The departure from Stornoway of the Canadian Pacific liners Metagama, Canada and Marloch in 1923 and 1924 is still remembered by those who were children at the time for the emotional scenes at the harbour as they sailed away, tearing asunder many families.

Most of those destined to a new life continued to make contact by letter, some did not, but many did eventually return for joyous family reunions and some returned to Lewis for good. In earlier days it was almost certainly going to be a one-way journey for those leaving for the Americas, holidays were certainly not an option unless one was to strike gold or have worked for years to establish a wealthy business. The wrench of parting these shores must have been immense for the early pioneers as surface mail was either non-existent or nowhere near the standards achieved by the early 20 century.

Emigrant ships arriving at Quebec in 1851 included six that had sailed from Stornoway for the land of opportunity. It is likely that final provisions of fresh food were procured from the merchants of Stornoway prior to the ships’ departure on the month long voyage.The first to arrive on 23 July was the Barlow, a barque of 287 tons, carrying people from the lands of Sir James Matheson. She went on under the command of Captain P. Fraser to land more Lewis folk at Huron, Ontario.

The Brooksby (285 tons) arrived on 28 August with people from South Uist who were being moved by Gordon of Cluny. Colonel Gordon also arranged for the Montezuma (440 tons) on 30 August followed by the Perthshire (437 tons) on 10 September (which had sailed from Stornoway on 5 August). On 1 October the Admiral (413 tons) arrived having her passengers arranged by the Kilrush Union. On 18 October Captain Crisp took the Liskeard (104 tons) alongside the Quebec dock to unload the last of Gordon’s evicted people — for 1851 at least!

Prior to 1851 emigrant ships from Stornoway to Canada and the USA carried many souls away from their island idyll or horror (most had little choice). In May 1774 the Friendship set sail from Stornoway Bay carrying 106 persons, listed on a passenger manifest, and the document was signed Archd. Smith, Collector and John Reid, Comptroller. The Friendship reached Philadelphia on 12 June 1774 under the command of Captain Thomas Jann.

In November 1774 the Peace & Plenty carried 59 persons plus others from Lochbroom and the mainland. Captain Charles Mackenzie had aboard one of the most famous emigrants of all — one Alexander Mackenzie of Kenneth Street — later the explorer who discovered the Mackenzie River.

In August 1827 the Harmony sailed to Nova Scotia with 200 emigrants for Sydney, Nova Scotia. It is thought that this vessel sailed in 1826 and 1829 as well. In June 1828 the Universe departed Stornoway Bay and landed at Sydney on 26 June 1828 where 464 passengers alighted. The Universe was accompanied by the Ann, which took 209 people with her.

An unknown vessel carried approximately 70 people (16 families) evicted from Mealista in Uig to Bury, Eastern Quebec in 1837. In 1841 the Lady Hood and the Charles carried 78 and 45 passengers to a new life in Canada when they landed at Quebec. In August 1849 the Monstrat Elphinstone, a 387-ton vessel built at Greenock in 1826, set sail for Quebec under the command of Captain Stewart but the number of souls carried to the new world was not recorded.

These adventurers, however, always retain the sense of belonging to the Hebrides and this is evident in songs and poetry written in far-flung lands



The emigration to Canada continued right up until the outbreak of the First World War when many young men returned to fight for Canada and the land of their birth. Sadly, about 130 did not return after the Armistice was signed in November 1918, having given their lives.

Another vessel carrying islanders in the opposite direction across the Atlantic was the liner Minnedosa carrying T.B.Macaulay, John Bain and other island benefactors to the opening of the newly rebuilt Town Hall in 1929.

Although emigration was forced on many there is an inherent spirit for adventure in the blood of Hebrideans. Our forefathers have explored lands such as India, Peru, Patagonia and Canada (above) and sailed the seven seas with the Royal and Merchant Navies (and still do). These adventurers, however, always retain the sense of belonging to the Hebrides and this is evident in songs and poetry written in far-flung lands.

Emigration is relatively rare nowadays but still people leave their native land seeking opportunities and with Edinburgh now only 50 minutes away by air, the mainland entices islanders with that old spirit for adventure.

Malcolm MacDonald