>Bald’s 1805 Map of Harris – A Summary


I think it sometimes helps readers if I provide a page of links to pieces on a particular theme and in this instance have decided to collate my research regarding this wonderful map, the image of which can be explored on the National Library of Scotland site: http://maps.nls.uk/counties/detail.cfm?id=660
I have put the links into six separate groups but all the pieces are interrelated so, depending upon where you choose to start and which aspects you find interesting , you will find yourself following your own meandering path through them.
Asbestos & William MacGillivray
The Revd. Bethune & other people
Annotations including, perhaps, some by the 7th Earl of Dunmore?
Bald’s Map & FWL Thomas’s Chart
Togail Tir
The only previous research into this map of which the NLS & I are aware was that performed by James B Caird, published in 1988 in ‘Togail Tir’. If any reader happens to be researching the map, and especially if they have knowledge of this copy’s whereabouts between its creation sometime in the 19thC and its surfacing in 1988, then please do get in touch.

>Captain FWL Thomas & Malcolm Gillies


‘At the time that he was based in the area he had a friend, Malcolm Gillies, who had been born in Skye and later became a schoolmaster in Harris and in North Uist. Malcolm Gillies had a son whom he named Frederick Thomas. This Frederick Thomas gillies was later a merchant in Lochboisdale. The former Head of the BBC’s Gaelic Department, Fred Macaulay, is named after this relative. So the name of Captain Thomas lives on in the islands.’
‘Captain Otter & Captain Thomas’ by Gillian Maclean and Finlay Macleod p120 ‘Togail Tir’
This is one of my favourite essays in Togail Tir and, whilst reading it in advance of much of my earlier work on the two Captain’s might have saved me quite a few hours of ‘toil’, in some ways it is even nicer to find published confirmation of one’s own endeavours.
What follows are the records from the censuses, charting what I believe to have been Malcolm.s journey from his home on his father’s farm, via a period as a merchant, to his vocation in education.
(I have attempted to make it easier to track individuals by using various combinations of bold and italics and I trust that readers find this so.)
1841 – Bracadale
Murdoch Gillies, 80, Farmer
Mary, 60
Malcolm, 35
Norman, 15
Marion, 25
1851 – Cladach Carinish , North Uist
Malcolm Gillies, 40, Tea Dealer in Retail, b. Kilmuir, Skye, Inverness
1861 – North Uist
Malcolm Gillies, 50, Gaelic Teacher, b. County Bracadale, Inverness-shire
Ann, 32, b. Trumisgary , Inverness-shire
Marion, 7, b. Trumisgary – as were her 4 siblings below
Mary, 6
Murdoch, 4
Ewen, 2
John, 11 months
Malcolm Gillies, 61, Gaelic Teacher, b. Brackadle, Inverness-shire
Ann, 38,
Marion, 14
Murdoch, 13
Ewan, 11
John, 9
Archie, 7, b. North Uist
Roderick, 5, b. Harris
Mary, 3, b. Harris
Malcolm, 1, b. Kilmuir
1881 – North Uist
Malcolm Gillies, 76, Missionary Teacher
Anne, 51
Marion, 27, Sewing Mistress
Mary A, 13
Ewen, 22, Arts Student
John, 20, Teacher
Roderick N, 15
Malcolm, 10
Frederick, 7, b. North Uist
Marion Ann Macleod, 1, Granddaughter, b. North Uist
1891 – North Uist
Ann Gillies, 60, Dressmaker
Ewan, 32, Student of Theology
John, 30, Ag Lab
Malcolm, 21, Ex Pupil Teacher, b. Skye
Frederick, 14, b. Harris(?)
Mary Ann Gillies Macleod, 11, Granddaughter
And finally:
1901 – Mc Dougall’s House, Boisdale, South Uist
Frederick T Gillies, 26, Shopkeeper Grocer, b. Harris
It is evident that at least two of the Gillies’s children, Roderick b.1866 and Mary b. 1868, were born in Harris suggesting that Malcolm may have spent at least these three years teaching on the island.
The next birth, that of Malcolm in 1870, took place in Kilmuir which suggests that was the latest date that he was still teaching on Harris before teaching in Kilmuir prior to returning to North Uist.
All the earlier children are indicated as having been born on North Uist and the same is said of the final child, Frederick Thomas, if we are to believe the census of 1881. However, in the next two censuses he is clearly shown as having been born in Harris.
I am happy to confirm that his birth was registered in Harris and that he was born in 1873.
Fred Thomas must have been delighted to have the lad named after him and I would love to discover whether the two of them met before Fred’s death in 1885.

