>Duncan Shaw & Charles Shaw of North Uist


I have previously written about Charles describing assisting his father as Factor of Harris from 1834 until 1838. Duncan Shaw was appointed to the role when the 5th Earl of Dunmore purchased Harris and replaced as Factor by the 6th Earl just two years after he had inherited the island.
What I hadn’t realised was that, thanks to the of story of some cutlery, we can learn a little more of these two men:
Duncan Shaw of Dalnagar was married to Miss Macleod, a daughter of Kenneth Macleod of Ebost. Their son, Charles Shaw, married Miss Macdonald of Balranald.
How do we know this? Simply because Charles Shaw inherited ‘The silver knife, fork and spoon given by Prince Charles Edward Stewart to Murdoch Macleod, 3 July 1746’ as can be read in the paper of that name by George Dalgleish in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 118 (1988), 291-300. The original document may be accessed via this Table of Contents page.
The tale is a fascinating one, and well worth reading, but my interest lies not in the provenance of the silverware but in the families of the two men and their respective spouses.
Duncan Shaw of Dalnagar: Dalnagar is in Perthshire and Duncan Shaw appears in the 1841 Census as Factor of North Uist. His age is shown as 60 with a birth year of about 1781
Miss Macleod of Ebost: The 1851 Census for the household of Charles Shaw in North Uist clearly shows ‘Anne Shaw, 60, Mother, b. Duirinish, Skye’ so I can now reveal that ‘Miss Macleod of Ebost’ was Anne Macleod of Ebost who was born in about 1791.
Charles Shaw was born in about 1812 in the same parish as his mother.
Miss Macdonald of Balranald was born Anne Margaret Macdonald in 1824 in North Uist and her name we have seen before in this piece from the Carmichael Watson Project. 
All this is gleaned from the 1851 Census (apart from Duncan Shaw’s) and the subsequent censuses confirm each year and place of birth as described.
To recap, Duncan Shaw of Dalnagar (b 1781) married Anne Macleod of Ebost (b 1791) and they had Charles Shaw (b 1812) who married Anne Margaret Macdonald of Balranald (b 1824).
I am quite pleased to have stumbled across the means of assembling these details for all four of these people and it might be worth retreading our steps and looking again at Duncan Shaw’s Examination on Thursday 19th March 1841 by those compiling the First Report From The Committee on Emigration, Scotland 1841.
He tells us that he has been resident in the ‘Long Island’ for ’29 years last Whitsuntide’, ie since May/June 1811. He later states that he first reached there in 1812 and had spent the previous 6 years in Skye where he had come to from his native Perthshire. So he was in Skye from 1805 or 6 until 1811 or 12. The missing year might be simply an error on his part or it could be that it was the time that he spent as Factor of South Uist? It doesn’t greatly matter, but I do like to get these details correct if at all possible! What interests me is that, assuming that he was born in 1781, then he went to Skye when he was 24 or so, remained there until he was 30 and clearly met & married Anne Macleod who gave birth to their son Charles around the time that he became a Factor in the ‘Long Island’.
This all seems to fit with the details so far described and acts as a form of corroboration which is always nice to have.
I trust that this hasn’t been too long-winded an account and you will be glad to learn that I am going to finish now and have some dinner – Now, whatever did I do with that cutlery?…


>Shooting Lodge (name unknown, at least unpronounceable),

6th August ’43.

You will be pleased to hear that everything has gone on among us most agreeably, in spite of an occasional angry disputatious wind and sullen sky. I believe that we enjoy our bright sunshine all the more for the contrast, like a diamond ‘on the brow of an Ethiopian’.

We arrived at the south-eastern corner of Harris on the evening of Tuesday, 2d August. The approach on such a calm sweet evening was beautiful, or rather it was wild and romantic, with something of an unrelenting sternness in the lofty background which bestowed upon it almost a character of magnificence.

Rodil lies in a little creek, screened by rocky islands.
We made our approach in the long-boat, and just as we neared the shore the cutter fired a salute of six guns, and I never saw a finer marine picture than she presented as the engines of ‘load-throated war’ threw successively their huge wreaths of pearly smoke over the clear waters, and all the rocky creeks and mountain caverns echoed repeatedly the voice of thunder. ‘Dunmore’ seemed highly pleased with this piece of nautical attention. Although on these almost unpeopled shores there were but few to witness or to welcome the arrival of the great man.The factor himself was from home, but we were warmly welcomed by his wife, a handsome woman of excellent manners. She had a fair-haired pretty daughter, of six or seven years old, not unlike what M — used to be.

We explored the old churchyard and the ruins of the cathedral of Rodil, both that evening and during the earlier part of the ensuing day. There are some curious old monuments, with stony knights in armour, and inscriptions which it is difficult to decipher. It appears from a Latin table that the whole building was restored in 1787, and consumed by fire almost immediately thereafter, and then repaired again. For some time after that it served as the parish church, or at least as the hurch of that portion of the parish, and then it fell into gradual disrepair, till most of the roof fell down. It is now of no use except to the starlings, of which great numbers were nestling in the main tower or perching on the remains of the rafters. One of the more modern monuments records that a certain Macleod married his third wife in his seventy-fifth year, and was blessed with nine children before his death, which took place in his ninetieth year.

The mountains in this northern part of Harris are of great height, and with the bold rocky foreground and the placid sea and their own broken gigantic summits, form a noble landscape in the way of sterile grandeur. The island is said to produce good pasture, and I suppose the numerous little vales, or rather hollows, among the sheltered rocks are clothed with grass; but the general aspect of the whole, as seen from the sea, is as barren as anything unscorched by fire. However, on a calm, sweet summer evening, the hills lying in deep shadow, very dark and solemn—above and between them in the western distance a most gorgeous sky of crimson-coloured gold, broad and rich below, and dying away towards the zenith in fleecy specks of fire upon a ground of most transparent blue—the whole reflected on the bosom of still waters— the scene is one of almost unexampled beauty. The pleasure is probably the greater from the contrast presented by these aerial effects of a perfectly fine evening, and those of a cold monotonous or misty morning, such as I daresay prevails throughout a lengthened portion of the year.

Saturday the 5th was wet and blustry. We left the cutter about three o’clock, and met Lord Dunmore and his friend on shore at the head of the loch. We then crossed together the narrow neck of land which separates East from West Tarbet. On the shore of the latter we found his lordship’s gig, and a crew of six picked men, all in uniform, with scarlet caps. In an hour and a half they rowed us eight miles westward to where we now are, a snug little sheltered mansion in a creek called Loch Losevagh, with all comforts at command. I have got a wee room, not much bigger than a state-room in a steamer, and a larger one would have been too sudden a transition from my crib on board the cutter.
I feel little need to comment ,save to say that the sentence that is in bold is a pretty good example of the poetic prose that Harris inspires…

Ref: Memoirs of the life of James Wilson, Esq. FRSE, MWS of Woodville by James Hamilton, DD, FLS 1859 Chapter VII – Cruises in the Princess Royal, the Dasher, and the Lucifer

>More on Family Names in the Western Isles


I came upon an excellent & eloquent explanation of the usage of family names written by Blair MacAulay, Toronto, who is an authority on the genealogy of North Uist.
Here are the key points, to which I have added a few brief comments:  

In … the Outer Hebrides before about the year 1800 surnames did not exist!

A fact that simply cannot be over-emphasised…

People were known by their “sloinneadh” (i.e. their “handle” or name by which they were commonly known) that was a combination of one or more of the following: nickname, patronymic, occupational name and/or place of residence.
For example, the tailor Angus MacPherson might be known as “Angus Tailor”. More frequently the “sloinneadh” was the person’s patronymic (e.g. “Aonaghus Iain Domhnullach” (Angus John son of Donald) which was the patronymic of Angus John MacDonald of Knockline, the well-known North Uist genealogist born in 1900).
Another example would be “”Domhnull mac Alasdair ‘ic Raonuill” (Donald son of Alexander the son of Ronald) (in Gaelic “mac” means “son” and mhic, or abbreviated “’ic”, means “son of the son”.
Note in the foregoing examples that the surname is not used (or needed!) as everyone would know from the naming pattern the family to which such person belonged.

When in the early 19th C surnames became necessary for civil purposes most Highlanders simply adopted the surname of their Clan Chief, which in the case of North Uist was Lord MacDonald of Sleat (Skye).
This partly explains why some 70% of the population of North Uist today has the surname “MacDonald”.
He was their clan chief as they were his followers and resided on his lands and under the pre-1745 feudal system in Scotland were obligated to fight for him.
Thus notwithstanding their common surname, few MacDonalds from North Uist have any blood relationship to the MacDonald’s of Sleat, or indeed to others in Scotland with the surname “MacDonald”.
The predominate view, at least in North America, that every one in the Highlands belonged to a clan to which they were related by blood is accordingly a romantic myth.

A myth that, in part, came about with the Victorian reinvention of Highland Scotland. 

The following extract from “How The Scots Invented the Modern World”, by Arthur Herman, Crown Publishers, New York, 2001 at page 104 makes this point very clearly:

“The term clan, comes of course from the Gaelic clann, meaning “children”. It implied a kinship group of four or five generations, all claiming descent from a common ancestor. And clan chieftains encouraged their followers to believe that they were indeed bound together like family.
Men such as the Duke of Argyll of the Campbells or Lord Lovat of the Frasers routinely demanded a loyalty from their tenants not unlike that of children for a father. But it was entirely a fiction.
The average clan … was no more a family than is a Mafia “family”.
The only important blood ties were between the chieftain and his various caporegimes, the so-called tacksmen who collected his rents and bore the same name.
Below them were a large nondescript, and constantly changing population of tenants and peasants, who worked the land and owed the chieftain service in war and peacetime.
Whether they considered themselves Campbells or MacPhersons or MacKinnons was a matter of indifference, and no clan genealogist or bard, the seanachaidh, ever wasted breath keeping track of them. What mattered was that they were on clan land, and called it home.”
That may sound somewhat harsh to our modern ears, but it encapsulates the circumstances pertaining at the time.

It is another common misconception is that there is a distinction between a “Mc” and a “Mac” – say one family with the surname “McDonald” and another with the surname “MacDonald”. There is no distinction whatsoever. Both are attempts to translate the Gaelic “mhic” (meaning “son of”) into English. Thus “Iain mhic Iomhair” (John son of Iver) became “John MacIver”.

This non-distinction is still erroneously held to be true by many an Anglo-Saxon!

North Uist forenames are also unreliable. Until the end of the 19th C few in North Uist could speak, read and write English and certainly used only Gaelic in everyday life (they still do – but today are also completely fluent in English).
However, one of the results of the defeat of the Scots in 1745 at Culloden was that priests, ministers, and government officials in Scotland were forbidden to maintain any public record in Gaelic. Thus you frequently had a Census taker who only spoke English having to record information given to him by persons who spoke only Gaelic.

The attack upon Gaelic culture included every aspect of it, especially the language.

As there were no commonly accepted English equivalents of many Gaelic names, particularly in early periods, the result was that the Census taker “tried his best”, usually phonetically, to record a Gaelic name in English. Thus you can find the same person referred to by completely different English names in different records.

This is extremely important to understand for those attempting to research their own family history, and it didn’t stop with the peoples names. Placenames suffered this same mangling in their Anglicisation too.

