‘Naval Lieutenant Widow Recently’

When I first read those four sad words in the ‘Occupation’ column of an entry in the 1851 Census I knew that I had to know more.

Una Robertson was 45 when someone sitting in Kenneth Street, Stornoway wrote those words. With her was her House Maid and fellow Stornowegian, the 14 year-old Margaret Maclean. Ten years earlier things had been rather different for the 30 year-old Mrs Robertson living in South Beach Street in the house of her brother, the 35 year-old Surgeon, Roderick Millar for she had her two daughters, 12 year-old Jessie and 10 year-old Catherine, for company whilst her husband was away.

Eunice Millar had married the Royal Navy Lieutenant James Robertson on the 6th of October 1826 in Stornoway and Janet Millar Robertson had been born two years later on the 14th of October 1828. She would later marry Alexander Maciver, the ‘Landed Estate Factor’s Clerk’. Catherine Robertson followed her sister into the World in 1832 and she too married into officialdom in the form of Fisheries Officer David Corner.

Widow Una remained in Stornoway and in 1861 was living at 14 Kenneth Street with her two grandsons, 6 year-old Andrew F Corner born in Rothesay, Bute and his 4 year-old brother Roderick Millar Corner who was a Stonowegian. Catherine Morrison, a 22 year-old from Harris, was there too as a Servant.

By 1871 Una had moved to 25 Kenneth Street and had a new Domestic Servant, Annie Maciver, who was 17 and from the town. Lodging with her was a 38 year-old ‘Supervisor Inland Revenue’ called William Stewart Turner who hailed all the way from Kidderminster in Worcestershire.

We last see Eunice Robertson at the age of 75 in 1881 at 26 Kenneth Street accompanied by granddaughter Eunice Corner who had been born 20 years earlier in Stornoway and their General Servant, 22 year-old Henrietta Macdonald from the town. The inevitable Lodger took the form of a 50 year-old Fish Curer called Murdoch Smith from Nigg in Ross-shire.

Una died on the 6th of October 1881, exactly 55 years since her wedding day.
She had been a widow for at least 30 of those years.

Stornoway’s Chemists

In 1891 and 1901 we find these Chemists in the town (there are none in the previous censuses):

1891
Thomas C Henderson, 25, Chemist & Druggist, 78 Keith St, b. Alyth, Perth
Edward Tucker, 47, Manufacturing Chemist, 23 Keith St, b. Ireland
John C Smith, 24, Student of Practical Chemistry, 44 Francis St, b. Stornoway
Robert Mcaulay, 16, Chemist’s Assistant, 8 James St, b. Stornoway
Alex D Morison, 15, Chemist’s Apprentice, 21 Cromwell St, b. Stornoway
Roderick Ross, 14, Chemist, Apprentice, 3 Newton St, b. Stornoway

1901
Roderick Smith, 28, Chemist & Druggist, 33 Newton St, b. Stornoway
Charles Hunter, 30, Chemist, 50 Kenneth St, b. Borham, Banffshire
William John Tolmie, 22, Chemist, No 5 Frances St, b. Inverness, Inverness-shire
Angus Macrae, 19, Chemist, 10 New St, b. Stornoway
Alexander D Macleod, 16, Message Boy (Chemist), 9 Plantation St, b. Stornoway

It is difficult to untangle precisely which type of Chemist some of these men (and boys!) were. The terms Pharmacist, Druggist and Chemist (although having precise definitions) have all been applied in different places and at different times to those retail  premises that provide a wide range of commodities from hand cream to prescription drugs. However, there are clues such as this recent photograph of Tolmie’s shop in Cromwell Street. We can see the word ‘Chemist’ on the left and what appears to be ‘Drugs’, or ‘Druggist’, on the right. This is an example of a ‘Chemist’ in the retail sense, rather than a ‘Manufacturing Chemist’ such as our Edward Tucker of 1891. Thus we cannot be sure whether the assistants and apprentices of 1891 were working in manufacture or in retail, or even both, but these 11 records are significant in recording an aspect of social change (Druggist becoming Chemist) as well as developments in science education (Practical Chemistry’s recognition as a subject in its own right) during the closing quarter of the 19thC.

Ref: Science Educationin 19thC Scotland –  http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/haynin/haynin0506.htm

Stornoway’s Druggists

The term ‘Pharmacist’ is not found in the 1841-1901 censuses but the alternative ‘Druggist’ is:

1851
Alexander Macpherson, 33, Grocer & Druggist, Bayhead St, b. Gairloch, Ross
Neil Clapperton, 18, Druggist Assistant, Bayhead St, b. Oban, Argleshire

1861
Alexander Mcpherson, 43, Druggist, 7 Francis St, b. Gairloch

1871
Alexander Mcpherson, 53, Druggist & Bookseller, 33, Kenneth St, b. Gairloch
Donald Mcaulay, 18, Shopman (Druggist & Bookseller), Apprentice, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Alexander Mckenzie, 14, Shopman (Druggist & Bookseller), Apprentice, b, Ardnamurchan, Argyleshire

1881
Alexander McPherson, 63, Druggist & Book Seller, 48, Point St, b. Gairloch
Donald Murray, 18, Druggist Salesman, Inaclete No 20, b. Stornoway

1891
Thomas C Henderson, 25, Chemist & Druggist, 78, Keith St, b. Alyth, Perth

1901
Roderick Smith, 28, Chemist & Druggist, 33 Newton St, b. Stornoway

We can see that Alexander Macpherson was the town’s ‘Druggist’ for at least the 30-year period of 1851-1881, from the making of the first synthetic dye, ‘Perkin’s Mauve’, to Mendeleev’s brilliant innovation of the Periodic Table and beyond. The field of medicine was making giant strides in understanding and combating disease and the ‘Druggist’ played a significant role in improving public health, preparing many of the lotions and potions in his shop using a huge variety of ingredients ranging from herbs collected from the wild to refined chemicals. It must have been an exciting (perhaps one might even say ‘intoxicating’?) time to be performing this role. The pace of change would have been even greater during the time of his two successors.

Note: The end of the 19thC also sees the first Chemists in Stornoway since the days of the Lewis Chemical Works (1852-1874) and I shall endeavour to examine them in my next piece.

An 1855 Death Certificate from Harris

I have previously mentioned the excellent guide to Registration in Scotland produced by the University of Glasgow and the page here is relevant to the current piece.

On the 24th May 1855 at 4:30 in the morning, my great, great, grandaunt Catherine Kerr died at the age of 18 in Direcleit where she had been born and lived since infancy. She was a General Servant and her parents were the Tailor, John Kerr, and Margaret Kerr whose Maiden Name was Martin. She died of Consumption although No Medial Attendant had been present to confirm this. Catherine was laid to rest at Luskintyre according to the Informant, who was her father and who put his ‘Mark’, an ‘X’ which was countersigned by Rod McDonald, Obe (next word unreadable). The Registrar, James Stewart, signs the Register on the 28th May.

All this information (apart from my personal connection!) is contained in this very early example of a Death Certificate from Harris (Registration was only introduced in the year of Catherine’s death). The piece that excites me is one which was later dropped from the certificates, namely the place of Burial.

Catherine is the first of my relatives, or of anyone in Harris whose Certificates I have seen, for whom I know the site of her interment. Catherine lies at Luskintyre, overlooking the sandy beaches of the West coast and opposite the island of Taransay. I can imagine the scene of her coffin being loaded onto a boat on the shore of Ob Liceasto just yards from her home at Direcleit and being taken to the second Ob Liceasto at Liceasto before being born along the Coffin Road and thence to Luskintyre. (An alternative would have been possible via a portage at Tarbert and followed by a second voyage via the Atlantic coast but my leanings are towards the traditional route). We know that her funeral took place within five days of her death, between the 24th and 28th of May when John the Tailor wrote that ‘X’ upon the certificate.

Oh, and had Catherine had any children then their names and ages would have been recorded too along with the name of her spouse- what a great shame it is that such details (apart from the name of the spouse) were soon dropped for they would have provided us with so many genealogical treasures, albeit gained under such sad circumstances…

A Death from Phthisis

On the 30th of September 1876, having suffered the debilitating effects of Tuberculosis for some twelve months, Mrs Catherine Macaskill died at the age of 26.
The Old Parish Record for September 1850 shows the Birth of Catherine Carr, the first child of Malcolm Kerr and Mary Macdonald, and the first of the four who survived into adulthood (two perished as infants) to die. (I have mentioned previously the then Registrar’s preferred usage of the English ‘Carr’ to the name ‘Kerr’, which I think is actually truer to the Gaelic when spelled as ‘Cearr’.)

Sadly I cannot find Catherine’s Marriage Certificate so the last record that I have prior to her death is of the 20 year-old daughter living with her mother and three younger siblings at 46 Bayhead Street in Stornoway. Her father, Malcolm, is absent from the census, the 50 year-old seaman presumably at sea in the coastal trading that was his profession. (He ought to have completed a census return at his next port, which may well have been Belfast, but alas I cannot find him!) With Catherine at this time were her sister Annie, 17, and her brothers Alexander John, 15, and Malcolm, 11. Alexander John lists his occupation as being that of a Labourer, neglecting to mention that the previous year he had embarked on his first voyage as a sailor and travelled to Archangel aboard the ‘Alliance’ under Captain Macpherson.

Catherine’s death was registered by her widower, the General Labourer Donald Macaskill, as having taken place at 11 Bayhead Street, the same address at which my grandfather had been born to her unmarried sister Annie the previous year. The buildings have long-since been demolished and a car lot now sits in their place, so I would welcome any information regarding them.

Phthisis has been blamed upon Blackhouses yet there are interesting references to the disease such as this that indicate that it was not the traditional dwellings that were responsible for the onset and development of the disease. Whatever the buildings at Number 11 were, they were certainly NOT ‘blackhouses’:

The predecessor of Dr. Millar (in Stornoway), when filling up schedules of life insurance, to the question relating to the death of the proposer’s relatives by phthisis, is said to have invariably answered,—” No such disease is known in the island.”

