Monday, 30 August 2010

30 August 1930

On that day, the villagers of St Kilda were packing up their belongings, before leaving the island of their birth forever. Some left a bowl of grain on the table, with the Bible open at the chapter of Exodus. A community, a culture, a way of life was coming to a close after thousands of years. Life on their outpost in the Atlantic had become untenable, to their minds, and the Hiorteachs had requested their own removal. The steamer Harebell took them to the village of Lochaline, on the mainland and on to Glasgow.

A lot has been written about St Kilda, with insights changing as the years and researches progress.  Someone has recently mooted the idea to repopulate the islands with permanent inhabitants - an idea that is as fanciful as it is unrealistic. Even today, with modern, powerful boats, it is not always possible to cross the sea to the islands. In the past, there would be no communication with St Kilda for 8 months of the year, due to the severity of the weather and the ocean. That has not changed.

Work is in progress to establish a St Kilda Centre at Mangersta in Lewis, where culture and history of St Kilda will be remembered. For it is no longer alive.

Image courtesy

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


In 2012, it will be 100 years since the sinking of RMS Titanic. The last survivor died a few years ago, aged 97. It is through reading up on local history that I have learned that the sinking of the Titanic need not have been as catastrophic in terms of loss of life as it turned out to be. Eight years before the Titanic sank, the emigrant ship SS Norge struck Hazelwood Rock, just east of Rockall in the Atlantic. The Norge went down in 20 minutes, taking 700 to the bottom with her.

Not all eight of the lifeboats launched from the Norge stayed afloat; some sank at the moment of launch, but a handful were spotted by fishermen and taken to the United Kingdom. One lot of survivors was put ashore at Stornoway, and treated at the local hospital. Nine succumbed to their ordeal and lie buried at Sandwick Cemetery, a 15-minute walk from my position. One boat is thought to have drifted northeast to and beyond the Arctic Circle; but there is no confirmation of her fate.

Nobody has heard of the Norge. No rich and famous on board that ship. Just dirt poor emigrants from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Russia. In particular the Russian emigrants were the undesirables of that country. Jews, who had been packed away onto the western fringes of the Tsarist realm, and generally hated and detested in many circles of the Russia of 1904. The board of inquiry into the sinking of the Norge found that there were insufficient lifeboats for the number of people on board. A recommendation was issued that laws should be introduced, requiring ships to carry sufficient lifeboats, -rafts and other craft to accommodate all on board in the event of abandon-ship. This was not followed through.

This negligence was catastrophic for the passengers on board RMS Titanic on 14/15 April 1912.

Friday, 20 August 2010


This is an excerpt from the Napier Commission's hearings in the Isle of Skye in 1883. Sitting in Uig, now well-known as a ferry port for sailings to North Uist and Harris, the Commission heard the verbatim account of an eviction, and the rather harsh treatment of a man who declined to pay an additional £1. Donald Nicolson is 78 in May 1883, but in 1878 he was kicked off his croft in Totescore, a few miles north of Uig. His account is translated from his native Gaelic.

Lord Napier starts off the examination after the preliminaries:

What have you to state to us?
—My rent was doubled, and I would not get it even then unless I would promise to pay an additional £1. My rent was £7, 10s., and it was doubled at once, and another pound added. I did not refuse to pay the double rent, but I declined to pay the extra £1. I then got warning. When the summer came, the officer came and ejected me. He put everything I had out of the house, and I was only wanting payment for my houses, and I would go. The doors were locked on me. The tacksman of Monkstadt sent word round to the rest of the crofters that any one who would open door for me would be treated the same way as I was next year—and they are here to-day—and not one of them would let me into his house, they were so afraid. I could not cut a peat. My son's wife was in with her two young children, and we were that night in the cart-shed, and our neighbours were afraid to let us in, and crying over us. The peats were locked up. They still had the mark upon us. We had not a fire to prepare a cake. There was plenty of meal outside, but we had not a fire to prepare it. I was then staying in the stable during the summer. I could only make one bed in it. My daughter and my son's wife and the two children were sleeping in that bed, and I myself was sleeping on the stones. The Presbytery of the Established Church, during a vacancy, allowed me to enter the glebe. The factor then shut up my outhouses, and I would not be permitted to enter one of them. I was afterwards staying in the house of a poor woman who was taking care of a sick friend, and the factor challenged Mr Stewart, the tacksman of Duntulm, for permitting me to have shelter in this house, for it was on his ground that this poor woman was; and it is Mr Grant, the minister of the parish, who is supporting me to-day,

Sheriff Nicolson: When did all this happen ?
—Five years ago. There was due to me £ 6 for the making of drains on the lot, and my neighbours got this, but none was allowed to me. The factor would not pay me a penny, and it is still due to me.

Did you get anything for the house?
—The sum due by me was £35, but I got credit for the value of the house, which was £7 ; I did not get value for the other houses. They were valued at £17, 10s. and I did not get the value for them.

