Friday, 31 December 2010

92 years ago - 23:59

The year 1918 is drawing to a close and Big Ben in London is about to start striking the midnight hour. Six hundred miles to the north, HMY Iolaire is ploughing her way north through the Minch, passing between Raasay, Rona and the Scottish mainland. The weather, which had been reasonable upon departure from Kyle, is turning increasingly windy. A heavy swell is beginning to rise in response to the strong southerly wind. The lighthouses, which serve as reference points for mariners in the Minch, blink their messages to Iolaire. Milaid, on the rocky cliffs near Kebock Head; Rona; Tiumpan Head on the eastern extremity of the Point Peninsula; and Arnish, near the entrance to Stornoway Harbour.

In dozens of houses in Lewis, glasses are charged to the New Year. The last year of war is ending.
Dry clothes are draped over beds, a stew is heating over the fire. In the blackhouses in Ness, and the town houses of Stornoway. A kettle is at the ready on the stove. A plate, cutlery and cups on the table. From Eoropie to Brenish, from Lemreway to North Tolsta, and between Manor Park and Newton, the same scene is repeated over and over. Only two hours to go, the boat won't make Hogmanay. But it does not really matter, the boys will be home soon.

The clock strikes midnight. It is 1919. 

To be continued

92 years ago today

It is Hogmanay 1918, and the war has been over for seven weeks. Survivors from the Western Front and the war at sea are flocking home. As are hundreds of sailors from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Three trains pull into the harbourside station at Kyle of Lochalsh, and hundreds pour onto the platform and adjoining quayside to join a ferry home. The Skye men can take the short hop to Kyleakin, or join the steamer north to Portree. The sailors and soldiers from the Outer Hebrides have a longer journey ahead of them.

The mailsteamer for Stornoway, the Sheila is alongside at Kyle, but it very rapidly becomes clear that she has nowhere near enough space to accommodate the hundreds that want to go home to Lewis and Harris. So, a cable is sent to the naval base at Stornoway, and Rear Admiral Boyle sends HMY Iolaire to Kyle to relieve the congestion. Iolaire, the former private steamyacht Amalthea arrives in the early evening, bumping into the pier as she docks.

A disorganised scramble occurs, where the throng of men divides between the Sheila and the Iolaire. No record is kept as to who goes on board which vessel. Some start off by boarding the Iolaire, then switch to the Sheila. Others do the reverse swap. Finally, at half past seven, Iolaire casts off and heads north. The Sheila follows suit in short order.

To be continued.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Clearances at Rogart - Janet and Christina Ross

Illustrative of harshness, I am requested to produce the case of Janet and Christina Ross, who succeeded their brother as tenants. In November 1877, one of the sisters attended, as usual, to pay the rent, but the factor, instead of accepting of the rent, told her that they were to be removed from their lot. After making fruitless attempts to get the factor to accept of her rent, she left the money on the table. The factor returned the money by one of their neighbours; but expecting to keep possession, they refused it. Shortly afterwards officers were sent to evict them. Instead of that being done in the ordinary way, they were shut up in a compartment of their dwelling-house till the other compartments and their barn were levelled to the ground, and their stock driven away to the hill. In this houseless condition, and their crop exposed on the field, they were visited by the ground officer, who saw clearly that they could not live without some shelter from the snow storm. A kind neighbour was applied to, and this man took them into his house for three weeks, after which time they were turned back to their old place, to live in one end of the byre which was left standing; and the ground officer, so as to make them more comfortable in their miserable situation, levelled down some manure that happened to be in the byre at the time. All this was done in the presence of three witnesses, who are ready to prove how these creatures were dealt with. As one of these creatures, on a certain occasion, applied to Mr Peacock for relief, the Rev. Mr M'Kay, who happened to be present, asked Mr Peacock if the Duke was aware of how these creatures were abused. Mr Peacock replied that the whole affair was carried out according to the Duke's instructions.
— ALEXANDER BAIN, witness; ALEXANDER GUNN, witness.'

