Rodel Households

These are the 60 ‘Head of Households’ as recorded in the 1841-1901 censuses.
Please bear in mind that these are listed merely to show the number of individual households and the range of occupations of those heading them. They do not provide detailed information on the overall economic activity that was being undertaken in Rodel during this time.
1841 (81 people in 13 households)
John Lindsay, 40, Estate Officer
John R Macdonald, 30, Farmer
Kenneth McDyer, 40, Shepherd
Angus McKay, 20, Shepherd
Angus Macleod, 60, Ag Lab
John Mckenzie, 50, Ag Lab
Donald Macmillan, 35, Ag Lab
Angus Ferguson, 30, Ag Lab
Donald Murray, 40, Parish Schoolmaster
Donald Macdonald, 40, Tailor
Allan McKinnon, 82, ?
Catherina McKay, 60, ?
Ann McKay, 40, ?
The 1841 census is not specific about addresses but I assume that the Estate Officer resided at Rodel House because the Farmer Macdonald who became Factor Macdonald is recorded as residing at Rodel House during his time as Factor.
1851 (38 people in 8 households)
John R Macdonald, 44, Land Factor & JP
Murdoch Macleod, 23, Shepherd
Donald Macmillan, 40, Farm Labourer
Angus McDermid, 35, Fish Curer
Richard H Watson, 32, Fish Merchant
Catherine Macleod, 50, Weaveress
Ann MacKinnon, 60, Formerly House Servant
Mary Macaulay, 60, Formerly Weaveress
I wonder if the Fish Curer occupied the listed building that is called the ‘Factors House‘ but which most certainly was not occupied by John R Macdonald’s extensive household? The presence of the retired House Servant now having her own home to live in, is a feature of later households too.
1861 (32 people in 5 households)
John Robertson Macdonald, 54, Factor of Harris Estate, Rodel House
Alex Macdonald 64, Farmer’s Shepherd, Rodel Hill House
Donald Mclennan, 35, Farmer’s Shepherd, Rodel Hill House
Roderick Macleod, 32, Farmer’s Shepherd, Rodel
Donald Macmillan, 55, Ag Lab, Rodel
I do not know precisely where the two ‘Rodel Hill Houses’ were located but this census explicitly locates the Factor within the walls of Rodel House.
1871 (44 people in 6 households)
John R Macdonald, 64, Factor
John Cunningham, 32, Estate Factor’s Clerk
Angus Kerr, 40, Farm Grieve
Roderick Macleod, 40, Shepherd
Norman Macdonald, 32, Shepherd
Donald Macmillan, 70, Cottar
Where the homes occupied by the Clerk & the Grieve were is unknown but I assume that they were close to the Factor in Rodel House (which was where Angus had been living in the previous two censuses).
1881 (38 people in 8 households)
Angus Kerr, 48, Farm Manager, Rodel Farm
Neil Macleod, 72, Shepherd, Rodel Farm
Norman Macdonald, 42, Shepherd, Rodel Farm
Norman Macmillan, 40, Farm Servant, Rodel Farm
Neil Macdonald, 46, Fisherman, Rodel Farm
Mary Maclean, 68, Laundry Maid, Rodel Farm
Catherine MacKinnon, 50, Cottar, Rodel Farm
Flora Macmillan, 60, Pauper, Rodel Farm
I doubt that any of these households were in Rodel House itself which, according to Kenneth Macdonald Kenneth Macdonald’s evidence to the Napier Commission was being made ready for the Earl in 1883.
1891 (48 people in 10 households)
Norman Macdonald, 52, Shepherd, Rodel
Norman Macmillan, 52, Cowherd, Rodel
John Finlayson, 41, Gamekeeper, Rodel
Ewan Macleod, 50, Gardener, Rodel
Euphemia Mackinnon, 62, House Keeper, Rodel
Niel Macdonald, 54, Fisherman, Rodel
Roderick Macaulay, 60, House Carpenter, Rodel
Angus Kerr, 64, Retired Groom, Rodel
Mary Maclean, 80, Retired Washerwoman, Rodel
Anne Macmillan, 80, Retired Tailoress, Rodel
It is interesting to see a Gardener appearing again, his predecessor having become the Post Master at An-t-Ob sometime between 1871 and 1881. At least two retired employees are now present but I have no idea at what time between 1881 and 1891 my cousin was the Groom/Coachman.
1901 (48 people in 10 households)
Roderick Campbell, 70, Farmer, Rodel
Alexander Morrison, 48, Shepherd, Rodel
John Finlayson, 51, Gamekeeper, Rodel
Norman Macmillan, 50, Carter, Rodel
Ewan Macleod, 59, Gardener, Hamlet Rodel
Norman Macdonald, 60, Mason, Rodel
Niel Macdonald, 69, Fisherman, Rodel
Roderick Macaulay, 68, Joiner, Rodel
Angus Kerr, 75, Retired Coachman, Rodel
Effie McKinnon, 60, Retired House Maid, Rodel
The House appears unoccupied and the only interesting feature is the location of the Gardener in another specified, but unknown, location, ‘Hamlet Rodel’.
Overall, I think we can see that during the second-half of the 19thC Rodel was tied to meeting the demands of Rodel House and the ‘Home Farm’ and it did so with an average of a mere 8 separate households.

The Parochial Board of Harris in 1851

The members of this board, who signed a document relating to the situation in the island on the 3rd of April 1851 in Tarbert, Harris, are listed here with some (tentative!) notes in parenthesis:
RODERICK MACDONALD Minister (possibly the minister of South Uist?)
J. R. MACDONALD Factor (Born Snizort, Inverness-shire)
DONALD McRAE Tacksman (Factor’s Nephew, Farmer of 200 acres Employing 8 men & Justice of the Peace?)
JOHN MACDONALD Tacksman (possibly the Farmer of 150 acres on the Island of Taransay?)
ALEX. McRAE Tacksman (presumably the Farmer of Nisishee Employing 21 men?)
ROBERT CLARK Surgeon (From Argyll)
NORMAN M’LEOD Merchant (possibly the ‘Farmer & Ship-person’ of Tarbert?)
JOHN M’LEOD Ground-Officer (From Harris and living at Port Esgein)
JOHN KERR Joiner and Tenant (see below)
R. H. WATSON Fish-curer (English-born living at Rodel)
JOHN TROTTER Superintendent of Croft Culture (Drat, I can’t find him!)
ALEX. CAMPBELL Lighthouse-Keeper (Born Harris, Assistant Light Keeper at Rhinns Lighthouse, Island of Oversay, Argyll)
Several of these twelve men are familiar to me and make appearances in earlier entries so I feel a little bit mean in not having diligently made a list of links for you, but if any of them are of particular interest then a simple search should lead you to those entries.
However, I am going to look at John Kerr the ‘Joiner and Tenant’ who is NOT someone in my own immediate family tree but who does feature in that of a well-known island ‘character’.
John Kerr (1811-1879) was the older of the two sons of a Farmer, John Kerr, and his wife, the Weaveress Marion Macleod of Scarista and Borve. Both brothers became Joiners/Carpenters and the younger one, Roderick, was the father of John Kerr, the Minister of Harris who appears in Finlay J Macdonald’s ‘Crowdie & Cream’ as ‘Ayatollah Kerr’.
John the Joiner makes three appearances in the Scottish censuses, as a Carpenter in Scarista in 1841, as a Joiner in Luskintyre with his Perthshire-born wife Janet in 1851, and as a ‘Journeyman’ in the company of two younger Joiners in ‘East Tarbert Shed’ in 1861. I should explain that in that year his wife, Jessie, was living in Obe with their five children and described herself as a ‘House Carpenter’s Wife’.
What happens next is not one, but two migrations for the next child is born in Wales in 1863 and the one after that in Birkenhead in England in 1866, and it was there that the ‘Ayatollah’s uncle died in 1879.
Looking at the Parochial Board list it is clear that several came from outside of Harris and that at least half had an interest in seeing the expansion of sheep-farms at the expense of the native population. There are also several family ties that I have yet to fully explore & make explicit but the lack of any representation of the majority of the populace on this particular Parochial Board is obvious.
Finally, as I do suspect that this John Kerr is related to me and am sure that he (like all the other Harris Kerrs whose family trees I have fully constructed) was descended from ‘incomers’, probably arriving at the time of Captain Alexander Macleod, I think that his inclusion is indicative that in many cases they were allied to the ‘improvers’.
This is not the first time that I have made this observation, and situations are always far more complex than one can hope to fully and accurately reconstruct after such a long passage of time, but John the Joiner, Member of the Parochial Board of Harris, uncle of John the (future) Minister of the Established Church at Scarista, who finally ends his days in England, must be trying to tell me something!

I assisted my father as factor of Harris…

…from Whitsunday 1834 to Whitsunday 1838; as factor of North Uist for several years, having the chief management of it from Whitsunday 1835 to Whitsunday 1838; and as factor of the greater part of South Uist for many years. I was factor of Barra from Martinmas 1836 to Whitsunday 1838, and I have been sheriff-substitute of the whole district since November 1841.
This was the opening sentence of the answer given by Charles Shaw, Sheriff-Substitute, to a question put to him by Sir John McNeill in Lochmaddy, North Uist, on the 7th of April 1851.
His father, Duncan Shaw, was the first Factor of Harris appointed when the 6th Earl Dunmore purchased the island in 1834 and his wife Anne Margaret Macdonald’s connection to the islands is to be found in this piece from the Carmichael Watson Project.
The couple resided at Sponish House, Lochmaddy, North Uist and in 1851 they and their three children were joined there by Charles’ 60 year-old mother, Anne Shaw, who hailed from Duirinish in Skye. The Shaws are seen in each of the successive three censuses but it appears that the first Anne Shaw, wife of the Factor Duncan Shaw, died between 1871 & 1881.
What led me to take this brief excursion across the Sound of Harris was the information regarding Charles assisting his father as Factor from 1834 until 1838 but the document in which it appears, the ‘Report to the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor in Scotland by Sir John M’Neill…’ which is described here is one that I intend to explore in detail.

‘Naval Lieutenant Widow Recently’

When I first read those four sad words in the ‘Occupation’ column of an entry in the 1851 Census I knew that I had to know more.

Una Robertson was 45 when someone sitting in Kenneth Street, Stornoway wrote those words. With her was her House Maid and fellow Stornowegian, the 14 year-old Margaret Maclean. Ten years earlier things had been rather different for the 30 year-old Mrs Robertson living in South Beach Street in the house of her brother, the 35 year-old Surgeon, Roderick Millar for she had her two daughters, 12 year-old Jessie and 10 year-old Catherine, for company whilst her husband was away.

Eunice Millar had married the Royal Navy Lieutenant James Robertson on the 6th of October 1826 in Stornoway and Janet Millar Robertson had been born two years later on the 14th of October 1828. She would later marry Alexander Maciver, the ‘Landed Estate Factor’s Clerk’. Catherine Robertson followed her sister into the World in 1832 and she too married into officialdom in the form of Fisheries Officer David Corner.

Widow Una remained in Stornoway and in 1861 was living at 14 Kenneth Street with her two grandsons, 6 year-old Andrew F Corner born in Rothesay, Bute and his 4 year-old brother Roderick Millar Corner who was a Stonowegian. Catherine Morrison, a 22 year-old from Harris, was there too as a Servant.

By 1871 Una had moved to 25 Kenneth Street and had a new Domestic Servant, Annie Maciver, who was 17 and from the town. Lodging with her was a 38 year-old ‘Supervisor Inland Revenue’ called William Stewart Turner who hailed all the way from Kidderminster in Worcestershire.

We last see Eunice Robertson at the age of 75 in 1881 at 26 Kenneth Street accompanied by granddaughter Eunice Corner who had been born 20 years earlier in Stornoway and their General Servant, 22 year-old Henrietta Macdonald from the town. The inevitable Lodger took the form of a 50 year-old Fish Curer called Murdoch Smith from Nigg in Ross-shire.

