At the island called Barrahead,

one of the Hebrides, a remarkable example occurred during a storm in January, 1836, in the movement of a block of stone, which, from measurement taken on the spot, is 9 feet x 8 feet x 7 feet=504 cubic feet, which, allowing 12 feet of this gneiss rock to the ton, will be about 42 tons weight.

This great mass was gradually moved 5 feet from the place where it lay, having been rocked to and fro by the waves till a piece broke off, which, rolling down and jamming itself between the moving mass and the shelving rock on which it rested, immediately stopped the oscillatory motion, and thus prevented the further advance of the stone.

Mr. Reid, the principal keeper of Barrahead Lighthouse, the assistant keeper, and all the inhabitants of the little island, were eye-witnesses of this curious exhibition of the force of the waves ; and Mr. Reid also gives the following description of the manner in which they acted upon the stone:

” The sea,” he says, “when I saw it striking the stone, would wholly immerse or bury it out of sight, and the run extended up to the grass line above it, making a perpendicular rise of from 39 to 40 feet above the high-water level. On the incoming waves striking the stone, we could see this monstrous mass of upwards of 40 tons weight lean landwards, and the back run would uplift it again with a jerk, leaving it with very little water about it, when the next incoming wave made it recline again. We did not credit the former inhabitants of the island, who remarked that the sea would reach the storehouse which we were building; and when these stones were said to have been moved it was treated with no credit, and was declared by all the workmen at the lighthouse works to be impossible ; yet the natives affirmed it to be so, and said if we were long here we might yet see it. They seemed to feel a kind of triumph when they called me to see it on the day of this great storm.”

Thomas Stevenson, in The Mechanics Magazine, 1848
Thomas Stevenson was the father of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson and the son of Barra Head Lighthouse’s builder, Robert Stevenson.

Tiumpan Head Light House Keepers

This light started work in 1900 so here we see recorded two of the first Light Keepers.

In time, it had six Light Keepers, three (as is the case in these two examples) living next to the light with their families, plus a local assistant and two part-timers from nearby Portnaguran.

Further information on this Light, and all the others of The Northern Lighthouse Board, can be found here:

James J Macdonald Matheson, 31, Light Keeper, Tiumpan Head Light House Dwelling House, b. Lochmaddy, North Uist
Annie Bain Matheson, 26, b. Waternish, Skye
Effie, 1(?), b. Fair Isle, Shetland
Neil, 2, b. Waternish, Skye

John Napier Milne, 50, Lightkeeper, Tiumpan Head Light House Dwelling House, b. Arbroath
Jessie, 45, b. Musselburgh, Midlothian
David Reid Milne, 23, Seaman, b. Arbroath
Jessie Ann Milne, 18, b. Scalpay, Inverness
John Milne, 10, b. Scalpay

It is good to see someone from the Western Isles in this role, as was the case with James Matheson and his family’s birthplaces indicates that he served in Skye and Fair Isle before arriving in Lewis.

Similarly, John Milne appears to have been in Musselburgh and Scalpay, as well as back in his home town of Arbroath, prior to his arrival.

His Seaman Son, David, reminds us of the purpose of the Light Keeper; to ensure a safer passage for those whose lives took them away from the safety of the shore and into the arms of that sometimes gloriously beautiful , sometimes treacherously betraying, mysterious mistress of the deep.

Tiumpan Head – May 2009

Arnish Light House Keepers

This, the Northern Lighthouse Board’s first pre-fabricated tower, came into use in 1852.