Over time certain Gaelic names came to have an “accepted” English equivalent, often with no obvious connection to the Gaelic name. For example a person locally known in Gaelic as “Gilleasbuig Mac Dhomnull” would probably appear in the Census or in a register of marriages etc. as “Archibald MacDonald”. Thus an official record may contain reference to a person under a name that was completely different to the name that he was known by to his contemporaries.

Were I to travel back in time & present my (painstakingly recreated) family tree to my ancestors, they would probably wonder who on Earth I was referring to!

With many thanks to Blair MacAulay for permission to quote these extracts.

>Friday, 4th April 1851 – Sir John McNeill


In the previous piece, I gave a brief indication of Sir John McNeill’s progress through the islands beginning with his overnight stay with the Mathesons at Lews Castle on Sunday the 30th of March. He was in Carloway, Lochs on the Monday, had reached Uig by Tuesday and Harris by Thursday. The next day he was:
At Rodil, Harris, 4th April 1851
Meaning that he’d covered half of the four Parishes of Lewis in just three days!
John Robertson Macdonald, Esq., being interrogated, replied :
I am factor on the Harris estate of Lord Dunmore, and I have been so for nearly eight years-since 1844.
This was the last year of the 6th Earl’s life & ended Duncan Shaw’s decade as Factor of Harris.
Sixty-four crofters have been removed from the lands they had previously occupied, with a view to improve their own condition and that of the crofters remaining in the farms from which they were removed. At Whitsunday 1848 forty crofters were removed from the island of Bernera, then occupied by eighty-one, and the lands thus vacated divided amongst the forty-one who remained. Those who were removed, with two or three exceptions, were placed in crofts upon lands previously occupied by tacksmen. Six of the number who, with one exception, had occupied crofts of about five acres in Bernera, were settled in the Borves, on crofts of ten acres of arable, and hill-grazing for four milk cows, and followers till two years old, with forty sheep and a horse—about double the amount of stock which, with one exception, they had in Bernera. The exceptional case referred to, was that of a man who had a ten-acre croft in Bernera, with an amount of black cattle stock equal to that for which he got grazing in the Borves, but who had no sheep. They are all in arrear of rent, and, on an average, for upwards of two years. These six tenants were selected as the best in Bernera in respect to their circumstances. I attribute their want of success to the depreciation in the price of black cattle, and to their not having had sufficient capital to put upon their lands a full stock when they entered. Their stipulated rent in the Borves is on an average L.12.
This resettlement of Borve on Harris had been at the behest of a commissioner for the ‘Tutor’ of the 6th Earl (charged with looking after the boy’s Estate until he was old enough to manage his own affairs), one Captain Sitwell. Macdonald was against the idea from the start but it is significant that he cites the state of the market and the crofter’s lack of finance as the reason for the failure. The fall in price of the cattle is an unfortunate fact of life in market economies but the lack of capitalisation meant that the experiment was pretty well doomed from the start. Hardly the displaced crofters’ fault, either of these factors, Factor!
Of the forty-one who remained with enlarged crofts in Bernera, the whole are now largely in arrears, and have increased their arrears since their holdings were enlarged. I attribute their want of success to the same causes as that of the people removed to the Borves.
And I repeat the comment made previously, too.
The result of this attempt to improve the condition of these crofters, by enlarging their crofts, while it has failed to accomplish that object, has at the same time entailed a considerable pecuniary loss on the proprietor.
Here we are getting a little closer to the cause of the ‘problem’ – namely the conflict of interest between the (frequently absent) landed gentry owning the land and those who live upon the land & call it home.
I am quite satisfied, from experience, that it is impossible to improve the condition of crofters generally by enlarging their holdings, unless they have capital enough to put the full stock upon their lands when they enter on their occupancy.
This, again, seems to be a perfectly reasonable (or blindingly obvious) conclusion to draw but, sadly, I can find no further mention of it as something worth exploring.
About thirty of the persons removed from Bernera had fallen so much into arrear as to be unable to continue in the occupation of their crofts there. These were settled upon fishing crofts of about two acres of arable, and grazing for one or two cows, and a few from four to six sheep, and charged with rents of from L.l to L.2. A considerable number of them had boats, and some had fishing-gear. Some were supplied with gear by the relief committee; but I am not prepared to say that they were all adequately provided with the means of prosecuting the cod and ling fishing, though many of them were; all of them are now in arrear with their rents for the fishing crofts. Not one of them, since entering on the fishing croft, has paid an amount equal to his rent.
So, these poor people were ‘moved’ for a second time and this time told to go fishing, but not necessarily given the means (presumably, boats, nets, etc) to do so. A bit like not making sufficient cattle available to them following their first removal?
The attempt to improve the condition of these men, who had previously been unsuccessful as agricultural crofters, by placing them in a position favourable for fishing, has also failed, and this experiment also has entailed a considerable pecuniary loss upon the proprietor, who is not now receiving from these fishermen one-fourth of the rent he formerly received from tacksmen for the same lands.
Here we are back to the real issue – it’s the rent that the landlord receives that’s important, not the feeding of the people. The reason the tacksmen were able to provide such a large rental was simply because they had converted the places that were populated into sheep farms in the process called the Clearances. I should also point out that these ‘two acres of arable’ were usually two acres of feannagan which required a herculean effort to maintain as efficient ground for crops.
I therefore state confidently, that in Harris, the proprietor cannot convert lands held by a tacksman into small holdings, either for the purposes of agriculture or fishing, without a great pecuniary sacrifice, and that this will continue to be the case unless potatoes should again be successfully cultivated.
A reminder that 1851 was preceded by several years of Potato famine due to blight and that, because the feannagan were better suited to that crop than to any other, it had become the staple food of most people. As before, a factor wholly outside the control of the crofter was being used by this Factor as a weapon against them.
I cannot estimate the loss that would be entailed on the proprietor by such a change at less than two-thirds of the rental paid by the tacksmen. The results of the experiments that have been made on this property would in every case fully bear out this estimate.
This is interesting because, although it suggests a vast reduction in the rents received by the Proprietor, it implies that reduced rents could be paid and thus people able to remain on the land.
It is my conscientious belief, and firm conviction, that if this property were all divided into small holdings amongst the present occupants of land, the result would be, that in a few years the rent recoverable would not be sufficient to pay the public burthens on the property, if the potatoes continue to fail, and the price of black cattle does not materially improve.
Which is not the same as saying that it couldn’t be done, merely that there would be a risk attached to doing so.
Besides the occupants of land, there are on the property about 250 families of cottars, who hold no land from the proprietor. This is the portion of the population that I consider worst off. Many of them are persons who formerly occupied crofts, and who, from being unable to pay their rents, were obliged to relinquish their lands.
Actually, trumped-up charges of the non-payment of rent was a tactic that the Farmers & Factors used to justify many a Clearance despite, in many cases a total lack of evidence in support. Many cottars were providing essential goods & services, perhaps as Tailors or Boatmen for example, without which the local economy would grind to a semi-naked halt.
Some of these go to the Caithness fishing; but neither they nor any other class of the inhabitants of Harris leave the country to seek for any other employment. A few, however, have gone as far as Stornoway to get work.
This is the purest manifestation of what later led to the Land Riots – a total ignorance of what the people wanted & why. As late as the time of Lord Leverhulme, islanders made it clear that they did not embrace becoming ‘wage-slaves’ but merely wanted to be left in peace to live their lives as their forebears had – in self-sufficient, close-knit island communities where the sea was the highway, the land wasn’t any-ones to ‘own’, and where a rich a vibrant Gaelic culture prevailed.
Those from the mainland, such as the man who signed this document, had other ideas…
(Signed) J. R. MACDONALD.
Sir John, having apparently learned all that he needed to know from two days in Harris, was the very next day at Lochmaddy in North Uist, collecting more information from ‘the great and the good’, whether they be Proprietors, Factors, Parish Ministers or the Parochial Boards and, apparently, not troubling himself to speak to a single representative of ‘the Poor’ who were the very reason for his Report…
It would be more than thirty years before another group, the Napier Commission, got to the bottom the nature of the islanders grievances  but by that time many had been forced to ‘leave the country to seek for any other employment’ as many still have to do today…
Oh, and I have a list of the residents of Rodel House where this evidence was given and you will see that in 1851 my cousin Angus Kerr was a Farm Servant there. He remained in Rodel for the remainder of his life, becoming the Farm Grieve (or Manager) of the ‘Home Farm’ at Rodel and then Coachman to, I presume, the 7th Earl of Dunmore. Whether he was there in 1850 on the night of the famous elopement or not I cannot say, but he married a daughter of the Schoolmaster at Kyles Scalpay (she being the Housemaid Lexy Morrison who we see on the above list in 1861) so, although I am appalled at the injustices that were perpetrated upon the people, I have a sneaking suspicion that at least some of my relatives were amongst the more fortunate few…
Ref: Report to the Board of Supervision by Sir John M’Neill, GCB, on the Western Highlands & Islands, 1851, P109/110

