Thursday, February 23, 2017

School Library – Part B - Rambling Recollection of my Schools and School Days

Article XVI written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 29 September 1881 – Part B

“The little library also contained the voyage of Captain Cook round the world, his discovery of New Zealand, and his death by the treacherous and cruel natives."

Captain Cook by John Webber, 1776, Museum of New Zealand, Wellington.

"The story of “Robinson Crusoe” was a great favourite with us, as was also “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” "The Wandering Jew,” and the interesting narrative of Mungo Park’s travels on the Niger."

Aladdin in the Magic Garden – Project Gutenberg

Sue, Wandering Jew
"One of the incidents of Park’s travels is so touching, that I …

way I turned nothing appeared but danger and difficulty. I saw myself in the midst of a vast wilderness in the depth of the rainy season, naked and alone, surrounded by savage animals and men still more savage. I was five hundred miles from the nearest European settlement. At this moment, painful as my reflections were, the extraordinary beauty of a small moss in fructification irresistibly caught my eye. I mention this to show what trifling circumstances the mind will sometimes derive consolation from, for though the plant was not larger than the tip of one of my fingers, I could not contemplate the delicate conformation of its roots, leaves and capsule without admiration. Can the Being, thought I, who planted, watered, and brought to perfection in this obscure part of the world a thing which appears of so small importance, look with unconcern upon the situation and suffering of creatures formed after his own image? Surely not. I started up, and disregarding both hunger and fatigue, travelled forward, assured that relief was at hand, and I was not disappointed.” He reached a hut where he got shelter, and where the woman of the house composed a song to the weary traveller, in which she said that the poor white man had not a mother to grind his corn. Park died a martyr for the good of his country, as other brave and self-denying men have done, including the brave and the good David Livingston. These bore the burden and the heat of the day, and others reap the benefits of their labours. The following lines express the substance of the foregoing:-
Sad, faint, and weary on the sand,
Our traveller sat him down; his hand
Covering his burning head.
Alone – beneath, behind, around,
No resting fir the eye he found –
All nature seemed as dead.
One tiny tuft of moss alone,
Mounting with freshest green a stone,
Fixed his delighted gaze;
Through trusting tears of joy he smiled,
And while he raised the tendril wild
His lips o’erflowed with praise.

(To be continued.)

A Native of Badbea

My Comments:

Between 1768 and 1799 Captain James Cook did three main voyages of exploration in the Pacific and died in Hawaii in 1779.

Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe first published in 1719. Crusoe is a castaway who spends 27 years on a remote tropical desert island near Trinidad encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers before being rescued.

Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp is a Middle Eastern folk tale. It was first published in Les Mille et Une Nuit, Contes Arabes (12 Volumes),1704-1717 by Frenchman Antoine Galland who heard it from a Syrian storyteller from Aleppo. The first edition of ‘Arabian Nights Entertainments’ in English, based on Galland, was published by Andrew Bell, London in 1706 – 17 in 12 volumes. The Story of Aladdin: Or,The Wonderful Lamp was published in Vol 9.
Aladin illustration pg 1 Robida version

The Wandering Jew. The Wandering Jew (French: le Juif Errant) is an 1844 novel by the French writer Eugene Sue. Gunn must have had access to the circulating library after he had left school as this book was published in 1844 when Gunn was in his 20s.

Mungo Park
Mungo Park (1771 – 1806) was a Scottish explorer of West Africa. He was the first Westerner known to have travelled to the central part of the Niger River. His account of his travels is still in print.

View of Kamalia in Mandingo country, Africa, from Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa
According to Wikipedia: 

Park’s book Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa was a success because it detailed what he observed, what he survived, and the people he encountered. His honest descriptions set a standard for future travel writers to follow. This gave Europeans a glimpse of what Africa was really like. Park introduced them to a vast, unexplored continent. After his death public and political interest in Africa began to increase. He had proved that Africa could be explored.

