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

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

1748 & All That

In a paper from Volume 45 of the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness the late Alick Morrison provides us with a glimpse into the ‘Harris Estate Papers 1724-1754’.

There is plenty of fertile ground here for anyone with an interest in the history of Harris and it is certainly worth noting in passing the significant role played by many members of the Campbell families in serving the island over many, many years.

However, what took my eye from within the transcribed accounts was a single payment of £60 made in 1748. That sum would be comparable to perhaps £100,000 in today’s salaries and should be considered in relation to the Factor’s £150 (£250,000), the Ground Officer’s £33 (£55,000) and the Deputy Forester’s £20 (£33,000).

The recipient of this payment was one Roderick Kerr but why he was being given such a sum is sadly unrecorded. Nevertheless, I am pleased to have found written evidence placing a Kerr in Harris at such an early date. What Roderick’s role was is open to conjecture, as is whether he was a direct ancestor of mine, but this single entry pushes back ‘our’ recorded presence by some 50 years.

It is also a very early record of the family name within the Highlands & Islands & we may note that nearly a century later, when the 1841 Census was taken, there were less than a dozen people named Roderick Kerr in the whole of Scotland and three of these were in Harris.

Our origins as a Gaelic family in the North-West, unconnected with the more-familiar Ayrshire clan, is open to conjecture (I am leaning towards possible descent from Alexander ‘Kier’ Shaw of Rothiemurcus!) but I’m delighted that Roderick’s £60 continues to be of value to us!

Ref: Morrison, Alick, 'Harris Estate Papers, 1752-1754' TGSI 45 (1967-68) 33-97

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Note In The Margin

A recent exchange on a friend's blog occasioned me to revisit my post on the Hamlet of Limera where I had written that:

Secondly, we have the 8 men, each a ‘Fisher’, and ranging in age from 14 to 48. Whether this was their ‘permanent’ abode or they were merely making-use of the facilities whilst fishing the local waters I do not know. I do know that a group of, largely, such young men cannot have chosen to be living together in such circumstances if there were a more companionable alternative available.

Deciding to look at the original census return on scotlandspeople.gov.uk, I saw a note in the margin referring to these two groups of fishers:

‘The contents of schedules 22 & 23 are two fishing boats’ crews; they belong to other parts of this parish but have also houses here (Limera) as being an eligible fishing station: they were both at sea when their schedules were taken up. Their relation to one another or the  ‘Head of Family’ could not in every case be ascertained by R M Esq.’

‘R M Esq’ appears to have been Roderick MacKay, the Enumerator who also describes the location specifically as the ‘Station of Limera’.

The interesting pieces of additional information are that, whilst the two crews were indeed ‘making-use of the facilities...’ which I had suggested might be the case, the houses they inhabited were in fact occupied by them in what appears to have been a regular manner at this ‘eligible fishing station’.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Death in Stornoway Town Hall

It is 1:45 in the afternoon of Tuesday, the 19th of May 1904 and building work on Stornoway Town Hall has been brought to a halt. William J Macdonald, a 21 year-old House Carpenter originally from Avoch, a few miles North of Inverness, but currently living at 27 South Beach Street, has just died of a fracture of the skull.
His death was registered on Saturday, the 14th of June (the figure is a little unclear), the delay being occasioned because it was registered ‘on the information of the Procurator Fiscal’, the cause being derived ‘...per verdict of jury.’

I have not discovered any online references to this tragic event but no doubt some of the newspapers of the time will have reported upon it. Meanwhile we may catch a glimpse of William three years before his death when, at the time of the 1901 Census, he was an 18 year-old  ‘Carpenter Apprentice’, the eldest of the remaining six children of William Macdonald, a 50 year-old Baker, and his wife Catherine who was aged 44.

The family resided at 3 George Street, Avoch, Ross-shire and were affluent enough to employ a Cook.  A decade earlier they had been living at 20 & 21 Margaret Street and, as well as two fellow Bakers and an Apprentice Baker, the Macdonald household also included a General Servant (Domestic). The oldest child, 9 year-old Jessie Ann Macdonald, had been born in Avoch as would be the case with all of her siblings.

I stumbled upon this unusual death by chance when I saw the photograph of William Macdonald’s memorial here: http://gravestones.rosscromartyroots.co.uk/picture/number14047.asp . The phrase ‘accidentally killed at Stornoway Town Hall’ immediately grabbed my attention but what held it was the fact that this impressive memorial had been ‘Erected by his employer’.

Sadly, when William’s death was recorded in Stornoway, he was said to be 25 years old rather than his true age of just 21, for William James Macdonald had indeed been born in 1883.
His memorial also shows that a mere two years after his death the family suffered a second untimely death with the loss of Jessie Ann at the age of just 25...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Lexy Morrison (1834-1921) & Lexy Campbell (1908-1994)

I don’t know why I’d not looked at Lexy Kerr’s Death Certificate before now, but I hadn’t...

She was born in South Uist to Donald Morrison (who would later become the schoolmaster at Kyles Scalpay,) and his wife Christina MacKinnon.

By 1861, Lexy Morrison had joined the household of the Factor, John Robertson Macdonald, at Rodil House where she was the House Maid. It was there that she met the then Ploughman, Angus Kerr, whom she married on the 5th of April 1870 and the census of the following year records the couple living in Rodel where Angus was now the Farm Grieve, or manager.

Their daughter Marion, an only child, was born in Rodel in 1873 and the family remained there with Marion marrying a farmer called John Campbell.  John’s  father, Roderick Campbell, had been farming Borve in the island of Berneray prior to it being re-crofted but the pair were also successful Fish Curers in South Harris.

John then became the farmer on Taransay and Marion was to give birth to two daughter and three sons the eldest of whom, Roderick Campbell, continued to farm on the island after his father’s death in 1945, some 11 years after Marion herself had died.

Marion’s mother, Lexy, had been widowed in 1910 and I had assumed that she remained in Rodel (where she is recorded living alone in 1911) until her own death 11 years later.
However, her death certificate informs us that, on the 29th of October 1921 at 7:30 in the morning, she passed away at ‘Tarinsay Island’.

I presume that at some time during the second decade of the twentieth century, Marion had invited her elderly mother to join the Campbell family on Taransay and hence that was where Lexy died.
The informant, incidentally, was Malcolm Campbell, described as a ‘neighbour’ in Borve, Harris but he is also very likely to have been one of her son-in-law’s relatives.

Half-a-century after Lexy’s death her grand-daughter Lexy Campbell, (who had married but remained at Taransay) had some visitors and in his book ‘The Isle of Taransay’, Bill Lawson refers to how hospitable she and her husband Ewen MacRae were as hosts.

Lexy had been born at Taransay on the 4th of September 1908 and died on the Harris ‘mainland’ in 1994. She would have been only 17 months old when her grandfather, Angus Kerr, died at Rodel on the 27th of February 1910 but I’d like to think that at least a little of her hospitality had been inherited from him and, of course, from her grandmother Lexy after whom she was, presumably, named.

