Ask Angus…

…about this industrial/part domestic building of uncertain purpose,
but evidently a part of Captain MacLeod’s fisheries
development programme of the 1780s at Rodel.
Who knows, he may have called it ‘Home’?…


‘I will tell you how Rodel was cleared.’

It is presumed that the clearance was that of 1818 and the ‘young Macleod’ was Alexander Norman Macleod who had inherited Harris from his father, Alexander Hume Macleod, in 1811.
There were 150 hearths in Rodel.
150 hearths (note that is the warm heart of the home that he uses to count the households) and the 1841 census records less than 15. If we allow an average of 5 people per hearth, which I think is a reasonable figure for the time, then some 750 people were made homeless in this single Clearance.
Forty of these paid rent.
Forty paying rent tells us that the remaining 110 were either landless Cottars or, perhaps, farm workers etc whose salary was partly paid in the form of rent-free accomodation.
When young Macleod came home with his newly-married wife to Rodel he went away to show his wife the place, and twenty of the women of Rodel came and met them and danced a reel before them, so glad were they to see them. By the time the year was out,—twelve months from that day, these twenty women were weeping and wailing; their houses being unroofed and their fires quenched by the orders of the estate.
A poignant passage-imagine the scene of the Commissioners sitting and hearing those words spoken for the very first time, the images evoked, the way a soulless word’ cleared’ becomes a very human tragedy. All from a ‘Crofter and Fisherman’ from Scalpay, not a Barrister from Edinburgh!
I could not say who was to blame, but before the year was out 150 fires were quenched.
This hints that, rather than Macleod himself, it may have been the Factor’s fault?
Some of the more capable of these tenants were sent to Bernera, and others were crowded into the Bays on the east side of Harris—small places that kept three families in comfort where now there are eight.
Interesting, and perhaps a tad unfortunate?, that he uses the phrase ‘more capable’ in this context but perhaps he was merely reflecting the manner by which they had been selected some 65 years before this day in Tarbert?
Some of the cottars that were among these 150 were for a whole twelve months in the shielings before they were able to provide themselves with permanent residences.
I cannot begin to imagine how a family faced with the prospect of spending a whole year in the simple shelter of a shieling in the Summer pastures managed to survive. No doubt many members, particularly amongst the youngest and eldest, did not.
Others of them got, through the favour of Mrs Campbell of Strond, the site of a house upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves.
Mrs Campbell was the ‘tackswomen’ of Strond and I am wondering whether this explains the ruins near Borrisdale that I think were the ‘Farm of Strond, Port Esgein’ of the later census but ‘upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves’ is too ambiguous for me to be sure.
JOHN M’DIARMID, formerly Crofter and Fisherman, Scalpa (88)
Evidence to the Highlands and Islands Commission.

Although this is one of the oft-quoted pieces of evidence that the Commission received, I felt it worth a little more examination, not least because it might well explain how elements of my own ancestry came to be born in Strond and Direcleit (but not in ‘Bernera’!) in the following few years.

Rodel House Occupants

Presented here are the occupants of Rodel House at the time of 19th Century censuses.

I have placed my comments beneath each decade’s list:

John Lindsay, 40, Estate Officer
John Lindsay, 8
Alex Lindsay, 7
Archibald Lindsay, 5
Christian Lindsay, 30
Christina Lindsay, 3
Grace Lindsay, 1
Marion Kerr, 20
Margaret Maclean, 15
Annabella Maciver, 20

John R Macdonald, 30, Farmer
Mary Macdonald, 30
Jane Macdonald, 4
Anne Mary Macdonald, 15
Elizabeth F Ando, 11
Dessie C Ando, 11
Isabella Irvine, 20

The 1841 census is not specific about addresses and I am assuming that the Estate Officer resided there. Farmer Macdonald became Factor Macdonald and is recorded as residing at Rodel house during his tenure of that role.

