>About the Hebrides No VII

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‘At the inn here we met again with one of the commercial gentlemen whom we had encountered at the different markets coming north. He was a travelling agent of the Singer’s Sewing Machine Company; and in proof of how general is becoming the adoption of these useful instruments everywhere, he told me that since leaving Barra he had sold ten machines in the Long Island; and, after paying all his own travelling expenses, had remitted over £70 to headquarters, in payment or part payment of machines sold by him on his last journey in these parts. He added that now-a-days it is quite common, in what we should call little Highland tailors’ shops, to find two machines going in full swing. We had had no idea previous to this time of the amount of business generally done by southern firms with the people of the Outer Hebrides, and therefore might well be surprised by one fact, among others, told us by this same gentleman – namely, that a well-known tea merchant hailing from Edinburgh, who regularly makes exhaustive journeys through the Long Island on his own account, will take home with him as the “collection” of one such visit about £1000. True, he has the great advantage of being thoroughly au-fait in the language of the natives, and he supplies numerous private customers as well as the merchants; but still – the statement surprised us.’
Before examining this account, I should like to look a little at the inn’s location which was in ‘…Tigharry, a township not far from Griminish Point…’ on North Uist where the ‘…somewhat humble but snug hostelry…’ was kept by ‘Mr Roderick Macaulay and his most capable and willing help-meet…’.
In 1841, the innkeeper at Tigh a’ Gerraidh (Tigharry) was 40 year-old Donald Macaulay who remained there in 1851 & 1861 but with the inclusion of ‘Farmer of 16 acres’ & then ‘Farmer of 14 acres’ as additional occupations.
In fact some 33 households are shown with the address of ‘Tigheary Inn’ in 1861, the Enumerator presumably considering this it to be the appropriate means of identifying the settlement as a whole?
Unfortunately the censuses of 1871 & 1881 return no clear indication of those (if there were indeed any?) living at, or keeping, the inn but the location can easily be seen on the 1881 OS 6-inch map.
In 1891 a Roderick Macaulay aged 54 was a Farmer in the township but, once again, the inn is not mentioned so whether he is the same person who nine years earlier had been the inn-keeper I cannot say.
Returning to the article itself, it is the information to be gleaned from the agent of the Singer Sewing Machine Company that demands our attention.
Firstly, a sum of £70 in 1882 equates to at least £5200 today (and quite possibly a lot more), the figure representing a combination of full and part payments for machines and after all the agent’s own expenses had been deducted from the sales. Small wonder that he had returned for another tour! I cannot find a price for a Singer sewing machine in 1882 but a close rival was on the market for about £4, equating to around £300 today.
Secondly, the image of a couple of Singer sewing machines ‘going in full swing‘ in many ‘little Highland tailor’s shops‘ is, at one and the same time, both reassuringly ‘cosy’ and also a pleasing antidote to the more-usual portrayal of island folk as automatically rejecting all such innovations.
Finally, the “collection” of £1000 by the Edinburgh tea merchant perhaps comes as no particular surprise until you update it to about £75,000 in today’s money. That’s a lot of tea (although precisely how much I cannot say) and the wily mainland merchant maximised his return by selling directly to his thirsty ‘Long Island’ customers as well as to the local merchants.
There we shall have to leave these travellers for now, enjoying their refreshments in Roderick Macaulay’s inn, but perhaps we’ll meet them again soon for they have many more interesting insights to provide us with into late 19thC life on the Long Island…
Source: Glasgow Herald September 1882

>’…one pound sterling a-head…’

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On the 2nd of September, 1841, the Caledonian Mercury reported:
EMIGRATION. – There are three ships at Lochmaddy, North Uist, taking in emigrants from the neighbouring parishes of Harris and South Uist, for Cape Breton. The Earl of Dunmore gives one pound sterling a-head to the most destitute families from his property.
(Sourced from Inverness Reference Library via Am Baile’s newspaper archive search facility)
The Scots To Canada Web Site lists three ships, the Banffshire, the George and the Tay, leaving Lochmaddy in August 1841 ‘taking 1300 emigrants from N Uist to Cape Breton. ” of the poorest class”.’ so I think that we can be reasonably confident that these are the same vessels that appeared in the newspaper’s article.
The 6th Earl of Dunmore, Alexander Edward Murray, , had inherited Harris upon the death of his father on the 11th of November 1836 and would in turn be succeeded by his son, Charles Adolphus, following the 6th Earl’s death on the 14th of July 1845 . Thus the Earl was about halfway through his proprietorship of the island when he was providing a pound per person for those electing to leave.
But what does that ‘one pound sterling a-head’ of 1841 represent 170 years later?
To try to discover an answer I will examine three options, starting with the excellent  Measuring Worth site and see what values it provides us with:
In 2009, the relative worth of £1 0s 0d from 1841 is:

