>The Remaining Kerrs of Stornoway in 1911


These two families are those of my great granduncles Alexander John and Malcolm.
They, together with their older sister (my great grandmother Mrs Annie Maciver) were the surviving children of Malcolm Kerr of Direcleit and Mary Macdonald of Orinsay.
51 ½ Bayhead St – 5
Alexander J Kerr, 55, G&E, Dock Labourer, b. Stornoway
Mary, 44, Wife, G&E, b. Stornoway
Married 7 years, both children still living. Of the four children from Alexander John’s first marriage to Margaret Macarthur (1858-1902), the eldest, Donald, was in Canada whilst the youngest, Alexander John, can be seen below. The eldest of the two girls, Catherine Isabella, had died of tetanus aged 6 but 18 year-old Mary was also still in Stornoway.
Alexander J, 14, Son, G&E, School, b. Stornoway
Murdo, 6, Son, G&E, School, b. Stornoway
Margaret, 3, Daughter, G&E, b. Stornoway
29 Bayhead St – 6
Malcolm Kerr, 52, G&E, Cooper, Fishcuring Yard, b. Stornoway
Margaret, 41, Wife, G&E, b. Stornoway
Married 3 years with no children, these four being Malcolm’s from his first marriage to Marion Macleod (1867-1905):
Mary, 15, G&E, Domestic Servant, b. Stornoway
Malcolm, 13, G&E, School, b. Stornoway
John, 11, G&E, School, b. Stornoway
Duncan, 9, G&E, School, b. Stornoway
One thing that slightly mystifies me is why Alexander John was working as a Dock Labourer at this time for, according to his Obituary in the Stornoway Gazettee , he had owned & sailed the ‘Lady Louisa Kerr’ following the loss of the ‘Crest’ in 1903.
I can only assume that, by 1911, the competition from steam ships had already proved too much and that even then ‘the picturesque sailing coaster has been almost completely squeezed out of existence.’…

A Couple of Old Posts…

…that I thought I would mention as they might prove useful to other researchers.

The first, ‘Where’s Malcolm?’ , is an account of how I stumbled upon the fantastic Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland and what I discovered there.

The second, ‘The Belfast News-Letter’ , shows how a search of newspaper archives can supply some surprising information.

You might also like to read my transcript of the Stornoway Gazette’s obituary of Alexander John Kerr .

33 Keith Street, Stornoway

I have been intending compiling this list of those residing at number 33, and its associated parts, for some time because these records from five consecutive censuses provide us with a typical portrait of the people of the town of Stornoway in the 19thC:
Murdo Montgomery, 65, Sawyer, 33 Keith St, b. Stornoway
Ann Montgomery, 55, Wife, b. Stornoway
Dugald Mcgillivray, 27, Carter, Boarder, b. Invernessshire
Murdo Macleod, 21, Apprentice Joiner, Boarder, b. Lochs
Norman Montgomery, 16, Apprentice Miller, b. Lochs
Margaret Thomson, 29, Domestic Servant, b. Barvas
Donald Macleod, 27, Tailor(poss Sailor?), Lodger, b. Barvas
Kenneth Macleod, 18, Cartwright, 33 Keith St, b. Inverness-shire
Malcolm Kerr, 36, Seaman, 33 Keith St, b. Invernessshire
Mary Kerr, 38, Wife, b. Lochs
Catherine Kerr, 11, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Ann Kerr, 8, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Alexander John Kerr, 5, Son, b. Stornoway
Malcolm Kerr, 3, son, b. Stornoway
Margaret Kerr, Daughter, 4 months, b. Stornoway
Multiple-occupancy is quite usual for the time as are households comprising people from a variety of families originating from across the isles and in a range of occupations.
The second family is obviously why I first came upon 33 Keith Street but other occupants over time have also appeared in the particular entries on occupations that I have provided links for.
George Mackenzie, 69, Grocer & Spirit Dealer, 33 Keith St, b. Stornoway
Isabella Mackenzie, 56, Grocer & Spirit Dealer, Wife, b. Stornoway
Alexander Mackenzie, 34, Joiner, Son, b. Stornoway
Isabella Lees, 28, Ship Carpenter’s Wife, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Mary Mackenzie, 22, Domestic Servant, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Elizabeth Mackenzie, 20, Domestic Servant, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Isabella B Cooper, 8, Scholar, Granddaughter, b. Portmahomack, Ross-shire
Mary Lees, 6 months, Granddaughter, b. Stornoway
Catherine Mackenzie, 71, Pauper, 33 ½ Keith St, b. Lochs
Maggie Mackenzie, 63, Pauper, 33 ½ Keith St, b. Uist, Invernessshire
Marion Mackenzie, 28, General Servant, Daughter
Barbara Mackenzie, 24, General Servant, Daughter
The first thing to note is the use of ’33 ½’ to identify a dwelling. The next Census suggests that this was probably the ‘Back Court’ of number 33 and the use of ‘½’, which we might liken to ’33a’, is found all over the town. The presence of two Pauper households here is a sad reminder that poverty existed within the town as well as in the rural areas of the islands.
The other feature is that the main house appears now to be one household and we learn that George and Isabella were both in trade and that their daughter Isabella has married a Mr Lees and gave birth to a daughter in Stornoway six months before the census. Unfortunately we do not know which daughter was responsible for granddaughter Isabella B Cooper.
George Mackenzie, 79, Builder, Head, 33 Keith St, b. Stornoway
Isabella Mackenzie, 67, Wife, b. Stornoway
Alexander Mackenzie, 43, House Carpenter, Son, b. Stornoway
Margaret Mackenzie, 34, House Keeper, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Mary Macdonald, 32, Seaman’s Wife, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Isabella Lees, 7, Scholar, Granddaughter, b. Govan, Lanarkshire
Mary Macdonald, 2, Granddaughter, b. Stornoway
Alexander Macdonald, 9 months, Grandson, b. Stornoway
Kenneth Macsween, 18, Carter, Servant, b. Lochs
Isabella Cooper, 18, Granddaughter, b. Tarbert, Ross-shire
William Maclean, 46, General Labourer, 33 Keith St Back Court, b. Lochs
Ann Maclean, 39, Wife, b. Lochs
Neil Morrison, 40, Carter, 33, Keith St Back Court, b. Lochs
Catherine Morrison, 35, Wife, b. Lochs
Murdo Smith, 18, Tailor (Apprentice), Boarder, b. Lochs
Kenneth Morrison, 18, Shoemaker (Apprentice), Boarder, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Alexander Macdonald, 18, Cooper (Apprentice), Boarder, b. Lochs
Malcolm Maclean, 18, Tailor (Apprentice), Boarder, b. Lochs
The Mackenzie family are still the sole family occupying number 33 but a dramatic change of occupation has seen George become a builder possibly a reflection of his son Alexander being a Joiner/House Carpenter or had the Temperance movement played a part, too? Daughter Mary has married a Mr Macdonald and added two more Stornowegians to the population during the past couple of years and we can see that her sister Isabella Lees was in Govan giving birth to a daughter seven years ago.
The ‘Back Court’ is now home to two households with that of the Morrisons playing host to four young apprentices from Lochs and Uig.
Malcolm Maciver, 32, Tailor & Clothier, 33 Keith Street, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Annie Maciver, 24, Wife, b. Stornoway
Malcolm Maciver, 3, Son, b. Stornoway
Kate Maciver, 1, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Maggie Macleod, 20, Domestic Servant, b. Stornoway
Alexander Macleod, 26, Naval Reserve Man, Boarder, b. Stornoway
John Mackay, 25, Naval Reserve Man, Boarder, b. Stornoway
John Macaulay, 28, Naval Reserve Man, Boarder, b. Stornoway
Donald Macaulay, 25, Naval Reserve Man, Boarder, b. Stornoway
William Macleod, 30, Naval Reserve Man, Boarder, b. Stornoway
Malcolm Macleod, , 32, Fisherman, 33 Keith Street, b. Lochs
Catherine Macleod, 32, Wife, b. Lochs
Roderick Macleod, 5, son, b. Lochs
Maggie Macleod, 1, Daughter, b. Stornoway
John A Macleod, 6 months, Son, b. Stornoway
Murdo Macleod, 35, Sailor, Visitor, b. Lochs
Isabella Macleod, 28, Visitor, b. Lochs
We appear now to have two large households at number 33 and no reference to the ‘Back Court’.
I do not know if the sixteen residents and one visitor were indeed squeezed together under one roof, reflecting the fifteen people at the address in 1861, but the presence of five who gave their occupation as ‘Naval Reserve Man’ is interesting. Did they have other occupations at this time or were they unemployed, for being in the Naval Reserve is not in itself a job. Possibly they were engaged in Naval duties at this time in which case it would be interesting to know if being billeted on families was typical. Yet more puzzles to be solved!
Angus Maciver, 42, Spirit Dealer, 33 Keith St, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Mary Maciver, 42, Wife, b. Uig, Ross-shire
John Maciver, 14, Scholar, Son, b. Uig
Christina Maciver, 12, Scholar, Daughter, b. Uig
Catherine Ann Maciver, 3, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Margaret Mary Maciver, 1 month, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Finlay Smith, 32, Crofter, Brother, b. Barvas
Alexander Maclean, 42, Cooper, 33 Keith St, b. Stornoway
Mary Maclean, 42, Wife, b. Stornoway
Catherine Maclean, 9, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Maryann Maclean, 7, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Alexander Duncan Maclean, 4, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Flora Maclean, 3 months, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Mary Graham, 66, Head, 33 Keith St, b. Stornoway
Donald Nicolson, 42, Fisherman, Brother, b. Barvas
Angus Morrison, 43, Fisherman, Brother, b. Barvas
Norman Macdonald, 21, Fisherman, Brother, b. Barvas
Donald Macdonald, 28, Fisherman, Brother, b. Barvas
Our final list shows a return to the Spirit Dealing of 30 years previously. The Maciver family appear to have moved to the town from Uig at least three years earlier. I don’t know if Finlay Smith was Mary Maclean’s brother but it is interesting that one of the Uig-born Macivers had a Barvas-born brother.
On the subject of brothers, I would suggest that the four fishermen, with three different surnames, living at Mary Graham’s were not in fact all brothers of hers, unless she had a particularly convoluted family history!