Una died on the 6th of October 1881, exactly 55 years since her wedding day.
She had been a widow for at least 30 of those years.

First Report from the Committee on Emigration, Scotland 1841

House of Commons Papers Volume 6
Thursday 19th March 1841

Henry James Baillie, Esq, in the Chair
Mr. Duncan Shaw, called in ; and Examined.
(Note: Duncan Shaw was appointed Factor by Lord Dunmore, the 6th Earl, in 1834, replacing Donald Stewart in that capacity. This examination reveals a great deal about Harris and the nature of the man entrusted to care for it on behalf of its proprietor but I shall leave my comments for another day save to explain that the symbol ‘L’ was used to represent the £ Sterling, ‘L’ being the abbreviation of Librae in the Roman £sd units (librae, solidi, denarii) used for pounds, shillings and pence.)
2613.Chairman YOU reside in the Long Island, do you not?—I do.
2614. How long have you resided there?—Twenty-nine years last Whitsuntide.
2615. You are a factor for Harris and North Uist, are you not ?—I am.
2616. You were once factor for South Uist also ?—I was.
2617. Can you state to the Committee the amount of population in the Long Island ?—The population of the Inverness division of the Long Island I will state; I know nothing about Barra ; the population of South Uist is 7,000, of North Uist, 4,600 ; of Harris, I should say 4,300.
2618. Has that population increased since you first came to reside on the Long Island ?—Very much.
2619. To what amount ?—I cannot exactly say ; there was no exact census when I went there.
2620. What do you suppose was the amount, as nearly as you can guess ?— I have very great difficulty in forming an opinion; I do not know what the population was when I went there.
2621. Can you state to the Committee what was the value of kelp from South Uist during the first part of the time you were factor there ?—In one year the kelp on Clanronald’s estate paid 11,500L.
2622. Was that clear of all the expenses of making it ?—Not after paying the expense of manufacturing in the country, but that was the income of the estate for that year, 11,500L.
2623. Mr. T. Mackenzie. That was exclusive of the kelp made on the mainland ?—It was.
2624. What was the amount made on Lord Macdonald’s estate in North Uist ?—I did not manage Lord Macdonald’s estate in that year, nor for some years afterwards.
2625. From what you remember of the condition of the people when first you went to the Long Island, how was it in reference to their condition now ?— They are much poorer now ; when I went to the Long Island the public works, such as the Caledonian Canal, were in progress; and the Highland roads and bridges; and there was a regiment of local militia among them ; the people were in comfortable circumstances compared with what they are now, besides which the kelp was selling high, and was of great service to them; it was at Whitsuntide 1812 when I went there.
2626. Was that the period at which you first went to the Long Island ? —Yes.
2627. Mr. Ellice. In what part of the country had you been before that?— I was for six years living in Skye, and I am native of Perthshire.
2628. Chairman. Did the people gain much money by manufacturing kelp? —They certainly made a great deal of money by manufacturing kelp ; they paid their rents entirely by it.
2629. Were those rents generally much in arrears at that period ?—No ; they were not nearly so much as afterwards.
2630. Were they at all in arrears ?—Very little when I took the management of Clanronald’s estate.
2631. Generally speaking, was the manufacture of kelp sufficient to enable them to pay their rents ?—It was.
2632. Mr. Ellice. You got a better rent from the persons who had the kelp farms than those who had the grazing farms, did you not, at that time ?—Yes, or about that; the grazing farms paid very well, but the kelp rents were better paid.
2633. Chairman What was the land rent of South Uist ?—At the time of the sale the land rent was 4,500 L.; I cannot say exactly what was the laud rent at the period that there was 11,500L paid for the kelp.
2634. That was only one year?’—Only one, to the best of my recollection.
2635. Mr. Dunbar. Did you get higher rents for the land in consequence of the great return from the kelp ?—We got of course higher rents from the small tenants employed in the manufacture of kelp in labour, than they would have paid in money.
2636. Have the rents fallen in proportion since the manufacture of kelp has been done away ?—The rents have continued much the same ; the proprietors have been obliged to continue the manufacture of kelp, for they could get nothing from the tenants otherwise.
2637. Do you mean to say that the population has continued increasing up to the present time ?—Yes.
2638. Can you account for that ?—I cannot account for it but from natural causes. In 1803 there was a very great disposition on the part of the people in the Long Island to emigrate, and the Government became alarmed at the extent of the emigration. An Act was passed, regulating the terms of sending emigrants to America, which raised the freights so much that few could emigrate, owing to the expense. For the purpose, I believe, partly of keeping the people in the country, the Caledonian Canal and the Highland Road and Bridge Acts were passed, and this regiment of local militia furnished the people with so much employment, and brought so much money into their hands, that along with the kelp manufacture, then flourishing, it put an end to the desire to emigrate.
2639. Chairman. In the part of the Long Island called Harris, does the population consist of tenants or of squatters principally?—There are about 440 families of crofters holding directly from Lord Dunmore, and I should think 2,300 people that do not hold of him, if at all.
2640. Is there great distress in Harris this year ?—Very much indeed ; they are now in distress.
2641. What steps are you going to take in consequence?—Lord Dunmore must, as usual, supply meal for their support.
2642. What supply do you think necessary ?—I cannot reckon it at less than 1,200 bolls.
2643. Will Lord Dunmore have to supply that 1,200 bolls?—I think he will; I know of no other source from which it can be supplied.
2644. Will he get repaid any part of that money which he expends ?—A part of it, I think, will be repaid.
2645. What proportion ?—Perhaps one-third.
2646. Had you not some difficulty with some tenants in Harris some years ago about their removal ?—Yes, we had.
2647. Will you state to the Committee what were the circumstances ?—If the Committee will give me leave, I should be glad to refer to a short statement I have drawn up, which will explain the measures which were taken :—” The small farm of Borve, in the Island of Harris, lately possessed by crofters, lies in the the middle of one of the largest and best grazing farms in the West Highlands.
Borve is ill-suited for crofters, having no sea-weed for manure; no fishing, not even as much as a creek where, for a great part of the year, a boat could land, constant disputes occurred between the tenant of the surrounding grazings and the crofters. They were miserably poor; payment of rent, except by labour, was out of the question, and labour was unproductive : they were much in arrears,
