Fasti ecclesiae scoticanae

This publication lists all the Ministers of the Established Church
of Scotland and the (re-formated) entry for John Kerr reads thus:

JOHN KERR born Harris, 25th Oct. 1855,
son of Roderick K. and Christina Kerr;
educated at Borve School and Univ. of Glasgow;
licen. by Presb. of Dunoon July 1892;
assistant at Greenock;
ord. to Shurrery 28th Feb. 1904;
trans, and adm. 14th Sept. 1910.
Marr. 30th April 1918, Adele, daugh. of Elie Le Couvey.

I am pleased by this for not only does it act as confirmation of
the results of my previous investigations, but it also helpfully
gives us his date of birth and the significant dates
in the progress of Ayatollah Kerr’s career.

Source: National Library of Scotland –
(Note: A search for ‘Ayatollah’ on the blog will reveal  further entries that refer to him)

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!

Finlay J Macdonald Ancestral Chart Update

I have added several people to this chart and, in order to render it at a reasonable scale, have stopped at his great grandparents generation. As far as I can tell, and this is a cross-reference between the Croft History of Direcleit & Ceann Debig with the Censuses and information from Mackay genealogy , these are the correct families but I have not ventured further along the various branches. I should point-out that the John Mackay born in 1826 was the Church Beadle at Scarista. More on Finlay J Macdonald can be found in these entries.

Finlay J Macdonald’s Ancestral Chart

Here is a chart showing what I believe to be the ancestry of Finlay J Macdonald.
Pieces relating to him can be seen here:
I cannot be absolutely certain regarding this chart but it represents the ‘best-fit’ from what little biographical information has been previously published regarding this particular son of Harris.

Relatives of the ‘Ayatollah’

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am a fan of Finlay J Macdonald’s trilogy ‘Crowdie & Cream’. One of the pivotal, although already deseased, characters is that of the Minister, ‘Ayatollah’ Kerr.
I have already described John Kerr’s family but here present a chart showing him and his relatives all descended from the two sons of his grandparents, John Kerr and Marion Macleod.
It is worth noting that by the time the ‘Ayatollah’ and his ‘French’ wife arrived back on his birth-isle, his uncle’s family had established themselves in England and one doesn’t get any impression from the books that the widowed Adele was aware of any descendants of her sisters-in-law who were living around her and who, in every likelihood, she was teaching in the school at Scarista alongside the schoolboy Finlay…

Note: Other references to Finlay J Macdonald can easily be found from the tags to the right, and the search feature should enable you to discover background pieces on Borve and the two brothers, should you so wish.

I should also point out that, although I cannot prove it, my firm belief is that all the Kerr folk of Harris were related, possibly descended from a few ‘incomers’ imported at the time of Captain Macleod’s ‘improvements’, perhaps the last time that such ‘improvements’ were being undertaken with an understanding of, and in co-operation with, the indigenous inhabitants for another two centuries…

A 1923 Wedding on Harris

It is the 21st January 1925 and we are at Scarista, Harris to witness a wedding ‘after banns according to the forms of the Church of Scotland’.

The groom is a 31 year-old labourer, Angus Kerr of Leverburgh, and his bride is Mary Cameron Macmaster, a 24 year-old Domestic Servant who was born in Old Monkland, Lanarkshire but whose current abode is indecipherable on the feint copy of the original certificate that I have before me.

His father was Roderick Kerr, a Fisherman, and his mother is Peggy Kerr, MS Maclennan. Her father, Duncan Macmaster, is a Gamekeeper, and her mother is Maggie Macmaster, MS Ellis.

Unfortunately, the best that I can discern for the two witnesses is ‘J Morrison(?), Kentulavig’ and ‘Angus Campbell, West(?) Tarbert’, but what makes this particular certificate special, apart from the fact that the groom was my ‘Half 1st Cousin twice removed’, is the name and location of the Minister: John Kerr, The Manse of Harris.

This is our old friend, the ‘Ayatollah’ of Finlay J Macdonald’s ‘Crowdie and Cream’, found officiating for the one and only time at the wedding of one of his island relatives.

Not an event of great historical significance but a relatively unusual and, hopefully, interesting one!

