The Star (Saint Peter Port, England),
Saturday, October 11, 1879; Issue 53
19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
In connection with the wreck of the yacht Astarte, and the gallant rescue of her crew, there are some interesting facts that have not been made public. The Astarte, belonging to Mr R. A. Napier, of Glasgow, was caught in the storm of the 21st ult. in the Minch, while running from Tarbert, Harris, to Barra, in the outer Hebrides. On Monday afternoon she ran for shelter to an island at the entrance to the Sound of Harris, called Greanern, about four miles from Lochmaddy, and close to the Uist coast. The gale increased to a hurricane during the night, and the sea ran fearfully high. The yacht dragged her anchors, and was eventually dashed onto the rocks near a small island about eleven miles from the west coast of Harris, where she soon broke up and sank. The passengers and crew, amongst whom were three ladies and two children, were with much difficulty got ashore with life-lines. They were dragged through the raging surf, one lady being nearly drowned. They took what shelter they could amongst the heather which grew on the top of this small rocky island. The privations they suffered were intense, and the force of the gale was such that they with difficulty prevented themselves from being blown off the rock into the sea. Thus they remained wet and starved, being utterly without food all that day and night, until early the next morning, when relief came to them from the most unexpected quarter. It appears that some men on the Uist coast saw the wreck of the yacht, but owing to the faerful sea running, no boat would venture out. Three men proceeded over the hills to Lochmaddy, and gave instruction to the Procurator Fiscal, who instantly telegraphed the news to Lord Dunmore, in Harris. The telegram was received in the middle of the night, but in less than two hours his lordship got a crew of three men together, who proceeded under his command to make ready for sea the only available boat at the moment, which was an un-decked but strongly built cutter-rigged fishing-boat of about six tons. In this small open boat, armed with baskets of provisions they started in the dark, under a close-reefed mainsail, to beat against a S.W. Gale for 11 miles through a very heavy sea of the open Atlantic. After beating for five hours they reached the island, and found the women and children in an exhausted state. After adminstering spirits and food to them they were put on board the gallant little boat, and were taken back to Rodel, in Harris, in safety, where they were treated with the greatest care by the shooting tenants. The little boat then put to sea again for the second time and rescued the remainder, whom she brought back to Harris in the afternoon. Lord Dunmore’s fishing-boat is called the Dauntless, and well she has now earned her name, as no other boat on the coast would venture out that day, and a few more hours of exposure on that storm-beaten rock must have been attended with serious results for the women and children. The names of the rescuing crew are Lord Dunmore, John McRae, McLeod, and Norman Macdonald.
– Daily Telegraph
(M’Leod was Ewen McLeod and all three men were apparently fishermen)
The National Lifeboat Institution (precursor of the RNLI) awarded Lord Dunmore its Silver Medal and each of the three Harrismen received £5, which was a considerable sum in 1879.
I am confused by the reference to the part played by the telegraph, for the message appears to have arrived some seven years before the subsea cable along which it was sent?
Looking for Fishermen who fit from South Harris in the censuses:
John McRae, b. 1846, Obbe, (married to an Effy Kerr, but not a known relative!)
Ewen McLeod, b. 1842, Smithy (presumably Obbe)
Norman Macdonald, b.1839
I cannot be certain, but these are good candidates and the 7th Earl of Dunmore was born in 1841 so these men were of his generation – young enough to brave the elements, old enough to have the wisdom to survive the experience!
I believe that I have found ‘Greanern’ for the island of Greineam lies about 4 miles from Lochmaddy off the North East coast of North Uist, but the reference to the ‘open Atlantic’ and ‘the west coast of Harris’ might appear to conflict with this? As Greineam is the only island at the this distance from Lochmaddy, at the entrance to the Sound of Harris, and about eleven miles from An-t-Ob and enroute for a voyage from Tarbert to Barra via the Minch (rather than the Atlantic), I am reasonably sure of this.
The record at Scotlands Places gives us this additional information regarding the wreck, , but doesn’t identify the island of ‘Greanern’ which is, of course, why I wanted to do so!
(There is a larger island called Greineam near Berneray, but that is too far from Lochmaddy and too near to Harris to fit the facts)
I hadn’t heard of this particular episode until I came upon the newspaper cutting, and hence thought it worth sharing with you!

