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

Sunday, 28 February 2010

22 May 2009 - A Berneray Day

Arriving at the Berneray Hostel, another Gatliff Trust property, I was astounded to find just how precisely 'on the beach' it is – the bunkroom I chose was a narrow path away from the boulder-strewn little cliff that was washed twice-daily by the Sound of Harris sea.

Even at 10 in the morning, you could tell that it was going to be a beautiful day so I set-off immediately to explore the jewel that is perched at the very tip of the southern archipelago. I walked the three sides of the almost square Loch a Shaigh, pausing only twice: once, to read the information plaque about Grey and Common Seals and the second time to pop into the Post Office to see if the elusive bus timetables had appeared but, alas, they were still anxiously awaited.

Continuing along the rectangular way, I noticed a series of rock-lined inlets which are the clear remains of moorings and possibly, boat houses.

A little further on is a larger such inlet, more of a mini-marina, and as I was taking a few snaps three people hove into view, into my field of view, the image I was attempting to capture. The male was carrying the largest-lensed camera imaginable whilst the two females each lugged a three-legged monstrosity. The impression was of a hunter and his two Sherpas. I later met them in the cafe and it transpired that they were on a landscape photography course based in Harris and had been sent to Berneray with a list of locations to shoot.

There is an Historical Centre and Internet Access Building here but unfortunately it doesn't open until June ,although given the number of visitors already this season I expect that may be extended?

'The Lobster Pot' cafe and shop gave me the chance to have a coffee and garner my thoughts for the rest of the day. It also provided me with my first 1:50,000 OS map of my travels, a sheet which very usefully covers North Uist, Berneray and the most southerly part of Harris. I decided to retrace my steps a little and walk to the long beach on the west coast.

Turning left towards Borve, the road rises a little before sweeping down to the broad swathe of machair starting at the Community Centre. In front of this large, modern facility, is a lovely walled commemorative space with three plaques naming past Borveans in English as well as Gaelic. From this roll, I learnt that the Gaelic for Peter is Padruig, not Padraig as I had previously thought.

Passing through the gate and proceeding on the road that winds itself across the fertile fields to the dunes, I was frequently under fire from the lapwings defending their nests. They would do so with a display of aerobatic agility that was as impressive aurally as it was visually. The calls and cries accompanying each manoeuvre and ,in particular, the sound of the air whooshing past their wingtips when, having made a hight speed run straight towards me they would peel-off at the the last moment with a final warning cry , was a dramatic delight.

The ewe's, with their 'bonny' bouncing babes, were similarly wary of my presence but strangely unconcerned by the far greater danger posed by the occasional car the passed on it's way to or from the dune-side car park. The lambs looked extremely healthy, fed on the lush machair grass in this peaceful (lapwings notwithstanding) plain. Upon reaching the car park with it's line of picnic benches, I rested awhile before setting off through the path through the dunes towards the beach.

The sun was high in the blue and suddenly a deeper blue came into sight as the Atlantic arose before me. I stopped, breathless, not from the walk but from the serene beauty of the beach, the sea and the islands beyond. Shell-shard sand glistened at my feet, the fragmented facets of the crushed crustacean carapaces reflecting the rays of light into a myriad sparkling flashes.

Pockets of seaweed sat glistening on the sand, razor-shells punctuating the spaces between, and the water bubbled benignly as it slowly retreated back towards Canadian shores.

Heaven on Earth.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...

oIt is an incontrovertible truth that the female of the species has a much easier time of it than the male.

Seahorse males do all the tending and nurturing, Stags are saddled with all that ridiculous rutting and the poor Lion has to lie in the baking heat of the Sun whilst the ladies are having all the fun of the hunt. Like I say, incontrovertible.

Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, brings this inequality to sharper relief than the first-thing-in-the-morning-before-the-brain-has-had-a-chance-to-reboot ritual that is ...shaving.

The female of the species can choose to slap on some make-up (the matter of a few moments of mirror-time) or she can venture forth, confident that her natural beauty will open doors, vacate seats and get her food and drink aplenty.

The man, however, has (even before his neurones have had a chance to properly file the extraordinary heroics of his just-ended dreams) the awful dilemma to face of whether or not to remove the evolutionarily redundant growth that has sprouted overnight from every single pore of his face.

Those bristling protuberances, that the shaving mirror magnifies into a Post-asteroid-Siberian-forest-scape-of-desolation, can either stay...or they have to go.

Ah, were that it was that simple!

One step beyond the drawbridge and he-who-wears-the-mark-of-just-a-single-night's-growth is cast down into the sub-leper hell of unshaveness (Ignore the spell-checker, it's a word, I've been there).

Clean-shaven is cool, 'designer-stubble' (depending upon whereabouts in the fashion-cycle we currently are) might also meet with approval and a 'full' beard at least symbolises a long-term commitment on the bearer's part. Woe-betide he-who-faces-the-World with the 'too-lazy-to-shave' look.

Hence, the male is forced to adopt the reluctant ritual of face-scraping, a ritual imbued with manifold decisions (wet/dry, full-set/tash-only, narrow/wide,etc,etc,etc) and devices, the complexity of which makes it a miracle that we men manage to complete the task before we fall asleep and the folly of follicular facial growth greets us at the break of another day.

All this, and they expect us to spend the day remembering to lower the seat afterwards, TOO?

Friday, 26 February 2010

Clean Living

A look at the Washer Women of Stornoway as found listed in the censuses of 1841-1901

In those pre-detergent days of washboards and mangles, when Monday was THE day that the household's weekly wash took place and all energy came from was elbow power, the role of women in the community who provided a washing service must have been greatly valued.

A glance at these ladies addresses, concentrated mainly in the strip alongside the Bayhead estuary, is possibly a clue as to the nature of their work. All those involved in the catching, processing and despatching of the herring would have generated voluminous quantities of sea, sweat and blood-soaked garments and some of these at least must have been entrusted to their cleaning care.

Margaret Graham, 53, 1 Bayhead Lane, Washer Woman
Son – Joiner, Boarder – Cooper

Catherine Judge, 59, 10 South Beach Street, Washer Woman
Son – Unemployed Joiner

Ann Matheson, 40, 26 Bayhead Street, Washer
5 children, ages 14 to 6

Henrietta Maciver, 48, 39 Bayhead Street, Washer
Son – Labourer

Isabella Macleod, 40, 7 Backhouse, Washer Woman
2 Boarders – Baker and a Pupil Teacher

Janet Ross, 52, 6 Bayhead, Washer
Son – Scholar(17?)

Mary Shaw, 52, 3 Bayhead, Washer
Husband - Mason

Janet Maciver, 39, 32 Keith Street, Washer Woman
3 children

1885 William Hesketh Lever buys a Soap Factory, the origin of Unilever...

Jessie Macdonald, 40, 56 Keith Street, Washer
Head – Boat Builder

Catherine Mackenzie, 57, 52 Keith Street, Washer
Head – Father, Retired Farmer

Lexy Macdonald, 40, Point Street, Washer Woman

Isabella Maclennan, 54, 22 Point Street, Washer
2 sons – General Labourer and a Plumber

Mary Morrison, 24, 2 Scotland Street, Washer
Husband – Fisherman

Mary Pink, 59, 26 Newton Street, Washer Woman
Son- General Labourer, Daughter – Fish Worker

1895 – Lever Brothers produce 'Lifebuoy Soap'

Isabella Maciver, 65, 6 Matheson Court, Cromwell Street, Washer Woman

Mary Morrison, 40, 19A Matheson Court Cromwell Street, Washer Woman & Charwoman

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Adjudicator Alma recalls medal win

Falkirk Herald - 6th October 2008

IT'S 50 years since Lewis singer Alma Jamieson won the Ladies Gold Medal at the National Mod in Glasgow – taking the coveted award at her first ever Mod!
And she will be heading to Falkirk for this year's event, not to compete, but to adjudicate at some of the competitions over a number of days.

Alma Kerr, as she was at the time, was only 18 years of age when she competed and came out on top at the 1958 Mod.

"I was very nervous as it was my first Mod, and the venue, St Andrew's Halls, was packed,'' she recalled.

''There were over 30 singers entered for both the men's and ladies' Gold Medal competitions. The standard was very high in both of these. I know that in the ladies' event any one of 20 singers could have won the medal. In fact many of those who competed in 1958 won the Gold Medal in later years."

Fifty years on, as well as adjudicating, Alma will be part of the presentation party at the Gold Medal finals.

"The Mod Committee has asked me to adjudicate on previous occasions, but being involved with so many singers in so many competitions, I have always turned it down,'' she said.

''However, I agreed to adjudicate in 2008, this being the 50th year since I won the Medal. I am looking forward to it."

Recording of Alma singing at the National Mod in 1958: Alma Kerr

Glasgow Herald 2nd October 1958 article can be seen here.


Two Traveller Families

The chance of finding Traveller families on the isles at the precise date of a census has to be extremely slim.

To find two such records of Stewart families from Sutherland resident, albeit temporarily, in the Parish of Stornoway is even more remarkable:


Address: 98 Back, Stornoway

Charles Stewart, 35, Travelling Tinker, b. Small Isles, Inverness
Janet Stewart, 36, b. Lairg, Sutherland
Isabella Stewart, 15, b. Lochs
Hannah Stewart, 13, b. Barvas
Mary Stewart, 10, b. Stornoway
John Stewart, 10, b. Barvas
Peter Stewart, 6, b. Stornoway
Christina Stewart, 4, b. Stornoway
Jane Stewart, 3, b. Stornoway
Henrietta Stewart, 6 months, b. Stornoway


Address: Heights of Douran, Stornoway

Kate Stewart, 61, Travelling Tinker Tin Smith Pedlar, b, Creich, Sutherland
Peter Stewart, 23,b.Dingwall
Jane Stewart, 22, b. Stornoway
Alexander Stewart, 1 month, b. Flodderty,

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Harris Post-Persons

Strond Post Office (Far Right) on 23th May 2009

An image from 1996/7 can be seen here: http://www.scotland-inverness.co.uk/lburgh.htm

A list of those providing postal services to the population of Harris (with additional dates of significance):

1840 – Uniform Penny Post introduced in Great Britain

Kenneth Morrison, 40, Postmaster, Tarbert, b. Inverness
Norman Morrison, 50, Tarbert, Post

Roderick Morrison, 50, Obb, Post

1848 - Sunday Postal Deliveries stopped

Roderick Morrison, 59, Parcel Carrier, Obe, b. Harris
John Mackinnon, 37, Cluer, Letter Carrier, Visitor
John Macleod, 20, Strond, Letter Carrier
Master of Harris Mail Boat - http://direcleit.blogspot.com/2010/03/master-of-harris-mail-boat.html

1855 - Construction of the road from Stornoway to Harris, through the parish of lochs, began in 1830. It was eventually completed in 1854, and though it was a road only in the vaguest sense of the word it was sufficient for the GPO to contemplate an expansion in the postal services.
It was proposed to run a foot-post from Stornoway to Tarbert twice weekly in summer and once weekly in winter, at a cost of thirteen shillings a week. Two runners were employed on this service: one messenger took the mail as far as Balallan and the other carried it from there to Tarbert. This service came into operation on 29th March 1855.

