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

Monday, 16 December 2013

William Anderson Smith in 1891 and 1901

I left my account of the census information with the household of 1881, despite having discovered that William was alive for another two censuses, simply because at the time I couldn't find him!

However, a little further tweaking has produced:

W Anderson Smith, 48, Head, Literature & Journalist, Rugarve Cottage, Ardchattan, Argyll, b. Perth
Mary Anderson Smith, 54, Wife, b. Cromarty
Mary Craig Sutherland, 20, Daughter, b. Inverness
Henry Torcuil Smith, 15, Scholar, b. Garston,
Bessie Anne Napier Smith, 13, Scholar, b. Glasgow
Margaret Elizabeth Gillespie, 32, General Servant, b. Knoydart, Inverness-shire

Rhugarbh, to give it its Gaelic spelling, has proved fairly elusive to locate with precision but it appears to have been between Barcaldine School House Barcaldine Old Schoolhouse and Barcaldine Mill.as seen on this map.

On the subject of language, I was slightly surprised to see that in this census return William definitely states in the column for 'Gaelic, or G&E' the single word 'English' and yet the whole of the remainder of the household are listed as having both languages. Presumably he never 'got the Gaelic', but allowed his offspring to learn their mother's tongue.

Incidentally, this recent article may be of interest: http://ardchattan.org.uk/news/2009/12/15/benderloch-notes-from-the-west-highlands/

Walter Bennett, 44, Head, Compositor (Print), 6 Bond St, Clerkenwell, Finsbury, b. St Andrew's, Holborn
William A Smith, 58, Pressman, b. Perth, Scotland

As was the case with one of the earlier censuses, I cannot be absolutely certain that this is our man, but he's the best fit and, I think, a pretty good one, too!

This Bond Street, in Clerkenwell, London, was renamed Cruikshank Street in 1938. A full account of the history may be read in the 2008 Survey of London.  I hope this brief look at William Anderson Smith in the censuses has been of some interest, it's certainly ended a fair distance from Carloway in Lewis, and I do wonder what William and Walter were working on at the time?

William Anderson Smith (1844-1906), author of "Lewsiana; or Life in the Outer Hebrides ... With illustrations" 1875

I have been reading a book which I found thanks to the British Library having placed over one million images on the Flickr photographic site, including this one.of beehive dwellings and summer shielings.

Incidentally, the library catalogue shows eight books authored by William Anderson Smith, published between 1874 and 1892.

I don't intend providing an in-depth review of the book itself – suffice to say the tone is very much of its time, but it does inadvertently supply some useful snippets of information along the way. What did intrigue me, however, was what I discovered when I began seeking William Anderson Smith in the census records:

John Smith, 51, Writer and Arithmeter, Ivy Bank, Kinnoull, Perthshire, b. Glasgow
Jane H Smith, 46, Wife, b. Greenock
William Anderson Smith, 8, Scholar, b. Perth

It is worth noting that the young William, fourth of six children listed at this time, was the son of a writer.

William Smith, 18, Lodger, Mercantile Clerk, 38 Hill St, Blythswood, Glasgow Barony, b. Perth

I cannot be certain that this is our man, but he is the closest match that I can find and the 'dropping' of his second name would be perfectly compatible with his status as a lodger – with census information we are relying upon what the person who provided the information knew, or could remembder, about the members of their household.

William Anderson Smith, 29, Head, Cod Liver Oil Manufacturer, Part of Carloway House, Carloway, Ross & Cromarty b. Perth

Now, Comann Eachdraidh Uig (Uig Historical Society) have several pieces devoted to William Anderson Smith, but I cannot see any reference to his most unusual occupation! I say that because, as far as I can ascertain, he is the sole 'Cod Liver Oil Manufacturer' to be recorded in Ross-shire in any census from 1841 to 1901 inclusive. I wonder how successful this venture was? This piece from the society's site makes for interesting reading: http://www.ceuig.co.uk/history/land/the-maladministration-of-the-lews-1886/

