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, 30 June 2010


The last chime faded away as Mary's mind awoke. It was three O'clock in the afternoon of that sunny Sunday and the house, the street, the town were all asleep. Lying in her bed facing the large bay-window in her large semi-detached Victorian villa, Mary's memories began to play...

They knew the men were coming. The reception had been weeks in the planning. When the cry (in truth they were coded bird-calls) went out that unrecognised boats were heading to the mouth of Loch Shell all moved to their positions. The men stood listlessly and languorously in small groups, in pairs or alone. The women, with babes in arms and infants at their skirts, approached the landing site. The official party was met in this manner and, when the women's patience was exhausted, the Factor, the Sheriff and the would-be evictors were chased to their craft and sent back with their tails drooping bedraggled in the waters of the loch. Twenty year-old Mary had been one of those who had seen them off, but shortly after her turning twenty-one the party had returned and this time were met by none but those left to tend the crops.

The whole community had already embarked on their enforced exodus; roofs stripped of thatch and the precious timbers loaded onto boats, other boats held household chattels and a human cargo of the elderly and infirm. The droving parties had departed, taking the beasts to pastures new and, finally, the foot-party of walking women and children, with infants held breast-tight, turned and looked for one last time at the hills of Pairc and the remains of their loch-side homes. No fires, no roofs, the short walls with their grass-topped cavities lying-low within the landscape never again to resonate with the sound of human habitation.

Mary's hand, beyond conscious control, closed tightly on the blanket and a tear formed in her eye.

Steinish. Her memory had jumped, taking the family in an instant to their new home. No familiar hills, no sight of the Shiant islands, no father. A husband. Children. Stornoway.

Life was never easy but she had chosen well. Malcolm was a quiet man, sober in his habits, respected by his adopted town but who only really came alive when he was at sea. The sea. It had given her grandfather his living burning kelp (and taken his sight in exchange), it had nearly taken one of her sons not once, but twice, and it was fitting that the man who's photograph she held had been consigned to lie forever beneath its waves.

News of the first shipwreck, in 1890, had come with the arrival of the vessel's owner at her door. Murdo had first been to tell Alex's wife the news and had then hurried through the wind and rain to let his Master's mother know that her son was safe, whilst the ship and its cargo had been smashed upon the rocks. Malcolm had merely said that, as a Harris man, he should have ignored his wife and piloted their son through the Sound of Harris and Mary silently thought that if that had been the case she could have been facing a double-tragedy that January evening. Alex came ashore at the spot where his grandfather had been born.

The clock ticked on.

A few years later she had given-up on trying to prevent the old man from adventuring with their son and so it was that news reached her in 1898 that Malcolm was no more. The trip to Ireland in December was bound to be difficult but the 76 year-old wasn't going to let Alex face it without him. They had enjoyed several years of coastal trading together aboard the vessels that Alex had owned and the Crest had given good service ever since they collected her from Tobermory and had made Stornoway her home.

Two days into the voyage Malcolm's health had started to give Alex concern and he decided to make for Oban to give his father a rest. In the Sound of Kerrera, at the Horseshoe Sound, Malcolm's diseased heart gave its final beat on the 15th of December 1898. An inquest was held in Oban, the Master and Owner Alex had to wait both for it and the arrival of a crewman from Stornoway so it wasn't until the end of the year that they were able to proceed to Belfast. Carrying Malcolm with them until, when Alex's telescope revealed a glimpse of the hills of Harris on the horizon, his body was given to the sea.

Mary's thumb gently stroked the image and a second tear began to form.

The clock was ticking beyond her hearing and her mind led her to 1903 and the second wreck. Crest. Alex. Kebock Head. Loch Shell. It was the 18th of April when she was lost, driven by the gale onto this isolated, cruel headland and the men had trudged through the night the four treacherous miles that led to the nearest lights. They were those of Orinsay, the place where Mary had been born and from which she had been driven just two months short of sixty years before.

The clock was ticking.

The Sun, lying low in the West and reflected by the wavelets of Bayhead, was casting ripples onto the curtains, the light gently caressing the lids of Mary's eyes. The rippling became that of the waters of Loch Shell and the sound of children playing, of laughter and singing, reached Mary's ears. The photograph slowly slipped from her fingers and was replaced by a familiar hand. She felt his grip and, as the clock reached twenty-past three on March the 22nd 1908, Mary knew that she was now reunited with Malcolm forever...

The people, places and events described are based upon fact but with embellishment.
Mary and Malcolm were my grandfather's grandparents.
Documents 16-22 in the link below describe the Loch Shell clearances: http://www.angusmacleodarchive.org.uk/browse/index.php?path=%252F2.%2BHistory%2Bof%2BPairc%252C%2BLewis

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Commander Henry Charles Otter's Host in 1851

I mentioned that Captain Otter and his wife were in Portsea visiting a General in the Royal Engineers.
The Roll of Honour site provides a photograph of the General's memorial at All Saint's Church, Crondall, Hampshire (http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Hampshire/Crondall.html) and the inscription reads:

IN 1793, 94 & 95
BORN 1776 DIED 1856


BORN 1815 DIED 1841

A remarkable career from the age of 17 to 35. The General's 35 year-old son, Captain Thomas Francis Birch RN, was also present so there are plenty of reasons to speculate as to why the Otter's were paying them a visit at this time. I cannot find any reference to Captain Birch's involvement in the surveys of Scotland but he appears to have spent several years prior to 1851 serving in China and I have seen one mention of him regarding a chart of Shanghai.

Monday, 28 June 2010

What would George Thomas think...

...if he knew that in 2007 a survey that he had made in 1843/4 would be cited in an accident report?

If you click on the link and search for 'Mastiff' you will see the reference:

It is a reminder of how dangerous the seas remain and how much more dangerous they were in the days before men like Lieutenant Commander Thomas made charting the waters around our coasts their life's work.

With him at the time were his son, Lieutenant FWL Thomas, and his future Son-in-Law, Surgeon James McBain.

The Bousfield/Thomas Family of London & Leith

This is a summary of the 12 members of these two families that came together in 1827 when the widower George Thomas and the widow Elizabeth Dingley were married. The wedding of only-child Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield to eldest-child Frederick William Leopold Thomas in 1841 further strengthened the bond. Where a range of dates is given, or a '?' shown, I have been unable to establish the event with certainty but I am reasonably confident that the two Thomas children for whom I can only find their Birth recorded died, probably in infancy, not least as their names were each used for a second time.

GEORGE THOMAS (b. 1780s?- d.1846?)
PRISCELLA FRIMBLY (b.? - d. 1825-27

GEORGE WILLIAM BOUSFIELD (b. 1798 - buried. 9 Mar 1823 St Peter, Frimley, Surrey)
ELIZABETH DINGLEY (b. 1798 - d. poss1852)

The Thomas's had six children, the Bousfield's just one, and only one grandchild.
All twelve people are listed here by the year of their Death:

George Howard Thomas b. 12 Jan 1814 d. ?
Ellen Dinah Thomas b. 1819 d. ?
PRISCELLA FRIMBLY b. ? d 1825-27
GEORGE THOMAS b 1780s d. 1846?
George Hurd Thomas b. 1820 d. 1848 Single
George Bousfield Thomas b1844 d 1850 Rose Cottage, Trinity, Leith
ELIZABETH DINGLEY b. 1798 d. 1852?
Ellen Sarah McBain (MS Thomas) b. 1825 d. 1877 North Leith
(James McBain b 1808 Kirriemuir d. 1879 North Leith) No children
Frederick William Leopold Thomas b. 2 May 1816 d. 1885 Rose Park, Trinity North Leith
Frances Sarah Thomas Beckett (MS Bousfield) b. 1821 d. 1902 Craighouse, Edinburgh
(m. 1st FWL Thomas m. 2nd James Flowers Beckett 1902, who had no children)
Georgiana Martha Thomas b. 1823 d. 1904 Newington, Edinburgh Single
(1901 28 Sciennes Road, Newington, Edinburgh)

It does seem remarkable to me that in less than 90 years both of these family lines had ended but as only three of the children married (and only one of these outside of the two the families) perhaps it is not altogether surprising. James McBain had been George Thomas's Surgeon on HMS Mastiff and very likely with him when he died but, despite marrying into the family, he left no issue. Frances Sarah, when she remarried, chose a man she had known since early on in her many years living in Edinburgh but he too died childless. There are a couple of nieces that might prove a link to the present but otherwise Georgiana's death in 1904 marked the end.

However, the work they left behind them in the form of pioneering hydrographic surveying, archaeological investigations and supporting the development of Harris Tweed, Stocking Knitting, the building of the Free Church at Tarbert and the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital should ensure that their memories will live on...

Note: Summary of the seven children in order of their Birth:
George Howard Thomas1814-? No further record
Frederick W L Thomas 1816-1885 Married Frances
Ellen Dinah Thomas 1819-? No further record
George Hurd Thomas 1820-1848 Single
Frances Sarah Bousfield 1821-1902 Married Frederick
Georgiana Martha Thomas 1823-1904 Single
Ellen Sarah 1825-1877 Married James McBain – No children

Survey Ships of George & FWL Thomas

Here are some notes on four vessels intimately connected to the lives of George and FWL Thomas and their part in the surveying of the coasts of Scotland.:

HMS INVESTIGATOR 1811-1857 Survey Brig Armament 16 121 tons
1811 Commander George Thomas
1815 Frith of Forth Chart published
1821 In commission and employed on voyages of discovery and survey duties.
1825 10th November Whilst employed surveying the coast has been severely damaged in the gales which have swept the North Sea in recent days, her bulwarks being stove in, and her boats washed away, and it is feared that her tender has foundered with all hands.
1827 FWL Joins at the age of 10 or 11
1830 Shetlands as a Surveying Vessel
1835 January FWL passes Mate exam
1836 George Thomas and FWL Leave after 25 and 9 years service, respectively

HMS MASTIFF 1813-1851 Gun-Brig Armament 12 184 tons
1837 Commander George Thomas and Mate FWL Thomas join
1840 29th March Woolwich the Mastiff and the Fairy surveying vessels, and the Violet and Woodlark tenders, are to leave for their summer survey on the 7th of next month
1840 20th of November arrived Woolwich from survey duties at the Orkney Islands
1841 9th April Woolwich, will he paid to-morrow, and sail for the North Sea, to resume her surveying duties during the season.
1841 3rd July Mate J. A. St. Leger, Mastiff, promoted to Lieutenant
1841 August Mate & Assistant Surveyor FWL Thomas promoted to Lieutenant. It is not clear at what point he joined the accompanying tender Woodlark.
1841 4th September Mate E. J. B. Clarke (1834), of the Mastiff, promoted to Lieutenant.
1841 13th November Woolwich, arrived from the Orkney Islands, and remains here during the winter.
1841 27th November Acting Master Wells, of the Mastiff, promoted to Master.
1841 11th December Second Master ----- Wells acting Master of the Mastiff, promoted to Master.
1841 17th December Assistant-Surgeon J. Macbean promoted to be Surgeon, and reappointed to Mastiff. James McBain was to later marry Ellen Sarah Thomas, George's daughter and FWL's sister.
1846 George Thomas dies aboard returning from Orkney Isles

WOODLARK 1821-1863 Survey Vessel's Tender
1840 29th March Woolwich The Mastiff and the Fairy surveying vessels, and the Violet and Woodlark tenders, are to leave for their summer survey on the 7th of next month
1841 13th November Woolwich, arrived from the Orkney Islands, and remains here during the winter.
1845 Lieutenant FWL Thomas appointed as Master
1848 20th December Tender to Mastiff, survey vessel
1850 In Alloa, according to letters from FWL to Petrie regarding archaeology of Orkney Isles
1857 East Loch Tarbert Chart Lieutenant FWL Thomas
1860 January FWL promoted to Commander
1860 Tender to Fisgard, Guardship at Woolwich
1861 In Harris – Master James Sutherland from Orkney (Porcupine in Portree)

HMS PORCUPINE 1844-1883 Armament 3 382 tons Displacement 556 tons Paddle 285 hpi 132 hp
1845 Captain Otter Surveying West Coast of Scotland
1857 Sound of Harris Chart (FWL surveying for East Loch Tarbert Chart)
1858 Transatlantic Telegraph Cable (Otter's piloting saved the cable from foundering off Newfoundland)
1860 Surveying Western Isles Captain Otter
1861 Portree (Captain Otter in Dagenham visiting his brother, Woodlark in Harris)
1864 FWL Thomas retires aged 48. I don't think he served ON the Porcupine, but he certainly served in accompaniment WITH her.

I have combined several snippets of information in compiling these notes in order to give as full a picture as possible of who was doing what, where and when. Discovering James McBain aboard the Mastiff on the 17th of December 1841 was an unexpected bonus!

