1748 & All That

In a paper from Volume 45 of the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness the late Alick Morrison provides us with a glimpse into the ‘Harris Estate Papers 1724-1754’.

There is plenty of fertile ground here for anyone with an interest in the history of Harris and it is certainly worth noting in passing the significant role played by many members of the Campbell families in serving the island over many, many years.

However, what took my eye from within the transcribed accounts was a single payment of £60 made in 1748. That sum would be comparable to perhaps £100,000 in today’s salaries and should be considered in relation to the Factor’s £150 (£250,000), the Ground Officer’s £33 (£55,000) and the Deputy Forester’s £20 (£33,000).

The recipient of this payment was one Roderick Kerr but why he was being given such a sum is sadly unrecorded. Nevertheless, I am pleased to have found written evidence placing a Kerr in Harris at such an early date. What Roderick’s role was is open to conjecture, as is whether he was a direct ancestor of mine, but this single entry pushes back ‘our’ recorded presence by some 50 years.

It is also a very early record of the family name within the Highlands & Islands & we may note that nearly a century later, when the 1841 Census was taken, there were less than a dozen people named Roderick Kerr in the whole of Scotland and three of these were in Harris.

Our origins as a Gaelic family in the North-West, unconnected with the more-familiar Ayrshire clan, is open to conjecture (I am leaning towards possible descent from Alexander ‘Kier’ Shaw of Rothiemurcus!) but I’m delighted that Roderick’s £60 continues to be of value to us!

Ref: Morrison, Alick, ‘Harris Estate Papers, 1752-1754’ TGSI 45 (1967-68) 33-97


Information has been received at Stornoway of the drowning of three Harris fishermen in the Sound of Harris. John M’Leod, Donald Gillies, and Angus M’Swain, all fishermen from Stroud, South Harris, were returning on Saturday afternoon from the island of Hermetry, in the Sound of Harris, where they had been lobster fishing. Their boat was under sail, and it was blowing a strong gale at the time. The boat was seen to capsize and go down with the crew. M’Leod and Gillies were unmarried, but M’Swain was married, and leaves a widow and family.’
The Dundee Courier and Argus, Monday October 9th 1882
(I have left all the spellings as in the original – ‘Stroud’ for Strond is a surprisingly common error.)
Looking for these three men in the 1881 Census returns from Strond we find only four fishermen who fit:
John Macleod, 36, son of Janet Macleod, 79, Crofter, and brother of Peggy, 34
John Macleod, 25, son of Mary Macleod, 60, Weaveress, Wool.
Donald Gillis, 38, son of Kenneth Gillis, 60, Crofter
Angus MacSween, 50, husband to Mary, 40 and father of Ann, 13, Marion, 10, John, 1 and Mary Ann, 1 month.
We can exclude the younger John Macleod for he is to be found still fishing and living with his mother in Strond in the census of 1891 whilst Janet Macleod is there with her daughter, Peggy.
Further corroboration comes in the form of these two details:
Angus MacSween’s widow, Mary, was the youngest child of Angus Kerr & Marion Mcsween of Strond.
Donald Gillies was the brother-in-law of Flora Morrison, whose mother, Christian Kerr, was the fifth of Angus Kerr and Marion Mcsween of Strond’s eight children. Thus these two fishers were linked by family.

Christian would later join her sister Mary in widowhood for, on the 25th of July 1890 her own husband, William Morrison, was lost with two colleagues from the unregistered vessel ‘Jessie & Margaret’. Fishing was then, and remains now, a perilous occupation: http://direcleit.blogspot.com/2010/06/drowned-at-sea-by-upsetting-of-boat.html

We may also note that, despite the fact that they had been fishing for lobsters, none of the men who perished in this tragedy were specifically listed as Lobster fishermen in the 1881 census – http://direcleit.blogspot.com/2010/07/lobster-fishermen-of-harris.html
1) Some observations regarding ‘Hermetry’ may be seen in this earlier piece: http://direcleit.blogspot.com/2010/11/john-lanne-buchanan-1768-1828-his.html
2) I will be able to confirm various details by searching the ‘Minor Records’, Marine Register’ section of the Deaths index at ScotlandsPeople but that will have to wait for now.