William Anderson Smith, 38, Head, Oyster Culturalist Journalist and Author, Rhugarve Cottage, Ardchattan, Argyll, b. Perth

Mary A Smith, 43, Wife, b. Cromarty
John D Sutherland, 15, Land Agent Assistant, b. Inverness
Mary Craig Sutherland, 9, Stepdaughter, b. Inverness
Henry Torcuil Smith, 5, b. England
Bessie A N Smith, 3, b. Glasgow
Mary MacGillivray, 18, Servant, b. G, Inverness-shire

Here we see the mature William with wife and family. It would appear from the information in his death certificate, that Mary was his second wife. I am unclear as to whether the Sutherland children are from William's first marriage or whether they were his step-children, too. I could investigate in Scotland's People but that's for another day...

William Anderson Smith died on 22 July 1906 at the age of 62. He had been married firstly to Elizabeth Morgan and then to Mary Hoach, or Sutherland. 

His late father's occupation is given as some kind of writing master, I write 'some kind' because, unfortunately, I cannot make out the writing.

Update: A scan be seen in the comments below, my friend Ciorstaidh has checked and Mary's name appears to have been 'Hosack'; and she has also identified his father as having been an 'Academy Writing Master'.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Renting islands in the Sound of Harris (and Taransay) 1895-1920

I have examined the Valuation Rolls to see what information they might have to tell us about these places, some of which were rented by various relatives of mine from the end of the nineteenth century for a period of about eighty years.

I've put the known relatives in bold for added clarity, but have also used italic bold for a few whose identities I have yet to absolutely confirm!

1895 - Proprietor: The Trustees of The Earl of Dunmore

House and Farm, Borve, Berneray, Roderick Campbell, merchant, Strond, Obbe, Harris, £80
Lands, Island of Torogay etc, John Campbell, Strond, Obbe, Harris £30
Lands, Islands of Killigray and Langa, John Stewart, Ensay, £70
House and Farm, Rodel, Rod. Campbell, merchant, Obbe, £98
Plantation Park, Rodel, John Campbell, Strond, £12

This was the year before John Campbell married my cousin Marion Kerr. Why they were wed in the Free Church at Lonemore, Duirinish, Skye, rather than in Harris, isn't entirely clear to me.

The Campbells were living in Strond at this time and paying a total of £220 in rent, including £30 for the use of the islands in the Sound of Harris off the coast of North Uist which appear above as Ísland of Torogay etc'.

1905 - Proprietor: The Right Hon. Alexander Edward Murray, Viscount fincastle.

Lands, Island of Torogay etc, John Campbell, farmer, Rodel, £20
Lands, Islands of Killiegray & Langa, Major William Stewart of Ensay, £70
House and Farm, Rodel, Rod. Campbell, farmer, Rodel £98
Plantation Park, Rodel, John Campbell, farmer, Rodel £12
House and Farm, Kylis, Roderick Macdonald, Merchant, £30
House and Farm, Island Taransay, John Campbell, farmer, Rodel, £150
House and Farm, Scaristaveg, Roderick Macleay, £80
House and Farm, Scaristavore, Roderick Campbell, £130
House and Farm, Borvebeg, Roderick Campbell, £65
Land, Isle Sursay, Roderick Campbell, £7

Estate Office, Obbe, Thomas Wilson, factor, £8

Post Office, House and Land, Obbe, Widow Mary Galbraith, £1 16s

By 1901 the people of Borve, Berneray had finally been able to return to the land that had been taken from them in the clearance of 1853. However, in 1905 John Campbell was still renting the islands in the Sound and doing so for ten pounds a year less than he had been paying a decade earlier! He and his father were now paying £130 for the use of those islands and the farm at Rodel, and an additional £150 for renting Taransay which John Campbell now farmed.

What is not completely clear to me is whether the Roderick Campbell paying £202 for the farms at Scaristavore and Borvebeg (plus the island of Sursay) is the same Roderick Campbell?

