…that I thought I would mention as they might prove useful to other researchers.
The second, ‘The Belfast News-Letter’ , shows how a search of newspaper archives can supply some surprising information.
You might also like to read my transcript of the Stornoway Gazette’s obituary of Alexander John Kerr .
On a par with my favourite map of Harris (the 1804/1805 one produced by Bald) is this chart from 1857 .
I have referred to each of these several times, the map’s subtitle being ‘The property of Alexander Hume Esq surveyed by William Bald, Assistant to Mr Ainslie, in 1804-5’ whilst the chart was ‘surveyed by Lieut. F.W.L. Thomas, R.N. Assisted by W.T. Clifton 2nd Master’.
I wish to compare Bald’s view of ‘Dieraclate’ with that of Thomas’s ‘Dhiracleit’ both to see what had altered in the intervening half-century, both in terms of Harris itself, of cartographic techniques and the motivation for making maps. I have attempted to provide links that display as closely as possible the same area but not precisely so.
Starting with Bald’s map (this particular copy of which apparently dates from 1829), the man who probably commissioned it, Alexander Hume Macleod, had inherited the island from his father, the successful seaman Captain Macleod, in 1790 and would soon pass it on to his own son, Alexander Norman Macleod in 1811. Ignoring the pencilled annotations, which I believe to have been made during the ownership of the 7th Earl of Dunmore, the map is clearly intended to inform the landlord in some detail of the agricultural arrangements of the island. It itemises the holdings of no less than 25 separate parts and displays the location and boundaries pertaining to each of these. Additionally, major landmarks are identified as are settlements and routes for communication. There is a compass cross indicating North and scales in both ‘Scotch Chains 74 feet each’ and in ‘Miles’ as well as some soundings dotted around the casts and islands but whose unit of measure is not defined. The only other navigational information is a single ‘Bearing to Gasgheir distance from Ru Hinigha 10 miles’ although why we have this indication of where the island of Gaisgeir (Gasker in English) lies is a mystery. On the modern OS map this tiny island sits in splendid isolation neatly within the square kilometre at NA875116 so whether Bald included it as a useful navigational aid or simply in the interest of completeness is unknown.
Returning to the detailed section of the map around Direcleit, I want to consider the settlements that are indicated beginning with ‘Tarbet’. Here we see a cluster of perhaps nine buildings bounded by a dotted-enclosure and West Loch Tarbert. Only a pair of buildings are shown in the area to the East where the present-day village is found. The settlement at the West Loch must surely indicate a link to the fishing grounds of the Atlantic for the harbour is the safest on the whole of that side of ‘mainland’ Harris and Captain Macleod definitely perceived the economic future of the isle to lie within the sea rather than upon the land. Moving away from ‘Tarbet’ towards ‘Loch Dieraclate’ we encounter no signs of habitation within this part of the Farm of Luskentyre until reaching ‘ Ken Diebeck’. If we assume that Bald only marked houses that were in occupation then if there had been any people living in that area he missed them but if he marked all buildings regardless of their status then the area had yet to be settled. Whichever is the case we are reasonably safe to say that whilst people were living in Kendebig at the time there were none at Direcleit.
Compare that with the situation in 1857 where the chart still shows some six houses at ‘Ceann Dhibig’ but then another two-dozen scattered from ‘Baille Dhiracleit’ via the peninsular of ‘Dhiracleit Pt’ and up to ‘Craobhag’. As clear an indication as one could wish for of the effect of the Clearances that took place during the first-half of the nineteenth-century in Harris.
One of those houses is of especial interest to me. If you start at ‘Baille Dhiracleit’, sitting on the narrow slice of land between the waters of sea and the inland loch, and let your eye traverse diagonally upwards and to the left you will reach a triangular mark with a dot inside it. This ‘Trig Point’ (short for ‘Triangulation Point’) is a fixed point whose precise location is known from other similar points that lie within sight of it and whose height above the sea has been measured to a great degree of accuracy. It is the secret behind all the work of cartography since the formation of the Ordnance Survey but whether this particular one was the work of that organisation of of Thomas himself I cannot say. This Trig Point lies within a defined parcel of land with two houses and it is the one nearest to ‘Coal I’ and ‘Big I’ that is our destination for there, some thirty-five years before the chart was constructed, my great, great grandfather Malcolm Kerr had been born.
My previous account of the voyages of the CREST left her at the end of June 1898 in her home port of Stornoway.
14th July sees her owner and Master, 44 year-old Alexander John Kerr, and his 76 year-old father, the ‘Bosun’ Malcolm Kerr, joined by John Macpherson, 44, from the ‘William Smith’ of Stornoway.
