Of Two Tacksmen towards the close of the 18th Century

“The Tacksman of Ensay is Factor for all the Estate of Harris. He is also Baron Bailie, though he has not held a Court for these seven years. He deals deeply in the Kelp trade, and also in illicit trade.


The Tacksman of Strond is distinguished by humanity to his Sub-Tenants and Scallags, who are objects of envy to all the other Subtenants and Scallags of Harris.”


Travels in the Western Hebrides from 1782 to 1790
By the Rev. John Lane Buchanan Published 1793
Page 44

I think Buchanan, who is relentlessly scathing in his comments regarding the Tacksman class, presents these two (neighbouring) extremes from Harris partly as a prescient warning of what happens when power is concentrated in the hands of one individual and his cronies and partly to demonstrate that the excesses of the Tacksmen generally were neither necessary nor inevitable.

I don’t know who these two individuals were but we do know that Mrs Ann Campbell was the Tackswoman of Strond and Killigray at the turn of the 18th Century, and that she was similarly well-disposed to her Tenants & Cottars, so maybe she had inherited that position and it was Mr Campbell that Buchanan was referring to?

More commentary from this account, including an explanation of Buchanan’s division of the people into Lairds, Tacksmen, Sub-Tenants & Scallags, can be read here.

The Gaelic for Tacksman is Gabhaltach whilst a Sub-Tenant is a Maladair. Scallag, which may or may not be the etymological root of ‘Scallywag’, does not appear to have a Gaelic equivalent but also occurs in the 1794 Statistical Account as can be seen here.

‘Factor’s House’ or Fishing Station?

This PDF document refers to the ‘Factor’s House’ at Rodel but, unless I am getting confused between buildings, I think it refers to what these photographs describe as the Fishing Station ?

The description given here certainly appears to match that in the PDF, and the map reference is certainly that of the Fishing Station, yet the PDF makes no reference to this documented use of the structure.

The building may well have served a variety of industrial and domestic purposes since being constructed by Captain Macleod in the late 18thC but unfortunately we cannot Ask Angus …

…and, once demolished, whatever secrets might lie hidden in those stones will have gone forever.

There are precious- few Listed Buildings on Harris and I wonder how long it will be before this one suffers the same fate?

We know that Captain Macleod built a combined Corn and Fulling Mill powered by water (although whether at Rodel or An-t-Ob is unclear) and that he established a Spinning and Net Making Factory at Rodel yet I am unaware of anyone knowing the precise locations of these?

The ‘Factors House’ can be clearly seen on the right of this painting from 1819 where it’s position alongside a pier suggests that some 40 years after Captain Macleod had purchased Harris (and nearly 30 years after his death) the building was indeed linked to Fishing.

Rodel Households

These are the 60 ‘Head of Households’ as recorded in the 1841-1901 censuses.
Please bear in mind that these are listed merely to show the number of individual households and the range of occupations of those heading them. They do not provide detailed information on the overall economic activity that was being undertaken in Rodel during this time.
1841 (81 people in 13 households)
John Lindsay, 40, Estate Officer
John R Macdonald, 30, Farmer
Kenneth McDyer, 40, Shepherd
Angus McKay, 20, Shepherd
Angus Macleod, 60, Ag Lab
John Mckenzie, 50, Ag Lab
Donald Macmillan, 35, Ag Lab
Angus Ferguson, 30, Ag Lab
Donald Murray, 40, Parish Schoolmaster
Donald Macdonald, 40, Tailor
Allan McKinnon, 82, ?
Catherina McKay, 60, ?
Ann McKay, 40, ?
The 1841 census is not specific about addresses but I assume that the Estate Officer resided at Rodel House because the Farmer Macdonald who became Factor Macdonald is recorded as residing at Rodel House during his time as Factor.
1851 (38 people in 8 households)
John R Macdonald, 44, Land Factor & JP
Murdoch Macleod, 23, Shepherd
Donald Macmillan, 40, Farm Labourer
Angus McDermid, 35, Fish Curer
Richard H Watson, 32, Fish Merchant
Catherine Macleod, 50, Weaveress
Ann MacKinnon, 60, Formerly House Servant
Mary Macaulay, 60, Formerly Weaveress
I wonder if the Fish Curer occupied the listed building that is called the ‘Factors House‘ but which most certainly was not occupied by John R Macdonald’s extensive household? The presence of the retired House Servant now having her own home to live in, is a feature of later households too.
1861 (32 people in 5 households)
John Robertson Macdonald, 54, Factor of Harris Estate, Rodel House
Alex Macdonald 64, Farmer’s Shepherd, Rodel Hill House
Donald Mclennan, 35, Farmer’s Shepherd, Rodel Hill House
Roderick Macleod, 32, Farmer’s Shepherd, Rodel
Donald Macmillan, 55, Ag Lab, Rodel
I do not know precisely where the two ‘Rodel Hill Houses’ were located but this census explicitly locates the Factor within the walls of Rodel House.
1871 (44 people in 6 households)
John R Macdonald, 64, Factor
John Cunningham, 32, Estate Factor’s Clerk
Angus Kerr, 40, Farm Grieve
Roderick Macleod, 40, Shepherd
Norman Macdonald, 32, Shepherd
Donald Macmillan, 70, Cottar
Where the homes occupied by the Clerk & the Grieve were is unknown but I assume that they were close to the Factor in Rodel House (which was where Angus had been living in the previous two censuses).
1881 (38 people in 8 households)
Angus Kerr, 48, Farm Manager, Rodel Farm
Neil Macleod, 72, Shepherd, Rodel Farm
Norman Macdonald, 42, Shepherd, Rodel Farm
Norman Macmillan, 40, Farm Servant, Rodel Farm
Neil Macdonald, 46, Fisherman, Rodel Farm
Mary Maclean, 68, Laundry Maid, Rodel Farm
Catherine MacKinnon, 50, Cottar, Rodel Farm
Flora Macmillan, 60, Pauper, Rodel Farm
I doubt that any of these households were in Rodel House itself which, according to Kenneth Macdonald Kenneth Macdonald’s evidence to the Napier Commission was being made ready for the Earl in 1883.
1891 (48 people in 10 households)
Norman Macdonald, 52, Shepherd, Rodel
Norman Macmillan, 52, Cowherd, Rodel
John Finlayson, 41, Gamekeeper, Rodel
Ewan Macleod, 50, Gardener, Rodel
Euphemia Mackinnon, 62, House Keeper, Rodel
Niel Macdonald, 54, Fisherman, Rodel
Roderick Macaulay, 60, House Carpenter, Rodel
Angus Kerr, 64, Retired Groom, Rodel
Mary Maclean, 80, Retired Washerwoman, Rodel
Anne Macmillan, 80, Retired Tailoress, Rodel
It is interesting to see a Gardener appearing again, his predecessor having become the Post Master at An-t-Ob sometime between 1871 and 1881. At least two retired employees are now present but I have no idea at what time between 1881 and 1891 my cousin was the Groom/Coachman.
1901 (48 people in 10 households)
Roderick Campbell, 70, Farmer, Rodel
Alexander Morrison, 48, Shepherd, Rodel
John Finlayson, 51, Gamekeeper, Rodel
Norman Macmillan, 50, Carter, Rodel
Ewan Macleod, 59, Gardener, Hamlet Rodel
Norman Macdonald, 60, Mason, Rodel
Niel Macdonald, 69, Fisherman, Rodel
Roderick Macaulay, 68, Joiner, Rodel
Angus Kerr, 75, Retired Coachman, Rodel
Effie McKinnon, 60, Retired House Maid, Rodel
The House appears unoccupied and the only interesting feature is the location of the Gardener in another specified, but unknown, location, ‘Hamlet Rodel’.
Overall, I think we can see that during the second-half of the 19thC Rodel was tied to meeting the demands of Rodel House and the ‘Home Farm’ and it did so with an average of a mere 8 separate households.