1915 - Proprietor: The Right Hon. The Earl of Dunmore

Lands, Vaccasay etc, Reps of Roderick Campbell, £10
Lands, Islands of Killiegray and Langa, Donald Alexander Stewart of Lochdu, Nairn, £70
House and Farm, Rodel, Ken Campbell, farmer, Rodel, £34

Plantation Park Lands, Rodel, Ken Campbell, farmer, Rodel (£37 10s for)
Islands of Torogay, Opsay etc, Ken Campbell, farmer, Rodel (both holdings)

Cottage and Farm, Island Taransay, John Campbell, Taransay, £140
Cottage and Farm, Scaristaveg, Roderick Macleay, £75
Cottage and Farm, Scaristavore, Mrs Euphemia Campbell, £120
Cottage and Farm, Borvebeg, Proprietor, £56
Land, Island of Sursay, Mrs Euphemia Campbell, £7

John Campbell was now focussed entirely upon Taransay, which he was renting for £10 less than he was paying a decade earlier, whilst his younger brother Ken had Rodel and some of islands in the Sound of Harris for which paid £71 10shillings. Why 'Vaccasay etc' have been separated and are being rented by his father's representatives is unclear, but I assume that the estate had decided to split the islands into two groups?

A second point that I would like to completely confirm at some point is whether Mrs Euphemia Campbell was the second wife of Roderick Campbell, farmer at Rodel. If so,then she was Euphemia MacLennan from Finsbay, Harris; and John Campbell and Ken Campbell were her stepsons, having been born to Lizzie MacRae whose father Kenneth MacRae came from Kintail in Ross-shire.

1920 - Proprietor: The Lewis and Harris Welfare and Development Coy. Ltd.

Lands, Vaccasay, Hulmetray etc, Mrs Euphemia Campbell, widow, £10
Lands, The islands of Killigray and Langa, The Earl of Dunmore, £70
House and Farm, Rodel and islands, Ken Campbell, farmer, Rodel, £71 10s

Cottage and Farm, Island Taransay, John Campbell, £140
Cottage and Farm, Scaristaveg, Roderick Macleay, £75
Cottage and Farm, Scaristavore, Mrs Euphemia Campbell, £120
Land, Island Sursay, Mrs Euphemia Campbell, £7

John Campbell continued to live in and farm Taransay, his brother remained at Rodel and I think the fact that some of the islands in the Sound ('Vaccasay, Hulmetray etc') were being rented by (apparently) the same Mrs Euphemia Campbell who continued to farm Scaristavore suggests that she was indeed their stepmother. I imagine that the islands that Ken Campbell was renting as part of 'Rodel and islands' were those in the vicinity of Torogay?

A century ago the Campbells were paying nearly £350 in rent to the Earl of Dunmore, actively farming at Rodel, at Scaristavore and in Taransay, and renting all the islands in the Sound off the coast of North Uist.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Something in the air (or, perhaps, underwater!)?

It is strange how events, without planning or deliberate intervention, sometimes coincide:

I posted an entry on this blog on Thu 28 Nov, musing upon the recent publication of results regarding sea levels around the British Isles. .

Today, by chance, I happened upon a news entry that had been posted on the Wessex Archaeology site on Fri 29 Nov - Palaeogeographical Reconstructions - regarding a wonderful poster that they have produced detailing sea level changes around the coasts of the Sound of Harris!

The poster may be viewed online or downloaded as a pdf.
It looks fascinating, as well as very attractive, and I hope you find it so, too.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Neil Morrison – The Pabbay Bard

I thought it would be interesting to have a look at what the census information has to tell us about the life of Neil Morrison, the 'Pabbay Bard':

Kenneth Morrison, 70, Ag Lab, Scarista, b. Inverness
Marion Morrison, 70, b. Inverness
Neil Morrison, 25, Shepherd, b. Inverness

We find the bard living with his parents in Scarista at the time of the 1841 census. According to George Henderson, in his book  'Leabhar nan Gleann', Neil Morrison spent the middle segment of his working life, “...at Scarista, with Mr Macdonald...” so whether he was in fact already working for 'Mr Macdonald' at this time or not isn't clear to me.