Note: Angus Kerr’s father, Roderick, was the son of my great, great grandfather, Malcolm Kerr, from his first marriage. Roderick (who’s mother may have died giving birth to him, but certainly was dead within 2 or three years of having done so) was brought-up by his grandparents, a service that Malcolm repeated with my own grandfather.

Borve, Harris, Post-Clearance of 1853

Following the 1839 clearance of Borve, it was resettled by the new Factor in 1847 only to suffer a second clearance in 1853.

In 1851 there were 138 people living in Borve but the1861 Census lists a mere 74 people in 14 Households in all three parts of Borve:

Big Borve
Kenneth Macdonald, 43, Sheep Farmer Employing 6 Labourers, b. Applecross, Ross
Margaret Maclellan, 57, Cottar, b. Harris

Middle Borve
Finlay Mackennon, 48, Grass Keeper, b. Harris
Marion Kerr, 70, Weaveress, b. Harris
Christy Campbell, 60, Pauper, b.Harris

Little Borve
Kenneth Macrae, 57, Sheep Farmer, b. Kintail, Ross
Alexander Macrae, 45, Sheep Farmer, b. Dornie, Ross
Hugh Munro, 31, Shepherd, b. Lewis
Joseph Allen, 36, Butler, b. England
Malcolm Kerr, 30, Joiner, b. Harris
Duncan Maclennan, 75, Cottar, b. Harris
Christy Macleod, 60, Cottar, b. Harris
Kenneth Macdonald, 48, Cottar, b. Harris
Angus Macdonald, 42, Cottar, b. Harris

In another 20 years the Farmer Kenneth Macdonald would add ‘Factor’ to his occupation but even in 1861, just 8 years after the Clearance, we can clearly see the effect of replacing these three human communities with sheep.

Three Sheep Farmers, one Shepherd, a Green Keeper and a Butler, but not a crofter in sight.

Just 5 landless Cottars, a Weaveress, a Pauper and a Joiner are all that remain from the previous population on some of the most fertile machair on Harris.

Not forgetting the three sheep farmers ‘imported’ from the Mainland…

(Crowdie & Cream Note: The Joiner was ‘Ayatollah Kerr’s’ father, the Weaveress his Grandmother)

Church Beadles of the Western Isles

Today I came upon a phrase previously unknown to me – ‘Church Beadle’.

Apparently, in the past it was the Beadle’s role to take the Minister’s Robes from Manse to Church, assist with the seating of the Parishioners, ensure Order was maintained during the Service, and then return the Robes to the Manse.

There are over 100 Church Beadles recorded in the Scottish censuses of 1841-1901, including 7 women, but only 2 in the whole of the Western Isles:

John Mackay, 28, Church Beadle, Scarista, Harris. b. Harris

John would therefore have been a visitor to or, perhaps, (as seems more likely to me) a resident of the Manse at Scarista which is known today as Scarista House:

He was also one of Finlay J Macdonald’s Great grandfather’s, being the father of Margaret (Peggy) Mackay who was the mother of Finlay’s father, John Macdonald.

Angus Macdonald, 67, Free Church Beadle, South Dell, Barvas, b. Cross, Ross-shire

One of only 3 Free Church Beadles recorded in the censuses (the others being in 1851 & 1891 and on the mainland) Angus was serving the Manse and Church both built in 1850, 7 years after the ‘establishment’ of the Free Church.

An interesting account of Barvas from 1845:

Adele and the ‘Ayatollah’

I am choosing to start this particular story with a marriage.

It is the 30th of April 1918 and we are in St Thomas’ Church, Rutland Place Edinburgh where a wedding is taking place ‘after Banns according to the Forms of the Church of England’.

Adele, the 36 year-old daughter of Elias Le Couvey, a Fundholder, and his wife, Francoise Bourget, is currently residing at 16 Dryburgh Gardens, Glasgow West.

John, the 58 year-old son of Roderick Kerr, a Building Contractor, and his wife, Christina MacLennan, is normally to be found at The Manse, Harris, Inverness-shire but is presently living in Rouen, France.

All four of the parents are already dead.

John Kerr was born in 1857 at Borve on the Isle of Harris. This future Minister is the son of a Carpenter according to the record of the 1851 census.

It is 1861 and 6 year-old John, the eldest of two children, is living in Little Borve where his father works as a Joiner. It is easy to imagine him playing with his 3 year-old sister Rachel in this idyllic spot, sitting in fertile machair land, bounded inland by the craggy outcrops of time-served Gneiss and on the other by Atlantic-swept shell-sand beaches. A decade later and this small family remains in Borve.

On the 23rd May 1877, Roderick Kerr, a Joiner of Borve, Harris, succumbs to ‘supposed chronic and acute rheumatism’. He was 65 years old and it is the 20 year old John who witnesses the event with his ‘Mark’, an X. Now, I am as surprised by this as you probably are – How come a 20 year-old who is later study to become a Minister, is found to be ‘illiterate’? Well, the simple answer is that I’m not sure! However, I have checked, double-checked and then done a bit more checking, and this HAS to be the right person. The Marriage certificate, the census data and my database of all from Harris who bear the name Kerr convinces me of the fact. But I did do another check, just now, just in case.

1881 finds 26 year-old (actually he’s 24) John boarding at 33 Russell Street, Glasgow where he is a Student of Arts at the University. His future wife is still a couple of years away from being born. Back in Little Borve, his widowed mother, who was a Midwife, is living with her daughter Rachel Morrison and Alexander Morrison, a General Merchant. Little Roderick Morrison is 1 month old and we can presume that his Grandmother’s experience aided his progress into this World. I also wonder whether her knowledge helped limit her to only giving birth herself to John and Rachel?

It is now 1891 and our attention turns to foreign parts, but not the French mainland as might have been expected. 8 year-old Adele le Couvey, the middle of 5 children, is living at La Rue Faiveusaie(?) in the parish of St Saviour on the British channel island of Guernsey where her father works as an Agricultural Labourer. She had been born in Forest, Guernsey.

John, meanwhile, has moved to 479 St Vincent Street, Glasgow and is now a Student of Theology, but not of Arithmetic as he has shaved 4 years off his age, reducing it to 32.

In 1901 18 year-old Adele, is living at Le Bordage in the parish of St Peter’s in the Wood (which sounds much nicer as St Pierre Du Bois, but the enumerator clearly wasn’t going to allow more French onto his form than was absolutely necessary !), Guernsey where she is employed as a servant in the household of John G Lenfestey, a 57 year-old Grower. She is the sole servant to this family of 3 adults and 7 children.

John is working as an Assistant Minister in Dalavich, Argyll and gives his age as 36 which is a mere decade below the truth. Of course, it is just possible that I have been tracking the wrong person, but the number of John Kerr’s born in Harris who follow the path towards becoming the Minister living at The Manse, Scarista is unlikely to make this so.

At 9:30 in the evening of 1st April 1909, back in Borve, 85 year-old Christy Maclennan passes-away of old-age and the 52 year-old bachelor John becomes an orphan.

In November 1914 the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) began operating recreation centres for the troops in France and the Scottish Churches Huts Joint Committee of The Church of Scotland’s Guild established 25 centres, manned by 350 workers, in France and Flanders. In his Marriage Certificate of 1918 John is described as ‘Minister, Parish of Harris (Hut Worker YMCA)’. In Rouen, France.

Whilst it is easy for us to have an image of the ‘Ayatollah’ as described in the pages of Finlay J Macdonald’s books, I think one should also dwell upon the fact that this 61 year-old man had the compassion, the humanity and the decency to follow the many, many islanders who went to that terrible conflict and to provide such support and assistance to his comrades, in their home tongue, as his advanced years allowed.

The remains of this story are best left to be read in the place that led me to investigate this unusual coupling, namely in the pages of Finlay J Macdonald’s ‘Crowdie & Cream’ where the Minister appears, albeit posthumously, as ‘Ayatollah Kerr’ and Adele as the kindly, if at times slightly gullible, face of friendliness.


The ‘Ayatollah’ was slightly more accurate with his Arithmetic when it came to his wedding because the 61 year-old reduced his true age by a mere 3 years. He was actually 26 years her senior!

John’s paternal grandparents were John Kerr and Marion MacLeod, a Weaveress, of Scarista. Their eldest son , John, was also Carpenter/Joiner who moved to Birkenhead, Cheshire.

You are spared one of my customary links to the ‘Ayatollah’ because, although there definitely is one, the precise location of our ancestral paths meeting is lost in time…

…but not in space, for it is certainly somewhere on Harris!

More on the YMCA and other volunteer agencies supporting the troops can be found here: