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!

From a friend…

John Macdonald, who was born and raised on Harris, sent me this reminiscence relating to footwear on the island and I am extremely grateful to him for allowing me to publish it here:

Having read your recent piece on the diminishing number of cobblers in Stornoway I couldn’t help but recall that in my younger days in Harris there was rarely a house that did not have a shoe-last in their “tool box”.  I suspect that a lot of people used to repair their own footwear in days gone by as the repair would often comprise replacing the prominent array of steel tacks and steel protective edges or trims that were always applied to the heels and toecaps of men’s boots.  I do recollect that at night time, if you were following someone along the road on a dark night, and particuarly if the road surface was of a granite chip finish, one could actually see the sparks flying from the walker’s boots quite clearly!!

If one lived remote from Stornoway, as my own parents did living in Harris, people very often bought their footwear from catalogues received through the post.  A T Hoggs was a family favourite supplier of footwear and as I recollect they were based in Fife.  I think my parents found this method of 
obtaining footwear as convenient (or more convenient) as making a trip up to Stornoway by bus and having to spend the whole day there.

In those days nothing went to waste and I have seen timber gates fitted with leather hinges.  These hinges were invariably the tongue of an old boot trimmed to size and applied as a hinge.  I think what struck me most was it worked remarkably well. 
As they say – necessity is often the mother of invention!!!

An Old Parish Register Marriage…

from the Parish of Lochs, Lewis.

25th February 1840 – John Montgomery residing at Shildinish to Anne Kerr residing at Shildinish.

The 1841 census records 47 people in Shildinish including these 3 households:
John Montgomery, 25 & Anne Montgomery, 25
Murdo Keir, 65 & Mary Keir, 65
Murdo Montgomery, 60 & Margaret Montgomery, 50 with their 5 children

By 1851 a John Montgomery, wife Anne & 4 children are found in Ranish, Lochs where we see them still in 1861. In 1871 & 1881 they appear in Lemreway and in 1891 the widowed Anne is at 18 Lemreway.

I cannot find her after this and neither can I find the death of an Anne Montgomery who’s maiden name was Kerr/Keir/Carr . This is unfortunate for without it I cannot discover who her parents were. There is, intriguingly, the death in 1870 of a 57 year-old Ann Montgomery in Lochs who’s other name was Carr but that cannot be the same Ann unless John replaced one Ann with a second one within a year, which the marriage records do not support! However, I shall in time investigate this other lady for Carr/Kerr/Keir are unusual names in the isles and any such appearance is worth exploring.

If Ann’s parents were Murdo Keir and his wife, Mary, then I cannot locate their deaths (presumably pre-1851 for they do not appear in that census) either.

Thus, I do not know if Anne Kerr who married John Montgomery is a relative or not, but her marriage is the earliest record of the name Kerr that I’ve found on Lewis and that, together with my family’s connections with this particular area of Lochs, influenced my decision to compose this wee piece.

John Montgomery, by the way,  was one of those who turned to the sea to make a living as a Fisherman.

Update: I was wandering through some old searches that I’d conducted on ScotlandsPeople and, lo & behold, some years ago I’d looked at (but not noted because it wasn’t the person I was seeking at that time) the 1870 Death of an Ann Carr. Looking at that record now, it is indeed the death of Ann Montgomery, wife of the Crofter John Montgomery in Balallan, Lochs. Her parents are shown as Murdo Carr and Mary McIver (her maiden-name is unclear, but McIver’s the ‘best-fit’).  Therefore, the Murdo & Mary Keir of 1841 were indeed her parents so I now need to check the children in the censuses of 1851 onwards to ensure that I have correctly identified this family (I have put in bold individuals who appear to be the same person in different censuses and in italics those who could well be the same person but using another of their names)

1851 – Ranish
John, 34, Farmer of 3 acres & Fisher
Ann, 34
John, 7
Sophia, 5
Isabella, 3
Murdo, 6 months

1861 – Ranish
John, 49, Crofter
Anne, 46
Flora, 20
John, 12
Donald, 8
Murdo, 5

1871 – Lemreway
John, 54, Fisherman
Ann, 54
John, 27
Isabella, 22
Murdo, 20
Catherine, 17
Angus, 15
Robert, 10
Donald, 8

1881 – Lemreway
John, 60
Anne, 60
Murdo, 27
Angus, 23
Robert, 21
Donald, 17

I think that there is plenty of evidence here that this is the same family, but is it that of John Montgomery and Ann(e) Carr/Keir? There are no other Ann(e) Montgomerys of her generation in Lochs in the 1861 census. The other two ladies are married to spouses whose ages eliminate a transcription error. Therefore it appears as if, swiftly following the death of Ann Carr on the 7th of March 1870, John Montgomery did indeed relace her with another lady called Ann(e). however, as I mentioned earlier, there is no record of such a marriage taking place. In fact there is no such marriage in the whole of Ross & Cromarty until 1899!

I have checked and double-checked the Montgomery families in Lochs and the whole of Ross & Cromarty (I do have an interest in that I am descended from a tailor of that name from Leurbost in Lochs) and cannot see any alternative to the slightly odd conclusion that after the unknown cause of his wife’s death after a week’s illness, John Montgomery found a new companion of the same name and age. It is not odd that a widower, or a widow, should do so but the lack of a recorded marriage is certainly outside the norm of my genealogical studies.