even for the price of meal annually imported. Mr. N. McLean, an eminent land valuator from Inverness, who inspected and valued the estate of Harris, strongly recommended the removal of the tenants. The tenant of the large farm refused to renew his lease if Borve were not included in it. The proprietor, the Earl of Dunmore, could not afford to lose so good a tenant for a farm paying 600L a
year in so remote a corner as Harris; it was determined to remove the crofters, providing for them elsewhere. Three years were allowed them to prepare. At Martinmas 1838, they were told they must remove at Whitsuntide 1839. Such of them as from age or other infirmities were unfit subjects for emigration, were offered better lands elsewhere in Harris; those able to emigrate were informed their whole arrears would be passed from, that they and their families would be landed free of expense, with the proceeds of their crop and stock of cattle in their pockets, either at Cape Breton, where their friends and countrymen were already settled, or in Canada, at their choice; these offers
were then considered generous, and no objection was made to them. In the meantime, however, occurrences of an unpleasant nature had taken place in the neighbouring island of Skye. Some people on the estate of Macleod fearing a removal, wrote threatening letters to Macleod, of Macleod, and his factor. Inflammatory proclamations of the same description were posted on the church doors, and some sheep belonging to a sheep grazier were houghed and killed. Those guilty of these outrages eluded detection. Exaggerated accounts of these occurrences soon reached Harris, and joined with bad advices from those who ought to have known better, wrought an immediate change on the tempers of the people; assured that no military would be sent to so remote a corner, they were advised to refuse the ofl’ert which had been made to them, and to resist the execution of the law. Every argument was used to bring them to reason, but without effect; they defied and severely maltreated the officers of the law. It was now ascertained that a conspiracy for resisting the law existed in all this quarter of the West Highlands, which, if not at once checked, would lead to consequences no lover of order would care to think of. An investigation took place before the sheriff, to which it was, however, impossible to bring any of the rioters; application was made to Government for military aid, which, under proper precautions, was granted; a lieutenant and a
party of 30 men under the charge of the sheriff-depute of the county were sent to Harris. The people expecting nothing of the kind were taken by surprise. Five of the ringleaders were taken into custody without opposition. The stay of the military in the island did not exceed a few hours. The only object Lord Dunmore and his agents had in view in applying for military aid, was the
vindication of the authority of the law. This having been done by the seizure of the leaders in the riot, the tenants were at once forgiven ; they were allowed to continue in possession for another year, on the same terms as formerly. His Lordship solicited the liberation of the five prisoners, and sent money to defray the expense of their journey home. Thus terminated an outbreak which, but
for the prompt measures of Government in sending the military, would have thrown the whole West Highlands into confusion for many years.
2648. Mr. Ellice. You speak of their resisting the law; did they oppose the mere removal, or the taking them to America ?—The mere removal.
2649. Do you not believe, from the facts of the case, that one reason of their removal was their aversion to leave the country, and be sent to America ?— Very probably, as to some of them; but some we offered to provide for otherwise, but this they refused.
2650. Chairman. What became of those tenants after the year given them to remain ?—They were removed, and part of them were provided for by the tenant who took possession of the farm, others got land from Lord Dunmore, and others of them joined their relations who held land on the estate; not one of them went to America ; they would not accept the terms which were offered them.
Mr. Duncan Shaw.
2651. Are those people still squatters upon the estate ?—Such of them as have not been provided for in the way I have mentioned, still are.
2652. Mr. Ellice. Do you think that if there were an offer to go to America now made they would make the same objection still ?—They have seen the consequences of the bad advice they received, and the folly of their supposing the law would not be enforced ; I have received a great many letters from them offering to go, and Lord Dunmore has agreed to give 500/. to assist them to go.
2653. Mr. Dunbar. Were all those tenants you wished to remove in arrears? —They were all in arrears.
2654. Lord Teignmouth. Had they any particular prejudice against going to America ?—I think not; it was in consequence of bad advice; there was an extensive emigration from that country about 13 years ago, since then there has been no emigration; but the people who then went are doing well at Cape Breton, and I believe a great number of the Harris people are now willing to join them.
2655. You do suppose they could have possibly received any unfavourable representations of the situation of the emigrants in America from those people ?— I cannot say whether they had or not.
2656. You are not aware whether that prejudice has extended to any of the neighbouring islands?—No; even in Harris the people are now willing to emigrate.
2657. Chairman. What amount of population do you suppose ought to be removed from North Uist and Harris, from the state of the people there ?—I suppose it would be necessary to remove 2,500 from North Uist, and about the same number from Harris.
2658. You have no poor-law assessment in that part of the country?—None whatever.
2659. In times of great distress how are the poor supported there ?—The two proprietors, Lords Dunmore and Macdonald, import meal for the use of their tenants ; those not holding lands from the proprietors are the relations of the tenants; of course a part of the meal is supplied to them, and the people are unquestionably charitable; the landlords act very liberal, and the people are very charitable; nobody applies to them in vain.
2660. Mr. Ellice. Is not the system of giving that meal in the islands, to be paid for it in more prosperous years ?—Yes; most certainly we expect it to be paid for in more prosperous years.
2661. Mr. Dunbar. You hold the settlement over their heads?—Yes.
2662. Chairman. But a great part of it is never paid ?—A great part is never paid.
2263. Mr. Euice. In 1837 Lord Macdonald was very liberal in giving meal to his tenants; he probably did not think fit to do that without taking some pledge on the part of those to whom he supplied it to pay it back in future years ?—No ; I should state that I only manage a small part of Lord Macdonald’s estate.
