Dairy Maids of Harris

Here are the Dairy Maids on ‘mainland’ Harris from 1841-1901

Ann Mcpherson, 30, Rodel, b. Inverness

Flora Mcdonald, 25, Urgha, b. Harris
Marion Mackinnon, 46, Lukentyre, b. Harris
Effy Mackinnon, 43, Luskentyre, b. Harris
Christina Mcleod, 21, Luskentyre, b. Harris
Marion Mcdiarmid, 25, Nishishee, b. Harris
Cath Macdonald, 27, Nisshishee, b. North Uist
Cathi Maclennon, 27, Nissishee, b. Lochalsh, Ross-shire
Catherine Morrison, 28, Kyles Stockinish, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Ann Mclellan, 80, Pauper (Dairymaid), b. Harris
Mary Ross, 26, Rodel, b. Harris

Ann Mcdonald 20, Marvig, b. Harris
Effie Mckinnon, 57, Seilibost, b. Harris
Ann Mackinnon, 24, Big Borve, b. Harris
Catherine Mckennon, 18, Big Borve, b. Harris
Christina Morrison, 24, Glebe, b. Harris
Marion Maccuish, 20, Kyles (ED 4), b.?
Janet Mclennan, 30, Rodel, b. Harris

Rachel Mcleod, 43, (ED 16), b. Harris
Effy Mckinnon, ?, Main Road of Harris, b. Harris
Mary Macleod, 24, Rodel, b. Harris
Ann Macrae, 32, (ED 4), b. Glenelg, Inverness
(Anne Morrison, 24, Visitor (ED 4), b. Harris)

Margaret Mcleod, 23, Free Church Manse No 20, b. Harris
Ann Macdonald, 52, Nisebost, b. Lochalsh, ross-shire
Mary Mackenzie, 27, Big Borve, b. Berneray, Harris
Marion Mackinnon, 25, Big Borve, b. Harris
Isabella Robertson, 25, Kyles House, b. Duthil, Inverness-shire

Peggy Mcinnes, 21, Hamlets Scaristaveg, b. Harris
Marion Mackinnon, 27, Hamlets Scaristavore, b. Amhuinnsuidh, Harris
Williamina Macdonald, 28, Hamlets Glebe (ED 6), b. North Uist
Jessie Morrison 40, ?? (ED 6), b. Harris

1901 None on ‘mainland’ Harris

An interesting set of records that are quite informative. The apparently lone Dairy Maid of 1841 is an artifice of that particular census and I am sure that each of the established farms at that time would have had at least one woman whose role was that of the Dairy Maid. By the following decade we can see that the fertile farms of the West required no less than six ladies performing this task (seven, if we include the one living in Kyles Stockinish who would probably have been engaged by the farm of Luskentyre) with one each at Urgha in the North and Rodel in the South.

The pattern in later years probably reflects the trend away from cattle towards sheep until the only Dairy Maids in the area by 1901 are to be found on the surrounding isles. Rodel was joined by the farm at Kyles for a while but it appears that first Rodel, then Kyles, ceased to need a Dairy Maid and they disappeared from the landscape.

I must mention the Mckinnon sisters one of whom, Effy, appears to have been a Dairy Maid for at least the years 1851-1871 by which time she would have been well into her 60s.

That’s a long time to be performing the far from simple, effortless or safe duties of a Dairy Maid!

A couple of articles on songs sung by these women can be read here:

The Papar Project

I gave a link to this research in a brief note on Taransay but thought that The Papar Project should have a separate entry as the online pages contain a wealth of information from many disciplines, across both space and time, and are a fascinating and accessible read.

My interest lies primarily in the material on the Hebrides but the beauty of the Project is in contemplating the Papar places of Scotland as a unit whilst exploring the variations that exist between the different places.
It really is well-worth taking a look at, and not just for the entries on Taransay and Pabbay in Harris!

Seasonal Variations of the Eskimo:

A Study in Social Morphology
Marcel Mauss 1904/5

I recall being sufficiently fascinated by this Durkheimian piece of Sociology as to elect to write an undergraduate essay about it. The phenomenon that Mauss was examining was that of the people living in large communal houses during the Winter and then dispersing into nuclear family units for the Summer. The details of what he discovered are beyond the scope of this current piece, but  ‘A recent study of 183 societies supports the hypothesis ‘that different types of rites and the elaborateness of public rituals are determined by social density’ http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119434122/abstract

What I’m pondering at this moment are possible/probable Norse origins of ‘seasonal transhumance’ in the Western Isles (the use of summer shielings) and possible links to patterns of ritual behaviour that exist to this day.

Is the traditional pattern of biannual Communion services on the isles vestigial evidence of pre-christian rituals, one at the end of Winter and the other at the end of Summer, that were originally ‘determined by social density’ which varied during the year?

These ‘Communion Seasons’ are spread out over several days and are literally a ‘coming-together’ of families from all over the world to participate in a manner reminiscent of Mauss’s study.

That study of 183 societies suggests that we would expect to see some sign of seasonal variations in rituals on the isles, whether or not the communion practices are truly an example remains to be shown.