£72.10 using the Retail Price Index (RPI)
£105.00 using the GDP Deflator
£766.00 using the Average Earnings
£1,160.00 using the Per-Capita GDP
£2,690.00 using the Share of GDP
Faced by these five options, ranging from mere £72 to a more substantial £2700, it is important that we choose the correct comparison. The RPI is rather narrow and a better indication of the buying power of £1 in 1841 is given by the £105 of the GDP Deflator.
The remaining three indicators, including that of ‘Average Earnings’ (which might appear particularly attractive) are actually not appropriate in the current context.
Using the the National Archives tool for the same calculation will show you that £1 in 1840 would only buy £44.10 worth of goods today so my choice of the figure of £105 might appear, if anything, slightly over-generous?
Our third option is to look at what the Reverend John Macivor had to say about wages on Harris in The New Statistical Account of 1845*:
Farm-servants receive from L.3 to L.3, 10s. in the half-year…’ so our £1 would represent between perhaps 1/7th & 1/6th (14-17%) of such a man’s annual income. We may also wish to note that the annual value of all the Produce of the island is given by the Reverend as ‘L. 11,900’ and that over 10% of that, ‘L. 1300′, even as late as 1845, was still coming from Kelp.
So, depending upon how you choose to compare it, the Earl’s £1 per person was equivalent to either a miserly £44 in today’s money, or even as much as two-months wages for an agricultural labourer of the time!
Perhaps, though, to attempt to place any monetary value upon the Earl’s inducement is rather to miss the point:
People were being ‘required’ to leave because so many had been forced to live crowded-together upon the meanest of land to make way for the ever-expanding sheep farms which, the Reverend helpfully informs us, were bringing in a an income of some £2800, or almost a quarter of Harris’s total income from Produce at that time.
The population of the Parish of Harris in 1841 was 3,056** according to the census earlier that year.
Even if every person had elected to emigrate, the ‘one pound sterling a-head’ would only have amounted to three-quarters of one year’s income from Kelp & Sheep combined…
(Note: I appreciate that not all of the income from Produce went to the proprietor himself, but consider the comparison to be justified in demonstrating the affordability of his scheme with respect to the economy.)
Sources:
*New Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol XIV, p157

>A Small Boy in Aberdeen

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The 1911 Census marks a significant point in my researches because it is the first to include my Dad. There is something slightly strange about seeing one’s father listed as a 4 year-old boy and especially so as all my grandparents were already dead by the time I myself was 4 and hence, although I have ‘met’ them in the censuses, they exist only as shadows in my mind.
I do not intend to dwell upon the details of the household at 56 St Swithin Street (save to say that my dad’s two aunts were both Teachers and that the Boarder at his grandmother’s house taught Science at Gordon’s College), but look instead at the occupations of the neighbours at numbers 52 to 54:
We have an employer in the form of the Manager of a ‘Coal & Lime Importers, Oil Refiners & Grain Merchants Limited Company’; another employer who was a House Painter; a third employer who was a ‘Motor Car Agent’ and whose daughter was a ‘Clerk & Typist’ in the Motor Trade; and finally a ‘Retired Gilder & Picture Framer’ whose daughter was a self-employed Piano Teacher and whose two sons were employed as a ‘Dentists Mechanic’ and a ‘House Painter’.
So this was the neighbourhood that my Stornowegian grandfather found himself inhabiting 90 years after his own grandfather had been born in a house on the shore at Direcleit, a house that the sea was known to enter at particularly high tides.
I say ‘inhabiting’ but in fact he wasn’t there on the night of the census and, as the index at ScotlandsPeople does NOT include a field for the place of birth, I am not going to trawl through all the 36 year-old John Kerrs (at £1.17 each) in the hope of chancing upon him!
What is more disappointing is that, had he been there, I am sure that he would have continued his practice from the previous Census and inserted ‘G&E’ in the otherwise blank column recording Gaelic speakers…

