Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Clearances: Strathnaver

I'm currently transcribing the Napier Report for Sutherland (the far north of Scotland), which carries some harrowing evidence. Angus Mackay, a 22-year old student of divinity, is being interrogated.

You say you are used and abused by the officials of the estate. Will you be good enough to mention instances of abuse?
I will give you a few specimens. The first case is one of Angus Gordon, tenant, Aird. In 1879 a road was made through Angus Gordon's croft while a large piece was taken from him at the lower end and a lime storing-house built upon it. The tenant was promised surface damages as his corn was partly destroyed, and a reduction of rent, but on making his demands when paying his rent he was only laughed at, and told that they would get plenty men to take his croft if he was not pleased with it. As he had roused the ire of the officials they gave permission to the vessels carrying lime into the river, to use for ballast the stones of the dyke fencing in Gordon's lot at the lower end. The dyke was pulled down accordingly, and now his croft is exposed to damage from his neighbours' cattle; and next year his rent was raised eighteen shillings—that was when the general rise was made on the rent —but he went to the Duke and the rent was reduced again.

Another instance is the case of one Christina Mackay, Beathag. She was an old woman and permitted James Thomson, her brother-in-law, to live in an end of her house, but, as the factor was at enmity with this man, he evicted Christina before the term, and sent the ground officer round the district forbidding the people upon pain of eviction to give her shelter in their houses. The public broke open the door of her house and she went in again and stayed till the term, when she was formally to be evicted upon a warrant. The thing preyed upon her mind so much that when the day of final eviction came she died about twelve o'clock, broken hearted, the ground officer and sheriff officer being then within half a mile of her house on their way to evict her.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Remembered - Donald Angus is Donald Mackenzie

As I continue to fill in details on more of the WW1 casualties from Lewis, I was posed quite a riddle last night.  And it was very sad indeed, when I found out exactly what had been going on.

The story starts on 9 October 1874, when, at 2 am, Jessie Mackenzie and her husband John (a ploughman) were delighted with the birth of their first born, a daughter, Marion. They had only been married since the previous December. Jessie and John went on to have another four children, Roderick, Donald, Mary A. and Hector. They were 1, 5, 6 and 11 years younger than Marion, according to the Census of 1891. By then, their father was marked as a crofter and fish-curer.

Marion grew up to be a fish worker in Stornoway, a common occupation for island women in the latter years of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century - and not just in Stornoway. They would go to many other Scottish fishing ports to gut herring at the phenomenal speed of 60 a minute.

Two months before her 21st birthday, on 19 August 1895, Marion gave birth to a baby boy, who was to be known as Donald. She did not register the birth until September 27th that year; and the birth register coldly refers to the baby as illegitimate, quoting no father's name.

Six years later, there is another Census (in 1901). Donald's age is quoted incorrectly as 4 (he will in fact be 6 that year). He is mentioned as a grandchild; his uncle Hector is now aged 16 and an apprentice baker. Grandfather John is working in a guano factory - which is not necessarily processing bird excrement, but is also thought to have been fish offal. Marion Mackenzie is not mentioned on the census return for 29 Lower Sandwick - but we catch up with her shortly.

The Great War starts in 1914. Donald is a lance-corporal serving with the 3rd battalion of the Gordon Highlanders when he is transferred to hospital in Aberdeen. He died on 21st July 1915, aged 19, of pulmonary tuberculosis. By then, his mother has moved to the city of Aberdeen and is quoted as living at 2, Gilcomston Terrace; she is married to a stonecutter (dry process) by the name of Alexander Miller.