Source: http://www.pbenyon.plus.com/Naval.html
I happenstanced upon this wonderful online resource whilst searching for information on HMS Investigator and have yet to explore it in detail.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Charting the Coast of Scotland

These charts cover the 50 years of Marine Surveying from the careers of George Thomas and his son FWL Thomas. I have included a few of those from Henry Otter as evidence of his continuing presence in the area and made some comments:

Frith of Forth 1815 – George Thomas
George served from 1810 until his death in 1846 aboard the Mastiff. I believe he was buried at sea. Oh, and 'Frith' is what appears on the chart!
(Stornoway Harbour 1846 - Otter)
(Lochs Erisort,etc 1848 - Otter)
(West Loch Tarbert 1849 – Captain C G Robinson)
(North Minch 1849 – Otter)
Orkney Islands 1850 – G Thomas & FWL Thomas
Showing what work was being done in the Western Isles during the 1840s, the period when father and son were completing their work in the Orkneys.
East Loch Tabert 1857 – FWL Thomas
(Sound of Harris 1857 – Otter)
I made reference previously to the fact that these two areas were being surveyed simultaneously.
Sound of Harris to Aird Bhreidhnis, including Lochs Tarbert & Resort 1860 – FWL Thomas
This chart is especially interesting as it shows the Shop, School, Mill and Inn in An-t-Obb, putting the Inn at foot of road to Rodel which contradicts with the position shown on an earlier map. I recommend comparing the chart with Google Street view to spot which buildings remain, and those built during the intervening 150 years!
Monachs etc 1860 - Otter
Hebrides or Western Isles 1865 – Otter, FWL Thomas
The last chart in the collection that is attributed to FWL Thomas and the 1871 census shows that he had retired six years after this chart's publication.

I hope that this brief summary gives an impression of the extent of the work that was being performed around the Western Isles by these men but the best way of appreciating their dedication and craftsmanship is to look at the charts online, which can be done by clicking the link provided.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Fishing in Fife

My previous entry left us with Frances Bousfield and Georgiana Martha Thomas in Deptford.

By 1851, Frances had become Mrs FWL Thomas and the recently bereaved couple, although normally living at Rose cottage in Trinity, Leith were lodging in Culross. I felt it only fair to see what had become of Georgiana and was pleasantly surprised to find the following household:

Jas Mcbain, 43, Surgeon RN Half Pay, Park Place, Elie, Fife, b. Kirriemuir, Forfar
Helen Mcbain, 26, Wife, b. England
Elizabeth Thomas, 53, Widow of Commander RN, Mother-in-Law, b. England
Georgina Thomas, Daughter of Commander RN, Sister-in-Law, b. England
Ann Smith, 14, Scholar, Niece, b. Pitlochry, Strathtay, Perthshire
Elizabeth Campbell, 26, House Servant, b. Pittenweem, Fife

'Jas' is James McBain, 'Helen' is Ellen Sarah (Thomas), Elizabeth is FWL's mother and Georgina is his other sister. What is slightly confusing is why Priscilla Thomas has changed her name to Elizabeth?

As far as I can tell, this places all the known surviving members of FWL's family in Scotland in 1851 and only about 40 miles apart from each other.

I think that's a fair day's catch from the East Coast!

But I have left the biggest fish until last:

Back in 1827, on the 30th of January in the church of St Mary at Lambeth, a widower called George Thomas of St Paul, Deptford, married a widow called Elizabeth Bousfield. You may recall that I was bemused by Frances Sarah Bousfield being baptised for a second time on the 30th of March 1827 at the church of St Mary at Lambeth? Now, at last, all is clear!

Her mother remarried and Frances added the surname of her stepfather, Thomas, to her own. The Elizabeth Thomas of 1851 was the same Elizabeth Bousfield who gave birth to Frances and who became the step-mother to George Thomas's children. Fred and Fanny were not introduced by his sister, because for 14 years prior to their marriage they had been step-brother and sister!

Confirmation that I am correct is provided by the entry on Fred's Death Certificate where the informant, clearly confused by the connection, states that his widow was born Frances Sarah Frimbly, ascribing to Fanny neither the surname of her father (Bousfield) nor her mother (Dingley) but that of Fred's mother (Frimbly).

I have come across some tangled webs before in my researches, but never one that fallen into place quite so completely, or with quite such complexity, as this one has just done.

To reiterate:

George Thomas m Priscella Frimbly and had several children including FWL Thomas
George Bousfield m Elizabeth Dingley and had one child, Frances Sarah Bousfield

George Thomas m Elizabeth Bousfield (MS Dingley)
Frances baptised for a second time as Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield.

FWL Thomas m Frances S T Bousfield

I hope that's clear – I need a lie-down!

How Fred Met Fanny

I have been exploring a bit more into the backgrounds of Captain FWL Thomas and Frances Sarah Bousfield and a rather romantic penny has just dropped.

Frederick, unlike only-child Frances, had several siblings:
Children of George Thomas and Priscella Frimbly (m. 20Nov 1810 St George the Martyr, Southwark)
Frederick William Leopold b. 2 May 1816 bap. 2 Jun 1816 St George the Martyr, Southwark
d.25 Oct 1885 Rose Park, Trinity, Leith
George Howard b.12 Jan 1814 bap. 2 Jun 1816 St George the Martyr (cannot find his death)

Ellen Dinah bap. 10 Feb 1819 St Paul, Deptford, Lewisham (cannot find marriage or death)
George Hurd bap. 13 Mar 1820 St Paul, Deptford – Buried 30 Jul 1848 Kensington, London
Georgiana Martha Thomas 12 Feb 1823 St Paul, Deptford
Ellen Sarah bap. 13 Apr 1825 St Paul, Deptford ( m. James McBain, Surgeon RN, 13 Jan 1846 at St Paul, Deptford)

Firstly, of course, we notice the fact that FWL had an older brother who was baptised alongside him. This reminds us that the boys father was a naval surveyor. As is the case with the first sister called Ellen, I have been unable to find this older sibling again in the records but the repetition of the names George and Ellen is perhaps indicative that George Howard and Ellen Dinah did not survive for very long? The second brother, George Hurd, died at the age of 28 in 1848 but I have not found a record of him marrying.

However, it is Fred's sister Georgiana who provides the link with Frances for, in the 1841 census I had previously identified as living at Broomfield Place, St Paul, Deptford, Kent:

Sarah Bousfield, 30, Governess, b. elsewhere
Frances Bousfield, 20, Independent b. elsewhere (ie Surrey)

But I hadn't paid any particular attention to the next person on the census return:

Georgiana Thomas, 15, Independent b. In this county

Fred's sister was living with Frances, whom he would wed on the 2nd of December of that same year at St Paul, Deptford. I am allowing myself to imagine that it was on a visit to his sister, living away from her family (quite possibly at the Benevolent Home for Girls, the 1841 census is not clear on such matters!), that the uniformed young Royal Navy officer met the orphaned young lady who would soon become his companion for life...

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Porcupine and Woodlark

I was hoping that following these two Royal Navy Survey vessels might assist with my research into the work of Lieutenant FWL Thomas who in 1845 was appointed as Master of the Woodlark.
This was the ship that he was using to survey the Western Isles whilst Captain Henry Otter had HMS Porcupine engaged on the same task. Prior to this, Fred Thomas had been surveying the Orkney Isles with his father, George Thomas.

Unfortunately the key records, those of 1851 are non-existent, but I think the two may have been in the Atlantic on work associated with preparations for the first Transatlantic Telegraph Cable. It has been pointed-out to me by my kind correspondent that there are letters from Captain FWL Thomas confirming the Woodlark's presence in Alloa (a mere 10 miles upstream from Culross) in the late 1840s and 1850. Once again, I am most grateful to her for bringing the significance of this to my attention. Captain Otter was in Portsea visiting a Royal Engineer and as this was the branch of the Army that dealt with surveying we can assume that they were discussing matters relating to their work.

However, by 1861 an Orkneyman, James Sutherland, 44, was Master of the Woodlark and he, together with his wife and three children, were aboard her in Harris. This reveals not only a new Master but also her continued presence in Harris. Even better, he has his family with him showing us that Lieutenant Thomas having his wife Frances in tow was not unique. The Porcupine was in Portree with her two Second Masters aboard. Captain Otter was in England with his wife visiting his brother in Dagenham..

By 1871 the Porcupine is in Sunderland (the Woodlark elsewhere) and in 1881 both vessels are at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. In this year and in 1891 the Woodlark's Master, Mark Aaron, has his wife and children with him continuing the trend that at least two earlier Masters had set.

Overall I think that these little snippets of information are helpful in giving us just a little more insight into the role of these vessels and the lives of those who were in charge of them – not forgetting the children who must have had a wonderful, if somewhat unusual, education!

NOTE: I have new information regarding these two vessels: This Woodlark was disposed-of in 1863 and the Porcupine in 1883. Clearly the Woodlark of 1881 and 1891 cannot be FWL's ship, but I've left this piece as written not least as a reminder that there are still plenty of red herrings in the sea!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital

In 1901, 29 year-old District Nurse Sally Macleod from Assynt in Sutherland was the only resident of this establishment. It had been built and endowed by Mrs Frances Sarah Thomas to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

I must thank a kind correspondent who brought an obituary of Mrs Thomas that was written in 1902 to my attention, for it contains the only reference to this institution that I am aware of. It is not labelled on the 1903 OS 1:10,560 map which was the first to be published after the hospital had been built. However, there is a building shown on that map that is not evident on the 1-inch map of 1896, and an examination of it on Google Streetview leads me to consider it to be a prime candidate for the Cottage Hospital. It lies up a short track from the road that was completed in 1897, at Grid Reference NG101895.

If anyone has any information on Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital, a building that is surely of historical significance on Harris, I would be most grateful to learn of it.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Lieutenant Flowers Beckett RN (c1776-1862)

On the 16th of June 1804, 26 year-old London-born Flowers Beckett was appointed as Master's Mate on HMS Spartiate. The Navy List shows him as being a Lieutenant on Christmas Eve of the same year. HMS Spartiate participated in the Battle of Trafalgar and hers is the only flag to have survived. It was sold for £384000 in Oct 2009.

Flowers survived the conflict and in 1817 his son, James Flowers Beckett, was born in Hythe, Hampshire. James followed his father into the Royal Navy and became a Master on the 9th of November 1846. The following year his father, Flowers Beckett, is listed as being an Outpatient of Greenwich Hospital.

On the 31st October 1848 James Flowers Beckett married Edinburgh-born Margaret Laurie in the Parish of St Cuthbert's Edinburgh and the census of 1851 shows James F Beckett, 34, Master Royal Navy On Halfpay, living at Joy Cottage, Laverock Bank, Trinity, North Leith, with Margaret and a couple of House Servants. His 76 year-old father meanwhile was in Ditton Marsh, Thames Ditton, England. Also living in Leith at this period were Lieutenant FWL Thomas and his wife Frances.

By 1861 the Becketts are at 15 Buckland Crescent in Hampstead, just off the Finchley Road at Swiss Cottage for those familiar with North London. With them are their nieces Laura MacNeil, 13, and Donna MacNeil, 11, from Scotland and three servants.

Flowers Beckett, now 86 and a Retired Lieut. Royal Navy is at 20 Anglesea Villas, Hammersmith and in June 1862 his death is registered at Kensington.

In 1871 we find James F Beckett, 54, Staff Commander RN Reserve List at 23 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, with Margaret, niece Laura Macenil, 23, a visitor Adele Bruce, 30, who had been born in France together with a Cook, a Housemaid and a Page. A decade later they had moved half-a-mile North to 3 St John's Gardens, Kensington, remaining close to Holland Park. Laura Macneil is still with them at the age of 33 and living On Dividends and the staff now comprise a Cook, a Parlourmaid and a Housemaid.

The Becketts then move to East Susses and in June 1888 Margaret Beckett's death at the age of 69 is registered at Battle. On the 2nd July 1890 widower James Flowers Beckett and widow Fanny Thomas are married at All Saints, Paddington. His address is given as Hollington Park, which is near St Leonards/Hastings in East Sussex and hers as 19 Talbot Sq, Hyde Park in London.

Fanny Thomas is, of course, the widow of Captain FWL Thomas and 40 years ago the couples had been Naval neighbours in Trinity, North Leith.

The Beckett residence is 'Arondel', a house in the Hollington Park area of the somewhat confusing triangle of Hollington, Hastings and St Leonards. Laura Macneil the 43 year-old niece from Campbelltown, remains with them in 1891 along with four Domestic Maids. In 1901 James Flowers and Frances remain with a Ladies Companion, a Cook, a Housemaid and a Parlourmaid but no Laura.

Finally, in 1902 Frances Sarah Beckett died in Edinburgh but I have been unable to discover with certainty when the twice-widowed James Flowers Beckett was reunited with his two wives.

And my reason for telling this tale? Well, we know that Frances had been trading tweeds in London whilst living in Leith and I wonder whether it was her ex-Edinburgh neighbours and fellow Royal Navy (and apparently childless) couple James Flowers Beckett and his Scottish wife Margaret who acted as her agents during their years in London? Laura Macneil may have played a part, too...

Note: Flowers Beckett's participation at the Battle of Trafalgar can be seen here:

Update: Flowers Beckett was Baptised on the 5th of February 1775 at St George, Bloomsbury in Camden, Middlesex. His parents were Peter Beckett and his wife, Frances. Peter Beckett had married Frances Flowers  on the 13th of February 1774 at St Marylebone, Middlesex and this gives us the origin of their son's unusual Christian name. On the 31st of March 1776 the couple baptised their daughter, Ann, at St George's, Bloomsbury. Unfortunately I have not been able to discover what became of Ann.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

George Bousfield Thomas 1844-1850

On the 31st of July 1844 George Bousfield Thomas was Baptised at St Paul, Deptford, England. 6 year-old George Bosfield Thomas died on the 1st of July 1850 at the family home, Rose Cottage, Trinity in the Parish of St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh. The cause of death is given as 'Water in Head' which I presume to describe Hydrocephalus or 'Water on the Brain'.

The lack of any further children in the records suggests that his mother may have been unable to bear any more following the birth of George. I believe the loss of their son to have been pivotal in the relationship that his parents, Lieutenant FWL Thomas RN and his wife Frances, were to develop with the Western Isles of Scotland. In particular, I do not think that Mrs Thomas would have devoted her life to the development of textile industries on the Isle of Harris had she also had a family. Little George's death marks, for me, the birth of Harris Tweed.