Ref: http://www.witpg.org.uk/articles3.htm

Roderick Morrison, 41, Obb, Post Runner
Roderick Kerr, 22, Strond, Post

1870 - Telegraph service starts in UK but see earlier piece on telegraph cables!

Roderick Kerr, 30, Strond, Post Runner

Henry Galbraith, 65, Obbe, Postmaster b.Ireland
Roderick Kerr, 40, Strond, Letter Carrier

1883 – Parcel Post begins

Angus Macdonald, 59, No.5 East Tarbert, Postmaster
Roderick Campbell, 40, Scalpay, Sub-Postmaster
Norman Macsween, 17, Scalpay, Post Runner
Mary Galbraith, 67, Obb, Post Mistress
John Macdonald, 26, Strond, Post Runner

1894 – Picture Postcards introduced

Angus Macdonald, 70, North Harris, Postmaster
Angus Macaskill, 20, North Harris, Post Man
Marion Campbell, 43, Scalpay, Sub-Postmistress
Kenneth Campbell, 22, Scalpay, Letter Carrier
Finlay Mackinnon, 34, Cottar's House, Stockinish, Post Runner
Mary Mackay, 51, Manish Post Office, Assistant Postmistress
Margery Mackay, 80, Manish Post Office, Grocer
Mary Gilbraith, 77, Obb, Post Mistress
Malcolm Macrae, 22, Obb, Letter Carrier
Christopher Macrae, 18, Obb, Postman or Letter Carrier
Donald Macaskill, 27, Bernera, Post Runner
Helen Maclean, 52, Bernera, Post Mistress

I think there are several significant feature here.

The appearance in 1891 of the Postmistress in Obb suggests that prior to this it may well have been the case that whatever postal services were available were integrated into suitable pre-existing businesses in Obb.

Tarbert's absence from these records after 1841,when is had a Postmaster, until 189, is at first sight slightly more surprising because if anywhere would have been expected to have shown the development of postal functions then surely Tarbert would have been it?

It is not until the start of the 20th Century that we see evidence of a system of postal functions covering the mainland of Harris and the outliers of Bernera and Scalpay too.

The role of Letter Carrier or Post Runner was often undertaken as an additional, secondary one and my relative's appearance in the records is perhaps the exception that proves this particular 'rule'?

Roderick Kerr, Postrunner, died at home in Strond aged 56 on the 3rd January 1891 of Chronic Bronchitis.

Harris Roadwork(er)s

A list of those appearing on the census records, arranged alphabetically by location:

Norman Mackenzie, Airdhang, Road Constructor

John Macleod, 29, Ardhasaig, Road Labourer
Roderick Mackinnon, 18, Cluer, Road Labourer
Alexander Mackinnon, 14, Cluer, Road Labourer
Murdo Macdonald, 20, Cluer, Road Labourer
Murdo Maclellan, 30, Cluer, Road Labourer
Neil Maclellan, 48, Cluer, Road Labourer
Donald Macullip, 20, Cuidinish, Road Labourer
Alexander Macullip, 20, Cuidinish, Road Labourer
Donald Macleod, 21, Direcleit, Road Labourer
Angus Campbell, 20, Direcleit, Road Labourer, Visitor
Ewan Maclellan, 17, Direcleit, Road Labourer, Lodger
Roderick Mackinnon, 55, Flodabay, Road Labourer
Peter Macaskill, 20, Kyles Scalpay, Road Labourer
William Mackinnon, 18, Leaclee, Road Labourer
Donald Mackinnon, 18, Leaclee, Road Labourer
Norman Macleod, 22, Leaclee, Road Labourer
Neil Macleod, 19, Leaclee, Road Labourer
John Morrison, 37, Manish, Road Overseer
Peter Macdonald, 24, Meavag, Road Labourer
Angus Macdonald, 17, Sradabay, Road Labourer
Murdo Macauly, 15, Scradaby, Road Labourer
Alex Grant, 37, Tarbert, Road Contractor, Lodger
Donald Macdermid, 17, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
John Macdonald, 50, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Angus Macdonald, 25, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
John Macdonald, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Norman Macaskill, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Donald Mackay, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
John Mackay, 30, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Norman Macleod, 50, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Donald Macleod, 45, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Finlay Macleod, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Angus Macleod, 19, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Angus Martin, 42, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Donald Mackinnon, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Kenneth Morrison, 48, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Allan Morrison, 37, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Allan Morrison, 23, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Duncan Morrison, 19, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Angus Morrison, 17, Tarbert, Road Labourer
John Paterson, 30, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
William Fraser, 20, Urgha, Road Labourer

1861 (none discovered)

Norman Mackenzie, 80, House at Carragrich, Road Contractor
Roderick Ross, 48, Geocrab, Road Contractor

Donald Mackenzie, 55, Carragray, Road Contractor
Murdo Mackenzie, 40, Carragray, Road Contractor

Donald Maclennan, 45, Scaristavore, Road Foreman

Donald Kerr, 38, Bernera, Road Labourer (b.Strond)
Macdonald, 52, Kintulivig, Road Contractor

The 1851 Census was taken on the night of 30th/31st March.
Quite why it records such a vast population of road workers, including no less than 20 living in Tarbert, is explaine by this:

Construction of the road from Stornoway to Harris, through the parish of lochs, began in 1830. It was eventually completed in 1854, and though it was a road only in the vaguest sense of the word...

Ref: http://www.witpg.org.uk/articles3.htm

My suspicion is that the census happened to take place at a period of unusually vigorous roadworks and the proportion of those listed as lodgers lends credence to this suggestion.

If I am correct, then travellers in Harris that Spring were probably a tad more sympathetic at being inconvenienced by the roadworks they encountered than would be the case today for these were connecting communities with proper, passable, paths perhaps for the very first time.

A Dozen Deaths At Sea

Accident on shore,

Jumping overboard,
Supposed suicide.

Fell from aloft,

Falling down the hold,

Fell overboard and was drowned,

Supposed to be drowned,

Note: These 12 causes of death are from one page of the official records of such events in Scotland for the month of November 1898. I have merely rearranged them.

Midwives of Harris

I wasn't expecting to find too many Midwives in the censuses but I was very surprised when only six individual women appeared in them.

Of course, it is possible that several others are missing due to non-reporting, but that would raise the question as to why these particular ladies chose to be recorded?

1841 (none discovered)

Catherine Mackay, 70, Kendulavick, Mid Wife & Weaveress, husband and daughter
Christian Morrison, 62, Kyles Stockinish, husband and unmarried daughter.

1861 (none discovered)

Rachel Martin, 53, Tarbert Hotel, husband Angus (a tailor), 2 daughters and a visiting weaveress

Christina Kerr, 56, Little Borve, Son-in-law (retired grocer), 1 month-old grandchild, & others
Flora Martin, 74, Scalpay, Mid Wife, husband's daughter-in-law with her two children
Rachel Martin, 62, West Tarbert, husband Angus and 14 year-old 'stepson', more likely grandchild

Effie Campbell, 70, Scaristavore, Son-in-law (Road Foreman), 10 grandchildren
Rachel Martin, 70, West Tarbert with husband Angus

Rachel Martin, 80, North Harris, Mid Wife and her granddaughter

Two of these midwives are already 'known' to me:

Christina Kerr (M.S. Maclennan) and her husband, Roderick Kerr, a Joiner, were the parents of John Kerr, the Minister at Scarista perhaps better known as 'Ayatollah Kerr' in 'Crowdie & Cream'.
The family appear to have been resident in Little Borve from at least 1861.

Rachel Martin's husband, Angus Martin from Direcleit, was my '3rd great granduncle'.
In 1861 the family were in East Tarbert. The 5 children included 3 from Rachel's first marriage.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Harris Masons

I opted to search the records for Masons working in Harris. The results are presented, as usual, with the normal caveats and abnormal spellings. The are arranged by family name, first name:

Alex Mcleod, 35, Strond, Mason
Alex Patterson, 20, Strond, Mason
Malcolm Patterson, 30, Strond, Mason

Peter Kerr, 55, Kentulavic, Dry Mason
John Macaulay, 40, Sradabay, Dry Mason & Dyker
Donald Macdonald, 35, Port Esgein, Mason
Donald Maclean, 30, Borve, Farmer's son, Mason & Labourer
John Macleash, 60, Borve(?), Mason
Alexander Macleod, 47, Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Mason

John Maclean, 40, Aidive, Mason
Alexander Macleod, 58, Strond, Mason
Kenneth Macleod, 30, Eilean Allanby, Mason
John MacQuish, 74, Borve(?)r, Mason
Archy Ross, 24, Glebe, Mason

John Macaskill, 53, Dry Mason

William Gillis, 30, Strond, Mason
Donald Macaskill, 45 North Harris, Mason
John Macaskill, 70, South Harris, Formerly Mason
Donald Macdonald, 66, Ardasaigh, Mason
John Macdonald, 23, North Harris, Mason
Alexander Mackay, 50, North Harris, Mason
John Mackinnon, 60, Ardasaigh, Mason
Donald Maclean, 49, South Harris, Mason
Hugh Maclean, 26, South Harris, Mason
John Macleod, 23, North Harris, Mason
William Macleod, 40, South Harris, Mason and Militiaman
Alexander Morrison, 47, Ardasaigh, Mason
Donald Morrison, 26, South Harris, Mason (Out of Employment)
Murdo Morrison, 31, East Tarbert, Mason

