Education in Harris in 1794

“There is a parochial school at Rowdill, now attended by 30 poor children, the whole emoluments of which to the schoolmaster may be about 20L per annum.
There is a new school soon to be set up in another district, on the establishment of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. 
The same benevolent and patriotic society have already erected at Rowdilll a seminary of female industry.”
Rev Mr John Macleod, The Statistical Account of Scotland 1794, p380

Three short sentences that are rich with information. We have the location of the Parish school in ‘Rowdill‘, serving a mere 30 children from a population of over two-and-a-half thousand people, and in which nearly 50 years later we find Donald Murray teaching. The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge’s intention to start a new school ‘in another district‘ the precise location of which I believe had yet to be decided upon. Finally, half a century before the discovery of the ‘Paisley Sisters’, a ‘seminary of female industry‘ had already been established by the Society at ‘Rowdill‘, – a precursor to the Embroidery School, the development of the Stocking Knitting industry, and the ‘Industrial School’, all found in or around An-t-Ob from the 1850s by virtue of the vision of the Countess of Dunmore & Mrs Frances Thomas.

Schooling along the Sound of Harris

For the third of this series looking at education and educators during the 19thC I am grouping considering what we can glean about the then populous South coast.
From the 1st Edition OS 1-inch map (1885) of the area, we see two locations for schools:
An-t-Ob NG025863 (Details & Photo ) and Strond NG032841. The 6-inch map also informs us that in each case the school was for ‘Boys & Girls’. I think a double-fronted bungalow at this location may be the school.
Donald Murray, 40, P Schoolmaster, Rodil, b. Scotland
Isabella Mackinnon, 31, School Mistress, Wife, Obe, ED3, b. Harris
(Donald Mackinnon, 39, Catechist & Farmer, b. Harris plus 5 children ages 1 to 10 and a female ‘House Servant’)
James Stewart, 40, ParishSchoolmaster, Oab, ED6, b. South Uist
(Margaret Stewart, 34, Wife, b. Harris plus 7 children ages 5 months to 12 years and a female ‘General Servant’)
Mary Mcaulay, 21, School Mistress, Industrial School, ED6 b. Stornoway
Anne Mcaualy, 23, Sister, b. Stornoway
Christina Mcaulay, 13, Scholar, Sister, b. Stornoway
1872 – Education Act
Kenneth J Mackenzie, 27, Teacher, Strond, b. Ullapool
Christina Macleod, 29, housekeeper, b. Harris
1891 – None Listed
John Whiteford, 46, Certificated Teacher Elementary, Obbe, ED2, b. Kilbirnie, Ayrshire
Mary Whiteford, 43, Wife, b. Kilbirnie, Ayrshire
Agnes Mary Laird Whiteford, 14, Monitor (Teacher), Obbe, ED2, b. Glasgow
Margaret Whiteford, Scholar, 12, Daughter, b. New Cumnock, Ayrshire
(Peter McCaul, 66, Retired Teacher, Obbe, ED2, b. Killin, Perthshire)
The presence in 1841 of Schoolmaster Donald Murray in ‘Rodil’ reminds us that it was the Church, and other Societies, that provided education at this time. Although Rodel does not feature on the list of schools provided by the ‘Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools’ in 1821 this does not mean that 20 years later it was not they who were responsible. However thinking about the 6th Earl of Dunmore’s recent acquisition of the island and his rebuilding of St Clement’s Church at Rodel tends to point in favour of Donald Murray having been a Parish Schoolmaster at this time.
The situation in 1851 is much clearer for now we have the household of Catechist & Farmer, John Mackinnon, living in ‘Obe’ and including his teaching Wife. If the school on ‘Obbe Road’ had been built by this date then I am confident that the family with their servant were its residents.
Their place appears to have been taken by 1861 by James Stewart and his family. Stewart was the teacher in Borve in 1851 and would no longer have been required there following the second Clearance which took place in 1853 to benefit the Sheep Farmer Kenneth Macdonald. In 1871 James Stewart was an Inspector of Poor in Strond and by1881 had become a School Board Clerk still living in Strond.
The only teacher in the area in 1871 is Mary Mcaulay and the only reason that I can place her here is because my relative Roderick Kerr was one of those living at ‘Obe Shop’ which was within Enumeration District 6. Mary’s address is intriguing for it is the only reference to an ‘Industrial School’ in the area that I know of. However, we do know that first an Embroidery School and then some form for educating Stocking Knitters had been introduced by the Countess of Dunmore & Mrs Thomas and it seems likley that Mary, coming from Stornoway where she may have been educated at the Female Industrial School , merely imported this slightly grandiose term to add weight to her role in Harris. She was, after all, only 21 and apparently solely supporting her two sisters at the time.
In 1881 the schools at An-t-Ob, whether industrial, parochial or Public, do not feature but we do see our one and only record of a teacher in Strond in the shape of Kenneth J Mackenzie. It seems likely that the school at Strond originated as a result of the 1872 Education Act but I cannot be certain. The situation in 1891 is even worse for there are no teachers recorded that I can place with confidence in the area, although it may be that the Retired Teacher, Peter McCaul who we find in Obbe in 1901 had previously served that school. In the same year it is John Whiteford, assisted in her ‘Monitor (Teacher)’ role by his 14 year-old daughter Agnes Mary Laird Whiteford, who is found teaching in Obbe.
In conclusion, I am confident that the school on ‘Obbe Road’ provided education for the second-half of the 19thC and that, at times, it was accompanied by a Public School in Strond and by some degree of ‘Industrial’ education. Let us not forget Captain Alexander Macleod’s 18thC educational provision in the upper reaches of his ‘Mill’ in Rodel that John Knox remarked upon, either!