The poem above was written about Mungo Park’s experience by a fellow Scotsman named Robert Murray M’Cheyne. It is titled “On Mungo Park Finding a Tuft of Green Moss in the African Desert”

Monday, October 31, 2016

School Library – Part A - Rambling Recollection of my Schools and School Days

Article XVI written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 29 September 1881 – Part A

“In my last I said that in all the schools in the Highlands and Gaelic-speaking districts, Gaelic should be taught. It is a branch of education as essential to a Highlander as English is to the Lowlander. How can the Highlander profitably listen to a preacher in his mother-tongue, unless he can read the scriptures in that language? Why force a strange or foreign language down the Highlander’s throat, and deprive him of that which he drank in with his mother’s milk? As well compel the English speaking portion of our population to learn the Gaelic as force the Highlander to learn English at the expense of losing his mother-tongue. In some parts of the western Highlands the Board Schools teach the Gaelic; why not throughout the entire length and breadth of the Highlands?”

“The Berriedale school was not a celebrated institution, but it was a model one, I as far as master and pupils made the best and the most of the few advantages they had. Mr Mackay was a persevering, painstaking man, who did all that he did in the very best possible manner, and he was rewarded by having the sympathy and goodwill of both parents and pupils. Some of his pupils studied for the ministry, and some for the medical profession and both have been able to creditably hold their ground in their several walks.”

“There was a small circulating library connected with the school, and the books were issued gratis to the scholars, and supplied us with both useful and interesting reading. Foremost in this list was the world-renowned “Pilgrims Progress” in English and Gaelic, a book that has been published in more languages than any other except the Bible."

Pilgrim's Progress in Gaelic

"Also Bunyan’s “Holy War,” as well a “Visions of Heaven and Hell.” 

"The library also comprised voyages and travels of a very interesting and instructive nature, such, for instance, as the voyage of the “Bounty” with her Captain Bligh, and the details of the mutiny of the crew. Perhaps a brief sketch of this story might be interesting to your readers:-  On the 28th April, 1786, Fletcher Christian, master’s mate, infuriated by some insulting word by Captain Bligh, suddenly, and to all appearances without any understanding among the crew, incited a mutiny, and early in the morning the mutineers surprised Captain Bligh, bound him and carried him on deck."

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers seize HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789.
Engraving by Hablot Knight Browne, 1841
"In a few moments, he and 18 of his officers and men who had remanded loyal to their commanding officer and their duty were cast adrift in an open boat, with provisions for only five days. Captain Bligh, by his admirable prudence, courage and firmness, so husbanded the small stock of provisions, and  the course of the boat was so wisely directed, that at the end of 43 days, after experiencing a violent gale, and enduring almost the pangs of starvation, the boat came to anchor off the coast of Timor without the loss of a single man, having traversed a distance of 3618 miles."

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers turn Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift. 1790 painting by Robert Dodd. 

"In the meantime the mutineers finally landed at Pitcairn Island, and burned the ship. They afterwards passed through various vicissitudes’, the natives killing a number of the British and the British killing a number of the natives."

Bounty Bay on Pitcairn Island, where HMS Bounty was burned on 32 January 1790.

"No one knew or heard what became of the mutineers until 1808, nineteen years after the mutiny, an American vessel touched at the Island , when the commander, Captain Taylor, discovered to his surprise that the island was inhabited by the descendants of the mutineers. A number of young people were found speaking English and Tahitian with fluency, living simple harmless lives, and free from the voices of the ordinary South Sea Islanders. In 1814 two British frigates, cruising in the Pacific, reached Pitcairn Island. The inhabitants were found to be peaceful, law-abiding, and religious, ruled over a patriarchal fashion by John Adams. The quondam mutineers had trained the people in the ways of frugality and industry. He also held religious services, reading the Church of England prayers. In 1830 the little community numbered 79 persons, and it began to feel that it had outraged the capabilities of the Island, which measured only four square miles of area. Latterly the people agreed to emigrate in a body to Norfolk Island, sixty degrees west of Pitcairn, and there we will leave them and their interesting history in the meantime.”

My Comments:

There is plenty of further detail on-line about the Bounty such as at:

It is not clear which version of the Bounty story Gunn read but it may have been:  William Bligh’s Narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty. London: George Nicol, 1790

“Fletcher Christian. Aged 24 years – 5.9 High. Dark swarthy complexion…” The beginning of Bligh’s list of mutineers, written during the open-boat voyage. Now in the collection of the National Library of Australia.

