>Mol na Hearradh – ‘The Stoney Beach of Harris’

>From the comments section in the previous piece arises the matter of the ‘March’ or boundary between Harris & Lewis. I am extremely grateful to my friend ADB for once again coming to my aid by identifying ‘Mulhagery’ at Grid Ref NB197118 which I then found on the 6-inch OS map where it appears as Mol na Hearradh.
What was particularly interesting was that, according to the 6-inch series, the majority, if not all, of the buildings appeared to lie on the Lewis side of the boundary hence I was surprised that the people living there were listed in the 1851 census of Harris.
However, this statement from 1805 provides the answer:
‘Depones, That he is not so well acquainted with the situation of the march betwixt Lewis and Harris, as it proceeds to Loch Seaforth on the east, but understands it to be at the rivulet called Gil a Mhoil, which falls into Loch Seaforth, at Mol na Herradh; and that the term Mol na Herradh signifies, The Stoney Beach of Harris, which name it has always had.’
It was made by a Sub-Forester, Donald Macaulay, and is to be found in this PDF document created by Hebridean Connections and CE Uig, with the latter providing further fascinating information here http://www.ceuig.com/archives/911 and here http://www.ceuig.com/archives/1215.


The boundary was again subject to a dispute in 1850 which moved it further North leaving us with the 1841 census list of 53 people living in Mol na Herradh as a unique record of folk whose homes in ‘The Stoney Beach Of Harris’ are now in Lewis!

>SHEEP STEALING

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Roderick Macdonald, Scalladale, In the Isle of Harris, was charged with having, in July last, stolen four wedder sheep, the property of Mr Stewart, Luskintyre.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation.
Inverness Journal 22nd April 1842
We know much of Donald Stewart, the farmer of Luskintyre, but what of Roderick Macdonald of Scalladale?
The 1841 census record 7 people of that name on the island but we can ignore the youngest three, who were only 1, 2 & 7 years old, leaving us with the following quartet who are shown in order of their ages:
14, Scarp son of Donald & Margaret
28, Carragrich, Tenant
35, Obb
40, Molnahcuradh, Shepherd, wife Effy & 5 children
A decade later, those still found on the island aged 20 and over are listed below with those who match, and therefore were certainly not our man, shown in bold:
23, Scarp
25, Obe, Merchant & Innkeeper’s son (He who soon married Sarah Grant)
40, Carragrich, Crofter
46, St Kilda, Farmer of 3 acres & Bird Catcher employing no men
50, Drinishader, Farmer of 4 acres, wife Catherine
It is clear that only two of those who were listed in 1841 can be positively matched in the list of 1851 leaving us with the two oldest men from 1841 as potential candidates.
So what clues might we glean from the place named in the article, Scalladale?
Sgaladail (Scaladale) is a tiny settlement adjacent to Ardvourlie in North Harris, but that is a modern place and no buildings, not even ruins, are shown there on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey 6-inch map.
A clue may be provided by this record from RCAHMS but I can see no ruins shown at NB 180 092 on the current 1:50 000 or 1:25 000 OS maps.
Nevertheless, the reference to these five possible shielings would make sense if ‘Scalladale’ referred not only to where Roderick was living at the time but perhaps also to the ‘scene’ of his crime.
Was he, in that July of 1841, living in a summer shieling and, perhaps, doing so in the capacity of Shepherd?
If so, then the 40 year-old of ‘Molnahcuradh’ might well be him, especially as neither he nor any of his family can be accurately identified as remaining on Harris in 1851.
It is also just possible that the Roderick we seek was already in the shieling at the time of the census, evading the enumerator’s eye and thus absent from the record.
One thing that would help enormously in eliminating the man of ‘Molnahcuradh’ from my investigations (which I certainly would prefer to be able to do) would be if I had a any idea as to where the 53 people living in the place of that name actually were! Only seven peoples’ occupations are given; two were Tenants, two were Ag Labs and three were Shepherds; suggesting that wherever the location, it was most certainly closely associated with one of the sheep farms.
In conclusion, I cannot be sure if any of the Roderick Macdonalds of 1841 were indeed our sheep-stealer but, whoever he was, his punishment of fourteen years in the antipodes was an awfully harsh treatment for taking just four of Donald Stewart’s castrated sheep.
Note: The National Archives provide some useful educational information on Transportation as a punishment: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/candp/punishment/g09/g09cs1.htm
I have just discovered that Roderick Macdonald,
sentenced at his trial in Inverness in 1842 to 14 years Transportation,
arrived in Tasmania aboard the ‘Emily’ in that same year.
In the final ‘Remarks’ column is written
‘Died 1845 Sepr.’
I don’t know what the value of four wedders was in 1841,
but I do know it cannot be compared to the value of a human life…
RIP Roderick Macdonald

>Clearance of Borve, Harris 1839

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This is an unusually long piece purely because I have attempted to combine in one place all that can be gleaned from published accounts relating to this particular Clearance.
We start with the First Report from the Committee on Emigration, Scotland 1841 which is contained in the House of Commons Papers Volume 6 Thursday 19th March 1841 (I have provided the full text of this examination in a previous piece so what follows is an analysis of information specifically related to the events of 1839 contained in Duncan Shaw’s responses):
Henry James Baillie, Esq, in the Chair
Mr. Duncan Shaw, called in ; and Examined.
At the time he was Factor for Harris and North Uist having earlier been the Factor for South Uist. Shaw came to the ‘Long Island’ at Whitsuntide 1811 (or 12, depending on which part of his account you take the year from!) having previously spent six years on Skye since leaving his native Perthshire. He quotes a figure of £11,500 for the value of the Kelp made on Clanronald’s South Uist estate in one year alone. He remarks on the large population growth that has taken place on the isles since that time but was unable to give an estimate of the extent.
He cites the fall in the price of kelp and the lack of public works as key components leading to the present poverty of the population and informs us that the money made in kelp manufacturing was used by the people to pay their rent so that arrears were a relative rarity. The people were wholly dependant upon one industry to afford them the means to pay their rent and were actually more profitable tenants than the grazing farms. He actually makes the astonishing admission that ‘We got of course higher rents from the small tenants employed in the manufacture of kelp in labour, than they would have paid in money.‘ The word for this is exploitation…
Returning to the expanding population, he reminds us that ‘In 1803 there was a very great disposition on the part of the people in the Long Island to emigrate, and the Government became alarmed at the extent of the emigration. An Act was passed, regulating the terms of sending emigrants to America, which raised the freights so much that few could emigrate, owing to the expense. For the purpose, I believe, partly of keeping the people in the country, the Caledonian Canal and the Highland Road and Bridge Acts were passed, and this regiment of local militia furnished the people with so much employment, and brought so much money into their hands, that along with the kelp manufacture, then flourishing, it put an end to the desire to emigrate.’
Whatever one thinks about Shaw’s actions, he deserves grudging admiration for reminding the Government that it was their legislation, introduced at the height of the country’s demand for home-made kelp, that was in part to blame for the present situation.
As regards Harris, he gives figures of ‘about 440 families of crofters holding directly from Lord Dunmore, and I should think 2,300 people that do not hold of him, if at all.’
The context of this is that there were 4,300 people living on the island so by implication less than half the population were generating income directly for the 6th Earl.
A brief interlude in which we are informed that of the famine relief provided by the Lord about 1/3 will be repaid, and then he delivers his (prepared) account of the circumstances around events in 1839:(Please noteI have added a commentary within the statement)
“The small farm of Borve, in the Island of Harris, lately possessed by crofters, lies in the the middle of one of the largest and best grazing farms in the West Highlands.
This being the ever-expanding farm that Donald Stewart has rented for at least 30 years.
Borve is ill-suited for crofters, having no sea-weed for manure; no fishing, not even as much as a creek where, for a great part of the year, a boat could land, constant disputes occurred between the tenant of the surrounding grazings and the crofters.
The fertility of the area results from that unique combination of peat and shell-sand that is known as machair. One reason for a lack of sea-weed throughout the isle was, of course, the fact that it had been the raw-material in the manufacture of kelp. Fishing is a red-herring for it was the ‘improving’ of agriculture that had pushed the people into what had previously not been a major source of food or income. However, in referring to the ‘constant disputes’ that took place between Donald Stewart and those on the land that he craved, Duncan Shaw is inadvertently supporting the argument that it was the expansion of the sheep-farm that was the root cause of the call Clearance.
They were miserably poor; payment of rent, except by labour, was out of the question, and labour was unproductive : they were much in arrears, even for the price of meal annually imported.
Mr. N. McLean, an eminent land valuator from Inverness, who inspected and valued the estate of Harris, strongly recommended the removal of the tenants.
