Trip to the Hebrides – Glasgow Herald, Wednesday 20th October 1858

The article in this newspaper is another interesting read that is best read in full, but here’s a sample:

‘…There being no English service in the school-house, our landlord, Mr Norman Macleod, requested Mr McKie, the parish minister, to preach a sermon to us in English…The congregation was a mere handful – the Harris doctor, the first mate of the surveying cutter Woodlark, his spouse, and five or six men, three old wives, and four or five little boys and girls…’

Now, this nicely places the Woodlark in Tarbert in the Autumn of 1858 (although I believe it to have been under the command of FWL Thomas at this time so unfortunately it is not he and Fanny Thomas who are amongst this congregation) as well as giving us the names of the both the ‘landlord’ in the schoolhouse (perhaps the Merchant of that name?)  and the Minister, who I have not mentioned previously. Was the doctor still Robert Clark from Argyll or had he left by this time?

The next section includes a description of the current progress in building the Free Church in Tarbert, again another useful piece of information, it being complete bar the ‘seating and finishing’.

Although the tone of the article is the depressingly familiar one in which ‘lowland’ prejudices predominate it is a valuable titbit that I hope you enjoy reading .

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Harris Ministers of The Established Church of Scotland

These are the records from the 1841-1901 censuses of the ‘mainland’ Ministers:

1841
John Maciver, 35, Parish Minister, Scarista, b. Inverness

1851
John Mackay, 28, Church Beadle, Scarista, b. Harris

1861
John Norman Macdonald, 32, Minister of Harris Parish, Glebe, b. South West Inverness

1871
Charles Maclean, 40, Minister of Established Church, Manse, Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

(Rev Donald McLean, 36, Minister of Trumisgarry, North Uist, b. Tiree)

1881
Donald McLean, 45, Minister of Harris Parish, Glebe, South Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

1891
Donald McLean, 54, Minister of Harris Parish, Hamlets Glebe, South Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

1901
Donald McLean, 61, Minister of Harris Parish, Glebe, South Harris, b. Tiree, Argyll

(John Kerr, 36, Assistant Minister (Dalavich), Divine Cottage, Dalavich, Argyll, b. Harris)

These four Ministers (or five if we include John Kerr, Finlay J Macdonald’s ‘Ayatollah’) were based at the Manse/Glebe overlooking the sea at Scarista. They maintained a presence in the Parish despite the overwhelming mass of the population having joined the Free Church in 1843.

Sadly, for the one year that we have a ‘Church Beadle’ recorded, we do not have the name of the Minister to whom he administered his services.

Anyone seeking further information is probably best advised to look at the helpful information on the Church of Scotland site: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/contact/contactarchives.htm

Adele and the ‘Ayatollah’

I am choosing to start this particular story with a marriage.

It is the 30th of April 1918 and we are in St Thomas’ Church, Rutland Place Edinburgh where a wedding is taking place ‘after Banns according to the Forms of the Church of England’.

Adele, the 36 year-old daughter of Elias Le Couvey, a Fundholder, and his wife, Francoise Bourget, is currently residing at 16 Dryburgh Gardens, Glasgow West.

John, the 58 year-old son of Roderick Kerr, a Building Contractor, and his wife, Christina MacLennan, is normally to be found at The Manse, Harris, Inverness-shire but is presently living in Rouen, France.

All four of the parents are already dead.

John Kerr was born in 1857 at Borve on the Isle of Harris. This future Minister is the son of a Carpenter according to the record of the 1851 census.

It is 1861 and 6 year-old John, the eldest of two children, is living in Little Borve where his father works as a Joiner. It is easy to imagine him playing with his 3 year-old sister Rachel in this idyllic spot, sitting in fertile machair land, bounded inland by the craggy outcrops of time-served Gneiss and on the other by Atlantic-swept shell-sand beaches. A decade later and this small family remains in Borve.