Kenneth Cunningham, 60, Geocrab, Mason
William Gillis, 43, Steps Strond, Stone Mason
Donald Macaskill, 44, East Tarbert, Mason
Donald Macdonald, 74, Ardhasaig,Mason (Formerly)
John Macfarlane, 40, Leakin, Mason
John Mackinnon, 48, Little Urgha, Mason
John Mackinnan, 80, Ardhasaig, Retired Mason
Murdo Mackinnan, 56, North Harris, Mason and Crofter
Donald Maclean, 58, Little Borve, Stone Mason
Hugh Maclean, 37, Cuidinish, Stone Mason
William Maclennan, 48, Flodibay, Stone Mason
Finlay Macleod, 22, East Tarbert, Mason
John Macleod, 33, East Tarbert, Mason
William Macleod, 54, Ardow, Mason
Donald Morrison, 34, Berkasar, Mason
Murdo Morrison, 40, East Tarbert, Mason and Crofter
Norman Morrison, 60, Kyles Stockinish, Mason
Murdo Shaw, 18, Big Urgha, Mason Labourer

William Gillies, 52, Strond, Mason
Norman Macdonald, 60, Rodel, Mason
Donald Maclean, 74, Cuidinish, Mason
Hugh Maclean, 46, Cuidinish, Mason
Donald Macaskill, 63, North Harris, Stone Mason
Donald W Macaskill, 19, Apprentice Mason
Murdo Macdonald, 40, Kyles Scalpay, Mason
Donald Macdonald, 39, North Harris Mason's Labourer
John Macdonald 30, Bernera, Stone Mason
Murdo Macdonald, 30, North Harris, Mason's Labourer
Roderick Mackinnan, 20, North Harris, Mason's Labourer
John Macleod, 42, North Harris, Stone Mason
John Macleod, 25, Leacin, Mason's Labourer
Hugh MacQuish, 21, North Harris, Mason's Labourer
John Macsween, 33, Strond, Mason
Malcolm Macsween, 68, Strond, Mason
William Macsween, 29, Strond, Mason
Archibald Macsween, 23, Strond, Mason
Norman Morrison, 63, Stockinish, Stone Mason
Murdo Morrison, 50, North Harris, Stone Mason
Donald Morrison, 45, Ardslave, Mason
Angus Morrison, 39, Drinishader, Mason

It is particularly annoying that the results for 1871 are, with one single exception, currently unavailable because of the doubling in Masons occurring between 1861 and 1881.

The 1851 return of a 'Dry Mason and Dyker' suggests that there was a distinction between those particular skills and those of a mason using mortar. Was that a long-standing distinction or one that indicates the emergence of specialisation within the occupation?

Similarly, whilst masons might more usually be thought of as constructors of buildings they were also the builders of roads.

What is known from neighbouring Lewis, is that whilst the design of 'blackhouses' remained fairly constant (albeit with variations between the islands) from at least the 1850s, 'improvements' in their design became increasingly implemented during the 1880s and beyond. Masons would have been pivotal in all this.

The closing decades of the 19th Century also saw an expansion in road building and again masonic skills would have been in greater demand, particularly given the nature of the terrain and the need for stone bridges to be constructed.

So, whilst these are partial results, it seems to me that the rise in the number of masons that is seen here reflects a real outcome of changes made to the built environment of Harris.

The fact that all the masons in 1841 and 1851 are found on the South and West coasts of the island yet by 1891/1901 we see several dotted around the West coast's 'Bays of Harris' speaks volumes and reminds us that the road that links Tarbert to Rodel was completed in 1897...

Monday, 22 February 2010

Orinsay 1841

The clearance of Orinsay in 1843 is perhaps one of the best documented such events on the Isle of Lewis. The Angus Macleod archive includes an impassioned description from the Inverness Courier and the role of the Factor, Donald Munro, is detailed by James Shaw Grant in 'A Shilling For Your Scowl'.

The excellent Hebridean Connections site provides a database of the people of Orinsay but I believe this to be the first time that a complete list of the population of the township from the transcribed 1841 Census has been compiled.

I have listed the households alphabetically by each Head's family name, then first name.

Within two years all that remained in Orinsay from the lives of these 147 people in 21 households were 14 or 15 roofless houses...

Dorothy Gillies – Widow, 55, Small Tenant
Roderick Gillies, 20
Ann Gillies, 14
Donald Finlayson,20
Peggy Finlayson, 25
Isabella Mackenzie, 5

Alexander Macdonald, 55, Small Tenant
Annabella Macdonald, 45
Ann Macdonald, 25
Catherine Macdonald, 22
Mary Macdonald, 20
William Macdonald, 17
Donald, Macdonald, 15
Isabella Macdonald, 11
Duncan Macdonald, 9
John Macdonald, 6
Kenneth Macdonald, 3
Chirsty Macdonald, 1

Donald Macdonald,35 Widower, Small Tenant
Isabella Macdonald, 14
Ann Macdonald, 12
Kenneth Macdonald, 10
Duncan Macdonald, 8
Mary Macdonald, 6
Catherine Macdonald, 4
Murdo Mackenzie, 40
Catherine Mackenzie, 40
Peggy Mackenzie, 15
Ann Mackenzie, 15
John Mackenzie, 11
Duncan Mackenzie, 9
Kenneth Mackenzie, 5
Donald Mackenzie, 2

John Macdonald, 50, Hand Loom Weaver, Small Tenant
Kenny Macdonald,50
Donald Macdonald, 25, Fisher
John Macdonald, 22, Fisher
Alexander Macdonald, 20, Fisher
Catherine Macdonald, 15
Roderick Macdonald, 12

Murdo Macdonald, 30, Small Tenant
Annabella Macdonald, 30
Alexander Macdonald, 8
Margaret Macdonald, 5
Donald Macdonald, 2
Chirsty MacRitchie, 20, Female Servant

Murdo Macinnes, 75, Small Tenant
Flora Macinnes, 75
Alexander Macinnes, 28, fisher
Margaret Macinnes, 25
Isabella Macinnes, 4
Murdo Macinnes, 2
Murdo Nicholson, 12
Alexander Smith, 15

Chirsty Mackenzie, 55, Pauper
Murdo Mackenzie, 60, Fisher and Small Tenant
Ann Mackenzie, 50
Murdo Mackenzie, 27, Fisher
Donald Mackenzie, 25
Alexander Mackenzie, 17
Ann Mackenzie, 15
Annabella Mackenzie, 13
Margaret Mackenzie, 11

Donald Mackenzie, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Chirsty Mackenzie, 30
Alexander Mackenzie, 12
Margaret Mackenzie, 10
Ann Mackenzie, 7
Roderick Mackenzie, 5
Kenneth Mackenzie, 3
Donald Mackenzie, 1

John Mackenzie, 50, Fisher
Catherine Mackenzie, 18

John Mackenzie, 65, Small Tenant
Isabella Mackenzie, 60
Roderick Mackenzie, 24, Fisher
Donald Mackenzie, 20, Fisher
Ann Mackenzie, 25

Murdo Mackenzie, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Margaret Mackenzie, 30
Margaret Mackenzie, 15
Roderick Mackenzie, 10
Donald Mackenzie, 8
Annabella Mackenzie, 5
Alexander Mackenzie, 2

Donald Maclennan, 25, Fisher
Marion Maclennan, 50
Ann Maclennan, 95

Catherine Macleod, 90, Pauper

Donald Macleod, 50, Fisher and Small Tenant
Catherine Macleod, 45
Flora Macleod, 20
Norman Macleod, 16
Catherine Macleod, 14
Murdo Macleod, 9
Donald Macleod, 7
Catherine Campbell, 2

John Macleod, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Catherine Macleod, 35
Margaret Macleod, 7
John Macleod, 5
Norman Macleod, 4
Alexander Macleod, 1

Malcolm Macleod, 40, fisher and Small Tenant
Ann Macleod, 35
Ann Macleod, 12
Catherine, 10
John, 1?
Donald, 5
Norman, 2

Murdo Macleod, 30
Isabella Macleod, 40
Murdo Macleod, 15
Ann Macleod, 12
Catherine Macleod ,9
Duncan Macleod, 7
Donald Macleod, 4
Mary Maclennan, 20

Norman Macleod, 75, Small Tenant
Chirsty Macleod, 60
Catherine Macleod, 50
Ann Macleod, 30

Norman Macleod, 80, Small Tenant
Betsy Macleod, 40
Isabell Macdonald, 14, Female Servant
Donald Martin, 60, Small Tenant
Margaret Martin, 35
Donald Martin, 20, Fisher
John Macleod, 9
Chirsty MacRae, 20, Female Servant

John Martin, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Henny Martin, 35
Chirsty Martin, 12
Angus Martin, 8
Flora Martin, 6mths
Ewan Maclennan, 14
Marion Macdonald, 80

Mary Montgomery, 80, Pauper

Alexander Morrison, 40, Fisher and Small Tenant
Catherine Morrison, 35
Isabella Morrison, 20
Ann Morrison, 11
Catherine Morrison, 9
John Morrison, 6
Chirsty Morrison, 3

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Stornoway Gas Light Company

Stornoway Gas Light Company

As the days begin their slow stretch towards Summer, I thought I'd do some introductory investigations into Stornoway's first forays into town gas.