It also allows us to say that the Thomas's were already living in Leith by 1850 whilst the earliest census record of them there is that of 1861. The 1851 census saw them lodging in Culross, Perthshire, but that was not because they were making their way to Edinburgh (as I once thought), but for some reason found themselves away from their usual home in Leith.

In 1861 that home was 8 Trinity Crescent, Leith and the 44 year-old Commander RN and Marine Surveyor and his wife were joined by five others. They were Ann Morrison, their 19 year-old Domestic Servant from Uig, Lewis, her 15 year-old colleague Marion Macleod from Harris and three Sailors from the Orkneys. An interesting and unusual household.

The household of 1871, by which time Frederick has retired, is less noteworthy but that of 1881 contains a surprise. The couple were joined by Fanny Macdonald, their Cook from Harris, and Housemaid Dolina Macleod from Uig, Lewis but the surprise is provided by Jessie Davidson, 15, their 'Adopted Daughter' from Harris.

The only match for her is Janet Davidson, daughter of Alexander Davidson, Minister of the Manish Free Church in Harris. She apparently returned to Harris by 1891 when she was living at Duncan Macrae's home in Hamlets Little Borve. He was the Farmer there and her relationship appears to be that of '?ailor' yet the 25 year-old Jessie is described as Unemployed.

However, that is not what interests me. It is the use of the phrase 'Adopted Daughter' that I find intriguing. Jessie was taken under the Thomas's wing by 1881 yet her father remained the Minister at Manish until at least 1891 and her widowed mother was still living in Manish in 1901. The answer is partially supplied in 1892 when, on the 6th of July, the Manish Free Church Minister's daughter Jessie marries Donald Tulloch Mackay from Tiree, where he is a Free Church Minister! They return to Tiree where, by 1901, she has born Donald two sons.

Quite why the Thomas's took Jessie to Edinburgh is unclear but that they thought of her as their Adopted Daughter is, I think, very moving and provides another insight into this remarkable couple, who lost their one child, George Bousfield Thomas, 160 years ago next month.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Women’s Work in Harris (Hebrides)

The British Friend: A Monthly Journal, Volume 46, Issue 9, page 228-29. (Glasgow). 1888.

As far as I can tell, this article has not been addressed in previous considerations of the history of Harris Tweed. I have included my observation within the original text:

In the year 1857 the Hydrographic Survey reached the Long Island (Lewis), the largest of the Hebrides or Western Islands.The survey was being conducted by the late Captain F.W.L. Thomas, of the Royal Navy, and other officers, whom we need not name, for it is not of the scientific work, important as that was, that we mean to say a few words, but of a philanthropic undertaking begun in a very humble way indeed, but grown to very large proportions, and having its origins in the wide human sympathies of the commander of the Woodlark. 
The Navy List shows that on the 9th May 1845 Lieut. Commdr. FWL Thomas took command of the Woodlark, a Tender to Mastiff, the 1813 vessel whose Mate he had first become on 6th May 1840. His father, George Thomas, was Master of the Mastiff and they had been surveying around the Orkeney Isles together in 1838 and the 1850 Chart bears both their names. In 1845 George Thomas died and the following year the Mastiff was retired from service. The author points to 'the wide human sympathies' of the Captain as key to this story about his wife's work with the women of Harris.

He was accompanied by his wife, and, to make living in Harris, which is the southern and most barren part of The Long Island, possible, they had a wooden home erected on shore.
This is of great interest. It tells us that the pair maintained a presence on the isle that was of some duration and independent of the Dunmore family and their Factors.

They had recently met with a very severe domestic bereavement; but far from wrapping themselves up in their own sorrows, they were on the watch to relieve those who were suffering in other ways.
On the 31st of July 1844 George Bousfield Thomas was Baptised at St Paul, Deptford. I can find no further record of him. It is to be presumed, therefore, that he died in Scotland prior to the census of 1851 as Statutory Registration had not yet begun there (It was introduced in England in 1837). I have now located the death of George Bosfield Thomas on the 1st of July 1850 in the Parish of St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh. The lack of any further children in the censuses suggests that Frances may have been unable to bear any following the birth of George. That, at a time when infant deaths were far from uncommon, would explain why it was 'a very severe domestic bereavement' and, I venture to suggest, a turning point not only in the lives of the couple but of those whose lives they were to touch.

Captain Thomas called the attention of his wife to the extreme poverty of the Islanders, and suggested that she might do something to help them. Thereupon, this delicate young English lady made a tour of investigation, and, as she understood no Gaelic, there was no danger of being imposed upon by tales of hardship. But her own quick powers of observation furnished abundant material to stir to it’s depths her warm heart, and to set her active brain to work.
At this point, we need to remind ourselves that this account was composed some thirty years after the events that it purports to describe and for an audience raised on Romanticism.

For the men of this district there was no employment except scratching the poor soil which barely covers the rock of which the south-eastern and most wretched part of Harris is composed. Sometimes, they can go away to the fishing, but fish caught about their coast, though affording a precarious supply of food, cannot find a market owing to the cost of transit to the mainland.
The men would have happily worked the rich, fertile soils of the West coast (which the author significantly overlooks) as Crofters rather than being employees, regardless of the occupation on offer!

The woman’s work however, suggested possibilities to their philanthropic visitor who had a pair of stockings knitted by a poor widow. They looked as if meant for a pony, they were so queerly shaped, or rather misshapen; and the worsted, which claimed to be white, had taken into it’s embrace every stray fibre of heather, wool, or hair, while variety of shade as well as texture united to produce a most repulsive looking garment for the human foot. Nothing daunted, the brave little Englishwoman resolved to teach the women of Harris to knit well and to shape well.
I don't think one needs to have a PhD in Anthropology to know that in 'traditional' human societies people take great pride in their work so, whilst it is likely that 'the brave little Englishwoman' played her part in selecting styles and sizes for the stockings, I do not believe that there was a hosiery hiatus on Harris prior to her arrival. Oh, and having 'bits' woven into ones textiles as described was years before its time, anyway!

When she returned to Edinburgh for the winter, she told every person she met of their work and their privations; and all this she has continued to do unremittingly for about thirty years, with such good effect that the Harris stockings got the FIRST PRIZE at the Edinburgh Exhibition of 1886; and from Ceylon to Labrador, and in all the wide stretch between, Harris stockings and sox have added comfort and health to many a household; while to solitary bachelors they have been a special blessing by reducing darning to a minimum!
Ignoring the FIRST PRIZE (the capitals are there in the original) what we do have here is evidence that the Stocking Industry was still thriving in 1888 and that these products were widely available.

By this industry Mrs Thomas is able to keep four hundred women in constant work.
This is an astonishing claim that, if true, meant that somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of the female population who were above school age were knitters!

But she has also been the principal means of developing another department of women’s work -- the making of homespun. It struck her on first visiting the people as an excellent wear for our fitful climate, and about the same time, the late Dowager Countess of Dunmore, to whose young son the island belonged, conceived the same idea. To these two ladies is due the introduction of tweed as a dress material for gentlemen, and even for ladies. There are endless imitations of the real Harris homespun, but they can easily be recognized by any one acquainted with the genuine product. It is made from fleeces sent down by Mrs. Thomas, and the women card, dye, and spin the wool; and then weave the thread into cloth on old-fashioned hand looms, one of which may be seen going at the Glasgow Exhibition. The wool is dyed from products of the islands such as peat soot and lichen from the rocks. The tints are the true art colours, now so fashionable, and always favoured by Friends. They are hygienic, too, which many chemical dyes are not. At the Edinburgh Exhibition, the Tweed gained the medal for excellence of make.
The key phrase here is 'the principal means of developing' for, whilst the author gives equal credit to the two ladies for creating the industry, it is the business organisation skills of Mrs Thomas that are seen as key to its expansion. There is no mention of the earlier development; no uniforms for the Estate workers, no training of weavers - that doesn't mean that they didn't occur but it does cast further doubt on the significance of those events occurring at a time when Clearances were commonplace and starvation stalked the land.

For stockings, Paton’s best worsted of every variety is sent down; and last year the tweed and stockings sold amounted to more than 2,000 pounds. The kind foster-mother of the poor Harris people devotes life and living to their interests, and goes through an amount of head work and bodily toil that would do credit to twenty persons of more than average capacity.
John Paton of Alloa had begun his business in the 1770s and some say that it was there that the Paisley Sisters were trained. Clearly Mrs Thomas was accessing Paton's best worsted (the yarn, not the cloth!) to fuel her four-hundred knitters but whether that points to earlier collaboration between Alloa and Harris is a moot, and sadly mute, point.

Perhaps the greatest benefit she has conferred on the people has been helping between 700 and 800 of them to emigrate to Canada, where they have got on remarkably well.
We are not told in what way she delivered this 'help' and at this point the author is toeing the Establishment line, a toe that peeks out from all those stockings as we recall that Assisted Emigration to Canada was established in the same year that this account was published.

She has also brought to Edinburgh many girls who have credibly acquitted themselves in digestive service; she has also brought up boys to be taught trades. Mrs Thomas has also provided some food for the children at various schools, and the Inspectors remarked with good results! During the past winter no riots or law-breaking occurred in Harris though the people are much worse off than those in Lewis.
There were a mere four women from Harris in Domestic Service in Edinburgh in 1881, and only two a decade later, but it is entirely possible that Mrs Thomas encouraged her friends to give some of the girls employment. The phrase 'brought up boys' is intriguing but too ambiguous to be expanded upon and I have yet to find the School Inspectors' reports! The 'riots or law-breaking' is a direct reference to the Pairc Deer Raid of 1887, an event that certainly took place in Lochs, Lewis but equally certainly in which several Hearachs participated! The author is clearly displaying the prevailing wisdom of the age, a wisdom that totally misunderstood the demands of the raiders in Lewis as surely as it 'observed' the apparent acquiescence in Harris.

Mrs. Thomas has now opened a depot in London, and a smaller depot is established at 41 Gray Street, Newington, Edinburgh. And travellers will find it greatly to their advantage to secure garments of those imperishable manufactures for Highland or Norwegian excursions, and thus benefiting themselves and the industrious women of Harris.
Having invited the reader to buy-into the concept, the author proceeds to inform them of where they can buy the produce, whether in London or Edinburgh. This address in Edinburgh is worthy of further investigation.

J. N. Sinclair
I have not been able to identify J N Sinclair, although the lack of a title suggests to me a man, and one well-known to his readership. Overall, and if we ignore the more purple of his passages, J N Sinclair paints a picture of a couple who despite (perhaps as a result of) some private trauma devoted their active adult years to the islands. They lived, for a while, on Harris and amongst his many photographs there is one of the Captain's yacht (I haven't seen it) which suggests that he used his leisure time to further his (rather better documented) explorations. But the Captain's contributions are altogether a subject in their own right and it is Mrs Thomas in whom my current interest lies. This English Solicitor's daughter evidently took an active and enduring role in developing Harris Tweed and Stocking-Knitting as viable industries. It is a shame that, having spent so much time and energy in doing so, she didn't find the time to record her work for posterity. Unless, of course, languishing somewhere and waiting to be explored are the archives of her businesses in Edinburgh and London, plus whatever personal papers that may have been passed-on  to her second husband's family following his death?

A tantalising thought, and one that only came to me as I was composing this conclusion...


Effy in Amhuinnisdhe

On the 7th June 1921, 83 year-old Webmaker Effy Kerr died from Rheumatism.
What makes this death of a daughter of John the Tailor unusual is the location. Although Effy had been a General Servant in West Tarbert in 1861, her presence at Amhuinnisdhe in 1921 is an unusual foray further across the isthmus into the North of Harris.

She had returned to her mother in Direcleit by 1871,when she was a Knitter, and remained there until 1891 by which time she was a Wool Spinner with her niece, Peggy. She 'disappeared' in 1901 so it will be interesting to discover where she was by 1911!

Her death was registered by Murdo Campbell, who calls himself her Nephew in Law, probably married to fellow Wool spinner Peggy who was her Fisherman brother Angus's daughter. I presume that the elderly, maiden aunt was living with their family.

Lord Leverhulme, by the way, was two-years into his ownership of the North Harris Estate when Effy died.

Drowned in Sea by Upsetting of a Boat...

A feint record, almost unreadable, but it appear to say that this was the fate of William Kerr on the 23rd of March 1861 . The death was registered on the 21st March 1862. William was 24 years old.

Angus of Strond's son, William, was this Fisherman. He drowned.
Angus's son-in-law, William Morrison, was a Fisherman and father.
He went 'missing, presumed dead, from 'Jessie Margaret' off Thurso.

John the Tailor's son, Angus, was a Fisherman and father. He drowned.
John's two grandsons, Roderick and John were Fishermen. They died on land.

Of the five men who went fishing from these two families, all three from the first generation to do so paid with their lives. Two of them leaving behind wives and families.


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

'It would be unjust to Mrs Thomas...

...not to mention her efforts, for she is prepared to live and die for the islands...
Who is this lady? - The wife of Commander Thomas of the Royal Navy - an English lady.'
(Reverend Roderick Mackenzie, Free Church Minister of Tarbert, Evidence to Napier Commission 1883)

At 11:20 pm on the 7th of September 1902, Frances Sarah Thomas Beckett died in Craighouse, Edinburgh at the age of 82. Her usual place of residence was 'Arondel', Hollington Park, St Leonard's On Sea, England. Her parents were George Bousfield, a Solicitor, and Elizabeth Dingley and we know all this because the Solicitor and Agent to her Husband, who hailed from 23 Havelock Road, Hastings, said so when he registered her death three days later on the 10th of September. We also know because Scottish Death Certificates are positively bursting with details such as these!

