List of emigrants from Arnol, Bragar and Shawbost on the Metagama
THE DAY THE METAGAMA SAILED FROM STORNOWAY
THE DAY the liner Metagama sailed from Stornoway, with three hundred Lewis emigrants bound for Canada, was a turning point in island history.
SOME consequences were immediate, such as the sense of loss felt by those returning from their farewells in the town to the village bereft of a son or brother. Other results were slower to make themselves felt: the marriages that would not take place, the children that would not now be reared in Lewis, the homes that would not he built, the land that would not be tilled. For, of the three hundred that sailed that day, all but twenty were men, young men on the threshold of maturity. Their average age was twenty-two. They came from all parts of the island; and they left with high hopes.
THIS was not, as earlier emigrations from the Highlands, a mass exodus inspired by fear of starvation. The Lewis of the early twenties, where the losses of the War and the Iolaire disaster still hung heavily on heart and mind, may have offered little prospect to the young and optimistic. Nevertheless, this was not a cowed people scrabbling for space aboard an emigrant ship.
was a C.P.R. liner, come to Lewis to take on those whom Nanny Shinwell
later described in Parliament as "the best of Scottish manhood".
OUT too, on the first trip, went the Town Councillors and the Harbour Commissioners, who, with "other representative leading citizens" were the guests of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company at luncheon. Waiting to welcome them were the Canadian Commissioner of Agriculture, the C.P.R. agent for Scotland, the Agent-General for Ontario and the Assistant Agent-General. Stornoway, and the C.P.R., were handling the departure with style.
THE C.P.R AGENT, in a speech welcoming his guests, called the Metagama's visit "The second milestone in the march of emigration from the Western Isles". The first had been a week earlier when the Marloch had sailed with a similar number of emigrants drawn from the Southern Isles. They had embarked at Lochboisdale. These were made up of families going out to find a new settlement, while the young Lewis men were going out to work on farms in Ontario.
CAPTAIN FLETCHER, the chairman of the Pier and Harbour Commission, and Bailie George Stewart, deputising for Provost Kenneth MacKenzie, made speeches in reply. Bailie Stewart commented that for many of the men this voyage was very different from the voyages they had undertaken in recent years when they were destined for the bloodstained fields of Flanders and Gallipoli. In bidding them goodbye and Godspeed they hoped that every blessing of happiness and prosperity might be theirs in the new country.More speeches followed. There were compliments for the smoothness with which Mr Murdo MacLean, the local shipping agent, had arranged the venture. Telegrams were read from men distinguished in public life, including one from Lord Leverhulme, whose own parting with the island was not long distant. Also sent on board the Metagama was a bouquet of flowers grown in the Castle conservatories and gardens, bearing another message of good wishes from Lord Leverhulme. There were splendid flowers with flamboyant names; there were also Forget-me-Nots.Then the Councillors and the Commissioners and the leading citizens were taken on a conducted tour of the vessel.
IS USUAL on the grand occasion, it is the small human touches that
stay in the mind. The mother fussing over practicalities, because only
thus could engulfing emotion be held in check; counselling her son in
Gaelic to be sure to take off his Sunday suit as soon as he got on the
steamer and put it away where the sea could not get at it; and to take
off his good Sunday hat and put on his cap instead.
THE EXODUS from the Western Isles, with huge liners, the Marloch and the Metagama, coming miles out of their accustomed routes to pick up six hundred Hebrideans, caught the country's imagination. Never before had so many journalists, cameras and "Kinematograph" equipment been seen on the islands.
OTHER ships were to follow, also sailing directly to Canada from Stornoway, and mass emigration would soon lose its news value. But now the papers went to town on the story. "Pathos of Emigrant Lovers Parting", said one, subheading it as "Stirring Romance of Youthful Crofter Who Wants to Get Her a Home in the Great Dominion"!
WHOLE PAGES of photographs recorded the departure. The "People's Journal" even sent a "Special Commisioner" who travelled on the Metagama with the emigrants. After describing, in glowing terms, the conditions aboard - "The system is a triumph of unforced civility, the food is good and plentiful, its standard is higher than that existing in many good working-class homes in the country today" - he goes on to comment on the strange boat-fellows the Leòdhasachs (Lewis people) could find below deck. There was one group of some forty Poles and Letts, "with a sprinkling of Muscovite Jews", without a word of English. A special steward "who speaks seven languages" had been assigned to them. To him they had told how the friends who had come to see them off at Basa, the frontier town, had been ruthlessly murdered by the Bolsheviks, "on the ground that they had conspired to assist in the emigrants' escape".
HERRINGS were provided as part of their diet. They simply folded
them over, and popped them whole into their mouths. One can imagine
the Lewisman's reaction watching his beloved "sgadan" disappear
in such disconcerting fashion! The European emigrants had their own
quarters in the furthest aft part of the ship and they never left their
quarters except at mealtimes.
were the words in the nation's press to describe the happenings at Stornoway
on that Saturday in April 1923. Some descriptions were moving, some
banal. Some spotlighted the economic stagnation which had largely contributed
to the emigration. Some warned of the deep wounds that would be inflicted
if such mass emigration were to continue unabated. Again and again the
Gazette leaders of the time urged the Government to put in motion work
schemes and plans for the future which would help keep the young men
at home. And the Gazette best captured the conflict of public restraint
and private heartache of those sad and yet hopeful days:
A LASTING MEMORY
BUT NOW, as it neared six o'clock in the evening, the last group of emigrants went aboard the Hebrides at Stornoway pier and, with the Pipe Band playing, made their way out from the familiar shoreline. Aboard the Metagama too the pipes were playing and the first groups of emigrants were dancing a reel while the thousand emigrants who had joined the ship at the Clyde watched with what is described as "interested attention".
AS THE TIME FOR DEPARTURE DREW NEAR, the pipes stilled, the dancers quieted. On the quarter-deck gathered the three hundred Lewis emigrants and they were addressed in Gaelic by the Rev. Roderick Macleod, F.C., Garrabost, and the Rev. R.J. McLeod, F.C., Ness. Other ministers present on board were Rev. R. Morrison, U.F. High Church, Stornoway; Rev. K. Cameron, Free Church, Stornoway; Rev. A. White, U.F. English, Stornoway, and Rev. A. Ross, F.C., Stornoway.
WAS an affecting scene," the Gazette wrote, "and there
were tears in many eyes, for not a few of the lads who had come away
from the pier light-heartedly became very quiet and thoughtful as if
they only then realised that they were going to put thousands of miles
of land and sea between them and Lewis Isle."
SHAWBOST AND THE METAGAMA
Shawbost emigrants waiting for transport to Stornoway
FRIDAY MORNING 20TH APRIL 1923 a party of 16 young men and 2 young
women left Shawbost for Stornoway to join the Metagama. The scene at
the "Gate" where they awaited the cars, and where their friends
were to bid them farewell, was quite an impressive one.
ON THAT SATURDAY EVENING as the lights of the emigrant ship appeared on the horizon tongues of flames arose from a number of bonfires kindled on the hilltops - tokens of farewell which were sure to make lasting impressions on the minds of those on board.
"SINCE THE LIGHTS OF THE METAGAMA dipped below the horizon we have all been conscious of a blank in our lives, and have engaged in our daily occupations with a heaviness of spirit, mingled at times with a sense of buoyancy born of our hopes for the future - perhaps prophetic of the days when our young men and women will return to us richer in material benefits, and with the moral qualities characteristic of our Celtic nature refined and matured by contact with the sterner forces of nature which are to be met with in the pristine splendour and ruggedness of the land of their adoption."