>The Lighthouse Stevensons

>BBC2 Scotland are showing The Lighthouse Stevensons to mark the 200th anniversary of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

I have blogged about George Edgar, who was the first of several Keepers of the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, as well as those of the Arnish, Tiumpan Head & Eilean Glas lighthouses.

This description from Barrahead gives an impression of the natural forces that the lighthouse builders had to contend with.

The programme includes an interview with Bella Bathurst who wrote the The Lighthouse Stevensons which is a brilliant read.


(The link to the BBC iPlayer where you can view or download the programme for viewing is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00y6hym/The_Lighthouse_Stevensons/ )

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse Keepers

I just realised that, although I earlier described the career of the first Keeper, I hadn’t completed the list.
Here are, in brief, the men who manned the lighthouse from 1871-1901:

George Edgar, 53, Principal Light Keeper, Head, b. Portpatrick, Wigtownshire
John Tulloch, 35, Assistant Light Keeper, Head, b. North Ronaldsay, Orkney

George Edgar, 63, Principal Light Keeper, Head, b. Portpatrick, Wigtownshire
Robert Macintosh, 26, Light House Keeper, 2 Eoropie, Head, b. Lighthouse, Ross, Tarbert Ness

James McQueen, 45, Principal Light Keeper, Head, b. Kilmuir, Inverness-shire
Robert Agnew, 31, Light Keeper, Head, b. Tobermory, Argyll

Alexander Mccann, Light Keeper, Head, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtownshire
David Budge, 38, Light Keeper, Head, b. Drenne(sp?), Caithness
George Campbell, 28, Light Keeper, Head, b. Port in a Loren (sp?), Argyll

Note: George Edgar’s career here: George Edgar, Lighthouse Keeper

Tiumpan Head Light House Keepers

This light started work in 1900 so here we see recorded two of the first Light Keepers.

In time, it had six Light Keepers, three (as is the case in these two examples) living next to the light with their families, plus a local assistant and two part-timers from nearby Portnaguran.

Further information on this Light, and all the others of The Northern Lighthouse Board, can be found here:

James J Macdonald Matheson, 31, Light Keeper, Tiumpan Head Light House Dwelling House, b. Lochmaddy, North Uist
Annie Bain Matheson, 26, b. Waternish, Skye
Effie, 1(?), b. Fair Isle, Shetland
Neil, 2, b. Waternish, Skye

John Napier Milne, 50, Lightkeeper, Tiumpan Head Light House Dwelling House, b. Arbroath
Jessie, 45, b. Musselburgh, Midlothian
David Reid Milne, 23, Seaman, b. Arbroath
Jessie Ann Milne, 18, b. Scalpay, Inverness
John Milne, 10, b. Scalpay

It is good to see someone from the Western Isles in this role, as was the case with James Matheson and his family’s birthplaces indicates that he served in Skye and Fair Isle before arriving in Lewis.

Similarly, John Milne appears to have been in Musselburgh and Scalpay, as well as back in his home town of Arbroath, prior to his arrival.

His Seaman Son, David, reminds us of the purpose of the Light Keeper; to ensure a safer passage for those whose lives took them away from the safety of the shore and into the arms of that sometimes gloriously beautiful , sometimes treacherously betraying, mysterious mistress of the deep.

Tiumpan Head – May 2009

Arnish Light House Keepers

This, the Northern Lighthouse Board’s first pre-fabricated tower, came into use in 1852.

A full description can be had here: http://www.stornowayhistoricalsociety.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59&Itemid=73

and here: http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/4324/details/lewis+arnish+point+lighthouse/

Here are the Light Keepers and their families as recorded in the 1861-1901 censuses:

Thomas Dawson, 38, Light House Keeper, Light Keeper’s House, Lochs, b. Isle of Man
Margaret, 27, Wife, b. Edinburgh
Isabella, 6, b. Hoy, Orkney
William I, 4, b. Hoy, Orkney
Mary Maclean, 18, Domestic Servant, b. Stornoway

George Maclachlan, 31, Assistant Light Keeper, b. Orkney, Isle of Westray
Janet, 24, Wife, b. Orkney, Isle of Sanday
Lucy Polson, 19, General Servant, b. Durness, Sutherland

