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, 28 August 2010

1 Fleoideabhagh (Flodabay), Isle of Harris

I was perusing the records of British Listed Buildings within the Parish of Harris and alighted upon this one whose 'Listing Text' grabbed my attention - with references to Finlay J Macdonald, Masons and Ardvourlie Castle it was bound to do so! I suggest taking a look at the Google Streetview (it appears as a tab from the above link) to see for yourself what we are told is possibly the first house of this kind to be constructed in the Baighs (Bays) area.

The one part of the entry that is slightly confusing to me is the final sentence in the 'Notes' because I cannot discover a Donald Macaulay who fits the description. I am not questioning the facts as written, merely saying that I was hoping to find this Donald Macaulay in the censuses in order to perhaps add a little extra information but, alas, am unable to do so on this particular occasion.

Finally, I have discovered two John Mackinnon's living in Flodabay in 1841 & 1851 and, in the case of the younger one, in 1861 too. However, each was a Farmer by this time and the censuses make no reference to the military past of either of them thus I am unable to tell which it was who had the house built 170 years ago.

Note: The birth years of the two men are given as 1781 & 1786; and 1801, 1797, 1796; respectively in the censuses and the wife of the younger one is shown as Christian, Christy & Christina. I mention these variations to demonstrate the type of difficulty encountered regarding names and dates when undertaking Genealogical research.

Ciorstag (Chirsty) Mackinnon illustrates what happens when an English 'equivalent' of a Gaelic name is attempted, particularly at a time when the Gaelic language was deemed to be inferior.

The reason for the variation in the birth year can be due to several factors but one aspect of the 1841 census that the example of the younger John Mackinnon demonstrates for us was the 'rounding-down' of ages to the nearest 5 years. Thus he was likely to have been 44 at the time of the 1841 census and the Enumerator changed this to 40 hence it showing as 1801 for the year of his birth. This phenomenon does not explain the change we see in the dates given for the older man but an increase in the year of birth, with the implication that the person is younger than he or she actually is, is quite common for obvious reasons - maybe the architects of the 1841 census were being quite canny by building this feature into their census!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Bakers of Harris

Here are the five households with a Baker (or a Baker's Apprentice) found in the censuses between 1841-1901 with those individuals who appear more than once identified in bold:

John Macleod, 41, Baker, East Tarbert 33, b. Harris
(Isabella Macleod, 68, Farmer's Widow, Mother, b. Harris)
(Bella Kennedy, 13, General Servant, b. Lochs, Ross-shire)

John Macleod, 50, Baker, No 8 East Tarbert, b. Harris
(Isabella Macleod, 79, Farmer's Wife, Mother, b. Harris)
Malcolm Mackinnon, 18, Apprentice Baker, b. Harris
(Mary Kennedy, 23, General Servant Domestic, b. Lewis, Ross-shire

(Marion Macleod, 50, Webmaker (Tweed), No 7 East Tarbert, b. Harris
Donald Maclennan, 17, Apprentice Baker, Son, b. Harris

(Mary Morison, 80, Spinner (Wool), No 10 East Tarbert, b. Harris)
(Mary Morison, 27, Sewing Mistress, Daughter, b. Harris)
(Christina Morison, 38, Domestic Servant, Daughter, b. Harris)
(Johan Morison, 36, Agent for Harris Tweed, Daughter, b. Harris)
Malcolm Morrison, 31, Baker, Boarder, b. Stornoway
(Mary K Mackinnon, 16, Domestic Servant, Granddaughter, b. Harris)
Mary Buchanan, 50, Weaveress (Formerly), Niece, b. Harris)

John Mcleod, 60, Baker, No 8 (North Harris ED 5), b. Harris
(Isabella Mcleod, 30, Wife, b. Harris)
(Kenneth Mcleod, 5, Son, b. Harris)
(Donald A Mcleod, Son, b. Harris)
Donald Mcleod, 21, Apprentice Baker, Nephew, b. Harris
(Catherine Campbell, 22, General domestic Servant, b. Harris)

The most obvious feature, apart from the late appearance in the records of any bakers, is the presumed development of farmer's son John Macleod's bakery business. He is shown alone in 1881 but a decade later has been joined by a second Baker and two apprentices. I presume that the Stornowegian Malcolm Morison was working for John Macleod, rather than in competition with him, but that is purely conjectural and based largely upon him being a Boarder at the time.

Whatever the truth, by 1901 John Macleod was once more the sole Baker with only one apprentice who was his 21 year-old nephew Donald Mcleod. I think it fairly safe to say that during the period 1881-1901 John Macleod was THE baker in Tarbert. It is also worth noting that he turned to marriage rather late in life (although whether this was before or after his mother's death I do not know) and by the start of the 20thC had produced two male heirs.

Over a century later Tarbert still has a baker, Alex Dan Munro , but (as can be seen by exploring that link) the range of goods & services he supplies to the people of Harris go far beyond anything that John Macleod might possibly have envisaged some 130 years ago!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Farm Horse Tax 1797-1798

War with France led to the introduction of a wide variety of taxes in Scotland amongst which was this one that lists the 'Names of owner and number of horses and mules used in husbandry or trade'.

This image at Scotlands Places shows the return made on the 21st of September 1797 for Stornoway from which we can see that Major McIvor of Stornoway had two horses, one of which was liable to the tax, and Mr Colin McKenzie, Minister, had six horses of which three were liable.

Each of these four horses was liable to a Duty of 2 shillings and 3 pence (2s 3d) for Nine Months, with an additional 20% that appears to be referenced to 'p 37 Geo III' which I presume to relate to George III's war chest?

However, what interests me is the manner in which the figures are laid out. For the Duty, we have three columns representing Pounds (L), Shillings (s) and Pence (d) but for the 20% figures an additional column appears after that for pence (although none of the four are labelled)

Now, 2s 3d was 27d (there being 12 pence in a shilling) so 20% of this (one-fifth) was 5 and 2/5 pence.
The table shows this as 5 4, where the 5 is the number of whole pence and the 4 is the number of tenths of a penny.

Thus, in 1797, we see the use of decimal fractions in representing the result of a calculation involving currency.

The Minister, with two horses being liable, had to pay 4s 6d in Duty for the Nine Months, which was 54 pence. 20% of this is 10 and 4/5 pence which is shown as 10 8.

Thus the total to be raised from Stornoway was the princely sum of 6s 9d plus an additional 20% of 1s 4 and 1/5d which is recorded as 1 4 2.

As William Murray, Surveyor, records, this amounts to 'eight shillings & one penny 2/10ths'.

The smallest coin prior to 1827 was the farthing, which was a fourth (25%) of a penny. I have no idea how the Major and the Minister paid their 4/10ths and 8/10ths of a penny, but I suspect that these were kindly 'rounded-up' to a halfpenny and a whole penny respectively to help them!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Knitter

The clicking of her knitting and the soft purrs from the cat beside her raised the room from silence. Even the fire, to which she had added her last peat, was smoking soundlessly. Outside the wind had dropped from the savage storm of the afternoon as if, too, was readying itself for bed.

Her fingers moved themselves along invisible paths in the air, paths they knew so well from years of treading, paths that turned the soft spun fibres into warm, patterned, stockings for others feet to wear when treading much more solid paths.

