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

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...

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