John Sinclair, 56, Light Keeper, Arnish Light House, b. Tiree, Argyll
Helen, 54, b. Tiree, Argyll
Mary Ann, 16, b. Orkney, North Ronaldsay
Helen, 14, Orkney, North Ronaldsay
Neil , 12, b. Arbroath, Forfar
Robert, 10, b. Arbroath, Forfar
Cathie Maclean, 30, General Servant, b. Harris

Donald G Mackay, 22, Light Keeper, Arnish Light House, b. Wick, Caithness
Ann Rugg, 27, Housekeeper, Aunt, b. Wick, Cathness

John Grierson, 58, Principal Light House Keeper, Arnish, b. South Leith, Edinburgh
Janet, 58, b. Salton, Haddington-shire
Ann, 16, b. Drainei, Moray
Kate, 5, b. South Leith

James MacQueen, 34, Light Keeper, b. Kilmuir, Inverness
Christina, 38, b. Kilmory, Bute
Margaret, 6, b. Lochs
Janet M, 4, b. Lochs
John Alexander, 11 months, b. Lochs

George Irvine, 34, Light House Keeper, b. Isle of Man
Jessie, 33, b. Glasgow
Maggie, 8, b. Govan, Lanark
Isabella, 6, b. South Uist, Inverness
Charles, 2, b. North Uist, Inverness
Alexander, 1, b. Stornoway
Mary Black, 40, Servant, b. Glasgow

Thomas Sutherland, 57, Light House Keeper, b. Graemsay, Orkney
Jane, 53, b. Hoy, Orkney
Jessie, 14, Ardnamurchan, Argyll
Christy Macaulay, 21, General Servant, Back, Ross

James Ferrier, 58, Head Light Keeper North Shore(?), b. Arbroath, Forfar
Elizabeth, 65, b. Ettrick, Selkirk
John, 22, Tiree, Argyll
Christina, 27, . Aberdeen

Thomas Higson, 54, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, b. Whalsay, Shetland
Elizabeth, 60, Whalsay, Shetland

As is ever the case with Lighthouse Keepers,here we see them moving around the lights of the Northern Lighthouse Board during their working lives, marrying and happily producing children as evidence of their individual journeys.

Lighthouse Keepers of Harris

Eilean Glas first shone a light in 1789 but the present tower was constructed in 1824 and modified further in 1907.

A full description from the Northern Lighthouse Board can be found here:

Here are the keepers and their assistants from the 1851-1901 censuses.

I have included the birthplaces of children as an indication of the roving nature of the role.

Alexander Campbell, 57, Principal Light Keeper, Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 48, b. Inverness 4 Children (14-29) b. Harris

Chas Black, 27, Edinburgh, Assistant Light Keeper, Scalpay, b. Edinburgh
Wife, 30, b. England 3 Children (1-7) b. Aberdeenshire, Barra, and Barra.
Prudence Melvin, 56, Mother-in-Law, b. British subject, France

John Macdonald, 33, Occasional Light Keeper, Kyles Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 28, b. Harris 4 Children (3 weeks-7yrs) b. Harris

1852 – Revolving Lens System Installed

Ewan Campbell, 28, Light Keeper, Scalpay Island, b. Tobermory, Argyll
Wife, 30, b. Tiree, Argyll 2 Children, (?-2), b. Tiree, Argyll and Harris

David Ross, 44, Principal Light Keeper, Light House Buildings, Island of Scalpay, b. Lasswade, Midlothian
Wife, 44, b. Leith 5 Children (5-13), b. Edinburgh, Larduit, Ross-shire, and Caithness-shire

Angus Macleod, 25, Lightkeeper (Assistant), b. Durness, Sutherlandshire
Wife, 28, b. Domark(?), Dumfriess-shire, Son, 1, b. Jura, Argyll

Norman Cunningham, 28, (Amsturd St?) Keeper, Raasay,Inverness,  b. Harris
Wife, 26, b. Harris 3 Children (9 months-3 yrs), b. Ardnamurchan, Argyll; Portree, Inverness

1881 – Not listed

Norman Cunningham, 42, Light Keeper (Out of Employ), Cottage, S Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 39, b. Harris 6 Children (8 months – 13 yrs), b. Ardnamurchan, Argyll; Dunrossness, Shetland; North Ronaldsay, Orkney; and Harris

Robert Murray, 44, Lighthouse Keeper, Isle of Glass Light House, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtown-shire
Wife, 41, b. Dunnet, Caithness, Daughter, 4, b. Arbroath

Donald Douglas, 31, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, b. Uist
Wife, 27, b. Glay(?), Argyll, Children (4, 2, 1) b. Harris

Murdo Morrison, 60, Crofter Retired Light Keeper, No 1 Kyles Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 26(?), b. Harris 5 Children (1-11), b.

