The 1851 census provides us with the second such ‘snapshot’ of the people of Harris. Along the Sound it shows Obe having 166, Strond 40, Port Esgein 150, Port Esgein Farm of Strond 89, and Rodel 38 people. So a total of 483 people, compared to the 561 of a decade earlier, were living along the Sound. This fall of 16%, or almost one-in-six, was four-times the 4% drop in the population across the whole island and remains interesting but unexplained.
Angus and his family, with the exception of his own son Angus, were one of the seventeen households on the Farm of Strond at Port Esgein. Amongst their neighbours were Marion and Chirsty Macleod, the ‘Paisley sisters’, who lived with their widowed mother. These two weaveresses were the pair who Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore, sent to the mainland of Scotland to perfect their skills before returning to Harris to instruct their peers. There was another Kerr family in the seventeen of this place and they were headed by a shoemaker’s widow called Margaret Kerr. Both her sons, Donald and John, had followed in their father’s footsteps and both would eventually become Merchants, quite probably dealing in Harris Tweed in later years. All were living on the tack of Strong and Killegray whose tenant was Mrs Campbell. She was either our Mrs Ann Campbell, whose developments Donald Stewart had attempted to ignore, or one of her relatives.
John Robson Macdonald, the Land Factor and Justice of the Peace who succeeded Duncan Shaw, was living at Rodel House as was the farmer of Rodel, Donald Macrae. The Farm Servant was Angus Kerr, son of the Angus living over the hill at Port Esgein. Also at the Port, but listed separately from those on the Farm of Strond, was the Estate Officer, John Macleod and the Master of the Harris Mail Boat, John Morrison. There are many questions raised by this such as what vessel did he use, was it kept at Port Esgein (or at Rodel Harbour, or at An-t-Ob, even?) and where and when did the Mail Boat run?
His colleagues at the time were Roderick Morrison, 59, a Parcel Carrier living in Obe and John Macleod, 20, of Strond who was the Letter Carrier.
Direcleit and Ceann Dibig, with the previously mentioned doubling of their crofts show Direcleit having 148 people in 25 households, whilst Ceann Dibig is home to 44 people in 8 households, an average of 6 people per hearth in a total population of 192. One of the houses at Direcleit was home to John the Tailor and his wife Margaret with several of their children. Malcolm, their first-born, had already started his own family in Stornoway but his son, Roderick, was still in Direcleit as were 16 year-old Angus, 14 year-old Effy, 8 year-old Donald and 5 year-old Niel. Mary, 22, is missing, hopefully married! Ann, 20, is a Weaveress, Catherine, 19, a House Servant and John, 12, a Farmer’s Herd all in Borve. They are listed as living with their grandparents but this cannot be correct. Back in 1841 there were 65 people bearing the family name ‘Kerr’ living in 10 different households. I am sure that, with one exception, they were all related. Hence, in 1851, I think that this trio were with cousins, but of the form ‘Xth Cousin, Y times removed’ for which the word ‘grandchild’ was an altogether simpler solution!
Marion, the eldest daughter of John the Tailor, was to be found in a somewhat surprising spot.
The Hamlet of Limera in Lochs, Lewis was home to 18 people, in 3 households. A decade earlier 179 people had lived there. Lemreway, or, Leamrabhaigh, apparently used to be known as Leumra and later Leumrava and the expansion of the Park Sheep Farm, centred at Valamus in South Park, resulted in the Clearance, in 1843, of Lemreway and Orinsay. Marion was General Servant to Robert Linton, a Shepherd from Roberton in Roxburgh and his family. His wife was from Selkirk and their sons had been born in Lochs. Robert Linton and his sheep had been brought in from the mainland to run sheep over the land where other people’s children had once run. With the family were three nieces called Margaret, Catherine and Johanna Lillico. They were the daughters of James Lillico, the Manager of the Sheep Farm at Park Farm, Kenmore in Lochs.
There are two things that led me to describe Marion Kerr’s presence amongst these Sheep Farmers as surprising. Firstly, how did it come to pass that a woman born at Direcleit in Harris was selected for this role when there must have been plenty of others nearer-by from whom to chose? Secondly, Marion’s brother Malcolm, who had moved to Stornoway, married a woman who was one of those dozens who had been cleared from Orinsay to make way for sheep, those same sheep whose shepherd Marion was now serving!
A long, long way from Harris, on the mainland of Scotland at Culross in Perthshire, were a Royal Navy officer and his wife. Lieutenant FWL Thomas and Frances S Thomas were both English but would each play significant, if vastly different, roles in the story of Harris. These were the pair that Commander Otter was responsible for introducing to the area. Henry C Otter and his wife were on Portsea Island, Hampshire, visiting John Birch, a General in the Royal Engineers. As it was this branch of the Army that provided services to the Ordnance Survey, it is extremely likely that the General and the Commander were discussing matters relating to surveying, whether on land or at sea.
In 1852 the Highland and Islands Emigration Society was formed and 742 people left Harris for Australia. That was at least one in every six people resident on the island. And they had to be judged to be ‘suitable’ persons in order to participate in this seximation of the population.
Amongst those they left behind them were the inhabitants of the Borve ‘experiment’ and the following year it was concluded and Little, Mid and Big Borve were cleared yet again and the inhabitants pushed to wherever the Factor decided that they should go.
In Direcleit, Catherine Kerr, the 18 year-old daughter of John the Tailor and Margaret, died. Hers is the earliest death amongst my island relatives for which a record exists.
On a more positive note, 1854 saw the road from Stornoway to Tarbert completed nearly a quarter-of-a-century since it had been begun. Evidence of the work in progress is found in the presence of some 42 Road builders in the 1851 census. It was not a ‘road’ in the modern sense of the word but it was a sufficient improvement upon for the Post Office to propose to run a foot-post from Stornoway to Tarbert twice weekly in summer and once weekly in winter, at a cost of thirteen shillings a week. Two runners were employed on this service: one messenger took the mail as far as Balallan and the other carried it from there to Tarbert. This service came into operation on 29th March 1855.
The third of the countess of Dunmore’s industries was begun in 1857 when she and Mrs Thomas, wife of a Government Surveyor, started the Stocking-Knitting (socks and knickerbocker stockings) industry. We met Mrs France Thomas earlier but this is the first-known reference to her involvement on the island. Little more has been written of this industry but we shall return to it in 1861.
One piece of writing about the activities of the Countess in this era states that, ‘In 1858 Lady Dunmore was a mother to her people in Harris.’ (Duchess of Sutherland writing of ‘The Revival of Home Industries’ in ‘The Land Magazine’, Vol 3, 1899)
I should point out that the 32 year-old Duchess was writing this some 41 years after the event, and 13 years after the death of the Countess herself, so we cannot know for certain why she chose to focus upon 1858, the year after the Stocking-Knitting Industry was started, rather than an earlier date such as that of the establishing of the Embroidery School or the creation of the Harris Tweed industry. There were 106 Weaveresses and 6 Weavers on Harris, reflecting this island’s tradition of it being a female role and that is amongst the strongest concrete evidence that exists regarding the impact of the industry on the economy at this time. It represents perhaps one in six of the adult women of Harris engaged in this one activity.
Regardless of the Countess’s ‘motherhood’ in 1858, in the 1860s, perhaps as late as 1867, Direcleit and Ceann Dibig were cleared, allegedly because of their proximity to the temptations of the nearby deer forest at Losgaintir, and many inhabitants emigrated to Owen Sound, Ontario, although a few landless cottars, including John the Tailor and his offspring, were allowed to remain. His house was so near the shore that a particularly high tide would bring the sea in though the door.
Elsewhere at sea, inn 1858 the first Transatlantic Telegraphy cable was laid and Captain Otter piloted the final stages of the journey into Trinity Bay, Newfoundland from HMS Porcupine, a paddle-steamer that he was also using in his survey of the waters of the Western Isles. He was one of 9 recipients of an Atlantic Cable Medal, First Class. He noted the peculiarities of the tides in the Sound of Harris at this time, too, and no doubt his survey played a pivotal role in the later cabling of the isles.
On The Tides In The sound Of Harris By Henry C. Otter, Esq., R.N., Captain of H.M.S. Porcupine.
In The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, Volume 7, 1858 p272-276
Tides.—The law of the tidal stream in the Sound of Harris is very remarkable…
…It may be generally stated, that in summer, in neap tides, the stream comes from the Atlantic during the whole of the day, and from the Minch during the whole of the night.
In winter, the reverse takes place, the Minch stream flows during the day, the Atlantic during the night.
‘Neap’ refers to tides where the tidal range between high-water and low-water is small. They occur in the week leading to a Full Moon and the week leading to a New Moon.
In spring tides, both in summer and winter, the stream comes in from the Atlantic during the greater part of the time the water is rising, but never exceeds 5¼ hours, and flows back into the Atlantic during the greater part of the fall of the tide.
‘Spring’ refers to tides where the tidal range between high-water and low-water is large. They occur in the week following a Full moon and the week following a New Moon.
The stream from the Atlantic is therefore denominated the flood stream, that from the Minch the ebb stream.
Captain Otter then proceeds to give full details of the variations in the tidal flows according to the season, the particular part of the Sound and the strength and direction of the wind. It is not the details themselves that need concern us, we merely note that they were observed in all their complexity.
Following the article itself there are appended the following Notes to Captain Otter’s Paper on the Tides in the Sound of Harris. By James Stark, M.D. F.R.S.E.
An interesting subject of inquiry is the probable cause of the flow of the current through the Sound of Harris.
To James Stark, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a description in itself is insufficient for, as a man of Science, he seeks causes.
As the tidal wave in its progress from the south flows up both sides of the Western Isles, as far as the Sound of Harris, at the same time, so that at both the eastern and western extremity of the Sound the time of high-water is attained at the same hour, it is evident that the peculiar flow of the current through the Sound cannot be due to the tidal wave…
He then proposes a hypothetical cause for the effects that Captain Otter observed:
If we suppose that the sun exerts a strong attractive power over a large body of water like the Atlantic, which is undeniable, then we should expect that attraction to be greatest, and its effect in raising the level of the water most marked, when the sun was more immediately over that body of water.
This explains the variation between Summer and Winter for:
‘…the great mass of the Northern Atlantic in the same parallel of latitude as Harris, would have a higher level during the day in the summer months than it would have during the night when the sun’s attractive power was removed. As the Minch is, to a certain extent, a confined sea, the current from the Atlantic would, therefore, flow into it all day ; but when the level of the North Atlantic fell during the night, in consequence of the sun’s attractive power being removed, the current would flow from the Minch into the Atlantic. During winter, again, the sun’s rays being most powerful over the Southern Atlantic, as it is now to the south of the equator, the waters of the North Atlantic would be attracted southwards during the day, so that its level would be lower than that of the confined waters of the Minch. Consequently, during the winter months, we should expect that the stream would flow through the Sound of Harris from the Minch into the Atlantic all the day. When the sun’s attractive power, however, over the Southern Atlantic was removed during the night, the waters would fall to their level and allow the North Atlantic to regain its level; so that during the night the current during the winter season would flow through the Sound of Harris from the Atlantic.’
James Stark then extrapolates from these observations in the Sound of Harris and:
On the supposition that this explanation is the true one, it appears to me that it throws light on a phenomenon which has been long remarked, but never satisfactorily accounted for,—• viz., that during one period of the year the highest tides occur when the moon is above the horizon, but during the other half of the year when the moon is below the horizon. Now, if the moon be above the horizon during the summer when the level of the Atlantic is higher than usual from the greater attractive power of the sun, the day tide will be higher than the corresponding night tide. But if the moon be above the horizon during the day, when the Atlantic level is below its mean, as during winter, then the day tide will be lower than the corresponding night tide.
Which, if you think about it, is a pretty remarkable discovery stemming from observations in a humble little Sound in the furthest flung reaches of the British Isles!
He ends on an optimistic note hoping for further scientific evidence in support of his theory:
It would be interesting to ascertain, by actual measurements, whether there is any difference in the level of the waters in the Atlantic and Minch, and to what extent that difference exists during day and night, and during summer and winter; and I expect that this will be ascertained during the present year through the zeal of Captain Otter and Lieutenant Thomas, who are both engaged in the survey of the western coast.
This survey is mentioned in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 24th May 1858:
In the Hebrides Captain Otter in H. M. S. Porcupine, with lier tender the Seagull, assisted by a good working staff, composed of Messrs. Dent, Stanton, Stanley, and Cramer, has examined the shores and islets of the Sound of Harris, comprising, with all their indentations, 155 miles of coast line, in addition to sounding over an area of 435 square miles.
It is remarkable to consider that, in surveying the Sound of Harris, they recorded a massive 155 miles of coast.
This is an important service rendered to hydrography, as with this chart and the accompanying sailing directions before him, the mariner may safely run for the passage between Harris and North Uist, which has hitherto been avoided by all who could possibly escape from it. The chart is in the engraver’s hands, and will be issued to the public in the course of the summer. At the same time Lieut. Thomas and Mr. Clifton have surveyed the rocky estuary of East Loch Tarbert, in Harris, and completed a chart of that remarkable inlet of the sea.
Unfortunately, a seafaring relative of mine ran into a storm in the Sound some 32 years later and his ship was wrecked there. ‘Liet. Thomas’ is the Lieutenant FWL Thomas mentioned earlier.
In alluding to these and other charts of the coasts of Scotland, I have real pleasure, as one acquainted with the value of detailed land surveys, in expressing my admiration of the maps on the six-inch scale, exhibiting all the physical features, which Captain Otter, Commander Wood, and their associates have laid down for three miles inland. Such terrestrial coast surveys may enable geologists to come to accurate conclusions respecting the general structure of Scotland before the geographical details can be worked out on Ordnance maps representing the interior of the country, and which will probably not be published for many years to come, even under the vigilant superintendence of Colonel James.
The fact that they surveyed miles inland tells us both how thorough they were and also why their task took several years to complete. As the author suggests, it was to be many years to come before the OS produced the first complete maps of the Isle of Harris.
Continuing with the nautical theme, the Principal Light Keeper of the Eilean Glas lighthouse was 57 year-old Alexander Campbell who was living on Scalpay with his wife and their four children. He had an Assistant Light Keeper and an Occasional Light Keeper who were also accompanied by their families. In 1852 a Revolving Lens System was installed to aid identification of the light.
A reminder of the importance that the sea played in the lives of the people may be grasped by consideration of an occupational group that is often overlooked, the Boatmen. From the island of Ensay in the Sound , via Kentulavig, Grosebay and Direcleit, to Tarbert in the North there were some seven men plying this vital trade. They were the aquatic version of a combination of ‘White-Van Man’ and Taxi, transporting goods and people around and between the islands. A ‘life-line’ in every sense of the word, they would have been involved in all aspects of life from the cradle to the grave.
There would have been much to-ing and fro-ing and a lot of it centred on the old ferry landing site near Kyles Lodge just to the North-West of An-t-Ob. It is no surprise that on the ‘road’, perhaps ‘route’ would be more accurate, from the ferry to An-t-Ob an enterprising Merchant called Malcolm Macdonald was running an Inn. His son, Roderick, we shall meet later in our discussions of island industries. On this particular Sunday there was only one visitor at the Inn and he does not state the nature of his business on the isle. Given the circumstances prevailing, it perhaps comes at a surprise that there were remarkably few policemen on Harris. The first of these appeared in 1851 in the form of 42 year-old Murdoch Matheson, in Tarbert who described himself as a Rural Police Constable. He was from Kilmuir and with him were his wife and their five children and from their birthplaces we can deduce that he (or, more accurately, his wife!) arrived after 1842 but by1846.
The explanation for the oft-noted historical absence of crime on the islands is complex and includes ancient obligations, the socio-economic organisation prevailing post-Culloden, and the simple fact that, on a small island, everyone is ‘in it together’, almost literally as one huge extended family.
However, as is often the case in times of trouble, whether in 1930s Depression America or 19thC Scotland, the moderating role of religion plays a significant part.
The Free Church had, a mere 8 years after the Disruption, a significant presence on Harris but, as we saw from the evidence to the House of Lords in 1847, that presence still lacked a church. The Manish Free Church was built in 1853 so, meanwhile, three men maintained the teachings and preachings. The first was John Morrison the Blacksmith who, at the age of 55 was a Free Church Catechist living at Leac a Li. ‘Gobha na Hearadh’, as he came to be known, had moved to Leac a Li in the Bays when driven from his home, and livelihood, at An-t-Ob. He had a visitor in the form of Malcolm Macualay, 35, a Free Church Elder and Shoemaker, which may be related to the fact that the census was, as usual, taken on a Sunday? ‘Gobha na Hearadh’ died the following year thus missing seeing the church that he fought for being built at Manish. However he was given recognition by being buried at St Clement’s Church in Rodel. Another Catechist, 49 year-old Angus Maclean, 49, was in North Harris at Cluer. The Established Church was represented at Scarista by its 28 year-old Church Beadle called John Mackay. The Beadle was a Minister’s assistant but, unfortunately and perhaps significantly, the Minister was not present that on that particular Sunday.
Angus Morrison, the son of ‘Gobha na Hearadh’, took-over his father’s role at An-t-Ob where the 26 year-old was the Blacksmith & Miller. By now there were two other smiths on the island. John Macaulay, the Miller from Breascleit, Uig, Lewis is the husband of Marion Macaulay (MS Kerr) and in 1851 is visiting his widowed Mother-in-Law at Port Esgein, Farm of Strond. His wife was the daughter of Angus Kerr the Shoemaker who a decade earlier was in the household of the Factor in Rodel.
A mile or two along the coast from the Beadle, our General Practitioner, Robert Clark was at Nissishee having devoted at least 20 years of his life to serving the people of Harris as their Doctor. It would be thirty years before we see sight of his successor.
Amongst those who the doctor was attending were the the Cottars. Cottar is defined by Scotland’s People as a ‘Tenant with only a house and a little land’ but colloquially reference is often made to ‘landless cottars’. The point is that whilst a cottar would have had a patch, or patches, of mean ground to cultivate (predominantly by feannagan or ‘lazy-bed’) he or she was on the most precarious margin of subsistence. There were 51 families in 1851 who were headed by a Cottar. I should point out that there were cottars who, because they had an additional occupation (and therefore source of income), do not appear in these figures. For example, I am descended from a Tailor who was also a cottar but his occupation ‘masks’ his status as a cottar in the censuses of 1851 and 1861. I also have a relative amongst the cottar population of 1871, but he is recorded as a Shepherd in 1861 and 1881 (and as a ‘Retired Shepherd’ in 1891 and ‘Keeping at Home’ in 1901) so I am confused by this apparent anomaly. However, these two examples do illustrate that this is not an exact science. We have no idea of the number of cottars existing in 1841 simply because they are not defined in that particular census. If nothing else, we can say that on Harris itself there were an average of three-dozen cottar households throughout the second-half of the 19thC. Not a huge number in itself but still representing perhaps one-hundred and fifty islanders clinging-on to existence as firmly and precariously as limpets on a storm-swept rock.
In worse straights were those who, following the Poor Law Act (Scotland) 1845, were officially Papers. In 1851 there were 21 men and 57 women in this situation. Much work would be done in the ensuing decades to alleviate their suffering and there is no bout that much of it was well-meaning. However, as always, it addressed the symptoms of poverty rather than the social-injustices in society that lie at the core and are the true cause. I should mention the six Chelsea Pensioner Outpatients living on Harris, a select group of men aged from 47 to 67 who must surely be amongst the furthest-recorded from the institution that helped to support them?
On the island of Taransay the population had been reduced from 88 people to a mere 55, a decrease of nearly 40% in a decade. Perhaps three or four times that number had thrived on the fertility of the island where now a few were left to tend to the sheep being fattened there to fatten the purse of the Farmer, John Macdonald. At least one of those families, that of a Roderick Kerr, had been moved to participate in the Borve Experiment which, as we saw, ended in 1853. Significantly, there is no further record of Roderick, Margaret and their family and it is to be assumed that they emigrated, but may not have survived the journey…
In 1860 Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore and owner of Harris turned 19…