On the 23rd May 1877, Roderick Kerr, a Joiner of Borve, Harris, succumbs to ‘supposed chronic and acute rheumatism’. He was 65 years old and it is the 20 year old John who witnesses the event with his ‘Mark’, an X. Now, I am as surprised by this as you probably are – How come a 20 year-old who is later study to become a Minister, is found to be ‘illiterate’? Well, the simple answer is that I’m not sure! However, I have checked, double-checked and then done a bit more checking, and this HAS to be the right person. The Marriage certificate, the census data and my database of all from Harris who bear the name Kerr convinces me of the fact. But I did do another check, just now, just in case.

1881 finds 26 year-old (actually he’s 24) John boarding at 33 Russell Street, Glasgow where he is a Student of Arts at the University. His future wife is still a couple of years away from being born. Back in Little Borve, his widowed mother, who was a Midwife, is living with her daughter Rachel Morrison and Alexander Morrison, a General Merchant. Little Roderick Morrison is 1 month old and we can presume that his Grandmother’s experience aided his progress into this World. I also wonder whether her knowledge helped limit her to only giving birth herself to John and Rachel?

It is now 1891 and our attention turns to foreign parts, but not the French mainland as might have been expected. 8 year-old Adele le Couvey, the middle of 5 children, is living at La Rue Faiveusaie(?) in the parish of St Saviour on the British channel island of Guernsey where her father works as an Agricultural Labourer. She had been born in Forest, Guernsey.

John, meanwhile, has moved to 479 St Vincent Street, Glasgow and is now a Student of Theology, but not of Arithmetic as he has shaved 4 years off his age, reducing it to 32.

In 1901 18 year-old Adele, is living at Le Bordage in the parish of St Peter’s in the Wood (which sounds much nicer as St Pierre Du Bois, but the enumerator clearly wasn’t going to allow more French onto his form than was absolutely necessary !), Guernsey where she is employed as a servant in the household of John G Lenfestey, a 57 year-old Grower. She is the sole servant to this family of 3 adults and 7 children.

John is working as an Assistant Minister in Dalavich, Argyll and gives his age as 36 which is a mere decade below the truth. Of course, it is just possible that I have been tracking the wrong person, but the number of John Kerr’s born in Harris who follow the path towards becoming the Minister living at The Manse, Scarista is unlikely to make this so.

At 9:30 in the evening of 1st April 1909, back in Borve, 85 year-old Christy Maclennan passes-away of old-age and the 52 year-old bachelor John becomes an orphan.

In November 1914 the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) began operating recreation centres for the troops in France and the Scottish Churches Huts Joint Committee of The Church of Scotland’s Guild established 25 centres, manned by 350 workers, in France and Flanders. In his Marriage Certificate of 1918 John is described as ‘Minister, Parish of Harris (Hut Worker YMCA)’. In Rouen, France.

Whilst it is easy for us to have an image of the ‘Ayatollah’ as described in the pages of Finlay J Macdonald’s books, I think one should also dwell upon the fact that this 61 year-old man had the compassion, the humanity and the decency to follow the many, many islanders who went to that terrible conflict and to provide such support and assistance to his comrades, in their home tongue, as his advanced years allowed.

The remains of this story are best left to be read in the place that led me to investigate this unusual coupling, namely in the pages of Finlay J Macdonald’s ‘Crowdie & Cream’ where the Minister appears, albeit posthumously, as ‘Ayatollah Kerr’ and Adele as the kindly, if at times slightly gullible, face of friendliness.

Notes:

The ‘Ayatollah’ was slightly more accurate with his Arithmetic when it came to his wedding because the 61 year-old reduced his true age by a mere 3 years. He was actually 26 years her senior!

John’s paternal grandparents were John Kerr and Marion MacLeod, a Weaveress, of Scarista. Their eldest son , John, was also Carpenter/Joiner who moved to Birkenhead, Cheshire.

You are spared one of my customary links to the ‘Ayatollah’ because, although there definitely is one, the precise location of our ancestral paths meeting is lost in time…

…but not in space, for it is certainly somewhere on Harris!

More on the YMCA and other volunteer agencies supporting the troops can be found here:
http://www.1914-1918.net/ymca.htm

The ‘Town’ of Oban in Harris

In the course of researching the Sailors of Harris I was somewhat taken-aback to find one in 1881 who’s address was ‘Oban No 4’. I expanded my search for all occupants of this place and became even more mystified when it appeared from 1891 as a ‘Town’, a term usually reserved for one of the few larger settlements on the island.

