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

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Big, Mid and Little Borve, Harris

I have attempted a purely statistical exercise for the population of 'The Three Borves' as recorded in the censuses:

1839 – Borve Cleared - Duncan Shaw, Factor's, evidence to Parliament

1841 – No records for Borve

1847 – Borve Resettled

1851 – 138 people in 22 households - 6.3ppr (people per roof) (in 'Bowes')

1853 – Borve Cleared

1861 - 74 people in 14 households – 5.3ppr

Big Borve – 10 people in 2 households – 5.0ppr
Mid Borve – 20 people in 4 households – 5.0ppr
Little Borve – 44 people in 8 households – 5.5ppr

1871 Borve does not appear in its own right, hence it would take a lot of 'untangling' to identify possible residents by reconciliation with the residents of 1861 and 1881.

1881 - 61 people in 12 households – 5.1ppr

Big Borve – 31 people in 7 households – 4.4ppr
Borve 1 – 5 people in 1 household – 5.0ppr
Little Borve – 25 people in 4 households – 6.3ppr

In 20 years, big Borve has tripled in size, Mid Borve all-but disappeared as an entity and Little Borve has been halved.

1891 - 58 people in 14 households – 4.1ppr

Big Borve – 13 people in 5 households – 2.6ppr
Hamlets Little Borve – 45 people in 9 households – 5.0ppr

A decade later we see an almost complete reversal of the process noted previously. The distribution is almost as it was in 1861, albeit with the continued complete absence of Mid Borve.

1901 - 57 people in 15 households – 3.8ppr

Big Borve – 19 people in 6 households – 3.2ppr
Little Borve – 38 people in 9 households - 4.2ppr

Our final snapshot shows a slight move towards Big Borve who's share of the (apparently stable) population has increased from approximately one-quarter to one-third.

However, the population remains a mere 40% of what it had been only half a century ago.

Population Size and
Household Density

1851 138 @ 6.3ppr
1861 074 @ 5.3ppr
1871 No Data
1881 061 @ 5.1ppr
1891 058 @ 4.1ppr
1901 057 @ 3.8ppr

What strikes me the most from this little table is the trend towards ever-smaller households, particularly between 1881 and 190 which was a period when the population appears to have otherwise been stable.

It points towards a closer examination of the people of Borve in the closing decades of the 19thC but that will have to wait for now.

Note: I have 'invented' the ratio 'person per roof' purely as an echo of the importance of roof timbers.

Harris Catechists

These are the Catechist (Instructor in Religious Doctrine) records for the 1841-1901 censuses.

There is probably not much to be learnt from this particular group of records but I have included them for the sake of 'completeness' in composing an ecclesiastical account from the Harris censuses.

1841 - None

Donald Mackinnon, 39, Catechist and Farmer, Obe, b. Harris

John Morrison, 55, Free Church Catechist, Leac a Li, b. Harris

Donald Mackinnon, 48, Catechist, Obe, b. Harris

Neil Stewart, 70, Catechist, Diraclet, b. Kilmuir, Inverness-shire

Donald Mackinnon, 56, Catechist, Smithy, Harris, b. Harris

Malcolm Morrison, 36, Free Church Catechist, Meavaig, b. Uig, Ross-shire

Donald John Maclean, 55, Catechist, Rushgarry, Bernera, b. Uist

John Smith, 41, Catechist, No 80 Scalpay, b. Uig, Ross-shire

We know that John Morrison (Gobha na Hearadh) had to vacate An-t-Ob as a result of his Free Church adherence so it appears likely that Donald Mackinnon was working for the Church of Scotland.

The 1871 'Smithy' is presumably that in An-t-Ob, rather than the one established in Tarbert by Ewen Morrison, a Blacksmithing Son of John Morrison, Blacksmith and Catechist!

Harris Ministers of The Established Church of Scotland

These are the records from the 1841-1901 censuses of the 'mainland' Ministers:

John Maciver, 35, Parish Minister, Scarista, b. Inverness

John Mackay, 28, Church Beadle, Scarista, b. Harris

John Norman Macdonald, 32, Minister of Harris Parish, Glebe, b. South West Inverness

Charles Maclean, 40, Minister of Established Church, Manse, Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

(Rev Donald McLean, 36, Minister of Trumisgarry, North Uist, b. Tiree)

Donald McLean, 45, Minister of Harris Parish, Glebe, South Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

Donald McLean, 54, Minister of Harris Parish, Hamlets Glebe, South Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

Donald McLean, 61, Minister of Harris Parish, Glebe, South Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

(John Kerr, 36, Assistant Minister (Dalavich), Divine Cottage, Dalavich, Argyll, b. Harris)

These four Ministers (or five if we include John Kerr, Finlay J Macdonald's 'Ayatollah') were based at the Manse/Glebe overlooking the sea at Scarista. They maintained a presence in the Parish despite the overwhelming mass of the population having joined the Free Church in 1843.

Sadly, for the one year that we have a 'Church Beadle' recorded, we do not have the name of the Minister to whom he administered his services.

Anyone seeking further information is probably best advised to look at the helpful information on the Church of Scotland site: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/contact/contactarchives.htm

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Harris Free Churchmen

Here are those men recorded on the censuses from 1851-1901 as working for the Free Church on the 'mainland' of Harris (with the exception of one record for St Kilda). There are 5 records of 'Catechists' between 1851 and 1891 who do not specify 'Free Church' and whose names have therefore been excluded.

John Morrison, 55, Free Church Catechist, Leac a Li, b. Harris
Malcolm Macualay, 35, Free Church Elder (Shoemaker), Visitor, b. Harris

Angus Maclean, 49, Free Church Catechist, Cluer, b. Lewis

Alexander Davidson, 48, Free Church Minister of 4 acres, Manse, Manish, b. Moy, Inverness

John Cunningham, 23, Enumerator of Census and Free Church Preacher, Grosebay, b. Harris

Angus Macrae, 37, Free Minister Officiating, Lodger, Oban, Harris, b. Kintail, Ross

Ewen Macaulay, 80, Free Church Elder, Ardhasaig, b. Harris

Alexander Davidson, 58, Free Church Minister, Manse, Manish, b. Moy, Inverness

Margaret Mackenzie, 30, Minister's Wife, Free Church Manse, Tarbert, b. Kilmalie, Argyll
(Roderick Mackenzie, 33, Free Church Minister Tarbert, Woodbank, Snizort, Inverness, b. Assynt)

Alexander Davidson, 68, Minister of Harris Free Church, FC Manse, South Harris, b. Moy

Roderick Mackenzie, 43, Minister of Tarbert Free Church, FC Manse 20, b. Assynt, Sutherland

Malcolm Morrison, 46, Free Church Catechist, Meavaig, b. Uig, Ross

Alexander Davidson, 78, Free Church Minister of Harris, Manse, Manish, b. Moy, Inverness

(Angus Giddes, 48, Minister of St Kilda Free Church, St Kilda, b. Tarbert, Ross)

Farquhar Kennedy, 34, Minister of Harris United Free Church, Boarder, Manish Cottage, b. Lochalsh, Ross

Nicol Campbell, 64, Minister of Tarbert United Free Church, no 57 North Harris, b. Ardhattan, Argyll

Donald Macdonald, 56, Missionary of United Free Church, Little Borve, b. Harris

The role of the churches, whether 'Established' or 'Free', in the lives of the people of Harris is incapable of being overstated. It is vast, complex and, at times, confusing. It unites and divides, produces calm and controversy, and can never be ignored.

John Morrison, 'Gobha na Hearadh' (The Harris Blacksmith) we have met before for it was he who, having been driven from An-t-Ob for his allegiance to the Free Church, raised the funds for the establishment of the Free Church and Manse at Manish as occupied by Alexander Davidson from, at least, 1861-1891.

Tarbert got its Free Church much later for, as we have already seen, it was Rodel and environs that was the economic and ecclesiastical hub of Harris in earlier times.

It should be remembered that, despite the dominance of the Free Church, the Established Church of Scotland continued to have a presence on the island and one of my as yet incomplete tasks is to catalogue those events in the lives of my island relatives recorded as taking place in the two opposing camps, although I have a suspicion that the distribution has more to do with the availability of a Minister for a Marriage rather than any particular allegiance at the time!

PS - John Cunningham, the 1861 'Enumerator of Census' is the only such person that I have found for Harris but it is satisfying to now be able to put a name to the man who gathered the information that year. It is also significant that he was a Hearach, for it implies that the anglicisation of Gaelic names, including spellings,  was perhaps partly within his sphere of influence?

Manish Church -http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/171068/details/harris+manish+free+church/

Monday, 26 April 2010

Roof Timbers

A visitor to Roger Mackenzie's 'Lewis Loom Centre' at The Old Grainstore, Bayhead, Stornoway cannot fail to notice that amongst the various lengths of wood above their head is one of circular cross-section that is labelled 'Herring Drifter's Sailing Mast'.

It might be thought that this timber was some later addition, an act of 'olde-worlde' artifice but, in fact, it is wholly typical of the Western Isles for these are a land without native forests whether of oak, larch, spruce or ash. The few oaks that are found are of such diminutive stature that it was only recently that they were correctly identified as a 'normal' rather than a 'dwarf' species.

When the Clearances took place it wasn't just the quenching of the hearths that marked the end of a home's occupation but the removal (to spare it from destruction) of its roof.