It seems that my two cousins, Lexy Campbell and her son Ewen MacRae, were the last permanent residents of Taransay but what is unclear to me is whether another cousin (one of Lexy's brothers) had owned the island at some earlier time?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Peter Kerr (1802-1862)

When I first came upon Peter, whilst compiling my comprehensive & detailed family  tree of the ‘Kerrs of Harris’ some four years ago, it was inevitable that a small frisson of excitement occurred: Were we related, by any chance?

Let us look at what the three censuses have to tell us about Peter & his family:

Peter Kerr, 45, Tenant, Kentulavig, b. Inverness
Margaret, 40, b. Inverness
Mary, 15, b. Inverness
Kenneth, 12, b. Inverness
John, 10, b. Inverness
Effy, 8, b. Inverness
Catherine, 5, b.Inverness
Donald, 8 months, b. Inverness

Peter Kerr, 55, Dry Mason, Kintulavick, Harris, b. Harris
Margaret, 50, Wife, b. Harris
Rachel, 16, Daughter, b. Harris
William, 11, Son, b. Harris

Peter Kerr, 67, Stone Mason, Soroba Lower, Craignish, Argyll, b. Harris
Margaret, 62, Wife, b. Harris
Rachel  Stables, 25, Daughter, A Painter’s Wife, b. Harris
Margaret Stables, 2, Granddaughter, b. Craignish
Phemie Stables, 8 months, Granddaughter, b. Craignish
Roderick Kerr, 6, Grandson, b. Harris

We can see that Peter & Margaret had at least 6 or 8 children born between circa 1825 and 1840 in Harris and that he was a mason. Incidentally, he would have been in the right place at the right time to have been involved in the construction of the Telford Church on Berneray, but equally likely was ‘merely’ responsible for domestic buildings and/or dykes on the island?

Peter died at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the 22nd of February 1862, aged 60, at Soroba, Craignish.  He had been suffering from diseased kidneys and an ulcerated bladder for several years. His parents, both deceased, were a Farmer, Donald Kerr, and his wife Sarah Ferguson, and Peter’s widow had been born Margaret MacAskill. The death was registered by Peter’s son, William.

That was pretty much all that I had established about him (although I had followed his descendants a little further) until quite recently when I learnt that a Patrick Keir had been a tenant in Rushgarry on the Island of Berneray in 1830 and that he was believed to be the mason who appears a decade later on mainland Harris.

Revisiting my research in the light of this new knowledge I realised that we have corroboration in the form of Peter’s wife’s, his mother’s & his own name for MacAskill & Ferguson are family names particularly well associated with Berneray whilst the Gaelic Padruig (which we see as ‘Patrick in 1830) was usually anglicised on the island in later years into Peter rather than Patrick.

The use of ‘Keir’ in 1830 suggests to me an Anglicisation of ‘Cearr’ which also fuels another little fire of mine:
Alexander ‘Keir’ (for ‘brown or, perhaps, swarthy) Shaw was one of the possible progenitors of the Shaw families of Harris. Did some of his descendants in the area choose to adopt his ‘moniker’ as a way of distinguishing themselves from their other Shaw neighbours in the region? If so, were my own earliest island ancestors, Malcolm Kerr & Effie Shaw, perhaps distantly related by very early roots in Rothiemurchus?

I really don’t know, but I’m reasonably satisfied that my namesake was a son of Berneray although the pattern of his son’s names appears quite different to the predominantly Malcolm/Angus/John repetition that occurs in my own family.

I should also point out this family which appears in the ‘Register of Emigrants from the Western Isles of Scotland 1750-1900, Volume 1 Isle of Harris’: 
Peter Kerr, Margaret Kerr, (Wife), John, Rachel, Donald, William, Catherine, Kenneth, Effie &  Mary
They are stated as having left Harris between 1850 & 1859 for ‘Port Uncertain’.

I think it is clear that this is the same family and thus that their destination (or, rather, the place where at least some of the family, including both the parents, emigrated to) was Craignish in Argyll.

Finally, and taking a real flight of fancy, if Peter’s father Donald Kerr was an (otherwise unrecorded) farmerof that name on Berneray, then perhaps he & ‘my’ Malcolm were in some way related, perhaps even brothers? They were certainly contemporaries ( & neighbours across the Sound) so maybe my flight of fancy as to one possible origin of my family name in these parts isn’t quite as wild as I first thought...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Campbell Family Gravestone at Scarista

Contributor JM very kindly sent me a picture taken earlier this year in the cemetery at Scarista, Harris.
I am extremely grateful to him and wondering particularly about the story of what appears to be the monogram 'CK' at the head of the stone?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Taransay Connection

At eleven o'clock on the morning on the 24th of July 1934 Marion Campbell, wife of the sheep farmer John Campbell, died on the island of Taransay. The 66 year old had been suffering from throat cancer for at least a year. Her death was registered by her son, Roderick Campbell (then resident in Leverburgh) who became the last resident farmer of Taransay following his father's death on the island in 1945.

Roderick's grandparents were Roderick Campbell, from Drinishader (later moving to Scadabay) on mainland Harris, and Lizzie (Elizabeth) MacRae who lived, and was very likely born upon, the island of Killegray in the Sound of Harris. Her father, Kenneth MacRae, would later become the farmer at Little Borve following the final Clearance of the Borves by the Factor, John Robertson MacDonald.

Similarly Lizzie's husband, the Fish Curer Roderick Campbell, would, following her death in 1888 and his remarrying, become the farmer of Borve, Berneray which the same Factor had also had Cleared during his time on Harris. Roderick, appearing on the scene several decades after the Clearance, was reputedly a well-liked & benevolent farmer and, although his departure from Berneray had been preceded by an act of unaccustomed vandalism involving the sinking of a boat, the crofters apparently meant him no personal animosity but were merely wanting their hereditary land returned to them. In this they were to succeed when the farm was recrofted in 1900.

Roderick and his son John were successful Fish Curers in Rodel but I wish to take the family a few generations back, before progressing further forward. Roderick's father, John Campbell, had been a Merchant in Scadabay and it was there that the 63 year old died in 1866. He left a widow, Rachael MacDonald, and also the name of his parents, Kenneth Campbell and Rachael Morrison.

Now, my understanding is that these Campbells were related to the Campbell family of Strond including Anne Campbell, the benevolent holder of the tack of Killegray & Strond who was engaged in legal wrangles with Donald Stewart in the 1830s and who had provided a place to live for some of those thrown from their homes in Rodel by her half-nephew, Alexander Hume MacLeod, back in 1818.

Allow me to elaborate upon that last point for it is a connection that I have only just this moment made! Alexander Hume MacLeod was the son of Captain Alexander MacLeod who was the second son to be born to Donald MacLeod, the 'Old Trojan' of Berneray during his first marriage. Anne was the widow of (another) Kenneth Campbell but had been born Anne MacLeod, the sixth of the nine children sired by the 'Old Trojan' during the 15 year course of his third marriage.

