Three Turners of Stornoway

Pigot’s 1837 Directory lists three Turners in the town:
Donald McRae, Bayhead St
John McRae, Bayhead St
James Young, Keith St
I couldn’t find James Young again in Stornoway, but Donald & John McRae each appear in the 1871 census where they describe their occupation as ‘Turner’ and from those two entries I was able to compile the following information about them and their families:
Notes:
Entries in bold indicate a man who appears at least once as a ‘Turner’ in the census records.
The figures in brackets are there as an aid to tracking individuals down to the third generation.
1841
Donald McRae, 35, Joiner, Bayhead St, b. Ross & Cromarty (1)
Margaret McRae, 25
Jane McRae, 5
Mary McRae, 3
Catherine McRae, 6 months
John McRae, 25, Joiner (2)
1851
Donald McRae, 50, Joiner, Bayhead St, b. Barvas (1)
Peggy McRae, 38, Wife, b. Stornoway
Jane McRae, 14, Scholar, Daughter, b. Bayhead, Stornoway
Mary McRae, 13. Scholar, Daughter, b. Bayhead, Stornoway
Catherine McRae, 10, Scholar, Daughter, b. Bayhead, Stornoway
John McRae, 8, Scholar, Son, b. Bayhead, Stornoway
Helen McRae, 6, Scholar Daughter, b. Bayhead, Stornoway
Margaret McRae, Daughter, b. Bayhead, Stornoway
Kenneth Cameron, 30, Joiner (Journeyman), Boarder, b. Fodderty, Ross
John McRae, 54, Wheelwright, Keith St, b. Stornoway (2)
Archibald McRae, 20, Wheelwright, Son, b. Stornoway (2a)
Mary McRae, 18, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Donald McRae, 16, Son, b. Stornoway
Roderick McRae , 14, Son, b. Stornoway
Jane McRae, 12, Daughter, b. Stornoway
John McRae, 10, Son, b. Stornoway
James McRae, 6, Son, b. Stornoway (2b)
Hector McRae, 2, Son, b. Stornoway (2c)
1861
John McRae, 60, Wheelwright, 51 Keith St, b. Stornoway (2)
Ann McRae, 55, Wife, b. Stornoway
Donald McRae, 26, Baker, Son, b. Stornoway
Roderick McRae, 23, Joiner, Son, b. Stornoway
John McRae, 29, Baker, Son, b. Stornoway
Jane McRae, 21, Dressmaker, Daughter, b. Stornoway
James McRae, 16, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway (2b)
Hector McRae, 13, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway (2c)
Ann Morrison, 82, Crofter’s Widow, Mother-in-Law, b. Stornoway
Isabella Finlayson, 82, Seaman’s Widow, Lodger, b. Stornoway
1871
Donald McRae, 70, Joiner, 38 Bayhead St, b. Barvas (1)
Margaret McRae, 57, Wife, b. Stornoway
Catherine McRae, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Margaret McRae, 22, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Isabella McRae, 14, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Donald McRae, 17, Joiner, Son
Isabella MacKinnon, 2, Grand-daughter
John McRae, 71, Turner, 51 Keith St, b. Stornoway (2)
Ann McRae, 67, Wife, b. Stornoway
John McRae, 28, Baker, Son, b. Stornoway
James McRae, 27, Joiner, Son, b. Stornoway (2b)
Hector McRae, 22, Turner, Son, b. Stornoway (2c)
Christina Smith, Domestic Servant, 23, b. Uig, Ross-shire
John McLean, 78, Visitor, b. Lochs, Ross-shire
Archibald McRae, 40, 51 Keith St, Turner & Blockmaker, b. Stornoway (2a)
Annabella McRae, 27, Wife, b. Stornoway
Mary Ann McRae, 4, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Mary McRae, 2, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Annabella McRae, 4 months, Daughter, b. Stornoway
1881
Archibald McRae, 50, Joiner & Blockmaker, 51 Keith St, b. Stornoway (2a)
Annabella McRae, 37, General Servant, Wife, b. Stornoway
Mary McRae, 12, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Annabella McRae, 8, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Hector McRae, 6, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Ann McRae, 4, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Alexander McRae, 3, Son, b. Stornoway
Christina McRae, 10 months, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Christina Murray, 16, General Servant, b. Stornoway
James McRae, 36, Joiner, 51 ½ Keith St, b. Stornoway (2b)
Mary Jane McRae, 29, Dressmaker, Wife, b. Stornoway
John McRae, 6, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Jessie Ann McRae, 4, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Hector McRae, 3, Son, b. Stornoway
William McRae, 1, Son, b. Stornoway
1891
Archibald McRae, 60, Joiner & Turner, 65 Keith St, b. Stornoway (2a)
Annabella McRae, 47, Wife, b. Stornoway
Annie McRae, 14, Monitor, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Alexander McRae, 13, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Linna McRae, 10, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Archibald McRae, 9, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Jeanie McRae, 7, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
James McRae, 43, Turner, Keith St, b. Stornoway (2b)
Mary McRae, 39, Wife, b. Stornoway
John McRae, 16, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Jessie A McRae, 14, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Hector McRae, 13, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
William McRae, 12, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Roderick McRae, 10, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Kenneth D McRae, 9, Scholar, Son, B. Stornoway
Ann J McRae, 4, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
James McRae, 3, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
1901
Archibald McRae, 70, Joiner & Turner, 65 Keith St, b. Stornoway (2a)
Annabella McRae, 57, Wife, b. Stornoway
Annie McRae, 24, daughter, b. Stornoway
Lina McRae, 20, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Archibald McRae, 18, Son, Apprentice Joiner & Turner, b. Stornoway (2a1)
Jeanie McRae, 17, Daughter, b. Stornoway
James McRae, 54, Spinning Wheel Maker, 62 Kenneth St, b. Stornoway (2b)
Mary I McRae, 48, Wife, b. Stornoway
Hector McRae, 23, House Carpenter, Son, b. Stornoway
William McRae, 21, Carter, Son, b. Stornoway
Kenneth McRae, 19, Butcher, Son, b. Stornoway
Annie I McRae, 14, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
It is not too surprising that a ‘Turner’ of 1837 would, at various times, describe themselves as a ‘Joiner’ or a ‘Wheelwright’ but James McRae’s move into specialising as a ‘Spinning Wheel Maker’ (he is one of only two such people that I have discovered) came as a pleasant surprise!
Advertisements

