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, 27 November 2010

The Parochial Board of Harris in 1851

The members of this board, who signed a document relating to the situation in the island on the 3rd of April 1851 in Tarbert, Harris, are listed here with some (tentative!) notes in parenthesis:

RODERICK MACDONALD Minister (by 1855 the minister of South Uist)
J. R. MACDONALD Factor (Born Snizort, Inverness-shire)
DONALD McRAE Tacksman (Factor's Nephew, Farmer of 200 acres Employing 8 men & Justice of the Peace?)
JOHN MACDONALD Tacksman (possibly the Farmer of 150 acres on the Island of Taransay?)
ALEX. McRAE Tacksman (presumably the Farmer of Nisishee Employing 21 men?)
ROBERT CLARK Surgeon (From Argyll)
NORMAN M'LEOD Merchant (possibly the 'Farmer & Ship-person' of Tarbert?)
JOHN M'LEOD Ground-Officer (From Harris and living at Port Esgein)
JOHN KERR Joiner and Tenant (see below)
R. H. WATSON Fish-curer (English-born living at Rodel)
JOHN TROTTER Superintendent of Croft Culture (Drat, I can't find him!)
ALEX. CAMPBELL Lighthouse-Keeper (Born Harris, Assistant Light Keeper at Rhinns Lighthouse, Island of Oversay, Argyll)

Several of these twelve men are familiar to me and make appearances in earlier entries so I feel a little bit mean in not having diligently made a list of links for you, but if any of them are of particular interest then a simple search should lead you to those entries.

However, I am going to look at John Kerr the 'Joiner and Tenant' who is NOT someone in my own immediate family tree but who does feature in that of a well-known island 'character'.

John Kerr (1811-1879) was the older of the two sons of a Farmer, John Kerr, and his wife, the Weaveress Marion Macleod of Scarista and Borve. Both brothers became Joiners/Carpenters and the younger one, Roderick, was the father of John Kerr, the Minister of Harris who appears in Finlay J Macdonald's 'Crowdie & Cream' as 'Ayatollah Kerr'.

John the Joiner makes three appearances in the Scottish censuses, as a Carpenter in Scarista in 1841, as a Joiner in Luskintyre with his Perthshire-born wife Janet in 1851, and as a 'Journeyman' in the company of two younger Joiners in 'East Tarbert Shed' in 1861. I should explain that in that year his wife, Jessie, was living in Obe with their five children and described herself as a 'House Carpenter's Wife'.

What happens next is not one, but two migrations for the next child is born in Wales in 1863 and the one after that in Birkenhead in England in 1866, and it was there that the 'Ayatollah's uncle died in 1879.

Looking at the Parochial Board list it is clear that several came from outside of Harris and that at least half had an interest in seeing the expansion of sheep-farms at the expense of the native population. There are also several family ties that I have yet to fully explore & make explicit but the lack of any representation of the majority of the populace on this particular Parochial Board is obvious.

Finally, as I do suspect that this John Kerr is related to me and am sure that he (like all the other Harris Kerrs whose family trees I have fully constructed) was descended from 'incomers', probably arriving at the time of Captain Alexander Macleod, I think that his inclusion is indicative that in many cases they were allied to the 'improvers'.

This is not the first time that I have made this observation, and situations are always far more complex than one can hope to fully and accurately reconstruct after such a long passage of time, but John the Joiner, Member of the Parochial Board of Harris, uncle of John the (future) Minister of the Established Church at Scarista, who finally ends his days in England, must be trying to tell me something!


  1. You've certainly done a sterling job in tracing your family's history far and wide, across Scotland and beyond. How far back do you expect you can research your family tree?

  2. Thank You!

    On Lewis I've gone back to circa 1760 via the Croft Histories, on Harris circa 1790 and then the trail runs cold because I don't know where they came from (or when!) - Argyll or Sutherland looking the most likely?

    In England it's similar, ie mid/late 1700s, but there is one line that someone-else assures me is correct & that takes me to an '8 times great grandfather' whose son was born in 1663...

    I am more interested in them as 'hooks' to hang stories of social history upon and don't intend attempting to pursue any of them back to Domesday!