Neil Morrison, 34, Shepherd, Luskintire, b. Harris
Rachel Morrison, 29, Wife, b. Kilmuir, Inverness-shire
Janet Morrison, 3, Daughter, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 1, Son, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 15, Servant, b. Harris
Kenneth Morrison, 96, Pauper Formerly Farmer and Merchant, b. Harris
Marion Morrison, 90, Mother, Pauper's Wife, b. Harris
Mary McLennan, 30, Daughter(?), Occasional House Servant, b. Harris

A decade later he was in Luskentire and, presumably, shepherding on the farm of Luskentire. His Skye-born wife, Rachel, had borne him two children and he appeared to be supporting his very elderly parents at this time, too.

Neil Morrison, 46, Shepherd, Cleit na Duthcha, b. Harris
Rachel Morrison, 37, Shepherd's Wife, b. Kilmuir
Janet Morrison, 12, Daughter, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 11, Son, b. Harris
Marion Morrison, 7, Daughter, b. Harris
Christina Morrison, 5, Daughter, b. Kilmuir, Invernessshire
Catherine MacPherson, 19, General Servant, b. Kilmuir, Invernessshire
Catherine McDermid, 17, General Servant, b. Harris

Neil morrison's family has doubled to four, the last child having been born in his wife's own birthplace of Kilmuir in Skye.

According to George Henderson this time spent in Cleit na Duthca “...with Mr MacRae, a son of Maigstir Fionnladh, a former minister of North Uist...” came at the start of Neil Morrison's career but as Finlay MacRae died on 15 May 1858 then this may indeed be the correct episode?

What is perhaps worth remarking upon, is that this 'Mr MacRae' had an aunt living in Harris, for the Rev Finlay MacRae's sister, Isabella, was married to James Robertson Macdonald, the Factor of Harris who was responsible for overseeing several Clearances during the Dunmore family's ownership of the estate.

Neil Morrison, 56, Shepherd, Pabbay, b. Harris
Rachel Morrison, 48, Wife, b. Skye, Invernessshire
Marion Morrison, 16, Daughter, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 14, Daughter, b. Harris
John MacDonald, 30, Visitor, Ag Lab, b. Boreray

This is the only time that we have the 'Pabbay Bard' recorded living in Pabbay and Bill Lawson suggests that he probably was working in the island between 1863 and 1873.
George Henderson remarks that Neil Morrison spent the final phase of his career “...in the Isle of Pabbay, with Stewart of Ensay...”. This was John Stewart, son of Donald Stewart, Factor, farmer and the main figure behind the Clearances in Harris http://direcleit.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/stewarts-of-pairc-luskentyre-ensay.html

Donald Morrison, 32, Shepherd, South Harris ED1, b. Harris
Mary Morrison, 30, Shepherd's Wife, b. Loch Broom, Ross-shire
Murdo Morrison, 3, Son, b. Loch Broom
Neil Morrison, 1, Son, b. Harris
Neil Morrison, 64, Father, Shepherd, b. Harris

Our final glimpse of the bard finds him somewhere within Enumeration District 1 of South Harris and I do not, at present, know where the boundaries of that district were. The bard was living with his son Donald, who was a shepherd, and his wife Mary. She had made Neil a grandfather twice over, the first boy, Murdo, having been born in her birthplace, Loch Broom, and the second, named Neil after his grandfather, had been born in Harris.

I think it is interesting to note that this township bard was shepherding for at least two families intimately connected with the clearances that occurred in the nineteenth century in both Harris and in North Uist and I hope that these five small snapshots, and my brief comments, add something to our knowledge of his life.

'Leabhar nan Gleann' by George Henderson http://digital.nls.uk/early-gaelic-book-collections/pageturner.cfm?id=76888492&mode=transcription
GAELIC TOWNSHIP BARDS:  AN INTRODUCTION TO THEIR SONGS AND FUNCTIONS'' by Donald E. Meek  http://meekwrite.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/gaelic-verse-and-song-gaelic-township.html
'Harris in History and Legend' by Bill Lawson (2002)

Thursday, 28 November 2013


One of the questions which interests me is that of how the coastline of the isles has changed during the time since humans settled here following the end of the last ice age.

It is a complex topic and I was delighted to stumble upon a very recent article,New models of North West European Holocene palaeogeography and inundation, in the Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 40, Issue 11, 11 Nov 2013) which addresses that question for the whole of the British Isles. Each 500 year snapshot is presented as a map and each of these is downloadable for more detailed, local-level study.*

The key points for the Western Isles are:

11,000 – 8,000 BP
The Outer Hebrides are considerably larger than they are now, with a low lying coastal plain extending out to the West of the Uists.”

The authors note that:

...there is clear evidence for Mesolithic seafaring, with Ireland being occupied along with the Isle of Man, Rhum, the Hebridean Archipelago...

8,000 – 6,000 BP
Although the Western Isles are not specifically mentioned, the point is made that when sea levels rise:

...our understanding of terrestrial space also needs to be carefully considered; with reworking of estuarine areas and the expansion of former wetlands into open areas of sea, all serving to shape modes of transport and connectivity...”

6,000 – 4,000 BP
The extended coastal plain which surrounded the Outer Hebrides is significantly diminished in size and the islands are approaching their present configuration.”

4000 – 500 BP
At this point we really need to examine the individual maps in greater detail, but when I attempted this I was informed that the data is not yet available so, unfortunately, investigating what this model might tell us regarding the Western Isles will have to wait just a little while longer...

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Castle Connection

I was looking at my Montgomery ancestry in Leurbost, Lochs, and discovered I had a 1st cousin, 3x removed, called Ann Nicolson from 7 Gravir who married John Morrison from 4 Airidhbhruaich.

John Morrison was, according to this information on the excellent Hebridean Connections site, a joiner employed by Sir Samuel Scott at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle before retiring to East Tarbert to the house he built there which is called “Burnbrae”

The couple appear to have begun their married life living with John's father, a 66 year old tailor from Harris who was also called John, at 4 Airidhbhruaich. 

The 1881 census return includes another son, Donald (24) who was also a joiner, and two daughters, Chirsty (24) and Marion (16). The household was completed by two grandsons, William McDonald (7) and Roderick McLennan (3). John Morrison was 26 and his wife Ann was 24.

By 1891 the couple were living in North Harris with their three children, Katie Ann (7), Kenneth (5) and Ellen (2). 

1901 finds them still there but  now with a family of five: Katie Ann (17), Kenneth (15) and Helen (12), having been joined by Johann (8) and Chirsty Bella (6).

As an aside, a couple of years earlier Sir Samuel Scott's wife had caused a 'Society Sensation' in the upper echelons of English 'society', but I prefer to remember Sir Samuel as the person had the Carding Mill built at Lon na Feille, the old market stance, in Direcleit in 1900 – I wonder which joiner did the carpentry work there!?

Some more detail of the history of the castle can be read on Celtic Castles, and on my Harris Timeline.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Great Fight?

This piece began to form when I found a story, 'Great fight' in the records of the Carmichael Watson Project. The gist of the story is that, during the reign of King Charles II (1630-1685), there was a 'Great fight' between men aboard competing herring fishing boats from Leith and Campbeltown. The ensuing battle, which the Campbeltown men won, apparently took place following the delivery of some 'drink' from Uist.

Many men from all over Britain (and Ireland) were killed and their bodies then buried (some secretly at night) in several islands in the Sound of Harris, as well as in Cheesebay in North Uist. These islands included Hermetray/Thermatraigh on which Martin Martin, in 1695, had seen:

the foundation of a house built by the English in the reign of King Charles the First's time, for one of their magazines to lay up the cask, salt etc, for carrying on the fishery, which was then begun in the Western Islands; but this design miscarried because of the civil wars which then broke out.

I wrote of John Lanne Buchanan's opinion of this, and other fishing developments, when discussing his  'General View...' and it is clear that the building that Martin Martin saw is believed to have been built in 1633 by Charles I as an element in his attempt to foster the fishing industry in Scotland.

What intrigues me, however, is that when one looks at the image of the entry in Alexander Carmichael notebook, it appears that he may have originally ascribed the 'Great fight' as having occurred during the reign of Charles I (1600-1649) ,for the second 'I' looks very much to be an afterthought.

I wonder if Carmichael, who would have been familiar with Martin's account of having seen the building on Hermetray, had assumed that his informant (John Morrison, a Ground Officer from Lingerbay, Harris) was talking about an event that had occurred during the time when the fishing station was in use, and that John Morrison had then clarified that it was in fact during the reign of Charles II?

It is unfortunate that we have no date for the event, but the islands where the casualties were buried are Nàrstaigh, Sàrstaigh, Suarsaigh, Bhòtarsaigh, Hermetray and Taghaigh.

And it is said that the herring never came back to these waters after the 'Great fight'...

Thursday, 14 November 2013


I happened upon this excellent feature on the British Geological Survey site which allows you to examine local geology at a scale of either 1:625 000 or 1:50 000, which is excellent! The bedrock or surface geology, or both, can be examined and explored at leisure...


Norman MacCaig (14 November 1910 – 23 January 1996)

Norman MacCaig, poet, was the son of Robert MacCaig and 'Joan' MacLeod who were wed in Edinburgh in 1906, his mother having been born and raised in the island of Scalpaigh na Hearadh, a few hundred metres off the coast of Harris.

'Joan', (whose name was given as Johanna when her birth on 28 December 1877 in Scalpay was registered) was the daughter of William MacLeod and Effie Martin, themselves married in Tarbert on 15 March 1864.

William, 29, was a fisherman, his parents being a crofter John MacLeod and his wife Christina MacLeod.

Effie, 20, was a domestic servant and the daughter of another crofter, Roderick Martin, and his wife Flora MacLeod.

Johanna MacLeod had a sister, Julia, who was 74 when she died on 25 September 1939 at Boat Point, Scalpay. She is better known to us as 'Aunt Julia' in Norman MacCaig's poem of that name: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00c4kkj

Incidentally, Norman MacCaig's great grandfather, Roderick Martin was born in Drinishader, Harris but whether there is any connection with my own Martin ancestry from nearby Direcleit remains unknown, but it is a possibility!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Three Casualties of WWI

I was looking at the excellent online site Harris War Memorial and noticed that two of the men died in Bedford, and hence are also recorded in this online Roll of Honour here.

The two Hearachs were:

Norman Macleod of 8 Urgha, Harris (Father, Kenneth Macleod) who died on 31 December 1914 aged 19.

Donald McKinnon of Tarbert (son of Malcolm and Mary Morrison Mackinnon) who died on 24 December 1914 aged 31.

In addition to these, there is also the grave of Donald MacLean from Lochmaddy, North Uist who died on 6 January 1915. his age is not given, but a search of the records shows him recorded as having been just 19 years old. He appears in this list on the Berneray to Vatersay Tribute site .There are no next-of-kin recorded for Donald, and I cannot locate his signing-on papers, but I hope to be able to discover who he belonged to.

I was intrigued by these three deaths of Privates in the 4th Cameron Highlanders occurring within a fortnight and discovered this excellent site that explains why they were in Bedford, and the reason why so many deaths occurred there at the time: The Bedford Highlanders

Here are photographs of the WWI section of the cemetery.

 Private Donald MacLean's gravestone is on the front-right: