You may recall that, in 1868, Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore, had relinquished ownership of the North Harris Estate to his bankers, in particular the Scott family.
Thus for the next forty years, until his death on the 27th of August 1907, the Earl’s interest in the island was confined to his South Harris Estate.
He was succeeded by his son, Alexander Edward Murray, but this 8th Earl of Dunmore was to finally sell the estate in 1919 marking the end of his family’s involvement in the island some 85 years after his great grandfather had initially bought Harris. (As an aside, the purchaser in 1919 was Lord Leverhulme who paid £20,000 for the Estate. Following his death only six years later it was sold at auction for £900.)
In fact, the 8th Earl was a soldier and it was really only the in years 1908-1914 that he was able to devote time to his Harris estate for he played an active and distinguished role in the First World War prior to lord Leverhulme’s purchase a year after the end of that bloody and, for the islands, especially debilitating conflict.
Thus ended the Murray family’s ownership that may be conveniently divided into seven eras:
The 5th Earl
1834 – 5th March, George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore buys Harris for £60,000
1834 – Duncan Shaw replaces Donald Stewart as Factor
The 6th Earl
1836 – Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore, inherits Harris
1836/7 – Poor harvests, particularly of Potatoes
1838/9 – Seilibost, Big Borve, Middle Borve and Little Borve cleared
1843 – Church of Scotland fragments in Disruption – islanders join Free Church of Scotland
1843 – 6th Earl of Dunmore considers a harbour at W Loch Tarbert, with a link to the E Loch
1844 – John Robson Macdonald becomes Factor of Harris
The Dowager Countess
1845 – Alexander, 6th Earl, dies and Catherine, his wife, is ‘Tutor’ for her son, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1846 – Potato Famines begin
1847 – Borve, Harris resettled.
1849 – Countess of Dunmore establishes the Embroidery School at An-t-Ob
1851 – Crofts at Direcleit and Ceann Dibig bisected to provide homes for people cleared from Borve on Berneray
1851 – Potatoes Famines end.
1852 – Highland and Islands Emigration Society(HIES) formed – 742 leave Harris for Australia
1853 – Borve, Harris cleared again
1854 – Road from Stornoway to Tarbert completed
The 7th Earl’s Limited Period*
1857 – 24th March – 7th Earl of Dunmore’s 16th Birthday
1858 – ‘In 1858 Lady Dunmore was a mother to her people in Harris.’ – Duchess of Sutherland writing of ‘The Revival of Home Industries’ in ‘The Land Magazine’, Vol 3, 1899.
1860s – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig cleared
*This marks the period during which, although he was still five years away from being of ‘Full Age’, the Earl would have had enjoyed enhanced rights regarding his property under Scottish law.
The 7th Earl
1862 – 24th March – 7th Earl of Dunmore’s 21st Birthday
1865 – Harris Hotel built by Earl of Dunmore and originally called Tarbert Hotel
1866 – Marriage of 7th Earl to Lady Gertrude Coke
1867 – North Harris Estate sold to Sir Ernest Scott for £155,000 (over two-and-a-half times what the 5th Earl of Dunmore had paid for the whole of Harris 33 years earlier!)
1871 – Alexander Edward Murray (8th Earl) born
The 7th Earl – South Harris Estate
1873 – Dunmore’s restore St Clement’s church
1884 – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig recrofted
1886 – Catherine, Countess of Dunmore (7th Earl’s mother) dies in February
1888 – Assisted emigration to Canada established
1897 – Golden Road linking Tarbert and Rodel through the Bays is completed
The 8th Earl
1907 – Death of Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1919 – South Harris Estate sold for £60,000.
The first point that I need to make is that, as a result of the estate(s) being owned by four successive Earls punctuated by the Dowager Countess’s period as ‘Tutor’, there is a degree of confusion to be found in some writing about Harris (Yes, including my own!) and I hope that the selected extract from my Timeline shown above helps to clarify things.
(A similar problem exists with the previous dynasty of owners where we have, in turn, Captain Alexander Macleod, Alexander Hume Macleod & then Alexander Norman Macleod owning the island from 1779-1790, 1790-1811 & 1811-1834 respectively!)
Secondly, it is really the role of two generations, those of the 6th & 7th Earls from 1836-1845 and 1845-1907 respectively, upon which we should focus:
Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore, inherits the island and with it the first hint of the food crises that would, coincidentally, start the season after his death and dominate the early years of his widow’s control of the estate. He appears to do the islanders a favour in replacing the hated Factor Donald Stewart with Duncan Shaw Factor but the series of Clearances that Shaw oversaw suggests otherwise. The one good thing that the 6th Earl did consider doing was a revival of Captain Alexander Macleod’s plan to link East & West Loch Tarbert but he, just like the good Captain before him, died soon after having had this notion.
No, this is not an error but I want to look at these years before returning to what I believe to be the defining decades of the Dunmore dynasty.
The first five years see the finally fully fledged 7th Earl embark on an overambitious building program, gain a wife and lose an estate. I say ‘lose’ because, although it might appear that having sold North Harris for 250% of the sum his grandfather had paid for the whole island he had done rather well in the deal, it is believed that little or no cash was actually exchanged. The estate was provided in payment of monies that were owing to the Earl’s bankers.
It is worth noting that he wasn’t the first grandson to have to ‘sell’ land on Harris for Alexander Norman Macleod had preceded him in this regard when being forced to sell the whole island. In his case, the purchaser had been…the 5th Earl of Dunmore. It was also this Macleod who had brought Donald Stewart to Harris to act as his Factor.
The consequence of this was that, for the final forty years of his life, the 7th Earl only owned the South Harris Estate and thus could focus his attention upon that part of the island. There is, frankly, scant evidence of him paying the island any attention at all other than as a plaything and virtually none after his mother’s death in 1886. The few developments that did take place can all be ascribed to sources other than him.
As alluded to above, the Dowager Countess was greeted in the year following her husband’s death by the first of the Potato Famines that would last through to 1851 and lead, in part, to 742 people leaving Harris for Australia the following year. Borve on Harris was resettled, and then it & Borve on Berneray were Cleared. In amongst this turmoil the Countess decided to establish her Embroidery School at An-t-Ob which seems to have more in common with a child-labour sweat-shop than a serious attempt at addressing the economic issues facing the islanders.
She met their spiritual needs by finally acceding to demands for a Free Church to be built (although the site at Manish was not their first-choice) having claimed ignorance of all previous requests.
In the year of her son’s sixteenth birthday she and Mrs Thomas started the Stocking Knitting industry which appears to have been more financially robust for the women of the island than the Embroidery School of the previous decade. This event marks our first record of the latter lady’s presence on the isle, a presence that in my opinion was of great significance especially with regard to the early marketing of what was to become known as Harris Tweed.
Finally, in 1860, Direcleit and Ceann Dibig were cleared with a favoured few being allowed to dwell there as cottagers…
Overall what strikes me is not what the four Earls and one Countess are remembered for having done, but rather all that they failed to do and chief amongst these must be their not having established Tarbert as a fishing station with the two lochs linked by canal or rail.
One can only guess at the income it would have generated for the island and its owners and at what it might have cost, but it would certainly have been a wiser investment than the 7th Earl’s castle which was to prove so dear…