2264. He took an engagement from them to repay when they could, did he not ?—Yes ; on that part of the estate I manage.
2665. Mr. Dunbar. Supposing a tenant came in to pay rent who had received meal, did you pay yourself first for the meal, and then put the balance to the account of rent, or settle for the rent first ?—We put both into one account, and looked upon the rent as being first paid.
2666. Mr. Euice. You looked upon the debt due for this meal just in the same light as you did an arrears of rent, it was all one account ?—Very much so.
2667. Chairman! Do you think, supposing the Government were inclined to remove that portion of the population which you say is redundant, a legal assessment would be practicable under those circumstances in the country ?— I do not think it would.
2668. What reason have you for that opinion ?—The assessment would ruin the proprietors altogether, it would take away the rental entirely.
2669. Supposing the redundancy which you say there is of the population were removed, do you think then it would be practicable?—I think it would; I think then it would be hardly necessary.
2670. You think it would then be practicable ?—I think so, but it is impossible for me to answer correctly, for I think the people would have considerable
aversion, aversion to receive assistance in this way, particularly if they were to go into the workhouses.
2671. Lord Teignmouth. Do you think any check on the redundant population would be so effectual as an assessment?—If the extra population were
taken away, the proprietors would take care that the population did not again increase to such a degree as to make a legal assessment necessary.
2672. Would you confine that observation to Lord Dunmore, or extend it to all the proprietors of Long Island you are acquainted with?—Lord Dunmore and Lord Macdonald, are the only persons I can say anything for; I am satisfied they would take care, the population did not again accumulate.
2673. Mr. Jsllice. In your estimate of the removal of those people from the Long Island, how many do you think ought to be removed from Lord Dunmore’s estate r—Two thousand five hundred.
2674. You think that ought to be done by public grant ?—That is my opinion.
2675. At what period did Lord Dunmore purchase that property ?—He entered into possession at Whitsuntide 1834.
2676. The state of that population was at that period pretty much the same then as it is now, was it not ?—I cannot say that there is much difference.
2677. Then if he got assistance to the amount of 500 L. to remove the people, would not he have made a bargain so much better by 500L. ?—He would have a certain advantage, no doubt.
2678. Mr. T. Mackenzie.’ Would the rental be increased ?—No, it would not.
2679. Mr. Ellice. He bought the estates with those people upon them:-— Yes; the rental would be nominally diminished, but the payment more sure.
2680. What quantity of the population should you say should be taken from South Uist?—I should think about 3,000.
2681. In what year did Colonel Gordon buy that estate?—He entered into possession at Whitsuntide 1839.
2682. The state of the population is not much different from what it was then, probably ?—It cannot be.
2683. He bought it with the people upon it ?—Of course.
2684. He gave what was considered the value of it ?—He did.
2685. Chairman. Are you of opinion that the emigration of the people would not so much confer a benefit on the proprietors as be an immense benefit to the people themselves ?—To the people themselves.
2686. It would be no great benefit to the proprietors ?—It would be a benefit to the proprietors, but the rental would not be increased.
2687. Mr. Ellice. Would he not save this large outlay he is obliged to make in bad years for supporting the population if they were removed ?—He would perhaps be obliged to import meal in very bad seasons for his tenantry, at any rate; after the 2,500 were removed there would still be 440 families on the estate.
2688. By causing the emigration of the larger body of people whom he now supports in bad years, he would be saved in future years the support of that number ?—Of course the quantity of meal to be imported would not be so large, but he has a claim for the price of that meal on the tenantry if he chooses to enforce it.
2689. Mr. C. Bruce. It is entirely voluntary on his part importing it ?— Entirely so.
2690. Mr. Jellice. As far as the legal obligation is concerned, the proprietor might leave them to starve ?—I suppose so; I do not know what the law is on that subject.
2691. Mr. Dunbar. Would the people be in a state of starvation if the meal was not imported r—They would be very ill off, very much distressed.
2692. Lord Teignmouth. Would Lord Dunmore be disposed to contribute liberally to the expense of emigration ?—I am quite sure he would.
2693. Chairman. A great change has taken place in the opinions of the people now with regard to emigration, has there not ?—The tenants of that particular farm, I believe, were more averse to move than some others, owing to the advice of some who ought to have known better.
2694. Are the opinions of the people in the Long Island now adverse to emigration ?—They are not.
2695. If emigration were offered to them, do you think a large proportion would be willing to accept it?—I think they would.
2696. Mr. Dunbar. That system of combination against emigration would not
exist now ?—No ; that arose from a belief that the military would not be sent to so remote a corner, but the proof of it has made a change.
2697. Mr. Ellice. Do you think it is the fear of the military more than their own good-will which induce them to emigrate ?—No, but it would dispossess them of the idea that they may hold the land on their own terms.
2698. The law enables any of the proprietors to turn them off at any moment ? Only at Whitsunday, and after the legal warning.
2699. And the proprietor can do that if he chooses without their being able to come upon him for any relief?—I think so, if they have no leases.
2700. Chairman. Do not the people go from Long Island to Glasgow to seek work ?—Very seldom.
2701. What is the reason for their not going?—Because of the distance ; the expense of going is great, and they find the work so much taken up by Irish labourers.
2702. Mr. Ellice. Do you manage a greater part of Lord Macdonald’s estate than you formerly did?—No.
2703. Your son is factor for Lord Macdonald in another part of his estate ?— In Skye.
2704. Lord Teignmouth. Has Lord Dunmore turned his attention to the fisheries ?—His Lordship is very anxious to assist the fisheries; he directs a supply of salt to be kept in the island for the use of the people.
2705. What species of fish ?—Generally cod and ling, and herrings sometimes ; but there has not been a great deal of herrings in that part of Long Island since I have gone there.
2706. Mr. Dunbar. Nor anything like a regular employment in the white fishery ?—Not a regular employment; the people kill a good deal of cod and ling, though not a very great quantity, and sell it to the Stornoway fish-curers.
