Although he was the reason for all this, and was my closest island ancestor, I’ve not yet told the whole tale of my Grandfather, John Kerr.
John was born at 11 Bayhead Street, Stornoway on the 5th of March 1875. His mother was Annie Kerr, a Dressmaker, and his father, who was identified on the 13th of July by the Sheriff’s Court as a result of Annie taking legal action against him, was a Tailor, Norman Montgomery, whose family originated from Leurbost in Lochs.
In 1881 the 6 year-old Scholar is living in Stornoway with his grandfather, 58 year-old Malcolm Kerr, Seaman, his grandmother, 58 year-old Mary (Macdonald) ,who was one of those who had been driven out of Orinsay in Lochs some 38 years earlier, his mother, Annie Kerr, who by now was a General Servant, and his two uncles, the 24 year-old Seaman, Alexander John Kerr and the 22 year-old Cooper, Malcolm Kerr. Lodging with the family was a 24 year-old Baker from Lochs called William Maciver.
By 1891, his education over, the 16 year-old is a Clerk living at 37 Bayhead Street with his grandparents whilst Annie has married the Baker, Williiam Maciver, and started a new family. They, too, are listed at No 37 as are her brother Malcolm and his wife. his other uncle, Alexander John, is with his young family in Keith Street and I often wonder whether the young John ever had the chance to accompany him on his sea voyages around the Western coast?
That is the last we see of John on the isles for come 1901 he has moved to the mainland and is now a 26 year-old Manager (Herring Fishing) boarding at 12 Millburn Street, Aberdeen. Three years later, on the 19th of October 1904 the 29 year-old Fish Salesman marries 24 year-old Telegraphist Alexandria Milne, the daughter of a Hatter, William Milne, at 56 St Swithin Street, Aberdeen.
On the 14th of August the following year the first of three children arrived with the birth at 3:45 pm of Elizabeth Isobel Kerr. Aunty Lizzie was born at her grandparents home in St Swithin Street whilst her father remained at his house at 14 Albury Place. Next came my father who was born at 46 Devonshire Road, Aberdeen at half-past three in the afternoon on the 5th of December 1906. This time John appears to have been in the family home at the time. Finally, shortly after midday on the 10th of July1908, Alexandra Jean Robson Kerr was born at 84 Ashley Road, Aberdeen. Aunty Jean’s birth was registered by my grandmother for John was away performing his role as a Superintendent of Fisheries for the Congested Districts Board in Ireland. These were a controversial attempt at combating poverty in areas such as Ireland and, in Scotland, several places including the Isle of Lewis. Superintendents were required to be skilled Coopers but I do not know at what stage in his life the 33 year-old from Stornoway acquired those skills.
What happened next is unclear but by 1922 John was living in Glasgow having left his family in Aberdeen and in that year a Divorce was granted. Six years later on the 7th of July 1928 the 53 year-old Cooper married a Newsagent, Jessie Cowie Perry who was ten years younger than him. This civil Marriage took place at 70 Hutcheson Street, Glasgow which, as far as I can tell, was and remains a public house. John’s address was 59 Edmund Street and Jessie’s 11 Ladywell Street which has now been redeveloped but back then was a small group of houses and shops.
John and Jessie had no children and in the morning of the 29th of December 1936 this 61 year-old journeyman Cooper from 15 Ladywell Street died at 122 Balornock Road, his heart having failed due to Myocarditis. The cause of death, an infection, and the place, on the road to Stobhill hospital, suggest that his illness had been diagnosed prior to John’s death.
My grandmother, who was to live for another 27 years after the death of he ex-husband, lived to see all her grandchildren born and did a through job in erasing all memories of my grandfather, whether written, photographic or oral, from the records. All I knew was that, according to my father, his name was John, he was born in Stornoway, became a Cooper and that his father was a Registrar! Clearly this last fact was either a coded, polite way of informing me that John was illegitimate or, equally likely, it was an invention of my grandmother’s making. Either way, it was his being born ‘out of wedlock’, together with his mother’s apparent insistence that he kept her family name, that actually made my task in discovering John so much easier for Kerr was a very rare name indeed on Lewis, virtually all who were found there from 1851-1901 being members of my family and originating from my grandfather’s grandfather who was born in Direcleit and who thereby gave your author his blogging name!
One final thought. On the 3rd of October 1930 at 7:40 in the morning, John’s mother, Annie Maciver, died at 3 Westview Terrace, Stornoway. She was 76 years old and had been severely ill for the past ten days. I do hope that John had been able to visit his mother during her final days and, from what I have been told by my island cousins, he certainly did keep in contact with his family back in Lewis. This gives me some comfort for, although I never knew him or his immediate island family, from all that I have learned he and they were typical of much that is good about the people of the Western Isles…
John Kerr 1875-1936 RIP