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James MacAskill was born in about 1822, the eldest son of Neil MacAskill and his wife Marion. He lived in old Borve on Berneray before moving with his parents to old Ruisgarry in the northern half of the island. He married Marion MacKinnon and became a cottar on 2 Ruisgarry (Sandhill). Their first two children were born on Berneray, before the family emigrated to Australia on the Royal Albert in 1855, a voyage organised by the Highlands and Islands Emigration Society. Their other five children were born in Australia: Margaret, Flora, Joan, James and John.