A Tale of Two Sisters

William Maciver was born in Stornoway in 1892.

His father, also William Maciver, was a Baker and his mother, Annie Kerr, a Dressmaker.

William and Annie were cousins, 1st Cousins, which is why their marriage certificate in 1881 has the addition ‘(cousins)’. They married  following a period of time when he had been lodging with Annie’s parents and her ‘illegitimate’ son, John (my grandfather), who was left to be raised by his grandparents following the wedding.

Annie’s father was Malcolm Kerr, a Seaman originally from Harris, and her mother was Mary Macdonald who’s family had been Cleared from Orinsay, Lochs in 1843. The family ended-up in Steinish, Stornoway.

William the baker’s parents were Malcolm Maciver, a Fisherman of Steinish and Isabella Macdonald, Mary’s younger sister. They were wed on the 19th October 1854 and settled at 42 Steinish road, Stornoway.

Thus it is that William( b. 1892), the penultimate of the seven children that his parents produced, has a rather rare ‘privilege’ – both his grandmothers having been early victims of Donald Munro and his reign of terror on Lewis as evidenced by the 1843 Clearance of Orinsay.

When I spoke to William’s son a few years ago he informed me that, although he new that his grandparents were related, he had not been aware of these precise details. And, of course, it means that he and I are doubly related, both as ‘full’ cousins and as half-cousins!

Note:
I do not wish to get embroiled in the ongoing debate that so troubled the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, as to the advisability of 1st cousin couplings for the evidence appears somewhat conflicting. Some indicates a small additional propensity to genetic defects whilst others, as in this recent report, are rather more alarming in tone: Timesonline

Kelp-Makers of Lochs

At the end of the 18thC, there were 1768 people living in Lochs, Lewis and 36 of the 845 men were Kelp-Makers.

They produced between 45 and 50 tons of the dark-blue, oily product annually but to do so had to collect 20 times as much of the raw material, sea-weed.

Therefore these 36 men cut and collected between 900 and 1000 tons of Kelp, that is an average of between 25 and 28 tons of this sea-ware per man.

This all had to be laid-out to be dried, then burned for about 4 to8 hours in a Kelp-Kiln, often simply a stone-lined trench.

The weed was next beaten into a mass using ‘kelp irons’ (long-handled iron mallets or hooks), then covered with stones and turf (for protection against moisture), and left to cool overnight.

The pieces of kelp ash would then be broken into lumps ready for ‘export’ to England.

One of these three dozen men was Duncan Macdonald of 6, Old Orinsay, who was my grandfather’s grandmother’s grandfather.

Ref: http://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/item/item_photograph.jsp?item_id=21647
A modern company also harvesting the sea:-ware http://www.hebrideanseaweed.co.uk/history.html

Orinsay/Orisaigh, Park/Pairc, Parish of Lochs, Isle of Lewis

Orinsay originates from the Norse for ‘ebb-flow island’. It is not known when it was first settled but it is a very pleasant, sheltered spot with arable land and good fishing.

Mary Maciver, who rented the land, wrote that the ‘place is considerably infested with ravens’ which were interfering with the tenants’ fish and barley and in 1830 the township was described by Rev John Mackintosh as ‘very destitute’, though not as bad as Kershader.

View from the head of Loch Shell – the Shiant Islands can (just) be made-out in the distance

One of the people eking-out a living there was Duncan Macdonald (1750 -1830), a Kelp-Worker of 6 Old Orinsay. One of his children, Alexander Macdonald (c1786-c1845) had married Annabella Barbara Mackenzie (1797-1881) from Cro Mor, Lochs.

The family are to be found, at 11 Old Orinsay, amongst the 147 people recorded in the 1841 Census.

Two years later, there wasn’t a soul left in Orinsay, not a roofed-building to be seen and the only inhabitants were the sheep being grazed to fatten the purse of the landowner at the expense of the livelihoods of the people. An earlier attempt had been made, in 1842, to clear the township but it was in 1843 that the men, women and children of Orinsay were scattered throughout Lewis.

‘their fires were drowned on the hearths by officers of the Estate’
(Donald Mackenzie 1817-1892, a 27 year old member of one of the families evicted from Orinsay)

Orinsay – A Day of Sorrows by Donald Mackenzie, Domhnall Dubh
My grandfather, Domhnall Ban, was only four years’ old when the evictions from Orinsay took place in 1843. He remembered walking with his mother to Garyvard early on a summer’s morning where boats were waiting to ferry them over Loch Erisort to Keose. On landing at Keose, they had to walk over the moor to Crossbost where poor, infertile, rocky land had been set aside to form 27 crofts. The women and children made this journey while the young, able-bodied men and women walked all the way round the end of the loch with the livestock and drove them to their new grazings on the northern shores of Loch Erisort.