Wakefield House of Correction

On the evening of the 30th of March 1851 there were 863 men and 74 women locked-up in the newly expanded Wakefield House of Correction in Yorkshire, England.
With them were another 40 males & 31 females, these being the prison staff and their families, and all were under the watchful eye of the Governor, Edward Shephard.
One of the 937 inmates was a widowed Printer named William Macpherson who, some 44 years earlier, had been born on the Isle of Harris.
I have not investigated the nature of William’s crime, nor the circumstances that led him from the Western Isles to Wakefield, but as there are only 26 occurrences of Harris-born Macphersons in the 1851-1901 censuses and his is the only one that records a Hearach in incarceration in England I thought it worth remarking upon.

Harris Wordsmiths

I thought that I would start a list of Harris folk who have contributed to the artistic cannon in words
(& music!) and welcome any additions:
17thC
Mary MacLeod 1615-1706
Born in Rodel. Died in Dunvegan, Skye
Poet
18thC
John Morrison/Gobha na Hearadh 1790-1852
Born in Rodel. Died in Leac a Li. Buried St Clement’s Church
Poet, Blacksmith & Evangelist
19thC
James MacLeod 1880-1947
Scalpay
Poet
Murdo MacLeod 1881-1907
Scalpay
Poet
Hector MacKinnon 1886-1954
Berneray
Poet
Iain Archie MacAskill 1898-1933
Berneray
Poet
20thC
Joan MacKenzie 1900-72
Scarista
Poet
Roderick MacLeod 1903-1965
Kyles Stockinish
Poet
John Morrison 1914-
Scalpay
Poet & Composer
Ian Paterson 1916-1990
Berneray
Poet
Rev. Colin N MacKenzie 1917-94
Taransay
Poet
Domhnall R MacGillemhoire / Donald R Morrison 1919-
Scalpay
Poet & Shopkeeper
Malcolm MacDonald 1922-
Manish
Poet
Finlay J MacDonald 1925-1987
Scarista
Author, Broadcaster & Co-Founder of Gairm
‘Crowdie & Cream & Other Stories’