Chart of George Bousfield Thomas’s Ancestors

I hope this is readable! It shows little George, who died a few weeks before his sixth birthday, together with his parents, his aunts and uncles and his grandparents. His widowed paternal grandfather and widowed maternal grandmother had married in 1827 and some 14 years later his parents, now step-brother & sister, had been married. George was the only child, not only of this particular union but of all of the children of George Thomas and Priscella Frembly. I have been unable to confirm what became of George Howard Thomas (FWL’s twin) and Ellen Dinah Thomas but, as I can find no trace of either of them following their births, I am reasonably certain that each of them died either prior to 1837 (when registration was introduced in England) or prior to the 1841 Census at the very latest.  George was born into a family that was no stranger to sorrow, his father had lost his own mother when he was 10, his mother had lost her own father when she was 2, and only two years after his birth his paternal grandfather died returning from charting the Northern Isles of Scotland; whilst within another two years his only remaining uncle was dead. George must have been a particular source of joy, not only to his parents but to his remaining aunts and grandmother, so his own death must have been all the more traumatic for the family, all the remaining members having moved to live quite closely together in Scotland. I am convinced that these circumstances help explain how it was that Fred & Fanny Thomas came to devote themselves with such passion and humanity to the people of Harris & Lewis…

Addressing History Project

This project looks extremely interesting and, although I haven’t properly explored the project yet, thought I would give it a mention.

I have no doubt that it will prove very useful in following islanders who moved to the mainland as well as in researching those from the mainland who played a part in the history of the isles – I would love to be able to identify whereabouts in Edinburgh Mrs Frances Thomas had her Harris Tweed depot, for example!


I am thinking about what a great film could be made taking the maritime charting of the Western Isles in the middle of the 19thC as the core around which it would be based. As well as the potential for recreating life aboard survey vessels of that time in spectacular scenery, it would also bring us ashore (they surveyed for up to 3 miles inland!) where we would witness the changes taking place, particularly those on Harris under the 6th Earl’s ownership, and Captain Thomas’s work on the archaeology etc of Lewis.

He was a pioneer of photography, was accompanied by his wife on the surveys and she played an important (vital, perhaps?) role in the development of textile industries on Harris. They even had a wooden house erected on Harris such was the depth of their commitment to their roles. We also have the interesting, at times tragic, story of their private lives (not least Frances’s second Baptism and subsequent marriage to her step-brother Fred) ending with the widowed Frances marrying the son of a veteran from the Battle of Trafalgar whose ship’s ensign is the only remaining one from that event.

Captain Otter’s part in the laying of the first Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, Fred’s father’s pioneering work in the Shetlands and Orkneys (apparently including the 10 year-old Fred!) could be woven into a piece centred on, say, the period from 1857-1867 and ending with the sale of the North Harris Estate to the Scott family.