In conclusion, I hope that this rather long list of those associated with 33 Keith Street during a forty-year period has served, as suggested at the start, as an illustration several aspects of Stornoway and its people.
Oh, and if anyone can tell me what became of number 33 and 33 ½/Back Court I would love to know because as far as I can tell they have disappeared!


A terrible S.W. storm visited the Hebrides and north-western coast of the mainland of Scotland on October 1st, doing immense damage. At Stornoway it was destructive almost beyond precedent, and the barometer was lower than during the Tay Bridge gale. Every vessel in the harbour was driven from her moorings, and several went ashore. The sea covered South Beach street, flooding the houses and strewing the roadway with smashed boats and other wreckage. Throughout the islands great numbers of fishing-boats were sunk or smashed, and in some villages the inhabitants are thus deprived of the means of earning their living.
In Mull and Skye the damage done is about equally great. In the latter island no such storm is said to have been experienced since 1860. The damage to crops, houses, and other property on land is very large. At Portree alone nearly 100 trees were blown down.
Much commiseration is felt for the Lews crofters, as they were exceptionally unfortunate at the herring fishing, since which their potato crop has failed, and now this storm has come to fill up their cup of disaster.
This will be a suitable place to mention that last Saturday, the 14th, was the first anniversary of the terrible storm which caused such havoc to life and property on the Berwickshire coast. In Eyemouth and Burnmouth services were held in the churches, and in the former place the parish church-bell was tolled, and the shops shut during service, while the inhabitants donned mourning garb, and the fountains of grief seemed to be reopened.
Source: Otago Daily Times , Issue 6496, 7 December 1882, Page 3
National Library of New Zealand
One of those vessels ‘driven from her moorings‘ may have been the ‘Jessie‘ but, if so, she certainly survived to perform many more years valuable service.

50 Years of Seafaring

“Sixty Seven years of age, he was one of the few remaining links connecting us with the time when in his youth the town of Stornoway was of considerable importance as a shipping port, and when a fine fleet of sailing ships registered here, and belonging to enterprising local owners, carried on an extensive trader with Archangel and the Baltic ports; ln those ships Mr Kerr had his first seagoing experience having, at the age of 14, joined the “Alliance” on a voyage to Archangel under Captain Macpherson. He continued in the same service under Captain John Smith, in the “Africa”, and in the brig “Supply”, with Captain Murdo Morrison – names of ships and men well known to all old Stornowegians.
After several years’ sailing in foreign parts on the “Gleniffer” of Glasgow he joined his father, the late Mr Malcolm Kerr, in the coasting trade off the West Coast of Scotland which he continued to work on this own account after his father’s death. There was no one better known than Mr Kerr in the different places of call between the Mersey and Cape Wrath, and no craft more readily recognised than the “Jessie,” the “Crest”, and the “Lady Louisa Kerr”; which he owned and sailed in succession..

…For some years Mr Kerr had worked on shore in the employ of Mr Murdo Maclean, shipping agent, where he was available as pilot for steamers proceeding south to Clyde, Mersey and Irish ports. His unique knowledge of the West Coast peculiarly fitted him for this service, and among mariners he had the reputation of being one of the most skilful and careful of pilots.”
Selected extracts from Alexander John Kerr’s obituary – Stornoway Gazette October 1922

1855 – b. Stornoway
1869 – Captain Macpherson – ‘Alliance’ to Archangel
Captain Smith – ‘Africa’ (‘same service’)
before 1874 – Captain Murdo Morrison – brig ‘Supply’ (‘same service’)
‘Glennifer’ of Glasgow (‘foreign parts’)
1896-1903 -‘Crest’ (confirmed dates)
1903?-1914? – ‘Lady Louisa Kerr’
1914?-1922 – Mr Murdo Maclean

Captain Macpherson
1861 – Murdo Macpherson, 46, Sailor Merchant Service, 5 North Beach St, b. Stornoway
1881 – Murdoch Macpherson, 68, Retired Ship Captain, 12 North Beach St, b. Stornoway
 (Living with his sister, their niece is a doctor’s daughter, the doctor being Robert Clark of Harris )

1866 6th February Driven ashore near Stornoway by a gale
UNDATED Wrecked ‘on the north side of Wick Bay’

Captain Smith – No obvious candidates in the censuses.

Captain Murdo Morrison
1881- Murdo Morison, 45, Seaman, 21 Scotland St, b. Stornoway
1891 – Murdo Morrison, 53, Seaman and Grocer, 24 Scotland St, b. Stornoway

1874 February sees her wrecked in the Solway Firth

1901 – GLENIFFER, James Watt Dock, Greenock East, Renfrewshire
Robert Macaulay, 23, Seaman, b. Harris
Built of iron in 1866 in Glasgow, this 800 ton sailing ship made no less than four trips to the St Lawrence in 1871. Alexander John Kerr sailed on her for several years ‘in foreign parts’, as his obituary puts it.

‘Jessie’ 3393 Inverness 1850 31 tons
Ports of Registry
Inverness MNL 1857
Inverness Sail 31 tons 1860 (MNL)
Stornoway Sail Sloop 1880 (MNL)
AJK 1876-1897(?) 21 years
Crew Agreements 1864, 1867-1897, some missing (MHA)
The Belfast News-Letter
Thursday, August 31st, 1876 – The Jessie, Kerr, from Stornoway
Monday, August 15th, 1881 – The Jessie, Kerr, from Stornoway
1886 – Link to photograph that includes her whilst moored in Stornoway

The Belfast News-Letter
Tuesday, February 16th 1897 – The Crest, Kerr, from Stornoway
Wednesday, January 25th 1899 – The Crest, Kerr, from Stornoway
1903 Wrecked off Kebock Head

‘Lady Louisa Kerr’ 12163 Belfast 1846 Sail 49 tons
Ports of Registry
Belfast 1857 (MNL)
Belfast Sail 48 tons 1860 (MNL)
AJK 1903(?)-1914(?) 11 years
Crew Agreements 1864-1914, only 7 years (MHA), (1863, 68/9 @ PRO NI)

Mr Murdo Maclean
1901 – Murdo Maclean, 30, Commission Merchant, Seaforth House (Scotland St), b. Uig, Ross
1901- Murdo Maclean,41, General Merchant Draper Grocer, 59 Kenneth St, b. Stornoway
1901 – Murdo Maclean, 24, Draper’s Assistant, 11 Garden Road, b. Ross, Lochs, Stornoway?
No Shipping Agent found, but one of these three might, perhaps, of become one?

My previous piece Belfast News Letter contains additional newspaper records and other details including a few references to arrivals of vessels from Stornoway whose Master was ‘Kerr’ and therefore possibly Alexander John or his father, Malcolm.
A little more about William Grant can be read in my piece on his son, James Shaw Grant .

‘MNL’ refers to Mercantile Navy List, an explanation of which can be seen here.
‘PRO NI’ refers to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
‘MHA’ refers to the Maritime History Archive

Taking the ‘Crest’ home…

It is the Monday 26th of October 1896 and we are observing a vessel preparing to go to sea from the harbour at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. She’s a yard or so under 60 feet in length and her twin masts, the larger in front of the smaller, identifies her as a ketch rather than a schooner. It is 34 years since she first felt the salty kiss of the sea around her Manx-formed curves and, having been laid up for several months since the death of her previous owner and watching the hustle and bustle at Thomas Telford’s ‘Fisherman’s’ pier not knowing when or indeed, if, she would feel the wind in her neatly stored sails again.

The three men who were now busy readying those sails to once again harness the power of the wind to drive her forward through the waters of the West coast of Britain were all older than she was and knew their roles inside out. The two younger men, in their early forties, were both Stornowegians who had spent their previous voyages on a pair of steamships, the ‘Alice’ of Stornoway and the ‘Clydesdale’ of Glasgow for as the end of the 19thC loomed, so did the end of the era of sail. King coal, that had powered the industrial revolution in Britain, was now extending its empire to include the waters of the ocean that had previously been the province of sail and oar alone.

The old man, who was already as old as his companions at the time of the birth of the ‘Crest’, had joined her from the small sailing sloop ‘Jessie’ of Stornoway. This Hearach, now in his 70s, was the Mate or Bosun on board but, as father of her Master and Owner, he was in all respects the senior member of the crew. The ‘Jessie’ had been in the family for at least 20 years and this little 30 ton Fraserbugh-built ship had been well into her forties by the time that they had looked to replace her. The old man had heard of the ‘Crest’ on the Gaelic grapevine and they needed a larger, faster vessel if they were to remain competitive in the coastal trade. Her Master needed rid of her (he had already had to write to the Burgh of Tobermory apologising for not having completed the required documentation for the first six months of the year) and so she was to be had for a very good price.

Having found her, the old man sent word back to Stornoway that when his son and their friend John Macleod had finished their steamship duties, they should hasten to Mull to collect the new prize. This duly happened and thus it was that on that Monday morn the final rope was let slip and, gently, slowly, and carefully the ‘Crest’ set forth on the remaining years of her life.

This first voyage was in fact a swift one to Larne for lime. They covered the 130 Nautical miles (150 land miles) within a day, arriving in Ireland on Tuesday. Whether it was 13 hours at 10 knots, 26 hours at 5 knots or some other average speed we cannot know, but we do know that they remained in Larne until Saturday 14th of November, perhaps delayed by loading, perhaps by the weather, when the ‘Crest’ left for Gairloch on the Scottish mainland. She didn’t reach Gairloch, a distance of perhaps 220 Nautical miles, until Tuesday 24th November which is a clear indication that the journey took place over several ‘legs’ with shelter being taken along the coast along the way. This reminds us that these small coastal vessels were able to explore the remote regions quite ably and provided a valuable service to the inhabitants of these isolated communities. A few hundredweight of coal could be loaded into the ship’s boat and delivered to a coastal cottage, news given and received and who knows what other small trades took place! The news could spread in this way at surprising speed and, whilst there was the postal service, an enormous amount must have been delivered in this manner amongst the oral Gaelic landscape at a time when the reading and writing of English was far from ubiquitous, especially amongst the more mature residents?

Whatever occurred during those 11 days at sea, most of the lime appears to have been unloaded at Gairloch and by Monday 30th November the men were rested and ready to make the short hop of 30 Nautical miles across the Minch to Tarbert on Harris which they reached the following day.

There followed a week on Harris, plenty of time for the old man and his son to reacquaint themselves with their relatives on the island including the old man’s eldest son at An-t-Ob, his nephew at Rodel and his sister-in-law at Direcleit to mention just three of the families still there. It is altogether likely that the new vessel was welcomed into the family with due celebration!

On Tuesday 8th December 1896 they said their farewells and made the journey up the East coast of Harris to the new home of the ‘Crest’, Stornoway. All three men returned to their homes in the town more than six weeks after having slept in their own beds.

The old man and his son were looking forward to 1897 and what it would bring them and their new travelling companion, the ‘Crest’…

Note: This is my interpretation of the known facts which I have embellished in parts to create a (hopefully!) more coherent narrative.