The Rev Angus Maciver was the son of Angus Maciver “An Ceistear” (the Catechist). An Ceistear was born in Reef and wrote an account of his early life, including his time in the Hudson’s Bay Company (more of which later), and Rev Maciver supplemented it with a reflection on his father’s later life as a godly but rather rebellious teacher and evangelical preacher. The family lived at Tobson on Great Bernera from 1835 to 1853. This extract from The Life of a Lewis Catechist, published in the Stornoway Gazette in 1971-2, is Rev Maciver’s memory of meeting-house nights in Bernera.
The people of the island coming to the meeting house on winter nights, whether for the purpose of being catechised, or hearing an ordinary lecture and exposition of God’s word, is a scene that no one could ever forget who saw it even once.
The meeting-house is in a hollow, surrounded by jagged, cragged, broken hills all around. From our house could be seen blazes of light comiing from all quarters making for the meeting-house. Before starting from their homes they provided themselves with peats of fire to light them on their way fixed ot an irdon spit, or held in tongs, and a fresh supply of peats under their arms, which directed their steps on the way, for every step must be watchd with the greatest caution.
There was no road of any description, and I would defy any place to be more difficult to walk on a dark night. There were no lanterns in Bernera in those days, nor any paraffin oil. A few families had candles, but the most depended on peat fire light, and lamps in which they used fish oil.
At the beginning of winter, the people provided for the meeting-house a supply of this oil stored in large jars to replenish the lamps. The regularity with which these people came to these meetings, and in such circumstances, is something wonderful to comtemplate, and of which, I believe, there is nothing analogous at this day in Scotland. They must have been receiving real spiritual good, when they continued it all the years that I remember on that Island.
Much more on Angus Maciver to follow.