On the 18th, they left, unladen, from Stornoway for Ayr where they arrived on the 24th. Having taken on a cargo, they sailed from Ayr on the 28th July but only reached Stornoway on the 16th August. However, I think that date is incorrect for on the 15th August Don Macmillan, 18, returns to the ship in Stornoway having not sailed since leaving her in June. The unladen CREST then sets sail for Larne on the 16th August so clearly the date of arriving in Stornoway was an afterthought!
She arrives in Larne on the 23rd August but doesn’t depart, laden, until 6th September and reaches Stornoway on the 19th. A couple of days later on the 21st September John Macpherson leaves her.
The final entry that gives details of her draught and freeboard, those measures of how laden she is, is on 21st October when she departs Stornoway only slightly laden. No entry is made for her destination.
The next piece of information in this timeline is for the 21st November when Malcolm Munro, 49, joins in Stornoway from the steam ship ‘SS Staghound’ of Belfast.
I think that the reason for these apparent gaps in the record of the voyages are indications that Alexander John didn’t make the entries in ‘real time’.
Then, on the 15th December 1898, in the space at the bottom of the form reserved for ‘Particulars of Deaths’, Alexander John Kerr writes:
Place: Horseshoe Sound Kerrera, By Oban
Name: Malcolm Kerr,
Crew or Passenger: Crew
Nationality: Tarbert, Harris
Last Place of Abode: Bayhead Street, Stornoway
Cause of Death: Heart-disease
Port at which Reported: Stornoway
So the life that began in dire straits in Direcleit, ended in another strait, the Sound of Kerrera, aboard his son’s ship which he was Bosun upon having been a Ship Master in his own right.
When I first learnt of Malcolm’s death at sea in the middle of December and in his middle seventies, I wondered what on Earth he was doing. It was only when I obtained these Crew Agreements from the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland that I knew the answer: He was supporting his son and doing the thing that, I suspect, he loved more than anything other than his family, sailing the West Coast of Scotland.
Malcolm’s death appears to have been later countersigned in red ink by a W. Goff but no indication is given as to where and when this was done.
The story is not quite finished for on the 19th December John Macleod, 44, joins at Kerrera from the ‘Jane’ of Stornoway. What intrigues me is that it is Kerrera and not nearby Oban. Is this a clue to one of the mysteries that remains, namely where was Malcolm laid to rest?
There is no record of Malcolm having been buried in Oban, burial ‘at sea’ would not have been an option in the narrow Sound of Kerrera and John Macleod joined the CREST at Kerrera. All things considered, I now think that Malcolm was laid to rest on that tiny island, a place I visited briefly last year as part of what was, for me a very personal pilgrimage.
The final two entries that Alexander John makes for the voyages of 1898 are:
On Passage to Belfast 31st December 1898
Arrived at Belfast 23rd January 1899
A series of letters between the Superintendents of the Mercantile Marine Offices in Stornoway and Belfast accompanies the documents and reveal that there had been a judicial enquiry held in Oban, presumably to eliminate any suspicions surrounding Malcolm’s death aboard his son’s vessel.
Although it is possible that Malcolm’s body remained on board all this time and was indeed buried on the way to Belfast, I doubt it…
The ‘Crest’ and I go back a long way and I have already written of how I first happened upon her in the register of deaths and of my luck in locating her records all the way across the mighty Atlantic in Newfoundland.
However, I have delayed dissecting that information until now. The spur, the impetus to do so, has been granted me by the serendipitous discovery of an account of her final resting place…
The ‘Crest’ had her keel laid in 1862 in Ramsey on the Isle of Man. She was a wooden ketch, that is to say that she had two masts, and she entered the story of my family when she already had 36 years service under her hull. She had been laid-up in Tobermory following the death of her owner, Alexander Macdonald, and it was from there that Alexander John Kerr rescued her to replace his previous ship ‘Jessie’. I have been unable to discover anything about ‘Jessie’, nor of the ‘Crest’s successor ‘Lady Louisa Kerr’, but on the 6th of August 1896 her Master, John Macdonald, wrote a letter apologising to the Burgh of Tobermory for not having notified them of her movements (or, rather, lack of) during the first half of the year.
I cannot be sure of the date that Alexander John took possession of her but on the 26th October 1896 he (from the SS ‘Alice’ of Stornoway) , together with his 74 year-old father, Malcolm Kerr (from the ‘Jessie’ of Stornoway), and 40 year-old John McLeod (from the SS ‘Clydesdale’ of Glasgow, an 1862 Mail Steamer in MacBrayne’s fleet), set sail from Tobermory and landed in Larne the next day.