Hugh Mackinnon, 33, Lighthouse Keeper, No 123 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Glasgow
Kate Morrison, 32, General Servant Domestic, b. Harris

James McGuffie, 52, Driver Keeper Now Lighthouse Worker, No 124 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtownshire
Wife, 52, b. Helmsdale, Inverness, Daughter, 26, b. Thurso, Inverness(?)

Duncan Mackay, 54, Crofter, No 125 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 49, b. Harris, 6 Children (7-19), b. Harris

John Macsween, 62, Crofter, No 126 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 58, b. Harris, 5 Children (9-23), b. Harris

Norman Cunningham, 63, Retired Lighthouse Keeper, Manish, b. Harris
Wife, 59, b. Harris

I find the addresses in the 1901 census particularly interesting, ‘Nos 123-126 Lighthouse’ presumably referring to the numbering system for the buildings associated with the light tower.

Norman Cunningham clearly worked in turn at Ardnamurchan, Raasay, Dunrossness and North Ronaldsay but, somewhat ironically, was unemployed on Harris in 1881 at which time no keeper of the light at Eilean Glas is to be found in these records.

There are other Harris-born lighthouse keepers spread around Scotland but I have restricted this piece to those who were resident on Harris at the time of the censuses, with the one exception of Norman Cunningham in 1871 which I considered to be an illuminating addition.

Some Englishmen (and Women) ‘Abroad’ in Harris

Here are those born in England and caught by the snapshot in time of each census.

I have listed the Householder in brackets to give an indication of each person’s situation but have not included full listings for these households for reasons of brevity.

Each decade is followed by brief observations:

Harriet Black, 30, Assistant’s Wife, Scalpay
(Charles Black, 27, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, b. Edinburgh)

Mary Maclennan, 40, Chelsea Pensioner’s Wife, Flodabay
(Neil Maclennan, 49, Chelsea Pensioner, b. Harris)

John Henry Short, 34, Inland Revenue Officer, Kentulavick
Sarah Short, 29, Inland Revenue Officer’s Wife

Richard H Watson, 32, Fish Merchant, Rodel
Henry G Watson, 12, Errand Boy, Nephew

Only half-a-dozen English-born but illuminating all the same: the Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife in Scalpay and that of a Chelsea Pensioner (who’s Military Record may be explored) in Flodabay, the Tax Man and family on the Sound of Harris and the fish Merchant just a couple of miles down the coast…

Joseph Allan, 36, Butler, Little Borve
Ann Allan, 36, Butler’s Wife
Elizabeth, 14, Daughter
Susan, 10, Daughter
Mary, 5, Daughter

Alexander Bain, 44, Ship Agent, East Tarbert
(John Morrison, 21, Hotel Keeper, b. Harris)

George B Williamson, 34, Master Mariner Merchant Service, Finsbay
Sophia Lauren Williamson, 24, Wife
William Hudson Williamson, 1, Son
William Lambert, 18, Apprentice Seaman
John William Jefferson, 16, Apprentice Seaman

Mary Maclennan, 34, Wife, Flodabay
Jane, 20, Daughter
Catherine, 17, Daughter
William, 16, Son
(Neil Maclennan, 56, Cottar Pension, b. Harris)

Borve Lodge doesn’t surprise us in employing a Butler, and clearly he brought his family sometime after 1856 but I wonder what his three daughters made of their new surroundings by the beatiful beaches of the West Coast? Mr Bain was passing through and hence is found amongst the throng at the Hotel in Tarbert but what of the maritime Williamson’s of Finsbay – did they stay long or was this a fleeting visit? Nice to see our Chelsea Pensioner Neil still surviving in Flodabay but where in England was he, with his wife, when his children were born?

