Countess of Dunmore’s Letter to Rev N McLeod, Free Kirk Minister, N Uist

Savernake Forest, Marlborough, 16 March 1847


Dear Sir,
I Have duly received your letter of January 27th, again requesting from me the grant of a site for a church, &c. in the Harris, and stating that after conversation with the leading members of the Free Church there, Finsbay is the locality to which you and they give preference. It is, and ever will be a principal object with me, while granting full liberty of conscience, and indeed giving effect to that principle, that nothing should be done under my authority, whereby the social quiet of the Harris could by possibility be disturbed, and especially in matters of religion. Such a result might arise from the – in the Harris most unnecessary – near neighbourhood of the sites of the Established and Free Churches ; and I am happy to say that Finsbay is not open to that serious objection. I trust it will be gratifying to you and the Free Church body generally, to be informed that I will lose no time in communicating with Captain Sitwell, agent and commissioner for my son’s estates, and through him with Captain M’Donald, factor in Harris, in order to the selection and appropriation of a site in the situation which you have proposed. I need scarcely add, that in reading this letter and preceding ones to those whom they concern, I have to request them and you to consider them as private communications.
I remain, &c.
(signed) C. Dunmore.

This letter was written three weeks after the one that can be read in my previous piece here . The key phrase that the Countess uses is ‘nothing should be done under my authority, whereby the social quiet of the Harris could by possibility be disturbed, and especially in matters of religion’ for it reveals the complexity of the situation she faced. Hence, with the Established Church sitting in the fertile, depopulated West on the coast at Scarista she was no doubt only too happy to finally acquiesce to the request for a Free Church now that Finsbay in the overpopulated Bays of the rocky, infertile East was the suggested site. The Free Church may have won the battle to have somewhere to preach within but the ‘establishment’, both spiritual and temporal, remained firmly in control.

As an aside, Savernake Forest is owned by the current Earl of Cardigan and in 1861we find Charles A Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore, living at 17 Carlton House Terrace which, in 1836, had been home to the then Earl of Cardigan . However, this appears to be coincidental for, in 1847, the family at Savernake were distant cousins of the then Earl and only inherited the title upon his death in 1868, some five years after the Dunmore’s had vacated the London property.

Update: NAS Ref CS228/D/11/17 contains documents showing that one of the Trustees appointed by the 6th Earl of Dunmore was George, Marquis of Ailesbury. His home, in 1847, was Savernake Forest which explains why that is the address on this letter from the Countess of Dunmore.

Ref: A transcript of the letter can be read here: Countess of Dunmore’s Letter

The Papar Project

I gave a link to this research in a brief note on Taransay but thought that The Papar Project should have a separate entry as the online pages contain a wealth of information from many disciplines, across both space and time, and are a fascinating and accessible read.

My interest lies primarily in the material on the Hebrides but the beauty of the Project is in contemplating the Papar places of Scotland as a unit whilst exploring the variations that exist between the different places.
It really is well-worth taking a look at, and not just for the entries on Taransay and Pabbay in Harris!

Attending Wake In House

I believe this household to be unique in census records as four of those present were attending a wake in the house on the night of 31st March/1st April 1901:

Christy Shaw, 80, Formerly Tweed Weaveress, Head, No 3 North Harris, b. Harris

Catherine Macdonald, 52, Tweed Weaveress, Daughter, b. Harris
Duncan Macdonald, 60, Crofter, Son-in-Law, b. Harris

Joan Maclennan, 15, General Servant Domestic, b. Harris

John Macdermid, 29, Fisherman, Attending Wake In House, b. Harris
John Martin, 31, General Labourer, Attending Wake In House, b. Harris
John Macleod, 24, Teacher (labourer), Attending Wake In Hose, b. Harris
Donald Shaw, 21, Navvy, Attending Wake In House, b. Harris

‘No 3 North Harris’ indicates to me an address in Tarbert and it appears that Mrs Shaw’s daughter and her son-in-law, together with their General Servant, are the four usual residents.

However, on this particular Sunday evening, they were accompanied by four young men, aged from 21 to 31, whose occupations are as varied as their family names. The youngest, Donald Shaw, is the only one who might have been related but, were this the case, surely Mrs Shaw would have made it clear at this time of family bereavement?

What I am wondering, and it is admittedly merely a conjecture, is whether these four had carried, or were to bear, the coffin on the deceased person’s final journey?

Wee Free?

I have been peeking at the Marriage certificates from my Hearach relatives in order to see which of the Churches they might display a particular allegiance to.

There were 9 grooms spanning the years 1863 to 1923 (all but 1 occurring by 1890) and precisely 6 of them were wed by the Established Church of Scotland and 3 by the Free Church.

The 11 brides span the years 1857 to 1926 (all but one occurring by 1898) but I have only paid to see 5 of them thus far. Of these 5, spanning 1856 to 1892 , 3 were performed by the Free Church and 2 by the Established Church.

Of course these latter results are partial but, even were they complete, I think that there would have been other factors at play in addition to simply which church the couple preferred.

I do not have sufficient knowledge of wedding customs in late 19thC Harris to be sure of the relative importance of these, but availability of the Minister, the precise place where the wedding was to take place, the couple’s own families influence and the urgency of the event(!) are all plausible considerations. Not to mention the time of year, the occupations of the participants and the process of the banns.

Given all the provisos mentioned I am reluctant to read too much into this little analysis but am certainly surprised that, in an island that is usually described as universally switching to the Free Church in 1843, the majority of my male relations tied the knot under the Established Church whilst their mothers, sisters and daughters appear to have been somewhat more ecumenical with their nuptials.

Note: There was one more marriage between 1932 and 2006 (in 1968) involving a (female) Kerr of Harris but otherwise these 20 weddings were the only ones that took place from the introduction of Statutory Registration in 1855 up to the present day.

Donald Stewart, Factor of Harris, and the Church on Berneray

Donald Stewart has been described as ‘the worst thing to happen to Harris’ (I apologise for not currently being able to locate the source of that comment) and this little letter from 1832 suggests that his arrogant attitude extended well beyond merely those who suffered the most at his ‘improving’ shenanigans:

COPY of a LETTER from Mr. Joseph Mitchell, Inspector of Highland Churches, describing the present State of the New Churches and Manses in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 18th July 1832


The Minister in the Island of Berneray mentions, that many slates are off the Church, and that the Factor of Harris refused to be at the expense of replacing them.


I shall be glad to know in such cases how I am to act, where there are no seat-rents, and where the individual becoming bound for the maintenance of the Buildings (as in this instance) refuses to attend to the necessary repairs. The Act provides that they shall be compellable in such manner as Heritors are compellable for Parish Churches by the Law of Scotland.


I wrote to Mr. Stewart, the Factor for Harris, some six weeks ago, but have had no answer. I shall write again, however, urging him more strongly.


I do not know the outcome of this particular case, but a couple of years later the Court in Inverness found against Stewart for trying to withhold payment for improvements made by one Alexander Macrae, a tenant of the Estate, despite the tenancy agreement’s clear stipulation that they should be made so I doubt that ‘urging him more strongly‘ would have seen the slates replaced in any great hurry.


Ref: Accounts and Papers of The Church 1831-32

The Baptist Magazine, Volume 19, 1827 and Harris

On pages 324-325 their is an article on the ‘Baptist Highland Mission’, and I have selected three pieces for perusal:

The following extracts are taken from the journal of Mr Campbell, one of the Itinerants employed by this important and useful Institution:

July 2nd, Sabbath day: Having, during the previous week, intimated as extensively as possible our intention to preach at Tarbert on Sabbath, a great number of boats full of people assembled from all quarters, besides many people who came by land. We both preached to an audience of about 350…

3rd – Travelled this day to Caolas: The road was the worst imaginable: indeed there was no track or road of any sort, but rugged rocks and moss, and lakes of water. At times we did not know whither we were going…


5th – Preached at Strand to 60, some of whom followed us for two days, and in the evening at Roudel to 35. Most of the inhabitants here were from home, as mentioned above, otherwise three times the number would have attended. Had a long conversation with a blacksmith, of the name of Morrison, a native of the place. He preaches to the people of Strand, and appears to be a good man, and well acquainted with his bible. It would appear he has been very useful in this place, both by preaching and writing. He is one of the best poets in the Highlands of Scotland,; his conduct exemplary; possesses excellent talents, and a sound judgement. The people told us, he can communicate his ideas with facility and force. They have built a large meeting-house for him, where he preaches three times every Lord’s day, and Wednesday evening. The people of the south would feel it not an easy task to attend his three lectures on Sabbath. We are told, he begins at seven, and continues till ten – again at eleven, and insists till five – lastly, at six, and concludes the services of the day between nine and ten. This is certainly going to an extreme; meanwhile it evinces the good man’s zeal.


There is much that interests me here. What a wonderful picture is evoked of an armada of boats arriving in Tarbert on that particular Sunday! It is also a valuable reminder of the transport of (somewhat limited) choice of the people, and the description of the journey to Caolas (which I think is Kyles Stockinish, not Kyles Scalpay) emphasises the point.

They preached at Geocrab, Manish and Finsbay before arriving at ‘Strand’ and their choosing the Bays of the East in 1827 reminds us that these were turbulent times in Harris. The phrase ‘some of  whom followed us for two days’ is simply stunning – they must have thought themselves on the shore of the Sea of Galilee rather than that of the Sound of Harris!

The phrase, ‘most of the people here were from home’ is somewhat ambiguous. Did he mean that they were away, perhaps engaged in fishing or at the sheilings, or did he mean that people hadn’t travelled to hear them preach? The answer would lie in ‘as mentioned above’, but for the fact that there is no such mention that I can discern.

Finally, we have a description of his meeting with ‘a blacksmith, of the name of Morrison’ and this of course is none-other than ‘Gobha na Hearadh’. For a missionary Baptist to describe John Morrison’s Sabbath activities as ‘going to an extreme’ certainly explains why ‘The people of the south would feel it not an easy task to attend his three lectures on Sabbath’!

Harris Catechists

These are the Catechist (Instructor in Religious Doctrine) records for the 1841-1901 censuses.

There is probably not much to be learnt from this particular group of records but I have included them for the sake of ‘completeness’ in composing an ecclesiastical account from the Harris censuses.

1841 – None

1851
Donald Mackinnon, 39, Catechist and Farmer, Obe, b. Harris

John Morrison, 55, Free Church Catechist, Leac a Li, b. Harris

1861
Donald Mackinnon, 48, Catechist, Obe, b. Harris

Neil Stewart, 70, Catechist, Diraclet, b. Kilmuir, Inverness-shire

1871
Donald Mackinnon, 56, Catechist, Smithy, Harris, b. Harris

1881
Malcolm Morrison, 36, Free Church Catechist, Meavaig, b. Uig, Ross-shire

1891
Donald John Maclean, 55, Catechist, Rushgarry, Bernera, b. Uist

1901
John Smith, 41, Catechist, No 80 Scalpay, b. Uig, Ross-shire

We know that John Morrison (Gobha na Hearadh) had to vacate An-t-Ob as a result of his Free Church adherence so it appears likely that Donald Mackinnon was working for the Church of Scotland.

The 1871 ‘Smithy’ is presumably that in An-t-Ob, rather than the one established in Tarbert by Ewen Morrison, a Blacksmithing Son of John Morrison, Blacksmith and Catechist!