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
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>About the Hebrides No VIII

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‘Tarbert in Harris, to which the Clansman conveyed us from Loch Maddy in North Uist, was described to us by a residenter of the place, though not a native, as consisting of 26 dwelling-houses and 13 shops – he begged pardon, business premises of “merchants”. This is possibly a rather rough-and-ready summing-up, but it is correct enough in so far as indicating that the number of the latter is distinctly out of proportion to the number and requirements of the former.

The village stands at the head of East Loch Tarbert, that indentation of the sea that cuts into the land from the Minch to about a quarter of a mile from the head of West Loch Tarbert, similarly indenting it from the Atlantic, the so close approach of the two all but constituting the southern portion of Harris an island. As it is, the march between the two districts is here, the proprietor of North Harris being Sir Edward H Scott, Bart., and of South Harris the Earl of Dunmore.

The houses are all on the north or right hand side as you enter by the steamer, ust where the loch or bay becomes a creek of 300 or 400 yards in length, and narrowing to less than 50 yards at the top. The first structure to catch the eye is the Free Church, a plain enough building, erected on the summit of an eminence jutting into the sea immediately eastward of the pier. Close at hand, but standing a little lower, is the manse, a comfortable-looking, white-washed house, with a neatly-kept kitchen garden in front and sheltered so far from the wind and spray by some trees – the latter not of any dimensions, truly, but still forming a show of “wood” surpassing what we had seen as yet in working up the Long Island. Then comes the wooden pier, up from which, by a path that winds round to westward, you pass the schoolhouse (the of teacher which is also the registrar for the district, &c.), and get onto the main road or street, on the right of which stand the houses and stores of which, as above mentioned, the village consists. To right and left respectively of the pierhead is a row of eight or ten of these, some slated and others roofed with zinc, and all of one storey only.

Beyond these, going on to the head of the loch, there is a hiatus, to which succeeds a row of about a dozen newer-looking houses, two or or three of which are of two storeys and “semi-detached” from their neighbours. At the very head of the bay is the old Tarbert Inn , now disused as such; and across the road from this, almost down on the shore, the modern post and telegraph office. Following the road westwards two minutes’ walk brings you to the new Tarbert Hotel, in the very centre of the isthmus, and 30 or 40 yards further on is the house of the medical man of the district, Dr Stewart, which commands the view away down West Loch Tarbert.’
This is a gem of a description of Tarbert from 130 years ago and I only wish that I could name the author! However, we can identify ‘…Dr Stewart…’ as James Stewart for this young ‘Physician and Surgeon’ from Perthshire is found living in Kintulavig in 1881 and at 15 West Tarbert a decade later
Similary, we can be sure that the teacher who was ‘…also the registrar for the district, &c.’ was the Glaswegian Donald Bethune, he being the Schoolteacher in Tarbert in 1881 & 1891 , and that the Minister in the Manse was Roderick Mackenzie from Assynt in Sutherland who a few months after the publication of this article was giving his evidence to the Napier Commission where he makes particular reference to the work of Fanny Thomas .
We are especially fortunate in having the 1882 6-inch Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1878) on which to follow in the footsteps of our unknown author and then we should perhaps refresh ourselves at the ‘…new Tarbert Hotel …’ before returning later to examine the remainder of his piece…
Source: Glasgow Herald 16th September 1882 p3