2707. Chairman. In referring to the time when you first went to the Long Island, you stated that the people were in a much better condition than they are now ?—Much better.
2708. Do you think the population has increased one-third within that time? —I think it has ; that is 29 years ago.
2709. Mr. Ellice. Has it increased more on Lord Dunmore’s and Colonel Gordon’s estates than it has on Lord Macdonald’s?—I cannot say; I have only had the management of the Harris estate since Lord Dunmore’s purchase.
2710. You are Lord Dunmore’s factor as well as Lord Macdonald’s?—Yes.
2711. Chairman. Are you not of opinion that the minute subdivision of a number of small crofts is one principal cause of the increase of the population ?— I have mentioned some of the causes of the increase of the population ; I have no doubt the subdivision of land has contributed largely to it.
2712. Have you any regulations as to not allowing crofts to be subdivided ? —We have.
2713. Do you put them strictly in force?—Very strictly for the last some years.
2714. Mr. C. Bruce. Since what time have they been put strictly in force ?— For the last 12 years.
2715. Do you find that notwithstanding all your endeavours to put them in force still there are instances of the fathers breaking down their farms and allowing their sons to settle upon them?—They cannot do that now, but they may very likely allow a part of the produce to their families; we cannot by possibility check that, certainly.
2716. That is a private arrangement between themselves ?—Yes, of which we know nothing.
2717. Chairman. Part of the family are squatters and the other part tenants ? —Yes.
2718. Lord Teignmouth. Has Lord Dunmore supplied boats for the white fishery ?—He has not.
2719. Do you think that a part of the population could be employed successfully in the white fishery ?—A part of the population I refer to as to be removed could be if they had the necessary capital.
2720. Mr. Ellice. Are you aware that the former proprietor in Barra, some years ago, brought fishermen from Peterhead to teach the people the art of deep-sea fishing ?—I do not know anything of that. “
2721. Lord Teignmouth. There was formerly a successful white fishing carried on at Barra ?—Yes, and much more considerable than in any of the neighbouring islands.
2722. Mr. Ellice. Are you not aware that that was produced by the Peterhead fishermen coming there ?—No ; I believe the people were as much engaged in it before as after.
2723. Lord Teignmouth. Has that fishery declined ?—I really cannot say.
2724. Chairman. A fishery still exists there, does not it?—I think it does to a greater or less extent.
2725. Mr. Ellice. Is not the fishing in Barra now in a much more profitable way than the other islands ?—I do not know.
2726. Have not they a larger class of boats?—I cannot say.
2727. Mr. C. Bruce. You stated that for some years you have very strictly enforced the regulation against splitting down holdings; has that had the effect of checking early marriages?—I think it has.
2728. You acted as sheriff in that island, did you not?—I did, about 20 years ago.
2729. That must have given you many opportunities of obtaining accurate information as to the state and habits of the people ?—Certainly.
2730. Is crime general in the island ?—Very much the reverse.
2731. Are small depredations on property common ?—Not very.
2732. Did you observe them increase during the period of distress in 1836 and 1837 ?—No; I think the people are a very moral, good people.
2733. Mr. Ellice. You are aware that in the year 1817 there was very great distress in the island of Skye ?—Yes, and in other islands too.
2734. You were then obliged to import considerable quantities of corn ?:— Yes.
2735. You sold that corn in the island, did you not ?—We delivered it to the people.
2736. You took an engagement from the people to pay for it, did you not?— We did.
2737. Were you engaged in the purchase and distribution of that corn ?—I was engaged in the distribution, not in the purchase,
2738. Do you know at all at what rate it was supplied to the people ?—I should have known if I had had the least idea that I should be asked the question, but I do not recollect it.
2739. Do you recollect whether it was furnished to them at the prime cost, or whether you charged a certain profit upon it ?—We charged no profit.
2740. You charged only the mere expense you had in bringing it to the island ? —Exactly so.
2741. Do you recollect whether you got generally paid for that corn?—A great deal of it is still in arrears.
2742. Do you know what proportion of the whole was paid for?—I cannot exactly recollect.
2743. Was the corn supplied by subscription, or by the proprietor ?—There was no subscription; there was an agreement between the Government and the proprietor, to which I cannot speak.
2744. Do you know whether the proprietor was a considerable loser by that importation ?—I really cannot say ; I do not know anything of the arrangement between the proprietors and Government.
2745. You are not aware whether the proprietor was a loser or not?—I am not.
2746. Mr. C. Bruce. Was there a considerable importation of corn, or meal, or potatoes into that island in 1836 and 1837?—Yes, there was.
2747. Did the proprietor advance that supply himself?—In the year 1836 Lord Macdonald introduced 800 bolls of meal, in 1837 he introduced 770 bolls.
2748. Was Lord Macdonald repaid for that advance?—Part of it; a good deal is still in arrears.
2749. Was there any other relief than that supplied by Lord Macdonald ?—
Mr. Duncan Shaw. Yes, from the committee for managing the sums subscribed for the destitute Highlanders.
2750. To what extent did that go?—I cannot say; Lord Dunmore, in the year 1836, introduced 700 bolls of meal, and in 1837 a thousand.
2751. Has Lord Dunmore been repaid that ?—He has in part, but a great deal is still unpaid.
2752. Is that the greater proportion?—Yes.
2753. Chairman. Do you suppose the greater proportion will never be paid ?—I think a good deal will never be repaid.
2754. Lord Teignmouth. May a failure of the potato crop be expected to occur frequently ?—It has frequently occurred within these few years, and this year the scarcity is very much increased by the failure of the potato crop.
2755. The people of Harris live very much on potatoes, do they not ?—Yes, potatoes and fish, and meal when the crops are good.
2756. Mr. Ellice. Are you not aware that in the cultivation of Harris there is scope for improvement by the quantity of shell sand on the coast ?—There is a good deal of shell sand on the coast, but the produce of the ground very much, after it is laid on, consists of potatoes of inferior quality; the people might barely subsist upon them ; it would hardly pay a rent.
2757. Do you not know that the best land is formed by shell sand and the
moss which is brought down ?—Yes; but the shell sand forms the greatest quantity of soil; but here it would only be applied as manure, which however would be an advantage.