Crofting, Kelp, & Clearances

“Until after the middle of the last century, the land appears to have been occupied exclusively by tacksmen, generally kinsmen or dependents of the proprietor, with sub-tenants, who held of the tacksmen, and by joint-tenants, who held farms in common, each having a stated share. About the time referred to, many of the farms held by tacksmen seem to have been taken directly from the proprietor by joint-tenants. They grazed their stock upon the pasture in common, and cultivated the arable land in alternate ridges, or ” rigs,” distributed annually, and called ” run-rig.” By this arrangement, each got a portion of the better and the worse land; but no one had two contiguous ridges, or the same ridge for two successive years, unless by accident. Since the commencement of the present century, the arable land has, in most cases, been divided into separate portions, of which one was assigned to each of the joint-tenants or crofters, the grazing, as formerly, remaining in common.”
Ref: Report to the Board of Supervision by Sir John McNeill, GCB,  on the Western Highlands & Islands, 1851. page viii. (Further quotes are from this Report)


This system, which is known as ‘Ridge & Furrow’ in ‘South Britain’ (or England, as it is more usually named), received its first legal assault in the 1695 General Enclosure Act (Scotland) but, as the above article from ‘British Archaeology’ informs us, the eradication of this equitable system of agriculture took place at varying speed and over a considerable period of time in different parts of the British Isles.

What is interesting is that Sir John then goes on to explain that when crofting was introduced as the replacement for run-rig, it allowed for the sub-division of crofts, a situation that had been impossible when the arable land was held in common and the cultivation strips were rotated annually amongst the whole populace.

This new possibility to sub-divide what had been intended to be sufficient land to support one crofting family coincided with the kelp-fuelled population explosion. In the boom years of kelp-manufacture this was not an issue, indeed it was necessary for the workforce to expand to keep-up production with the ever-increasing demand, but the new mouths could only be fed because of the wages earned from this somewhat early branch of industrial-scale chemistry. As an aside, Sodium Carbonate (or Soda Ash or Washing Soda) was used in glass-making and the manufacture of Soap and it was a man who made his first fortune from selling soap, Lord Leverhulme, who would become the owner of Lewis & Harris within 70 years of Sir John’s report.

Crofting also allowed the architects of the Clearances to sub-divide crofts to ‘create space’ for those whom they were displacing from elsewhere thereby diminishing the livelihoods of two families for each Cleared family as described by the Sheriff-Substitute, Charles Shaw:

“The conversion of crofters’ farms into grazings in Harris, many years ago, before the estate came into the Dunmore family, without providing for the people removed from these farms in any other way than by giving them portions of the land occupied by other crofters— the same system followed recently in South Uist and Barra, with the addition of locating the ejected tenants on barren moss crofts—has also affected the circumstances of the people.”

When boom turned to bust, and it was inevitable that it would as the price of kelp had been artificially inflated by the effect of the Napoleonic Wars to an unsustainable £30 a ton in 1815 compared to only £1 a ton before the wars began, then suddenly there were hungry mouths to feed but neither enough land to grow sufficient food nor the wages being earned to purchase it.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the third and final blow came in the form of the Potato Famines of 1846-51, these being exacerbated by the twin factors of people forced to attempt to grow food on land that could only be cultivated as ‘feannagan’ (a system requiring vast quantities of kelp as fertilizer) and the repeated planting of the crop on the same meagre patches of land.

Of course, there was one other factor at work during this time and that was the development of sheep-farming as a commercial venture, again something that the removal of Run-Rig made possible. Proprietors looking for the best return on their investment had wallowed in wealth during the years of the kelp-bubble but when it burst they were left with a populace living in poverty and no obvious alternate employment. Sheep-runs were the answer for the Farmer class that was connected to the Factors of Harris either by marriage or occupation, or both.

To add insult to injury, when those Cleared away from the fertile soil to make way for sheep were unable to grow sufficient produce to pay their rents, the blame was passed to them for being unable to do so! There was the attempt to re-settle the Borves on the West coast of Harris and John Robson Macdonald gives his side of that story in great detail. What is significant in that account is that he places the blame upon the failure of the 1848 project as due to the fact that the crofters had insufficient capital to be able to develop the land they were renting. He neglects to mention that the re-settlement was undertaken against his wishes (and those of his accomplices farming that area), that it took place during some of the worst years for crop failure all over the isles, and that there is no evidence that any consideration was given to providing a system whereby capital could be made available to the crofters. What Macdonald does do, however, is turn the failed project to his advantage by using it as proof that giving the crofters land is not going to solve the problem of their destitution.

Fishing, which might alleviate the suffering in some ways, was never going to support a population that had perhaps doubled within as little as two generations, especially as those moved to ‘fishing crofts’ were not always in possession of boats etc and only some of those who lacked them were provided with the means to fish by the relief committee Even if the dreams of Captain Macleod and the desires of John Lanne Buchanan been realised, it would merely have meant that Tarbert would have temporarily shared in some of the wealth that went to Stornoway before the fishing fell into decline. The solution was simple. Move them off the better land, make their miserable existence even less unbearable and then portray yourself as a philanthropist by offering to offload them across the Atlantic at, in part, your own expense.

I doubt it was quite as calculated as that at first, but it seems significant that John Robson Macdonald in his evidence to McNeill clearly states that it was in 1847, the year after the first widespread failure of the potato crop, that the Countess of Dunmore offered to export some of her son’s excess population to North America and this was repeated the following year with the suggestion that a dozen families might like to emigrate to ‘there be settled on the property of the Honourable Charles Murray, uncle of the proprietor of Harris.’

Nice – the brother-in-law needs labour and you are happy to supply it for him!

Unsurprisingly, neither offer was met with any takers from the non-English speaking, half-starved, close-knit, Cleared and castigated islanders who had by then turned their backs on the Established Church of Scotland and fully-embraced the five-year-old Free Church.

If it is thought that I am being a little uncharitable regarding these gestures and the motivation that lay behind them, I would ask you to take into consideration the attitude of the widowed Countess’s late husband to his people, to the testimony given to the Napier Commission in 1883, to the profligate behaviour of Alexander Norman Macleod who had wasted the wealth that the kelp brought to the isle, to the similarly excessive activities of the 7th Earl of Dunmore that led to the 26 year-old having to sell the North Harris Estate in 1867, and to the lack of evidence that the early development of ‘Harris Tweed’ by the Countess was anything but a nice marketing tale spun much later by the Duchess of Sutherland, and that if any woman should be credited with the early promotion of the industry it should be ‘Mrs Thomas’, whom I have identified as Frances Bousfield Thomas, the wife of Lieutenant FWL Thomas RN.

It was Fanny Thomas who endowed the hospital at Manish, in the settlement where the Countess eventually, after protracted prevarication, allowed the first Free Church to be built, it was she who had depots in London as well as Leith and it was she who took-in the children of destitute (Free Church) Ministers and other families in order to enable them to benefit from the experience and, most intriguingly of all, it was she whose obituary appeared in a magazine of the ‘Quaker’ (Society of Friends) movement.