>The Board of Supervision and the Destitution in the Highlands

>(From a Correspondent) Glasgow Herald 23 April 1883 page 8

The special tour of inspection undertaken in the bitterly cold month of March by the two inspecting officers of the Board of Supervision, while it has fully corroborated the tales of distress from the Hebrides and the West Coast with which the public have for some time past been familiar, puts us in possession of nothing new regarding the deplorable condition of the able-bodied population in these regions.’
Thus begins a lengthy and very detailed article that proceeds to patiently, artfully and skilfully demolish the findings of the report published following the inspection. In this piece I am focussing upon the visit of ‘Mr Peterkin’ to Harris:
‘Mr Peterkin next visits Harris, North and South. A striking contrast appears between the two sections. In the North the proprietor, Sir Edward H. Scott, Bart., is doing everything needful for his people; while in the South, under the Dowager Countess of Dunmore as trustee, the people seem to be suffering, and have now been helped in money to the extent of £600 from the London Committee – evidently the result of Lord Dunmore’s recent visit to the metropolis to “beg aid for the distressed people.”’
A brief biography of Sir Edward H. Scott is to be found in this earlier piece which contains a link to further information on his family’s contribution to Harris. The visits of SS Dunara Castle to Harris, an innovation of the Baronet’s that did much for the island’s economy, are recorded in the censuses and may be read here , here and here . It is worth mentioning that the 1891 visit records Malcolm McNeill of the Board of Supervision as one of the passengers, reminding us that, even eight years after the publication of the article in the Glasgow Herald, the work of that Board in the islands remained very much ‘in progress’. (Those with an interest in ‘Society Gossip’ may also wish to read this from the Spring of 1899 regarding Sir Samuel Scott’s wife. )
The aspect that interests me the most is the identification of the suffering of the people in South Harris ‘…under the Dowager Countess of Dunmore as trustee…‘ . Firstly, why was the 42 year-old 7th Earl’s 69 year-old mother acting as trustee to the Estate at a time when her son was not performing military duties abroad as indicated by reference to his recent visit to London? Secondly, the fact that we are provided with a contrast between the situation in the North (thanks to the attitude and activities of the proprietor Sir E Scott) and the situation in the South (where we are told that the proprietor went to London “…to beg aid…”) is a clear statement as to where the writer considers the blame to lie.
A century earlier Rodel had been the powerhouse of development under Captain Alexander Macleod and Tarbert was no more than a small cluster of houses at the head of  the West Loch (as can be clearly seen in Bald’s 1804/5 map).
The Tarbert of the 1880s was a small yet thriving town strung mainly along the Northern shore of the East Loch whilst Rodel had been reduced to little more than an island retreat for an apparently absent landlord.
‘On this estate there are about 128 crofters, of whom 74 pay rents of from £4 to £5 each; 38 pay from £5 to £7 each; and 16 from £7 to £10 each. Some of these crofters are in arrears with their rents, and are now employed in working off this burden by roadmaking and trenching near the proprietor’s residence. It would have looked as well to have let the arrears to stand over in present circumstances and allowed the crofters to work their land and sow seed with a view to averting the calamities of famine next year.’
