Roderick the Letter Carrier was in Strond, his unmarried sister Effy doing the Housekeeping and his married sister Christian Morrison occupied as a Weaveress (Wool). Her two daughters were with her at Roderick’s but husband William was away at the Fishing. Mary and her husband Angus Macsween, another Fisherman, were also in Strond as were Malcolm the Shepherd and his wife Isabella.
The Postmaster was the ex-Gardener, Henry Galbraith, whose wife had previously run the Embroidery School. There were 5 Sewing Mistresses in this post Education Act era and one of them, Jessie Brunton, was, I think, her successor in that role. The Parcel Post was introduced in 1883, which must have been an interesting logistical problem to solve on an island with Post runners rather than Roads!
At Rodel Farm, Angus had become Farm Manager and was living with wife Lexy and their daughter Marion. There is no sign of John Robson Macdonald, or indeed anyone else resident at Rodel House (unless the Farm Manager had moved in there again?), and in November of 1882 Thomas Brydone was appointed as Lord Dunmore’s Factor. There was another Farm Manager in the South and a Farm Grieve, but the farms they were responsible for are not listed. Kenneth Macdonald, who has farmed Borve since it was cleared for the second-time in 1853, is now listed as the Factor, apparently of the North Harris Estate.
At Kyles House were the Macdonald family employing 8 people on their farm. Mrs S Macdonald had given birth to three children by this time but of her in-laws Inn at An-t-Ob there is no mention.
In Direcleit, the widowed Margaret has daughter Effy for company but sorrow ha returned for, at at some unrecorded time in the last decade, her son, Angus the Fisherman died, presumably at sea for there is no record of the event. His widow Mary and their five children are living with no visible means of support. Simultaneously, Harris recorded its largest ever number of Fishers with 566 men risking their lives in harvesting the sea, more than three times the number of thirty years earlier.
With all this fishing, it is perhaps surprising that there were very few Fish Curers on Harris but one of them, Roderick Campbell, was to be found at Strond. I shall come back to him and his son, John Campbell, later.
At 121, the number of weaver was virtually the same as it had been 30 years previously. The only significant change was that all but one of them were women. The Thomas’s, Retired Captain RN, and his wife Frances S Thomas remained in Leith and Mrs Captain Thomas continued to run her depot there to meet the demand of the London market. The Captain died in Midlothian in 1885 but his widow continued trading from there for another couple of years.
Of Catherine Murray, I can find not trace but the 7th Earl and his family were at 109 Cromwell Road, Kensington, London. The household comprised the Peer of the Realm and his wife with their four daughters plus a Governess, a Lady’s Maid, a Nurse and two Nurserymaids. There were two Housemaids, a Kitchen Maid, a Butler and a Page. The Cook was Marion Morrison, 24, who was born at Strond, Harris! There are two Marion Morrison candidates but the most likely one was the daughter of Donald Morrison, a Fisherman, and his wife Mary who in 1851, prior to Marion’s birth, were one of the 44 families at Port Esgein. Her story of how she came to become Cook to the family of the owner of her island home, and living in a house almost as tall as the hills behind the house she was born in, is one that would wonderful to be told. Oh, and she is the only person that I have found in the all the censuses of England whose birthplace is given as ‘Harris’, let-alone, ‘Strond’!
The Free Church Minister Alexander Davidson at the Manse in Manish had been joined by his colleague Roderick Mackenzie, Minister of Tarbert Free Church, and the Catechist Malcolm Morrison in Meavaig. The Established Church had its one Minister, Donald Maclean, at Scarista and he remained there into the new century.
Of course, when we talk of ‘Harris’ we have to remember that there were now two Harris’s – the South owned by the Earl and the North by Sir E Scott. The census actually divided the island into two separate districts but there appears to be some confusion as to whether these follow the Estate boundaries.
In the North, one of the innovations was the introduction of the SS Dunara Castle to bring people to the Estate and, fortuitously, it is found docked in Tarbert for three consecutive censuses. The S.S. Dunara Castle, named after a ruined castle on the north west coast of Mull, was built by Martin Orme. Her maiden voyage was on 21st July 1875. As well as carrying cargo the Dunara Castle had accommodation for 44 cabin class passengers. She sailed weekly between Glasgow and the Hebrides in the summer months, and during the high season the trips were extended to St. Kilda.
She was used in the evacuation of St Kilda residents in 1930. Most of the crew were Gaelic speakers from the highlands and islands, with three generations of one family serving on the steamer. On the evening of Sunday 3rd April 1881 she was docked in East Tarbert, Harris with her Master, Archibald McEwen in charge of his crew of 15 seamen and 7 attendants. Their 5 passengers were a fellow Seaman, a Free Church Minister with his two female Servants and a Divinity Student. It is probable that they had been preaching on Harris. There were no guests, and very few staff, at the castles that night but evidence of the growth in hunting and shooting activities may be deduced by the presence of no less than eight Gamekeepers scattered around the North Harris Estate.
Blacksmithing has also burgeoned with some six, including the two sons of ‘Gobha na Hearadh’, and all but one bear the name of Morrison.
On the farms, there were on a couple of Cow Herds but, interestingly, a third was employed by Robert Hornsby at the Tarbert Hotel. He was joined by others meeting the agricultural requirements of the hotel reminding us that fresh, local produce is not a new phenomenon in such establishments!
Following a gap of several years when there may have been no doctor resident on the island, Harris had a Physician and Surgeon in both Tarbert and Kentulavig. Thus both North and South had medical provision, contrasting with 50 years ago when the one doctor was on the West Coast where the people, too, had once lived in their numbers. A parallel development were the presence of a Police Constable in East Tarbert and one living with the Public School Teacher in the South, presumably at the school in Strond/An-t-Ob.
Another vital arm of medicine was that supplied by midwives, usually untrained but experienced women, and 1881 finds three of them in Harris. Christina Kerr (M.S. Maclennan) and her husband, Roderick Kerr, a Joiner, were the parents of John Kerr, the Minister at Scarista perhaps better known as ‘Ayatollah Kerr’ in ‘Crowdie & Cream’. The family appear to have been resident in Little Borve from at least 1861. Rachel Martin’s husband, Angus Martin from Direcleit, was my ‘3rd great granduncle’. In 1861 the family were in East Tarbert. Their 5 children included 3 from Rachel’s first marriage. Rachel continued to provide her midwifery services into the 20thC.
Boat Builders & Ship Carpenters numbered some seven, all but two now in the ‘North’ but, apart from the three on Scalpay and one in Tarbert, their precise locations are unknown. They are very likely to have been in the Bays. The one in Tarbert, Malcolm Kerr, was from another family of that name.
On the 22nd February 1883 the widow Margaret Kerr died at Direcleit and on the 31st of May the Napier Commission began hearing evidence at An-t-Ob. It is sad that Margaret, who had spent every day of her life at Direcleit, did not live to see the recrofting of it and neighbouring Ceann Debig a year later as one outcome of the 1883 Crofter’s Act. Even sadder, her first grandchild, Roderick, married his second wife at Scarista on the very day that Margaret died. Widowed Margaret Maclennan brought her son, John Macleod, with her and the fisherman and his new family settled into life at An-t-Ob. In 1885, Margaret gave Roderick a son of his own, Donald, and in 1889 their daughter Christy was born.
There are two submissions to the hearing of the Napier Commission at An-t-Ob and one from Tarbert that I think are especially interesting. They are those of the long-time Farmer of Borve, Kenneth Macdonald; the new Factor of the South Harris Estate, Thomas Brydone; and John M’Diamaird, 88, and formerly a Crofter and Fisherman of Scalpay:
Kenneth Macdonald, Farmer, Scarista-vore, – examined
13323. The Chairman.—You have a farm in South Harris1?—Yes, Scarista-vore.
The 1881 census shows him aged 64 and the ‘Farmer and Factor’ at Big Borve
13324. Have you been long resident in the country?—I came to Harris about fifty-one years ago.
He would have been aged 15 back in 1832 and from 1851-1881 he farmed at Borve
13325. Does your family belong to this country, or to another part of Scotland ?—I don’t belong to this part of the country. I am a Rossshireman.
13329. If, in your recollection, the land has been more subdivided and more exhausted, how do you account for the fact that the people are better fed and better dressed?
Do they earn more wages?—A great deal. I believe that £200 of money comes to Harris now for every pound that came in my first recollection. There was no such thing as herring fishing. There was in some places cod and ling fishing. There was no such thing as lobster fishing. I happen to be an agent of the first company that started for sending the lobsters to London. Then an enormous amount of money is brought in now for clothes by the Countess of Dunmore. I remember one year paying an account of her ladyship, £1235 for webs of cloth alone. They still go on manufacturing.
Firstly, it should be born in mind that, even if there had been this miraculous multiplication in island income, there is no accounting of inflation nor, most importantly, how it was divided amongst the population. Macdonald, happily for him, was an agent for the export of lobsters but he neglects to tell the commission of how the fishermen only got paid for those that were sold in London, not all that were sent there. The £1235 paid for webs of cloth must have been when he became Factor and, as John Robson Macdonald was still in that role in 1871, it must have been within the last dozen years
13330. Is it manufactured in hand-looms?—Yes.
13331. What material do they use?—Entirely wool grown in the island.
13332. And the dyes?—And the dyes.
No mechanisation, no imported wool and no synthetic dyes.
13333. Is there any of the wool of the primitive race of sheep – the old Highland sheep, or is it blackfaced and Cheviot ?—It is blackfaced and Cheviot. The old primitive sheep are done.
13334. Can we see a specimen?—Yes, if you go to St Kilda.
13335. Sheriff Nicolson.—I think we saw them in South Uist?—Yes, but you will not see them in Harris.
13336. The Chairman.—Was the wool of fine quality?—I cannot answer that, for I have never seen any.
His reply, ‘Yes, if you go to St Kilda’, followed by his retort to Sheriff Nicolson’s intervention, strikes me as symptomatic of someone who is somewhat contemptuous of the five figures in front of him.
13338. You spoke about the winters now not being so severe—that is to say that frost and snow are comparatively unknown. Are high winds now more prevalent than they used to be?—Decidedly. When there is very keen frost there is scarcely any wind at all; but now, since we have no frost and constant rains, we have blustering winds continually, principally from the S.S.W. and W.
The overall impression is that during the past 50 years Harris had become warmer, wetter and windier, an interesting if unsubstantiated claim worthy of more investigation?
13340. You are in constant communication with the people?—Yes. I remember seeing them going to church, and the difference between the clothing and attire of the families going to church then was as different as day is from night.
13341. Is it better in reality?—Better in reality.
13342. But one man, a country tailor, and should know better than others, at Dunvegan, called all the fine clothing the women wear ” south country rags,” as distinguished from their fine home-spun cloth. Do you agree with the tailor?—I should not agree with that, for they are proverbial in Harris for their good spinning, their good weaving, and their good making of clothes for themselves, not only over Great Britain, but over the whole Continent. You hear of Harris tweeds here, there, and everywhere. My coat was grown on the farm, woven on the farm, and made on the farm.
A slightly confusing exchange, for it is entirely possible that, despite them producing the finest of cloths, the women perhaps could not ‘afford’ to wear it themselves?
13343. But many of the people state here that for want of sheep, and being overcrowded, they are not able to spin, and they would like to go back to the old times?—Well, so far as South Harris is concerned, of the number of sheep I can say nothing. Of North Harris I can give every sheep every man has.
A neat side-stepping of the question!
13346. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Have you any poets or bards among you ?—Yes, there was one celebrated poet, but he died about two years ago. The Harris bard, he was always called.
13347. What was his name?—Neil Mackinnon.
13348. Where did he stay?—Luscantire.
I have been unable to find him in any census, nor have I encountered other references to him so if anyone has any information please let me know!
13349. I wish to put a question or two in regard to the proprietors of this estate, so far as you know, from the time it left the M’Leods. Who was the first proprietor from the main branch?—Captain M’Leod, son of Sir Norman M’Leod.
13350. Was he a purchaser ?—He was the first purchaser. He was the first purchaser from M’Leod of M’Leod.
13351. How many generations of these M’Leods were’there?—There were three. Captain M’Leod’s son was Mr Hugh M’Leod, but he took his mother’s name of Hume, and his son Alexander was the last proprietor of Harris, who sold it to the present Lord Dunmore’s grandfather.
13352. How far back was that1?—Lord Dunmore bought it forty-nine years ago.
13353. What was the price? Do you know the price?—£60,000 for the estate, and £500 for the purchase of the patronage = £60,500. Tradition said that £15,000 was the price originally paid for it to M’Leod of M’Leod.
13354. We have been told there is a small portion of Harris – the lands of Ensay and Pabbay – belonging to Mr Stewart. When were they sold ? —By the present Lord Dunmore, not very many years ago.
13355. And he also sold North Harris ?—Yes.
13356. It was the present Lord Dunmore who sold the whole?—Yes.
13357. To Sir Edward Scott?—Yes.
Sir Edward Scott bought North Harris in 1867 but what is memorable is Macdonald’s mastery of the sequence of ownership and the sums exchanged for his memory is not always as reliable as here.
13362. Sheriff Nicolson.—Were there some evictions which you remember, from the place where you are now living ?—Yes.
13363. When was that?—I can hardly condescend upon the date. It is over forty years ago, I believe.
13364. Were there not very severe measures resorted to for removing the people ?—Decidedly – very severe.
13365. Was not the Black Watch actually called upon to take part in that unpleasant work? – No, it was not the Black Watch, it was the 78th.
13366. Where did they come from?—They were brought all the way from Fort George.
If he is talking of the Clearance of Borve, then that was in 1839, some 44 years earlier and the regiment would have been the 78th Highlanders also called the Ross-Shire Buffs but the severity of the action doesn’t appear to cause him any disquiet.
13367. And where were the people transported to?—I cannot tell, but I believe they were scattered and transplanted here and there in the country.
13368. You don’t think they were carried to the colonies?—Oh, no.
13369. The Chairman.—They may have emigrated?—I cannot remember. I believe a few of them did emigrate, but I cannot say how many.
Having conveniently forgotten whether any emigrated, he then went on to mention a couple of ‘success stories’ from Canada!
13376. Had you ever to do with this estate at any time?—I had.
13377. Were you factor?—For a short time.
13378. Who stays at Rodel now ?—I believe the house is being prepared for his Lordship.
13379. There is no resident tenant now?—No.
So he had been the Factor of the South Harris Estate, and therefore resident at Rodel House, and confirms that no-one lives there now. I am particularly interested as my relative was the Farm Manager at Rodel in 1881, the year for which I cannot find a Factor in South Harris, and I am sure that he had been a resident of Rodel House in previous years.
In conclusion, Kenneth Macdonald has provided us with further pieces of the jigsaw, some containing clearer images than others, yet who leaves me with the impression of a man from the mainland who, despite living in Harris for over half-a-century, has singularly failed to engage with the plight of his fellow men. His attitude to the Clearances and to Emigration clearly put him in the same league as those more notorious Factors of Harris, Donald Stewart and John Robson Macdonald, yet he remains less well-known.
And, of course, I do not know what part was played by my relative who once shared a roof with John Robson Macdonald…
THOMAS BRYDONE (27)—examined
13384. The Chairman.—You are local factor for Lord Dunmore?—Yes.
13385. How long have you been factor?—Six months only.
13386. You have not had much time then to ascertain the wishes or condition of the people ?—No
Thomas Brydon became Factor of South Harris in Nov/Dec 1882 and in 1891we find him remaining as Factor, Farmhouse Luskentyre, (Leaclee), b. Dunblane, Perthshire.
13387. Has there been anything said to-day in your presence on which you wish to make any remark ?—No, I don’t think there is. As far as the crofts are concerned there seems to be some misunderstanding, because the blame seems to be laid on the proprietors and factors as to the size of
the crofts. A crofter, in general, if he keeps a croft, in most cases divides it with some of his sons, who get married, without the consent of the proprietor or factor. It stands to reason that a whole croft will carry one family better than two or three, divided up, and I think if only one family lived on a croft they could make a comfortable living, but it is the cottar that ruins them, and it is cottars who deteriorate the land by constant cropping; and with the most of the laud, if there were only one
family on it, they could leave perhaps a little of the land out for two or three years, and leave it under grass, and then bring it in again.
13388. Then you think the subdivision of the crofts has generally been the result of the people settling their own children upon them ?—Yes.
There could be a tiny bit of truth in this for, assuming a natural growth in population, clearly subdivision must reach a limit. However, it totally neglects the fact that acres of fertile land were turned-over to sheep, that those forced into the Bays were often accommodated by subdividing already-occupied land, and that it was the earlier greed of the Kelp industry that had demanded a greater workforce before the market collapsed in 1815.
13389. Are you aware whether in former times the proprietors have made systematic efforts to provide for the younger branches of these families elsewhere ?—I don’t know, but I think young men ought to have enough courage in themselves to go forth, as I have done myself, and many a one besides. It is much better than getting married and settling down on an acre of land.
The irony of this incomer from the mainland telling islanders to go forth and multiply as a solution to overcrowding needs no further amplification!
13390. Can you tell us the nature of the relief works which Lord Dunmore has provided with a view to the present necessities of the country ?—Draining, fencing, and building dykes, repairing piers, and so on.
13391. We heard from Mr Davidson a great complaint about the want of a road along the eastern shore of the island. Has that want been brought to your knowledge ?—There has been nothing said to me about it; I know the road, at least the most of it.
13392. Is it now in a very bad state ?—Yes; there was a road made part of the way at one time, but it is mostly all broken up. It is not passable for vehicles.
13393. Has any of the recent work been bestowed on that road?— No.
13394. Would it be very useful?—Well, they have got no horses on the east side of the island, and they mostly do all their work with boats. Unless for foot passengers, I don’t think it would do much good. They could have ponies, certainly, if the road were made. They could not take a pony there now, but if they had it right they could.
13395. In other parts of the islands are wheeled carriages used?—Only along the main road to Tarbert.
The picture painted is pretty grim. Men engaged in, presumably needed, relief work under the requirements of the Poor Law(Scotland) Act 1845 would have toiled for a pittance and yet what they wanted was a road so that they could be relieved of the burden of having to carry in creels on their, and their womenfolk’s backs, everything that was used on the land. It is another matter as to whether they could have afforded to buy horses and another as to what and where their ‘ponies’ would graze.
13396. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Are you in a separate district of roads ? Who has the charge of the roads ?—The trustees here. I am not sure, but I think Mr Macdonald, Scarista-vore, has something to do with it.
13397. Is Harris a district of itself, or is it connected with the Long Island ?—I cannot say.
We can see that roads were not Thomas Brydone’s forte and, despite some six-months in the post, this Factor had no idea of precisely who was responsible for the roads in Harris, North or South.
13404. Are you authorised to intimate, or are you aware, that there are any further improvements or expenditure going on on the estate ?—Well there may be, I expect, in another year.
13405. But you don’t know what the nature of those may be? – Roadmaking.
Methinks the man doth supply an answer that he perceives the commission wants to hear!
13406. The Chairman.—What value is the labour here, compared with the labour in Aberdeenshire? Do the people work as much or do as much ?—No, and they are not paid as much.
13407. For a long day’s work in the summer, what are the common wages of the people here?—Twelve shillings to fifteen shillings a week for common labour.
13408. And you would be paying in Aberdeenshire from 18s. to 20s ? Yes, they get from 18s. to 25s.
13409. Do you think the amount of wages has much to do with the amount of work done ? Is it the custom of the country ?—Well, I think they are fully as well paid on the mainland as they are here.
13410. I mean, if you give a man higher wages, will he do more work ? – No, I don’t think he will.
Wages in Aberdeenshire are on a scale 50% higher than on Harris! It is unfortunate that the commissioners didn’t reiterate what they were clearly wanting to know I.e.-was the alleged laziness of islanders the reason for them being paid only two-thirds of their mainland counterparts but perhaps they took Thomas Brydone’s answer as affirming that particular slander?
13411. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Do the family, either one or other of the members of it, live here a good part of the year ?—Yes, his Lordship lives pretty often here.
13412. Will he live here four or six months of the year, in the course of the whole year ?—I can only speak of the time I have been here myself, but he has been here I may say a few months since last Martinmas.
13413. But he is always here every year?—Yes, and he stays some time, and he knows the most of the crofters, and takes a great interest in them.
This is four years before the Countess of Dunmore’s death yet, despite her interest in Harris Tweed, she, unlike her son, doesn’t even get a mention here. The mention of Martinmass, the 11th of November , suggests that Brydone arrived around that time but Lord Dunmore’s presence since that date is somewhat ambiguous in terms of frequency of visits and their duration.
13414. Does he speak Gaelic?—Yes he can speak Gaelic.
13415. Sheriff Nicolson.—Can you speak Gaelic yourself?—Yes.
13516. The Chairman.—How did you learn it?—I was born in the south of Aberdeenshire, and I was brought up in Athole, where there was nothing but Gaelic spoken, and I was obliged to learn it.
13417. Sheriff Nicolson.-—And you find it a decided advantage to know it, to make what you intend to convey to the natives clear ?—Yes, it is not suitable for one in my position to be without Gaelic in this country.
13418. Don’t you think there might be a great injustice done without any intention, through people not understanding what was attempted to be conveyed to them in a language they did not understand ?—Yes, I quite believe it.
At last we find something positive about this particular Factor! His appreciation of the necessity of speaking Gaelic appears to be sincere. The only puzzle is that, in both the 1891 census when he is on Harris and the 1881 census when he was in Blair Atholl, his birthplace is given as Dunblane, Perthshire rather than ‘in the south of Aberdeenshire’ and in 1861 the 5 year-old scholar is indeed in Dunblane.
13419. The Chairman.—-What do you think are the prospects of planting in this country; do you think it will be possible to establish any plantations ?—I think it would never pay.
13420. But without paying, would they grow?—Well, in some parts of the island they would; in sheltered places they grow very well.
13421. But you don’t think it could be a source of profit or improvement to the island ?—I don’t think it would.
Clearly, having spent one Winter on the island, the young man was fully aware of the preposterous nature of this suggestion, a fact that would elude a later owner of the island some 35 years later…
13422. Do you think that much good could be done by fencing – by the erection of stone fences ? – I don’t know where they are required much. Wire fences would be more suitable for marches in this country.
13423. That is between the tacks and the crofters, for instance? – Yes.
12424 But with reference to the arable ground of the crofters themselves, would a good stone fence not be of any value? -Well, they have good turf fences as it is; they are pretty well fenced in Harris as it is.
I have a suspicion that he is not too convinced by the ‘Dyke-building’ that the poor have been engaged upon and would rather see wire fences being erected to create barriers between people. His would no doubt be quite pleased to see that just such a situation exists over much of Harris today.
13425. Mr Fraser-Maclcintosh.—Are there any prizes offered by the ladies of the family for neat houses and neat gardens? – I think there are. It is not that I know it, but I hear the Countess has been giving prizes to those who have the neatest gardens.
Thomas is gaining in confidence now and his answers are fuller and expressed more clearly. This is the only time he refers to activity on the part of the Countess.
13426. Sheriff Nicolson.—Are you much struck by the character of the houses here, as compared with those you have been accustomed to see? Yes, there is no doubt of that.
13427. Do you know whether Lord Dunmore has done anything to improve the houses of the people, and stir them up to improve them themselves? – Yes, I have heard of his doing that himself.
13428. Does he give them encouragement to make the houses more neat and clean than they used to be? – Yes, he does that; I have heard him speak about it when he was here lately.
13429. Does he give them any encouragement in the shape of lime or wood ?—They don’t get wood ; as for lime I have not had any experience.
13430. The Chairman.—Have many of the cottages on the estate got fire-places in the wall, or are they generally warmed by the fire in the centre 1—I have not been in many of the houses, but I think most of them are in the centre. It is the best part of the house, as they can all get round about it.
13431. And what about the smoke?—They don’t mind the smoke, as it keeps them warm, they say. I think their houses are much warmer than most of the slated houses here.
Aha! – he ends with recognition of at least one of the benefits of the island ‘blackhouse’! The earlier part of this final section reveals the usual prejudices of those for whom only four square walls, with windows and a chimney can be countenanced as fit for human habitation. I am not going to over-sentimentalise what it would have been like to live in a ‘blackhouse’, but it would make for a very interesting piece of experimental archaeology for a modern family to give it a go.
Overall, I think Thomas Brydone, who has entered the scene late in the day and without the taint of some of his predecessors actions, gives us a different and useful perspective. He is clearly a capable and intelligent young man and by 1891 had settled into the ‘Farmhouse Luskentire’ at Leac a Li with his wife and five children. In the intervening time he would have been charged with implementing the 1884 Crofters Act in South Harris, had seen the passing-away of the Countess of Dunmore in 1886, and we last see him back in Blair Atholl in 1901. He appears to have fathered 8 children between 1883 and 1900 with his Blair Atholl-born wife, Isabella. This is particularly helpful, for the first one to be born after the family departed Harris for Blair Atholl was born there in 1897. Hence the family left Harris sometime between 1891 and 1897.
For someone who was Factor of South Harris for between 9 and 15 years towards the end of the 19thC, I have discovered very little reference to his impact on the area. We do know that the ‘Golden Road’ was completed in 1897, 14 years after he had mentioned ‘Roadmaking’ to the commission, so can be pretty sure that he had a hand in that particular improvement, even if he left before it was fully opened!
Note: There is an earlier Thomas Brydone (1937-1904) of Blair Atholl who emigrated to New Zealand where he was instrumental in the development of the export of frozen produce to Britain, but I have not examined any possible family connection save to say that they do not appear to have been brothers –
‘I will tell you how Rodel was cleared’
It is presumed that the clearance was that of 1818 and the ‘young Macleod’ was Alexander Norman Macleod who had inherited Harris from his father, Alexander Hume Macleod, in 1811.
There were 150 hearths in Rodel.
150 hearths (note that is the warm heart of the home that he uses to count the households) and the 1841 census records less than 15. If we allow an average of 5 people per hearth, which I think is a reasonable figure for the time, then some 750 people were made homeless in this single Clearance.
Forty of these paid rent.
Forty paying rent tells us that the remaining 110 were either landless Cottars or, perhaps, farm workers etc whose salary was partly paid in the form of rent-free accommodation.
When young Macleod came home with his newly-married wife to Rodel he went away to show his wife the place, and twenty of the women of Rodel came and met them and danced a reel before them, so glad were they to see them. By the time the year was out,—twelve months from that day, these twenty women were weeping and wailing; their houses being unroofed and their fires quenched by the orders of the estate.
A poignant passage-imagine the scene of the Commissioners sitting and hearing those words spoken for the very first time, the images evoked, the way a soulless word’ cleared’ becomes a very human tragedy. All from a ‘Crofter and Fisherman’ from Scalpay, not a Barrister from Edinburgh!
I could not say who was to blame, but before the year was out 150 fires were quenched.
This hints that, rather than Macleod himself, it may have been the Factor’s fault?
Some of the more capable of these tenants were sent to Bernera, and others were crowded into the Bays on the east side of Harris—small places that kept three families in comfort where now there are eight.
Interesting, and perhaps a tad unfortunate?, that he uses the phrase ‘more capable’ in this context but perhaps he was merely reflecting the manner by which they had been selected some 65 years before this day in Tarbert?
Some of the cottars that were among these 150 were for a whole twelve months in the shielings before they were able to provide themselves with permanent residences.
I cannot begin to imagine how a family faced with the prospect of spending a whole year in the simple shelter of a shieling in the Summer pastures managed to survive. No doubt many members, particularly amongst the youngest and eldest, did not.
Others of them got, through the favour of Mrs Campbell of Strond, the site of a house upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves.
Mrs Campbell was the ‘tackswomen’ of Strond and I am wondering whether this explains the ruins near Borrisdale that I think were the ‘Farm of Strond, Port Esgein’ of the later census but ‘upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves’ is too ambiguous for me to be sure.
JOHN M’DIARMID, formerly Crofter and Fisherman, Scalpa (88)
Evidence to the Highlands and Islands Commission.
TARBERT, HARRIS, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 1883.
Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore died in 1886, the same year that saw a Telegraph Cable from Port Esgein on Harris to North Uist laid but Archibald N Macdonald, 20, was already the Telegraph Clerk living at East Tarbert 36 and his father Angus, was the Inspector of Poor. Archibald’s presence in 1881 tells us that the line from Stornoway, and thence the mainland, was already in place. Once the link to Port Esgein was finished, the island archipelago would have undergone a communication revolution as the link between South Uist and Barra (a longer but less-tricky strait to traverse ) had been made two years earlier in 1884.
In 1888 Assisted emigration to Canada was established. In a woeful act of wilful neglect, no records were maintained of those leaving Scotland. The lists of passengers were carried aboard and, if the ship went down, no-one would know precisely who, let alone how many, had perished.
1890 proved to be an eventful year. On Monday13th January 1890 and the vessel SPANKER of Stornoway was on her way to Carloway, on the West coast of Lewis, from her home port. Her owner, M Maclean, saw his ketch leave with three crewmen aboard under the Captaincy of Alexander John Kerr. She was laden with cured herring, those salted silver darlings of the sea lying packed in hand-hewn barrels in these most-happy of days for the Lewis fisheries. 34 year-old Kerr, an experienced seaman who’s first voyage had taken him to Archangel some 20 years earlier, had undertaken many such coastal trips as had his 68 year-old father, Malcolm, who may have been with him on this occasion. (Although we know that the 31 year-old Spanker was registered as SY 832 we do not know her Official Number and hence cannot search the Newfoundland archives for further information.)
What we do know is that at some point on this Winter’s day in the Sound of Harris, those dangerous shallow-strewn waters between Berneray & Harris, they ran into a Southerly storm (recorded as Force 10 on the Beaufort Scale). This 58′ 6″ long sailing ship with a beam of 16′ 6″, fully-laden so that there were maybe only a couple of feet of free-board between her midships and the boiling sea below, became stranded on the rocks somewhere in Obbe Bay. What thoughts did these men have?
Alexander John’s mind, fully-focussed upon his responsibilities, must be allowed to have wandered back to his home in 13 Church Street where his wife Margaret (MacArthur), 6 year-old son Donald and little baby Catherine Isabel (who tragically died of Tetanus, aged 5) who probably did not notice the wind moving round and gathering in intensity. He may also have reflected upon the fact that he was yards away from the shore where his grandfather had been born.
Whether they were attempting to make safe harbour in An-t-Ob (which is unlikely) or hoping to ride-out the storm in this treacherous stretch of sea cannot be known, but Maclean’s cured herrings never reached Carloway, nor did whatever else those barrels may, or may not, have contained…
120 years later, if you take the ferry from Berneray to ‘Leverburgh’, you will follow, in part, the fateful course of the last journey of the ‘Spanker’.
Should you do so, take time to peruse the Admiralty Chart on board, the Blue-Sea of the Sound spattered Jackson-Pollock fashion by the Sand-Yellow blotches of the myriad islands and shallows lying in wait and, as you make the two near-ninety degree turns that are the only safe passage, spare a thought for those four men on that stormy day all those years ago who’s fate, save for that of the skipper, I do not know…
Mrs Captain Thomas became Mrs Beckett on her wedding on the 2nd of July 1890 in the Parish of All Saints, Paddington to James Flowers Beckett, a Retired Staff Commander. We will catch them again but, at the time of their wedding, she was still operating a Harris Tweed depot in London.
On the 25th July, William Morrison, husband of Christian Kerr of Strond was declared ‘Missing, presumed dead, from ‘Jessie Margaret off Thurso’. Another Fisher had paid the ultimate price for being forced to turn his back to the land and face the sea…