John R Macdonald, 44, Land Factor & JP
Mary Macdonald, 49
Jane C Macdonald, 14
Christina Macdonald, 14
Isabella Macrae, 50, Minister’s Wife, Sister
Donald Macrae, 25, Farmer of 200 acres employing 8 men & JP, Nephew
Annabella Macrae, 18, Farmer’s Wife, Niece
Neil(?) Landler, Governess
Kenneth Macdonald, 30, Factor’s Clerk
Isabella Glaser, 20, Housemaid
Ann Macdonald, 40, Cook Maid
Catherine Maclean, 25, Laundry Maid
Mary Ross, 26, Dairy Maid
Angus Kerr, 20, Farm Servant
Norman McCuish, 16, Shepherd
Alexander Macleod, 60, Barn Man
Laclan Maclean, 17, Groom
John Smith, 42, Visitor

This large household is extremely interesting because, in addition to the expected house servants, it includes several members of the agricultural workforce. It is also worth noting that the Factor’s young nephew, who appears to be the son of a Minister, occupies a position of substantial power and responsibility.

John Robertson Macdonald, 54, Factor of Harris Estate
Mary Macdonald, 49
Jane Caroline Macdonald, 24
Elizabeth Ann Macdonald, 71, Spinster
Angus Kerr, 33, Ploughman
Archibald Ferguson, 22, Ag Lab
Ewen Macleod, 20, Ag Lab
Lexy Morrison, 26, Housemaid
Kate Stewart, 30, Cook
Janet Maclennan, 30, Dairy Maid
Christy Macleod, 19, Chamber Maid
Mary Ross, 40, General Servant
Donald Ferguson, 20, Ag Lab

The household has reduced by about a third but the mixture of domestic and agrarian employees remains a feature.

John R Macdonald, 64, Factor
Mary Macdonald, 69
Jane C Macdonald, 34
Alexandria C Compite(?), Sister
Hugh Ross, 28, Shepherd
Archibald Ferguson, 30, Farm Servant
Kate Stewart, 40, Cookmaid
Christy Mackennon, 26, Housemaid
Mary Morrison, 25, Chambermaid
Mary Macleod, 24, Dairymaid

Again, the household is slightly smaller and we can see that the only land-labourer remaining resident is the shepherd.

A separate household lists Angus Kerr, 40, Farm Grieve plus his wife Lexy Kerr, 27, (MS Morrison, ex-Housemaid). I mention this partly because of my personal connection but more significantly because after 1871 there are no census returns recording the occupants of Rodel House.

Indeed, after 1871 there is no census recording a Factor residing in South Harris and the ‘highest’ position found is that of Farm Manager:

Angus Kerr, 48, Farm Manager
Lexy Kerr, 40
Marion Kerr, 8
Flora Morrison, 23, niece
Christy Gillies, 4 months, Boarder!

I am unsure of the precise factors at work here, but changes in the economy of Harris and Lewis, improved roads and the ‘pull’ towards Tarbert all played their part in the demise of this demesne.
Note: A description of historical events is given here (PDF):

Rodel Hotel History (pdf)

Current site:

Master of the Harris Mail Boat

Occasionally you stumble across an unexpected delight.

I was looking through some records associated with boats and suddenly discovered that in 1851 (nearly 160 years ago) there was a Master of the Harris Mail Boat.

Hearach John Morrison, 38, together with his wife and seven children were residing at Port Esgein, a tiny inlet in the Sound of Harris and home to the Farm of Strond.

Port Esgein is significant as it is just a short walk from Loch Rodil and thence to Rodel Harbour

John would have kept the Mail Boat in one of these three locations, reminding us that it would be another 60 years before the ‘Soap Man’ decreed that Obbe was the perfect spot for a Great Harbour, despite local knowledge warning him otherwise.

What kind of vessel was Morrison the Master of?
Which ports did it serve, on the mainland and elsewhere on the islands?
How frequent a service (weather allowing) did it provide?
When did it start, and cease?