>Some notes on a selection from the Report to the Board of Supervision…


…by Sir John M’Neill GCB, on the Western Highlands and Islands 1851
I have made reference to this report in previous pieces and will include links to those within these notes.
p xxi-xx2.
The parish of Harris comprises, besides Harris proper, several adjacent islands, which are inhabited. The whole belongs to one proprietor.
The proprietor being 10 year-old Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore whose mother, Catherine, Countess of Dunmore, was running the estate on his behalf.

The population in 1841 was returned at 4429, but St Kilda, with a population of about 110, appears to have been omitted from the census of that year. The number, therefore, was truly 4539.
By the census of this year, including St Kilda, with a population of 110, the number returned is 4250, showing a decrease of 289.
I have included these population figures for reasons that will become clear later.

The annual value returned to Parliament in 1843 is £4015, 8s. 9d.
The aggregate stipulated rental in 1850 was £4289, 2s. 0d.
As a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), these amounts are equivalent to about £10 Million pounds today which gives us some semblance of the economic power wielded by the landlord.

The crofters holding land at rents not exceeding £10 are 348 families, or about 1812 individuals.
The aggregate rent payable by these crofters is £1456, 7s. 9d., and the average for each, £4, 2s. 5d.
The average rent equates to about £3000 today using average earnings in comparison.

The produce of a croft at that rent in Harris, including produce of stock, does not afford food for an average family for more than six months, reserving seed for the next year; but not providing for rent or anything for which money must be paid.
So a crofter additionally needs to find the means to feed his family for the remaining half of the year plus enough to pay his annual rent.

The cottars are estimated at 250 families, or about 1300 individuals. There are thus in the parish above three thousand persons dependent for their subsistence, during the whole or the greater part of the year, on other employment than the cultivation of land occupied by themselves.
A cottar did NOT possess the land needed to feed his family (beyond perhaps a small patch of vegetables) and hence was reliant upon employment to do so. A cottar was often a tied-tenant, their home being tied to the service they provided the employer, and they would only be able to seek work outside that done for the employer for perhaps one or two days each week.
A simple sum informs us that a figure of 5.2 people per household was used in calculating the number of people reliant upon employment to survive. If we use this average on the figure of 4250 that we are given for the total population, we see that there were perhaps nearly 820 households on Harris. This accords reasonably well with the figure of 783 households that I have for 1851 and which produces a slightly higher average figure of 5.4 people per hearth (to use my preferred term!)