It is surely not difficult to imagine Anne's horror when her absentee-landlording relative wreaked such havoc upon people whom she had lived amongst all her life - and that he was doing so in total disregard to, and disrespect of, the wishes & endeavours of her deceased half-brother?

Anne was born circa 1775 and this, together with the information on John Campbell's Death Certificate, suggests that her late husband Kenneth Campbell and the Kenneth Campbell whose line led to Taransay were probably of similar ages, although not necessarily of the same generation?

I really don't know the details of any such link but I think it is becoming clear that the web of connections across the Sound of Harris are many and complex and that, by examining them, we may well be able to begin to better understand the motivations of those who played significant roles in the history of Harris.

Which takes us back to Taransay for, although not in the Sound itself, the lady who may well have been one of the last to end her days upon that isle did indeed begin her life on the shore of the Sound. Marion Campbell had been born on the 15th of October 1872, the eldest child of the Farm Grieve at Rodel. His name was Angus Kerr and Marion was my 2nd Cousin thrice removed.

RIP Marion Kerr 1872-1934

A note on sources: Were I to fully annotate this piece it would perhaps double in length, but being introduced recently to the work of the late Alick Morrison, who was elucidating interconnections some thirty years prior to my attempting to do so, has proved extremely fruitful and, most encouragingly, has also corroborated several of my own stumbling efforts!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

About the Hebrides No VIII

'Tarbert in Harris, to which the Clansman conveyed us from Loch Maddy in North Uist, was described to us by a residenter of the place, though not a native, as consisting of 26 dwelling-houses and 13 shops – he begged pardon, business premises of “merchants”. This is possibly a rather rough-and-ready summing-up, but it is correct enough in so far as indicating that the number of the latter is distinctly out of proportion to the number and requirements of the former.

The village stands at the head of East Loch Tarbert, that indentation of the sea that cuts into the land from the Minch to about a quarter of a mile from the head of West Loch Tarbert, similarly indenting it from the Atlantic, the so close approach of the two all but constituting the southern portion of Harris an island. As it is, the march between the two districts is here, the proprietor of North Harris being Sir Edward H Scott, Bart., and of South Harris the Earl of Dunmore.

The houses are all on the north or right hand side as you enter by the steamer, ust where the loch or bay becomes a creek of 300 or 400 yards in length, and narrowing to less than 50 yards at the top. The first structure to catch the eye is the Free Church, a plain enough building, erected on the summit of an eminence jutting into the sea immediately eastward of the pier. Close at hand, but standing a little lower, is the manse, a comfortable-looking, white-washed house, with a neatly-kept kitchen garden in front and sheltered so far from the wind and spray by some trees – the latter not of any dimensions, truly, but still forming a show of “wood” surpassing what we had seen as yet in working up the Long Island. Then comes the wooden pier, up from which, by a path that winds round to westward, you pass the schoolhouse (the of teacher which is also the registrar for the district, &c.), and get onto the main road or street, on the right of which stand the houses and stores of which, as above mentioned, the village consists. To right and left respectively of the pierhead is a row of eight or ten of these, some slated and others roofed with zinc, and all of one storey only.

Beyond these, going on to the head of the loch, there is a hiatus, to which succeeds a row of about a dozen newer-looking houses, two or or three of which are of two storeys and “semi-detached” from their neighbours. At the very head of the bay is the old Tarbert Inn , now disused as such; and across the road from this, almost down on the shore, the modern post and telegraph office. Following the road westwards two minutes' walk brings you to the new Tarbert Hotel, in the very centre of the isthmus, and 30 or 40 yards further on is the house of the medical man of the district, Dr Stewart, which commands the view away down West Loch Tarbert.'

This is a gem of a description of Tarbert from 130 years ago and I only wish that I could name the author! However, we can identify '...Dr Stewart...' as James Stewart for this young 'Physician and Surgeon' from Perthshire is found living in Kintulavig in 1881 and at 15 West Tarbert a decade later

Similary, we can be sure that the teacher who was '...also the registrar for the district, &c.' was the Glaswegian Donald Bethune, he being the Schoolteacher in Tarbert in 1881 & 1891 , and that the Minister in the Manse was Roderick Mackenzie from Assynt in Sutherland who a few months after the publication of this article was giving his evidence to the Napier Commission where he makes particular reference to the work of Fanny Thomas .

We are especially fortunate in having the 1882 6-inch Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1878) on which to follow in the footsteps of our unknown author and then we should perhaps refresh ourselves at the '...new Tarbert Hotel ...' before returning later to examine the remainder of his piece...

Source: Glasgow Herald 16th September 1882 p3

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

About the Hebrides No VII

'At the inn here we met again with one of the commercial gentlemen whom we had encountered at the different markets coming north. He was a travelling agent of the Singer's Sewing Machine Company; and in proof of how general is becoming the adoption of these useful instruments everywhere, he told me that since leaving Barra he had sold ten machines in the Long Island; and, after paying all his own travelling expenses, had remitted over £70 to headquarters, in payment or part payment of machines sold by him on his last journey in these parts. He added that now-a-days it is quite common, in what we should call little Highland tailors' shops, to find two machines going in full swing. We had had no idea previous to this time of the amount of business generally done by southern firms with the people of the Outer Hebrides, and therefore might well be surprised by one fact, among others, told us by this same gentleman – namely, that a well-known tea merchant hailing from Edinburgh, who regularly makes exhaustive journeys through the Long Island on his own account, will take home with him as the “collection” of one such visit about £1000. True, he has the great advantage of being thoroughly au-fait in the language of the natives, and he supplies numerous private customers as well as the merchants; but still – the statement surprised us.'

Before examining this account, I should like to look a little at the inn's location which was in '...Tigharry, a township not far from Griminish Point...' on North Uist where the '...somewhat humble but snug hostelry...' was kept by 'Mr Roderick Macaulay and his most capable and willing help-meet...'.

In 1841, the innkeeper at Tigh a' Gerraidh (Tigharry) was 40 year-old Donald Macaulay who remained there in 1851 & 1861 but with the inclusion of 'Farmer of 16 acres' & then 'Farmer of 14 acres' as additional occupations.
In fact some 33 households are shown with the address of 'Tigheary Inn' in 1861, the Enumerator presumably considering this it to be the appropriate means of identifying the settlement as a whole?
Unfortunately the censuses of 1871 & 1881 return no clear indication of those (if there were indeed any?) living at, or keeping, the inn but the location can easily be seen on the 1881 OS 6-inch map.
In 1891 a Roderick Macaulay aged 54 was a Farmer in the township but, once again, the inn is not mentioned so whether he is the same person who nine years earlier had been the inn-keeper I cannot say.