>’The Living Voice’


This is the title of Michael Robson’s brilliant essay in ‘Togail Tir ‘, the 1989 book that is a treasure for those of us with an interest in the mapping of the isles and matters arising from such mapping.
On page 102 of the book and with regard to the recording of placenames by the Ordnance Survey, he writes, ‘The islanders who helped were recorded by name, and it would be an interesting and worthwhile task to identify them all.’ which is precisely what I intend to do for one such individual.
Robson records ‘Angus Shaw, at Strond’ as the man who helped so what can we learn of Angus?
There are a few possible candidates for this man but the one who appears to be the best fit appears in the censuses as shown below (People in bold are those who appear more than once over time)
1841 – Strond
Angus Shaw, 25
Mary Shaw, 25
Christian Shaw, 1
1851 – Geocrab
Angus Shaw, 42, Gamekeeper
Una Shaw, 36
Christy Shaw, 10
Duncan Shaw, 8
Alexander W Shaw, 6
Donald Shaw, 4
John Shaw, 1
1857 – Charts of the Sound of HarrisSound of Harris (Otter) & East Loch Tarbert (Thomas)
1861 – Ardslave
Angus Shaw, 50, Gamekeeper
Winford Shaw, 40
Christina Shaw, 20
Duncan Shaw, 17
Donald Shaw, 13
John Shaw, 11
Anne Shaw, 7
1871 – Strond
Angus Shaw, 64, Gamekeeper
Una Shaw, 58
Duncan Shaw, 25
Alex Shaw, 25
Donald Shaw, 21
John Shaw, 19
Anne Shaw, 17
1875-77 Ordnance Survey surveying Harris
1881 – Strond
Angus Shaw, 70, Crofter
Ann Shaw, 60
Alexander Shaw, 34
Anna Shaw, 24
Donald Shaw, 32
Rachel Shaw, 12, Granddaughter
Angus Mackay, 10, Grandson
John McDermid, 80, Brother-in-law
1891 – Strond
Una Shaw, 79, Crofter
Alexr Shaw, 40
Anne Shaw, 32
Rachel Shaw, 22
1901 – Strond
Alexander Shaw, 45, Crofter
Anne Shaw, 36, Sister
Rachel Morrison, 30
Angus Mackay, 25, Nephew
Peggy Mcsween, 12, Granddaughter
I am sure that this is the same family, followed from 1841 onwards, and am reasonably sure that this is indeed the Angus Shaw who assisted the Ordnance Survey.
Whether his wife, ‘Mary’, died and he remarried Una/Winford(?)/Ann could be discerned from an examination of their Death Certificates, plus those of the daughter Christian and one of the later children, should one wish to do so.
However, I am happy to present Angus Shaw, born circa 1810, a Gamekeeper in South Harris and father of six, as my first contribution to this ‘…interesting and worthwhile task…’ !
Notes: Robson also discusses the roles of Alexander Carmichael and FWL Thomas and I remind readers of the gem that is Bald’s 1804/5 Map of Harris & of my less-shiny attempt at a prose-poem on landscape.



