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

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Schooling in Lochs 1797-1881

As a result of a recent enquiry I thought I’d have a look at educational provision in the Parish of Lochs, Lewis. The first reference is to be found in The Statistical Account of Scotland where we learn from the Rev Mr Alexander  Simson that a Parochial Schoolhouse had been built during the previous year and a ‘Society’ (presumably SSPCK) schoolhouse constructed some two years prior to that. Two spinning schools (the majority of spinning in the islands at the time was performed using the distaff and spindle rather than with a spinning wheel) were operating, paid for jointly by the wife of the proprietor, Colonel Francis Humberston Mackenzie of Seaforth,  and the SSPCK. This, in sum, was the situation of schooling in Lochs in 1797.

The Rev Robert Finlayson composed his entry for Lochs in The New Statistical Account of Scotland in 1833 and the book itself was published in 1845, As an aside we may note that, according to Finlayson, no Parish Register had been kept for Lochs before his arrival in 1831 and in this regard his parish was suffering from a similar lack of records as the neighbouring Parish of Harris. There were four schools provided by the Gaelic School Society but no parish school as there was no accommodation until the recent erection of a schoolhouse. I wonder what had become of the Parochial Schoolhouse that Simson had mentioned?

By the time of the eventual publication in 1845 many changes had occurred since Finlayson penned his account but we can get a snapshot of educational provision from the census taken in 1841.

The 1841 Census records five Schoolmasters in Lochs:
Peter MacEwen, 35, Lemreway
Donald MacFarlane, 40, Laxay
Malcolm MacCritchie, 35, North Shawbost
Allan Ross, 35, Keose
John Shaw, 50, Borroston(?)

The sole Gaelic Teacher was:
John MacLean,  25, Keose, b. Ross & Cromarty

An eventful decade later, one in which the Clearances, the Disruption and the ongoing Famines were perhaps the most significant of several factors, sees a different set of six Schoolmasters:

William Denon, 50, Keose, b. Cromarty
William MacKay, 28, Balallan, b. Durness, Sutherland

We may also note the presence of an unemployed schoolmaster;
Donald MacKey, 28, Loval, b. Durness, Sutherland

Donald was one of seven members of the MacKay household at Loval Cottage, headed by his widowed 64 year-old mother, and he was quite possibly the (twin?) brother of William MacKay in Balallan.

The  Gaelic (School) Teachers were:
 John MacLean, 43, Laxay, b. Ross & Cormarty
Norman MacLennan, 51, Leurbost, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Murdo MacDonald, 48, North Shawbost, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Malcolm Morrison, 36, Calbost, b. Uig, Ross-shire

The presence of four teachers in different locations certainly appears to match with the provision of education by the Gaelic School society mentioned 18 years earlier but the presence of North Shawbost in the census for Lochs is confusing me as I thought it lay in the Parish of Barvas?

There is no sign of much changing by 1861 when the only two schoolmasters are Angus Murray, 60, Schoolhouse, b. Dornoch, Sutherlandshire and locally-born John Smith, 28 and three teachers are to be seen:
Kenneth MacKenzie, 40, Gaelic Teacher, Day School, b. Lochbroom
Malcolm Morrison, 48, Gaelic Teacher, Day School, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Angus Morrison, 18, Teacher, Day School, b. Uig, Ross-shire (Son of Malcolm)

Similarly, in  1871:
Alexander Crawford, 33, Keose, b. Stralachlan, Argyllshire
Donald MacIver, 19, Laxay, b. Lochs
Alexander MacIver (no further details)
John MacLeod, 50, Marvig, b. Harris
Malcolm Morrison, 56, Laxay, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Alexander Morrison, 22, Laxay, b. Uig, Ross-shire (Son of Malcolm, above)
Donald Smith, 18, Lemreway, b. Lochs

There is also Roderick MacLeod, 28, Cromore, b. Lochs who may have been the Gaelic School’s teacher at this time whilst two families of fishermen were apparently the sole occupants of a pair of school houses.

The 1872 Education (Scotland)Act  introduced compulsory English education, outlawing Gaelic from the school grounds with a rigour that surpassed the vigour of previous centuries with which the banning of the wearing of Highland dress and the carrying of arms had been accomplished.
Thus by 1881 schooling in Lochs had expanded but only one Gaelic School appears to have survived:

J C Clarke, Leurbost, b. Kilmuir
Alexander Crawford, 43, b. Stralachlan, Argyllshire
John Cumming, 36, Ranish, b. Knockando, Elgin
Roderick MacKenzie, Marvig, b. Lochs
Murdo MacLeod, 37, Kershader, b. Lochs
Alexander Morison, 28, Cromore, b. Lochs

We must also note the presence of two Sewing Mistresses:
Anne MacLeod, 46, Kershader, b. Lochs (Sister of Murdo, above)
Chirsty  Morison, 19, Cromore, b. Lochs (Sister of Alexander Morison, above)

In addition we have another ten Teachers, Assistant Teachers & Pupil Teachers recorded:
Duncan Fraser, 21, Crossbost, b. Daviot, Inverness-shire
Donald MacLeod, 16, Laxay, b. Lochs
Murdo Martin, 19, Arivruaich, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Kenneth MacKenzie, 26, Gravir, b. Gravir
Donald MacKenzie, 19, Grimshader, b. Lochs
Donald MacKinnon, 25, Balallan, b. Lochs
John MacLeod, 60, Cromore, b. Harris (Gaelic  School)
Murdo MacLeod, 37, Kershader, b. Lochs
Alexander Morrison, 28, Cromore, b. Lochs
Alex Ross, 54, Balallan, b. Perth, Blair

In summary, from the scant evidence that such records as these provide, it appears that the people of Lochs managed against all adversity to maintain Gaelic education for their children right up until the implementation of the 1872 Act. This is testament to the thirst for knowledge and respect for education that both of the Ministers who wrote for the Statistical Accounts had taken the time to remark upon in their respective reports and yet another rebuttal of the prevailing establishment view of the Gael...

I shall return to look at provision post the 1883 Napier Report in a later piece, but meanwhile an excellent article on the history of education in Lewis, and specifically in the neighbouring Parish of Uig, may be found here: http://www.ceuig.com/history/church-and-school/early-schools

Statistical Account Pages -


  1. It's a great pity that the 1801-1831 censuses were never published, certainly as far as Lochs history is concerned. Interesting piece, Peter, looking forward to your follow-up on the post-Napier era, as education was definitely an item in the Napier Commission's report.

  2. The first four censuses were basically simple counts of the population and did not list individuals.

    A brief description has been published by the National Archives:

    Some of the data can be accessed at histpop.ogr

  3. The William Mackay age 28, shown in the 1851 census is my 3 X Great Grandfather. Donald is not his brother: William was illegitimate and his mother never married and lived in Durness with her sister and her husband all her life.

    I have a copy of William's teaching Diploma, presented in Edinburgh and dated 22nd July 1848. I also have a certificate issued in Stornoway on 18th May 1848 which states he is qualified to teach navigation.

    By 1861 William has abandoned his wife and son William Morrison Mackay (My 2 X Great Grandfather) and is living in Edinburgh, never returning to teaching, mainly being employed as a Cabman and sometimes Clerk, Collector Of Police. I'm not sure why he gave up teaching and finding out is on my list of things to do.

    I also have original solicitor's letters and documents which show that after his death in 1891 his abandoned wife and son received the inheritance he had intended, according to his will, to go to cousins in Durness.

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