Returning to the article itself, it is the information to be gleaned from the agent of the Singer Sewing Machine Company that demands our attention.

Firstly, a sum of £70 in 1882 equates to at least £5200 today (and quite possibly a lot more), the figure representing a combination of full and part payments for machines and after all the agent's own expenses had been deducted from the sales. Small wonder that he had returned for another tour! I cannot find a price for a Singer sewing machine in 1882 but a close rival was on the market for about £4, equating to around £300 today.

Secondly, the image of a couple of Singer sewing machines 'going in full swing' in many 'little Highland tailor's shops' is, at one and the same time, both reassuringly 'cosy' and also a pleasing antidote to the more-usual portrayal of island folk as automatically rejecting all such innovations.

Finally, the “collection” of £1000 by the Edinburgh tea merchant perhaps comes as no particular surprise until you update it to about £75,000 in today's money. That's a lot of tea (although precisely how much I cannot say) and the wily mainland merchant maximised his return by selling directly to his thirsty 'Long Island' customers as well as to the local merchants.

There we shall have to leave these travellers for now, enjoying their refreshments in Roderick Macaulay's inn, but perhaps we'll meet them again soon for they have many more interesting insights to provide us with into late 19thC life on the Long Island...

Source: Glasgow Herald September 1882

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

What Became Of This Model of a Norse Mill?

Readers of the Glasgow Herald on the 14th of April 1886 may have noticed an article relating the events of the monthly meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland that had taken place on the previous Monday evening. The Herald records that the Treasurer of the Society, Gilbert Goudie, presented a paper on the horizontal water mills of Shetland and that a 'model of one still existing in Taransay, Harris was exhibited'. Intrigued by this, I looked for Goudie's original paper where we learn that:

'Mr Duncan Macdonald, who is intimately acquainted with the Harris district, has described to me an old mill which he has frequently seen in use in the island of Taransay. I am indebted to his kindness for the carefully executed model now exhibited.'

The site of the mills in Taransay that Duncan Macdonald had observed in operation and upon which his model was based is described as lying '...on the Allt a'Mhuilinn, just above the point where it turns to the west along the edge of the machair at the back of Paibeil.' as can be seen in this page from The Papar Project .

Goudie's paper, which is a most interesting read and has several lovely line-drawings illustrating the text, unfortunately has neither a description nor a sketch of the model itself which leads me to wonder whatever became of Duncan Macdonald's 'carefully executed model'?

One other snippet of note is that 'Mr Alexander Carmichael, an authority on all matters relating to social economics and local characteristics in the Western Isles, tells me he has seen several such mills at work in Harris and the Lews.' but I do not know whether Carmichael recorded their location within his extensive writings?


We find the 57 year-old Bank Inspector from Dunrossness, Shetland, living in 1881 at 39 Northumberland Street, Edinburgh, along with his sister, her son, a Housemaid and a Cook.

Glasgow Herald 14th April 1886
Proceedings of the society of Antiquaries of Scotland Volum 20 1885-86 page 285
The Papar Project – Taransay http://www.paparproject.org.uk/hebrides7.html

Further Reading:
'The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland' - http://digital.nls.uk/archive/pageturner.cfm?id=80822037

Glasgow International Exhibition 1888

'The Glasgow Exhibition was yesterday visited by upwards of 66,000 persons.'

The total number of visitors to the Exhibition exceeded five-and-a-half million (slightly more than visited the London Exhibition) and amongst the exhibits available to them, in the Women's Industries Section, was a section from the Home Arts and Industries Association:

'An interesting and important part of the society's work at present is the developing and improving of the wool-spinning and weaving industries in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Nearly 2000 women are employed under one class holder, Mrs Thomas, in spinning, dyeing and weaving; and in this exhibit is shown how the heavy woollen fabrics woven by them may be used for curtains, portieres, etc. Specimens of cloth and also of knitted socks, etc, are shown in a wall case outside the stand.'

This is tantalising for I have only come across one 'Mrs Thomas' involved with 'heavy woollen fabrics' and 'knitted socks' in the region. We know that in 1883 Fanny Thomas had still been taking boat trips to Taransay in connection with her work on the islands , that in 1897 she had endowed the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital and that she appears to have maintained her interest until her death in Edinburgh in 1902 . The figure of 'nearly 2000 women' is astounding but, if this obituary is accurate, then at one time she had 400 stocking knitters on Harris alone!

'Mrs Muir, of Lerwick, has brought with her three workers, who may be seen carding, spinning and knitting Shetland wool at her stand. This lady shows also a quantity of work knitted in the Fair Isles which is entirely different to the ordinary Shetland work, being bright and gay in colouring, and some of it very intricate in pattern. This kind of work is said to have been introduced into the islands by some of the Spaniards who were wrecked there at the time of the Spanish Armada. Not far from Mrs Muir's stand is that of the Harris weaver, who, upon a very primitive loom, occasionally illustrates the weaving of the now famous and fashionable Harris tweeds. This loom was sent by Lady Scott, who takes great interest in the “homespun” industry of the Hebrides; and to the exertions of this lady and several others these textile industries owe their revival and recent development.'

I have included the Fair Isle section because, whilst straying outside my usual territory, it includes the story of wrecked sailors from the Armada and other similar tales are heard on the Western Isles.

The 'Lady Scott' referred to in regard to the loom upon which the (sadly un-named) Harris weaveress was working was Emilie, widow of Sir Edward Henry Scott and who, coincidently, had become a widow in 1883 which was the same year that Fanny Thomas's husband Captain FWL Thomas had also died. This is the first direct reference I have found to the work of Lady Scott and it is entirely in keeping with the high regard with which the Scott family are held as proprietors of the North Harris Estate.

Finally, the use of the phrase 'their revival and recent development' with reference to the 'homespun' textile industries of the Hebrides fits the pattern seen in the census data on Harris Weavers. .

Source: Glasgow Herald 10th November 1888 page 4

Note: The Home Arts & Industries Association, founded in 1884 by Eglantyne Louisa Jebb, was yet another organisation associated with the burgeoning arts & crafts movement in Britain and was functioning alongside others such as the Scottish Home Industries Association.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Board of Supervision and the Destitution in the Highlands

(From a Correspondent) Glasgow Herald 23 April 1883 page 8

'The special tour of inspection undertaken in the bitterly cold month of March by the two inspecting officers of the Board of Supervision, while it has fully corroborated the tales of distress from the Hebrides and the West Coast with which the public have for some time past been familiar, puts us in possession of nothing new regarding the deplorable condition of the able-bodied population in these regions.'

Thus begins a lengthy and very detailed article that proceeds to patiently, artfully and skilfully demolish the findings of the report published following the inspection. In this piece I am focussing upon the visit of 'Mr Peterkin' to Harris:

'Mr Peterkin next visits Harris, North and South. A striking contrast appears between the two sections. In the North the proprietor, Sir Edward H. Scott, Bart., is doing everything needful for his people; while in the South, under the Dowager Countess of Dunmore as trustee, the people seem to be suffering, and have now been helped in money to the extent of £600 from the London Committee – evidently the result of Lord Dunmore's recent visit to the metropolis to “beg aid for the distressed people.”'

