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

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Captain Sitwell and Harris

In his second appearance before the Napier commission, Kenneth Macdonald the Factor for North Harris makes reference to Captain Sitwell and the decision to resettle Borve in the late 1840s. The question arises as to who this Captain Sitwell was. There are two possible candidates that I have discovered thus far:

William Hurt Sitwell (10 September 1803-17 January 1865) of Barmoor Castle, Northumberland, England.
The 1841 census has him as Army Half-Pay at home in Northumberland and that of 1851 shows the Retired Army Major  at Cathcart House in Renfrewshire, Scotland. his maternal grandfather was Sir Illay Campbell of Succoth whose roles included Solicitor-General of Scotland and then 19 years as President of the Court of Session.

George Frederick Sitwell (7 July 1828-1884) He was son of the 2nd Baronet of Renishaw in Derbyshire
The 1861 census has the Late Captain 3rd Light Dragoons at Catthorpe in Leicestershire and that of 1871 shows the Major Indian Army Retired in Belgravia, London.

I think it is clear that William Hurt Sitwell appears the more likely of the two. Kenneth Macdonald, whose evidence displays an arrogance bordering upon, no, displaying complete contempt for the Captain, states that 'That was during Lord Dunmore's minority'. This is a clear reminder that the Captain's idea to experiment with  resettlement took place before the 7th Earl of Dunmore reached the age of majority and contains the implicit suggestion that such a thing would never have been countenanced by the Earl. Was Captain Sitwell acting in some legal capacity on behalf of the Countess of Dunmore who was looking-after her son's estate at the time?

I hope to be able to discover more about Captain Sitwell, not least because the tone of Kenneth Macdonald's evidence indicates that the good Captain made things a little less comfortable than they might have been for that particular man in the middle of the 19thC!

Update: I have found references to communications between Captain Sitwell in his role as 'commissioner for the tutor' indicating that he was indeed employed by the Countess of Dunmore (her son's 'tutor' at the time) and the Lord Advocate dated 1st September 1846. These relate to letters from John Robson Macdonald, the Factor of Harris, to the Countess and Captain Sitwell 'regarding the failure of the potato crop, and the consequent destitution of the inhabitants'. This series confirms my earlier guess that the Captain performed such a role but it also is evidence that, despite all the negative aspects of the Factor (not least his role in Clearances) he was sufficiently concerned to write to the Countess '...begging that 800 bolls of barley be sent immediately to Harris...' which displays another, altogether more humanitarian, side to his character.

The letters can be found in 'Correspondence From July, 1846 to February, 1847, Relating to the Measures Adopted for the Relief of the Distress in Scotland' 1847, W Clowes & Son, London for Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Captain Sitwell refers to the factor as 'Captain Macdonald' which is the first time I have seen John Robson Macdonald addressed in this manner. Whether it is an error or not on the part of Captain Sitwell  is uncertain but Macdonald doesn't use it himself so, unless he held that office in the Reserves at some time and hence his fellow ex-serviceman felt it proper to recognise the fact, I have no reason to believe that he was a Captain.

(Interestingly, in a letter of the 16th of March 1847 relating to the building of a Free Church at Finsbay, the Countess herself refers to John Robson Macdonald as 'Captain McDonald' so maybe he did indeed serve in the forces? The letter is an interesting source in itself, of which more, perhaps, later...)

Ref: http://thepeerage.com/index.htm


  1. Thanks for providing the background information on Capt Sitwell and his involvement with Harris. I found the evidence, submitted at Tarbert, among the most distressing submitted in Lewis & Harris.

  2. Thank YOU for your transcribing - I am gradually linking elements in this blog to the relevant parts of your Napier Commission one so that people can get a fuller picture than the one that I can provide.
    I agree, and found the tone of Kenneth Macdonald's evidence to be especially self-damning? Yet, as far as I can tell, he has not attracted the same degree of opprobrium as his peers!