As I am just now in this city for a few days, I cannot leave it without expressing to you, and through you to the Directors of the Gaelic School Society, my unqualified approbation of the conduct of your teachers in the Island of Harris.
It is now about five years since your first teachers got a proper footing in Harris they had many prejudices to encounter, but these were at last happily overcome, and through your bounty we have now seven of your schools in the parish of Harris, attended by nearly five hundred scholars besides one school belonging to the Education Society!
You are probably aware, that the parish and island of Harris is about forty-five miles long by twenty-five broad, exclusive of many extensive Islands; population exceeding four thousand souls, only one parish minister, and one missionary on the royal bounty, and one parochial teacher. Before the introduction of your schools, the Island of Harris was in a most deplorable state in regard to the means of religious instruction. I shall mention a few facts. I had a concern in a very extensive sheep farm in the island of Lewis, bordering on Harris, and I generally calculated, that about four hundred sheep were stolen each year. Cursing and swearing prevailed to an alarming extent throughout the island, and the disputes among the people on the Sabbath, particularly among those who could not go to the parish church on account of its distance from them, was so general, that much of my time was taken up as a Justice of the Peace in settling these disputes. The case is now altered, for the last three years very few depredations indeed have been committed in stealing sheep, cursing and swearing, and profaning the Lord’s day are now at an end, and hardly any disputes occur among the people to occasion my interference in settling them. This very desirable change in the conduct and morals of the people, under the blessing of God, I attribute solely to the effects of your Gaelic Schools.
Your school in the island of Scarp is now removed to Ranigadle. The poor people in that island have derived much benefit from the labours of your teacher, and they have now employed James Fraser to carry on their education both in Gaelic and English. They are very poor and have no money ; but they have agreed to give this teacher a little of the produce of their small farms to support him and his family. If you could give him a small donation of encouragement to assist him it would be well bestowed. The people, including a farm opposite the island on the main land of Harris, are about one hundred and thirty, and attend pretty regularly, notwithstanding the access is difficult on account of the dangerous Round of Scarp. It is distant above thirty miles from the parish church, and I do not suppose they have heard above three sermons for the last ten years.
With every good wish for the prosperity of the Gaelic School Society,
I remain, &c
Letter in ‘The Tenth Annual Report of the Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools 1821’
Let us start with the facts that Stewart provides regarding schools in Harris: There were 7 of the Gaelic Society’s schools educating nearly 500 children plus one ‘Education Society’ school. The Gaelic schools had grown in number since gaining a ‘proper footing’ in about 1819. These are useful an interesting facts.
Stewart then continues by painting an, in my opinion, wholly fictitious account of the people of Lochs, Lewis who had suffered his reign of tyranny before he transferred himself to applying the lessons he had learnt to amass his personal fortune at the expense of the people of Harris. He claims that some 400 sheep were stolen each year and puts the reduction in this, and in other aspects of the peoples behaviour, solely down to the influence of the new schools. It should be remembered that nearly all other commentators on the people of the Long Island, portray them as being especially moral and upstanding, long before either Stewart or the Society gained their footings, whether ‘proper‘ or improper, on the isles.
Stewart then concludes with a request for the Gaelic Society to regarding James Fraser who the people of Scarp have employed as a teacher ‘to give him a small donation of encouragement‘. All that preceded this request, from one of the wealthiest men in the Western Isles, is a preamble.
One other piece of information is tucked away in the book, for it lists all the Society’s schools and also those schoolmasters who were in place ‘at the commencement of 1821‘:
Tarbert, Angus Macleod
Caolisscalpa (Kyles Scalpay)
Caolisstockinish (Kyles Stockinish)
Bernera, James Fraser