She had no need for light, save that from the fire, for the moon was full and beaming through the small window at the knitter and her gently breathing cat. Her eyes, no longer as sharp and piercing as in her youth, were not needed for her work so she allowed them to rest and as they did so her mind, which retained those very same qualities that time had drained from her sight, drifted back through the years...

Her father's voice, as he tended to the nets beside his boat, warning her too late of the wave that bravely ventured further up the shore than its fellows, washing the sand from her feet and wetting the hem of her dress with its cold, salty waters. As the wave slunk back to the sea, it dragged a strand of seaware across her toes and she squealed as the thin fibres tickled at her feet. A laugh from her mother, who was further up the beach, carrying the swathed bundle of her baby brother was joined by one from her father and she, embarrassed by the silliness of a moment before, joined her parents mirth...

The needles clicked on.

The young woman was the first to see the postie approaching. They never got mail, it being of little use to her parents and she not having yet met the friends whose travels would render letters necessary. The man saw her but did not wave, confirming her fears as if any confirmation was required. She ran towards the house, reaching the door just after the man had been greeted by her parents, her father slumping, her mother preparing a tear, and all this before the man had passed the piece of paper to them. All four went inside, her father taking the letter from the postie and a penknife from his pocket, she holding her mother's hand as tightly as on the day they had waved her brother off, the brother that the letter, which the postie was now reading, confirmed she would never see again...

The needles clicked on.

There were children round her feet, a seemingly endless thicket of nieces and nephews, the fruits of her two much older sisters marriages. She had never asked her parents why there was this gap between the first two girls being born and her own arrival, the five fallow years being those of famine when many a child had perished, some at birth, some due to their mother's dessication and others through disease and malnutrition. It was something to be borne but not discussed.

The children, for whom being gathered together in one place was a novelty, were excited but respectful. The coffin on the table in the neighbouring room told the story of this rare communion. Her father had died some years earlier, taken by the sea and kept in its unforgiving grip, and now her mother lay next door, her body finally succumbing to the gnawing from within that the knitter had nursed her through for several years. Her mother had blamed herself for her youngest daughter's spinsterhood but, in truth, the lack of young men since the war and the effect upon her mother of losing her only boy-child in that hateful conflict had turned her away from bearing children.

She had always enjoyed her work and, as she was one of the best-known knitters on the island (her work had even won medals at exhibitions on the mainland), she could provide not only for herself but also for her widowed mother. They had been joined for a while by one of her nieces, partly to help her sister who had recently added another little boy to her family and partly to give the girl training. In fact she had proved a diligent pupil and almost as skilled as her ageing aunt and this, together with her liveliness and loveliness, had meant that she was soon someone's wife and moved away.
Her mind found the memory of the funeral, the boat journey, the climb across the island and the interment in the ancient burial ground, too traumatic too bear, so it kindly spared her the agony...

The needles clicked on.

The moon had climbed through the night, moving its beams away from the knitter and her cat and exploring further round the room. The peat that had fuelled her memories now lay char-glowed in the grate. The light had dimmed, the warmth of the room had grown, and the bone-like fingers of the knitter had slowed.
The needles fell silent, slipping from the fingers which then gently followed them onto the her lap.
A strand of wool lay across the knitter's hands, as a strand of seaware had once been lapped across a child's feet by a wave of long ago...

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Blue Men of the Minch

The chapter on the Blue Men in Donald A. Mackenzie's 'Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk Life' may be read here .

This entry from Undiscovered Scotland places the Blue Men on the Shiant Isles whilst this one from Sea Harris (who will take you to the Shiants from Tarbert, Harris) sites their lair in undersea caves in the Sound of Shiant.

There are plenty of other pages on the Blue Men of the Minch and I hope that this brief entry might inspire you to seek them out...

Diigo Outer Hebrides Research Group

This page on the CEUig (Uig Historical Society) site: http://www.ceuig.com/links/more-links explains what the (FREE) Outer Hebrides research group on Diigo is and how you can access it and (preferably!) join us.

There are currently over 180 links to sites of interest and Diigo allows you to conduct searches, either by entering your own words or by selecting from the listed tags.

Harris Tweed Origins from the Angus Macleod Archive

In his piece on The Origins of Harris Tweed.pdf , Angus Macleod gives a list of 'philanthropic persons and agencies' that had been instrumental in the development of the Harris Tweed industry:

1. Lord and Lady Dunmore of Harris
2. Mrs Thomas, an Edinburgh woman who had a small depot for the sale of Harris and
knitted goods in Edinburgh, at least as early as 1888. She moved to London at the end
of the century and continued her activities there.
3. Lady Gordon Cathcart Proprietress of Uist.
4. Mrs Mary Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth
5. Millicent – Duchess of Sutherland
6. Mrs Jessie Platt of Eishken
7. Scottish Home Industries Association
8. Highland Home Industries
9. The Crofters’ Agency

I have already gone into some detail regarding the parts played by 1,2, 5, 7 & 8 in this regard, but have not yet examined 3, 4, 6 & 9.

3 Lady Gordon Cathcart :
This page from Undiscovered Scotland does not paint a particularly philanthropic picture of the Lady and I can find no other references to her as having played any role regarding Harris Tweed. her inclusion in Macleod's list remains something of a mystery.

4 Mary Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth:
This is the lady of Brahan Castle, Conon Bridge, Ross-shire and she it was who established 9) The Crofter's Agency, in what may, according to Janet Hunter in 'The Islanders and the Orb', have been a split between her and 5) Millicent -Duchess of Sutherland's Scottish Home Industries Association. By the late 1920s, Mary was Chairman of the Harris Tweed Association and it wasn't until 60 years after her death in 1933 that a single other woman would have a place in that Association! The Crofter's Agency and the role played within it by Mary is fully described in 'The Islanders and the Orb'.

6 Mrs Jessie Platt of Eishken:
Elsewhere in his archives Angus Macleod gives us this:
Jessie Platt of Eishken was among a number of people and philanthropic agencies that encourage the Harris Tweed Industry. Mrs Platt provided an outlet for a substantial quantity of the Crofter Tweed that was produced in Lochs and we have seen an old note book in Eishken Lodge giving details of purchased of local crofter cloth for which she paid 3/6 a yd (17½) in 1889. That was a very high price at that time. In the late 1920s crofter tweed was selling so low as 2/6 or 12½ p and on occasion for much less.
Evidence of the esteem in which the people of Lochs held the Platt’s of Eishken is to be found in the
illuminated address that was formulated by Mr Kerr the Head teacher of Planasker School Marvig on behalf of the people on the occasion of the Platt’s Silver Wedding Anniversary on 15/8/01, part of which reads:-
Nor can we allow this occasion to pass without acknowledging our deep indebtedness to you for the great interest you shave shown in our local tweed industry’.
The people of Park and district always referred to Jessie Platt as ‘Lady Platt’ or the ‘Lady’ thus paying her the compliment of conferring on her an unofficial title, which many thought was hers by right.

9 The Crofter's Agency: See 4) above

Concentrating upon the seven individuals that are mentioned (rather than the three institutions that some of them were involved with) it strikes me that it was unquestionably 'Mrs Thomas' who links the first stirrings of the industry to its much later development into a global phenomenom. Which is why I believe that this Solicitor's daughter from Deptford has a special place amongst those who, to quote from the extensive extract below from another of Angus Macleod's writings on the subject, 'deserve better than to be forgotten'...

The following are some of the people who left their mark on the Hebrides and who deserve better than to be forgotten. In fact every Hebridean should be well versed in the history of the Harris Tweed industry, as it is very clear that to a very great extent, the continued existence of these Islands depend on the prosperity of the Harris Tweed industry.
The Dunmore family who were the proprietors of Harris about the time of the 1846 famine (failure of the potato crop) were among the leading people who were largely instrumental in encouraging the establishment of a tweed industry in the Hebrides when they induced the crofters to produce a cloth suitable for a fashionable market. This cloth, of a rough home spun type, proved to be the foundation of our great Harris Tweed industry as we know it today, and we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Lord and Lady Dunmore who took such an interest in the welfare of the crofters. It is also said that Lady Dunmore arranged for some girls from Harris to go to Alloa to learn to weave more intricate patterns, paying all their training expenses.

Mrs Thomas, wife of Captain Thomas of the Ordinance Survey Department, who appeared to be
resident in Harris for a time towards the end of the last century, was another lady who took a great
interest in popularising Harris Tweed in those early days.

We find the Duchess of Sutherland very active in Lewis and Harris during the last years of the 19th
century, and we are given to understand this lady had connections with ‘The Highland Home Industries’ who had a shop in Stornoway about that time.

The Platt’s of Eishken who came to Lewis about the year 1878 took a great interest in the affairs of the crofters of Park and surrounding district, and began to purchase the products of the crofters in order to help them at a time when it must have been very difficult for the crofters to earn a living. Chief among these crofter products was the local hand made tweed, and it is said much of it found its way to bazaars and institutions in the south. A notebook still in existence in Eishken lodge shows that the price paid for such tweed in 1889 was 3s/6d per yard, which must be considered a very high reward in those days, and one for which we may be sure the crofters were grateful for.

Evidence of the esteem the people of Park held the Platt’s in is to be found in the illuminated address presented by the people of Park to Mr and Mrs Platt on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary on 15th August 1901. This address can still be seen at Eishken lodge, and part of it reads: - ‘Nor can we allow this occasion to pass without acknowledging our deep indebtedness to you for the great interest you have shown in our local tweed industry.’

Evidence of the warm affection the people of Park held Mrs Platt in is the fact that locally the people conferred on her the title ‘Lady Platt’ and for very many years we always assumed the title was hers by right.

It is generally acknowledged that so far as Lewis is concerned Park was the first district to take up the industry seriously, and from there it spread to Uig and so forth. The writer can trace the industry in Park back to the 1880s, and my own mother made Harris Tweed at Calbost on her own loom about 1890 with the small loom (beart bheag), which was the only loom then in existence. It was operated by means of throwing the shuttle (which was a sheep’s shin bone) with the one hand and catching it with the other, and firing it back through the ‘alt’.

Note: Angus Macleod's archive is one of the treasure-troves of Hebridean history and all the better for its somewhat higgledy-piggledy organisation. There are at least three pieces that I can find in which he returns to the subject of the origins and history of Harris Tweed, clearly adding new information as it became available but never, sadly, producing the wonderful book that his notes would no doubt have led to.
It is with great trepidation that I offer any form of correction to his work, but I am certain that Mrs Thomas was the wife of Captain Thomas the maritime surveyor who was not employed by the Ordnance Survey although the two branches of surveying worked closely together, as alluded to in an earlier piece of mine on Captain Otter that includes his whereabouts in 1851.

A Study of Turf: Historic Rural Settlements in Scotland and Iceland

This recent study http://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs/10.3366/E135075240900017X  suggests that the familiar blackhouse wall 'sandwich' of two parallel stone walls infilled with earth and topped with turf was actually developed as a direct result of the 1879 Lewis estate regulations.

The implication is that Turf was the predominant building material in the earliest times, turf being ideally suited for the purpose in this environment, and that centuries of adaptation and innovation involving combinations of turf and stone ensued until the development of the 'traditional' island blackhouse in the late 19thC.

Thus the form appears to have arisen following centuries of continuity and change based upon methods used in the days of the Norse but amended in ways reflecting the unique circumstances pertaining in the isles.

It is a fascinating study and my attempt at this brief synopsis is a poor substitute to reading the account in full.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Stornoway's Chemists

In 1891 and 1901 we find these Chemists in the town (there are none in the previous censuses):

Thomas C Henderson, 25, Chemist & Druggist, 78 Keith St, b. Alyth, Perth
Edward Tucker, 47, Manufacturing Chemist, 23 Keith St, b. Ireland
John C Smith, 24, Student of Practical Chemistry, 44 Francis St, b. Stornoway
Robert Mcaulay, 16, Chemist's Assistant, 8 James St, b. Stornoway
Alex D Morison, 15, Chemist's Apprentice, 21 Cromwell St, b. Stornoway
Roderick Ross, 14, Chemist, Apprentice, 3 Newton St, b. Stornoway

Roderick Smith, 28, Chemist & Druggist, 33 Newton St, b. Stornoway
Charles Hunter, 30, Chemist, 50 Kenneth St, b. Borham, Banffshire
William John Tolmie, 22, Chemist, No 5 Frances St, b. Inverness, Inverness-shire
Angus Macrae, 19, Chemist, 10 New St, b. Stornoway
Alexander D Macleod, 16, Message Boy (Chemist), 9 Plantation St, b. Stornoway

It is difficult to untangle precisely which type of Chemist some of these men (and boys!) were. The terms Pharmacist, Druggist and Chemist (although having precise definitions) have all been applied in different places and at different times to those retail  premises that provide a wide range of commodities from hand cream to prescription drugs. However, there are clues such as this recent photograph of Tolmie's shop in Cromwell Street. We can see the word 'Chemist' on the left and what appears to be 'Drugs', or 'Druggist', on the right. This is an example of a 'Chemist' in the retail sense, rather than a 'Manufacturing Chemist' such as our Edward Tucker of 1891. Thus we cannot be sure whether the assistants and apprentices of 1891 were working in manufacture or in retail, or even both, but these 11 records are significant in recording an aspect of social change (Druggist becoming Chemist) as well as developments in science education (Practical Chemistry's recognition as a subject in its own right) during the closing quarter of the 19thC.

Ref: Science Educationin 19thC Scotland -  http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/haynin/haynin0506.htm

Stornoway's Druggists

The term 'Pharmacist' is not found in the 1841-1901 censuses but the alternative 'Druggist' is:

Alexander Macpherson, 33, Grocer & Druggist, Bayhead St, b. Gairloch, Ross
Neil Clapperton, 18, Druggist Assistant, Bayhead St, b. Oban, Argleshire

Alexander Mcpherson, 43, Druggist, 7 Francis St, b. Gairloch

Alexander Mcpherson, 53, Druggist & Bookseller, 33, Kenneth St, b. Gairloch
Donald Mcaulay, 18, Shopman (Druggist & Bookseller), Apprentice, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Alexander Mckenzie, 14, Shopman (Druggist & Bookseller), Apprentice, b, Ardnamurchan, Argyleshire

Alexander McPherson, 63, Druggist & Book Seller, 48, Point St, b. Gairloch
Donald Murray, 18, Druggist Salesman, Inaclete No 20, b. Stornoway

Thomas C Henderson, 25, Chemist & Druggist, 78, Keith St, b. Alyth, Perth

Roderick Smith, 28, Chemist & Druggist, 33 Newton St, b. Stornoway

We can see that Alexander Macpherson was the town's 'Druggist' for at least the 30-year period of 1851-1881, from the making of the first synthetic dye, 'Perkin's Mauve', to Mendeleev's brilliant innovation of the Periodic Table and beyond. The field of medicine was making giant strides in understanding and combating disease and the 'Druggist' played a significant role in improving public health, preparing many of the lotions and potions in his shop using a huge variety of ingredients ranging from herbs collected from the wild to refined chemicals. It must have been an exciting (perhaps one might even say 'intoxicating'?) time to be performing this role. The pace of change would have been even greater during the time of his two successors.

Note: The end of the 19thC also sees the first Chemists in Stornoway since the days of the Lewis Chemical Works (1852-1874) and I shall endeavour to examine them in my next piece.

Booksellers of Stornoway

Here are the records from the 1841-1901 censuses whose occupation suggests that they were selling books:

John Mackenzie, 27, Garrabost (Visitor), b. Stornoway

Alexander Macpherson, 53, Druggist and Bookseller, 33 Kenneth St, b. Gairloch, Ross-shire
Donald Mcaulay, 18, Shopman (Druggist and Bookseller),Apprentice, b. Uig, ross-shire
Alexander Mckenzie, 14, Shopman (Druggist and Bookseller), Apprentice, b. Ardnamurchan, Argyle

Alexander McPherson, 63, Druggist and Book Seller, 48, Point St, b. Gairloch

Finlay Mcleod, 44, Book Seller, b. Barvas

1891 – None found

George Macleod, 14, Shop Assistant (Bookseller), 23 Scotland St, b. Stornoway
(Catherine A Mackay, 19, Saleswoman (Books), 31 Church St, b. Stornoway) Her husband, Alexander was a Shoe and Boot Maker, so I think it more-likely she was selling Boots!)

Whilst I was composing this brief list, I was reminded as to why I hadn't produced it previously:
the possibility of the woods 'Book' and 'Boot' being mistaken for one-another.

However, the lack of any 'Boot Sellers' in the records leads me to have a little bit of confidence that these people were indeed selling books. I do have rather more confidence in the records for the households of Alexander Macpherson in 1871 and 1881 for it was quite usual at the time for Druggists to sell books, stationery and similar goods.

Nevertheless, we can see that bookshops were few and far between in Stornoway even at the dawn of the twentieth century, a time when there were only another eight booksellers in the whole of Ross and Cromarty and only one in Inverness-shire outside of Inverness itself, which had fourteen. Glasgow had over one hundred.

Some Example Raw Data

Using the technique as described produced the following returns:

Loss 34,700

Loss + Minch 2,440
Loss + Stornoway 1,090
Loss + Sound of Harris 129

Loss + Coal 2,320
Loss + Coal + 19thC 1,910
Loss + Lime 237
Loss + Salt 510
Loss + Cement 50

Loss + Oats 145
Loss + Barley 141
Loss + Turnips 18
Loss + Carrots 3
Loss + Carrots + Turnips 2

Loss + Schooner 5,370
Loss + Brig 2,000
Loss + Ketch 317
Loss + Clipper 18

Loss + Minch + Coal + Schooner 17

Much care has to be taken for there are many factors including multiple recordings, the occurrence of words elsewhere on the returned page that my not be applying to the particular vessel, etc; but I think these few examples demonstrate that the technique has some potential as a research tool?

A round-about technique for discovering cargoes

If you perform a search from the Google search box (other search engines are available!) using the text...

site:canmore.rcahms.gov.uk record loss whisky

...you will be rewarded by a list of Scottish shipwrecks that include the word 'Whisky'. You should see fairly high in the list the 'Politician', the vessel who's loss inspired the book 'Whisky Galore' by Compton Mackenzie.

However, if you replace 'whisky' in the search box with 'lime', or 'coal', or 'oats', or 'barley' (or whatever cargo you wish to discover) then opening each record will provide you with a range of information that may include dates, locations, weather conditions, personnel and details of the vessel and its loss.

The diligent researcher could use this method to estimate the proportion of each type cargo that was carried (or, at least, lost!) in particular periods but, as the number of records including the word 'loss' are in the tens of thousands (although some will be duplicates), I do not recommend you trying this at home...

...but the seven records for 'cured herring', including this one , are more manageable!

Note: It probably goes without saying that similar substitutions can be made using placenames, types of vessel, or whatever takes your fancy. If you replace the word 'loss' with 'wreck', or 'earthquake', 'storm', 'gale', etc then many other aspects may be researched.

I should point out that, in some cases, these losses were not only material but also included fatalities...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Telling-Off in Tobermory

John McDonald Master of the "Crest"
ONo 44,427, hereby declare, that the
vessel having been laid up, owing
to the death of the owner; the circumstance
escaped my memory until my attention
was called to it, by the Principal Court
Officer here.
                                 John Macdonald Master
signed and declared in
my presence at Tobermory
this 6th day of August 1896
                   John Hitchin Magistrate
                   for the Burgh of Tobermory

The above is a transcript, presented as closely as possible to the original, of a covering letter for the Crew Agreement of the 'Crest' for the first six months of 1896. She had been laid up at Tobermory for the whole of that period due to the death of her owner, Alexander McDonald of Tobermory. Other information appearing on the pages include that she was Registered at Greenock and that John McDonald was born on the Isle of Rum in 1838, making him 58 years-old at the time.
The letter appears to have been prepared beforehand and then signed and dated by the two men for the two inks are quite different and appear on the page as differentiated as they do in this transcript.

One thing that puzzles me is that I have been unable to find the Magistrate in any census records (despite looking at variations from Hitchin to Melchin, for the name is somewhat tricky to decipher!) but I have found John Macdonald in 1901when the 'Ship Master Retired' was living at 1 Argyll Terrace in Tobermory with his older sister, Mary. Twenty years earlier the pair were in Shore Street with their elderly mother, Ann, and John was unemployed at that point in time. In 1871 he appears to have been a 'Ship Joiner' living in Greenock but I am not absolutely certain that that was the same person.

Nevertheless, I quite like this little window on a past world, when a Ship Master clearly had his knuckles rapped by the authorities for failing to produce the required documentation on time. I believe that the Burgh of Tobermory were the Harbour Authorities at this time, thus explaining their involvement in this matter?

50 Years of Seafaring

"Sixty Seven years of age, he was one of the few remaining links connecting us with the time when in his youth the town of Stornoway was of considerable importance as a shipping port, and when a fine fleet of sailing ships registered here, and belonging to enterprising local owners, carried on an extensive trader with Archangel and the Baltic ports; ln those ships Mr Kerr had his first seagoing experience having, at the age of 14, joined the "Alliance" on a voyage to Archangel under Captain Macpherson. He continued in the same service under Captain John Smith, in the "Africa", and in the brig "Supply", with Captain Murdo Morrison - names of ships and men well known to all old Stornowegians.
After several years' sailing in foreign parts on the "Gleniffer" of Glasgow he joined his father, the late Mr Malcolm Kerr, in the coasting trade off the West Coast of Scotland which he continued to work on this own account after his father's death. There was no one better known than Mr Kerr in the different places of call between the Mersey and Cape Wrath, and no craft more readily recognised than the "Jessie," the "Crest", and the "Lady Louisa Kerr"; which he owned and sailed in succession..

...For some years Mr Kerr had worked on shore in the employ of Mr Murdo Maclean, shipping agent, where he was available as pilot for steamers proceeding south to Clyde, Mersey and Irish ports. His unique knowledge of the West Coast peculiarly fitted him for this service, and among mariners he had the reputation of being one of the most skilful and careful of pilots."
Selected extracts from Alexander John Kerr's obituary - Stornoway Gazette October 1922

1855 - b. Stornoway
1869 - Captain Macpherson – 'Alliance' to Archangel
Captain Smith – 'Africa' ('same service')
before 1874 - Captain Murdo Morrison – brig 'Supply' ('same service')
'Glennifer' of Glasgow ('foreign parts')
1896-1903 -'Crest' (confirmed dates)
1903?-1914? - 'Lady Louisa Kerr'
1914?-1922 – Mr Murdo Maclean

Captain Macpherson
1861 – Murdo Macpherson, 46, Sailor Merchant Service, 5 North Beach St, b. Stornoway
1881 – Murdoch Macpherson, 68, Retired Ship Captain, 12 North Beach St, b. Stornoway
 (Living with his sister, their niece is a doctor's daughter, the doctor being Robert Clark of Harris )

1866 6th February Driven ashore near Stornoway by a gale
UNDATED Wrecked 'on the north side of Wick Bay'

Captain Smith – No obvious candidates in the censuses.

Captain Murdo Morrison
1881- Murdo Morison, 45, Seaman, 21 Scotland St, b. Stornoway
1891 – Murdo Morrison, 53, Seaman and Grocer, 24 Scotland St, b. Stornoway

1874 February sees her wrecked in the Solway Firth

1901 - GLENIFFER, James Watt Dock, Greenock East, Renfrewshire
Robert Macaulay, 23, Seaman, b. Harris
Built of iron in 1866 in Glasgow, this 800 ton sailing ship made no less than four trips to the St Lawrence in 1871. Alexander John Kerr sailed on her for several years 'in foreign parts', as his obituary puts it.

'Jessie' 3393 Inverness 1850 31 tons
Ports of Registry
Inverness MNL 1857
Inverness Sail 31 tons 1860 (MNL)
Stornoway Sail Sloop 1880 (MNL)
AJK 1876-1897(?) 21 years
Crew Agreements 1864, 1867-1897, some missing (MHA)
The Belfast News-Letter
Thursday, August 31st, 1876 – The Jessie, Kerr, from Stornoway
Monday, August 15th, 1881 – The Jessie, Kerr, from Stornoway
1886 - Link to photograph that includes her whilst moored in Stornoway

The Belfast News-Letter
Tuesday, February 16th 1897 – The Crest, Kerr, from Stornoway
Wednesday, January 25th 1899 – The Crest, Kerr, from Stornoway
1903 Wrecked off Kebock Head

'Lady Louisa Kerr' 12163 Belfast 1846 Sail 49 tons
Ports of Registry
Belfast 1857 (MNL)
Belfast Sail 48 tons 1860 (MNL)
AJK 1903(?)-1914(?) 11 years
Crew Agreements 1864-1914, only 7 years (MHA), (1863, 68/9 @ PRO NI)

Mr Murdo Maclean
1901 – Murdo Maclean, 30, Commission Merchant, Seaforth House (Scotland St), b. Uig, Ross
1901- Murdo Maclean,41, General Merchant Draper Grocer, 59 Kenneth St, b. Stornoway
1901 – Murdo Maclean, 24, Draper's Assistant, 11 Garden Road, b. Ross, Lochs, Stornoway?
No Shipping Agent found, but one of these three might, perhaps, of become one?

My previous piece Belfast News Letter contains additional newspaper records and other details including a few references to arrivals of vessels from Stornoway whose Master was 'Kerr' and therefore possibly Alexander John or his father, Malcolm.
A little more about William Grant can be read in my piece on his son, James Shaw Grant .

'MNL' refers to Mercantile Navy List, an explanation of which can be seen here.
'PRO NI' refers to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
'MHA' refers to the Maritime History Archive

Friday, 20 August 2010

Iain mac an Tailleir's Gaelic Placenames - The 5 files

Here are the 5 PDF files for all the Gaelic placenames collected by Iain mac an Tailleir:


And this is their page at Pàrlamaid na h-Alba (The Scottish Parliament) that contains several other useful links:

I hope that having all 5 files in one uncluttered place is of use to someone!

'Jessie' in Stornoway in 1886?

Yesterday I contacted the Ballast Trust regarding a photograph taken by the late Dan McDonald that appears on page 33 of Robert Simper's excellent book, 'Scottish Sail - A Forgotten Era', ISBN 071536703X. They located the image, a glass plate negative, and have added it to their Flickr site as can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ballasttrust/4909702307/

The description in the book tells us that the two vessels in the centre are the Advance and Jessie of Stornoway and that the Jessie, of 30 tons, was built at Fraserburgh in 1850 whilst the Advance was built in 1884. Given this information, the date on the image, which appears to read '1866', would have to be 1886?

My previous research, as seen here , places the Jessie in my family's hands from at least 1876 and the fact that her Crew Agreements cease in 1897, the year that they bought the Crest, leads me to believe that she was theirs for the whole of the period 1876-1897. Corroboration is to be found in this obituary from the Stornoway Gazette of 1922.

I am absolutely delighted to be able to share with you an evocative image (albeit somewhat indistinct!) of one of my ancestors' ships taken at the time that they were sailing her in plying the coastal trade of the West coast of Scotland.

Note: The fishing fleet is a mixture typical of the time, including vessels from both the East coast and the Clyde.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Dairy Maids of Harris

Here are the Dairy Maids on 'mainland' Harris from 1841-1901

Ann Mcpherson, 30, Rodel, b. Inverness

Flora Mcdonald, 25, Urgha, b. Harris
Marion Mackinnon, 46, Lukentyre, b. Harris
Effy Mackinnon, 43, Luskentyre, b. Harris
Christina Mcleod, 21, Luskentyre, b. Harris
Marion Mcdiarmid, 25, Nishishee, b. Harris
Cath Macdonald, 27, Nisshishee, b. North Uist
Cathi Maclennon, 27, Nissishee, b. Lochalsh, Ross-shire
Catherine Morrison, 28, Kyles Stockinish, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Ann Mclellan, 80, Pauper (Dairymaid), b. Harris
Mary Ross, 26, Rodel, b. Harris

Ann Mcdonald 20, Marvig, b. Harris
Effie Mckinnon, 57, Seilibost, b. Harris
Ann Mackinnon, 24, Big Borve, b. Harris
Catherine Mckennon, 18, Big Borve, b. Harris
Christina Morrison, 24, Glebe, b. Harris
Marion Maccuish, 20, Kyles (ED 4), b.?
Janet Mclennan, 30, Rodel, b. Harris

Rachel Mcleod, 43, (ED 16), b. Harris
Effy Mckinnon, ?, Main Road of Harris, b. Harris
Mary Macleod, 24, Rodel, b. Harris
Ann Macrae, 32, (ED 4), b. Glenelg, Inverness
(Anne Morrison, 24, Visitor (ED 4), b. Harris)

Margaret Mcleod, 23, Free Church Manse No 20, b. Harris
Ann Macdonald, 52, Nisebost, b. Lochalsh, ross-shire
Mary Mackenzie, 27, Big Borve, b. Berneray, Harris
Marion Mackinnon, 25, Big Borve, b. Harris
Isabella Robertson, 25, Kyles House, b. Duthil, Inverness-shire

Peggy Mcinnes, 21, Hamlets Scaristaveg, b. Harris
Marion Mackinnon, 27, Hamlets Scaristavore, b. Amhuinnsuidh, Harris
Williamina Macdonald, 28, Hamlets Glebe (ED 6), b. North Uist
Jessie Morrison 40, ?? (ED 6), b. Harris

1901 None on 'mainland' Harris

An interesting set of records that are quite informative. The apparently lone Dairy Maid of 1841 is an artifice of that particular census and I am sure that each of the established farms at that time would have had at least one woman whose role was that of the Dairy Maid. By the following decade we can see that the fertile farms of the West required no less than six ladies performing this task (seven, if we include the one living in Kyles Stockinish who would probably have been engaged by the farm of Luskentyre) with one each at Urgha in the North and Rodel in the South.

The pattern in later years probably reflects the trend away from cattle towards sheep until the only Dairy Maids in the area by 1901 are to be found on the surrounding isles. Rodel was joined by the farm at Kyles for a while but it appears that first Rodel, then Kyles, ceased to need a Dairy Maid and they disappeared from the landscape.

I must mention the Mckinnon sisters one of whom, Effy, appears to have been a Dairy Maid for at least the years 1851-1871 by which time she would have been well into her 60s.

That's a long time to be performing the far from simple, effortless or safe duties of a Dairy Maid!

A couple of articles on songs sung by these women can be read here:

Taking the 'Crest' home...

It is the Monday 26th of October 1896 and we are observing a vessel preparing to go to sea from the harbour at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. She's a yard or so under 60 feet in length and her twin masts, the larger in front of the smaller, identifies her as a ketch rather than a schooner. It is 34 years since she first felt the salty kiss of the sea around her Manx-formed curves and, having been laid up for several months since the death of her previous owner and watching the hustle and bustle at Thomas Telford's 'Fisherman's' pier not knowing when or indeed, if, she would feel the wind in her neatly stored sails again.

The three men who were now busy readying those sails to once again harness the power of the wind to drive her forward through the waters of the West coast of Britain were all older than she was and knew their roles inside out. The two younger men, in their early forties, were both Stornowegians who had spent their previous voyages on a pair of steamships, the 'Alice' of Stornoway and the 'Clydesdale' of Glasgow for as the end of the 19thC loomed, so did the end of the era of sail. King coal, that had powered the industrial revolution in Britain, was now extending its empire to include the waters of the ocean that had previously been the province of sail and oar alone.

The old man, who was already as old as his companions at the time of the birth of the 'Crest', had joined her from the small sailing sloop 'Jessie' of Stornoway. This Hearach, now in his 70s, was the Mate or Bosun on board but, as father of her Master and Owner, he was in all respects the senior member of the crew. The 'Jessie' had been in the family for at least 20 years and this little 30 ton Fraserbugh-built ship had been well into her forties by the time that they had looked to replace her. The old man had heard of the 'Crest' on the Gaelic grapevine and they needed a larger, faster vessel if they were to remain competitive in the coastal trade. Her Master needed rid of her (he had already had to write to the Burgh of Tobermory apologising for not having completed the required documentation for the first six months of the year) and so she was to be had for a very good price.

Having found her, the old man sent word back to Stornoway that when his son and their friend John Macleod had finished their steamship duties, they should hasten to Mull to collect the new prize. This duly happened and thus it was that on that Monday morn the final rope was let slip and, gently, slowly, and carefully the 'Crest' set forth on the remaining years of her life.

This first voyage was in fact a swift one to Larne for lime. They covered the 130 Nautical miles (150 land miles) within a day, arriving in Ireland on Tuesday. Whether it was 13 hours at 10 knots, 26 hours at 5 knots or some other average speed we cannot know, but we do know that they remained in Larne until Saturday 14th of November, perhaps delayed by loading, perhaps by the weather, when the 'Crest' left for Gairloch on the Scottish mainland. She didn't reach Gairloch, a distance of perhaps 220 Nautical miles, until Tuesday 24th November which is a clear indication that the journey took place over several 'legs' with shelter being taken along the coast along the way. This reminds us that these small coastal vessels were able to explore the remote regions quite ably and provided a valuable service to the inhabitants of these isolated communities. A few hundredweight of coal could be loaded into the ship's boat and delivered to a coastal cottage, news given and received and who knows what other small trades took place! The news could spread in this way at surprising speed and, whilst there was the postal service, an enormous amount must have been delivered in this manner amongst the oral Gaelic landscape at a time when the reading and writing of English was far from ubiquitous, especially amongst the more mature residents?

Whatever occurred during those 11 days at sea, most of the lime appears to have been unloaded at Gairloch and by Monday 30th November the men were rested and ready to make the short hop of 30 Nautical miles across the Minch to Tarbert on Harris which they reached the following day.

There followed a week on Harris, plenty of time for the old man and his son to reacquaint themselves with their relatives on the island including the old man's eldest son at An-t-Ob, his nephew at Rodel and his sister-in-law at Direcleit to mention just three of the families still there. It is altogether likely that the new vessel was welcomed into the family with due celebration!

On Tuesday 8th December 1896 they said their farewells and made the journey up the East coast of Harris to the new home of the 'Crest', Stornoway. All three men returned to their homes in the town more than six weeks after having slept in their own beds.

The old man and his son were looking forward to 1897 and what it would bring them and their new travelling companion, the 'Crest'...

Note: This is my interpretation of the known facts which I have embellished in parts to create a (hopefully!) more coherent narrative.

NEW! - Gaelic Place-Names Site

A new online resource is being developed (i.e no 'Direcleit' yet!) and can be accessed here:


This is potentially of enormous value, Enjoy!

Lime from Larne

I have long wondered about the Crest's cargoes and had erroneously suggested that she may have been taking on coal in Larne. In fact, Ireland has very little coal (although there were a few working mines there) and the trade in coal went in the opposite direction from the massive coalfields in the West of Scotland.

Thus the voyages of the Crest to and from Larne, proceeding there unladen and leaving with a load, led me to investigate what commodity that part of the North of Ireland produced that would have been required in Scotland, both on the Mainland and in the isles. I discovered this interesting reference to lime which was used for cement, whitewash and to neutralise acid soils.

Similarly, in November 1897 she took on cargo at Carrickfergus, taking it to Loch Maddy in North Uist and then (unless she swapped cargoes!) the remainder to Tarbert in Harris. My guess is that this cargo was rock salt from the vast mines as recorded in this BBC clip .

The other port in Ireland that was visited was Belfast but in that case it appears that goods were only being imported there for she appears to always have left unladen, collecting any cargo from neighbouring Larne.

Note: Here are the recorded voyages of 1896-1899:
Summary Map:

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

'Welcome Home' - Topsail Schooner of Stornoway

This vessel gets a mention in my previous piece on Seafarers From Harris for, in 1891, she was in Leith North where her Master was the 35 year-old Hearach Kenneth Macleod.

I have today received a copy of Robert Simper's 'Scottish Sail - The Forgotten Era' and on p60 is a picture, almost a silhouette, of her approaching harbour in the Dornoch firth. Apparently this topsail schooner was built in 1881 in Stornoway so a quick perusal of the Ship Builders of Stornoway reveals the most likely builder to have been young Donald Mackay Mackenzie.

She is a truly beautiful ship with a sensuous, sinuous clipper-bow and a slender bowsprit that curls like the bill of a Curlew. Her octet of sails hint at the power and speed of this most attractive vessel.

Kerr Occupations 1841-61 – A Regional Comparison

The figures in brackets are the number of Kerr folk found at each location:


Harris (65)

Other Inverness (29)

Ross (28)

Argyll (192)

Sutherland (242)

Carpenter or Joiner






























(The one Tailor on Harris appears as a 'Tenant' on the census but I know my great, great, great grandfather
John was in fact a Tailor at this time – it demonstrates that this data is subject to all manner of 'noise' – and the same is true of the one Mason who was Peter, the Dry Mason who moved to
Argyll between 1851 and 1861)



Other Inverness (46)

Ross (23)

Argyll (255)

Sutherland (171)

Carpenter or Joiner






























(Also a 'Teacher of English' on Barra and a Farmer's Widow in Borve)

1861 (52)


Other Inverness (69)

Ross (43)

Argyll (251)

Sutherland (225)











1 (b. Harris)




















I think it is clear that the concentration of these particular occupations in the small population on Harris demonstrates a cluster compared to the wider region.

The table also suggests that, if these records in any way can be used to reveal a trail left as crafts were passed from father to son (although I have included one Weaveress from 1861!) then Argyll is the most likely source for that trail.

I know this contradicts my recent focus upon Sutherland but I hope it also demonstrates why I am looking
outside Inverness and Ross as likely origins for the Harris folk?

My quest continues...

The Age Gap - or, where are all the 60 & 70 year-olds?

In 1841 there were no Kerr folk on Harris in their 60s or 70s. None.
In the surrounding areas there were between 8% and 12% of such people in their populations which, if translated to the situation on Harris where there were 65 Kerrs, means that we would expect to see perhaps half-a-dozen people of that generation.
Instead, there is a gap between a few in their fifties and one lady, Chirsty of Taransay, who is said to be 80.
If they were a settled population going back a couple or more generations then we would surely expect at least one person in this age group to have been present? I think this is clear evidence that those in their 40s and 50s (born 1781-1801) amongst the population of 1841 were in fact the first generation to be born on Harris and that it was their parents who came to the island attracted by the call for craftsmen that went out when Macleod began his Improvements in the 1780s.
These parents would have been of Chirsty's generation (she herself may have been the mother of Roderick of Rha and others) and thus it is less surprising that they were no longer present by 1841. My own ancestors, Malcolm Kerr and Effie Shaw, parents of John and Angus, were of this generation and are the only ones whose children survived, or remained on Harris, beyond 1855 and the introduction of Statutory Registration. Hence my being able to identify them from their sons death certificates. If they had any daughters then, sadly, I would have to examine every female death of those born, say, 1780-1820 from 1855 onwards in the hope of discovering them beneath their married names. The same is true for the others of this 'original' generation.
A task too far!

If anyone can suggest another explanation for this unusual feature then I would be delighted to hear from you, but I think that mine is the simplest to fit the known facts, including the activities being undertaken on the island at the time?
"Captain Macleod also encouraged shoemakers, weavers, turners, wrights and masons to settle down at Rodel." (John Lanne Buchanan quoted in 'Travels to terra incognita', Martin Rackwitz 2007)

"he alfo encouraged a great many artificersas fhoemakers, weavers, turners, and wrights, and mafons" (John Lanne Buchanan in his 'Travels in the Western Hebrides: from 1782 to 1790')

Note: There are two records from the 1851 census that show ages of 74 and 77 (and therefore people who would have been in their 60s in 1841) but the one who survives until the 1861 census resorts to a birth in the late 1780s so I think the 'gap' as described is real rather than merely an artifice of the records.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Population Table - Kerrs of the West Coast

Note: Columns are for Inverness-shire then Harris within that county, Ross-shire and Lewis within that county; for Inverness-shire & Ross-shire combined and the number & proportion deriving from Harris & Lewis. These are followed by the numbers for Argyll-shire and Sutherland-shire and the total for all four counties:

























































































(I have prepared charts from this data but am struggling to get 'Blogger' to accept them!)

I have restricted my examination to these four counties because, as can be seen on this map ,  they form the mass of the (Gaelic-speaking) West Coast of Scotland. Caithness did support a small population and their occupational range is quite similar to that on Harris but the pattern of names is different. A similar result was found for Argyll-shire.

The firsr feature that strikes me is that we start with over half the population of Inverness-shire and Ross-shire being due to those on Harris. This strongly suggests to me that the name was not native to those counties and hence we need to look further afield.
The figures exhibit greater synchronicity between Sutherland and the Inverness/Ross population than do those for Argyll which form a cyclical pattern. There is also greater similarity amongst names, such as Angus and Roderick, in the three counties with others such as James and Peter appearing in Argyll. (Interestingly, there was a Peter in Harris in 1841 but he later moved with his family to Argyll). If male names form a chain back into history, then  there is stronger evidence suggesting that it snakes back to Sutherland than anywhere else.

All this has to be taken with a ship-load of salt but I am leaning towards the idea that a family or two moved from Sutherland to Harris (including Taransay) by the early 18thC and settled there but that a range of circumstances (Clearances, Emigration, non-marrying males & a lack of male heirs) led to the name's demise on Harris.

Those who left the island, whether to Canada, America, Australia, England, Argyll or, indeed, Lewis, were slightly  more successful in continuing to add links to the chain...

Update: This PDF makes the point rather well - it 'feels' like the Harris families, but in Stoer (and a few other places in Assynt, Sutherland) and with a larger overall presence in the population: http://rogart.fileave.com/HMD%20MARRIAGES.pdf

Monday, 16 August 2010

Sutherland, perhaps?

In attempting to discover where the Kerr families of Harris may have originated, I have been re-examining the records for the four counties of Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Argyll & Sutherland and that remains very much a work in progress as I have yet to analyse the data from Christian names.
However, this afternoon a friend alerted me to some evidence given to the Napier commission by Murdoch Kerr, 55 a Crofter's Son, formerly a Fisherman, of Auchmelvich in Sutherland.
His testimony paints the usual bleak picture which Murdoch presented to the commission in a written document titled 'Auchmelvich Township Grievances' but it is the following exchange that caught my attention (Murdoch's replies are in italics):

27631 You name is rather uncommon? - It is a strange name in the place.
27632 Are there several more in this place of Auchmelvich? - Yes.
27633 Do they all belong to the same clan? - No, they are separate families.
27634 Are they long here? - My ancestors have been here for seven hundred years, the Kerrs to whom I belong.
27635 What family were in possession of Assynt at that time? - I cannot tell.
27636 Do you, and the people in your place, look with favour upon the large sheep farms? - We would rather not see any in the country.

(I included 27636 because of its comprehensiveness - they did't want such farms anywhere in the land!)

So, what does this brief exchange have to tell us?
Firstly, two years earlier the 1881 census recorded 32 families in Sutherland headed by a man called Kerr and  3 of these were Lowland families which accords with Murdoch's comment that they were not all of the same clan but represented different families.
Secondly, at least one branch of the Sutherland Kerrs had been there since the 12th or 13thC, a remarkable fact that is testament to the oral tradition in Gaelic communities.
I don't know if the Gaelic Harris Kerrs originally were from Sutherland or Argyll, Ross-shire or Inverness-shire (or indeed elsewhere in the Highlands) but Murdoch offers the tantalising thought that a left-handed Highlander may have excelled himself on the field of battle in the Medieval period and established a line that leads all the way down to the left-hander typing these words...

(Note: I apologise for that brief lapse into Romanticism. It may happen again...)

Update: Almost two-thirds of the Kerr folk in the censuses living in Sutherland were living in Stoer and some 80% of households in the county headed by a male Kerr were there too.
Stoer is less than 3 miles from Murdoch's home in Auchmelnvich.

Note: Full Transcript can now be read here.

Cart Drivers of Lewis and Harris

These young men, aged from 15 to 20, are those recorded as being Cart Drivers in the 1841-1901 censuses:

1841 - None found

Murdo Morison, 19, Keith Street, Stornoway, b. Lochs
Malcolm Maclean, 16, Bayhead Street, Stornoway, b. Guershader

Donald Mckay, 17, 4 Garynahine, Carloway, Uig, b. Uig
Mal Mcarthur, 16, 23 Calanish, Carloway, Uig, b. Uig
Murdo Mckenzie, 16, 28 Calanish, Carloway, Uig, b. Uig

Donald Mciver, 15, 33 Cromwell Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway

Malcolm Mciver, 20, Gress Farm, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Angus Graham, 16, 96 Tolsta, Stornoway, b. Stornoway

John Smith, 16, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
John McDonald Macaskill, 18, Grieve's House, South Harris, b. Harris

1901 - None found

Quite why there was a blossoming of carts in Uig in the 1860s (and a corresponding lack of them in Stornoway at that time!) is a mystery, as is the non-appearance of Barvas where the records tell us there were several Cartwrights. I suspect that cart driving was undertaken rather more widely by members of the farming community and that these records reflect more upon adolescent male attitudes to having a set of 'wheels' rather than being a true indicator of cart usage at the time. In fairness, being allowed to be in charge of such an expensive piece of machinery would also have been an honour and one that the young men would have probably been keen to see recorded.

Piper at the gates of Warwickshire

I was doing a little research into some of the smaller isles around Harris when I happened upon an interesting entry from the England census of 1881:

Angus Macrae, 25, Piper (Musician), Newbold Revel Hall, Monks Kirby, Warwickshire, b. Ensay, Inverness-shire, Scotland

The Hall had been bought in 1862 by Burslem-born Edward Wood who, in 1869, was the High Sheriff of Warwickshire but had been a Magistrate in Devon two decades earlier.

In 1871, 14 year-old Harris-born Piper Angus Macrae was living in the Farm House of Balranald on North Uist which was home to JP and Farmer Alexander Macdonald, aged 40.

In 1861, an 8 year-old Angus Macrae is living on the Island of Ensay and is the youngest of the six children of Boatbuilder, Christopher Macrae.

Quite what route Angus took in travelling from the tiny island of Ensay, via the Farm in North Uist, to the Justice of the Peace's home in England is unknown but I always like discovering these unusual instances in the records and thought that I'd share this one with you.

Angus, by the way,  is the only person I can find in England who ever gives 'Ensay' as their birthplace.

Update: I have been informed by the people at http://carmichaelwatson.blogspot.com/  (who are researching the work of Alexander Carmichael) that Edward Wood was the owner of the Island of Raasay in 1861 which explains why he was employing a Piper from the isles.
I am very grateful to Dr Donald William Stewart for supplying me with this detail.

Geology again (plus a useful link)

Found this interesting PDF on the Geology of Harris: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/7490/1/CR07032N.pdf.
It includes a colourful map and is particularly helpful for the interested amateur as it was written for Harris Development Ltd, whose site I notice has a list of island boats listed by SY (Stornoway) Registration Number .

North Direcleit looking South-East (ish)

A panoramic view over Direcleit with Scalpaigh (Scalpay) in the distant mist in the left, followed by the closer dark mass of Sgeotasaigh (Scotasay) , the small Eilean a Ghuail at mid-left and finally the  large Eilean Mor tucked behind the tiny, tail-like  headland. The track that snakes its way over the hill between the cliff on the left and the outcrop to the right leads from Cadha (perhaps half-a-mile behind us) to the houses clinging to the shore of Ob Liceasto. It is the path that, for example, the children would have taken each day to attend school in Tarbert. Two ruined buildings lie in the foreground at the right and centre.

Rural Wrights of Lewis & Harris

These are the only men occupied as Wrights resident outside the Parish of Stornoway from 1841-1901.
It is clear that only Barvas maintained Cartwrights for the whole of the second-half of the 19thC and that two families, the Gunns and the Murrays, specialised tn this craft. Uig and Harris show no Wrights and Lochs makes but one brief appearance on the scene.

1841 - None recorded

John Gunn, 36, Cart Wright, North Dell, Barvas, b. Barvas
Lachlan Mackinnon, 50, Cartwright (Employing 2), Grosebay, Harris (Visitor), b. Harris

Farquhar Murray, 31, Cartwright, North Dell, Barvas, b. Stornoway

Farquhar Murray, 39, Cart Wright, North Dell, Barvas, b. Ross-shire
John Gunn, 54, Crofter and Cart Wright, north Dell, Barvas, b. Barvas
Angus Murray, 27, Cart Wright, South Dell, Barvas, b. Barvas

Murdo Macelod, 56, Wright, Calbost, Lochs, b. Lochs
Allan Gunn, 27, Cartwright, No 10 Cross, Barvas (Visitor), b. Barvas

Farquhar Murray, 58, Cartwright, North Dell Road, Barvas, b. Stornoway
Donald Murray, 24, Cartwright, North Dell Road, Barvas, b. North Dell
Donald Dunn, 35, Cartwright, North Dell Road, Barvas, b. North Dell
Malcolm Mcdonald, 35, Cartwright, Township Road Crofters Houses, Barvas, b. Ness, Lewis

Donald Gunn, 44, Crofter and Cartwright, 28 North Dell, Barvas, b. Barvas