A Somewhat Strange Affair

I was conducting a search of The National Archives when I happened upon Item reference J 77/327/9839 :
1884
Divorce Court File: 9839
Appellant: Horace Willi Kemble
Respondent: Kythe Agatha Kemble
Co-respondent: C A Murray, Earl of Dunmore
Type: Husband’s petition for divorce
I think it is clear that Horace William Kemble, a Captain in the 2nd Battalion of the 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, was wanting to divorce his wife for allegedly having committed adultery with Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore, who was a Colonel in the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the same regiment. It appears that Horace was appealing against a judgement made by a lower court, presumably having failed to secure his divorce?
As I was unable to access the record I decided to see what evidence the censuses might provide regarding the outcome of this case:
In 1881 Mr and Mrs Kemble were living in Heathbourne, Bushey, Hertfordshire with their 3 year-old daughter Lucinda Dorothea and her baby sister Hilary Olive (The same Bushey that would become home to the Tapestry Weavers in 1901).
A decade later, and some seven years after the divorce petition, Horace, still soldiering, had moved to Knock Farm on the Isle of Skye and taken-up farming. He was alone there apart from his five female servants and a young male farm servant and remained there until his death at the age of 80 in 1935.
Mrs Kemble, meanwhile, was living with her widowed Mother-in-Law (Horace’s mother) in Kensington, London in 1891 together with her four children, the youngest two of which were born a year either side of the 1884 court record. She had moved to her own widowed mother’s house in Enfield by 1901. In both records she is shown as remaining married.
Kythe Agatha Hanbury Kemble died in 1947 at the age of 94 and, having been the main beneficiary of Horace’s Will twelve years earlier, it is perhaps not too surprising to learn that she, too, ended her days at the family farm on Skye.
A newspaper notice described her as the widow of the late Lieutenant-Colonel H W Kemble.
The thing that makes this story slightly more intriguing is that in 1904 little Lucinda Dorothy Kemble (now aged 26) was married in London. Her husband was one Alexander Edward Murray, the son of the very same man that her father, twenty years earlier, had accused of having had an affair with her mother…

Many Thanks…

…to those who have answered my plea for editorial assistance.

I am extremely grateful to you and the first pages will be on their way very soon.

(If anyone else wants to take a peek too, please drop me a line.)

Thanks again,

Back to the ‘sgrochladh’…

Editors Wanted!

As a result of several terribly kind people repeating their suggestion that I turn some elements of this blog into something more weighty, like a book, I am devoting my creative(?) energies to that task.

I would really appreciate it if some readers volunteered to take a look at bits and pieces as they slide from my typewriter and glide gracefully into a heap on the floor.

If you can spare a few minutes to help then please send me an email with the word ‘HARRIS’ as the subject and I will reward you with the odd page now and again.

Please don’t be shy!