A brief biography of Sir Edward H. Scott is to be found in this earlier piece which contains a link to further information on his family's contribution to Harris. The visits of SS Dunara Castle to Harris, an innovation of the Baronet's that did much for the island's economy, are recorded in the censuses and may be read here , here and here . It is worth mentioning that the 1891 visit records Malcolm McNeill of the Board of Supervision as one of the passengers, reminding us that, even eight years after the publication of the article in the Glasgow Herald, the work of that Board in the islands remained very much 'in progress'. (Those with an interest in 'Society Gossip' may also wish to read this from the Spring of 1899 regarding Sir Samuel Scott's wife. )

The aspect that interests me the most is the identification of the suffering of the people in South Harris '...under the Dowager Countess of Dunmore as trustee...' . Firstly, why was the 42 year-old 7th Earl's 69 year-old mother acting as trustee to the Estate at a time when her son was not performing military duties abroad as indicated by reference to his recent visit to London? Secondly, the fact that we are provided with a contrast between the situation in the North (thanks to the attitude and activities of the proprietor Sir E Scott) and the situation in the South (where we are told that the proprietor went to London “...to beg aid...”) is a clear statement as to where the writer considers the blame to lie.

A century earlier Rodel had been the powerhouse of development under Captain Alexander Macleod and Tarbert was no more than a small cluster of houses at the head of  the West Loch (as can be clearly seen in Bald's 1804/5 map).
The Tarbert of the 1880s was a small yet thriving town strung mainly along the Northern shore of the East Loch whilst Rodel had been reduced to little more than an island retreat for an apparently absent landlord.

'On this estate there are about 128 crofters, of whom 74 pay rents of from £4 to £5 each; 38 pay from £5 to £7 each; and 16 from £7 to £10 each. Some of these crofters are in arrears with their rents, and are now employed in working off this burden by roadmaking and trenching near the proprietor's residence. It would have looked as well to have let the arrears to stand over in present circumstances and allowed the crofters to work their land and sow seed with a view to averting the calamities of famine next year.'

An interrogation of the 1881 census reveals 121 households headed by a Crofter which accords pretty well with the figure of 128 a couple of years later as given here. It is interesting to note that 58% of these were in the category paying the lowest rentals, 30% in the middle group and only 12% at the highest level as this gives us an indication of the distribution of rents, in this case one that is heavily 'skewed' towards the lower end.

The roadmaking was clearly limited to a small area around Rodel for, as can be seen in this evidence to the 'recently appointed Royal Commission' mentioned at the end of the article, the Bays were still in desperate need of a road and it would be another fourteen years before that was completed.

'Mr Peterkin reports that some of them have poultry and some cattle and sheep, but that the crofters would not willingly sell any stock this season. He might have added that no one would buy them at this season.'

The writer was clearly unimpressed by the Edinburgh-born Mr Peterkin's ignorance of island agriculture and ensures that we are made aware of it:

'The Harris cattle possessed by crofters are not of a good stamp, and bring but poor prices at anytime. It is said, and there is little reason to doubt it, that they feed partly on sea-weed in winter and spring, and at this time they are fit neither for being eaten or being sold to advantage.'

We should remember that the Harris cattle possessed by others, notably those of the Stewart & McRa farming families, were prized beasts that won awards but, for some strange reason, the benefit of breeding wasn't accorded to their crofting neighbours. I do have to take the writer to task on the matter of cattle consuming seaweed for my understanding is that this is actually beneficial to them and hence not a factor in their fitness for either sale or consumption?

The idea of poultry is rather comical. The poorest of the poor in the Highlands has two or three hens. If they are killed for food they will not last long, and there will be no eggs.

This is the writer's final twist of his 'pen/knife' and he then ends with a prescient predication as to what the forthcoming Napier Commission would discover:

There seems to be a providence in the present state of matters, bringing the wretchedness of the people to the surface, to give plenty of scope to the recently appointed Royal Commission.

I would dearly love to learn who the author of this article was but meanwhile here is a compilation of 'snapshots' of his 'target', William Arthur Peterkin (1824-1906 ), taken from the censuses of 1851-1901 and with his occupation shown in bold:

1851 27, Senior Clerk board of Supervision, Lewis Castle, Stornoway Distillery, Stornoway, b. Nk
(As seen in this earlier piece )

1861 37, First Class Clerk, Civil Service Poor Law, 14 Grove Street, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 5 children aged 1 to 7, a Cook, a Nurse and a Nurse Maid)

1871 47, Civil Service Poor Law, General Superintendent of Poor, North District, Scotland. Inspecting Officer of Board of Supervision Under Public Health Act, Scotland, 9 Albert Street, Nairn, b. St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh
(Wife, 7 children aged 3 to 17, a Domestic Cook and a Housemaid)

1881 57, H.M.C.S. Board of Supervision, Visitor, 25 Union Street, Inverness, b. St Cuthbert, Midlothian
(25 Union Street was a hotel kept by a 35 year-old, Donald Davidson, from Elgin)

1891 67, Civil Service – Inspector, Terry Road (North Side) Fairholm, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 4 children aged 25 to 31, 2 Domestic Servants and 2 Visitors)

1901 77, Annuitant (Retired from Civil Service), 7 Eildon Street, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 2 children aged 39 & 47, 2 General Servants (Domestic) and a Visitor)

His occupational titles of 1871 are certainly the longest that I have yet read in the censuses!

Friday, 6 May 2011

'A Traveller's Guide to Literary Scotland'

Visit Scotland, in collaboration with the University of Glasgow and The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, has produced this very attractive introductory guide which is available for download from the ASLS site .

The guide displays the writers by region and then provides brief biographies (listed alphabetically) before displaying all the locations on a map.

A very useful, informative & handy publication.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

'Listening For The Past'

'On the Machair' and 'Tweed' are two pieces of 'docu-music' composed by Cathy Lane.

Cathy is Co-Director of  CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice) at the University of the Arts, London. Her article 'Listening For The Past' - 'A composer's ear-lead approach to exploring island culture past and present in the Outer Hebrides' is published in the current issue of the journal Shima and can be read here: Volume 5 Number 1 2011 p114-127.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

General John Francis Birch, Royal Engineers

In this brief biographical piece on Admiral Henry Charles Otter (who was a hero of the first successful laying of a Transatlantic Cable and also the Hydrographic Surveyor in charge of charting the West Coast of Scotland) we met the General at his home in Portsea, Hampshire in 1851. He was laid to rest in Crondall, Hampshire in 1856 and, although he was a Royal Engineer, I was unable to link him to the Ordnance Survey.