An interrogation of the 1881 census reveals 121 households headed by a Crofter which accords pretty well with the figure of 128 a couple of years later as given here. It is interesting to note that 58% of these were in the category paying the lowest rentals, 30% in the middle group and only 12% at the highest level as this gives us an indication of the distribution of rents, in this case one that is heavily ‘skewed’ towards the lower end.
The roadmaking was clearly limited to a small area around Rodel for, as can be seen in this evidence to the ‘recently appointed Royal Commission’ mentioned at the end of the article, the Bays were still in desperate need of a road and it would be another fourteen years before the ‘Golden Road’ was completed.
‘Mr Peterkin reports that some of them have poultry and some cattle and sheep, but that the crofters would not willingly sell any stock this season. He might have added that no one would buy them at this season.’
The writer was clearly unimpressed by the Edinburgh-born Mr Peterkin’s ignorance of island agriculture and ensures that we are made aware of it:
‘The Harris cattle possessed by crofters are not of a good stamp, and bring but poor prices at anytime. It is said, and there is little reason to doubt it, that they feed partly on sea-weed in winter and spring, and at this time they are fit neither for being eaten or being sold to advantage.’
We should remember that the Harris cattle possessed by others, notably those of the Stewart & McRa farming families, were prized beasts that won awards but, for some strange reason, the benefit of breeding wasn’t accorded to their crofting neighbours. I do have to take the writer to task on the matter of cattle consuming seaweed for my understanding is that this is actually beneficial to them and hence not a factor in their fitness for either sale or consumption?
The idea of poultry is rather comical. The poorest of the poor in the Highlands has two or three hens. If they are killed for food they will not last long, and there will be no eggs.
This is the writer’s final twist of his ‘pen/knife’ and he then ends with a prescient predication as to what the forthcoming Napier Commission would discover:
There seems to be a providence in the present state of matters, bringing the wretchedness of the people to the surface, to give plenty of scope to the recently appointed Royal Commission.
I would dearly love to learn who the author of this article was but meanwhile here is a compilation of ‘snapshots’ of his ‘target’, William Arthur Peterkin (1824-1906 ), taken from the censuses of 1851-1901 and with his occupation shown in bold:
1851 27, Senior Clerk board of Supervision, Lewis Castle, Stornoway Distillery, Stornoway, b. Nk
(As seen in this earlier piece )
1861 37, First Class Clerk, Civil Service Poor Law, 14 Grove Street, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 5 children aged 1 to 7, a Cook, a Nurse and a Nurse Maid)
1871 47, Civil Service Poor Law, General Superintendent of Poor, North District, Scotland. Inspecting Officer of Board of Supervision Under Public Health Act, Scotland, 9 Albert Street, Nairn, b. St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh
(Wife, 7 children aged 3 to 17, a Domestic Cook and a Housemaid)
1881 57, H.M.C.S. Board of Supervision, Visitor, 25 Union Street, Inverness, b. St Cuthbert, Midlothian
(25 Union Street was a hotel kept by a 35 year-old, Donald Davidson, from Elgin)
1891 67, Civil Service – Inspector, Terry Road (North Side) Fairholm, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 4 children aged 25 to 31, 2 Domestic Servants and 2 Visitors)
1901 77, Annuitant (Retired from Civil Service), 7 Eildon Street, Edinburgh, b. Edinburgh
(Wife, 2 children aged 39 & 47, 2 General Servants (Domestic) and a Visitor)
His occupational titles of 1871 are certainly the longest that I have yet read in the censuses!

