the Eureka was being towed into Yarmouth having lost her boat and sails when she struck the bar and began taking on water.*

Sandwiched in between these unfortunate accidents were the tragic deaths from smallpox of the brothers Angus and Neil Kerr on the 11th and 12th of September.

Malcolm Campbell also died a few months later on 26th December 1872 at Scadabay and at some point Ewen sold the ship and she was eventually lost in Archangel when she grounded during a heavy snow storm.

It would be a quarter of a century before another link was forged between the Campbell’s of Scadabay and the Kerr’s of South Harris, this time in the form of the marriage in 1896 of my cousin Marion Kerr from Rodel to Ewen and Malcolm’s nephew, John Campbell, eldest son of Roderick Campbell of Rodel who also held the tack of Borve, Berneray before it was rightly recrofted in 190.

Note: I would like to thank Seumas MacKinnon of Scadabay for alerting me to the fact that the vessel my relatives were sailing in was not the one owned by James Deas of St Andrew’s, and for supplying information used in compiling this entry.


Eureka registration Prince Edward Island: http://www.islandregister.com/1870newvessels.html
Eureka Lloyd’s Shipping Register 1871-72 p197: http://www.archive.org/stream/lloydsregisters32unkngoog#page/n4/mode/2up
Ewen Campbell on Lloyd’s Captains List p19: http://www.history.ac.uk/gh/capsC.pdf
Euphemia, Eureka and Anna Dhubh: http://www.isleofharris.com/stories/euphemia-eureka-anna-dubh/

With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk) the British Library Board