Oh well, one can but dream…

Harris Tweed Origins from the Angus Macleod Archive

In his piece on The Origins of Harris Tweed.pdf , Angus Macleod gives a list of ‘philanthropic persons and agencies’ that had been instrumental in the development of the Harris Tweed industry:
1. Lord and Lady Dunmore of Harris
2. Mrs Thomas, an Edinburgh woman who had a small depot for the sale of Harris and
knitted goods in Edinburgh, at least as early as 1888. She moved to London at the end
of the century and continued her activities there.
3. Lady Gordon Cathcart Proprietress of Uist.
4. Mrs Mary Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth
5. Millicent – Duchess of Sutherland
6. Mrs Jessie Platt of Eishken
7. Scottish Home Industries Association
8. Highland Home Industries
9. The Crofters’ Agency
I have already gone into some detail regarding the parts played by 1,2, 5, 7 & 8 in this regard, but have not yet examined 3, 4, 6 & 9.
3 Lady Gordon Cathcart :
This page from Undiscovered Scotland does not paint a particularly philanthropic picture of the Lady and I can find no other references to her as having played any role regarding Harris Tweed. her inclusion in Macleod’s list remains something of a mystery.
4 Mary Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth:
This is the lady of Brahan Castle, Conon Bridge, Ross-shire and she it was who established 9) The Crofter’s Agency, in what may, according to Janet Hunter in ‘The Islanders and the Orb’, have been a split between her and 5) Millicent -Duchess of Sutherland’s Scottish Home Industries Association. By the late 1920s, Mary was Chairman of the Harris Tweed Association and it wasn’t until 60 years after her death in 1933 that a single other woman would have a place in that Association! The Crofter’s Agency and the role played within it by Mary is fully described in ‘The Islanders and the Orb’.
6 Mrs Jessie Platt of Eishken:
Elsewhere in his archives Angus Macleod gives us this:
Jessie Platt of Eishken was among a number of people and philanthropic agencies that encourage the Harris Tweed Industry. Mrs Platt provided an outlet for a substantial quantity of the Crofter Tweed that was produced in Lochs and we have seen an old note book in Eishken Lodge giving details of purchased of local crofter cloth for which she paid 3/6 a yd (17½) in 1889. That was a very high price at that time. In the late 1920s crofter tweed was selling so low as 2/6 or 12½ p and on occasion for much less.
Evidence of the esteem in which the people of Lochs held the Platt’s of Eishken is to be found in the
illuminated address that was formulated by Mr Kerr the Head teacher of Planasker School Marvig on behalf of the people on the occasion of the Platt’s Silver Wedding Anniversary on 15/8/01, part of which reads:-
Nor can we allow this occasion to pass without acknowledging our deep indebtedness to you for the great interest you shave shown in our local tweed industry’.
The people of Park and district always referred to Jessie Platt as ‘Lady Platt’ or the ‘Lady’ thus paying her the compliment of conferring on her an unofficial title, which many thought was hers by right.
9 The Crofter’s Agency: See 4) above
Concentrating upon the seven individuals that are mentioned (rather than the three institutions that some of them were involved with) it strikes me that it was unquestionably ‘Mrs Thomas’ who links the first stirrings of the industry to its much later development into a global phenomenom. Which is why I believe that this Solicitor’s daughter from Deptford has a special place amongst those who, to quote from the extensive extract below from another of Angus Macleod’s writings on the subject, ‘deserve better than to be forgotten’
The following are some of the people who left their mark on the Hebrides and who deserve better than to be forgotten. In fact every Hebridean should be well versed in the history of the Harris Tweed industry, as it is very clear that to a very great extent, the continued existence of these Islands depend on the prosperity of the Harris Tweed industry.
The Dunmore family who were the proprietors of Harris about the time of the 1846 famine (failure of the potato crop) were among the leading people who were largely instrumental in encouraging the establishment of a tweed industry in the Hebrides when they induced the crofters to produce a cloth suitable for a fashionable market. This cloth, of a rough home spun type, proved to be the foundation of our great Harris Tweed industry as we know it today, and we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Lord and Lady Dunmore who took such an interest in the welfare of the crofters. It is also said that Lady Dunmore arranged for some girls from Harris to go to Alloa to learn to weave more intricate patterns, paying all their training expenses.
Mrs Thomas, wife of Captain Thomas of the Ordinance Survey Department, who appeared to be
resident in Harris for a time towards the end of the last century, was another lady who took a great
interest in popularising Harris Tweed in those early days.
We find the Duchess of Sutherland very active in Lewis and Harris during the last years of the 19th
century, and we are given to understand this lady had connections with ‘The Highland Home Industries’ who had a shop in Stornoway about that time.
The Platt’s of Eishken who came to Lewis about the year 1878 took a great interest in the affairs of the crofters of Park and surrounding district, and began to purchase the products of the crofters in order to help them at a time when it must have been very difficult for the crofters to earn a living. Chief among these crofter products was the local hand made tweed, and it is said much of it found its way to bazaars and institutions in the south. A notebook still in existence in Eishken lodge shows that the price paid for such tweed in 1889 was 3s/6d per yard, which must be considered a very high reward in those days, and one for which we may be sure the crofters were grateful for.
Evidence of the esteem the people of Park held the Platt’s in is to be found in the illuminated address presented by the people of Park to Mr and Mrs Platt on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary on 15th August 1901. This address can still be seen at Eishken lodge, and part of it reads: – ‘Nor can we allow this occasion to pass without acknowledging our deep indebtedness to you for the great interest you have shown in our local tweed industry.’
Evidence of the warm affection the people of Park held Mrs Platt in is the fact that locally the people conferred on her the title ‘Lady Platt’ and for very many years we always assumed the title was hers by right.
It is generally acknowledged that so far as Lewis is concerned Park was the first district to take up the industry seriously, and from there it spread to Uig and so forth. The writer can trace the industry in Park back to the 1880s, and my own mother made Harris Tweed at Calbost on her own loom about 1890 with the small loom (beart bheag), which was the only loom then in existence. It was operated by means of throwing the shuttle (which was a sheep’s shin bone) with the one hand and catching it with the other, and firing it back through the ‘alt’.

