An Architect on Harris

I decided to return to Donald McDonald and place him in the context of the household he was visiting at ‘Rodil’ in 1851.
Richard H Watson, Fish Merchant, 32, Rodil, b. England
Henry G Watson, 12, Errand Boy, Nephew, b. England
Donald McDonald, 35, Architect, Visitor, b. Kilmuir, Inverness
Isabella Maclean, 23, House Servant, b. Harris
Anne McMillan, 33, House Servant, b. Harris
English-born Richard H Watson was one of only four Merchants found in that census and the only Fish Merchant listed. Isabella Maclean moved to Big Borve by 1861 where she was a servant in the household of the Farmer, Kenneth Macdonald (a Farmer and, eventually, Factor of North Harris) and a decade later she was a Dressmaker in Strond with her husband, the Shepherd Malcolm Kerr. Come 1891, and Isabell was one of the very few ladies to call herself a ‘Tailoress’, although quite what can be implied from the term remains uncertain to me. The couple had married in Scarista on the 28th of February 1865 in the Established Church of Scotland but whether my cousin’s choice of this was by design (he and his wife were each employees of ‘establishment’ figures in the form of Farmers & Factors) or circumstance (the Free Church Minister not being available) is, again, uncertain. However, as he was the second of Angus Kerr’s sons to marry a Domestic Servant from a household in Rodel, I am building a picture whereby this particular branch of the family were clearly entwined, albeit as employees, with the incoming forces of Harris. I say this non-judgementally but merely as a statement of the apparent facts. Quite how it might have had ramifications with relations on the island, then and later, is an interesting matter to consider? But I digress.
Of the remaining members of the household, it is the presence of the Architect, Donald Mcdonald of Kilmuir, that was supposed to be my focus! We have already seen in previous pieces that the first post-famine census, that of 1851, showed many interesting developments on the island and it seems that the (unique) presence of an Architect at the time is wholly in keeping with those observations. Precisely which buildings he may have designed and seen built (if any) will probably never be known but anything from the Gardener’s House and the Inn at An-t-Ob to the Manish Free Church and Manse are possibilities. It might help if I could locate him in other censuses but he either changed occupations, or perished, for this is his only appearance as an Architect and the 1841 census is poor in listing the occupation of all in a household.
So Donald McDonald, Architect, remains something of an enigma but I feel sure that it is no accident that we find a man of his profession in this household at Rodel in 1851, I’m just a little disappointed that I can shed no more light upon the man and his works, not even whether he was from Kilmuir on Skye or Kilmuir near Inverness…
Note: There are plenty of other pieces that refer to the actions of Kenneth Macdonald and John Robson Macdonald and these may be found either from the ‘tags’ or by utilising the search facility, both of which appear in the right-hand column of the page. A blog is inevitably episodic in nature so perhaps I should bow to peer-pressure (sorry, encouragement!) and start turning this beast into a book?
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One thought on “An Architect on Harris

  1. Regarding your last question, Peter, if you want to turn this blog into a book, you would have to do some major reformatting. In other words, highlight those stories (e.g. Capt Thomas) that you have done a lot of work on or pick out a thread, a line of discussion, a common theme that runs through a lot of your posts. Not easily done, as you’ve found out already.

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