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, 12 March 2011

The Edinburgh encyclopedia, conducted by D. Brewster, 1830

For background, the 1811 Census recorded 3569 people in Harris living in 760 houses.

Selected highlights from pages 716-7 (interspersed with a few of my comments)

The east coast of Harris is singularly indented all along with innumerable bays, creeks, and natural harbours, and presents a frightfully rocky and barren appearance when viewed from the sea.
The neighbourhood of the shore, however, is inhabited all along; and near the little settlements are patches of barley, oats, and potatoes, raised by extreme labour.
Some of these being the remnants of Captain Macleod's fishing developments of nearly 50 years earlier; and some being the result of early 19thC Clearances such as those of Horgabost, Rodel, Scarista & Seilibost.

Calligray and Ensay lie about a league and a half east from Berneray, being separated from each other, by a narrow sound called Caolas Scaire, through which the tide passes with the most impetuous current known upon these coasts. The sea in which these islands are situated, is called the Sound of Harris, and is much frequented by shipping .
All the early accounts remark upon the Sound regarding its tides & its extensive shipping.

Cattle and kelp are the chief saleable articles of produce.
The former soon to be replaced by sheep and the latter, some decades later, by Harris Tweed.

Harris and its islands contain about 900 milk cows; and about 200 head of cattle are generally sold annually to drovers. The whole stock of cattle in Harris and its islets may be about 2500.
It is difficult to imagine 2500 cows roaming around on Harris and observing some 200 cattle being driven across the land and sea to the mainland, following the fairs on the island, must have been a magnificent sight.

The sheep in Harris are of a diminutive size, of a thin lank shape, with straight horns, the face and legs white, tail short, and wool sometimes bluish-grey, sometimes black, brown, russet, or blotched of various colours: their number is about 1100.
Clearly not to the author's taste, but what a lovely palette of wool walking across the landscape!
Note that there were two-and-a-half times as many cattle as there were sheep.

On Harris a considerable tract of ground has been stocked with Tweed-dale or black faced sheep, by Mr. Mackinnon of Corry, and other gentlemen.
The word 'gentlemen' reminds us that here were are being told of the work of an 'improving' farmer from outwith the islands.

In some of the mountainous islands, they are said to have sometimes four, and sometimes even six horns.
Jacob sheep? Or Soay, Shetland, Spanish?If anyone reading this has researched the history of the primitive multi-horned sheep of Scotland I'd love to hear from you!

The number of goats is trifling.
Similarly what's the story regarding these useful (& tasty?) creatures in Scotland?

There are not less than 1000 horses in Harris, of very small size, but remarkably stout and hardy. Some of the gentlemen have larger horses on their farms, and a few asses have been introduced.
As with the cattle, the thought of 1000 horses (that's 4 horses for every 3 houses!) is unimaginable nowadays and it would be interesting to know about horse ownership in the isles in earlier times.

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