The only answer I currently have is, ‘I don’t know’, but it is certainly another piece of evidence that this now-tranquil South-Eastern end of Borrisdale, encompassing Port Esgein, the Farm of Strond and adjacent to Rodel, was once very much at the heart of Harris.

Harris Masons or Who Built the ‘Golden Road’?

I opted to search the records for Masons working in Harris. The results are presented, as usual, with the normal caveats and abnormal spellings. The are arranged by family name, first name:

Alex Mcleod, 35, Strond, Mason
Alex Patterson, 20, Strond, Mason
Malcolm Patterson, 30, Strond, Mason

Peter Kerr, 55, Kentulavic, Dry Mason
John Macaulay, 40, Sradabay, Dry Mason & Dyker
Donald Macdonald, 35, Port Esgein, Mason
Donald Maclean, 30, Borve, Farmer’s son, Mason & Labourer
John Macleash, 60, Borve(?), Mason
Alexander Macleod, 47, Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Mason

John Maclean, 40, Aidive, Mason
Alexander Macleod, 58, Strond, Mason
Kenneth Macleod, 30, Eilean Allanby, Mason
John MacQuish, 74, Borve(?)r, Mason
Archy Ross, 24, Glebe, Mason

John Macaskill, 53, Dry Mason

William Gillis, 30, Strond, Mason
Donald Macaskill, 45 North Harris, Mason
John Macaskill, 70, South Harris, Formerly Mason
Donald Macdonald, 66, Ardasaigh, Mason
John Macdonald, 23, North Harris, Mason
Alexander Mackay, 50, North Harris, Mason
John Mackinnon, 60, Ardasaigh, Mason
Donald Maclean, 49, South Harris, Mason
Hugh Maclean, 26, South Harris, Mason
John Macleod, 23, North Harris, Mason
William Macleod, 40, South Harris, Mason and Militiaman
Alexander Morrison, 47, Ardasaigh, Mason
Donald Morrison, 26, South Harris, Mason (Out of Employment)
Murdo Morrison, 31, East Tarbert, Mason

Kenneth Cunningham, 60, Geocrab, Mason
William Gillis, 43, Steps Strond, Stone Mason
Donald Macaskill, 44, East Tarbert, Mason
Donald Macdonald, 74, Ardhasaig,Mason (Formerly)
John Macfarlane, 40, Leakin, Mason
John Mackinnon, 48, Little Urgha, Mason
John Mackinnan, 80, Ardhasaig, Retired Mason
Murdo Mackinnan, 56, North Harris, Mason and Crofter
Donald Maclean, 58, Little Borve, Stone Mason
Hugh Maclean, 37, Cuidinish, Stone Mason
William Maclennan, 48, Flodibay, Stone Mason
Finlay Macleod, 22, East Tarbert, Mason
John Macleod, 33, East Tarbert, Mason
William Macleod, 54, Ardow, Mason
Donald Morrison, 34, Berkasar, Mason
Murdo Morrison, 40, East Tarbert, Mason and Crofter
Norman Morrison, 60, Kyles Stockinish, Mason
Murdo Shaw, 18, Big Urgha, Mason Labourer

William Gillies, 52, Strond, Mason
Norman Macdonald, 60, Rodel, Mason
Donald Maclean, 74, Cuidinish, Mason
Hugh Maclean, 46, Cuidinish, Mason
Donald Macaskill, 63, North Harris, Stone Mason
Donald W Macaskill, 19, Apprentice Mason
Murdo Macdonald, 40, Kyles Scalpay, Mason
Donald Macdonald, 39, North Harris Mason’s Labourer
John Macdonald 30, Bernera, Stone Mason
Murdo Macdonald, 30, North Harris, Mason’s Labourer
Roderick Mackinnan, 20, North Harris, Mason’s Labourer
John Macleod, 42, North Harris, Stone Mason
John Macleod, 25, Leacin, Mason’s Labourer
Hugh MacQuish, 21, North Harris, Mason’s Labourer
John Macsween, 33, Strond, Mason
Malcolm Macsween, 68, Strond, Mason
William Macsween, 29, Strond, Mason
Archibald Macsween, 23, Strond, Mason
Norman Morrison, 63, Stockinish, Stone Mason
Murdo Morrison, 50, North Harris, Stone Mason
Donald Morrison, 45, Ardslave, Mason
Angus Morrison, 39, Drinishader, Mason

It is particularly annoying that the results for 1871 are, with one single exception, currently unavailable because of the doubling in Masons occurring between 1861 and 1881.