Anne Braden, 47, House Maid, Avensrudh Castle
Mary E Eliot, 16, Visitor, Niece, Avensrudh Castle

Mary Maclennan, 60
Catherine, 25, Domestic Servant, Daughter
William, 23, Fisherman, Son

Jane Maclennan, 27, Wool Weaveress

The castles I have touched-upon before but the transcriptions are confusing and somewhat unhelpful. Sadly, Neil appears to have passed away but his family remain, presumably in Flodabay?
Elizabeth Covell, 32, General Servant, Castle North Harris

Lucy Macaulay, 32, (Unemployed) Gamekeeper’s Wife, North Harris
Robert G Macaulay, 4 months, Son
(Murdo Macaulay, 66, Gamekeeper, b Harris – Lucy’s Father-in-Law)

John Stewart, 5, Son, Kentulavick
(James Stewart, 22, Physician and Surgeon, b Fortingal, Perthshire

A contrast appears here between those serving the North Harris Estate and one providing an altogether different kind of service to the people. Little Robert G Macaulay was born when his Father was working in England, where he probably met his wife Lucy, but now the baby is at his grandparents home in Harris. I wonder whether he followed in his forebears footsteps and also became a Gamekeeper? Down South, little John Stewart’s father, whose age is probably 32?, is a Physician and Surgeon but where, I wonder, did he carry out his observations and operations?

Christina Macaulay, 16, Schoolmaster’s Daughter, Obb
(Peter Macaulay, 55, Schoolmaster, b. Perthshire)

Margaret Mckellar, 23, Hotel Keeper’s Daughter, No 2 East Tarbert
(Daniel Mckellar, 53, Hotel Keeper, b. Inverary, Argyll

John Stewart, 15, Scholar, No 15 West Tarbert
(James Stewart, 40, Physician and Surgeon, b. Aberfeldy, Perthshire

Sir John Carstairs McNeill, 60, Major-General Equerry to the Queen, aboard the Dunara Castle

Mr Macaulay who taught in Obb clearly travelled during his pedagogic career and I wonder whereabouts in England he was teaching in 1875 when Christina was born? Which hostelry did Daniel Mckellar serve when Margaret appeared in 1868? And where were James Stewart’s patients when John was born in 1876?

I have received information (for which I am extremely grateful), from a gentleman who is researching the history of Borve Lodge, telling me that Daniel Mackellar ‘was the proprietor of the Harris Hotel immediately prior to Tommy Cameron.’ It would appear, anecdotally, that Mr Mackellar was perhaps a precursor of the ‘Basil Fawlty’ school of hotel management.

These snapshots raise so many such questions, which is why I enjoy exploring them so much!

Milne Lothian, 12, Scholar, Nephew, Obbe
(Jessie Macleod, 48, Nurse and Midwife, b. Harris)

Christina Mackenzie, 25, Housekeeper, Daughter
(Peter Macaulay, 66, Retired Teacher, b. Killin, Perth)

We met Jessie Macleod when I investigated the Midwives of Harris but her Nephew’s name intrigues me.
I may pursue him later.

We end with the Retired Schoolmaster Peter Macaulay, remaining in Harris with his married daughter keeping house for him, the final image from these little windows on the world of the English-born in Harris…

A Lewis Lighthouse Keeper

In 1871, the Butt of Lewis lighthouse’s two-storey house was home to its 53 year-old keeper, George Edgar with his wife Grace and four of their children.

George had been born in Portpatrick, Kincardineshire in about 1818 and his lightkeeping days can be traced by the exploring the birthplace of his 8 children and the censuses:

1843 James, Portpatrick, Wigtownshire

1847 Elizabeth, Dunnet Head, Caithness-shire

1848 Alexander, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire
1850 George, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire

1851 Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse
1853 Archibald, Ardnamurchan, Argyll

1856 William & John, Sanday, Orkney

1858 Isabella, Barvas, Lewis This is particularly significant as the light at Ness wasn’t completed until 1862 and suggests that George possibly played a part in the construction process.

1861 Start Point Lighthouse, Orkney

1871 Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

1881 1 Europie – Principal Lighthouse Keeper, Butt of Lewis

1891 73 year-old Retired Lighthouse Keeper George is back in his hometown of Portpatrick with his unmarried daughter Isabella Beattie. Son James, 48, is Keeper at the lighthouse in Killkorran, Argyll whilst his younger brother John is one of three keepers on Scotland’s most Northerly light, that on the island of Muckle Hugga in the Shetlands.

1901 – George and his daughter are still enjoying his retirement in Portpatrick but son John is Principal Light Keeper at Whalesay Skerries, Shetland whilst his eldest brother James is the keeping the light at Holy Isle, Bute.

The Edgar family, led by father George, shone lights to sea for over half a century, during which time they served the Stevenson family,the Northern Lighthouse Board and countless sailors in aiding the process of safer seafaring.

Note: The bold locations indicate lighthouses served by the Edgar family.