30th May 1861 – Noon: left Loch Tarbert, Harris.
8 P.M. it fell calm when we were four miles from Rodel, Harris.
There were a few trifling showers, and the air was beautifully clear.
At 8.15, when the sun’s altitude was about ten degrees, a brilliant rainbow (C) formed; – its estimated altitude was 40 degrees.
Where the arch joined the horizon (A B) its colours were very bright.
A secondary bow (D) also formed, with the usual characteristics.
But, what must be very unusual, a third or extraordinary bow – (E) appeared.
The extraordinary and primary bow arose from the same points of, and were coincident with, the horizon; from whence the legs of the extraordinary bow rose almost perpendicularly, but bending gradually into a broad elliptic arch, whose summit, estimated at 70 degrees of altitude, was above that of the secondary bow.
The colours of the extraordinary bow were in primary order; less bright than the primary, but brighter than the secondary bow.
Neither the summits of the secondary nor extraordinary bows were ever very distinct.
The phenomenon lasted about half an hour.
A sketch of the arrangement is here drawn. (Please see embedded page)

Note: An old sailor informed me that he once witnessed a similar appearance of rainbows in the West Highlands. And in the Enc. Met. Mety., p. 171, is quoted a description of a like phenomenon, seen by Dr Halley from the walls of Edesten; but in which the extraordinary bow contracted until the upper portion of the arch became coincident with the upper portion of the secondary bow, when, from the order of the colours being contrary, the blending of the two produced white light.
Source: Journal of the Scottish Meteorological Society, Volume 1, Nos I-XII, 1866. p270

Note: He had completed surveying ‘East Loch Tarbert’ 4 years earlier, and the West Coast from the ‘Sound of Harris to Lochs Tarbert & Resort’ in1860, so the precise purpose of this voyage is uncertain we can be sure that Fred Thomas had been putting the time to good use, perhaps even collecting Webs with his wife?

>My Five-Penny Worth


On April 14th 1884 the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland included a contribution called ‘What is a Pennyland? Or Ancient Valuation of Land in the Scottish Isles’
by Captain FWL Thomas RN, FSA Scot.
The first part of his conclusion reads:
‘At a very early period, probably from the time of the invasion of Harold Fairhair, the arable lands of the uthalmen…were for the support of the Earl’s government, assessed for skatt or tax.
The divisions of the arable lands of the former Celtic inhabitants, each called a dabach, were assessed to pay a Norwegian ounce of silver; from which circumstance each division so paying was called an Ounceland.
Each ounceland was, for the purpose of assessment, divided into eighteen parts, each paying 1/18th of an ounce of Norwegian silver, which was equal in weight to one English penny, from which each subdivision was called a Pennyland.
Neither ounce nor penny land was a measure of surface, but of produce.’
Which is how the townships of Fivepenny in Ness and Fivepenny Borve in Barvas came to be so-called.
Today, ‘Fivepenny Park’ ‘Fivepenny Park’ is the home of Ness Football Club, but whether their current collection of silverware would be sufficient to pay the tax or not, I couldn’t possibly say!

The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review…

…By Sylvanus Urban, Gent. Vol III January-June 1860.

On page 481 of this fine publication (that was begun nearly 130 years earlier by Edward Cave using the same pseudonym that remained in use even after his death!) we have an account of a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries that had taken place on the 12th of March. The first communication to be read was this:

Notes of Antiquities in the Isle of Harris; with plans and drawings. By Captain F. W. L. Thomas, R.N., Corr. Mem. S.A. Scot.