The 1851 return of a ‘Dry Mason and Dyker’ suggests that there was a distinction between those particular skills and those of a mason using mortar. Was that a long-standing distinction or one that indicates the emergence of specialisation within the occupation?

Similarly, whilst masons might more usually be thought of as constructors of buildings they were also the builders of roads.

What is known form neighbouring Lewis, is that whilst the design of ‘blackhouses’ remained fairly constant (albeit with variations between the islands) from at least the 1850s, ‘improvements’ in their design became increasingly implemented during the 1880s and beyond. Masons would have been pivotal in all this.

The closing decades of the 19th Century also saw an expansion in road building and again masonic skills would have been in greater demand, particularly given the nature of the terrain and the need for stone bridges to be constructed.

So, whilst these are partial results, it seems to me that the rise in the number of masons that is seen here reflects a real outcome of changes made to the built environment of Harris.

The fact that all the masons in 1841 and 1851 are found on the South and West coasts of the island yet by 1891/1901 we see several dotted around the West coast’s ‘Bays of Harris’ speaks volumes and reminds us that the ‘Golden Road’ that links Tarbert to Rodel was completed in 1897…

Blacksmiths of Harris

This is another preliminary investigation into an occupational group on the Isle of Harris.

I have an interest in this particular craft due to my mother being descended from several generations of blacksmiths & ironmongers in South London & Kent.

I have listed Harris-born smiths working elsewhere in the Western Isles.

The majority of those working in Harris were Hearachs.

Neil Morrison, Nishishee(!), 35
Neil Macaskill, Borve, 35
Kenneth Morrison, Geocrab, 60
John Morrison, Obb, 45
Malcolm Morrison, Tarbert, 45

John Morrison (1790-1852) was a Gaelic poet and this song-smith is buried in St Clement’s Church, Rodel.

Angus Morrison, Obb, 26, Blacksmith & Miller (Son of John Morrison above)
Malcolm Morrison, Tarbert, 50, Master Blacksmith
John Macleod, Kyles Scalpay, 35

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
Neil Macaskill, Bernera, 46
Neil Morrison, Breanish, Uig, 40
Norman Macleod, Enaclete, Stornoway, 44
William Macaskill, Stornoway, 24
Murdo Maclennan, North Uist, 54

(John Morrison, 55, Free Church Catechist, Leac a Li, b. Harris – The Blacksmith/Hymn-Writer)

Malcolm Morrison, East Tarbert, 56
Ewen Morrison, East Tarbert, 39 (Eldest Son of John Morrison)

Donald Maclennan, North Uist, 20

Ewen Morrison, 49, Black Smith, Smithey Tarbert, b. Harris (Son of John Morrison)

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
John Morrison, Stornoway, 22
Norman Macleod, Stornoway, 66
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 21, Apprentice Blacksmith

Donald Morrison, Gardener’s House, North Harris, 29
Ewen Morrison, East Tarbert, 57 (Son of John Morrison)
Alexander Morrison, East Tarbert, 23
John Morrison, East Tarbert,10, Apprentice Blacksmith
Norman Macleod, Finsbay, 27
Angus Morrison, Obb, 54

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
Neil Morrison, Breanish, Uig, 75, Master Blacksmith
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 30
Norman Macleod, Stornoway, 75

Donald Morrison, North Harris, 39
Norman Macleod, North Harris, 38
John Morrison, East Tarbert, 39
Donald Morrison, Obb, 27