Clearances: Rogart - Alexander Bain

—' The special Grievances of Alexander Bain, Tenant, Carry.—
My uncle George M'Kenzie, on being evicted from Strath-Carnaig, got the lot I now occupy which is situated in the tenants' pasture on the south side of Strathfleet. The lot is high and cold, and very much exposed to the north storm. I was adopted and brought up by my uncle, and his constant kindness induced me to devote as much as possible of my time to the improving of his lot, and by my own labour I reclaimed seven acres of moorland. After my uncle's death I expected to succeed him as tenant, but on account of some rent arrears left by my uncle, I was refused possession unless I would pay these arrears, which I considered illegal and unjust, consequently I was summonsed; and having occasion to be away on a certain day about the middle of July 1877, on my returning home in the evening I found my delicate wife, with my weak and numerous family, and all my furniture, turned out to the field, and all the doors locked. My first endeavour was to kindle a fire and cook a meal for my family, which 1 had to do in an earthen bank, and under drenching rain. I made several applications to get possession, but without success. At last the Duke and his factor came to the place, and stood in the hut I rudely built for protection. When his Grace was leaving I asked, what was to become of me now with my delicate wife and weak family. His Grace's reply was, " You are entirely in Mr Peacock's hands, and attend at the office Tuesday first." When I got there I was told the old story, viz., that I would get no settlement unless I would agree to pay the arrears of rent, and that in future the rent of my lot would be £9, 14s. instead of £ 3 , 7s. 6d., my uncle's rent. However, my rent was reduced to £6, but I had to pay the arrears, which I still feel a burden.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

An Uig soldier

Donald Matheson Fraser was born in 1891 in South Gairloch in Wester Ross, a son for Duncan Fraser (a gamekeeper) and Mary Matheson. By 1914, Mary is no longer alive. Donald is a student at the Heriot School in Edinburgh. On 9 December of that year, he joins the Royal Scots and is sent to the Western Front. With the exception of a gunshot wound, sustained in 1916, and a few episodes of illness, Donald comes through the campaign unscathed. But on 26 September 1917, he is reported missing, which is quickly changed to killed in action.

His father has by then moved to Invershin, a small village in Sutherland near Lairg, and receives the news of the death of his son. Donald's personal effects are sent to Duncan, which includes religious books, a wallet, a photo, letters and a bible.

Donald is remembered on the Tyne Cot memorial in Flanders, but his exact last resting place is unknown. He is also commemorated on the memorial at Timsgarry in Uig, Lewis.

Image copyright Uig Historical Society

Son of Duncan Fraser, of Achnairn, Lairg, Sutherlandshire, and of the late Mary Matheson Fraser.
Service unit: 2nd Royal Scots
Service number: 18744
Date of death: 26 September 1917 at the age of 25
Killed in action in France
Memorial: Tyne Cot Memorial, panel 11 to 14 and 162
Local memorial: Uig, Timsgarry

Monday, 13 December 2010


The Stornoway Gazette writes on 27 December 1918:

A deep gloom was cast over the island of Scarp when the sad intelligence was received of the sudden death of Pte Donald Maclennan, Royal Engineers, on the 18th ult. Pte Maclennan had been ill for some time prior to enlistment and had only been five weeks in the Royal Engineers, stationed at Kingston-on-Thames. Great sympathy is extended throughout the whole township to his sisters in their sore bereavement. Deceased was of a very cheerful and obliging disposition, and was a great favourite among his wide circle of friends. He was the friend of everyone and everyone was his friend. Deceased was 43 years of age and was unmarried.

Pioneer D Maclennan
Son of Mr. and Mrs. Finlay Maclennan, of Scarp, Harris.
Regiment: Royal Engineers, Inland Waterways and Docks
Service number: WR/339099
Date of death: 15 November 1918 at the age of 44
Cemetery: Scarp Burial Ground
An image of his gravestone can be seen on this link, courtesy War Graves Photography Project.

Looking into Donald's family history, the 1901 Census sheds some light. The following individuals were found to reside at No 2 Scarp.

