EMOTIONAL RETURN: Nova Scotian group in Ullapool to commemorate emigrant voyage

The descendants of the Hector emigrants at Ullapool

Descendants of the people who left Loch Broom aboard the emigrant ship ‘The Hector’ have made an emotional journey back to Scotland – 250 years after it sailed.  

A group of 34 from Nova Scotia in Canada were in Ullapool at the weekend to mark the anniversary of the ship’s departure in July 1773.

The Hector was carrying 200 passengers from the Lochbroom and Coigach areas whose lives after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden had become insufferable due to poverty and starvation.  

Their near three-month voyage was beset with horrendous weather and disease – 18 children perished on the journey along with many adults.

Members of the Pictou Pipe Band

On reaching Pictou, the prime land they had been promised did not materialise but, despite the odds, they survived to create Nova Scotia – New Scotland.  

During their weekend stay in Ullapool, the Canadians enjoyed a reception at the ferry terminal organised by the community council, a visit to Ullapool Museum, a welcome ceilidh in the village hall and tours of the site from where their ancestors departed their homeland.  

They also brought a mini pipe band with them across the Atlantic, five members of the Pictou Pipe Band led by Pipe Major Robbie MacInnis, along with many gifts for their hosts.

One of the party, tour guide operator Carla Macintosh MacKay, told the Free Press: “Many of us in the group are the descendants of the people on board The Hector and our journey to Ullapool has been one we have eagerly been anticipating.

“A group of locals have taken on the role as ambassadors for this beautiful place and what a job they did!”

Piper Duncan MacLeod plays a lament on board the Shearwater

The party were taken aboard local cruise boat “Shearwater” to the head of Loch Broom, the departure point of The Hector.

On board, local historian Duncan MacKenzie gave a commentary, explaining the context of the emigration and pointing out local landmarks associated with The Hector story.

Local piper Duncan MacLeod played tunes on the sail.

“This was so meaningful and emotional to us,” said Carla. “To be on the loch and to retrace the beginning of that voyage 250 years ago. 

“We placed flowers of remembrance in the water while Duncan MacLeod played a lament at the spot where the passengers would have boarded the ship.” 

The party also learned how the owner of the Shearwater, Uisdean “Hooty” MacKay from Ullapool, but for chance could have been a fellow Nova Scotian.

Uisdean’s people left Strathnaver in Sutherland in the summer of 1773, and headed for Lochbroom, also intending to emigrate on The Hector. But their journey was impeded and they arrived too late to board the boat. 

The party visited Clachan Church at the head of Loch Broom to see where an outdoor service was held before the emigrants boarded the ship, and also walked the route their descendants would have taken to The Hector, their last footfall on Scottish soil. 

Carla said: “This celebration and welcome shows that both communities on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean remember our Scots with the Highland Clearances and the sacrifices our ancestors made for a chance at survival. 

“Our group has been so overwhelmed by the treatment we have received.

“This has been a trip of a lifetime to stand where our forefathers did, acknowledging their sacrifices and to feel at home in the Highlands. Our hearts are full!”

Article by Jackie MacKenzie

COMMENT: ‘The Hector’ sails into the present day

Every year, Shearwater Cruises takes tourists on a two-hour trip to the Summer Isles and around Loch Broom. Last weekend, the firm’s tour boat carried a special party on a very emotional trip to the head of the loch.

This was the departure point for ‘The Hector’, which set sail on a three-month voyage to the land which became Nova Scotia exactly 250 years ago this month.

On board ‘Shearwater’ were just a few of the descendants of those impoverished souls, who were prepared to journey across 3,000 miles of ocean in the hope of escaping a life of misery and starvation in their native settlements around Lochbroom and Coigach.

Dozens died en route, including 18 children.

There was an irony to last weekend’s trip. The owner of Shearwater Cruises is one Uisdean MacKay, whose Strathnaver ancestors were meant to have boarded The Hector too, but who did not reach the vessel in time.

They were left behind to a fate hardly less uncertain than those who took their chances with the Atlantic and what lay on the other side of it.

Another MacKay – tour guide operator Carla Macintosh MacKay – made the reverse journey last weekend.

The trip out onto Loch Broom was “so emotional and meaningful” for the 34 Canadians who had returned to their ancestral roots, she said.

“We placed flowers of remembrance in the water while Duncan MacLeod played a lament at the spot where the passengers would have boarded the ship,” added Carla.

The traumatic events of ‘The Hector’ is one of many to disfigure the history of the Gàidhealtachd. Their echoes are still being felt today.

Commemorating them is an act of cultural solidarity.