It is not surprising that the story of the Bounty intrigued the pupils at Berriedale school. The sea was such an important part of their lives going right back to the days of press-gangs where local young men were taken forcibly to be disciplined and serve with a naval force (as was Gunn’s grandfather), to the management of their fishing boats and crews, all would have been aware that a real mutiny at sea was a rare and significant event.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gaelic Class – Part B – Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days

Article XV written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 1 September 1881 Part B

“There was a Bible lesson every day, the first in the forenoon, and there was also a class for Gaelic, in which a lesson was given once a day. We had second, third, and fourth books in Gaelic. We were taught to translate the Gaelic into English, and the English into Gaelic, and also to spell Gaelic. I have in my bookcase a Gaelic Bible I got as a prize for Gaelic reading and spelling, and on it I find the inscription - “General Assembly School, Berriedale, 1st April 1833.”
Gaelic Bible

Empty-headed, Brainless Beings

“This is a branch of education, I am sorry to say, which is entirely extinct in the district, and I suppose it is not taught in the parish. I consider this a great mistake, and an injustice to the Gaelic-speaking portions of the community. The parish of Latheron is, or was till very recently, a Gaelic speaking community entirely. I am aware that many of the youths of the parish are getting so big and so refined as to think the acquisition of speaking Gaelic a very questionable accomplishment. Well, there have been mean proud spirits in all ages, and we need not to be surprised to find a few of them in our own days, but there is no man so contemptible in my estimation as a man born in the Highlands, and reared under a thatched roof having the fire in the centre of the house, and going in and out of the same door as the pigs and cows, and who is too proud to learn and speak Gaelic. Away with such a degenerate race of empty-headed, brainless beings! “

The Berriedale School must have been somewhere near the Grave Yard

Ancient as Paradise

“Show me the man, no matter where he is born, whether in a mansion or a stable, who speaks the language of his sires, and is proud of it too, as well he may, for according to wiser men than Professor Blackie, the Gaelic language is as ancient as Paradise. But let that be as it may, I never lose an opportunity of using my mother tongue, and I consider it a gift bestowed upon me by my Maker which he expects me to use, as I do any other gift he has bestowed upon me. I know of no other race who have given up the use of their native tongue, and have adopted another in its place, except where it is forced upon them by the arm of oppression. We are not so very bad as that in the Highlands yet. There is no compulsion to give up our mother tongue.”

A Mystery

“The Welsh race stick firmly to the language of their ancestors. There are not less than eleven newspapers published in Welsh throughout Wales. The Irish, too, notwithstanding all their other defects, hold firmly by the Irish language, and are as bent on retaining it as they are on obtaining “Home Rule.” How the Scottish Highlanders should be the only race, we may say in the world, who seem ashamed and tired of their mother tongue is to me a mystery.”

A Native of Badbea
(To be continued.)

My Comments:

Dating back centuries, Gaelic was the founding language of Scotland. In the late 18th century, the language was heavily suppressed following the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances.

Despite its decline Gaelic remains spoken by some 60,000 people in many parts of Scotland. There are lots of Scottish places and landmarks such as mountains with Gaelic names. There are also bilingual road signs in some places, with Gaelic on official buildings, and tourist venues. There are many Gaelic/English websites, including Am Baile an on-line learning and research resource of digitised archives for the language, culture and history of the Scottish highlands and Islands.
Source: geograph-741617-by-Nicholas-Mutton

Professor Blackie

On 14th October 1874 Professor Blackie of Edinburgh delivered a spirited lecture arguing for “The Teaching of Gaelic in Highland Schools and Universities.” The Aberdeen Free Press reported the lecture which was published in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Volumes 3-4 He said it was the duty of School Boards to support this language on grounds of patriotism, religion and sentiment.

At one point in the lecture Blaikie commented that “Gaelic was old but he had no reason to believe that Gaelic was the language of the prayer-book by which Adam and Eve were married in Paradise” Prompting laughter from the audience “This was said by a great poet of their own – Alastair Macdonald  - Mac Mhaighstir Alastair – but it was calculated to do more harm than good to the cause of Gaelic.”
Source: Pg 132

Alexander Gunn had a bit of a dig at Blaikie over this comment but in fact both men were clearly passionate about the teaching and speaking of Gaelic 

Blackie was a Radical and Scottish nationalist in politics, of a fearlessly independent type; possessed of great conversational powers and general versatility, his picturesque eccentricity made him one of the characters of the Edinburgh of the day, and a well-known figure as be went about in his plaid, worn shepherd-wise, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and carrying a big stick.