Finlay Maclennan, aged 56, crofter
Donald Maclennan, aged 25, fisherman
Euphennia Maclennan, aged 22, crofter's daur
Christina Maclennan, aged 19, crofter's daur
Mary Maclennan, aged 14, crofter's daur
George Maclennan, aged 12, scholar

The name Euphennia is probably mistranscribed from Euphemia; daur means daughter.

In the 1891 census, Finlay's wife, Catherine Maclennan, is mentioned with this family. There is also a son, Donald J Maclennan, two years younger than Donald, who is not present in 1901. The mother, Catherine, died in the early hours of the morning 14 November 1896, aged 51. She appears to have suffered a very serious accident; no doctor was present to certify her death. The problems with access to Scarp led to the abandonment of the island by its last permanent inhabitants in 1971.

HMCS Galiano

Neil Maclean was one of 39 sailors on board His Majesty's Canadian Ship Galiano, lost in October 1918 when his vessel sank in a violent storm off the coast of British Columbia. Neil was the son of Maggie and the late Neil Maclean of 14 Leurbost in Lewis,  and was aged 34 when he was lost.

The last words ever heard from the Galiano were "The hold's full of water, for God's sake send help". However, no help could be sent due to 110 mph winds, and after the storm subsided hardly any trace of the vessel could be found. The Galiano was the only Canadian navy vessel lost in the First World War.
Information courtesy Dave Kiffer,, Ketchikan, Alaska.

This post is dedicated to the memory of the crew of the Galiano, listed here.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Tribute: John Maclennan, Reithmir, Valtos

I came across this tribute to John Maclennan, who is not recognised as war dead, since his demise was caused by influenza, and not related to the war.

On Thursday 7 November 1918, the death took place of John Maclennan, son of Widow John Maclennan [Margaret Buchanan], Reithmir, Valtos. He had been suffering from influenza for over a week when other complications set in, to which he succumbed on Thursday as stated. He was a fine gentle lad, pleasant in his manners, and a general favourite with all. He was over 18 years old, had joined the RNVR and had received his calling up notice for Friday [8 November] the day, after his death. Much sympathy is felt for his widowed mother and his brothers in their very sore bereavement. The funeral, which was delayed for the arrival of his brother Murdo, took place to Valtos Cemetery.

Spanish flu

As I progress with my transcription of tributes from the Stornoway Gazette for 1918, references to the "mystery illness", later identified as "influenza", begin to crop up. It starts as early as July 1918, and several islanders succumb to the 'flu, usually through the complication of pneumonia. Don't forget, this was the era before the advent of antibiotics; the discovery of penicillin was still another 15-20 years away. The pandemic, which lasted from 1917 until 1920, was to claim 50 to 100 million lives.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Boer War casualties from Lewis

I have managed to track down 4 soldiers from the Isle of Lewis who were killed during the Second Boer War in South Africa, around 1900.

John Mackenzie
Born: 23 June 1873
Last address in Lewis: 5 Laxay
Son of Alexander and Catherine Mackenzie
Regiment: 3rd Seaforth Highlanders
Killed by a shell in 1900
Mentioned on Kinloch Memorial, Laxay

Alexander Macaulay
Born: 8 November 1873
Last address in Lewis: 10 Keose
Son of Angus and Christina Macaulay
Killed during the Second Boer War

Angus Chisholm
Born: 1870
Last address in Lewis: 10 Lemreway
Son of Kenneth and Mary Chisholm

J Macleod
Last address in Lewis: 1 Upper Shader
Regiment: Scots Guards
Date of death: 24 November 1899


The tributes from the Stornoway Gazette for 1918 have yielded another tidbit to be able to add more information to one casualty: Roderick Macdonald, 23 East Street, Sandwick. His date of death was marked as unknown in the Roll of Honour. However, a date of death of 11 April 1918 from the tribute has allowed me to track the following CWGC information.

Last address in Lewis: 23 East Street, Sandwick
Service unit: 2nd South African Infantry
Service number: 13116
Date of death: 11 April 1918
Killed in action in France
Interred: Messines Ridge British Cemetery, grave V. C. 14
Local memorial: Lewis War Memorial

There was a South African contingent serving on the Western Front, but I have (as yet) not been able to track Roderick down on their on-line files. 