The men who were left behind stripped the rafters and beams off the old homes and together, with any belongings they had, were loaded on to boats and sailed out of Loch Shell, around the coast to Crossbost. My great-grandfather was one of six brothers cleared from Orinsay that day.


My grandfather was born in 1839 on the croft at 6 Orinsay. Tradition tells us that there was a white house built on that land at a place called “Rudha Mhic Eoin”.

The Macdonald family ended-up at 4 Stenis, near Stornoway and it was there that one of the daughters, Mary Macdonald (1821-1908) met and married a seafaring widower from Harris.

They were my Grandfather’s grandparents.

Anyone wanting to research the history of Lochs, or with an interest in the culture of Lewis, will find these sites invaluable:

http://www.hebrideanconnections.com/ Superb searchable database with names, places, images…

http://www.angusmacleodarchive.org.uk/ Held at Kershader, Pairc, a wonderfully eclectic collection

http://www.cepairc.com/ Pairc Historical Society – publication include ‘History of Orinsay’ £5

http://www.cepairc.com/products-page/other-publications/croft-history-isle-of-lewis-vol-14
Croft History – Lemreway, Orinsay, Stiomreway, Eishken, Southern Park and Aline. Also includes Old Lemreway and Old Orinsay pre-clearance.

Orinsay 1841

The clearance of Orinsay in 1843 is perhaps one of the best documented such events on the Isle of Lewis. The Angus Macleod archive includes an impassioned description from the Inverness Courier and the role of the Factor, Donald Munro, is detailed by James Shaw Grant in ‘A Shilling For Your Scowl’.

The excellent Hebridean Connections site provides a database of the people of Orinsay but I believe this to be the first time that a complete list of the population of the township from the transcribed 1841 Census has been compiled.

I have listed the households alphabetically by each Head’s family name, then first name.

Within two years all that remained in Orinsay from the lives of these 147 people in 21 households were 14 or 15 roofless houses…

Dorothy Gillies – Widow, 55, Small Tenant
Roderick Gillies, 20
Ann Gillies, 14
Donald Finlayson,20
Peggy Finlayson, 25
Isabella Mackenzie, 5

Alexander Macdonald, 55, Small Tenant
Annabella Macdonald, 45
Ann Macdonald, 25
Catherine Macdonald, 22
Mary Macdonald, 20
William Macdonald, 17
Donald, Macdonald, 15
Isabella Macdonald, 11
Duncan Macdonald, 9
John Macdonald, 6
Kenneth Macdonald, 3
Chirsty Macdonald, 1

Donald Macdonald,35 Widower, Small Tenant
Isabella Macdonald, 14
Ann Macdonald, 12
Kenneth Macdonald, 10
Duncan Macdonald, 8
Mary Macdonald, 6
Catherine Macdonald, 4
Murdo Mackenzie, 40
Catherine Mackenzie, 40
Peggy Mackenzie, 15
Ann Mackenzie, 15
John Mackenzie, 11
Duncan Mackenzie, 9
Kenneth Mackenzie, 5
Donald Mackenzie, 2

John Macdonald, 50, Hand Loom Weaver, Small Tenant
Kenny Macdonald,50
Donald Macdonald, 25, Fisher
John Macdonald, 22, Fisher
Alexander Macdonald, 20, Fisher
Catherine Macdonald, 15
Roderick Macdonald, 12

Murdo Macdonald, 30, Small Tenant
Annabella Macdonald, 30
Alexander Macdonald, 8
Margaret Macdonald, 5
Donald Macdonald, 2
Chirsty MacRitchie, 20, Female Servant

Murdo Macinnes, 75, Small Tenant
Flora Macinnes, 75
Alexander Macinnes, 28, fisher
Margaret Macinnes, 25
Isabella Macinnes, 4
Murdo Macinnes, 2
Murdo Nicholson, 12
Alexander Smith, 15

Chirsty Mackenzie, 55, Pauper
Murdo Mackenzie, 60, Fisher and Small Tenant
Ann Mackenzie, 50
Murdo Mackenzie, 27, Fisher
Donald Mackenzie, 25
Alexander Mackenzie, 17
Ann Mackenzie, 15
Annabella Mackenzie, 13
Margaret Mackenzie, 11

Donald Mackenzie, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Chirsty Mackenzie, 30
Alexander Mackenzie, 12
Margaret Mackenzie, 10
Ann Mackenzie, 7
Roderick Mackenzie, 5
Kenneth Mackenzie, 3
Donald Mackenzie, 1

John Mackenzie, 50, Fisher
Catherine Mackenzie, 18

John Mackenzie, 65, Small Tenant
Isabella Mackenzie, 60
Roderick Mackenzie, 24, Fisher
Donald Mackenzie, 20, Fisher
Ann Mackenzie, 25

Murdo Mackenzie, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Margaret Mackenzie, 30
Margaret Mackenzie, 15
Roderick Mackenzie, 10
Donald Mackenzie, 8
Annabella Mackenzie, 5
Alexander Mackenzie, 2

Donald Maclennan, 25, Fisher
Marion Maclennan, 50
Ann Maclennan, 95

Catherine Macleod, 90, Pauper

Donald Macleod, 50, Fisher and Small Tenant
Catherine Macleod, 45
Flora Macleod, 20
Norman Macleod, 16
Catherine Macleod, 14
Murdo Macleod, 9
Donald Macleod, 7
Catherine Campbell, 2

John Macleod, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Catherine Macleod, 35
Margaret Macleod, 7
John Macleod, 5
Norman Macleod, 4
Alexander Macleod, 1

Malcolm Macleod, 40, fisher and Small Tenant
Ann Macleod, 35
Ann Macleod, 12
Catherine, 10
John, 1?
Donald, 5
Norman, 2

Murdo Macleod, 30
Isabella Macleod, 40
Murdo Macleod, 15
Ann Macleod, 12
Catherine Macleod ,9
Duncan Macleod, 7
Donald Macleod, 4
Mary Maclennan, 20

Norman Macleod, 75, Small Tenant
Chirsty Macleod, 60
Catherine Macleod, 50
Ann Macleod, 30

Norman Macleod, 80, Small Tenant
Betsy Macleod, 40
Isabell Macdonald, 14, Female Servant
Donald Martin, 60, Small Tenant
Margaret Martin, 35
Donald Martin, 20, Fisher
John Macleod, 9
Chirsty MacRae, 20, Female Servant

John Martin, 35, Fisher and Small Tenant
Henny Martin, 35
Chirsty Martin, 12
Angus Martin, 8
Flora Martin, 6mths
Ewan Maclennan, 14
Marion Macdonald, 80

Mary Montgomery, 80, Pauper

Alexander Morrison, 40, Fisher and Small Tenant
Catherine Morrison, 35
Isabella Morrison, 20
Ann Morrison, 11
Catherine Morrison, 9
John Morrison, 6
Chirsty Morrison, 3

The End of the CREST

Although the Maritime History museum archives list Crew Agreements for her up to 1903, I was reluctant to spend more money on obtaining more records of the Crest in addition to those of 1896-1899 that I had already purchased copies of.

Therefore my stumbling upon a second record in the Canmore database came as a pleasant surprise…

It is Saturday18th April 1903 and 47 year-old Ship Master Alexander John Kerr is taking his 41 year-old ketch, the Crest, along the East coast of the Isle of Lewis when disaster strikes.

The headland of A’ Chabag juts into the Minch at the South of the mouth of Loch Odhairn. The township of Orinsay, where Alexander John’s mother Mary Macdonald was born,  lies a mere 4 landmiles away in Loch Sealg.

The record gives no information as to how many souls were on board, nor of her ports of origin and (unattained) destination, but she is described as being ‘in ballast’ suggesting that she was carrying no cargo.

Until I purchase the Crew Agreement of Crest 44427 for 1903, I am unable to add any facts, save that Alexander John’s first wife, Margaret (Macarthur), had died in on 6th December 1902 and he did not marry Mary (Morrison) until the 3rd March 1904. The recently widowed father of three was a highly respected and experienced Captain so I must conjecture that some calamity befell the vessel that he had owned & sailed for the past seven years.

What thoughts were going through his mind of his young motherless family in Plantation Street, Stornoway as he left his stranded ship for the very last time?

I hope that all his companions also survived the horror of being shipwrecked.

Ref: http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/220756/details/crest+a+chabag+loch+sealg+lewis+north+minch/