Sunday, 28 November 2010


In recent months, I have been transcribing parts of the reports from the Napier Commission, whose findings were instrumental in bringing about major changes in land management and land ownership in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Having covered the Western and Northern Isles, I am now working my way through the reports for Sutherland, and this afternoon, I reached the evidence for Helmsdale. And, contained in the answer to question 38252 is vindication for my negative stance towards a statue, entitled "Exiles", which was erected near Helmsdale in July 2007.
38252. [Lord Napier, Chairman] Then you stated that the expatriated people, some of them, found their way to America, where they experienced a worse fate. What ground have you for believing that the emigrants generally experienced a worse fate ?

[Angus Sutherland, witness] The fate of my great-grandfather's family. My great-grandfather's family, except himself, all went out in Lord Selkirk's expedition to the Red River. My grandfather was married before he went out, and I have seen in my grandfather's house and my father's house a pile of correspondence describing the vicissitudes they underwent. They were left exposed on the north coast, and they had to find their way from Hudson's Bay to the Red River settlement; and they were exposed to the rigours of a lengthened winter, and, to crown all, the Indians came in and killed some of them, and the rest fled over the winter's snow to Canada. Only seven or eight managed to survive and settle in Canada afterwards.

I copy part of a post I made in July 2007, on the subject of the statue:
The statue [...] shows a family, leaving their homes for a new life overseas. Helmsdale lies at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, one of many valleys in Sutherland cleared of their residents in the 19th century. The full background story can be read here.

Whilst I applaud the efforts of Mr Macleod (who initiated the project) to keep the memory of the Clearances alive, I somehow find the positive gloss being cast on this appalling episode in Scotland’s history very, very difficult to stomach.

It would appear, reading Angus Sutherland's words from 127 years ago, that those leaving Strath Kildonan met a far worse fate than remaining in northern Scotland would have brought. And it makes a complete mockery of the reasoning behind the erection of the statue.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Bàthadh Chunndail

This is an event in the history of Ness which occurred in 1885. Twelve fishermen were lost as they were setting out from the bay at Cunndal, west of Eoropie. Angus Morrison, 36 Eoropie, was the skipper and his remains were the last to be recovered from the sea. He was buried on the machair nearby, just above Eoropie Beach (Traigh Shanndaigh). A memorial cairn has been placed there.

Today, a ceremony was held at the Comunn Eachdraidh in Habost (Ness) to commemorate the loss, and to dedicate a new memorial cairn to remember all those lost, 125 years ago. The event was to have taken place at Traigh Shanndaigh, but due to the inclement weather it was relocated indoors.

I apologise for the scant information available, which is based on a reference in the report of the 2006 Ness Archeological Landscape Survey. Apparently, more info is held at the CE Nis office; if I learn more, I shall add it to this post.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Missing from the Lewis War Memorial

This story starts on 13th December 1866, when Kenneth Maciver, a fisherman from Coll, Isle of Lewis, wed his bride, Mary Munro, a domestic servant, living in the same village. Kenneth was the son of crofter Colin Maciver and Margaret Matheson. Mary was the daughter of grieve Alexander Munro and Janet Macdairmid.

Nearly fifteen years after their marriage, the enumerators for the 1881 census found Kenneth and Mary with their children Alexander (aged 13), James (11), Murdo (9), Donald (3) and Margaret (1). The child called Donald was born on 4 February 1878, and he is the subject of this article. Kenneth and Mary had twelve children in all, but by the beginning of 1917, only five were left alive.

On 14 April 1889, Kenneth and his family embarked the emigrant ship “Scandinavian” for Canada at Glasgow. They were among about 300 Scottish and Irish emigrants who were seeking a new life in the colonies. Upon arrival in Halifax, they proceeded inland and settled at the Lothian colony, 60 miles southeast of present-day Saskatoon.

Whilst still in his teens, Donald, now known as Dan, along with Malcolm Docherty (...) journeyed to Winnipeg and joined the Canadian Dragoons. On 19 October 1899, again at Winnipeg, he joined the Canadian Special Service Forces for the war in South Africa. Fourteen months and twenty-three campaigns later, he was discharged on Christmas Day 1900, bearing the Queen's Medal with four clasps (Paardeberg, Driefontein, Cape Colony and Transvaal).