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Lady Grange on St Kilda

Rachel Chiesley, who is also known as Lady Grange, died in 1745 after spending 13 years in enforced exile on remote islands off the Scottish west coast. In 1732, she separated from her husband, James Erskine, Lord Grange and Lord Advocate. She accused him of having Jacobite leanings, something that caused her to be declared insane. Lady Grange was declared dead, but whilst her funeral was in progress, she was being shipped off to the Scottish west coast.

The first two years of her exile were spent in the Monach Isles, six miles west of North Uist. In 1734, she was transferred to St Kilda, where she apparently lived in miserable circumstances - in a cleit. After being spirited off the island in a hurry in 1740, she was taken to various other locations, but finally ended her days in Skye, where she died in 1745.

I wonder whether the account of her story was an inspiration to Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, which is set at around the same time. An extensive account can be read on Wikipedia.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Now commemorated

I am proud to announce that thanks to the efforts of myself and an Aberdeenshire based researcher, Private Finlay McLean, 10th Bn. Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) is now remembered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Finlay was the son of John and Henrietta McLean; and the husband of Catherine McLean, of Partick. Although he originated from 4 North Street, Sandwick near Stornoway in Lewis, he latterly lived at 48 Milton Street in Partick, Glasgow.

It came to my attention last April that Finlay Mclean could not be located on the CWGC registers. I collected the necessary evidence and forwarded it to the other researcher, who submitted the file to the Ministry of Defence. The MOD has approved the inclusion of Finlay on the CWGC register, meaning he has now Come In From the Cold.

Finlay, Rest in Peace.Your sacrifice will never be forgotten.

I quote his CWGC entry
Initials: F
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Unit Text: 10th Bn.
Age: 27
Date of Death: 05/05/1918
Service No: 16895
Additional information: Son of John and Henrietta McLean; husband of Catherine McLean, of Partick.

N.B.: This casualty has recently been accepted for commemoration by the Commission. However, it will not be possible to add his name to this Memorial immediately. Please contact the Commission before planning a visit, for more information.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Addenda Panel

Disaster to Halifax

On December 6th, it will be 93 years ago since the Great Explosion at Halifax. The Nova Scotia Archives, tweeting on, reminded me of this event. The strong bonds between Lewis and Canada were implicitly shown by the inclusion of this article in the Stornoway Gazette a week after the disaster.

Stornoway Gazette, 14 December 1917

20,000 homeless
On Thursday morning of last week, a great part of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was wrecked by the explosion on a munition ship in the harbour, which collided with a large steamer containing food provisions for Belgium. Fires broke out in the part of the city nearest the harbour. Over 2000 people, it is said, were killed by the explosion and the falling of buildings.

Fierce Blizzard
Later news, on Monday morning, says that terrible suffering among the homeless population of Halifax has followed in the wake of the great disaster which swept the city on Thursday morning. A fierce blizzard is driving in from the Atlantic, and has cut off the stricken city from all direct communication with th eouter world. No trains reached Halifax on Sunday and the snow storm is interfering greatly with the work of relief among the inhabitants. The fires which spread throughout the city immediately after the explosion, and which in some instances burned for several days, have now been extinguished, and search is being made for the bodies of the killed and those seriously wounded who may still be lying buried beneath the wreckage. The heaviest loss of life was, unfortunately, amongst children. In some areas, whole schools were totally destroyed, every child in them being killed, and the loss of life among those innocent little ones alone rode into hundreds.

4000 Dwellings Destroyed
Twenty thousandof the survivors of this greatest disaster in Canada's history are homeless and destitute. Every building, not only in Halifax but in Dartmouth and other surrounding cities, was more or less damaged.
It is learned that the munition ship carried 4000 tons of the terrific explosive known as TNT. The force of the explosion was so great that a 40-foot tidal wave followed in the wake of the explosion and washed over the main lines of the rail road, sweeping 300 freight cars, 100 passenger coaches and 20 locomotives from the rails, and round houses, damaging most of them beyond repair.
Hospital cars and supplies are being sent from all parts of the States and Canada.