>A Small Boy in Aberdeen


The 1911 Census marks a significant point in my researches because it is the first to include my Dad. There is something slightly strange about seeing one’s father listed as a 4 year-old boy and especially so as all my grandparents were already dead by the time I myself was 4 and hence, although I have ‘met’ them in the censuses, they exist only as shadows in my mind.
I do not intend to dwell upon the details of the household at 56 St Swithin Street (save to say that my dad’s two aunts were both Teachers and that the Boarder at his grandmother’s house taught Science at Gordon’s College), but look instead at the occupations of the neighbours at numbers 52 to 54:
We have an employer in the form of the Manager of a ‘Coal & Lime Importers, Oil Refiners & Grain Merchants Limited Company’; another employer who was a House Painter; a third employer who was a ‘Motor Car Agent’ and whose daughter was a ‘Clerk & Typist’ in the Motor Trade; and finally a ‘Retired Gilder & Picture Framer’ whose daughter was a self-employed Piano Teacher and whose two sons were employed as a ‘Dentists Mechanic’ and a ‘House Painter’.
So this was the neighbourhood that my Stornowegian grandfather found himself inhabiting 90 years after his own grandfather had been born in a house on the shore at Direcleit, a house that the sea was known to enter at particularly high tides.
I say ‘inhabiting’ but in fact he wasn’t there on the night of the census and, as the index at ScotlandsPeople does NOT include a field for the place of birth, I am not going to trawl through all the 36 year-old John Kerrs (at £1.17 each) in the hope of chancing upon him!
What is more disappointing is that, had he been there, I am sure that he would have continued his practice from the previous Census and inserted ‘G&E’ in the otherwise blank column recording Gaelic speakers…

>A Singular Occurrence


In 1911, living on his own in a house at Rodil despite his being married, we find the 60 year-old Gaelic & English speaking Donald MacCrimmon. Deciphering his name initially proved a tad difficult but it was his unusual occupation that both drew my attention and proved the key to identifying him:
Dunvegan-born Donald gives his occupation as ‘Formerly: Book binder & Printer’ in ‘General Publishing’. Armed with his forename, age and the fact that he was born on Skye, I located him in the three previous censuses:
Donald McCrimmon, 47, Book Binder, 144 Stirling Rd, Glasgow, b. Skye, Invernessshire
Mary McCrimmon, 40, Wife, b. Bernad(?), Invernessshire
Duncan McCrimmon, 21, Son, Book Binder, b. Glasgow
William McCrimmon, 19, Son, Goods Checker, b. Glasgow
Elizabeth McCrimmon, 15, Daughter, Envelope Packer, b. Glasgow
Euphemia Mcdonald, 16, Daughter-in-Law, Domestic Servant, b. Barnars(?), Invernessshire
Donald Crimmon, 40, Bookbinder, 85, North Wallace St, Glasgow, b. Dunvegan, Inverness Shire
Duncan Crimmon, 13, Son, Scholar, b. Glasgow
William C Crimmon, 9, Son, Scholar, b. Glasgow
Donald McCrimmon, 30, Bookbinder, 133 Springburn Rd, Glasgow, b. Dunvegan, Invernessshire
Elizabeth McCrimmon, 30, Wife, b. Huntly, Aberdeenshire
Duncan McCrimmon, 2, Son, b. Glasgow
John Caldwell, 25, Brother-in-Law, Iron Turner, b. England
Alexander Caldwell, 19, Brother-in-Law, Iron Turner, b. Dalmellington, Ayrshire
Barbara Stark, 13, Niece, Scholar, b. Glasgow
There are three or four possible candidates for Donald in 1871 but I don’t intend pursuing this.
However, these three returns alone have a things to tell us:
Firstly, Donald’s first wife appears to have been Elizabeth Caldwell from Huntly and she quite possibly died prior to 1891 which is when we see their son William having ‘C’, quite probably for ‘Caldwell’, added to his name. I have found the Caldwell’s in 1871 when they were living in Springburn, Lanarkshire and Eliza was employed as a Silk worker. A decade earlier they had been in Sowerby, Yorkshire, which explains her brother John having been born in England. Their father, William Caldwell, was employing 2 men and a boy in his work manufacturing Drainage Pipes.
Secondly, Donald married a second wife, Mary, but was it she who gave him a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1884? I have searched for the girl in 1891 to no avail and have also had no success in finding either wife in that particular year.
However, both Mary, and Donald’s ‘Daughter-in-Law’ Euphemia Macdonald, appear to have been born in Bernera in Inverness-shire which could either be the village of that name on Skye or the island of Berneray itself and if the latter might go some way in explaining why Donald the retired Bookbinder was living ‘next door’ to Lexy Kerr in Rodil in 1911!

