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.

Schooling along the Sound of Harris

For the third of this series looking at education and educators during the 19thC I am grouping considering what we can glean about the then populous South coast.
From the 1st Edition OS 1-inch map (1885) of the area, we see two locations for schools:
An-t-Ob NG025863 (Details & Photo ) and Strond NG032841. The 6-inch map also informs us that in each case the school was for ‘Boys & Girls’. I think a double-fronted bungalow at this location may be the school.
Donald Murray, 40, P Schoolmaster, Rodil, b. Scotland
Isabella Mackinnon, 31, School Mistress, Wife, Obe, ED3, b. Harris
(Donald Mackinnon, 39, Catechist & Farmer, b. Harris plus 5 children ages 1 to 10 and a female ‘House Servant’)
James Stewart, 40, ParishSchoolmaster, Oab, ED6, b. South Uist
(Margaret Stewart, 34, Wife, b. Harris plus 7 children ages 5 months to 12 years and a female ‘General Servant’)
Mary Mcaulay, 21, School Mistress, Industrial School, ED6 b. Stornoway
Anne Mcaualy, 23, Sister, b. Stornoway
Christina Mcaulay, 13, Scholar, Sister, b. Stornoway
1872 – Education Act
Kenneth J Mackenzie, 27, Teacher, Strond, b. Ullapool
Christina Macleod, 29, housekeeper, b. Harris
1891 – None Listed
John Whiteford, 46, Certificated Teacher Elementary, Obbe, ED2, b. Kilbirnie, Ayrshire
Mary Whiteford, 43, Wife, b. Kilbirnie, Ayrshire
Agnes Mary Laird Whiteford, 14, Monitor (Teacher), Obbe, ED2, b. Glasgow
Margaret Whiteford, Scholar, 12, Daughter, b. New Cumnock, Ayrshire
(Peter McCaul, 66, Retired Teacher, Obbe, ED2, b. Killin, Perthshire)
The presence in 1841 of Schoolmaster Donald Murray in ‘Rodil’ reminds us that it was the Church, and other Societies, that provided education at this time. Although Rodel does not feature on the list of schools provided by the ‘Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools’ in 1821 this does not mean that 20 years later it was not they who were responsible. However thinking about the 6th Earl of Dunmore’s recent acquisition of the island and his rebuilding of St Clement’s Church at Rodel tends to point in favour of Donald Murray having been a Parish Schoolmaster at this time.
The situation in 1851 is much clearer for now we have the household of Catechist & Farmer, John Mackinnon, living in ‘Obe’ and including his teaching Wife. If the school on ‘Obbe Road’ had been built by this date then I am confident that the family with their servant were its residents.
Their place appears to have been taken by 1861 by James Stewart and his family. Stewart was the teacher in Borve in 1851 and would no longer have been required there following the second Clearance which took place in 1853 to benefit the Sheep Farmer Kenneth Macdonald. In 1871 James Stewart was an Inspector of Poor in Strond and by1881 had become a School Board Clerk still living in Strond.
The only teacher in the area in 1871 is Mary Mcaulay and the only reason that I can place her here is because my relative Roderick Kerr was one of those living at ‘Obe Shop’ which was within Enumeration District 6. Mary’s address is intriguing for it is the only reference to an ‘Industrial School’ in the area that I know of. However, we do know that first an Embroidery School and then some form for educating Stocking Knitters had been introduced by the Countess of Dunmore & Mrs Thomas and it seems likley that Mary, coming from Stornoway where she may have been educated at the Female Industrial School , merely imported this slightly grandiose term to add weight to her role in Harris. She was, after all, only 21 and apparently solely supporting her two sisters at the time.
In 1881 the schools at An-t-Ob, whether industrial, parochial or Public, do not feature but we do see our one and only record of a teacher in Strond in the shape of Kenneth J Mackenzie. It seems likely that the school at Strond originated as a result of the 1872 Education Act but I cannot be certain. The situation in 1891 is even worse for there are no teachers recorded that I can place with confidence in the area, although it may be that the Retired Teacher, Peter McCaul who we find in Obbe in 1901 had previously served that school. In the same year it is John Whiteford, assisted in her ‘Monitor (Teacher)’ role by his 14 year-old daughter Agnes Mary Laird Whiteford, who is found teaching in Obbe.
In conclusion, I am confident that the school on ‘Obbe Road’ provided education for the second-half of the 19thC and that, at times, it was accompanied by a Public School in Strond and by some degree of ‘Industrial’ education. Let us not forget Captain Alexander Macleod’s 18thC educational provision in the upper reaches of his ‘Mill’ in Rodel that John Knox remarked upon, either!