George Bousfield had Married Elizabeth Dingley on the 29th July 1820 at St Mary's, Aldermanbury in the City of London. She was from the Parish of St Paul's, Deptford in Kent .St Mary's was gutted during the Blitz and the remaining stones taken to Fulton, Missouri and rebuilt as a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. Thanks to her Death Certificate, we can be pretty confident that this was her parents marriage,

She was Baptised Frances Sarah on the 27th June 1821 at St Peter, Frimley, Surrey and the family home was in Frimley York Town, probably best known today as the home of Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.

On the 2nd of December 1841, Frederick William Leopold Thomas, a Lieut. RN, and Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield were wed in the Parish of St Paul, Deptford. She signs her name 'Frances S T Bousfield'. His father was George Thomas, Master and Commander, RN. Their ages are each described as 'Full'. The marriage took place in the Established Church by Licence, i.e. NOT by Banns, which reduced the waiting time to 3 weeks. But that is not what grabbed my attention. It was the addition of her third name, 'Thomas', for that was not included in her Baptism.

On the 30th March 1827, a Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield was Baptised in St Mary at Lambeth. She was the daughter of a deceased Solicitor, George Bousfield, and his wife Elizabeth. The family home was in Kennington Lane, Lambeth. This young lady has all the names in place, her father was a Solicitor, but she appears to be too young to be described as of 'Full' age fourteen-and-a-half years later.

So I appear to have two ladies, one with the correct set of names but Baptised far too late and the other spot-on apart from missing the third name. To add to the mystery, in 1826 the church of St Peter in Frimley had been rebuilt, albeit on the same ground as its predecessor. What I am thinking, and it's a bit of a 'fudge', is that the widowed Elizabeth might have had her daughter Baptised for a second time a little before her 6th birthday and after the rebuilding of St Peter's?

I really do not know, but a George William Bousfield, 25, was buried on the 9th March 1823 at St Peter, Frimley, Surrey, the only such burial I can find of a George Bousfield that fits, and, as he cannot be the father of a child 4 years later, a second Baptism might explain the discrepancies.

I cannot find a Solicitor called George Bousfield in the 1841 Census, neither can I find an Elizabeth Bousfield with a family in-tow, but I have located these two ladies; Sarah Bousfield, 30, Governess and Frances Bousfield, 20, Independent; residing in Broomfield Place, St Paul, Deptford, the parish that the wedding of December that year was to take place within.

George Bousfield Thomas was Baptised on the 31st of July 1844 at St Paul Deptford, London. He died on the 1st of July 1850 in the Parish of St Cuthbert's Edinburgh. A devastating personal event and possibly compounded for I do not believe Frances and Frederick to have had any further children. This loss was, I think, the turning-point that shaped the course of the rest of their lives.

In 1851, Frederick W L Thomas, 34, Lieutenant Royal Navy, and Francis S T Thomas, 29, Officer's Wife are in lodgings at South Street, Culross, Perthshire. Culross was a small seaport at this time.

The Stocking Knitting Industry on Harris was started by Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore, and Mrs Thomas in 1857 and the Countess had begun the Harris Tweed industry over a decade earlier. Or those are the usual stories. The Countess had certainly opened an Embroidery School some eight years earlier, but the true nature of her involvement in the development of woollen-wear is far less factually based. By way of an example, the 5 censuses that took place from 1841-1881 find the Countess in London (1841) and at Dunmore Park (1861) but otherwise absent from the records.

By 1861 Fred W S Thomas, 44, Commander RN & Marine Surveyor, and Francis S T Thomas, 39, Wife, are living at Trinity Crescent No 8, North Leith and they remain in Leith for the remainder of his life. The record for 1871 shows Frederick W L Thomas, 54, Captain Royal Navy Retired, and Frances S Thomas, 49, Officer's Wife, at Trinity Road Rose Park, N Leith whilst that of 1881 has Frederick W L Thomas, 60, Retired Captain RN, and Frances S Thomas, 59, Wife, at Rose Park, North Leith.

On the 25th October 1885 Frederick W Thomas died at Rose Park, Trinity, in Leith. Alex Sutherland(? - the surname is unclear) states that he was married to Frances Sarah Frimbly * and that his parents were George Thomas, Commander RN and Priscella Frimbly. (*The error with Frances's surname is merely a confusion with Frederick's mother's maiden name, although she did originate from the similar-sounding village of Frimley.) He had been born on the 2nd of May 1816, when his father's occupation was given as 'Surveyor', neglecting his maritime connection! Captain Frederick WL Thomas's Service Record is held at the National Archives (Kew) and dated 1st Feb 1847 which may reflect the date of his first Commission?

Frances remained in Scotland until at least 1887, by which time she had been working with the women of Harris for some thirty years, and in 1888 a two-page article on Mrs FWL Thomas called 'Women’s Work in Harris (Hebrides) ' appeared in 'The British Friend: A Monthly Journal' which was published in Glasgow.

She remarried on the 2nd of July 1890 in the Parish of All Saints, Paddington. Her husband was James Flowers Beckett, a Retired Royal Navy Staff Commander and widower. He had lived in Leith with his first wife and their family 40 years earlier.

In 1891 we find Frances S Beckett, 69, Wife, at 'Arondell', Hollington, East Sussex and a decade later as Frances S Beckett, 79, Wife, of 'Arondel', Hollington St John, E Sussex

During that same decade, three accounts of the textile activities on Harris were composed. In 1895 Mrs S Macdonald, wife of the Farmer and Merchant Roderick, wrote her piece that appeared in a Scottish Home Industries booklet and was referred to in the Scott Report of 1914. Another piece from the same source was written by an Alice Leslie (who I have been unable to accurately identify although there was a Lady Alice Leslie in Scotland at that time). In 1899 The Land Magazine published the Duchess of Sutherland's article on The Revival of Home Industries and even the 7th Earl himself wrote a short (but unfortunately undated) piece on his mother's endeavours on the island. He did however, backdate her work, and the origin of the industry, to the absurdly early date of 1839 which was the very year that the people living on the three Borves were having their livelihoods removed from them by Duncan Shaw, the Factor that the Dunmore's themselves had appointed! Seilibost had been cleared the previous year and Taransay would be in the year following. The facts do not fit the fiction. 'Women's Work in Harris' pre-dated all this apparent flurry to produce a 'history' of Harris Tweed and yet, as far as I have been able to ascertain, it has not been subject to previous examination.

In the autumn of 1902, having returned to Edinburgh after an absence of 15 years, Frances Sarah Thomas Beckett (MS Bousfield), also known as 'Mrs Captain Thomas', left this World, leaving behind a legacy that I think owes her rather more credit than has been to granted.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Sounds of Harris - Final Movement

Peggy's Sailor son John died at sea and Roderick himself, in An-t-Ob, in 1919. Peggy survived him by some 30 years and Angus lived until 1963. Donald and John died elsewhere and at times unknown to me. What became of the daughters, Christy and Kate, is also a mystery for they neither married, nor died, on Harris.

On the 30th of April 1918 in St Thomas' Church, Rutland Place Edinburgh the wedding took place of Adele Le Couvey and John Kerr, the 58 year-old son of Roderick Kerr, a Building Contractor, and his wife, Christina MacLennan. John is normally to be found at The Manse, Harris, Inverness-shire but is presently living in Rouen, France.

John Kerr was born in 1857 at Borve on the Isle of Harris to Roderick Kerr, a Joiner, and his wife Christina Maclennan so this future Minister is the son of a Carpenter. 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. The family of John Kerr and Marion Macleod, like all bearing the name on Harris, are relations of mine but the precise nature of the interconnections between the families is lost in the passing of time.

On the 23rd May 1877, Roderick Kerr, a Joiner of Borve, Harris, succumbed 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.

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.

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.

Finlay J Macdonald's story can be told in part, too, for when the township was recrofted in 1885, No. 3 Direcleit became home to Alexander Macleod (1835-1911) and his wife Catherine Mackay (1847-1904), both from Geocrab, and in 1911 the croft passed to his son Donald Macleod (1870-1950). Donald Macleod married Margaret Macdonald (1866-1957) from No 7 Direcleit and his wife and their first-born are found at 6 Direcleit in 1901
Donald and Margaret Macleod's second child was another daughter, Katie Ann Macleod (1904-1979), who married John Macdonald (1894-1974) , a son of Finlay Macdonald and Peggy Mackay of No. 1 Kendibig. The Marriage Certificate supplies the following

26th August 1924 – Direcleit, Harris
John Macdonald, 30, Grocer, Leverburgh
(Parents: Finlay Macdonald, Crofter, Maggie Mackay)
Catherine Ann Macleod, 20, Webmaker, Direcleit
(Parents: Donald Macleod, Crofter, Margaret Macdonald)
Malcolm Macaskill, Minch View, Tarbert, Witness
Mary E Macleod, Direcleit, Witness

John Macdonald and Katie Ann moved to Scarista and one of their son's is known to us as Finlay J Macdonald (1925-1987), the broadcaster and author, who described his visits to his grandparents at Direcleit in 'Crowdie and Cream', 'Crotal and White' and 'Corncrake and the Lysander'.

Finlay J Macdonald himself, however, was in one sense a product of the combination 'Direcleit and Ceann Dibig'!

On the 21st January 1925 at Scarista 31 year-old labourer, Angus Kerr of Leverburgh, married Mary Cameron Macmaster, a 24 year-old Domestic Servant who was born in Old Monkland, Lanarkshire. Angus was the son of Roderick the Fisherman and Peggy Maclennan and the groom was my 'Half 1st Cousin twice removed'. The Minister was John Kerr of The Manse of Harris, Finlay J Macdonald's 'Ayatollah Kerr'!

Six years prior to Finlay's birth and the wedding of Angus and Mary, Lord Leverhulme had bought South Harris for £20,000 and North Harris for £36,000 and the following year he built a Carding Mill at Geocrab. No-one used it. He also developed fishing facilities at An-t-Ob, which was renamed Leverburgh, and by 1924 all was well. Except it wasn't. The Lord's overseas interests were in turmoil and, when he died in 1925 his estate attempted to off-load the whole of Harris in an auction that is described here:

Lot 1
The Estate and Deer Forest of Borve, with the Farm of Borve, Island of Taransay, Forest of Luskentyre (let on a long lease) and excellent Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing.
12,720 acres
Borve Lodge was Lord Leverhulme's home on Harris. We see that he had let the Forest of Luskentyre.

Lot 2
The Port of Leverburgh, with Pier and fully equipped with Buildings for a Fishing Station
170 acres
As the focus of the 'improvements', and where most of the money had been spent, it is no surprise that 'Leverburgh' appears second in this list.

Lot 2a
House Property at Leverburgh
3 acres
I presume these were the ones that had been newly-built to house the workforce.

Lot 3
The Rodil Hotel and Farm and Island of Gilsay, with first-rate Salmon and Sea Trout fishing in the famous Obbe Lochs and Finsbay Lochs
2,226 acres
This is the old Rodel House and Farm but note the inclusion of Gilsay.

Lot 4
Kyles Lodge and Farm, with Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing and joint fishing rights in the Obbe Lochs
750 acres
Kyles Lodge is an 1840s Georgian-style farmhouse and was home to the incoming sheepfarmer Alexander Macrae between 182? and 1874. It is where the early Sound of Harris ferry docked and where Mrs S Macdonald lived.

Lot 5
Scarastavore Farm
3,244 acres
This is the farm to the South of Borve.

Lot 6
Scarastabeg Farm
1,470 acres
This is the next farm continuing South towards Northton.

Lot 7
Horsaclett House and Garden, with capital Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing
3 acres
Situated in the Bays of Harris, past Direcleit and Ceann Dibig on the right of the A859 a mile past the start of the 'Golden Road'.

Lot 8
Crofting Land in South Harris, including Berneray Island and smaller islands off North Uist
33,870 acres
Berneray Island is 2,496 of these 33,870 acres. I mention that in order to provide a sense of scale.

Lot 9
The Island of Killegray
425 acres
In 1841 it was home to the six members of shepherd Kenneth Macrae's family plus 62 year-old Dorothy Ross from Inverness.

Lot 10
NORTH HARRIS with Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and Deer Forest, Ardvourlie Forest, Ardvourlie Lodge, Harris Hotel and House Property, and capital Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing
61,850 acres
The whole of North Harris, and nearly 53% of the total area, is in this final Lot. Ardvourlie 'Castle' has been 'downgraded' in the description and what began life as the 'Tarbert Hotel' appears in the name to which it is known to this day.

I make that a total of 116,731 acres, from a total of  'about 355,000 acres' including Lewis, indicating that Harris is a tad under half the area of Lewis.

On the 8th of November 1950 at Direcleit, the 82 year-old Fisherman John Kerr died. This son of Angus the Fisherman and Grandson of John the Tailor, is the last recorded Death of a Kerr on Harris. His passing ended at least 130 years of the family living in Direcleit and is the last documented record of the Kerr families of Direcleit, Harris.

No-one knows from where they came, nor when they first arrived, but I can say with a certain degree of both humility and pride that they played their various parts in the story of the island that is not entirely reflected in the fact that, back in 1841, they were a mere 65 in number living around 10 different hearths...