As usual, the results are presented as found, with the residence following the job title:

Robert Wilson, 33, Manager of Stornoway Gas Works, Imorsligach(!), (b.Auchtermuchty, Fife)
John McPhail, 30, Labourer at Gas Works, Keith Street (b.Barvas)
James McDonald, 31, Plumber and Gas Fitter – Master, Enaclete, (b.Perth)

Robert Wilson, 43, Gas Manager, Gas House, (b.Fife)
John Wilson, 18, Plumber and Tinsmith, Son, Gas House, b. Fifeshire
John McPhail, 40, Fireman at Gas Works, South Beach Street (b.Bragar)

Robert Wilson, 53, Gas and Water Manager, Gas Works, (b.Auchtermuchty, Fife)

John McPhail, 50, Gasman, 16 South Beach Street (b. Stornoway)

John McPhail, 58, Gas Manager, Gas House (b.Stornoway)
Donald McPhail, 25, Engine Fitter, Gas House (b. Stornoway)

Daniel Macallum, 42, Gas Manager, 19 Bells Road (b. Barrhead, Renfrewshire)
John MacPhail, 70, Gas Works Labourer, 1 Newton Street (b. Barvas)

William Miller, 27, Gas Manager, Gas Manager's House (b. Ireland)
Murdo Mcleod, 34, Gas Stoker, 85 Cromwell Stree (b. Stornoway)

John McPhail, 82, Retired Gas Manager, 1 Newton Street, (b. Barvas)

Although these records give us little information regarding the development of gas provision in the town, they do stand as testament to one man, John McPhail, who clearly rose from the ranks to manage the Gas Works and then remained in a more lowly role before his retirement after a lifetime's service to the Stornoway Gas Light Company.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Blacksmiths of Harris

This is another preliminary investigation into an occupational group on the Isle of Harris.

I have an interest in this particular craft due to my mother being descended from several generations of blacksmiths & ironmongers in South London & Kent.

I have listed Harris-born smiths working elsewhere in the Western Isles.

The majority of those working in Harris were Hearachs.

Neil Morrison, Nishishee(!), 35
Neil Macaskill, Borve, 35
Kenneth Morrison, Geocrab, 60
John Morrison, Obb, 45
Malcolm Morrison, Tarbert, 45

John Morrison (1790-1852) was a Gaelic poet and this song-smith is buried in St Clement's Church, Rodel.

Angus Morrison, Obb, 26, Blacksmith & Miller (Son of John Morrison above)
Malcolm Morrison, Tarbert, 50, Master Blacksmith
John Macleod, Kyles Scalpay, 35

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
Neil Macaskill, Bernera, 46
Neil Morrison, Breanish, Uig, 40
Norman Macleod, Enaclete, Stornoway, 44
William Macaskill, Stornoway, 24
Murdo Maclennan, North Uist, 54

(John Morrison, 55, Free Church Catechist, Leac a Li, b. Harris - The Blacksmith/Hymn-Writer)

Malcolm Morrison, East Tarbert, 56
Ewen Morrison, East Tarbert, 39 (Eldest Son of John Morrison)

Donald Maclennan, North Uist, 20

Ewen Morrison, 49, Black Smith, Smithey Tarbert, b. Harris (Son of John Morrison)

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
John Morrison, Stornoway, 22
Norman Macleod, Stornoway, 66
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 21, Apprentice Blacksmith

Donald Morrison, Gardener's House, North Harris, 29
Ewen Morrison, East Tarbert, 57 (Son of John Morrison)
Alexander Morrison, East Tarbert, 23
John Morrison, East Tarbert,10, Apprentice Blacksmith
Norman Macleod, Finsbay, 27
Angus Morrison, Obb, 54

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
Neil Morrison, Breanish, Uig, 75, Master Blacksmith
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 30
Norman Macleod, Stornoway, 75

Donald Morrison, North Harris, 39
Norman Macleod, North Harris, 38
John Morrison, East Tarbert, 39
Donald Morrison, Obb, 27

(Ewen Morrison, 68, Retired Black Smith, No 29 East Tarbert, b. Harris - John Morrison's Son)

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 38

Norman Macleod, North Harris, 41
Donald Morrison, North Harris, 49
John Angus Morrison, North Harris, 16, Apprentice Blacksmith (Donald's Son)
Murdo Morrison, North Harris, 16, Apprentice Blacksmith (Donald's Son)
John Morrison, North Harris, 35
Donald Morrison, Obb, 38

(Ewen Morrison, 80, Retired Blacksmith, No45, North Harris, b. Harris - John Morrison's Son)

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 49
Donald Macmillan, Bernera, 30

It is clear that this specialised occupation was restricted to a very few families with those bearing the name Morrison dominating the field.

It would be interesting to investigate this further...

Friday, 19 February 2010

A House

I find the history of buildings, whether they be monumental statements of public and private pride or the humblest of constructions, fascinating.

I came upon this reference to a house in Stornoway:

20 Bayhead
18th century
A lone survivor, albeit altered, of the old settlement around Bayhead.
The building's age is indicated by its roof pitch, low entrance and the disposition of windows, which are well set back into their reveals.

(Ref: "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008.Rutland Press)

It is also a British listed Building and can be seen here: 20 Bayhead

It is particularly awkward to accurately trace the occupancy of a specific building when interrogating a database of census transcriptions.

In England, it is possible to view original images of the census returns and page back and forth, thus retracing the steps taken by each enumerator and this is particularly useful in rural areas where roads and houses often lack precision in naming and numbering.

The Scottish records cannot be researched in this manner and one has to resort to a number of tricks to locate the information that is being sort. But that's part of the fun!

1821 - The Town Plan of 1821 should enable identification of the owner of the building.it also shows the extent of the bay that lay North of it, in contrast to the present day situation near the head of the bay. I think it was the property of a Mr D McDonald in 1821, the 6th site down from New Street.

1841-1861 Insufficient address data to identify occupants

Norman Mciver, Shoemaker, 56, b. Stornoway, wife Catherine and 5 children
Murdo Mackenzie, Cooper, 55, b. Stornoway, wife Isabella and 3 children
Total 12 people

Norman Mciver, Shoemaker, 65, wife Catherine and 9 children including Norman, Apprentice Blacksmith, 26 and Duncan, General Labourer, 18.
Alexander Morrison, Seaman, 58, b. Barvas, wife Mary
Margaret Maciver, 60, Margaret Morrison, 59 b. Aberdeen
Total 15 people

1891 – Address not listed

Donald MacFarquar 47, b. Stornoway, Blacksmith & Wheelwright, wife Catherine and 6 children including Janet, Dairy Keeper, 19 plus Annie Macleod, Domestic Servant, 19.
Total 9 people

Donald Macfarquhar dies at No 22 but the Informant is his Brother-in-Law, Archibald Munro of No 20.
Archibald was the Town Clerk and Harbour Master and husband of Donald's sister, Mary.

John Kerr, Blacksmith, 27, b. Stornoway and wife Mary Ann Macdonald 26
 (According to Marriage Certificate, at time of his Death in 1957 he was a Motor Mechanic)

Ronald MacFarquhar, but I think it was Donald!
(According to Death Certificate of Donald Kerr, 51, Building Contractor, of 10 Bayhead Street)

Donald MacFarquhar, Grain Merchant, son of the 1901 Blacksmith & Wheelwright
(According to his wife Mary Kerr's Death Certificate - she was the third child of Alexander John Kerr and his first wife, Margaret Macarthur)

2010 – Veterinary Surgery

Stornoway Harbour Masters

News that CnES, the local authority of the Western Isles, are considering taking-over the Stornoway Port Authority led me to look at 19thC Harbour Masters.

This timeline lists them from 1861-1901, interspersed with notes on material factors & developments that took place:

1861 – Peter Macfarlane, 52, b. Stornoway,wife and 2 daughters – 1 Kenneth Street

1863/4 – Legal wrangles over ownership & rights of the foreshore resulting from their earlier sale to Sir James Matheson by the Crown

1865 – Stornoway Pier and Harbour Commission legally constituted

1871 – William Lees, 48, b. Stornoway, wife and 1 daughter – Garrabost
(Retired Peter Macfarlane, wife and 1 daughter – 21 Inaclete Street)

1879 - Death of sir James Matheson

1881 – William Lees, 58 b. Greenock, wife and 2 daughters – 16 Keith Street

1891 – Thomas Morrison, 54, b. Stornoway, wife – 54 Francis Street

1892 – Commissioners increased from 7 to 10.
Construction of the Cromwell St, North Beach & South Beach solid Quays authorised

1896 – Death of Lady Matheson

1901 -Thomas Morrison, 65, b. Stornoway, wife & daughter - 49 ?

The rights and responsibilities of those who own and are in control of the foreshore and its attendant facilities are manifold and complex.

There are differences between the law in Scotland and that in England, but each involves tidal limits, the welfare of seaware and the health and safety of those using our beaches, harbours and the sea beyond.

It will be indeed be interesting to see how the proposed take-over proceeds...

Thursday, 18 February 2010

An Old Photograph From Stornoway

This family portrait was taken by Mcleod's of Stornoway.

It is of the family of a tailor, Norman Montgomery (1853-1899), his wife Marion Maciver (1853-1951) and includes seven of their eight children.

The youngest two, Johanna and Donald, were born in 1887 and 1889 respectively. I think this dates the photo to circa 1897, a couple of years before Norman's early death in Glasgow.

My interest in the photograph is that Norman Montgomery was my grandfather's father.

Norman married Marion Maciver on the 30th June 1875, my grandfather John Kerr having been born less than four months earlier on the 5th March 1875.

On the 13th July of that year, the Sheriff's Court in Stornoway ruled that Norman's name be added to the records as the illegitimate John's father.

His mother, Annie Kerr, a dressmaker, went on to have seven more children after marrying her cousin William Maciver, a baker, on the 21st April 1881.

They left 6 year-old John to be raised by his grandparents which was not unusual in cases where births out of wedlock were being concealed but seems somewhat strange given Annie's pursing of Norman in the courts?

Note: Until a few years ago I knew nothing about my grandfather other than his name and that he was born in Stornoway. It was a phone call from an historian in Edinburgh in 2006 that informed me of his father's details. As a result of that information, and a bit of 'Googling', I came upon someone seeking information on a Norman Montgomery of Stornoway. I composed a rather delicate email to this fellow descendant who was totally unaware of Norman's first venture into fatherhood. Three years ago we met at her home on Skye and a couple of days later her brother gave me a whistle-stop tour of Lewis. Annie & Norman were united again...

Harris Schoolteachers

Another delve into 19thC occupations on Harris. I have left the transcribed spellings as found!

This time, I have examined teachers living on Harris & Scholars in the whole Parish:

1841 Female 0 Male 1 Total 1

1851 2 Female 4 Male Total 6
Tarbert, Leeclea, Rhenigingdale, Bernara (3!)
276 scholars

1861 1 Female 1 Male Total 2
433 scholars
Tarbert, Direcleit

1871 2 Female 3 Male Total 5
108 scholars in the whole Parish.

Geocrab, Kyles Scalpay

1881 1 Female 6 Male Total 7
142 scholars in the whole Parish.