Captain Thomas gave an interesting description, with careful drawings, of groups of the “bee-hive” houses in Harris, examined by him in the course of last summer. These primitive buildings are wholly of stone, and are probably the work of the early inhabitants, and yet in Uig they are still the summer abodes of a portion of the people; and Captain Thomas gave an account of the curious social arrangements which the diminutive size of the houses renders necessary, the doors being only about two feet square. A very remarkable example occurs in the Long Island, where twelve of the houses are built close to each other, with doors and passages from the one to the other, and forming probably the abode of several families. Captain Thomas considers these houses to be the Scottish or Irish type of the earliest domestic artificial dwelling in the islands. In the outer Hebrides are to be found examples of the abodes called in Orkney  “Picts’ houses;” and one of them at Nisibost, in Harris, was recently excavated, consisting of a pear-shaped chamber, with two bee-hive houses in connection with it, of which Captain Thomas produced a plan. In this house were found part of a quern, bits of native pottery, and bones of the ox, sheep, deer, seal, and dog. Near the “Picts’ house” is a cromlech, probably giving name to the place—” Hangerbost.” It consisted of seven stones placed in a circle, covered by a capstone; and under it was found a human skeleton, of which the skull was removed, and now presented to the Society. This relic is by the inhabitants attributed to the Fingalians.
Some discussion ensued, in which Mr. Milne Home, Mr. Robert Chambers, Mr. Joseph Robertson, and Mr. Stuart took part. The latter described a circular underground house recently discovered in Forfarshire, and suggested the great importance of following the example of Captain Thomas, in preserving plans and drawings of these remains on being first discovered.
‘Hangerbost’ is (I hope!) Horgabost but that is not what caught my attention: It was the fact that this document  firmly states that Captain Thomas was performing these studies ‘in the course of last summer’, i.e in 1859. This is the first time that I have been able to say with certainty that he (and most likely Mrs Thomas too) were in a particular part of Harris at a particular time. I am allowing myself the imaginative leap of Fanny Thomas visiting her friends the Davidson family at Manish Free Church, popping-into the Embroidery School at An-t-Ob and meeting the many Stocking Knitters of Strond, too, whilst Fred was busy diligently recording (for the first time) the archaeology of Harris…
…and doing so in a manner that led ‘Mr Stuart‘ to suggest ‘…the great importance of following the example of Captain Thomas, in preserving plans and drawings of these remains on being first discovered.’


You will have to forgive me for dancing a metaphorical jig upon discovering this document online at the

Archaeology Data Service
Department of Archaeology 
University of York
King’s Manor
York YO1 7EP

Proceedings of the Society, April 10, 1876

This paper from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is to be found in Volume 11 of their Proceedings and this is the link to the PDF file where you can read the original document.

In his paper, Fred Thomas explores in great detail the Norse origins of the placenames of the isles and even lists the number of people with each surname found in North Uist & Harris.
(This gave me quite a surprise for he counts 46 Kerr folk on Harris in, presumably, 1876 yet the censuses of 1871 & 1881 returned merely 37 and 27 respectively whilst that of 1861 showed 56? A check of other names suggests that he used the 1861 Census figures for his table (he earlier alludes to this with respect to Lewis) and that ’46’ was simply a mis-transcription of the ’56’ then present.)

But I digress, this paper by the retired 60 year-old is a fascinating read and certainly the most thorough account of the placenames of Harris that I have yet found – and it’s only 135 years old!

(Source: As cited above – from the Archaeology Data Service (Copyright Statement) )

"I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort."

Thus ended the evidence to the Napier Commission given by the Reverend Alexander Davidson of Manish Free Church, Harris.

The full exchange went like this:

13113. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—I forgot to follow out a question which I put about the lands. Taking South Harris as a whole, is there not enough land to support in comfort even more than the present population ?

—I should think it would give land to the present population, if the land were distributed among the people. I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort.

This, from a man who had lived, worked and raised a family amongst the people of South Harris for at least the past twenty-eight years (including officiating at the wedding of one of my female cousins in Strond in 1867) stands in stark contrast with the prevailing view of the Proprietor, the past Factors and the present Farmers of the day for whom Emigration was the only ‘answer’ to the ‘problem’.

I was inspired to take a closer look at Alexander Davidson having been contacted by one of his descendants, as can be seen at the end of this piece on Harris Free Churchmen .

The church is described in these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and this is its location as seen on the OS 1:25000 Map .

The accompanying Manse, which was the Davidson family’s home for many years, is similarly described on these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and its precise location can be seen here .

In previous pieces I mentioned that Captain FWL Thomas and his wife, Mrs ‘Captain Thomas’, had at times taken-in the children of islanders including one of Alexander Davidson’s daughters and also of the widowed Fanny Thomas’s later endowment of the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital .

I would like to end with a longer extract from the Reverend’s evidence to the Napier Commission, to which I have added notes & observation within the text:

13081. Do many of the young women go south?
—Not many.

The context here is that of the ‘Herring Girls’ of the islands who followed the fishing fleet in their progress around the coast of Scotland and England during the season.

13082. Have they never been in the habit of going much from Harris?
—No, they never went.

This is telling us that as far as Davidson was aware, the women of Harris did not participate in this work.

13083. A good many of the women in this island get employment in knitting and in spinning cloth ?
—Yes, kilt making. That is their principal employment, and of late years it has been very useful to them.

Knitting, Spinning and Weaving were clearly well-established by 1883 but whether ‘kilt making’ referred to an actual Tailoring activity or was Davidson’s shorthand for weaving a web of cloth is not clear. As far as I know, such tailoring was not performed in creating a product for export and my researches into tailoring certainly don’t indicate that it was ever a large-scale female activity on Harris.

13084. Who set that agoing?
—Well, the Countess of Dunmore takes some interest in it, as well as other parties. I see they get very much into the way of dealing with the local merchants in order to get meal.

The internal arrangements pertaining at the time between the producers and the local merchants are beyond the scope of this piece, but I am interested in Davidson’s phrase ‘takes some interest in it’  for that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Countess’s commitment to the cause. It is just a pity that none of the ‘other parties’ were named!

13085. Are most of the women in the parish employed in that way?
—Well, generally.

A reminder that, unlike on neighbouring Lewis, Weaving on Harris was traditionally dominated by the women.

13086. I mean every family?
—Perhaps not every family, but very generally they are.

The extent to which these textile industries pervaded the population and were pivotal to their survival is clear.

13087. They knit a great many stockings and hose?

The size and importance of the knitting industry must have been very significant at this time so quite why it slipped into relative obscurity, especially in comparison with the international fame of Harris Tweed, is an interesting question that I have discussed in previous pieces.

13088. What price do they get for socks?
—Not very much—perhaps about 1s., but I can hardly say whether that is the fixed price.

That is only £2-£3 in today’s money

13089. And they manufacture a peculiarly coloured native cloth?
—Almost every kind of cloth.

13090. Native dyes?
—Yes, they use native dyes.

Ignoring the slightly pejorative-sounding ‘peculiarly coloured’, we learn that the women were producing a variety of different cloths using ‘native dyes’. It is worth noting, however, that the word ‘Tweed’, let-alone the two words, ‘Harris Tweed’, are conspicuous by their absence. It wasn’t until the later marketing of the brand that they assumed common usage.

Ref: The full transcript of this evidence may be read here .

Anyone wishing to learn more about the Free Church Ministers at this time should consult the  Annals of the Free Church of Scotland 1843-1900 (which may be available as in inter-library loan).

FWL Thomas’s 1857 Chart of East Loch Tarbert – Direcleit Detail

On a par with my favourite map of Harris (the 1804/1805 one produced by Bald) is this chart from 1857 .
I have referred to each of these several times, the map’s subtitle being  ‘The property of Alexander Hume Esq surveyed by William Bald, Assistant to Mr Ainslie, in 1804-5’ whilst the chart was ‘surveyed by Lieut. F.W.L. Thomas, R.N. Assisted by W.T. Clifton 2nd Master’.

I wish to compare Bald’s view of ‘Dieraclate’ with that of Thomas’s ‘Dhiracleit’ both to see what had altered in the intervening half-century, both in terms of Harris itself, of cartographic techniques and the motivation for making maps. I have attempted to provide links that display as closely as possible the same area but not precisely so.

