‘The Scotsman notices that the last number of the Friends of India contains an interesting statement regarding that “most desolate and poverty-stricken of the Western Isles,” Harris, with a population of 4400, the majority of whom “live in sight of starvation the whole year.” “They are always hungry: …many of them never know what it is to feel satisfied after a meal. Poor as the other islands are, nowhere are the people in so wretched a condition as in Harris.”
The article from which we quote (and we guess it to be from the pen of Mrs Colin Mackenzie) goes on to describe the noble exertions which an English lady, Mrs Captain Thomas, the wife of the naval officer surveying the coast of Harris, has made for the last two or three years, “striving, as she has done, with all her might, and almost unassisted, to raise a population from the extremity of misery.” She has established schools, got the church finished, has collected subscriptions by which she has supported a catechist in the island for almost three years, has set on foot a bazaar by which she has raised funds for building a manse, has induced numbers of the fishermen to join the Coast-Guard service, and has brought up in Edinburgh several relays of boys and girls, who have all turned out most docile and excellent servants, and strives, but hitherto striven in vain, to raise means for enabling some of the poor and starving families of the isle to emigrate.
“Shall we not (writes the Friend of India) – “Shall we not help her?”
The appeal ends with a series of subscriptions from Hindoos and others, as H. H. the Nawab Naziur, 500 rupees; Rajab Prosuno Narain Dab Buhadur, 100 rupees, etc.
Is this not a great and deserved censure upon the apathy with which we look upon the miseries of poverty when they chance to be to near our own door?’
Inverness Advertiser Friday 22 Feb 1861
This article, obtained from the Inverness Reference Library via Am Baile’s online search and order service, is, quite simply, the pinnacle of the primary sources that I have perused in relation to this magnificent lady (and also of the situation on Harris fully a decade after the final potato famine).
Everything that I have researched regarding Mrs Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield Thomas (yes, that was her full name following her two baptisms and her first marriage!) leads up to this newspaper piece. This may come as a surprise for where is the Clo Mor, or the Stocking Knitters, or whatever? The answer is that I do not believe that either ‘Harris Tweed’ or ‘Strond Stockings’ were truly significant economic activities at this early date and it was the less glamorous work amongst the people that is described above that the exhaustingly energetic Fanny was devoting herself to at this time.
Of the publication, ‘The Friend of India’, I have learnt that it was created by the missionary John Clark Marshman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Clark_Marshman but, although the title contains the word ‘Friend’, I have not discovered whether it was associated with the Society of Friends. I raise this because, although I have no proof that the Thomas’s were ‘Quakers’, an article on Mrs Thomas appeared in ‘The British Friend’ of 1888.
Mrs Captain Thomas, my ‘Heroine of Harris’, was certainly a friend to the people of the isle…