North Harris, Drinishader, South Harris, Strond, Scalpay

1891 4 Female 14 Male Total 18
1193 scholars in the Parish
Where the teachers lived: Ardsleigh, Borve, Carrigrich, Drinishader, E Tarbert, Finsbay, Geocrab, Grosebay Kyles Scalpay, Luachies, Manish, Meavig, Rushgary, Scalpay, Scaristavore, N Harris, S Harris

1901 10 Female 15 Male total 25
1160 scholars
Where the teachers lived: Big Borve, Drinishader, Finsbay, Geocrab, Kyles Scalpay, Manish, North Bayhead, Obbe, Scalpay, Stockinish, N Harris, S Harris

The 1841 Census reveals itself as little more than a head-count, useful in other ways but not in the context of occupations other than those of the Head of each household.

Nonetheless, the 1851 & 1861 figures indicate an increase in schooling on Harris (the teacher numbers are obviously inaccurate) and we can see the effect of the1872 Education Act (Scotland) which made schooling compulsory in the explosion of provision and uptake.

As number of scholars had not increased by 1901, what is interesting is the rise in the number of teachers from 18 to 25. Whether this was due to curriculum changes or an increase in the number of schools is something to be investigated further.

It is also worth noting that virtually the whole of this change is accounted for by female teachers and I presume we are seeing here the process towards teaching becoming a predominantly female profession, particularly at Primary level?

Update: My research rarely progresses in a linear fashion and an example is that I have just realised that the single teacher of 1841, and one of the 4 male teachers of 1851, was the father of the wife of my cousin Angus Kerr whose career at Rodel is a the subject of several entries. Donald Morrison had been born in Harris circa 1796 and married Christina McKinnon who had died prior to her daughter Lexy's marriage in 1870. The Morrison's lived in Tarbert and then Kyles Scalpay in 1841 & 1851 and Donald had retired to East Tarbert by 1861. His final appearance, in the census of 1871, places him in West Tarbert with his older, unmarried daughter, Bella. I think he possibly taught English.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Harris Weavers in the 19th Century

I interrogated the Census data in order to see what it might be able to inform us regarding weaving in Harris:

1841 1 Female 4 Males Total 5

1851 103 Females 16 Males Total 119

1861 84 Females 15 Males Total 96?

1871 61 Females 3 Males Total 64

1881 121 Females 1 Males Total 122

1891 247 Females 2 Males Total 248?

1901 204 Females 14 Males Total 216?

Firstly, the 1841 Census often only recorded the occupation of the 'Head' of each household so it is neither a true reflection of the numbers working as weavers nor particularly helpful in distinguishing people sharing the same name and range of birth dates.

The later censuses are much improved in these regards but are not without their own problems. It is entirely conceivable that a man employed in some other capacity, whether it be tenant, fisher, shepherd or whatever would also weave as an additional occupation.

Nevertheless, the figures are useful and, so long as not taken as painting the full picture, these snapshots across time do tell a story.

It is clear that weaving on Harris was overwhelmingly undertaken by women throughout the 19th Century.

Taking 1851 as a first reasonably accurate starting point, we perceive a dip by 1861, a dramatic decline by 1871, recovery by 1881 and then a meteoric rise of 150% to the all-time high of 1891.

There are at least two competing stories regarding the timing and other aspects of Lady Dunmore's involvement in the early days of the marketing of Harris Tweed.

Unfortunately, written records, if they ever existed, have not survived and in her excellent book 'Islanders and the Orb'', Janet Hunter writes eloquently on what is known or can be deduced from other extant sources but does not explore the census data which, I believe, holds important clues.

It is clear that the third-quarter of the 19th Century, a period that one might have expected to see the number of weavers remaining reasonably constant (notwithstanding other factors such as famine, destitution, clearances and emigration) in fact saw a serious decline.

Equally, it was the final quarter of that Century that shows the clearest evidence of significant growth in weaving, and Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore died in the middle of this period on the 12th February 1886.

Thus, although she played a vital role in spotting the potential of the islanders' Clo Mor, and no doubt encouraging others to export the product to a wider Mainland market, it was those who came upon the scene nearly half a century later who saw the potential of marketing this unique product.

It is perhaps no accident, therefore, that the famous 'Orb Mark' bears no relationship to the heraldry of the Countess's family and the origins of that mark remain a mystery yet to be solved.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A Lewis Lighthouse Keeper

In 1871, the Butt of Lewis lighthouse's two-storey house was home to its 53 year-old keeper, George Edgar with his wife Grace and four of their children.

George had been born in Portpatrick, Kincardineshire in about 1818 and his lightkeeping days can be traced by the exploring the birthplace of his 8 children and the censuses:

1843 James, Portpatrick, Wigtownshire

1847 Elizabeth, Dunnet Head, Caithness-shire

1848 Alexander, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire
1850 George, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire

1851 Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse
1853 Archibald, Ardnamurchan, Argyll

1856 William & John, Sanday, Orkney

1858 Isabella, Barvas, Lewis This is particularly significant as the light at Ness wasn't completed until 1862 and suggests that George possibly played a part in the construction process.

1861 Start Point Lighthouse, Orkney

1871 Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

1881 1 Europie – Principal Lighthouse Keeper, Butt of Lewis

1891 73 year-old Retired Lighthouse Keeper George is back in his hometown of Portpatrick with his unmarried daughter Isabella Beattie. Son James, 48, is Keeper at the lighthouse in Killkorran, Argyll whilst his younger brother John is one of three keepers on Scotland's most Northerly light, that on the island of Muckle Hugga in the Shetlands.

1901 – George and his daughter are still enjoying his retirement in Portpatrick but son John is Principal Light Keeper at Whalesay Skerries, Shetland whilst his eldest brother James is the keeping the light at Holy Isle, Bute.

The Edgar family, led by father George, shone lights to sea for over half a century, during which time they served the Stevenson family,the Northern Lighthouse Board and countless sailors in aiding the process of safer seafaring.

Note: The bold locations indicate lighthouses served by the Edgar family.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Registrars & a variation in the anglicisation of one Gaelic name

The Statutory Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland in 1855. In Stornoway, Colin Leitch from Dingwall became the first Registrar. In 1851 this (circa) 65 year-old Sheriff Clerk Depute was living with his two adult daughters in South Beach, Stornoway.

A decade later the (circa) 69 year-old gives his occupation as Sheriff Clerk Depute AND Registrar,
the latter having being added in 1855. His two maiden, middle-aged daughters remain with him in South Beach Street.

Following Leitch's retirement/death sometime before 1871, the role of Registrar passed to John Macfarlane who performed it for the whole of the 1870s and 1880s. Barvas born 56 year-old 'Registrar & Inspector of Poor' Macfarlane was living with his large family at 55 Keith Street in 1871.

My interest in these two gentlemen stems from how they anglicised my family name from the Gaelic original, Cearr.

Macfarlane, in line with all the Census enumerators from 1841 onwards, uses the form 'Kerr' which is perhaps phonetically closer but contains the letter 'K' which does not exist in the Gaelic alphabet. It is of course the form utilised by the Border clan of the same name:

Leitch, however, consistently wrote 'Carr' on every Certificate that was produced during his tenure.
Apart, that is, from the very first one on the 13th July 1855. As none of the relatives registering the events spoke any English, it must have been his decision.

A clue as to why this transformation took place, and was then reversed, is to be found by looking at his immediate superior, the 'Examiner' for the Isles, Alexander Grigor. Grigor was put forward for the role by Sir James Matheson and performed in this role, making annual inspections of the Registrars, until his resignation in 1874. I suspect that Grigor's time spent in Perth and then England influenced him and I can well imagine him pouring over Leitch's first batch of records, tut-tutting, and instructing his minion to use Carr henceforth.

Unfortunately, there is a flaw in this explanation because, if it was indeed Grigor who influenced the decision, it was studiously ignored by the Registrars on Harris who were 100% consistent in never using Carr.

Whatever the true cause, Leitch's use of Carr avoids the inclusion of the foreign letter, and is indeed only an 'e' away from the Gaelic spelling, it is also an English name, predominant in North-Eastern England and with a totally unconnected etymology.

The insistence on this seemingly minor variation explained why there appeared to be no Statutory records of certain births, marriages and deaths that I was expecting to find in Stornoway. Eventually I found them.


http://www.nationaltrustnames.org - a site that allows you to compare the 1881 & 1981 geographical distribution of a family name.

http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/scottishwayofbirthanddeath/leadingactors/examiners/#Alexander Grigor (1805-1884) - the entry for Alexander Grigor in this useful guide to Scottish records.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

James Shaw Grant – A Shilling for Your Scowl – the Story of a Scottish Legal Mafia – Acair 1991

I first came across the work of late James Shaw Grant (22 May 1910 – 28 July 1999) when reading his 1987 book 'Discovering Lewis and Harris'.

I was given 'A Shilling for Your Scowl' as a leaving present following my first visit to the isles three years ago. The lady who presented it to me said, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “I think you'll enjoy this.”

The story told is that of the multi-tasking Donald Munro, a man who used and abused the Rule of Law to bring terror to the inhabitants of Lewis for most of the second-half of the 19th Century.

In holding several incompatible public and private offices simultaneously, he was able to act as if he was above the law rather than being a part of it.

It would make a great courtroom drama, with the proceedings of his final denouement being interspersed with flashbacks to the multitude of dreadful deeds that he carried out under his cloak of many roles.

Perhaps there was local knowledge at play when Munro's 1881 address, 24 Kenneth Street, was chosen for the site of the 2005 An Lanntair Arts Centre for if ever it was necessary for a man's dark deeds to have a lantern shone upon them, it was those of Donald Munro, Factor.

Donald Munro's Census Locations

1814ish – Birth, Tain
1841 – (Not Located)
1851 – Procurator – South Beach, Stornoway
1861 – Chamberlain of Lews – South Beach Street, Stornoway
1871 – Solicitor & I P – 13 South Beach Street (The Star Inn)
1881 – Solicitor & N P - 24 Kenneth Street, Stornoway (An Lanntair)
1890 -Death

Update: 'A Scotch Eviction Scandal' recounting Munro's behaviour in Ullapool  from the Evening Post, Volume XXXIV, Issue 62, 10 September 1887, Page 2

Ceard, Ceardannan & Carrach – Possible Origins of the Cearr/Kerr families of Harris

The 'Kerr's of Harris', as I call my island ancestors, are totally separate from the Lowland Clan of the same name.