John Lanne Buchanan (1768-1828?) & his ‘General View’

A brief but informative biography can be read here (please scroll down )and this PDF contains a reference to
the dates that I have included in the title of this entry.

I have not discovered any more biographical information but as I haven’t made reference to the third of his publications now seems to be a good time to do so:

Travels in the Western Hebrides (1793)
A Defence of the Scots Highlanders (1794)
General View of the Fishery of Great Britain (1794)

A ‘General View’ (as I shall refer to it henceforth) is one of those narratives that casts a broad sweep in time and place, making it a worthwhile read whatever aspect of history ‘floats your boat’, and so I shall concentrate upon some of the many references to Harris that it contains.

At the conclusion of the Preface JBL writes:

“It remains now that the author begs some allowance from the English Reader for the style and expression ; his chief attention being to make himself understood ; therefore he has followed a plain and pie style, without pomp or affectation”

This author will do his best to follow that example, too, although to the modern eye and ear Buchanan’s prose is at times rather convoluted!

Apparently (p17) in 1633 King Charles built several storage houses in the Hebrides ‘one at HERMITRA, in HARRIS, and another in LOCHMADDY, in North UIST, which lies about a league and a half South of HERMITRA…’

Now 5 miles is ‘about a league and a half’ and if we consult Bald’s 1805 map of Harris we find the island of ‘Hermetray’, complete with Harbour, lying in the Sound of Harris and on today’s OS maps the isle is shown variously as ‘Thernatraigh’ (1:50 000) and ‘Hermetray’ (1:25 000). There is, however, no sign of the Harbour nor of Charles’ construction but it might be worth a brief archaeological visit lying as it does a little over a mile from the coast of north-eastern North Uist.

Starting on p126 we are given an account of John Knox’s findings in which Buchanan is polite but firm in casting Knox as ‘…but a stranger, and at best but a speculative fisher…’ but goes on to put the blame for mis-siting fisheries firmly at the door of Knox’s superiors for accepting his suggestions without question.

By p156 we are into the nitty-gritty of Buchanan’s annoyance which is focussed upon Tarbert in Harris being overlooked as a place to establish a fishery. East Loch Tarbert, if a channel had been constructed linking it the 600 yards to the West Loch, would have been within an hours sailing from the Atlantic Herring fisheries to the West as well as perfectly sited for the whole of the Minch. It was Knox, influenced by the enthusiasm of ‘Mr Macleod’, the proprietor of Harris, who had proposed Tarbert for this purpose but later Knox had fallen under the spell of those supporting sites away from the Western Isles and Tarbert fell from his favour It is, I think, worth reminding ourselves that Captain Macleod had died four years prior to the writing of the ‘General View’ and that both Buchanan and Knox clearly held him in the very highest regard as an industrious and caring landlord. It was undoubtedly a huge loss to Harris when the Captain died 220 years ago.

The extent of the loss to Harris is graphically described from p168 onwards including reference to Buchanan’s earlier writings where ‘a just parallel is drawn’ between the people living in LUSGINTIRE (Losgaintir in Gaelic) and African slaves. The account continues in an ever-more depressing manner and it is almost possible to see Buchanan’s compassionate tears flooding the pages with raw anger, albeit phrased with late 18thC politeness.

The influence of kelp-making is remarked upon on p193 for apparently on the East coast of Scotland ‘the thick column of disagreeable fog…has greatly diminished the fish on these shores.’ This is contrasted with the kelp smoke on the ‘Long Island’ where the strong winds ‘clear off that smell.’ Buchanan wasn’t to know that the kelp market would soon collapse but that does not diminish the point he makes that at the time the Hebrides had a distinct advantage in terms of the profusion of local fish stocks.

When we reach p203 onwards we find Buchanan castigating the silence of the Hebridean proprietors en masse for having ‘so little to say’ regarding the decisions taken regarding the siting of fisheries largely caused by Knox’ unknowledgeable recommendations. Basically, the proprietors had been keen to see fisheries established, after all, richer tenants make for richer landlords!, but rather strangely they did not challenge the recommendations and merely fell mute.

Buchanan proceeds to point out that, with the exception of the ‘narrow and at times dangerous sound of Harris’ the sites chosen on the mainland had no access to the Atlantic fish between Barra and the Butt of Lewis, a distance of some 200 miles.

‘As for the direct opposition given by the steel bowman at Lusgintire…his private interest would suffer by the village at TARBERT. For the paultry spot of Moor and Moss with the Kelp, not half a mile long and broad, out of the bay of DIRACLETT near the village, he made it appear…that he drew more money yearly from the division cut out of that paltry bay than the proprietor drew from the whole of that extensive lease…’

Buchanan suggests that the ‘steel bowman’ thus made a fool of the ‘sweet tempered gentleman’ Captain Macleod ‘a circumstance he never could forget while in life’. It might not be going too far to say that, in Buchanan’s view, Macleod died of a broken heart having learnt of the avarice and heartlessness of the farmers, those men who would in later years embark on the wholesale Clearance of the fertile West coast of Harris.

And there is not the least doubt, had he lived, but he would break this tyrant’s power, by depriving him of this extensive profitable lease…’ Not only would the Clearnces never taken place, but Tarbert would have become the fishing station of Buchanan’s vision, complete with horse-drawn carriages to portage boats between the lochs as demand required…

Buchanan concludes by describing in detail his plans for a necklace of fishing stations throughout the isles, making the case for each individually and their interconnectedness as a whole. Instead of which, by the time of his death in 1828, the tyranny of the farmers had become even greater and Tarbert remained a quiet backwater rather than the bustling hub of Buchanan’s scheme.

‘…he brought wheels, reels, and other implements to begin a woollen manufactory in his village:’

Thus wrote the Reverend John Lanne Buchanan of Captain Alexander Macleod Captain Alexander Macleod in his 1793 publication ‘Travels in the Western Hebrides’. The ‘village’ was ‘Roudle’, which we are more familiar with as Rodel/Rodil, and the Captain himself had died three years prior to the book’s publication.

John Knox also referred to a ‘fulling mill’ in his book ‘A Tour through the Highlands of Scotland, and the Hebride Isles, in MDCCLXXXVI’ which had been published in 1787. Knox wrote, ‘He brought with him the model of a press, corn, and fulling mill, to work under the same roof ; the two latter to go by one water wheel. He also brought the iron work for these machines .’ Clearly the intention was to have a corn mill and a fulling mill powered together but the tone of the writing suggests to me that they were perhaps yet to be built and no such structure appears on Bald’s 1804/5 map of Harris. .

The censuses certainly record millers at Obb/Obe in the years 1841-61 but I believe there’s was a grain mill.

‘Piscator’ in his account of a visit in 1787 appears to firmly locate all the Captain’s activities at Rodel, although the mysterious author (I think it was John Knox!) only speaks of spinning wheels, with no specific reference to water powered machinery.

The point of this slightly convoluted contribution is simply this:
Had Captain Macleod succeeded in establishing a ‘woollen manufactory’ in ‘his village’ then, quite simply, Harris Tweed as we know it might never have existed for, as the 1993 Act puts it, the cloth must be ‘…hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides…’ and certainly not in any water-powered factory!

Obe, Harris, Thursday, May 31.1883

We are in an unidentified building in An-t-Ob at the end of May 127 years ago.
Present are five commissioners under the Chairman, Lord Napier and Ettrick, and amongst those giving evidence are a particularly significant pair of people and they are the subject of this and a subsequent piece.

