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

Friday, 26 November 2010

FWL Thomas's 1857 Chart of East Loch Tarbert - Direcleit Detail

On a par with my favourite map of Harris (the 1804/1805 one produced by Bald) is this chart from 1857 .
I have referred to each of these several times, the map's subtitle being  'The property of Alexander Hume Esq surveyed by William Bald, Assistant to Mr Ainslie, in 1804-5' whilst the chart was 'surveyed by Lieut. F.W.L. Thomas, R.N. Assisted by W.T. Clifton 2nd Master'.

I wish to compare Bald's view of 'Dieraclate' with that of Thomas's 'Dhiracleit' both to see what had altered in the intervening half-century, both in terms of Harris itself, of cartographic techniques and the motivation for making maps. I have attempted to provide links that display as closely as possible the same area but not precisely so.

Starting with Bald's map (this particular copy of which apparently dates from 1829), the man who probably commissioned it, Alexander Hume Macleod, had inherited the island from his father, the successful seaman Captain Macleod, in 1790 and would soon pass it on to his own son, Alexander Norman Macleod in 1811. Ignoring the pencilled annotations, which I believe to have been made during the ownership of the 7th Earl of Dunmore, the map is clearly intended to inform the landlord in some detail of the agricultural arrangements of the island. It itemises the holdings of no less than 25 separate parts and displays the location and boundaries pertaining to each of these. Additionally, major landmarks are identified as are settlements and routes for communication. There is a compass cross indicating North and scales in both 'Scotch Chains 74 feet each' and in 'Miles' as well as some soundings dotted around the casts and islands but whose unit of measure is not defined. The only other navigational information is a single 'Bearing to Gasgheir distance from Ru Hinigha 10 miles' although why we have this indication of where the island of Gaisgeir (Gasker in English) lies is a mystery. On the modern OS map this tiny island sits in splendid isolation neatly within the square kilometre at NA875116 so whether Bald included it as a useful navigational aid or simply in the interest of completeness is unknown.

Returning to the detailed section of the map around Direcleit, I want to consider the settlements that are indicated beginning with 'Tarbet'. Here we see a cluster of perhaps nine buildings bounded by a dotted-enclosure and West Loch Tarbert. Only a pair of buildings are shown in the area to the East where the present-day village is found. The settlement at the West Loch must surely indicate a link to the fishing grounds of the Atlantic for the harbour is the safest on the whole of that side of 'mainland' Harris and Captain Macleod   definitely perceived the economic future of the isle to lie within the sea rather than upon the land. Moving away from 'Tarbet' towards 'Loch Dieraclate' we encounter no signs of habitation within this part of the Farm of Luskentyre until reaching ' Ken Diebeck'.  If we assume that Bald only marked houses that were in occupation then if there had been any people living in that area he missed them but if he marked all buildings regardless of their status then the area had yet to be settled. Whichever is the case we are reasonably safe to say that whilst people were living in Kendebig  at the time there were none at Direcleit.

Compare that with the situation in 1857 where the chart still shows some six houses at 'Ceann Dhibig' but then another two-dozen scattered from 'Baille Dhiracleit' via the peninsular of 'Dhiracleit Pt' and up to 'Craobhag'. As clear an indication as one could wish for of the effect of the Clearances that took place during the first-half of the nineteenth-century in Harris.

One of those houses is of especial interest to me. If you start at 'Baille Dhiracleit', sitting on the narrow slice of land between the waters of sea and the inland loch, and let your eye traverse diagonally upwards and to the left you will reach a triangular mark with a dot inside it. This 'Trig Point' (short for 'Triangulation Point') is a fixed point whose precise location is known from other similar points that lie within sight of it and whose height above the sea has been measured to a great degree of accuracy. It is the secret behind all the work of cartography since the formation of the Ordnance Survey but whether this particular one was the work of that organisation of of Thomas himself I cannot say. This Trig Point lies within a defined parcel of land with two houses and it is the one nearest to 'Coal I' and 'Big I' that is our destination for there, some thirty-five years before the chart was constructed, my great, great grandfather Malcolm Kerr had been born.

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