The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670 by King Charles to exploit the natural resources of the North American Colonies, notably around Hudson’s Bay in northern Canada (as it was to become).
Orkney is famously a source of HBC men but Lewis too sent many sons to spend a few years, or a lifetime, in the challenging conditions. An article in the Stornoway Gazette in the 1940s reports that “they preferred to recruit men for their service in the Isle of Lewis, as Lewismen were found to be very hardy and able to carry on in the severe work of trading, and it was also found that they were more capable of making friends with the Indians of Northwest America than was any other group of people” – though this applied equally to the Orcadians.
Some left from Liverpool or London, and perhaps other ports, but there was a recruiting agent in Stornoway (WR Morrison in 1832) and HBC ships did call at Stornoway en route to or from Orkney. Some men married and stayed on in Canada after leaving the Company and some returned to the islands.
Below are some of the Uigeachs known to have been HBC men. The Company kept excellent records which are now in the Manitoba archives. The personnel records are online, providing detailed information about the men’s careers – linked to after each man’s name as “bio”.
Capadale and Geshader. Farquhar (Fearchar) Macdonald joined HBC in 1832, recruited by the Stornoway agent where he presumably embarked, though he sailed from London later for York Factory on the western shore of Hudson’s Bay. His career included an incredible walk across the continent on the York Factory Express. He left Canada in 1839 and returned to Lewis to find his family had been evicted, so he settled in Geshader. Descendants in Lewis. We hold a copy of his contract of employment.
William J “Big Bear” Maclean
Gisla and Red River. William J Maclean was born at Scaliscro in 1837, son of Angus Maclean, mason, and Ann Macrae, daughter of the farmer Alexander Macrae. The family moved to Gisla about 1854 when Angus was given the farm then in payment for his work on Morsgail Lodge. William emigrated to Canada (his brother Duncan, who remained at Gisla, remembered travelling to Liverpool to see him off) and became factor for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was involved in the Red River Rebellion of 1885 and his entire family was taken hostage at Fort Pitt, but all survived.
Crowlista and Cape Breton. Donald Matheson from Bereiro, Crowlista, joined the Company as a young man in c1815. He served at Fort Hibernia (later known as Fort Pelly), Swan River and Red Deer River between 1815 and 1821 and returned home to Scotland on the Prince of Wales, sailing 11 Sept to 26 October 1821. He married and had several children here before leaving Bereiro about 1827-31 and emigrating to Cape Breton. Descendants in St Louis MO.
Reef, Bernera, Back and Maryburgh (no bio). Angus Maciver was born in Reef (or Pabbay) in 1799 to Neil and Anna nee Macaulay. His schooling was sporadic but he taught himself to read at the age of 15. He worked in Ness and Uig and in 1820 was engaged by HBC for a period of three years. He returned from Canada and was employed at postings in Bernera, Back and Maryburgh as a teacher, missionary and catechist. He was married to Ann Macleod from Valtos, and their son Angus was the minister at Baile na Cille from 1876 to 1889 . Angus Sr died in 1856.
John Macaulay, Uig. 1831-1839. No detail known.
John Macdonald, Timsgarry. 1815-1823. Didn’t return.
Norman Maciver, Pabbay. Born 1810, served 1832-1839. Returned.
William Maciver, Kneep. Born 1817, served 1832-1852.
Other known Lewismen in the Hudson’s Bay Company
The single dates given are the date of recruitment, with the birthdate as well if known. “Stornoway” may hide the fact that the man came from somewhere else on the island.
Kenneth Macdonald, Stornoway (1850)
Murdo Macdonald, Lochs (1832)
Murdo Macdonald, Barvas (“Barras”) (1842)
Roderick Macfarlane, Stornoway (1852)
Donald Maciver, Lochs (1878)
Donald Maciver, Stornoway (b. 1827, 1847)
John Maciver, Barvas (“Barras”) (1850)
John Maciver, Leurbost (1840)
Allan Maciver, Garynahine (1841)
Murdo Maciver, Stornoway (b. 1832, 1852)
Roderick Maciver, Shawbost (1864)
Malcolm Mackay, Barvas (b. 1821, 1841)
Murdoch Mackay, Stornoway (1873)
Alexander Mackenzie, Lochs (1869)
Angus Norman Maclean, Shader (b. 1866, 1889)
Kenneth Mackenzie, Crossbost (1861)
Norman Mackenzie, Barvas (1875)
William Mackenzie, Barvas (1878)
Duncan Maclean, Stornoway (b. 1840, 1862)
Malcolm Maclean, Lochs (b. 1828, 1848)
Malcolm Maclean, Stornoway (1872)
Norman Maclean, Carloway (1864)
Alexander Macleod, Western Isles (1852)
Angus Macleod, Stornoway (1848)
Murdo Macleod, Lochs (1861)
Neil Macleod, Steinish (1840)
Norman Macleod, Stornoway (1848)
Donald Macpherson, Lewis? (1811)
Hector Morrison, Sandwick Hill, Stornoway (b. 1814, 1832)
John Morrison, Stornoway (b. 1857, 1874)
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