From Patagonia to Crobeg

WHEN Charles Menendez MacLeod (Charlie Barley) bought the Crobeag Farm, including Eilean Chaluim Cille, in 1957, he was in essence returning to the land of his forefathers. It was in Garyvard, a short distance across Loch Erisort from St. Colms’ Isle that his great, great, great-grandfather, Torquil MacLeod, and his wife, Ann Matheson, lived in the late 17th and early 18th Century. Their son, Donald, moved over the Loch to Keose on his marriage to Ann MacDonald thereby establishing the family’s association with the croft at 5 Keose that was to remain their home until Charles’ father, Murdo, moved to Ropework Cottage, Stornoway, after his marriage to Chrissie MacKenzie. Chrissie was a descendant of Charles MacKenzie (1776-1845), of Leurbost, who had moved to 7 Keose around 1819. On the paternal side, his family had links to the Martins of Ensay, Harris, and the MacDonalds of Ranish.
Charlie’s father had left Keose to go and work on the sheep farming stations of Patagonia in South America. Bruce Chatwin’s book, In Patagonia, describes the setting up of the sheep farms in 1877 when Henry Reynard, an English trader in Punta Arenas, ferried a flock from the Falkland Islands and set it to graze on Elizabeth Island in the Straits of Magellan. It multiplied prodigiously and other merchants took the hint. The leading entrepreneurs were a ruthless Asturian, Jose Menendez, and his amiable Jewish son-in-law, Moritz Braun. The two were rivals at first, but later combined to assemble an empire of estancias, coal mines, freezers, department stores, merchant ships and a salvage department that was reputedly closer to piracy than salvage. Menendez died in 1918, leaving a proportion of his millions to King Alphonso XIII of Spain and was buried at Punta Arenas. The Braun and Menendez families continued to dominate the territory through their Company, La Anonima. They imported stud flocks from New Zealand, shepherds and their dogs from the Western Isles and farm managers from the British Army who stamped the smartness of the parade ground over the entire operation and turned the Province of Santa Cruz into a Spanish speaking outpost of the British Empire.
Murdo MacLeod spent several years in Patagonia in the employment of a family named Menendez. They were kindly and generous sheep farmers and Murdo enjoyed his time working with them so much so that when his son, Charles, was born in 1915, he was given the second name Menendez in tribute to Murdo’s affection for the family.
Charlie’s mother, Chrissie MacKenzie, was the daughter of Charles MacKenzie (born1853) and Kirsty MacKay whose forebears lived at 4 Achmore. On the maternal side, she was related to the MacAulays of Uig.

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Witness to Tragedy in Loch Erisort

On 7th December 19061 witnessed a drowning tragedy in Loch Erisort. It was during the mid-day interval at Kershader School as we gathered on the hill in between the school and the shore to watch the “TRANSIT” steaming up the Loch against a strong westerly gale force wind.
The “Transit” was a paddle driven steam pleasure-boat owned and used exclusively by the shooting tenants of Park Deer Forest and their guests. A small boat was launched from the “Transit” and it came ashore at the small jetty at the foot of the school playground One of the boatmen came ashore and called at the school-house while the other two chatted to the children.
In a few minutes the third man returned from his visit and the boat moved away from the shore to return to the “Transit”. Meanwhile, the “Transit” was slowly running before the wind heading out the loch, but the small boat was making up ground fast, driven by the strong winds.
For a few minutes we watched it tossing and diving among the waves until suddenly it disappeared out of sight. Shortly afterwards we saw an upturned boat drifting close by the steamer. Almost simultaneously we saw three men running towards the shore, carrying a pair of oars. When they arrived at the inlet where the boat was berthed they surprised the fisherman owner who was mending his nets and was unaware of the accident that had just happened out in the Loch.
The boat was launched and soon arrived at the scene of the disaster. They were able to save one of the crew while another man was rescued by a lifebelt thrown from the steamer. Despite a thorough search of the area no trace was found of the third man and it became apparent that he did not surface after the boat overturned.
During the time the searches for the men were taking place the strong winds blew the boats down the coast, past Ravenspoint and out of view of the children and adults gathered in the school playground. We followed them for a while but eventually returned late to school, although we were not punished in view of the sad and tragic event we had just witnessed.
It is ironic that of the four men who went to the aid of the stricken boatmen, only one, Donald Macleod, remained in Europe at New Year, four weeks later. John Mackay was farming in Prince Albert, Canada; Allan Macdonald was a shepherd in Patagonia and Duncan Mackay was living in Dunedin, New Zealand.
It was established later that the disaster had been caused by the boat colliding with the steamer paddles.

Lady Habost

A woman known locally as ‘Lady Habost’ or ‘A Bhan Tighearna‘ existed and lived in a fine house where croft 13 Habost is now. She was not an officially titled lady, but the grand-daughter of John Macleod (lain Mhic Thorcuill), tacksman of Hacklete in Bernera, Lewis.

John Macleod had a son by the name of Donald who was known as ‘Donald of Lewis’. He had at least two sons and three daughters, John, Donald, Christianne, Mary and Barbara. It was Barbara who was known as Lady Habost. She married Angus ‘Ruadh’ Smith, Sheildinish, who was born in 1736, and he entered upon the tenancy of the joint tack of Habost and Cleitir in 1775.
Barbara’s brother, John Macleod of Colbecks, was a wealthy planter in Jamaica, and he left an annuity of £20 to Barbara, and each of his other two sisters. That was a considerable sum then and doubtless the local people felt that she was very well off, hence their reference to her as ‘Lady’, because she was affluent and possibly generous.
Local tradition associates Barbara ‘A Bhan Tighearna’ with a seafaring Captain, which might have been her brother who was the owner of ships that traded with overseas ports, even as distant as the Pacific. From time to time the Captain took his ship into Loch Erisort where he anchored and brought unusual things to Lady Habost.
Tradition also speaks of the fine house Lady Habost had, and that the roof was covered with red tiles which the Sea Captain brought to Habost from his overseas trading. The story about the red tiles seems to gain credibility, if not confirmation, from the fact that fragments of red tiles were unearthed at the site of the house in Habost, Lochs, and some of them are preserved by John M. Macleod of 15 Balallan, a distant relative of Lady Habost.
Local tradition also associates a Sea Captain with a subsequent tacksman at Habost, ‘Allan Mac a’ Mhinisteir’, thought to be Allan Morrison, possibly Allan’s brother who traded with distant overseas places. The inference is that there were at least two Sea Captains or more that frequented Loch Erisort.
The alleged activities of one of these Sea Captains associates him with white slavery, as it was said that one of these ships sailed away with a ship load of Island girls on the pretence of obtaining employment for them on the mainland, but none of them were ever heard about again, except that two Lewis soldiers serving in India happened to meet a girl there who identified herself as a girl from Laxay who was detained in the house of the Indian Potentate.
The tradition of white slavery could be true. W.C. Mackenzie in his book History of the Outer Hebrides, pp 477-78, describes how, in the 18th century, the Captains of emigrant ships searched systematically for passengers in every remote island, and kidnapping became a common occurrence. A vessel named ‘Philadelphia’ called at Stornoway, and the Master proceeded to kidnap boys off the beach and lock them up on board his ship without the consent of their parents or their employers.
In her widowhood, Lady Habost moved to Balallan where her brother, Donald Macleod, had been tacksman. In a list of tenants at Balallan in 1808, she is entered as ‘Lady Habost’, but the name is deleted and substituted by another name, which might indicate that she may have died about that time.

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