The extent of the poverty is not in question but the inhuman opinion of a land valuator, however ’eminent’, in recommending uprooting people from their ancestral land is simply disgusting.
The tenant of the large farm refused to renew his lease if Borve were not included in it. The proprietor, the Earl of Dunmore, could not afford to lose so good a tenant for a farm paying 600L a year in so remote a corner as Harris; it was determined to remove the crofters, providing for them elsewhere.
£600 was 1% of the price paid for the island in 1834 and about 17% of the total rental income. Nevertheless, the Earl could easily have advertised for a new tenant to replace this one man.
Three years were allowed them to prepare.
If this dates the decision to 1836 (and his next sentence suggests that this was so) then we can firmly place it in the hands of the 6th Earl of Dunmore who had inherited that island that very year. This is important and we have a letter from his wife, Catherine Countess of Dunmore, dated the 15th of April 1836 in which she complains about the rates paid by islanders for mainland roads. This informs us that the 21 year-old was already involved in matters relating to the running of the estate.
1836 was also the first of two consecutive years of poor harvests with the potato crop suffering particularly badly. It also happens to be the year that the 7th Earl, who was five years away from being born, alleged saw his mother start the Harris Tweed industry.
At Martinmas 1838, they were told they must remove at Whitsuntide 1839.
In 1838 their neighbours in Seilibost were not so lucky for it was then that they were Cleared.
Such of them as from age or other infirmities were unfit subjects for emigration, were offered better lands elsewhere in Harris; those able to emigrate were informed their whole arrears would be passed from, that they and their families would be landed free of expense, with the proceeds of their crop and stock of cattle in their pockets, either at Cape Breton, where their friends and countrymen were already settled, or in Canada, at their choice; these offers were then considered generous, and no objection was made to them.
Firstly, any talk of ‘better lands elsewhere in Harris’ has to be questioned for, as we know from Donald Stewart’s coveting of Borve and his existing holdings at Luskentyre, this are a mirage. Secondly, the fact that objections were not raised publicly by powerless individuals is not proof that they had no such objections. It merely confirms that they were too scared to raise them.
In the meantime, however, occurrences of an unpleasant nature had taken place in the neighbouring island of Skye. Some people on the estate of Macleod fearing a removal, wrote threatening letters to Macleod, of Macleod, and his factor. Inflammatory proclamations of the same description were posted on the church doors, and some sheep belonging to a sheep grazier were houghed and killed. Those guilty of these outrages eluded detection.
Duncan Shaw would have had a particularly intimate knowledge of these events because his son, Charles Shaw, began being an apprentice Writer of the Signet on the 11th of December 1834 and was assisting his father’s work on Harris from Whitsuntide of that year until Whitsuntide 1838. He would rise to Sheriff-Substitute of the Inverness isles by the end of 1841. He also just happened to be the Factor on Skye.
Exaggerated accounts of these occurrences soon reached Harris, and joined with bad advices from those who ought to have known better, wrought an immediate change on the tempers of the people; assured that no military would be sent to so remote a corner, they were advised to refuse the offer which had been made to them, and to resist the execution of the law.
Here he appears to suggest that the people were in his view erroneously ‘fired-up’ by a combination of factors but whether this stems from a certain respect for the normally quiescent nature of the islander or was included for some other reason I am unsure.
Every argument was used to bring them to reason, but without effect; they defied and severely maltreated the officers of the law.
A few years later the ladies of Loch Shell would be ‘de-bagging’ the officers of the law but in what way these ones were ‘severely maltreated’ is not recorded!
It was now ascertained that a conspiracy for resisting the law existed in all this quarter of the West Highlands, which, if not at once checked, would lead to consequences no lover of order would care to think of.
This is an outrageous allegation and his use of the word ‘ascertained’ seems to me to suggest that the existence of any such conspiracy was never proven. Shaw is retrospectively justifying the decision to bring in the troops.
An investigation took place before the sheriff, to which it was, however, impossible to bring any of the rioters; application was made to Government for military aid, which, under proper precautions, was granted; a lieutenant and a party of 30 men under the charge of the sheriff-depute of the county were sent to Harris.