Accounts of the 1843 Clearance of Orinsay and Lemreway in the Pairc district of South Lochs, describe the roof timbers' removal and transportation by boat. It was an act of finality for, without the protection of the floor by thatch and the feeding of the earthen core of the walls with rain, the traditional Blackhouse would soon succumb to the rigours of the climate and the force of gravity.

(Even were the roof to remain, the quenching of the fire has been shown to accelerate the process of decay in these chimney-less structures.)

So when you look at that spar from a sailing vessel, you are being reminded of recycling as necessity, reuse of something that had once served men at sea and now could serve people onshore.

Electric Islands

There are a vast fleet of vessels harvesting the seas around the Western Isles . The resource that they greedily extract for consumption is not fish but something far more valuable and for which the population has an ever-expanding requirement. This resource is carried unseen beneath the waves to the shore where it then snakes its way towards those whose needs it meets. It is electricity.

The isles have become, save for some emergency vehicles and licensed carriers, a petrol-free zone. All transportation, whether by bus, car or via van, is powered by electricity. Further, the cars are not privately owned but operated by a smartcard system that tracks their usage and charges for it accordingly. The GPS monitoring of journeys in real-time enables the system to construct a vast database of patterns of usage so that it can look-ahead for potential problems such as rush-hour shortages as well as alerting users to bottlenecks, breakdowns and other potential problems.

The system employs people offshore constructing and maintaining the power generating system and on land ensuring that the provision of that power is permanent. A vehicle maintenance and supply team deals with the inevitable breakdowns and accidents and also ensures that enough vehicles are available in the right places at the right time.

Consumers can request a vehicle if one is not to hand and the system is sophisticated enough to avoid duplication of journeys by near-neighbours. The integration of buses, taxis and the elimination of the petrol-driven private car combine to provide residents and visitors with a cost-effective, pollution-free and community-friendly transport system.

Visitors will leave their vehicles on the mainland and a new fleet of faster ferries convey them to the isles. Whilst the environmental impact of the new car parks at the mainland ports is controversial it is a price the inhabitants consider worth paying as less of their taxes are spent in subsidising fuel and transport on the islands.

Such schemes have been tried in other places with bicycles. They failed in Cambridge, via vandalism and theft, but still flourish in, I think, the Netherlands. The isles, by their very nature, are the ideal place for such a scheme to exist for powered vehicles to the benefit of all.

Jobs, lasting jobs, would be created. Pollution, whether noxious or 'noise-ious', would be vastly reduced. And the communal spirit of the ancient townships revitalised in a modern manner.

(I am sure that there are several colander's-worth of holes to be found in the above, but the idea of shared vehicles is something that I first considered some 30 years ago when the technologies necessary were science-fiction. Today they exist)

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Donald Munro – The 'Shah' of Lewis

I gave a brief resume of Munro in an earlier piece, James Shaw Grant – A Shilling for Your Scowl – the Story of a Scottish Legal Mafia – Acair 1991.but thought that a complete list of his households plus a list of the others engaged in the legal profession in Stornoway might prove interesting.

Donald Munro, 37, Procurator Ross and Cromarty, South Beach, Stornoway, b. Tain, Ross
William Ross, 25, Procurator Ross and Cromarty, Cousin, b. Tain
Helen Ross, 32, House Servant, b. Eddrachillish, Sutherland

(Angus Macdonald, 28, Lawyer, Benadrove, b. Stornoway)

Donald Munro, 43, Chamberlain of Lews, South Beach Street, b. Tain, Ross-shire
Eliza R Munro, 24, Sister, b. Tain
Tina M Munro, 11, Scholar, Niece, b. Tain
Jane Macrae, 23, Domestic Servant, b. Stornoway
Margaret Macdonald, 24, Domestic Servant, b. Ness, Ross-shire
Catherine Young, 17, Domestic Servant, b. Stornoway
Robert Mackenzie, 21, Groom, b. Beauly, Ross-shire

(John Macdonald, 50, Lawyer, 57 Keith Street, b. Uig)
(Donald Maclean, 41, Lawyer, 52 Culngreen Road, b. Lochs)

Donald Munro, 56, Solicitor and JP, 13 South Beach Street, b. Tain
Eliza Munro, 34, House Keeper, Sister, b. Tain
Crawford Munro, 22, Factor's Daughter, Niece, b. Tain
John Ross, 17, Clerk, Nephew, b. Inverness
John Macleod, 26, Groom, b. Tarbert, Harris
Eliza Sutherland, 23, Servant domestic, b. Farr, Sutherland
Marock Sutherland, 25, Servant Domestic, b. Farr, Sutherland

William Ross, 48, Solicitor, 11 Kenneth Street, b. Tain

Napier Campbell, 38, Solicitor or Procurator of Faculty of Ross, 40 Cromwell Street, b. Edinburgh

(Donald Maclean, 52, Lawyer, 8 Invers Beach, b. Lochs)

Donald Munro, 70, Solicitor and JP, 24 Kenneth Street, b. Tain
Betsy Munro, 42, House Keeper, Sister, b. Tain
William Ross, 24, Law Clerk, Nephew, b. Inverness
Jane Sutherland, 30, General Servant, b. Lairg, Sutherland
Rachel Morrison, 14, General Servant, b. Barvas

William Ross, 53, Solicitor and Procurator Fiscal, b. Tain

Napier Campbell, 48, Procurator and Enrolled Law Agent, Lodger, 17 South Beach St, b. Edinburgh

1890 – Death of Donald Munro

William Ross, 63, Solicitor, 52 Francis Street, b. Tain
John Ross, 32, Solicitor, Son, b. Stornoway

Colin G Mackenzie, 31, Solicitor, 2 James Street, b. Stornoway

Peter P Slater, Solicitor, Boarder, Royal Hotel, b. Shetland

Colin G Mackenzie, 41, Solicitor and Procurator Fiscal of Lewis, Park House, b. Stornoway
John Macdonald, 33, Depute Procurator Fiscal and Clerk to School-Board, 32 Keith St, b. Elgin

John Norrie Anderson, 54, Solicitor and Notary Public, Plym Nile, b. Stornoway

William A Ross, 36, Solicitor, 28 James Street, b. Logie Easter, Ross

The lack of any alternative to the Munro-Ross pairing is clear so that, even if their victims had been able to afford it, independent representation was non-existent.

What is also clear is that Munro lived surrounded by cronies (many of them related to him) but there is no sense of 'family', no feeling of 'homeliness' – one almost, but not quite, feels sorry for this evil, soul-less man...

Note: - It has been pointed-out to me that those who I have listed as 'lawyer' were in fact 'sawyer'which makes more sense and explains their apparent absence post 1871. I have italicised these errors pending confirmation.

Stornoway Hospital(s)

These are the census records that include the word 'hospital':

Peggy Macdonald, 50, Hospital Keeper, 14 Keith Street, b. Stornoway

Mary Sharpe, 26, Housekeeper, Hospital, b. Stornoway

1891 – None Listed

1896 – Lewis Hospital opens on the 1st February

Easthill Road, The Louis Hospital

Marion Macdonald, 38, Matron of Institution, b. South Uist
Jessie Macrae, 42, Head Hospital Nurse, b. Strath, Inverness-shire
Jessie Macrae, 22, General Servant, b. Barvas

Catherine Macleod, 24, Patient, Fishworker (Unemployed), b. Stornoway
Ann Macleod, 16, Patient, Crofter's Daughter, b. Uig
Katie M Maciver, 14, Patient, Scholar, b. Stornoway

Murdoch Murray, 20, Patient, General Labourer (Unemployed), b. Barvas
Alexander Macmillan, 13, Patient, Scholar, b. Stornoway

Mossend Fever Hospital

Catherine Mackenzie, 49, Hospital Nurse, b. Stornoway
Sophia Mackenzie, 20, Assistant Nurse, Daughter, b. Glasgow

Malcolm Macleod, 39, Patient, Coachman (Not Domestic), b. Lochs
Mary Macleod, 36, Patient, b. Scalpay

It is interesting that the records of 1871 and 1881 indicate the presence of a hospital in the town well before the opening of Lewis Hospital in 1896, but in 'The Soap Man', Roger Hutchinson mentions that Stornoway had a hospital in 1884 when the young William Lever first visited the island.

Several things interest me from the 1901 Census (apart from the spelling of 'Louis'!).

We see that the Matron and Head Nurse are resident along with their five patients. This being a Sunday evening, I wonder if the other nurses would have been scattered throughout the town in their own homes? Unfortunately, if this was the case, they neglected to identify themselves as hospital nurses. It is also striking that all five patients are between 13 and 24 years of age.

Mossend Fever Hospital or, to give it its full title, the Infectious Diseases Hospital is thankfully low in patients but it is interesting to contrast the ages of the two patients, in their mid to late thirties, with the youthfulness we saw in the Lewis Hospital.

I have been unable to learn anything more about the Mossend Fever Hospital apart from this mention of the 'Old Fever Hospital' that also locates 'Widow's Row', an address that I have given in other pieces but only now know the location of:

Friday, 23 April 2010

Borve, Harris, Post-Clearance of 1853

Following the 1839 clearance of Borve, it was resettled by the new Factor in 1847 only to suffer a second clearance in 1853.