The ordinary local demand for labour is small, being such only as a country chiefly pastoral affords; and the inhabitants have not been in the practice of leaving home to seek it, except at the Caithness and east-coast herring fishings, to which about two hundred men go yearly.
This reluctance to travel in order to seek work (which has resonances today in certain political circles!) is something that the Report focussed upon, rather neglecting the reason WHY there were large numbers of people by 1851 without a livelihood to support them and their families, We only need turn to a single word (& a four-letter one at that) to find an explanation – Kelp! The islands had become overpopulated purely to satisfy the greed of those for whom the Kelp industry had furnished a very substantial income over many years. In fact, such was the demand for workers that emigration, which was to become the watchword for the perceived solution to the ‘problem’ had itself been banned in earlier years. The landlords had sown the seeds of unemployment and now the people were reaping the results of what their masters had sown. All the people wanted was land to live upon but the fertile arable areas were being profitably pounded by sheep – profitable, that is, if, for example, one happened to be Donald Stewart of Luskentire or Alexander McRa of Kyles Lodge…

About 350 men in 70 boats are engaged, more or less regularly, in the cod and ling fishing on their own coast, and a few have lately gone as far as the town of Stornoway, in the same island, to look for other work.
The figures for Fishers are interesting, not least because they greatly exceed that which I had gleaned from the census data. There, some 230 occurrences of ‘fisher’ were found and, after removing the wives & children, this left some 174 men who gave fishing as their occupation. I do not doubt the figure in the Report and remark on the discrepancy merely as a reminder that my research methodology will not always deliver results that are 100% accurate!
The Report was the result of Sir John McNeill’s visit to the islands in the Spring of 1851 and on the 30th of March the Census records him staying at Lews Castle .
From pages 106/7 of the Report we know that on the 3rd of April the Parochial Board of Harris wrote their response to his request for information where we learn that:
There has been, during the winter, with the exception of about six weeks of bad weather, employment in road-making for about a hundred men.
For the last month, there has also been employed at road-making in the south end of the island, and covering land-drift, about thirty-six able-bodied persons.
The hundred men engaged at the road first mentioned are earning at the rate of from 1s. to 1s. 4d. per day.
The thirty-six persons engaged in the southern part of the island may earn from l0d. to 1s. a-day, when they take advantage of the work there offered.
The work on the sand-banks will soon be finished, and the road at the south end is carried on only for the purpose of affording employment to the able-bodied persons who are most destitute
Of these 136 men, only 42 were recorded as involved in roadworking in the 1851 census but it is that last sentence that is the most damning – the work (like that of some of the dyke-building that was also occurring) was simply an invention to occupy the men. Yet, some 80 years later, the people of south Harris were still having to plead to Parliament for a decent road along the Sound of Harris.
The letter was followed on the 4th of April by Sir John and his entourage visiting John Robertson Macdonald, the Factor of Harris, at ‘Rodil’ where they heard his evidence.
And that was it as far as Harris was concerned for by the 5th of April 7th the party had moved on to North Uist were Charles Shaw provided his evidence,some of which is pertinent to this piece.

I shall perhaps return to the Report later, when the manner in which it was related by ‘The Quarterly Review’ will be investigated to see the Tory (in the 19thC meaning of the word) reaction to it.

>A Tale of Two Tyrants


Cases Decided in the Court of Session, November 12th 1834 p4-7
These are the edited & annotated highlights of the second case heard by their Lordships that day:
Donald Stewart, Pursuer
Alexander McRa, Defender
…Macleod of Harris granted a nineteen years’ tack of a sheep-grazing to Archibald McRa of Ardintoul, who was succeeded during the currency of the tack by his son, Alexander McRa.
The successor being ‘Fear Huisins’‘Fear Huisinis’ and the house that the McRa’s built was Kyles Lodge ‘Kyles Lodge’ which would later become home to Mrs S Macdonald ‘Mrs S Macdonald’ following Fear huisin’s death in 1874.
The term of entry was Whitsunday, 1814; the rent was £400 per annum, payable at Martinmas and Whitsunday; and the tack contained the following clause:
“It is hereby declared, that the said Archibald McRa and his foresaids shall have liberty to build a dwellinghouse and stone dikes upon the lands hereby set, and that, at the expiry of the present lease, he or they shall receive payment for the same; but that only on the express condition that the said dwellinghouse is built of stone and lime, and slated, and that the dikes are sufficient stone dikes; and it is declared that fanks for sheep are to be paid for as stone dikes; which dwellinghouse and dikes are to be valued by persons mutually chosen by the parties at the expiry of this lease; and it is declared, that the claim of the said Archibald McRa, and his foresaids, for building such dwellinghouse and dikes, is on no account to exceed the sum of £800 sterling, and that the said Alexander Norman Macleod, and his foresaids, shall be liable to that extent only,”
Now, by the time of this hearing, Alexander Norman Macleod had sold Harris to Lord Dunmore and the details of the case hinged upon the complex issues that Macleod’s debts introduced but they are not what particularly interests me about this particular case.
McRa made meliorations during the currency of the lease; and, at the term of Martinmas, 1832, retained the sum of £100 of the rent, to account of the meliorations.
The house was built in 1820 so it seems likely that the sum retained was a reflection of that particular melioration, or improvement.
In 1830, one of the creditors of Harris had raised a ranking and sale of the estate ; in the course of which process, a sequestration of the rents was awarded, and Donald Stewart, tacksman of Luskintyre, was appointed judicial factor.
So in 1830 Donald Stewart became involved as ‘judicial factor’ and I have previously written of his actions in this role in a piece relating to the church on Berneray Church on Berneray.
The heritable debts exceeded the value of the estate. The judicial factor raised an action against McRa, for payment of the £100 of arrear of rent at Martinmas, 1832, and the £200 due at Whitsunday following; but the creditors, in whose right he insisted, were not possessed of any real right, until several years after the date of the lease granted to McRa.
Here we learn of Stewart acting on behalf of those to whom Macleod was in debt and attempting to reclaim the monies that had been retained by McRa because of the improvements that he had made upon the land that he rented.
McRa pleaded a right of retention of both sums, as being less than the amount of the meliorations to which he was entitled under the lease. Valuators were jointly appointed, in terms of the lease, but reserving the rights of the judicial factor and of McRa respectively. The valuators made an estimate, amounting to £506 ; and although some of the items, particularly as to the expense of a manager’s house and storehouse, were objected to by the factor, there remained a sum of meliorations exceeding the amount of rents retained by McRa.
Even excluding the improvements that Stewart felt should be excluded, the amount that McRa had kept was still less than the value of the other improvements that he had made.
Lord Balgray.—The case involves a general principle which is of importance…I conceive it is as good against him as it would be against a singular successor.
Lord President.—I am of the same opinion…I am clearly of opinion that the note for Stewart should be refused.
Lord Gillies.—I concur….
Lord Mackenzie.—I am of the same opinion….
The Court refused the reclaiming note for Stewart, and awarded expenses against him since the date of the Lord Ordinary’s interlocutor; and in regard to McRa’s note, their Lordships remitted to the Lord Ordinary to bear parties farther.
Donald Stewart lost, and lost comprehensively, but things were to get worse in the next case that was heard and which I have already described in Mrs Campbell’s Mill at An-t-Ob. . It is perhaps no wonder then that, in 1834, Lord Dunmore appointed Duncan Shaw Duncan Shaw to be his Factor and that, although Donald Stewart remained on the island as the Farmer of Luskentire for a few years, he spent his.final days back on the mainland.
He and McRa were equally disliked by those who suffered at their hands as they cleared whole settlements in their lust for land and, although this evidence concerns an apparent conflict between them, perhaps that was merely because of the role that Stewart was acting under and, for all we know, he may have been privately pleased to see his fellow farmer avoid making any additional payment to benefit Macleod’s creditors? Stewart had certainly boasted in the past of enriching himself at the expense of this Macleod’s father a quarter-of-a-century ago…
Update: I suspected a closer connection might exist between the two supposed adversaries in this case and think that I have found it:
(Please note that, although I have inspected the records as carefully as possible, I have not drafted a full family tree for the following folks but I believe the links as described to be true)

