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

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Sounds of Harris - 3rd Movement

1861
Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore, wasn't at home at the time of the 1861 census but his mother was. 15 years since the death of her husband, the 46 year-old Countess of Dunmore is recorded as plain Catherine Murray but states her occupation as 'Countess and Peeress'. With her on the family estate of Dunmore Park, Airth, Stirlingshire are two of her three daughters. Constance W E Murray, 22 and Alexandria V Murray, 15 are each kept occupied as a 'Lady'.

Charles A Murray, 20, Earl of Dunmore, Peer UK and Lieutenant in the Army, was at 17 Carlton House Terrace, at the end of The Mall in London. 25 years earlier it had been the home of the Earl of Cardigan, he of the 'Charge of the Light Brigade'.

On that same evening, but in Direcleit, John the Tailor and his wife Margaret had their two sons, Angus the Fisher and Niel, plus their Grandson Roderick, for company. Effie, the only daughter who I can find, was a General Servant in West Tarbert living with a Shoemaker called John Mcinnis and his wife Mary, who might be Effie's sister.

In the Sound, Angus is a Tenant living in Strond with his wife Marion and four of their children including their daughters, Effy and Mary, Son's Malcolm and Roderick are a Farmer's Shepherd and 'Post', i.e. Postman. Their other daughter, Christy Morrison and her Fisherman husband William are in Strond too, with their three small children. Of son William, there is no mention until, in 1862, he dies at the age of 24.

Along the coast at Rodel House, son Angus is a Ploughman living under the roof of John Robson Macdonald, Factor of the Harris Estate.

At some point in the 1860s the Factor arranged the clearance of Direcleit and Ceann Dibig whose population fell from 217 people living under 46 roofs in 1861 to just 54 people around 12 hearths a decade later. John the Tailor was one of the lucky few whose families were allowed to stay there and I cannot but wonder whether his nephew Angus had a hand in his salvation?

A new phenomenon, which I have actually just mentioned, appears on the 1871 census in the form of Ploughmen. The are rather useful in giving us an indication of the number and distribution of the farmers on Harris for it was only the Farmers who employed such people. The crofters tilled by hand.

Angus Mclean, 30, Island of Ensay, b. North Uist
Angus Kerr, 33, Rodil House, b. Harris
John Macuspal(?), 33, Scarista Veg, b. Harris
John Morrison, 52, Big Borve, b. Harris
Neil McCuish, 36, Luskintyre, b. Uist
Norman Macaskill, 48, ??? House, Island of Tarrinsay, b. Harris

John Macdonald, 20, West Tarbert, b. Harris

So there we have them, from Ensay in the Sound, via Rodel, then up the West Coat Machair to Taransay, the farms of Harris in 1861. For some reason no other census records more than a couple of ploughmen – perhaps in later years it had become more commonplace for those working on the farms to share that particular duty? Each farm had a Herdsman for the cattle, although often they were boys in their teens rather than mature men.

A practice that I have read-of, but not established in detail, was people being forced to use the powered mills rather than their own hand-quearns at home. The millers at this time were Matthew Macauley, 23, and his Assistant, Angus Macsween, 33,at Kentulavig which is adjacent to An-t-Ob. Angus Morrison, who had been the miller and Blacksmith appears to have relinquished the role and, perhaps, as the son of 'Gobha na Hearadh' he objected to that stipulation? Another miller, John Macaulay, whose wife Marion (Kerr) is at their home in Breascleit, Uig, Lewis, is visiting Angus Morrison perhaps regarding repairs to his own mill?

The first Minister of the Free Church at Manish was Alexander Davidson who hailed from Moy in Inverness. Also working for the church were John Cunningham, 23, Enumerator of Census and Free Church Preacher ofGrosebay, Angus Macrae, 37, Free Minister Officiating, Lodger, Oban, Harris and Ewen Macaulay, 80, Free Church Elder of Ardhasaig. There was also a Catechist, Donald Mackinnon, at An-t-Ob but which church he was associated with isn't stated. The Minister of the Established Church at Scarista was John Norman Macdonald.

The family of 'Gobha na Hearadh', the smith who had been largely responsible for the church and Manse at Manish, continued to ply his original trade and Ewen Morrison, his eldest son, did so in East Tarbert where there was another smith, Malcolm Morrison (possibly related) who's lodger was the one policeman on Harris.

By 1863 Ardvourlie Castle has been built for the 22 year-old 7th Earl as a Hunting Lodge for his North Harris Estate to be let on a tenancy basis to his sporting friends. A couple of years later he has the Harris Hotel, originally called the Tarbert Hotel, constructed and the final piece in this trio sees the near-completion in 1867 of Abhainnsuidhe Castle. The Earl had decided that Ardvourlie Castle was too far removed from his sporting activities so, in 1867 Fincastle was constructed, Fincastle being the courtesy title (Viscount Fincastle) of the first sons of the Earls of Dunmore. It later was renamed Amhuinnsuidhe Castle after its location. His fiancé, who was born at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, allegedly made a disparaging comment that spurred the young Earl to order a further addition to the building. This proved to be the final straw for later that year he sold the North Harris Estate to Sir Edward Henry Scott, 5th Baronet of Lychett Minster, for £155,000 (over two-and-a-half times what the 5th Earl of Dunmore had paid for the whole of Harris some 33 years earlier!).