Finally, if anyone can spot a flaw in my logic then I’d love to hear from you! Meantime, I wonder where Murdo Keir/Carr came from for, with an estimated birth date of 1776, only Chersty Kerr the 1761-born Hand Loom Weaver of Taransay is an earlier Kerr/Keir/Carr recorded in the censuses of Lewis & Harris!


‘Vessel missing since 16.3.90’…
When I first saw this other record on a page containing the death of a fisherman from Harris who I was researching I initially ignored it but I’ve just returned to the page and decided to delve a little deeper.
23 year-old fireman J. Robertson’s Nationality is given as Leith.
I have noticed that most deaths at sea specify the person’s Nationality like this which surely cannot be coincidental but perhaps a reflection of the especial importance to seafaring people of their place on land?
He was aboard this ship which, according to the list at http://www.mariners-l.co.uk/IBON80,000-84,999.htm was built in 1880, registered in London and was of 1623 Gross Register Tonnage making her a steamship (he was a Fireman) of some size.
J Robertson’s ‘Last Place of Abode’ is left blank, presumably unknown, as is the place where he and his crewmates all perished…

Shoemakers of Stornoway

A correspondent has kindly brought to my attention that I hadn’t looked at those practising the craft of Shoemaker in Stornoway. An initial search has produced the following numbers of shoemakers in each census:

1841 67
1851 103 (65 Heading households, 63%)
1861 70 (50 Heading households, 71%)
1871 80 (52 Heading households, 65%)
1881 64 (47 Heading households, 73%)
1891 46 (31 Heading households, 67%)
1901 40 (28 Heading households, 70%)

Firstly, we see an overall pattern of reduction in the number of shoemakers which appears counter-inuitive to the town’s growth during this period. In the 50 years 1851-1901 the population of the Parish of Stornoway grew from about 8,500 to 14,500 people which gives an impression of the rate of expansion.

I decided to add the second figure to show the number of households where the ‘Head’ had the occupation of Shoemaker to see if it might supply any useful information. I was surprised to see that, ranging from 63%-73%, the ratio remained remarkably consistent at roughly two-thirds of the total. This gives me extra confidence that the decline in numbers is fairly accurately displayed by the figures. If we bear in mind that the 1841 census often only recorded the occupation of the Head of the household (with a scattering of some of the other occupants) then the figure of 67 shoemakers in that year can be taken a s a good approximation to the number of households headed by a shoemaker.

Taking this figure, we see the pattern 67,65,50,52,47,31,28 for these shoemaking Heads of household.

What led to this accelerating decline at a time when the number of pairs of feet in need of shodding was increasing? It possibly reflects changes in the overall economic life of the Parish, with more emphasis on the town itself as the place where goods were exchanged and hence with a move from local providers (the ‘corner cobbler’!) to more centralised shops. This, perhaps accompanied by competition from imports, would lead to an inevitable decline in those able to compete to provide shoes and hence the halving in the numbers during this 60-year period.
This is pure conjecture, there would no doubt be other factors at play, but it seems to me that this particular occupational group is providing us with potentially useful and interesting insights into urban growth and change in Stornoway in the second-half of the 19thC and I am extremely grateful to the correspondent for bringing its neglect on my part to my attention.

Note: Please do contact me regarding this piece (or any other occupations that I should perhaps peruse) for I am, as always, treading on unfamiliar territory here and all assistance is very much appreciated!

Ports Visited by the CREST 1896-1899

Here, in alphabetical order, are the ports listed in the Crew Agreements for the 1862-built Crest during the first four years sailing under her new owner & Master, Alexander John Kerr:

Ayr, Mainland
Belfast, Ireland
Carloway, Lewis
Carrickfergus, Ireland
Castlebay, Barra
Gairloch, Mainland
Larne, Ireland
Loch Eishort, Skye
Lochmaddy, North Uist
Oban, Mainland
Stornoway, Lewis
Tarbert, Harris
Tobermory, Mull
Troon, Mainland
Ullapool, Mainland

Not a huge list, but one that displays the variety of places served by the island men who plied the coastal trade of the West Coast of Scotland at this time.

View CREST 1896-1899 in a larger map


In 1871 one of my relatives was living in ‘Struth’ on Harris. Enumeration District 6 was described as:

‘Obe, Struth, Cregstore and the island of Scareleam, – bounded on the north by a line drawn from the South end of Athdu to the top of Roneval hill: on the east by a line drawn from the top of Roneval hill to the march between Obe and Strond where it touches the sea: and on the west by Struth and the Burn by the Parish School.

Deciphering this description proves quite taxing. The boundary on the East is fairly straightforward for a line can easily be imagined from the summit of Roneval to where the Obe-Strond road meets the sea. Except that it does so in two places, either side of the Carminish peninsular, so it is odd that no reference is made to that obvious landmark. Athdu is presumably Atha Dubh, the river joining Loch na Moracha to Loch Steisebhat. Of Cregstore and, especially, the island of Scareleam I have to confess to being totally flummoxed!

As far as I can tell Struth refers to Aird an t-Struith (Headland of the Stream?) but the only houses seen on the old OS maps lie along shore of The Obe rather than along the headland. There were a group of buildings near Huisinish House (Kyles Lodge/House) but that lies to the North of our boundary.

I am therefore left unable to accurately identify Roderick Kerr’s location in 1871. Struth!