In attempting to discover where the Kerr families of Harris may have originated, I have been re-examining the records for the four counties of Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Argyll & Sutherland and that remains very much a work in progress as I have yet to analyse the data from Christian names.
However, this afternoon a friend alerted me to some evidence given to the Napier commission by Murdoch Kerr, 55 a Crofter’s Son, formerly a Fisherman, of Auchmelvich in Sutherland.
His testimony paints the usual bleak picture which Murdoch presented to the commission in a written document titled ‘Auchmelvich Township Grievances’ but it is the following exchange that caught my attention (Murdoch’s replies are in italics):
27631 You name is rather uncommon? – It is a strange name in the place.
27632 Are there several more in this place of Auchmelvich? – Yes.
27633 Do they all belong to the same clan? – No, they are separate families.
27634 Are they long here? – My ancestors have been here for seven hundred years, the Kerrs to whom I belong.
27635 What family were in possession of Assynt at that time? – I cannot tell.
27636 Do you, and the people in your place, look with favour upon the large sheep farms? – We would rather not see any in the country.
(I included 27636 because of its comprehensiveness – they did’t want such farms anywhere in the land!)
So, what does this brief exchange have to tell us?
Firstly, two years earlier the 1881 census recorded 32 families in Sutherland headed by a man called Kerr and 3 of these were Lowland families which accords with Murdoch’s comment that they were not all of the same clan but represented different families.
Secondly, at least one branch of the Sutherland Kerrs had been there since the 12th or 13thC, a remarkable fact that is testament to the oral tradition in Gaelic communities.
I don’t know if the Gaelic Harris Kerrs originally were from Sutherland or Argyll, Ross-shire or Inverness-shire (or indeed elsewhere in the Highlands) but Murdoch offers the tantalising thought that a left-handed Highlander may have excelled himself on the field of battle in the Medieval period and established a line that leads all the way down to the left-hander typing these words…
(Note: I apologise for that brief lapse into Romanticism. It may happen again…)
Update: Almost two-thirds of the Kerr folk in the censuses living in Sutherland were living in Stoer and some 80% of households in the county headed by a male Kerr were there too.Stoer is less than 3 miles from Murdoch’s home in Auchmelnvich.
Note: Full Transcript can now be read here.