Sunday, 27 March 2011

Napier witnesses: Geocrab

Roderick Ross, aged 63, is one of two witnesses from Geocrab in the Bays area of Harris. In the 1881 census, his address is merely given as "Crofters Dwelling House", without specific reference to any village. However, I have put in the search criteria as enumeration district 4, which encompasses Geocrab. His year of birth is given as 'about 1825', making him about 58 years of age - according to the census data. Roderick is a crofter.

Roderick's household is a large one in 1881. He is married to Marion, aged 44 (also recorded as a crofter), and they have seven children. Archibald, aged 18, is a fisherman. Ann, aged 16, is a general servant domestic, but is in her parents' house at the time of the census. Mary (14), Mary Jessie (12), Margret (10), Rachel (8) and Jane (6) are all scholars. All members of this family are recorded as being born in Harris.
The 1891 census shows the same family, minus Ann and Mary, as living at Geocrab, with Roderick now holding the occupation of farmer. Twenty years earlier, they are once again shown at Geocrab, with an older daughter Marion (then aged 10) also as part of the family. Roderick is then a road contracter. Finally, in 1861, we find the first reference to Roderick in the censes for South Harris. He is at that time married to Marion, but as yet without a family. However, the eldest daughter might well have been on her way by then. Roderick's occupation in 1861 is recorded as Wool Constable. That is an occupation I have been unable to trace in the various listings of occupations from the Victorian era, so if anyone knows what that entailed I'd be much obliged.

It should be noted that although Roderick was a Road Contracter in 1871, this had nothing to do with the construction of the Golden Road, which runs through the Bays area of Harris. This was to be constructed from 1897 onwards, with the last link to Cluer completed in the 1940s. The evidence by Alexander Davidson, who pled for the construction of a roadlink through the Bays, contributed to it being laid down.

Roderick's family roots required casting the web a bit wider, but in the end I found a Rory Ross, Rory being of course a contracted form of Roderick (or Ruairidh in Gaelic). He was aged 30 in 1851, marked as a Farmer's Son Constable in Geocrab. His parents were "Archabled" [Archibald] and Mary (nee Shaw), aged 69 and 50 respectively. Rory is shown with siblings John (25), Donald (23) and Margret (20). Their father is a farmer of 6 acres employing no labourer. In 1841, they are living in Strond, with Archibald as a tenant. The family also includes Ann (18) and Catherine (18).

Roderick Ross passed away on 25 May 1893 at the age of 78 after a five-day bout of enteririts.

Donald Morrison presented me with quite a few problems in research. The Napier report quotes him as living at Geocrab, but the Donald Morrison at Geocrab that the census records show up to 1881 in fact passed away in July 1882 - nearly a year before the Commission arrived in Harris. My guess is that the other Donald Morrison from South Harris, who lived in Strond in 1881, could have been the witness at Obbe. However, there is too much uncertainty for me to give his family history.

Edit: I am happy to refer to Direcleit's comment below for an acceptable suggestion for the Donald Morrison referred to here.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that Roderick Ross is listed as a Constable in 1851 & 1861 when, taking 1818 as the year of his birth, he would have been 33 & 43 respectively. If he was a Police constable, did they retire at 50, perhaps? I think that 1818, rather than 1825, is probably correct for his birth year because the 1841 record for the family shows him as being 20 which makes sense as a 23 year-old would have their age rounded-down to the nearest multiple of 5. This applied to all those over the age of 15.

    Donald Morrison of Geocrab is first found in the 1841 census as a Tenant in Geocrab with his wife and 4 children. There is a 60 year-old Marion Campbell there too and I shall return to her later. He is listed in the censuses of 1861 & 1871 as a Crofter and in that of 1851 as a Farmer of 5 acres employing no labour. His wife, Mary, has borne him 8 children aged from 1 to 19. his mother-in-law, Marion Macdonald, was formerly a Weaveress and living with them.
    A decade later sees 7 of the children still living with their parents and Marion Macdonald the mother-in-law has become Marion Campbell mother-in-law, the same Marion Campbell who we first met in 1841. This reminds us of the old custom for a widow to sometimes revert to her maiden name. In this instance, we now know that Mary Morrison was born Mary Macdonald to Marion Macdonald, MS Campbell; unless she was born Mary Campbell to Marion Campbell MS Macdonald!
    By 1871 it looks as if Mary has died and Donald is left with 4 of his children and a grandchild.
    Like you, i have not been able to pin-point him in 1881 but looking at his evidence to the Napier commission convinces me that this is the same man whose words are recorded there.