However, there are five references from 1834 of the work of Colonel John Francis Birch in The National Archives in Kew. One of the five relates to a 'Copy of a Plan of part of the Ordnance land at Berry Head purchased in 1794'. Scale: 3.7 inches to 10 chains. Compass indicator. Signed by John Francis Birch, Colonel, Commanding Royal Engineers' which led me to an article on 'The History of the Berry Head Fortifications' by D Evans . Birch appears to have been involved with matters surrounding the site for several years in the early 1830. The article provides evidence of his role within the Board of Ordnance but suggests that he was probably not involved with the specific branch of the Board, formed in 1791 , that is the Ordnance Survey. More 'concrete' confirmation comes in the form of an 'Oblong section block of Devonian limestone with rounded top, built up against stone rubble wall. Incised with letters BO and figure 3. Arrow at the top ' erected at Berry Head in 1830 by Colonel Birch. 

The main reason for this little excursion into the work of General John Francis Birch was because he was Admiral Henry Charles Otter's father-in-law but clearly they were two men who shared a passion for, and were each exemplary exponents of, 19th Century cartography.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

'The Hebridean Breed' – The True Kyloe

'Cattle; Their Breeds, Management and Diseases; With An Index' by William Youatt was published in 1834 by Baldwin & Cradock (London) for The Society For The Diffusion Of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) as the latest addition to their 'Library of Useful Knowledge'.

The SDUK  was begun by Lord Peter Henry Brougham who was Rector of the University of Glasgow from 1824 to 1826 and instrumental in establishing the University of London. .

William Youatt (1776-1847) was an outstanding Veterinary Surgeon born in Exeter in the county of  Devon. He devotes several pages (p64-73) to 'The Hebridean Breed' and I have extracted some of his more interesting observations (in italics), rearranging them under ten different headings and with some comments of my own:


There is little or no variety of breeds of cattle in the Hebrides. They are pure West Highlanders.
Apparently the most ancient breed of cattle in the country.

We have been favoured with the following excellent description of the true Kyloe, or West Highland bull, by Malcolm M'Neill, Esq., of the Isle of Islay, the southernmost of the inner range of the Hebrides:

'The Highland bull should be black, the head not large, the ears thin, the muzzle fine, and rather turned up. He should be broad in the face, the eyes prominent, and the countenance calm and placid. The horns should taper finely to a point; and, neither drooping too much, nor rising too high, should be of a waxy colour, and widely set on at the root. The neck should be fine, particularly where it joins the head, and rising with a gentle curve from the shoulder. The breast wide, and projecting well before the legs. The shoulders broad at the top, and the chine so full as to leave but little hollow behind them. The girth behind the shoulder deep; the back straight, wide, and flat; the ribs broad; the space between them and the hips small; the belly not sinking low in the middle; yet, in the whole, not forming the round and barrel-like carcase which some have described. The thigh tapering to the hock-joint; the bones larger in proportion to the size than in the breeds of the southern districts. The tail set on a level with the back. The legs short and straight. The whole carcase covered with a thick long coat of hair, and plenty of hair also about the face and horns, and that hair not curly.'

Mr. Macgillivray, in his 'Prize Essay on the present State of the Outer Hebrides,' says,
'The black cattle are small, but well proportioned; and on the tacksmen's farms (a tacksman is one who has a large tract of land, which he holds by lease) they are generally of good breed, and, although not heavy, very handsome. They are covered with a thick and long pile during winter and spring; and a good pile is considered one of the essential qualifications of a cow.
The most common colours are black, red, brown, or brandered, (that is, a mixture of red and brown in stripes—brindled.') A whitish dun colour is also pretty frequently seen, not unlike that of the original wild cattle of Scotland...and it is remarked, that in all their traditions or fables of what are called fairy-cattle, this is the colour ascribed to these animals'
'Mr. Macgillivray' was William Macgillivray, the Naturalist who farmed at Northton and who is mentioned in this piece regarding an annotation on Bald's Map of Harris.

The value of the West Highland cattle consists in their being hardy, and easily fed; in that they will live, and sometimes thrive, on the coarsest pastures; that they will frequently gain from a fourth to a third of their original weight in six months' good feeding; that the proportion of offal is not greater than in the most improved larger breeds; that they will lay their flesh and fat equably on the best parts; and that, when fat, the beef is closed fine in the grain, highly flavoured, and so well mixed or marbled, that it commands a superior price in every market.

Mr. Moorhouse, from Craven, in Yorkshire, in 1763, was the first Englishman who came into the Hebrides to buy cattle. In the absence of her husband, Mr. M'Donald, of Kingsburgh, he was kindly entertained by Flora M'Donald, who made up for him the same bed that, seventeen years before, had received the unfortunate Prince Charles.

...no other breed of cattle will thrive on these islands...the Kyloes could not possibly be improved by being crossed with any others...attempts at crossing have only destroyed the symmetry of the Kyloes, and rendered them more delicate, and less suitable to the climate and the pasture.

The origin of the term Kyloe is obscure. Some writers, and among whom is Sir John Sinclair, have curiously traced it to their crossing the many Kyloes, or ferries which abound in the West of Scotland; others, and with more propriety, and one of whom is Mr. Macdonald, the author of the Agriculture of the Highlands, tells us, that it is a corruption of the Gaelic word which signifies Highland, and is commonly pronounced as if spelled Kael.
An earlier short piece on Black Cattle, Kyloes and Crodh Dubh.

Forty years ago the treatment of cattle was, with very few exceptions, absurd and ruinous, to a strange degree, through the whole of the Hebrides. With the exception of the milch cows, but not even of the calves, they were all wintered in the field: if they were scantily fed with hay, it was coarse, and withered, and half-rotten; or if they got a little straw, they were thought to be well taken care of. The majority got little more than seaweed, heather, and rushes. One-fifth of the cattle, on an average, used to perish every winter from starvation. It proved the excellency of the breed, that in the course of two or three months so many of them got again into good store-condition, and might almost be said to be half-fat, and could scarcely be restrained by any fence: in fact, there are numerous instances of these cattle, which had been reduced to the most dreadful state of impoverishment, becoming fattened for the butcher in a few months, after being placed on some of the rich summer pastures of Islay, Lewis, or Skye.
It may well have been that, circa 1794, the dominance of the Kelp Industry and the imbalance it imposed between the needs of agricultural subsistence and the demands of commerce might help explain this otherwise 'strange degree' of apparent neglect?

The calves are separated from their dams two or three weeks before the cast-cows are sent to the cattle-tryst at the end of October, for it is believed that if the cows had milk in their udders they might be injured in the long journeys they are then to take; the greater part of them being driven as far as the Lowland districts, whence they gradually find their way to the central and southern counties of England.

It is true that grazing has never been the principal object of the Hebridean farmer, or has scarcely been deemed worthy of his attention: there are very few cattle fattened upon any of the islands...
Can we be certain that, in much older times, when the nucleated settlement known as a 'baile' or township was farming using the run-rig system, that the 'Hebridean' farmers did NOT fatten their cattle on the land?