John Badbea Sutherland

The tombstone of Alexander Gunn's dear family friend John Badbea Sutherland in the old Berriedale cemetery has both English and Gaelic.

Erected to the memory of John Sutherland, Badbea, a native of Ousdale, who feared the Lord from his youth and was a lover of good things, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he had been taught. He was a councellor and comforter of many and an example to all. He died on 31 August 1864 aged 76 years. The memory of the just is blessed. “Ach cumbn is ionmahd maith a chaoidh bidh air an thir ear choir” (Literal translation, “The memory of the kindly just (man) will ever be in high repute.) Source:Patricia Ross

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Berriedale School – Part A - Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days

Article XV written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 1 September 1881 Part A

The Berriedale school must have been somewhere
above the cemetery as Gunn talks of taking a peat
from below the burying ground, on the way to school.

Berriedale School 

“When Auchencraig was turned out, the school there was abandoned as the few families in Badbea who had children could not afford to support a school master, and there was no alternative but to send their children to Berriedale where there was a General Assembly school. It was just four miles from Badbea and in winter weather it was no treat to trudge away there every morning (Sunday excepted) and return home at night, call at the peat stack on the way home, fill the creel left there in the by-going in the morning, with peats, and carry it to the house to keep the fire burning and keep out the cold.”
The top right picture is John Gillies with his sons Calum and Ian carrying creels or baskets of peats on Eilean Fladday. It was taken over 100 years after the time Gunn is talking about yet, apart from the boy’s clothes, little has changed. Source: Am baile Facebook. 


“The school at Berriedale was a vast improvement on the one at Auchencraig, the walls being built with stone and lime and the roof slated, but an earthen floor. Fuel was supplied as at Auchencraig by each scholar bringing his peat with him under his “oxter” and depositing it in the “neuk” as he entered. This was done under the supervision of one of our number appointed to that important post, to see that none came minus their peat. A half or small sized peat was challenged at once and reported to the master who disposed of the case in favour of the overseer or otherwise, as the case might be.” 

Thou Shalt Not Steal

“The distance between Badbea and Berriedale was a great temptation to us in breaking the eighth commandment as we found it very irksome to carry a peat a distance of four miles, and have our sport on the way besides, and not unfrequently did we make a raid on the peat stack which stood at the mill at Berriedale  - which was under the charge of the miller of whom we were more in dread than of twenty policemen – or on a stack at the turn of the brae below the burying ground and belonging to some of the families living at Berriedale. We escaped capture in these cases wonderfully, but if by bad luck a capture was made the rod was not spared, and we could not blame them for it, for well we did know that we were doing wrong.”

A Gaelic Bible with the eighth commandment
and the shorter catechism in English and Gaelic

The Three R's

"Our teacher Murdoch Mackay, who, I am glad to know, is still alive and enjoying a small retiring allowance after having been a teacher for upward of 52 years, was a man of good principles and good sound common sense. He would by no means clear the guilty, but it could not be said that he punished his scholars unduly. The whole of the youths of school age from Dunbeath to Ousdale attended the Berriedale School. The three R’s were all that was taught except two or three of the better class of children, who were taught a smattering of Latin. A few more were taught the rules of grammar, and a modicum of geography. For my own part, and with the exception referred to, I never had a grammar or a geography in my hand, and even history was but very little taught. We had first, second, third and fourth books, the last of which had snatches of history interspersed through it. There was no standard book of history used in the school. The rules of arithmetic, as published in Gray’s book, were those which were in use. A very good book it was, and I believe there were as expert arithmeticians in those days who never saw any other, as there are in the present day, with all the advantages they enjoy in the way of new books, board schools, etc."

The leather bound book is “An Introduction to Arithmetic” by James Gray.

"I little thought when labouring through “the Grays,” as it was called, that I should afterwards come in contact with some of Mr Gray’s pupils. He was teacher in the burgh school of Peebles where he compiled his book."

