>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!

>The Lighthouse Stevensons

>BBC2 Scotland are showing The Lighthouse Stevensons to mark the 200th anniversary of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

I have blogged about George Edgar, who was the first of several Keepers of the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, as well as those of the Arnish, Tiumpan Head & Eilean Glas lighthouses.

This description from Barrahead gives an impression of the natural forces that the lighthouse builders had to contend with.

The programme includes an interview with Bella Bathurst who wrote the The Lighthouse Stevensons which is a brilliant read.


(The link to the BBC iPlayer where you can view or download the programme for viewing is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00y6hym/The_Lighthouse_Stevensons/ )

A Death from Phthisis

On the 30th of September 1876, having suffered the debilitating effects of Tuberculosis for some twelve months, Mrs Catherine Macaskill died at the age of 26.
The Old Parish Record for September 1850 shows the Birth of Catherine Carr, the first child of Malcolm Kerr and Mary Macdonald, and the first of the four who survived into adulthood (two perished as infants) to die. (I have mentioned previously the then Registrar’s preferred usage of the English ‘Carr’ to the name ‘Kerr’, which I think is actually truer to the Gaelic when spelled as ‘Cearr’.)

Sadly I cannot find Catherine’s Marriage Certificate so the last record that I have prior to her death is of the 20 year-old daughter living with her mother and three younger siblings at 46 Bayhead Street in Stornoway. Her father, Malcolm, is absent from the census, the 50 year-old seaman presumably at sea in the coastal trading that was his profession. (He ought to have completed a census return at his next port, which may well have been Belfast, but alas I cannot find him!) With Catherine at this time were her sister Annie, 17, and her brothers Alexander John, 15, and Malcolm, 11. Alexander John lists his occupation as being that of a Labourer, neglecting to mention that the previous year he had embarked on his first voyage as a sailor and travelled to Archangel aboard the ‘Alliance’ under Captain Macpherson.

Catherine’s death was registered by her widower, the General Labourer Donald Macaskill, as having taken place at 11 Bayhead Street, the same address at which my grandfather had been born to her unmarried sister Annie the previous year. The buildings have long-since been demolished and a car lot now sits in their place, so I would welcome any information regarding them.

Phthisis has been blamed upon Blackhouses yet there are interesting references to the disease such as this that indicate that it was not the traditional dwellings that were responsible for the onset and development of the disease. Whatever the buildings at Number 11 were, they were certainly NOT ‘blackhouses’:

The predecessor of Dr. Millar (in Stornoway), when filling up schedules of life insurance, to the question relating to the death of the proposer’s relatives by phthisis, is said to have invariably answered,—” No such disease is known in the island.”

That quote comes from an address made in 1865-6 and appears in a volume called Memoirs read before the Anthropological Society of London, Volume 2 1865-6 p435-8 in a piece called Phthisis in the Hebrides. This short article  is well worth reading in its entirety for it suggests that the islands (and the North-West Coast of Scotland) in the 1860s were relatively free of several significant diseases. They would not remain so forever. It is beyond the scope of this piece to examine the complexity of the subject but I do think that Catherine’s death a decade after that address was given to its London audience serves to remind us that not all that may appear ‘backward’ or ‘primitive’ is intrinsically so. Had Catherine been living in either of the rural vernacular houses that her parents had been born in, rather than in urban overcrowding, then she, like so many others, might have been spared an early death.

The Lloyd’s Signal Stations Act 1888

This Act conferred on Lloyd’s the power to establish signal stations with telegraph communications.
In the Highlands and Islands we find the following from the census records:

Edward Robinson, 26, Lloyd’s Signalman, Lloyd’s Signal Station, Barvas, b. England
Caroline Robinson, 20, Wife, b. England

George Simpson, 30, Signal Officer (Lloyd’s), Dunnet Head signal Station, b Dunnet, Caithness
Barbara M Simpson, 23, Housekeeper, Sister, b. Dunnet, Caithness

William Thomas, 28, Lloyd’s Signalman, Lloyd’s Signal Station, Barvas, b. England
Margaret Thomas, 16, Wife, b. England

George Simpson, 40, Lloyd’s Signal Officer, Dunnet Head, b. Dunnet
Jessie Simpson, 28, Wife, b. Canisbay, Caithnessshire

There is a description of the remains of the Dunnet Head station here: Dunnet Head whilst this (pdf) of an archeological landscape survey of Ness records the location of scattered remains from the butt of Lewis station: Butt of Lewis

Harry Hawker’s failed attempt to fly the Atlantic in May 1919 ended when he and his navigator, Kenneth Mackenzie Grieve, were forced to ditch in the sea. They were picked-up by a radio-less ship, the Mary, so when they reached the Butt the Mary signalled the Lloyd’s Signal Station:

Lloyd’s signal station at Butt of Lewis telegraphs this morning as follows:
Danish steamer Mary passing eastwards signalled following:
‘Saved hands Sopwith aeroplane.’
Station signalled: ‘Is it Hawker?’
Steamer replied: ‘Yes.’

Thus the Butt of Lewis was able to let the World know that the airmen were safe, six days after the ditching of the aircraft…

I have been sent this interesting link that includes images of the Dunnet Head Station: Naval Onshore Signals
and a brilliant blog from Caithness that I follow:Mary-Ann’s Cottage

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse Keepers

I just realised that, although I earlier described the career of the first Keeper, I hadn’t completed the list.
Here are, in brief, the men who manned the lighthouse from 1871-1901:

George Edgar, 53, Principal Light Keeper, Head, b. Portpatrick, Wigtownshire
John Tulloch, 35, Assistant Light Keeper, Head, b. North Ronaldsay, Orkney

George Edgar, 63, Principal Light Keeper, Head, b. Portpatrick, Wigtownshire
Robert Macintosh, 26, Light House Keeper, 2 Eoropie, Head, b. Lighthouse, Ross, Tarbert Ness

James McQueen, 45, Principal Light Keeper, Head, b. Kilmuir, Inverness-shire
Robert Agnew, 31, Light Keeper, Head, b. Tobermory, Argyll

Alexander Mccann, Light Keeper, Head, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtownshire
David Budge, 38, Light Keeper, Head, b. Drenne(sp?), Caithness
George Campbell, 28, Light Keeper, Head, b. Port in a Loren (sp?), Argyll

Note: George Edgar’s career here: George Edgar, Lighthouse Keeper

Tailoresses of Harris and Lewis

I remarked earlier of my surprise at discovering an ancestral Tailoress in the 1891 census for Harris but it transpires that Isabella Kerr, MS Maclean (Wife of my 1st cousin 4 times removed) of Strond was far from alone:

HARRIS – 7 (18 men)
Chirsty MacQueen, 50, Kintulavig, Wife, Kilmuir, Inverness

Mary Morrison, 29, Obbe, Sister, b. Harris
Cathy Mary Morrison, 18, Obbe, Sister, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 27, Obbe, Wife, b. Harris
Christy Macleod, 24, Obbe, Daughter, b. Harris

Isabella Kerr, 60, Strond, Wife, b. Harris

Ann Macleod, 28, Borve, Berneray, Wife, b. Harris

Marion Stewart, 36, Keith Street, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Ann Mackenzie, 25, 13 Newton Street, Wife, b. Stornoway
Maud Chiswell, 20, 55 Bayhead Street, Daughter, b. England

UIG – 1
Mary Maciver, 82, Callanish, b. Uig

Mary Macleod, 57, 20 Point Street, Head, b. Stornoway

UIG – 1
Anne Macarthur, 33, 26 Breasclete, Head, b. England

Flora Murray, 28, 21 Barvas, Wife, b. Barvas

HARRIS (15 men)

Assuming that ‘Tailoress’ refers to someone who makes men’s clothing, as compared to a Dressmaker doing the same for ladies, then we can see that this cross-gender occupation had but a brief episode on Harris and doesn’t appear to have fared much better on Lewis, where 2 of the 7 were from England.

By way of contrast, in Scotland as a whole there were 4,200 Tailoresses in 1891 and over 5000 by 1901 (although checking those returns I came across a 4 month-old described as a ‘Tailoress’ so those figures might be somewhat exaggerated! – but these were the days of Victorian Child Labour and I suspect that at least some of those under10s were indeed working).

Back in the fresh-air of the islands, where children were less-likely to be exposed to the inhumanity of being treated as a ‘human resource’, tailoring remained largely a ‘personal’ service with individual tailors visiting their clients as is evidenced elsewhere in these ramblings of mine.

In such circumstances, the four young ladies of ‘Obbe’ are a particular surprise and I do wonder what story lies behind the presence of these half-dozen women in the South of Harris?

We can see from the Tailors of Harris, who were 18 in number in 1891 and 15 by 1901, that the demise of this brief dalliance was not accompanied by an increase in the demand for male tailors. This tempts me to conjecture of an early attempt at ‘adding value’ by creating garments on the island for export rather than complete webs of tweed but, if so, it apparently failed.

Carloway Bridge

This bridge is said to be one of the oldest flyovers in Scotland. It was built in the 19thC but precisely when does not appear to have been recorded. Family sources inform me that the builders were two brothers from Stornoway:

Allan John Montgomery was born on the 4th May 1856 and Alexander Montgomery on 3rd May 1858 to a Tailor, Donald Montgomery and his wife Ann (Murray) of Guershader Road, Stornoway.
They were the 3rd and 4th offspring in a family that grew to a total of 9 children, all boys apart from the youngest who was born in 1872.

Donald’s father and grandfather were Tailors in Luerbost, Lochs and that was were he was born. Ann was a Weaver’s daughter from Barvas Road, and latterly Laxdale, in Stornoway.

Allan John, by 1881, was a Stone Mason (Journeyman) but at the time of the census was serving as a Private in the Highland Reserve Militia at Fort Ardersier, ‘On The Moray Firth’. Alexander, also a Mason, was visiting a family in Maryhill, Lanarkshire.

By 1891, Allan John the Mason is living on the Barvas Road with his wife Margaret (Beaton) and their six children, aged from 1 to 11. Alex remains a Mason but has also built a family of four in Laxdale with his wife, Isabella.

Our final glimpses of the Masons finds Allan and 7 of a family at 48 Barvas Road and Alex with his family of 6 at 14 Guershader in 1901. In between producing children they also produced the bridge.

These two Masons were my grandfather’s uncles and my informants are my two cousins who are fellow descendants of their older brother, Norman Montgomery.

Ref: RCAHMS Carloway Bridge

A Lewis Lighthouse Keeper

In 1871, the Butt of Lewis lighthouse’s two-storey house was home to its 53 year-old keeper, George Edgar with his wife Grace and four of their children.

George had been born in Portpatrick, Kincardineshire in about 1818 and his lightkeeping days can be traced by the exploring the birthplace of his 8 children and the censuses:

1843 James, Portpatrick, Wigtownshire

1847 Elizabeth, Dunnet Head, Caithness-shire

1848 Alexander, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire
1850 George, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire

1851 Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse
1853 Archibald, Ardnamurchan, Argyll

1856 William & John, Sanday, Orkney

1858 Isabella, Barvas, Lewis This is particularly significant as the light at Ness wasn’t completed until 1862 and suggests that George possibly played a part in the construction process.

1861 Start Point Lighthouse, Orkney

1871 Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

1881 1 Europie – Principal Lighthouse Keeper, Butt of Lewis

1891 73 year-old Retired Lighthouse Keeper George is back in his hometown of Portpatrick with his unmarried daughter Isabella Beattie. Son James, 48, is Keeper at the lighthouse in Killkorran, Argyll whilst his younger brother John is one of three keepers on Scotland’s most Northerly light, that on the island of Muckle Hugga in the Shetlands.

1901 – George and his daughter are still enjoying his retirement in Portpatrick but son John is Principal Light Keeper at Whalesay Skerries, Shetland whilst his eldest brother James is the keeping the light at Holy Isle, Bute.

The Edgar family, led by father George, shone lights to sea for over half a century, during which time they served the Stevenson family,the Northern Lighthouse Board and countless sailors in aiding the process of safer seafaring.

Note: The bold locations indicate lighthouses served by the Edgar family.