Pause & Reflect

Having (once again) found myself about to start a piece repeating one that I had already composed (with over 450 entries relating to the Western Isles this is perhaps not too alarming!) I think it is time for me to take a break.

Readers appear to be looking at 5 or 6 dozen pages each day, which is probably quite modest in blogworld terms but pleases me greatly in this particular backwater of the blogosphere.

I have had feedback from professional academics and fellow amateur researchers, from ‘passers-by’ and friends & family, and must thank each and every one of them for their very kind words and encouragement.

However, I feel that now is probably a good time for me to allow this blog to settle (the last time I did so it resulted in the ‘Sounds of Harris’ pieces which began with the far loftier ambition of writing a book integrating my ancestors lives into the wider story of the island on a grand scale, but in the end I realised that was way beyond my modest capabilities).

Any further developments will only become practicable when I can physically access certain sources, and/or when the 1911 Census records for Scotland are released in the Spring of 2011.

Meanwhile, I would still very much like to hear from readers, preferably via email, whether it be to make a specific point or a general comment, to add information or correct an error, to request a topic for future inclusion or just to say ‘Hello’!

Finally, thank you for being one of my readers and for sharing my interest in a small island chain, off the coast of a slightly larger set of islands, whose inhabitants & descendants continue to make impacts across the Globe far in excess of both their number and the acreage that spawned them…

A pair of Updates relating to Bald’s Map of Harris

I have added a little information to and that relate to ownership of Harris and the copy of Bald’s map, another entry regarding which is here: .

I draw attention to these updates merely because I believe there to be sufficient evidence for me to now say with a reasonably high degree of confidence that this annotated version of the map, which James B Caird informs us in Togail tir only came to light in 1988, was indeed in active use by the Estate during Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore’s ownership of the isle.
Where it resided and who wrote upon it are two questions that I would dearly love to be able to answer!

Note: Link to the map –

Letter from John Robson Macdonald, Factor of Harris, to the Countess of Dunmore

This letter continues the correspondence that I alluded to in an earlier piece about Captain Sitwell .
Rodel August 21 1846
The Countess of Dunmore
Ere this can reach your Ladyship, my letter of the 14th will have informed you of the total failure of the potato crop ; and my letter to Captain Sitwell will have given your Ladyship a pretty correct idea of the quantity of meal required for the population of Harris, until September 1847 : at the present price of meal the whole will cost upwards of £5,000. This is a large sum for such a purpose, but large as it is, I fear that I am rather under the mark than above it, for ever since I made the estimate, several who then expected to save as many of their potatoes as would serve them during the autumn, came to me yesterday, and informed me that now they could not be eaten. In order to lessen the expense as much as possible, a proportion of the pease meal and barley meal should be sent along with the oatmeal. I tried them with some Indian corn, but they did not like it.
There are about 369 tenants, and about 220 cottars, with their families, requiring relief, exclusive of the paupers, who are under the charge of the parochial board. I think about 200 of the tenants can ultimately pay in cash for any relief they receive, and the remainder of them and the cottars can pay by work.
I am, &c.
(Signed) J. R. Macdonald.
In his earlier letter to Captain Sitwell, Macdonald mentioned that ‘the population return for Harris is 4,429’ and this, together with the fact that the number of people needing assistance has now increased, shows that his original estimate of £5000 for oatmeal was well in excess of £1 per person. He suggests this cost can be reduced by pease meal and barley meal being sent too, presumably these being less-expensive substitutes?
His comment that he ‘…tried them with some Indian corn, but they did not like it.’ is pretty patronising and something one might say of a child or, indeed, a pet; but on the other hand it does display a side of his character that wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that the people had tastes and preferences of their own, too.
However, the most revealing thing in the letter is the final sentence where we are informed that the people ‘can ultimately pay…for any relief they receive…’ whether it be in cash or kind.
Some accounts of landowners providing relief during the famines fail to mention this important detail, instead leaving one with the impression that relief came solely from the largesse of the landowner, a gross distortion of the truth as revealed here by J R Macdonald…
Ref: ‘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.

