You are here
Escape from an emigrant ship
Escape from an emigrant ship
A translation of a Gaelic tape recording by Iain G Macdonald relating how his grandfather, Donald Macdonald, and Angus Macaulay, Croir, helped a man from Barvas escape from an emigrant ship - likely the Barlow, as Malcolm Macaulay (Calum Sgaire) is said to have sailed for Canada in her.
Calum Sgaire was leaving for Canada, and the boat he was leaving on was anchored off Tolsta [Chaolais], and my grandfather, Donmhall Dubh, and Aonghas Neill Chrothair went to ferry Calum Sgaire. My grandfather and Calum Sgaire were very close - well, they went to ferry Calum Sgaire to the ship. an Domhnallach, the land agent or tacksman as you called him, would have to go with them - he and the minister that was at Ceannlangabhat, a Campbell fellow. The minister was going to hold a service on the ship before she sailed.
When they reached the boat this fellow - a man from Barvas- came rushing to the minister. He had signed for himself and his family to go to Canada but when the day came to depart the family refused to leave with him. The man came to Tolsta and went to the boat to tell them that his family wouldn't leave with him. When he told them what happened they wouldn't let him return to shore - they were going to take him to Canada. The poor man was going out of his mind and he went to the minister and explained the situation but the minister replied: 'Oh you poor man, I can't do anything for you' and carried on down below to conduct the service.
The Barvas-man didn't go down though, neither did my grandfather nor Calum Sgaire. My grandfather and Aonghas Neill were not allowed on board at all - 'An Domhnallach and the minister went down below - but they were not allowed on board.My grandfather was standing at the top of the gangway and Aonghas Neill Chrothair was down in the rowing boat. The Barvas-man was there and a sentry - so that no one could come on board - and my grandfather said to Calum Sgaire:
'Calum do you think we could devise a plan to get the Barvas-man ashore?'
Calum Sgaire replied:'Well I don't know. Do you have anything in mind?'
'Well' he replied, 'I do have something in mind but I don't know if we can pull it off'.
He cut some tobacco and dipped it into the sea then he put it into his pipe and pressed it as hard as he could with his thumb then went up to the sentry and said:
'May I go into the galley and light my pipe?'
'No you can't' the sentry replied.
'Will you go and light it for me then?'
'Yes' said the sentry.
Domhnall Dubh gave him the pipe and he left with it. The minute the sentry went through the galley door the Barvas-man went down the ladder into the boat. My grandfather stayed at the top of the gangway and Aonghas Neill left with the Barvas-man and put him ashore. He was back before the sentry came out of the galley door, wiping the sweat of his face and cursing the pipe that couldn't be lit.
Anyway Aonghas Neill said that the first thing the Barvas-man did on reaching shore was take his shoes off and then 'Take to the hills Macgregor!' out of here - out through Tolsta to the hills, making for home.
But anyway, when everything was over they left the ship and they hadn't gone too far when they noticed one of the lifeboats being lowered and proceeding after them. My grandfather and Aonghas Neill were rowing and 'an Domhnallach and the minister were seated in the stern with their backs to them, so they didn't see the boat behind them, with - I don't know if it was four or six oars - but she wasn't catching up with them. Anyway when they realised they weren't going to catch up with them one of the men in the lifeboat stood up and started whistling. The minister and 'an Domhnallach heard the whistling and shouted:
'We must stop they have some business with us'
When the lifeboat reached them their first salute was: 'you stole one of our men'
'What' the minister replied 'we didn't steal anyone, there is no one here but the ones you see - how were we going to steal anyone on you? Who said we had stolen someone?''
An Domhnallach added: 'Some liar that's who'
'Mac Dhomhnaill ic Ruairidh said it' - that was the tacksman in Dalbeg - 'Mac Dhomhnaill ic Ruairidh said it'
They were forced to return with the lifeboat back to the ship, but there was no sign of the Barvas-man and no one knew where he had gone. Anyway as they were returning to Bernera, taking their time rowing - it was a calm day, if there had been a wind they would have used the sail - the minister said:
'I suspect you may have had something to do with this.
'If we did' said Domhnall Dubh 'small thanks to you - you didn't do anything for him'