Bill Lawson, in 'Harris Families and How to Trace Them' writes:

There were several families of Kerrs on the machair and around Strond, though these have now virtually disappeared. It is hard to say what their name was originally. It could have been from the nick-name Carrach (left-handed) or even from Ceard, now translated as tinker, but originally meaning any type of metal worker. There is a “ni'n na Ceard” (Ceard's daughter) in a rental of Scarista in 1724, who might have been an early member of this family.

Elsewhere in the book Lawson concludes that, as the name is common in Harris (a slight contradiction!) and elsewhere in the North-West but separate from the Ayrshire clan, that being descended from some famous left-hander is the most likely derivation.

(I will resist the temptation to get diverted into the 'cack-handed' & 'corrie-fisted', the genetic studies into the left-handed mainland Kerrs and the possible connection with alleged spiral staircases at Ferniehurst Castle being wound the 'wrong-way' to favour their defenders.)

Now, my earliest traceable ancestors on Harris are Malcolm Kerr (Calum Cearr) and his wife Effie Shaw who had at least two sons, Angus (4) & John (9). (The numbers refer to the households listed below). Harris-born Peter (10) is the only other male of this generation who's parents I have discovered. They were Donald Kerr, a farmer, and his wife, Sarah Ferguson.

Rather more is known about the origins of the Shaw families and in particular of Donald mac Iomhair (son of Ivander) who came to Strond (via Berneray) from Skye and whose family settled in Strond, Geocrab and Leaclee. It is likely that Effie Shaw was descended from this Donald.

The earliest publicly available written record is that of the 1841 Census and that for Harris records the following families & individuals (with 1851 annotations for continuity, other notes for illumination):

1841 – Kerr Head of Household & Occupations (Ancestry.co.uk transcript spellings!)

1) Angus, Strond, Shoemaker 1791

Marion (1851, Farm of Strond, Port Esgien, formerly Shoemaker's Wife)
Donald, Strond, Shoemaker (Angus' Son) (1851 Farm of Strond, Shoemaker)
John (1851, Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Shoemaker)

2) Rock, Strond, Tenant 1800

3) John, Obb, Tenant 1796 (1851, Obb, Farmer)
Malcolm, Obb, Ag Lab 1821

4) Angus, Obb, Tenant 1801 (1851 Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Ag Lab)

5) Marrion, Scarrista, Weaveress 1786
John, Scarista, Carpenter (1851 Laskintyre, Joiner)
Rodk, Scarrista, Carpenter (1851, Bowes, Farm Labourer & Joiner) 'Ayatollah's' Father!)

6) Chersty, Tarrinsay, Hand Loom Weaver 1761

7) Rodrick, Rha, Ind 1800 (Raa was one of Taransay's 3 settlements)
The 4 Kerrs were 25% 0f Rha's residents in 1841

8) Alexr, Tarbert, Fisher 1796
Malcolm, Tarbert, Fisher (Alexr's Son)

9) John, Dirachte, Tenant 1801 (1851, Direcleit, Tailor)
Malcolm, Dirachte, Ag Lab 1821 (Moved to Stornoway to pursue his seafaring career)

10) Peter, Glendsiluvaig, Tenant 1796 (1851 – Kentulavick, Dry Mason)

What strikes me in this very small population is the preponderance of people whose occupations (in 1841 and 1851) are those of skilled craftsman or woman. All that is needed to house, feed and clothe us are, somewhat surprisingly, present!

Incidentally, the nearest Boat Builders that I have found in 1841 are on South Uist so I wonder whether the Carpenters and Joiners were involved in that essential trade too?

By way of contrast, the 12 Shaw families headed by a male of that name show 9 working the land, 2 Tailors and a Dyker. They are also, as Lawson states, slightly more scattered within South Harris.

All of the 12 Ferguson families on Harris, headed by a male of that name, worked the land.

Intrigued, I expanded my search further afield:

In 1841, the census shows 93 Kerr's in Inverness-shire with the mainland/Skye ones listing these occupations:

Ag Lab,
Blacksmith (2),
Carpenter (2),
Shoemaker (2),

Whilst the 27 in on the Ross-shire mainland gives us:


It seems too much of a coincidence that many of the Mainland/Skye Inverness-shire Kerrs and those of Ross-shire reflect the island bias towards Smiths/Tailors/Joiners & Carpenters – an interesting set of occupations for a 'cack-handed' clan to pursue!

By contrast, a quick perusal of the Sutherland Kerrs reveals a predominance of Agricultural Labourers and Tenants.

It is my conjecture that these Kerrs of Harris are either:

a) island representatives of a North-Western group of settled travellers whose name indeed relates to their handiness rather than their handedness, and I write these words as a proud left-hander myself!

b) descended from a distant 'famous' left-hander, whether of Harris, Skye or elsewhere in Gaeldom, as Lawson suggests.

c) descendants of an indigenous metal-working family who 'lost' their original clan affiliation (perhaps for good reason in the bloody feuds of the past?) and adopted their occupational skills as their 'tag' instead.

Whatever the truth of their origin, the male line on Harris certainly faded fast through a mixture of famine, 'Clearance', and emigration, to Lewis as well as further abroad.

The last male to bear the name was born in South Harris in 1961.
He was the first Kerr of either sex born on the island since the 1930s.
I believe he died, unmarried, in Fort William in 1991.
RIP, Ian Roderick Kerr...

Friday, 12 February 2010

A Stornoway Wedding...

A Stornoway Wedding

The year is 1883 and on the 22nd March the marriage takes place at 9 Lewis Street (now home to Stornoway Sheriff Clerk) of 25 year-old Domestic Servant Margaret (Peggy) McArthur and 27 year-old Seaman Alexander John Kerr of 28 Bayhead, Stornoway.

Originally from Cro Mor, Lochs, the MacArthur family of the retired Fisherman Donald and his wife Mary (MacLeod), are all living at the home of their son, Alexander, who is a General Merchant in Stornoway.

This, briefly, is his story:

Born in Cro Mor in 1854, Alexander was the eldest of four children.

In 1861, Alexander, his sister Peggy and their parents were living in Cro Mor but a decade later he had left to seek his fortune in Stornoway and Malcolm, aged 3, and 6-month old Annabella had completed the family who were now in Entresgein(sp?) in Stornoway.

The teenager Alexander began his merchandising career in as an Apprentice Shopkeeper to Hector Ross of 47 Cromwell Street (now the Bank of Scotland) where he was part of the household in 1871.

Tragedy struck on the 4th October 1872 when 2 year-old Annabella succumbed to a 3-month illness.
Alexander, who spoke and wrote English, was the informant.

A decade later, 27 year-old Alexander and his wife Isabella had established themselves in 9 Lewis Street with his retired parents and his 12 year-old brother Malcolm.

By 1891, the family, including 5 children, have moved to 64 Lewis Street along with Alexander's brother Malcolm and the Donalds Maclean & Mciver, all 3 of whom are Salesman. A General domestic Servant, Christina Macleod, completes the household.

The new Century finds Alexander's family, including 8 of their children, still residing at 64 Lewis Street along with his now tailoring brother Malcolm, Domestic Servant Christina and a 'Nurse Domestic'.

Alexander MacArthur, General Merchant, died on the 14th July 1912 at 48 Lewis Street, Stornoway. He was 56 years old. The cause was Disseminated Sclerosis, which we know today by the more frequently used term Multiple Sclerosis.

He was thus spared what befell his youngest son 4 years later:


Last address in Lewis: 48 Lewis Street, Stornoway
Son of Isabella Macarthur, of 48, Lewis St., Stornoway, Ross-shire, and the late Alexander Macarthur.
Service unit: Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, HMS Defence
Service number: Clyde Z/3622
Date of death: 31 May 1916 at the age of 26
Lost at the Battle of Jutland.
Memorial: Portsmouth Naval, panel 24,
Local memorial: Lewis War Memorial
Came from ranching in USA to do his bit. Transferred from RND to RN after 6 months' training.

Source: http://facesmemorial.blogspot.com/2007/07/stornoway-steornabhagh.html

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Connected Communities - 19th Century Style

160 years ago, in 1850, the dream of connecting communities separated by sea with telegraph cable became a reality.

The first of these connections in the Western isles was laid in 1872 between Loch Ewe, on the mainland of Scotland to Branahuie Bay, Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. This 32.5 Nautical mile (Nm) line, like it's followers, contained just a single conductor. This allowed the land-linked isles of Lewis and Harris to communicate with the the British mainland.

It took a dozen years before the next coupling was established in 1884 linking the island of South Uist the 16.5 Nautical miles to its southerly neighbour, Barra. This allowed communications from Barra all the way to North Uist via Benbecula (although the nature of the other relatively minor links required are sadly not recorded). Evidence to the Napier Commission in 1883 explained the importance of this link.

A couple of years later in 1886 the islands finally became fully connected with the establishment of the 11.5 Nm Port E(i)sgein, Harris to North Uist link.

Thus, a mere 36 years after the advent of this new technology, some of the remotest communities in the British Isles established electrical communications both within the isles themselves, to the British Isles and thence across the Globe.

Source: http://atlantic-cable.com/Cables/CableTimeLine/index1850.htm

Infinite Horizons

Last night's 'Horizon' was on a big concept, a very big concept, possibly the biggest concept of them all, for it was on Infinity. It certainly got me thinking, but not in ways that the makers intended.

Once upon a time, television took the popularisation of science seriously. Programmes were made that focused upon educating, rather than merely entertaining, those watching. People such as mathematician Jacob Bronowski brought us( in 1973 and on 16mm film) 'The Ascent of Man' and astrophysicist Carl Sagan brought the wonders of the Universe to our living rooms in the 1980 series 'Cosmos'.

It wasn't just that these were series that sets them apart, for even today we have mini-series 'covering' similar subjects, it was the presenters themselves. These two, who each died in their early sixties, were erudite scholars whose slow-paced delivery gave us time - time to think, to dwell upon, to absorb and to admire. They were unusual in having the ability to communicate huge, complex ideas and make them intelligible to us lesser mortals.