Alexander McRa was the son of Archibald MacRae of Ardintoul who was the son of Alexander Macrae of Ardintoul.
Donald Stewart was married to Isabella MacRae who was the daughter of Margaret MacRae who was a daughter of Alexander MacRae of Ardintoul – ‘Fear Huisinis’ and Mrs Donald Stewart were 1st Cousins!
Better still, John Stewart, son of Donald & Isabella, was married to Jessy MacRae a daughter of Jane Macrae who was a daughter of Archibald MacRae of Ardintoul.
Thus they were 2nd Cousins each being a great-grandchild of the first Alexander MacRae of Ardintoul.
There are, undoubtedly, several similar occurrences where members of this strata of society are concerned (as hinted at previously with regard to the Factor of Harris and the Ministers of North Uist) but in this particular case I think it adds weight to my suggestion that the interests of Donald Stewart & ‘Fear Huisinis’ were not as polarised as their adversarial roles in the court case might have led one to originally assume.
I rest my case…

>The Southern Shaws

>I am descended from a Shaw of Srannda/Strond. The Farm of Strond was part of the Tack of Strond & Killegray* and from amongst the various families of Shaws from Skye at least one settled in Strond.
The holder of this tack in the18th and early 19th Centuries were Campbells and Mrs Ann Campbell was particularly noted not only for her care and consideration of those living on the land she rented but also for the developments that she brought to part of the South of Harris (as can be read elsewhere in this blog).

*The RCAHMS entry for Killegray House provides a little more information relating to that island.

 According to Bill Lawson, in his excellent guide ‘Harris Families and How to Trace Them’, the Shaws of Strond were descended from one particular line of those who had been Ground Officers for the Macleods on Skye. Whether or not my ancestor, Effie Shaw, was a daughter of this family or, perhaps, from one of the other branches on neighbouring Berneraigh & Pabbay I shall probably never know.
This doesn’t greatly trouble me for I am more interesting in attempting to understand the social history of the times in which my ancestors existed rather than being able to trace them back to some arbitrary point of origin. On that note, it is interesting to reflect upon this observation made more than 300 years ago:

Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids as to the stripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, in so far that they who have seen those places are able at first view of a man’s plaid to guess the place of his residence.
‘A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland’ by Martin Martin, 1703, the text of which may be read here.

In other words, the colours & patterns worn distinguished which place you belonged to, not what family you were descended from. I would hate to be thought of as dissuading people from parting with their (much-needed) dollars from across the oceans to purchase ‘plaid’ according to the clan(s) that they consider themselves to be a part of, but for our predecessors in the Gaelic world such a notion would seem very strange indeed.  On a practical note, what would one do if the particular plant required to provide the dye needed for the family ‘tartan’ didn’t grow in the island you lived on? Martin’s observation demonstrates precisely what the answer to that hypothetical question was!

It is also worth mentioning that, at the time that Martin was making his tour, the notion of a family name would have been virtually unknown (and almost certainly unused) on the isles. A man would be very likely to be able to say that he was Angus son of Donald son of Malcolm son of John etc…but he was known as Angus son of Donald the Red Haired, or the Tailor, or some other feature that distinguished the father from the other Donald’s thereabouts. The first form is called patronymy, the second I call common sense!

These Shaw families (& coming from the mainland perhaps they had already adopted the ‘modern’ style and were using a family name by the time they reached the isles?) were never numerous on Harris and those of the South appear to have dispersed and then declined due to dilution as patrilineal descent replaced the previous patronymic practice. There certainly still are Shaws living in the South, and the churchyard at St Clements testifies to several Shaw interments, but I have been unable to link any of these, whether living or dead, to my own ancestry.