Note: Angus Macleod’s archive is one of the treasure-troves of Hebridean history and all the better for its somewhat higgledy-piggledy organisation. There are at least three pieces that I can find in which he returns to the subject of the origins and history of Harris Tweed, clearly adding new information as it became available but never, sadly, producing the wonderful book that his notes would no doubt have led to.
It is with great trepidation that I offer any form of correction to his work, but I am certain that Mrs Thomas was the wife of Captain Thomas the maritime surveyor who was not employed by the Ordnance Survey although the two branches of surveying worked closely together, as alluded to in an earlier piece of mine on Captain Otter that includes his whereabouts in 1851.

The Bousfield/Thomas Family of London & Leith

This is a summary of the 12 members of these two families that came together in 1827 when the widower George Thomas and the widow Elizabeth Dingley were married. The wedding of only-child Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield to eldest-child Frederick William Leopold Thomas in 1841 further strengthened the bond. Where a range of dates is given, or a ‘?’ shown, I have been unable to establish the event with certainty but I am reasonably confident that the two Thomas children for whom I can only find their Birth recorded died, probably in infancy, not least as their names were each used for a second time.

GEORGE THOMAS (b. 1780s?- d.1846?)
PRISCELLA FRIMBLY (b.? – d. 1825-27

GEORGE WILLIAM BOUSFIELD (b. 1798 – buried. 9 Mar 1823 St Peter, Frimley, Surrey)
ELIZABETH DINGLEY (b. 1798 – d. poss1852)

The Thomas’s had six children, the Bousfield’s just one, and only one grandchild.
All twelve people are listed here by the year of their Death:

George Howard Thomas b. 1816 d. ?
Ellen Dinah Thomas b. 1819 d. ?
PRISCELLA FRIMBLY b. ? d 1825-27
GEORGE THOMAS b 1780s d. 1846?
George Hurd Thomas b. 1820 d. 1848 Single
George Bousfield Thomas b1844 d 1850 Rose Cottage, Trinity, Leith
ELIZABETH DINGLEY b. 1798 d. 1852?
Ellen Sarah McBain (MS Thomas) b. 1825 d. 1877 North Leith
(James McBain b 1808 Kirriemuir d. 1879 North Leith) No children
Frederick William Leopold Thomas b. 1816 d. 1885 Rose Park, Trinity North Leith
Frances Sarah Thomas Beckett (MS Bousfield) b. 1821 d. 1902 Craighouse, Edinburgh
(m. 1st FWL Thomas m. 2nd James Flowers Beckett 1902, who had no children)
Georgiana Martha Thomas b. 1823 d. 1904 Newington, Edinburgh Single
(1901 28 Sciennes Road, Newington, Edinburgh)

It does seem remarkable to me that in less than 90 years both of these family lines had ended but as only three of the children married (and only one of these outside of the two the families) perhaps it is not altogether surprising. James McBain had been George Thomas’s Surgeon on HMS Mastiff and very likely with him when he died but, despite marrying into the family, he left no issue. Frances Sarah, when she remarried, chose a man she had known since early on in her many years living in Edinburgh but he too died childless. There are a couple of nieces that might prove a link to the present but otherwise Georgiana’s death in 1904 marked the end.

However, the work they left behind them in the form of pioneering hydrographic surveying, archaeological investigations and supporting the development of Harris Tweed, Stocking Knitting, the building of the Free Church at Tarbert and the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital should ensure that their memories will live on…

Note: Summary of the seven children in order of their Birth:
George Howard Thomas1816-? No further record
Frederick W L Thomas 1816-1885 Married Frances
Ellen Dinah Thomas 1819-? No further record
George Hurd Thomas 1820-1848 Single
Frances Sarah Bousfield 1821-1902 Married Frederick
Georgiana Martha Thomas 1823-1904 Single
Ellen Sarah 1825-1877 Married James McBain – No children