A full description can be had here:

and here:

Here are the Light Keepers and their families as recorded in the 1861-1901 censuses:

Thomas Dawson, 38, Light House Keeper, Light Keeper’s House, Lochs, b. Isle of Man
Margaret, 27, Wife, b. Edinburgh
Isabella, 6, b. Hoy, Orkney
William I, 4, b. Hoy, Orkney
Mary Maclean, 18, Domestic Servant, b. Stornoway

George Maclachlan, 31, Assistant Light Keeper, b. Orkney, Isle of Westray
Janet, 24, Wife, b. Orkney, Isle of Sanday
Lucy Polson, 19, General Servant, b. Durness, Sutherland

John Sinclair, 56, Light Keeper, Arnish Light House, b. Tiree, Argyll
Helen, 54, b. Tiree, Argyll
Mary Ann, 16, b. Orkney, North Ronaldsay
Helen, 14, Orkney, North Ronaldsay
Neil , 12, b. Arbroath, Forfar
Robert, 10, b. Arbroath, Forfar
Cathie Maclean, 30, General Servant, b. Harris

Donald G Mackay, 22, Light Keeper, Arnish Light House, b. Wick, Caithness
Ann Rugg, 27, Housekeeper, Aunt, b. Wick, Cathness

John Grierson, 58, Principal Light House Keeper, Arnish, b. South Leith, Edinburgh
Janet, 58, b. Salton, Haddington-shire
Ann, 16, b. Drainei, Moray
Kate, 5, b. South Leith

James MacQueen, 34, Light Keeper, b. Kilmuir, Inverness
Christina, 38, b. Kilmory, Bute
Margaret, 6, b. Lochs
Janet M, 4, b. Lochs
John Alexander, 11 months, b. Lochs

George Irvine, 34, Light House Keeper, b. Isle of Man
Jessie, 33, b. Glasgow
Maggie, 8, b. Govan, Lanark
Isabella, 6, b. South Uist, Inverness
Charles, 2, b. North Uist, Inverness
Alexander, 1, b. Stornoway
Mary Black, 40, Servant, b. Glasgow

Thomas Sutherland, 57, Light House Keeper, b. Graemsay, Orkney
Jane, 53, b. Hoy, Orkney
Jessie, 14, Ardnamurchan, Argyll
Christy Macaulay, 21, General Servant, Back, Ross

James Ferrier, 58, Head Light Keeper North Shore(?), b. Arbroath, Forfar
Elizabeth, 65, b. Ettrick, Selkirk
John, 22, Tiree, Argyll
Christina, 27, . Aberdeen

Thomas Higson, 54, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, b. Whalsay, Shetland
Elizabeth, 60, Whalsay, Shetland

As is ever the case with Lighthouse Keepers,here we see them moving around the lights of the Northern Lighthouse Board during their working lives, marrying and happily producing children as evidence of their individual journeys.

Lighthouse Keepers of Harris

Eilean Glas first shone a light in 1789 but the present tower was constructed in 1824 and modified further in 1907.

A full description from the Northern Lighthouse Board can be found here:

Here are the keepers and their assistants from the 1851-1901 censuses.

I have included the birthplaces of children as an indication of the roving nature of the role.

Alexander Campbell, 57, Principal Light Keeper, Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 48, b. Inverness 4 Children (14-29) b. Harris

Chas Black, 27, Edinburgh, Assistant Light Keeper, Scalpay, b. Edinburgh
Wife, 30, b. England 3 Children (1-7) b. Aberdeenshire, Barra, and Barra.
Prudence Melvin, 56, Mother-in-Law, b. British subject, France

John Macdonald, 33, Occasional Light Keeper, Kyles Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 28, b. Harris 4 Children (3 weeks-7yrs) b. Harris

1852 – Revolving Lens System Installed

Ewan Campbell, 28, Light Keeper, Scalpay Island, b. Tobermory, Argyll
Wife, 30, b. Tiree, Argyll 2 Children, (?-2), b. Tiree, Argyll and Harris

David Ross, 44, Principal Light Keeper, Light House Buildings, Island of Scalpay, b. Lasswade, Midlothian
Wife, 44, b. Leith 5 Children (5-13), b. Edinburgh, Larduit, Ross-shire, and Caithness-shire

Angus Macleod, 25, Lightkeeper (Assistant), b. Durness, Sutherlandshire
Wife, 28, b. Domark(?), Dumfriess-shire, Son, 1, b. Jura, Argyll

Norman Cunningham, 28, (Amsturd St?) Keeper, Raasay,Inverness,  b. Harris
Wife, 26, b. Harris 3 Children (9 months-3 yrs), b. Ardnamurchan, Argyll; Portree, Inverness