2758. You would bring the moss down to the coast and mix it with the shell sand ?—I think that might be done with advantage, but I doubt its paying very well in most places.
2759. Mr. C. Bruce. Have you roads to the coast which would enable them to carry down the moss ?—We have roads made by statute labour, but that would hardly give the people access to all the crofts.
2760. Mr. Ellice A great part of the north coast is totally inaccessible for carts, on account of the want of roads, is it not ?—There are very good roads, made by the statute labour, on Lord Macdonald’s estate; but in so populous a country they cannot give access to every croft. In North Uist the crofters have made farm roads for themselves, and use carts.
2761. Is not the want of roads one of the chief barriers to the improvement of the country ?—I think not in North Uist.
2762. Mr. C. Bruce. Do you think it would pay the expense of bringing down a sufficient quantity of soil and moss to make the land on the shore productive ?—I doubt if it would pay well, on account of the distance in most places ; in others it would pay.
2763. Mr. Ellice. Are you well acquainted with South Uist?—Yes, tolerably well.
2764. In what state are the roads there ?—Very bad, I am informed.
2765. That is very inaccessible from the want of roads, is it not?—It is not altogether, inasmuch as the public road lies along a dry sandy soil.
2766. Do you think there is more scope for improvement and making a potato soil in South than in North Uist ?—Much about the same.
2767. Do you not think that by making roads through the country, you might make great improvements in the condition of the people by allowing them more perfect access to different parts of the country ?—Of coarse the advantage they could have by those roads would be very much in favour of improvement.
2768. Has anything been done in the last 20 years in making roads in South Uist ?—Yes, the roads have been made, and they have been allowed to go into disrepair, as I am told.
2769. By whom were they originally made ?—They were made by statute labour principally.
2770. The expense ought to fall on the landlord of keeping them up, ought it not?—From the same source of statute labour ; but for the last two or three years I have been very little in South Uist, and what I have said is very much from hearsay.
2771. Lord Teignmouth. How long ha3 the present proprietor been in possession of South Uist ? —For two years.
2772. Has he shown any disposition to aid emigration ?—I cannot say anything as to what Colonel Gordon is doing.
2773. Mr. Ellice. Do you know that Colonel Gordon has commenced improvements in Barra already for the benefit of the people ?—I cannot say ; he has not been long in possession of Barra.
2774. Chairman. You are a farmer, are you not?—Yes.
2775. As a practical farmer, do you think the population of the Long Island -could be more profitably employed on agriculture than they are at present ?— I do not think they could, till the extra population is removed, the crops enlarged, and leases granted.
2776. Mr. Ellice. Do you think that if a system of emigration was adopted, and means given to the people to go, the aged and the helpless should be forced to emigrate along with them ?—I think they would take them along with them.
2777. Chairman. What is the state of education in the Long Island, what schools are there ?—In the parish of North Uist there is a parish school, two General Assembly’s schools, a school by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and a school by a society at Glasgow, making five in North Uist; there are five schools to which the proprietor contributes, besides Gaelic schools.
2778. Mr. C. Bruce. Does the proprietor contribute also to the Gaelic schools ?—No, he does not.
2779. Chairman. In Harris what schools are there?—The parish school, the Assembly’s school, and a school by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, to all which Lord Dunmore contributes.
2780. Mr. C. Brace.] How long have those five schools which you state to exist in North Uist, to which you say the proprietor contributes, been established r—I cannot precisely state the number of years, a good many years.
2781. Can you state the number of scholars in those schools receiving instruction ?—I think there would be 400 in those schools in North Uist to which the proprietor contributes.
2782. Is the English language taught in them all r—Yes, except, the Gaelic Society schools, to which the proprietor does not contribute.
2783. Lord Teignmouth. Are there any schools in Barra?—There is a parish school, I know, in Barra.
2784. Mr. JV. F. Mackenzie Is Barra in one parish ?—Yes.
2785. Lord Teignmouth. Have the Roman-catholics in South Uist and Barra shown a disposition to attend the schools ?—In South Uist they have; I cannot speak to Barra.
2786. Have the priests shown any opposition to those schools ?—Not that I am aware of.
2787. The Roman-catholics and Protestants mix indiscriminately in those schools ?—They do.
2788. Has there been any rule requiring the catechisms to be taught to those scholars ?—I do not know of any.
2789. Do you know whether the Roman-catholics in those schools are taught the Protestant catechism ?—I really do not know; I have not heard any objection, nor anything said upon the subject.
2790. Mr. C. Bruce. Is there a Roman-catholic priest resident in South Uist ? —There are two.
2791. Mr. Dunbar. Do you know what country they belong to?—One came from Perthshire, and the other from Strathglass.
2792. They are both Highlanders?—Yes.
2793. Lord Teignmouth. It has been stated in the evidence taken by the Committee, that the Roman catholics from South Uist would be disposed to go in a body to America. Are you aware whether there would be any difficulties in the way of the Protestants and Roman-catholics emigrating together, and locating together in America ?—In South Uist the Protestants and Roman-catholics live together on the very best terms; I cannot give an opinion further than that.
2794. You think that it is fairly to be expected that they would live on equally good terms in Canada ?— I should think so.
2795. Mr. Dunbar. What is the common food of the poor in Long Island ?— In North and South Uist it is entirely meal and potatoes, and fish and milk, and occasionally a very little butchers’ meat.
2796. Lord Teignmouth. They get meal very rarely, do they not?—No, they do not; they have a good deal of meal in North Uist in good seasons.
2797- Do you think they are better off than their neighbours in the Highlands generally ?—I think fully as well off; I should say better off.
2798. Mr. T. Mackenzie. Are you aware whether the people of the Long Island would have any preference for any particular part of North America ?— Cape Breton.
2799. Chairman. Do you think that if they were instructed that Canada was a better place for them to go to, they would not go there ?—I think they might be induced to go there if they were so instructed ; but their principal inducement for preferring to go to Cape Breton is, that there are a great many of their own countrymen there.
Ref: Report