>A Singular Occurrence

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In 1911, living on his own in a house at Rodil despite his being married, we find the 60 year-old Gaelic & English speaking Donald MacCrimmon. Deciphering his name initially proved a tad difficult but it was his unusual occupation that both drew my attention and proved the key to identifying him:
Dunvegan-born Donald gives his occupation as ‘Formerly: Book binder & Printer’ in ‘General Publishing’. Armed with his forename, age and the fact that he was born on Skye, I located him in the three previous censuses:
1901
Donald McCrimmon, 47, Book Binder, 144 Stirling Rd, Glasgow, b. Skye, Invernessshire
Mary McCrimmon, 40, Wife, b. Bernad(?), Invernessshire
Duncan McCrimmon, 21, Son, Book Binder, b. Glasgow
William McCrimmon, 19, Son, Goods Checker, b. Glasgow
Elizabeth McCrimmon, 15, Daughter, Envelope Packer, b. Glasgow
Euphemia Mcdonald, 16, Daughter-in-Law, Domestic Servant, b. Barnars(?), Invernessshire
1891
Donald Crimmon, 40, Bookbinder, 85, North Wallace St, Glasgow, b. Dunvegan, Inverness Shire
Duncan Crimmon, 13, Son, Scholar, b. Glasgow
William C Crimmon, 9, Son, Scholar, b. Glasgow
1881
Donald McCrimmon, 30, Bookbinder, 133 Springburn Rd, Glasgow, b. Dunvegan, Invernessshire
Elizabeth McCrimmon, 30, Wife, b. Huntly, Aberdeenshire
Duncan McCrimmon, 2, Son, b. Glasgow
John Caldwell, 25, Brother-in-Law, Iron Turner, b. England
Alexander Caldwell, 19, Brother-in-Law, Iron Turner, b. Dalmellington, Ayrshire
Barbara Stark, 13, Niece, Scholar, b. Glasgow
There are three or four possible candidates for Donald in 1871 but I don’t intend pursuing this.
However, these three returns alone have a things to tell us:
Firstly, Donald’s first wife appears to have been Elizabeth Caldwell from Huntly and she quite possibly died prior to 1891 which is when we see their son William having ‘C’, quite probably for ‘Caldwell’, added to his name. I have found the Caldwell’s in 1871 when they were living in Springburn, Lanarkshire and Eliza was employed as a Silk worker. A decade earlier they had been in Sowerby, Yorkshire, which explains her brother John having been born in England. Their father, William Caldwell, was employing 2 men and a boy in his work manufacturing Drainage Pipes.
Secondly, Donald married a second wife, Mary, but was it she who gave him a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1884? I have searched for the girl in 1891 to no avail and have also had no success in finding either wife in that particular year.
However, both Mary, and Donald’s ‘Daughter-in-Law’ Euphemia Macdonald, appear to have been born in Bernera in Inverness-shire which could either be the village of that name on Skye or the island of Berneray itself and if the latter might go some way in explaining why Donald the retired Bookbinder was living ‘next door’ to Lexy Kerr in Rodil in 1911!

>A Rare Find!

>As is usual, I happened upon this whilst searching for something altogether different (which makes it all the better!)

On this page there are 31 images of portraits by the artist Kenneth MacLeay including one of two Hearachs.

Image 26 shows the Boatmen Kenneth MacSween of Strond and Donald MacAulay of Fincastle.
The ‘Sitters Details’ (scroll to 18) inform us that Kenneth (Who appears in 1871 in my Boatmen of Harris piece) ferried cattle to the Mainland and Skye from Strond whilst Donald was a boatman at the recently completed Fincastle.

The portrait was displayed at an exhibition in 1870 and the eagle-eyed will have noted that, by the time of the 1871 Census, Kenneth (who is described as unmarried in the Sitters’ notes) has married and is living in Strond with his wife Christy and their 1 year-old daughter, Ann.

It is a real privilege for me to see an image of someone who appears in a record from 140 years ago and who is included in one of my little lists – and a rare find indeed!

Ciobairean Mara – Sea Shepherds

If you watched, or can be tempted to watch, this BBC pogramme about the Sea Shepherds then you might be interested in these pieces from my blog about the Cattle Men & Cow Herds of Harris , the Papar Project , some of the circumstances pertaining when Pabaigh (Pabbay) was sold to the  Mr Stewart who is mentioned in the programme and, finally, the only two Hand Loom Weavers (HLW) recorded there prior to the Clearance of Pabaigh in the 1840s…