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

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Evidence to The House of Lords – Letter of 23 February 1847

...The whole population of Harris is upwards of 4,000, including the island of Bernera, under one factor, who is acting for Lady Dunmore.


...I would say that 4,000 of the people are conscientiously attached to the Free Church, having left the Establishment at the disruption, and are formed into three district congregations, holding their meetings at Tarbert, Obe, and Bernera.


...They have also a catechist, who leads their devotional exercises at their sabbath and weekday meetings.


...I have visited Harris personally, and addressed large congregations at Tarbert, and Obe. I have no doubt that in these two places, under a Free Church minister, the congregation would average from 800 to 1,000 hearers. I have seen them triple that number.


...There is no church in any of those places. Repeated applications were made to Lord Dunmore for sites for churches, and I cannot say that any definite reason was given for refusing these applications; but it was inferred from several expressions used by the factor, and others in the factor's confidence, that the hope of inducing the people to return to the Establishment was the main influence that ruled his Lordship's mind when he refused to grant the sites.


I am not aware that any application was made for a manse site in Harris, nor even for a school site; I mean a permanent school. The people were discouraged from doing so by the refusal of the church site.


There is no stated Free Church minister in Harris. The poor people could scarcely have the courage to call a minister without a church, or any place of any description to shelter them from the inclemency of the weather.


...The whole estate of Harris has passed into the hands of Lord Dunmore's widow. I hear her Ladyship has offered a site in what is called the Bay of Harris, but I trust it will not be accepted there.


The two most populous districts in Harris, the one to the east, the other to the west of the bays, could not avail themselves of it, however anxious to do so.


Many attempts have been made indirectly to shake the people in their attachment to the Free Church. When I was in Harris in the spring of 1845, threat upon threat was circulated among the people, that any person actively engaged in the cause of the Free Church was certain of losing his croft, and otherwise incurring the displeasure of Lord Dunmore.


I am not aware, however, that in any instance but one the threat was actually executed. The instance is in the person of John Morrison, a blacksmith, who was at the following term turned out of his house, smithy, and land. He took the lead in Free Church matters, and had great influence over the people. He is now the catechist already referred to. It is universally understood that no minister of the Establishment came forward publicly to claim the rights of toleration to the Free Church, and it is well known that some of them, the minister at Harris among others, employed all their influence the other way. And it would be strange indeed if such conduct would fail to alienate the minds of the people from the Establishment. And every time they assemble in the open air, every shower of rain, every blast of wind, every flake of snow, on these occasions, not to speak of the injury done to health, reminds these poor people of the injustice they suffer for conscience sake. In fact, nothing could more effectually alienate them from the Establishment than the refusal of sites.

John MacRae

This letter speaks volumes. It tells us of how those with power and influence (what we might term the 'Establishment') sided with the Established Church (which MacRae terms 'the Establishment') and how those clinging-on for their very existence on Harris reached out to the Free Church, and it to them.

That much, perhaps, is unsurprising but the letter does nothing to diminish my strengthening belief that the Dunmore dynasty played a far more pro-active role in the Clearances (and other associated bullying activities) than history has been content to ascribe to them.

 Macrae's Letter

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