Emigration, whether by choice in earlier times or under duress due to the Clearances, clearly offers an alternative tack to be taken but, as the British Government did not keep records of those emigrating (those that exist are simply the manifests that vessels were required to keep of all souls on board) it it extremely difficult to accurately identify all the families that went abroad. It is possible to do so, and their are several professional genealogists who specialise in this particular field, but that is, perhaps, a subject for another time.

A few notes that may be helpful to those researching families in this part of the Western Isles (prompted by enquiries made elsewhere on the interweb):

‘Bermesay’ (as I have seen it transcribed) is the island of Berneraigh/Berneray which was part of the Parish of Harris. When Borve on Berneray was Cleared in 1851 those who did not immediately emigrate were settled in Direcleit & Ceann Debig on the shore of East Loch Tarbert in the Baighs/Bays of Harris so do not be surprised if a family that you are following suddenly appear there in the censuses of 1861 onwards.

The Parish of Kilmuir was the old name for what became the Parish of North Uist and thus this can create confusion as there is also the Parish of Kilmuir on Skye, and both of these were within the old county of Inverness-shire…

Ages – we spend most of the first two-decades of our lives wishing that we were older, and the remainder of out time wishing that we weren’t as old as we are! I have seen some alarming age-transformations across the censuses, and not all of them were women shaving a few years off here and there. In fact, sometimes one discovers an islander who clearly has physically aged considerably during the past decade and this is reflected in what I assume to be the Enumerator’s guesstimate of the persons age. If possible, always check the original document (or an electronic image of the document) as transcription, especially that done electronically rather than by human hand, is easily led astray.

Oh, and the Gaelic name Iain was usually ‘translated’ into the English name John but the distortions & contortions that took place when the registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths became compulsory in 1855 (not to mention the variations of spellings seen both there and in the Censuses) require the interrogator to adopt what might be termed a ‘fluid’ approach in their investigations, and names such as Ann can easily, perhaps at the choosing of the lady herself as time & fashions change, metamorphose into Anne or Annie.

Finally, the more that those researching island families pool their resources, share and collaborate, advise & assist each-other, the more complete the picture will become. I am relatively fortunate in having a very close cousin on Harris but even she, despite being a Hearach (Harris-born) herself, has been unable to progress our family tree further back into the past than our mutual origin in Srannda.

If you have family who were living on Harris or (but to a lesser extent) Lewis during the 19th Century then you might well find items of interest in the pages of this blog. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and certainly do not claim to be 100% accurate in my assertions, but am attempting to provide a resource that casts some light into some of the hidden history of Harris and her neighbours.

>My Five-Penny Worth


On April 14th 1884 the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland included a contribution called ‘What is a Pennyland? Or Ancient Valuation of Land in the Scottish Isles’
by Captain FWL Thomas RN, FSA Scot.
The first part of his conclusion reads:
‘At a very early period, probably from the time of the invasion of Harold Fairhair, the arable lands of the uthalmen…were for the support of the Earl’s government, assessed for skatt or tax.
The divisions of the arable lands of the former Celtic inhabitants, each called a dabach, were assessed to pay a Norwegian ounce of silver; from which circumstance each division so paying was called an Ounceland.
Each ounceland was, for the purpose of assessment, divided into eighteen parts, each paying 1/18th of an ounce of Norwegian silver, which was equal in weight to one English penny, from which each subdivision was called a Pennyland.
Neither ounce nor penny land was a measure of surface, but of produce.’
Which is how the townships of Fivepenny in Ness and Fivepenny Borve in Barvas came to be so-called.
Today, ‘Fivepenny Park’ ‘Fivepenny Park’ is the home of Ness Football Club, but whether their current collection of silverware would be sufficient to pay the tax or not, I couldn’t possibly say!

W M E Milner Esq.

Having just read his account that formed the substance of the previous entry, I felt obliged to discover what I could about the author. A search produced several instances referring to his writings in ‘The Zoologist’ but precious little else.

However, with a little perseverance, I found a reference to Sir W M E Milner, Bart. Nunappleton, Tadcaster, Yorkshire in a list of subscribers to John Gould’s ‘Mammals of Australia’ which was the subject of an exhibition and sale in Nov/Dec 2009 at the Trowbridge Gallery: http://www.trowbridgegallery.com.au/

It soon became apparent that Nun Appleton Hall in Yorkshire was the home of Sir William Mordaunt Edward Milner, 5th Baronet (20th June 1820-12th February 1867) who would have gained his tile on the death of his father (Sir William Mordaunt Stuart Milner) on the 25th of March 1855.

This William wasn’t at home in 1851 but by 1861 he was to be found at 25 Adelaide Crescent in Hove together with his wife Georgina Anne and their seven children. As it happens, Georgina Ann was at Nun Appleton Hall in 1851 with four of her children. I suspect her husband was pursuing his ornithological interests elsewgere in the world.

Oh, and the couple were wed in St George’s, Hanover Square, London in the Spring of 1844 where the record shows the bride as Anne Georgina Lumley.

