Steamboat Agents of Harris

Here are the four men recorded in the 1841-1901 censuses as Steamboat Agents:

1861
Murdoch Ferguson, 38, Oab, b. Harris

1871
Angus McInnis, 36, West Tarbert, b. Harris

1881
Angus Macinnes, 40, West Tarbert 47, b. Harris
William Stewart, 21, Strond, b. Harris

1891
Angus Mcinnes, 50, No 33 East Tarbert, b. Harris

1901
Angus Macinnes, 60, No 56 North Harris, b. Harris
(Malcolm Mackinnon, 32, Visitor, 1 North Harris, b. Harris)

I have previously mentioned that it was Sir E Scott who was responsible for the SS Dunara Castle visiting Harris, as seen in the 1881-1901 censuses, and the fact that the original site of the ferry was near Kyles House just to the North-West of An-t-ob.

I think it is safe to assume that Angus Macinnes was the Agent dealing with the North Harris Estate’s utilisation of steamers whilst Murdoch Ferguson and William Stewart were most-likely working with the company(ies) running ferries to Harris, but if anyone can provide further clarification on either assumption that would be most gratefully appreciated.

Countess of Dunmore’s Letter to Rev N McLeod, Free Kirk Minister, N Uist

Savernake Forest, Marlborough, 16 March 1847


Dear Sir,
I Have duly received your letter of January 27th, again requesting from me the grant of a site for a church, &c. in the Harris, and stating that after conversation with the leading members of the Free Church there, Finsbay is the locality to which you and they give preference. It is, and ever will be a principal object with me, while granting full liberty of conscience, and indeed giving effect to that principle, that nothing should be done under my authority, whereby the social quiet of the Harris could by possibility be disturbed, and especially in matters of religion. Such a result might arise from the – in the Harris most unnecessary – near neighbourhood of the sites of the Established and Free Churches ; and I am happy to say that Finsbay is not open to that serious objection. I trust it will be gratifying to you and the Free Church body generally, to be informed that I will lose no time in communicating with Captain Sitwell, agent and commissioner for my son’s estates, and through him with Captain M’Donald, factor in Harris, in order to the selection and appropriation of a site in the situation which you have proposed. I need scarcely add, that in reading this letter and preceding ones to those whom they concern, I have to request them and you to consider them as private communications.
I remain, &c.
(signed) C. Dunmore.

This letter was written three weeks after the one that can be read in my previous piece here . The key phrase that the Countess uses is ‘nothing should be done under my authority, whereby the social quiet of the Harris could by possibility be disturbed, and especially in matters of religion’ for it reveals the complexity of the situation she faced. Hence, with the Established Church sitting in the fertile, depopulated West on the coast at Scarista she was no doubt only too happy to finally acquiesce to the request for a Free Church now that Finsbay in the overpopulated Bays of the rocky, infertile East was the suggested site. The Free Church may have won the battle to have somewhere to preach within but the ‘establishment’, both spiritual and temporal, remained firmly in control.

As an aside, Savernake Forest is owned by the current Earl of Cardigan and in 1861we find Charles A Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore, living at 17 Carlton House Terrace which, in 1836, had been home to the then Earl of Cardigan . However, this appears to be coincidental for, in 1847, the family at Savernake were distant cousins of the then Earl and only inherited the title upon his death in 1868, some five years after the Dunmore’s had vacated the London property.

Update: NAS Ref CS228/D/11/17 contains documents showing that one of the Trustees appointed by the 6th Earl of Dunmore was George, Marquis of Ailesbury. His home, in 1847, was Savernake Forest which explains why that is the address on this letter from the Countess of Dunmore.

Ref: A transcript of the letter can be read here: Countess of Dunmore’s Letter

Captain Sitwell and Harris

In his second appearance before the Napier commission, Kenneth Macdonald the Factor for North Harris makes reference to Captain Sitwell and the decision to resettle Borve in the late 1840s. The question arises as to who this Captain Sitwell was. There are two possible candidates that I have discovered thus far:

William Hurt Sitwell (10 September 1803-17 January 1865) of Barmoor Castle, Northumberland, England.
The 1841 census has him as Army Half-Pay at home in Northumberland and that of 1851 shows the Retired Army Major  at Cathcart House in Renfrewshire, Scotland. his maternal grandfather was Sir Illay Campbell of Succoth whose roles included Solicitor-General of Scotland and then 19 years as President of the Court of Session.