The different islands of the Hebrides contain about one hundred and fifty thousand of these cattle, of which it is calculated that one-fifth are sent annually to the main land, principally through Jura, or across from the ferry of the Isle of Skye. If these average about 5L. per head, the amount will be 150,000L., or more than the rental of the whole of the islands, which Mr. Macdonald calculated at 106,720L, but which now produces a greater sum. Cattle, therefore, constitute the staple commodity of the Hebrides. Three thousand five hundred are annually exported from the island of Islay alone.
This is astounding: the year is 1834 and the Clearances (that so cruelly replaced human feet with the hooves of sheep) are still occurring yet the estimated income from island cattle is nearly 150% of that from island rents. Were island estates ever really as unprofitable as their proprietors claimed?

We have stated that more than 20,000 of the Hebridean cattle are conveyed to the mainland, some of whom find their way even to the southernmost counties of England ; but like the other Highland cattle their journey is usually slow and interrupted. Many of these small cattle are permanently arrested in their journey, and kept on low farms to consume the coarse grass, which other breeds refuse to eat; these are finished off on turnips, which are given them in the field about the end of Autumn, and they are sold about Christmas.
The pace of these journeys may have appeared leisurely but I imagine that, for the drovers at least, they were arduous, risky, dangerous and uncertain undertakings.

Their first resting-place is not a great way from the coast, for they are frequently wintered on the coarse pastures of Dumbartonshire ; and in the next summer, after grazing awhile on the lower grounds, they are driven farther south, where they are fed during the second winter on turnips and hay. In April they are in good condition, and prepared for the early grass, on which they are finished.
There is more on the subject of cattle sales and droves in these pieces:

Little is known of the history of the Hebudans, except that they descended from the same stock with the Irish and the Highlanders; but were oftener exposed to the incursions of roving tribes from every quarter, and who successively mingled with, and were lost among, but never superseded the original inhabitants.
I believe that accords reasonably well with our current understanding.

'...for more than three centuries, the Hebrides were the resort of refugees, smugglers, and freebooters; and, at no very remote period, the inhabitants were singularly uncultivated, ignorant, idle, and miserable.'
I have no idea whether the islands ever enjoyed three hundred consecutive years of visitations from 'refugees, smugglers, and freebooters' but I suspect that comment tells us more about William Youatt than it does about anything regarding the history of the Hebrides.

His description of the island Gael 'at no very remote period' as 'uncultivated, ignorant, idle and miserable' is, quite simply, uncultivated, ignorant, idle, and miserable...

After, however, the union between the English and Scottish kingdoms, and when civilization had commenced on the mainland, the Hebrideans began to be reclaimed, and that was chiefly manifested in, and promoted by, a change of occupation. Although they did not abandon their seafaring life, they became honest, and were industrious fishermen, and they began to learn to be agriculturists.
Odd when one stops to consider of all those Old Norse names on the islands that mean 'Farmstead' and that fishing had only relatively recently replaced farming, due to the displacement of people...

The cows were housed during the winter; but among the small farmers this was conducted in a singular way—for one rude dwelling contained and sheltered both the family and the cattle.

The habitations of these people are usually divided into three apartments. The first, which occupies half of the hut, is the general entrance, and contains the agricultural implements, poultry, and cattle. The second, comprising a fourth of the hut, is that in which the family reside; and the inner one, of the same size, is the sleeping room and granary.

There are no chimneys; the smoke fills the whole hut, and escapes partly by a hole in the roof, partly by the door, and partly by orifices formed between the wall and the roof as substitutes for windows, and which, in stormy weather, are closed by a bundle of straw.

The fire is placed in the middle of the floor. The soot accumulates on the roof, and, in rainy weather, is continually dropping, and for the purpose of obtaining it for manure, the hut is unroofed in the beginning of May.

The family had their beds of straw or heath in the niches of the walls, while the litter was never removed from the cattle, but fresh layers of straw were occasionally laid down, and so the floor rose with the accumulation of dung and litter, until the season of spreading it upon the land, when it was at length taken away.
The evolution of house-types is a fascinating area of study:
The substantial and complex nature of 'blackhouse' construction may be glimpsed in these images:
The evidence given to the 1883 Napier Commission by Thomas Brydone, Factor of South Harris, is relevant:

The...milk is exceedingly rich, and the butter procured from it is excellent.

...the dairy is considered as a matter of little consequence in the Hebrides; and the farmer rarely keeps more milch cows than will furnish his family with milk and butter and cheese.

In North Uist and Tiree the dairy is more successfully followed than in the other islands, partly on account of the goodness of the herbage, but principally because the cows yield milk for a longer time after calving than in the neighbouring isles. The management of the dairy is exceedingly simple, and, from the very simplicity of it, other districts may learn a useful lesson. The cows are driven as slowly and quietly as possible to the fold; the wild character of the animals, as well as a regard to the quality of the milk, show the propriety of this. They are carefully drained to the last drop, not only on account of the superior richness of the latter portion of the milk, but because the retention of any part is apt to hasten, if it does not produce, that which is one of the principal objections to the Highland cows as milkers, the speedy drying up of their milk.
Youatt's opinions on islanders is awful but his attitude to animal husbandry is exemplary.

The milk is carried to the house with as little disturbance as practicable, and put into vessels of not more than two or three inches in depth. The cream is supposed to rise more rapidly in these shallow vessels; and it is removed in the course of eighteen hours.
An episode of the BBC's historical reconstruction programme 'The Edwardian Farm' (unfortunately not available on iPlayer iPlayer )included this very same approach. The series, based upon practices in use some 70 years after the publication of Youatt's book, was based in his own home county of Devon.

A cow will not, on the average, yield more than 22 lbs. of butter (of 24 oz. each) in the summer season: she will yield about 90 lbs. of cheese, which is much liked by some on account of the aromatic flavour which is given to it by the mixture of rose-leaves, cinnamon, mace, cloves, and lemon with the rennet.
I am a little confused for there was no weight system that divided a pound into 24 ounces thus it appears that each of these 22 pounds of butter weighed 24 ounces which is one-and-a-half pounds and therefore suggests a yield of 33 lbs of butter? (You may be interested in a guide to Old Scottish Weights and Measures )

The milk of the cows is said to be excellent, but on account of the filthy habits of too many of the cotters, the butter and cheese are eaten by few beside the natives.
The longevity of many islanders suggests that their dairy produce wasn't too toxic despite these 'filthy habits' and it is worth remembering that it would be another quarter-of-a-century before the 'miasma' theory of disease was overthrown, following yet another Cholera epidemic in London...