There she was loaded (Alas, I know not what with, for nowhere does Alexander record his cargoes!) and on the 14th November set sail for Gairloch, arriving on the 24th. A lighter ‘Crest’ left there on 30th November and made Tarbert on 1st December where her remaining cargo was unloaded. They spent a week in Tarbert, no doubt using the time to visit various relatives on Harris including those in Malcolm’s home township of Direcleit, and then took her the short journey to her new home port of Stornoway on the 8th December where John McLeod was ‘Paid-off’. He and his fellow ‘Able Seaman’ Malcolm have a ‘Report upon Character’ entry ‘For Ability’ and ‘For Conduct’ that Alexander John had to complete. I am delighted to inform you that he gave his father and John McLeod the same (presumably impeccable?) grades!
1897 begins with the well-laden ‘Crest’ (only 20 inches above the sea at her midships!) departing on the 20th January for Belfast which she eventually reaches on the 15th February. On board are the same three men who last sailed her, but Malcolm is now promoted to ‘Mate’ which I suspect was more in recognition of his having been a Ship Master in his own right rather than a reflection of the need to establish a formal naval hierarchy in such circumstances?
At this point, I must introduce my conjecture that Alexander John (no doubt encouraged by Malcolm) demonstrates his dislike of the formality of form-filling for the next voyage sees the trio departing Larne on the 25th February as if sailing from Belfast to Larne somehow didn’t count as something worth recording…
They arrive in Gairloch on the 4th April and the freeboard, which had been 2ft 4in on departure, was down to a mere 1ft 4in upon their arrival. The length of time, together with this alarming evidence of extreme loading, suggests that there had been a wee bit more to this voyage than the record suggests!
Another leap takes place and on the 22nd April they depart Tarbert and take a week to reach Stornoway, presumably due to adverse weather.
In fairness to my relatives record-keeping, there were circumstances in which voyages did not require documenting, these being termed ‘Agreement-Eng. (1) or Eng. (6), but I am still attempting to discover the precise nature of these.
The second half of 1897 sees the Crest undertaking eight separate voyages:
Stornoway July 12 Troon July 22 Empty
Troon July 30 Stornoway Aug 11 Laden
Stornoway Aug 24 Ullapool Aug 25 Part Laden
Ullapool Sep 13 Stornoway Sep 20 Laden
Stornoway Oct 11 Carrick Fergus Nov 1 Empty
Carrick Fergus Nov 10 Lochmaddy Nov 26 Laden
Lochmaddy Dec 3 Tarbert Harris Dec 4 Nearly Laden
Tarbert Dec 7 Stornoway Dec 7 Empty
I am reasonably sure about the three ‘Empty’ voyages as her draught & freeboard are identical on each occasion, albeit that they appear to have reduced the ballast carried, possibly as a result of having chosen to spend a couple of months getting her ship-shape?
The crew of four comprised Master Alexander, Bosun Malcolm, 48 year-old Able-Seaman Malcolm Munro and 16 year-old Murdo Macleod who’s status was simply ‘Boy’. These two were discharged, with apparently excellent Reports, on the 8th of December.
1898 sees Alexander at 24 New Street, Stornoway and the Crest is laid-up from 1st January until the 13th March. On the 14th she leaves for Larne, riding even higher in the water suggesting that father and son had made yet more modifications, no doubt to increase both her speed and her carrying capacity. This time the crew of four includes Able-Seaman John MacPherson and the Boy Donald Macleod, for whom this is his maiden voyage.
They reached Larne on the 24th March and, fully laden, departed on the 5th April for Gairloch which they reached on the 9thApril. A nearly-full Crest left Gairloch on the 18th April and reached Aultbea the same day. On the 24th they were similarly full and headed for Stornoway which they made on the 27th April. The two new crew members are discharged, each marked as ‘VG’ but clearly no-longer required. The 6th May saw them depart for Larne, customarily Empty but with Able-Seaman Malcolm Munro returning, and they reached there on the 15th. By the 29th May they were full and Stornoway bound, attaining home on the 10th June. Malcolm Munro had been employed on another vessel but his return suggests that he was deemed preferable to John Macpherson?
I shall leave the remaining voyages of 1898 for a later entry, encompassing as they do the final journey of Malcolm Kerr, a remarkable man who was born the son of the landless cottar ‘John an Taileur’ in a sea-swept house in the Bays of Harris and became a Stornoway Ship Master…