(Highland News - Saturday 07 August 1897 -Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)
This edition of the Highland News included a section with several snippets of news from Harris (transcribed below in italics) to which I have appended some observations together with links to further reading:
HARRIS NEWS NOTES.
WEATHER AND CROPS.—The weather this summer has been very favourable, only that it was a little too dry and warm; yet this has been compensated by recent showers. Crops of all kinds look well, and a fair yield is anticipated.
Ah, “a little too dry and warm”, but then a century-and-a-quarter ago the whole island would have been swaying with oats and barley, glad to slake their thirst on those 'recent showers'.
POLITICAL DISSATISFACTION.—Great dissatisfaction is felt with Mr Baillie's inactivity in matters pertaining to the Hebridean portion of his constituency, and the fact that he voted against a proposal to make the acquisition of land compulsory has caused deep regret.
James Evan Bruce Baillie (1859 – 6 May 1931) was the Unionist MP for Inverness-shire from June 13, 1895 - October 1, 1900. He is recorded in Hansard a mere 7 times during his time in Parliament.
SPECIAL BENEVOLENCE.—Mrs Beckett (late Mrs Thomas), Edinburgh, who by her personal influence has often acted as a benefactress and philanthropist to Harris, has this year decided to appoint a qualified nurse in the district of Manish, South Harris. A suitable house to accommodate such nurse is in course of erection.
I first wrote about this development over a decade ago and that piece, including an invaluable clarification regarding the use of the building, may be read here.
CATTLE MARKET.—The annual cattle market recently held in Harris caused great disappointment to farmers and crofters. Somehow or other the buyers were not so numerous or conspicuous as on former occasions. Consequently most of the people brought home their cattle, so that at present a large number of purchasable stock is on hand.
FISHERIES.—The Harris fisheries. once so famous, especially for quality, are practically dead since the great fishing in Loch Seaforth in the winter of 1890. In Harris at present there is not one fishing boat of the first, or even the second class; but the fishermen are fairly supplied with small boats, which diligently ply along the neighbouring coasts, and visit such fishing centres as Stornoway, Portree, and Loch Hourn when herrings are near hand.
A reminder that Tarbert was never to be developed along the lines envisaged by John Knox in the 18thC, and that Captain MacLeod’s plans for Rodel were cut short.
I believe Knox also penned this interesting account of the interior of a house in Tarbert.
TOURIST SEASON.—The number of tourists calling here this summer has been fair considering the recent Jubilee attractions in the South. Some come by the daily mail boat; while others come on a "weekly tour to the Hebrides" by the "Dunara," which visits Tarbert every Saturday, staying till Monday morning, and making an occasional call at St Kilda. Many yachts of various descriptions also call and stay for a day or two.
Interesting that tourism was already noteworthy at this time, and it may well have been some of the yachtsmen recorded here who were crewing some of the visiting vessels.
Records of such visits by the “Dunara”, serendipitously caught during the censuses of 1881-1901, are described in each of these pieces:
THUNDERSTORM.—On Sunday evening, between seven and eight o'clock, a terrible thunderstorm, accompanied with lightning and occasional showers of rain, burst over Harris, and continued till after two o'clock on Monday morning. The thunder pealed incessantly, and the lightning flashed uninterruptedly, zigzag rents of deep red being often visible in the clouds. Persons of intelligence and experience, who sometimes witnessed a similar scene in America, declare that they only very seldom saw anything to equal it in point of display, but never in duration. But, happily, no accident or disaster occurred.
I like the comparison with meteorological events ‘in America’ as a means of emphasising the scale, and scarcity, of such a storm.
GOVERNMENT GRANT Of £3500 LOST.—It will be remembered that some time ago the County Council sanctioned the construction of two piers in Harris—one at Scalpay and another at West Tarbert. The estimated cost was £2500 for the one at West Tarbert, and £1500 for the one at Scalpay; but we are informed that Sir Samuel Scott agreed to pay £500 of said expense, thus making the Government grant amount to £3500. Proceedings went so far that tenders were asked by public advertisement., and an offer accepted, but before a start could be made the Tory Government withdrew the money. Surely there is need in Harris for the Congested Districts Bill. Piers, roads, footpaths, and other public works demand special attention, as well as the fact that there is not one first or second-class fishing boat in Harris.
The story of these two piers, which did eventually get constructed, is for another time but what we can glean from this is not only the huge disappointment at the Government withdrawing the grant but also yet another example of how well the North Harris Estate was treated by its Scott landlords. The contrast between the situation in the two Harris estates following Sir Edward Scott's purchase of North Harris when the original estate of Harris was divided in 1867 cannot be overstated.
Although these eight wee 'News Notes' are, in themselves, just that, when placed within the wider context of island history they each add yet another new and welcome element to our understanding.