COLONSAY KINDRED 1, October 2014 contents:

Welcome and introduction, by Kevin Byrne (Editor and host)

Colonsay and Oronsay Census 1911, transcribed by Kevin Byrne (link to pdf)

Notes upon 1901 and 1911 Census, by Prof. John Sheets

Kinship amongst Colonsay's Fallen in WWI, by Prof John Sheets

McNeill Family Photographs - background

The McNeill Images - a link to a dedicated page

Duncan Ban McNeill - the Obituary by D. Mackinnon

Disclaimer - and further information

Welcome to "Colonsay Kindred"

Colonsay has numerous families of long-standing, many being still resident in the island but many now living elsewhere, often having been away for many generations. Incredibly, in Canada alone there are more than a million people with a Colonsay connection, if only they knew. It seems to be an excellent idea to help to strengthen links amongst this vast disapora and this site already hosts plenty of research material - for example, there are transcriptions of the Old Parish Register, all the census returns from 1841 onwards and all Colonsay and Oronsay gravestones. There are also shipping lists, and there is a facility for researchers to contact one another - but there is also a need for some sort of a newsletter and Colonsay Kindred is an attempt to meet that need. In theory it deals with Family History and will appear every second month; in the intervening period there will be another publication, Colonsay History, which will restrict itself to general history and biography etc. (The first two issues are online at www.colonsayhistory.info ).

As it happens, the self-appointed editor has an enormous archive of material which has accumulated since arriving in Colonsay in 1978. It seems only right that this material should be shared and this seems to be one way to make a start - perhaps nobody will read any of it, but at least the information provided will be available. This entire scheme is a personal initiative, but it will be fairly pointless without some sort of interaction - so readers are invited to submit queries, correspondence, suggestions and material for publication. To avoid confusion, geneaological material will hopefully appear here, in Colonsay Kindred, whilst more general material will appear in Colonsay History . In either case, please contact byrne[at]colonsay.org.uk


Colonsay Census Comparison 1901 vs. 1911 - notes by Prof. John Sheets

Prof. John Sheets has kindly made a few notes to highlight salient features of the relevant census returns, with permission for them to be published here. He has also provided kinship charts which reveal the web of familial inter-connections – these are archived at Homefield and are available to interested persons. Please note, the 1911 census is published in full in this edition of Colonsay Kindred.

Colonsay's 1901 Census

This recorded 89 houses, 80 of which were occupied by a total of 313 residents – down from 381 in 1891, an 18% decline.

Residents equalled 158 males and 155 females, over 90% Gaelic-speakers (many also with English), and a 14% subset of “Gaelic only” speakers (44, or 1-in-7). 83% were born in Colonsay.

Approximately 80% of the population lived in a west-to-east arc from Kilchattan - to - Uragaig - Kiloran - Riasgbuie - Scalasaig. Kinship is deeper in the south-to-north arc from Oronsay through Kilchattan, whereas Scalasaig is set somewhat apart because of job specialists (e.g. doctor, shop-keeper, teacher, blacksmith) and numerous incomers and visitors.

The kinship pattern is dominated by the descendants of two couples born and married in the 18th century: (1) Donald Currie with Annabella Currie, and (2) Neil McNeill with Mary Brown.

Descent of (1): three daughters, Barbara, married Campbell; Catherine, married McNeill; Mary, married McKinnon.

Descent of (2): four sons, Angus, Duncan, Malcolm, Murdoch.

Note that the above sibships were connected on 9 January 1830 when Catherine Currie married Duncan “Ban” McNeill. Professor Donald Mackinnon was the son of Mary Currie McKinnon and penned the famous eulogy for Duncan Ban.


Colonsay's 1911 Census

This recorded 84 houses, 73 of which were occupied by 273 residents – down from 313 in 1901, a 13% decline.

Residents equalled 140 males and 133 females, over 90% Gaelic-speakers (many also with English) and a reduced subset of 7.7% “Gaelic only” speakers (or 1-in-14). 81% were born in Colonsay.

Approximately 90% of the population lived in a west-to-east arc from Kilchattan - to - Uragaig - Kiloran - Riasgbuie - Scalasaig.

The kinship pattern remains constant. Note that there were 47 Colonsay men between the age of 20 and 39 years, just three years before the onset of World War I. Note that the excess representation in age group 10 – 19 years in 1901 was not maintained into the 20 – 29 years group in 1911.

Comparative Age Groups

Age range



0 -9 yrs



10 - 19



20 - 29



30 - 39



40 - 49



50 - 59



60 - 69



70 - 79



80 - 89



90 yrs +




Kinship amongst Colonsay's Fallen, World War 1 - notes by Prof. John Sheets

The World War I Memorial greets everyone who arrives at the Scalasaig pier in Colonsay. Below its tall Celtic cross are sixteen names “Sacred to the memory of the Colonsay men who fell in the Great war”. Minus the two officers from laird families – a great-grandson of “Old Laird” John McNeill (d. 1846) and a grandson of Lord Strathcona (d. 1914) – the other fourteen men were either born in Colonsay with family there, or had left but kept ties to the island. They were a cohort mostly dying in their 20s and 30s, certainly a demographic blow to a dwindling population of approximately 250.

Among the “fourteen fallen” were no less than three pairs of brothers, Neil-and-Hector McMillan, Donald-and-Archibald Alexander McNeill, Peter-and-Hector McNeill. Beyond brothers, the cohort displays kinship from first- through third-cousins, reconstructed by the linked records of the Old Parish Register, decennial census, and registers of marriage, birth and death. For example, brothers Donald-and-Archibald Alexander McNeill were first cousins to John Clark (and vice versa). Nicolas McNeill was second-cousin to Duncan Mackinnon and second-cousin-once-removed to Angus Brown. Hugh Buie and brothers Peter-and-Hector McNeill were third-cousins. The most widely connected among the fourteen is Duncan Mackinnon, related “by blood” to Angus McPhee (1 st cousin), Nicolas McNeill (2 nd cousin), Angus Brown (2 nd cousin once removed), and John McLellan (“half-2 ½ cousin”).

Some parents were alive at the time of the deaths. Receiving the awful news were the parents of John Clark, Nicolas McNeill, Angus Brown and brothers Neil-and-Hector McMillan. Still alive for the unveiling of the War Memorial on 20 July 1924 were the parents of John Clark and Angus Brown, also the widowed mother of the McMillan brothers, Isabella McMillan of Uragaig Bheag. Presiding at the service was the then minister, Rev. Kenneth McLeod, who famously composed “The Road to the Isles” in the study at Scalasaig Manse.

N.B. House of Lochar published "Colonsay's Fallen" by Alan Davis in a limited edition, not for profit. It lists full details of all those who are memorialised in both World Wars, also those individuals lost at sea whose remains were recovered locally. A few copies of this work are still available in October 2014, at Colonsay Bookshop; or order online at www.houseoflochar.com


McNeill Family Photographs - background notes by Kevin Byrne

An interesting album has recently come to light, containing numerous Cartes de Visite and Studio Photographs which mostly date from the late Victorian period up until the first World War. Unfortunately, almost all of the images are unidentified, but there are sufficient clues as to suggest that the album might have been started by Susie Carruthers McNeill (1870 - 1921) who married Hugh Buie (see note below). It seems as if the images are mostly from the McNeill family; many of the portraits have been taken in studios of very high renown and it seems likely that in all such cases the subject will have purchased multiple copies. After all, one has had to arrange an appointment in person or by letter, get dressed in one's best clothes, travel pre-motor car to an urban centre, probably "sit" for thirty minutes or more, and then probably have to return a week later to collect the result. Under these circumstances, it seems likely that for every unidentified Carte de Visite in the world there are perhaps 5 or 6 other copies, any one of which may be properly labelled. Ideally, some powerful agency (Google?) might one day establish a matching centre whereby orphaned Cartes de Visite might be able to be restored to their families.

This is, of course, just a dream - but the owners of the album in question have kindly given permission for an experiment. If we are right, and these are mostly McNeill images, all we need to do is to try to persuade lots of McNeills to look at the pictures and see if they can identify any of them; if it works, this may help to persuade a large organisation to create a worldwide facility along the same lines. Please note that the images provided here are all protected by copyright - the owners of the album have generously agreed to participate in this experiment, but they own the pictures and they are only on loan to Colonsay Kindred. On the other hand, the owners are Colonsay folk and would almost certainly share items from their album with anybody having a genuine interest in the subjects.

It may be helpful to provide further detail, these might help to corroborate any likely matched images. So, if your browser supports it, you can hover over any picture to check on any hints. The task is not, perhaps, entirely hopeless - one individual has already been identified by digitised comparison using a facility on Google images. Having said that, clues include:

Katie McNeill, a daughter of John McNeill, the miller, and his wife Flora McPhee. A portrait marked "H. Galbraith". Betty Duncan April 1887. Annie Alice McNeill. John H. W.(?) McNeill. Alexander McNeill (Canadian M.P.). George. Archibald McNeill, in Ottawa. Follow the link in the next section to see the pictures.

Item 58 may be the key to the book, "Katie McNeill Tor-an-Turc". Identified by Diane Clark as the sister (1883-1965) of her own grandmother Hester Currie McNeill, both being daughters of John McNeill, the miller (1838-1892) and Flora McPhee (1849-1914). Siblings of the sisters included Donald and Archibald McNeill, both killed in WWI, 1917, Scots Guards. John McNeill (1838 – 1892) had a sister Hessie “Bheag” McNeill, who wrote a song regretting the demolition and move from the old mill at Kiloran; published in “ Summer in the Hebrides ” by Mrs. Murray.