>’…and as many more in the adjacent Isles…’

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The stimulus for this piece came from the ‘Parliamentary Abstracts; Containing The Substance Of All Important Papers Laid Before The Two Houses Of Parliament During The Session of 1825′.
In a table introduced by the sentence; ‘The following list shews the places at which churches have been directed to be built; most of them absolutely, a few provisionally:’ , I noticed that in the Parish of Harris on ‘Berneray Isle’ a church was to be built for the population of 500:
And as many more in the adjacent Isles of Pabbay and Killigray.’
Reading that, in 1825, the population of these three islands in the Sound of Harris was estimated to be 1000 souls I wanted to investigate further. Although a decennial census had been introduced in 1801, the first four of these only provide a figure for the population of the whole Parish.
For Harris, these figures were:
1801 2996
1811 3569
1821 3909
1831 3900
Our year, 1825, lies neatly between two censuses in which the population, despite all the displacements that were occurring, remained remarkably stable at circa 3900 people.
Thus the 1000 estimated to be living on our three islands were about one-quarter of the parish’s people reminding us that ‘Prior to the nineteenth century, the majority of the population of Harris lived on the machair of the west coast and on Pabaigh and its neighbouring islands (Berneray/Beàrnaraigh, Ensay/Easaigh and Killegray/Ceileagraigh)’ http://www.paparproject.org.uk/hebrides2.html
As an aside, we have this communication from the 18th of July 1832 which I think is illuminating.
The later censuses do provide figures for each island in the Parish of Harris and those for the years 1841-1871 are given below. I have shown the number of males and females and computed the average ‘people per hearth’ for each island with the trio of isles that are our focus shown in bold:
1841 – 7th June
Anabich 18 males and 23 females in 7 houses (41/7 = 5.9 people per hearth)
Bernera 335 males and 378 females in 130 houses (713/130 = 5.5pph)
Ensay 7 males and 9 females in 2 houses (16/2 = 8pph)
Hermitray 5 males and 3 females in 1 house (8/1 = 8pph)
Killigray 3 males and 2 females in 2 houses (5/2 = 2.5pph)
Pabbay 179 males and 159 females in 61 houses (338/61 = 5.5pph)
Scalpay 14 males and 17 females in 4 houses (31/4 = 7.8pph)
Scarp 60 males and 69 females in 23 houses (129/23 = 5.6pph)
Tarrinsay 38 males and 50 females in 16 houses (88/16 = 5.5pph)
There were 1056 living on our three islands which was almost 23% of the total of 4646 people in the Parish of Harris.
Five years later the first of the Potato Famines occurred and the response of the Factor can be seen in his letter of the 21st August 1846 to the Countess of Dunmore.
1851 – 31st March
Anabich 63 people in 12 houses (63/12 = 5.3pph)
Bernera 452 people in 89 houses (452/89 = 5.1pph)
Ensay 14 people in 3 houses (14/3 = 4.7pph)
Hermitray Uninhabited
Killigray 7 people in 1 house (7/1 = 7pph)
Pabbay 29 people in 6 houses (29/6 = 4.8pph)
Scalpay 282 people in 48 houses (282/48 = 5.9pph)
Scarp 145 people in 29 houses (145/29 = )
Tarrinsay 55 people in 11 houses (55/11 = 5pph)
Only 488 living on our three islands which was less than 12% of the Parish total of 4254.
Nine out of every ten people from Pabbay and one-in-three of the population of ‘Bernera’ had gone.
Just four days after the census, on the 4th of April 1851, the Factor John Robertson Macdonald in ‘Rodil’ was being ‘interrogated’ by Sir John McNeill and an earlier piece analyses his account.
We should also note the dramatic increase in the population of Scalpay that had occurred, the reasons for which are to be seen in this investigation.
1861 – 8th April
Anabich Not listed
Bernera 130 males and 185 females in 64 houses (315/64 = 4.9pph)
Ensay 10 males and 5 females in 2 houses (15/2 = 7.5pph)
Hermitray Not listed
Killigray 2 males and 3 females in 1 house (5/1 = 5.0pph)
Pabbay 10 males and 11 females in 4 houses (21/4 = 5.3pph)
Scalpay 199 males and 189 females in 71 houses (338/71 = 4.8pph)
Scarp 72 males and 79 females in 27 houses ( 151/27 = 5.6pph)
Tarrinsay 25 males and 30 females in 12 houses (55/12 = 4.6pph)
There were just 341 living on our three islands or about 8% of the 4174 people of Harris.
Once again, almost one third of the remaining people of Bernera had gone leaving just under half the hearths from the 130 of two decades earlier.
1871 – 3rd April
Anabich Not listed
Bernera 169 males and 204 females in 75 houses (373/75 = 5.0pph)
Ensay 4 males and 2 females in 1 house (6/1 = 6pph)
Hermitray Not listed
Killigray 3 males and 6 females in 1 house (9/1 = 9pph)
Pabbay 3 males and 5 females in 2 houses (8/2 = 4pph)
Scalpay 222 males and 199 females in 82 houses (421/82 = 5.1pph
Scarp 78 males and 78 females in 33 houses (156/33 = 4.7pph)
Tarrinsay 35 males and 33 females in 12 houses (68/12 = 5.7pph)
A small increase to 390 living on our three islands but still only just reaching double-figures again at 10% of the the people of the Parish.
Bernera’s population had risen by 18% but the island trio would have needed nearly three times as many residents to regain the proportion of the population that had led to the church being built there only four-and-a-half decades earlier…
Note: I have left all spellings as they appear in the original sources, except that those for the census lists are ‘standardised’ from the 1841 census rather than reflecting the variations that appear in some of the subsequent decades.
Sources:

THREE MEN DROWNED AT STORNOWAY

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
Notes:
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.

