Comann Eachdraichd Uig

An Iolaire Survivor

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Translated from an interview with An Geal, John Maclennan, born 1896 at 15 Kneep and married at 4 Aird, Uig. The Admiralty ship the Iolaire taking servicemen home to Lewis grounded on the Beasts of Holm outside Stornoway, on the 1st of January 1919. More than two hundred men perished. Translated by Maggie Smith.

At the end of December 1918, on leave and travelling back to Lewis with other servicemen from Uig, we planned to arrive home on New Year’s day and surprise the families. Approaching Stornoway Harbour on the Iolaire the mistake was made when we changed course. All it required was less than half a point, it just needed to be slightly to the West. The lighthouse was visible, but the man at the wheel didn’t alter the course when he should have.

We never suspected a thing until she hit, it was so quiet and everything was so normal… Only two people escaped from that part of the ship I was in. One brave man swam ashore with a rope and secured it. When the ship grounded she swung round broadside. I remember moving the rope from the stern to the side, but today I don’t quite know how I managed it. A lot of those around me had lost their mind, particularly the younger men. There were no orders from the officers maybe if… If only the ship had grounded closer to the shore, most of those aboard would have been saved. But the rocks we hit were the furthest point from the shore. Although there had been a strong wind it was behind us. I was able to crawl to safety across that rope. The ship sunk eventually and one man was left clinging to the mast until he was rescued. Only seventy five people made it to the shore.

When I got ashore I was shoeless as I had been resting and had taken them off. A lot of the men had taken their shoes off and were lying down, wherever they could get space to rest their head. Reaching the shore I fell into a bog and lost my socks, then I headed for the nearest house, where a huddle of injured people had gathered. I was injured with cuts on my chest, but I never let on to anyone. It was a frosty night and I walked from Holm to Stornoway.

Seeing a sign for the Post Office I headed in that direction. I heard a woman crying. It was Maga (nighean Seonaid Chalum Tharmoid). Maga had met two Uig men who had been on the boat, Uilleam Dubh (William Maclennan 36 Cliff) and (Tuireag) Malcolm Macritchie 7 Aird. They had mentioned I was on the ship, and as they hadn’t seen me since coming ashore, they had come to the conclusion that I too, had been lost.

The Charge Sheet: We Have Waited Long Enough (1913)

On the day in November 1913 when the Reef Raiders drove the stock from Reef Farm, the local Constable made the following report (the list doesn’t correspond exactly to the men identified in the photo):

Charge, Breach of the Peace
Police Station
Miavaig, 28th November 1913

Sir,

I beg to report to you that between the hours of 10am and 1pm on Friday the 28th day of November 1913, on Reef Farm, occupied by Alexander Macrae, Farmer in the Parish of Uig

1. Malcolm Macritchie (64), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Kneep
2. Allan Morrison (56), Married, Crofter, No 3 Kneep
3. Donald Morrison (49), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, No 13 Kneep
4. Murdo Macdonald (52), Married, Squatter, No 2 Kneep
5. John Morrison (48), Single, “alias” Cooper, No 13 Kneep
6. Murdo Mackay (25), Single, (Angus Son), No 30b Valtos
7. Donald Matheson (54), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Valtos
8. Alexander Mackay (41), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Valtos
9. Alexander Macdonald (60), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Valtos
10. Angus Mackay (26), Single, (Norman Son), Fisherman, Valtos
11. Norman Mackay (24), Single, (Malcolm Son), Fisherman, Valtos
12. Donald Morrison (23), Single (Malcolm Son), Fisherman, Valtos
13. James Morrison (20), Single (Murdo Son), Fisherman, Valtos
14. Donald Maclennan (18), Single (Widow John Son), Valtos

all in the Parish of Uig.

Did form in a body and forcibly and unlawfully enter said farm, there gathered together all the sheep about 200 in number, and 5 head of cattle, and drove them to the march stone dyke which they knocked down, and forced them over the broken wall, thereafter drove them together across the moor through Kneep and Uigen to Miavaig public road, thence along the road through Valtos Glen to Timsgarry Farm, occupied by John Macrae, Farmer, all to the terror and alarm of both farmers, and in breach of the public peace.

The Lewis Colony in Duluth, Minnesota

A large number of Lewismen settled in Duluth, Minnesota in the 1870s and 1880s, many becoming prominent citizens in the town. The first was William L Maclennan (1834-1888), son of Donald Maclennan. This family seems to have originated in Kintail or Lochalsh; in 1841 Donald was a shepherd in Bunavoneadar, Harris, and soon thereafter became a small tenant at Kinlochresort, Uig. The family emigrated to Bruce County, Ontario in the 1850s. The following appeared in the Stornoway Gazette in the 1940s:

It is uncertain who were the first Lewismen at the Head of Lake Superior or when they came. It is a well-known fact that in the early days of the Hudson Bay Company, 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. It is known that Morrison County, in the central part of Minnesota, was named for a descendant of the last Brieve of Lewis.

However, the first Lewisman who made his permanent home in Duluth was William L Maclennan, whose home in Lewis was near Loch Hamnaway. His family emigrated to Ontario in the ‘fifties. After a short period there, Mr Maclennan conceived the idea that there might be better opportunities for a young man in the United States, so he moved to Duluth in the late ‘sixties. Duluth was then only a small pioneer town on the outskirts of civilisation. He went into several lines of business in the new town, principally contracting and real estate. He was the builder of the breakwater in Lake Superior that formed what was then the outside harbour of Duluth before the canal was opened to the main harbour.

After settling in Duluth, he brought Miss Julia Macleod to this country in 1872 to be his wife. She was a daughter of Roderick Macleod, a well-known builder in Stornoway at the time. Shortly after they were married, Mr Maclennan became one of the organisers of the first bank in Duluth. After organising the bank, the promoters were looking for a capable man to manage the new bank. Mrs Maclennan suggested Mr AR Macfarlane who at that time was in a bank at Toronto, Ontario. Mr Macfarlane, a native of Stornoway, got his early training in the banks there. Mr Macfarlane accepted the new position, and under his guidance the American Exchange Bank of Duluth grew to be one of the largest in the Northwest. Mr Alexander M Morrison of Stornoway, an acquaintance of Mrs Maclennan and Mr Macfarlane, moved to Duluth in the early ‘seventies. He entered the grocery business and made a success of it.

Miavaig, Carishader and the Bays in 1959

Metropolitan Miavaig

A chapter (abridged) by Annis Heawood from Uig:  A Hebridean Parish (1960).  Photo by Chris Murray.

The district here described includes Gisla, near the head of Little Loch Roag, Enaclete, Ungeshader and Geshader, on the western shores of Loch Roag proper. All these are strung out on or close to the main road. Miavaig, like Gisla, is a small farm but also functions as something of a metropolis for south Uig; it has the post master, whose other functions include registrar and receiver of wrecks, and it has two churches, a telephone exchange, the district doctor and mans, and a petrol pump. At the time of our visit it was also the base for the ‘bus service. Its metropolitan functions arose in the days before the road replaced a ferry boat service from Callanish; here the mails were landed until some date in the 1920s and here to the estate kept coach and horses for transport to Uig Lodge, three miles further west.

There is no record of the original settlement of the four crofting townships, nor of Gisla, which was a township or joint farm of five crofters until about 1850. Some modern houses and bungalows have been built, many with easier access to the road than the old black houses, now often used as byres. Water supply does not seem to present a serious problem because of the extensive moorland gathering grounds to the west, but there are not at present any water-supply schemes. Electricity is, of course, available. Carishader an Enaclete are on the main Stornoway road being served at present by the ‘bus and by vans selling meat, groceries and fish at least once a week. Enaclete has a sub-postoffice. Geshader is less fortunate since, although vans call regularly, ‘buses must be met at the junction of the unsurfaced track and the main Stornoway road, where the school serving this district also stands. The track has been extended in recent years so that it now reaches all the houses. Ungeshader, however , is smaller and although it has had similar delivery arrangements, it is now a dying settlement largely due to its inaccessibility.

Intolerable Postal Facilities, 1920

Stornoway Gazette
Friday, 16 January 1920

WEST UIG MAIL SERVICE

At a meeting held in Crowlista Public School, Miavaig, Lewis, on Tuesday, 30th December 1919 presided over by Col. Lindsay, Morsgail Lodge,Lord Leverhulme’s representative here, and attended by representatives from all the townships of West Uig, it was resolved to lay before the Postmaster General, their grievances and complaints with regard to the very unsatisfactory state of the mail service to and from Miavaig and Callanish.

This is a grievance of long standing, but during the war inconveniences were borne without complaint. Now that the war is over, postal facilities should be improving, but instead, they are actually getting worse, and becoming intolerable.

In November last, the motor launch, that carried the mails between Callanish and Miavaig (being far too small and inequal to the difficulties and dangers of that passage) was disabled and cast upon a desert island, where fortunately, the men, at great risk and peril of life, were able to save themselves, but some of the mails were badly damaged. Since then the conveyance of the mails is dependant on the occasional passage which a sailing boat can effect across the dangerous sound. Owing to rough weather, with contrary winds, tides, etc. it is often unable to make the crossing, consequently great inconvenience, dissatisfaction, delays and losses are caused. 

“Strange Conduct of Lewis Crofters”

Highland News, Monday 13 October, 1884:

The Northern Chronicle publishes the following sensational statement which we trust is somewhat exaggerated:– Mr Wm Mackay, Chamberlain of the Lews, has for some time back been engaged in visiting the different parts of the island for the purpose of collecting rents.  On Monday last week [30 September 1884] he left for Uig, the people of which district were expected, as customary, to come forward and pay their rents on the following day.  The Chamberlain was at Miavaig on Tuesday, to which place a large gathering of crofters and young men marched in a body carrying two banners, on one of which was written “Down with the Landlords” while the other had inscribed on it a Gaelic motto to the effect that the people were stronger than the proprietors.  These banners were conspicuously planted in close proximity to Miavaig House, while the people all clustered together on a hillock within a short distance of the road. 

The crofters were repeatedly asked to come forward to explain the object of their demonstration, but none answered to the call, until Mr Mackay, recognising one of the men, called him by name, when he came forward and handed the Chamberlain a paper containing requests to the effect that they (the crofters) required all the squatters in the Uig district to be removed off their lands and provided with lands elsewhere; also, that statements be furnished accounting for the expenditure of the school rates, taxes, and road assessments collected for a number of years back; and further that the present holdings of the crofters be increased to the same extent as those occupied by their fore-fathers, and to be held at the old rents.