Lord Napier: Who was the factor?
—Mr Alexander Macdonald, the present factor. He was law agent as well in the matter.

The Interpreter made the following statement:
—He was evicted twice, but when put out he had a shed to enter into, and he entered the shed and entered the stable, and then he was evicted out of these, and an interdict was issued against him forbidding him any more to enter the house or the lands. Under stress of circumstances, he entered a barn, the key of which was given to him for the purpose of securing the crop, but was had up for breach of interdict, and for this breach of interdict he was fined 10s. with the alternative of five days' imprisonment. The expense of the interdict was something like £8. In the £35 there was a whole year's rent due. He was charged, besides, violent profits, being the legal penalty for remaining in possession after the term.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

William Scambler

William Scambler was a 30-year old trimmer / cook on board His Majesty's Trawler "THOMAS STRATTEN", when this ship hit a mine off the Butt of Lewis on 20 October 1917. William's remains were buried at Sandwick Cemetery near Stornoway. Today, I managed to track down records of his birth and his death, which paints the following picture.

William Scambler
Birth record
Date of birth: July 23rd, 1887, 5h AM
Place of birth: Glorat, Campsie, Stirlingshire
Name of father: James Scambler, assistant gamekeeper (present at registry office)
Name of mother: Elizabeth Harriet Scambler, nee Dryden
Place and date of their marriage: Edinburgh, 14 October 1886.

Death record
Name: SCAMBLER, William
Rating: Trimmer / Cook
Official no and port division: 712.T.C. (Po)
Branch of service: R.N.R.
Ship or unit: H.M. Trawler "THOMAS STRATTEN"
Date and place of birth: 23.7.1887, Lennoxtown, Stirling
Date of death: 20.10.1917
Name and address of cemetery: Civil Cemetery, Sandwick, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, grave O. 1321.
Relatives notified and their address: Wife, Alice; Branxton, Innerwick, Berwick, Scotland

Among William's shipmates, none of whom were recovered were (further details courtesy CWGC)

BOWSER, Walter, Trimmer, RNR, TS 6310 (aged 18), Son of Thomas Frederick and Lilian Bowser, of 42, Beecroft St., St. George's Rd., Hull. Remembered on Chatham Naval Memorial panel 27

BROWN, Charles John, Deck Hand, RNR, DA 5540 (aged 24). Son of Alice Mary Brown, of Clare Cottage, Caister-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth, and the late Charles John Brown. Remembered on Chatham
Naval Memorial panel 26.

COLLINSON, James, Deck Hand, RNR, SD 3895 (aged 21). Son of George Collinson, of 158, High St., East End, Sunderland, and the late Catherine Collinson; husband of Catherine Millar (formerly Collinson), of 58, Loudoun Square, Cardiff. Remembered on Chatham Naval Memorial panel 26.

PARRISH, Charles, Ordinary Telegraphist, RNVR, Tyneside Z 10209 (aged 20). Son of Willie and Amanda Matilda Parrish, of 75, Carr House Rd., Shelf, Halifax. Remembered on Chatham Naval Memorial panel 27

PIRIE, James, Deck Hand, RNR, DA 3948. Remembered on Chatham Naval Memorial panel 28

PLAYFORD, John, Deck Hand, RNR, DA 10703 (aged 26). Son of Sarah Ann Playford, of Pockthorpe, Raveningham, Norwich. Remembered on Chatham Naval Memorial, panel 26.

POLLARD, Thomas Edward, Deck Hand, RNR, DA 12923. Son of Fanny Pollard, of Gorran Haven, Gorran, Cornwall. Remembered on Plymouth Naval Memorial, panel 24.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Frederick Cyril Crocker

I found this old email from December last year, in which Frederick Cyril Crocker is suggested as a WW1 casualties whose roots lie in Stornoway. And so they do. He was born at 18 Newton Street on 22 December 1888 to Lieutenant John Crocker. of Claremont. Portishead, Somerset, formerly of Lerwick and Stornoway. R.N. Divisional Officer of Coast Guards, Southend Division, who was married to Annie, daughter of the late James Bardsley. Cyril was educated at Wexford, and Andemon Institute, Lerwick, Shetland, and prior to the outbreak of war was an Officer of Excise at Gateshead. He married at Glasgow, 10 June, 1011, Janet, daughter of Peter Macleod, of Stornoway, and had two daughters.: Patricia Joan Mary, born 28 April, 1912; and Annie Valerie, born 4 Feb. 1915.

Cyril joined the Northumberland Fusiliers at the beginning of 1914. volunteered for Imperial service when war began, was severely wounded in action at St. Julien, 26 April, 1915, while leading the platoon in a bayonet charge after his platoon officer, Lieut. Garton, had fallen, and died in the East Suffolk Hospital, Ipswich 1 June, following.

With thanks to Alastair Macewen and Anne Brooks' Genealogy.