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, 29 October 2010

From Cottage to Palace

Again, an article from the Boston Evening Transcript but this one appeared on the 14th of August 1902 and was taken from the London Daily Mail newspaper.
Please take time to read it and also, perhaps, to compare and contrast the image it portrays of Harris & Lewis with that which I have attempted to present via this blog...

FROM COTTAGE TO PALACE

An Advert for THE "HARRIS CLOTH"

Should you be sitting to read your copy of the Boston Evening Transcript on Wednesday the 26th of April 1899, your eye might alight upon the sub-heading 'AHEAD OF ALL' and to the second entry:

THE "HARRIS CLOTH" is spun and woven in the homes of the fishermen on the estates of the Countess of Dunmore, in the island of Harris. W.Hebrides.Scotland. In all colors for gentlemen's spring wear at MESSENGER & JONES, 388 Washington street. Specially imported.

(Original here. from which you can see that the paper, celebrating its 70th year, cost 3 Cents.)

It is worth noting that, despite her having died some 13 years earlier, it was still the Countess of Dunmore whose name was linked to the origin of this "Harris Cloth" and it would be another decade before the 'Orb' trademark was established for Harris Tweed.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Burial at Sea in the 19thC

In connection with my quest to discover where my ancestor Malcolm Kerr (1822-1898) might have been laid to rest I contacted the  National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see what is known regarding the rules & regulations for burials at sea pertaining at the time.

The Births and Deaths Act, 1836 (which set up the system of civil registration in England and Wales), the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1874 and the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 gave instructions to Captains on how to register the actual death, but contained absolutely nothing dealing with the circumstances, such as the minimum depth of water or distance from the shore, under which such a burial could be undertaken.

My initial astonishment at the lack of any such legislation existing at that time has been tempered somewhat by the reflection that many souls were lost overboard (or in wrecks) close to land and yet their bodies were never given-up by the sea.
With that knowledge and experience perhaps it was felt unnecessary to specify a depth of water or a distance from the shore? It would appear to have been a matter of discretion as to whether to perform a burial at sea or to take the body ashore for burial, just so long as the actual death aboard the vessel was correctly recorded.

It also means that, whilst not proven, Malcolm could indeed have been buried at the spot where he died in the Horseshoe Bay of the Sound of Kerrera...

Note: I am extremely grateful to the Information Assistant at the Museum's Library for his diligent research into this topic.


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Upturned Boats

These examples of boats being given a second lease of life as sheds in Lindisfarne led me to seek further examples. It was brought to my attention that the Peggotty family in Charles Dickens' 'David Copperfield' lived in such a structure in Great Yarmouth as shown on this book jacket .
Further South down the East Coast of England I found these in Whitstable and Gravesend, Kent .

On the West Coast of mainland Scotland, however, it was considered bad luck to re-use parts from old vessels and the only Scottish examples that I've been able to discover are these from Stronsay, Orkney Isles and the Shetland Isles .

If you know of other examples, whether of whole hulls or perhaps just a spar used as a roof-timber, then please drop me a line...

Update: I have found one in Harris! (Middle photo) http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/114876/details/harris+geocrab/

Update2:  A modern take on the idea: Armadilla - http://www.shedworking.co.uk/2010/12/armadilla.html

Monday, 11 October 2010

Yachtsmen of Harris

I happened upon these men by chance when extending my family tree and finding that John Maclean (a Nephew of the Wife of my 1st Cousin 4 times removed!) had been a 'Yacht's Man' in 1891.