Sir E Scott is perhaps best known from the school in Tarbert that bears his name. The Baronetcy of Lytchett Minster was created in 1821 for Sir Claude Scott. Lychett Minster is a small village a mile inland from the sea near Poole in Dorset on the South coast of England. Although Lytchett Minster was home to the title, the home of the Scott family was Sundridge Park in Bromley, Kent. Sir Edward Henry Scott married Emilie Packe in the Summer of 1865 in Mitford, Norfolk and their son, Sir Samuel Edward Scott married Sophie Beatrix Mary Cadogan, a daughter of the 5th Earl of Cadogan, in the Summer of 1896 in Chelsea.

One person who makes an unexpected entry is the Butler of Little Borve. I presume that he was serving at Borve Lodge but, as I am unsure of when it was built, his living there in 1861 presents a clue, perhaps?

On the 22nd December 1863 at the Free Church in Manish, Angus the Fisher from Direcleit married a Mary Macdonald and it would not be long before they started their family. I think it is significant that this pair from the Bays elected to be wed under the roof of the church at Manish rather than that of the Established Church at Scarista.

On the 5th of February 1865, Angus of Strond's son Malcolm the Shepherd married Isabella Maclean, a Dressmaker, at Scarista. Malcolm was employed by a Farmer, as was his brother Angus, and so whether his choosing the Established Church was for reasons of conscience or diplomacy cannot be easily decided. Either way, it is potentially of equal significance as his cousin's earlier selection of the Free Church.

Another wedding of significance took place in June 1866 when the 7th Earl married Gertrude Coke, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Leicester, at Walsingham in Norfolk just a few miles from her ancestral home of Holkham Hall.

In 1866 Mary presented Angus the Fisher with a daughter, Ann, and another, Catherine, the next year. On the 12th February 1867 Angus of Strond's daughter, Mary, married a Fisherman called Angus Macsween. The wedding took place at Strond according to the forms of the Free Church and witnessed by a John Kerr. There are three people who this could be but, if not John the Tailor, it confirms links with at least one other Kerr family on Harris. The choice of church continues to perplex, but it could well be that it was more a case of 'grabbing' a Minister when available rather than anything more complex!

Celebration of these first Harris-born grandchildren of John the Tailor were cut short when, at 11 O'clock on the 28th March 1867, John died at Direcleit. His son, Donald, registered the death of the 78 year-old who died simply of 'Old Age and General Decay'. Just over a month would pass before, on the 2nd of May and in Strond where the brothers had both been born, Angus Kerr died at the age of 75. His daughter, Christina, registered the birth (putting her 'mark', an 'X', beneath her maiden rather than her married name) but the chilling fact is the cause of death: 'Paralysis Several Years'. I know neither the extent of his paralysis nor its duration but those three words need no such amplification to add to their horror.

The Little Minch Channel

These extracts are from The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1866 and give a clear and vivid impression of the seas between Skye and the Western Isles. I have left all spellings as they appeared in the original:

My experience in the navigation of the Minch has been collected in storm and calm, in snow and fog, amidst those difficulties and dangers with which it abounds...


...giving some idea of the weather in that remarkable channel the little Minch; to describe the sudden changes from a quiet calm to a tempestuous raging sea, that will prepare the navigator for what he is to expect there...


...it may be first stated that the Little Minch is the name of a channel or strait in contradistinction to the Great one to the northward of it.


...it will be seen that the Little Minch is a channel from thirteen to twenty-four miles wide, occupying a position between the Isle of Skye and the Hebrides or Western Isles of Scotland, on the West shores of Inverness and Rosshire.


The navigator who has passed through it knows well that it is exposed to the whole fury of the Atlantic Ocean, being entirely open to its southerly gales, and consequently is very seldom in an undisturbed or tranquil state. It is nevertheless the highway of vessels running between the ports of this country and those of Norway, Sweden, Lapland, Prussia, and Russia, carrying timber, tar, tallow, flax, &c. As might be supposed, in so important and extended a trade, vessels of heavy burden, and many smaller ones, frequent its waters in passing to the West coast of Scotland, England, or Ireland.


...the area of water surface which it contains is about 500 square miles: all of which has been minutely sounded, rocks, dangers, and fishing banks carefully searched for, and their places assigned them in the chart.


The greatest depth of water in it is 111 fathoms (666 feet), off Dunvegan Head ; and the least depth at a moderate distance (one mile) from the shores, 18 to 25 fathoms. It does not contain a single known hidden danger, except at its northern extreme, that will be mentioned in its turn.


The Little Minch contains three fishing banks, having depths from 23 to 35 fathoms, the ground composed of sand, shells, and sometimes rock, and perhaps some gravel.


The West side the Minch is very much sheltered from the sea and its westerly gales, by the isles of Harris and North and South Uist, which translated simply means western lands. An entrance from the western sea lies between the two former, named the Sound of Harris. A chart of this sound has been lately compiled by the captain and officers of the Porcupine and Seagull, that gives a good idea of this labyrinth of rocks and shoals, showing the laborious, hazardous, and even dangerous task it must have been to construct. The sound has a good channel, which, with moderate caution, may be used by vessels of any burthen, affording them shelter from the fierce and boisterous Atlantic, and a safe entrance into the comparatively tranquil waters of the Little Minch.


On the western side of the Minch the anchorages are numerous, and much frequented by vessels bound to the southward. Every loch affords a shelter, and the principal are, Lochs Tarbert, Greosavsgh, Stokenisk, and Rodel in the Isle of Harris. Lochs Maddy, Evort, Bahnacaplich, Uskevagh, and Loep, in North Uist; and in South Uist are Lochs Skiport, Ainneart, and Brisdale, with many smaller anchorages for coasters.


We will now ask the reader to turn his attention to the dangers of the navigation and the mode of avoiding them. To the mariner they already have appeared so formidable that he will naturally and anxiously wish to have them at a respectful distance.


The southern entrance to the Minch is quite free from dangers, and the yacht or even the deeply laden barque may fearlessly run into it. But at the north-eastern entrance there are some to be carefully avoided. These are, Sgeir i noe, Sgeir Graitich, Eugenie Rock, (on which a vessel of that name was lately wrecked,) Sgeir na mule, Ghiant South Rock, about 2 1/2 to 3 miles South-westerly of Shiant Isles; this is however, out of the limits of the Little Minch. These are what may be termed hidden dangers, but with the simple yet sufficient directions lately compiled by Captain Otter, of the Porcupine, they may be all easily avoided.


...gales are soon up, and the vessel that is caught in one had better run for snug quarters on their first appearance.

I do not know who the author of this document was, but perhaps it was Captain FWL Thomas? He, now styled a Commander RN and Marine Surveyor, was living in Leith, Edinburgh, with his wife who is known to us as 'Mrs Thomas' or 'Mrs Captain Thomas'. They are to be found in Leith again in 1871 and 1881 and Mrs Thomas was trading in tweeds from there for at least 30 years which is one reason why I think that she deserves equal, and possibly more, recognition than the Countess of Dunmore for turning Harris Tweed into a thriving and successful business venture for the islands. The Stocking-Knitting that had been started by the two ladies in 1857 strangely does not make an appearance, other than one lady in Tarbert, until 1871, suggesting that, for the first four years, it had yet to produce sufficient employment for the ladies engaged upon it to name it as their prime occupation. That would change. Similarly, there was actually a drop of nearly 20% in the number of weaveresses compared to ten years earlier but the significance, if any, remains to be discovered.

The Embroidery School that the Countess had established was run by Mary Galbraith a 37 year-old lady from Ireland whose husband was the Dunmore's Gardener. As the house was built for the Gardener in 1850 it is probably safe to assume that they had been living there for the past decade. There were 10 Dressmakers, mainly in the Bays and along the Sound, and again this suggests a growth in economic activity at a time when most women would probably be expected to possess the skills needed to meet their domestic requirements.

There were 10 merchants on Harris which suggests a change in the magnitude of importance of trade on the island. At least some of these men appear to have grown from tradesmen into merchants, suggesting a home-grown entrepreneurial spirit that is often ignored in the history of the islands. Similarly, the six Boat-Builders and Ship-Carpenters of a decade earlier had grown to ten men practising those crafts on the island, predominantly in the Bays and Strond.

The Inn at An-t-Ob was still open for business and being run by the Macdonalds whose 35 year-old son Roderick was by now a Merchant in his own right. In 1868 he married Sarah Grant in Forres. She was some fifteen years his junior and went to Harris as Mrs S Macdonald, by which title she is best known.

Postal services at this time were being provided by Roderick Morrison, the 41 year-old Post Runner in An-t-Ob and Roderick Kerr, the 22 year-old Post(man) in Strond.

In 1869, Angus the Fisher and Mary had their third child, a son who they called John presumably after his grandfather John the Tailor who had died only two years earlier.

So what was the outcome of these first years of the 7th Earl's ownership? Certainly there were less clearances, but only because there was nowhere fertile , with perhaps the exception of Strond, left to clear. Emigration, the final step in the process of replacing people by sheep, gained pace. There is some evidence of a growth in trade but overall the lot of the people was no better than it had been. They were still denied the land needed to support themselves, even more had turned to fishing for support and meanwhile the Earl had constructed a castle of such expansive proportions that he had to sell the Estate surrounding it almost before the building was habitable.

On the 5th April 1870 and at the age of 43 Angus Kerr the Farm Grieve of Rodel married 32 year-old Alexandrina (Lexy) Morrison, daughter of the retired Schoolmaster Donald Morrison, at Obe. The service was conducted under the forms of the Established Church although, once again, whether this reflected religious allegiance or less lofty considerations is a matter of conjecture. The pair had been working and living at Rodel House for at least ten years prior to their marriage!

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