Two years after the end of the war, the Stornoway Gazette published a Roll of Honour, entitled "Loyal Lewis Roll of Honour 1914-1918", in which there is a casualty at 27 Lower Sandwick. He is named as Donald Angus, and for more than three years I have run into a wall trying to find out more details on this man. Angus is not commonly used as a surname, and nobody by that name is recorded as having been born in Scotland before 1900. The Roll of Honour quoted a string of Mackenzies at 27 Lower Sandwick, and by searching for a Donald Mackenzie, dying on 21 July 1915, having served with the Gordons in WW1, I tracked down the correct casualty. The birth- and death-records of Scotland's People filled in the gaps and I'm confident that Donald Angus is Donald Mackenzie.

The erroneous entry for this man started in 1916 with the first Roll of Honour, and was copied into the second (and final) volume, published in 1921. I cannot speculate whether this mistake was linked to Donald's illegitimate status at birth.

Postscript: Marion Miller succumbed to miliary tuberculosis (widespread throughout the body) on 10 July 1932, almost exactly 17 years after her son died. Her age is quoted as 55 on the death record, but she is actually 57. She died at Aberdeen, survived by her husband.

With thanks to blogger Direcleit for kindly supplying the census returns and the info on the guano factory.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


In the compilation of “Faces from the Lewis War Memorial” (which remembers the Fallen from the Isle of Lewis in World War I), there are quite a few names with very little information. It sometimes takes a little bit of effort to disentangle the web and let the light from the past shine more clearly. An example.
The Roll of Honour mentions an Iver Maciver from 9 North Shawbost, who, serving with the Canadians, died of wounds in 1916 at the age of 21. I just couldn’t cross reference him - not with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, not with the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, and not with the CEF records on Libraries and Archives Canada either.

Until this evening. Looking at the page for North Shawbost again, it occurred to me that Kenneth Maciver, also quoted at 9 North Shawbost, might be the brother of “Iver”. Kenneth Maciver is reported to have been born at Lochcarron, so I did a search on ScotlandsPeople for Macivers in Lochcarron around 1895 - and who came out but Evander Maciver. Born to the same parents as Kenneth.

Using the sources quoted above, I now search for Evander Maciver, dying in 1916 - and this was the result:

Last address in Lewis: 9 North Shawbost,
Son of John and Isabella Maciver, of Carnan House, Shawbost, Stornoway. Born at Lochcarron, Ross-shire.
Service unit: 52nd Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment)
Service number: 440086
Date of death: 9 July 1916 at the age of 21
Died of wounds
Interred: Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, grave VIII. C. 6
Local memorial: West Side, Bragar

Evander was born at Lochcarron, northeast of Kyle, on 9 August 1894
When he enlisted for service, in the Manitoba town of Sewell in Canada, he stood 5 ft 5 in tall.
He is described as of fair complexion and fair-haired with light blue eyes.
Evander was a Presbyterian, and a carpenter by trade.

Rest in peace.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Napier Commission in Orkney

Transcribing more evidence from the Napier Commission in Orkney, I found it to contain some pretty harrowing stuff - unexpected perhaps. The island of Rousay, northwest of the archipelago's capital Kirkwall, was owned by a General Burroughs. He exercised his law-enshrined powers as landowners to such an extent that his tenants referred to his conduct as "wanton and inconsiderate inhumanity", only marginally diluted to "[being treated in an] utterly inconsiderate and unrighteous manner". The island's minister, Archibald Maccallum, spoke on behalf of most of the island's crofters, followed by an interrogation of others. James Leonard requested an assurance from the landowner that none of the evidence given by him or others would lead to 'consequences' - an assurance that General Burroughs refused to give point blank. In fact, he rebutted the request by saying that if anyone was not happy, they should just go away. The case, presented by Georgina Inkster, was a good demonstration of the general's high-handed attitude. Another exampled was quoted by James Leonard:

A woman [lived] in our island whom the proprietor visited, when she was on her death-bed. She had a small croft, and he would have to leave it, because he was going to give it to another person—a stranger. She said she would never leave it until she was put to a house from which no man could remove her. He said—What house is that?—and she said—' Where I will be buried;' and he struck his stick on the ground and said, ' Would you like to be buried here on this floor?'