(Ewen Morrison, 68, Retired Black Smith, No 29 East Tarbert, b. Harris – John Morrison’s Son)

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 38

Norman Macleod, North Harris, 41
Donald Morrison, North Harris, 49
John Angus Morrison, North Harris, 16, Apprentice Blacksmith (Donald’s Son)
Murdo Morrison, North Harris, 16, Apprentice Blacksmith (Donald’s Son)
John Morrison, North Harris, 35
Donald Morrison, Obb, 38

(Ewen Morrison, 80, Retired Blacksmith, No45, North Harris, b. Harris – John Morrison’s Son)

Harris-born Blacksmiths:
John Macaskill, Stornoway, 49
Donald Macmillan, Bernera, 30

It is clear that this specialised occupation was restricted to a very few families with those bearing the name Morrison dominating the field.

It would be interesting to investigate this further…

A Stroll From Strond To Rodel Across The Decades…

The locations are listed from Strond to Rodel as if one was walking the coastal road to Borrisdale, continuing on the path to Port Esgein and then climbing over the hill to Rodel:

1841 – Strond 332, Rodel 81, Total 413
1851 – Strond 40, Port Esgein 150, Port Esgein Farm of Strond 89, Rodel 38, Total 317
1861 – Strond 179, Borrisdale 14, Rodel 32, Total 225
1871 – Strond 206, Borrisdale 8, Rodel 48, Total 262
1881 – Strond 241, Rodel 36, Total 277
1891 – Strond 213, Rodel 48, Total 261
1901 – Strond 169, Rodel 48, Total 217

The first thing to note, in this age before postcodes, is that locations can reflect the whim of the individual census enumerator, an English-speaker in Gaeldom, as well as the changes of land usage in these turbulent times. I am not sufficiently versed in the waves of ‘clearances’ that beset South Harris before and during these counts to comment upon their specific impact but these coastal communities were not blessed with the fertile machair of the West coast so the ‘Farm of Strond’ and the later Rodel Farm might easily conjure inappropriate images of the land under cultivation…

Secondly, the ancient settlement at Carminish, almost an island in its own right but connected by a short, narrow strip at the Western end of Strond, is not listed as a separate entity yet is quite likely the original settlement now known as Strond. It is a relatively easily defended community (the remains of a Dun or Broch are to be found there) but with easy access to the nearby cultivatable hillsides. Today there are only a few houses there but they do include a reconstructed Blackhouse that was constructed by cannibalising the remains of at least one other but the end result was worth the sacrifice. If Carminish was still inhabited then its people are certainly to be found in the entries for Strond itself.

Thirdly, whilst the population of Rodel appears to be fairly constant post 1841, I believe that earlier figure might be inflated by the inclusion of the population of Port Esgein, but then again it could have been the result of ‘clearance’ or the ‘Hungry Forties’.

Finally, as it would take a herculean analysis of the Censuses, maps, the Dunmore estate and of the land itself to fully answer these questions and bring back to life the story of this strip of land, I have chosen a moment in time to look at one very specific community.

Here is my analysis of the 1851 population of Port Esgein, Farm of Strond.

In ‘Islanders & The Orb’, Janet Hunter says that Bill Lawson gives the ‘Paisley Sisters’ location as being in Strond but in fact they are to be found specifically here:

1851 – Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Harris

89 people in 17 households

1) John Gillis, 43, Fisherman, Wife & 6 children

2) Allan Gillis, 40, Ag Lab, Mother & Nephew

3) Kenneth Gillis, 42, Ag Lab, Wife & 2 children

4) Angus Kerr, 61, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 adult children & 3 children

5) Margaret Kerr, 60, Shoemaker’s Widow, Son & 5 other adults
Donald Kerr, 32, Shoemaker
John Kerr, 26, Shoemaker
John Mcaulay, 30, Visitor, Miller
Finlay Mcleod, 30, Visitor, Gamekeeper

6) John McDermid Snr, 66, Ag Lab, Wife, 4 adult children & 1 child
John McDermid, 30, Sailor/Tailor

