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

Monday, 4 May 2015

Which Roderick?

Which Roderick?

At 11pm on the 10 August 1867 John McKinnon took his fist breaths, his cries carried on the clear, cold air over Direcleit, Harris. John was the first-born of Anne Kerr and her husband Alex McKinnon, who came from Scalpay which was where the couple had lived since their wedding on 18 December 1866. The birth was registered by a cousin, Roderick Kerr of Strond, Harris who signed the register with 'his mark', an upright cross.

Now, there are two possible candidates for the informant for at that time there was Roderick Kerr, the Post Runner in Strond and also Roderick Kerr the Fisherman in An t-Ob, which today is called Leverburgh.

I am a little confused because a couple of years later Roderick the postie witnessed the marriage of Roderick the fisher, but seemingly with a signature rather than a simple cross. However, Roderick the fisher, who certainly never learnt to write and would have had to sign the register with a cross, wasn't a resident of Strond at the time of John McKinnon's birth.

Which Roderick was it? Well, the post runner was Anne's cousin and the fisherman was her nephew, and therefore John McKinnon's cousin so, although it surprises me slightly that there's a hint here that Strond's postman couldn't write, it looks as if it could have been either of them who registered the birth of their first Scalpaich relation!

More on the two Roderick's here:




Plus a wee snippet giving something of a flavour of the time:


Note on spellings: I have shown those used on the birth certificate in case others wish to look that document up online.

Friday, 27 March 2015

More on Pennylands...

In an earlier piece, I referred to a note from April 14th 1884 in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland called 'What is a Pennyland? Or Ancient Valuation of Land in the Scottish Isles'.

Its author was Captain FWL Thomas and a recent exchange regarding the redoubtable Fred's work in Harris led me to revisit his works in the online catalogue of the National Library of Scotland.

In 18862 volume 20 of the Proceedings appeared including a continuation piece that was published posthumously, Fred Thomas having died at the age of 69 on 25 October 1885 at his home, Rose Park, in Trinity, Leith.

On page 211 of the volume he states, giving his source as the Old Statistical Account:

In Harris, 1792, the ancient and still common computation of land was a penny, halfpenny, farthing, half-farthing, clitag, &c.

A tacksman might hold 20d.—that is, an ounceland; while a small tenant or crofter usually held a farthing land.

The stock or souming for a farthing land was four milk cows, three or four horses, and as many sheep on the common as the tenant had the luck to rear.

The crop might be computed, in general at four or five bolls, and the rent was 30 or 40
shillings, besides personal service, rated at one day's work per week.”

In the 1895 Crofters Commission Report the souming of each croft in Strond was 1 horse, 4 cows and 20 sheep which I calculated* to be 68 'sheep grazing units', or sgu.

At the same time the crofters in Direcleit were allowed just 4 cows and 20 sheep, or 52sgu.

A little over a century earlier a small tenant was allowed 4 horses, 4 cows and as many sheep as he could rear which means well over 96sgu were deemed acceptable.

This is one of the clearest illustrations of how the imposition of crofts held direct from the landlord contrasted with the lot of the small tenant renting from a tacksman.

We may note, for comparison, across the Sound of Harris that:

In North Uist, 1794, the small tenants usually held a ½d. land, on which they kept 6 cows, 6 horses, and raised enough grain to keep them all the year round.”

6 horses and 6 cows gives us 144sgu from a half-pennyland, demonstrating once again that the lot of the small tenant was vastly superior to that of the crofter a century later, and reinforcing the difference whereby a crofter HAD to supplement his income in order to survive.

*”The grazing of stock shall be calculated on the footing of one cow being equivalent to eight sheep, and one horse to two cows or sixteen sheep. Source: Crofters Commission Report 1896.

Source:

  • THOMAS, F.W.L. 1886, "Ancient Valuation of Land in the West of Scotland: Continuation of "What is a Pennyland?"", Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Proceedings, vol. 20, pp. 200.