No evidence, no arrests but still the military were summoned.
The people expecting nothing of the kind were taken by surprise.
Five of the ringleaders were taken into custody without opposition. The stay of the military in the island did not exceed a few hours. The only object Lord Dunmore and his agents had in view in applying for military aid, was the vindication of the authority of the law. This having been done by the seizure of the leaders in the riot, the tenants were at once forgiven ; they were allowed to continue in possession for another year, on the same terms as formerly.
Thus it was that five men were arrested and those left forced to accept the terms.
His Lordship solicited the liberation of the five prisoners, and sent money to defray the expense of their journey home.
This is odd – on the one-hand these men were supposedly some of those involved in a conspiracy to ferment revolt across the West Highlands and on the other their landlord got them freed and repatriated?
Thus terminated an outbreak which, but for the prompt measures of Government in sending the military, would have thrown the whole West Highlands into confusion for many years.”
I think the phrase we would use is ‘setting an example’ and I suspect that the rescue of the Borve Five had more to do with a lack of them having committed any provable crime rather than anything else.
Once the statement had been read, the questioning continued and we learn that the next year the ‘removal’ took place. A few stayed in Borve to service the farm, some were scattered elsewhere on the island either to land ‘from Lord Dunmore’ or to that of their families and none emigrated.
Despite all that they had been through, the people had refused to leave the land. However, and bearing in mind that he was addressing a committee on Emigration, Shaw then gives his interrogators assurances that now the situation is such that ‘…even in Harris the people are now willing to emigrate.’ He suggests removing 2,500 from North Uist and ‘…about the same number from Harris.’!
He, in all seriousness, wants to reduce the population by more than half. The motive for this is clear for it is the two proprietors who foot the bill to provide famine relief although when asked if the recipients are expected to eventually reimburse them, he stated ‘most certainly we expect it to be paid for in more prosperous years.’ This revelation produces from a Mr Dunbar the following response: ‘You hold the settlement over their heads?’ but whether he exclaimed it in horror or not is not recorded.
I do not want to continue with this examination for, although it certainly has much of value in the context of later actions on the estate, it takes us away from our focus which a contemporary account called a ‘Disturbance in the island of Harris‘.
The Inverness Courier in 1839 described it as ‘A circumstance of very rare occurrence in the remote and peaceful islands of the Hebrides…’ It continues by explaining that the Earl ‘…contemplating some extensive improvements in the culture and management of the land, had given notice to a number of the cottars, about fifty families, to remove their huts and little patches of ground.’
No mention of the duress applied by Donald Stewart but useful in providing the number of families involved although the image of them having ‘…to remove their huts and little patches of ground.’ is perhaps even more alarming than the reality of what they faced! The article proceeds and, in somewhat intemperate language states that ‘It was feared also that violent measures might be resorted to, and blood shed in the struggle.’ Those sent are then identified as ‘…a detachment of the 78th regiment…’ accompanied by ‘Mr Fraser Tytler, sheriff of the county, Mr A. Fraser, sheriff-substitute of the Fort William district, Mr Mackay, procurator fiscal, and Mr John Macbean, an active criminal officer of Inverness.’ The account was written before the ‘action’ took place and the article ends on a depressingly familiar note, reminding us that ‘Nothing can be more miserable than the condition of these poor highlanders, living in the most wretched huts, destitute of employment, and forever on the brink of famine. Emigration to America or Australia would be the greatest boon that would be conferred upon them. This is a point on which all well-wishers of the Highlands are agreed; and we sincerely trust that arrangements may be made for this purpose, of such a nature as to overcome, by moral force, the repugnance natural to our poor countrymen at quitting the land of their fathers.’ followed finally by the fact that ‘The population of the Island of Harris, according to the census of 1831, is 3900.
The story was taken up by the Aberdeen Journal which, on the 31st of July 1839, published in full the account from the Inverness Courier and then added the following update:
‘Subsequent accounts state that, after an absence of nine days, the party, which consisted of twenty-nine men and a searjeant, under the command of Lieutenant Neill, returned to Glasgow on Saturday last, having executed their mission – painful though it was – firmly, yet peacefully.
