• The Last Man of Bereiro

    by  • 28 August 2010 • Emigration, Featured Notes, Genealogy • 1 Comment

    The Uig Landscape Project (Durham University) is looking at sites around Crowlista, including the old settlement of Bereiro at the head of Traigh na Sruban.

    The last inhabitant of Bereiro was Donald Matheson, born about 1794. His father was also Donald Matheson, Domhnall Bàn or An Saighdear Chaluim Bàn, who was in Canada at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758 – more of his story, and a song about him, are here. He returned to Crowlista and raised a family at Bereiro. His son, Donald Jr, joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1815 – or possibly a little earlier – and his personal record in the HBC archive outlines his career:

    1815-1816       Middleman       Fort Hibernia (Fort Pelly) [A Middleman is the middle paddler in a canoe]
    1816-1817       Labourer           Swan River
    1817-1819       Labourer           Red Deer River
    1819-1820       Labourer           Fort Hibernia
    1820-1821       Labourer           Swan River
    11 Sept – 26 Oct 1821                Home to Europe on the Prince of Wales

    His record describes him as 5’5″, with light hair, and “a good man, acts as writer to Mr John Turnor, Assistant Trader”. Evidently he was offered land in Manitoba but he returned to Uig and to Bereiro, where he married Helen Maciver, Carnish, and had three children. About 1834 the family (including Donald Jr’s mother Chirsty Macdonald, but not his father who had died c1831) left Bereiro. At the time that Rev Alexander Macleod was extending his glebe to include that area, and it is likely that their removal from there precipitated their emigration to Cape Breton. They settled at Little Narrows and had nine more children.  The area around the head of Traigh na Sruban remains the property of the kirk and has not been inhabited since, though it is used for sheep by a local crofter.

    The Mathesons of Bereiro are descended – as are most Mathesons in Lewis – from the first of that name on the island. Domhnall Ban, the adventuring soldier who was at Louisbourg in 1758, was the son of Malcolm Matheson, at Valtos until 1773 when he moved to Crowlista (possibly Bereiro, though we have no evidence either way).

    Malcolm’s father was John Matheson, Iain Arainis, tacksman at Arnish (after his own father) until he was pushed out and had later the farm at Lionel. He was taken prisoner by a French privateer in 1704 but was freed, and is reputed to have died at the battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715.

    John’s father was Murdo Matheson, who as a cousin of the then Chamberlain of the Lews, Murdo Mackenzie, came to Uig from the mainland in the mid 1600s, at a time when the ruling Mackenzies were bringing many of their allies to the island. Murdo Matheson settled first at Ardroil and later became tacksman at Arnish. His second wife was Chirsty Macaulay, granddaughter of Dòmhnall Càm, and they had several children.

    EDIT: Thanks to Hugh Macaulay, Canmore AB, for pointing us to the (very probable) burial place of Donald Matheson Jr and his wife Helen/Ellen, at Little Narrows Cemetery, Victoria County, Cape Breton. Their stone reads:

    Donald Matheson, Born at Lewis Scotland, Died Little Narrows, 8 April 1869, Age 75 yrs
    Ellen his wife, born at Lewis Scotland, died Little Narrows, 16 April 1869, Age 65 yrs

    Descendents of the Uig Mathesons are welcome to get in touch and share their connections, either below or on the Forum. We have a new Hudson’s Bay Company page here.

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