Monday, 5 May 2014

Quantities and Value of Commodities Exported from St Kilda, 1875

In the winter of 1876 a journalist, John Sands, was stranded on the island of St Kilda.
He had also visited the archipelago in the previous year and wrote an account of his experiences, Out of this World; or Life in St Kilda, which was published by MacLachlan & Stewart in 1888.
On page 59 of this book Sands provides figures for various items produced by the St Kildans in 1875 and I have used these to calculate the values that follow:

Cloth: 227 yards (Of 47 inches and thumb) at 2s 3d = £ 25 10s 9d
Blankets: 403 at 1s 10d = £ 36 18s 10d
Fulmar oil: 906 pints (each pint equal to 5 pints Imperial) at 1s = 906s = £ 45 6s 0d
Tallow: 17stones 6 pounds (each stone containing 24 lbs.) at 6s 6d = £ 5 12s 1½d
Black feathers: 87 stones 15 pounds (24lb to the stone) at 6s = £ 26 5s 9d
Grey feathers: 69 stones 19 pounds (24 lb to the stone) at 5s = £ 17 8s 11½d
Cheese: 38 stones 6 pounds (24 lb to the stone) at 6s = £ 11 9s 6d
Fish: 1080 “marketable” at 7d each = 7560d = 630s = £ 31 10s 0d

Total £200 1s 11d

These goods were produced by the seventy-five souls living in St Kilda in 1875, giving a per capita income of £2 13s 6d. which we may equate to about £1,650 today.

There were 18 households recorded in the 1871 census, suggesting an average household income of £11 2s 2d, or about £6,870 in today's money.

Whilst not a vast sum of money, it is nevertheless indicative of the degree to which the people of St Kilda were participating in the wider economy at this time, and also of the prodigious quantities of birds that they were processing. The fact that they sold over 1000 fish in a singly year is, however, perhaps the biggest surprise?


An extract from Sands account account of being stranded may be read online: http://www.widegrin.com/vicmisc/st_kilda.htm

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A Population Comparison

I have taken figures from the 2011 Census to show the four towns in England whose populations lie closest above (and the four closest below) that of the Western Isles:

Farnworth (Greater Manchester) 26,939
Haverhill (Suffolk) 27,041
Melton Mowbray (Leicestershire) 27,158
Northfleet (Kent) 27,628
Western Isles 27,668
Ashington (Northumberland) 27,670
Cramlington (Northumberland) 27,682
Stratford-Upon-Avon (Warwickshire) 27,830
Peterlee (Durham) 27,871

The two Scottish urban areas with populations that are the closest above and below are:

Bathgate 25,701
Kirkintilloch 28,837

Incidentally, the capacity of Cardiff FC's stadium is 27,815, and of Lord's Cricket Ground in London, 28,000.

The population of Uist, Berneray to Eriskay, (4,900) is close to that of Bridge of Allan.

I hope this helps envisage one aspect of the 130-mile long archipelago of Eilean Siar.


Sources: CnES Population Factfile, CityPopulation.de

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Listening For The Past

Shima, The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, Volume 5 Number 1 2011 contains an essay by Cathy Lane with links to the audio pieces she composed as a result of the research she undertook:

Essay: http://www.shimajournal.org/issues/v5n1/h.%20Lane%20Shima%20v5n1%20114-127.pdf

Audio: http://www.gruenrekorder.de/?page_id=2325


I like to think of what I am trying to do as 'docu-music'...(which) can be defined as works using sound materials which have recognisable real world associations and roots...

The intention of docu-music is to build up a sense of meaning, history and place through sonic association in order to relate to the world outside the composition.”

Cathy's essay and accompanying compositions, 'Tweed' and 'On the Machair', provide an interesting read about (and artistic interpretation of) island culture.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

HMS Shackleton/HMS Sharpshooter (1936-1965)

This was the survey vessel which, in 1958 (and 1960), came to the Sound of Harris to update the chart that had been made 100 years earlier.

