Knockfarrel, and the Falklands (cont)
Roderick's trade as a shoemaker must have suffered from a decline in local customers and competition from mass-produced boots and shoes from factories in the south. But this was perhaps less relevant to his family's continuing struggle against extreme poverty than the worsening of his physical disability. During the last two years of his life he was bed-ridden and, like his parents in Kilmuir, was in receipt of parish relief. Roderick died in poverty in Bridgepark in April 1871, followed by by his wife Margaret in 1874. His life story, about which we know so little, was the most tragic of that of the three brothers.
Roderick, the oldest son of Roderick and Margaret, was working as an agricultural labourer by the early 1870s, and must have had a jaundiced view of his inheritance. The croft was too small to provide a living, employment was now relatively scarce in the Glen, and as a tenant-at-will he could not borrow against the land. Not surprisingly, therefore he took himself off in 1878 (at the age of 26), by responding to an advertisement from the Falkland Islands Company for young men to take up employment as shepherds on the company's land in the faraway South Atlantic
The Falkland Islands were among Britain's most remote and unprepossessing overseas territories. Originally claimed by Britain in 1833 as a base for shipping about to sail west to face the hazards of Cape Horn, or requiring repairs and replenishment following a rounding of the Horn from the Pacific, the need to generate revenues to pay for a civil administration led to the formation of the Falkland Islands Company in 1852. In return for large land leases on the islands, the Company agreed to bear the costs of basic government services. The Company turned to sheep raising during the 1860s, recruiting shepherds from Scotland for the purpose. By the late 1870s, about half of the islands' roughly 2,000 population were Scots living in the 'camp' or countryside. The rest lived mainly in Port Stanley, the only settlement of any size.
Life in the 'camp' was hard. The islands were cold, barren, windswept and rain-drenched (not unlike the Shetlands, or Lewis in the Outer Hebrides), and Charles Darwin, who visited during the famous voyage of the Beagle in 1832, described them as 'an undulating land with a desolate and wretched aspect'. Only the toughest folk could survive in these conditions.
Roderick arrived in 1878, by way of the ship The Vicar of Bray from London. He had left at home in Scotland a sweetheart named Mary MacRae. Mary was the third daughter of James and Helen MacRae (m.s. Ross), who had moved from Strathvaich in Contin parish (where Mary was born) to an isolated home on top of a hill on the Lovat estates, where James worked as a gamekeeper. The house lay just across the border between the counties of Ross and Inverness, and the family's closest neighbours, down the steep northern flank of the hillside, were the Munros in Bridgepark. Mary followed Roderick to the Falklands and married him in the parish church in Port Stanley in February 1879 (with the captain of The Vicar of Bray in attendance).
The sheep station on which Roderick and Mary first lived and worked was at North Arm, on the southern shores of East Falkland (some two days' journey from Stanley). There were apparently two or three families living in this remote spot at the time, and Mary may have had some assistance when she gave birth to her first two children - Roderick in 1879 and James in 1881.
But North Arm was a virtual metropolis compared with the outstation at Cattle Point, where Roderick and Mary lived between 1882 and 1889. Cattle Point lay right at the end of a long peninsula poking out into the sea from East Falkland (south of Stanley) and there the family lived in complete isolation. Three more children were born - Colin (1883), Mary Ann (1885) and Margaret (1887) - and they were baptised by the minister in the larger settlement of Darwin, to which Cattle Point was an outstation and where the family went every December to join their fellow Scots in New Year celebrations.
Although wages for shepherds were higher in the Falklands than in Scotland, the ratio of shepherds to sheep was much lower. This meant that most of the work had to be done on horseback rather than on foot - and the annual gathering on in Darwin on New Year's Day, to race their horses and drink a few drams, was the social highlight of the year for the shepherds and their families.
By the time of Margaret's birth, however, Roderick and Mary's thoughts were already turning to home, and they abandoned the Falklands in May 1889, to return to Scotland. Roderick would later state - probably jocularly - that they left because all the rain was playing havoc with his rheumatism, but they almost certainly fled the islands because of the lack of educational and employment opportunities for their children.
The Mid Ross to which they returned was different from that which they had left ten years earlier. For one thing, there were no more Munros in Glen Orrin. Roderick's departure in 1878 had precipitated a general exodus by his brothers and sisters. By the census of 1881, none were living at Bridgepark. William had taken himself off to Inverness, to find work as a labourer. Christina and Margaret, like many Highland girls before them, headed south to enter domestic service. Christina found employment in Glasgow, while Margaret enter the service of Lord Rosebery, a future Prime Minister, who had an estate in East Lothian as well as various country and town houses in England. Meanwhile Colin, who had apparently moved to live with members of his mother's family, the Macleans, was apprenticed to a tailor named Logan in the village of Beauly.
The disappearance of the family home in Bridgepark meant that Roderick and Mary lacked somewhere to live on their return from the Falklands. Fortunately, Uncle Sandy was able to help. Close to his croft there lay a vacant woodman's cottage, known as Balloch Cottage, which he was able to rent from the Cromartie estate and put at the disposal of Roderick and Mary. So the Falkland Munros came to live at Knockfarrel, where the newest addition to their family, Helen Ross Munro, was born in July 1889.