Sounds of Harris - 7th Movement

In Strond the widowed Christian Morrison (24th May 1914) had her maiden sister Effy (1912) and her widower brother Malcolm (1905) with her. Their widowed sister Mary (1910) and her 10 children were nearby. Brother Angus was the Retired Coachman up the road at Rodel with wife Lexy (1921) and their married daughter Marion with her husband John Campbell and their child. John's father, the Fish-Curing Roderick had moved to Rodel with a new wife and two new children. He has also turned to Farming, as well as producing offspring well-into his sixties!

At Direcleit, Angus the Fisher's widow Mary (1914) was Tweed-Making with her maiden daughter Marion who was engaged in the same occupation. Her married daughter Ann (1945) was with her Mason-Labouring husband and their growing family. Son John (1950) was a Salmon Fisher at The Chanonry Point Fishing Station 2, Rosemarkie in Moray.

Roderick and Peggy's family had grown with the arrival of Angus and Kate in 1892 and 1895. Still living in Obbe, Roderick was now a Farm Servant and Peggy's son ,John, a Sailor. Their son Donald, meanwhile, has moved and we find him at Roderick and Mrs S Macdonald's Farm House where the 16 year-old is 'Herd Cattle on Farm'. I believe Roderick to have been employed by the Macdonald's too. Peggy produced another son in 1902 and he was called John, presumably after his grandfather, John the Tailor who had been born in Strond 110 years earlier.

The Tarbert Hotel had changed hands and Daniel McKellar was running it with his sister and his three adult children forming what today would be termed the management team. There were three servants resident, including the Coachman, but no guests. The other Coachmen were at the Gardener's House, serving Rodel, and somewhere on the North Harris Estate. The Factor of that Estate was a Robert Sinclair and there was a Farm Grieve at Luskentire. Three teenage Cattlemen appear at Big Borve, Scarista and the Farm House on the Sound at Kyles, where Donald Kerr performs the role. As an aside, in 1903 the hotel's name was changed to 'Harris Hotel' by a new leaseholder, William Cameron, and it is his descendants, the Morrison family, who own and run the hotel today.

There are now 8 Gamekeepers, all but one serving the North Harris Estate, whilst Blacksmithing still shows the Morrison dominance with all but one of the 6 bearing the name. Ewen, the son of 'Gobha na Hearadh', remains in retirement at the age of eighty.

At the pier in East Loch Tarbert the SS Dunara Castle 1901 had her Master, John McDougall and the crew of 16 seamen and 4 attendants. Only two passengers were aboard her that Sunday evening, a local Crofter and Fisherman and a female Domestic Servant. I have searched for other passengers around the island, but found none. We now leave the 25 year-old SS Dunara Castle, safely at harbour in Tarbert, in the knowledge that 29 years hence she will be carrying the last inhabitants of St Kilda on their final journey away from home.

Developments in the church have led to the formation of the United Free Church with Ministers Farquhar Kennedy, at Manish Cottage, Nicol Campbell at Tarbert and a Missionary residing at Little Borve. The Established Church at Scarista remains in the hands of Donald McLean, 61, Minister of Harris Parish, Glebe, South Harris but one of his successors, John Kerr, is an Assistant Minister (Dalavich) living at Divine Cottage, Dalavich, Argyll. I shall return to him later.

Retired Staff Commander James Flowers Beckett and his wife, Frances Sarah, were living in St Leonard's On Sea in England but she died in Edinburgh on the 7th of September 1902. The certificate gives her usual address as St Leonard's On Sea. I do wonder whether she had chosen to return to Edinburgh for she died after a Cerebral Thrombosis and it was her husband's Solicitor, who hailed from Hastings, who signed as informant. At the age of 82, Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield ended her days in the City that had been her home for so many years. I find that very revealing of the lady. It also was extremely helpful of her for it allowed me to confirm that she was, indeed, the Mrs Captain Thomas who did so much to develop the Harris Tweed industry.

Boat-Building was represented by 10 men, including a Ship-Carpenter on the Sound, but the Bays continued to predominate in this field.

The Bays also now have their first Post Office, at Manish, where 51 year-old Mary Mackay is the Assistant Postmistress and her 80 year-old mother is the Grocer there. Scalpay has it's Sub-Post-Mistress and a Letter Carrier with Tarbert similarly provided for. At An-t-Ob, where Mary Galbraith continues as Post Mistress, there are now two Letter Carriers. I think we can see the impact of the 1897 opening of the road through the Bays in this expanded postal provision on Harris.

Communication was improving in other ways too with Mary Macdonald, 18, and Joanna Macleod, 19,being each being a Telegraphist and Assistant in Tarbert. Mary Campbell, 20, performs the same role on Scalpay at her mother's Post Office. It is perhaps unsurprising to see the move by the start of the 20th Century from all-male 'Telegraph Clerks' to all-female 'Telegraphists', but perhaps more surprising to see that Tarbert housed the only telegraphic office on 'mainland' Harris. One might have expected An-t-Ob to have warranted a telegraphic presence in the South of Harris, especially after the 1886 link to the Southern Isles had been made, but clearly this was not the case.

Several of these telegraphic personnel were born in the Uists, recalling that, at this time, Harris and the Southern Islands were within Inverness-shire and were thus more closely politically linked than are Harris and neighbouring Lewis geographically!

I have decided to leave the last word to this entry from the 1901 Census:

Attending Wake In House
I believe this household to be unique in census records as four of those present were attending a wake in the house on the night of 31st March/1st April 1901:
Christy Shaw, 80, Formerly Tweed Weaveress, Head, No 3 North Harris, b. Harris
Catherine Macdonald, 52, Tweed Weaveress, Daughter, b. Harris
Duncan Macdonald, 60, Crofter, Son-in-Law, b. Harris
Joan Maclennan, 15, General Servant Domestic, b. Harris
John Macdermid, 29, Fisherman, Attending Wake In House, b. Harris
John Martin, 31, General Labourer, Attending Wake In House, b. Harris
John Macleod, 24, Teacher (labourer), Attending Wake In Hose, b. Harris
Donald Shaw, 21, Navvy, Attending Wake In House, b. Harris

'No 3 North Harris' indicates to me an address in Tarbert and it appears that Mrs Shaw's daughter and her son-in-law, together with their General Servant, are the four usual residents.

However, on this particular Sunday evening, they were accompanied by four young men, aged from 21 to 31, whose occupations are as varied as their family names. The youngest, Donald Shaw, is the only one who might have been related but, were this the case, surely Mrs Shaw would have made it clear at this time of family bereavement?
What I am wondering, and it is admittedly merely a conjecture, is whether these four had carried, or were to bear, the coffin on the deceased person's final journey?

That concludes the evidence from the seven censuses, but the story is not quite complete...

Sounds of Harris - 6th Movement

In Strond, Effy Kerr is now a Crofter with her widowed sister Christy for company. Christy's daughter Marion and Shepherding son Angus are with them. Their brother, Roderick the Post Runner had died on the 3rd of January at the age of 56.

Effy's namesake at 10 Direcleit is now a Wool spinner as is her niece Peggy, daughter of the deceased Angus the Fisherman. His widow, Mary, is at neighbouring number 10 with her daughters Ann and Marion. These three women, too, are all Wool Spinners whilst her other daughter, Catherine, is a Wool Weaveress. Son John has followed his father and become a Fisher. A grand-daughter, Mary Ann, is also with them. Her mother is Ann. Effy's brothers, Malcolm and Donald, are in Stornoway and Glasgow where Donald is an Auctioneer's Labourer which is the last fact that I have about him. Ann married the following year, her husband being a Mason's Labourer called Murdo Macdonald who was born in the Falkland Islands.

Malcolm's son Roderick, who moved to An-t-Ob is working as an Agricultural Labourer and his step-son is now known as John Kerr. His second wife, Peggy, has presented him with two children of their own. Up the road, the Macdonald family are still at what is now called Farm House but was originally known as Kyles Lodge.

The Shepherd Malcolm has retired and is with his wife Isabella whilst at Rodel his brother Angus describes himself as a Retired Groom. At some point he must have swapped managing the farm for taking charge of horses and, as a decade later he calls himself a Retired Coachman the implication is that he provided transport for those residing at Rodel House. A coachman was also provided at Tarbert Hotel and at an unspecified location elsewhere in the North. As well as his wife and daughter, he has his niece Flora Morrison and her 10 year-old daughter Christy Gillies. The father, a Tailor called John Gillies, certainly married Flora, but on the 14th April 1891, some nine days after the census! I have no idea why they waited a decade to marry, unless he was already married and hence they had to wait? I cannot find him in the crucial year of 1881 which might have provided me with a clue.

The SS Dunara Castle made her second appearance in the censuses, this time under her Master Charles Mackinnon. There were 17 seamen and 4 men to attend to the passengers. Of her 8 passengers, two are of particular interest. Sir John Carstairs McNeil was a holder of the Victoria Cross and Malcolm McNeil played a pivotal role in the treatment of poverty in the Highlands and Islands including writing this paper on St Kilda: 'Alleged destitution in the island of St. Kilda in October 1885. Report of Malcolm McNeill, Inspecting Officer of the Board of Supervision. He also inspected conditions on Lewis as a result of the Park Deer Raid of 1887, the full story of which event can be found in the Angus Macleod Archive. His presence on the SS Dunara Castle (the very vessel that would evacuate the last inhabitants of St Kilda nearly 40 years later) at the time of the 1891 census is another of those serendipitous events that makes perusing the past so pleasant.

There were an increasing number of Gamekeepers employed, by both Estates, and including one at Little Borve who presumable was associated with Borve Lodge. Keeping an eye on the souls were the same Ministers at Manish Free Church and at the Established Church in Scarista. Ewen Morrison, the son of the Catechist, 'Gobha na Hearadh' had retired from Blacksmithing but the craft was still dominated by his namesakes.

Just along the road from the pier at the Tarbert Hotel were Daniel McKellar, the Hotel Keeper, and his four children. There were 3 staff and the single guest was Alexander Macgregor, a Commercial Traveller. There was competition in the form of Donald Campbell who was the Temperance Hotel Keeper but his establishment doesn't appear to have been particularly popular.

The sole Telegraph Clerk was in Tarbert but presumably he was able to communicate all the way down to Barra as well as to the mainland. His location, however, is significant in signalling the increasing trend towards Tarbert as the centre of all things Harris, a trend that I suspect was not unconnected to the Scott family's development of their North Harris Estate. I cannot find their Factor but the South Harris Estate had Thomas Brydon who was living at the Farmhouse in Luskentyre. He had two Farm Grieve's who were living at the 'Grieve's House ' but again the precise location is unclear.

The number of Fishers had dropped from 566 to 486 (it would only fall by another 2 in the next decade) but whether this was due to diminished demand or the effects of recrofting I cannot say. Fish Curing remained in the South solely in the hands of Roderick Campbell of Strond and his son John whilst on Scalpay their namesake Kenneth Campbell was Fish-Curing as well as being a General Merchant and Crofter.

There were 18 Schoolteachers, scattered around Harris, and nearly 1200 Scholars for them to teach. The children must have been exceptionally well-behaved 130 years ago! A similar number of Scholars appear a decade later but the number of Teachers had increased by over 50% by then.

Assuming that 'Tailoress' refers to someone who makes men's clothing, as compared to a Dressmaker doing the same for ladies, then there appears to have been a brief dalliance with this in 1891 for there were 7 such women recorded. By way of contrast, in Scotland as a whole there were 4,200 Tailoresses in 1891 and over 5000 by 1901 (although checking those returns I came across a 4 month-old described as a 'Tailoress' so those figures might be somewhat exaggerated! – but these were the days of Victorian Child Labour and I suspect that at least some of those under10s were indeed working). Back in the fresh-air of the islands, where children were less-likely to be exposed to the inhumanity of being treated as a 'human resource', tailoring remained largely a 'personal' service with individual tailors visiting their clients as is evidenced elsewhere in these ramblings of mine. In such circumstances, the four young ladies of 'Obbe' are a particular surprise and I do wonder what story lies behind the presence of these half-dozen women in the South of Harris?
We can see from the Tailors of Harris, who were 18 in number in 1891 and 15 by 1901, that the demise of this brief dalliance was not accompanied by an increase in the demand for male tailors. This tempts me to conjecture of an early attempt at 'adding value' by creating garments on the island for export rather than complete webs of tweed but, if so, it apparently failed. One person who took part in this experiment was Isabella Kerr, wife of the Retired Shepherd Malcolm in Strond. My relatives appear not to have been shy in coming-forward to try new things!

The more conventional female occupation of Sewing Mistress continued to grow although whether they were teaching in schools or privately is unclear. The Embroidery School had closed, one reason that is claimed being the death of the Countess who drafted the designs but, if it had been an economic success, then I am sure that particular obstacle would have been overcome. The teaching of sewing, at least as a separate specialism, appears to all-but disappeared during the next decade.

Men, meanwhile, continued with their craft of Boat-Building in the Bays and at Strond.

Policing continued to employ merely two Constables, one in Tarbert and his colleague at An-t-Ob. This situation remained the same through up to at least the start of the 20thC.

In 1894 the Picture Postcard was introduced and the census had recorded a Post Master at Tarbert, a Sub-Post-Master on Scalpay and Mary Galbraith , Post Mistress at An-t-Ob. Her replacement runner for the deceased Roderick was 26 year-old John Macdonald.