Finally, this all hinges on whether or not that unlikely source, an exhibition catalogue, did indeed direct me to the correct person so I was delighted to find my endeavours confirmed by no less an eminence than one Charles Darwin, as the first paragraph in this piece of  correspondence shows: http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2422#back-mark-2422.f1 – and all thanks to a nut found by Milner in the gut of a bird he caught on St Kilda, which was where this all started…

>Some Account of the People of St. Kilda and of the Birds of the Outer Hebrides


By W. M. E. Milner, Esq. in ‘The Zoologist’, 1848 p2054-57
Note: I have selected those parts that are of most relevance to my interests, but those with an interest in ornithology might enjoy the full text although it is full of accounts of birds being shot and eggs collected to satisfy the hunger for knowledge – rather than the hunger felt by famine. There is also a large section devoted to St Kilda that I shall leave for others with expertise in that isle to explore.
Thus this piece is neither about St Kilda nor Birds, despite its title!
…I brought our account of the birds of Ross-shire as far as the coast of Skye, from which island we took our departure, in Mr. Matheson’s steamer, for Stornaway ; and after a delightful passage of seven hours and a half, cast anchor in the capital of the outer Hebrides, on a charming summer’s morning, the 29th of May. The whole population seemed busily engaged in the herring fishery, and we remained only long enough to be most hospitably received by Mr. Scobie,. Mr. Mattheson’s factor, who facilitated in every possible way our journey to the Harris…

…On the island of Scalpa, at the entrance of Loch Tarbert, we saw a purple sandpiper, on the 31st of May, in full summer plumage. In this locality the oyster-catcher was very abundant, and we met with several pairs of the black guillemot…

…In our sail from Loch Tarbert to Rowdil, on June 1st, we saw several pairs of the bean goose, and procured specimens of the turnstone in full summer plumage, but I do not think they had begun to lay, for they were in flocks of four and five; and near Rowdil, the southern extremity of Harris, we were gratified by finding an eyrie of the peregrine falcon, containing four young birds. The old ones were too cautious to come within reach of the gun, and we left them their progeny in peace…

…The people here seem very contented, though badly off; and I was sorry to hear subsequently that the potatoes, which looked very healthy in June, have turned out very ill.
Lady Dunmore, represented by her excellent factor Captain Macdonald, has been most active in administering to the wants of the people; and by the constant supply of meal brought by the Government steamers to the various depots, not a man in the outer Hebrides has perished from want…

…Finding that little was to be done in ornithology in Harris, we crossed over to North Uist, twelve miles over the Sound of Harris from Rowdil, belonging to Lord Macdonald, a flat island, containing 5000 inhabitants, completely dotted over with small lakes, and the retreat of innumerable water-fowl chiefly in winter.
We are indebted to the Rev. Mr. Mc Rae and Mr. Macdonald of Balronald, by whom we were most hospitably and kindly entertained, for all the success we met with in this island, which of all the outer Hebrides is best worth visiting…

…I cannot close my account of North Uist without expressing my admiration at the exertions of Lord Macdonald, so fully carried out for the benefit of the people by Mr. Macdonald and the Rev. Mr. Mc Rae. I should be sorry to make any comparison with the sister kingdom, but the state of North Uist affords a bright example of how much good may be done, even with small means, by a landlord anxious for the good of his tenantry, when aided by a zealous factor, and an active, kind-hearted clergyman…

…After being most hospitably entertained in North Uist, we returned back to our kind friends at Rowdil, and made preparations for our voyage to St. Kilda, for which we hired a very comfortable little cutter of forty tons, formerly engaged as the mailpacket between Skye and Harris, well manned by an able crew of five men, which in most seasons of the year is necessary, for the navigation is dangerous, from the currents and storms rising up very suddenly.

We were to be taken to St. Kilda, back to Rowdil, thence to Stornaway, and to be landed at Loch Inver, in Sulherlandshire, for £ 17.
Our starting-place was Ob, the south-west point of Harris, where we were detained three days by contrary winds. Our companions were, the Rev. Neil Mackenzie, the former clergyman of St. Kilda, to whose kindness and zeal we were mainly indebted for the great success we met with, and who was anxious for a passage to visit his old flock,—and the Rev. Mr. Macdonald, the clergyman of Harris, in which parish St. Kilda is situated, and whose services as an interpreter we found very useful in an island where not a word but Gaelic is understood…

…The distance from Ob is is about sixty miles, but from Cape Groemenish, on the west coast of North Uist, it is but forty-two; perhaps the most treacherous passage ever made in those seas…

…We weighed anchor on the 12th of June, at six in the morning, with a favourable wind, passed Pabbay, North Uist, and the rocks of Hasker, and till within fifteen miles of St. Kilda seemed likely to make an excellent passage. Borrera, an island five miles north of St. Kilda, rose majestically 1400 feet out of the sea, but a haze prevented our seeing its kindred rock. Shortly after catching sight of Borrera a sudden storm overtook us, and for four hours we were beaten about most helplessly.
Our pilot was out of his reckoning, and when everything was prepared to stand out to sea for the night we unexpectedly swung into the bay of St. Kilda, just visible through the fog, and cast anchor within 200 yards of its rocky iron-bound shore at four in the afternoon…
This account from 1848, in the midst of the potato famines and at a time of revolutions in Europe & beyond, provides a glimpse into the world of the islands but not of the ‘ordinary’ islanders.
We learn that Mr Matheson’s steamer from Skye took seven-and-a-half hours to reach Stornoway where the herring fishing was in full flood. In referring to Lady Dunmore and her ‘excellent factor’ Captain Macdonald we obtain confirmation that John Robertson Macdonald had indeed succeeded to this role and, tantalisingly, this is not the only time that he is referred to as ‘Captain’ but I’ve still not been able to ascertain any aspect of his military past.
Over on North Uist, we meet the ‘Rev Mr Mc Rae’ who was Finlay MacRae whose wife Isabella Mary Macdonald was the ‘excellent factor’ of Harris’s sister.
It is clear that the author was much taken by North Uist (and your present one finds it to be to his liking, too!) but it is a shame that he didn’t explain what the ‘exertions of Lord Macdonald’ were that had rendered the island to appear to be in such a good state?
My favourite section is that were we read of the 40 ton cutter that had been the mailpacket between Harris & Skye and its crew of 5 men necessitated by the nature of the seas in the Sound. Was this boat replaced by a steamer or did the Master of the Harris Mail Boat in 1851 sail just such a vessel too?
Whatever the case, the story of the voyage to St Kilda, complete with a disorientating storm and aboard a ship of a similar size to those my own people sailed in those same seas, seemed like a good place to end…