>About the Hebrides No VIII

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‘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
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>’…and as many more in the adjacent Isles…’

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The stimulus for this piece came from the ‘Parliamentary Abstracts; Containing The Substance Of All Important Papers Laid Before The Two Houses Of Parliament During The Session of 1825′.
In a table introduced by the sentence; ‘The following list shews the places at which churches have been directed to be built; most of them absolutely, a few provisionally:’ , I noticed that in the Parish of Harris on ‘Berneray Isle’ a church was to be built for the population of 500:
And as many more in the adjacent Isles of Pabbay and Killigray.’
Reading that, in 1825, the population of these three islands in the Sound of Harris was estimated to be 1000 souls I wanted to investigate further. Although a decennial census had been introduced in 1801, the first four of these only provide a figure for the population of the whole Parish.
For Harris, these figures were:
1801 2996
1811 3569
1821 3909
1831 3900
Our year, 1825, lies neatly between two censuses in which the population, despite all the displacements that were occurring, remained remarkably stable at circa 3900 people.
Thus the 1000 estimated to be living on our three islands were about one-quarter of the parish’s people reminding us that ‘Prior to the nineteenth century, the majority of the population of Harris lived on the machair of the west coast and on Pabaigh and its neighbouring islands (Berneray/Beàrnaraigh, Ensay/Easaigh and Killegray/Ceileagraigh)’ http://www.paparproject.org.uk/hebrides2.html
As an aside, we have this communication from the 18th of July 1832 which I think is illuminating.
The later censuses do provide figures for each island in the Parish of Harris and those for the years 1841-1871 are given below. I have shown the number of males and females and computed the average ‘people per hearth’ for each island with the trio of isles that are our focus shown in bold:
1841 – 7th June
Anabich 18 males and 23 females in 7 houses (41/7 = 5.9 people per hearth)
Bernera 335 males and 378 females in 130 houses (713/130 = 5.5pph)
Ensay 7 males and 9 females in 2 houses (16/2 = 8pph)
Hermitray 5 males and 3 females in 1 house (8/1 = 8pph)
Killigray 3 males and 2 females in 2 houses (5/2 = 2.5pph)
Pabbay 179 males and 159 females in 61 houses (338/61 = 5.5pph)
Scalpay 14 males and 17 females in 4 houses (31/4 = 7.8pph)
Scarp 60 males and 69 females in 23 houses (129/23 = 5.6pph)
Tarrinsay 38 males and 50 females in 16 houses (88/16 = 5.5pph)
There were 1056 living on our three islands which was almost 23% of the total of 4646 people in the Parish of Harris.
Five years later the first of the Potato Famines occurred and the response of the Factor can be seen in his letter of the 21st August 1846 to the Countess of Dunmore.
1851 – 31st March
Anabich 63 people in 12 houses (63/12 = 5.3pph)
Bernera 452 people in 89 houses (452/89 = 5.1pph)
Ensay 14 people in 3 houses (14/3 = 4.7pph)
Hermitray Uninhabited
Killigray 7 people in 1 house (7/1 = 7pph)
Pabbay 29 people in 6 houses (29/6 = 4.8pph)
Scalpay 282 people in 48 houses (282/48 = 5.9pph)
Scarp 145 people in 29 houses (145/29 = )
Tarrinsay 55 people in 11 houses (55/11 = 5pph)
Only 488 living on our three islands which was less than 12% of the Parish total of 4254.
Nine out of every ten people from Pabbay and one-in-three of the population of ‘Bernera’ had gone.
Just four days after the census, on the 4th of April 1851, the Factor John Robertson Macdonald in ‘Rodil’ was being ‘interrogated’ by Sir John McNeill and an earlier piece analyses his account.
We should also note the dramatic increase in the population of Scalpay that had occurred, the reasons for which are to be seen in this investigation.
1861 – 8th April
Anabich Not listed
Bernera 130 males and 185 females in 64 houses (315/64 = 4.9pph)
Ensay 10 males and 5 females in 2 houses (15/2 = 7.5pph)
Hermitray Not listed
Killigray 2 males and 3 females in 1 house (5/1 = 5.0pph)
Pabbay 10 males and 11 females in 4 houses (21/4 = 5.3pph)
Scalpay 199 males and 189 females in 71 houses (338/71 = 4.8pph)
Scarp 72 males and 79 females in 27 houses ( 151/27 = 5.6pph)
Tarrinsay 25 males and 30 females in 12 houses (55/12 = 4.6pph)
There were just 341 living on our three islands or about 8% of the 4174 people of Harris.
Once again, almost one third of the remaining people of Bernera had gone leaving just under half the hearths from the 130 of two decades earlier.
1871 – 3rd April
Anabich Not listed
Bernera 169 males and 204 females in 75 houses (373/75 = 5.0pph)
Ensay 4 males and 2 females in 1 house (6/1 = 6pph)
Hermitray Not listed
Killigray 3 males and 6 females in 1 house (9/1 = 9pph)
Pabbay 3 males and 5 females in 2 houses (8/2 = 4pph)
Scalpay 222 males and 199 females in 82 houses (421/82 = 5.1pph
Scarp 78 males and 78 females in 33 houses (156/33 = 4.7pph)
Tarrinsay 35 males and 33 females in 12 houses (68/12 = 5.7pph)
A small increase to 390 living on our three islands but still only just reaching double-figures again at 10% of the the people of the Parish.
Bernera’s population had risen by 18% but the island trio would have needed nearly three times as many residents to regain the proportion of the population that had led to the church being built there only four-and-a-half decades earlier…
Note: I have left all spellings as they appear in the original sources, except that those for the census lists are ‘standardised’ from the 1841 census rather than reflecting the variations that appear in some of the subsequent decades.
Sources:

