>I was alerted to an article in The Guardian about the controversy regarding a new Loch Lomond Chart via a comment made on this piece from the Across the Minch blog.
The media coverage; such as this from the BBC, this from STV, this from the Stirling Observer and this from the Scotsman; focus mainly upon the inappropriateness of the names that have been used.
What none of them addresses, however, is the fact that the Hydrographic Surveyors of 150 years ago took great pride in ensuring the accuracy of their charts and especially with regard to using the correct names of the features that they recorded.
Admiral Otter (as he became) would be horrified to learn of such a neocolonial attitude to cartography taking his name in vain in this way and, as the man who ensured the safe arrival of the first successful transatlantic cable in Newfoundland, I suspect that he would also object to being portrayed as in any way unsophisticated merely because the plumb-line was the main tool at his disposal.
Note: Previous pieces regarding the work of ‘Captain Otter’, ‘Captain FWL Thomas’ and ‘Mapping’ may easily be accessed via the Labels at the left of this page.
>I was going to put this as an update to the previous piece on these two townships but on reflection have decided to compose a new entry.
There are still gaps in my information such as I have not read the Ordnance Survey Name Book to discover why Port Eisgein & Port Ungasto were given these names. What I can say is that, unless Captain Otter made an uncharacteristic oversight in 1857, it was not until the OS surveyed Harris that either of these two ‘Ports’ were identified as ports. What I cannot be sure from using the maps alone, is precisely when each was named, for, although these names appear on the NLS maps, this is not conclusive evidence that the names were given to them when the maps were originally surveyed. They could be the result of subsequent revisions.
However, the earliest survey appears to have been that of 1878 for the 6-inch series of OS maps of Scotland and hence that is the earliest ‘known’ occurrence of the names. My caution is partly due to the fact that the map that was produced from this survey, and the 1-inch map of 1885, mark and label the ‘ Junction of Land & Submarine Telegraphs’ but as far as I can ascertain that telegraph cable wasn’t laid until 1886.
Does any of this matter? The answer is ‘Yes’ and the reason why it matters goes beyond the politics of placenames. If the use of the term ‘Port’ signifies that these places were used as small local ports then some significant advances can be made:
The presence of the Master of the Harris Mail Boat at Port Esgein in 1851 makes even more sense and the fact that a Letter Carrier, John Macleod, lived in Srannda rather than An-t-Ob might be explained by the location of the Strond Post Office opposite Port Ungasto. If ‘Eisgein’ does relate to an Ash tree, then it is possible that a specimen of that species conveniently and helpfully guided sailors to take safe passage to the shore there.
The Farm of Strond was part of the Tack of Strond & Killegray and this latter island lies less than three miles away across a relatively clear stretch of the Sound of Harris from the two ports. It is easy to imagine boats travelling to and fro between the islands and, although the beach on Killegray is closer to An-t-Ob, the sea between them is liiterally littered with islets and submarine hazards. Carminish Bay is also blessed in being across the less troubled waters but it is at the end of Srannda furthest from what I believe (and Bald’s maps clearly indicates!) was the original nucleus of Srannda around what is now Borghasdal.
A couple more matters arise:
Why did they opt for ‘Port Ungasto’, above/in which is the site of Dun Boraigeo and which the nearest root that I can find in Gaelic is ‘Unga’ which comes from the Norse for ‘Ounce-land’?
Was it the breaking into Crofts of the Farm of Strond, which took place in the 1830s, that resulted in the settlement pattern for Srannda that we see from the 1857 chart onwards and, prior to that, had the people of that farm primarily lived within the confines of the ruins that we see today in Borghasdal?
I know what my thoughts are regarding the second question, but as to the first one, I remain all at sea…
I have often made reference to the complex issue of placenames in the isles and thought it time to collect a few of my pieces that illustrate some of the attendant difficulties together in one place:
However (in my usual somewhat muddled way!) here is a link to the excellent introduction from the National Library of Scotland to Gaelic Placenames as they appear on Ordnance Survey Maps and the importance of the Object Name Books that are held on microfilm at the National Archives of Scotland (RH4/23/107 & 107 being those for Harris).