In 1851 there were 138 people living in Borve but the1861 Census lists a mere 74 people in 14 Households in all three parts of Borve:

Big Borve
Kenneth Macdonald, 43, Sheep Farmer Employing 6 Labourers, b. Applecross, Ross
Margaret Maclellan, 57, Cottar, b. Harris

Middle Borve
Finlay Mackennon, 48, Grass Keeper, b. Harris
Marion Kerr, 70, Weaveress, b. Harris
Christy Campbell, 60, Pauper, b.Harris

Little Borve
Kenneth Macrae, 57, Sheep Farmer, b. Kintail, Ross
Alexander Macrae, 45, Sheep Farmer, b. Dornie, Ross
Hugh Munro, 31, Shepherd, b. Lewis
Joseph Allen, 36, Butler, b. England
Malcolm Kerr, 30, Joiner, b. Harris
Duncan Maclennan, 75, Cottar, b. Harris
Christy Macleod, 60, Cottar, b. Harris
Kenneth Macdonald, 48, Cottar, b. Harris
Angus Macdonald, 42, Cottar, b. Harris

In another 20 years the Farmer Kenneth Macdonald would add 'Factor' to his occupation but even in 1861, just 8 years after the Clearance, we can clearly see the effect of replacing these three human communities with sheep.

Three Sheep Farmers, one Shepherd, a Green Keeper and a Butler, but not a crofter in sight.

Just 5 landless Cottars, a Weaveress, a Pauper and a Joiner are all that remain from the previous population on some of the most fertile machair on Harris.

Not forgetting the three sheep farmers 'imported' from the Mainland...

(Crowdie & Cream Note: The Joiner was 'Ayatollah Kerr's' father, the Weaveress his Grandmother)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Uig Millers

Here are the Millers of Uig, Lewis as recorded in the 1851-1901 censuses:

John Macaulay, 50, Miller, Breasclet, b. Caoles Phas, Inverness-shire

(John Macaulay, 30, Miller, Visitor, Port Esgein, Farm of Strond, b. Harris - visiting his , Mother-in Law, Margaret Kerr)

Marion Macaulay, 40, Miller's Wife, Breasdale, b. Harris
(John Macaulay, 50, Corn Miller, Visitor, Obb, b. Harris)
Donald Maciver, 23, Miller, Breasdale, b. Uig

Donald Maciver, 32, Miller, Breasclet, b. Uig

Donald Maciver, 42, Miller, Miller's House, b. Uig
Donald Macdonald, 17, Miller's Servant

Donald Maciver, 53, Miller, Breasclete Mill House, b. Barvas
(Mary Ann Maciver, 42, Wife, b. Stornoway)

Catherine Mackenzie, 65, Miller's Wife, MIL, School house, Uig, b. Loch Conan, Ross-shire
(Ronald Macdonald, 37, Scholar Master, b. North Uist)

Donald Maciver, 63, Miller, Mill House, b. Uig
John Maciver, 27, Miller, Son, b. Breasclete

It is clear that the two John Macualys and Donald Maciver were the principle millers at Breascleit (Breasclete). These results also confirm that the 'Breasdale' of 1851 is indeed Breascleit.

A fascinating contemporary account of milling on Lewis, especially regarding the imposition of centralised mills upon the populace, can be read here: http://www.ceuig.com/archives/1099

A photo of the Old Mill at Breasclete: http://www.breasclete.com/Villages/breasclete.html and another on the RCAHMS site: http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/156789/details/lewis+breasclete+millhouse/

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Harris Millers

Here are the records of Millers as recorded in the censuses for 1841-1901:

Donald Macaulay , 50, Miller, Obb, b. Inverness

John Macaulay, 30, Miller, VISITOR,Port Esgein, Farm of Strond, b. Harris
Angus Morrison, 26, Blacksmith and Miller, Obe, b. Harris

John Macaulay, 50, Corn Miller, VISITOR, Oab, b. Harris
(Wife, Marion( MS Kerr), at home in Breasdale, Uig, Lewis)

Angus Morrison, 36, Blacksmith, Oab, b. Harris

Matthew Macauley, 23, Miller, Kendebig, b. Harris
Angus Macsween, 33, Assistant Miller, Kendibig, b. Harris

1871-1901 – None Listed

Several questions immediately rise from these slim returns, including what were these particular men milling, where were their mills and why do they disappear after 1861?

John Knox, in  'A Tour through the Highlands of Scotland, and the Hebride Isles, in MDCCLXXXVI', records that Captain Alexander Macleod, when he was establishing the Harbour and House at Rodel, also constructed a 'corn and fulling' mill, with them both powered by one single water-wheel. There are other remains of water-powered mills on the island but it is also known that much of the corn-milling was done domestically by hand.

In 1841 and 1851 our sole miller is in An-t-Ob and then in 1861 we have just a pair of millers and they are in Ceann Dibig, the township adjacent to Direcleit in the Bays.

John Macaulay, the Miller from Breascleit, Uig, Lewis is the husband of Marion Macaulay (MS Kerr) and in 1851 is visiting his widowed Mother-in-Law at Port Esgein, Farm of Strond. His wife was the daughter of Angus Kerr the Shoemaker.

Intriguingly, in 1861 John Macaulay is visiting none-other than Angus Morrison, the Blacksmith who a decade earlier had 'and Miller' appended to his occupation. He may still have been fulfilling that secondary role in 1861, hence this visit from miller Macaulay?

This entry: on Muilinn Mhiabhaig explains that Matthew and John Macaulay were millers at the mill in Meavaig but it also suggests that it is the only listed mill on Harris which is interesting given the presence of earlier millers in An-t-Ob and John Knox's account of Captain Alexander Macleod constructing milling facilities at Rodel.

Angus Morrison, the Blacksmith and (sometime) Miller, was a son of John Morrison, 'Gobha na Hearadh', who had been the Blacksmith in An-t-Ob before Angus but had moved to Leac a Li at the time of the Disruption because his favouring the Free Church found him out of favour with the Church of Scotland establishment. John proved as good, if not better, at fashioning hymns out of words as he was at fashioning goods out of metal.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Harris Timeline

This is very much an ongoing piece that I have assembled not least to assist me in my researches.
As such, it is inevitable that many details are lacking so it is meant more as an aide-memoire that others might find useful and/or interesting.

1266 – Western Isles formally ceded from Norway to Scotland – Lordship of the Isles formed
1494 – James IV of Scotland defeats last Lord of the Isles but fails to control the islands
1544 – Taransay battle between invading Morrisons of Ness, Lewis and Macleods
1528 - Alasdair Macleod (Crotach – hunch-back) of Harris and Dunvegan builds St Clement's church at Rodel
1547 – Alasdair Crotach buried at St Clement's

1730 – Luskentyre, previously part of Tack of Berneray of William Macleod , becomes his home.
1739 - In November the 'William' moors in Finsbay to abduct people to be taken into slavery.
1746 – Battle of Culloden
1755 – Population is '1969 souls' (NSAS)
17?? - William's grandaughter, Isabella, inherits and her husband, William Macleod, rules Luskentyre
1779 – Harris sold to Captain Alexander Macleod of Berneray
1782 - Rev John Lanne Buchanan begins travels, describes Macleod's introducing certain craftsmen to Harris
1784 – St Clement's church restored by Captain Macleod, burns down and is rebuilt
1786 – Rodel House, Harbour and fishing facilities established by Captain Macleod
1787 - 'Piscator' visits Rodel - his account is later published in 'The Bee'
1790 - Alexander Hume Macleod, Captain Alexander's Son, inherits Harris
1792 – Rev John Macleod writes Harris entry for Statistical Accounts of Scotland
1792 – Population '2536' (NSAS quoting SAS)
1792 - Sea-ware and Feannagan cultivation
1794 - Sound of Harris description
1794 - 'A Defence of the Scots Highlanders'
1794 – Taransay home to 140 people
1794 - Sound of Harris described
1797 - Robert Heron's and the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement

1800s – Taransay has crofters in Raa but Paible and Uidh are now only farms
1804 – Bald's Map of Harris
1806 - 'Strictures & Remarks' inc. an account of Alexander Hume Macleod's positive attitude is published
1808 - A warning regarding The Disease of The Curl that affects Potatoes
1810 – Horgabost cleared
1811 - Alexander Norman Macleod inherits Harris from his father, Alexander Hume Macleod
181? - Donald Stewart, Sheep Farmer, becomes Factor
181? - Seilibost divided into Crofts – to maximise population and rents
1814 - Sir Walter Scott (accidently!) visits Harris
1815 – Kelp Market plummets following end of French Wars
1818 -  Rodel Cleared whilst Alexander Norman Macleod was residing at Rodel House
1824 – Present Eilean Glas Lighthouse built
1827 - An account of Baptist Preaching on Harris
1828 – Scarista cleared
1828 - Presence of Asbestos on Harris described
1829 – Seilibost partially cleared

1830s – Farm of Strond broken into crofts
1830s – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig, parts of Luskentyre Farm, broken into crofts
1831 – Population 3810
1832 - Donald Stewart refuses to replace slates on Church on Berneray
1834 – 5th March, George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore buys Harris for £60,000
1834 - Duncan Shaw becomes Factor
1836 - Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore, inherits Harris
1836 - Poor harvest, particularly of Potatoes - earliest claimed date for Countess of Dunmore marketing tweeds
1837 - Poor harvest, particularly of Potatoes
1838 – Seilibost cleared
1839 – Big Borve, Middle Borve and Little Borve cleared

184? -  Raa on Tarasaigh Cleared for John Macdonald, tacksman
1841 - Duncan Shaw gives evidence to the House of Commons Committee on Emigration, Scotland
1841 – Rev John MacIver writes for New Statistical Account of Scotland (NSAS)
1841 – Population 'upwards of 4000'
1841 - 6th Earl of Dunmore at his London home
1841 – Estate Officer residing at Rodel is John Lindsay
1843 – Church of Scotland fragments in Disruption – islanders join Free Church of Scotland
1843 - 6th Earl of dunmore considering building a harbour at W Loch Tarbert, with a link to the E Loch
1844 - John Robson Macdonald becomes Factor of Harris
1844 – Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore, is said to Start the Harris Tweed Industry
1845 - Alexander, 6th Earl, dies and Catherine, his wife, is 'Tutor' for her son, 4 yr old Charles Adolphus, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1846 – Potato Famines begin
1847 – Borve, Harris resettled by new Factor. Kenneth Macdonald was Assistant Factor
1848 – Sunday Postal Deliveries Cease
1849 - Countess of Dunmore establishes the Embroidery School at An-t-Ob

1850s – House at An-t-Ob built for the Gardener and his wife, the Embroidery Teacher
1850s – Tarbert gets its first church
1851 – Marion and Chirsty Macleod, the 'Paisley sisters' living at Port Esgein, Farm of Strond, the tenant of the tack of Strong and Killegray being a by Mrs Campbell.
1851 – John Robson Macdonald, Land Factor and Justice of the Peace, who succeeded Donald Stewart, living at Rodel House
1851 – Master of the Harris Mailboat, John Morrison, residing at Port Esgein
1851 – Crofts at Direcleit and Ceann Dibig bisected to provide homes for people cleared from Borve on Berneray
1851 - Inn at An-t-Ob first found
1851 - Potatoes Famines end - latest date for Countess of Dunmore's marketing of tweeds
1851 - Report to the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor in Scotland by Sir John McNeill
1852 – Highland and Islands Emigration Society(HIES) formed – 742 leave Harris for Australia
1853 – Borve, Harris cleared again
1853 - Manish Free Church built
1854 - Glasgow Herald article on Gaelic School Exhibition and Sale
1854 – Road from Stornoway to Tarbert completed
1857 - 24th March - 7th Earl of Dunmore's 16th Birthday
1857 – Lady Dunmore and Mrs Thomas, wife of a Government Surveyor, start Stocking-Knitting(socks and knickerbocker stockings) industry
1857 - Admiral Otter's Chart of the Sound of Harris
1858 - 'In 1858Lady Dunmore was a mother to her people in Harris.' - Duchess of Sutherland writing of 'The Revival of Home Industries' in 'The Land Magazine', Vol 3, 1899.

1860s – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig cleared
1862 - 24th March - 7th Earl of Dunmore's 21st Birthday
1863 – Ardvourlie Castle built as Hunting Lodge for North Harris Estate
1865 – Harris Hotel built by Earl of Dunmore and originally called Tarbert Hotel
1867 – Abhainnsuidhe Castle built by Earl of Dunmore
1867 - North Harris Estate sold to Sir Ernest Scott for £155,000 (over two-and-a-half times what the 5th      Earl of Dunmore had paid for the whole of Harris 33 years earlier!)

1871 – Stocking Knitters of Strond, and elsewhere too, appear in abundance in the Census
1872 – Telegraph Cable from Stornoway to Scotland laid
1873 – Dunmore's restore St Clement's church
1879 - 4th March - Ardvourlie castle burnt down
1879 - The Wreck of the Yacht Astarte

1881 – SS Dunara Castle appears in Harris on this and the following 2 censuses
1881 – Angus Kerr, Farm Manager, at Rodel
1882 - Nov/Dec - Thomas Brydone becomes Lord Dunmore's Factor (Napier Commission Evidence)
1883 – Thursday, 31st May, Obbe  - Napier Commission
1884 – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig recrofted
1886 – Countess of Dunmore dies in February
1886 - Crofters' Act passed 25th June
1886 – Telegraph Cable from Port Esgein, Harris to North Uist laid
1888 – Assisted emigration to Canada established
1888 'Women's Work in Harris (Hebrides),' in The British Friend, by Edward Grub - Mrs FWL Thomas

1890 - 'Spanker' wrecked in a storm in the Sound of Harris
1895 – Crofters Commission Report allows 1 horse, 4, cows and 20 sheep per croft in Strond
1897 – Road linking Tarbert and Rodel through the Bays is completed
1897 - Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital built & endowed by Mrs Frances Thomas

1900 - Carding Mill built at Lon na Feille, the old Market Stance, in Direcleit by Sir Samuel Scott, owner of the North Harris Estate
1902 - Death of Mrs Frances Thomas
1907 - Death of Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1919 - Lord Leverhulme buys South Harris for £20,000 and North Harris for £36,000
1920s – Geocrab Carding Mill built by Lord Lever – the locals refuse to use it
1924 – Leverburgh prospers
1925 - Lord Leverhulme dies, South Harris sold for £900 in an Auction
1925 - Finlay J Macdonald born
1944 - North Harris Estate bought by Sir T. O. M. Sopwith
1974 – Taransay's last residents leave

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sounds of Taransay

colour palette,
clearly pleasing.

The Rise and Decline of a Family Name on Harris

I previously looked at three options for the origin of my Hearach ancestors:
Metal-Working, Tinkering and Left-Handedness.

Looking closely at the records for Inverness-shire, Ross-shire and Argyll-shire I realised that the pattern of names in Inverness doesn't fit, in Ross there were a couple of families in Lochbroom and in Argyll the fit is better, but the occupations show no particular pattern. I am therefore ruling-out the craft aspect.

A similar exercise for the whole of Scotland produced no record of a Tinkering/Hawking tradition.

That leaves the 'famous' Left-Hander and to an examination of the actual families on Harris.

No of Families
1841 – 9
1851 – 8
1861 – 6
1871 - 5
1881 - 4
1891 - 2
1901 – 1

The pattern is clear. However, we can learn more, especially by examining first names.
Of the 9 families in 1841, one stands-out for containing 'Kenneth, Peter and William' where the others all have Angus, Malcolm & Roderick – this family move to Argyll in the 1850s and I believe them to be of separate origin, although the patriarch, Peter, was born on Harris.

That leaves 8 families and one of these disappears from the records. They probably emigrated, but a cursory attempt to find them in Canada or Australia has proved fruitless so they may have perished on the voyage.

Of the remaining 7 families, it can be seen by the sequence of the names of the male heirs that they might be the sons of between 3 or 5 fathers. Two brothers were the sons of a Malcolm and the others fathers might have been Donald, John and Roderick. As these 5 died before the arrival of Statutory Registration of Deaths in 1855 I am unable to be completely sure. It is pure chance that the line started by Malcolm, which includes the two brothers who lived until 1867, is my own.

Assuming that I am correct, then we can repeat the process and conjecture that this group of 3-5 fathers were themselves the sons of perhaps two or three men. That could mean that the 8 families are only 3 generations away from a single ancestor. Probably from Strond, possibly from Taransay.

If that too is correct then the name appeared around the middle of the 18thC and probably does reflect some significant deed done by a left-handed Hearach at that time. A deed worthy of him being known for being left-handed but, unfortunately, not significant enough to be recorded in the oral tradition.

It is a flight of fancy, but one event fits and it is the one event that might have led a man to gain recognition for his prowess with the sword he held in his left hand. It happened in 1745...

Note: The 'loss' of a name on an island starting from a miniscule presence is repeated but in most cases the origin can be traced. It is the apparent sudden appearance that has been baffling. I should also point-out that many female descendents married and raised families on Harris so, although the name has gone, there are Morrisons, Macdonalds, Macsweens, Macleods, Macaskills, Mackinnons, Macraes, Mackays, and Campbells on Harris who can trace themselves back to a Kerr ancestry.

Monday, 12 April 2010

clarity of expulsion

Today the phrase is 'Ethnic-Cleansing'
(Bordering on 'Genocide'?)
But then they called them 'Clearances'
Applying Highland Herbicide.


Forced to turn your back on machair lands
You face the sea
Who's salt-spray carves itself upon
Your face

Working oars, and ropes and sails
You handle your boat
Who's voyages are etched into
Your hands

Looking back at island peaks
You see the heart of Harris
Who's ancient rocks strengthen
Your heart

This sea-ware safe returned to shore
You feed the hungry souls
Who's peat-smoked tales feed
Your soul

Forced to turn your back on machair lands
You face the future
Who's uncertainty's reflected in the deep-dark loch in which we see
Your face

Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland

This site allows you to search for buildings at risk, including those currently undergoing restoration, by County/Administrative area.

It includes the results from recent visits to the Orkney. Shetlands and Western Isles:


Saturday, 10 April 2010

Link to 1804 Map of Harris

I do not know how this one has eluded me until now, but here's a link to a superb online map that reveals much about the settlements (including some interesting names and spellings!) and other significant locations in Harris over 200 years ago: http://www.nls.uk/maps/counties/view/?id=660

Tarasaigh (Taransay)

The population of Taransay is given here for each census from 1841-1901:

1841 88   33m 39f   + Rha 16 6m 10f (Raa was Cleared in 1840 for John Macdonald, Tacksman)
1851 55   25m 30f
1861 55   25m 30f
1871 68   36m 32f
1881 31   16m 15f
1891 0
1901 0

The 40% decline between 1841 and 1851 was followed by a period of stability but, interestingly, some 16 of the 68 people living on the island in 1871 were born elsewhere in Harris, Lewis and Ross-shire. Nine came from the the Bays, four from the West and one each from Bernera, Scarp and Ensay. Lochs, Lewis and Gairloch supplied the remaining two.