Although there can be no substitute to reading the complete testimonies, so as to fully immerse oneself in the atmosphere of the past, I think there is a place for extracting parts that are of especial interest or that help to cast light into the shadowy corners of history:

Kenneth Macdonald, Farmer, Scarista-vore, – examined

13323. The Chairman.—You have a farm in South Harris1?—Yes, Scarista-vore.
The 1881 census shows him aged 64 and the ‘Farmer and Factor’ at Big Borve

13324. Have you been long resident in the country?—I came to Harris about fifty-one years ago.
He would have been aged 15 back in 1832 and from 1851-1881 he farmed at Borve

13325. Does your family belong to this country, or to another part of Scotland ?—I don’t belong to this part of the country. I am a Rossshireman.
Applecross, actually.

13329. If, in your recollection, the land has been more subdivided and more exhausted, how do you account for the fact that the people are better fed and better dressed?
Do they earn more wages?—A great deal. I believe that £200 of money comes to Harris now for every pound that came in my first recollection. There was no such thing as herring fishing. There was in some places cod and ling fishing. There was no such thing as lobster fishing. I happen to be an agent of the first company that started for sending the lobsters to London. Then an enormous amount of money is brought in now for clothes by the Countess of Dunmore. I remember one year paying an account of her ladyship, £1235 for webs of cloth alone. They still go on manufacturing.
Firstly, it should be born in mind that, even if there had been this miraculous multiplication in island income, there is no accounting of inflation nor, most importantly, how it was divided amongst the population. Macdonald, happily for him, was an agent for the export of lobsters but he neglects to tell the commission of how the fishermen only got paid for those that were sold in London, not all that were sent there. The £1235 paid for webs of cloth must have been when he became Factor and, as John Robson Macdonald was still in that role in 1871, it must have been within the last dozen years

13330. Is it manufactured in hand-looms?—Yes.
13331. What material do they use?—Entirely wool grown in the island.
13332. And the dyes?—And the dyes.
No mechanisation, no imported wool and no synthetic dyes.

13333. Is there any of the wool of the primitive race of sheep – the old Highland sheep, or is it blackfaced and Cheviot ?—It is blackfaced and Cheviot. The old primitive sheep are done.
13334. Can we see a specimen?—Yes, if you go to St Kilda.
13335. Sheriff Nicolson.—I think we saw them in South Uist?—Yes, but you will not see them in Harris.
13336. The Chairman.—Was the wool of fine quality?—I cannot answer that, for I have never seen any.
His reply, ‘Yes, if you go to St Kilda’, followed by his retort to Sheriff Nicolson’s intervention, strikes me as symptomatic of someone who is somewhat contemptuous of the five figures in front of him.

13338. You spoke about the winters now not being so severe—that is to say that frost and snow are comparatively unknown. Are high winds now more prevalent than they used to be?—Decidedly. When there is very keen frost there is scarcely any wind at all; but now, since we have no frost and constant rains, we have blustering winds continually, principally from the S.S.W. and W.
The overall impression is that during the past 50 years Harris had become warmer, wetter and windier, an interesting if unsubstantiated claim worthy of more investigation?

13340. You are in constant communication with the people?—Yes. I remember seeing them going to church, and the difference between the clothing and attire of the families going to church then was as different as day is from night.
13341. Is it better in reality?—Better in reality.
13342. But one man, a country tailor, and should know better than others, at Dunvegan, called all the fine clothing the women wear ” south country rags,” as distinguished from their fine home-spun cloth. Do you agree with the tailor?—I should not agree with that, for they are proverbial in Harris for their good spinning, their good weaving, and their good making of clothes for themselves, not only over Great Britain, but over the whole Continent. You hear of Harris tweeds here, there, and everywhere. My coat was grown on the farm, woven on the farm, and made on the farm.
A slightly confusing exchange, for it is entirely possible that, despite them producing the finest of cloths, the women perhaps could not ‘afford’ to wear it themselves?

13343. But many of the people state here that for want of sheep, and being overcrowded, they are not able to spin, and they would like to go back to the old times?—Well, so far as South Harris is concerned, of the number of sheep I can say nothing. Of North Harris I can give every sheep every man has.
A neat side-stepping of the question!

