The Valtos Smiths and Calum Olach

From Rev William Matheson’s “History of the Families of Lewis – Smith” published under the pseudonym Mac Gille Chaluim in the Stornoway Gazette in the late 1950s.  See a further story of Calum Olach here.

There was a noted family of Smiths of Valtos, Uig, for whom it has been claimed that they were of the Smiths of Earshader, but the connection is not clear.  [The supposed connection will be the subject of a future postng.] The first of them on record is Calum Bàn, who appears as tenant in Valtos in 1780 and for many years afterwards, and he was certainly an incomer – from Bernera, according to one well-informed source.

In the genealogical notes of the late Malcolm Macleod, schoolmaster at Crowlista, he is called Calum Bàn mac Iain Ghobha.  He may have been a son of John Smith, tacksman of Earshader, though not necessarily of his marriage to the daughter of Murdo Mackenzie, by whom he had Malcolm, tacksman of Laxay.

Calum Ban married Mary Smith, and their son, known as Calum Olach and Calum na Cearraig, was one of the most famous old soldiers of Uig.  He was in the battalion of the 78th Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders), raised in 1804, known in Uig as Saighdeirean Mac a’Mhinisteir.  Physically he was very strong, and though not a bully he sometimes came to blows with oppressors of the weak.

On one occasion he was hauled before his commanding officer, Col Patrick Macleod of Geanies (Mac Fear Ghainn) on a charge of assaulting a number of other men, whose countenances were well marked by his fists.  After he had given his side of the story, the only reprimand he got was, “A bhroiceasaich ghranda, carson nach buail thu mu’n bhroilleach iad?”  The gallant colonel’s chief concern was that his men’s faces should be presentable on the parade ground!

The military instinct remained strong in Malcolm Smith until the last.  Not long before his death a ship put into the roadstead at Valtos, and for some reason a bugle was sounded.  The old warrior reacted at once:  he got up and stood to attention.  His name appears among those who were awarded the General Service Medal of 1847, with clasps for Maida and Java.  He is buried in Valtos Cemetery under a flat stone bearing his initials and the date of his death, 26 May 1858.  He had reached the age of 78.  His wife was Annabella, daughter of Donald Maciver (Domhnall Bàn and t-Sroim) and his son John Smith, [first] schoolmaster at Lochcroistean, was the father of the late Angus Smith OBE, JP, Holm.

12 thoughts on “The Valtos Smiths and Calum Olach

  1. This is very interesting and parts are consistent with a hand written family tree that I got from a cousin recently. The family tree was probably written down about 1950 by Catherine Macleod (born Abt 1857, 18 Cromore). It shows that I am a descendant of John Smith (tacksman of Earshader) through his son Murdo (joint tacksman of laxay with his brothers Malcolm and John). My records show, however, that John Smith was married to the daughter of John MacKenzie (tacksman of Laxay) – the son of Murdo MacKenzie (tacksman of Laxay) – not to Murdo. I would be very keen to clarify this if possible. What is also interesting is that Kenneth MacKenzie (Coinneach Ban) is also linked here somewhere. Some records show him as the son of Murdo MacKenzie (and also a tacksman of Laxay) and others show him as the grandson. If anyone has any further information, it would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Hello Ken,
    I too am a decendent of John Smith (Tacksman of Earshader). Rev.Matheson’s piece says this John’s wife was a daughter of Murdo MacKenzie and that Coinneach Ban was her brother.
    Hope this helps.
    Any info. about how these MacKenzies are connected to the Achilty MacKenzies?

  3. Just seen your comment. Thanks. My family tree suggests that John Smith was married to a daughter of John MacKenzie who was a son of Murdo MacKenzie (tacksman of laxay) – although this could indeed be wrong. Interesting that you mention the Achilty MacKenzies since the family tree I have suggests that Murdo MacKenzie (tacksman of laxay) was descended from the MacKenzies of Achilty but without any details. Hebridean Connections, however, now has a comment that Murdo MacKenzie (tacksman of laxay) may have been a son of Murdo MacKenzie (Murchadh Mor), who was the fourth factor or Chamberlain of the Lews and – I believe – the fourth of Achilty.

  4. The connection to the MacKenzies of Achilty is interesting but at the same time a bit of fun really…because if you trace the Achilty branch back you get to the Scottish Royal family of Bruce!! However, you probably know this already.
    Have you been able to trace where John Smith’s alledged grt.grandfather (Iain Dubh Chraighig) came from? You may know that a few things point towards him being a Morrison from Harris, i.e. the Smiths to Macleod of Harris. How can we confirm this?

  5. Yes, I was aware of the connection with Robert the Bruce and also aware that the link is possibly slightly tenuous – a bit of fun though. I know very little about Iain Dubh Chraidhig other than what you probably already know. I was aware about the link with the Morrisons and about the story about him coming off a ship (I can’t seem to find that story again). Have no idea about how to confirm any this. Would be keen to try if I got a chance though.

  6. Hi Ken, One way to find help confirm the origins of our early known ancestor, Iain Dubh Chraidhig, is if there are any local people in Uig or Harris that are definite, known decendants of the Morrison Smiths of Harris that maybe they could contact us through this forum. Then they could do an ancestry DNA test (that we would pay for entirely) and we could compare to their DNA. If we had a 100% match then we’d we sure where our family originated, and therefore, Iain Dubh Chraidhig if he is releated.

  7. According to the DNA Morrison’s DNA project (if I understand it properly) Iain Dubh Chraidhig is possibly the progenitor of the MacKinnons from Uig and originated from the Morrisons of Taransay. I guess the concern I have would be to convince myself – after so many generations – that a good match suggests where Iain Dubh Chraidhig came from as opposed to telling us where his ancestors now live. Of course I don’t really know much about this so maybe there is some way of confirming these kind of things.

  8. There’s more on the Morrison/Mackinnon question here and also a bit on Mackinnon/Martin here. Mackinnon did not stick as a name in Uig.

    The Barra origin of Iain Dubh Chraidhig seems generally accepted but W Matheson reckons there’s no proof that all the Valtos and Laxay Smiths are descended from him – though if I remember rightly he leaves the possibility open, and doesn’t doubt the Earshader line descends from Iain Dubh.

    I’m of this family too and we have a strong tradition that we are from Iain Dubh. (NB the John Smith Tacksman of Earshader, our mutual ancestor, is (it seems) not of the Earshader Smiths as we now call them, ie those in direct line from Peter/Farquhar/Duncan and closely related to the Bard.)

    I’ll try to find the relevant bit of Matheson.

  9. The group is growing Ken!
    Hi Sarah, thanks for joining. Matheson did say that ‘Chraidhig’ may be a placename but also attempts to prove that he (or his believed decendants) were Harris Morrisons. As tradition information is deminishing with every passing year (!) I’d really like to prove the connection by other scientific means. Hence the talk of DNA tests and the search for known decendants of Harris Morrison Smiths!
    Hi Ken,
    The details on the Morrison DNA website about Iain Dubh are not accurate. I provided them a few years ago and now have better information. I’ve requested it is corrected. Our information about Iain Dubh is he was first mentioned in Uig as an able attendant to Donald Cam Macaulay. Allegidly Iain was captured on a ship by Macaulay and Neil MacLeod (last Lewis Chief) along with his father and mother. Question is why was he and his family spared and why was his correct name not used? Anyway, the idea of how to confirm ones ancestral origins using DNA came from Edwin at the Morrison DNA project. Talking about DNA, something that you guys may or may not know is that our family has definite Norse (not Celtic) blood! Interesting for me personally as my grandfather (Angus Smith, Keose) always said we were related to the Vikings!

  10. Hi Sarah, good to be in touch again. Just to clarify your comment our John Smith not being of the Earshader Smiths. Is this the John Smith (tacksman of Earshader) who I have as the brother of Farquhar and son of Peter/Patrick? Is this link incorrect or am I confusing various John Smiths?

    As far as DNA testing is concerned, I find the concept interesting but really don’t know much about it.

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