An Architect on Harris

I decided to return to Donald McDonald and place him in the context of the household he was visiting at ‘Rodil’ in 1851.
Richard H Watson, Fish Merchant, 32, Rodil, b. England
Henry G Watson, 12, Errand Boy, Nephew, b. England
Donald McDonald, 35, Architect, Visitor, b. Kilmuir, Inverness
Isabella Maclean, 23, House Servant, b. Harris
Anne McMillan, 33, House Servant, b. Harris
English-born Richard H Watson was one of only four Merchants found in that census and the only Fish Merchant listed. Isabella Maclean moved to Big Borve by 1861 where she was a servant in the household of the Farmer, Kenneth Macdonald (a Farmer and, eventually, Factor of North Harris) and a decade later she was a Dressmaker in Strond with her husband, the Shepherd Malcolm Kerr. Come 1891, and Isabell was one of the very few ladies to call herself a ‘Tailoress’, although quite what can be implied from the term remains uncertain to me. The couple had married in Scarista on the 28th of February 1865 in the Established Church of Scotland but whether my cousin’s choice of this was by design (he and his wife were each employees of ‘establishment’ figures in the form of Farmers & Factors) or circumstance (the Free Church Minister not being available) is, again, uncertain. However, as he was the second of Angus Kerr’s sons to marry a Domestic Servant from a household in Rodel, I am building a picture whereby this particular branch of the family were clearly entwined, albeit as employees, with the incoming forces of Harris. I say this non-judgementally but merely as a statement of the apparent facts. Quite how it might have had ramifications with relations on the island, then and later, is an interesting matter to consider? But I digress.
Of the remaining members of the household, it is the presence of the Architect, Donald Mcdonald of Kilmuir, that was supposed to be my focus! We have already seen in previous pieces that the first post-famine census, that of 1851, showed many interesting developments on the island and it seems that the (unique) presence of an Architect at the time is wholly in keeping with those observations. Precisely which buildings he may have designed and seen built (if any) will probably never be known but anything from the Gardener’s House and the Inn at An-t-Ob to the Manish Free Church and Manse are possibilities. It might help if I could locate him in other censuses but he either changed occupations, or perished, for this is his only appearance as an Architect and the 1841 census is poor in listing the occupation of all in a household.
So Donald McDonald, Architect, remains something of an enigma but I feel sure that it is no accident that we find a man of his profession in this household at Rodel in 1851, I’m just a little disappointed that I can shed no more light upon the man and his works, not even whether he was from Kilmuir on Skye or Kilmuir near Inverness…
Note: There are plenty of other pieces that refer to the actions of Kenneth Macdonald and John Robson Macdonald and these may be found either from the ‘tags’ or by utilising the search facility, both of which appear in the right-hand column of the page. A blog is inevitably episodic in nature so perhaps I should bow to peer-pressure (sorry, encouragement!) and start turning this beast into a book?

Lobster Fishermen of Harris

In his evidence to the Napier Commission Kenneth Macdonald boasts that:

“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.”

I thought I’d look to see what the census records have to tell us regarding his claim by researching those who gave their occupation as ‘Lobster Fisher’ from 1841-1901:

1851 – Kenneth Macdonald, 35, Factor’s Clerk, Rodil, b. Applecross, Ross-shire
Donald Maclean, 30, ED21, b. Harris

1861 – Kenneth Macdonald, 43, Sheep Farmer, Big Borve, b. Applecross, Ross
NORTH (10)
John Martin, 30, Little Urgha, b. Harris
John Martin, 21, Little Urgha, b. Harris
Angus Mcdearmid, 29, Little Urgha (Visitor), b. Harris
Malcolm Kerr, 48, West Tarbert, b. Harris
Dougald Macdonald, 43, West Tarbert, b. Harris
Donald Kerr, East Tarbert, b. Harris
Donald Mcleod, 27, East Tarbert, b. Harris
Malcolm Shaw, 40, East Tarbert, b. Harris
Angus Shaw, 36, East Tarbert, b. Harris
Roderick Mclennan, 52, Direcleit, b. Harris
Donald Mckay, 29, Cregstore, b. Harris
Malcolm Morrison, 34, Struth, b. Harris
Alexander Mcleod, 22, Obe, b. Harris
John Mcleod, 22, Obe, b. Harris

1871 – Kenneth Macdonald, 54, Farmer, ED5, b. Applecross, Ross-shire
No Lobster Fishermen recorded (Fishers of Harris has numbers of ALL the Fishermen for that year)

1881 – Kenneth Macdonald, 64, Big Borve, Farmer and Factor, b. Applecross, Ross-shire
Kenneth Mcaskill, 32, ED5, b. Harris
Donald Mcaskill, 27, ED5, b. Harris
Lachlan Macdonald, 29, ED5, b. Harris
Christopher Morrison, 28, ED5, b. Harris
Hector Morrison, 23, ED5, b. Harris

1883 – Napier Commission

1891 – Kenneth Macdonald, 79, Farmer, Hamlets Scaristavore, b. Applecross
John Mcaskill, 23, Kyles Stockinish, b. Harris
Kenneth Mckinnon, 45, Kyles Stockinish, b. Harris
John Morrison, 20, Leac a Li, b. Harris

1901 – Kenneth Macdonald, not found…
Stockinish (10)
ED7 (10)
Kintulavig (2)

Kenneth Macdonald may well have been single-handedly responsible for creating the Lobster Fishing on Harris, and presumably profiting nicely in his role as an agent, but if we look at the figures then there is plenty to consider.

Firstly, considering the years 1861, 1881 and 1891 we have a total of 22 Lobster Fisherman giving an average of a little over six such persons per year. In 1901 there were nearly four times that number.
Secondly, if we take 1861 then we see that there were 14 Lobster Fishermen which is still only half the number in 1901.
The significance? Well, by 1901 Kenneth Macdonald was gone yet the Lobster Fishing appears to have gained hugely in popularity amongst those risking their lives in its pursuit. For Macdonald to have the cheek in 1883 to talk of that industry as if it was playing a significant part in alleviating the poverty that he himself had inflicted upon the populace in attempting to assuage his endless appetite for land upon which to graze his sheep, when in fact just two years earlier there had been but a handful of Lobster Fishermen in the whole of Harris, leaves a disgusting taste in one’s mouth far-removed from that of the fruits of those brave fishermens’ labour…