An Economical History of the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland,
John Walker
‘Potatoes are now become the poor man’s boll, as pease* used formerly to be called; and their cultivation on that account, as well as others, deserves the greatest care.
This valuable crop has of late years been infected with a disease which threatens to increase, and is now but too well known by the name of the curl.’

Whilst this viral disease was not the fungus called Potato blight that caused the 1846-1857 Famines in Scotland, John Walker’s warning is chillingly prescient of what was to happen less than 40 years later.

Potato Curl had led to several years of poor harvests prior to 1808 but the underlying cause of why this one crop had ‘become the poor man’s boll’ is significantly lacking from the essay. The Clearances, which continued throughout the Century, pushed people away from fertile land and onto rocky coasts where what little space could be brought into cultivation was more productive for potatoes than any other crop. The people did not become ‘Potato Eaters’, so hauntingly illuminated in Van Gogh’s painting of that name, by choice but by necessity.

If the years of Potato Curl’s ravages were bad, those of the Potato Blight were several magnitudes worse, a fact exacerbated by the reliance upon this single source of sustenance of an ever-increasing population crowded into the finite spaces between the rocks and the sea.

In the decade from 1847 no less than 16,000 Highlanders emigrated, and there was a scheme to import meal to stave-off starvation for those who remained, but none of us today can truly appreciate the horror as year after year this cruel fungus rotted not just the potatoes as they lay in the ground, but also those apparently-healthy and hope-imbued specimens that had already been harvested…

Pease, as in ‘Pease Pudding’ Pease Pottage’ or ‘Pease Porridge’ was the term for an oat-based soup-stew that had been the staple food for most people since Medieval times. The term ‘boll’ eludes me, but it was, perhaps coincidentally, an old unit of measure in Scotland.

Of Black Cattle, Kyloes and Crodh Dubh

The written historic sources regarding the cattle of the Western Isles refer repeatedly to ‘Black Cattle’, often described as somewhat smaller than is usual, but without any further clarification.

This is not so surprising when you consider that the Scottish highland Cattle Society, which registers the breed, only came into existence in 1884 yet the accounts I refer to date from the previous century.

I wanted to know more about these black beasties that would have been so plentiful on the isles before they, and many of their masters, were displaced by sheep.

The island term for the cattle is ‘Kyloe’ and one story has this referring to the Kyles (Gaelic Caolas) or ‘Sounds’, of the isles. The tale goes that the cattle were driven and ferried to Skye before making the final crossing to the Mainland on their own four feet.

Whatever the origin of the Crodh Dubh and of their island name, these hardy, horned Highland beasts must have made an impressive sight, especially at the Summer grazings, and I can imagine them making for interesting company in their Blackhouse byres during the long, dark Winter nights…

…when stories from those long cattle drives to the Lowlands and to Northern England must have helped fill the night air, too.

Heron 1794 or…

‘General View of the Natural Circumstances of those Isles,
adjacent to the North-West coast of Scotland,
which are distinguished by the common name of Hebudae or Hebrides:-
of the various means which have been employed to cultivate and improve them:-
and of some other means, which are humbly proposed, as likely to contribute to their farther improvement’
Drawn up for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement.
By Robert Heron 1794
I don’t know for sure that this is the longest-ever title of a book on the Western Isles, but it certainly must rank amongst their number!
I have only just begun perusing these 99 pages but the tone appears to be the all too familiar one of ‘Improvement’ to be imposed by incomers, albeit with a greater degree of appreciation of the indigenous inhabitants plight than is often the case.
He make an interesting observation that the social organisation of the islands provided an insight into the circumstances prevailing under medieval feudalism or, ‘a person may acquire a very clear notion of what the feudal establishments of Europe were in their origin’.
125 years later, those returning from the ‘Great War’ faced further, ongoing, battles to remove that same yoke.

In introducing his ideas for ‘Improvement’, Robert Heron writes the following:

‘The true perfection of the cultivation of any territory is, when it affords the means of subsistence, of social intercourse, of moral and intellectual improvement to the greatest possible number of rational beings, at the same time, and those of the highest possible corporeal and mental excellence.’

A rather fine sentence in  my humble opinion!

Note: A brief biography of Robert Heron can be found here:

Old Scottish Weights and Measures

I made reference to this excellent resource when examining the labour and yields relating to feannagan cultivation.

They originate from ‘A Complete System of Practical Arithmetic’ published for the Scottish School-book Association in 1869. I say ‘for’ because I have found another of their titles of the same year that was published by William Collins.

If Lippies, Pecks, Firlots and Bolls leave you high and dry, or Mutchkins and Chopins w(h)et your appetite, then you will find the answers here:


An extract from an account of the ‘Hebudae’ from 1794 is interesting:

The weights and measures used in these isles, are various and uncertain, as on the mainland. I believe the most prevalent weight to be that denominated Dutch weight; but concerning either the weights or the measures,I have not yet obtained satisfactory information. One thing certain is, that by diversity of weights and measures, traffic is rendered more tardy, complex and difficult in its operations; whilst, by simplicity and uniformity of weights and measures, its sales and exchanges are quickened, and its transactions in general, made less operose*.

Heron, 1794 (See next entry in blog for full citation)

*Operose = Laborious

Despite having been kindly given this link to Old Dutch Weights and Measures:
I am unsure exactly what the term ‘Dutch weight’ in this article refers to!