Parish of Stornoway (1831-1845) - Population

The ancient state of the population of the parish is, at present, unknown. The records, which might have thrown some light on that subject, were lost in 1740. Formerly, the presbyteries of Lewis and Uist were united and called the presbytery of the Long Island. During their union, for the accommodation of members, the presbytery seat was migratory; and it is reported that, when a member of presbytery was returning to Lewis, the boat upset, the crew and passengers drowned, and the records lost.

The amount of population in
1750 was 1836
1755, according to Dr Webster, 1812
1796, - - - 2639
1801 - - - 2974
1821, - - - 4119
1831, - - - 5491

The number of males is 2494. of females 2997.

The yearly average of births for the years, 142;
of deaths, - - - 90
of marriages, - - - 40

The number of persons under 15 years of age, - - 2372
betwixt 15 and 30, - - 1321
30 and 50, - - - 1110
50 and 70, - - 534
upwards of 70, - - - 154

The number of bachelors and of widowers above 50,- 36
of unmarried women upwards of 45, - - 77
of families in the parish, -. - - 1077
of children in each family, - - - 5
of inhabited houses, - -1035
of uninhabited houses, - - - 23

Various causes may have contributed to increase the population. A brisk trade in fishing contributed considerably to its increase, for a period of eight years. From 1800 to 1808, a sum of L. 70,000 was circulated by means of the herring, cod, and ling fishings, and oil. The extension of arable land or moss brought into culture, and the poverty of the people in the neighbouring parishes, tend to increase the population of Stornoway. Those who cannot emigrate to foreign lands, congregate in Stornoway, for the purpose of getting work. The population of the island is estimated at 14,000. The number residing in the town and within a mile of Stornoway, is 3000: the number residing in the country, viz. the districts of Gress and Ui, is 2561. Individuals of independent fortune in the parish are few.

Character &c of the people.-The people, in strength, complexion, and size, resemble their neighbours in the Hebrides. In general, they are more swarthy than the people on the mainland; but this is occasioned by their being enveloped in the peat-smoke of their houses. They are capable of bearing great fatigue and a long fast. Gaelic is the language generally spoken. It has lost ground very little except in Stornoway; and even there, all born in the town speak Gaelic, though the principal inhabitants prefer the English, Throughout the, parish, the Gaelic is a good deal corrupted, for many interlard their sentences by introducing English words with the termination ikuk, such as callikuk and meanikuk, viz. calling and meaning, &c. The names of farms are evidently derived from the Danes and Norwegians, as Tolsta, Shadir, and Sheshadir, which signify six men, or a portion of land sufficient to support six families. Bost denotes a farm, as Garrabost, the short rigged farm, and Melbost, the honeyed or pleasant farm. The principal amusements are the club and shinty, quoits or discus, and the putting-stone. In the town of Stornoway, the habits of the people resemble those of their neighbours in the south they have neat slate houses, many of which are not only well but elegantly furnished. The inhabitants of the town are active and public spirited, forming a striking contrast to the rest of the parish and of the island. The houses in the country, excepting the tacksmen’s, are sordid huts-in general, indescribably filthy. There is only an annual sweeping of their houses. The people and cattle are under the same roof and on the same area. Very few of the country dwellings have a single pane of glass. There is one hole in the roof to allow the excess of smoke to escape, and another on the top of the wall,-the latter at night or during a storm through the day being stopped with a wisp. Where a sufficient supply of stones can be found, the walls of the houses are from four to six feet thick, and consist of an outer and inner face, the intervening space being crammed with earth or pounded moss. Wood is so scarce and so dear, that it cannot be had in sufficient quantity to make a good roof. A rafter twelve feet long and three inches in diameter, will cost 3d.; and other timber, in proportion. The roofs have no eaves. The thatch, in general, is made of stubble or potato stalks which are spread on the scanty wooden roof, and bound by heather or straw ropes, which again are at each side of the roof, fastened by stones called anchors, resting on the top of the broad wall. On this wall, it is no unusual sight to see sheep and calves feeding and making a short passage into the byre, through the roof. The doors of the houses are so low, that whoever would gain admittance must humble himself, and continue in that posture till he reach the tire, which is always in the middle of the floor; and very often, he must grape his way or be led by the hand. From the slightness of the wooden rafters, much straw or stubble cannot be laid for thatch; but just sufficient to exclude the day-light. The thatch is not expected at first to keep out much rain, until it is properly saturated with soot; but to compensate for this defect, the inmates are practical chemists; they keep plenty of peats on the fire; the interior is soon filled with smoke; the smoke and increasing heat repel the rain, for a great proportion of what fell on the roof is returned to the atmosphere by evaporation. These houses after a smart shower, appear like so many salt pans or breweries in operation.

The thatch of the houses, saturated by the smoke with sooty particles, is considered valuable; for, every summer, the roof is stripped, and the inner layer of -straw which contains the soot is carried carefully to the potato or barley field, and strewed on the crop. This gives a wonderful stimulus to vegetation; and in a few days, a very sensible difference is visible in the colour and strength of the plants, especially if a warm slight shower should fall soon after strewing the sooty straw. Though this practice is generally pursued, from the scarcity of manure, the soot, as an excessive stimulant, is doubtless injurious to the soil.

The proprietor and his lady have ordered, at the present set or lease, that there should be in these dwellings, a separation, by partition, between the rational and the irrational inmates, and that more light should be admitted into the dark recesses of their habitations, by one window at least. In several instances, a reformation has already taken place, but sorely against the will of the people.

The peasantry do not much experience the want of food. In winter, the most of them may have beef and fish if they choose. But potatoes and gruel make their ordinary meals. They exert themselves much, in order to pay their rents and little debts but none need be in absolute want, if they have health, except through laziness. Sometimes in summer, after a severe winter, having given their potatoes to the cattle, they fall short of provisions but while the sea is open, and plenty of shell-fish on the shore, they cannot be in absolute want.

The dress of the country people in this parish is made of kelt and plaiden, their own manufacture their coats and short clothes are made of gray and blue stuff cotton and check shirts are worn on Sundays; but through the week, plaiden shirts, Hebridian flannel.

Though the people, in general, have not the many comforts which others in the south enjoy, they have fewer wants, and are easily satisfied. Their principal complaint is of high rents and short leases. They possess, in general, a pacific disposition; and are remarkably shrewd, inquisitive, quick, communicative, and fond of novelty. They possess an inventive genius and many of them
have a poetic vein. Poaching in game or in salmon is not now frequent and smuggling has decreased very much. There can be no doubt that this is rapidly on the decline, since for the last three years the quantity of spirits imported has increased in nearly a threefold proportion, compared with former years; and should distilleries commence operation in the island as contemplated, under the auspices of spirited individuals, illicit distillation would soon disappear. Formerly, when each tenant was allowed to convert the produce of his little lot into usquebaugh or tres-tarig, that is thrice distilled, it was solely to pay his rent, illicit distillation had not the same deteriorating effect here on the morals of the people as on the mainland. It is pleasing to add, that there are few instances of inebrietv to be met with, out of the town of Stornoway.

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