>The Two Houses of ‘Kylis’


The 1911 Census of Harris records the following:
7 Rooms with Windows
Malcolm Macdonald, 41, G&E, General Merchant, Own Account, b. Obbe, Harris
Catherine Macdonald, 21, Wife, b. Finsbay, Harris
Roderick Macdonald, 3, Son, b. (unreadable), Harris
Sarah Grant Macdonald, 9 months, Daughter, b. Kylis, Harris
Sarah Macdonald, 70, Widow, Mother, G&E, Private Means, b. Grantown, Strathspey
Flora Maclennan, 18, General Servant Domestic, G&E, b. Finsbay, Harris
Malcolm Macleod, 18, Servant, Carter, G&E, b. Ardvia, Harris
13 Rooms with Windows
Norman Robertson, 29, G&E, Estate Factor, b. Portree
Jessie Robertson, 27, Wife, G&E, b. South Uist
Donald Norman Stuart Robertson, 7 months, Son, b. South Uist
Donald Robertson, 66, Married, Father, G&E, Railway Traffic Agent, b. Blair Atholl
Christina Kerr, 21, Domestic Servant, G&E, b. Harris
I’ll get my family bit out of the way first:
Christina Kerr was a daughter of Direcleit-born Roderick Kerr Roderick Kerr and a decade earlier her brother Donald had been a Cattle Herd living with the family of Roderick & Sarah Macdonald at the Farm House. Thus she represents the most recent of a line of family members serving the Farmers & Factors of the South.
Returning to the two houses, I am unsure which of them is the ‘Kyles Lodge/Kyles House’ that was built for the McRa family and now wonder whether I was wrong to suggest that the family of Mrs S Macdonald had ever lived there?
If the smaller house was indeed the McRa residence, then what is the larger property?
My instinct is to suggest that the Macdonald’s had indeed lived at the Lodge/Farm from at least the years1881 to 1901 then ‘downsized’ after Roderick’s death and relinquished it to the new Factor, but I’d welcome some assistance in unravelling these residencies!

>Now 19 in Harris!

>I missed one more household in the earlier list:

Christina Morrison, 80, Widow, Gaelic, Crofter, b. Harris
Chirsty Morrison, 50, Daughter, Single, Gaelic, Assisting on croft, b. Harris
Marion Morrison, 48, Daughter, Widow, Gaelic, Harris Tweed Spinner, b. Harris
Roderick Morrison, 9, Grandson, G&E, School, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 8, Grandson, G&E, School, b. Harris
Catherine Morrison, 6, Granddaughter, G&E, School, b. Harris
Effie Kerr, 82, Sister, Single, Gaelic, Formerly: Harris Tweed Spinner (unreadable), Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Peter Macleod, 21, Boarder, G&E, Commission Agent, b. Harris

Effie Kerr and her sister Christina were both daughters of Angus Kerr (1792-1867), my ancestor John the Tailor of Direcleit’s brother. Christina had lost her fisherman husband, William Morrison, on the 26th of June 1890 when he and two others were lost from the ‘Jessie & Margaret’.
Effie died the following year on the 14th of January, her death being registered by ‘Peter Macleod. Occupier’.

So, now I have 19 Kerr folk on Harris yet my original search only produced 15 results.
Looking at that list, I notice that the 4 missing persons are Christina Kerr of Direcleit and her three children.
The fact that the three other direcleit Kerr folk in their two households were listed makes this even more mysterious!

Therefore, as far as I can tell, there were in fact 19 people called Kerr left on Harris with 15 of them being relatives of mine and all but two of these being of John the Tailor’s branch of the family.
Any trace of all but one of the other families that I had  first found listed in 1841 has been lost some seventy years later…