At Portree, the party was joined by the Sheriff of the County, Mr Mackay, Procurator Fiscal, and Mr Macbean, and active criminal officer from Inverness.
six the same evening. All the cottars or small farmers implicated in the deforcement, were requested to assemble at the village, and from the body five men, who had been most active in the illegal proceedings, were selected, and carried prisoners to Portree. Before leaving, arrangements were entered into for the tenantry finally leaving the island at a convenient term.
The visit of the military excited the deepest alarm among the poor islanders, who were heard to express in Gaelic their terror that the scene of Glencoe was about to be enacted over again.
Their condition is represented as being very miserable indeed; and though it may be bitter to break the tie that binds these poor people to the rugged land of their fathers, yet emigration anywhere would absolutely be a boon.
Agricultural improvement, too, is out of the question so long as the crofters are next to starvation on the very lands which they till, and this is still unfortunately the case in many parts of the Highlands, which would otherwise be fruitful and productive.’
So some fifty families, probably equating to about 260 men, women and children, were in ‘terror‘ as their homes were rendered uninhabitable and hence forced to break the tie that binds them to the ‘land of their fathers‘ and into emigration.
Why?
Because ‘Agricultural improvement…is out of the question…and this is…the case in many parts of the Highlands, which would otherwise be fruitful & productive.’
One can debate the ‘niceties’ as to what extent the Clearances were an economic inevitability, or whether they were as extensive or forced or terrible as I believe them to have been, but one cannot silence the cries of terror in the Gaelic tongue, dry the the tears of the terrified women and children, avoid the stench of the burnt milk on the quenched hearths, excuse the wilful destruction of the priceless roof timbers, feel the pain of separation and emigration, witness the grief of funerals and burials at sea of those who never reached those ‘promised’ lands, nor excuse the failure of future generations of the rich and powerful to restore to the people the use of the land that had been so cruelly and inhumanely taken from them.
Angus Macleod would later give us a description which I shall leave as the last words on the matter:
Donald Stewart of Luskentyre had a reputation of being an oppressor of the crofters of Park when he was there, but it was in Harris that he excelled himself by ruthlessly clearing the crofters from the West Coast of Harris.
In Borve, Harris, in 1839 he caused the fires on the hearths to be drowned with domestic milk while the thatch was ripped off the houses with hooks and even the roof timbers and the thatch was collected and burnt, until there was nothing left but the blackened shells of the once hospitable homes.”
Angus Macleod – ‘Lewis Maciver of Gress’ in the Angus Macleod Archive
Refs (Chronological by event):
NAS Reference GD46/13/45 Letter by Lady Dunmore per James Campbell Tait, her agent, to J A Stewart Mackenzie, M P relating to the injustice of assessments laid on the proprietors of the Western Isles for roads on the mainland and enclosing copy letters from Mr Duncan Shaw, Benbecula, factor on the Harris estate, and Mr Robert Brown, Hamilton. 15 Apr 1836
NAS Reference GD201/4/97 Duncan Shaw to Alexander Hunter, Esq. W.S. Dealing with the matter of application to the Government for assistance in sending the extra population of Benbecula to America. The proprietors should have influence in selecting the emigrants. Wishes to clear two parts of Clanranald’s estate for pasture where the poorest of the people and most of the subtenants reside. Refers to the miserable state of the tacksmen and subtenants. The emigrants wish to go to Cape Breton. Refers to unsatisfactory state of kelp and fishing industries, and to expense of emigration. Report on Canna 25 Feb 1827
NAS Reference GD201/1/338 Report by Duncan Shaw, dealing with arrears of rents on Clanranald estates sold in Ardnamurchan and the Small Isles: necessity of arranging remaining estates so as to draw a revenue independent of kelp; suggested arrangements for Benbecula and South Uist. At Edinburgh 19 Nov 1827
Register of Society of Writers to the Signet
Charles Shaw, apprentice to William Mackenzie 11 Dec 1834
NAS Reference GD46/13/45 Letter by Lady Dunmore per James Campbell Tait, her agent, to J A Stewart Mackenzie, MP relating to the injustice of assessments laid on the proprietors of the Western Isles for roads on the mainland and enclosing copy letters from Mr Duncan Shaw, Benbecula, factor on the Harris estate, and Mr Robert Brown, Hamilton. 15 Apr 1836
Previous Pieces that contain other references:
An article that is on my(pending) reading list:
TGSI 52 1980-82 Morrison Alick, ‘The Grianam Case, 1734-1781, The Kelp Industry, and the Clearances in Harris, 1811-1854 p20-89