Exploring this unusual occupation produced the following records:

1881
(John Mcleod, 52, Yachtsman (Unemployed), 4 Nelson St, Greenock West, Renfrewshire, b. Harris)

1891
John Gillies, 39, Yachtsman, Strond, b. Harris
John Maclean, 23, Yacht's Man, Strond, b. Harris
William Macleod, 40, Yacht's Man, Strond, b. Harris
Norman Paterson, 20, Yacht's Man, Strond, b. Harris
Alexander Paterson, 18, Yacht's Man, Strond, b. Harris

John Morrison, 30, Yachtsman, Scaplay no 36, b. Harris

1901
John Mackay, Sailor's Yachtsman, Obbe, b. Harris
Kenneth Morrison, 21, Yacht Caretaker, Kentulavig, b. Harris

Malcolm Campbell, 25, Yachtsman, Bernera, b. Bernera, Inverness-shire
Alexander Macdonald, 30, Yachtsman, Bernera, b. Harris
John Mclean, 29, Yachtsman, Bernera, b. Bernera, Inverness-shire
John Paterson, 28, Yachtsman, Bernera, b. Bernera, Inverness-shire

(John Campbell, 54, Yachtsman, Kirkpark Cottage, Row, Dunbartonshire, b. Harris)
(John Mcleod, 72, Yachtsman (Retired), 85 Roxburgh St, Greenock West, Renfrewshire, b. Harris)

In all cases, these men were living with their families at the time of the census so it is not the case that a visiting yacht happened to be present at the time.
The two clusters of Yachtsmen, in Strond in 1891 and on Bernera a decade later, are therefore all the more intriguing and I am tempted to consider that in each case a local resident may have been the employer of these men?
What is known is that in later years Sir T.O.M. Sopwith extensively employed Hearachs on both his steam and sailing yachts (I understand that the Skipper of Endeavour II was from Direcleit?) and in doing so was following a precedent set at least 50 years earlier.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Hugh Matheson's of Stornoway

A comment from a friend regarding 'the Fortum & Mason's of Stornoway' led me to explore the early years of Hugh Matheson & his family. For reasons that will become clear, I have started in 1901:

1901
Hugh Matheson, 57, Baker & Grocer, 2 Francis St, b. Stornoway
Marion Matheson, 43, Wife, b. Dunvegan, Inverness-shire
(7 children, ages 3 to 16)

1891
Hugh Matheson, 47, Baker, 41 Cromwell St, b. Stornoway
Marion Matheson, 32, Wife, b. Durinish, Inverness-shire
(3 children)

1881
Hugh Matheson, 37, Baker, 25 North Beach St, b. Stornoway
Marian Matheson, 21, Wife, b. Durnish, Inverness-shire
(2 children ages 4 months and 5 years)

1871
Hugh Matheson, 27, Baker, Son, 48 Keith St, b. Stornoway
(Malcolm Matheson, 56, Shoemaker, b. Stornoway)
(Mary Matheson, 50, Wife, b. Stornoway)

1861
Hugh Matheson, 17, Baker Apprentice, 13 Cromwell St, b. Stornoway
(Ann Macdonald, 58, Shop Keeper (Baker's), b. Stornoway
(Malcolm Macdonald, 33, Baker (Master employing 2 boys), b. Stornoway

1851
Hughina Matheson, 7, Daughter, Keith St, b. Stornoway
(Malcolm Matheson, 36, Shoemaker, b. Stornoway)
(Mary Matheson, 31, Wife, b. Stornoway)
(3 more children ages 2 to 9)

1844 27th January Hugh Matheson b. Stornoway

1841
(Malcolm Matheson, 26, Shoe M, b. Ross & Cromarty)
(Mary Matheson, 20, b. Ross & Cromarty)

I am reasonably confident that these records display Hugh's location at the time of each census with the exception of that taken in 1851. There are no other Ross-shire born Hugh Matheson's who appear to 'fit' yet the person in the census of 1851 is female but of precisely the same age.
Possibly, Hugh and Hughina were twins, but the Old Parish Register only records Hugh Matheson, born on the 27th of January 1844 in Stornoway, and there are no records of a Hughina Matheson born anywhere in Scotland between 1842 and 1846. A further complication occurs because the 7 year-old Hughina is listed at the head of the children despite having an older sibling. It is a bit of a mystery but, whilst interesting in itself, need not distract us from the 'story' of Shoemaker's son Hugh Matheson who became the founder of, according to my source, Stornoway's finest emporium!

A photograph of the shop in Francis Street may be seen here .

(With thanks to Angela for inadvertently inspiring this entry!)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Chart of George Bousfield Thomas's Ancestors

I hope this is readable! It shows little George, who died a few weeks before his sixth birthday, together with his parents, his aunts and uncles and his grandparents. His widowed paternal grandfather and widowed maternal grandmother had married in 1827 and some 14 years later his parents, now step-brother & sister, had been married. George was the only child, not only of this particular union but of all of the children of George Thomas and Priscella Frembly. I have been unable to confirm what became of George Howard Thomas and Ellen Dinah Thomas but, as I can find no trace of either of them following their births, I am reasonably certain that each of them died either prior to 1837 (when registration was introduced in England) or prior to the 1841 Census at the very latest.  George was born into a family that was no stranger to sorrow, his father had lost his own mother when he was 10, his mother had lost her own father when she was 2, and only two years after his birth his paternal grandfather died returning from charting the Northern Isles of Scotland; whilst within another two years his only remaining uncle was dead. George must have been a particular source of joy, not only to his parents but to his remaining aunts and grandmother, so his own death must have been all the more traumatic for the family, all the remaining members having moved to live quite closely together in Scotland. I am convinced that these circumstances help explain how it was that Fred & Fanny Thomas came to devote themselves with such passion and humanity to the people of Harris & Lewis...



Saturday, 2 October 2010

An Architect on Harris

I decided to return to Donald McDonald and place him in the context of the household he was visiting at 'Rodil' in 1851.

Richard H Watson, Fish Merchant, 32, Rodil, b. England
Henry G Watson, 12, Errand Boy, Nephew, b. England
Donald McDonald, 35, Architect, Visitor, b. Kilmuir, Inverness
Isabella Maclean, 23, House Servant, b. Harris
Anne McMillan, 33, House Servant, b. Harris

English-born Richard H Watson was one of only four Merchants found in that census and the only Fish Merchant listed. Isabella Maclean moved to Big Borve by 1861 where she was a servant in the household of the Farmer, Kenneth Macdonald (a Farmer and, eventually, Factor of North Harris) and a decade later she was a Dressmaker in Strond with her husband, the Shepherd Malcolm Kerr. Come 1891, and Isabell was one of the very few ladies to call herself a 'Tailoress', although quite what can be implied from the term remains uncertain to me. The couple had married in Scarista on the 28th of February 1865 in the Established Church of Scotland but whether my cousin's choice of this was by design (he and his wife were each employees of 'establishment' figures in the form of Farmers & Factors) or circumstance (the Free Church Minister not being available) is, again, uncertain. However, as he was the second of Angus Kerr's sons to marry a Domestic Servant from a household in Rodel, I am building a picture whereby this particular branch of the family were clearly entwined, albeit as employees, with the incoming forces of Harris. I say this non-judgementally but merely as a statement of the apparent facts. Quite how it might have had ramifications with relations on the island, then and later, is an interesting matter to consider? But I digress.

Of the remaining members of the household, it is the presence of the Architect, Donald Mcdonald of Kilmuir, that was supposed to be my focus! We have already seen in previous pieces that the first post-famine census, that of 1851, showed many interesting developments on the island and it seems that the (unique) presence of an Architect at the time is wholly in keeping with those observations. Precisely which buildings he may have designed and seen built (if any) will probably never be known but anything from the Gardener's House and the Inn at An-t-Ob to the Manish Free Church and Manse are possibilities. It might help if I could locate him in other censuses but he either changed occupations, or perished, for this is his only appearance as an Architect and the 1841 census is poor in listing the occupation of all in a household.

So Donald McDonald, Architect, remains something of an enigma but I feel sure that it is no accident that we find a man of his profession in this household at Rodel in 1851, I'm just a little disappointed that I can shed no more light upon the man and his works, not even whether he was from Kilmuir on Skye or Kilmuir near Inverness...

Note: There are plenty of other pieces that refer to the actions of Kenneth Macdonald and John Robson Macdonald and these may be found either from the 'tags' or by utilising the search facility, both of which appear in the right-hand column of the page. A blog is inevitably episodic in nature so perhaps I should bow to peer-pressure (sorry, encouragement!) and start turning this beast into a book?