>The Remaining Kerrs of Stornoway in 1911


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

>1911 Harris Households containing Kerr folk


In the previous piece I mentioned that there were only 15 people left on Harris bearing the family name Kerr:
There are some 18 people listed here so quite why three of them were missing from my original search is a (somewhat concerning!) indexing mystery…
Please note that all spellings are given as they appear on the census sheets.
I have shown in bold those who are my relatives.
DERECLET – 7, living in 3 consecutively listed households
Catherine, 35, G&E, Hand Loom Weaveress (Home Spun), Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Married 9 years, 3 children all still alive. Her husband, my cousin John Kerr, was a Salmon Fisher at Chanonry Point in 1901 and died on the 8th of November 1950 in Direcleit. His mother is the Widow Mary Kerr seen below.
Christy, 7, Daughter, G&E, School, b. Harris
Mary, 5, Daughter, G&E, School, b. Harris
Angus, 2, Son, b. Harris
W Mary, 72, Gaelic, Widow, Tweed Making Home Spun (Old Age Pensioner), Own Account, At Home,
Marion, 43, Daughter, Single, G&E, Woollen Weaveress Home Spun, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Mary was the wife of Angus Kerr, a Fisherman and the younger brother of my great, great grandfather.
Effie, 80, Single, Gaelic, Tweed Making OA Pensioner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
I think this is my great, great grandaunt who was my great, great grandfather’s youngest sister and a sister-in-law of her neighbour, the Widow Mary.
Christina Kerr, 21, G&E, Servant, b. Harris
Christina was the eldest daughter of my great grand uncle Roderick of Obbe. She was living in the household of Norman Robertson, 29, Estate Factor, b. Portree.
Their neighbours (in what appears to have been the smaller od the two houses) include the 70 year-old widow Sarah Macdonald, the Mrs Macdonald of Kyles Lodge who wrote an account of the origins of Harris Tweed.
Annie, 17, Niece, G&E, Hand Loom Weaveress Harris Tweed, Own Account, At Home, b. Glasgow
As far as I know, Annie has no connection to the Kerr families of Harris.
OBBE – 5
Roderick, 68, Gaelic, General Labourer, b. Harris
Peggy, 57, Wife, Gaelic, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Married 30 years, 8 children of whom 6 still alive.
Angus, 20, Son, Gaelic & English, General Labourer, b. Harris
Kate, 16, Daughter, G&E, b. Harris
John, 9, Son, G&E, At School, b. Harris
Roderick, who was born in Direcleit, was the son of my great, great grandfather Malcolm Kerr and his first wife, Bess Macdonald. He was raised by his grandparents in Direcleit before returning to the family roots along the Sound of Harris. His son, Angus, was wed at Scarista in 1923 and the Minister performing the ceremony was John Kerr, the ‘Ayatollah’ of Finlay J Macdonald’s books.
Ann Maclean, 44, Gaelic, Single, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
John Kerr, 15, Son, G&E, b. Harris
Jessie Macleod, 74, Single, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Greenock
Donald Kerr, 49, Son, Single, Crofter Fisherman, b. Harris
Susan Kerr,, 46, Daughter, Single, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 19, Grandson, Single, Assisting on croft, b. Harris
This family descend from a Shoemaker, Angus Kerr, and his wife Margaret Mackay. The 15 year-old John Kerr was the son of the unmarried Ann Maclean and Donald Kerr, who in turn was the son of the unmarried John Kerr and Jessie Macleod. Quite why this family shunned wedlock is unknown but it certainly proved challenging when I was mapping all the Kerr families on Harris!
Lexy Kerr, 79, Widow, G&E, Private Means, b. Harris
Lexy, whose husband Angus Kerr spent his whole working life serving the South Harris Estate, was living three doors down from the ‘Boarding House’ ie what began life as Rodel House and is currently the Rodel Hotel.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that 1911, the year that the Clo Mor was first stamped with the Orb Mark, displays in the census returns for the first time the words ‘Harris Tweed’…
…and I’m very proud to have several female relatives shown to be engaged in spinning & weaving this most famous of Home Spun fabrics!

>More on Family Names in the Western Isles


I came upon an excellent & eloquent explanation of the usage of family names written by Blair MacAulay, Toronto, who is an authority on the genealogy of North Uist.
Here are the key points, to which I have added a few brief comments:  

In … the Outer Hebrides before about the year 1800 surnames did not exist!

A fact that simply cannot be over-emphasised…

People were known by their “sloinneadh” (i.e. their “handle” or name by which they were commonly known) that was a combination of one or more of the following: nickname, patronymic, occupational name and/or place of residence.
For example, the tailor Angus MacPherson might be known as “Angus Tailor”. More frequently the “sloinneadh” was the person’s patronymic (e.g. “Aonaghus Iain Domhnullach” (Angus John son of Donald) which was the patronymic of Angus John MacDonald of Knockline, the well-known North Uist genealogist born in 1900).
Another example would be “”Domhnull mac Alasdair ‘ic Raonuill” (Donald son of Alexander the son of Ronald) (in Gaelic “mac” means “son” and mhic, or abbreviated “’ic”, means “son of the son”.
Note in the foregoing examples that the surname is not used (or needed!) as everyone would know from the naming pattern the family to which such person belonged.

