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…
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!