In the spring all the cattle are in poor condition, and those of the small tenants are in most wretched plight: sea-weed (chiefly Fucus canaliculars), boiled with husks of grain and a little meal or other substances, are then employed to support them; and in many places the cattle during the winter and spring regularly betake themselves to the sea-shore at ebbtide to feed upon the fuci.
I cannot find Fucus canaliculars but Pelvetia canaliculata Pelvetia canaliculata (Channeled Wrack) is a member of the Family Fucaceae that is certainly edible!

The rapidity of vegetation in the latter part of the spring is astonishing in these islands. A good pasture can scarcely be left a fortnight without growing high and rank; and even the unenclosed and marshy and heathy grounds are comparatively luxuriant.

In summer the cows and the milch-sheep are sent to the inland glens and moors, which are covered with hard grasses and rushes, because the portion that yields soft grass is not sufficient for their consumption during the whole year. They are attended by a woman from each family, who has a small hut or shealing for her habitation, and who makes the little butter and cheese which their scanty milk affords.
The history of the Shieling is a fascinating topic that I intend examining in detail at a later date.
In summer all the cattle are pastured; the calves are sent to their dams twice in the day, and the strippings, or last part of the milk, is taken away by the dairy-maid, for it is commonly supposed, that if the calf is allowed to draw all the milk he can, it will keep the dam in low condition, and prevent her being in calf in proper time.
This refers to the practice on farms.

Oxen are never used for the plough or on the road on any of the Hebrides.


Friday, 29 April 2011

'...and as many more in the adjacent Isles...'

The stimulus for this piece came from the 'Parliamentary Abstracts; Containing The Substance Of All Important Papers Laid Before The Two Houses Of Parliament During The Session of 1825'.

In a table introduced by the sentence; 'The following list shews the places at which churches have been directed to be built; most of them absolutely, a few provisionally:' , I noticed that in the Parish of Harris on 'Berneray Isle' a church was to be built for the population of 500:
'And as many more in the adjacent Isles of Pabbay and Killigray.'

Reading that, in 1825, the population of these three islands in the Sound of Harris was estimated to be 1000 souls I wanted to investigate further. Although a decennial census had been introduced in 1801, the first four of these only provide a figure for the population of the whole Parish.
For Harris, these figures were:
1801 2996
1811 3569
1821 3909
1831 3900

Our year, 1825, lies neatly between two censuses in which the population, despite all the displacements that were occurring, remained remarkably stable at circa 3900 people.
Thus the 1000 estimated to be living on our three islands were about one-quarter of the parish's people reminding us that 'Prior to the nineteenth century, the majority of the population of Harris lived on the machair of the west coast and on Pabaigh and its neighbouring islands (Berneray/Beàrnaraigh, Ensay/Easaigh and Killegray/Ceileagraigh)' http://www.paparproject.org.uk/hebrides2.html

As an aside, we have this communication from the 18th of July 1832 which I think is illuminating.

The later censuses do provide figures for each island in the Parish of Harris and those for the years 1841-1871 are given below. I have shown the number of males and females and computed the average 'people per hearth' for each island with the trio of isles that are our focus shown in bold:

1841 - 7th June
Anabich 18 males and 23 females in 7 houses (41/7 = 5.9 people per hearth)
Bernera 335 males and 378 females in 130 houses (713/130 = 5.5pph)
Ensay 7 males and 9 females in 2 houses (16/2 = 8pph)
Hermitray 5 males and 3 females in 1 house (8/1 = 8pph)
Killigray 3 males and 2 females in 2 houses (5/2 = 2.5pph)
Pabbay 179 males and 159 females in 61 houses (338/61 = 5.5pph)
Scalpay 14 males and 17 females in 4 houses (31/4 = 7.8pph)
Scarp 60 males and 69 females in 23 houses (129/23 = 5.6pph)
Tarrinsay 38 males and 50 females in 16 houses (88/16 = 5.5pph)

There were 1056 living on our three islands which was almost 23% of the total of 4646 people in the Parish of Harris.

Five years later the first of the Potato Famines occurred and the response of the Factor can be seen in his letter of the 21st August 1846 to the Countess of Dunmore.

1851 - 31st March
Anabich 63 people in 12 houses (63/12 = 5.3pph)
Bernera 452 people in 89 houses (452/89 = 5.1pph)
Ensay 14 people in 3 houses (14/3 = 4.7pph)
Hermitray Uninhabited
Killigray 7 people in 1 house (7/1 = 7pph)
Pabbay 29 people in 6 houses (29/6 = 4.8pph)
Scalpay 282 people in 48 houses (282/48 = 5.9pph)
Scarp 145 people in 29 houses (145/29 = )
Tarrinsay 55 people in 11 houses (55/11 = 5pph)

Only 488 living on our three islands which was less than 12% of the Parish total of 4254.

Nine out of every ten people from Pabbay and one-in-three of the population of 'Bernera' had gone.
Just four days after the census, on the 4th of April 1851, the Factor John Robertson Macdonald in 'Rodil' was being 'interrogated' by Sir John McNeill and an earlier piece analyses his account.

We should also note the dramatic increase in the population of Scalpay that had occurred, the reasons for which are to be seen in this investigation.

1861 - 8th April
Anabich Not listed
Bernera 130 males and 185 females in 64 houses (315/64 = 4.9pph)
Ensay 10 males and 5 females in 2 houses (15/2 = 7.5pph)
Hermitray Not listed
Killigray 2 males and 3 females in 1 house (5/1 = 5.0pph)
Pabbay 10 males and 11 females in 4 houses (21/4 = 5.3pph)
Scalpay 199 males and 189 females in 71 houses (338/71 = 4.8pph)
Scarp 72 males and 79 females in 27 houses ( 151/27 = 5.6pph)
Tarrinsay 25 males and 30 females in 12 houses (55/12 = 4.6pph)

There were just 341 living on our three islands or about 8% of the 4174 people of Harris.

Once again, almost one third of the remaining people of Bernera had gone leaving just under half the hearths from the 130 of two decades earlier.

1871 - 3rd April
Anabich Not listed
Bernera 169 males and 204 females in 75 houses (373/75 = 5.0pph)
Ensay 4 males and 2 females in 1 house (6/1 = 6pph)
Hermitray Not listed
Killigray 3 males and 6 females in 1 house (9/1 = 9pph)
Pabbay 3 males and 5 females in 2 houses (8/2 = 4pph)
Scalpay 222 males and 199 females in 82 houses (421/82 = 5.1pph
Scarp 78 males and 78 females in 33 houses (156/33 = 4.7pph)
Tarrinsay 35 males and 33 females in 12 houses (68/12 = 5.7pph)

A small increase to 390 living on our three islands but still only just reaching double-figures again at 10% of the the people of the Parish.

Bernera's population had risen by 18% but the island trio would have needed nearly three times as many residents to regain the proportion of the population that had led to the church being built there only four-and-a-half decades earlier...

Note: I have left all spellings as they appear in the original sources, except that those for the census lists are 'standardised' from the 1841 census rather than reflecting the variations that appear in some of the subsequent decades.