>A Detour

>I have been looking into the Stewart brothers of Pairc & Luskentire and was about to begin composing a piece when, as a result of a peek at some MacRae folk, I took a slight diversion…

In 1851 (sorry, it’s not my fault that year keeps supplying the goods!) the Factor of Harris, John Robson Macdonald was visited at Rodel by his sister Isabella MacRae and (what I presumed to be her son) a young farmer called Donald MacRae. Isabella was the wife of a Minister so I took a little look at men of the cloth and decided that a likely candidate was one Finlay MacRae of North Uist. A search on Google soon led me to this page on Family Search which confirmed everything. As you can see from that page, Isabella Maria Macdonald and Finlay had seven children with the eldest being Donald who held the tack of Luskintyre. Finlay died on the 15th of May 1858, shortly before the couple’s 34th Anniversary and, if you click on Isabella, you will see that her father was Colonel Alexander Macdonald of Lynedale. This was in fact Lyndale on Skye and this extract from ‘The Clarion of Skye’ (on the Am Baile site) describes the raising of ‘The Skye Volunteers’ who, two years before Trafalgar, were formed should Napoleon threaten an invasion.

To return to Harris, we know now that John Robson Macdonald was the son of Colonel Alexander Macdonald of Lyndale which is a step forward even if it wasn’t along the path of my original route!

A final observation may be made regarding the fourth of Isabella’s offspring who followed his father into a career in the church and this Rev. John Alexander MacRae was also the Minister of North Uist where he gets mentioned in this piece from the Carmichael Watson Project.

There we learn that the object of a love poem from the Minister was one Jane Macdonald, a daughter of James Thomas Macdonald and a first cousin of the man who was wooing her. Which is how it was that her sister, Jessie, caused all the commotion in Rodel when she was snatched by her lover from under her Uncle John Robson Macdonald’s nose, occasioning him to punish those on Harris who had aided the lovestruck couple in a tale that is well known. What is perhaps less well-know is the connection between Isabella Macdonald and the MacRae Ministers of North Uist which is why I thought it worth relating.

>An odd reference to Sir Walter Scott’s visit to Harris?

>I am happy to admit to having something of a fixation with the Census of 1851as regards what we can learn from it about the history of Harris. In part, this is because it is the first detailed record of the population (its predecessor of 1841 being comparatively ill-designed & poorly executed) but also because of the circumstances pertaining on the isle at the time.

By way of illustration we may consider what the Minister of Harris said in his comments regarding Rodel & Enumeration District 5. . Roderick Macdonald had been appointed to this role in 1847 by the ‘Tutor to the Earl of Dunmore’ aka Catherine, Countess of Dunmore.

“…There is a small thriving plantation in this District and a few patches of land improved by great labour by a former Proprietor  – but the rest of the land is un(?) – rocky and very ill adapted to agricultural purposes (Vid: Sir W. Scotts visit to Harris (indecipherable) ) so that the increase of population that is (indecipherable) to be expected can be but ill provided for here, unless the fishing can be prosecuted with better success(?) than here to fore.”

This is fairly typical of his comments on each of the Enumeration Districts and I cannot but compare his attitude with that displayed by the Ministers of the Free Church when giving their evidence to the Napier Commission a little over three decades later. Macdonald is clearly toeing his Master’s (or, rather, his Mistress’s!) line in emphasising the ‘problem’ of the population rather than the manner by which the population had been ripped from its fertile lands and forced into overcrowded and un-tillable townships that were still suffering from several years of famine due to the disease of the potato crop, a crop that they were forced to rely upon due directly to the agricultural consequences of the Clearances. (Oddly he states that District 4, which includes Strond, has the best soil on Harris but others say that the red soil of Rodel is the best?)

What is not typical is the reference to a visit made, by accident, some 37 years earlier by Sir Walter Scott and  which can be read about in Scotland Magazine,Issue 29. Why did the Minister choose to cite this celebrity source as one that gave weight to his argument? Who did he perceive his audience to be that would appreciate this bizarre decision? I can only think that it was be the Countess herself and that this was Macdonald attempting some kind of ‘intellectual’ flattery in pursuit of justifying her intention to solve the ‘problem’ by emigration, a wish that was fulfilled in part the following year when 742 departed Harris for Australia but exacerbated in 1853 when Borve was cleared for yet another time and many of its people sent to already overcrowded areas in the Bays.

Whatever the reason, Roderick Macdonald only served the parish for a further three years and on the 28th of December 1854 he became the Minister of South Uist. By then, many of his flock had already sought ‘sanctuary’ in the teachings of the newly constructed (after a protracted battle with the Countess) Free Church at Manish…

Fasti ecclesiae scoticanae

This publication lists all the Ministers of the Established Church
of Scotland and the (re-formated) entry for John Kerr reads thus:

JOHN KERR born Harris, 25th Oct. 1855,
son of Roderick K. and Christina Kerr;
educated at Borve School and Univ. of Glasgow;
licen. by Presb. of Dunoon July 1892;
assistant at Greenock;
ord. to Shurrery 28th Feb. 1904;
trans, and adm. 14th Sept. 1910.
Marr. 30th April 1918, Adele, daugh. of Elie Le Couvey.

I am pleased by this for not only does it act as confirmation of
the results of my previous investigations, but it also helpfully
gives us his date of birth and the significant dates
in the progress of Ayatollah Kerr’s career.

Source: National Library of Scotland –
(Note: A search for ‘Ayatollah’ on the blog will reveal  further entries that refer to him)

"I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort."

Thus ended the evidence to the Napier Commission given by the Reverend Alexander Davidson of Manish Free Church, Harris.

The full exchange went like this:

13113. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—I forgot to follow out a question which I put about the lands. Taking South Harris as a whole, is there not enough land to support in comfort even more than the present population ?

—I should think it would give land to the present population, if the land were distributed among the people. I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort.




This, from a man who had lived, worked and raised a family amongst the people of South Harris for at least the past twenty-eight years (including officiating at the wedding of one of my female cousins in Strond in 1867) stands in stark contrast with the prevailing view of the Proprietor, the past Factors and the present Farmers of the day for whom Emigration was the only ‘answer’ to the ‘problem’.


I was inspired to take a closer look at Alexander Davidson having been contacted by one of his descendants, as can be seen at the end of this piece on Harris Free Churchmen .


The church is described in these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and this is its location as seen on the OS 1:25000 Map .

The accompanying Manse, which was the Davidson family’s home for many years, is similarly described on these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and its precise location can be seen here .


In previous pieces I mentioned that Captain FWL Thomas and his wife, Mrs ‘Captain Thomas’, had at times taken-in the children of islanders including one of Alexander Davidson’s daughters and also of the widowed Fanny Thomas’s later endowment of the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital .

I would like to end with a longer extract from the Reverend’s evidence to the Napier Commission, to which I have added notes & observation within the text:


13081. Do many of the young women go south?
—Not many.


The context here is that of the ‘Herring Girls’ of the islands who followed the fishing fleet in their progress around the coast of Scotland and England during the season.

13082. Have they never been in the habit of going much from Harris?
—No, they never went.


This is telling us that as far as Davidson was aware, the women of Harris did not participate in this work.

13083. A good many of the women in this island get employment in knitting and in spinning cloth ?
—Yes, kilt making. That is their principal employment, and of late years it has been very useful to them.


Knitting, Spinning and Weaving were clearly well-established by 1883 but whether ‘kilt making’ referred to an actual Tailoring activity or was Davidson’s shorthand for weaving a web of cloth is not clear. As far as I know, such tailoring was not performed in creating a product for export and my researches into tailoring certainly don’t indicate that it was ever a large-scale female activity on Harris.

13084. Who set that agoing?
—Well, the Countess of Dunmore takes some interest in it, as well as other parties. I see they get very much into the way of dealing with the local merchants in order to get meal.


The internal arrangements pertaining at the time between the producers and the local merchants are beyond the scope of this piece, but I am interested in Davidson’s phrase ‘takes some interest in it’  for that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Countess’s commitment to the cause. It is just a pity that none of the ‘other parties’ were named!

13085. Are most of the women in the parish employed in that way?
—Well, generally.



A reminder that, unlike on neighbouring Lewis, Weaving on Harris was traditionally dominated by the women.

13086. I mean every family?
—Perhaps not every family, but very generally they are.


The extent to which these textile industries pervaded the population and were pivotal to their survival is clear.

13087. They knit a great many stockings and hose?
—Yes.

The size and importance of the knitting industry must have been very significant at this time so quite why it slipped into relative obscurity, especially in comparison with the international fame of Harris Tweed, is an interesting question that I have discussed in previous pieces.

13088. What price do they get for socks?
—Not very much—perhaps about 1s., but I can hardly say whether that is the fixed price.

That is only £2-£3 in today’s money

13089. And they manufacture a peculiarly coloured native cloth?
—Almost every kind of cloth.

13090. Native dyes?
—Yes, they use native dyes.


Ignoring the slightly pejorative-sounding ‘peculiarly coloured’, we learn that the women were producing a variety of different cloths using ‘native dyes’. It is worth noting, however, that the word ‘Tweed’, let-alone the two words, ‘Harris Tweed’, are conspicuous by their absence. It wasn’t until the later marketing of the brand that they assumed common usage.




Ref: The full transcript of this evidence may be read here .

Note:
Anyone wishing to learn more about the Free Church Ministers at this time should consult the  Annals of the Free Church of Scotland 1843-1900 (which may be available as in inter-library loan).

Students of Divinity and Theology from Harris

These four sons of Harris who appear in the censuses are listed according to the time that they were studying:

1861
Kenneth Kerr, 29, Student of Divinity, Visitor, Daill House, Craignish, Argyll, b. Harris
Kenneth’s father, Peter Kerr, was a Dry Mason from Harris who took his family to Argyll sometime between 1851 and 1861. He was visiting his sister, Mary who was a Nurse at Daill House, the home of the MacDougall of Lunga family. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craignish

A E Murray McConnochie, 23, Student of Divinity, Visitor, 25 Forth St, Edinburgh, b. Harris
Alexander’s father, Donald, was a Minister who I think was living in Knockandoo in 1841 but presumably had been living in Harris in the mid-1830s.

1891
John Kerr, 32, Student in Theology, Boarder, 479 St Vincent St, Glasgow, b. Harris
John’s father, Roderick, was a Carpenter and I have already written extensively about them:
Adele and the ‘Ayatollah’ & Borve & A 1923 Wedding on Harris

1901
John Macaskill, 32, Student of Divinity U F Church, Visitor, Manse, North Uist, b. Harris
John’s father, Roderick, was a Fisherman (IF John is the 1891 Teacher of that name) and, if so,  John may well have been born on Taransay.

Obviously these are just those students whose period of study happened to coincide with the census snapshots and the Harris-born Ministers that I have found in the censuses comprise:

John Bethune b. 1793
Duncan Clarke b. 1833 – son of Robert Clark, Doctor, living in Scarista in 1841
A E Murray McConnochie b. 1839 – possibly son of Robert, a Farmer in Banff by 1841
Ewan Mcleod b. 1848 – Son of a Farmer of Manish, poss Angus McLeod
Patrick William Mackenzie b. 1842 on St Kilda – Son of Neil Mackenzie, Minister
John Macleod b. 1848
Archibald Macdonald b. 1854/8
Don J M Jones b. 1869
John Kerr b. 1865 – Son of Roderick, a Carpenter, please see above.

None of these nine men were Ministers in Harris during the period 1841-1901 and the only one who I know to have returned to work on the island was John Kerr.