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, 4 December 2010

Three Tenants of Strond

In 1861, 12 of the 32 families in Strond (ED7) recorded their Head of Household as a 'Tenant'.
There were no Tenants' in the 26 households of 'Oab' (ED6), the 5 of 'Borisdale' (ED7) nor the 5 of Rodel (ED7) thus these 12 were the only Tenants along the Sound of Harris between Rodel and An-t-Ob.

The whole of Harris at that time had 64 'Tenant' households, which can be compared to the total of 233 Crofter households of Harris none of whom were amongst the 68 households in this region.

I am particularly interested in three of these Tenant families:

Angus Kerr, 70, Tenant, b. Harris (my great,great,great granduncle)
Marion Kerr, 61, Wife, b. Harris
Malcolm Kerr, 30, Farmer's Shepherd, Son, b. Harris (marries Isabella Maclean, daughter of one of the 18 Tenants in Strond of 1841)
Effy Kerr, 26, Daughter, b. Harris (spinster)
Roderick Kerr, 22, Post, Son, b. Harris (bachelor)
Mary Kerr, 20, Daughter, b. Harris (see below)

Angus & Marion's other three children:
Marion b. 1821, fate not yet discovered;
Angus (Rodel Farm Grieve & Coachman) b. 1829 married, on the 5th of April 1870, Lexy Morrison daughter of Kyles Scalpay's Schoolmaster;
William b. 1826, a Fisherman who drowned, unmarried, in1862

Mary Kerr would, on the 12th of February 1867, marry Angus Macsween the Tenant, who was a son of John Macsween the Weaver and his wife Anne Campbell:

Angus Macsween, 34, Tenant, b. Harris
Lexy Macsween, 36, Ag Lab, Sister, b. Harris
Malcolm Macsween, 26, Sailor (Merchant Service), Brother, b. Harris
Kenneth Macsween, 24, Sailor (Merchant Service), Brother, b. Harris
Jessie Campbell, 22, General Servant, Cousin, b. Harris
John Gillies, 9, Nephew, b. Harris

John Gillies aged 9 is the son of Kenneth Gillies the Tenant and his wife who was born Marion Macsween. It would appear that she was the sister of Angus Macsween, hence John Gillies being his nephew.

Kenneth Gillies, 50, Tenant, b. Harris
Marion Gillies, 43, Wife, b. Harris
Donald Gillies, 20, Son, b. Harris
Ann Gillies, 17, Daughter, b. Harris
William Gillies, 13, Son, b. Harris
Catherine Gillies, 6, Daughter, b. Harris
Allan Gillies, 48, Brother, b. Harris
Mary McDearmid, 20, Pauper, Friend, b. Harris

John Gillies would, on the 14th of April 1891, marry Flora Morrison, the daughter of William Morrison & Christian Kerr, she herself being a daughter of Angus Kerr the Tenant. William, a Fisherman, drowned off Thurso on the 25th of December 1890. John Gillies, a Sailor, was one of small and somewhat mysterious group calling themselves 'Yacht's Man' in 1891.

William Morrison, 30, Fisherman, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 29, Wife, b. Harris
Flora Morrison, 4, Daughter, b. Harris
Angus Morrison, 2, son, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 2 months, Daughter, b. Harris

All four of these families lived along the Sound of Harris between Borrisdale, Strond and An-t-Ob ,but it was only when looking at Angus Kerr's fellow Tenants in Strond in 1861 that I realised the 'Tenant' connection and its possible significance within this part of the island at this time.

There were no Crofters anywhere between Rodel and An-t-Ob, just these dozen Tenants in Strond who represent more than a third of the households in that place and nearly a fifth of those in the region.

The 5 households at Rodel were the Factor's, those of three Farmer's Shepherds and finally that of an Agricultural Labourer. The 5 in Borrisdale were those of a Tailor, a Retired Weaver, a Retired Tenant, a Retired Herd and finally that of a Pauper who had previously been a General Servant.

The pattern is clear: at Rodel Farm are those working directly for the Dunmore's on what might be described as the 'Home Farm'. Over the hill at the Eastern end of the Sound were retired employees with one economically active Tailor. It is only when we get to the Farm of Strond that we find other activity taking place in the form of our dozen Tenants and their neighbouring households:

One Mason, a Gardener, three Fishermen, the Ground Officer's widow, two Shoemaker's Widows (one with her shoemaking son) an Agricultural Labourer, the Public Shepherd, a 'Seaman Packet' and three Sailors, a County Constable, the Retired Factor's Clerk, two Retired Tenants, a Weaveress, a very elderly Weaver and a Retired Weaveress who is now a Pauper.

In these 20 non-Tenant households we can see something of the 'flavour' of the area and, although it would take a complete analysis of each of the 179 individual's occupation to be more precise, I am prepared to say that this mixture of Fishers, Sailors, Weavers and 'Officials' employed by the proprietor is reasonably representative. Thus Strond in 1861 was the site of a group of tenants tending the farmland who were accompanied by men who made their living from the sea and others who were providing support to the owners. It is not until we get to An-t-Ob that this dominance that stretches from Rodel through Borrisdale and Strond is broken.

These demographics, in combination with the family connections as outlined above, appear to me to give credence to my growing conviction that my (distant) uncle Angus's family was one of those whose status/standing/class (I am struggling to find the appropriate term!) meant that they escaped the (ill)treatment that the Factor, John Robson Macdonald, was notoriously inflicting on so many less fortunate souls.

Angus was one of the 28 Tenants in An-t-Ob and Strond in 1841 but one of the only 12 remaining in that same area by 1861. His children worked in trusted positions in the households, or on the land, of the Factor and Farmers of Harris and married into similar families whose offspring were similarly employed - Isabella Maclean, for example, worked at Rodel in the home of a Fish Curer who later became a Farmer and then was employed by Kenneth Macdonald the Sheep Farmer at Big Borve before marrying Malcolm the Shepherd.

This process eventually resulted in one of Angus's granddaughters, Marion, becoming a Farmer's Wife.
She married the eldest son of the Fish-Curer-turned-Farmer whom her Aunt Isabella once worked for. Marion Kerr, the daughter of Angus Kerr the Farm Grieve, set-up home on Rodel Farm as Mrs John Campbell, her husband and his father being the two Farmers resident in Rodel.

I have touched upon this before and elsewhere in this blog, too, but had not previously examined the way the pattern that Angus the Tenant's descendants wove fitted into the larger picture of the area.

I think one could quite reasonably claim that they were 'comfortably woven into the fabric of society'...

Update: This view from the 1857 Chart of the Sound of Harris , surveyed 'Under the Direction of Capt. HC Otter', shows the ribbon of houses that were Strond. I believe Borrisdale referred to the cluster of 5 houses just below the clearly marked 'Stone Wall or Dyke' although what the strange rectilinear space that straddles the track in their midst remains a mystery.

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