2013 Scholarship Recipient

MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation

Scholarship Report 2013

By Margaret A. Miller

December 29, 2013

I spent from October 11 – 17, 2013, in Oban and on Lismore as this year’s MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation Scholarship recipient. My purpose was to obtain information and take photographs for a book I am editing.

Letters from Lismore

In October 2011, I received a packet by mail from Ruth McCartin, late member of the MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation board and second cousin of my mother. What a treasure! It contained transcripts of letters from her (and my mother’s) Great-Grandfather, John McDougall, last weaver on the Isle of Lismore, to his son, John, who had migrated to the United States. The younger John, who had been born on Lismore in 1837, was Ruth’s grandfather and the great uncle of my mother and Ruth’s co-editor, Gertrude Smith Inglis. Ruth had painstakingly organized the handwritten letters, and Gert Inglis had helped her transcribe them, using their typewriters. Ruth gave the original letters and transcripts to the Lismore Historical Society, Eachdraich Lios Mòr in 2011; the Society graciously shared images of them with me to use in a book about the letters. It will include images of the letters themselves, transcripts of the letters, photographs of people and places mentioned in them, and maps and family trees.

October 2013

I have been poring over the letters ever since and have had two more visits to Lismore. On those visits, I have photographed places mentioned in the letters and talked with people to better understand the context in which the letters were written. During my visit in October 2013, funded in part by the MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation Scholarship, I reviewed issues of The Oban Times from the 1870s in which I found articles mentioning John McDougall (weaver), which helped me better understand his role on Lismore. At the time the letters were written, local correspondents would send articles to The Oban Times for publication. (I reviewed the back issues during a visit to The Oban Times offices located in the port town of Oban.) The weekly newspaper played, and continues to play, an important role in keeping communities within the Western Highlands, islands and Argyll connected.

Not only was John McDougall the last weaver on the Isle of Lismore, but Sabbath School Superintendent for 30 years (1844–1874), as well, serving children of the island’s Protestant churches. The letters, themselves, reveal that a charismatic form of Christianity was important to John McDougall. However, an article in TheOban Times of February 8, 1874, indicates that representatives of the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Lismore Parish Churches, in addition to the Independent Chapel in which John McDougall was active, honored him at a “soiree” celebrating his 30 years of service with the Sabbath School. In a letter to his sons a few weeks later, John McDougall indicates that people from as far away as Inveraray contributed to a purse for him.

Several scholars on the Island, including Robert Hay, Margaret Black, David and Catriona White, Helen Crossan, and others, have expressed a strong interest in the letters and provided information that has helped me understand them. For example, Robert Hay, who has published his own books and articles about Lismore, recently sent me information indicating that Sabbath Schools established in the Western Highlands in the 19th century were created by splinter groups and were generally opposed by parish churches (MacLean and Veitch, 2006). However, in the case of Lismore, the record indicates that the Sabbath School, which met at the Independent Chapel, was broadly supported by the Parish minister and others, which may have been due, in part, to the esteem in which John McDougall (weaver) was held.

The letters coincide with events of historical significance for Scotland, the UK and the Western Highlands, such as the inquiry conducted by the royal Napier Commission in 1883, established to inquire into the condition of crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. (A croft is “a small rented farm, especially one in Scotland, comprising a plot of arable land attached to a house and with a right of pasturage held in common with other such farms.” A cottar is “a farm labourer or tenant occupying a cottage in return for labour.” See Oxford Dictionaries at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com.)

I was given information about the Commission during my visit to Lismore in October because members of the Commission had interviewed delegates from Lismore on a visit to the island in August 1883. (See the Napier Commission, 1883, vol. 3, pages 2322 – 2358.) The Commission’s report includes minutes of evidence provided by Mrs. Mary Carmichael and other members of her family about challenges they faced regarding land rights on Lismore. In a letter of December 31, 1883, John McDougall (weaver) asked his sons in the US to advise the younger Carmichael son about emigrating to the US. The Commission’s work, which addressed challenges throughout the Western Highlands, influenced passage of the Crofters Holding (Scotland) Act, 1886. The Act addressed such topics as security of tenure, rent, renunciation of tenancy, and compensation for improvements, and defined key terms such as crofting parish and cottar. Although John McDougall was not selected to speak with the Commission, he would have been an active member of the community supporting those who did.

During my visit, I met with David and Catriona White who provided information about leaders of religious groups on Lismore in the 19th century. After a wonderful lunch, Catriona took me on a tour of the beautiful Sailean area, which is mentioned in the letters. I photographed scenes there for use in the book I am editing. David provided additional information about maps he had shared with me on earlier visits and about useful data he had compiled from census and other records.

I stayed with Mrs. Maureen Crossan at the Old Schoolhouse Bed & Breakfast on the Island. The experience helped me understand the importance, a few days later, of an article I found in The Oban Times of June 24, 1876, about a meeting of the Lismore & Appin School Board in which the Board approved construction of the schoolhouse. The school has long since been moved to other facilities. Helen has maintained the house as a warm and welcoming home away from home.

She introduced me to her daughters, Katy, who lives on Lismore, and Helen, who lives on the mainland. We had wonderful discussions related to the meaning of words and phrases in the McDougall letters. I was most intrigued by their observations, as Gaelic speakers, that John McDougall would have been thinking in Gaelic and translating his thoughts word for word into English; the letters themselves express thoughts the way they would be spoken in Gaelic. The observation was made by others I met on Lismore as well.

On October 17, during my visit to Oban, I visited Dunollie House for the first time. I was intrigued by the beauty of the site and enjoyed meeting Mary Freer, Aonghas Murray, Catherine Gillies, and others. I was particularly struck by the wealth of the McDougall clan leader, reflected in the building and its furnishings, contrasted with the humble existence of the John McDougall family on Lismore and the struggles of many from the island, exemplified by reports from the Napier Commission and John McDougall’s (weaver) letters. Although I understand that members of the clan chief’s family had their own struggles, I found it helpful to see how “the other half” might have lived at the time of my great-great-grandparents. (See Hay, 2013, for a good description.) I welcome the opportunity to visit Dunollie again when I can review archival material and learn more about relationships between landlord and tenant.

Additional Information

I first became aware of Lismore as a child growing up in Idaho, when my mother, Margaret Tiffany Wilcox, would tell me that I was named for her and for her grandmother, Margaret McDougall Milne, who had grown up on the Isle of Lismore in Scotland. Margaret McDougall had emigrated with her husband and children to the US in the late 19th century. My grandfather, Dougald MacDougall Milne Tiffany, was a toddler at the time. My mother would tell my brother, sisters and me that her grandmother had been homesick for Scotland. We were proud of our Scottish heritage; it was important to my identity and that of my sisters, brother and cousins in the United States.

First Visits

I first learned of the MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation and the John S. Carasik scholarship while planning a trip to the Western Highlands in 2010 for family members to explore our McDougall roots. Margaret Carasik, Ruth McCartin and others made suggestions for our trip, including information about McDougall connections on the Isle of Lismore. My heart was captured by the beauty of Lismore and its peaceful quality during that visit. Although we had stayed on the mainland and spent just two hours on Lismore between ferries, I vowed to come back.

I visited Lismore the following year with my husband, Lynn, at Easter in April 2011 and enjoyed beautiful weather and the lambs playing in the sun. On a visit to the Lismore Parish Church on Easter Sunday that year, I heard Mr. Stephen Green of Lismore read a Bible passage in Gaelic, which left me feeling as if I had finally come home. I needed to return.


Crofters Holding (Scotland) Act, 1886, URL: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1886/29/pdfs/ukpga_18860029_en.pdf. [Accessed 12/28/2013]


Hay, R. (2009) Lismore, the Great Garden, Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited.

Hay, R. (2010) “Improvement not Clearance: A Factor’s instructions to his Ground Officers on the Isle of Lismore, 1831-46”, Review of Scottish Culture, Vol 22, pp. 99-119.

Hay, R. (2013) How an Island Lost its People, Kershader, Isle of Lewis: The Islands Book Trust.

MacLean, C. and Veitch, K. (eds) (2006) Compendium of Scottish Ethnology Volume 12, Religion, Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited.

The Napier Commission (1883) Evidence Taken by Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Inquiry into the Conditions of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as digitized in 2007 by Lochaber College, Maillaig. URL: http://www.whc.uhi.ac.uk/research/napier-commission. [Accessed 11/14/2013]

Unknown (March 4, 1871) “Lismore”, Oban, Argyll: The Oban Times.

Unknown (February 8, 1874) “Presentation”, Oban, Argyll: The Oban Times.

Unknown (January 9, 1875) “Lismore”, Oban, Argyll: The Oban Times.

Unknown (March 18, 1876) “Lismore – Soiree”, Oban, Argyll: The Oban Times.

Unknown (March 25, 1876) “Lismore – Revival”, Oban, Argyll: The Oban Times.

Unknown (June 17, 1876) “Lismore – Sacrament”, Oban, Argyll: The Oban Times.

Unknown (June 24, 1876) Oban, Argyll: The Oban Times, p.2.

McDougall, J. (1871–1888) We are Still in the Land of the Living, Lismore: Lismore Historical Society (Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr). 


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