Where was this town of Oban? Was it perhaps a transcription error of ‘Obbe’? Clearly further investigation was demanded. I patiently went through each census, noting the number of people, and looking for clues as to this mystery location.

It dawned upon me, when I reached 1881, that this Oban was in North Harris (ruling-out the Obbe conjecture) and that it was tiny. Four houses worth of smallness.

I had already tried Googling for it but without success. There was nothing for it but to look at the maps. Carefully. Starting at Tarbert, where North & South Harris meet, I ‘walked’ less than a mile before four letters leapt out at me…Oban. Four letters and a lot of nothing-else-ness.

Oban is on the road to Scalpay. It lies no more than a mile from the Post Office in Tarbert. I’d walked past it last year, oblivious that it existed as a named settlement, let-alone somewhere demanding a separate set of entries in the censuses.

I next looked at the area on the 1883 map to see if, perhaps, I could see whereabouts the old houses had been. I could clearly see those of Tarbert and of nearby Urgha Beag but I’ve yet to find the four houses of Oban.

I turned to Streetview on Google Maps and was reminded that I had stopped to take photographs from Oban (as I now know it) because it affords a rather fine view across East Loch Tarbert to Direcleit. The small bay is Ob Liceasto.

So, here are the detailed census returns for Oban, Harris from the 1861 & 1881 censuses plus the number of inhabitants for the other years. The reason for ommitting 1841 and 1851 is simple – Oban doesn’t get a mention, well, not the Harris one…

1861
Margaret Macdonald, 48, Tenant’s Wife, Private House Oban, b. Harris
Margaret, 19, Daughter, b. Harris
Anna Bella, 11, Scolar, Daughter, b. Harris
John Macdonald, 13, Ag Lab, Servant, b. Harris
Angus Macrae, 37, Free Minister Officiating and Leader, Oban, Lodger, b. Kintail, Ross-shire

1871 – 20 people

1881 NB 1881 sees separation of N & S Harris

Norman Macleod, 40, Fisherman, Oban No 1, b. Harris
Jane, 47, wife, b. North Uist
Donald, 18, Fisherman, Son, b,North Uist
Neil, 15, Fisherman, Son, b. North Uist
Rachel, 12, Scholar, Daughter, b. Harris
Archibald, 9, Scholar, Son, b. Harris
Margaret, 7, Scholar, Daughter, b. Harris
Mary B, 5, Scholar, Daughter, b. Harris
Effie, 3, Daughter, b. Harris
Christina, 9 months, Daughter, b. Harris

Murdo Mackinnon, 43, Fisherman, Oban No 2, b. Harris
Catherine, 36, Wife, b. Harris
Effie, 12, Scholar, Daughter, b. Harris
Duncan, 10, Scholar, son, b. Harris
Angus, 9, Scholar, Son, b. Harris
Donald, 7, Scholar, Son, b. Harris
Marion, 5, Scholar, Daughter, b. Harris
Murdo, 4, Son, b. Harris
Malcolm, 2, Son, b. Harris
Betsy Macdonald, 23, General Servant, Oban No 2, b. Harris

Ann Ferrier, 40, Wool Spinner, Wife, Oban No 3, b. Harris

Robert D Macleod, 32, Sailor, Oban No 4, b. Harris
Hannah I, 30, Wife, b. Harris
Peggy, 6 months, Daughter, b. Harris
Robert Macdonald, 15, General Servant, Nephew, Oban No 4, b. Harris

1891 – 22 people

1901 – 15 people

After the division of Harris into North and South for the purposes of the censuses, from 1881 onwards, a further refinement began. Starting in 1891, and expanded by 1901, many places that had previously simply been an ‘Address’ became a ‘Town’. This appears to have taken place somewhat arbitrarily and certainly not in proportion to the size of any given settlement.

It was certainly a useful development, particularly when accompanied with an increasing use of numbers to identify individual houses but nevertheless, for a wee while, the Town of Oban in Harris had me foxed!