The next year Mrs S Macdonald, wife of Roderick the Farmer just outside An-t-Ob, wrote an account of the Countess of Dunmore for the Scottish home Industries Association. In the same year, by the way, the Crofter's Commission Report allowed 1 horse, 4 cows and 20 sheep per croft in Strond. Mrs Macdonald's account is syrupy and obsequious in the extreme. Unfortunately many take it as first-hand evidence, despite the fact that Mrs Macdonald was describing events almost, but not quite, before she was born. She was also writing from the perspective of a Farmer's wife whose husband's farm was on the South Harris Estate owned by the son of the late Countess. She was unlikely to write anything that might upset the 7th Earl. It also served to maintain the smokescreen that had been erected between the Clearances and the Dunmore's involvement in them. Or, perhaps, more a Clo Mor of invisibility, rather than a smokescreen? Four years later, in 1899, the Duchess of Sutherland wrote an article for The Land Magazine that provides a more sober and realistic account both of the situation then current and the history of the industry.

As far as I can tell, there has been some confusion and conflation of these two separate accounts and, as the latter is the lesser-known, he are some extracts:

The Revival of Home Industries By the DUCHESS OF SUTHERLAND The Land Magazine January 1899

To take the case of Scotland in particular, leaving sea-fishing out of account, the crofters and cottars of the Western Islands have no alternative employment.
In Harris and Lewis there is no land for them to cultivate.
Their crofts, hardly worthy of the name, scattered about the rocks and stones of the wildest hills, afford them but the most meagre sustenance.
The people are simple and uncomplaining; the women, who work day after day at the tweed, are most industrious.
They are, of course, ignorant of economic conditions, and they can hardly understand the dread power of machinery competition in the South. "If the sale of the tweed fails," they say, "we shall starve", and they speak the truth.

The Scottish Home Industries Association is not ignorant of economic conditions ; it knows full well the mastery of them, and it occupies the paradoxical position of discouraging an industry even while supporting it.
Its advice to the girls and boys of the younger generation is, Do not think that if you spin and weave you can always earn your daily bread. Go South and learn trades, neglect no chance of education that will bring you new hope, and more money to your native island.
We will do all we can to save your old industry for this generation, perhaps for the next, but the days of its prosperity have gone by, and this is no time for sentiment.
You cannot rely on this occupation as a means of livelihood, even from year to year.

It may seem strange that I should start on so pessimistic a note.
I do so because there has been confusion or ignorance in the minds of some on the subject of Highland industries. Few have realised what the sale or non-sale of tweed means to the workers; some have even thought that the whole thing was confined to the aesthetic fancies of a few philanthropic ladies.
I would, indeed, it were! How easy our task, if it were merely an interesting addition to more remunerative employment, if the industry could be directed and guided solely in the leisure hours of My Lady Bountiful!

But what in reality is this industry ? It is an industry seeking a fair place in the commercial world. It is an industry on which thousands of lives are dependent.
With the warning whirr of the factory sounding in our ears, we give good advice for the future; but for our own time, we protect the industry with all the force that in us lies, and we arm ourselves, for the sake of the people for whom we fight, with the methods of trade - that is, we know we must establish our reputation by our commercial soundness.

The Association is not ashamed of being a trading concern. It works for a poverty-stricken people, and is forced to accept the conditions of the trading world, or submit to failure. It has been said for instance, " Why do you not encourage " your old spinners to spin blankets?" but there is no market for homespun-blankets. Give the old woman, if you will, other employment for the day-time, to earn her food, and she will spin blankets in the evening for sentiment.
Others again have remarked on the barbarity of using chemical dyes to supersede the vegetable concoctions gathered on the hillside. This is indeed rarely done, but when an order comes from a lady of fashion for a roll of bright blue or scarlet tweed (she will have none of the dingy brown), surely we take the order,, for it brings the spinner bread to eat, and we risk the condemnation of all the romanticists.
And yet I too can be romantic! Who is not, who lives long enough among the lights and shadows of our Highland hills ? 
There must be many Highland hearts that beat faster it they remember the peaty atmosphere of the old " black house"' where the cailleach sits spinning and crooning, her Gaelic legends from the hills of dream.

In 1858 the late Lady Dunmore was a mother to her people in Harris. The tweed was then a novelty in the South, and she would sell a good deal for them, getting four shillings and even four shillings and sixpence per yard wholesale.
It has been brought against our Association in blame that we no longer pay the people these prices. Unfortunately the output of tweed is so enormously increased and machinery competition is so formidable that the market does not permit us to pay philanthropic prices.
The Association has to pay market prices or it would soon be bankrupt.
The interesting part in the matter is to note that the people do not suffer loss as much as would be believed. There has been a great fall in prices all round, and though the people get less for their production they benefit from the fact that the commodities which they purchase are so infinitely cheaper in 1898 than they were in 1858.

On the other hand complaints have been made at the depots that the prices charged for the tweed are too high. It need scarcely be said there is no overcharge of any kind. 
The gist of the matter is this - that we run a commercial undertaking on a benevolent basis.
We do not say that the success of the Highland Tweed Industry means the solving of all the vexed questions in connection with the welfare of a deserving and grateful people.
Our Association can only do its share of the work of progress.

The lately appointed Congested Districts Board may do something - the new education will do more -the common sense of the Highlanders themselves will do most of all.

All change is of necessity slow, but I believe the coming decade will show as remarkable an improvement in the condition of the country as the last few years have shown an advance on all the preceding decades of the 19th century.

Reading her words some 111 years after the Duchess originally penned them there is more than a sense of 'plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose'. However, what strikes me the most is the unusual combination of humanity with 'hard-headed' business sense. She was ahead of her time and, in some regards, we still have yet to catch up with her.

The 1891 census shows more than three times as many people involved in weaving compared to the previous decade. If there were as many engaged in producing Harris Tweed in 1881 as there had been in 1851 then it tips the balance in favour of the mid 1840s being the birth of the industry. 1891 is the first time that we see people referring to themselves as 'Tweed-Weavers', suggesting that the term was perhaps only adopted in recent years, maybe even within the last two?

It also suggests that neither the Countess with her contacts, nor Mrs Captain Thomas who originally hailed from London, nor the growth of the Mercantile class on Harris had chosen, or perhaps been able, to provide the means by which an expansion could occur. By 1867 the 7th Earl had spent his money on building property in North Harris whilst the last specific contribution by the Countess was her diversifying into Stocking Knitting a decade earlier. It is Mrs Thomas who the Minister at Tarbert describes as having a personal presence amongst the people in the 1880s.

So where does all this lead us? It is my belief that the answer to the origin and early development of Harris Tweed lies in the relationship between the Countess and The Captain's Wife. The former, recently widowed just at the time that the latter's husband is embarking on his surveying of the seas around Harris. It is entirely conceivable that Mrs Thomas was conveyed to the island on HMS Porcupine and, as the wife of an Officer in the Royal Navy who was engaged in work of vital value to the Dunmore Estate, she would have been welcomed at Rodel House. This Wool-Merchant's daughter would have been interested in the local textiles and had the right contacts to aid in their development. The 'Paisley Sisters' in 1851 were a short walk, horse or boat-ride around the corner from Rodel so it is possible that Mrs Thomas made that journey to see their skills for herself. The two ladies are known to have collaborated in establishing the Stocking Knitting in 1857 so it is entirely feasible for them to have been liaising on the selling of cloth prior to this date.

It is also possible that Mrs Thomas may have visited Harris before the Countess ever set foot there, but the inverse is equally probable. Whatever the order of precedence, I am convinced that the Countess and The Captain's Wife had a closer, longer-lived and more productive relationship than the partisan accounts of later years might suggest. Once the 7th Earl had taken control of the island, via his Factor, the Countess appears to have been side-lined somewhat but Mrs Thomas certainly remained actively involved with the islanders.

The Countess of Dunmore's family 'invented' Harris Tweed but I think it was the fortuitous presence of her new friend Mrs Captain Thomas that helped ensure its survival. Remove either lady (and the particular circumstances of each as Widowed Countess and Captain's Wife, respectively) and the story of Harris Tweed would have been very different, if indeed it existed to be told at all...

In 1896, Marion Kerr, daughter of the Groom at Rodel, married John Campbell, the Fish Curer's son and he took up Farming. Farming, not Crofting. I think this significant for I cannot escape the fact that, with his close contact with the Factors at Rodel, Angus Kerr must have been one of those favoured by John Robson Macdonald, a man whose wrath was feared throughout the island. I do not want to treat my relative unjustly, I just hope that he didn't treat his fellow's in that way, either.

The following year the road linking Tarbert and Rodel through the Bays was completed. It allegedly got its name due to the astronomical cost of construction for it winds its way through blasted rock and across innumerable rivers to link together settlements the majority of whose residents would have preferred to have been allowed to return to their ancestral lands in the West. It probably would have been cheaper.

On the 15th December 1898 aboard the 'Crest' in the Sound of Kerrera, my grandfather's grandfather Malcolm Kerr died of Heart Failure. He was 76 years old and the Master and owner of the vessel was his his son, Alexander John Kerr. Their story belongs to Stornoway and the sea but, as Malcolm was born at Direcleit to John the Tailor and his wife Margaret, its ending also belongs here.

At the dawn of the new Century in 1900 Sir Samuel Scott built a Carding Mill at Lon na Feille, the old Market Stance in Direcleit, the significance of which lies in the story of Harris Tweed as told in detail in Janet Hunter's 'The Islanders and the Orb'. It is undoubtedly 'the' reference work on the subject but in my own accounts I have attempted to delve a little deeper into some aspects (especially those regarding the individual participants,) of the early development of the industry.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Sounds of Harris - 5th Movement

Roderick the Letter Carrier was in Strond, his unmarried sister Effy doing the Housekeeping and his married sister Christian Morrison occupied as a Weaveress (Wool). Her two daughters were with her at Roderick's but husband William was away at the Fishing. Mary and her husband Angus Macsween, another Fisherman, were also in Strond as were Malcolm the Shepherd and his wife Isabella.

The Postmaster was the ex-Gardener, Henry Galbraith, whose wife had previously run the Embroidery School. There were 5 Sewing Mistresses in this post Education Act era and one of them, Jessie Brunton, was, I think, her successor in that role. The Parcel Post was introduced in 1883, which must have been an interesting logistical problem to solve on an island with Post runners rather than Roads!

At Rodel Farm, Angus had become Farm Manager and was living with wife Lexy and their daughter Marion. There is no sign of John Robson Macdonald, or indeed anyone else resident at Rodel House (unless the Farm Manager had moved in there again?), and in November of 1882 Thomas Brydone was appointed as Lord Dunmore's Factor. There was another Farm Manager in the South and a Farm Grieve, but the farms they were responsible for are not listed. Kenneth Macdonald, who has farmed Borve since it was cleared for the second-time in 1853, is now listed as the Factor, apparently of the North Harris Estate.

At Kyles House were the Macdonald family employing 8 people on their farm. Mrs S Macdonald had given birth to three children by this time but of her in-laws Inn at An-t-Ob there is no mention.

In Direcleit, the widowed Margaret has daughter Effy for company but sorrow ha returned for, at at some unrecorded time in the last decade, her son, Angus the Fisherman died, presumably at sea for there is no record of the event. His widow Mary and their five children are living with no visible means of support. Simultaneously, Harris recorded its largest ever number of Fishers with 566 men risking their lives in harvesting the sea, more than three times the number of thirty years earlier.

With all this fishing, it is perhaps surprising that there were very few Fish Curers on Harris but one of them, Roderick Campbell, was to be found at Strond. I shall come back to him and his son, John Campbell, later.

At 121, the number of weaver was virtually the same as it had been 30 years previously. The only significant change was that all but one of them were women. The Thomas's, Retired Captain RN, and his wife Frances S Thomas remained in Leith and Mrs Captain Thomas continued to run her depot there to meet the demand of the London market. The Captain died in Midlothian in 1885 but his widow continued trading from there for another couple of years.

Of Catherine Murray, I can find not trace but the 7th Earl and his family were at 109 Cromwell Road, Kensington, London. The household comprised the Peer of the Realm and his wife with their four daughters plus a Governess, a Lady's Maid, a Nurse and two Nurserymaids. There were two Housemaids, a Kitchen Maid, a Butler and a Page. The Cook was Marion Morrison, 24, who was born at Strond, Harris! There are two Marion Morrison candidates but the most likely one was the daughter of Donald Morrison, a Fisherman, and his wife Mary who in 1851, prior to Marion's birth, were one of the 44 families at Port Esgein. Her story of how she came to become Cook to the family of the owner of her island home, and living in a house almost as tall as the hills behind the house she was born in, is one that would wonderful to be told. Oh, and she is the only person that I have found in the all the censuses of England whose birthplace is given as 'Harris', let-alone, 'Strond'!

The Free Church Minister Alexander Davidson at the Manse in Manish had been joined by his colleague Roderick Mackenzie, Minister of Tarbert Free Church, and the Catechist Malcolm Morrison in Meavaig. The Established Church had its one Minister, Donald Maclean, at Scarista and he remained there into the new century.

Of course, when we talk of 'Harris' we have to remember that there were now two Harris's – the South owned by the Earl and the North by Sir E Scott. The census actually divided the island into two separate districts but there appears to be some confusion as to whether these follow the Estate boundaries.