13346. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Have you any poets or bards among you ?—Yes, there was one celebrated poet, but he died about two years ago. The Harris bard, he was always called.
13347. What was his name?—Neil Mackinnon.
13348. Where did he stay?—Luscantire.
I have been unable to find him in any census, nor have I encountered other references to him so if anyone has any information please let me know!

13349. I wish to put a question or two in regard to the proprietors of this estate, so far as you know, from the time it left the M’Leods. Who was the first proprietor from the main branch?—Captain M’Leod, son of Sir Norman M’Leod.
13350. Was he a purchaser ?—He was the first purchaser. He was the first purchaser from M’Leod of M’Leod.
13351. How many generations of these M’Leods were’there?—There were three. Captain M’Leod’s son was Mr Hugh M’Leod, but he took his mother’s name of Hume, and his son Alexander was the last proprietor of Harris, who sold it to the present Lord Dunmore’s grandfather.
13352. How far back was that1?—Lord Duumore bought it forty-nine years ago.
13353. What was the price? Do you know the price?—£60,000 for the estate, and £500 for the purchase of the patronage = £60,500. Tradition said that £15,000 was the price originally paid for it to M’Leod of M’Leod.
13354. We have been told there is a small portion of Harris – the lands of Ensay and Pabbay – belonging to Mr Stewart. When were they sold ? —By the present Lord Dunmore, not very many years ago.
13355. And he also sold North Harris ?—Yes.
13356. It was the present Lord Dunmore who sold the whole?—Yes.
13357. To Sir Edward Scott?—Yes.
Sir Edward Scott bought North Harris in 1867 but what is memorable is Macdonald’s mastery of the sequence of ownership and the sums exchanged for his memory is not always as reliable as here.

13362. Sheriff Nicolson.—Were there some evictions which you remember, from the place where you are now living ?—Yes.
13363. When was that?—I can hardly condescend upon the date. It is over forty years ago, I believe.
13364. Were there not very severe measures resorted to for removing the people ?—Decidedly – very severe.
13365. Was not the Black Watch actually called upon to take part in that unpleasant work? – No, it was not the Black Watch, it was the 78th.
13366. Where did they come from?—They were brought all the way from Fort George.
If he is talking of the Clearance of Borve, then that was in 1839, some 44 years earlier and the regiment would have been the 78th Highlanders also called the Ross-Shire Buffs but the severity of the action doesn’t appear to cause him any disquiet.

13367. And where were the people transported to?—I cannot tell, but I believe they were scattered and transplanted here and there in the country.
13368. You don’t think they were carried to the colonies?—Oh, no.
13369. The Chairman.—They may have emigrated?—I cannot remember. I believe a few of them did emigrate, but I cannot say how many.
Having conveniently forgotten whether any emigrated, he then went on to mention a couple of ‘success stories’ from Canada!

13376. Had you ever to do with this estate at any time?—I had.
13377. Were you factor?—For a short time.
13378. Who stays at Rodel now ?—I believe the house is being prepared for his Lordship.
13379. There is no resident tenant now?—No.
So he had been the Factor of the South Harris Estate, although not resident at Rodel House, and confirms that no-one lives there now. I am particularly interested as my relative was the Farm Manager at Rodel in 1881 and I am sure that he had been a resident of Rodel House in previous years.

In conclusion, Kenneth Macdonald has provided us with further pieces of the jigsaw, some containing clearer images than others, yet who leaves me with the impression of a man from the mainland who, despite living in Harris for over half-a-century, has singularly failed to engage with the plight of his fellow men. His attitude to the Clearances and to Emigration clearly put him in the same league as those more notorious Factors of Harris, Donald Stewart and John Robson Macdonald, yet he remains less well-known.

And, of course, I do not know what part was played by my relative who once shared a roof with John Robson Macdonald…

Update: One aspect of this account is puzzling me. In 13351, he speaks of THREE generations of Macleods, interspersing ‘Mr Hugh Macleod’ between the Captain & Alexander Hume Macleod. As far as I can ascertain, Alexander Hume was the Captain’s son so where ‘Mr Hugh Macleod’ fits in is a mystery. The third generation was Alexander Norman Macleod who inherited Harris in 1811 from his father, Alexander Hume Macleod.  However, in 13354 we have confirmation that Ensay and Pabbay were sold to Mr Stewart (of Ensay) by the 7th Earl of Dunmore ‘not very many years ago’ thus allowing us to date the annotations to Bald’s map of Harris to having been made after those sales & possibly in or around the 1870s?