The Countess certainly did provide some early assistance as described in the letter from the Parochial Board of Harris:

“In the spring of 1847, Lady Dunmore, from her private funds, supplied seed oats, and a considerable quantity of seed potatoes, to the tenants. Some have repaid their advances, but a greater number have not. Her Ladyship also provided materials for employing females in woollen manufactures, partly knitting and partly spinning. For these two purposes she expended above £1800. Nearly £1200 have also been expended on boats, fishing-gear, and the erection of a pier at West Tarbert, for the encouragement of the fishery.”
It is not entirely clear if the sum of £1800 refers solely to the knitting and spinning manufactures, or if it includes the seed oats and seed potatoes too, but the Board includes this total expenditure of £3000 some four years previously merely as evidence that “…the parish of Harris cannot be made self-sustaining, unless a portion of the people remove elsewhere.” They were using McNeill’s enquiry as a means of promoting emigration and supplying supporting evidence to suggest that it was merely a last resort rather than the inevitable consequence of the (man-made) factors that I have described.
I do not doubt that many of those who did emigrate and then thrived on the North American continent, in Australia, and in many other places too, felt that they had made the best choice in the circumstances. I am also aware that many readers are descendants of those same people and that the hunger of their ancestors has been replaced by a hunger to know as much as possible about the land they left.
And ‘land’ is the key for under the run-rig system one would have been reminded each year, in the allotting of the strips, that no man ‘owns’ the land, that it is the land supports us, that by sharing in communal activities we communicate & develop a sense of community, & that as soon as one person’s motivation is deemed superior to another’s & greed becomes the guiding principle, we sour the land, encourage disease and pestilence and are forced to turn our backs on the land to face the sea, and towards those other lands that lie far across the ocean…

The Parochial Board of Harris in 1851

The members of this board, who signed a document relating to the situation in the island on the 3rd of April 1851 in Tarbert, Harris, are listed here with some (tentative!) notes in parenthesis:
RODERICK MACDONALD Minister (possibly the minister of South Uist?)
J. R. MACDONALD Factor (Born Snizort, Inverness-shire)
DONALD McRAE Tacksman (Factor’s Nephew, Farmer of 200 acres Employing 8 men & Justice of the Peace?)
JOHN MACDONALD Tacksman (possibly the Farmer of 150 acres on the Island of Taransay?)
ALEX. McRAE Tacksman (presumably the Farmer of Nisishee Employing 21 men?)
ROBERT CLARK Surgeon (From Argyll)
NORMAN M’LEOD Merchant (possibly the ‘Farmer & Ship-person’ of Tarbert?)
JOHN M’LEOD Ground-Officer (From Harris and living at Port Esgein)
JOHN KERR Joiner and Tenant (see below)
R. H. WATSON Fish-curer (English-born living at Rodel)
JOHN TROTTER Superintendent of Croft Culture (Drat, I can’t find him!)
ALEX. CAMPBELL Lighthouse-Keeper (Born Harris, Assistant Light Keeper at Rhinns Lighthouse, Island of Oversay, Argyll)
Several of these twelve men are familiar to me and make appearances in earlier entries so I feel a little bit mean in not having diligently made a list of links for you, but if any of them are of particular interest then a simple search should lead you to those entries.
However, I am going to look at John Kerr the ‘Joiner and Tenant’ who is NOT someone in my own immediate family tree but who does feature in that of a well-known island ‘character’.
John Kerr (1811-1879) was the older of the two sons of a Farmer, John Kerr, and his wife, the Weaveress Marion Macleod of Scarista and Borve. Both brothers became Joiners/Carpenters and the younger one, Roderick, was the father of John Kerr, the Minister of Harris who appears in Finlay J Macdonald’s ‘Crowdie & Cream’ as ‘Ayatollah Kerr’.
John the Joiner makes three appearances in the Scottish censuses, as a Carpenter in Scarista in 1841, as a Joiner in Luskintyre with his Perthshire-born wife Janet in 1851, and as a ‘Journeyman’ in the company of two younger Joiners in ‘East Tarbert Shed’ in 1861. I should explain that in that year his wife, Jessie, was living in Obe with their five children and described herself as a ‘House Carpenter’s Wife’.
What happens next is not one, but two migrations for the next child is born in Wales in 1863 and the one after that in Birkenhead in England in 1866, and it was there that the ‘Ayatollah’s uncle died in 1879.
Looking at the Parochial Board list it is clear that several came from outside of Harris and that at least half had an interest in seeing the expansion of sheep-farms at the expense of the native population. There are also several family ties that I have yet to fully explore & make explicit but the lack of any representation of the majority of the populace on this particular Parochial Board is obvious.
Finally, as I do suspect that this John Kerr is related to me and am sure that he (like all the other Harris Kerrs whose family trees I have fully constructed) was descended from ‘incomers’, probably arriving at the time of Captain Alexander Macleod, I think that his inclusion is indicative that in many cases they were allied to the ‘improvers’.
This is not the first time that I have made this observation, and situations are always far more complex than one can hope to fully and accurately reconstruct after such a long passage of time, but John the Joiner, Member of the Parochial Board of Harris, uncle of John the (future) Minister of the Established Church at Scarista, who finally ends his days in England, must be trying to tell me something!