George Frederick Sitwell (7 July 1828-1884) He was son of the 2nd Baronet of Renishaw in Derbyshire
The 1861 census has the Late Captain 3rd Light Dragoons at Catthorpe in Leicestershire and that of 1871 shows the Major Indian Army Retired in Belgravia, London.

I think it is clear that William Hurt Sitwell appears the more likely of the two. Kenneth Macdonald, whose evidence displays an arrogance bordering upon, no, displaying complete contempt for the Captain, states that ‘That was during Lord Dunmore’s minority’. This is a clear reminder that the Captain’s idea to experiment with  resettlement took place before the 7th Earl of Dunmore reached the age of majority and contains the implicit suggestion that such a thing would never have been countenanced by the Earl. Was Captain Sitwell acting in some legal capacity on behalf of the Countess of Dunmore who was looking-after her son’s estate at the time?

I hope to be able to discover more about Captain Sitwell, not least because the tone of Kenneth Macdonald’s evidence indicates that the good Captain made things a little less comfortable than they might have been for that particular man in the middle of the 19thC!

Update: I have found references to communications between Captain Sitwell in his role as ‘commissioner for the tutor’ indicating that he was indeed employed by the Countess of Dunmore (her son’s ‘tutor’ at the time) and the Lord Advocate dated 1st September 1846. These relate to letters from John Robson Macdonald, the Factor of Harris, to the Countess and Captain Sitwell ‘regarding the failure of the potato crop, and the consequent destitution of the inhabitants’. This series confirms my earlier guess that the Captain performed such a role but it also is evidence that, despite all the negative aspects of the Factor (not least his role in Clearances) he was sufficiently concerned to write to the Countess ‘…begging that 800 bolls of barley be sent immediately to Harris…’ which displays another, altogether more humanitarian, side to his character.

The letters can be found in ‘Correspondence From July, 1846 to February, 1847, Relating to the Measures Adopted for the Relief of the Distress in Scotland’ 1847, W Clowes & Son, London for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.


Captain Sitwell refers to the factor as ‘Captain Macdonald’ which is the first time I have seen John Robson Macdonald addressed in this manner. Whether it is an error or not on the part of Captain Sitwell  is uncertain but Macdonald doesn’t use it himself so, unless he held that office in the Reserves at some time and hence his fellow ex-serviceman felt it proper to recognise the fact, I have no reason to believe that he was a Captain.

(Interestingly, in a letter of the 16th of March 1847 relating to the building of a Free Church at Finsbay, the Countess herself refers to John Robson Macdonald as ‘Captain McDonald’ so maybe he did indeed serve in the forces? The letter is an interesting source in itself, of which more, perhaps, later…)

Ref: http://thepeerage.com/index.htm

Harris 1851 Enumeration District 5

This district is separated from No 4 by the line drawn from the South end of Loch Langavat to Port Eisgein as described in No 4. The next boundary line is one drawn from the south end of Loch Langavat in a south East direction forming a junction with the march between Finsbay and Borsam at the road – from thence coinciding with said march on to the sea, which bounds the remainder of this district on the South and Southwest onto Port Eisgein.
This district is about 6 miles long by 2 broad being a tract of rocky hills and small valleys. Here at Rodil is the ancient Cathedral of St Clement’s: there is also a seat of the Earl of Dunmore.

This account comes from the Header to the 1851 census record of the Factor, John Robson Macdonald’s household at ‘Rodil’ as can be seen here: http://direcleit.blogspot.com/2010/03/rodel-house-occupants.html

The district can be identified quite easily on the current OS 1:50 000 map and comprises the South-Eastern tip of the island. The southern end of Loch Langabhat, the apex of this district,  is the most northerly point whilst the ‘march’ between Fionnsabhaigh and Boirseam can be seen as a cul-de-sac leading off from the ‘Golden Road’. My understanding it that this part of the district down to Rodel House was all within Rodel Farm. There were 140 people in the district in 32 households. 12 of these have the address ‘Strond’.