7) John Macdonald, 59, Ag Lab, Wife, 2 adult children & 2 children

8) Ann McQueen, 60, 1 child

9) Ann Martin, 90

10) Murdoch Martin, 35, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 children

11) John McDermid Jnr, 55, Ag Lab, Wife, 2 adult offspring, 2 children

12) Christina Mcleod, 80, Ag Lab’s Widow, 3 adults, I child
Marion Mcleod, 47, Weaveress The ‘Paisley Sisters’
Christina Mcleod, 40, Weaveress The ‘Paisley Sisters’

13) Angus Mcleod, 63, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 children

14) Alexander Mcleod, 47, Mason, Wife, 4 children & 2 adults

15) Alexander Mcleod, 28, Fisherman, Wife & 2 children

16) Christian Macsween, 90, Farmer’s(?) Widow

17) William Ross, 58, Ag Lab, 4 adult children

It is unfortunate that many households with adult offspring do not specify the occupations of those adults but, given that in some case these are recorded, it is probably safe to assume that they were engaged on the land and in the home in ways deemed not worthy of remark!

There are 10 households for whom agricultural labour is the main type of work and the lack of the term ‘Small Tenant’ together with the specifying of this part of Port Esgein as ‘Farm of Strond’ leads me to conjecture that this land was in fact that directly supporting Rodel.

Several of these families are shown in the 1841 census as living at Rodel which begs the question as to which farm they worked and/or lived on. In subsequent years ‘Rodel Farm’ appears, but ‘Farm of Strond’ is never again seen. In addition, several of these families are later found living and working at Rodel Farm and Rodel House.

Off the land, we have a couple of Fishermen, a Mason, two Shoemakers, two visitors in the shape of a Miller and a Gamekeeper and, perhaps of greatest historical interest regarding the product with which Harris is most famously associated, two Weaveresses, the ‘Paisley Sisters’.

There presence here, following their ‘adoption’ for training by Lady Dunmore, leads me to ask whether it is amongst the ruins of the Blackhouses of Port Esgein that a plaque to these two should be erected and whether that in Strond itself accurately depicts their home at the birth of Harris Tweed in 1864.

In locating the sisters on the Farm of Strond living on land under Mrs Campbell the tenant of the tack of Strond & Killegray. This fact certainly lends credence to Harris Tweed having been born at the earlier of the range of dates that are conjectured upon in ‘Islanders and the Orb’.

As to precisely locating the site of Farm of Strond, the entry in the RCAHMS for ‘Borosdale’ includes the following:

Two tumbled walls connected to heaps of large boulders, submerged at high-tide – associated with nearby deserted township and built to prevent cattle from straying. NG 040 834

A township comprising five roofed, thirteen unroofed buildings and six enclosures is depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Inverness-shire, Island of Harris 1881, sheet xxvii)NG 037 835

This, I am now convinced,  is the site of the 1851 Farm of Strond, with the associated cattle walls sited in Loch Rodel.

In 1881, there were 18 buildings, at least 13 of which had become uninhabited but 5 were still inhabitable. The 1881 census for Rodel lists 6 households led by farm workers so the map may well show us where they were living, in the remains of Farm of Strond at ‘Borosdale’…

(Archaeological Notes NG08SW 10 centred 037 835)

On a personal note, Angus Kerr the Agricultural Labourer, was my ‘3rd great granduncle’ and Margaret Kerr was the widow of Angus Kerr who’s sons followed in his footsteps as Shoemakers but whose precise relationship to me I have yet to discover.


I have interrogated the database because, although there are known issues over transcriptions regarding spellings, the ScotlandsPeople database does not provide the same level of finesse in refining searches. The downside of this is that the images are unavailable unless one is prepared to access them at ScotlandsPeople, for £1 per page…

I have used English spellings purely because these are (with variations!) what are to be found in the written sources and I apologise profusely to all Gaelic-speaking people for any offence this may cause.