>VALUABLE AND EXTENSIVE ESTATE,

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IN INVERNESS-SHIRE,
FOR SALE
The Estate of Harris will be exposed to sale in the course of next winter.
This Property forms part of the chain of Islands commonly denominated the Lewis or Long-Island.
Beside the main land of Harris, the Estate comprehends a number of Islands, of which seven are of considerable extent.
The Property extends to about 93,500 Scots acres, whereof about 7000 are Arable, and the greater part of the remainder Hill Pasture.
The Land Rent is about L3600, and the public burdens are moderate.
A Freehold and Church Patronage are attached to the lands.
There are valuable Fishing Banks, and the Shores, which are extensive, produce annually about 600 Tons of Kelp, well known in the market to be of very superior quality.
There are also several safe and accessible Harbours, and there is an excellent carriage road of considerable extent leading though the south and west parts of the main land.
The extension of steam navigation must be attended with important advantages to the Property.
Further particulars will be given in future advertisements.
Applications may be made to Messrs. Dickson and Steuart, W. S, 3 Royal Circus, Edinburgh.
Mr Donald Stewart, Factor of the Estate, resident Luskintyre, in Harris, will give directions for shewing the property.
Edinburgh, 20th April, 1832
Source: Inverness Journal, 18th May 1832 via Am Baile & Inverness Reference Library
This is what George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore, bought from Alexander Norman Macleod for £60,000 in 1834. He considered it to have been a bargain and, with an apparent annual rental return of 6%, it is easy to see why he thought so.
One can easily imagine Donald Stewart making an excellent job of ‘shewing the property’, no doubt emphasising the opportunities to extend the sheep farms but perhaps forgetting to mention his ongoing legal disputes regarding the church on Berneray or the lease held by Mrs Anne Campbell of Strond & Killegray?
Confusion regarding the naming of the isles, which continues to rumble-on today, is shown by the reference to ‘The Lewis’ for if anything the phrase is more correctly ‘The Lews’ but I do not intend following that particular diversion today.
The seven islands ‘of considerable extent’ that accompany ‘the main land of Harris’ are Berneray, Ensay, Killegray, Pabbay, Scalpay, Scarp and Taransay all of which were within the Parish of Harris. The Freehold was presumably Rodel House whilst the church patronage refers to the appointment of the Minister to the Parish Church at Scarista.
Whilst there were ‘valuable Fishing Banks’ it was already Stornoway that was profiting the most from these for Tarbert had been overlooked by the British Fisheries Society four decades previously.
The 600 Tons of Kelp being produced at this late stage comes as a surprise for the market had collapsed 20 years ago but on the other hand we know that in 1821 the Farm of Strond had manufactured 115 tons of high-quality Kelp.
The ‘extensive carriage road’ was that running from Rodel to An-t-Ob and thence along the West coast to Luskintyre but the majority of overland travel was along unmade tracks and the sea remained the main ‘road’, a term that was still commonly used to describe such sea-routes.
Steam navigation would indeed provide improved communications however not during the lifetimes of the 5th or 6th Earls but in that of the Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore.
Note: Many more references to these matters appear elsewhere in this blog and I have merely directed readers to those pieces that might otherwise be overlooked!