They, and a very few others, were not only ambassadors for science but also, in Sagan's case, passionate debunkers of pseudo-science. When 'Cosmos' was broadcast I was working in a bookshop. For every copy of the accompanying book that we sold, we sold several more copies from Erich von Daniken's armada of 'bad science' demonstrating how necessary debunkers such as Sagan were.

In the ensuing decades, that armada has become a flood of half-backed, anti-science purporting to 'explain' and give meaning to life in a Godless Universe. The need for the likes of Bronowski and Sagan is even greater now than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

'Horizon' should be building upon it's once great and honourable past but, alas, even it has allowed 'entertaining' to take precedence over educating.

Ronald Graham, the man after whom 'Graham's Number' is named, explained that his number is the largest known number to actually possess a name. It is (as one of the young children in the programme being asked about Infinity might say)  a very, very, very big number but, thanks to Ronald Graham, it is known to exist and has uses in the esoteric universe of the Pure Mathematician.

Graham was allowed to entertain us by showing that only thing that is certain about Graham's Number is that its final digit is a 7.

He was not allowed to educate us in the (Secondary school) arithmetic that leads to this knowledge.

I would like to see Ronald Graham present a programme on his number because that would be educational as well as entertaining.

As it was, the programme climaxed (an apt term in this 'sexed-up' era) with a calculation of how far one would have to travel to find one's nearest doppelganger, living on a 'parallel Earth' in the infinity of universes that may well be out there.

I just hope that their popular science programmes are superior to ours...

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

An Unintended Consequence of Victorian Apprenticeships

One interesting and unusual aspect of Victorian life was how young men were trained in particular skilled occupations.

The son of a blacksmith, for example, (sometimes even if following in his father's footsteps) would be taken under the wing of another craftsman for his apprenticeship. Literally 'under the wing' because the lad would not only work with his mentor but actually become part of the household.

(Anyone who has been 'taught' to drive by a parent will be able to empathise with the benefit of being apprenticed outside the family!)

Often these apprenticeships would take the form of a reciprocal arrangement whereby the families exchanged sons and, sometimes, this would result in an even closer tie between the two families if there happened to be a daughter 'available' and a marriage ensued.

Daughters, if they did not meet a match as a by-product of these apprenticeships, would almost certainly go into domestic service. This was the predominant form of female employment until WWI spurred the process, albeit hesitatingly, of allowing women into the wider workplace.

Domestic Servants were often the daughters of friends or relatives in what appears to have been a similar system to that in place for the male apprentices.

They, too, might make a match with a member of the hosting household, more usually a fellow employee, and thus it was that Victorian society (which was far more geographically mobile than is often assumed) aided the dispersion and social mobility of (skilled working-class/aspiring lower-middle class) families, a fact attested to by comparison of the locations of surnames over time.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Two Characters In Search Of A History

I am choosing to start this particular story with a marriage.

It is the 30th of April 1918 and we are in St Thomas' Church, Rutland Place Edinburgh and the wedding is taking place 'after Banns according to the forms(?) of the Church of England'.

Adele, the 36 year-old daughter of Elias Le Couvey, a Fundholder, and his wife, Francoise Bourget, is currently residing at 16 Dryburgh Gardens, Glasgow West.

John, the 58 year-old son of Roderick Kerr, a Building Contractor, and his wife, Christina MacLennan, is normally to be found at The Manse, Harris, Inverness-shire but is presently at Rouen.

We now jump back in time and in 1861 find 6 year-old John, the eldest of two children,  living in Little Borve, Harris, where his father works as a Joiner. It is easy to imagine him playing with his 3 year-old sister Rachel in this idyllic spot, sitting in fertile machair land bounded inland by the craggy outcrops of time-served gneiss and on the other side by the sea-swept shell-sand beaches of the Atlantic.

Come 1871, 16 year-old John is still living with his family, whose numbers have been swelled only by the addition of the elderley Catherine Macrae and the two 40-something Macrae 'girls'. Their address is not given on the Ancestry.co.uk transcription but it is likely to have remained Little Borve.

1881 finds 26 year-old John boarding at 33 Russell Street, Glasgow where he is a Student of Arts at the University. His future wife is still a couple of years away from being born. Back in Little Borve, his widowed mother, who was a Midwife, is living with her daughter Rachel Morrison and Alexander Morrison, a General Merchant. Little Roderick Morrison is 1 month old and we can presume that his Grandmother's occupation aided his progress into this World.

We reach 1891 and 8 year-old Adele, the middle of 5 children, is living at La Rue Faiveusaie(?) in the parish of St Saviour on the channel island of Guernsey where her father works as an Agricultural Labourer. She had been born in Forest, Guernsey.

John, meanwhile, has moved to 479(?) St Vincent Street, Glasgow and is now a Student of Theology - but clearly not of Arithmetic as he has shaved 4 years off his age, reducing it to 32.

It is now 1901 and 18 year-old Adele, is living at Le Bordage in the parish of St Peter's in the Wood, Guernsey (which sounds much nicer as St Pierre Du Bois, but the enumerator clearly wasn't going to allow more French onto his form than was absolutely necessary !). She is employed as a servant in the household of John G Lenfestey, a 57 year-old Grower and is the sole servant to this family of 3 adults and 7 children.

John is working as an Assistant Minister in Dalavich, Argyll and gives his age as 36 which is a but a mere decade below the truth. Of course, it is just possible that I have been tracking the wrong person, but the number of John Kerr's born in Harris who follow a path towards becoming the Minister living at The Manse, Scarista is unlikely to make this so.

Now, at this point, I confess that I am unable to locate my source of John's work in France during WWI but, from memory, he was tending to the troops. Bearing in mind that by 1915 he was 60 Earth-years-old (and thus 50 or less by his own accounting system) I do not know how typical this was. It might well, however, reflect the huge numbers, proportionately, of men from the Western Isles serving on the Western Front (and other 'theatres' of war).

The remains of this story are best left to be read in the place that led me to investigate this unusual coupling, namely in the pages of Finlay J Macdonald's 'Crowdie & Cream' where the Minister appears, albeit posthumously, as 'Ayatollah Kerr' and Adele as the kindly, if at times slightly gullible, face of friendliness.


The 'Ayatollah' was slightly more accurate with his Arithmetic when it came to his wedding because the 63 year-old reduced his actual age by a mere 5 years. He was actually 27 years her senior!

John's paternal grandparents were John Kerr and Marrion MacLeod, a Weaveress, of Scarista. Their eldest son , John, was also Carpenter/Joiner who moved to Birkenhead, Cheshire.

You are spared one of my customary personal links to the 'Ayatollah' because, although there definitely is one, the precise nature of our ancestral paths meeting is lost in time...

...but not in space, for it is certainly somewhere on Harris!

Monday, 8 February 2010

A Victorian Gamekeeping 'Dynasty'

My great, great grandfather, George Ashby, was born circa 1813 in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire. Even today, it is a sleepy, 'unspoilt', one-pub village, accessible solely by single-track roads yet lying only a few miles from the busy town of Welwyn and the A1(M). One thing that has changed is that the humble, ancient cottage that George was born in (which I identified by walking in the footsteps of the Census enumerator) would probably cost a cool three, four or five-hundred-thousand pounds today...

By 1841 George had moved to Kent and was married to Jane Wood with whom he produced no less than eight children between the years 1836 and 1860. Their four sons were Joseph, William, Charles, and Alfred Edwin.

The 1841 Census shows that there were several Gamekeeping Ashby’s still living in this part of Hertfordshire and, given that this was a profession that was handed-down the generations, I am quite certain that they were related to George, either as brothers or as cousins.

Having moved to Kent, where his wife was born, George spent the next 50+ years living and working at several locations but all within a small geographical area and on one, or at most two, estates.

1841 Park Barns near The Hermitage, Larkfield, Aylesford, Kent.
There were two other Gamekeepers and a Bailiff, amongst others, in residence and, as Jane was elsewhere, perhaps they were engaged upon a hunt at the time?

1851 Hermitage Woods, Aylesford, Kent.
George, Jane and their five children are recorded living here. Although the precise location remains unknown it appears to be part of the same Preston Hall Estate of Edward Ladd Betts where George was working a decade earlier.

Edward Betts was a railway engineer who's first project was the Dutton Viaduct which he undertook with George Stephenson. Preston Hall became a hospital and is at the centre of the Royal British Legion Village

1861 Tyland, Boxley, Kent.
The family has grown by one but perhaps the most significant addition is that George’s eldest son Joseph, aged 24, is now also a Gamekeeper. They are living in a semi-detached house with the farmer (probably a tenant of the estate) as their neighbour. You imagine my surprise when, upon visiting Tyland Barn (HQ of the Kent Wildlife Trust) earlier this year, I was shown the very house that my great grandmother (then aged 3) was living in! Tyland was part of the Cobtree Estate owned by the Tyrwhitt-Drake family.

1871 Cobtree, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
Only George, Jane and my great grandmother Kate are listed at this address which is a mile or so South of Tyland and now home to The Museum Of Kent Life. This open-air museum is a collection of Kent buildings that have been rescued from destruction and rebuilt. It owes its existence to the generosity of the last of the Tyrwhitt-Drake family who bequethed the whole of his estate to the people of Maidstone.

Son Joseph, now aged 33, is a Gamekeeper in Blyth, Nottinghamshire.
Charles, aged 23, is a Gamekeeper lodging in Wateringbury, Kent. The Head of the household he lodged with was also a Gamekeeper. Sadly, William had died in 1867 at the age of 22 so I have no written evidence that he was ever a Gamekeeper but the chances are that he was!

1881 Cobtree, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
The widower George has with him his Gamekeeping son Joseph (and his wife) together with George’s 21 year-old son Alfred Edwin who now is also a gamekeeper. Charles, George’s second son, is still a Gamekeeper but now living at Larkhouse Cottage, Hempstead, Essex.

1891 Cobtree Cottage, Nr Tyland, Kent.
George is still a Gamekeeper at the ripe old age of 79 and with him is his sister-in-law Esther and a boarder, Arthur G Jeffrey, who is also a Gamekeeper but some 60 years younger than George.

Joseph, aged 50, is a Gamekeeper living in Moreton Green, Moreton Cum Alcumlow, Cheshire.