In the North, one of the innovations was the introduction of the SS Dunara Castle to bring people to the Estate and, fortuitously, it is found docked in Tarbert for three consecutive censuses. The S.S. Dunara Castle, named after a ruined castle on the north west coast of Mull, was built by Martin Orme. Her maiden voyage was on 21st July 1875. As well as carrying cargo the Dunara Castle had accommodation for 44 cabin class passengers. She sailed weekly between Glasgow and the Hebrides in the summer months, and during the high season the trips were extended to St. Kilda.
She was used in the evacuation of St Kilda residents in 1930. Most of the crew were Gaelic speakers from the highlands and islands, with three generations of one family serving on the steamer. On the evening of Sunday 3rd April 1881 she was docked in East Tarbert, Harris with her Master, Archibald McEwen in charge of his crew of 15 seamen and 7 attendants. Their 5 passengers were a fellow Seaman, a Free Church Minister with his two female Servants and a Divinity Student. It is probable that they had been preaching on Harris. There were no guests, and very few staff, at the castles that night but evidence of the growth in hunting and shooting activities may be deduced by the presence of no less than eight Gamekeepers scattered around the North Harris Estate.

Blacksmithing has also burgeoned with some six, including the two sons of 'Gobha na Hearadh', and all but one bear the name of Morrison.

On the farms, there were on a couple of Cow Herds but, interestingly, a third was employed by Robert Hornsby at the Tarbert Hotel. He was joined by others meeting the agricultural requirements of the hotel reminding us that fresh, local produce is not a new phenomenon in such establishments!

Following a gap of several years when there may have been no doctor resident on the island, Harris had a Physician and Surgeon in both Tarbert and Kentulavig. Thus both North and South had medical provision, contrasting with 50 years ago when the one doctor was on the West Coast where the people, too, had once lived in their numbers. A parallel development were the presence of a Police Constable in East Tarbert and one living with the Public School Teacher in the South, presumably at the school in Strond/An-t-Ob.

Another vital arm of medicine was that supplied by midwives, usually untrained but experienced women, and 1881 finds three of them in Harris. 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. Their 5 children included 3 from Rachel's first marriage. Rachel continued to provide her midwifery services into the 20thC.

Boat Builders & Ship Carpenters numbered some seven, all but two now in the 'North' but, apart from the three on Scalpay and one in Tarbert, their precise locations are unknown. They are very likely to have been in the Bays. The one in Tarbert, Malcolm Kerr, was from another family of that name.

On the 22nd February 1883 the widow Margaret Kerr died at Direcleit and on the 31st of May the Napier Commission began hearing evidence at An-t-Ob. It is sad that Margaret, who had spent every day of her life at Direcleit, did not live to see the recrofting of it and neighbouring Ceann Debig a year later as one outcome of the 1883 Crofter's Act. Even sadder, her first grandchild, Roderick, married his second wife at Scarista on the very day that Margaret died. Widowed Margaret Maclennan brought her son, John Macleod, with her and the fisherman and his new family settled into life at An-t-Ob. In 1885, Margaret gave Roderick a son of his own, Donald, and in 1889 their daughter Christy was born.

There are two submissions to the hearing of the Napier Commission  at An-t-Ob and one from Tarbert that I think are especially interesting. They are those of the long-time Farmer of Borve, Kenneth Macdonald; the new Factor of the South Harris Estate, Thomas Brydone; and John M'Diamaird, 88, and formerly a Crofter and Fisherman of Scalpay:

Kenneth Macdonald, Farmer, Scarista-vore, - examined
13323. The Chairman.—You have a farm in South Harris1?—Yes, Scarista-vore.
The 1881 census shows him aged 64 and the 'Farmer and Factor' at Big Borve
13324. Have you been long resident in the country?—I came to Harris about fifty-one years ago.
He would have been aged 15 back in 1832 and from 1851-1881 he farmed at Borve
13325. Does your family belong to this country, or to another part of Scotland ?—I don't belong to this part of the country. I am a Rossshireman.
Applecross, actually.
13329. If, in your recollection, the land has been more subdivided and more exhausted, how do you account for the fact that the people are better fed and better dressed?
Do they earn more wages?—A great deal. I believe that £200 of money comes to Harris now for every pound that came in my first recollection. There was no such thing as herring fishing. There was in some places cod and ling fishing. There was no such thing as lobster fishing. I happen to be an agent of the first company that started for sending the lobsters to London. Then an enormous amount of money is brought in now for clothes by the Countess of Dunmore. I remember one year paying an account of her ladyship, £1235 for webs of cloth alone. They still go on manufacturing.
Firstly, it should be born in mind that, even if there had been this miraculous multiplication in island income, there is no accounting of inflation nor, most importantly, how it was divided amongst the population. Macdonald, happily for him, was an agent for the export of lobsters but he neglects to tell the commission of how the fishermen only got paid for those that were sold in London, not all that were sent there. The £1235 paid for webs of cloth must have been when he became Factor and, as John Robson Macdonald was still in that role in 1871, it must have been within the last dozen years
13330. Is it manufactured in hand-looms?—Yes.
13331. What material do they use?—Entirely wool grown in the island.
13332. And the dyes?—And the dyes.
No mechanisation, no imported wool and no synthetic dyes.
13333. Is there any of the wool of the primitive race of sheep - the old Highland sheep, or is it blackfaced and Cheviot ?—It is blackfaced and Cheviot. The old primitive sheep are done.
13334. Can we see a specimen?—Yes, if you go to St Kilda.
13335. Sheriff Nicolson.—I think we saw them in South Uist?—Yes, but you will not see them in Harris.
13336. The Chairman.—Was the wool of fine quality?—I cannot answer that, for I have never seen any.
His reply, 'Yes, if you go to St Kilda', followed by his retort to Sheriff Nicolson's intervention, strikes me as symptomatic of someone who is somewhat contemptuous of the five figures in front of him.
13338. You spoke about the winters now not being so severe—that is to say that frost and snow are comparatively unknown. Are high winds now more prevalent than they used to be?—Decidedly. When there is very keen frost there is scarcely any wind at all; but now, since we have no frost and constant rains, we have blustering winds continually, principally from the S.S.W. and W.
The overall impression is that during the past 50 years Harris had become warmer, wetter and windier, an interesting if unsubstantiated claim worthy of more investigation?
13340. You are in constant communication with the people?—Yes. I remember seeing them going to church, and the difference between the clothing and attire of the families going to church then was as different as day is from night.
13341. Is it better in reality?—Better in reality.
13342. But one man, a country tailor, and should know better than others, at Dunvegan, called all the fine clothing the women wear " south country rags," as distinguished from their fine home-spun cloth. Do you agree with the tailor?—I should not agree with that, for they are proverbial in Harris for their good spinning, their good weaving, and their good making of clothes for themselves, not only over Great Britain, but over the whole Continent. You hear of Harris tweeds here, there, and everywhere. My coat was grown on the farm, woven on the farm, and made on the farm.
A slightly confusing exchange, for it is entirely possible that, despite them producing the finest of cloths, the women perhaps could not 'afford' to wear it themselves?
13343. But many of the people state here that for want of sheep, and being overcrowded, they are not able to spin, and they would like to go back to the old times?—Well, so far as South Harris is concerned, of the number of sheep I can say nothing. Of North Harris I can give every sheep every man has.
A neat side-stepping of the question!
13346. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Have you any poets or bards among you ?—Yes, there was one celebrated poet, but he died about two years ago. The Harris bard, he was always called.
13347. What was his name?—Neil Mackinnon.
13348. Where did he stay?—Luscantire.
I have been unable to find him in any census, nor have I encountered other references to him so if anyone has any information please let me know!
13349. I wish to put a question or two in regard to the proprietors of this estate, so far as you know, from the time it left the M'Leods. Who was the first proprietor from the main branch?—Captain M'Leod, son of Sir Norman M'Leod.
13350. Was he a purchaser ?—He was the first purchaser. He was the first purchaser from M'Leod of M'Leod.
13351. How many generations of these M'Leods were'there?—There were three. Captain M'Leod's son was Mr Hugh M'Leod, but he took his mother's name of Hume, and his son Alexander was the last proprietor of Harris, who sold it to the present Lord Dunmore's grandfather.
13352. How far back was that1?—Lord Dunmore bought it forty-nine years ago.
13353. What was the price? Do you know the price?—£60,000 for the estate, and £500 for the purchase of the patronage = £60,500. Tradition said that £15,000 was the price originally paid for it to M'Leod of M'Leod.
13354. We have been told there is a small portion of Harris - the lands of Ensay and Pabbay - belonging to Mr Stewart. When were they sold ? —By the present Lord Dunmore, not very many years ago.
13355. And he also sold North Harris ?—Yes.
13356. It was the present Lord Dunmore who sold the whole?—Yes.
13357. To Sir Edward Scott?—Yes.
Sir Edward Scott bought North Harris in 1867 but what is memorable is Macdonald's mastery of the sequence of ownership and the sums exchanged for his memory is not always as reliable as here.
13362. Sheriff Nicolson.—Were there some evictions which you remember, from the place where you are now living ?—Yes.
13363. When was that?—I can hardly condescend upon the date. It is over forty years ago, I believe.
13364. Were there not very severe measures resorted to for removing the people ?—Decidedly - very severe.
13365. Was not the Black Watch actually called upon to take part in that unpleasant work? - No, it was not the Black Watch, it was the 78th.
13366. Where did they come from?—They were brought all the way from Fort George.
If he is talking of the Clearance of Borve, then that was in 1839, some 44 years earlier and the regiment would have been the 78th Highlanders also called the Ross-Shire Buffs but the severity of the action doesn't appear to cause him any disquiet.
13367. And where were the people transported to?—I cannot tell, but I believe they were scattered and transplanted here and there in the country.
13368. You don't think they were carried to the colonies?—Oh, no.
13369. The Chairman.—They may have emigrated?—I cannot remember. I believe a few of them did emigrate, but I cannot say how many.
Having conveniently forgotten whether any emigrated, he then went on to mention a couple of 'success stories' from Canada!
13376. Had you ever to do with this estate at any time?—I had.
13377. Were you factor?—For a short time.
13378. Who stays at Rodel now ?—I believe the house is being prepared for his Lordship.
13379. There is no resident tenant now?—No.
So he had been the Factor of the South Harris Estate, and therefore resident at Rodel House, and confirms that no-one lives there now. I am particularly interested as my relative was the Farm Manager at Rodel in 1881, the year for which I cannot find a Factor in South Harris, and I am sure that he had been a resident of Rodel House in previous years.

In conclusion, Kenneth Macdonald has provided us with further pieces of the jigsaw, some containing clearer images than others, yet who leaves me with the impression of a man from the mainland who, despite living in Harris for over half-a-century, has singularly failed to engage with the plight of his fellow men. His attitude to the Clearances and to Emigration clearly put him in the same league as those more notorious Factors of Harris, Donald Stewart and John Robson Macdonald, yet he remains less well-known.

And, of course, I do not know what part was played by my relative who once shared a roof with John Robson Macdonald...

THOMAS BRYDONE (27)—examined

13384. The Chairman.—You are local factor for Lord Dunmore?—Yes.
13385. How long have you been factor?—Six months only.
13386. You have not had much time then to ascertain the wishes or condition of the people ?—No
Thomas Brydon became Factor of South Harris in Nov/Dec 1882 and in 1891we find him remaining as Factor, Farmhouse Luskentyre, (Leaclee), b. Dunblane, Perthshire.
13387. Has there been anything said to-day in your presence on which you wish to make any remark ?—No, I don't think there is. As far as the crofts are concerned there seems to be some misunderstanding, because the blame seems to be laid on the proprietors and factors as to the size of
the crofts. A crofter, in general, if he keeps a croft, in most cases divides it with some of his sons, who get married, without the consent of the proprietor or factor. It stands to reason that a whole croft will carry one family better than two or three, divided up, and I think if only one family lived on a croft they could make a comfortable living, but it is the cottar that ruins them, and it is cottars who deteriorate the land by constant cropping; and with the most of the laud, if there were only one
family on it, they could leave perhaps a little of the land out for two or three years, and leave it under grass, and then bring it in again.
13388. Then you think the subdivision of the crofts has generally been the result of the people settling their own children upon them ?—Yes.
There could be a tiny bit of truth in this for, assuming a natural growth in population, clearly subdivision must reach a limit. However, it totally neglects the fact that acres of fertile land were turned-over to sheep, that those forced into the Bays were often accommodated by subdividing already-occupied land, and that it was the earlier greed of the Kelp industry that had demanded a greater workforce before the market collapsed in 1815.
13389. Are you aware whether in former times the proprietors have made systematic efforts to provide for the younger branches of these families elsewhere ?—I don't know, but I think young men ought to have enough courage in themselves to go forth, as I have done myself, and many a one besides. It is much better than getting married and settling down on an acre of land.
The irony of this incomer from the mainland telling islanders to go forth and multiply as a solution to overcrowding needs no further amplification!
13390. Can you tell us the nature of the relief works which Lord Dunmore has provided with a view to the present necessities of the country ?—Draining, fencing, and building dykes, repairing piers, and so on.
13391. We heard from Mr Davidson a great complaint about the want of a road along the eastern shore of the island. Has that want been brought to your knowledge ?—There has been nothing said to me about it; I know the road, at least the most of it.
13392. Is it now in a very bad state ?—Yes; there was a road made part of the way at one time, but it is mostly all broken up. It is not passable for vehicles.
13393. Has any of the recent work been bestowed on that road?— No.
13394. Would it be very useful?—Well, they have got no horses on the east side of the island, and they mostly do all their work with boats. Unless for foot passengers, I don't think it would do much good. They could have ponies, certainly, if the road were made. They could not take a pony there now, but if they had it right they could.
13395. In other parts of the islands are wheeled carriages used?—Only along the main road to Tarbert.
The picture painted is pretty grim. Men engaged in, presumably needed, relief work under the requirements of the Poor Law(Scotland) Act 1845 would have toiled for a pittance and yet what they wanted was a road so that they could be relieved of the burden of having to carry in creels on their, and their womenfolk's backs, everything that was used on the land. It is another matter as to whether they could have afforded to buy horses and another as to what and where their 'ponies' would graze.
13396. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Are you in a separate district of roads ? Who has the charge of the roads ?—The trustees here. I am not sure, but I think Mr Macdonald, Scarista-vore, has something to do with it.
13397. Is Harris a district of itself, or is it connected with the Long Island ?—I cannot say.
We can see that roads were not Thomas Brydone's forte and, despite some six-months in the post, this Factor had no idea of precisely who was responsible for the roads in Harris, North or South.