It is very easy for one to make mistakes with the generations and I am fairly sure that I have made a few, despite my efforts to avoid replicating such errors!

Update 2: A full account from ‘The Scottish Jurist’ regarding Alexander Norman Macleod’s inheritance and what became of it can be read here: 17th January 1838.

‘Mr Hugh Macleod’, whose identity so vexed me, was obviously Alexander HUME Macleod, son of the Captain and father of Alexander Norman Macleod, these being the three generations of 13351.

The Bee, or Literary Weekly Intelligencer,

Original Pieces and Selections from Performances of Merit, Foreign and Domestic
A Work Calculated to Disseminate Useful Knowledge among
All Ranks of People at a Small Expence
By James Anderson

I am reading Volume 8 of ‘The Bee’ which was published in 1792. However, the article that interests me is an ‘Account of a visit to the Hebrides, by a Committee of the British Fisheries Society, in the year 1787. In his letter offering the article for submission, the author signs himself ‘Piscator’, presumably, but mysteriously, so as to protect his true identity?

The account is split into sections amongst the contents of ‘The Bee’ and it is that beginning on page 281 that especially interest me:

July 19. Wind fair. After a passage of six hours reached Rowdil, in the isle of Herries, by 12 o’clock.
Visited captain Macleod of Herries’s operations at Portmore.

Captain Alexander Macleod of Berneray had bought Harris some eight years earlier, in 1779, and our ‘Piscator’ is providing us with evidence of what had been undertaken by those ‘operations at Portmore’. Before progressing, I should say that this is the first, and only, time that I have encountered the name ‘Portmore’ in connection with Harris. If, as appears the case, it was Captain Macleod’s name for his ‘operations’ then the lesson of history regarding the renaming of parts of Harris was lost to the later Lord Leverhulme and his replication a couple of miles along the Sound at An-t-Ob.

He has built a pier of 300 feet long, and 22 wide. He is building a second, to inclose the harbour.

Those piers remain to this day as testament to the vision of the Captain and, whilst fishing wouldn’t have saved Harris from all its problems in the 19thC, I am firmly of the opinion that had the ‘operations’ been continued with fervour by Alexander’s son and grandson then some of the suffering could, and would, have been ameliorated.

He has built a large storehouse, and over it a good inn, his present dwelling…made a good road from the harbour to a little town he is forming on the height…and a manufacturing house for teaching children the art of spinning…

The RCAHMS record for Rodel House describes it as ‘unusually tall’ so I think that when we are told of a ‘large storehouse, and over it a good inn’, we are indeed learning of the use to which each of the three storeys were being put. That ‘little town on the height’ ,which was connected to the harbour by a proper road, became the ‘Rodel Farm’ of half a century’s time rather than the ‘manufacturing’ centre that the Captain clearly had in mind. Maybe it was no bad thing that the children of Harris were spared the horrors of the factory system that might have been introduced had that particular aspect seen fruition.

…one of the upper rooms full of boys and girls, whom a schoolmaster was instructing in the arts of reading and writing.

I don’t know if any mainland mills were offering an education at this time but, if so, I have yet to hear of it.
The account continues for several pages, each containing little gems of detail, and to which I hope to return but, for now, we leave these scholars of whom, ‘an Englishman gentleman of the party said , few children at the schools in England, read with more correctness or less accent.’

Note: ‘The Bee’ was published in Edinburgh from 1790-1794 by James Anderson who was born at Hermiston near Edinburgh in 1739. When only 15, his parents died and he ran the family farm. He attended lectures on Chemistry to improve his agricultural knowledge, introduced the Scotch Plough, wrote several essays on agriculture and in 1788 received the degree of LLD from Aberdeen University. He died on 15 October 1808.