No Saturday Holiday

"As stated in a previous chapter, we had no Saturday holiday in those days. We had to be as punctual at school on Saturday as any other day of the week. On that day we revised all the tasks or lessons we committed to memory during the course of the week, repeat the one half of the shorter catechisms, read a Bible lesson, and were dismissed about 10 o’clock. There was a Bible lesson every day, the first in the forenoon, and there was also a class for Gaelic, in which a lesson was given once a day. We had second, third, and fourth books in Gaelic. We were taught to translate the Gaelic into English, and the English into Gaelic, and also to spell Gaelic. I have in my bookcase a Gaelic Bible I got as a prize for Gaelic reading and spelling, and on it I find the inscription - “General Assembly School, Berriedale, 1st April 1833."

My Comments:

Alexander Gunn has written about his school days at the Auchencraig school previously – see blog February 2016  - and his indignation at the clearance of the thriving fishing Auchencraig settlement -  blogs March 2015 and March 2016.

He has also mentioned his school master Murdoch Mackay again with obvious respect and warmth.  The appalling conditions the Mackay family endured after the disruption are on blog August 2015.

The Arithmetic book written by James Gray (1781 – 1810), schoolmaster of Peebles, was used universally in Scotland during the 19th century making his name synonymous with Arithmetic.  Alexander Gunn lived in Peebles for a while and was apparently impressed to meet some of James Gray’s original pupils.

A PDF of Gray's Arithmetic can be found on electricscotland:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

‘Wicked Ferrymen’ - Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days

Article XIV written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign 30 June, 1881 - Part D


The Highland Ferryman by William Dyce (1806 – 1864 )

“I wonder whether the ferrymen I once crossed over with were lineal descendants of these murderers; for when about halfway across, one of them took up a heavy piece of wood which lay in the boat, and without the least provocation, or any previous warning, threatened to break the heads of all the passengers, four in number. It was not a very safe place to begin a fight, and while the four of us could have easily overcome the two of them, we rather preferred peaceable means, which was not at all appreciated by the wild ferryman, who brought down his formidable bludgeon into rather uncomfortable proximity to our heads." 

"What mania seized the fellow that caused him to act in this way, and his companion acquiesced in all he did, we could not divine. They did not appear to be drunk, or, as far as we could see, under the influence of liquor; and whether they expected to exhort money from us as a ransom for our lives, or not, I cannot tell; but one thing is certain, if that idea entered their calculations, they were sadly disappointed. We might, and would have defended ourselves to the very last, had any of our number been actually assaulted; but, while the aspect of affairs looked truly serious, there were no blows given." 

"Ferry-men, as a rule, were (I do not say are, for it is now about forty years since I crossed these ferries) a very rude, illiterate and wicked class of men; but I have no doubt, and would fain hope at least, that the present men are much improved.”

A Native of Badea - To be continued.

My Comments:

To close this article Alexander Gunn indignantly relates a bad experience he once had with a couple of ferrymen. Ferrymen were the backbone of travel in the Highlands for hundreds of years and it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that the life of a ferryman was often miserably cold and wet, as well as being constantly at the mercy of wind and tides. It’s no wonder that some took to warming themselves with whisky. While there are probably hundreds of stories of bad-tempered and drunk ferry-men I rather like Dyce’s portrait of a Highland Ferryman, who has his bottle sure enough, but looks trustworthy and calm.

Back to the Miekle Ferry disaster - these two pictures made me reflect.

A postcard showing travellers at Kyle of Lochalsh waiting to cross over to Skye. The photograph was taken by George Washington Wilson c1880s. The caravan on the ferry is a good reminder that ferry-men often took heavy and awkward loads – including animals. No doubt with great risk to all on board.
 Source:  Am Baile Facebook

A crowd of people wait on the jetty at Kyle of Lochalsh to catch the ferry over to Kyleakin while the paddle steamer ‘Fusilier’ heads to Broadford. 1930s. I counted approximately thirty people in the line-up. It is amazing to think that more than 3 times as many people crammed on what was just a large rowing boat making it so low in the water it took on water and capsized. Source:  Am Baile Facebook

I have done some cut and paste with the above picture to show about 120 people all waiting to clamber on the one boat! Sheriff McCulloch entreated the people not to overcrowd the boat but they would not listen. Pity he didn't disembark himself.