Islay Guide of 1863

Sue Visser of the Islay Genealogy list sent me a chapter of a Scottish Travel Guide from 1863. The official title is "Guide to the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland, including Orkney and Zetland" and is written by George Anderson and Peter Anderson of Inverness, as said in the year 1863 when the world looked a whole lot different from today and when Islay had 13,000 inhabitants. The chapter Sue sent me is the one from Islay of course.

The author embarks on the Islay steamer "Islay" from Tarbert and arrives at Port Askaig. In the paragraph about Bowmore he writes: "After resting at Bridgend, proceed we now the metropolis of Islay, the village of Bowmore, lying about three miles south-west from Bridgend, and on the shore of Loch-in-Daal; a continuation of tile-roofed cottages extending partially along the shore from Bridgend. Bowmore is of considerable size, containing a population of from 900 to 1200 inhabitants. It was commenced in 1768, and is judiciously and regularly planned; but the plan has been but indifferently observed, houses being permitted to be erected from any size, shape, or material, suited to the means and views of the builder."

The author then continues his journey towards Port Ellen and heads on towards Kildalton where he writes: "Onwards a mile or two is the farm and house of Ardmore. From this quarter of the island, a good view is presented of the opposite coast of Cantyre towards Campbelltown, and the Mull of Cantyre. In clear weather also, the Irish coast is discernible to the naked eye. From Ardmore, round the coast to Port Askaig, there is scarcely any object of interest to reward the toil of exploring it. But if it suits the tourist's time and purpose better than returning by Bowmore and Bridgend to Port Askaig, he can easily make the latter place, from Laggavoulin or Ardmore, in the course of one day, though at the expense of some bodily fatigue."

As you can see the author had a nice way with words. On the main Islay Info site you can read the entire Islay chapter. Enjoy!

Tag: islay guide history

Book John Ramsay of Kildalton Available Online

I read today that the entire book about John Ramsay of Kildalton, by Freda Ramsay, is now available online via The book describes his life on Islay and includes a diary of his trip to Canada in 1870. This book is interesting for both genealogists and those who have an interest in the rich history of Islay. And even if you don't want to read it, the book is also interesting for the many old pictures and drawings of old Islay and its people. The foreword in the book is written bij J. Keiller Mackay and explains why John Ramsay made his trip to Canada:

Rarely have I been privileged to read a story as impressive and touching as that recorded in the diary of John Ramsay, Esq., depicting the incidents of his journeyings in Canada in the year 1870, at which time he visited the new homes of those who had been his tenants on the Island of Islay, Argyllshire, and had later emigrated to the Province of Ontario where they settled and prospered in the counties of Ontario, Victoria, Simcoe, Grey and Bruce.

Several years earlier Mr. Ramsay, realizing that the land on the Island of Islay could not sustain its everincreasing population, had the practical vision to see that those courageous and determined Scots, if given an opportunity in the New World, had the capacity, industry and determination for success to a degree which they themselves did not visualize. In order to facilitate their emigration he arranged with the steamship company for substantially reduced fares and in some cases paid the fares himself. In the years 1862-63 about four hundred Islay people settled in Canada.

Mr. Ramsay's concern for the welfare of Scottish emigrants generally is further evidenced in the early pages of his diary by his visit to those Highlanders from the island of Lewis who had settled in the vicinity of Stornoway and Lake Megantic in the Eastern Townships of the Province of Quebec.

Direct link to the book

Tag: history john ramsay kildalton

The Tragic Sinking of HMS Otranto

Many Were Held by the Sea - A Book Review by Ileach editor Carl Reavey

It is difficult for my generation to appreciate just how awful life must have been on Islay during 1918. Around two hundred men from the island had gone off to fight and been killed in the First World War. Hundreds more would have been wounded, to return home maimed, shell-shocked and traumatised by the carnage they experienced. Others were simply missing, absent, perhaps alive, perhaps not. Every day, the papers would have delivered the casualty lists to families exhausted by the worry, drained by the privation, and anything but certain that the world would ever return to its senses.

To make matters worse, in February that year, HMS Tuscania, one of the first troopships to carry the raw American recruits across the Atlantic to provide fresh cannon fodder for Flanders Fields had been torpedoed in the North Channel, and hundreds of men had washed up dead or barely alive against the cliffs of the Oa. Islay men and women had gathered their bodies, fed and clothed the survivors, laid the dead as best they could into carts, brought them home and then buried hundreds with all the dignity they could muster.

That was February. Living in our cossetted world, it is difficult to imagine that things could get worse, but they did. Much worse. Into this Dante-esque inferno marched Spanish influenza. The statistics are scary. Around a quarter of the entire world population was infected, and somewhere between three and ten percent of all human beings on the planet died of the disease, which seemed to afflict healthy young men in particular. Men kept in close quarters with their fellows, in trenches, barracks and troopships. Continue reading....

Book Review: A Genius for Money

Plutocrats and patrons; the leviathan Morrison Lairds - book review by Margaret Storrie

On 2 December 1847 Walter Frederick Campbell of Islay, with his estates of Islay and Woodhall, was sequestrated. Estate and personal spending had been greater than income, debts had escalated during the difficult years after the Napoleonic Wars and amounted to £800,000, equivalent to almost half a billion pounds today. Trustees were appointed to raise as much as possible for the many creditors and the estate was administered by an Edinburgh accountant from 5 January 1848 until the end of August 1853. Islay Estate was put on the market for sale in November 1848 at £540,000, and re-advertised several times thereafter without finding a buyer. After the increasingly difficult conditions of the 1830s and 1840s, many estates were changing hands from traditional Highland and Hebridean families to aspiring Victorian merchants. Perhaps the price was just too high. By September 1852 the asking figure or upset price had been reduced to £440,000. And on 31 August 1853 at a public sale there were two bidders who pushed the price up to £451,000. (Woodhall took even longer to dispose of, despite its underlying mineral wealth). Between 1855 and 1861 £179,225 of the £451,000 was recouped by several sales of land in Kildalton and Oa parish and in the Lossit area of Kilmeny. So the investment in a reduced Islay Estate was in fact just over £260,00. Who was the canny/astute purchaser?

In London in April 1849, the disappointed heir, John Francis Campbell of Islay, had heard that ‘James Morrison . . . was going down to buy Islay. He began the world as his Father-in-law’s foreman and has now an enormous fortune. I am told he is both dour and a good man of business, so if he does as he intends he will probably succeed in adding to his fortune perhaps at the expense of he present inhabitants.’. He added that Morrison meant to take his wife and large family to the island to live there for two months. They stayed at the Bridgend Inn in July 1849, ‘and in spite of bad weather spent the inside of a week seeing something of the island’, in the words of a descendant and biographer, Richard Gatty in 1977. While they admired the setting of Islay House, including the 350 rose varieties in the garden, they did not spend two months and were not yet persuaded to part with the upset price of £540,000. When he did decide to acquire the estate, with entry at Martinmas 1853 although not paying for it until Whitsunday 1854, his son, Charles, disclosed in the Islay Estate Papers in a letter in Islay Estate papers, ‘he does now wish, never to be troubled at all about the place, and only looks at his investment ledger to see how much of his capital he has spent on it’. Not for nothing is a new biography by Caroline Dakers, now Professor of Cultural History at University of Arts in London, titled “A Genius for Money. Business, Art and the Morrisons”. Continue reading....