Another sister of John McNeill (1838-1892) was Catherine McNeill (1841-1921) who married Murdoch McNeill (d.1921). One of their children, Susie Carruthers McNeill (1870-1921) married Hugh Buie and one of their daughters, Hester “Hessie” Buie (1903-1967) married Alexander “Sandy” McAllister (1889-1970). Diane Clark suggests that Susie Carruthers McNeill may have started this album in her youth.


The McNeill Images - digitised by Kevin Byrne

All the images are on a separate page, here. Even if you cannot identify anyone yourself, please mention this project to anybody you know with even a distant Colonsay McNeill connection. We know that McNeills of the Corran (Ireland) and Canada are also included, also Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland.


Duncan Ban McNeill

As mentioned in an article above, Colonsay has four important founding-figures as regards the modern population since ca. 1800, one couple being Neil McNeill who married Mary Brown and who had four sons, including Duncan Ban McNeill. It seems an opportune moment to re-publish his obituary by Prof. Donald MacKinnon, which was published in The Scotsman, April 21 1897 (transcribed by K.B.). In a future issue of Colonsay Kindred it may be useful to outline the entire 19th c. line of descent of both couples.

There died in the lonely Island of Colonsay, a couple of weeks ago, an old man of whom probably not many readers of the "Scotsman" ever heard, but who merits a passing notice not only for his own moral worth, but because he was the youngest and last of a large family of nine whose united ages make up the remarkable figures of 787 years.

Duncan Ban McNeill 

The register of Colonsay does not go further back than the year 1796 and four of this family were born before that date. But the baptism of the five youngest is duly recorded so that the dates of the others can be verified with substantial accuracy. The family consisted of six sons and three daughters. Five emigrated to Upper Canada; four lived and died in Colonsay. The nine were all married and left families, many of them large, and the descendants at present living in Scotland and in Canada number several hundreds. Those who emigrated attained fully to the age of those who remained in this country, and on the whole the women lived longer than the men.

Two sons died at the age of 77, a daughter and son at the age of 81 and 86 respectively, a daughter and a son at 91, two sons at 93 and a daughter at 98. The first death in the family occurred in September, 1873, and at the time Duncan, the youngest of the nine was at 68 years of age.

The family were descended on the father's side from a McNeill who removed from the island of Barra to Colonsay some 250 to 300 years ago; the mother was a Brown, whose forbears belonged to Lochbuy in Mull. On the voyage from Barra, a son was born, who became known in Colonsay afterwards as "John of the Ocean ", an epithet applied to his descendants for many generations. The Barra settler flourished in his adopted island home. Nearly two-thirds of the present population of Colonsay can claim descent from him in the male or female line, while his descendants in Canada are still more numerous. This family possessed in a marked degree the physical and mental characteristics commonly attributed in the isles to the Norse strain in the blood. They were large, loose-limbed men and women with long backs and broad shoulders, fair and yellow hair, fair skin, blue eyes and small ears. The late Hector McLean, a noted anthropologist of those parts, once mentioned to me that a descendant of John of the Ocean was the most perfect type of a Norsewoman he had seen in thirty years.

They had all the gift of a good memory, a sound judgment, with a distinct touch of humor and an appreciation of music and song. Duncan, who died the other day at the age of ninety-one, was distinguished in his youth for his remarkable eyesight. He could see the stars in daylight, and on one occasion he described to his companions the rig of a vessel bearing down upon them under strong press of canvass fully fifteen minutes before any other of the crew could see her.
He was born in 1805, a few years after the late John McNeill of Colonsay succeeded to the estate. He paid rent to 5 successive proprietors - John McNeill, his 3 sons - Alexander, Duncan (Lord Colonsay) and Sir John; and his grandson, the present proprietor Major-General Sir John McNeill V.C., K.C.B. etc. Duncan's two grandfathers, McNeill and Brown, were out in the '45, but the grandson saw neither of them; the immediate forebears evidently did not attain the age of the descendants.

A curious instance of the displacement of names and peoples, even in remote localities, is afforded by the case of this excellent man and his wife. When Duncan Ban was born, the most common name on Colonsay was Currie, the next being McNeill. At the present time [i.e. 1897] half the population is McNeill, and there is not a Currie in the island, the last who bore the name being Duncan's own wife, who died some ten years ago.

A note to any readers:

Family History queries, obituaries, gravestones, trees and shipping lists will be much appreciated for this site - please feel free to get in touch with byrne[at]colonsay.org.uk

A sister site exists at www.colonsayhistory.info which hosts Colonsay Cornucopia, an occasional publication dealing with more general matters of local history, biography etc. Do please get in touch if you find either site of interest, because otherwise one cannot know if the project is worthwhile.

Material published here counts as "work in progress"; please do not accept it as fact without recourse to original sources.

This site is owned by Kevin Byrne and every attempt is made to respect copyright; feel free to link to this site but please do not copy material for republication without prior consent. Wherever possible, such consent will be given happily and without charge.