1881 – Not listed

Norman Cunningham, 42, Light Keeper (Out of Employ), Cottage, S Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 39, b. Harris 6 Children (8 months – 13 yrs), b. Ardnamurchan, Argyll; Dunrossness, Shetland; North Ronaldsay, Orkney; and Harris

Robert Murray, 44, Lighthouse Keeper, Isle of Glass Light House, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtown-shire
Wife, 41, b. Dunnet, Caithness, Daughter, 4, b. Arbroath

Donald Douglas, 31, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, b. Uist
Wife, 27, b. Glay(?), Argyll, Children (4, 2, 1) b. Harris

Murdo Morrison, 60, Crofter Retired Light Keeper, No 1 Kyles Scalpay, b. Harris
Wife, 26(?), b. Harris 5 Children (1-11), b.

Hugh Mackinnon, 33, Lighthouse Keeper, No 123 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Glasgow
Kate Morrison, 32, General Servant Domestic, b. Harris

James McGuffie, 52, Driver Keeper Now Lighthouse Worker, No 124 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Kirkmaiden, Wigtownshire
Wife, 52, b. Helmsdale, Inverness, Daughter, 26, b. Thurso, Inverness(?)

Duncan Mackay, 54, Crofter, No 125 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 49, b. Harris, 6 Children (7-19), b. Harris

John Macsween, 62, Crofter, No 126 Lighthouse, N Harris, b. Harris
Wife, 58, b. Harris, 5 Children (9-23), b. Harris

Norman Cunningham, 63, Retired Lighthouse Keeper, Manish, b. Harris
Wife, 59, b. Harris

I find the addresses in the 1901 census particularly interesting, ‘Nos 123-126 Lighthouse’ presumably referring to the numbering system for the buildings associated with the light tower.

Norman Cunningham clearly worked in turn at Ardnamurchan, Raasay, Dunrossness and North Ronaldsay but, somewhat ironically, was unemployed on Harris in 1881 at which time no keeper of the light at Eilean Glas is to be found in these records.

There are other Harris-born lighthouse keepers spread around Scotland but I have restricted this piece to those who were resident on Harris at the time of the censuses, with the one exception of Norman Cunningham in 1871 which I considered to be an illuminating addition.

A Lewis Lighthouse Keeper

In 1871, the Butt of Lewis lighthouse’s two-storey house was home to its 53 year-old keeper, George Edgar with his wife Grace and four of their children.

George had been born in Portpatrick, Kincardineshire in about 1818 and his lightkeeping days can be traced by the exploring the birthplace of his 8 children and the censuses:

1843 James, Portpatrick, Wigtownshire

1847 Elizabeth, Dunnet Head, Caithness-shire

1848 Alexander, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire
1850 George, Girdleness, Aberdeenshire

1851 Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse
1853 Archibald, Ardnamurchan, Argyll

1856 William & John, Sanday, Orkney

1858 Isabella, Barvas, Lewis This is particularly significant as the light at Ness wasn’t completed until 1862 and suggests that George possibly played a part in the construction process.

1861 Start Point Lighthouse, Orkney

1871 Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

1881 1 Europie – Principal Lighthouse Keeper, Butt of Lewis

1891 73 year-old Retired Lighthouse Keeper George is back in his hometown of Portpatrick with his unmarried daughter Isabella Beattie. Son James, 48, is Keeper at the lighthouse in Killkorran, Argyll whilst his younger brother John is one of three keepers on Scotland’s most Northerly light, that on the island of Muckle Hugga in the Shetlands.

1901 – George and his daughter are still enjoying his retirement in Portpatrick but son John is Principal Light Keeper at Whalesay Skerries, Shetland whilst his eldest brother James is the keeping the light at Holy Isle, Bute.

The Edgar family, led by father George, shone lights to sea for over half a century, during which time they served the Stevenson family,the Northern Lighthouse Board and countless sailors in aiding the process of safer seafaring.

Note: The bold locations indicate lighthouses served by the Edgar family.