The 1959 chart was published as a Revised edition of its 1859 predecessor, which surely is testament to the extraordinary skills of Captain H. C. Otter .
and the crews of 19thC survey vessels, including Captain FWL (Fred) Thomas.

HMS Shackleton was originally commissioned as HMS Sharpshooter but was renamed in 1953 in line with her new duties engaged in hydrographic surveying. She marked five datum points in Leverburgh, Harris and Bays Loch, Berneray using three cuts, a rivet (in Leverburgh) and a bolt (in Berneray).

A very full account of her history can be read here: HMS Shackleton.


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sir John Brown of Redhall, Fordoun (1856-1928)

A little over three years ago I penned a couple of pieces regarding my Stornowegian grandfather, John Kerr (1875-1936) and at last I am able to fill in some of the gaps, most notably identifying who my late father, Ian Brown Kerr, acquired his rather unusual middle name from!


The Post Office directories for Aberdeen reveal that in 1902/3 John Kerr was the manager of The Steam Herring Fleet Ltd and that in 1903/4 his role has been taken by John Brown, fish salesman, of Redhall, Fourdon. He, in turn was replaced as manager from 1904/5 until 1910/11 by A. Robertson but another entry for John Brown provided the Aberdeen address of 10 Marine Terrace in additional to that of Redhall, Fordoun.

Fortunately, the Brown family were already resident at 10 Marine Terrace at the time of the 1901 census which show the family headed by the Aberdonian 45 year old shipowner of steam vessels alongside his wife, Barbara, and their four children, one of whom is the 17 year old son John Brown who is a fishing book keeper. There are, as we might expect, also a cook and a housemaid in residence.

The Brown family's other residence was Redhall House in Fordoun, Aberdeenshire and a little information about it appears at the RCAHMS site:

and it will make an appearance later in this tale.

Before moving forward, I should like to take a step back to the 1891 census for then the 35 year old John Brown was a fish curer living at 9 Millburn Street. The significance of the address is that, by 1901, my grandfather was lodging across the road at number 12

However it is a series of articles that appeared in the Aberdeen Journal that provide the information for what followed and I should explain at this point that I have only accessed the opening sentences (shown in italics) to each one rather than the complete articles. I have made comments where necessary but otherwise let the articles speak for themselves.

12 Oct 1904: Presentation Mr John Kerr.—Last evening John Kerr, of the Aberdeen Steam Trawling and Fishing Company, was waited upon number of friends in the Douglas Hotel and presented with handsome aneroid barometer, for himself, and a repeating carriage clock...

On the 19 October 1904 my grandparents were married so it is safe to assume that the barometer and clock were their gifts from the Aberdeen Steam Trawling and Fishing Company. This is, in fact the earliest reference that I have to my grandfather's employment with that particular business.


1 Dec 1904: PRESENTATION TO .MR JOHN BROWN Jr.. OF REDHALL. Mr John Brown, Jr., of Redhall, was, the occasion of his attaining his majority, met last night the Imperial Hotel, Aberdeen, by the members of the office staffs of the Aberdeen Steam Trawling and Fishing...

16 May 1906: PRESENTATION TO MISS BROWN OF REDHALL received by Mr and Mrs Brown and family. Mr John Kerr made the presentation the 'gifts, which consisted of a cabinet of Silver cutlery, a plate affixed to the cabinet bearing following inscription:—Presented to Miss Brown of Redhall the occasion of her...

Assuming this to be Elizabeth Brown, who was born in 1883, then this would have been her engagement present, presumably from the Aberdeen Steam Trawling and Fishing Company as that would explain my grandfather's involvement. It might also have been her youngest sister. Lily's, coming of age but I find that less likely given the nature of the gift!


23 Jul 1907: PRESENTATION TO MISS BROWN OF REDHALL The directors the Aberdeen Steam Trawling and Fishing Company, Limited—of which Mr John Brown Redhall chairman —visited Red hall yesterday for the purpose presenting wedding gift to Miss Brown the occasion approaching...

29 Jul 1907: MARRIAGE OF MISS BROWN, REDHALL. PRETTY WEDDING AT FORDOUN. An interesting and pretty wedding took place at Fordoun Parish Church on Saturday afternoon, when Miss Elizabeth Brown, daughter of Mr John Brown, of Redhall, was married William Bradley Trimmer...

26 Oct 1907: HONOUR TO MR JOHN KERR, ABERDEEN. DINNER AND PRESENTATION. Mr John Kerr, chief assistant to Messrs John Brown and Son, trawlowners and fish salesmen, Aberdeen, was entertained dinner in the Imperial Hotel last night, and made the recipient of gift from...

I am presuming that my grandfather was leaving his work as Chief Assistant to the Brown's to take up his duties with the Congested Districts Board in Ireland.


15 Jun 1909: John Kerr, chief superintendent of fisheries, Congested District Board, Ireland, is visit at present to his family at Aberdeen. Mr Kerr had run down in health, and has been granted leave from the Board. He is disappointed being away from business this...

I don't know the details of my grandfather's ill health at this time, but neither did I know that he had become the Chief Superintendent of Fisheries for the Congested Districts Board of Ireland, my aunt's birth certificate having omitted the significant word 'chief'!


29 Jul 1918: OFFICERS' BIOGRAPHIES Captain John Brown, Gordon Highlanders, only son Mr John Brown Redhall, has been killed in action. Captain Brown was in the Aberdeen Territorial Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders at the outbreak of war. He was partner the firm of Messrs. John Brown & Son...

This came as a shock. The 34 year old John Brown died on the 20 July 1918 and his memorial may be seen here.http://twgpp.org/information.php?id=1854547

I don't know which John Brown my grandfather had in mind when he gave my father the middle name 'Brown', but the death of John Brown Jr in the later stages of World War I seems to add poignancy to him having borne the name.


5 Jun 1920: MR BROWN OF REDHALL KNIGHTED. Public Service Recognised. PIONEER OF THE TRAWLING INDUSTRY. The King,, on the occasion his birthday, has conferred the honour of knighthood on Mr John Brown of Redhall in recognition of public services not only in...

John Brown becomes Sir John Brown two years after losing his only son.


1 May 1926: SIR JOHN BROWN RETIRES. Fish Trade's G.O.M. FORTY-THREE YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY. Sir John Brown of Redhall, the 'Grand Old Man' of the trawlowning community of Aberdeen, yesterday went out of harness to enjoy a well-earned retirement...

It was not to be...

30 Apr 1928: DEATH OF SIR JOHN BROWN. A Fishing Pioneer. FORTY-THREE YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY. The death has occurred, after six months' iliness, of Sir John Brown of Redhall, Fordoun, one of the last of the pioneers of the trawl fishing and allied industries in Aberdeen...

3 May 1928: LATE SIR JOHN BROWN. Large Body of Mourners at Funeral. The high respect in which the late Sir John Brown of Redhall was held was reflected in the representative character of the large body of mourners who followed the remains from Marine Terrace, Aberdeen.

14 Jul 1928: ABERDEEN FORTUNES Sir John Brown of Redhall, Fordoun, Kincardineshire, and Marine Terrace, Aberdeen £107,521...

5 Oct 1929: NO OFFERS FOR REDHALL. The estate of Redhall, in the parishes Fourdoun and Laurencekirk, belonging to the late Sir John Brown, was offered for sale in the Douglas Hotel to-day, at a reduced... There were no offers this figure...


A very sad end to the story but I'm glad to have seen something of my grandfather's relationship with the 'Grand Old Man' of Aberdeen's trawloning industry.


I suppose it's also a wee part of the story of Stornowegian contributions to the Scottish fishing industry, and I mustn't finish without reminding myself that grandfather's grandfather was a seafaring Hearach to the core!