Starting with Bald’s map (this particular copy of which apparently dates from 1829), the man who probably commissioned it, Alexander Hume Macleod, had inherited the island from his father, the successful seaman Captain Macleod, in 1790 and would soon pass it on to his own son, Alexander Norman Macleod in 1811. Ignoring the pencilled annotations, which I believe to have been made during the ownership of the 7th Earl of Dunmore, the map is clearly intended to inform the landlord in some detail of the agricultural arrangements of the island. It itemises the holdings of no less than 25 separate parts and displays the location and boundaries pertaining to each of these. Additionally, major landmarks are identified as are settlements and routes for communication. There is a compass cross indicating North and scales in both ‘Scotch Chains 74 feet each’ and in ‘Miles’ as well as some soundings dotted around the casts and islands but whose unit of measure is not defined. The only other navigational information is a single ‘Bearing to Gasgheir distance from Ru Hinigha 10 miles’ although why we have this indication of where the island of Gaisgeir (Gasker in English) lies is a mystery. On the modern OS map this tiny island sits in splendid isolation neatly within the square kilometre at NA875116 so whether Bald included it as a useful navigational aid or simply in the interest of completeness is unknown.

Returning to the detailed section of the map around Direcleit, I want to consider the settlements that are indicated beginning with ‘Tarbet’. Here we see a cluster of perhaps nine buildings bounded by a dotted-enclosure and West Loch Tarbert. Only a pair of buildings are shown in the area to the East where the present-day village is found. The settlement at the West Loch must surely indicate a link to the fishing grounds of the Atlantic for the harbour is the safest on the whole of that side of ‘mainland’ Harris and Captain Macleod   definitely perceived the economic future of the isle to lie within the sea rather than upon the land. Moving away from ‘Tarbet’ towards ‘Loch Dieraclate’ we encounter no signs of habitation within this part of the Farm of Luskentyre until reaching ‘ Ken Diebeck’.  If we assume that Bald only marked houses that were in occupation then if there had been any people living in that area he missed them but if he marked all buildings regardless of their status then the area had yet to be settled. Whichever is the case we are reasonably safe to say that whilst people were living in Kendebig  at the time there were none at Direcleit.

Compare that with the situation in 1857 where the chart still shows some six houses at ‘Ceann Dhibig’ but then another two-dozen scattered from ‘Baille Dhiracleit’ via the peninsular of ‘Dhiracleit Pt’ and up to ‘Craobhag’. As clear an indication as one could wish for of the effect of the Clearances that took place during the first-half of the nineteenth-century in Harris.

One of those houses is of especial interest to me. If you start at ‘Baille Dhiracleit’, sitting on the narrow slice of land between the waters of sea and the inland loch, and let your eye traverse diagonally upwards and to the left you will reach a triangular mark with a dot inside it. This ‘Trig Point’ (short for ‘Triangulation Point’) is a fixed point whose precise location is known from other similar points that lie within sight of it and whose height above the sea has been measured to a great degree of accuracy. It is the secret behind all the work of cartography since the formation of the Ordnance Survey but whether this particular one was the work of that organisation of of Thomas himself I cannot say. This Trig Point lies within a defined parcel of land with two houses and it is the one nearest to ‘Coal I’ and ‘Big I’ that is our destination for there, some thirty-five years before the chart was constructed, my great, great grandfather Malcolm Kerr had been born.

Trip to the Hebrides – Glasgow Herald, Wednesday 20th October 1858

The article in this newspaper is another interesting read that is best read in full, but here’s a sample:

‘…There being no English service in the school-house, our landlord, Mr Norman Macleod, requested Mr McKie, the parish minister, to preach a sermon to us in English…The congregation was a mere handful – the Harris doctor, the first mate of the surveying cutter Woodlark, his spouse, and five or six men, three old wives, and four or five little boys and girls…’

Now, this nicely places the Woodlark in Tarbert in the Autumn of 1858 (although I believe it to have been under the command of FWL Thomas at this time so unfortunately it is not he and Fanny Thomas who are amongst this congregation) as well as giving us the names of the both the ‘landlord’ in the schoolhouse (perhaps the Merchant of that name?)  and the Minister, who I have not mentioned previously. Was the doctor still Robert Clark from Argyll or had he left by this time?

The next section includes a description of the current progress in building the Free Church in Tarbert, again another useful piece of information, it being complete bar the ‘seating and finishing’.

Although the tone of the article is the depressingly familiar one in which ‘lowland’ prejudices predominate it is a valuable titbit that I hope you enjoy reading .