A decade later the population was down to 31 living in half-a-dozen households and a couple of years later the cottars were barred from raising livestock and growing oats or barley. Unsurprisingly, such conditions made life untenable and we can see the results in the final two censuses.

An excellent online source on Taransay is: http://www.paparproject.org.uk/hebrides7.html

Friday, 9 April 2010

Emergency Helicopter Landing Site

I found this somewhat surprising sight at the start of the Bays of Harris.
Whilst there are beaches and machair on the West coast, the Bays must
be a somewhat daunting area for the helicopter to consider landing in.
The road appears be following an old track to the shore at Direcleit.

Blackhouse Walls

This ruin of part of a Blackhouse at Arnol shows the elements used in the construction of the walls. A pair of concentric, round-cornered, dry-stone walls are in-filled with a mixture of peat-mould and soil and then turfed. The roof structure rested on the inner walls so that water shed from the thatch kept the grassed area moist ensuring that the walls remained wind and rainproof.

This structure is a superb combination of form and function, evolved hundreds of years before cavity wall construction was used in brick-built houses, and even longer before the introduction of insulation into the walls of such houses. An estimate of the labour involved in building these walls can be appreciated by considering that a cubic metre of soil weighs one metric tonne and that these walls are about one metre wide.

This informative page includes an image of a cutaway model of the Blackhouse at 42 Arnol:

Home Spun at Deer Cliff

Four thick walls with rounded corners,
On the shore of this Deer Cliff

Four generations lived and left,
At the foot of this Deer Cliff

One hundred-and-thirty years of life,
At the place they call Deer Cliff

Through Clearance, flood and famine
They stayed at this Deer Cliff

Tailoring and Fishing,
Working from this Deer Cliff

Knitting, Weaving, Wool-spinning,
Turn threads to webs of time

Wool-Weaving and Tweed-Making,
Clo Mhor from this Deer Cliff

Nineteen-Fifty saw the end,
The final breath was taken.

Four solid walls and generations,
Direcleit home spun to dereliction.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

'no person can conceive what kind of a place it is without seeing it.'

They scuttled to the shore,
At this place called 'Crab Ravine'.

Bayonets at their backs,
Driven harsh to 'Crab Ravine'

They faced towards the sea,
Pounding this 'Crab Ravine'

Crofters become fishers,
At thin-soiled 'Crab Ravine'

A Mill stood proud and tall
At this place called 'Crab Ravine'.

Built of Soap and Margarine
On the rocks at 'Crab Ravine'.

The scuttled across the shore
At this place called 'Crab Ravine'

The Mill, unused, now a fish farm,
In this place of 'Crab Ravine'

For crustaceans, not humans,
Thrive best, in 'Crab Ravine'...

'Crab Ravine' is the Old Norse name for Geocrab in the Bays of Harris.
The title is from a crofter's interview by the Napier Commission of 1883/4

Extracts from the Commission's Report can be read here: http://www.ambaile.org.uk

Planning Permission

At first they said, ‘No way!’
And then they said. ‘Too big!

Later it was ‘Why?’
Later still ‘How & Who?’

Eventually they said, ‘OK’
And Calanais’ stones are standing still.

Harris T(h)reads

I thought I would 'join the dots' of various walks I had on Harris last year.

The first column is through the Bays of Harris but not along the 'Golden Road' which I travelled several times by bus instead. The list ends about 5 miles away from Roghadal.

Next is a short, but photogenic, stroll along the shore of Loch Stocinis.

The final column traverses the island from the East coast to that of the West via the 'Coffin road' and then heads Southwards to the town of An-t-Ob and its neighbours. I should explain that I walked from An-t-Ob to Roghadal following a 'circular' route and reiterate that these lists are merely a compilation of several separate excursions.

Ceann Dibig
Grosa Cleit
Aird Mhighe           Aird Mhighe         Liceasto
Liceasto                 Leac a Li              'Coffin road'
Geocrab                Caolas Stocinis     Traigh Losgaintir
Beacrabhaic                                       Seilibost
Fleoideabhagh                                    Horgabost
Aird Mhighe                                       Na Buirgh
Fionnasbhagh                                     Scarasta
                                                          Scarasta Mhor
                                                          Taobh Tuath
                                                          Gleann Choisleitir

Singer Sewing Machine Company in Scotland

Singer opened their first factory outside the USA in Glasgow in 1867 and such were the numbers employed there that it had its own railway station. At its height, the 10,000 workers at Clydebank were making 4 in every 5 of the sewing machine in the World. Competition from the Far East increased during the second-half of the 20thC and in 1980 the factory closed.

In 1876 my grandmother was born in Aberdeen at which time her 26 year-old father's occupation was described as 'Agent (Singer Sewing Machines)' and the 1881 census confirm that he was one of three such agents in Aberdeen. Glasgow was home to 6 Agents at the time, Perth 4, Edinburgh 3, whilst Stirling and Inverness had only one apiece . In addition to these 18, there were half-a-dozen in lodgings and boarding-houses and perhaps another 30 in their homes in many towns all around the Country including Ardnamurchan, Argyll which is as far West as the mainland goes.

Nearly 35 years following that birth, in 1910, this Hatter and Hosier is described on his Death Certificate as a 'Commission Agent'. As far as I know, he maintained his relationship with the company through the years during which he established and ran his Hatting business in the city.

The Managers of the factory in 1881 and 1891, the only years that I have discovered, were two Scots, Alexander Anderson and John Strathearn.


Singer Sewing Machine – BBC 'A History of the World' http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/NSvyFk_zReCWtadTXMVwoA

Clydebank http://www.information-britain.co.uk/county56/townguideClydebank/

Boatmen of Lewis

Here I have collected all those recording their occupation as 'Boatman', listing them by the parish in which they were living. The Coastguard Boatmen have had a separate entry to themselves.

Robert Clark, 50, Boatman, Inaclete St, b. Stornoway

James Beaton, 26, Boatman at Custom House, b. Stornoway
Donald Munro, 38, Boatman, Widow's Row, b. Lochs
Angus Young, 30, Boatman and Labourer, Widow's Row, b. Uig
Murdo Morrison, 25, Boatman (Ferrying Sheep), Lodger, Valamis, Park Farm, b. Lochs
John Fraser, 19, Boatman (Ferrying Sheep), Lodger, Valamis, Park Farm, b. Lochs

John Mackenzie, 67, Boatman, Boatman's House, b. Stornoway

Angus Macleod, 29, Boatman, Eishken Lodge, b, . Tarbert, Harris

Angus Macleod, 37, Boatman, Brother, Eishken, b. Harris

John Christie, 73, Army Pensioner Boatman, Castle Policies Boatman's Porter Lodge, b. Blair, Perth

John Christie, 86, Retired Pensioner Boatman, Lewis Castle Policies Boatman's House, b. England

It is interesting to note that the Boatmen of Lochs are solely associated with Park Farm, where they were employed conveying sheep around the places that were once home to so many victims of the Clearances, and the Eishken Estate.

Those in Stornoway include one working for HM Customs and another employed at Lews Castle.

The absence of recorded Boatmen in Uig and Barvas, combined with the fact that those of Lochs and Stornoway were largely employed by either landowners or the State, suggests to me that the transportation needs of most people would have been met locally, presumably by fishermen?


Park Farm (PDF)

Eishken Estate -

Coast Guards of Stornoway

It appears that the Coast Guard presence in Stornoway appeared during the late1880s:

Kenneth Mackenzie, 54, Coast Guard Superannuated Chief Boatman, 29 Kenneth St b. Stornoway

Ralph Mackenzie, 56, Pensioner Coast Guard, 32 Kenneth St, b. Stornoway

Willam Lott, 55, Divisional Officer of Coast Guard, Head, The Cottage, b. Kent, England
Joseph Carlisle, 58, Commander Coast Guard (Boatman), 18 Newton St, b. Girton, Ayr
Joseph Trout, 41, Coast Guard Officer, 2, Sea View Terrace, b. England
William H Rutland, 37, Coast Guardsman, 3 Sea View Terrace, b. England
Archibald Savage, 36, Ship Carpenter Coast Guard, 4 Sea View Terrace, b. England
James Smith, 34, Coast Guard (Comm.Boatman), 5 Sea View Terrace, b. Glasgow
William H Ellis, 32, Coast Guard Service, 6 Sea View Terrace, b. England
William Cotter, 31, Boatman Coast Guard, 7 Sea View Terrace, b. England
Patrick Moore, 32, Coast Guard Boatman, 48 Cromwell St, b. Ireland
Ralph Mackenzie, 66, Coastguard Pensioner, 41 Bayhead St, b. Stornoway

Patrick Green, 37, Commissioner Boatman HMC, 4 Sea View Terrace, b. Swansea, S Wales
John Squires, 31, Coast Guard Boatman, 6 Sea View Terrace, b. England
William Stock, 40, Coast Guard Boatman, 8 Sea View Terrace, b. England
A J Pennington, 38, Carpenter Coast Guard, 10 Sea View Terrace, b. Davenport, England
John Gillanders, 44, Boatman Coast Guards, 12 Sea View Terrace, b. Applecross, Ross
William H Chick, 34, Boatman Coast Guards, 14 Sea View Terrace, b. England
Harry Callum, 30, Coat Guard, 16 Sea View Terrace, b. England
Ernest Davie, 30, Coast Guard Boatman, 22 Sea View Terrace, b. England
Arthur J Horsham, 30, Coast Guard Boatman, 24 Sea View Terrace, b. Ireland

It is clear that, with the exception of the two Mackenzie men who are living-out their retirements in their home town, none of the recorded Coast Guards were locals.