I assisted my father as factor of Harris…

…from Whitsunday 1834 to Whitsunday 1838; as factor of North Uist for several years, having the chief management of it from Whitsunday 1835 to Whitsunday 1838; and as factor of the greater part of South Uist for many years. I was factor of Barra from Martinmas 1836 to Whitsunday 1838, and I have been sheriff-substitute of the whole district since November 1841.
This was the opening sentence of the answer given by Charles Shaw, Sheriff-Substitute, to a question put to him by Sir John McNeill in Lochmaddy, North Uist, on the 7th of April 1851.
His father, Duncan Shaw, was the first Factor of Harris appointed when the 6th Earl Dunmore purchased the island in 1834 and his wife Anne Margaret Macdonald’s connection to the islands is to be found in this piece from the Carmichael Watson Project.
The couple resided at Sponish House, Lochmaddy, North Uist and in 1851 they and their three children were joined there by Charles’ 60 year-old mother, Anne Shaw, who hailed from Duirinish in Skye. The Shaws are seen in each of the successive three censuses but it appears that the first Anne Shaw, wife of the Factor Duncan Shaw, died between 1871 & 1881.
What led me to take this brief excursion across the Sound of Harris was the information regarding Charles assisting his father as Factor from 1834 until 1838 but the document in which it appears, the ‘Report to the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor in Scotland by Sir John M’Neill…’ which is described here is one that I intend to explore in detail.

Scandal at Scarista!

I was poking around in the National Archives of Scotland when I stumbled upon this unusual episode from Harris history:
On the 26th of April 1856, Allan Silver, a 35 year-old Plasterer living in Kintulavig, Harris, was tried
‘ for the crime of bigamy at the Manse, Harris, Scarista, Harris, Inverness-shire’.
He was the ‘married, lawful husband of Catherine Fraser or Silver, servant to Catherine Mackintosh or Rose, widow, Nessbank, Inverness’ and his victims were her and Ann MacLean, whom he was now ‘bigamously married to’ but who had returned to live with her father, a Tailor called Norman MacLean.
Allan Silver was found Guilty ‘in terms of his own confession’ and sentenced to 2 years in the General Prison at Perth.
What surprised me, though, was that in 1861 there was a 24 year-old Dress Maker living with her father Norman MacLean the Tailor in Strond. Her name was Ann Silver and with her were 4 year-old Duncan Silver and his 2 year-old brother, Walter Silver…
A decade later Ann had reverted to her original name of MacLean but the two boys, ages 15 and 12, kept their father’s name, under which we find Walter Silver in 1901 proudly proclaiming that he was born in ‘Obe, Harris’, whilst now working as a ‘Shipyard Plater’s Helper’ in Greenock.
Refs: AD14/56/150 & JC26/1856/8 held at http://www.nas.gov.uk/onlineCatalogue/