‘Tarbert in Harris, to which the Clansman conveyed us from Loch Maddy in North Uist, was described to us by a residenter of the place, though not a native, as consisting of 26 dwelling-houses and 13 shops – he begged pardon, business premises of “merchants”. This is possibly a rather rough-and-ready summing-up, but it is correct enough in so far as indicating that the number of the latter is distinctly out of proportion to the number and requirements of the former.
The village stands at the head of East Loch Tarbert, that indentation of the sea that cuts into the land from the Minch to about a quarter of a mile from the head of West Loch Tarbert, similarly indenting it from the Atlantic, the so close approach of the two all but constituting the southern portion of Harris an island. As it is, the march between the two districts is here, the proprietor of North Harris being Sir Edward H Scott, Bart., and of South Harris the Earl of Dunmore.
The houses are all on the north or right hand side as you enter by the steamer, ust where the loch or bay becomes a creek of 300 or 400 yards in length, and narrowing to less than 50 yards at the top. The first structure to catch the eye is the Free Church, a plain enough building, erected on the summit of an eminence jutting into the sea immediately eastward of the pier. Close at hand, but standing a little lower, is the manse, a comfortable-looking, white-washed house, with a neatly-kept kitchen garden in front and sheltered so far from the wind and spray by some trees – the latter not of any dimensions, truly, but still forming a show of “wood” surpassing what we had seen as yet in working up the Long Island. Then comes the wooden pier, up from which, by a path that winds round to westward, you pass the schoolhouse (the of teacher which is also the registrar for the district, &c.), and get onto the main road or street, on the right of which stand the houses and stores of which, as above mentioned, the village consists. To right and left respectively of the pierhead is a row of eight or ten of these, some slated and others roofed with zinc, and all of one storey only.
Beyond these, going on to the head of the loch, there is a hiatus, to which succeeds a row of about a dozen newer-looking houses, two or or three of which are of two storeys and “semi-detached” from their neighbours. At the very head of the bay is the old Tarbert Inn , now disused as such; and across the road from this, almost down on the shore, the modern post and telegraph office. Following the road westwards two minutes’ walk brings you to the new Tarbert Hotel, in the very centre of the isthmus, and 30 or 40 yards further on is the house of the medical man of the district, Dr Stewart, which commands the view away down West Loch Tarbert.’
This is a gem of a description of Tarbert from 130 years ago and I only wish that I could name the author! However, we can identify ‘…Dr Stewart…’ as James Stewart for this young ‘Physician and Surgeon’ from Perthshire is found living in Kintulavig in 1881 and at 15 West Tarbert a decade later
Similary, we can be sure that the teacher who was ‘…also the registrar for the district, &c.’ was the Glaswegian Donald Bethune, he being the Schoolteacher in Tarbert in 1881 & 1891 , and that the Minister in the Manse was Roderick Mackenzie from Assynt in Sutherland who a few months after the publication of this article was giving his evidence to the Napier Commission where he makes particular reference to the work of Fanny Thomas .
We are especially fortunate in having the 1882 6-inch Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1878) on which to follow in the footsteps of our unknown author and then we should perhaps refresh ourselves at the ‘…new Tarbert Hotel …’ before returning later to examine the remainder of his piece…
Source: Glasgow Herald 16th September 1882 p3