Note: I am in the process of deciphering the description of District 4, but it can be seen reasonably accurately on Bald’s 1805 map as the region labelled STROND , with the notable exception that the Eastern boundary in 1851 meets the sea at Port Eisgein, which is further West than was the case at the time of Bald’s map.
Occupants of District 4 included the ‘Paisley Sisters’. They were two of the 89 people living on the Farm of Strond. The total population of the district 4 was 239. They were living in 44 households, 17 of these on the Farm of Strond.

All this leads me to the inevitable conclusion that a comprehensive set of maps for the districts used in each of the censuses would be of immense genealogical value but it is not a task that I am about to undertake!

Official Numbers 44417-44434

As usual, I am attempting to extract as much information as possible from a source and, in this case, am returning to a list of the Official Numbers , including Port of Registry, allocated to vessels.
This list, in numerical order, starts with a vessel in 1882 and ends with one in 1862, telling us that the numbers were not allocated chronologically. The two highlighted groups are of vessels built in the Isle of Man but why we have a trio, then a gap of one ship, followed by a group of six Manx vessels is a mystery. I am still trying to discover whether batches of numbers were issued to individual locations, or builders, who then used them as they constructed each ship or on some other basis. It’s a mystery!

However, the fact that CREST 44427 sits as the single Ramsey-constructed ship amongst a batch built in the South of the Isle of Man might add weight to the idea that she was built by Gibson Macdonald of North Ramsey who are the only Shipbuilders listed in Ramsey at that time. They remain my front-runner in the construction-stakes!

44417 LORD CLYDE 1882 Scarborough 115
44419 PRINCE ALFRED Swansea
44420 AVALANCHE Cork 29
44421 VESPER Douglas 22
44422 ROVER Douglas 40
44423 ATALANTA Douglas 23
44424 FRED Peterhead 16
44425 HARKAWAY Douglas 49
44426 IOLANTHE Douglas 45
44427 CREST Ramsey 47
44428 JUBILEE Douglas 23
44429 BESSY Douglas 24
44430 BESSY Castletown 36
44431 PRINCE ALBERT Aberdeen 258
44434 BON ACCORD 1862 Aberdeen 99

Note: The figure at the end of each entry refers to the Register Tonnage of the vessel.

A Patent or Two from 1862

I’ve been attempting to discover who the shipbuilder might have been who built the CREST 44427 in Ramsey(?) on the Isle of Man in 1862. (The (?) is there because I’ve not had a lot of success in discovering reference to ship-building facilities in Ramsey at that time.)

However, and as an aside, I came upon the volume ‘Chronological Index for Patents Applied For and Patents Granted in 1862’ published by The Patents Office, and a couple of interesting references therein:

p135 – Gibson 9th July 1862 – Thomas Cummings Gibson, of Ramsey, Isle of Man, Ship Builder, for an invention for – ‘Improvements in the construction of ships and vessels for the purpose of carrying and wharehousing petroleum, palm oil, and other oils or inflammable fluids.’ Provisional protection only

p221 – Defl. Gibson 4th December 1862 – Frederick Daniel Delf, of Liverpool, in the County of Lancaster, Chemist, and Thomas Cummings Gibson, of Ramsey, in the Isle of Man, Gentleman, for an invention for – ‘Improved means and apparatus whereby petroleum and other oils and hydro-carbons can be safely carried and stored.’ Provisional protection only.

Apparently petroleum was needed for its paraffin content but unscrupulous dealers adulterated it with the more volatile (and, at that time, worthless!) components resulting in many domestic fires. The Petroleum Act 1862 was designed to reduce these events, describing any liquid with a flash-point below 100 degrees Celsius as flammable. The timing of this Act with the granting of these Patents cannot be entirely coincidental?

I have been unable to discover any more information regarding the Ship Builder/Gentleman, the Chemist nor the details of their inventions…

Note: Gibson MacDonald & Co., North Ramsey  appear as the only Ramsey Ship Builders in Thwaite’s 1863 Directory so, if the CREST was indeed built in Ramsey, she would appear to have been one of their vessels. The first-ever oil-tanker, ‘The Jane’, was built there in 1865.

Update: The 1861 census shows 60 year-old Thomas C Gibson from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne living in Bride on the Isle of Man. His occupation is ‘Manufacturer of cement and artificial manures(?) and Ship (something!)’. A wonderful description of Ramsey in the 1860s that I have just found can be read here and one of the vessels here . I am still not convinced that the 47 ton Crest was one of theirs, but you never know!