Two Characters In Search Of A History

I am choosing to start this particular story with a marriage.

It is the 30th of April 1918 and we are in St Thomas’ Church, Rutland Place Edinburgh and the wedding is taking place ‘after Banns according to the forms(?) of the Church of England’.

Adele, the 36 year-old daughter of Elias Le Couvey, a Fundholder, and his wife, Francoise Bourget, is currently residing at 16 Dryburgh Gardens, Glasgow West.

John, the 58 year-old son of Roderick Kerr, a Building Contractor, and his wife, Christina MacLennan, is normally to be found at The Manse, Harris, Inverness-shire but is presently at Rouen.

We now jump back in time and in 1861 find 6 year-old John, the eldest of two children,  living in Little Borve, Harris, where his father works as a Joiner. It is easy to imagine him playing with his 3 year-old sister Rachel in this idyllic spot, sitting in fertile machair land bounded inland by the craggy outcrops of time-served gneiss and on the other side by the sea-swept shell-sand beaches of the Atlantic.

Come 1871, 16 year-old John is still living with his family, whose numbers have been swelled only by the addition of the elderley Catherine Macrae and the two 40-something Macrae ‘girls’. Their address is not given on the Ancestry.co.uk transcription but it is likely to have remained Little Borve.

1881 finds 26 year-old John boarding at 33 Russell Street, Glasgow where he is a Student of Arts at the University. His future wife is still a couple of years away from being born. Back in Little Borve, his widowed mother, who was a Midwife, is living with her daughter Rachel Morrison and Alexander Morrison, a General Merchant. Little Roderick Morrison is 1 month old and we can presume that his Grandmother’s occupation aided his progress into this World.

We reach 1891 and 8 year-old Adele, the middle of 5 children, is living at La Rue Faiveusaie(?) in the parish of St Saviour on the channel island of Guernsey where her father works as an Agricultural Labourer. She had been born in Forest, Guernsey.

John, meanwhile, has moved to 479(?) St Vincent Street, Glasgow and is now a Student of Theology – but clearly not of Arithmetic as he has shaved 4 years off his age, reducing it to 32.

It is now 1901 and 18 year-old Adele, is living at Le Bordage in the parish of St Peter’s in the Wood, Guernsey (which sounds much nicer as St Pierre Du Bois, but the enumerator clearly wasn’t going to allow more French onto his form than was absolutely necessary !). She is employed as a servant in the household of John G Lenfestey, a 57 year-old Grower and is the sole servant to this family of 3 adults and 7 children.

John is working as an Assistant Minister in Dalavich, Argyll and gives his age as 36 which is a but a mere decade below the truth. Of course, it is just possible that I have been tracking the wrong person, but the number of John Kerr’s born in Harris who follow a path towards becoming the Minister living at The Manse, Scarista is unlikely to make this so.

Now, at this point, I confess that I am unable to locate my source of John’s work in France during WWI but, from memory, he was tending to the troops. Bearing in mind that by 1915 he was 60 Earth-years-old (and thus 50 or less by his own accounting system) I do not know how typical this was. It might well, however, reflect the huge numbers, proportionately, of men from the Western Isles serving on the Western Front (and other ‘theatres’ of war).

The remains of this story are best left to be read in the place that led me to investigate this unusual coupling, namely in the pages of Finlay J Macdonald’s ‘Crowdie & Cream’ where the Minister appears, albeit posthumously, as ‘Ayatollah Kerr’ and Adele as the kindly, if at times slightly gullible, face of friendliness.

Notes:

The ‘Ayatollah’ was slightly more accurate with his Arithmetic when it came to his wedding because the 63 year-old reduced his actual age by a mere 5 years. He was actually 27 years her senior!

John’s paternal grandparents were John Kerr and Marrion MacLeod, a Weaveress, of Scarista. Their eldest son , John, was also Carpenter/Joiner who moved to Birkenhead, Cheshire.

You are spared one of my customary personal links to the ‘Ayatollah’ because, although there definitely is one, the precise nature of our ancestral paths meeting is lost in time…

…but not in space, for it is certainly somewhere on Harris!