I have not listed the families, many of whom were present, but we can see that they predominantly lived in Sea View Terrace and that the vast majority were English. The earliest birth in Stornoway to one of the 1891 families was in 1888, the earliest that I can confirm the Coast Guards had arrived by.

A History of HM Coastguard can be read here: http://www.torbaycoastguard.co.uk/history.html

Boatmen of Harris

A Boatman was someone providing a ferry service across lochs and, in these cases, along the coast.

I have attempted to list these boatmen from South to North but a couple of the records are difficult to discern, and one simply gives the location as the 'Boatman's House'!

John Macleod, 20, Boat Man, Servant, Islands of Ensay and Kelligray, b. Harris
Donald Macrae, 19, Boat Man, Servant,
(William Macaskill, 32, Agricultural Labourer, Head, b. Harris)
Donald Macaskill, 31, Boatman, Kentulavig, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 39, Boat Man, Losbery(?), b. Lochs – possibly Grosebay?
Evander Maclellan, 30, Boatman, Direcleit, b. Harris
John Morrison, 30, Boatman, Direcleit, b. Harris
Murdo Campbell, 48, Boatman, Tarbert, b. Harris

Aulay Macleod, 48, Boatman, Molingainish, b. Harris – possibly Kyles Stockinish?

John Mackenzie, 40, Boat Man, Strond, b. Harris
Donald Mackenzie, 35, Boat Man, Strond, b. Harris
Kenneth Mackenzie, 34, Boat Man, Strond, b. Harris
John Shaw, 65, Boatman, Obe Shop, b.
Donald Morrison, 56, Boatman, b. Lochs – assumed Grosebay?
Roderick Campbell, 38, Boatman, Boatman's House, b. Harris

1881 None listed
1891 None listed

John Ferguson, 60, Boatman, Kentulavig, b. Harris

It is vital to appreciate that at the time we are observing, there were no roads that we would recognise by that name today. The sea was the highway and upon it would be a wide variety of vessels, large and small, some powered by sail and others by sweat.

It seems reasonable to conjecture that the men recorded here would have been called upon to move people, precious goods such as roof timbers and anything else that their boats were suitable for carrying.

There presence predominantly on the Sound and Bays of Harris reminds us that here were the safe harbours that were lacking on the Atlantic West coast. Theirs was a role worthy of more research.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Tiumpan Head Light House Keepers

This light started work in 1900 so here we see recorded two of the first Light Keepers.

In time, it had six Light Keepers, three (as is the case in these two examples) living next to the light with their families, plus a local assistant and two part-timers from nearby Portnaguran.

Further information on this Light, and all the others of The Northern Lighthouse Board, can be found here:

James J Macdonald Matheson, 31, Light Keeper, Tiumpan Head Light House Dwelling House, b. Lochmaddy, North Uist
Annie Bain Matheson, 26, b. Waternish, Skye
Effie, 1(?), b. Fair Isle, Shetland
Neil, 2, b. Waternish, Skye

John Napier Milne, 50, Lightkeeper, Tiumpan Head Light House Dwelling House, b. Arbroath
Jessie, 45, b. Musselburgh, Midlothian
David Reid Milne, 23, Seaman, b. Arbroath
Jessie Ann Milne, 18, b. Scalpay, Inverness
John Milne, 10, b. Scalpay

It is good to see someone from the Western Isles in this role, as was the case with James Matheson and his family's birthplaces indicates that he served in Skye and Fair Isle before arriving in Lewis.

Similarly, John Milne appears to have been in Musselburgh and Scalpay, as well as back in his home town of Arbroath, prior to his arrival.

His Seaman Son, David, reminds us of the purpose of the Light Keeper; to ensure a safer passage for those whose lives took them away from the safety of the shore and into the arms of that sometimes gloriously beautiful , sometimes treacherously betraying, mysterious mistress of the deep.

Tiumpan Head - May 2009

Arnish Light House Keepers

This, the Northern Lighthouse Board's first pre-fabricated tower, came into use in 1852.

A full description can be had here: http://www.stornowayhistoricalsociety.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59&Itemid=73

and here: http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/4324/details/lewis+arnish+point+lighthouse/

Here are the Light Keepers and their families as recorded in the 1861-1901 censuses:

Thomas Dawson, 38, Light House Keeper, Light Keeper's House, Lochs, b. Isle of Man
Margaret, 27, Wife, b. Edinburgh
Isabella, 6, b. Hoy, Orkney
William I, 4, b. Hoy, Orkney
Mary Maclean, 18, Domestic Servant, b. Stornoway

George Maclachlan, 31, Assistant Light Keeper, b. Orkney, Isle of Westray
Janet, 24, Wife, b. Orkney, Isle of Sanday
Lucy Polson, 19, General Servant, b. Durness, Sutherland

John Sinclair, 56, Light Keeper, Arnish Light House, b. Tiree, Argyll
Helen, 54, b. Tiree, Argyll
Mary Ann, 16, b. Orkney, North Ronaldsay
Helen, 14, Orkney, North Ronaldsay
Neil , 12, b. Arbroath, Forfar
Robert, 10, b. Arbroath, Forfar
Cathie Maclean, 30, General Servant, b. Harris

Donald G Mackay, 22, Light Keeper, Arnish Light House, b. Wick, Caithness
Ann Rugg, 27, Housekeeper, Aunt, b. Wick, Cathness

John Grierson, 58, Principal Light House Keeper, Arnish, b. South Leith, Edinburgh
Janet, 58, b. Salton, Haddington-shire
Ann, 16, b. Drainei, Moray
Kate, 5, b. South Leith

James MacQueen, 34, Light Keeper, b. Kilmuir, Inverness
Christina, 38, b. Kilmory, Bute
Margaret, 6, b. Lochs
Janet M, 4, b. Lochs
John Alexander, 11 months, b. Lochs

George Irvine, 34, Light House Keeper, b. Isle of Man
Jessie, 33, b. Glasgow
Maggie, 8, b. Govan, Lanark
Isabella, 6, b. South Uist, Inverness
Charles, 2, b. North Uist, Inverness
Alexander, 1, b. Stornoway
Mary Black, 40, Servant, b. Glasgow

Thomas Sutherland, 57, Light House Keeper, b. Graemsay, Orkney
Jane, 53, b. Hoy, Orkney
Jessie, 14, Ardnamurchan, Argyll
Christy Macaulay, 21, General Servant, Back, Ross

James Ferrier, 58, Head Light Keeper North Shore(?), b. Arbroath, Forfar
Elizabeth, 65, b. Ettrick, Selkirk
John, 22, Tiree, Argyll
Christina, 27, . Aberdeen

Thomas Higson, 54, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, b. Whalsay, Shetland
Elizabeth, 60, Whalsay, Shetland

As is ever the case with Lighthouse Keepers,here we see them moving around the lights of the Northern Lighthouse Board during their working lives, marrying and happily producing children as evidence of their individual journeys.

Hamlet of Limera

In the 1851 census there were 18 people, in 3 households, in 'Limera, Hamlet of Limera, Lochs'.

Lemreway, or, Leamrabhaigh, apparently used to be known as Leumra and later Leumrava.

The expansion of the Park Sheep Farm, centred at Valamus in South Park, resulted in the Clearance, in 1843, of Lemreway and Orinsay.

In 1841 these two townships had been home to 179 and 147 people respectively.

In 1851 the 18 people listed here were the only inhabitants of Lemreway and not a soul was to be found living in Orinsay.

Robert Linton, 26, Shepherd, b. Roberton, Roxburgh
Helen, 24, Wife, b. Ashkirk, Selkirk
John, 2, Son, b. Contin, Lochs
Adam, 6 months, b. Lochs
Margaret Lillico, 6, Niece, b. Lochs
Catherine Lillico, 5, Niece, b. Lochs
Johanna Lillico, 2, Niece, b. Lochs
Marion Kerr, 23, b. General Servant, b. Harris

Donald Macdonald, 48, Fisher, b. Lochs
Malcolm, 14, Fisher, Son, b. Lochs
Morgus, 35, Fisher, Brother, b. Lochs
Angus Martin, 16, Fisher, Relationship Unknown, b. Lochs
Angus Mackenzie, 20, Fisher, Nk Viz Note Margin, b. Lochs
Roderick Mackenzie, 24, Fisher, Nk, b. Lochs
John Mackenzie, 19, Fisher, Nk, b. Lochs
Donald Macdonald, 21, Fisher, Nk, b. Lochs

Catherine Mackenzie, 75, Pauper (General Servant), b. Lochs
Catherine Mackenzie, 60, Visitor, b. Lochs

Today Lemreway, together with neighbouring Orinsay, are isolated-enough places, but 160 years ago these 18 folk must have felt themselves even more cut-off from their fellows. The sea was their prime means of movement, for there were no roads and the tracks would have been almost impassable at times, yet the nearest settlement was perhaps 6 or 7 nautical miles away.

Let us look at these three households:

The first is that of a Shepherd from the Mainland, not only with his wife and two very young children but also with three equally young nieces. Were they visitors or, as seems more likely, orphans? Whatever the circumstances, it is not surprising that they called-upon the assistance of a General Servant, of whom more later.

Secondly, we have the 8 men, each a 'Fisher', and ranging in age from 14 to 48. Whether this was their 'permanent' abode or they were merely making-use of the facilities whilst fishing the local waters I do not know. I do know that a group of, largely, such young men cannot have chosen to be living together in such circumstances if there were a more companionable alternative available.

Finally, we have the two elderly ladies, but look, one of these is a visitor so the elder Catherine Mackenzie, a Pauper, normally lives alone, presumably preferring to see out her days in the land she has lived in rather than moving to strange, but perhaps more convivial, surroundings.

18 where once there had been ten times that number.
1 man shepherding sheep on land that had sustained perhaps two or three-dozen families.
2 children, or 5 if we allow the nieces too, where over 100 would have given shrill-sign of laughter and of hope.
8 men, huddled together in their barrack.
And one women, clinging to her land, her memories and her dignity...

Lastly, what of the 'General Servant'?

Well, it so happens that her sister-in-law was one of those 147 souls torn from Orinsay some 8 years earlier which makes it all the stranger that she should be found here, apparently assisting a family whose very presence symbolises the forces that drove another young women to Stornoway and, in 1848, into the arms of her brother.

I do wonder how my '2nd great grandaunt' came to be in the Hamlet of Limera in 1851.

Map Note: The OS 10,560 map of 1854 has all the roofless houses, marked 'Ruins', and one that appears to be intact, adjacent to the 'L' of 'Leamrabhagh' - It is the sole indicator of human habitation...

The 1851 census records James Lillico, 30, Manager of Sheep Farm (Employing 10 Shepherds and 2 Boatmen) residing at 'Valamis House', Park Farm Kenmore, Lochs. There are 9 other people at Kenmore, including his wife, so we may safely conjecture that the Lillico Nieces at Limera were his daughters.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Lighthouse Keepers of Harris

Eilean Glas first shone a light in 1789 but the present tower was constructed in 1824 and modified further in 1907.

A full description from the Northern Lighthouse Board can be found here:

Here are the keepers and their assistants from the 1851-1901 censuses.

I have included the birthplaces of children as an indication of the roving nature of the role.

Alexander Campbell, 57, Principal Light Keeper, Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 48, b. Inverness 4 Children (14-29) b. Harris

Chas Black, 27, Edinburgh, Assistant Light Keeper, Scalpay, b. Edinburgh
Wife, 30, b. England 3 Children (1-7) b. Aberdeenshire, Barra, and Barra.
Prudence Melvin, 56, Mother-in-Law, b. British subject, France

John Macdonald, 33, Occasional Light Keeper, Kyles Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 28, b. Harris 4 Children (3 weeks-7yrs) b. Harris

1852 – Revolving Lens System Installed

Ewan Campbell, 28, Light Keeper, Scalpay Island, b. Tobermory, Argyll
Wife, 30, b. Tiree, Argyll 2 Children, (?-2), b. Tiree, Argyll and Harris

David Ross, 44, Principal Light Keeper, Light House Buildings, Island of Scalpay, b. Lasswade, Midlothian
Wife, 44, b. Leith 5 Children (5-13), b. Edinburgh, Larduit, Ross-shire, and Caithness-shire

Angus Macleod, 25, Lightkeeper (Assistant), b. Durness, Sutherlandshire
Wife, 28, b. Domark(?), Dumfriess-shire, Son, 1, b. Jura, Argyll

Norman Cunningham, 28, (Amsturd St?) Keeper, Raasay,Inverness,  b. Harris
Wife, 26, b. Harris 3 Children (9 months-3 yrs), b. Ardnamurchan, Argyll; Portree, Inverness

1881 - Not listed

Norman Cunningham, 42, Light Keeper (Out of Employ), Cottage, S Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 39, b. Harris 6 Children (8 months – 13 yrs), b. Ardnamurchan, Argyll; Dunrossness, Shetland; North Ronaldsay, Orkney; and Harris

Robert Murray, 44, Lighthouse Keeper, Isle of Glass Light House, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtown-shire
Wife, 41, b. Dunnet, Caithness, Daughter, 4, b. Arbroath

Donald Douglas, 31, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, b. Uist
Wife, 27, b. Glay(?), Argyll, Children (4, 2, 1) b. Harris

Murdo Morrison, 60, Crofter Retired Light Keeper, No 1 Kyles Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 26(?), b. Harris 5 Children (1-11), b.

Hugh Mackinnon, 33, Lighthouse Keeper, No 123 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Glasgow
Kate Morrison, 32, General Servant Domestic, b. Harris

James McGuffie, 52, Driver Keeper Now Lighthouse Worker, No 124 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtownshire
Wife, 52, b. Helmsdale, Inverness, Daughter, 26, b. Thurso, Inverness(?)

Duncan Mackay, 54, Crofter, No 125 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 49, b. Harris, 6 Children (7-19), b. Harris

John Macsween, 62, Crofter, No 126 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 58, b. Harris, 5 Children (9-23), b. Harris

Norman Cunningham, 63, Retired Lighthouse Keeper, Manish, b. Harris
Wife, 59, b. Harris

I find the addresses in the 1901 census particularly interesting, 'Nos 123-126 Lighthouse' presumably referring to the numbering system for the buildings associated with the light tower.

Norman Cunningham clearly worked in turn at Ardnamurchan, Raasay, Dunrossness and North Ronaldsay but, somewhat ironically, was unemployed on Harris in 1881 at which time no keeper of the light at Eilean Glas is to be found in these records.

There are other Harris-born lighthouse keepers spread around Scotland but I have restricted this piece to those who were resident on Harris at the time of the censuses, with the one exception of Norman Cunningham in 1871 which I considered to be an illuminating addition.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Loch Stocinis Sleeps...

As seen from Liceasto, June 2009

Kelp-Makers of Lochs

At the end of the 18thC, there were 1768 people living in Lochs, Lewis and 36 of the 845 men were Kelp-Makers.

They produced between 45 and 50 tons of the dark-blue, oily product annually but to do so had to collect 20 times as much of the raw material, sea-weed.

Therefore these 36 men cut and collected between 900 and 1000 tons of Kelp, that is an average of between 25 and 28 tons of this sea-ware per man.

This all had to be laid-out to be dried, then burned for about 4 to8 hours in a Kelp-Kiln, often simply a stone-lined trench.

The weed was next beaten into a mass using 'kelp irons' (long-handled iron mallets or hooks), then covered with stones and turf (for protection against moisture), and left to cool overnight.

The pieces of kelp ash would then be broken into lumps ready for 'export' to England.

One of these three dozen men was Duncan Macdonald of 6, Old Orinsay, who was my grandfather's grandmother's grandfather.

Ref: http://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/item/item_photograph.jsp?item_id=21647
A modern company also harvesting the sea:-ware http://www.hebrideanseaweed.co.uk/history.html

Update: A very informative piece on Kelp Harvesting: http://www.ceuig.com/archives/2672

From Sea-Ware to Sowing

We are in the final decade of the 18thC, observing activities on the shore involving the inhabitants of one of the Bays of Harris. It is low water at one of the Spring tides of the month and all the people are gathered in that portion of the shore that the proprietor, or the principle tacksman, has permitted them to utilise for the gathering of sea-ware. This sea-weed is the principle, in many parts the only, source of manure with which to fertilise the land.

Working together, the men cut the weed, load it into their creels, and carry these on their backs to well above where the highest tides can reach it. Here a pile is made for each tenant but it is only when the collecting is complete that the men draw lots to allocate each pile. A neat way of ensuring that, during this communal activity, all piles are attended to with equal regard.

Each man then carries his sea-ware to the ground that he is to cultivate that year, the allocation of which is also made by the drawing of lots. No horses are used, partly because many of the paths taken to reach these growing-grounds are impossible for them to navigate but mainly because there is insufficient pasture to support them.

The ground might be a straight ridge, but is more likely to follow a ' circular, serpentine, or zig-zag direction, round the intervening rocks, pools, or bogs'. The sea-ware is then spread, very thickly, on the surface of this narrow strip.

Next, taking a 'casdireach', a straight-handles spade, he cuts from the adjoining furrows as much suitable turf as is available. Another person, if one is available, collects these turves and packs them on top of the manure, sealing it from sight.

The feannagan are left like this until very late Spring when they are prepared for sowing. A heavy hoe is used to break the clods down which is almost as intensive a task as that of all the earlier operations. Only then can the barley seed be sown, or the potato cuttings planted closely together using a dibble. The harrowing is performed using a two-foot long hand-rake set with half-a-dozen wooden teeth.

The whole family, or at least those over 12, take part in this process, which is replicated throughout those parts of Harris that cannot be ploughed. The only exception is that, where they can be used, horses will carry the sea-ware and do the harrowing.

The quantities involved are prodigious, it taking 200 large creels of sea-ware to yield one boll of barley, or 12 to 14 barrels of potatoes.

'LAZY-beds'? - I think not!

“University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow. (1999) The Statistical Accounts of Scotland Account of 1791-99 vol.10 pp.352-354: Harris, County of Inverness . Available from: http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/

200 large Creels of sea-weed yield a Boll of barley or 12 -14 Barrels of potatoes...

The reference is to quantities witnessed towards the end of the 18thC in the Bays of Harris where 'feannagan', or 'lazy-beds', were the only possible means of cultivating the land.

In this piece I intend examining the quantities described, rather than the processes involved.

Creels are deep baskets with shoulder straps, carried over the back like a wicker rucksack.

A creel (over)full of peats can be seen here - http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/baihig/baihig0805.jpg

The 'boll' and 'barrel' were Scottish measures and it would be another half-century before all measures were standardised into the 'Imperial' system, itself lasting until Britain joined the EU in 1978 and the Metric system was adopted.

(As an aside, I recall as a child having to perform Arithmetic using Tons, Hundredweight, Stones, Pounds and Ounces in a manner that would baffle schoolchildren of the same age today.)

The Scottish Boll (from 'Bowl'), as it related to Barley, Oats, Malt, etc, was a measure of volume.

I boll = 4 firlots
1 firlot = 4 pecks
1 pecks = 4 lippies
so a boll was 4x4x4 = 64 lippies.

A lippie was 0.728 Imperial Gallons, therefore our 1 boll was about 46 and a half gallons, or 212 litres.

So our 200 creels of sea-weed produced 212 litres of Barley, about one litre per creel.

Turning to our Potatoes,

1 Barrel = 8 Gallons
1 Gallon = 8 Pints
So a Barrel was 8x8 = 64 Pints

A Pint was 3 Imperial Pints so 1 Barrel was 192 Imperial Pints, or 24 Imperial Gallons.

Although these are liquid measures, they help give us an impression of the quantity alluded to by our '12-14 barrels of potatoes'.

So our 200 creels of sea-weed produced about 13x192 Imperial Pints of Potatoes, about 12-13 pints per creel.

The choice is ours, a litre of barley or a dozen pints of potatoes, neither represents much of a return from that creel of sea-weed, does it?

Oh, and modern-day Canadian Wheat is considered excellent if it weighs 600g per litre...

A useful set of tables giving Scottish Measures is to be found here:

Comments on the 1792 Population of Harris

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland Account of 1791-99 vol.10 pp.342-392: Harris, County of Inverness contains a treasure-trove of information.

On p386 we are provided with a glimpse of the demography of Harris in 1792 and this is an attempt at extracting some information from the account:

When the Reverend Mr Macleod was appointed, he had found there to be no records so he did a head-count 'reckoning every soul above seven years old examinable' and found there to be 1805.

In 1792 he performed a more careful analysis, according to which that figure of 1805 souls 'above 7 years old' had risen to 2122 people, an increase of 317 or almost 18%.

He gives the 1792 population as 2536 in total, of which 1136 (45%) were male and 1400 (55%) female. There were 447 Heads of families, giving an average family size of between 5 and 6 people. Apparently 108 people could read and write and it would be interesting to compare this with other areas.

He then provides us with an age-profile for the Parish:

Under 7 –  414
7-14 –       368
14-50 –   1481
50-80 -      228
Over 80 –    45

The longevity of islanders is universally commented upon and here we can see that over 10% of the population were 50 and over and indeed he remarks that 'recently a women of 104 was buried'.

In 1792 there were 51 deaths which is described as an unusually large number due in large part to two epidemics, one of small-pox and the other of pestilential fever. The number of deaths in the years from 1779 to 1785 he describes as averaging less than 3 per year.

However, in that year there were 51 births in the Parish and another 53 'elsewhere' so it appears that even in this year of pestilence and pox the population was continuing its upward trend, abetted, no doubt, by the 12 marriages that took place!

Other factors that had led to the population increase since 1779 are cited as the lack of emigration, of a call to arms for the young men and the healthy state of the Kelp-industry.

Now, if we allow ourselves to presume that his mentioning 1779, and his earlier 'reckoning' having taken place when he began his tenure, as being simultaneous, then we have these figures for 'souls':

1779(1805 souls), 1792 – (2122 souls), but he also gives us an earlier figure from1755 (1769 souls).

This suggests that between 1755 and 1779 (24 years) the population increase had been a mere 2% whilst between 1755 and 1792 (47 years) it was almost 20% with the vast majority occurring during the second-half of that period. By any reckoning, that is a population explosion worthy of record!

Come 1831, the 2536 population of 1792 had leapt another 50% to 3810, comprising 1863 males, 2037 females, of 777 families in 759 houses and continued to rise during the course of the 19thC.

Today the figure is closer to that of 250 years ago...

These figures, along with a full account of Harris in 1792, can be seen here:

“University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow. (1999) The Statistical Accounts of Scotland Account of 1791-99 vol.10 pp.342-392: Harris, County of Inverness . Available from: http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1845

A (hopefully!) helpful guide.

CLICK this link: /http://edina.ac.uk/

(Items in bold italics indicate where to click on the ensuing pages)

E-books - The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1845 -CLICK

For non-subscribers -browse scanned pages – CLICK

Search by name – for example, type Harris – SEARCH

Reports available

Harris, County of Inverness. Account of 1791-99, volume 10, page 342 - CLICK
Harris, County of Inverness. Account of 1834-45, volume 14, page 155

You can then read the original scanned document.

Pages 352-355, within the section on agriculture, contains a detailed account of the construction and cultivation of 'lazy-beds'.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Church Beadles of the Western Isles

Today I came upon a phrase previously unknown to me – 'Church Beadle'.

Apparently, in the past it was the Beadle's role to take the Minister's Robes from Manse to Church, assist with the seating of the Parishioners, ensure Order was maintained during the Service, and then return the Robes to the Manse.

There are over 100 Church Beadles recorded in the Scottish censuses of 1841-1901, including 7 women, but only 2 in the whole of the Western Isles:

John Mackay, 28, Church Beadle, Scarista, Harris. b. Harris

John would therefore have been a visitor to or, perhaps, (as seems more likely to me) a resident of the Manse at Scarista which is known today as Scarista House:



He was also one of Finlay J Macdonald's Great grandfather's, being the father of Margaret (Peggy) Mackay who was the mother of Finlay's father, John Macdonald.

Angus Macdonald, 67, Free Church Beadle, South Dell, Barvas, b. Cross, Ross-shire

One of only 3 Free Church Beadles recorded in the censuses (the others being in 1851 & 1891 and on the mainland) Angus was serving the Manse and Church both built in 1850, 7 years after the 'establishment' of the Free Church.

An interesting account of Barvas from 1845:  http://www.c-e-n.org/census_1845.htm


Tairbeart, Na Hearadh (Tarbert, Harris)
('tair-beart' is Old Norse, meaning  'draw-boat', or portage)

Oifis a' Phuist, Stocinis

The Stockinish Post Office was run by three generations of
the Mackinnon family from its opening in 1896 until 2007.

Boat-House Blend

The precision of this once-beautiful boat's clinker-construction contrasts with the
apparently almost-random structure of the stone-masonry behind. 

...with grey abandon...

Leac a Li, Loch Stocinis, Na Hearadh

See, View...

Near North Bragar, Isle of Lewis

Colours of Berneraigh

Berneraigh, Sound of Harris, Western Isles, Scotland

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Adele and the 'Ayatollah'

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 where a 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 living in Rouen, France.

All four of the parents are already dead.

John Kerr was born in 1857 at Borve on the Isle of Harris. This future Minister is the son of a Carpenter according to the record of the 1851 census.

It is 1861 and 6 year-old John, the eldest of two children, is living in Little Borve 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 by Atlantic-swept shell-sand beaches. A decade later and this small family remains in Borve.

On the 23rd May 1877, Roderick Kerr, a Joiner of Borve, Harris, succumbs to 'supposed chronic and acute rheumatism'. He was 65 years old and it is the 20 year old John who witnesses the event with his 'Mark', an X. Now, I am as surprised by this as you probably are – How come a 20 year-old who is later study to become a Minister, is found to be 'illiterate'? Well, the simple answer is that I'm not sure! However, I have checked, double-checked and then done a bit more checking, and this HAS to be the right person. The Marriage certificate, the census data and my database of all from Harris who bear the name Kerr convinces me of the fact. But I did do another check, just now, just in case.

1881 finds 26 year-old (actually he's 24) 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 experience aided his progress into this World. I also wonder whether her knowledge helped limit her to only giving birth herself to John and Rachel?

It is now 1891 and our attention turns to foreign parts, but not the French mainland as might have been expected. 8 year-old Adele le Couvey, the middle of 5 children, is living at La Rue Faiveusaie(?) in the parish of St Saviour on the British 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 not of Arithmetic as he has shaved 4 years off his age, reducing it to 32.

In 1901 18 year-old Adele, is living at Le Bordage in the parish of St Peter's in the Wood (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 !), Guernsey where she is employed as a servant in the household of John G Lenfestey, a 57 year-old Grower. She 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 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 the path towards becoming the Minister living at The Manse, Scarista is unlikely to make this so.

At 9:30 in the evening of 1st April 1909, back in Borve, 85 year-old Christy Maclennan passes-away of old-age and the 52 year-old bachelor John becomes an orphan.

In November 1914 the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) began operating recreation centres for the troops in France and the Scottish Churches Huts Joint Committee of The Church of Scotland's Guild established 25 centres, manned by 350 workers, in France and Flanders. In his Marriage Certificate of 1918 John is described as 'Minister, Parish of Harris (Hut Worker YMCA)'. In Rouen, France.

Whilst it is easy for us to have an image of the 'Ayatollah' as described in the pages of Finlay J Macdonald's books, I think one should also dwell upon the fact that this 61 year-old man had the compassion, the humanity and the decency to follow the many, many islanders who went to that terrible conflict and to provide such support and assistance to his comrades, in their home tongue, as his advanced years allowed.

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 61 year-old reduced his true age by a mere 3 years. He was actually 26 years her senior!
John's paternal grandparents were John Kerr and Marion 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 almost certainly is one, the precise manner of our ancestral paths meeting is lost in time...

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

More on the YMCA and other volunteer agencies supporting the troops can be found here: