Lobster Fishermen of Harris

In his evidence to the Napier Commission Kenneth Macdonald boasts that:

“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.”

I thought I’d look to see what the census records have to tell us regarding his claim by researching those who gave their occupation as ‘Lobster Fisher’ from 1841-1901:

1851 – Kenneth Macdonald, 35, Factor’s Clerk, Rodil, b. Applecross, Ross-shire
NORTH (1)
Donald Maclean, 30, ED21, b. Harris
TOTAL 1

1861 – Kenneth Macdonald, 43, Sheep Farmer, Big Borve, b. Applecross, Ross
NORTH (10)
John Martin, 30, Little Urgha, b. Harris
John Martin, 21, Little Urgha, b. Harris
Angus Mcdearmid, 29, Little Urgha (Visitor), b. Harris
Malcolm Kerr, 48, West Tarbert, b. Harris
Dougald Macdonald, 43, West Tarbert, b. Harris
Donald Kerr, East Tarbert, b. Harris
Donald Mcleod, 27, East Tarbert, b. Harris
Malcolm Shaw, 40, East Tarbert, b. Harris
Angus Shaw, 36, East Tarbert, b. Harris
BAYS & SOUTH (4)
Roderick Mclennan, 52, Direcleit, b. Harris
Donald Mckay, 29, Cregstore, b. Harris
Malcolm Morrison, 34, Struth, b. Harris
Alexander Mcleod, 22, Obe, b. Harris
John Mcleod, 22, Obe, b. Harris
TOTAL 14


1871 – Kenneth Macdonald, 54, Farmer, ED5, b. Applecross, Ross-shire
No Lobster Fishermen recorded (Fishers of Harris has numbers of ALL the Fishermen for that year)


1881 – Kenneth Macdonald, 64, Big Borve, Farmer and Factor, b. Applecross, Ross-shire
BAYS & SOUTH (5)
Kenneth Mcaskill, 32, ED5, b. Harris
Donald Mcaskill, 27, ED5, b. Harris
Lachlan Macdonald, 29, ED5, b. Harris
Christopher Morrison, 28, ED5, b. Harris
Hector Morrison, 23, ED5, b. Harris
TOTAL 5


1883 – Napier Commission


1891 – Kenneth Macdonald, 79, Farmer, Hamlets Scaristavore, b. Applecross
BAYS & SOUTH (3)
John Mcaskill, 23, Kyles Stockinish, b. Harris
Kenneth Mckinnon, 45, Kyles Stockinish, b. Harris
John Morrison, 20, Leac a Li, b. Harris
TOTAL 3


1901 – Kenneth Macdonald, not found…
BAYS & SOUTH (28)
Direcleit
Stockinish (10)
ED7 (10)
Obe
Kintulavig (2)
TOTAL 28

Kenneth Macdonald may well have been single-handedly responsible for creating the Lobster Fishing on Harris, and presumably profiting nicely in his role as an agent, but if we look at the figures then there is plenty to consider.

Firstly, considering the years 1861, 1881 and 1891 we have a total of 22 Lobster Fisherman giving an average of a little over six such persons per year. In 1901 there were nearly four times that number.
Secondly, if we take 1861 then we see that there were 14 Lobster Fishermen which is still only half the number in 1901.
The significance? Well, by 1901 Kenneth Macdonald was gone yet the Lobster Fishing appears to have gained hugely in popularity amongst those risking their lives in its pursuit. For Macdonald to have the cheek in 1883 to talk of that industry as if it was playing a significant part in alleviating the poverty that he himself had inflicted upon the populace in attempting to assuage his endless appetite for land upon which to graze his sheep, when in fact just two years earlier there had been but a handful of Lobster Fishermen in the whole of Harris, leaves a disgusting taste in one’s mouth far-removed from that of the fruits of those brave fishermens’ labour…

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