>PSS BRIGADIER 1854-1896 & SS COPELAND 1894 -1917

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Should you have been one of the 4 passengers aboard the paddle-steamer ‘Brigadier‘ making her way from Lochmaddy to Portree on the 7th of December 1896 then your journey was about to be rudely cut short just off the coast of Rubha Reinis (Renish Point) at the entrance to Loch Roghadail.
The RCAHMS record of the wreck is both informative and slightly confusing, for there appears to have been a degree of uncertainty as to the location of the accident. However, Captain Otter’s 1857 chart of the Sound of Harris clearly shows us the position of  ‘Duncan Rk’ and the dotted-circle surrounding the ‘¾’ figure indicates why this rock, only three-quarters of a fathom (four-and-a-half feet) below the surface of the sea, presented such a danger to shipping.
A description of the ship together with her history, including the final years in the ownership of David MacBrayne, is to be seen here but what interested me most was seeing if I could learn anything more of her Master on that fateful day, one D McPhail.
A search of the censuses for likely candidates produced just one – Dugald Macphail, from Crinan, Argyleshire, who we find in 1891 in Liverpool and in 1901 in Greenock.
The 1891 record has the 21 year-old Dugald as Master of the vessel ‘Northward’ which also had a Mate & 2nd Mate, an Engineer & 2nd Engineer, two Seamen, two Firemen and a Cook comprising her crew. I was surprised by the (to 21st Century eyes) very young age of the Master but also surprised to see on this census return from Garston Dock, Liverpool in England that there was the familiar column from Scottish censuses that records whether those listed spoke either Gaelic or Gaelic & English. Six of these mariners, including Dugald Macphail, spoke both languages whilst the remaining four recorded nothing in the column, indicating that they only had English.
In 1901, D Macphail aged 32 and hailing from Crinan, is now Master of the ‘Copeland‘ and accompanying him aboard that vessel in Greenock were a Mate & 2nd Mate, a Chief Engineer & 2nd Engineer, a Carpenter, a Donkeyman, eight Able Seamen & seven Firemen, a Cook, a Chief Steward & 2nd Steward, a Stewardess and finally three Passengers. I should perhaps explain that a ‘Donkeyman’ was responsible for the auxiliary steam engines, known as donkey engines, which were used to power winches and pumps.
This pencil sketch from 1898 of the SS Copeland’s Smoking Room was certainly a surprising find!
Finally, although I cannot be absolutely certain that he was indeed the unfortunate Master of the ‘Brigadier’ in 1896, Captain Dugald Macphail, Master of the ‘SS Copeland‘, was awarded an MBE on the 26th of March, 1920 within the list of ‘Civilian Honours Connected With The War At Sea’.
The SS Copeland had been sunk on the 3rd of December, 1917 by the German submarine, U-57 , under the command of Kapitanleutnant Carl-Siegfried Ritter von Georg . Twelve men died when the torpedoing took place in the St George’s Channel whilst she was enroute from Glasgow to Cork. .
Thus what began as the tale of an accident in which no lives were recorded as being lost ends, unexpectedly, with the sad story of a deliberate sinking in which twelve brave seamen lost their lives.

>Bald’s 1805 Map of Harris – A Summary

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I think it sometimes helps readers if I provide a page of links to pieces on a particular theme and in this instance have decided to collate my research regarding this wonderful map, the image of which can be explored on the National Library of Scotland site: http://maps.nls.uk/counties/detail.cfm?id=660
I have put the links into six separate groups but all the pieces are interrelated so, depending upon where you choose to start and which aspects you find interesting , you will find yourself following your own meandering path through them.
Asbestos & William MacGillivray
The Revd. Bethune & other people
Annotations including, perhaps, some by the 7th Earl of Dunmore?
Bald’s Map & FWL Thomas’s Chart
Togail Tir
Placenames
Note:
The only previous research into this map of which the NLS & I are aware was that performed by James B Caird, published in 1988 in ‘Togail Tir’. If any reader happens to be researching the map, and especially if they have knowledge of this copy’s whereabouts between its creation sometime in the 19thC and its surfacing in 1988, then please do get in touch.