Light Keepers recorded at home

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse

Muckle Flugga from the seaward side
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/941026

The North Unst Lighthouse, or as it is now known, Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, was one of the few lighthouses in Scotland which had a separate shore station that served as accommodation for the lighthouse keepers when they were off duty. Three Light Keepers would be on duty at any one time, and the others would be on shore leave.

Lighthouse Shore Station

The Shore Station, Burrafirth
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/311395

In the census returns for Unst, you can see the Light Keepers recorded in the census at the Lighthouse, and their families recorded in the shore station.

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Robert Burnett Head Mar 44 Principal Light Keeper
William Anderson Assistant Mar 37 Principal Assistant Keeper
Peter Anderson Assistant Mar 34 Assistant Light Keeper

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Shore Station Elizabeth Anderson Head Mar 37 Light Keeper’s Wife
Laurence     Do Son 15 Scholar
Grace         Do Daur 11 Scholar
Catherine     Do Daur 5     Do

Except that is for 1861.

In 1861, the Light Keepers are all recorded as living with their families in the shore station, and there is no record of anyone at the Lighthouse. Now 1861 is some 134 years before the Lighthouse was automated in 1995, so there were definitely Light Keepers on site. Perhaps instead the problem was that this was the first census since the Lighthouse was built. It was first lit on 1 January 1858, so perhaps the enumerator simply wasn’t familiar with how he was supposed to record the keepers.

At the bottom of Page 25, of the 1861 census for Unst, Enumeration District 2, there is the following note:-

15 May 1862. Messrs Stevenson Engineers state 3 Lightkeepers were on the Lighthouse which is on the Island of Muckle Flugga. The ??????? with wives & famililes on Unst.

I’m not quite able to decipher all the words in the last sentence so an image is shown below if any of you can decipher it. However, you get the gist of it. They weren’t where the enumerator said they were!

Light Keepers Census Note

Light Keepers Census Note

Oops!

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13 thoughts on “Light Keepers recorded at home

  1. Working on the identities of the 19C Muckle Flugga keepers. (A cousin of my great-grandfather was married to the first Principal keeper of Muckle Flugga.)

    • How interesting Tom. Was your great-grandfather Thomas Marchbanks, the principal lightkeeper in North Unst (Muckle Flugga) from Oct 1854 to 1858? His first wife, Janet, died while they were in Unst, and he married an Unst woman, Ursula, a year or so later. I’d be very interested to learn more as I have lost track of them after 1861, and have no knowledge of any children they had.

      I spent some time transcribing the North Unst Lighthouse keeper data when I was in the records house in Edinburgh a couple of visits ago. Happy to help you with anything I can from that data.

  2. Thomas Marchbanks (c1820 – 1862) married Janet Beattie in Dumfries in 1845. In the 1851 census they were at Covesea Skerries lighthouse. On 4 October 1854 Thomas arrived as principal light keeper, at Muckle Flugga, according to the Lighthouse Keepers Register*, along with William Mills, James Taylor and Alex Carnochan.

    Thomas’s wife died at Burrafirth on 8 March 1855. (She had been resident in Unst for ten months.)

    On 6 May 1856 at Burrafirth Thomas married Ursula Eliza Winwick (born on 9 July 1827 at Burrafirth), daughter of my great-great-great uncle Magnus Winwick and his wife Andrina Smith.

    Thomas left Muckle Flugga on 17 January 1858, with no destination, according to the Lighthouse Keepers Register.

    In the 1861 census they are found at Chanonry Point lighthouse, Rosemarkie, where Thomas is principal light keeper.

    Thomas died on 2 August 1862 of phthisis pulmonaris (12 months) at 52, Kirkgate, Leith, the address of his brother-in-law James Winwick in the 1861 census. The informant was James’s brother Peter Andrew Winwick.

    Ursula married Thomas Edmonston Bruce, son of William Bruce and Marjory Bruce, on 2 November 1865 at 51, Tolbooth Wynd, Leith. They had three children: Eliza, Thomas Andrew and a second Thomas Andrew. She died after 1871.

    I saw a photocopy of this fleetingly at the Unst Heritage Centre, as well as a typed transcription of it. I did not take any notes past the first cohort of light keepers. Do you have a copy/transcript of the names, dates of service etc of the nineteenth-century Muckle Flugga keepers?

    List of Muckle Flugga keepers by census

    1861

    John Dawson

    William Clark

    William McLellan

    1871

    Robert Burnett

    William Anderson

    Peter Anderson

    1881

    Robert Burnett

    Donald Georgeson

    James Brown

    Hugh Brown

    1891

    George Campbell

    John Edgar

    Gilbert McKinnon

    1901

    Robert Brown

    John McLean

    Robert Alexander Murray

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