When in the early 19th C surnames became necessary for civil purposes most Highlanders simply adopted the surname of their Clan Chief, which in the case of North Uist was Lord MacDonald of Sleat (Skye).
This partly explains why some 70% of the population of North Uist today has the surname “MacDonald”.
He was their clan chief as they were his followers and resided on his lands and under the pre-1745 feudal system in Scotland were obligated to fight for him.
Thus notwithstanding their common surname, few MacDonalds from North Uist have any blood relationship to the MacDonald’s of Sleat, or indeed to others in Scotland with the surname “MacDonald”.
The predominate view, at least in North America, that every one in the Highlands belonged to a clan to which they were related by blood is accordingly a romantic myth.

A myth that, in part, came about with the Victorian reinvention of Highland Scotland. 

The following extract from “How The Scots Invented the Modern World”, by Arthur Herman, Crown Publishers, New York, 2001 at page 104 makes this point very clearly:

“The term clan, comes of course from the Gaelic clann, meaning “children”. It implied a kinship group of four or five generations, all claiming descent from a common ancestor. And clan chieftains encouraged their followers to believe that they were indeed bound together like family.
Men such as the Duke of Argyll of the Campbells or Lord Lovat of the Frasers routinely demanded a loyalty from their tenants not unlike that of children for a father. But it was entirely a fiction.
The average clan … was no more a family than is a Mafia “family”.
The only important blood ties were between the chieftain and his various caporegimes, the so-called tacksmen who collected his rents and bore the same name.
Below them were a large nondescript, and constantly changing population of tenants and peasants, who worked the land and owed the chieftain service in war and peacetime.
Whether they considered themselves Campbells or MacPhersons or MacKinnons was a matter of indifference, and no clan genealogist or bard, the seanachaidh, ever wasted breath keeping track of them. What mattered was that they were on clan land, and called it home.”
That may sound somewhat harsh to our modern ears, but it encapsulates the circumstances pertaining at the time.

It is another common misconception is that there is a distinction between a “Mc” and a “Mac” – say one family with the surname “McDonald” and another with the surname “MacDonald”. There is no distinction whatsoever. Both are attempts to translate the Gaelic “mhic” (meaning “son of”) into English. Thus “Iain mhic Iomhair” (John son of Iver) became “John MacIver”.

This non-distinction is still erroneously held to be true by many an Anglo-Saxon!

North Uist forenames are also unreliable. Until the end of the 19th C few in North Uist could speak, read and write English and certainly used only Gaelic in everyday life (they still do – but today are also completely fluent in English).
However, one of the results of the defeat of the Scots in 1745 at Culloden was that priests, ministers, and government officials in Scotland were forbidden to maintain any public record in Gaelic. Thus you frequently had a Census taker who only spoke English having to record information given to him by persons who spoke only Gaelic.

The attack upon Gaelic culture included every aspect of it, especially the language.

As there were no commonly accepted English equivalents of many Gaelic names, particularly in early periods, the result was that the Census taker “tried his best”, usually phonetically, to record a Gaelic name in English. Thus you can find the same person referred to by completely different English names in different records.

This is extremely important to understand for those attempting to research their own family history, and it didn’t stop with the peoples names. Placenames suffered this same mangling in their Anglicisation too.

Over time certain Gaelic names came to have an “accepted” English equivalent, often with no obvious connection to the Gaelic name. For example a person locally known in Gaelic as “Gilleasbuig Mac Dhomnull” would probably appear in the Census or in a register of marriages etc. as “Archibald MacDonald”. Thus an official record may contain reference to a person under a name that was completely different to the name that he was known by to his contemporaries.

Were I to travel back in time & present my (painstakingly recreated) family tree to my ancestors, they would probably wonder who on Earth I was referring to!

With many thanks to Blair MacAulay for permission to quote these extracts.

>Lingearabhagh (Lingerbay) "Heather bay" or "heather beach bay", from Norse

>A contact kindly asked her grandfather if he would look at my piece on 1 Fleoideabhagh (Flodabay) and clear-up the confusions I had mentioned in that piece. In addition to clarifying the history of the house and then explaining that I still have close relatives living in Strond & Ceann Debig (this being previously unknown to any of my family!) , he ended with this:

“I also remember an event in January, 1944 when one of your relatives (Iain or John) took to a cave in Lingerbay and (at least) was affected by frostbite.
I can’t remember whether he survived the episode.”

This is, I am sure you will agree, an intriguing tale to be told! Which Iain/John Kerr was this and what drove him to take to a cave in the Winter of ’44? I don’t think he perished there for, if so, it is not recorded in the Register but I shall have to wait a while before I can contact my source to seek further details.

Meanwhile, we shall have to leave the mysterious John Kerr shivering in his cave somewhere near Lingerbay…

(Many thanks to HT for the info & CM for her help!)