From the Falkland Islands to the Isle of Harris

I am looking at the Passenger List for the ACONCAGUA, Official Number 65969, for a voyage from Valparaiso in Chile to Liverpool in England. She was owned by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company Limited from 1872-1895 and is described thus:
‘Built by John Elder & Co., Glasgow, Scotland. Tonnage: 4,106. Dimensions: 404′ x 41’. Single-screw, 14 knots. Compound inverted D.A. engines. Three masts and one funnel. Iron hull. Clipper bow. ‘
She called at Punto Arenas where one of those boarding was M Mcdonald, a ‘Scotch’ (sorry, I didn’t construct the form!) single, male Labourer. The voyage included stops at Montevideo, Rio Janeiro, Pernambruto, Lisbon, Plymouth before reaching Liverpool on the 10th of April 1892.
My interest in this information lies in the fact that Murdo Macdonald, who was born in the Falkland Islands in about 1871, married Ann Kerr (daughter of Angus the fisherman)  in Tarbert, Harris on the 1st of November 1892 and we find the couple and four of their five children in North Harris in 1901 where Murdo’s occupation is given as Labourer (Mason).
Although I cannot be certain that the Aconcagua’s passenger was indeed Murdo it certainly could have been the man who was a grandfather of several of my cousins in Harris and Lewis.

Update: Murdo’s parents were, according to his Marriage Certificate,  Angus Mcdonald & Christy Morrison. The 1901 census shows the following:

Christina Mcdonald, 59, Woolspinner, No 46 North Harris*, b. Harris
Marion Mcdonald, 21, Daughter, b. Falkland Islands
(*North Harris with a No. is probably 46 Tarbert, the 1901 Census not specifying Tarbert addresses)

There is no record of either of them in the 1891 census.

Although I have been unable to discover their voyage from the Falkland Islands to the Isle of Harris, I find it tantalisingly plausible that this mother and daughter are Murdo’s mother and sister. If so, then his mother was born in Harris and it is interesting that there is one marriage recorded between an Angus Macdonald and a Christina Morrison on the island. It took place in 1871 and so we can imagine the couple marrying prior to their departure for a new life many thousands of miles away, at least two children resulting from their union and then these two and their mother returning to the isle of their parents birth.

I will, in due course, examine the Marriage Certificate which, together with a search for and examination of the Death Certificates of these three, should settle the matter.

Update: I was interested in learning about population figures for the Falkland Islands and eventually found these tables showing 811 people in 1871, 1510 in 1881, 1789 in 1891 & 2043 by 1901. There is an informative timeline and much other useful information to be seen on the site.

Of Baile & Clachan – including the example of Bragar in Lewis

This PDF document is a paper from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland published in 1993 that contains plenty of food for thought on the organisation of island settlement that led to the development of crofting townships:
West Highland and Hebridean settlement prior to crofting and the Clearances

It is a scholarly, but very readable, account and the Abstract, Introduction and closing Overview give a clear synopsis of the competing claims together with the conclusions reached by the author, Robert Dodghson. I would, however, recommend reading the complete text for it is packed with detailed, illuminating information.

Addressing History Project

This project looks extremely interesting and, although I haven’t properly explored the project yet, thought I would give it a mention.

I have no doubt that it will prove very useful in following islanders who moved to the mainland as well as in researching those from the mainland who played a part in the history of the isles – I would love to be able to identify whereabouts in Edinburgh Mrs Frances Thomas had her Harris Tweed depot, for example!

Finlay J Macdonald Ancestral Chart Update

I have added several people to this chart and, in order to render it at a reasonable scale, have stopped at his great grandparents generation. As far as I can tell, and this is a cross-reference between the Croft History of Direcleit & Ceann Debig with the Censuses and information from Mackay genealogy , these are the correct families but I have not ventured further along the various branches. I should point-out that the John Mackay born in 1826 was the Church Beadle at Scarista. More on Finlay J Macdonald can be found in these entries.

Finlay J Macdonald’s Ancestral Chart

Here is a chart showing what I believe to be the ancestry of Finlay J Macdonald.
Pieces relating to him can be seen here:
I cannot be absolutely certain regarding this chart but it represents the ‘best-fit’ from what little biographical information has been previously published regarding this particular son of Harris.