>HARRIS – EMBROIDERY SCHOOL

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On Wednesday last, the girls attending the Countess of Dunmore’s school for embroidery at Obbe, assembled to receive payment for the work done by them during the past half-year.
Many of the ladies of Harris were present, who were much gratified by witnessing the progress made by the children, and in examining their beautiful work.
After the business of the day had been transacted, the children were regaled upon tea, cake, and many other good things of a more substantial kind, for which treat they were indebted to the liberality of Mrs Macrae, Hushinish.
The school is of great benefit to the island, as girls who otherwise would be idle for most part of the year, were here taught a useful and elegant art by which they can not only support themselves in a respectable manner, but also contribute to the support of their families.
The poor of Harris cannot be sufficiently grateful to Lady Dunmore for the interest she always takes in their welfare.
One proof of this is the institution under notice, which is under the management of Mrs Galbraith, whose untiring exertions for its benefit are deserving of the highest commendation.
Inverness Advertiser Thursday, 3rd June 1856 (via Am Baile and the Inverness Reference Library)
The school had been opened in 1849 and this account informs us that Mary Galbraith, the 32 year-old from Ireland, was already in charge. Her husband, Henry Galbraith, was Gardener for the Dunmores and in 1861 we find the couple living in the house at An-t-Ob that had been built for the gardener in 1850.
The tea-party was provided by no less a person than the wife of Alexander McRa, ‘Fear Huisinis’, and one wonders what the parents really thought of her ‘liberality’!
It doesn’t appear as if the Dowager Countess herself was present on this occasion (which took place on Wednesday, 28th May 1856) presumably, although it not made explicit, at the school in ‘Obbe’?
Nevertheless, another little window into the world of 19thC Harris has presented itself and I think we should leave the children to enjoy their ‘tea, cake, and many other good things…’!

>HARRIS – PUBLIC MEETINGS FOR FOOTPATHS

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Largely attended meetings of the inhabitants of the Bays District, and of Strond and Obbe, were held last week for the purpose of pressing upon the County Council and Government the urgent necessity of affording a grant in aid of the construction of roads and footpaths in Harris, and also of relieving the necessities of the people of affording them work.
At Flodabay, the meeting was addressed by
Kenneth Maclennan, crofter, Finsbay;
Donald Mackinnon, Flodabay;
Sergeant John Mackinnon, Flodabay, and
Alexander Morrison, Bayhead;
while at Obbe, the meeting was addressed by
Donald Paterson, crofter, Strond;
Donald Kerr, crofter, Strond, and
William Gilles, Strond.
At both meetings it was stated by all the speakers that the people of Harris were sore pressed, bordering on want, caused by the terrible weather of last winter, preventing them prosecuting the fishing.
It was also stated, that unless the footpaths partly built last year were continued and completed between the different townships and schools, the children in many parts could not yet attend school save in the best weather.
Resolutions were passed unanimously expressing the gratitude of the people of Harris to Sir George Trevelyan and Dr Macgregor, MP, for last year’s grant, and a further grant this year was urgently pressed for. A petition to Parliament for a similar purpose has been signed in the Kylis, Stockinish district by heads of families representing 1056 people.
Source: Scottish Highlander 29th March 1894 (via Am Baile & Inverness Reference Library)
(I have altered the layout in order to make the article easier to read but left the reference to Kyles Stockinish as it appeared in the original.)
It would be another three years before the ‘Golden Road’ through the Bays was completed whilst the people of Strond were still waiting for their road to be completed nearly 50 years later.
Talking of those people, I was slightly surprised to realise that the Messrs. Paterson and Gilles were related to each other (and to me), by marriage, whilst we three share no connection with Mr Kerr!
William Gilles (b. abt1850) was a Stone Mason, whilst by 1901 Donald Kerr (b. abt1858) was a Road Labourer on Berneray, which probably explains why these two addressed the meeting.
It is interesting too see the reference to the bad weather of the Winter of 1893/4 which must have been particularly terrible to have prevented the men from fishing.
I suspect the reference to the difficulties facing the children in attending school was raised partly out of parental concern for their offspring’s education but also because a poor attendance record for the Parish would reflect badly upon the County Council.

>Contribution From India For The People Of Harris

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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…