1901 Mill House, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
George is listed as a Gamekeeper Retired but the word ‘Retired’ is crossed-out and the word ‘GameK’ has been added so maybe the old man was still practising the art?

Joseph is now a retired Gamekeeper living in Congleton, Cheshire. I can find no record of him having any children and, as Charles became a publican in Long Melford, Suffolk, and, as Alfred Edwin died in 1883, I think that this was probably the end of this particular Gamekeeping line.

1904 The Old Mill House, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
At the age of 92, George, after a minimum of half-a-century of Gamekeeping, and having spawned at least three Gamekeeping sons, is laid to rest.

Serving King & Country...

The 7,267 ton merchant ship Tahsinia was completed in 1941 by William Doxford & Son Ltd of Sunderland. She joined the fleet of the Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd in Glasgow and was put under the charge of 51 year-old Captain Charles Edward Steuart.

On the 28th September 1943 she left Colombo,Sri Lanka (having sailed from Calcutta) en route to the UK via Aden with over 7,000 tons of cargo, including tea, manganese ore and pig iron. She had no escort.

Fregattenkapitan Ottoheinrich Junker, the 38 year-old captain of the Monson Boat U-532 was patrolling the waters North-East of the Maldive Islands when, on the 1st October, he first torpedoed the Tahsinia and then sunk her with gunfire. She was the third of his 8 victims and he was duly rewarded with the Iron Cross, 1st Class.

Captain Steuart, his 39 crewmen and 8 gunners all survived. On 6th October, 23 of them made landfall on Mahdu Atoll in the Maldives from where they were taken to Colombo by an Indian dhow. The remaining 25, including Captain Steuart, were picked up by the British merchant ship Nevasa some 10 miles West of Alleppey Lighthouse. They had been in their lifeboats for a whole week. The Nevasa took them to Bombay, arriving there on the 11th October 1943.

On the 7th December 1945, 54 year-old Charles Edward Stuart died in the Western Infirmary, Glasgow. The causes listed on his Death Certificate are Subacute nephritis, Uraemia and Cardiac failure. That the true cause was the damage wrought by those 7 days in an open boat in the Indian Ocean is testified by his listing on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site which records his final resting place in the Glasgow Crematorium.

However, that is not quite the end of the story because 3rd Office Steuart had also been injured in WWI as a result of which he met a hospital nurse Louisa Ogg Hall who, although 11 years his senior, he married on 16th February 1918 in Aberdeen.

Years earlier, a family holidaying in Aberdeenshire had a gravely ill son and the call went out 'for the best nurse in the Land'. Whether Louisa was indeed the best in the Land, or merely the best available locally, is not known, but it was she who was despatched to look-after the sickly child.

It was, apparently, touch-and-go whether he would survive but, due in no small part to the care of his nurse, he recovered.

His grateful parents rewarded Louisa with a brooch which now resides in Canada.

The little boy's name was Albert, but he is better-known to us as George VI.

Captain Steuart was always known in our family as 'Uncle Charlie' but is was in fact Louisa who was my Father's 1st Cousin on his mother's side. Upon Louisa's death in 1951, my aunt in Canada inherited the brooch which is in the form of a monogram bearing the parents initials, G & M

U-boat info: http://www.uboat.net/boats/u532.htm
Tahsinia info: http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/3095.html
CWGC Record: http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2840920

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Stroll From Strond To Rodel Across The Decades...

The locations are listed from Strond to Rodel as if one was walking the coastal road to Borrisdale, continuing on the path to Port Esgein and then climbing over the hill to Rodel:

1841 – Strond 332, Rodel 81, Total 413
1851 - Strond 40, Port Esgein 150, Port Esgein Farm of Strond 89, Rodel 38, Total 317
1861 – Strond 179, Borrisdale 14, Rodel 32, Total 225
1871 – Strond 206, Borrisdale 8, Rodel 48, Total 262
1881 – Strond 241, Rodel 36, Total 277
1891 – Strond 213, Rodel 48, Total 261
1901 – Strond 169, Rodel 48, Total 217

The first thing to note, in this age before postcodes, is that locations can reflect the whim of the individual census enumerator, an English-speaker in Gaeldom, as well as the changes of land usage in these turbulent times. I am not sufficiently versed in the waves of 'clearances' that beset South Harris before and during these counts to comment upon their specific impact but these coastal communities were not blessed with the fertile machair of the West coast so the 'Farm of Strond' and the later Rodel Farm might easily conjure inappropriate images of the land under cultivation...

Secondly, the ancient settlement at Carminish, almost an island in its own right but connected by a short, narrow strip at the Western end of Strond, is not listed as a separate entity yet is quite likely the original settlement now known as Strond. It is a relatively easily defended community (the remains of a Dun or Broch are to be found there) but with easy access to the nearby cultivatable hillsides. Today there are only a few houses there but they do include a reconstructed Blackhouse that was constructed by cannibalising the remains of at least one other but the end result was worth the sacrifice. If Carminish was still inhabited then its people are certainly to be found in the entries for Strond itself.

Thirdly, whilst the population of Rodel appears to be fairly constant post 1841, I believe that earlier figure might be inflated by the inclusion of the population of Port Esgein, but then again it could have been the result of 'clearance' or the 'Hungry Forties'.

Finally, as it would take a herculean analysis of the Censuses, maps, the Dunmore estate and of the land itself to fully answer these questions and bring back to life the story of this strip of land, I have chosen a moment in time to look at one very specific community.

Here is my analysis of the 1851 population of Port Esgein, Farm of Strond.

In 'Islanders & The Orb', Janet Hunter says that Bill Lawson gives the 'Paisley Sisters' location as being in Strond but in fact they are to be found specifically here:

1851 – Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Harris

89 people in 17 households

1) John Gillis, 43, Fisherman, Wife & 6 children

2) Allan Gillis, 40, Ag Lab, Mother & Nephew

3) Kenneth Gillis, 42, Ag Lab, Wife & 2 children

4) Angus Kerr, 61, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 adult children & 3 children

5) Margaret Kerr, 60, Shoemaker's Widow, Son & 5 other adults
Donald Kerr, 32, Shoemaker
John Kerr, 26, Shoemaker
John Mcaulay, 30, Visitor, Miller
Finlay Mcleod, 30, Visitor, Gamekeeper

6) John McDermid Snr, 66, Ag Lab, Wife, 4 adult children & 1 child
John McDermid, 30, Sailor/Tailor

7) John Macdonald, 59, Ag Lab, Wife, 2 adult children & 2 children

8) Ann McQueen, 60, 1 child

9) Ann Martin, 90

10) Murdoch Martin, 35, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 children

11) John McDermid Jnr, 55, Ag Lab, Wife, 2 adult offspring, 2 children

12) Christina Mcleod, 80, Ag Lab's Widow, 3 adults, I child
Marion Mcleod, 47, Weaveress The 'Paisley Sisters'
Christina Mcleod, 40, Weaveress The 'Paisley Sisters'

13) Angus Mcleod, 63, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 children

14) Alexander Mcleod, 47, Mason, Wife, 4 children & 2 adults

15) Alexander Mcleod, 28, Fisherman, Wife & 2 children

16) Christian Macsween, 90, Farmer's(?) Widow

17) William Ross, 58, Ag Lab, 4 adult children

It is unfortunate that many households with adult offspring do not specify the occupations of those adults but, given that in some case these are recorded, it is probably safe to assume that they were engaged on the land and in the home in ways deemed not worthy of remark!

There are 10 households for whom agricultural labour is the main type of work and the lack of the term 'Small Tenant' together with the specifying of this part of Port Esgein as 'Farm of Strond' leads me to conjecture that this land was in fact that directly supporting Rodel.

Several of these families are shown in the 1841 census as living at Rodel which begs the question as to which farm they worked and/or lived on. In subsequent years 'Rodel Farm' appears, but 'Farm of Strond' is never again seen. In addition, several of these families are later found living and working at Rodel Farm and Rodel House.

Off the land, we have a couple of Fishermen, a Mason, two Shoemakers, two visitors in the shape of a Miller and a Gamekeeper and, perhaps of greatest historical interest regarding the product with which Harris is most famously associated, two Weaveresses, the 'Paisley Sisters'.

There presence here, following their 'adoption' for training by Lady Dunmore, leads me to ask whether it is amongst the ruins of the Blackhouses of Port Esgein that a plaque to these two should be erected and whether that in Strond itself accurately depicts their home at the birth of Harris Tweed in 1864.

In locating the sisters on the Farm of Strond living on land under Mrs Campbell the tenant of the tack of Strond & Killegray. This fact certainly lends credence to Harris Tweed having been born at the earlier of the range of dates that are conjectured upon in 'Islanders and the Orb'.

As to precisely locating the site of Farm of Strond, the entry in the RCAHMS for 'Borosdale' includes the following:

Two tumbled walls connected to heaps of large boulders, submerged at high-tide - associated with nearby deserted township and built to prevent cattle from straying. NG 040 834

A township comprising five roofed, thirteen unroofed buildings and six enclosures is depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Inverness-shire, Island of Harris 1881, sheet xxvii)NG 037 835

This, I am now convinced,  is the site of the 1851 Farm of Strond, with the associated cattle walls sited in Loch Rodel.

In 1881, there were 18 buildings, at least 13 of which had become uninhabited but 5 were still inhabitable. The 1881 census for Rodel lists 6 households led by farm workers so the map may well show us where they were living, in the remains of Farm of Strond at 'Borosdale'...

(Archaeological Notes NG08SW 10 centred 037 835)
Ref: http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/search_item/index.php?service=RCAHMS&id=74710

On a personal note, Angus Kerr the Agricultural Labourer, was my '3rd great granduncle' and Margaret Kerr was the widow of Angus Kerr who's sons followed in his footsteps as Shoemakers but whose precise relationship to me I have yet to discover.


I have interrogated the Ancestry.co.uk database because, although there are known issues over transcriptions regarding spellings, the ScotlandsPeople database does not provide the same level of finesse in refining searches. The downside of this is that the images are unavailable unless one is prepared to access them at ScotlandsPeople, for £1 per page...

I have used English spellings purely because these are (with variations!) what are to be found in the written sources and I apologise profusely to all Gaelic-speaking people for any offence this may cause.