13404. Are you authorised to intimate, or are you aware, that there are any further improvements or expenditure going on on the estate ?—Well there may be, I expect, in another year.
13405. But you don't know what the nature of those may be? - Roadmaking.
Methinks the man doth supply an answer that he perceives the commission wants to hear!
13406. The Chairman.—What value is the labour here, compared with the labour in Aberdeenshire? Do the people work as much or do as much ?—No, and they are not paid as much.
13407. For a long day's work in the summer, what are the common wages of the people here?—Twelve shillings to fifteen shillings a week for common labour.
13408. And you would be paying in Aberdeenshire from 18s. to 20s ? Yes, they get from 18s. to 25s.
13409. Do you think the amount of wages has much to do with the amount of work done ? Is it the custom of the country ?—Well, I think they are fully as well paid on the mainland as they are here.
13410. I mean, if you give a man higher wages, will he do more work ? - No, I don't think he will.
Wages in Aberdeenshire are on a scale 50% higher than on Harris! It is unfortunate that the commissioners didn't reiterate what they were clearly wanting to know I.e.-was the alleged laziness of islanders the reason for them being paid only two-thirds of their mainland counterparts but perhaps they took Thomas Brydone's answer as affirming that particular slander?
13411. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Do the family, either one or other of the members of it, live here a good part of the year ?—Yes, his Lordship lives pretty often here.
13412. Will he live here four or six months of the year, in the course of the whole year ?—I can only speak of the time I have been here myself, but he has been here I may say a few months since last Martinmas.
13413. But he is always here every year?—Yes, and he stays some time, and he knows the most of the crofters, and takes a great interest in them.
This is four years before the Countess of Dunmore's death yet, despite her interest in Harris Tweed, she, unlike her son, doesn't even get a mention here. The mention of Martinmass, the 11th of November , suggests that Brydone arrived around that time but Lord Dunmore's presence since that date is somewhat ambiguous in terms of frequency of visits and their duration.
13414. Does he speak Gaelic?—Yes he can speak Gaelic.
13415. Sheriff Nicolson.—Can you speak Gaelic yourself?—Yes.
13516. The Chairman.—How did you learn it?—I was born in the south of Aberdeenshire, and I was brought up in Athole, where there was nothing but Gaelic spoken, and I was obliged to learn it.
13417. Sheriff Nicolson.-—And you find it a decided advantage to know it, to make what you intend to convey to the natives clear ?—Yes, it is not suitable for one in my position to be without Gaelic in this country.
13418. Don't you think there might be a great injustice done without any intention, through people not understanding what was attempted to be conveyed to them in a language they did not understand ?—Yes, I quite believe it.
At last we find something positive about this particular Factor! His appreciation of the necessity of speaking Gaelic appears to be sincere. The only puzzle is that, in both the 1891 census when he is on Harris and the 1881 census when he was in Blair Atholl, his birthplace is given as Dunblane, Perthshire rather than 'in the south of Aberdeenshire' and in 1861 the 5 year-old scholar is indeed in Dunblane.
13419. The Chairman.—-What do you think are the prospects of planting in this country; do you think it will be possible to establish any plantations ?—I think it would never pay.
13420. But without paying, would they grow?—Well, in some parts of the island they would; in sheltered places they grow very well.
13421. But you don't think it could be a source of profit or improvement to the island ?—I don't think it would.
Clearly, having spent one Winter on the island, the young man was fully aware of the preposterous nature of this suggestion, a fact that would elude a later owner of the island some 35 years later...
13422. Do you think that much good could be done by fencing - by the erection of stone fences ? - I don't know where they are required much. Wire fences would be more suitable for marches in this country.
13423. That is between the tacks and the crofters, for instance? - Yes.
12424 But with reference to the arable ground of the crofters themselves, would a good stone fence not be of any value? -Well, they have good turf fences as it is; they are pretty well fenced in Harris as it is.
I have a suspicion that he is not too convinced by the 'Dyke-building' that the poor have been engaged upon and would rather see wire fences being erected to create barriers between people. His would no doubt be quite pleased to see that just such a situation exists over much of Harris today.
13425. Mr Fraser-Maclcintosh.—Are there any prizes offered by the ladies of the family for neat houses and neat gardens? - I think there are. It is not that I know it, but I hear the Countess has been giving prizes to those who have the neatest gardens.
Thomas is gaining in confidence now and his answers are fuller and expressed more clearly. This is the only time he refers to activity on the part of the Countess.
13426. Sheriff Nicolson.—Are you much struck by the character of the houses here, as compared with those you have been accustomed to see? Yes, there is no doubt of that.
13427. Do you know whether Lord Dunmore has done anything to improve the houses of the people, and stir them up to improve them themselves? - Yes, I have heard of his doing that himself.
13428. Does he give them encouragement to make the houses more neat and clean than they used to be? - Yes, he does that; I have heard him speak about it when he was here lately.
13429. Does he give them any encouragement in the shape of lime or wood ?—They don't get wood ; as for lime I have not had any experience.
13430. The Chairman.—Have many of the cottages on the estate got fire-places in the wall, or are they generally warmed by the fire in the centre 1—I have not been in many of the houses, but I think most of them are in the centre. It is the best part of the house, as they can all get round about it.
13431. And what about the smoke?—They don't mind the smoke, as it keeps them warm, they say. I think their houses are much warmer than most of the slated houses here.
Aha! - he ends with recognition of at least one of the benefits of the island 'blackhouse'! The earlier part of this final section reveals the usual prejudices of those for whom only four square walls, with windows and a chimney can be countenanced as fit for human habitation. I am not going to over-sentimentalise what it would have been like to live in a 'blackhouse', but it would make for a very interesting piece of experimental archaeology for a modern family to give it a go.

Overall, I think Thomas Brydone, who has entered the scene late in the day and without the taint of some of his predecessors actions, gives us a different and useful perspective. He is clearly a capable and intelligent young man and by 1891 had settled into the 'Farmhouse Luskentire' at Leac a Li with his wife and five children. In the intervening time he would have been charged with implementing the 1884 Crofters Act in South Harris, had seen the passing-away of the Countess of Dunmore in 1886, and we last see him back in Blair Atholl in 1901. He appears to have fathered 8 children between 1883 and 1900 with his Blair Atholl-born wife, Isabella. This is particularly helpful, for the first one to be born after the family departed Harris for Blair Atholl was born there in 1897. Hence the family left Harris sometime between 1891 and 1897.

For someone who was Factor of South Harris for between 9 and 15 years towards the end of the 19thC, I have discovered very little reference to his impact on the area. We do know that the road through the Bays was completed in 1897, 14 years after he had mentioned 'Roadmaking' to the commission, so can be pretty sure that he had a hand in that particular improvement, even if he left before it was fully opened!

Note: There is an earlier Thomas Brydone (1937-1904) of Blair Atholl who emigrated to New Zealand where he was instrumental in the development of the export of frozen produce to Britain, but I have not examined any possible family connection save to say that they do not appear to have been brothers -

'I will tell you how Rodel was cleared'
It is presumed that the clearance was that of 1818 and the 'young Macleod' was Alexander Norman Macleod who had inherited Harris from his father, Alexander Hume Macleod, in 1811.
There were 150 hearths in Rodel.
150 hearths (note that is the warm heart of the home that he uses to count the households) and the 1841 census records less than 15. If we allow an average of 5 people per hearth, which I think is a reasonable figure for the time, then some 750 people were made homeless in this single Clearance.
Forty of these paid rent.
Forty paying rent tells us that the remaining 110 were either landless Cottars or, perhaps, farm workers etc whose salary was partly paid in the form of rent-free accommodation.
When young Macleod came home with his newly-married wife to Rodel he went away to show his wife the place, and twenty of the women of Rodel came and met them and danced a reel before them, so glad were they to see them. By the time the year was out,—twelve months from that day, these twenty women were weeping and wailing; their houses being unroofed and their fires quenched by the orders of the estate.
A poignant passage-imagine the scene of the Commissioners sitting and hearing those words spoken for the very first time, the images evoked, the way a soulless word' cleared' becomes a very human tragedy. All from a 'Crofter and Fisherman' from Scalpay, not a Barrister from Edinburgh!
I could not say who was to blame, but before the year was out 150 fires were quenched.
This hints that, rather than Macleod himself, it may have been the Factor's fault?
Some of the more capable of these tenants were sent to Bernera, and others were crowded into the Bays on the east side of Harris—small places that kept three families in comfort where now there are eight.
Interesting, and perhaps a tad unfortunate?, that he uses the phrase 'more capable' in this context but perhaps he was merely reflecting the manner by which they had been selected some 65 years before this day in Tarbert?
Some of the cottars that were among these 150 were for a whole twelve months in the shielings before they were able to provide themselves with permanent residences.
I cannot begin to imagine how a family faced with the prospect of spending a whole year in the simple shelter of a shieling in the Summer pastures managed to survive. No doubt many members, particularly amongst the youngest and eldest, did not.
Others of them got, through the favour of Mrs Campbell of Strond, the site of a house upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves.
Mrs Campbell was the 'tackswomen' of Strond and I am wondering whether this explains the ruins near Borrisdale that I think were the 'Farm of Strond, Port Esgein' of the later census but 'upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves' is too ambiguous for me to be sure.
JOHN M'DIARMID, formerly Crofter and Fisherman, Scalpa (88)
Evidence to the Highlands and Islands Commission.

Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore died in 1886, the same year that saw a Telegraph Cable from Port Esgein on Harris to North Uist laid but Archibald N Macdonald, 20, was already the Telegraph Clerk living at East Tarbert 36 and his father Angus, was the Inspector of Poor. Archibald's presence in 1881 tells us that the line from Stornoway, and thence the mainland, was already in place. Once the link to Port Esgein was finished, the island archipelago would have undergone a communication revolution as the link between South Uist and Barra (a longer but less-tricky strait to traverse ) had been made two years earlier in 1884.

In 1888 Assisted emigration to Canada was established. In a woeful act of wilful neglect, no records were maintained of those leaving Scotland. The lists of passengers were carried aboard and, if the ship went down, no-one would know precisely who, let alone how many, had perished.

1890 proved to be an eventful year. On Monday13th January 1890 and the vessel SPANKER of Stornoway was on her way to Carloway, on the West coast of Lewis, from her home port. Her owner, M Maclean, saw his ketch leave with three crewmen aboard under the Captaincy of Alexander John Kerr. She was laden with cured herring, those salted silver darlings of the sea lying packed in hand-hewn barrels in these most-happy of days for the Lewis fisheries. 34 year-old Kerr, an experienced seaman who's first voyage had taken him to Archangel some 20 years earlier, had undertaken many such coastal trips as had his 68 year-old father, Malcolm, who may have been with him on this occasion. (Although we know that the 31 year-old Spanker was registered as SY 832 we do not know her Official Number and hence cannot search the Newfoundland archives for further information.)

What we do know is that at some point on this Winter's day in the Sound of Harris, those dangerous shallow-strewn waters between Berneray & Harris, they ran into a Southerly storm (recorded as Force 10 on the Beaufort Scale). This 58' 6" long sailing ship with a beam of 16' 6", fully-laden so that there were maybe only a couple of feet of free-board between her midships and the boiling sea below, became stranded on the rocks somewhere in Obbe Bay. What thoughts did these men have?
Alexander John's mind, fully-focussed upon his responsibilities, must be allowed to have wandered back to his home in 13 Church Street where his wife Margaret (MacArthur), 6 year-old son Donald and little baby Catherine Isabel (who tragically died of Tetanus, aged 5) who probably did not notice the wind moving round and gathering in intensity. He may also have reflected upon the fact that he was yards away from the shore where his grandfather had been born.

Whether they were attempting to make safe harbour in An-t-Ob (which is unlikely) or hoping to ride-out the storm in this treacherous stretch of sea cannot be known, but Maclean's cured herrings never reached Carloway, nor did whatever else those barrels may, or may not, have contained...

120 years later, if you take the ferry from Berneray to 'Leverburgh', you will follow, in part, the fateful course of the last journey of the 'Spanker'.

Should you do so, take time to peruse the Admiralty Chart on board, the Blue-Sea of the Sound spattered Jackson-Pollock fashion by the Sand-Yellow blotches of the myriad islands and shallows lying in wait and, as you make the two near-ninety degree turns that are the only safe passage, spare a thought for those four men on that stormy day all those years ago who's fate, save for that of the skipper, I do not know...

Mrs Captain Thomas became Mrs Beckett on her wedding on the 2nd of July 1890 in the Parish of All Saints, Paddington to James Flowers Beckett, a Retired Staff Commander. We will catch them again but, at the time of their wedding, she was still operating a Harris Tweed depot in London.

On the 25th July, William Morrison, husband of Christian Kerr of Strond was declared 'Missing, presumed dead, from 'Jessie Margaret off Thurso'. Another Fisher had paid the ultimate price for being forced to turn his back to the land and face the sea...