Fourteen years later, the spectre of war once more descended over Europe and Daniel responded quickly. Six weeks after the outbreak of war, he enlisted at the Valcartier barracks in Quebec on 17 September 1914. On his attestation paper he was quoted as a Real-Estate Agent, with his father Kenneth Mcivor (sic) living in Saltcoats, Saskatchewan, although elsewhere Maciver senior is listed at Barvas, Saskatchewan. This hamlet is located a dozen miles north of Saltcoats. On enlistment, Daniel is described as 5 ft 10 (1.77 m) tall, of fair complexion with brown eyes and brown hair. A mole was seen at the centre of his back. He professes to be of the Presbyterian faith.

Daniel, an accomplished soldier by all accounts, does well on the fields of battle, and is promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant-Major in the 5th battalion Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment), the Fighting Fifth. He is Mentioned in Despatches twice, a distinction in itself. References to a Distinguished Conduct Medal being awarded to Daniel Maciver are, unfortunately, incorrect. He is offered to opportunity to return to Canada for further promotion, but he declines, wishing to remain “with the game”, to quote a contemporary newspaper cutting.

On 28th April 1917, the battle for Vimy Ridge is nearly over when Company Sergeant Major Daniel Maciver is killed in action. He was aged 41. The news took a few weeks to filter through to his father in Canada. It took another few weeks for the news to make it to the columns of the Stornoway Gazette. This is a transcript of that article, dated June 1917.

From the "Yorkton Enterpise" (Sask, Canada) to hand we cull the following:-
"Word was received by Mr Maciver, Saltcoats, on 19th May, that his son, Sergt Major Dan Maciver, D.C.M. of the Fighting Fifth battalion, had been killed in action. Dan, who was well known and a prime favourite throughout the district, was born at Coll, Lewis, Scotland, and came to Canada with his parents in 1889, settling in the Lothian Colony. Whilst still in his teens, Dan, along with Malcolm Docherty (now Major Docherty, DSO) journeyed to Winnipeg and joined the Canadian Dragoons. When the South African War broke out, he was one of the first to volunteer for active service, taking part in no less than twenty-three campaigns. At the outbreak of the present conflict Dan again showed his military spirit by enlisting and went overseas with the first contingent. After reaching France, he gave a splendid account of himself, and was promoted on the field to the rank of Sergt.-Major, being also frequently mentioned in despatches for bravery and coolness in action. Some time he was offered the chance to return to Canada for promotion, but preferred to stay with the game. His death is the fourth that has occurred in the family within the last five years, and he is survived by his parents and two brothers and two sisters out of a family of twelve."

A year last Christmas, Sergt.-Major Maciver paid a visit to the haunts of his youth at Coll, and needless to say had a very cordial welcome.[end of article]

Daniel Maciver was named Donald by his parents, but seems to have adopted Dan or Daniel as a first name in Canada. His surname appears to have modified a little as well; his service record in the Canadian Army is under the name of Mcivor. Taking all the historical documentation into account, there can be little doubt that this is the story of Daniel Maciver, a Lewis-born soldier who served with distinction, and made the supreme sacrifice for King and country.

It is therefore puzzling that his name was omitted from the war memorials at Stornoway and Back. Neither is he included in Loyal Lewis Roll of Honour 1914-1918. However, even the Lewis War Memorial does not list all the names of those lost in the Great War, and neither is the Roll of Honour comprehensive, complete and correct. However, it has transpired that he is also not listed in the first volume of the regimental history of The Royal Canadian Regiment (by Fetherstonaugh, covering 1883-1933).

Daniel Maciver is remembered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and through an inscription on the Vimy Memorial near Arras, France.

Friday, 12 November 2010

To be remembered

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has put the details of Evander Macleod, who drowned in the torpedoing of HMS Otway in July 1917, neatly on its website. Following the heavy loss of Lewis sailors in that sinking, the Stornoway Gazette also made mention of their names. Evander has since slipped under the radar. The Roll of Honour, published in 1921, does not refer to his death; the Lewis War Memorial does not mention him, and neither does the Point War Memorial at Garrabost, only a few miles from his former home at 34 Lower Bayble.

The loss of life during WW1 was, proportionately, heavy in the Isle of Lewis, and it is only to be expected that a few unfortunates will be missed in transcription. I trust that in time for Remembrance Sunday, Evander will be given the proper place amongst the ranks of island men who made the supreme sacrifice during the Great War.