That quote comes from an address made in 1865-6 and appears in a volume called Memoirs read before the Anthropological Society of London, Volume 2 1865-6 p435-8 in a piece called Phthisis in the Hebrides. This short article  is well worth reading in its entirety for it suggests that the islands (and the North-West Coast of Scotland) in the 1860s were relatively free of several significant diseases. They would not remain so forever. It is beyond the scope of this piece to examine the complexity of the subject but I do think that Catherine’s death a decade after that address was given to its London audience serves to remind us that not all that may appear ‘backward’ or ‘primitive’ is intrinsically so. Had Catherine been living in either of the rural vernacular houses that her parents had been born in, rather than in urban overcrowding, then she, like so many others, might have been spared an early death.

Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital

In 1901, 29 year-old District Nurse Sally Macleod from Assynt in Sutherland was the only resident of this establishment. It had been built and endowed by Mrs Frances Sarah Thomas to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

I must thank a kind correspondent who brought an obituary of Mrs Thomas that was written in 1902 to my attention, for it contains the only reference to this institution that I am aware of. It is not labelled on the 1903 OS 1:10,560 map which was the first to be published after the hospital had been built. However, there is a building shown on that map that is not evident on the 1-inch map of 1896, and an examination of it on Google Streetview leads me to consider it to be a prime candidate for the Cottage Hospital. It lies up a short track from the Golden Road, itself completed in 1897, at Grid Reference NG101895.

If anyone has any information on Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital, a building that is surely of historical significance on Harris, I would be most grateful to learn of it.

Physicians of Lewis

I think that, of all the investigations that I have attempted, this has proved the trickiest and, yes, it was largely due to deciphering the good doctors’ handwriting! The list accords pretty well with that given in this excellent account of The Early Medical Men of Lewis I have highlighted all the addresses and also put in parenthesis those who were either visiting, or were associated with physicians although not medical persons themselves.

1841
A John, 20, Physician, Kenneth Street, b. Ross-shire
Donald Macaulay, 35, Surgeon, North Beach, b. Ross and Cromarty
Alexander Maciver, 60, Surgeon, South Beach Street, b. Ross and Cromarty
Roderick Millar, 35, Surgeon, South Beach Street, b. Ross and Cromarty

1851
Roderick Millar, 46, Surgeon General Practitioner Glasgow College, Head, South Beach, b. Stornoway
(Alexander Maciver, 74, Surgeon Edinburgh University Not Practising, Head, Francis St, b. Stornoway)

1861
Charles Macrae, 43, Surgeon, Head, 18, Kenneth Street, b. Barvas

1871
Roderick Miller, 65, Surgeon and General Practitioner, Head, 24 South Beach Street, b. Stornoway
Charles M Macrae, General Practitioner Medicine, Head, 30 Kenneth Street, b. Barvas

(Alexander Maclean, 36, Student of Medicine, Brother, 16 Whitefield Road, Govan, b. Harris)

1881
Roderick Ross, 40, Physician and Surgeon, Head, 33, Kenneth Street, b. Lochs
Roderick Miller, 75, Surgeon, Head, 24 South Beach Street, b. Stornoway
(Mary Martin, 76, Widow Doctor of Medicine, Mother, 56 Keith Street, b. Duirinish)
(Isabella Clark, 43, Doctor’s Daughter, Niece, 12 North Beach Street, b. Harris)
(John Leadingham, 39, Veterinary Surgeon, Head, 1 Plasterer’s Road, b. Premnay, Aberdeenshire)

Alexander Maclean, 44, Physician and Surgeon, Head, Dr’s House, Uig, b. Taransay

James Macdonald, 41, General Practitioner, Head, Dr’s House, Barvas, b. South Uist

1891
Murdo Mackenzie, 32, Physician and Surgeon, Head, 24, South Beach Street, b. Stornoway
(D J Macdonald, 38, Medical Doctor, Visitor, Vulcan Cottage, b. Garrabost)

Alexander Maclean, 52, Physician and Surgeon Duly Registered and in General Practice, Head, Gary-na-Hine House, Uig, b. Harris

Angus Macaulay, 45, Physician and Surgeon, Head, Dr’s House, Lochs, b. South Uist

Roderick Ross, 50, Registered Practitioner Physician and Surgeon, Dr’s House, Borve, Barvas, b. Lochs

1901
Murdo Mackenzie, 43, Physician Surgeon, Head, 34 Francis Street, b. Stornoway
Donald Murray, 38, Registered Physician Surgeon, Head, 22 Bayhead Street, b. Stornoway
(Donald Macritchie, 20, Doctor Carmail(?) Driver, Son, 7 Pringle’s Court, Cromwell St, b. Lochs)

We do not see our first physicians outside of Stornoway until 1881 and one of these, Alexander Maclean, was born in 1837 on Taransay. It is noticeable that all the doctors, with the exception of the Aberdonian Vet, were islanders. I do not know where Vulcan Cottage was but John Leadingham swapped being a veterinarian for farming and his addresses in 1891 and 1901 were Plasterfield (Farm) House in Stornoway. He is the only Veterinarian I have found in Stornoway, but began his working life as a ‘Flesher’ on his father’s farm before progressing to become a Butcher. I have found no children recorded for the Leadingham’s.