Last address in Lewis: 34 Lower Bayble
Son of Angus and Maggie MacLeod, of 34, Lower Bayble, Stornoway.
Service unit: Royal Naval Reserve, HMS Otway
Service number: 4028B
Date of death: 22 July 1917 at the age of 34
Drowned in torpedoing of ship
Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial, panel 26

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Scottish and Southern Energy have announced that a decision on the interconnector, the subsea electricity cable, has been deferred. This means that the construction of various renewables projects in Lewis will be delayed as well. These vary from the Eishken and Pairc Windfarms to the Shader Barrage and community windfarms. Indirectly, it also affects the Pairc buy-out, which is inextricably linked to the proposed Pairc Windfarm.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has reacted angrily to the news, saying it will cost the island economy £2.5 million per annum.

I will only go so far as to say that an expression of regret would be sheer hypocrisy on my part. I only regret a delay to the Shader Barrage.

An MEP has commented, saying he intends to raise the profile of the interconnector at European level, in order that funding can be directed that way. He claims it is in the national interest.

Edited to include links and reference to MEP's comment

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Putting his age on

Many a youngster would tell a white lie when trying to enlist in the armed forces, early in the 20th century. It is referred to as "putting your age on", in other words, saying you're older than you are.

I found a good example in a Lewis soldier, James Macleod, who was born in Callanish as an illegitimate child. In February 1912, he enlisted with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and told the recruiting officer he was 17 years and 2 months. As James was born on 24 January 1897, he was in fact not much older than 15 years and 2 weeks. His height was 5 feet 3½ inches and only weighed 120 lbs, 54 kg.

Six years after joining the Argylls, James was killed in action near Ypres on 8 May 1918. His body was never recovered, but his name is inscribed on the Tyne Cot memorial at Zonnebeke, 6 miles northeast of Ypres. A few days ago, I saw aerial footage from 1919 of the battlefields around Ypres, and of the village of Passchendaele, which was all but obliterated. After the Germans were pushed back from Ypres in 1917, they tried to regain their lost territory in 1918, but finally failed in September of that year.

This week, the website is offering free access to British army service records, which is how I managed to fill the gaps for James Macleod. His mother, Isabella, had moved to Stornoway by the time of the death of her son. When she gave birth, her occupation was marked as Domestic Servant. A few months after James had fallen, she wrote to the (Army) Records Office in Perth. I reproduce the text of the letter. Part of it is illegible due to a hole in the paper, as shown in the scan.

"Mrs Bella McLeod
8 Mackenzie Street

To Records Officer, Office Perth

Dear Sir,

Would you [...] me (his mother) of the late (killed in action (L/Cpl James Mcleod) 2 Bn Arg + Suth Hghns [Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders] Regt No S/43023 has any of his belongings come to hand. As far as I know, he had a wrist watch, Signet Ring, Pocket Folding mirror, Pocket Book or Wallet containing photos etc also a pocket knive [sic]. It would greatly oblige me if you could let me know at the earliest & how to  claim same.

I remain

Yours V. Truly

Mrs B. Mcleod"

The records do not relate whether the items, if any, were returned to Bella. She received a claims form, which was sent back to Perth, but that is were the records for James Macleod end.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Maritime safety (II)

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Red Duchess at Stornoway on 11 Nov. 2009, discharging coal"]Red Duchess at Stornoway on 11 Nov. 2009, discharging coal[/caption]

The merchant vessel Red Duchess lost engine power off the Isle of Rum this morning, but retains electrical power. It is currently southwest of the island, drifting towards Harris Bay. It is capable of lowering an anchor into 20 metres (70 feet) of water if necessary. The emergency tug Anglian Prince is on its way, but will take another five hours to reach the site of the emergency. A coastguard helicopter is on stand-by to airlift crew off the vessel if required.

The Red Duchess was on its way to Stornoway with a cargo of coal (hope nobody is desperate for coal just now).

This incident once more highlights the complete lunacy of withdrawing the cover provided by the MCA tugs.

Pairc buy-out

The longest running buy-out saga in the Western Isles, that of the Pairc Estate, continues to be a messy affair. Last Friday, the deadline passed for any submissions regarding this process, but the estate owner, Mr Lomas, continues to contrive obstructions for the buy-out bid to proceed. For instance, he is seeking to get more than £760,000 from the Pairc Trust for legal expenses in opposing their buy-out bid.

Today, EcoHeb, the association of community-owned renewable energy companies in the Western Isles, has urged the Scottish Government not to delay a decision on the Pairc buy-out any further.

I could not agree more.

The reason for Mr Lomas's procrastination is that a planning application for a windfarm on the Pairc Estate is also outstanding from the Scottish Government. An approval of that application would skyrocket the price of the estate, placing it beyond the financial means of the Pairc Estate.